American reactors were initially licensed to operate for up to 40 years. Beginning with the two reactors at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant in Maryland, many owners have applied to the NRC for permission to extend the reactor operation licenses for an additional 20 years.

Nearly three-quarters of the U.S. fleet have been re-licensed and the NRC is reviewing several other license renewal requests. A second round of 20-year license extensions is currently in discussion between the NRC, the Department of Energy, and the nuclear industry.

In 2012, the NRC issued licenses for two new reactors at the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia and two new reactors at the Virgil C. Summer nuclear plant in South Carolina, the first new reactor licenses to be issued in nearly two decades.

Authorization in 2012 to construct and operate four new reactors was offset by decisions in 2013 to permanently close four operating reactors—Crystal River Unit 3 in Florida, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, and San Onofre Units 2 and 3 in California. Stiff competition from natural gas factored into the decision to retire Kewaunee while unexpected problems encountered during the replacement of aging components led to the other three reactor closures. During 2013, it was also announced that a fifth reactor, the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, would permanently shut down in fall 2014.

The extent to which nuclear power remains a major U.S. energy source depends on many variables, including its role in fighting climate change, nuclear safety, cost, and the growth of other energy sources.

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