The first nuclear reactor to generate electricity was the EBR-1 experimental reactor in Arco, Idaho. Previously, reactors had only been used to produce materials for the military: especially plutonium for bombs of the kind dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. Four years after the EBR-1 reactor became operational (producing a paltry 100 kilowatts of power), it became the first nuclear reactor to suffer a partial meltdown.
The contemporary nuclear industry includes 439 nuclear reactors worldwide, producing 6.5% of the world’s energy and 15.7% of the world’s electricity. According to the International Atomic Energy Organization, 31 different countries operate reactors. Two countries – France and Japan – produce 57% of the world’s nuclear power, with nuclear producing 80% of all French usage. In terms of sheer output, the United States produces more nuclear power than anyone else in the world. US nuclear output in 2005 was about 406 terawatt-hours. They also have the largest and safest nuclear navy (Russia has had 18 serious nuclear accidents on subs, producing seven sinkings and 241 deaths).
As far back as 1952, a Presidential commission (The President’s Materials Policy Commission) produced a pessimistic report on the prospects of nuclear power for electrical generation, suggesting that money be devoted to solar power research instead. Now, the combination of concerns about energy security and concerns about climate change is prompting a possible re-birth within the industry. Here is a map showing who is considering new nuclear facilities.
It would certainly be useful to know the true price of nuclear power, as well as whether anyone will actually open a geological storage depot for spent fuel in coming years.