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Background information Assessment of this Renewable Energy module consists of two items of individual student work: • Assignment A: See separate document • Assignment B: Details follow below Together these comprise 100% of the assessment for this module, with a weighting of 30% (assignment A) and 70% (assignment B). Both assignments are compulsory in the sense that the module can only be passed if both assignments are completed. Each assignment has a separate deadline submission, such that assignment A is completed during the timetabled module learning period and assignment B is completed after the end of the timetabled learning period. (See module leader for dates; these may vary depending on your mode of study).

Current Global Production of Nuclear Electricity

The current state of the technology

Nuclear power in the world

The nuclear fission technology makes use of the energy from splitting atoms of unique elements. The technology first come into the limelight in 1940. The technology was pursued during the second world war, at that time it was only limited to the development of atomic bombs (Helge, 1999). It was until 1950 that focus turned to applying the nuclear technology especially nuclear fission to produce energy. This marks the beginning of the peaceful use of nuclear power innovation (Schneider & Froggatt, 2012).

Apparently, the use of civil nuclear power has been there for 1700 years, within this time its application has spread with around 30 countries having embraced its use globally. Through the regional transmission grids several many other nations are dependent on a section of the nuclear-generated power. For example, Denmark and Italy obtain 10% of their electricity from the importation of nuclear power (Jim, 1982).

Currently 450 nuclear power reactors are responsible for producing up to 11% of the entire global electricity generation. In addition to this around 60 additional reactors are currently under construction which is like a 16% of the current established capacity. With a plan to further develop an additional 150-160 reactors (Gohlke, 2008).

In the year 2016 nuclear plants were responsible for the production of 2477TWh of electric energy this rose from the 2441TWh which were generated in 2015 (World Nuclear Association, 2018).

Figure 1: Production of Nuclear electricity (World Nuclear Association, 2018)


Up to 16 nations globally rely on nuclear power to sustain at least 25% of their electricity demands. For instance, France derives about 75% of its electricity supply from nuclear power plants. The list is joined by Ukraine, Slovakia and Hungary which derive at least 50% from nuclear energy. Additionally, Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden, Slovenia and Belgium get around 30% of their electricity from nuclear. Furthermore, countries like The United States, UK, Russia and Romania obtain up to a fifth of their electricity from nuclear (Nicholson, 2006).

Figure 2: Nuclear energy production by nation (World Nuclear Association, 2018).


As the globe prepares to get rid of the dependency on the fossil fuels there is an urgent need to construct new generating capacities. This calls for further innovation into the nuclear technology. By 2015 energy generated from fossil fuels contributed up to 66% of the global energy demand. This has withstood the pressure from environmentalist and organizations concerned with climate change to expand the use of renewable energy sources. From 2005 the use of fossil fuels has virtually remained unchanged; this form of trend should be worrying if the correlation of carbon emission and the climate change disaster is something to go by (Bodansky, 2004).

Impact of Nuclear Power on the Energy System and Other Fuels

In the United States

The United is the pioneer of nuclear technology. The first fully commercial pressurised water reactor (PWR) was developed by Westinghouse. This reactor had a capacity of 250MWe. On the other hand, the boiling water reactor (BWR) was designed by Argonne National Laboratory with the first commercial plant being developed by General Electric in the 1960s.

As 1960 ended more orders were being put in place for the PWR and BWR units. This had a capacity of over 1000 MWe. With the increased demand a major construction kicked off for these reactors and to date they remain the only types built for commercial purposes in the country.

The accident which occurred at the Three Mile Island in 1979 proved to be a massive set back to the nuclear technology on the country. Despite having no major injuries recorded the accident resulted in cancellation and suspension of several orders. The nuclear industry went ahead to be dormant for two decades. However, the country still went ahead to commission over 100 power reactors by 1990 (EIA, 2018).

