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Nuclear Energy: A Brighter Future Awaits

nuclear-energyChernobyl.  Three Mile Island.  Fukushima.  When one mentions nuclear power, these are frequently the first images that come to mind.  There is no disputing that the nuclear power industry has a blemished past.  However, the reality is that, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), nuclear energy currently provides 13% of the world’s electricity, and as of 2012 there were an additional 68 nuclear reactors under construction worldwide, with more in the planning stages.

So what have we done, and what can we do, to prevent disasters like those mentioned above?  Even before the most recent event in 2011 at Fukushima, the nuclear power industry has been constantly updating its equipment, policies and procedures.  Since Fukushima, efforts have been intensified.

Equipment

Redundancy is a word sometimes used to describe positions or processes that are already being performed and could efficiently be erased.  In the nuclear industry, however, redundancy is a necessity for the safety and security of operations.  In the wake of Fukushima, American operators of nuclear plants voluntarily adopted regulations requiring redundant emergency equipment at every plant and spent fuel storage site across the country.  This is in response to the failure of emergency cooling equipment at Fukushima due to the initial flooding of the site.

In addition to backup emergency equipment, redesigned models of current plant infrastructure are being developed and implemented.  For instance, in March of 2012, the US Nuclear Regulation Commission (NRC) issued an order to upgrade coolant vents on all operational reactors to ensure proper cooling after an emergency shutdown.

Designs for future nuclear plants are being overhauled.  French company Areva has already begun construction at multiple locations of its Third Generation nuclear plant, which boasts “Resistance to plane crashes; high seismic resistance; quadruple safety device redundancy; core meltdown risk further reduced and minimization of the consequences from such an accident thanks to a special compartment isolating the molten core,” among other improvements.

Planning

In addition to its 2012 order to upgrade equipment the NRC also required nuclear plants to reevaluate their earthquake and flooding hazard plans, as well as their emergency communication plans and emergency staffing levels.  The requirements for the NRC’s orders go far beyond the initial building and certification requirements for I and II generation nuclear plants.

The US nuclear industry has also established two new regional response centers, in Phoenix, Arizona and Memphis, Tennessee.  These will be available at any time to send additional emergency equipment to any American emergency facility within 24 hours.

Continuing Research

As a part of its reaction plan post-Fukushima, the NRC has set requirements for ongoing reviews of all safety and disaster contingency plans, new benchmarks for staff training and greater public education and engagement.  It has also set requirements for safer storage of spent nuclear waste.

In 2011 the Progressive Policy Institute noted, “Even the most determined nuclear power critics cannot attack the impeccable safety record of nuclear power reactors under normal operating conditions.”  With the government’s guidance and the industry’s willingness to review and improve going forward, nuclear power should be a safe and viable generation option now and for future generations.

Demand response programs are necessary to keep the electric grid stable. Read more about DR on this page and learn about our energy education workshops. Contact us to find our how your business can benefit.

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