WASHINGTON—The nuclear energy industry’s excellent safety record continues to improve under the revised reactor oversight process that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission put in place seven years ago, an industry leader told the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety today.
“Since the reactor oversight process was initiated in 2000, the safety performance of U.S. nuclear power plants has improved by every objective indicator of safety performance,” said Marvin Fertel, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer. “The average capacity factor, a measure of efficiency, for the 104 reactors operating in 31 states has remained at approximately 90 percent, and overall production costs have decreased. This demonstrates that a commitment to excellence in safety and in efficiency and production can be achieved together.”
Monthly public meetings between an industry working group and NRC staffers are one of the key mechanisms in place to continuously improve the process by which the agency oversees operations at the nuclear plants that supply electricity to one of every five U.S. homes and businesses, Fertel said.
“This continuous dialogue on the implementation of the reactor oversight process has resulted in an effective tool for the NRC to oversee its reactor licensees. At the heart of this effectiveness is communication at every level among electric companies, the NRC and the public. The reactor oversight process is the most open and transparent regulatory process of any regulated industry,” with detailed performance information available on the NRC’s Web site (www.nrc.gov), Fertel said.
Every plant site receives a minimum of more than 2,000 hours of inspections by NRC personnel each year, with supplemental inspections if plant performance falls below established thresholds, he noted.
The industry’s safety record provides a strong foundation for new nuclear plant construction that is anticipated to help meet a projected 40 percent increase in electricity demand by 2030, Fertel said. He noted that, just last week, NRG Energy filed a license application with the NRC for two reactors that would be built in Texas. Constellation Energy last July filed the environmental section of a license application to expand the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power station in Maryland.
“There are 17 companies planning on submitting 22 license applications for 31 potential new nuclear plants,” Fertel said. “We expect that between 65 to 75 percent of a license application can be standardized, with the remainder including site-specific information.”
Given the degree of standardization in reactor design, the industry would expect significant reductions in NRC resources required for reviews of nuclear plants beyond the first submittals of each design, resulting both in decreased licensing fees and review schedules.
“Following the completion of the reference plant submittals, the industry expects that the NRC review schedule should be able to be reduced from 42 months to 27 months. We look forward to updating the subcommittee on the progress we are making toward new plant deployment to satisfy our nation’s energy demand and environmental goals.”