The other effect of the accident was the drastic improvement in the operational safety and performance of the power plants. This saw the country enter the list of world leaders as the 21st-century sets in with a mean net factor capacity of 90%. All the safety indicators also exceeded the limits previously set.

The nuclear power Policy

The development of nuclear power in the US have depended very largely on the governments polices. This technology was initiated by the government in 1945 as a continuation of the Manhattan project which was meant to develop a wartime atomic bomb. In December1951, US experience its first success in nuclear energy when its nuclear reactor managed to produce electricity at the National Reactor Testing Station located in Idaho. Nuclear technology was first opened to the private sector in the mid-1950s. The first large scale nuclear plant which was built at Shippingport in Pennsylvania was under the ownership of the US Atomic Energy commission though constructed and managed by the Duquesne Light and Power Company. Currently a substantial portion of the US nuclear reactors are under private ownership with the private sector being the greatest shareholders in the sector (World Nuclear Association, 2018).

Despite the large private involvement, the US government takes a lot of interest in the nuclear sector than any other industry in the country. The procedure of establishing a nuclear plant is lengthy and guided by several policies.  The review process that takes place before a reactor construction can be initiated take up to 5 years. The national government (through state owned research laboratories as well as university and industry projects) is the main source of capital for research in advanced reactors and fuel cycle technology (World Nuclear Association, 2018). The plan to offer loan guarantees and tax credits is meant to encourage more investments meant for building new nuclear plants. The interrelation between the US energy policy with the foreign trade and defence policy have seen the sectors work in collaboration to mitigate climate change issues as well as address the issue of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Power in the United States

By late 2013 Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was undertaking a review of 9 applications for combined construction and operating licenses which were meant to pave way for the construction of 14 new nuclear reactors. Also, under review were certification application for the design of new reactors of type EPR, ESBWR and APWR.

Another major player in the nuclear sector is the state and local governments. There contribution’s come in defining the framework and economics of the industry. For instance, the deregulation of the electricity prices in a section of states in the country in the 1990s saw the states have a larger concentration of nuclear plants. Furthermore, a referendum carried out in 1976 in California restricted construction of new nuclear plants in the state, this prohibition exists to date. The administration of Barack Obama had to abandon plans for the construction of a 70000-tonne geological repository in Nevada in 2009 due to the state government opposition. This repository was meant for disposal of high-level nuclear waste that had accumulated in several reactor sites in the country (World Nuclear Association, 2018).

Impact of nuclear power on the energy system and other fuels

In the year 2016 the total energy generated by the United States was 4079TWh net. This was distributed as follows; 34% come from gas, 30% from the coal-fired plants, 19.7% from nuclear while the remaining 16% were derived from hydro-electric, wind, and other renewable sources. The nation’s annual energy demand is projected to reach 5000 billion kWh by 2030. Considering the global plans to eradicate the carbon fuels there is a possibility of a huge void between the energy demand and supply in the near future. This calls for speedy development of the alternative energy, sources nuclear being one of them.

The role of nuclear power in the current US energy mix is massive, apparently the country has 99 operating nuclear reactors spread across 30 States. These reactors are under different power firms and managed to generate 805TWh of energy in 2016. From 2001 the nuclear plants have managed to attain a mean capacity factor of above 90%. This means they can generate 807 TWh annually which contribute around 20% of the total electricity produced in the country. The mean capacity factor rose from 50% in the 1970s to hit 70% by 1991. In the year 2002 the value surpassed 90% and have since leveled up at that point. The nuclear industry has an investment of around $ 7.5 billion to cater for maintenance and upgradient of the plants.

The Future of Nuclear Power

The mean nuclear production cost fell from $ 40/MWh in 2012 to $34/MWh in 2016. The country possesses around 65 pressurised reactors with a total capacity of 64 GWe in addition to 34 boiling water reactors with a total capacity of 35GWe.

