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The Safety Vote

A prerequisite for sustained nuclear renaissance.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2009

the United States, but also in the new nuclear countries such as China.

Build Right, Operate Right

In most parts of the world except for Asia, nuclear plant construction almost completely stopped for 20 years. The whole value chain in construction was dormant. Only active nuclear operators have been working on improving the security, reliability and availability of their plants. In developed countries, the former and potentially new vendors, suppliers, utilities, financial, research, development and academic institutions have lost interest in the industry.

Now with increasing interest in building new plants, nuclear reactor vendors worldwide have to grow their production capacities, including heavy equipment forging plants where strict quality-control procedures are enforced. It will take time for these vendors to ramp up their production capacity again. Though vendors usually have a few years of lead time from order to delivery, they need to start preparations now in anticipation of a busy growth period in the industry.

Aside from these big vendors, there’s a need to reinvigorate or to create an industrial network of nuclear components and services providers by establishing a map of critical competencies; deciding what should be provided at the national or local levels and what could be imported; identifying the gaps; and creating the right incentives to bridge those gaps.

This should be a very rewarding exercise for companies and governments that choose to invest. The U.K. government has declared, “A new fleet of reactors would potentially create up to 100,000 jobs and represent about £20 billion worth of business for UK companies.” In a long-term financial and energy crisis, these numbers are worthy of consideration.

Likewise, nuclear plants create thousands of operations and maintenance jobs. During the long years of operations (40 to 60 or more years), nuclear power plants must have strict procedural adherence and a culture of safety to guide their personnel. Sound safety policies and practices, along with processes implementation, are vital for the success of the plant operations and the industry as a whole. Savvy nuclear operators will promote a culture where personnel are encouraged to report—as soon as possible—the smallest incident or non-compliance with the operations processes, with the understanding that this is done in the interest of knowledge improvement and ultimately security and safety enhancement.

Finally, implementation of the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) provides considerably improved nuclear operators’ transparency towards safety authorities and the public. Other programs, like the aforementioned by INPO and WANO, demonstrated positive impacts on the industry internally and externally. These programs contributed to the worldwide knowledge of the nuclear power industry operations—translating to date to over 12,000 reactor years of experience. Progress has been made not only on plant electricity output, but also on workers’ protection and decreased incident rates.

Competent human resources are indispensible for safe operations, and in today’s working environment, the aging workforce is a major issue. Safety authorities, vendors and operators all need to push for massive recruitment of personnel to replace retiring baby boomers and meet growing demand for talented and trained staff. This squeeze is exacerbated by a few factors: staff