Technical Lessons Learned from the Fukushima-Daichii Accident

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Technical Lessons Learned from the Fukushima-Daichii Accident and Possible Corrective Actions for the Nuclear Industry: An Initial Evaluation

J. Buongiorno, R. Ballinger, M. Driscoll,
B. Forget, C. Forsberg, M. Golay,
M. Kazimi, N. Todreas, J. Yanc

The initial response of the nuclear industry and the U.S government to the Fukushima accident has been measured and rational (see Appendix B). However, the risk of over-reacting to an accident, particularly one as dramatic as Fukushima, remains high.

The industry is concerned about the near-term effect of Fukushima on the process of life extension of current plants and the support for new construction projects. Under the pressure of the public and the media, the government may be compelled to push for sweeping policy and regulatory changes, which may ultimately prove to be unnecessarily onerous on existing and future plants.

Decision-making in the immediate aftermath of a major crisis is often overly influenced by emotion. Therefore, the following questions should be addressed after searching for vulnerabilities at existing plants, but before enacting significant changes in nuclear energy regulations and policy. Does an accident like Fukushima, which is so far beyond design basis, really warrant a major overhaul of current nuclear safety regulations and practices?

The answer is country-dependent; for example, the design-basis selection process for tsunamis in Japan will likely require some significant changes, in particular regarding the use of historical tsunami “data” in estimating the risk of future large tsunamis. However, the critical question is: how, in the design-basis selection process, do we establish when safe is safe enough?

Where do we draw the line? It seems that a rational approach to this question would ultimately need to be based on a risk-informed comparison of nuclear energy with other energy sources (particularly its most credible competitors, such as coal and natural gas), including their effects on climate change, global economy, stability and reliability of the energy supply, and geo-politics.

But can the decision makers take a risk-informed approach to energy policy?

When it comes to safety, it is important to bear in mind that all engineered structures (e.g. power plants, bridges, skyscrapers, dams, highways) will fail if subjected to loads far enough beyond what they were designed for.

Are the design basis selections of energy industry structures posing high environmental hazard, such as oil drilling platforms offshore, coal mines and water dams, consistent with those of nuclear plants?

If not, are we as a society irrationally accepting higher risks from certain technologies than others?

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