by Beth Piper
June is National Safety Month, an initiative of the National Safety Council. For more than 100 years, this organization has worked to promote awareness and further safety advocacy efforts to reduce accidental injuries and deaths throughout the United States. Preventing avoidable disasters is important in all energy industries, but it takes special precedence in the field of nuclear power.
That said nuclear power remains among one of the safest forms of power generation available. On a megawatt-per-megawatt basis, nuclear is responsible for fewer deaths than almost any other source of electricity. So what does that really mean in short? Nuclear’s safety record is quite impressive.
As demand for power continues to grow both at home and abroad, it’s imperative we see cleaner options to add to the mix. Factoring in the direct health and safety impacts of fossil fuels, as well as the indirect ones from climate change, the choice is clear: nuclear power is a safe and clean source of power in both the short and long-term.
And as safe as nuclear energy is today, it’s getting even more reliable as we move into the future. New reactor designs, including a few calling for room-temperature operation and air-cooling, aim to make it less likely for potentially dangerous incidents to occur. Nuclear plants now operate using a “defense-in-depth” approach whereby multiple redundant systems mitigate the severity of any single user error or equipment failure. All radioactive substances used for the fission process are contained within several barriers so that a breach of any one will not lead to contamination.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was set up by the United Nations in 1957 with one of its key functions being its role as “auditor” of world nuclear safety. Today every country currently operating nuclear power plants works closely with the IAEA and has a nuclear safety inspectorate.
Achieving optimum safety in the nuclear industry is a constant point of concern. In stark contrast to the fossil fuel energy industries, nuclear professionals are aware of the need to preserve one’s personal health and safety, as well as that of our natural environment. For National Safety Month, we would do well to remember that nuclear power remains at the top of the list for safe, sustainable power generation. The world needs nuclear.
Ms. Piper is a science author from Chicago, Ill., with a strong interest in nuclear power as a clean energy source.