Up to 2013, the country had no single new nuclear site under construction. This was due to the reliability on the use of gas as an economical alternative. In addition, the opposition had frequently extended the construction schedules due to safety fears which were triggered by the Three Mile Island accident which occurred in 1997 (Martin, 2007).

Even though the nation has put the construction of new nuclear plants at a standstill for over 30 years, the United States dependency on the nuclear power has grown. In 1980 the nation generated 251 billion kWh which represented 11% of the nation’s total electricity generation. By 2008 the value had gone up to reach 809 billion kWh which represented around 20% of electricity.  This value represented a third of the entire global energy generated from the nuclear firms.

The current prediction indicates that coal is likely to retain the largest share of the energy mix up to 2035. Even though the period 2002-2016 saw an additional 20 GWe of coal-fired capacity up to 53 GWe underwent retirement within the same period. This was as a result of environmental constraints and their low efficiency. The continually dropping gas price relative to coal in addition to tax policies encouraging low carbon energies catalyses this decision to retire the old coal plants. Since most of the coal fires plants are 35 years and older more plants are expected to be retired. The increasing demand for cleaner energy is mounting pressure on the coal plants hence forcing the government agencies to consider shutting most of them down.

In 2015, a report by the General Atomics indicated that the US nuclear industry development was being hindered by the low cost of fossil fuels in the United States. This has restricted the contribution of nuclear power to the US national grid to just 20%. This was evident when Toshiba withdrew its renewal of US design certification due to the fears of low energy prices.

Nuclear plants account for around 20% of US power generation. This cater for 63% of the clean energy in the country. An indication that a slight increase in the electricity demand will mean the need to expand the nuclear capacity before 2025 in addition to the two reactors currently under construction. With this the US will be able to retain the share of nuclear energy in the energy mix.

To preserve the value of the nuclear energy that the market does not recognise, several states have taken initiatives to counteract the market situations. For instance, in 2015, The New York state governor gave a directive that its public service department develops a clean energy standard that will encourage a 40% cut in the quantities of carbon emissions from the 1990 level. This was targeted to take place by 2030 with a projection of decreasing the emission by 80% come 2050. The state possesses six nuclear reactors which were responsible for around 30% of its power in 2015. Being that Entergy planned to close its nuclear plant by 2017 while Exolon warned that economic constraints might force it to close down its power plants the governor have lauded the worry in most environmentalists that such trends may lead to a reversal of the carbon emission cut that has been gained to date.

These actions reflect the internal struggle that exists within the nation as the country tries to keep the nuclear power plants economically competitive while at the same time planning the expansion of the renewable energy generation.

Technical developments, now and into future

Nuclear reactor technology

Nuclear power has economical and reliably been responsible for around 20% of the USA electricity generation for the past two decades. With this nuclear power is the single largest contributor to the renewable energy sector. The nuclear reactor technologies are classified as follows.

Small modular reactor technologies: The small modular reactors can be developed in factories and then transported to the nuclear sites where they are just plugged in. this minimizes their capital cost as well as construction time. Their smaller sizes make them ideal for small electric grids as well as for locations that are unable to accommodate large reactors. This gives the nuclear utilities flexibility in terms of the scale of production as the demand changes.

Light water reactor technology: the current nuclear feet owned by the United States possess remarkable performance record. Should the lifetime of the plants be extended above 60 years and improvements made in their productivity the nations should be able to derive an immediate return from them. This will mean intensifying the research, demonstration as well as the development of the nuclear power.

Advanced Reactor technology:  Due to the research and innovations of the ARC, nuclear energy is expected to continue providing clean, secure and affordable energy supply. This goes in line with the objectives of the US administration of curtailing the carbon emissions. Through the introduction of more advanced designs into the industrial and energy market the nation can pursue both the thermal as well as fast neutron spectrum systems

Transmission Infrastructure

The United States nuclear grid is barely connected. The interconnection in the Western region is composed of 11 states in addition to British Columbia as well as Alberta. The ERCOT grid covers the majority of Texas while the interconnection in the Eastern covered the rest of the country in addition to Canada. The central parts of the country have quite a little grid capacity.

