Are Nuclear Energy Sources Safe?

Evidence over six decades has shown that nuclear energy is a safe and reliable source of electricity. The risk of accidents at nuclear power plants is low and decreasing, and the consequences of an accident or terrorist attack are minimal compared to other commonly accepted risks. Nuclear power plants are among the safest facilities in the world. However, accidents can occur that negatively affect people and the environment.

To minimize the likelihood of an accident, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) helps Member States apply international safety standards to strengthen the safety of nuclear power plants. 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. The nuclear industry prides itself on having safety in its DNA. That means that safety is the top priority and that every decision, step and precaution is based on that approach.

The industry continues to be recognized as one of the safest industrial work environments in the nation. 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. Multiple and overlapping safety systems, commitment to safety culture and training, an independent regulator, and peer review organizations such as INPO are part of the many elements that ensure that nuclear plants operate safely and intelligently. 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. 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. X-Energy's pebble bed designs run on nuclear fuel enclosed in up to 220,000 billiard-sized graphite balls, which, according to the company, makes fusion physically impossible. A major environmental concern related to nuclear energy is the creation of radioactive waste such as tailings from uranium mills, spent (used) reactor fuel and other radioactive wastes. Former member of Germany's Green Party, Detering now spends his free time as co-chair of the New York nuclear defense group. Nuclear power's bad public relations started right with atomic weapons, but a growing number of experts say it can be used to help combat climate change. Critics of Nuclear argue that this increase is temporary and that the expansion of wind energy will eventually replace Indian Point production.

Second-generation plants remain operational in all countries operating nuclear power facilities (e.g., Russia, France and the U. S.). Nuclear power isn't just safe; industry prides itself on maintaining the highest safety standards. The only reason nuclear energy powers 80 percent (and decreases) of France, and powers 30 percent of pre-Fukushima Japan, is because those countries don't have the wealth of natural resources that the United States has. On the one hand, there are purists who believe that nuclear energy is not worth taking the risk and that the exclusive solution to the climate crisis is renewable energy. Italy banned it outright a year later, and it would be 26 years before the green light was given to the construction of another nuclear reactor in the United States.

Some 50 third-generation nuclear power plants are already in operation or under construction worldwide, and another 150 to 200 plants are in the planning or preparation phases. Unlike fossil-fueled power plants, nuclear reactors do not produce air pollution or carbon dioxide while in operation. That's good news for companies like X-Energy, and for the world if the designs live up to their potential, but only recently for existing nuclear infrastructure. Leaks and melts occur when the metal structure in which nuclear fission occurs melts or breaks.