Oil Industry Looks to Nuclear Industry for Lessons

Aftermath of Deepwater Horizon oil spill brings attention to oil industry’s need for increased safety standards

In the wake of the massive oil spill caused by the blowout of a BP well in the Gulf of Mexico, the National Oil Spill Commission is turning to the nuclear power industry for insight on how the government and the oil industry should move forward, commission co-chair and former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., said Tuesday.

The nuclear power industry created the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) after the near-meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor near Hershey, Pa., in March of 1979; the Institute conducts independent evaluations of power plants and utilities.  The oil industry should create something similar, Graham said.

“What we are learning from the nuclear power industry … was very instructive for the deepwater drilling industry and has similar applications to other industries which are developing their technology to produce at a rate that is rapidly outstripping their ability to safely manage that technology and respond to accidents,” he said.  He added that, since the Three Mile Island accident, no new nuclear power plant has been authorized for construction, allowing the industry decades during which to improve upon its safety record.

The Kemeny Commission, an independent commission appointed by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, investigated the way the nuclear industry handled safety issues after the incident at Three Mile Island.  The commission recommended development of appropriate safety standards for operating procedures and practices, quality assurance and management.

Further, the commission recommended a systematic analysis of operations at all nuclear plants, as well as the establishment of a global communication network to ensure that relevant information about nuclear plant operations is made available internationally.  INPO fulfills and carries out these recommended courses of action.

“Now we’re into what’s referred to as the nuclear renaissance,” Graham said.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering licensing new nuclear reactors, including proposals for construction at Entergy Nuclear’s existing nuclear stations near Baton Rouge, LA., and Port Gibson, MS.

“What the industry did was recognize that the lowest-performing entity in their group was going to set the public standard for the whole group,” Graham said.  INPO sets, monitors, and enforces practical standards, improving the nuclear industry’s safety record dramatically over the last 30 years.

The Atomic Energy Commission was charged with regulation and promotion of nuclear power, and federal regulation of nuclear plants was overhauled.  Congress created a new commission, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to oversee regulation, and gave other responsibilities to the Department of Energy.