Nuclear Nines

December 17, 2015
Dave Lochbaum
Former contributor

In early July 2015, I emailed a survey form to nearly 80 colleagues and acquaintances posing three questions:

  1. What do you think have been the three largest nuclear safety gains since January 1, 1975?
  2. What do you think have been the three largest nuclear safety declines/challenges since January 1, 1975?
  3. What do you think are the top three safety priorities for the future?

I selected January 1, 1975 because it was when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) took over regulation of nuclear power safety. The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 had fissioned the Atomic Energy Commission into the NRC and the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA). ERDA underwent a subsequent transformation to become today’s Department of Energy (DOE).

The three responses to these three questions formed the Nuclear Nines.

In the email transmitting the survey forms, I explained that I’d post all the survey forms that were returned in their complete and unedited form along with a brief tally of the most common responses. I promised not to editorialize in this commentary or a subsequent one about agreement/disagreement with responses or otherwise critique responses.

My primary reason for conducting the survey was curiosity—I have met many people who have worked in the nuclear power industry, for the NRC, for state and federal elected officials, and for anti-nuclear organizations for decades. I thought it would be interesting to see how nuclear safety over those decades was perceived from these varied perspectives.

My ulterior and selfish motive for the survey was to inform my efforts. If the responses revealed common traits and attributes among the outcomes considered to yield the largest safety gains or the biggest safety declines, I might be able to adjust how I work so as to achieve more of the former and avoid more of the latter. And the collective insights on future safety priorities can steer me towards higher value outcomes.

Ironically, I received nine responses to the Nuclear Nines survey (ten if count mine). I greatly appreciate these individuals taking the time and effort to complete and return the survey forms with thoughtful and constructive responses.

Bottom Line

The tables show the issues identified most often as largest safety gains, safety declines, and safety priorities.

Fig. 1 (Source: UCS)

Fig. 1 (click to enlarge) (Source: UCS)

As promised, the actual survey forms are also available for viewing (Nuclear Nines – Survey Forms). The respondents provide reasons for their selections. Their issues and reasons are probably more interesting than the tally of top vote-getters.

Finally, my sincere thanks to John Butler, Mike Callahan, Larry Foulke, Mary Lampert, Brian McCabe, Garry Morgan, Rich Andrews and two anonymous individuals for their thoughtful responses. American democracy works best when it’s not a spectator sport. The engagement on nuclear safety issues by these individuals spanning many years certainly makes them active and effective participants.