It’s about that time of the year when the Union of Concerned Scientists comes out with their annual criticisms of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear industry. After reading their latest critique, “Nuclear Power in a Warming World,” my emotions are mixed. Some of the time I can agree with or at least understand their arguments. The rest of the time, though, I am frustrated and irritated by some of the claims in the report. On the other hand, though, they proclaim sabotage of a nuclear reactor “could contaminate large regions for thousands of years, producing higher cancer rates and billions of dollars in associated costs” P.4. The worst nuclear accident in the world at The report is rational one minute and apocalyptic the next. One example ... The UCS names the UN-sponsored Chernobyl Forum as “perhaps the most authoritative report on the consequences of And another ...
On the one hand, they correctly conclude nuclear power’s “life cycle emissions are comparable to those of wind power and hydropower” (p. 11). This tells me they have the potential to dig deep and analyze an issue and not just go by the usual anti-nuclear rhetoric.
On the other hand, though, they proclaim sabotage of a nuclear reactor “could contaminate large regions for thousands of years, producing higher cancer rates and billions of dollars in associated costs” P.4. The worst nuclear accident in the world at
The report is rational one minute and apocalyptic the next.
One example ...
The UCS names the UN-sponsored Chernobyl Forum as “perhaps the most authoritative report on the consequences of
And another ...
While theSo the regulatory system is “well-developed” yet the security standards are “inadequate.” That makes no sense to me.
has one of the world’s most well-developed regulatory systems for protecting nuclear facilities against sabotage and attack, today’s security standards are inadequate to defend against credible threats. (P.4) United States
Most of the report takes the NRC to task for their supposed “lax” safety culture. A reading of the report will have anyone thinking the NRC doesn’t do anything. However, the report fails to recognize some key operations of the NRC.
Every nuclear power plant receives a minimum of more than 2,000 hours of inspection and oversight from the NRC annually. This includes oversight from resident inspectors who are stationed at every nuclear plant site and are supported by NRC regional offices and headquarters. Under the NRC’s reactor oversight process, power plants that exhibit declining performance undergo increased inspection activity above and beyond the 2,000-hour minimum.
The regulatory oversight process (ROP) includes 15 performance indicators for each plant that rate performance in key safety-related areas. Inspection findings are combined with performance indicator results to determine whether additional NRC oversight is warranted. Through its enforcement program, the NRC can issue violations and civil penalties (fines) to ensure compliance with its regulations. The NRC is also empowered to force a reactor to shut down if there is unacceptable performance. All of the safety-related metrics tracked by the NRC and the industry demonstrate high levels of excellence.
On to new plants ...
Of all the new reactor designs being seriously considered for deployment in the U.S., only one – the Evolutionary Power Reactor – appears to have the potential to be significantly safer and more secure than today’s reactors. P.1I’m sure AREVA is bouncing with glee that they passed UCS’ standards. I do find it hard to believe, though, that according to UCS, new plant designs are no safer then existing plants despite the fact they have benefited from more than 3,000 combined reactor-years of operating experience in the U.S.
According to Westinghouse, the “AP1000 is an advanced 1117 to 1154 MWe nuclear power plant that uses the forces of nature and simplicity of design to enhance plant safety and operations and reduce construction costs.” According to General Electric on the ESBWR, it is “11 times more likely for the largest asteroid near the earth to impact the earth over the next 100 years than for an ESBWR operational event to result in the release of fission products to the environment.”
It is easy to criticize nuclear standards and say that safety margins can always increase. However, it is tough to find the right balance between being a safety nut and allowing a nuclear plant to run at a reasonable risk (a risk much lower then driving a car, flying in a plane, being overweight, and riding a bicycle, to name a few).
You know what I call this report: Job Security. The nuclear industry is by far one of the safest industries in the world. But in order for the “concerned scientists” to keep their jobs, they have to continue to come up with shoddy rhetoric and proclamations about an industry where safe operations is the most important concern.
Despite all my ranting, I do give the UCS credit for two things. One is for the fact they recognize nuclear’s life cycle emissions are comparable to other non-emitting sources of energy. The other is for the recommendations they put forth in all of their criticisms. While many antis only complain, the UCS takes the time to make recommendations on their issues.
However, I do begin to fall asleep when I read objections to nearly every single aspect of nuclear power. It is hard to take anyone seriously who finds fault with everything.