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The TMI-2 accident has had a tremendous impact on commercial nuclear power development.
The impact, in part, has been strongly negative. In short, it has threatened its owner utility with bankruptcy and has had a depressing financial effect on all nuclear utilities; delayed the granting of licenses on plants whose construction was finished and delayed in the completion of construction of other plants; and has caused reduced availability of operating nuclear plants because of regulatory concern and safety modifications on those plants. The cost of making the necessary modifications runs in the order of $50 million for each nuclear plant causing a further financial burden on the utilities.
On the positive side, safety features of the plant proved adequate to meet the goal of protecting the health of the public. I further look at the technical experience which has been, and is being gleaned, from this accident as being strongly positive, in fact, of inestimable value. The weaknesses which have been revealed have led to significant improvements in both the systems and operation of nuclear plants and the strengths which also have been revealed will make risk assessments more favorable and contribute to improved public acceptance.
This paper focuses on this technical experience, summarizing the content of that experience and identifying ways in which it is being applied, further strengthening the safety, reliability, and operability of nuclear plants. Findings on radioactive releases from a severely damaged core, on equipment survivability under inimical conditions inside containment, on hydrogen releases and flammability, and on operator/control room interactions in an emergency are otherwise available only through laboratory, small scale, or simulation testing. These results are showing, on the one hand, weaknesses in operation and plant systems, but, on the other, are showing unexpected strengths in plant systems and less severe consequences than had previously been anticipated.
In the long run, the net impact might well be favorable to the nuclear power industry.
Three Mile Island Accident, nuclear power industry, nuclear reactor safety, degraded core cooling, severe reactor accidents, nuclear regulations
Director, Nuclear Power Division, Electric Power Research Institute, Palo Alto, California