Report Confirms Safety, Security of U.S. Nuclear Plants

One day after President Obama announced $8.33 billion in federal loan guarantees to build and operate two new nuclear reactors in Burke, Ga., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its report summarizing the nuclear power industry's safety in FY2009 and also NRC's financial performance during that year.

The report says NRC and the industry met all five strategic safety outcomes, all six performance measure targets, and all security benchmarks.

The five strategic safety outcomes are to prevent:

  • the occurrence of any nuclear reactor accident,
  • any inadvertent criticality event,
  • any acute radiation exposures resulting in fatalities,
  • any release of radioactive materials that result in significant radiation exposures, and
  • any release of radioactive materials that cause significant adverse environmental impacts.

"Inspection results show that all of the [104] nuclear power plants are operating safely. The fourth [safety performance] measure tracks the trends of several key indicators of nuclear power plant safety," the report states. "This measure is the broadest measure of the safety of nuclear power plants, incorporating the performance results from all plants to determine industry average results. The measure results show that they were no statistically significant adverse trends in any of the indicators in FY 2009. The last two safety performance measures track harmful radiation exposures to the public and occupational workers and radiation exposures that hard the environment. None of these measures exceeded their targets in FY 2009."

The security measures track unrecovered losses or thefts of risk-significant radioactive sources.

The report says the agency's primary challenges are licensing new reactors (it has not issued a nuclear plant construction permit since 1977 but has 18 operating license applications on its docket), safe disposal of high-level waste, and continuing to improve regulatory requirements to ensure the security of nuclear facilities. Besides the 104 commercial reactors operating in 31 states, NRC oversees 2,970 licenses for medical, academic, industrial, and general use of nuclear materials.

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