Lessons from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident

, physicist & co-director, Global Security | August 3, 2015, 2:55 pm EDT
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The 2011 Fukushima accident has many lessons for U.S. nuclear power, and how to make it safer. Are we learning them?

Understanding the accident

The first step in learning from the accident is understanding what happened—both what went wrong and what went right. Toward this end, a new Nova program from PBS, Nuclear Meltdown Disaster, looks at the accident and interviews people who worked at the plant, as well as UCS’ Dave Lochbaum.

Nova takes the approach of comparing the situations at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which had three reactor cores melt down, with the nearby Fukushima Daiini nuclear plant, which avoided meltdowns. It’s an interesting comparison.

Learning and implementing the lessons

In an Earth Focus production released earlier this month, Fukushima: Can it Happen in the US? (see below), Ed Lyman makes clear that we have an opportunity to use what we learned from the accident to correct some of the problems of the past, but that we have not done so yet.

In particular, in the wake of the accident, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which oversees nuclear power in this country, appointed a task force to recommend ways to improve the safety of U.S. nuclear plants. The task force sent the NRC a set of recommendations. But Ed notes that while some of those recommendations have been or will be implemented, some were watered down and others were simply discarded.

He also points out that some U.S. reactors are more vulnerable to earthquakes and other natural disasters than was understood when they were built, and that needs to be addressed. And he discusses the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which he describes as a unique case. The plant is 25 miles from New York City and some 16 million people live within 50 miles of the reactor, making evacuation in the event of an accident or sabotage impractical.

Even more

fukushima-bookIf you want to learn even more about Fukushima and what the United States should do to make sure a nuclear accident doesn’t happen in the United States, read the book Dave and Ed co-authored: Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster.

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  • TakeALook777

    Of course Enenews dot com is the ultimate source for daily information on Fukushima.

    • Sam Gilman

      Who owns and funds ENEnews?

      Why was it registered to a secretive off-grid lawyer?

  • Sean Mcgee

    127 children with Thyroid cancer and many more with multiple nodules and cysts.. I suspect that is not normal even with the super dooper equipment.. And Dr Suzuki from the Fukushima Medical University does not attend the press conferences as he is not good at avoiding technical questions so he sent a junior colleague to not answer the questions instead.. So no more stats? After Japans Secrecy Law? And the worker who died at the fukushima plant was not effected by radiation after a spike whilst removing Unit 1`s debris? Of course the family will not talk or they will not get compensation so TEPCO can say what thy want like they did after the death of the manager at Daichi (not related to radiation but just seemed like it did.. And why did japan stop making the cancer statistics and miscarriage public domain? Why did Abe stop the genetic blood test that could have helped people prove their cancer or ilness was caused by radiation? (Abe refused to allow a Japanese genetic university to do tests even though they went public 2 and a half years after the accident because the test is not reliable after 3 years ? ) Just a few questions and you can see why i dont TRUST the nuclear health Physicists (who recently went on a killing rampage in Texas dressed as hells angels.. Some bad PR there huh? ( lucky they put out chasing the dragon with uranium instead of opium 🙂 (both are equally damaging (re Fallujah) Luv PBS btw

    • Leslie Corrice

      The 127 children that had detectible pre-cancerous thyroid nodules or cysts, and one actually has thyroid cancer. Actually, Fukushima Prefecture has the lowest child thyroid nodule and cyst rate of the four Prefectures tested. see… http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-child-thyroid-issue.html

    • Sam Gilman

      Sean,

      The general medical consensus is that these cancers are not connected to Fukushima. The reasons for this are very simple to understand.

      – they appeared too soon
      – the rate of nodules is comparable (actually lower) than comparable populations in areas far from Fukushima
      – the latency period for thyroid cancer is between four and thirty years: a huge screening effect is to be expected
      – biopsies on samples of thyroid cancers from Fukushima shows no signs of being radiogenic, and most show the signature of regular adult thyroid cancer
      – the doses received were too low to expect any kind of big increase, based on past research.

      In other words, all the evidence points to these cancers not being the result of Fukushima. From your post I can tell that you’ve read about this topic a bit, so I’m puzzled as to why you want to stoke the fears of people. What’s your motivation?

