When it comes to industrial safety, there can be absolutely no compromise. Two major accidents in recent years remind us of the human and environmental risks inherent to the energy industry – the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 and the destruction of the Japanese nuclear plant in Fukushima in March 2011. These disasters, like the explosions of the Piper Alpha platform in 1988 and the No. 4 reactor at Chernobyl in 1986, led to a drastic revision and severe tightening up of safety, risk and security standards under the pressure of government and public opinion alike.
For example, in addition to reinforcing the defence lines of the 58 French reactors in which Assystem is participating, EDF – following a decision by the French Nuclear Safety Authority – is setting up a Rapid Nuclear Action Force (FARN) capable of taking over control of any reactor in an emergency in under 24 hours.
Fukushima has led engineering specialists to think about the broader picture of the dissemination of nuclear technology. While there is no supranational authority that can prohibit a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) from developing a nuclear power plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the 45 countries supplying nuclear technology ensure that they only disseminate such plants under strict control in countries able to develop a true safety culture backed by a robust regulatory framework.
The nuclear power industry has almost certainly pushed safety standards further than any other industrial sector. When a single operator is faced with an emergency, the entire industry on a global level rallies round as a community to help solve the problem. This collaborative reaction is one of the great strengths of the sector when it comes to security. This experience in nuclear power should be used to develop a broad vision of risk that can be applied to other industries – after all, risk is not just a nuclear issue. Security operations, for example, are taking an increasingly critical role in Oil & Gas.
In a world where energy production and consumption stand at the heart of the global conversation, and as we try to build a new, more efficient and environmentally-friendly energy model, the lessons learned by the nuclear industry should become an increasingly valuable resource for everyone.