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Environment: Emissions Prevented

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Avoided

According to the U.S. Department of Energy and the Energy Information Administration report "Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases 1997" (published June 1, 1999), the single most effective emission control strategy for utilities was to increase nuclear generation. Increased nuclear capacity and improved efficiency at nuclear power plants since 1993 represents one-third of voluntary carbon dioxide reductions from U.S. industries. In 2012, nuclear energy accounted for 64.0 percent of U.S. emission-free generation.

Nuclear energy facilities avoided 570 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2012 across the U.S. This is nearly as much carbon dioxide as is released from 110 million cars, which is nearly all U.S. passenger cars. The U.S. produces more than five billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Without the emission avoidances from nuclear generation, required reductions in the U.S. would increase by more than 50 percent to achieve targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

Worldwide nuclear energy avoids on average the emissions of about 2.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Nuclear Generation Produces No Criteria Pollutants

Nuclear energy also prevents more than half a million tons of nitrogen oxide, which is equivalent to that released by 24 million cars. It also prevents 1.0 million tons of sulfur dioxide annually in the United States.

As part of the U.S. EPA Acid Rain Program, 21 states from 1990-1995 showed a 16.4 percent increase of nuclear generation that avoided 480,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (37 percent of the required emissions reduction).

Under the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, no credit was allocated to nuclear plants. But, based on the average value of publicly traded sulfur dioxide credits, this contribution would have been worth about $50 million.

Life-cycle Emissions

Nuclear energy facilities do not emit criteria pollutants or greenhouse gases when they generate electricity, but certain processes used to build and fuel the plants do. This is true for all energy facilities. Independent studies have assessed nuclear energy’s life-cycle emissions and found them to be comparable to wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric generation.