U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Reconfirming Safety, Response Programs in Light of Japan Situation
U.S. Nuclear Plants Withstand Severe Events
Recent experience with earthquakes in California, Hurricane Andrew in Florida and Katrina in New Orleans repeatedly demonstrate that U.S. nuclear plants can withstand severe natural events. In each case, safety systems functioned as designed, operators responded effectively and emergency training proved successful.
When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the devastation overwhelmed the resources of local, state and federal authorities. Katrina resulted in 1,800 deaths, damage exceeding $100 billion and millions without electric power. Entergy’s Waterford 3 nuclear energy station was in the path of the hurricane and lost offsite power, but the plant’s backup diesel generators started immediately and powered vital reactor systems for nearly five days until offsite power was restored.
The plant lost offsite communications except for satellite phones, the company’s corporate headquarters in New Orleans was evacuated and employee homes were destroyed. Yet Waterford 3 was restarted after a detailed check of plant systems, and the electricity produced there was vital to the area’s restoration. The company said information shared by the nuclear industry helped Waterford 3 prepare for the storm.
Reactors could withstand the most severe earthquake and
flooding at their site.
With a deep sense of sympathy and concern for the Japanese people in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, and with humility as the challenges facing their nuclear workers become clear, the U.S. nuclear energy industry is assisting in safely resolving the Fukushima nuclear emergency. Here at home, electric companies are reconfirming the safety of nuclear energy facilities and the readiness of emergency response plans, especially in response to severe events.
Over the next weeks and months, the industry and federal regulators will examine every aspect of the Fukushima event for ways to help the Japanese nuclear industry recover and for lessons learned that will improve the safety of America’s nuclear energy facilities.
Within one week of the Japanese incident, the nuclear industry began a formal process of data gathering, analysis and re‐assessment. Concurrently, the NRC began an initial analysis of lessons learned from the situation in Japan, with reports due to the commission in 30, 60 and 90 days. This process will accelerate even more once the Japanese facilities are stabilized. It likely will continue for years until relevant lessons can be applied.
However, based on design and construction requirements and upgrades, we are confident that U.S. reactors could withstand the most severe earthquake or tsunami forecast at their specific site. Nuclear power plants in a severe disaster or other extreme event would:
Have a greater safety “margin,” both for worst‐case earthquake resistance and flooding
Be prepared to maintain onsite emergency electricity capability
Be able to restore reactor core and fuel storage pool cooling in time to prevent significant fuel damage
Have greater probability of avoiding a major release of radiation
Use demonstrated emergency response procedures to protect citizens near the facility and plant workers