Mapped: Nuclear Reactors in the U.S.
This was originally posted on June 8, 2022, on Elements.
The United States is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, representing more than 30% of the world’s nuclear power generation.
America has 92 reactors in operation, providing about 20% of the country’s electricity.
The above infographic uses data from the International Atomic Energy Agency to showcase every single nuclear reactor in America.
Nuclear power in the U.S. dates back to the 1950s.
George Westinghouse produced the first commercial pressurized water reactor in 1957 in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. The technology is used in approximately half of the 450 nuclear power reactors worldwide.
Today, over 30 different power companies across 30 states operate nuclear facilities in the U.S., and most nuclear power reactors are located east of the Mississippi River.
Illinois has more reactors than any state, with 11 reactors and the largest total nuclear electricity generation capacity at about 11,582 megawatts (MW). Meanwhile, the largest reactor is at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in Port Gibson, Mississippi, with a capacity of about 1,500 MW.
Most American reactors in operation were built between 1967 and 1990. Until 2013 there had been no new constructions started since 1977, according to the World Nuclear Association.
Nuclear power reactors in America receive 40-year operating licenses from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), with companies able to apply for 20-year extensions. The oldest operating reactor, Nine Mile Point Unit 1 in New York, began commercial operation in December 1969. The newest reactor to enter service, Watts Bar Unit 2, came online in 2016.
The Future of Nuclear Power in the U.S.
U.S. nuclear power’s capacity peaked in 2012 at about 102,000 MW, with 104 operating nuclear reactors operating.
Since nuclear plants generate nearly 20% of U.S. electricity and about half of the country’s carbon‐free electricity, the recent push from the Biden administration to reduce fossil fuels and increase clean energy will require significant new nuclear capacity.
Today, there are two new reactors under construction (Vogtle 3 and 4) in Georgia, expected to come online before 2023.
Furthermore, some of the Inflation Reduction Act provisions include incentives for the nuclear industry. Starting in 2024, for example, utilities will be able to get a credit of $15 per megawatt-hour for electricity produced by existing nuclear plants. Nuclear infrastructure projects could also be eligible for up to $250 billion worth of loans to update, repurpose, and revitalize energy infrastructure that has stopped working.
Gridlock: Visualizing the U.S. Clean Energy Backlog
The U.S. has almost 2 million megawatts of clean energy capacity on hold in interconnection queues, seeking connection to the grid.
Gridlock: Visualizing the U.S. Clean Energy Backlog
The U.S. has almost 2 million megawatts (MW) of solar, wind, and storage capacity on hold in interconnection queues, seeking connection to the electrical grid.
However, the lack of transmission infrastructure, in addition to a lengthy permitting process, has resulted in a bottleneck of clean energy projects awaiting approval before they can be plugged into the grid.
But before we dive into the data, let’s fully understand what interconnection queues mean.
What are Interconnection Queues?
Before new power plants can be built and connected to the grid, they go through a series of impact assessments to ensure safety and reliability. The projects in this process form grid interconnection queues, which are essentially waitlists of proposed power plants seeking grid connection.
Here are some of the problems associated with U.S. interconnection queues:
- Wait times: The average time projects spend in the queue is up from 2.1 years in 2000 to 3.7 years in 2021, according to the Energy Transitions Commission.
- Withdrawal rates: Historically, most projects have withdrawn from the queue, with just 21% of projects seeking connection from 2000–2017 reaching commercial operation.
- Aging transmission: The U.S. grid is aging, and queued-up projects can end up facing large fees from the updates required to transmission infrastructure.
Although the backlog is alarming, the interconnection queues also show that project developers are invested in the clean energy transition. In fact, the amount of clean energy capacity in interconnection queues exceeds the amount needed to get to 90% zero-carbon electricity by 2035, according to Berkeley Lab.
U.S. Clean Energy in Queues
Solar and battery storage projects account for the majority of capacity in interconnection queues, followed by wind.
|Energy Source||Capacity in Interconnection Queues (MW)||% of Total|
Data as of the end of 2022.
Notably, 48% of all solar capacity in the queues is proposed as a “hybrid plant” that combines generation with battery storage. Similarly, over half of all battery storage capacity is proposed with some amount of generation.
The large number of hybrid and storage configurations show that project developers are addressing the intermittent nature of renewables by combining generation with storage.
