Tom Fanning is chairman, president, and CEO of Southern Company, one of the largest electricity producers in the United States.
The nuclear energy industry is committed to the relentless pursuit of safer nuclear energy. As an operator of six reactors at three nuclear energy facilities in the Southeast—and the first to build the next generation of nuclear technology in the United States—we make it our mission to never settle for "safe enough."
In the big energy picture for America, we need all of the arrows in the quiver—nuclear energy, 21st-century coal, natural gas, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. Americans deserve an energy future that reduces our dependence on foreign sources, and nuclear energy is ready to be a major part of that future. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on energy policy.]
In today's post-Fukushima era, the electric sector is triple checking the safety of U.S. reactors and ensuring that lessons learned in Japan will be applied as quickly as possible here.
A total commitment to safety demands that we make sure that every U.S. nuclear energy facility is fully prepared to successfully manage even extraordinary events. Our industry is powerfully motivated to not only meet government regulations, but exceed them. We are continually evolving and improving our safety standards and practices. We know that if we don't, the many benefits of nuclear energy—its advantages for clean air and efficient and reliable electricity production 24 hours a day—may be in jeopardy.
With that in mind, our industry has established a committee of chief nuclear officers from a dozen companies, as well as representatives from the Electric Power Research Institute, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, and the Nuclear Energy Institute. The industry is ensuring that events in Japan are thoroughly researched for lessons learned and that every component of the U.S. nuclear industry understands and applies those lessons at facilities across the country.
The committee will coordinate industry work in seven areas:
—Ensuring safety performance remains exemplary.
—Developing lessons learned from Fukushima and ensuring those lessons are communicated industry-wide.
—Communicating to the public and policymakers what the industry is doing to ensure nuclear energy facility safety.
—Developing and implementing the industry's response to federal regulatory actions taken as a result of the Fukushima accident.
—Working with international organizations to ensure that any lessons they learn are applied here as well.
—Providing the technical support and research and development expertise needed to implement any of these steps.
—Improving the capability of the U.S. industry to respond to nuclear facility events outside this country.
Independently, safety experts from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission are inspecting each American reactor as part of its comprehensive assessment of safety and emergency preparedness. They are also evaluating regulatory changes that may be needed based on lessons learned from Japan.
Our industry will continue to respond to the events in Japan with the level of commitment and urgency that has been the hallmark of our actions. Within days of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, U.S. nuclear energy facilities launched an effort to re-examine and verify their preparedness to safely manage severe plant-related or natural events. Every plant re-examined safety plans and its ability to implement those plans with well-trained personnel and backup equipment on site. [See a slide show of 10 cities with the most Energy Star-certified buildings.]
The verification initiative identified some areas that needed improvement or correction. They have been corrected or are in the process of being improved.
The nuclear power industry remains an essential part of the nation's balanced energy portfolio. Demand for electricity will continue to increase—28 percent by 2035 nationally—and all forms of energy production have strengths and shortcomings.
Nuclear energy facilities in 31 states produce carbon-free electricity for one of every five American homes and businesses. These facilities operate at industry-leading levels of efficiency and reliability and produce, on average, electricity at lower cost than other sources. Even with these attributes, safety is our top priority. Put another way, U.S. reactors are reliable and efficient because of our commitment to safety. [Read more about energy policy and climate change.]
As a leader in the nuclear industry and the first builder of new nuclear energy technology in a generation in Georgia, we set high standards for ourselves because we know that we have to prove ourselves worthy of public trust. We don't take that trust for granted, and we know we can never relax in our effort to keep nuclear energy safe.
Now is not the time to impede the progress we've made toward a more energy independent future. We should apply every lesson possible from Japan here in America, while moving ahead with the next generation of nuclear energy facilities. We can do both.