This week, think tanks and advocacy groups around the world have been producing reports on the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, which began almost exactly one year ago, on 11 March 2011. Here’s a round-up of what’s come out so far, and what they had to say:
Fukushima was preventable. James Acton and Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC conclude that Japanese regulators and the Tokyo Electric Power Company did not do enough to prepare for the 11 March tsunami. Computer modelling was inadequate, flood defences for emergency systems were weak and bureaucracy made nuclear professionals reluctant to take advice from outside experts.
The response to the nuclear accident was a mess. Yoichi Funabashi and Kay Kitazawa, a journalist and a city planner, respectively, write in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that a division of regulatory oversight, a myth of “absolute safety”, and cosy relationships between regulators and industry laid the groundwork for a sluggish and confused response. Japan’s political leaders were not properly informed as the crisis unfolded, and their resulting confusion slowed critical decisions such as when to flood the reactors with water. Abysmal crisis communication then sowed the seeds of mistrust in the general population.
Regulators must plan for rare events. The American Nuclear Society’s lengthy report contains many lessons for the US industry, but their top-line lesson from Fukushima is that rare events must be factored into safety planning. Japanese officials should have made sure the plant could withstand a one-in-a-thousand-year event like the Tohoku tsunami. The extensive report also suggests possible upgrades to American equipment and training for severe nuclear accidents. But it urges a slow approach to ensure that modifications are done properly to improve safety.
US regulators aren’t doing enough. The Union of Concerned Scientists has harsh words for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in its report. Although the NRC did respond quickly and effectively to public concerns as the Fukushima crisis unfolded, it has not sufficiently strengthened its oversight of nuclear safety and, specifically, the procedures for severe accidents at US plants. Instead, the US industry has implemented a voluntary safety-improvement programme that may not be sufficient to prevent a Fukushima-like meltdown.
Not everyone has produced a report. The World Nuclear Association, Greenpeace, the International Atomic Energy Agency and many others have issued statements. And the Natural Resources Defence Council has put together an online tool recreating a Fukushima-like accident at US nuclear power sites around the country.
If there are other reports or statements you think are worth adding to the list, please chime in.
For more on Fukushima and the Tohoku earthquake, check out our Japan quake special.