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Lessons From The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

April 28, 2011
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After the Chernobyl nuclear accident more than 2 decades ago, we all thought that sufficient safety precautions were taken to prevent any future nuclear accidents. Well, it has happened again – this time in Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station. Some may argue that Chernobyl was due to human error, which could have been avoided; whereas Fukushima’s case was an act of nature, which was neither anticipated, let alone thought possible. The question that stands out then is, “Is it really possible to build a nuclear reactor that is completely safe, so as to eliminate all possible nuclear accidents in future?”

For or Against Nuclear Energy

Critics of nuclear technology have been quick to point out that it is impossible to secure nuclear power plants, and even going to the extent of citing the cases of Windscale (UK) in 1957, Three Mile Island (US) in 1979, Chernobyl (USSR) in 1986, and the most recent Fukushima (Japan). What is more worrying is that, the Japanese, who are reputed for their technological brilliance, are unable to secure their nuclear plants, then who can? On the other hand, proponents of nuclear energy may argue that, though, nuclear accidents pose serious challenges, it is not possibly human to anticipate, all possible scenarios in order to eliminate the accidents. Furthermore, they believe that nuclear energy is the only way that humankind will be able to reverse, or at least slow down climate change.

The Lessons

So what lessons can we learn from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear reactor accident? To begin with, it is important to note that the people who are writing off nuclear technology as unsafe are clearly mistaken. Nuclear accidents have been far and apart; a clear indication that major safety precautions are undertaken to prevent disaster. However, what might be lacking is clear oversight, over the industry, if previous reports from the Japanese case are to be believed. Japan lies in an earthquake-prone region. As such, it has suffered major earthquakes before, and it is reported that the Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant suffered some structural damages over time. Authorities failed to raise the red flag then, choosing to do path up work. This is a complete failure on the part of government oversight.

Negligence in Regulating?

Second, Fukushima’s Dai-Ichi nuclear reactor was designed, and built by General Electric. The US on its part has a fair share of similar nuclear reactors, designed and built by General Electric. Surprisingly, most of these reactors are situated in seismically active areas, just like the Fukushima reactor. It then goes without saying that the US is sitting on a time bomb; if an earthquake were to strike.

The Way Forward

Since we have seen what happened to the Fukushima reactor, what can the government safety agencies do to ensure the same never happens elsewhere? As US Congressman Ed Markey aptly put it, governments must move fast to halt the construction of nuclear plants in areas close earthquake faults. In addition, the congressional representative proposes that the nuclear plants, already in earthquake-prone regions should have their containment vessels reinforced. Finally, all GE designed reactors, similar to the one at Fukushima, should be thoroughly reviewed for any weaknesses identified at the Dai-Ichi nuclear reactor.

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