I'm sure by now a lot of you have seen the story in the New York Times about a report from David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists concerning extended shutdowns at nuclear power plants. Though we had gotten word that the report (PDF) was coming last week, I hadn't seen a copy until this morning, and a lot of folks here are still plowing through it.
Some of the words folks here have used to describe it are "bogus" and "backward-looking". But instead of saying anything else, I'd just refer you to the comments that our chief nuclear officer, Marv Fertel and Stuart Richards of NRC made to New York Times reporter Matthew Wald.
Some other factors to keep in mind while reading the report:
- U.S. nuclear reactors now have about 3,100 years of operating experience, and the extended shutdowns that are the subject of this report constitute only 4% of the total. In addition, all but three years -- about one-thousandth of the total operating experience -- occurred before the year 2000.
- Since 2000, U.S. reactors have consistently achieved industry-wide capacity factors of 90 percent or more -- something that would be impossible if these were common problems as plants offline for extended periods of time cannot by definition achieve that sort of performance.
- The report doesn't recognize many of the safety and operational improvements the industry has achieved through the work of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, as well as the recent trend of industry consolidation that has allowed operators to enjoy increased efficiency and safety.
UPDATE: I just had a short conversation with Tony Pietrangelo, NEI's Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, and he had some interesting observations to pass on. The first thing he noticed was this passage on the back cover of the report:
This event -- an outage at a nuclear power plant that lasts more than a year -- has happened 51 times at 29 different plants around the United States and shows no sign of stopping.Tony wondered how Lochbaum could make a claim like that one when the type of incident he's describing has only happened once in recent memory at Davis-Besse.
"Look at the data," Tony told me. "We started a gradual improvement in performance in the early 1990s and we plateaued recently at about and industry-wide 90 percent capacity factor." He added, if what Lochbaum was correct, it would be reflected in the data, and that's simply not the case.
Another point: Much of the data that Lochbaum looks at is ancient, with a number of the events he describes occurring in the 1960s, 30-40 years ago, a time that has little relevance to the reality of the nuclear industry today. Further, Tony continued many of the shutdowns Lochbaum describes were actually self-imposed.
"This guy is attacking our strength ... If anything, this report proves that we only operate when we believe we can operate safely," Tony said. As for the report's recommendations, Tony said that everything that Lochbaum suggests is already being done by NRC. "It's part of the regulations, part of the ROP (Reactor Oversight Process), part of Safety Culture and it's a large segment of the regulation that the NRC already does."
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