July 7th, 2011 | 3:30 pm

SPOTLIGHT: Tracking U.S. Nuclear Safety Improvements

Progress can be a matter of perspective, but in the months since an extreme earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants, the U.S. nuclear industry has clearly made many significant advancements:

  • Began examining every single one of the 104 American nuclear power plants, confirming (PDF) that the ongoing safety and operational upgrades installed during the decades since the plants were built have maintained a secure level of performance and modernization … even in the case of a flooded river plain.
  • Established a Fukushima Response Steering Committee of nuclear industry executives and leaders to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated response in the event of an emergency
  • Confirmed the vision and value of advancing America’s nuclear power fleet with new, modern reactors, such as AREVA’s EPR™ reactor, built from the ground up with active and automatic safety systems and enhanced operational design efficiencies
  • Conducted personal interviews and opened their doors to host facility tours for government, media and public scrutiny of plant security, fuel management, operational processes, and contingency plans
  • Engaged in the national nuclear fuel cycle deliberations discussing the option of recycling used fuel to recapture and reuse the 96% energy content that remains, evaluating centralized interim storage of used fuel, and the eventual development of a repository.

As with any advancement, progress is pegged on a continuum from past accomplishments to future goals. The U.S. nuclear industry’s intense, ingrained focus on safety is obvious with the unmatched statistic of zero deaths attributed to operating a commercial nuclear reactor beginning with President Eisenhower commissioning the first commercial nuclear power plant in 1954. No other energy industry in the U.S. comes close to matching this commitment and accomplishment.

In support of the nation’s goal of reduced carbon emissions and energy security, the nuclear power industry can play a larger role if we expand its current 20% supply of America’s electricity demand with modern, safe reactors. Additional reactors could significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and replace fossil-fuel-generated carbon emissions with reliable, sustainable nuclear power. In tandem with expanding renewable energies, expanding safe nuclear energy could help us meet the expected 100% increase in electricity demand by the year 2050 with low-carbon sources.