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.
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.