The Professor's History Lesson: Atomic Energy Act and Beyond

The Professor's History Lessons share amazing moments in the history of energy, electricity, and sustainable development. We hope these brief looks back in history will teach you something new and give you a greater appreciation for the energy used in your daily lives.

Today, we use nuclear energy to generate much of our electricity. Nuclear energy is a powerful type of energy found throughout the universe. While it is normally created by stars, we’re able to create nuclear energy ourselves and use that energy to generate electricity. While nuclear power plants function much like fossil fuel power plants (in that they use energy to heat water and use the steam created from that reaction to turn a turbine that generates electricity), there is no combustion in a nuclear power plant. Instead, nuclear energy is created by the fission of uranium atoms (smashing uranium atoms into each other). We are able to do this safely and effectively thanks in part to the Atomic Energy Act, which was created in 1946.

This week in history marks the amendment of the original Atomic Energy Act, which is now more commonly known as the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. The amendments to the original Atomic Energy Act provide expanded non-governmental access to information about the generation and use of nuclear energy, thereby enabling the commercialization of nuclear energy to generate electricity. The reason for the 8-year delay was because the government had significant safety and security concerns (After all, the original Atomic Energy Act was passed on the heels of World War II, which saw the first and only use of atomic weapons in warfare and demonstrated for the world the potentially devastating power nuclear energy can create.). So the Atomic Energy Act established guidelines for the construction of nuclear power plants and safe generation of electricity from nuclear energy.

But who oversees this process? Well, that would be the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the generation and use of nuclear energy to protect the public from a nuclear leak and other accidents.

And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s regulations are very important. As you may recall from recent history, a thermonuclear event can have devastating consequences. Thankfully, there haven’t been any recent safety concerns in the United States, and only three major accidents in the history of commercial nuclear power (at Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island).

The World Nuclear Association, an international leader in the industry, puts the world’s safety record into perspective on its website, which states that “These are the only major accidents to have occurred in over 16,000 cumulative reactor-years of commercial nuclear power operation in 33 countries,” and “The evidence over six decades shows that nuclear power is a safe means of generating electricity.”

Like the majority of the global power plant community, the United States has a strong safety record. In fact, our record dates back to 1951 with the U.S.’s first nuclear power plant. And today there are 60 commercial nuclear power plants in the U.S. with 100 nuclear reactors in 30 different states, reports the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. Texas is home to four nuclear reactors: two in Bay City, which is 90 miles southwest of Houston, and two in Glen Rose just 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth.  While nuclear energy isn’t technically a “green” source of energy, these four reactors actually help produce about 49.4 percent of Texas’s carbon-free electricity.

If you really want to go “green,” though, check out Brilliant Energy’s Brilliant Green energy plan, which offers 100 percent renewable content. To learn more about Brilliant Green and our other plans, visit brilliantenergy.com and click on the Our Rates button.