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A Superb Record for Nuclear Safety

Although the 1986 Chernobyl disaster blemished the image of nuclear energy, the accident’s positive legacy is an even stronger system of nuclear safety worldwide.

In 1989, the nuclear industry established the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) to foster a global nuclear safety culture. Through private-sector diplomacy, WANO has built a transnational network of technical exchange that includes all countries with nuclear power. Today every nuclear power reactor in the world is part of the WANO system of operational peer review. The aim of WANO’s peer-review system is to ensure compliance with rigorous safety standards set by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Advances in safety practice are unmistakable. At most plants worldwide, reportable safety-related ‘events’ are now near zero.

National and international insurance laws assign responsibility to nuclear plant operators. In the US, for example, reactor operators share in a ‘pooled’ private insurance system that has never cost taxpayers a penny. Today, nuclear power plants have a superb safety record – both for plant workers and the public.

In the transport of nuclear material, highly engineered containers – capable of withstanding enormous impact – are the industry norm. More than 20,000 containers of spent fuel and high-level waste have been shipped safely over a total distance exceeding 30 million kilometers. During the transport of these and other radioactive substances – whether for research, medicine or nuclear power – there has never been a harmful radioactive release.

The nuclear power plant accidents at Three Mile Island in the United States and Chernobyl in Ukraine are well known; however, despite these incidents, nuclear power has a remarkable record.  About 16% of electricity generated around the world comes from nuclear power, and in the last forty years of this production, not one single fatality has occurred as a result of the operation of a civilian nuclear power plant in the United States, Western Europe, Japan, or South Korea. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the year 2000, the nuclear industry's safety accident rate-which tracks the number of accidents that result in lost work time, restricted work or fatalities-was 0.26 per 200,000 worker-hours. By comparison, the accident rate for U.S. private industry was 3.1 per 200,000 worker-hours in 1998 (the most recent year such data was available).

(excerpted from World Nuclear Association's autoessay "Energy for Sustainable Development")


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