What's at Stake
The Fukushima disaster of 2011 showed what can happen when a nuclear power plant's safety systems fail. The U.S. nuclear industry has responded with familiar reassurances that it can't happen here.
We know better. Nuclear accidents can happen here—but they don't have to.
Enforcing fire and earthquake regulations, addressing flood risks, and safer storage for nuclear waste are just a few of the ways we can help prevent nuclear accidents.
The United States should take these steps now—upgrading safety and security standards, enforcing all the rules, and becoming the tough, consistent regulator the public deserves.
You can help. Check out our action alerts, visit our citizen resource center, and speak up for better-regulated nuclear power in the United States. Together we can make this low-carbon energy source as safe as possible.
While the probability of a nuclear power accident may be small, the human and environmental consequences of a radiation release can be catastrophic.
Nuclear accidents happen
Floods, fires, and earthquakes can combine with aging facilities and error-prone humans in devastating ways. Adequate understanding of these issues, along with significant safety upgrades and consistent oversight, can help safeguard the U.S. public.
Learn more about preventing nuclear accidents >
Waste should be safely stored
Nuclear fuel emits radiation long after it’s done powering a reactor. Securing a long-term waste repository—and transferring fuel currently held in cooling pools to dry casks—is essential for long-term public safety.
Learn more about handling nuclear waste >
Reactors and waste storage facilities make inviting targets for terrorists—but adopting robust security measures could help prevent an attack.
Learn more about nuclear power security >
The NRC must do more
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is charged with regulating commercial nuclear power in the United States. UCS has been advocating for better NRC enforcement of safety regulations for decades—but more must be done to make nuclear power safer.
Learn more about the NRC and other safety actors >
Boiling water with fission
The basic principle behind a nuclear reactor is simple: the heat produced by a controlled nuclear reaction is used to create steam pressure that drives a power-generating turbine.
But the technology required to implement this principle efficiently and safely is enormously complex. The fission chain reaction must be maintained at the correct rate and quickly adjusted or stopped when necessary. Water temperature and pressure must be carefully controlled. And elaborate, redundant cooling systems are needed to prevent nuclear fuel from overheating, which can lead to a meltdown.
Learn more about how nuclear power works >
PWR vs BWR
Different reactor designs approach these requirements in different ways. About two-thirds of operating U.S. reactors are pressurized water reactors (PWRs); the rest are boiling water reactors (BWRs). Both BWRs and PWRs heat ordinary water with nuclear fuel, driving turbines that generate power.
Several new reactor designs have been proposed in the United States and elsewhere. These include “small modular reactors” which proponents claim are safer and more cost-effective, but which introduce their own issues. Thorium-fueled reactors have also been proposed, though they lack clear overall advantages.