Friday, May 13, 2011

At the Nuclear Energy Assembly

The Honorable Gregory Jaczko_DSC2362 NEI hosted its annual Nuclear Energy Assembly in Washington DC Tuesday and Wednesday with a solid lineup of speakers and plenty of opportunities for attendees to catch up with colleagues and industry pals. Let’s consider the latter analog social media and leave it at that.

The speakers represented a topflight assemblage of industry, government and regulatory figures. Happily, none tried “the future is bright for nuclear energy” approach you might reasonably expect at an industry meeting. Everyone looked at the year and years ahead through clear eyes.

Here’s a bit of what they had to say:

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko expressed the continued confidence of his agency in the safety of U.S. nuclear energy facilities.

“The commission remains confident in the programs of the NRC and in the safety of the nation’s nuclear power plants,” he said, noting that in 2010 “there were no statistically significant adverse trends in industry performance.”

Still, Jaczko warned the gathered nuclear energy executives against complacency. He noted an increase in the number of automatic reactor shutdowns and significant reactor events in 2010 compared to 2009.

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In the wake of events in Japan, the head of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations has proposed an international organization for emergency response to accidents at nuclear energy facilities.

“Events of the last few weeks have clearly shown the benefits of significantly improving site-specific plans while moving beyond them to establish and formalize a national and even international response capability worthy of the name,” said James Ellis, INPO’s president and CEO.

Formed after the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, INPO is an industry-established organization that rigorously promotes excellence in nuclear energy facility safety and operations.

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Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman made clear that the president’s support for nuclear power remains unwavering, as the events at Japan’s Fukushima plant continue to unfold.

“The president made clear that we still see nuclear energy as an important element of a diverse clean energy portfolio and an important source of low-carbon baseload electricity,” said Poneman.

The domestic nuclear energy industry must continue to make safe and secure operations its top priority, said Poneman, who is also the Energy Department’s chief operating officer.

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In order to “win the future” we need to continue investing in nuclear and other forms of clean energy, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said.

“Advances in innovation don’t occur in a vacuum,” said Clyburn. “We must make the necessary investments today. Unless we keep innovating, exploring and investing in basic research, our economy will shrivel and die.”

Clyburn said that recent nuclear energy budgets “have been more generous,” but international competition means the country will have to push harder to keep the edge in innovation.

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Events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility “have changed the industry landscape,” said Laurent Stricker, chairman of the World Association of Nuclear Operators.

And, Stricker said, WANO is changing to respond to a post-Fukushima world. For example, he anticipates a better WANO strategy for sharing operational experience and safety information among members and with such organizations as the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations, Japan Nuclear Technology Institute, World Nuclear Association and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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Given this round-up, I suspect the next year will be an extremely interesting time.

Consider the Nuclear Energy Assembly a snapshot in atomic time: we’ll check back in 2012 to see how things are going.

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This is all original reporting, by Chris Charles, Lynne Neal, T.J. Swanek and myself.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko at NEA.

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