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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson March 16, 2011

Bill Kristol says 20 percent of U.S. electricity comes from nuclear power

The extensive damage to Japanese nuclear facilities following the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, has focused more attention on nuclear power than it has received in years.

On the March 13, 2011, edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard, about how the situation in Japan could affect the use of nuclear power in the United States.

"Bill, at a time when Democrats and Republicans were finally getting together and supporting nuclear power as safe, clean, non-polluting energy, and President Obama had $36 billion in loan credits in his 2012 budget to promote more plants, what happens now to the domestic industry?" Wallace asked.

Kristol responded, "Well, we can probably save $36 billion from the 2012 budget because I think it's a bit of a setback to nuclear power here in the U.S. I'll go out on a limb and make that prediction.

"But, you know, people will say, well, we build new plants. Twenty percent of our electricity currently comes from nuclear power plants. I think there are 104 in the United States, two of them around the coast in California. Very earthquake-resistant, but I guess there could be a tsunami there. It sounds like it's the tsunami that did the most damage in Japan.

"So, on the one hand, it's impressive how resistant these things are to damage. On the other hand, I do think, as you say, these alarming fears, whether or not they -- certainly if they come to fruition, and let's hope they don't -- it's obviously a setback to nuclear power. And I think it makes even stronger the case for going after natural gas and oil domestically."

We wondered whether Kristol’s statistics on electricity generation and the number of nuclear plants were correct -- and we figured our readers would be too. So we looked into it.

We first turned to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, a compendium of statistics published by the U.S. Census Bureau. It includes a table summarizing electricity generation by fuel type through 2009. Dividing net electric generation via nuclear power by net generation in the electric power sector as a whole, we get 20.9 percent. That’s close enough to Kristol’s comment to pass muster with us.

Next, we turned to the website of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The agency has a page where you can find active nuclear generating facilities on a map and in alphabetical order. We counted them up, and there are exactly 104 sites listed.

Kristol’s only error was in suggesting that there are 104 nuclear power plants; in fact, there are 104 nuclear power reactors. Because many plants have more than one reactor, the actual number of plants is 65. (This list doesn’t count military and scientific reactors, which are not overseen by the agency.)

Finally, we checked Kristol's claim about nuclear facilities on the California coast. There are, in fact, two: Diablo Canyon, located 12 miles from San Luis Obispo, and San Onofre, located 46 miles from Long Beach. The photographs on the agency's website clearly show that the plants are located near the water.

So Kristol was basically correct, only erring with his mislabeling of "reactors" as "plants." We rate his statement Mostly True.

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Bill Kristol says 20 percent of U.S. electricity comes from nuclear power

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