Beyond Fukushima

VIENNA – Nuclear power has become safer since the devastating accident one year ago at Fukushima, Japan. It will become safer still in the coming years, provided that governments, plant operators, and regulators do not drop their guard.

The accident at Fukushima resulted from an earthquake and tsunami of unprecedented severity. But, as the Japanese authorities have acknowledged, human and organizational failings played an important part, too.

For example, Japan’s nuclear regulatory authority was not sufficiently independent, and oversight of the plant operator, TEPCO, was weak. At the Fukushima site, the backup power supply, essential for maintaining vital safety functions such as cooling the reactors and spent fuel rods, was not properly protected. Training to respond to severe accidents was inadequate. There was a lack of integrated emergency-response capability at the site and nationally.

Human and organizational failings are not unique to Japan. Fukushima was a wake-up call for all countries that use nuclear power. It prompted serious soul-searching and recognition that safety can never be taken for granted anywhere. Key causes of the accident have been identified.