Nuclear energy is a proven and innovative technology, with more than 50 years of safe and reliable operation in the U.S. Nuclear energy is a secure, dependable source of power that the nation can depend on. It is not subject to unreliable weather or climate conditions. Nuclear fuel costs have been much less volatile than other fuel sources.
Currently, about 430 reactors in 30 countries provide about 15 percent of the world's electricity. Today, more energy is produced from nuclear power than was produced from all sources in 1960.
In Europe, nuclear energy is the largest single source of power generation, producing 32 percent of the total generation. In Japan, the nuclear share of electricity is about 30 percent, and in South Korea it is 37 percent. France gets about 78 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy. Most of France's nuclear power plants were built within a single decade.
In 2008, U.S. nuclear plants demonstrated high levels of reliability, with a capacity factor of 91.5 percent. There has been an upward trend in the capacity factor for U.S. commercial nuclear power plants since the 1980s. (Capacity factor measures a plant's on-line production time.) Safe, reliable operational records like these drive public and political confidence in the industry and provide a solid platform for license renewal as well as construction of new plants.
Nuclear power plants produce uninterrupted electricity for extended periods of time — for as long as 24 months. They help supply the necessary level of baseload electricity for electric system operation. Nuclear energy plants are a key element in the stability of the U.S. power system.
Nuclear energy provides much of the world's baseload power. Baseload plants are the production facilities used to meet most of a region's continuous energy demand. These plants produce energy at a constant rate, most often at a low cost relative to other available sources of power. Baseload plants typically run at all times throughout the year, except in the case of repairs or scheduled maintenance.
Nuclear energy produces electricity for one in five U.S. homes and businesses.
Nuclear generation is projected to be more cost effective than traditional coal and gas resources.
- Nuclear energy is estimated to be between 15 percent to 40 percent less expensive than wind generation and 50 percent to 80 percent less expensive than solar in the southeastern United States.
- Nuclear capacity can be built to meet local energy demand growth in Georgia. Wind and solar have limited availability in the Southeast and do not offer economic-scaled options.
- Nuclear energy more efficiently uses the transmission system, resulting in lower transmission costs per kWh than wind or solar.
- Vogtle Units 3 and 4 are expected to save Georgia customers up to $6 billion in lower electricity rates over the life of the units as compared to a coal or natural gas plant.
Nuclear power plants are among the safest and most secure industrial facilities in the United States and have operated throughout the United States for decades. New plants under construction have built upon these tested designs as well as incorporated additional safety features developed over the past 30 years.
- Safety is the top priority at nuclear energy plants and the U.S. nuclear industry through the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) sets high standards for all 104 U.S. nuclear plants. The organization monitors plant performance and shares lessons learned from experience and technological advances across all plants.
- INPO certifies rigorous training programs for all nuclear plant operators. The highly trained nuclear professionals are certified by the federal government and must go through refresher training several times a year that includes challenging scenarios and simulators, much like airline pilots.
- Nuclear plants have a proven performance record. In more than 50 years of operation, not one member of the public has been injured by a U.S. nuclear plant.
- Nuclear energy plants are among the safest places to work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that working at a nuclear energy plant is safer than working in the financial industry or in real estate.
Nuclear power plants are the best-defended facilities in the nation's industrial infrastructure. Security at nuclear power plants must meet the high standards set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
- The strength of nuclear power plants against aircraft impacts has been tested in state-of-the-art computer simulations; results confirm that there would not be any release of radioactivity.
- In the years since the September 11 attacks, considerable enhancements have been put in place, including significant increases in the number of armed security officers, widespread use of formidable physical security features and intruder detection systems and enhanced security training programs.
- Since 2001, the U.S. nuclear energy industry has invested more than $2.1 billion in security improvements.
Nuclear energy does not emit air pollution, isolates its waste from the environment and requires a relatively small amount of land.
Numerous studies demonstrate that nuclear energy’s life-cycle emissions are comparable to renewable forms of generation, such as wind and hydropower, and far less than those of coal or natural gas-fueled power plants. One nuclear power plant provides enough electricity every day for more than a half-million homes while emitting less carbon than a hybrid automobile. For a 2,200 megawatt facility, nuclear uses about a 2,000 acre footprint compared with 11,000 acres for solar energy and 110,000 acres for a similar-sized wind farm.
Nuclear power plants aid compliance with the Clean Air Act of 1970, which set standards to improve the nation's air quality. Because they generate heat from fission rather than burning fuel, they produce no greenhouse gases or emissions associated with acid rain or urban smog. Using more nuclear energy gives states additional flexibility in complying with clean-air requirements.
Although nuclear power plants do not emit greenhouse gases when generating electricity, certain processes used to build and fuel the plants do. This is true for all energy facilities. Nuclear energy life-cycle emissions include emissions associated with construction of the plant, mining and processing the fuel, routine operation of the plant, disposal of used fuel and other waste byproducts, and decommissioning.
Low and High Level Waste
Southern Nuclear safely stores the used fuel from nuclear generation on our plant sites while the U.S. government finds a site for disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Ratepayers have made substantial financial contributions to the site studies.
Units 1 and 2 at Plant Vogtle use about 1 percent of the average annual flow of the Savannah River. Adding two additional units at the site would increase that amount to 2 percent. Electric power generation consumes about 3.3 percent of U.S. fresh water, less than half of fresh water consumed for residential uses (6.7 percent) according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Plants Farley, Hatch and Vogtle, operated by Southern Nuclear, maintain wildlife/land management plans which are certified by the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC). The plans were designed to provide for the development and maintenance of wildlife management and enhancement in the areas surrounding the generating facilities. Ecologically sound management practices serve the dual purpose of benefiting wildlife and demonstrating a meaningful, long-term commitment to the environment and the community.
Each plant actively participates in WHC's Nest Monitoring Program. Nest boxes have been located around the plant sites and at area elementary schools. Information is provided annually on the number of nest boxes in use and eggs that hatch for bluebirds, kestrels, wood ducks, ospreys, and owls. In addition, the land management programs support reforestation efforts.
Southern Nuclear has developed waste minimization/pollution prevention plans to make the wisest and most environmentally responsible use of resources. Each plant places priority on identifying cost-effective opportunities to prevent pollution for all waste streams at its facilities. This focus on prevention of pollution at the source, coupled with the minimal impact of nuclear power operation relative to air, water and land emissions, make Southern Nuclear a key element of Southern Company, environmental performance.