Nuclear powerU.S. nuclear industry strong safety performance in 2011

Published 11 April 2012

Studies show that the U.S. nuclear power industry achieved strong safety performance in 2011; U.S. nuclear energy facilities in 2011 recorded the lowest number of unplanned shutdowns in more than a decade

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the nuclear industry group, says that U.S. nuclear energy facilities in 2011 recorded the lowest number of unplanned shutdowns in more than a decade and achieved near-record levels of reliability and safety performance. The NEI cites safety and operations data compiled by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO). The NEI notes that U.S. companies achieved all this despite a year marked by severe weather events that caused extensive damage to communities in numerous states.

Also, the industry reached record levels for industrial safety, placing it among the best industries in U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics rankings.

Nuclear energy facilities supply electricity to one of every five U.S. homes and businesses. These facilities recorded sixty-two unplanned shutdowns last year, three fewer than the decade-low sixty-five that occurred in 2005.

Unplanned shutdowns can result from severe weather or grid disturbances that trigger safety responses. In 2011 — despite tornadoes in the Southeast, the Virginia-centered East Coast earthquake, Hurricane Irene, and flooding in the Midwest — U.S. nuclear energy facilities posted a capability factor of 91.4 percent. NEI says that last year marked the tenth straight year that a median capability factor of at least 91 percent has been achieved. Capability factor measures the amount of time a facility is online and producing electricity. The industry’s record-high capability factor, 92 percent, was set in 2005.

“Plants with a high unit capability are successful in reducing unplanned outages and completing scheduled work effectively during planning outages,” states INPO’s report on the industry performance indicators.

“America’s nuclear energy facilities performed extremely well in the face of a host of natural challenges,” said Tony Pietrangelo, the NEI’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer. “The industry’s employees can take pride in this achievement while recognizing that their commitment to safety and excellence must never waver. Plant safety is the foundation of our industry’s ability to help make the United States a better, more secure place to live, work and raise our families.”

Since 1990 the U.S. nuclear energy industry has increased its electricity production nearly 40 percent — last year generating 790 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity — from approximately the same number of reactors.

NEI says that other performance indicator data on U.S. facilities supports the assertion that the U.S. nuclear industry is safe:

Safety system performance. For the tenth straight year, key backup safety systems concurrently