Over the last week, our thoughts and concerns have been with the people of Japan and with those who are working nonstop to advance the nation's recovery from the devastating earthquake and tsunami.
In particular, we have been working through international agencies to monitor and provide technical support to the country's efforts at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plants.
These events have had an understandable effect on the public's opinions about nuclear energy — opinions that have been strongly positive for more than a decade. They have raised questions about the 104 operating nuclear reactors in the United States and about the role of nuclear energy in the future.
As we work to better understand the events in Japan, it is important that we guard against a rush to judgment that poses broad implications for energy reliability and independence in the United States and Florida.
Today, nuclear energy safely supplies 20 percent of the nation's electricity. Nuclear energy accounts for practically all the zero-emission electricity generated in the Southeast. It is a vital part of keeping the lights on and our bills affordable. And as regulations, technologies and costs continue to change for other forms of electricity generation, nuclear power must be part of that energy mix, and a part of securing the country's and state's energy future.
Nuclear energy is a very safe technology. Under the rigorous and comprehensive oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, nuclear energy in our country has an excellent safety record. That is a result of diligent attention to detail, constantly increasing regulatory expectations, continuous sharing of safety information within the industry, rigorous maintenance, engineering and safety equipment improvements, testing and training, and an underlying conservative approach to operations.
An example of this conservative approach is our Crystal River Nuclear Plant, which has been offline since September 2009, and where this week we temporarily suspended repair work while engineers thoroughly investigate repair monitoring data at the site. And we will continue to share information about our work there through the process.
Plants are built with multiple, redundant layers of safety protections and equipment, and operated conservatively by highly trained employees to minimize even the slightest safety risk from natural or man-made events.
The complications at the nuclear plants in Fukushima center around the loss of all electrical power (and, therefore, reactor cooling capability) as a direct result of the devastating tsunami.
The probability of a disaster of the magnitude and nature of what occurred in Japan is highly unlikely in the areas Progress Energy serves due to the geology of the states (Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina) in which we operate. In addition, we have made significant plant design, equipment and operational improvements over the last four decades.
Our plants' emergency electrical supplies are designed and built to withstand the impacts of man-made and natural disasters for our area, including Category 5 hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and flooding, as well as terrorist acts. The Crystal River Nuclear Plant is built on a 30-foot berm to protect vital components from even the worst storm surge, with key backup safety systems in watertight, secure locations.
The Westinghouse AP1000 technology selected for the proposed Levy County nuclear plant includes advanced systems to maintain safe operation and to safely shut down the reactor. In addition, a gravity-fed stream of water can cool the fuel rods even if there is no electricity at the site.
All our plants have procedures, training and mobile emergency pumps with independent electrical generators for power. This provides the capability to deal with events that might go beyond the recorded history for our region.
There is no information from the situation in Japan that raises concern for the continued safe operation of our nuclear plants. We will continue to monitor the situation in Japan through international nuclear agencies, and we do expect to learn from the events and incorporate any lessons learned into our own operations to make them even safer tomorrow.
The events in Japan are already prompting an appropriate worldwide assessment of the role of nuclear energy in the future. We believe that following a thoughtful, fact-based review and a frank, transparent discussion about the risks and benefits of this carbon-free energy resource, nuclear power will continue to emerge as a safe, responsible, cost-effective and vital part of Florida's, and the country's, future energy mix.
Vincent Dolan is president and CEO of Progress Energy Florida, which serves more than 1.6 million households and businesses in Florida.