Guest Commentary by Ed Halpin
President and Chief Executive Officer, STP Nuclear Operating Co.
Member of the Fukushima Response Steering Committee
The sweeping recommendations from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Fukushima task force deserve careful consideration and review from key industry stakeholders.
The U.S. nuclear industry wholeheartedly supports the goal of applying lessons learned from Japan to enhance safety at our nation’s nuclear power facilities. What we must avoid is a rush to judgment. Taking the time to thoroughly review and discuss the recommendations so that the appropriate desired outcomes are achieved will be critical for the industry and our nation’s long-term energy policy. Premature changes to regulatory policy could have far-reaching effects for decades to come.
Our nation’s nuclear facilities operate safely at the highest performance standards in the world. The NRC’s recent evaluation reaffirms that our nation’s 104 nuclear reactors are safe. We believe the commission should take the time necessary to properly evaluate the recommendations from the task force to allow for broad stakeholder input and careful analysis.
The issue before the NRC is not how to make U.S. nuclear power facilities safe, it is about how to make them even safer. The effort, focus and independent review by the task force more than demonstrates the NRC’s leadership role as a strong regulator. The task force has identified many issues that warrant a closer look. These recommendations need to be carefully considered and appropriately carried out using the right process. If the NRC goes forward without engaging in the appropriate dialogue among stakeholders, it may result in uninformed decision-making that could challenge our overall continued positive trend on improved safety.
More information is needed about the Fukushima event. First and foremost, we need more data and information about the events at Fukushima before we start making potentially significant changes across the U.S. nuclear industry. Our nation’s nuclear facilities remain subject to strong regulatory scrutiny and requirements—perhaps more than in any other country in the world. The commission should move forward both expeditiously and responsibly in identifying the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident. These should include both technical and organizational effectiveness challenges.
U.S. nuclear policy is not based on a “patchwork of regulations.” The NRC process for licensing nuclear energy facilities is based on a comprehensive, thoughtful process that allows for enhancements as new developments come to light. The design of nuclear facilities—and the kinds of risks they face—can vary significantly, which is why the NRC’s regulations are similarly diverse and tailored to enhance the safety and security of each nuclear facility. Although evolving licensing processes were used for different vintage plants over the last 40 years, the high standards and comprehensive follow-through demonstrated by the regulatory process sets the gold standard for the rest of the world to follow. Describing the work done by the NRC over the last four decades as “patchwork” does not fairly give the commission the credit it is due for the dedicated and holistic nature of its oversight. The agency’s extensive oversight and inspection process is reflected in the excellent safety performance of our nation’s facilities.
NRC’s task force report is just the first step. The NRC task force’s report requires additional rigorous analysis of issues that traditionally accompanies regulatory requirements proposed by the NRC and represents just the first step in a process that needs to include review from key stakeholders. It is important that the task force report is fully vetted and includes input from all key stakeholders.
U.S. nuclear industry continues efforts independent of NRC. The U.S. nuclear industry is continuously focused on and committed to the relentless pursuit of safety. Our industry takes the Fukushima accident seriously and continues to not only provide assistance, but compile lessons learned that can be applied at U.S. facilities. Our industry has established a committee of chief nuclear officers from a dozen companies and representatives from the Electric Power Research Institute, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and the Nuclear Energy Institute to work collectively to ensure that the events in Japan are thoroughly researched and that the U.S. nuclear industry understands and applies those lessons at facilities across the country.
Our nation’s nuclear facilities safely and reliably provide energy to millions of Americans each day. As an industry, we set high standards for ourselves because we know that we have a special trust with the public that must constantly be proven. We never take that trust for granted. We know we can never relax in our commitment to nuclear safety.
We will continue to work cooperatively with the NRC to understand any potential gaps in safety so that we can continue to enhance our facilities. You can be assured that, as an industry, we are committed to putting safety first in every action we take.
Ed Halpin is president and chief executive officer of STP Nuclear Operating Co. and is a member of the Fukushima Response Steering Committee. The committee is comprised of industry executives from around the nation and representatives from the Electric Power Research Institute, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and the Nuclear Energy Institute.