published Friday, May 6th, 2011

Nuclear safety shines in disaster

After a tsunami caused serious damage to a nuclear plant in Japan, officials with the Tennessee Valley Authority spent weeks detailing to the public the extensive safety protocols that are in place to protect our people if a natural disaster should affect one of this region’s nuclear plants.

But they probably did not realize just how soon a local natural disaster would demonstrate the efficiency and effectiveness of those safety measures.

When devastating tornadoes slammed through multiple states across the Southeast last week, they took out power transmission lines at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in nearby northern Alabama.

But quickly, safely and according to plan, the plant went into automatic shutdown of its three reactors, and seven diesel generators, which provide backup power, were used to circulate cooling water into the ponds of spent fuel and into the reactor core. An eighth diesel generator was undergoing regular maintenance, but a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman said it might already have gone back into operation.

The plant had enough diesel fuel for two weeks and was shipping in more in case it was needed. The fuel is stored underground, and the generators are in a sturdy concrete building near the reactors. But full regular power was soon restored.

Strong precautions are essential in the handling of radioactive material. But nuclear power is a vital component of meeting our energy needs, and our nation would be in trouble if anti-nuclear activists managed to slow the further development of nuclear power.

Fortunately, TVA has shown that it is up to the task of handling nuclear energy safely, even during a crisis.

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