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Why Are U.S. Nuclear Plants Better Prepared for Emergencies Than Fukushima? Here's a Checklist.

Tom Kauffman
The following is a guest post written by NEI's Tom Kauffman. Though Tom works in NEI's media relations shop, he also spent 23 years working at Three Mile Island, seven of those as a licensed reactor operator.

Former NRC Chairman Dale Klein was justified in criticizing an anti-nuclear panel’s comparison of the potential of an accident at nuclear energy facilities in New York and Massachusetts with the 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi. “Comparing the accident at Fukushima Daiichi to a hypothetical accident at Indian Point or Pilgrim is intellectually dishonest and resembles the classic fear mongering intended to create unnecessary anxiety," Klein said. "Comparing the US nuclear power plants to those that have not added new safety systems and procedures is simply wrong.”

As the former Chairman points out, the U.S. and Japanese nuclear industries have very different approaches to nuclear safety. The differences developed over several decades and are profound. Below is a comparison of some of the key safety factors.

U.S. Japan
REGULATORY STRUCTURE NRC is a single, transparent, independent federal agency. Had four agencies with overlapping authorities. Two promoted the industry. An independent safety regulator was formed post-Fukushima.
PLANT OPERATIONS COMMAND & CONTROL All decisions rest with the on-duty, federally licensed senior reactor operators. For some key safety-related decisions, plant operators seek the approval of government officials.
REACTOR OPERATOR LICENSING All reactor operators are individually licensed by the NRC and must fully requalify every two years to maintain their license. Only shift supervisors are licensed by regulator. Others are certified by company.
CONTROL ROOM SIMULATORS All reactor operators are required to be trained and tested on a full-scale replica simulator that is identical to their facility’s control room. Replica simulators are not required.
SAFETY CULTURE Industrywide safety culture program encourages all workers to be engaged in safety and to freely report safety concerns. No established safety culture program.
INDUSTRY SELF-POLICING Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (est.1980) continuously monitors industry safety and presses for continuous improvement. An entity modeled after INPO is being formed post-Fukushima.
POST 9/11 ACTIONS Enhanced security and added safety equipment to mitigate effects of extreme events such as large fires, explosions and aircraft impact. No significant post 9/11 protective actions.
EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS Comprehensive, federally mandated emergency response plans require quarterly, full-scale drills and biennial graded drills involving local, state and federal authorities. Emergency planning well below U.S. standards. No required or graded emergency drill protocols.

For more information on how the U.S. nuclear industry differs from Japan's, watch this video featuring NEI's Tony Pietrangelo.

Comments

37ndone said…
Interesting article. However, it should also be mentioned that actions taken by individual plant owners, both new and the very old to address USI A-45 and Generic Letter 88-20 did much more to address the vulnerabities revealed by Fukushima than those taken post 9-11. The modifications, training improvement and accident procedure development taken on an individual plant basis to address the potential unavailability of redundant safety systems and the subsequent loss of residual heat removal are the likely reason why a severe accident has not occurred since this vulnerability was discovered at TMI.
Anonymous said…
@ 37ndone --

The post-9/11 requirements to have portable pumps and power sources available seem to pretty directly address the main lesson of Fukushima: "be prepared to lose your grid AND your backup diesels for a long time."

The post-9/11 measures were also the starting point for responding to the NRC's order for mitigating strategies.

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