Brew Barron, President and CEO
Constellation Energy Nuclear Group (CENG)
Commemorating the 10th Anniversary of September 11, 2001
Sept. 1, 2011
Rockville, MD, NRC Regional Offices
Chairman Jaczko, former Chairman Meserve, Commissioner Sheirer, NRC staff, special guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you all for the opportunity to be here today to remember the events of September 11th, nearly ten years ago.
Beyond the tragedy of those events, I know I speak for my company, Constellation Energy Nuclear Group, my colleagues at CENG, as well as our shareholders, Constellation Energy and Electricité de France and the entire U.S. nuclear power industry when I say I am proud of what the NRC and the nuclear industry have collectively achieved together enhancing nuclear security in this country over the past decade.
I would also like to say how glad I am that people all over Maryland are working hard together to rebound from Hurricane Irene, and some are still without electric power. I am impressed with the level of teamwork, communications and coordination. Our thoughts are with them.
Before I share my reflections on security, I would first like to spend a few moments reflecting on the important topic of safety. If asked to define safety, while we each may individually use a variation of definitions, I personally view safety as the opposite of harm. Safety is the absence of injury. It is the absence of adverse health effects.
Worker safety is the absence of personal injuries. Automobile safety’s objective isn’t the absence of damage to vehicles – it is avoiding injury to people. It is potential injury that makes us focus on safety – not the potential loss of property.
Safety is about people – it is about human beings, and the absence of harm to those human beings.
Nuclear safety is about people as well. Nuclear safety is the protection of human life from injury. It is the protection of both plant workers and the members of the public who reside near those plants. In the case of nuclear safety, it is protection from injury from ionizing radiation.
The Atomic Energy Act requires that nuclear power plants operate under a license and are required to comply with standards set by this Nuclear Regulatory Commission to receive and retain that license. Nuclear power plants also operate within our communities, communities of people. The operation of a nuclear power facility is a privilege, it is not a right. With that privilege comes the responsibility for the nuclear safety of those who work and live near those plants.
Nuclear security is an important aspect of nuclear safety. The fundamental objective of nuclear security in the commercial power industry is the prevention of a release of radioactive materials of a sufficient quantity to challenge the health and safety of the public or the plant employees.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 showed us all that what had previously been thought impossible could happen. But in response, the NRC and the industry did what we all do best – take the needed steps to assure that the public would be protected in the event that what had been previously considered unthinkable actually occurred at a nuclear facility in this country.
Through a series of well-constructed orders, regulatory guidance, inspection procedures, and updated regulations, a modernized and living physical security framework has been created to give the public high assurance of their nuclear safety with regards to protection from those who may have ill intentions. Industry leaders provided input so the framework reflected the challenges associated with the physical protection of an industrially designed facility.
As a result, commercial nuclear power plants in the United States are widely considered to be the most robust, hardened and secure non-military facilities in the country. That is a fact that each one of us in this room should be very proud of.
Protection of the public from radiation – nuclear safety – is the obligation of the designers, the operators and the regulators of nuclear energy facilities. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandates that this NRC periodically test the physical security of nuclear power facilities with simulated force-on-force exercises. Conduct of these simulated attacks and the corresponding defensive response is extremely complex – for both the inspection team and the plant defensive force. These exercises are important drills where we test our defensive plan from the point of view from both the good guys and the bad guys.
The fact that these exercises are complex would not be an acceptable excuse for them being ineffective. It is the mutual obligation of both the NRC and the facility operator to assure these tests are valid. Where deficiencies are detected, those must be strengthened without delay. No one is well served if these exercises produce false results. Neither a false sense of security – if you will pardon the pun – nor the implementation of plant modifications that do not add to the level of protection of the plant are acceptable outcomes. The plant neighbors – the people we are all charged to
protect -- deserve to accurately understand that the nuclear plant in their back yard is safe, secure, and well protected.
The horriffic events of ten years ago caused the entire U.S. nuclear industry to think about the unthinkable – and to take actions to be better prepared. The unthinkable occurred again on March 11, 2011 when a massive earthquake and 45-foot tsunami struck the Fukushima-Diiachi nuclear power stations in Japan. These previously unthinkable events in Japan were not the result of acts by those intending harm, but acts of nature.
The key lesson for all of us is that very low probability does not mean it cannot happen.
The fundamental original design features of the Fukushima-Diiachi units combined with the actions of Tepco’s dedicated operators and the Japanese authorities assured that the low probability event – a massive earthquake followed by a tsunami far exceeding the plant design -- was also a low consequence event from a nuclear safety point of view.
More than 22,000 lives are reported as lost as a result of the natural disaster in Japan. Twenty two thousand individuals, each with friends and family members, are lost. But only four individuals lost their lives on site at the nuclear power plant: two drowned in the flooding from the tsunami, one fell from a crane, and the fourth suffered a heart attack from heat exhaustion. While these losses are important and make us sad, no lives have been lost due to radiation. Nor does radiological data recorded to date predict measurable, long-term health effects will occur. While the loss of property and financial consequences are significant, the nuclear safety consequences are very, very low.
The actions taken by the NRC and the U.S. nuclear plant licensees following September 11 made the U.S. fleet better prepared for an event like March 11. Other safety and security enhancements made over the past two decades in the U.S. -- many led by the people in this room -- have also increased the safety margin of the U.S. nuclear fleet by ensuring that even similar very low probability events would also have very low nuclear safety consequences.
But that does not mean that our industry stands still - just as the NRC and the licensees and owners of the U.S. nuclear fleet responded so effectively following the events of ten years ago, I expect we will respond again.
The collective wisdom of the NRC and the U.S. industry is that the neighbors of the U.S. nuclear fleet are adequately protected today but that that level of protection can clearly be enhanced through improved planning and preparation.
We will gather and incorporate the lessons learned from Fukushima-Diiachi into our operational standards and I have little doubt that years from now we will be equally proud of the level of the enhanced protection achieved in this country.
Just as we owed it to those who lost their lives in the events of 9/11 to use the opportunity to take the actions necessary to prevent similar events in the future, we owe it to those who lost their lives or could be affected by the events of March 11 to apply those lessons learned and improve our margin of nuclear safety in the future.
Today, we honor the memories of all those lost nearly 10 years ago, and thank the family members and friends who have united for the greater good.
Thank you again for having me here today.