Nuclear power plants safe, secure

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  1. 1. U.S. nuclear power plants safe, secureBy Tom KauffmanHow safe is nuclear energy? Its a question people are asking after the accident in Japan. Although noU.S. nuclear facilities face earthquakes or tsunamis of the intensity that occurred in Japan, and theprobability of a Fukushima type occurring here is extremely small, electric utilities as well as the U.S.Nuclear Regulatory Commission have aggressively responded to make Americas nuclear energyfacilities even safer.Through the decades, U.S. nuclear power plants have been struck by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakesand floods. Without exception, all have performed as designed to protect the health and safety of thepublic and the environment. This past August, for example, Hurricane Irene caused massive floodingand damage along the East Coast. Of the 24 nuclear facilities in Irenes path, 18 remained at full power,four temporarily reduced electric output, one temporarily shut down as a precaution, and oneautomatically shut down when storm debris struck an external electrical transformer. After the storm,the plants provided much-needed electricity for the recovery.Another recent example is the North Anna nuclear facility in Virginia that was shaken by anearthquake stronger than was anticipated when the plant was built. Both reactors at the siteautomatically shut down and safety equipment functioned as designed to cool both reactors.Although the ground motion exceeded the plants design parameters, there was no significantdamage to either facility because of the large added margin of safety designed and built into everyplant.While U.S. nuclear facilities have handled natural challenges extraordinarily well, it would be foolish tomiss the larger lesson: We must always evaluate the 104 reactors here in America to make sure they canwithstand severe conditions regardless of the cause. The industry must apply the lessons of Fukushima,review seismic protection and continue to prevent damage caused by sudden flooding.The U.S. industry responded similarly after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, improving security atU.S. reactor sites while confirming that our reactors can sustain the impact of a deliberate airline crashwithout releasing radiation that would harm the public. Looking forward, we have to use ourimagination for the worst possible case and plan for it. In other words, we expect the unexpected.The U.S. nuclear industrys high level of safety is greatly driven by the lessons learned from theaccident at Three Mile Island here in Pennsylvania in 1979. The TMI accident was a game-changer forthe industry. Following the accident investigation, many actions were taken to permanently improve andstrengthen industry safety measures, including codifying its defense-in-depth strategy, forming atough watchdog organization called the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, strengthening NRCpowers and using full-scale control room simulators for operator and emergency training at every plant.The plants also have the gold standard in industrial security and emergency preparedness programs, andan industrywide safety culture program encourages workers at all levels to take an active role in plantsafety and freely report safety concerns.American commercial reactors have been generating electricity for more than half-a-century andcollectively have operated more than 3,600 years. During that entire time, including the accident atThree Mile Island, no member of the public has ever been harmed. Besides being one of the safestindustries in U.S. history, the nations nuclear facilities produce 20 percent of the countrys total
  2. 2. electricity and 70 percent of the electricity from low-carbon sources, including renewables. On average,U.S. facilities operate 24/7 at excellent efficiency, making nuclear energy the nations most reliablesource of electricity.Over the past two decades, plant operators have invested nearly $80 billion to keep the plants in topcondition. That investment in safety will continue and certainly broaden to include the changes neededin response to Japan.Nuclear energy facilities in the United States are safe and secure. Advanced design nuclear plants thatare being built in Georgia and South Carolina have features that take safety to an even higher level.Given the industrys firm commitment to continuous learning and innovation, you can rest assured thatthe nations nuclear plants will continue to be held to the highest standards to ensure safety.Tom Kauffman, a life-long resident of Pennsylvania, resides in York County near the Three MileIsland nuclear facility where he worked from 1977 to 2000. Kauffman is a senior manager for theNuclear Energy Institute, the policy organization for the U.S. nuclear energy industry.Follow us on:Facebook | Twitter | LinkedinAs a member, you join a Nuclear Energy discussion forum on a topic you like, ask questions, share youridea and much more.Have a question about Nuclear Energy? Ask an expert