Is Nuclear Energy Safe? An Expert's Perspective

For over six decades, nuclear energy has been a reliable and safe 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 accepted risks. Nuclear power plants are among the safest facilities in the world, but accidents can still occur that can have a negative impact on people and the environment. To reduce 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.

The nuclear industry is proud to have safety as its top priority, and this is evident when you visit a nuclear plant. There are several layers of redundant and diverse security systems in place, known as “defense in depth”, which includes rods that coat the reactor's uranium fuel, huge steel vessels and pipes that contain the fuel rods and cooling system, and a highly robust building that houses the reactor made of steel-reinforced concrete several feet thick. The industry has also created 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. Studies in leading scientific journals have found that nuclear power plants are by far the safest way to produce reliable electricity. 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. Nuclear energy is a clean energy source with no emissions; current consumption of nuclear energy already reduces more than 555 million metric tons of emissions each year. Nuclear energy has no weather-related limitations like solar or wind energy, and it produces much greater amounts of energy than burning fossil fuels such as gas, oil or coal.

Some countries such as India, China and Russia are already working to use thorium, which is greenest and most abundant, to power nuclear reactors. The cost of producing electricity from nuclear energy is much lower than other sources unless those resources are located near the power plant they supply. In conclusion, nuclear energy is a safe source of electricity with multiple layers of security systems in place to ensure its safety. It is also a clean energy source with no emissions, no weather-related limitations, and produces much greater amounts of energy than burning fossil fuels. With NRC oversight and layers of safety precautions, a nuclear plant is one of the safest industrial environments in the United States.