Nuclear power is environmentally benign, and therefore, its operation has little impact on the environment. Nuclear power operations have essentially a zero emissions burden on a small total footprint.
Nuclear power plants comply with the requirements and expectations of the Clean Air Act of 1970, which set standards to improve the nation's air quality. Because they generate heat from the fission process, they produce no gases or particulate emissions associated with burning fuel during operations.
About 33% of America's electricity comes from clean-air sources, including nuclear power plants, hydroelectric plants, and wind and solar energy facilities. Nuclear power plants generate about 20% of U.S. electricity, or about 60% of the entire nation's clean-air electricity generation. By replacing other fossil fuels used for generation of electricity, nuclear energy has significantly reduced U.S. emissions of air pollutants and gases.
Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, base load, clean electricity source that can be expanded widely to produce the large amounts of energy needed in the U.S. In 2011, U.S. nuclear power plants prevented the emission of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide-pollutants controlled under the Clean Air Act-by 0.5 million short tons and 1.4 million short tons, respectively. The amount of nitrogen oxide emissions that nuclear plants prevent annually is the equivalent of taking more than 28 million passenger cars off the road.