Though the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) concluded that America’s nuclear energy facilities are operating safely, the NRC and the nuclear energy industry agree that adapting lessons learned from the incident in Japan will require the review of current emergency operating guidelines and procedures. If new guidelines and procedures are developed, implementing them successfully will require additional training for industry workers.
Constant training has been a hallmark of the American nuclear industry. Before the NRC licenses an individual to operate or supervise operators of a nuclear power reactor, he or she must have several years of related experience and complete extensive classroom, simulator and on-the-job training. After that, reactor operators spend every fifth week training in a full-scale simulator that is the exact replica of each plant’s control room.
Enhanced safety is achieved through preventing or mitigating damage from unexpected events. The industry continues to take steps to assure that personnel at nuclear energy facilities are trained on how to manage extreme events and prevent damage. Charles Miller, leader of the NRC’s Japan Task Force, noted that “severe accident issues have sometimes been addressed with new requirements … and in other cases have been addressed by voluntary industry initiatives such as the severe accident management guidelines.”
The industry is thoroughly reviewing guidelines that provide reactor operators with specific steps to mitigate damage from unexpected events. Recent updates incorporated improved mitigation measures put into place after the 9/11 attacks. Once enhanced training on new guidelines is implemented, NRC oversight will ensure that it is effective. Following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the nuclear energy industry established the Fukushima Response Steering Committee to ensure that the industry’s response to the events in Japan is effectively integrated among all companies and organizations.
The National Nuclear Accrediting Board reviews and accredits operator training programs under the auspices of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, and the NRC monitors its activities.
Every American nuclear energy facility has a detailed plan for responding to an emergency. Operators test those plans regularly in integrated teams, working with local, state and federal emergency response organizations. In addition, independent NRC inspectors are on site daily at each plant to provide oversight of plant operations, maintenance, equipment replacement and training.
Nuclear energy facilities actively plan for and successfully weather nature’s worst. Employees at 24 nuclear reactors from North Carolina to New England were fully prepared when Hurricane Irene struck the East Coast in August. Companies began preparations days prior to the storm, coordinating activities with the NRC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government officials. Nuclear energy facilities also incorporated previous operating experience from plants in Florida and the Gulf Coast to ensure optimal preparation for the storm. While Irene struck the Eastern Seaboard, critical staff remained dedicated at each site, ready to respond to potential weather impacts.
U.S. reactors have a long history of successfully and safely responding to challenges. The framework of stringent national regulation, coupled with the industry’s full commitment to continuously train its work force and improve safety, ensures that nuclear energy will be a major part of a secure, clean-energy future.