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A Short Energy Quiz Update

In a 1981 back-issue of MOTHER EARTH, an article titled “A Short Energy Quiz” described the contributions of various sources of energy to US power consumption. The article claimed that the winner, “by a wide margin,” was coal, and that the contribution of atomic power to the fuel mix was slim and slipping.

In fact, the notion that nuclear energy’s contribution to the US power supply was declining was conventional wisdom in the early 1980s. It appears a few things have changed since Mother Earth News published their “quiz”—so we thought we might give an updated quiz of our own.

List, in descending order, the relative contributions of the following sources of energy to our nation’s power consumption: coal, gas, hydro, nuclear, and oil. Ready? While coal generation does account for about half the United States’ electric power consumption, the fact is that nuclear generation is a not-so-distant second. According to statistics published by the Energy Information Administration (a statistical agency of the US Department of Energy), nuclear energy meets 20% of our nation’s electricity needs, and has consistently done so for over a decade, despite the fact that electricity demand has increased by almost 18% over the same time period.

Nuclear power not only meets one-fifth of the country’s electricity needs, but it does so without the emission of harmful greenhouse gases like sulfur and carbon dioxides. In fact, nuclear power is the largest clean-air source of electricity, producing 70% of non-emitting generation in the United States.


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