WASHINGTON—U.S. nuclear power plants turned in another banner year of performance in 2001, with safety and electricity production hovering at historically high levels. According to plant performance statistics for U.S. plants compiled by the London-based World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), overall performance at the nation's 103 commercial nuclear reactors remains outstanding.
The industry's unit capability factor-a measure of efficiency-was 90.7 percent, the second consecutive year that it topped 90 percent. Even as the industry's electricity production climbed to a record high of 767 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh), WANO statistics show that performance stood at or near record levels of excellence in vital areas like the availability of key safety systems, worker safety, and unplanned plant shutdowns.
"The performance indicator results for 2001 tell a great story about the nuclear industry's commitment to operational excellence," said Mike Evans, president and chief executive officer of the Atlanta-based Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO). "They demonstrate continuing improvements in the ability of U.S. nuclear operators to generate electricity reliably while maintaining an unwavering focus on safety."
INPO, which promotes excellence in nuclear power plant operations, analyzes the performance data for U.S. plants compiled by WANO to help set challenging benchmarks of excellence against which safety and plant operation can be measured. Highlights of the nuclear energy industry's performance in 2001 include:
Unplanned Automatic Plant Shutdowns-For the fifth consecutive year, over half of the plants experienced no unplanned automatic shutdowns, yielding a median industry value of zero. This performance exceeds the 2005 goal of one unplanned automatic shutdown per plant. In comparison, most plants experienced five or more unplanned automatic shutdowns in the early 1980s.
Safety System Performance-For the ninth straight year, key safety systems at U.S. plants met their individual availability goals more than 90 percent of the time. The three key safety systems are two main cooling systems and back-up power supplies used to respond to unusual situations. Last year, 94 percent of the key safety systems met their availability goals. Nuclear power plants are built with redundant safety systems and backup power supplies so these systems are available, if needed, even when maintenance is being performed on a system or component.
Worker Safety-Already one of the safest industrial work environments, U.S. nuclear plants posted a declining industrial accident rate for the third straight year, with the rate reaching a record low of only 0.24 industrial accidents per 200,000 work-hours. This is a significantly lower rate than the industry goal set for 2005. In fact, statistics from other industries through 2000 as compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that it is safer to work in a nuclear power plant than in the manufacturing sector and even the real estate and finance industries.
Unit Capability Factor- The 2001 median capability factor of 90.7 percent is the second highest since WANO began collecting data-only a fraction below the year 2000 record-and very nearly at the 2005 goal of 91 percent. Unit capability factor is the percentage of maximum electricity a plant can supply to the electric grid, limited only by factors within the control of plant managers.
Collective Radiation Exposure-For the third straight year, radiological protection practices led to a drop in collective exposure to workers at boiling water reactors, which reached its lowest level since 1980. Exposure fell 30 percent since 1999 at pressurized water reactors and is only a fraction above the 2005 goal.
These achievements came even as the output of nuclear generated electricity jumped to 767 billion kilowatt-hours-about 13 billion kwh ahead of 2000 and 40 billion kwh ahead of 1999 (5.4 percent growth in two years)-enough power to meet the needs of more than 70 million U.S. households.
"Nuclear power plant performance last year coupled with the industry's ability to maintain extremely high levels of safety make a convincing case that a comprehensive U.S. energy policy must include a key role for nuclear energy in the present and future," said Ralph Beedle, the Nuclear Energy Institute's chief nuclear officer.
Nuclear energy is the nation's largest emission-free source of electricity, supplying about 20 percent of total U.S. electricity needs.
"In supplying electricity to one of every five homes in the U.S., the remarkable achievements of the nuclear industry in 2001 bode well for our nation's energy independence without sacrificing its responsibility to improve the environment," Beedle said.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org .