In This Section
A Commitment to Continuous Learning: Making Safe Nuclear Energy Facilities Even Safer
Nuclear energy facilities are among the safest and most secure industrial facilities in the United States, but we are continually improving design standards, operational safety, personnel training and emergency preparedness procedures to ensure the safety and security of our workers, our communities and our world.
“We know we need to learn every possible lesson from Japan, and apply those lessons immediately and in the long term at American nuclear energy facilities. It’s our job to continue to raise the high standards we have in place by learning from Fukushima. We should apply every lesson possible from Japan here in the U.S., while moving ahead with the next generation of nuclear energy facilities.”
— Tony Pietrangelo
Chief Nuclear Officer
Nuclear Energy Institute
The nuclear industry has a decades-long record of continual learning and improvement. America’s nuclear energy facilities are built to a high safety standard, yet we are constantly reevaluating our plants, procedures and preparedness plans to see how they can be even stronger.
The Three Mile Island accident in 1979 resulted in sweeping improvements to our operations, including accredited reactor operator training, radiation protection and emergency response planning. U.S. companies added emergency backup diesel generators in 1975 and modified U.S. plants and safety practices after the 1986 Chernobyl accident, even though that plant design was wholly different than U.S. designs.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the nuclear energy industry reinforced physical security at commercial reactors. Although the attacks had nothing to do with nuclear power, industry initiated a series of safety enhancements to guard against any type of extreme event. Additional highly trained security officers were added to nuclear plant sites, resulting in approximately 8,000 security officers at 65 nuclear plant sites today. U.S. companies also extended and fortified security parameters and installed high-tech surveillance equipment to protect against the threat of an attack, making them some of the most secure facilities in the country. In total, the industry added more than $2 billion in structural security and equipment after the attacks.
The strategy that the industry developed to respond to the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan builds upon these post-9/11 actions to address the main safety challenges at Fukushima—the loss of offsite electrical power and reactor cooling capability resulting from a severe natural event—to make nuclear energy facilities even safer. This “diverse and flexible,” or FLEX strategy relies on portable equipment to protect against extreme events, no matter the cause. Operators have already acquired or ordered more than 400 pieces of major equipment to supplement layer upon layer of safety at the nation’s commercial reactors. Additional emergency equipment will also be stationed in off-site regional support centers to ensure prolonged reliable operation.
Planning for extreme events, the U.S. nuclear industry works each day to ensure the safety and security of our plants, workers and communities. The industry is committed to applying lessons learned from the events in Japan to ensure that we make our facilities even safer.
- Every U.S. nuclear power plant is designed, built and managed to safely contain radiation, even in the event of natural disasters, operational accidents or security threats.
- U.S. nuclear energy facilities are required by law to develop and test comprehensive on-site and off-site emergency response plans. Each plant must also conduct a full-scale emergency exercise every two years, coordinated with local and state government agencies.
- Every U.S. nuclear power plant’s emergency response plan is reviewed and approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and each state in which a plant is located. The plan must include protective measures such as sheltering in place and evacuation of communities within a 10-mile radius of the facility.
- Every U.S. nuclear plant’s operations are overseen daily by two onsite federal inspectors, who have the authority to shut down the plant if it is not obeying the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s stringent safety standards.
- Continuous training is a hallmark of the American nuclear energy industry. Reactor operators spend every fifth week training in a full-scale simulator that is the exact replica of each plant’s control room. This is more continuous training than pilots and doctors.