Lessons from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident

August 3, 2015 | 2:55 pm
David Wright
Former contributor

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.