Nuclear power has been a hot-button issue over the past few years due to safety concerns and energy security concerns in the U.S. and abroad. Despite what many thought, the U.S. isn't just holding steady with nuclear power, it's expanding.
The loan guarantee program that started in 2005 to promote alternative energy sources was expanded in the 2009 Recovery Act and has more funding for nuclear power than any other power source. Yes, the same program that provided a loan guarantee to Solyndra and Tesla Motors is providing billions in loan guarantees and direct government loans to expand the nuclear industry. Plus, the government limits the liability a nuclear plant owner has in the case of a disaster.
So, which states are going all-in on nuclear power? The leaders might surprise you.
The top three nuclear states
The state with by far the most nuclear capacity is Illinois with 11.5 GW out of 43.8 GW of capacity, or 26% of the power available in the state. The area around Chicago is densely populated with nuclear plants, making it the largest nuclear state.
Second on the list is Pennsylvania, the same state that's producing cheap natural gas that's making coal and nuclear power a tough sell economically and politically. 9.6 GW of the state's capacity is nuclear, 21% of the 45.8 GW in the state.
Third on the list is South Carolina, which has 6.5 GW, or 27% of its 24.1 GW of capacity from nuclear power. South Carolina is actually the regional hub of nuclear power in the U.S., with neighboring North Carolina and Georgia also in the top eight states for nuclear power. In fact, the southeastern U.S. is going to get even more of its power from nuclear in coming years.
A nuclear renaissance... or not?
In Georgia, Southern Company (NYSE:SO) is building two new 1.1 GW reactors at its Vogtle nuclear facility, the first built in the U.S. in 30 years. When operational, they'll bring the state into fourth place in the U.S.
But the nuclear renaissance some predicted won't bring much more capacity to the industry. NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG) gave up on a $10 billion plant last year and took a $481 million financial hit in the process. UniStar's request for a license to operate a third reactor at Calvert Cliffs, Md., was denied this year and that project appears to be all but dead. Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy also abandoned a nuclear power plant proposal this year, so momentum for the industry isn't strong.
Nuclear isn't going anywhere
Nuclear power may not be expanding as rapidly as some hoped but it's still a clean-burning energy source and the power plants in operation will be there for years to come. Nuclear power accounts for just under 10% of the power-generating capacity in the U.S., only behind natural gas and coal for power sources.