Nuclear generation in the United States declined in 2021

Published on January 03, 2023 by Dave Kovaleski

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U.S. nuclear electricity generation declined in 2021, marking the second consecutive year this has happened, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Output from U.S. nuclear power plants totaled 778 million megawatt hours in 2021, which is roughly 1.5 percent less than the previous year. However, nuclear’s share of U.S. electricity generation across all sectors in 2021 stayed about the same at 19 percent.

A big reason for the decline is that six nuclear generating units with a total capacity of 4,736 megawatts (MW) have retired since the end of 2017. In addition, three more reactors with a combined 3,009 MW of capacity are scheduled to retire in the coming years. These include Michigan’s Palisades, which is scheduled to retire later this year, and California’s Diablo Canyon, which will retire one generating unit in 2024 and one in 2025.

In 2021, the loss of electricity generation from the retirement of Indian Point Unit 3 was partially offset by an increase in the generation of the remaining nuclear fleet at a higher capacity factor.

Looking ahead, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which was enacted in November 2021, includes the allocation of $6 billion to prevent the premature retirement of existing nuclear power plants. The funding will be made available to nuclear power plants that might otherwise retire and that are certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as safe to continue operations.

Also, two nuclear generating units are now under construction in Georgia — Vogtle Units 3 and 4. The plan is for them to come online by the end of 2023. Each unit is rated at 1,114 MW, and they will be the first nuclear units to come online in the United States since Tennessee’s Watts Bar Unit 2 in mid-2016.