Safety Recommendations for US Nuclear Power

Published Jun 11, 2015

Nuclear power in the United States can and should be safer and more secure.

Since its founding, the Union of Concerned Scientists has served as a nuclear safety watchdog, working to ensure that US nuclear power is adequately safe and secure.

A nuclear accident or terrorist attack on a power reactor (or the nuclear waste stored in on-site cooling pools) could result in a massive release of radiation that would contaminate a large region and have both immediate and long-term health consequences for people exposed to the radiation. Many US reactors are located in densely populated areas.

An accident could also entail significant financial costs. Contaminated regions would need to be evacuated for decades or cleaned up at great expense.

We recommend the following regulations, policies, and practices to help safeguard the US nuclear fleet:

  • The federal arm of the government charged with nuclear power safety—the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)—should require that any new nuclear plants be designed to higher safety and security standards than existing plants. Learn more about the NRC.
  • The NRC should strengthen its security requirements for operating nuclear plants so they are able to defend against all plausible attackers. Learn more about nuclear power security.
  • The NRC should enforce its existing regulations, including those on fire safety, and develop new regulations that fully reflect the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident.  It should also require that reactors upgrade their safety equipment in response to updated assessments of environmental hazards such as earthquakes and floods. Learn more about preventing nuclear accidents.
  • Congress should establish financial incentives for power plant owners to purchase safer reactor designs and make safety upgrades by increasing the liability of the nuclear industry for a nuclear accident. It should increase the federal liability limit to take into account the likely costs of an accident.
  • The NRC or Congress should require that nuclear waste be transferred as quickly as practicable from spent fuel pools to dry casks. Learn more about spent nuclear fuel.
  • The United States should reaffirm its ban on reprocessing of nuclear waste, and cancel its program to use plutonium-based fuel in power reactors. Learn more about reprocessing.
  • The United States should continue research and development on nuclear power technologies that do not entail reprocessing, with a focus on enhancing safety, security, and waste disposal, and reducing water use and cost. Learn more about how nuclear power works.

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