Report: U.S. nuclear plants have lowest number of unplanned shutdowns in 2011

U.S. nuclear power plants in 2011 recorded the lowest number of unplanned shutdowns since 2005 and achieved near-record levels of reliability and safety performance, according to safety and operations data compiled by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO). The industry also reached record levels for industrial safety, placing it among the best industries in U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics rankings.

U.S. nuclear plants recorded 62 unplanned shutdowns last year, three fewer than the decade-low 65 that occurred in 2005. The record-low number of unplanned shutdowns helped the plants achieve reliability levels on par with the high operational efficiency sustained throughout the past decade.

Unplanned shutdowns can result from severe weather or grid disturbances that trigger safety responses. In 2011, despite tornadoes in the Southeast, an earthquake and hurricane along the East Coast and flooding in the Midwest, U.S. nuclear plants posted a capability factor of 91.4 percent. Last year marked the 10th straight year that a median capability factor of at least 91 percent has been achieved. Capability factor measures the amount of time a facility is online and producing electricity. The industry’s record-high capability factor, 92 percent, was set in 2005.

“America’s nuclear energy facilities performed extremely well in the face of a host of natural challenges,” said Tony Pietrangelo, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer.

Since 1990, the U.S. nuclear energy industry has increased its electricity production nearly 40 percent, with 790 billion kWh generated in 2011 from approximately the same number of reactors.

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