In the year 2017 the DOE on its report to the electricity market and Reliability secretary requested the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to lead the way in making sure the grid connection can sustain the base-load demand in a wider and reliable manner.

Regulation and renewal of licences

The body responsible for regulating the nuclear sector is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In 2000 the body renewed two-unit Calvert power plants to operate for the next 20 years. In 2017 two projects in south Texas were renewed to operate for another 20 years.  With this the country has now renewed the licence of 89 reactors. An additional 5 units are undergoing a review with an objective of renewing them. For them to enhance security as well as improve their efficiencies the firms need to undergo upgradient after around 30-40 years. The upgradient and renewal process is a capital and time-consuming procedure with at least 4 years needed for the NRC to review the facility.

Extending the licences to 60 years is an indication that there is a justification to the mid-life refurbishments like replacing the steam generators or instrument upgradient. Up to 2017 out of the 65 US PWRs 56 had replaced their initial steam generators with other one considered more durable, around 45 went ahead to replace their reactor pressure vessel heads as of 2010.

Despite renewing the licences to 60 years the nation will need 55 GWe of new reactors by 2035 as the county try to maintain the 20% share of energy derived from the nuclear reactors if the current rectors are to be retired at 60 years. Overall, 432 GWe of the nation’s generating capacity is between 30-50 years old. Additionally, 60 GWe of coal-generated capacity needs to be done away with by 2020 due to their contribution to environmental pollution.

As a reaction to the Fukushima accident in 2011 which triggered by inadequate external assistance to the flooded reactors, the country’s nuclear sector has developed the FLEX accident response structure (Hultman & Koomey, 2013). This is composed of 61 centres spread within the nation, also it has two national centres which work in collaboration with the others to provide an immediate response should an accident be reported in any of the nuclear plants in the country (Macknick, et al., 2011).

Making way for new plants

The importance of nuclear power to the United States has become a geopolitical as well as economic issue. The technology is expected to replace the dependency in the use of oil and gas which is heavily discouraged by environmentalists. The new plants intended to be built are expected to utilise opportunities such as small reactors to penetrate the market. The need to do away with carbon fuels have increased the desire to expand the nuclear power technology to accommodate the increased demand that will be left once fossil fuels are eliminated.

Future nuclear reactor designs

After undergoing a steady decline for the past 20 years, the nation is currently reviving the nuclear energy research and development funding to retain the role of the United States as the leader in nuclear technology. This is a collective effort which has brought together research laboratories, academic experts as well as industry experts. The government has stepped up its funding for research aimed at designing plants that will go into to the future. In this sector attention have been directed towards the Next Generation nuclear plant (NGNP) project. This is expected to design a generation IV high-temperature gas cooled reactor to be part of a system meant to generate electricity and hydrogen is massive quantities. All this development is meant to enhance the nuclear-generated power as we go into the future

Barriers and Opportunities


The United States possesses several traits as a country that is effective for the development of the nuclear power effectively as we go into the future;

Innovative community; the US have been referred to as the pioneer of Nuclear Power. At the initial stages this technology was mostly pursued for warfare purposes. This though has changed in the recent century with the focus being made into generating power instead. The general US population is composed of technical, skilled and innovative population which have greatly improved the nuclear sector. This is an area the country can continue to utilise as it tries to continue inventing more safety measures to solve the uncertainties surrounding the sector (Schmid, 2006).

The decline of carbon energy use: United States administration has of recent times advocated actively for development of clean energy. With the need to eradicate the overdependency on carbon becomes more urgent, there is a space for the nuclear technology to crop in and settle as the power generation method of choice (Folbre, 2011).

