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Safe, reliable, clean
The role electricity plays in our lives by enhancing our productivity, comfort, safety, health, and economy is obvious. We live with the benefits of electricity every day. So much so that we take it for granted that whenever we plug our phones and tablets into the wall socket, the power will be there. While most people give little thought to where electricity comes from, there are many different ways to generate electricity – including coal, oil, gas, hydroelectric, nuclear, and solar. Each option inherits certain advantages that merit consideration whenever there is a need for a new power plant. Nuclear generated electricity is unique in that it inherently addresses many of the short-comings of the other means for power generation. The use of nuclear power provides answers for many problems in the areas of the carbon emissions, fuel efficiency, cost , and reliability.
DID YOU KNOW?
- The U.S. nuclear reactor fleet produces 19 percent of the country’s electricity as a whole, and even more in certain regions. More importantly, nuclear energy generates 63 percent of our low-carbon electricity.
- Nuclear energy is mostly carbon-free and avoids the emissions associated with fossil fuels that pollute the air and water.
- The power from one kilogram of uranium is approximately equivalent to 42 gallons of oil, 1 ton of coal, or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas.
- Operation of a nuclear plant generates 400 to 700 permanent jobs, which on average pay a 36 percent higher wage than other regional jobs.
Zero Carbon Emissions
In contrast to fossil fuel plants (coal, oil and gas), nuclear power plants do not produce any carbon dioxide or sulfur emissions, which are major contributors to the greenhouse effect and acid rain, respectively. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, U.S. nuclear power plants prevent 5.1 million tons of sulfur dioxide, 2.4 million tons of nitrogen oxide, and 164 million metric tons of carbon from entering the earth’s atmosphere each year.
Nuclear power reactors do contribute a measurable increase in radiation to the environment around a nuclear power plant. However, this increase is relatively small compared to natural background radiation, and is less than the radioactivity released from a typical coal plant. Even with this increase in radiation, most employees of nuclear power plants receive exposures typically of workers in all occupations. In addition, no evidence exists that show that small increases in radiation exposure having negative health effects.
More energy for less
Like fossil fuels, the nuclear fuel raw materials come from the earth. Uranium, the primary fuel material, is mined. The environmental impact of mining is well known; however, the advantage of nuclear power comes from the amount of power that comes from a small amount of uranium. The power from one kilogram of uranium is approximately equivalent to 42 gallons of oil, 1 ton of coal, or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas. Therefore, as a function of power consumption, very little uranium needs to be removed from the ground; hence, the environmental impact of uranium mines is much less compared with mining and drilling for fossil fuels.
Unlike oil or gas, nuclear fuel is solid; hence, nuclear fuel is immune to the environment problems posed by spillage during transportation to a power plant. Unused nuclear fuel is only slightly more radioactive that naturally occurring underground. Fuel delivery casks are designed with a high margin of safety to ensure that even in the event of a transportation accident, the environment remains free of contamination from the nuclear fuel.
Nuclear power plants are one of the most economical forms of energy production. Including capital and non-fuel operating costs, the cost of operating a nuclear power plant is roughly equivalent to fossil fuels. As of 2012, the average cost of power generation by nuclear plants was 2.40 cents per kilowatt-hour, for coal-fired plants 3.27 cents, for oil 22.48 cents, and for gas 3.40 cents. Costs for solar and wind are still well beyond that considered to be competitive to the public.
The cost of regulation and industry oversight of nuclear power generation is substantially more than that of other power generation sources; however, improvements in reliability and operational and maintenance efficiency have contributed to reducing those costs.
Currently, nuclear power plant capacity factors average over 85%. This is competitive with those of fossil fired plants (average 50-60%), or solar and wind which have capacity factors in the 30% range, or even lower. Most plants are designed to operate at full power regardless of the demand on electricity. Nuclear power plants are particularly well suited for this purpose since they are designed to produce large quantities of power and can sustain operation for up to two years without refueling.
The U.S. nuclear energy plants can supply large amounts of predictable, reliable electricity through virtually every period of extreme heat and cold. During the 2014 Polar Vortex, nuclear energy generation saw no drop in output and on the coldest day operated at 95 percent capacity.
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Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information of the American Nuclear Society
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