Is Working in a Nuclear Power Plant Safe?

Working in the nuclear industry is one of the safest occupations, with a fatal injury rate of 0.1 per 100,000 workers. Nuclear power plants are among the most secure and reliable facilities in the world, but accidents can still occur that can have a negative impact on people and the environment. To reduce the risk of an accident, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) helps Member States to apply international safety standards to strengthen the safety of nuclear power plants. The recent explosion at the Fukushima power plant in Japan has not yet shown any acute effects on those exposed to radiation, but it has created a negative attitude towards nuclear power and nuclear power plants.

The IAEA mission noted the safety commitment of France's Belleville nuclear power plant and encouraged continuous improvement. Studies show that people who are constantly exposed to low doses of radiation, such as those working in nuclear plants, have an approximately 10% higher risk of death from all types of cancer, except leukemia. Safe, reliable and cost-effective nuclear power plants often exhibit careful and conservative operation and rigorous, well-planned maintenance activities to minimize risks to workers, the public and the environment. These include requirements for safety management and the organizational and technical aspects of safety during the lifecycle of nuclear power plants.

The primary responsibility for government oversight rests with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which issues federal licenses to build and operate nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants are evaluated according to standards established by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and the Institute for Nuclear Energy Operations (INPO). The IAEA mission noted the safety commitment of Russia's Kalinin nuclear power plant and encouraged continuous improvement. Each plant also has multiple sets of redundant and diverse plant safety systems designed to ensure that the fuel rods in the reactor vessel remain sufficiently cool.

Companies licensed to operate nuclear power plants must obtain and maintain accreditation for their training programs from the independent National Nuclear Accreditation Board. For workers to experience short-term health effects from radiation, or acute symptoms, they must be exposed to more than 100 mSv of radiation dose, but the average measurable dose of radiation exposure per worker is 0.19 mSv, much lower than this dose. Nuclear plants are so incredibly radiation-proof that I would be more concerned about chemical toxicity from lead in radiological shields. An in-depth defense approach includes access controls, physical barriers, redundant and diverse security equipment, and emergency response measures. In a study involving 407,391 nuclear industry workers from 15 countries including the US, researchers found that many who participated worked in the early days of the nuclear industry and were exposed to high radiation doses higher than current standards.

An effective Plant Life Management (PLiM) program ensures that nuclear power plants integrate their operations, maintenance, engineering, regulatory, environmental and economic planning activities to manage the material conditions of a plant and ensure safe long-term operation.