Technological advancements; the emergence of smaller reactors being funded by investors like bill gates have opened an economical gate that the nuclear technology can pursue to establish itself. These designs are considered safer and cheaper. Currently there is an intense analysis to evaluate the viability. With this technology the nuclear troubles can be redeemed.


As the globe struggled to come up with a reliable source of renewable energy to replace the use of carbon compounds, the United States has turned its attention to the use of nuclear power. Reviving of this sector though face several challenges both practically and politically.

The crisis that occurs at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan because of an earthquake and tsunami raised so many questions regarding nuclear power plants’ safety. This scrutiny emerged just as the country was reviving its interest in the nuclear power after decades of dormancy. The sector despite being termed part of the energy future have struggled to pick. Below are some of the challenged which are crippling nuclear energy production.

Global slowdown; prior to the accident in Three Mile Island Pennsylvania and the occurrence at Chernobyl Ukraine the nuclear sector was struggling to compete globally. This was due to the massive costs associated with initiating the projects in addition to continuous opposition from the public due to safety fall offs. In 1973 alone around 60% of the ordered nuclear reactors were canceled based on the data from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This was attributed to the economic crisis, ballooning capital costs as well as environmental reasons (Martin, 2007). Most of the developments which have taken place in the nuclear capacity have been due to improved efficiency in the already established plants.

Future prospect; as of 2010 the country had 25 reactors in the planning stage. As per the projection of the country the proportion of the total energy derived from nuclear plants will go down slightly by 2035. Under the administration of Obama, the State has tried to improve the sector by allocating capital loan guarantees for construction of plants. Of notice were the two reactors in Georgia.

These plans have been put in doubt by the accident which occurred in Fukushima. The calls to eradicate fossil fuels have raised fears of potential rise in the global energy prices, currently almost all the 60 reactors under construction globally are located in either Europe or Asia, the globe will almost double its energy consumption by 2030, going by that trend potentiality of the nuclear power source to even maintain  its market share is in doubt with so many reactors almost at the end of their lifespan (Wolfgang, 1990).

Nuclear regulations: the environmental movements in the United States and Europe catalysed by high profile nuclear accidents led to a revolution in the nuclear regulations between 1970 and 1980. These regulations made licensing and building nuclear reactors to be very expensive. The set of new regulations unearthed a number of safety concerns in plants that were undergoing construction hence led to delays, added costs and even caused some projects to be scrapped.

Nuclear expenses; cost is one of the main challenges facing the nuclear sector. From the data of World Nuclear Association, the generation of electricity from the nuclear plants once online is competitive with other energy generation methods. However, the massive cost associated with starting the projects, uncertainties surrounding nuclear regulations as well as the long-lead construction periods makes investments in the nuclear sector to be a risky task.  

Other barriers

Safety: From the accident in Three Mile Island in 1979 the public becomes unsupportive of the nuclear technology. As this opposition was easing another one occurred in Fukushima in 2011 which again brought the safety issue into the public domain (McKeown, 2003). This hindered the nuclear power technology development as legislators respond to the accidents by passing acts which makes operating in the industry more and more costly.

Construction bottlenecks: the making of ultra-large forging, pressure vessels as well as the core of the nuclear reactors is an obstacle which needs to be tackled. Apparently, few firms can forge the reactor vessels in the required design. This makes the supply to be limited. With the strict conditions surrounding nuclear plants establishments and operations it becomes time-consuming to bypass all the regulatory requirements and get a licence or renew the operation of a nuclear plant (Kitschelt, 1986).

A personal view of the technology

Nuclear is currently enjoying a great re-emergence around the globe. Several countries are committing to pursue its technology responsibly. This decision has been supported by several expert research and opinions that the nuclear path will be very vital in offering sustainable energy as we prepare for a carbon-free future. On top of the nations currently running nuclear plants several others have shown interest to initiate the technology (Peachey, 2013).

