WASHINGTON—U.S. nuclear power plants continued to operate at excellent levels of safety in 2002, according to performance indicators compiled by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO).
The nuclear energy industry last year set records in electricity production and efficiency, while also exceeding industry goals in keys areas like the industrial safety accident rate, unplanned plant shutdowns, and availability of key safety systems.
For the fourth straight year the nation’s 103 nuclear power plants achieved record electricity output. Continuing a decade-long trend of increased production, nuclear power plants in 31 states generated a record 780.2 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh) of electricity. That was enough to power 70 million U.S. homes and topped the 2001 production record by more than 11 billion kwh, or 1.5 percent.
Meanwhile, London-based WANO reported that the U.S. industry’s unit capability factor—a measure of efficiency—rose in 2002 to 91.2 percent. This excellent record of reliability is the best among all means of electricity generation, and marked the third straight year that the unit capability factor topped 90 percent at U.S. plants.
“The 2002 nuclear plant performance results are outstanding, and they reflect the high standards that the industry sets for itself. Our industry is committed to continually benchmarking against top performers and applying best practices at every opportunity,” said Joe F. Colvin, NEI president and chief executive officer. “It is a credit to the dedicated men and women who never rest on their laurels but instead strive to make improvements in every facet of plant operations.”
Mike Evans, president and chief executive officer of the Atlanta-based Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) said, “In many ways, U.S. nuclear plant performance is the best it has ever been. The performance indicators reflect not just a year or even a decade of progress, but more than 20 years of continuous improvement."
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. Other highlights of the nuclear energy industry’s performance in 2002 include:
Unplanned Automatic Plant Shutdowns: For the sixth consecutive year, more than half of the plants experienced no unplanned automatic reactor shutdowns, yielding a median industry value of zero. This performance exceeds the year 2005 goal of one unplanned automatic shutdown per plant. For the year, 46 unplanned shutdowns took place, compared to 60 in 2001.
Safety system performance. For the 10th straight year, key safety systems met their individual availability goals more than 90 percent of the year. The three key safety systems are two main cooling systems and back-up power supplies used to respond to unusual situations. Last year, 97 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 similar system or component.
Worker safety. Already one of the safest industrial work environments, U.S. nuclear plants improved their industrial accident rate for the fourth straight year, with the rate reaching a record low of only 0.22 industrial accidents per 200,000 work-hours. This is lower than the industry goal set for 2005. Statistics from other industries through 2001 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 finance industries.
Unit capability factor. The 2002 median capability factor of 91.2 percent is the highest since WANO began collecting data and exceeds 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. The WANO indicators showed that collective radiation measurements for plant employees remained well within federal safety standards, even though the industry’s performance at pressurized water reactors (PWRs) fell slightly short of the 2001 measurement record. This is due in part to the extensive reactor vessel head inspections that have been conducted at PWRs in the wake of boric acid corrosion found last year within the vessel head at the Davis-Besse power plant in Ohio. At boiling water reactors, excellent radiological protection practices led to a drop in collective exposure to workers for the fourth straight year.
Nuclear energy is the nation’s largest source of electricity that doesn’t pollute the air, and supplies electricity to one of every five U.S. homes and businesses.
Improvements in nuclear plant operations are further evidenced by the fact that since 1990, increased operating efficiency at existing nuclear plants is the equivalent of adding 25 new, 1,000 megawatt reactors to the nation’s electricity producing portfolio. In fact, this energy efficiency program produced enough new electricity to meet one-fifth of new power demand during the 1990s.
As improved productivity and reliability translate into enhanced economic performance the average production cost (fuel costs plus operations and maintenance) for the nuclear energy industry in 2001 dropped to 1.68 cents/kwh, lower than coal at 1.8 cents/kwh and far below that of natural gas at 6.08 cents/kwh. Final figures won’t be available until later in the year but it is expected that nuclear production costs will be even lower.