Worse than Worst?


Past and current International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale for the Fukushima Dai Ichi disaster
Updated INES Level for Fukushima Dai Ichi

The increase to the incident level at the Fukushima Dai Ichi nuclear plant today by the Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Authority has brought the continuing disaster at the crippled plant back into the headlines. IEEE Spectrum has published a series of articles recently written by Bill Sweet on the Fukushima Dai Ichi nuclear disaster. From the human perspective, this has been a terrible disaster, although by some accounts not as bad as Chernobyl. I am not qualified to speak on the technical aspects of nuclear power, but from a risk assessment perspective, this disaster brings some interesting lessons. I explored some of these ideas in another article called “How Risk Assessment Fails“. If you want to learn more about the disasters, I encourage you to check out Mr. Sweet’s articles:


You might also want to read the New York Times’ article “Japanese Workers Braved Radiation for a Temp Job“.

Much can be learned from the nuclear incidents and accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now Fukushima. As engineers and safety practitioners we need to be acutely aware that basing our assessments on single fault analysis, and the corresponding failure to examine the possibility of common cause failures that can result in epic scale disasters like these is false security. You cannot hide from consequences like these. We must begin to consider the ‘worse than worst’ scenarios that exist in our designs and in our workplaces. We may not be dealing with risks on a national scale like those present in these facilities, but the consequences to those we work with can be just as devastating.

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4 thoughts on “Worse than Worst?

  1. Even though the Japanese insisted that the damage will be minimal have no doubt we are looking at another Chernobyl. Even though they are the foremost country in the world dealing with disasters such as earth quakes and tsunamis this is absolutely catastrophic for the entire area .

    1. I agree. I believe that it will be decades before the problems created by the failures at Fukushima Dai Ichi could be considered adequately contained. Like Chernobyl, I believe that the ocean surrounding the east side of the plant and the area inside the 20 km exclusion zone will show the results of exposure for the foreseeable future. Unlike Chernobyl, I believe that the Japanese will entomb the plant relatively quickly and will monitor the containment effectively. Chernobyl’s reactor has yet to be contained because the Ukraine does not have the money to complete the work, and the international community has not made good on their commitments to fund the cleanup and containment.

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