March 15, 2011 - US nuclear industry

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

As Japan assesses the damage from last Friday's magnitude 8.9 earthquake and tsunami, one element of the disaster that remains ongoing involves damage to several of that nation's nuclear power plants.  Utility Tokyo Electric Power has imposed blackouts due to a 25 percent capacity shortage, which may be the least of the concerns stemming from the damaged nuclear plants.  Concerns over meltdown and release of radioactive materials loom larger.

A recent snapshot of the price of gas in Maine: $3.539 per gallon for 87 octane regular.


In the immediate wake of the situation in Japan, it may be helpful to consider a snapshot of the U.S. nuclear power industry.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (1 page PDF), in 2009 the U.S. nuclear industry was composed of 104 generators with an aggregate nameplate capacity of 106,618 megawatts.  This represents about 9.5% of the nation's 1,121,686 MW total installed nameplate capacity.  Electricity derived from nuclear power thus ranks third in nameplate capacity behind natural gas (459,803 MW) and coal (338,723 MW).

Nuclear power plays an even bigger role in the U.S. electric industry on a megawatt-hour basis.  Remember that megawatts of capacity refer to how much energy could be produced at a given moment if all the units ran full-bore, while megawatt-hours of energy refer to how much energy was actually produced.  In 2010, nuclear power produced 981,815 thousand MWh out of a total 4,120,028 thousand MWh produced -- or about 24% of the nation's total electric generation.  This is due in part to the high capacity factor of nuclear power, meaning that nuclear plants tend to run near their full capacity and have minimal downtime.

Let's keep Japan in our thoughts and hope the people and the nation recover well and quickly.


1 comment:

Dave Burton said...

Something's strange about those numbers.

981815 / (106.618 x 365 x 24) = 1.05

If that's right, then America's nuclear power plants are running at an average of 105% of nameplate capacity.

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