WASHINGTON—Safety and operational performance at the nation’s commercial nuclear power plants in 1999 remained at record-high levels, according to plant performance statistics released today by the industry.
Nuclear plant performance indicators used to help monitor industry progress in key areas show that the industry’s commitment to safety remained high as the nation’s 103 commercial nuclear reactors last year produced a record amount of electricity (725 billion kilowatt-hours).
"Nuclear power plants continued last year to reliably meet the electricity needs of families, businesses and other customers with extremely high levels of safety," said Ralph Beedle, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s chief nuclear officer, during a news conference at which NEI and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) released the 1999 performance data.
INPO was formed after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident to promote excellence in nuclear power plant operations. INPO’s efforts include analysis of performance data for U.S. plants compiled by the London-based World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) to help set challenging benchmarks of excellence against which safety and operational progress can be measured.
"The impressive 1999 WANO performance indicator results for U.S. plants cap the best decade of performance in the industry," INPO Executive Vice President Gary Leidich said today. "The results show that the industry continues to build positively on its steady progress in safety and reliability."
Highlights of the nuclear energy industry’s performance in 1999 include:
Unplanned Automatic Plant Shutdowns- For the third consecutive year, unplanned automatic plant shutdowns stood at a median value of zero per plant. Fifty-eight percent of operating reactors had no unplanned shutdowns that would have resulted in thermal and hydraulic challenges to plant systems.
Safety System Performance- For the eighth straight year, U.S. nuclear plants exceeded the industry’s year 2000 goal for the availability of three key plant safety systems-two main cooling systems and back-up power supplies used to respond to unusual situations. Ninety-five percent of the key safety systems met their availability goals last year. 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 for the second straight year exceeded the industry’s year 2000 goal. Only 0.34 industrial accidents occurred per 200,000 work-hours. By comparison, the injury rate in the U.S. manufacturing sector was 8.5 per 200,000 work-hours in 1998, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Unit Capability Factor- The industry’s 1999 median capability factor of 88.7 percent is the highest since INPO began collecting data and exceeds the year 2000 goal for the first time. Unit capability factor is the percentage of maximum electricity a plant can supply to the power supply system, limited only by factors within the control of plant managers.
Collective Radiation Exposure- For the third straight year, radiological protection practices kept collective exposure to workers at boiling water reactors below the year 2000 goal. Exposure was below the year 2000 goal for the second consecutive year at pressurized water reactors.
"The industry’s outstanding performance across the board shows that it is well-positioned to compete in a restructured electricity marketplace," Beedle said. "The American people can take great confidence and comfort in the fact that nuclear power plants are operated with an unwavering dedication to safety."
The industry’s strides have paved the way for the new plant oversight process that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will implement industrywide beginning April 2, Beedle said. The revised process uses objective data and continued daily inspection of plant systems and activities as the basis for a "risk-informed" assessment of plant safety.
The revised regulatory approach, tested last year at 13 reactors in seven states, focuses inspection efforts on those aspects of plant operation most important to safety, NRC
Chairman Richard Meserve told the Senate Environment Committee’s nuclear safety subcommittee on March 9. Making plant-specific performance indicators accessible via the Internet "should better enable the public to understand our assessment of the plants," Meserve said.
The NRC notes that, "The new process take into account improvements in the performance of the commercial nuclear power generating industry and improvements in technology and safety management over the past 25 years."
INPO’s performance data shows that, beyond the areas noted above, the industry improved over its 1998 achievements in indicators tracking performance in unplanned capability loss factor, thermal performance and chemistry performance.
"Clearly, the commitment to pursue excellence in plant safety that the industry initiated 20 years ago continues to produce results," Leidich said.
Nuclear energy is the nation’s largest emission-free source of electricity, supplying about 20 percent of total U.S. electricity needs.
The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations is based in Atlanta and was established by the nuclear industry in 1979 to promote the highest levels of safety and reliability-to promote excellence-in commercial nuclear plant operations.
The World Association of Nuclear Operators was established in 1989 as an international organization intended to maximize the safety and reliability of the operation of nuclear power plants by exchanging information and encouraging communication, comparison and emulation among its members.
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.