World Engineering Day + Nuclear Safety: The Future of Nuclear Safety

Marlene Delaney, SE, PE

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Mar 4, 2022

The earthquake and subsequent tsunami which caused the Fukushima Daiichi disaster triggered a global conversation around the overall safety of nuclear power and its environmental impact. As we celebrate World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development, it’s important to address the misconceptions around nuclear safety and the future of nuclear energy.

Lately, the debate about nuclear safety has been reinvigorated and fears that a similar extreme natural disaster like an earthquake could happen in the United States are heightened by the nearly 100 nuclear reactors located near major cities.

Nuclear plants have comprehensive procedures for emergency preparedness including alerts and notifications for the public. Modern reactors have reinforced steel-concrete containments domes that would not be so easily penetrated by steam explosions, for example. Since the 1980's the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) has adopted many security-related legal instruments to increase nuclear safety and security on a global and domestic level.

After Fukushima event in 2011, the U.S. nuclear industry underwent an extensive effort to provide for emergency back-up systems and equipment so that a disaster of even greater magnitude than Fukushima would not have an adverse impact on a plant.

The Future of Nuclear Energy

The United States generates the most energy using nuclear power plants followed by France, China, Russia, and South Korea. Nuclear energy supplies about 10 percent of the world's electricity. And, although nuclear energy isn't considered renewable energy, it does not emit any of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Currently, coal generates 44% of our electricity and is the single biggest air polluter in the U.S. While wind and solar power are renewable energy sources, they are not always available and require back-up power to be online when the weather doesn’t cooperate. Nuclear power functions at a higher capacity than renewable energy sources or fossil fuels, making it extremely reliable.

U.S. nuclear power plants need to constantly evolve to adapt to changing safety and security standards. We’re actively involved with industry policy and research to bring the most risk-informed decision-making to our clients. Whether it’s innovative software solutions to monitor hazards, physical security consulting or structural engineering – we’re here to help the nuclear power industry adapt to those changes.