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Nuclear Power: Outlook for New U.S. Reactors

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Congressional rept.

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Nearly three decades after the most recent order was placed for a new nuclear power plant in the United States, several utilities are now expressing interest in building a total of up to 30 new reactors. The renewed interest in nuclear power has resulted primarily from higher prices for natural gas, improved operation of existing reactors, and uncertainty about future restrictions on coal emissions. A substantial tax credit and other incentives for nuclear generation provided by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 P.L. 109-58 are also likely to improve the economic viability of qualifying new reactors. New nuclear plant applications can also take advantage of amendments to the Atomic Energy Act made in the early 1990s to reduce licensing delays. Currently, there are 103 licensed and operable power reactors at 65 plant sites in 31 states, generating about one-fifth of U.S. electricity. Although no new U.S. reactors have started up since 1996, U.S. nuclear electricity generation has since grown by more than 20. Much of this additional output resulted from reduced downtime, notably through shorter refueling outages. Licensed commercial reactors generated electricity at an average of 89.8 of their total capacity in 2006, after averaging about 75 in the mid-1990s and about 65 in the mid-1980s. Falling operating costs have helped renew the economic viability of the nations fleet of nuclear power plants. From 1989 to 1998, 12 commercial reactors were closed before reaching the end of their 40-year licenses. By the late 1990s, there was real doubt that any reactors would make it to 40 years. Since 2000, however, 44 commercial reactors have received 20-year license extensions from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission NRC, giving them up to 60 years of operation, and more are pending.

Subject Categories:

  • Economics and Cost Analysis
  • Government and Political Science
  • Nuclear Fission Reactors (Power)
  • Electric Power Production and Distribution

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