DVD: The Landscape of Nuclear Power

The newest nuclear power plant in the United States is 16 years old, in Tennessee. The oldest operating nuclear power plant is 43 years old, still producing power in Oyster Creek, New Jersey.  Currently, 104 nuclear reactors are running in the U.S., running in 31 states and producing 19.6% of our electricity. (Data from the Nuclear Energy Institute)

I’ve been looking for a data-set to play with while teaching myself to learn to use Tableau, an awesome data vis program, so I decided to use the federal government’s data on all of the Nuclear Power plants in the US, including those under construction, shut down, or still in the planning phase. To start, check out the map above that I made to show all of the locations of of reactors in the US. They are color coded by status, so the green dots show currently operating plants. The dots are also scaled by size; smaller dots represent plants producing less power.

I was surprised to learn how old our fleet of nuclear power plants is.  Although as technology has improved, facilities have been updated, but most of our reactors were built in the 1970s.  The chart below shows the number of reactors in each year in which the reactor came online, the Start Year. You can see that most of our current production capacity came online during the early 1970s and then the 1980s. The red bars indicate reactors capacity that has been shut down.

One of the things I like best about learning data visualization is trying to see how many dimensions of information I can present in one image. The chart above had three, start year, production capacity, and status.  In the chart below, I’ve added another dimension. Here, the graph shows each individual plant as a symbol on it’s location by start year and MW produced. You can clearly see that the capacity has increased for the newer plants. The symbols are also color coded by status.  To the left of the graph, there is a column for “No Start Year” which show the reactors were construction has been suspended or halted, or reactors that have never made it past the planning stage. Finally, I gave the symbols different shapes to represent the different types of nuclear reactors.

Most of the nuclear reactors in the more recent decades are shown by squares and upside-down triangles. The squares represent Boiling Water Reactors (35 currently running), and the upside-down triangles represent Pressurized Water Reactors (69 currently running). In the US, these are the only currently operating types, but there are some red symbols representing other designs that have been phased out.

Who owns these nuclear power plants? According the the Nuclear Energy Institute, only 31 companies are currently licensed to operate Nuclear Reactors, but more than that have operated reactors in the past, and i wanted to include that information as well. I made a visualization of the number of plants owned by each company, as well as the current status of each facility, but it’s a bit unwieldly. Unfortunately, this blog, built using wordpress.com, does not support the JavaScript used to make my data visualizations interactive, but  the link to the pie chart of who owns the nuclear power in the United States is HERE.  Sorry it’s so messy, I’m still learning 🙂

So, which visualizations did you like best? What helped you learn something interesting about nuclear power in the US without cluttering up the image (and you brain) with less interesting details. I really enjoyed playing with Tableau, so I think I might start a  hunt for a new website that will support these graphics in their full power. Suggestions welcome!


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