Is Working in a Nuclear Power Plant Safe?

Nuclear power plants are among the most secure and reliable facilities in the world. However, 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. Nuclear power plants have safety and security protocols in place and are closely monitored by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

An accident at a nuclear power plant could release dangerous levels of radiation over an area (sometimes referred to as a plume). The IAEA has a Safety Knowledge Base for Aging and Long-Term Operation of Nuclear Power Plants (SKALTO) which aims to develop a framework for sharing information on aging management and long-term operation of nuclear power plants. It is not designed to ensure compliance with Parties' obligations through control and sanction, but rather is based on their common interest to achieve higher levels of safety. The other class of reactors that has been the focus of international attention for safety improvements is the first generation of VVER-440 pressurized water reactors.

They mobilized considerable experience in different countries (500 man-years) under the responsibility of each national safety authority within the framework of the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG). The Swiss Nuclear Safety Inspectorate studied a similar scenario and reported in 2003 that the danger of any radiation emission from such an accident would be low for older plants and extremely low for newer ones. An important feature they have in common (beyond the safety engineering that is already standard in Western reactors) are passive safety systems, which do not require operator intervention in the event of a major malfunction. The International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) was developed by the IAEA and the OECD in 1990 to communicate and standardize the reporting of nuclear incidents or accidents to the public.

The plan emerged from intensive consultations with Member States, but not with industry, and was described as a meeting point and plan to strengthen nuclear safety worldwide. The total or inherent passive safety design depends solely on physical phenomena such as convection, gravity, or high temperature resistance, not on the operation of the designed components. WENRA is a network of core regulators from EU countries with nuclear power plants and Switzerland, and has members from 17 countries. If the Design Safety Review (DSR) is for a vendor design in the pre-licensing phase, it is done using the Generic Reactor Safety Review (GRSR) module.

It should be noted that a commercial-type power reactor simply cannot, under any circumstances, explode like a nuclear bomb: fuel is not enriched more than about 5% and much greater enrichment is needed for explosives. Reliability-focused maintenance was adapted from civil aviation in the 1980s, for example, and led to the nuclear industry's overhaul of existing maintenance programs. The Nuclear Power Operations Institute maintains a database of operational experience and provides lessons learned for incorporation into plant programs and procedures. The safety aspects of nuclear plants highlighted by the Fukushima accident were evaluated in the nuclear reactors of EU member states, as well as in those of neighboring states that decided to participate.