Interconnection queues are managed by Independent System Operators (ISOs) and Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs) that operate the grid and wholesale electricity markets in different regions. Here’s a look at the clean energy capacity in queues grouped by major transmission regions and ISOs:
|ISO/Transmission Region||Clean Energy Capacity in|
Interconnection Queues (MW)
|% of Total|
|Midcontinent ISO (MISO)||321,723||17%|
|Electric Reliability Council Of Texas (ERCOT)||207,808||11%|
|California ISO (CAISO)||196,792||10%|
|New York ISO (NYISO)||108,163||6%|
|Southern Power Pool (SPP)||105,398||5%|
|New England ISO (ISO-NE)||34,223||2%|
Data as of the end of 2022. Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
Overall, the West (non-ISO) region has the most solar (254 GW), battery (262 GW), and onshore wind (63 GW) capacity in interconnection queues. Offshore wind capacity is highest in New York (63 GW), managed by the NYISO.
In 2022, California ISO did not accept any new interconnection requests due to the backlog from 2021. Meanwhile, the PJM announced that it would not review any new requests until 2025. Despite these slowdowns, over 700 GW of capacity was added to U.S. interconnection queues in 2022.
Unlocking the Gridlock
Given the current backlog, along with the incentives for new clean energy projects in the Inflation Reduction Act, clearing the gridlock is now more important than ever.
The large backlog, long wait times, and high withdrawal rates highlight the growing challenges in interconnection and transmission. Among other longer-term solutions, there are two ways to alleviate the gridlock:
- Expanding high-voltage transmission lines: Many solar and wind projects are located in remote areas and require high-voltage transmission lines to carry electricity to cities. Expanding the transmission network can allow more projects to connect to the grid.
- Streamlined permitting: Interconnection processes and the reviews involved are long and costly for project developers. Reforming processes and streamlining permits can help in shortening the wait times for projects in queues.
To address this problem, some grid operators have already made changes to their interconnection processes. Additionally, the Department of Energy has launched the Interconnection Innovation Exchange (i2X) in an effort to improve collaboration and transparency in interconnection.
History shows that most of the projects in interconnection queues will ultimately not be built. However, what’s clear is that the U.S. is on the road to decarbonization, and energy project developers are focusing on clean energy sources for the future.
Learn more about how electric utilities and the power sector can lead on the path toward decarbonization here.
Visualizing Clean Energy and Emissions Goals by State
An overview of each U.S. state’s ultimate clean energy or GHG emission reduction goal, broken down by goal type and target year.
Visualized: Clean Energy and Emissions Goals by State
In its Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement, the U.S. set a target of reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030, as well as achieving 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035.
To discover how each state is contributing to these goals, this graphic sponsored by the National Public Utilities Council provides an overview of each state’s ultimate clean energy or GHG emission reduction goal.
An analysis of the aggregated data by S&P Commodity Insights reveals a broad spectrum of clean energy and emission reduction goals in the United States.
While some states have more ambitious goals of attaining 100% clean energy by 2040, others, such as Ohio, have opted for more modest and short-term targets, aiming to achieve 8.5% renewable electricity by 2026.
Eleven states, or 22%, have never set clean energy or emission reduction goals. These states include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
Similarly, another ten states (20%) have expired goals with target dates as far back as 2015. These ten states, including the Dakotas, Missouri, Kansas, Montana, and Oklahoma, have not reset their goals since.
Shares of Clean Energy by State
To get a glimpse into how far each state has to go in achieving its goal, a snapshot of the use of clean electricity in each state is shown below.
Using data from the Nuclear Energy Insitute, the bars show each state’s 2021 share of emission-free electricity broken down by nuclear and various renewables.
While clean electricity made up 70% or more of the electricity mix in several states, nuclear and renewable energy sources comprised approximately 40% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2021.
To hit its 100% carbon-free electricity goal, therefore, the U.S. needs a minimum 4.3% annual increase in clean electricity generation through 2035. For context, an average annual growth of 2.4% was observed in the last five years.
On the GHG reduction side of things, emissions were 17% below 2005 levels in 2021, showing the need for an additional 35% reduction by 2030.
As these figures show, achieving the ambitious clean energy and emissions reduction goals in the U.S. will require a significant ramp-up of clean electricity generation in the upcoming years, along with accelerated decarbonization efforts across all sectors.
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