Constellation: Lessons from Japan will make a safe U.S. nuclear industry safer

March 21, 2011|By Brew Barron

As a leading producer of safe, reliable and economical electricity from nuclear energy in Maryland and New York, we take seriously our role to communicate about how the Japan situation impacts our industry and energy facilities.

We at Constellation Energy Nuclear Group LLC (CENG) extend our sincere sympathies to those suffering due to the tragic earthquake and tsunami. Our hearts are with those in Japan and those who have family and friends in the region. Our stakeholders (Constellation Energy and the EDF Group) are providing financial donations, and the world's nuclear industry is providing supplies and technical and humanitarian support.

Thanks to the heroic efforts of the plant employees and emergency response workers at Fukushima Daiichi, we understand conditions at all six of the reactors have significantly improved. As of this writing on Monday, the primary reactor containment structures of each of the three reactors that were in operation at the time of the tsunami were all reported to be intact. We also understand that radiation levels both on and off-site have been decreasing.

Nuclear energy is our nation's current largest source of low-carbon electricity and is a significant producer of 24/7 electricity. It helps preserve our Earth's climate, avoiding ground-level ozone formation and acid rain. The 104 U.S. reactors produce about 20 percent of our country's electricity, with safety and environmental stewardship as our goals.

I have worked in the nuclear energy industry for four decades. Safety is our passion. Nothing comes before the protection of our employees and communities. Our industry's highest commitments are safety and continuous improvement. CENG employees live by these overriding principles, and as a result, our nuclear power plants are safe.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, all U.S. nuclear energy facilities underwent comprehensive reviews. The objective of these safety and security assessments was to evaluate severe scenarios that are beyond existing regulatory requirements to identify extraordinary and additional protective measures that assure U.S. plants can withstand extreme events.

We have invested millions of dollars into CENG's Calvert Cliffs facility in Maryland and the Ginna and Nine Mile Point sites in New York to make them even more secure and safe.

We agree that a fresh review of the industry, with a focus on protective actions in the event of unusual natural events, is appropriate. We are a business built on a foundation of continuous learning and reaching new levels of operational excellence.

Lessons will be learned from the events in Japan, but we are not waiting to begin to take action. All U.S. companies with nuclear power plants are already verifying their capability to maintain safety even in the face of severe challenges, including natural disasters. Our CENG sites are designed, built and maintained to sustain severe man-made and natural disasters. We also have multiple safety and security features and redundant backup systems.

An integral part of our safety commitment is to keep the public and government officials fully informed in the unlikely event of an accident impacting any facility. We routinely conduct intense training exercises and drills to test our ability to effectively implement our emergency response plans with local, state and federal government officials as well as with the media. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission independently measures our performance in these areas, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency evaluates the state and local responses to those scenarios.

CENG's roots are deep in the communities we serve. We operate with the community's consent and value our strong partnerships with local, state, regional and national leaders and organizations.

We feel fortunate to operate our business and employ thousands of outstanding people in Maryland and New York. Our dedicated employees are committed to performing work at the highest levels of safety and operational excellence in producing electricity for millions of homes and businesses.

Rest assured, we will maintain our unwavering commitment to safety and our staunch support for the continuous application of lessons learned.

Brew Barron is president and CEO of Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Nuclear Group. His e-mail is brew.barron@cengllc.com.

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