All Over the Nuclear Safety Map

June 2, 2015 | 6:00 am
Dave Lochbaum
Former Contributor

Nuclear Energy Activist Toolkit #56

In 2007, UCS launched the Nuclear Power Information Tracker, an interactive web feature. The default screen showed a map of the continental United States with icons showing the locations of the commercial nuclear power reactors. Running the cursor over an icon prompted a pop-up box with the reactor’s name, some basic information, and a link to a webpage for that reactor with additional details as well as UCS reports about that reactor.

UCS recently upgraded our nuclear safety map. Chris Bliss in our Communications Department guided this effort from concept to completion. Along the way, Chris made what we had better and added several cool new options. Beaconfire Red Engine supported UCS on this task.

The default screen for the new and improved map (Fig. 1) remains a map of the continental United States showing the locations of commercial nuclear reactors. But this map is derived from Google Maps and shows considerably more detail. The +/- buttons in the upper left corner of the map can be used to zoom in or out. The map itself can be moved via clicking and dragging or by using the arrows in the upper right corner of the map. In addition to manipulating the map’s size and position, the user can select which reactors to display on the map using the filters on the left-hand side.

Fig.1  (click to enlarge)

Fig.1 (click to enlarge)

For example, one can selected Boiling Water Reactor from the Type pull-down box and Operating from the Operational Status pull-down box, then click Update Map to see the location of the 34 operating boiling water reactors (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2  (click to enlarge)

Fig. 2 (click to enlarge)

Positioning the cursor over an icon on the map opens a pop-up box showing the reactor’s name, location, Operational Status, and applicable Safety Issues from the left-hand column (Fig. 3). In the example, the Pilgrim reactor operating in Plymouth, Massachusetts is shown to have an elevated spent fuel pool, reported one or more groundwater leaks, be receiving heightened attention from the NRC, and to have experienced one or more year-plus outages. Clicking on the question mark icon to the right of each Safety Issue reveals more information about the issue.  Clicking on the Plant Overview Page in the individual reactor pop-up box calls up our webpage for that nuclear plant.

Fig. 3  (click to enlarge)

Fig. 3 (click to enlarge)

Each Plant Overview Page (Fig. 4) lists the nearest town as well as its longitude and latitude coordinates. The owner of the plant and the population from the most recently available U.S. census is specified. Whether the plant has spent fuel stored in dry casks onsite is indicated. Specific information for each reactor at the nuclear plant is provided: the type of reactor, its operational status, and the starting and ending dates for its operating license. The safety issues applicable to each reactor are shown, with links to additional background information about those issues.

Fig. 4  (click to enlarge)

Fig. 4 (click to enlarge)

UCS materials for each reactor appear at the bottom and on the right-hand side. Links to UCS reports, briefs, and fact sheets about the reactor appear under the Notes section at the bottom. Links to commentaries about the reactor posted to the UCS AllThingsNuclear blog appear to the right.

Three options are available in the filter list on the left-hand side that did not exist in the original version of the nuclear safety map: Owner, On-Site Dry Cask Storage, and Population with 10-Mile Radius. Four Population ranges are available: less than 25,000 (<25k), 25,000 to 50,000, 50,000 to 100,000, and over 100,000. This example shows that there are 25 reactors operating in areas where the population within ten miles is less than 25,000.

Fig. 5  (click to enlarge)

Fig. 5 (click to enlarge)

The filters can be used individually or in combinations. Some combinations yield no reactors, such as Pressurized Water Reactors as the Type and Elevated Spent Fuel Pool as the Safety Issue. Unfortunately, too many reactors are afflicted with more than one unresolved safety issue.

Speaking about operating with unresolved safety issues, 40 reactors are currently operating even though they do not comply with the NRC’s fire protection regulations. As shown here, the three reactors at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Decatur, Alabama are among these 40. While none has a good excuse, Browns Ferry has the least valid excuse. The NRC adopted its fire protection regulations following a serious fire at Browns Ferry on March 22, 1975. And yet more than 40 years later, Browns Ferry does not comply with safety regulations that its near-miss triggered.

Fig. 6  (click to enlarge)

Fig. 6 (click to enlarge)

Bottom Line

UCS developed the nuclear safety map for two goals: (1) to spotlight safety issues to hasten their resolution, and (2) to serve as a portal to UCS materials about individual reactors.

The first goal has been partially met—the original map included a PWR Containment Sump safety issue. But since this problem has largely been resolved at each of the 69 affected reactors, it was taken off the map. Likewise, some reactors have achieved compliance with the fire protection regulations and are no longer shown as having this affliction. The new and improved nuclear safety map helps us better meet the second goal. It provides links to UCS reports and blog posts for individual reactors.

The nuclear industry and the NRC could resolve safety issues and UCS would take them off our nuclear safety map as happened when the PWR Containment Sump issue got resolved. If the nuclear industry and the NRC would resolve ALL these safety issues, all would be taken off our nuclear safety map. That would have the added effect of taking UCS’s nuclear safety project off the map. Even thought it would cost me this job, it would be the best way to lose a job.


The UCS Nuclear Energy Activist Toolkit (NEAT) is a series of post intended to help citizens understand nuclear technology and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s processes for overseeing nuclear plant safety.