Is Working in a Nuclear Plant Safe?

Working in the nuclear industry is one of the safest occupations, with a fatal injury rate of approximately 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 chances 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 IAEA also provides technical advice and safety review services to support regulatory bodies and improve their capacity for independent and effective regulatory oversight of nuclear power plant safety.

According to estimates, about 1 to 2% of all deaths among workers in the nuclear industry can be attributed to radiation exposure. The containment building plays an important role in safety by keeping the public safe from any significant release. The National Nuclear Training Academy ensures that the highest standards of training are maintained. These standards include requirements for safety management and the organizational and technical aspects of safety during the lifecycle of nuclear power plants.

The recent explosion at the Fukushima power plant in Japan has not yet shown any acute effect on those most exposed to radiation, but it has created negative attitudes towards nuclear power and nuclear power plants. In fact, many nuclear power plant workers are more concerned with issues such as fires, explosions and radiation leaks than with natural radiation exposure during routine work. Nuclear power plant emergency plans are widely recognized as the gold standard for emergency planning. 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 plants are so incredibly radiation-proof that I would be more concerned about the chemical toxicity of lead in radiological shields. 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. The Agency also provides safety review services based on IAEA safety standards to help operational organizations achieve and maintain the highest levels of operational safety. 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.

However, researchers say that many of the more than 400,000 nuclear workers who participated in the study worked in the early days of the nuclear industry and were exposed to much higher radiation doses than current standards. Well-managed nuclear power plants continually strive to improve their operating and maintenance standards. To achieve the goal of safe, economical and reliable operation, a Plant Life Management (PLiM) program is essential to identify all requirements for the overall life cycle of a nuclear power plant.