Chernobyl's 30th Anniversary (and Fukushima's 5th): A Tale of Preventable Nuclear Accidents and the Vital Role of Safety Culture
The world commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant catastrophic accident in Ukraine on April 26, 2016.
On March 11, 2011, following a massive earthquake and a devastating tsunami, the cores of three of the reactors at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant melted down with horrific results. Radioactive cesium, with a half-life of 30 years, contaminated almost 12,000 square miles of the country.
How do these events inform us about the future of nuclear power, or its place in addressing climate change? One view is that nuclear power is safe and cost-effective, with long periods of stability and reliability interrupted infrequently by accidents. The other view is that power from the atom is unsafe and costly, with catastrophic accidents separated by periods of stability leading to a false sense of security.
While the history of support and opposition to nuclear power has been largely defined by the series of accidents that have brought safety into question, nuclear energy's role in preventing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions has also been important in decision-making around nuclear development.
Instead of a punitive process that monitors compliance with minimum standards, peer-to-peer evaluations are thorough, confidential and -- importantly -- voluntary.
The list of crippled, non-competitive and near-dead reactors lengthens daily. Few are more critical than San Onofre Units Two and Three, perched on an ocean cliff in the earthquake-tsunami zone between Los Angeles and San Diego.
While the world seems to have overlooked the consequences of the debacle at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the fact remains that the global nuclear power industry continues to suffer from several threats unknown to more conventional power stations.
Many proponents of nuclear power are the same "let the market work" advocates in economics and politics today. If the market were allowed to function in this case, would any new nuclear power plants be built in America -- or existing ones re-licensed -- if Price-Anderson were repealed?