There are different ways to measuring the safety of a nuclear power plant. Counting only the number of accidents or meltdowns at nuclear plants would give you an incomplete picture of their overall safety. The Union of Concerned Scientists' Nuclear Safety Project took another route and analyzed the number of times nuclear reactors experienced extended shutdowns in the new report Walking a Nuclear Tightrope: Unlearned Lessons of Year-plus Reactor Outages. Their results were eye-opening.
Since the first commercial nuclear power plant opened 40 years ago, there have been 51 reactor shutdowns at nuclear power plants. Most of these shutdowns, 36 of them, were due to widespread safety problems in the plants that could no longer be ignored.
The root cause of these continued safety shutdowns is a combination of inadequate attention to safety by plant owners and lax oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
In the weeks and months leading up to the start of a year-plus outage, the people living nearby face an unnecessarily high risk of an accident that could release radiation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission must undergo fundamental change or it will only be a matter of time before additional reactors will suffer through year-plus outages – or worse, a nuclear accident.
UCS is calling on the NRC to follow federal regulations to identify and fix problems in a timely manner. The NRC must also alert plant owners about non-hardware problems and expand its oversight efforts when programmatic breakdowns are identified.
You can visit our Web site to see a list of U.S. plants experiencing outages and the reasons behind their shutdowns. UCS is also asking people to write their members of Congress to demand these reforms.