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Union of Concerned Scientists

Rolling the Dice?

An occasional year-plus outage might be expected. Nuclear power plants are complex industrial enterprises that can be plagued by failures of large components that take time to repair. But 51 year-plus outages in the past 40 years is unacceptable. The NRC and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), have licensed a grand total of 130 nuclear power reactors,† 41 of which have experienced one or more year-plus outages. A one-in-three chance of incurring a year-plus outage was not supposed to be part of the bargain when these reactors were built and licensed.

Some observers have argued that the fact no U.S. nuclear power reactor has experienced a meltdown since 1979 (during which time 45 year-plus outages have occurred) demonstrates the status quo is working successfully. That’s as fallacious as arguing that the levees protecting New Orleans were fully adequate prior to Hurricane Katrina by pointing to the absence of similar disasters between 1980 and 2004. The frequency of year-plus outages instead shows how unprepared we are for severe challenges. Hopefully, we won’t need a nuclear Katrina to spur the nuclear industry and the federal govern- ment into action.

  • This total excludes the Shoreham reactor in New York, which was licensed by the NRC but never operated above five percent of its generating capacity (i.e., it never had a chance to experience an outage of any length), and the Shippingport reactor in Pennsylvania, which was licensed by the AEC and re-licensed by the NRC but functioned more as a test reactor than a power reactor.

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