Office of Nuclear Energy

5 Fast Facts About Nuclear Energy

January 16, 2018

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Energy By the Numbers: Nuclear Energy
Watch and learn some quick facts about nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy has been quietly powering America with clean, carbon-free electricity for the last 60 years.

It may not be the first thing you think of when you heat or cool your home, but maybe that’s the point.

It’s been so reliable that we sometimes take it for granted.

Did you know a fifth of the country’s electricity comes from nuclear power each year?

If not, then it’s about time you get to know nuclear.

Here are five fast facts to get you up to speed:

A photograph of a nuclear power plant with the title 5 fast facts.
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Sarah Harman | U.S. Department of Energy

1. Nuclear Power Plants Produced 805 Billion Kilowatt Hours of Electricity in 2016

The United States is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power. It generated more than 805 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2016—enough to power 73 million homes. Commercial nuclear power plants have supplied around 20% of the nation’s electricity each year since 1990.

2. Nuclear Power Provides About 60% of America’s Clean Energy

Nuclear energy provided nearly 60% of America’s carbon-free electricity in 2016, making it by far the largest domestic source of clean energy.

Nuclear power plants do not emit greenhouse gases while generating electricity.

They produce power by boiling water to create steam that spins a turbine. The water is heated by a process called fission, which makes heat by splitting apart uranium atoms inside a nuclear reactor core. 

3. Nuclear Energy is the Most Reliable Energy Source in America

Nuclear power plants operated at full capacity more than 92% of the time in 2016—making it the most reliable energy source in America. That’s nearly twice as reliable as coal (53%) and natural gas (56%) plants, and 3 to 4 times more reliable than wind (34%) and solar (25%) plants.

Nuclear power plants are designed to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week because they require less maintenance and can operate for longer stretches before refueling (typically every 1.5 or 2 years).

4. Nuclear Helps Power 30 U.S. States

Ninety-nine commercial reactors help power homes and businesses in 30 U.S. states. Illinois has 11 reactors—the most of any state—and joins South Carolina and New Hampshire in receiving more than 50% of its power from nuclear. 

5. Nuclear Fuel is Extremely Dense

Because of this, the amount of used nuclear fuel is not as big as you think.

All of the used nuclear fuel produced by the U.S. nuclear energy industry over the last 60 years could fit on a football field at a depth of less than 10 yards.

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