Recent investments through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act are prioritizing the use of current and advanced nuclear technologies to support the nation's climate goals.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that an additional 200 gigawatts of firm capacity will be needed to meet net-zero emissions by 2050, and the deployment of advanced reactors could help fill that void.
But several U.S. states still have restrictions on nuclear energy development called moratoriums.
So, what exactly is a moratorium? Which states have them? And which states have reversed their stance on new nuclear energy?
Let’s dive in.
What Is a Nuclear Moratorium?
Simply put, a nuclear moratorium is a ban or restriction on nuclear energy. But not all moratoriums are created equal.
Some state laws prohibit the construction of new reactors. Other policies restrict the licensing or testing of new technologies or facilities, and some ban nuclear energy entirely in all or part of the state.
In many states, concerns over the long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel led to restrictions until a permanent disposal solution could be found.
Which States Have Nuclear Moratoriums?
Since the 1970s, 16 states have instituted bans on nuclear energy in one form or another.
Today, moratoriums remain in place in these 12 states:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
Each state has its own specific set of rules and restrictions.
Massachusetts, for example, doesn’t allow the construction of new nuclear plants unless a list of specific conditions is met. Other states, like Rhode Island and Vermont, can only operate nuclear facilities after gaining legislative approval.
Minnesota has banned new reactor construction outright.
In New York and Connecticut, moratoriums come with significant caveats. New York allows new nuclear construction, except for a ban in parts of Nassau, Suffolk, and Queens counties.
Connecticut prohibits reactor development everywhere except the state’s one operating nuclear power plant, an exemption that was created by legislation passed in 2022.
Many state moratoriums require that a permanent disposal site for spent fuel is created before any new development is considered.
Which States Repealed Nuclear Moratoriums?
These four states have rolled back, or repealed, their bans on nuclear in recent years:
- Wisconsin (2016)
- Kentucky (2017)
- Montana (2021)
- West Virginia (2022)
Wisconsin became the first state to repeal its moratorium in 2016, lifting restrictions that had prohibited new nuclear energy development for more than three decades.
The past two years saw a flurry of action, with Montana and West Virginia enacting legislation that opens the door to potential new reactor construction.
Governors and state lawmakers have cited the climate and economic benefits of nuclear in the effort to overturn their states’ long-standing prohibitions on reactor construction.
Some states are looking to new reactor technologies as they consider how to transition from fossil fuels and retain jobs and economic vitality around retiring plants.
On the Horizon
DOE is supporting the deployment of several advanced reactors that could all be online in the 2030s.
Unit 3 at Plant Vogtle recently became the first new reactor to start commercial operations since 2016 and is the most advanced light-water reactor system on the grid today.
It uses Westinghouse’s AP1000 technology that can shut down without operator action or external power for 72 hours and has a significantly smaller footprint than current large-scale reactors.
Unit 4 at Plant Vogtle is expected to come online in early 2024.
DOE is also working with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) through the Carbon Free Power Project to demonstrate a six-module NuScale VOYGR power plant at Idaho National Laboratory.
The first power module is expected to be operational by 2029.
And through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, TerraPower and X-energy received a combined $2.5 billion to demonstrate their advanced reactors in Wyoming and Texas.
TerraPower’s Natrium reactor in Kemmerer, Wyoming, will provide jobs and reliable electricity generation in a community where a coal plant is closing down.
X-energy is partnering with Dow to deploy its grid-scale Xe-100 reactor at an industrial site along the Gulf Coast.
Additional designs supported by DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program could also see deployment early next decade to further support the nation’s transition to a clean energy economy.