Office of Nuclear Energy

5 Fast Facts About Nuclear Energy

January 16, 2018

You are here

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 about 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:

Photo of a nuclear power plant with text that reads five fast facts about nuclear energy.
Click above to view our infographic.

1. NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS PRODUCED 807.1 BILLION KILOWATT HOURS OF ELECTRICITY IN 2018

The United States is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power. It generated 807.1 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2018—the highest total ever. Commercial nuclear power plants have supplied around 20% of the nation’s electricity each year since 1990.

2. NUCLEAR POWER PROVIDES 55% OF AMERICA’S CLEAN ENERGY

Nuclear energy provided 55% of America’s carbon-free electricity in 2018, 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 2018—making it the most reliable energy source in America. That’s about 1.5 to 2 times more reliable as natural gas (58%) and coal (54%) plants, and roughly 2.5 to 3.5 times more reliable than wind (37%) and solar (26%) 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

As of September 2018, 98 commercial reactors continue to 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.

Get the latest news, blogs and videos from the Office of Nuclear Energy in your inbox.
* indicates required
Explore More
Get all the facts about nuclear energy at the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy website.
Follow us on Twitter
Join the conversation today @GovNuclear
View More