NEW YORK—America’s nuclear energy industry continues to operate safely and reliably, and the industry has a positive outlook, Marvin Fertel, president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, told financial analysts today.
Fertel updated the analysts on steps being taken to make safe nuclear energy facilities even safer. He also provided attendees at an NEI-sponsored briefing with the industry’s perspective on recommendations made earlier this month by the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Fukushima Daiichi task force. The recommendations made in the task force’s 90-day report are being considered by the agency’s commissioners.
“The nuclear energy industry has taken seriously the accident at Fukushima and continues to support the recovery efforts in Japan. The companies operating the nation’s 104 nuclear energy facilities already have taken a number of concrete actions to enhance safety during extreme events,” Fertel said.
In the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, every U.S. nuclear power plant verified its ability to safely manage the impact of a severe event, regardless of its cause. Many deficiencies were resolved immediately, and many safety enhancements also were identified, Fertel said.
The industry also formed a leadership organization, known as the Fukushima Response Steering Committee, to coordinate the industry’s response activities going forward. The Steering Committee, made up of representatives from the utilities, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, the Electric Power Research Institute, NEI and the vendors’ Owners Groups, will ensure that lessons that emerge from Japan over the ensuing months and years will be applied consistently at every facility so that nuclear safety is enhanced across the industry. “Because what’s happened at Fukushima is a broad issue, we’ve formed an industry leadership organization which is a coordinated effort to capture and apply lessons that emerge from Fukushima. That’s an important effort for us to do and stay coordinated,” Fertel said.
The NRC’s initial stakeholder input meeting on the recommendations of the six-person task force will be held Thursday at the agency’s headquarters in Rockville, Md.
Fertel noted that, in its interim updates and its 90-day report, the task force concluded that existing nuclear energy facilities are operating safely, buttressing safety comments already made by President Obama and NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko.
“We certainly believe our existing facilities are safe,” Fertel said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t take lessons learned and won’t take lessons learned from Fukushima and actually enhance safety even better than it is right now. There are improvements that make a lot of sense to us.”
Potential areas of emphasis include coping time for station black-out conditions, responding to events that affect all reactors at a power station, enhanced flood protection, and improved training requirements for severe events, Fertel said.
“The scope of issues identified by the NRC’s task force is consistent with the industry’s assessment. Some items can be addressed in the near term and effectively implementing those actions is critical,” he said.
Other issues require more substantial analysis than has been done—or has even been possible—to date, Fertel cautioned.
“Making sure we don’t divert our staffs now from what they should be focused on is also critical. We need to make sure we stay focused on safety right now, not just changing things for the sake of changing things,” he said.
The U.S. nuclear energy industry has continued to move ahead with various projects that require NRC oversight, Fertel noted. Since early March, power uprates that improve efficiency and increase a plant’s electric generating capacity have been approved at two facilities, and operating license renewals have been approved for nine of the nation’s 104 reactors. In addition, construction continues to progress in Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina on new reactors that should begin operating between 2013 and 2019.
“Our estimate for the past three years has been that, between 2016 and 2020, we were going to add four to eight new reactors in this country. We believe, pre-Fukushima, that was realistic. We believe, post-Fukushima, that is very realistic. Then, as you move out toward the 2050 time frame, you add a lot more nuclear facilities as you replace power plants that retire and as you meet growing electricity demand,” Fertel said.