Richard Myers: One Year After The Fukushima Accident

Richard Myers

Vice President, Policy Development, Planning and Supplier Programs, Nuclear Energy Institute

The world nuclear energy industry is emerging from a challenging 2011 stronger and better equipped to manage its future. In the United States, our 104 operating nuclear power plants were challenged by a series of extreme natural events.

  • In April, a tornado hit the Surry plant and tornadoes raked TVA’s service territory — killing 330 people, damaging 337 transmission structures, and knocking out most off-site power to the Browns Ferry nuclear plant.
  • In June, Missouri River flooding shut down the Fort Calhoun and Cooper nuclear stations in Nebraska.
  • In August, the North Anna plant experienced an earthquake, which exceeded the plant’s design basis.
  • And a few days later, Hurricane Irene roared up the East Coast, affecting 24 of our plants.

In all cases, the nuclear plants did what they were designed to do. They remained safe. The plants and the people performed as expected. In spite of these challenges, U.S. nuclear output was down only slightly from the year before, and the industry average capacity factor – at approximately 89 percent – continued the high level of sustained reliability recorded over the last 15 years.

Looking to the future, companies in Georgia and South Carolina have started construction on the first new nuclear power plants licensed in the United States in 30 years. The U.S. nuclear industry is already moving aggressively to incorporate lessons learned from the Fukushima accident – identifying those actions that provide the greatest safety benefit, and remembering that our primary goal is to prevent fuel damage and preserve containment integrity.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. nuclear operators assumed a scenario where the plant suffered a large fire or explosion that disabled vital equipment. In such a scenario, it is impossible to predict exactly which equipment or systems would be affected. So the U.S. industry took an innovative approach, focusing on what was needed to keep the reactor cool, assuming almost everything was lost. We purchased portable equipment like generators and pumps. These are stored away from the reactor and used to respond regardless of the location of an explosion, aircraft impact or fire. The 9/11 work gives the U.S. nuclear energy industry a 10-year head start on dealing with extreme unexpected events like a Fukushima scenario.

The major lesson learned from Japan is that we must be prepared to handle catastrophic events simultaneously at multiple reactors. As a first response to the Fukushima accident, nuclear plant operators will buy and maintain additional sets of portable equipment and locate them in diverse locations at their sites. On top of this, additional equipment and supplies will be pre-staged off-site. In the United States, public attitudes to nuclear energy are recovering, and the political reaction to the Fukushima accident has been measured and responsible.

With a few notable exceptions, reaction around the world has followed the same course. In the developing economies – like China and India – nuclear construction is still booming. There are 65 new reactors under construction around the world, and another 160 on order or planned. Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear energy, and Italy’s decision not to build nuclear power plants, tend to dominate the headlines. But for every Germany and Italy, there is a Poland, a Czech Republic, a Finland and a United Kingdom moving forward with nuclear energy development.

— by Richard Myers, Vice President, Policy Development, Planning and Supplier Programs, Nuclear Energy Institute

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