Nuclear technology in a nutshell appears as a viable alternative to the carbon compounds as it is one of the technologies highlighted under the low carbon sector. In my opinion I would wish to differ with the experts that have termed nuclear power as the future of energy in the USA. Currently several technologies such as onshore, offshore wind power, wave power, hydroelectric as well as geothermal opportunities exist across the United States. These areas offer clean energy with very minimal risks (Wald, 2010).

Nuclear power technology was initially introduced to the globe as a war tool. As much as several nations are dedicating to pursue its use responsible there is no guarantee that they will do so. For example, there have been instances where nations are striving to build the atomic bomb plants under the pretence of harnessing energy. The risk associated with the nuclear technology outweigh some of its immediate benefits. This is a tool that has the capacity to cause massive harm whose impacts goes for decades. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki cases are just examples. Should another global conflict arise then the world may be treated to a massive surprise.

In addition to the fears of applying the technology in warfare to cause mass destruction, the safety of the nuclear firms cannot be guaranteed whichever the case. The occurrence of natural calamities such as earthquakes like in the Fukushima case is just an indication of the safety hazard underlying the nuclear plants. Nuclear radiation is a huge hurdle that not all economies may be able to sustain. Furthermore, the globe is yet to develop technologies that can assist prewet phenomena like earthquakes and tsunamis.

In my opinion nuclear energy offers a desirable alternative to fossil fuels when it comes to minimising carbon emission but just like fossil fuels’ major disadvantage is the global warming issue nuclear energy also comes with a whole pack of issues. Currently thre is a drastic rise in cancer cases which the world is yet to solve (Swartz, 2012).

Encouraging commissioning of nuclear plants across the planet will put everyone at risk of the nuclear rays. The world is full of options when it comes to harnessing energy. We only need to direct our resources to the right technology and will be there. For instance, the massive waves present in the large water bodies surrounding the continents offer a lot of potentialities that can be pursued with very minimal health, safety and environmental issues. Instead of pursuing nuclear technology why not direct the research into wave power energy generation.


Since the use of nuclear was identified as a potential source of energy the technology has enjoyed a mixed experience around the globe. The United States for instance have made tremendous steps in terms of developing the sector. Learning from the experience with nuclear accidents the nation has been able to pass acts that have made nuclear plants safer. This though generated other technicalities as the cist f initiating and running a nuclear plant have gone up. With the reduced cost of fossil fuels the technology is finding it hard to penetrate the market (Crooks, 2014). The united states energy grid is currently inefficient as it's not able to sustain additional output from the nuclear sector. When this is added to the disadvantaged like safety concerns surrounding the sector then we can have a view if how the sector still needs to go to enhance nuclear power generation competitiveness (Steve, 2017).

In addition to the financial challenges facing constriction of nuclear plants the public safety has led to opposition from most of the US population who see nuclear plants as hazards in awaiting. Before the technology can kick off with the permission of the world occupants it will need to do a lot to convince them that encouraging the sector will not generate power at the expense of the safety.

The overreliance on carbon compounds for power generation has caused the globe a lot of harm. The current climate change menace being the major setback. With the need to develop a sustainable energy sector the world agrees that industrialised nations need to take the lead in eradicating the use of fossil fuels (The National Academies Press, 2011). The US is one such country which has shown a lot of passion in campaigning against the use of carbon fuels. As a way of offering its citizens an alternative energy source the country has constantly improved its investment in the nuclear sector.

The United States is one of the countries which pioneered the development of the nuclear energy. This happened in the 1940s when the technology was used to create atomic bombs used in the world war II. The use of nuclear technology has since been revolutionised and most of the countries have now adopted its use for generation of clean energy.

In this research will examine the development of the nuclear technology in the United States. This will entail a review of the current state of the technology, the technical development that it has undergone, avenues for further development as well as some of the barriers which have hindered the sector’s competitiveness. Afterward the research will be close by a presentation of my personal view regarding the use of nuclear power based on existing evidence.


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