Nuclear Power in The United States - Safety and Accidents

Safety and Accidents

Regulation of nuclear power plants in the United States is done by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which divides the nation into 4 administrative divisions.

As of February 2009, the NRC requires that the design of new power plants ensures that the reactor containment would remain intact, cooling systems would continue to operate, and spent fuel pools would be protected, in the event of an aircraft crash. This is an issue that has gained attention since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The regulation does not apply to the 104 commercial reactors now operating. However, the containment structures of nuclear power plants are among the strongest structures ever built by mankind; independent studies have shown that existing plants would easily survive the impact of a large commercial jetliner without loss of structural integrity.

The nuclear industry in the United States has maintained one of the best industrial safety records in the world with respect to all kinds of accidents. For 2008, the industry hit a new low of 0.13 industrial accidents per 200,000 worker-hours. This is improved over 0.24 in 2005, which was still a factor of 14.6 less than the 3.5 number for all manufacturing industries. Private industry has an accident rate of 1.3 per 200,000 worker hours.

More than a quarter of U.S. nuclear plant operators "have failed to properly tell regulators about equipment defects that could imperil reactor safety", according to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report.

In March 2011, nuclear experts told Congress that spent-fuel pools at US nuclear power plants are too full. They say the entire US spent-fuel policy should be overhauled in light of the Fukushima I nuclear accidents.

David Lochbaum, chief nuclear safety officer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, has repeatedly questioned the safety of the Fukushima I Plant's General Electric Mark 1 reactor design, which is used in almost a quarter of the United States' nuclear fleet.

About one third of reactors in the US are boiling water reactors, the same technology which was involved in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. There are also eight nuclear power plants located along the seismically active West coast. Twelve of the American reactors that are of the same vintage as the Fukushima Daiichi plant are in seismically active areas. Earthquake risk is often measured by "Peak Ground Acceleration", or PGA, and the following nuclear power plants have a two percent or greater chance of having PGA over 0.15g in the next 50 years: Diablo Canyon, Calif.; San Onofre, Calif.; Sequoyah, Tenn.; H.B. Robinson, SC.; Watts Bar, Tenn.; Virgil C. Summer, SC.; Vogtle, GA.; Indian Point, NY.; Oconee, SC.; and Seabrook, NH.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports that radioactive tritium has leaked from 48 of the 65 nuclear sites in the United States.

Nuclear power plant accidents in the U.S. with more than US$140 million in property damage
Date Plant Location Description Cost
(in millions
2006 $)
01979-03-28March 28, 1979 Three Mile Island Londonderry Township, Pennsylvania Loss of coolant and partial core meltdown, see Three Mile Island accident and Three Mile Island accident health effects 7003240000000000000 US$2,400
01985-03-09March 9, 1985 Browns Ferry Athens, Alabama Instrumentation systems malfunction during startup, which led to suspension of operations at all three Units 7003183000000000000 US$1,830
01986-04-11April 11, 1986 Pilgrim Plymouth, Massachusetts Recurring equipment problems force emergency shutdown of Boston Edison’s plant 7003100100000000000 US$1,001
01987-03-31March 31, 1987 Peach Bottom Delta, Pennsylvania Units 2 and 3 shutdown due to cooling malfunctions and unexplained equipment problems 7002400000000000000 US$400
01987-12-19December 19, 1987 Nine Mile Point Scriba, New York Malfunctions force Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation to shut down Unit 1 7002150000000000000 US$150
01996-02-20February 20, 1996 Millstone Waterford, Connecticut Leaking valve forces shutdown of Units 1 and 2, multiple equipment failures found 7002254000000000000 US$254
01996-09-02September 2, 1996 Crystal River Crystal River, Florida Balance-of-plant equipment malfunction forces shutdown and extensive repairs 7002384000000000000 US$384
02002-02-16February 16, 2002 Davis-Besse Oak Harbor, Ohio Severe corrosion of reactor vessel head forces 24-month outage 7002143000000000000 US$143
02010-02-01February 1, 2010 Vermont Yankee Vernon, Vermont Deteriorating underground pipes leak radioactive tritium into groundwater supplies 7002700000000000000 US$700

Read more about this topic:  Nuclear Power In The United States

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