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According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based industry advocacy organization, nuclear power plants in the United States generated approximately 805.7 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in 2008, missing the record of 806.5 billion kWh set in 2007.
This notable power output was achieved in large part by a capacity factor that outshines other competing industries. Capacity factor measures the ratio of electricity produced in a given time period to the maximum that could be produced in that period at full-rated power. According to the institute, the industry-average capacity factor last year was 91.1 percent, and 16 of the nation’s 104 reactors achieved capacity factors greater than 100 percent.
In contrast, the average capacity factor for other industries is much lower, such as 70 percent for coal-fired power plants, 40 percent for natural-gas-fired power plants, and 30 percent for wind power projects. The institute also boasts that nuclear energy currently supplies electricity to one of every five homes and businesses. When it comes to the reduction of greenhouse gases, it may also come as a surprise to many that about one-third of U.S. electricity production is now generated by carbon-free sources, and nuclear energy accounts for more than 70 percent of that clean electricity.
Nuclear power stands to enjoy yet another productive year in 2009 as 10 reactors have received approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to implement a combined 726 megawatts of so-called power “uprates,” technical enhancements and modifications that increase the amount of electricity an existing power plant can generate.