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MAY 2016

THE COUNCIL OF STATE GOVERNMENTS

CAPITOL RESEARCH
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY

Nuclear Energy in the States: An Outlook for 2016 and Beyond
Nuclear energy has provided commercial electricity
generation in the United States since 1957, when a
plant in Shippingport, Penn., came online.1 Between
1966 and 1977, 75 nuclear reactors were built in the
U.S. However, a combination of escalating costs and
increasing safety and environmental concerns halted
almost all construction of new nuclear reactors in the
U.S. after 1978.2
While more than 30 years have passed since the last
nuclear reactor was constructed in this country, some
states are taking an increased interest in nuclear
power. Currently, there are 100 operating commercial
nuclear reactors in the U.S., which generate about
19 percent of the country’s electricity.3 In 2012, the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued licenses for
the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant Units 3 and 4,
both located in Georgia, and for the Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Station Units 2 and 3 in South Carolina.
An additional license was issued on May 1, 2015, for
the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Plant Unit 3, located in
Michigan.4
After suspending construction of Unit 2 of the Watts
Bar Nuclear Power Plant located in southeastern
Tennessee in 1985, the Tennessee Valley Authority
was issued a full power facility operating license on
Oct. 22, 2015. Unit 1 of the Watts Bar Plant was the
last power reactor to be licensed in the U.S., after
being issued a full operating license in 1996.5
While the future of nuclear energy is uncertain, the
construction of the first new reactors in decades and
the continuing need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is leading to an increased interest in nuclear
energy.

However, 15 states currently place restrictions on the
construction of new nuclear power facilities. Minnesota bans the construction of new nuclear reactors
statewide,7 while New York bans construction only in
a certain area of the state.8

Massachusetts has perhaps the most comprehensive
requirements for constructing a new nuclear reactor
facility. While voters must approve the construction
and operation of any new reactors, the legislature
also must find that a disposal facility exists, an
emergency preparedness plan has been developed,
emissions standards have been developed, a federally
approved technology for dismantling and decommissioning the plant exists, and that the proposed plant
offers the optimal means for meeting the energy
needs of the state.9

The remaining states require that certain conditions
be met before the construction of a nuclear reactor
is approved. In the majority of states with restrictions, the state requires that an adequate, federally

On April 1, 2016, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed
legislation into law repealing the state’s previous
requirement that a nuclear facility could not be
licensed until a disposal facility was available and it

Currently, 30 states have at least one nuclear reactor.6

The Council of State Governments

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licensed disposal facility must be operational prior to
the approval of any new reactors. California requires
a federally approved, technologically feasible fuel
reprocessing plant to be built and operational. Other
states, such as Maine, Montana, Oregon, Rhode
Island and Vermont, require legislative or voter
approval in order to site a nuclear power plant. Additionally, West Virginia and Massachusetts require
that the construction of a nuclear power plant be
economically feasible for ratepayers.

was found to be economically feasible for ratepayers.10
Both Kentucky11 and Illinois12 introduced legislation
that would have repealed the restrictions on nuclear
power in those states, but neither bill has passed at
the time of this brief’s publication.

will take decades to implement. DOE is currently
working on an integrated nuclear waste management plan that includes consent-based siting. Public
meetings on consent-based siting are currently being
hosted by DOE at locations across the country.13

While new nuclear power plants are being constructed for the first time in decades, many state laws
prohibit their construction until a permanent, federally approved disposal site is operational. In 2010,
the U.S. stopped construction on Yucca Mountain,
the disposal site selected in 1987 as the permanent
disposal site for the country’s nuclear waste. Another
location for a permanent disposal site has not been
chosen, but the U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE,
has noted that a solution to disposing of the spent
nuclear fuel currently being stored at reactor sites

In light of increasing concerns regarding carbon
emissions and rising electricity costs, some states
are building new reactors and other have released,
or attempted to release, restrictions on construction. As the federal government pursues a more
diverse nuclear strategy that includes interim storage
facilities, geological testing and consent-based siting,
and as nuclear waste continues to be generated in
the states, policymakers will continue to address
issues associated with nuclear power and the waste it
generates.
Liz Edmondson, Director, Energy & Environment Policy,
ledmondson@csg.org

SUMMARY OF NUCLEAR RESTRICTIONS BY STATE
Outright
Ban

Disposal/
Reprocessing

California

X

Connecticut

X

Voter
Approval

Economically
Feasible

Hawaii

Legislative
Approval

Other

X

Illinois

X

Kentucky

X

Maine

X

X

Massachusetts

X

X

Minnesota

X
X
X

Rhode Island

X
X

Vermont
West Virginia

X

X

New Jersey
Oregon

X

X

Montana
New York

X

X
X

X
X

REFERENCES

1 U.S. Department of Energy, “The History of Nuclear Energy” available at:
http://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/The%20History%20of%20Nuclear%20Energy_0.pdf.
2 Ahearne, John F., et al. “The Future of Nuclear Power in the United States” (February 2012), available at:
https://fas.org/pubs/_docs/Nuclear_Energy_Report-lowres.pdf.
3 United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Operating Reactors” available at: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating.html.
⁴ U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Combined License Holders for New Reactors” available at:
http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/col-holder.html.
⁵ U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Watts Bar Unit 2 Reactivation” available at: http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactors/wb/watts-bar.html
⁶ Union of Concerned Scientists, “U.S. Nuclear Power Plants” available at:
http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear-power/us-nuclear-power-plants-database#.Vp5xJVlx11E.
⁷ M.S.A. 216B.243
⁸ McKinney’s Public Authorities Law §1020-t.
9
M.G.L.A. 164 App. §3-3.
10
WI A 384 (2015), repealing W.S.A. 196.493.
11
Ky. SB 89 (2015).
12
Ill. HB 4542 (2015).
13
U.S. Department of Energy, “Consent-Based Siting,” available at: www.energy.gov/ne/consent-based-siting

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