- Safety standard regulations intended to prevent meltdowns at U.S. nuclear plants by preventing ordinary equipment failures and power losses from turning into uncontrollable overheating of the reactor core, as happened in Japan in 2011, were judged “clearly inadequate” in a new report from the National Academy of Sciences.
- Complacency and hubris, according to one of the report authors, made Fukushima “a man-made disaster” and such a “mind-set” generally keeps nuclear facility personnel from being adequately pro-active and preparing for worst-case, though unlikely, scenarios when designing, building, operating and regulating plants.
- A lack of preparedness led to the March 2011 Fukushima Daichi nuclear accident in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami there, the report said, and the world’s two other major nuclear disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were caused by a similar lack of preparedness to respond to the unlikely events that triggered them.
The meltdown at Fukushima occurred after an earthquake led to a power outage and the subsequent tsunami flooded the plant, making it impossible to stop radioactive rods from overheating. Japan’s Onagawa nuclear facility, closer to the earthquake fault line, sustained less damage from the tsunami because, in anticipation of such a disaster, it was built at a higher elevation and had redundant off-site power lines.
The National Academy report calls on nuclear regulators to create and fund a national “safety culture” and require nuclear facility operators to meet the highest standards, including the kind of regular updating of safety plans that was absent at both Chernobyl and Fukushima. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing the report.