WASHINGTON, D.C.—The nation’s nuclear power plants in 2009 had one of the safest industrial working environments and fell just shy of setting a record for reactor efficiency—two factors that further bolster the role of nuclear energy as the nation’s most reliable electricity source. These and other annual performance indicators are compiled by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), which measures several aspects of nuclear power plant operations.
WANO found that the nation’s 104 operating nuclear power plants reached the pinnacle of efficiency levels in 2009 with a median unit capability factor—a measure of a plant’s on-line production time—of 91.3 percent. This was the 10th straight year the capability factor exceeded 91 percent. Capacity factor, a related metric that measures total power generated as a percentage of design production, stood at 90.5 percent in 2009, according to data compiled by the Nuclear Energy Institute. These two measures of efficiency outpace all other forms of generation. As an example, coal, which is the leading source of U.S. electric generation, had a capacity factor of 63.1 percent last year.
This industry-leading reliability enabled America’s nuclear power plants to produce 798.7 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity last year—nearly equaling the combined nuclear energy generation of France, Japan and Russia. Overall, nuclear power plants operating in 31 states provide one-fifth of U.S. electricity supplies; they provide about 70 percent of the nation’s electricity generation that comes from carbon-free sources, including hydroelectric power plants and renewable technologies.
There is a clear connection between excellent safety and operating performance, as the industry maintained its decade-long high level of achievement in safety performance, industrial safety, unplanned automatic reactor shutdowns and programs to protect workers from radiation exposure.
“The expansion of the U.S. nuclear industry—including license renewals, completion of the Watts Bar 2 reactor in Tennessee, and four to eight new reactors that are expected to begin construction in this decade—is built on the safety and outstanding operating performance of today’s reactors. This performance is the direct outcome of the thousands of dedicated people working at our energy facilities who put safety first and foremost, understanding that it is the foundation for efficiency and production of reliable and affordable clean electricity,” said Marvin Fertel, NEI president and chief executive officer.
“It is this industry’s stellar safety record that has engendered the confidence of the president, Congress and the public in the industry’s ability to build new reactors that will play a significant role in achieving America’s economic and environmental goals,” Fertel said.
The performance data compiled by WANO is analyzed by the Atlanta-based Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), which promotes excellence in U.S. nuclear power plant safety and operations. INPO uses the data to help set challenging benchmarks of excellence against which safety and plant operation can be measured.
Other highlights of the nuclear energy industry’s performance in 2009 include:
Unplanned Automatic Reactor Shutdowns. There were so few unplanned automatic reactor shutdowns in 2009 that the median value was zero. The total number of unplanned automatic reactor shutdowns in the nation’s 104 operating plants was 34, the lowest on record. This stellar performance capped a decade in which the industry bested the median industry goal of 0.5 unplanned automatic shutdowns per 7,000 hours of reactor operation.
Safety System Performance. In 2009, 93 percent of the key safety systems met their availability goals—the 11th straight year this rating has exceeded 90 percent. 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 similar system or component. The three key standby safety systems are two main cooling systems and back-up power supplies used to respond in the event of unusual situations.
Industrial Safety. The nuclear industry is one of the nation’s safest working environments. U.S. nuclear plants continued to post a low industrial accident rate in 2009 with 0.1 industrial accidents per 200,000 worker-hours. Statistics from other industries through 2008, as compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, show that it is safer to work at a nuclear power plant than in the manufacturing sector and even the real estate and financial sectors.
Forced Capability Loss Rate. The 2009 median value of 1.2 percent capability loss equaled the lowest on record and reflects consistent excellent performance in nuclear plant operations. In the mid-1990s, the median value exceeded five percent; but has been under two percent each year since 2000 and under 1.5 percent for five consecutive years. Forced capability loss rate measures a plant’s outage time and power reductions that result from unplanned equipment failures, human error or other conditions when the plant is expected to be generating electricity. The 2010 goal for this indicator is a median value of one percent.
To view charts of the WANO performance indicators for U.S. nuclear power plants on NEI’s website, go to: http://www.nei.org/resourcesandstats/documentlibrary/safetyandsecurity/reports/wano-2009-performance-indicators-for-the-united-states.