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17.3: Nuclear Energy Consumption

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    Nuclear electricity came on the energy scene remarkably quickly. Following the development of nuclear technology at the end of World War II for military ends, nuclear energy quickly acquired a new peacetime path for inexpensive production of electricity. Eleven years after the end of World War II, a very short time in energy terms, the first commercial nuclear reactor produced electricity at Calder Hall in Sellafield, England. The number of nuclear reactors grew steadily to more than 400 by 1990 (figure \(\PageIndex{a}\)), four years after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and eleven years following Three Mile Island in 1979 (see Consequences of Nuclear Energy). The number of operating reactors remained approximately flat for two decades, and the United States has not built a new nuclear facility since 1996. The number of operating nuclear power plants decreased in 2011, when the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station caused Japan to  shut down all of its nuclear power plants. Japan has since resumed use of some of its nuclear reactors. 

    Thick steam emerges from a cylindrical cooling tower of a nuclear power plant.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{a}\): Arkansas Nuclear One, a power plant in Russellville, Arkansas. Image by Edibobb (CC-BY).

    World production of electricity from nuclear power was about 2795.96 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2019, comprising 10.4% of electricity production and 4.3% of total energy consumption globally (figure \(\PageIndex{b}\)). (For reference, the U.S. generated about 4100 TWh of electricity total in 2019.) The United States produced and consumed about 30.5% of the world's nuclear power in 2019, where nuclear power provided about 19.6% of the electricity and 8.0% of the total energy consumption (figure \(\PageIndex{c}\)).

    Line graph of nuclear power generation over time
    Figure \(\PageIndex{b}\): Global nuclear power generation in TWh over time. Nuclear power production initially increased but remained relative flat in the early 2000s. The dip in 2011 is due to the temporary shutdown of nuclear reactors in Japan following the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station meltdown. Image from Hannah Ritchie/Our World in Data (CC-BY).
    Pie chart of U.S. energy consumption by sector. Renewable energy is further divided into types.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{c}\): U.S. primary energy consumption by energy source in 2019. Nuclear power comprised 8% of total energy consumption in the U.S. Total energy consumption was 100.2 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu). Other source of energy were petroleum (37%), natural gas (32%), coal (11%), and renewable energy (11%).Total renewable energy consumption was 11.4 quadrillion Btu. This includes biomass (43%), wind (24%), hydroelectric (22%), solar (9%), and geothermal (2%). Biomass includes wood (20%), biofuels other than wood and waste (20%), and biomass waste (4%). Note: Sum of components may not equal 100% because of independent rounding. Image by EIA (public domain). 


    Modified by Melissa Ha from Non-Renewable Energy Sources from Environmental Biology by Matthew R. Fisher (licensed under CC-BY)

    This page titled 17.3: Nuclear Energy Consumption is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Melissa Ha and Rachel Schleiger (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .

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