WASHINGTON—The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) is coordinating an U.S. industry review to examine the causes of and responses to the Sept. 30 uranium plant accident in Tokaimura, Japan, and to apply lessons learned from the review to U.S. facilities. This industry-wide review will complement evaluations that U.S. nuclear fuel facilities typically perform in response to an event, such as occurred in Japan.
Representatives from NEI and the NEI member companies that fabricate or enrich fuel for commercial U.S. nuclear power plants will participate in the review. NEI is the nuclear industry's policy organization, and its members include fuel fabricators ABB Combustion Engineering, Framatome Cogema Fuels, General Electric Co., Siemens Power Corp., and Westinghouse Electric Co.
In addition, NEI's members include the U.S. Enrichment Corporation, the sole uranium enrichment company in America, and facilities that fabricate fuel for the nation's nuclear Navy program-Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. and BWX Technologies Inc. Representatives from these facilities also will participate in the review.
"U.S. facilities have an excellent safety record, and are closely regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Nonetheless, the industry is committed to analyze the information regarding this accident. We then will review the lessons learned in the context of programs and processes at U.S. facilities," said Marvin Fertel, NEI's senior vice president for nuclear infrastructure support and international programs. "It has long been standard practice within the nuclear industry in the United States to benchmark our operations regularly, and to apply lessons learned from developments in nuclear facilities anywhere in the world. This case is no exception."
NEI is coordinating efforts to formalize the details of the review with representatives of the U.S. fuel fabricators and enrichment facilities. The scope of the review will encompass the accident itself and the responses to it. NEI will communicate with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to keep it informed of the progress during the review.
"For the betterment of the industry and the public, we need to learn all we can from this accident," Fertel said. "The benefits that society derives from nuclear technology—be it medical procedures, electricity generation, food safety or some other industrial application—are too great to allow there to be lingering questions about the events that transpired in Japan."
Last week's accident occurred in the Tokaimura plant's experimental fuel fabrication building, which manufactures uranium fuel for a Japanese experimental breeder reactor at an enrichment level of 18.8 percent. The United States does not have a fast breeder reactor, which creates more fuel than it uses, in operation. The fuel for light-water reactors, including the 103 reactors that produce one-fifth of U.S. electricity, is enriched at much lower levels, with the fissionable U-235 isotope constituting less than 5 percent of the uranium.
The fuel fabrication facilities that manufacture uranium fuel for commercial U.S. nuclear power plants have not had any incidents leading to a nuclear chain reaction. These facilities have in place today a series of physical, procedural and administrative safeguards that would prevent a criticality accident.
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.