U.S. Industry Taking Steps to Learn Lessons from Japan, Enhance Safety at America’s Nuclear Energy Facilities
(Last updated 7/14/11)
The nuclear energy industry will continue to work with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as it considers forthcoming recommendations of an agency task force on new procedures and regulations in light of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. We have undertaken significant work in the past 90 days to examine our facilities and take the steps necessary to enhance safety. We will continue to work with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to understand any potential gaps in safety and fill those gaps.
Prompted by the Fukushima accident, the NRC staff has been developing recommendations to enhance safety at America’s reactors. The task force is expected to release its report to the NRC commissioners within the next week. In their interim reports, NRC officials have emphasized that issues identified during the recent inspections will not impede the facilities’ ability to maintain safety even in the face of extreme events.
These NRC’s inspections complement industry efforts begun within days of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Each of the nation’s 104 nuclear energy facilities has been subjected to a comprehensive verification of preparedness to maintain safety during a severe event, regardless of the cause. As a result of these self-inspections, facility operators have made immediate enhancements or developed plans to enhance safety. The vast majority of the items identified by the industry are enhancements to safety measures already in place.
“Nuclear power is the most practical, sustainable, and environmentally friendly energy generation option available to the United States in the near future. It is “green,”—it does not endanger the environment. It is sustainable—enough fuel to meet U.S. needs for well over a hundred years is readily available. It is safe.”
—12 scientists from Boston University, Harvard and MIT
The NRC has also made clear that issues identified during its post-Fukushima inspections at each plant do not undermine any facility’s ability to respond to extreme events. This conclusion is based upon exemplary levels of safe operation and the multiple layers of protection that exist at each nuclear energy facility in the country. Moreover, in its annual reports to Congress, the NRC has listed only one “abnormal occurrence” over the past decade—an incident nine years ago that did not result in the release of radiation. Over the last 10 years, the NRC has not identified any negative trends in safety at America’s nuclear facilities.
In the wake of the tragedy in Japan, Americans are concerned about whether U.S. reactors face the same risks. The fact is, American nuclear facilities are subject to more regulatory scrutiny and requirements than in any other country. American nuclear energy facilities are equipped and employees are trained to manage severe events. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the industry has made significant improvements in physical structures and emergency response capabilities.
The U.S. industry—through its commitment to continuous learning and relentless pursuit of excellence in safe operations—has taken significant action to ensure that American reactors are operated safety and securely. This includes actions in the following areas:
- Command and control: key operational and response decisions remain with shift supervisor—Decision-making remains on site with licensed operators. Reactor operators drill on accident scenarios several times each year and are prepared to respond to a wide range of potential severe events.
- Operator licensing and training—U.S. reactor operators are licensed by the NRC and must re-qualify for their license every two years. U.S. reactor operators spend one week out of six in simulator training, which is more continuous training than pilots and doctors.
- Safety culture—The industry’s safety culture is transparent and encourages and facilitates the reporting of problems or concerns by employees through several channels. A commitment to safety culture is evidenced by employees who embrace continuous learning and maintain a questioning attitude regarding safety. This attitude gives rise to tools like corrective actions programs.
- Independent regulator that includes resident inspectors—The NRC is an independent agency whose sole mission is protection of public health and safety. NRC inspectors located at each of America’s nuclear energy facilities have unfettered access to workers and data as part of their daily inspections.
- Creation of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations—INPO was formed by the industry after the Three Mile Island accident to drive industry toward operational excellence and above and beyond NRC requirements.
- Post 9/11 security contingency measures—The NRC and industry took several actions after 9/11 to enhance security at America’s nuclear energy facilities. These features also would help mitigate extreme events, such as large fires or explosions.
(Also see NEI’s graphic: “Commitment to Continuous Learning, Safety.”)