      As for the secrecy law, there’s been a lot of bad journalism about this in English. It’s a worrying law, but it is about military and defence secrets (and is for placating the US, which considers Japan leaky), not the situation at Fukushima. These journalists are depending on your gullibility, Sean, hoping they can play to people’s prejudices about tyrannical and heartless Japanese. If the secrecy law silenced reporting on thyroid cancers, how can you explain this:

      http://ajw.asahi.com/tag/thyroid%20cancer

      And in Japanese, this google news search:

      https://www.google.co.jp/#q=甲状腺癌+福島&tbm=nws

      甲状腺癌 (or as it is often rendered 甲状腺がん, putting the word for cancer into Japanese phonetics) is Japanese for thyroid cancer, and 福島 is Fukushima. You can check this yourself using Google translate or other translation sites. See the dates of the stories, Sean, see how the secrecy law doesn’t apply.

      So I want you to reflect on the kind of sources you’ve been reading that have led you to believe something like the Japanese government has banned public mention of thyroid cancer in Fukushima on pain of a ten year jail sentence (which is what the secrecy law does for people revealing (ill-defined) military secrets). It’s plainly wrong. You can see it with your own eyes.

      I look forward to your reply when you’ve considered the evidence I’ve presented to you.

  • jimhopf

    The REAL lesson from Fukushima is that the consequences of even an absolute worst case meltdown event are far *smaller* that we assumed them to be.

    The basis for current, absurdly strict nuclear regulations and requirements (that have effectively rendered nuclear uneconomic) was an assumption that a meltdown would cause thousands of *short-term* deaths (i.e., bodies in the street, from acute radiation poisoning) along with tens of thousands of cancer deaths down the road. According to almost all experts (e.g., the WHO), Fukushima caused no deaths and will have no measurable public health impact. Just a little bit off………

    The correct response to Fukushima is to incorporate a few, cost-effective lessons learned, but overall to *relax* nuclear requirements and regulations. All requirements need to re-evaluated, from scratch, and subject to cost-benefit analysis, based on a realistic estimate of meltdown consequences (i.e., negligible health impact and an economic impact on the order of ~$100 billion).

    The situation is particularly offensive given that other energy options, most notably coal, are allowed to continuously kill over 10,000 Americans every year, and cause global warming. Despite those vastly greater impacts, we refuse to spend even small sums to reduce that pollution, or apply any incentives at all to use other sources instead of coal.

    Oh, and another thing Fukushima showed is that even for a worst-case meltdown, significant impacts (i.e., radiation levels above the natural range) peter out ~25 miles from the plant. Please stop making references to 50 miles.

    • Sean Mcgee

      The government has just increased it to 175 billion btw .. But most goes to nucear corporations and Yakusa clean up crews, not the evacuees who have been forced to move back to 100 mSv/y land.. even the kids .. and pregnant women.. no deaths? how about the farmers who commited suicide because their homelland has been contaminated for decades at least cuasing them huge fifnacial loss and has destroyed their homes and community (the radiation has lowered but the remaining isotopes are durable in the environment .. as you are probably aware .. you a NHP? like motorcycles? just wondering 🙂 )

      • Leslie Corrice

        The areas for repopulation are well=below 20 mSv/yr….most in the 1-5 mSv/yr range. See “ESTIMATING ANNUAL INDIVIDUAL DOSES FOR EVACUEES RETURNING HOME TO AREAS AFFECTED BY THE FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR ACCIDENT” by Yajima, et. al.; in the Health Physics Journal; August 2015, Volume 109, Number 2

        Do your homework please.

      • Sam Gilman

        100mSv/year? Where on Earth are you getting that from?

        Sean, one of the main reasons that moving back is slow and difficult and people are experiencing losses is the spreading of false and unfounded rumours about how dangerous it is. These kinds of scare stories cause serious health problems, and are a far far bigger health threat than that presented by the radiation.

        If you have the interests of these people at heart, you need to stick to the truth.

    • Mike Carey

      Something lost in the concern about the aftermath of the Fukushima accident is the reassuring fact that ALL of the Japanese reactors were safely shut down when the earthquake hit.
      Even more comforting is the fact that the Onagawa reactors, which are located CLOSER to the epicenter of the quake and tsunami, not only survived without damage from either, but actually served as a REFUGE for hundreds of their neighbors who were displaced by the tsunami.
      Apparently, even these OLD nuclear designs were far stronger than anyone new.
      Cheers.

    • Richard Solomon

      Jim, see Sean’s comments below about deaths and illnesses attributable to the ‘triple disaster’ at Fukushima. There is also research suggesting that people exposed to radiation, children in particular, develop coronary problems and GI problems some years later. You can find the latter at Japan Focus.

      • Sam Gilman

        Hi Richard,

        I’ve pointed out a few of Sean’s errors and factual mistakes. What article are you talking about at JapanFocus? (Which is not a scientific journal btw, just to let you know).