Feb. 23, 2012 at 7:15 AM ET
By Brian Zajac, 24/7 Wall St.
The anniversary of the Japan earthquake, which killed over 16,000 people and caused the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, is only two weeks away. Immediately after the disaster, several European nations decided to significantly trim their use of nuclear power. Similarly, the Obama Administration decided to partially pull back from a previous move aimed at gaining more U.S. energy independence through the use of nuclear reactors. Despite these decisions, nuclear energy remains the world’s most used source of emission-free energy. This is particularly true in regions which are densely populated, although it is not entirely clear why.
Only one U.S. plant has been approved since the disaster -- Southern Co.’s two reactors at Plant Vogtle site in Georgia. In fact, it is the first nuclear power plant approved in the U.S. in more than three decades. Yet some U.S. states rely heavily on nuclear energy. As an emission-free source, nuclear energy cannot be readily replaced without having a river or huge lake for generating hydro power, without building huge wind farms, and solar energy is years away. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the ten states that rely heavily on nuclear power as their source of emission-free energy.
Currently, 31 states have nuclear plants. 24/7 Wall St.’s analysis covers the 10 states in which nuclear energy is the most significant source, or even the only source of emission-free power. In most of these states, the amount of total electricity generated by nuclear is above a third.
24/7 found that these ten states tend to have energy costs per capita above the national average. However, they also tend to be among the most densely populated states, which provokes the “not in my backyard” argument against nuclear power plant construction. It also questions the usefulness of nuclear power as an alternative in less densely populated states that already have low electric cost per capita, such as North Dakota, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. Coal and gas power are plentiful in these states, which is an advantage, at least until fossil fuel supplies begin to run low.
24/7 Wall St. looked at states that have the highest portion -- 95 percent to 100 percent -- of emission-free power from nuclear power plants using information from the Nuclear Energy Institute. We also looked at population density based on U.S. Census Bureau numbers. U.S. Energy Information Administration provided the number of plants per state.
The Grand Gulf nuclear power facility near Port Gibson is Mississippi’s only operating facility, but is responsible for 100 percent of the state’s emission free electricity.
2. New Jersey
The most densely populated state is home to the nation’s oldest nuclear operating facility, Oyster Creek, which has been running since 1969. An offshore wind farm has been approved by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities off the coast of Cape May which would add to the state’s emission free power base
The August 2011 earthquake near the North Anna facilities caused an automatic shutdown and concern, although both reactors reopened shortly after and remain in operation. The plant’s owner, Dominion, said the seismic event exceeded the plant’s design basis. But, inspections found no damage
Solar power should have loads of potential in the Sunshine State, but nuclear plants still account for 99 percent of the emission free power in Florida. Per capita residential electricity demand is high, due in part to high air-conditioning use during the summer.
Michigan has large natural gas reserves, which helps to heat homes during the cold winter. The three nuclear facilities in the state are responsible for supplying more than a quarter of the state’s electricity.
Only Hawaii has higher residential electricity rates than Connecticut. The Millstone nuclear power station in Waterford produces half of the state’s electric power.
Coal is king when generating electricity in Ohio. However, nuclear energy accounts for nearly all of its emission-free power. The rest comes from solar and wind energy.
8. South Carolina
In a state where electricity use per capita is high, half of the demand is produced by its four nuclear plants.
About one tenth of the total nuclear-powered electricity generation in the United States comes from Illinois.
In addition to being a major coal producing state, Pennsylvania also ranks second in the nation in nuclear power generating capacity.