Nuclear Plants Have High Standards When It Comes to Safety
The U.S. nuclear industry prides itself on having safety in its DNA. That means that safety is the highest priority and that every decision, step and precaution is grounded in that approach. In fact, the U.S. industry continues to be recognized as one of the safest industrial working environments in the nation.
If you ever visit a nuclear plant, you will immediately see the industry’s commitment to safety. Layer upon layer of redundant and diverse safety systems are part of an approach to safety called “defense-in-depth.” This means there are multiple, overlapping levels of safety designed to prevent accidental radiation release. Some of these barriers include the rods that encase the reactor’s uranium fuel, massive steel vessels and piping that contain the fuel rods and cooling system and a highly robust building that houses the reactor, which is made with steel-reinforced concrete that is several feet thick.
Because of the nuclear industry’s approach to having backups to backups to respond to a wide breadth of challenging events and environmental conditions, there’s also additional portable equipment on-site, and backup equipment that can be quickly transported to any plant, if needed. Safety is further ensured through highly capable and well-trained operators, licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), as well as detailed written procedures. In addition, every plant keeps and updates emergency response plans that are approved by both the NRC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Defense-in-depth essentially means there are a lot of things keeping nuclear plants and neighboring communities safe.
Nuclear Plants Exceed Regulatory Standards
The U.S. nuclear industry is licensed and regulated by the NRC, an independent federal agency that evaluates nuclear plant performance in three areas: reactor safety, radiation safety and security. The NRC enforces a vast array of regulations and assigns at least two NRC resident inspectors to every U.S. nuclear energy plant, where they each conduct more than 2,000 hours of baseline inspections each year. These resident inspectors live near the plant with their families and work on-site with unfettered access to the plant 24/7. The United States is the only country to have resident inspectors.
But the nuclear industry goes a step further to ensure that plants don’t just meet the standards created by the federal government—they exceed them. Just like defense-in-depth at the plant, there are additional layers of oversight.
The industry formed an independent third party called the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) to set best practices for and conduct regular evaluations of plants’ performance in safety and operations. INPO’s mission is to promote the highest levels of safety and reliability—to promote excellence—in the operation of the plants. The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) does similar work on an international level. U.S. nuclear plants consistently receive high marks from WANO and INPO and safety levels continue to increase.
Nuclear Plants Are Leaders in Safety Performance
Multiple, overlapping safety systems, a commitment to safety culture and training, an independent regulator and peer review organizations like INPO are part of the many elements that ensure that nuclear plants are running safely and smartly.
So, what’s my answer to that number one question I get? I share the insight I’ve gained as well as a quote from Bill Gates: “Nuclear energy, in terms of an overall safety record, is better than other energy.”