Machinery Safety 101

What did TEPCO know about Fukushima before 11-Mar-11?

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series Risk Assess­ment

I recently had a col­league point out an inter­est­ing paper pub­lished in the “Bul­let­in of the Atom­ic Sci­ent­ists” about the level of know­ledge that exis­ted between the start of con­struc­tion of the Fukushi­ma Daii­chi nuc­le­ar plant and the dev­ast­at­ing tsunami of 11-Mar-11. If you are inter­ested in know­ing more, I highly recom­mend this paper. The full text is avail­able for free. There is a pretty good dis­cus­sion on this art­icle on slash­dot as well if you are interested.

Fukushima: The myth of safety, the reality of geoscience

My first art­icle in this series dealt with the dis­aster at Fukushi­ma as a fail­ure of risk assess­ment, but clearly, t is more than that. This is a policy, reg­u­lat­ory and polit­ic­al fail­ure, and risk assess­ment is only one part of the dis­cus­sion. Going back to my ori­gin­al premise, the art­icle pub­lished in the Bul­let­in points out that there was sound sci­entif­ic data avail­able to sup­port a risk assess­ment had it been used. The prob­lem of course was that the data, and repeated warn­ings from geoscient­ists, were ignored in favour of the busi­ness goals that TEPCO and the Japan­ese gov­ern­ment had.

I am not anti-nuc­le­ar. I believe that nuc­le­ar power is neces­sary to allow us wean ourselves off of coal and pet­ro­chem­ic­al fueled gen­er­a­tion and to provide us with the time needed to get oth­er renew­able sources of energy on-stream. I am also of the opin­ion that the fourth gen­er­a­tion react­or designs that are avail­able now should be built. These react­ors are cap­able of using the highly radio­act­ive ‘waste’ from the third gen­er­a­tion react­ors and redu­cing it to a byproduct with a short half-life and rel­at­ively low radio­activ­ity. These designs provide the cap­ab­il­ity to stretch our nuc­le­ar fuel sup­plies by as much as 1000 x accord­ing to some authors, and to elim­in­ate poten­tial stock­piles of weapons-grade mater­i­al. These bene­fits alone should be enough to get them built.

Wheth­er nuc­le­ar power will remain a part of our future past the end of my life­time I can­not pre­dict. I do know that energy will always be needed as long as humans walk this plan­et. Safe, renew­able sources must be developed to allow us to build a sus­tain­able future.

Series Nav­ig­a­tionThe Prob­lem with Prob­ab­il­ityHow Risk Assess­ment Fails — Again. This time at DuPont.