Are Nuclear Reactors Safe Now? A Comprehensive Look at the Safety of Nuclear Power Plants

Nuclear power plants are among the most secure and reliable facilities in the world. Despite public concerns, the data clearly show that nuclear energy is a much safer source of energy than fossil fuels. Recent innovations could soon reduce risks even further, as study after study in leading scientific journals found that nuclear power plants are by far the safest way to produce reliable electricity. So why are we so afraid of them? Nuclear power plants maintain the highest standards for operational safety, cybersecurity and emergency preparedness.

Comprehensive industry safety procedures and strict federal regulations keep our plants and neighboring communities safe. The nuclear industry prides itself on having security in its DNA, meaning that safety is the top priority and that every decision, step and precaution is based on that approach. If you ever visit a nuclear plant, you'll immediately see the industry's commitment to safety. Layer after layer of redundant and diverse security systems are part of an approach to security called “defense in depth”.

This means that there are several overlapping safety levels designed to prevent the accidental release of radiation. Some of these barriers include the rods that coat the reactor's uranium fuel, the huge steel vessels and pipes that contain the fuel rods and cooling system, and a highly robust building that houses the reactor, which is made of steel-reinforced concrete several feet thick. In-depth defense essentially means that there are many things that keep nuclear plants and neighboring communities safe. But the nuclear industry goes one step further to ensure that plants not only meet, but exceed, standards created by the federal government. Like in-depth defense in the plant, there are additional layers of supervision.

The industry formed an independent third party called the Nuclear Energy Operations Institute (INPO) to establish best practices and conduct regular evaluations of plant performance in terms of safety and operations. INPO's mission is to promote the highest levels of safety and reliability to promote excellence in plant operation. The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) does similar work internationally. Nuclear power plants consistently receive high WANO and INPO ratings and safety levels continue to rise. Nuclear power sources are dangerous because they emit particles of radiation and energy released from unstable molecules that try to calm down. These radioactive missiles can impact the human body and damage cells or DNA, says David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Enough radiation will cause cancer or possibly even transmit genetic mutations to your children. Too Much Can Kill You Directly. Accidents in any field of technology provide valuable knowledge that allows for gradual improvement of safety beyond original engineering. IAEA safety standards, applied in the DSR and GRSR at the fundamental and requirements levels, are generic and apply to all nuclear installations. The good news is that a growing number of scientists specializing in radiation, climate and public health are raising their voices in favor of nuclear power plants as fundamental to saving lives. So my colleagues on the committee and industry supporters lobbied to license the first of these projects without delay and blocked the implementation of security reforms. A year after the Fukushima accident and following my objections, the NRC implemented only a few of the modest safety reforms that agency employees had proposed, and then approved the first four new reactor licenses in decades, in Georgia and South Carolina. Already in the late 1970s, the United Kingdom's Central Electricity Generation Board considered the possibility of a large, fully charged and fueled passenger aircraft being deliberately hijacked and crashed into a nuclear reactor. Renewable energies, such as solar, wind and hydropower, generate electricity for less than nuclear plants under construction in Georgia and, in most places, produce electricity cheaper than existing nuclear power plants, which have paid all their construction costs. It wasn't until the late 1970s that detailed analysis and large-scale testing, followed by the 1979 merger of the Three Mile Island reactor, began to make clear that not even the worst possible accident at a conventional Western nuclear power plant or its fuel would cause public drama harm. International cooperation on nuclear safety issues is carried out under the auspices of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), which was established in 1989. The scale ranges from a zero event of no importance to safety to 7 for a serious accident such as the one in Chernobyl. Since the World Trade Center attacks in New York in 2001, there has been growing concern about the consequences of a large aircraft being used to attack a nuclear facility for the purpose of releasing radioactive materials. In conclusion, nuclear power plants have come a long way since their inception with regards to safety measures taken by both government regulators as well as industry organizations like INPO or WANO.

With multiple layers of defense systems designed to prevent any accidental release of radiation as well as strict regulations governing their operations, it is clear that nuclear power plants are now much safer than they were before.