NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

State Of The Nuclear Power Industry

March 8, 1999

The U.S. used nuclear reactors to produce 20 percent of its power in 1997. But no new reactors are being built and experts think the nuclear industry has peaked in terms of the number of working reactors and their share of power generated nationally.

  • Worldwide, 437 nuclear power plants were operating at the end of 1997 -- with an additional 36 under construction.
  • Three U.S. reactors were shut down in 1998 -- leaving 104 operating here.
  • Not since the 1970s has there been an order for a new nuclear reactor in the U.S. -- while large numbers of orders were canceled in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Part of the reason is economic -- with oil now selling for around $12 a barrel, rather than $100 a barrel -- as predicted for the turn of the century by the Department of Energy back in the '70s.

Moreover, natural gas has become cheaper to find and recover, and experts say the system for turning it into electricity has improved steadily over the past several decades. The newest plants produce twice as many kilowatt hours from a thousand cubic feet of natural gas as the ones that nuclear power was competing with in 1979.

Source: Matthew L. Wald, "Reactors: Healthy But Dying," New York Times, March 7, 1999.


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