Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 23, 2011

Lessons learned, and not learned, from Fukushima

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on June 23, 2011

Harvard Associate Professor Matthew Bunn gives his analysis of the fallout (if you can pardon the pun) from the Fukushima event at the IAEA ministerial meeting on nuclear safety:

At Monday’s opening of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s ministerial meeting in Vienna on what to do about nuclear safety after Fukushima, Director-General Yukiya Amano laid out a sensible five-point plan for improving global nuclear safety.

But Amano missed a crucial point: Disasters like Fukushima can be caused not only be accident but by terrorist action.  The nuclear industry in many countries is much less prepared to cope with security incidents than with accidents, making the need to take steps to strengthen global nuclear security – protecting against both sabotage of nuclear facilities and theft of nuclear weapons or the materials to make them – particularly urgent.

He sensibly approves of the current menu of IAEA-suggested nuclear safety improvements:

Higher safety standards. Amano called for better preparedness for multiple disasters happening together (such as an earthquake and a tsunami), strengthened measures to cope with prolonged blackouts, more effort to assure water will be available to cool reactors in an emergency, special protection for sites with multiple reactors, and increased preparedness to cool spent fuel when normal cooling is lost.

More peer review. Heinonen and I had urged that all states operating major nuclear facilities ask for an independent and international team to review their safety and security measures.  Amano had an interesting twist on the idea, arguing that it was impractical for the IAEA to review all 440 operating reactors anytime soon, and proposing instead that all countries agree to accept IAEA peer reviews, and the IAEA would then randomly select reactors to review, covering perhaps 10 percent of the world total in the first three years.

Stronger regulation. Amano called for all states to make sure their regulatory bodies were genuinely independent (a definite problem in Japan’s case) and had the resources and expertise to do their jobs.

Beefed-up emergency response. Amano urged states to establish stronger emergency response capabilities, including, for example, mobile diesel generators that could be brought to a stricken site.  In the case of Fukushima, the IAEA had little to offer Japan to enhance its ability to respond to the crisis; Amano suggested that the IAEA put together an international register of who has special expertise available in areas such as robotics or fire-fighting in a nuclear environment.

Better emergency information. The IAEA was widely criticized during the Fukushima crisis for simply passing on Japanese information with little or no real effort to answer key questions such as: “What could happen next? What should we be prepared for?”  Implicitly acknowledging this critique, Amano argued that the IAEA’s role in a crisis “should be expanded to providing analysis and possible scenarios on how a crisis might develop.

The bar of nuclear safety and security is not high enough, even if you consider the cited suggestions.  Professor Bunn doubles down:

Strengthened nuclear security measures. Terrorist attacks could also cause many of the disasters Amano described.  Both al Qaeda and Chechen terrorist groups have repeatedly considered sabotaging nuclear reactors – and Fukushima provided a compelling example of the scale of terror such an attack might cause.  Indeed, given the multiple layers of safety systems in place for nuclear facilities today – and the extraordinarily weak security measures in place in some countries – the chance that the next big radioactive release will happen because someone wanted to make it happen may well be bigger than the chance that it will happen purely by accident.

Better safety and security culture. An organizational culture that gives safety and security top priority, and that structures incentives to encourage staff to find and fix potential risks rather than ignoring them or covering them up, is crucial to high performance.

Special attention for older reactors, rapidly growing programs, and new entrants. Aging reactors that do not have all the most modern safety systems should either be shut down or upgraded to the point that they can make a case that they do not pose significantly higher risks of a major radioactive release than newer reactors do…  Nuclear programs that are expanding at a furious rate, such as those in China, India, and Russia, also need special attention to ensure that no corners are cut in the rush to build, and that nuclear regulators and other safety infrastructure can expand to cope with a much larger nuclear enterprise.

Tools beyond the IAEA. The reality is that the global effort to ensure that nuclear power is safe and secure extends far beyond the IAEA.  The actual operators of nuclear facilities bear the largest responsibilities, but, vendors, builders, and suppliers all have major roles to play.  Effective national regulators are crucial.  Responders from off the site, whether firemen or armed forces to help cope with an attack, are also key.

Reporting and learning. Reporting on incidents, analyzing their root causes, and sharing that information so that everyone can learn how to prevent similar problems in the future is crucial to nuclear safety.

More specific binding standards. The effects of nuclear accidents or nuclear terrorism know no boundaries.  Yet currently, decisions about what safety and security measures to take are left in the hands of each individual country operating a nuclear facility.  Existing safety and security conventions establish only broad principles, with no specific standards states are obligated to meet.

Not much to argue with in these suggestions.  The one point I would make is that Bunn, like the vast majority of analysts, stops considering the issue around the end of the “response” phase.  There is little to no discussion about the vast array of recovery issues involved in any radiological event.

These include not only decontamination, but the psychological, economic, and social healing that will need to take place over decades of interaction between the public, government, and nuclear industry in Japan.

You can read Bunn’s entire piece here: http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/power/2011/06/21/mostly-getting-nuclear-safety-at-the-iaea-%E2%80%93-but-missing-nuclear-security/


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Comment by William R. Cumming

June 23, 2011 @ 1:15 am

Thanks Arnold. Terrific post!

An of course the crucial lesson is that nuclear power safety and security too important to be left to individual nation-states. Risk assessment seems to be forming a new international consensus.

USA NRC rules and regs assume a core-melt accident will require offsite preparedness and response. See 10 CFR Part 50 Appendix E.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 23, 2011 @ 1:19 am

Probably should have mentioned that 90 days into event the news out of Japan grows worse daily for that country and its people because of events of March 17th and following.
If a book like Japan Inc. were written today it would probably identify Japan as a subject for possible M&A activity.
When and if accurate data is produced by Japan it will reveal a changed country. Changed forever by this event.
IMO of course.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 23, 2011 @ 1:20 am

Or was it March 11th?

Comment by China and Japan

June 24, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

“The natural history of the country is embedded in the social history and to some extent the political history of Japan. Earthquakes are markers not just for disaster…but also of political change…and economic change as well” stated by Kerry Smith, professor of history at Brown University in Providence.

A number of independent estimates now concur that infrastructure damage will cost Japan a sum of one third of a trillion dollars!

It is inevtiable then that Japan turjning to foreign investment will reach out to China and a China seeking to have access to japan’s large middle class consumer for after all, America’s middle class has been waning and will soon be lost to the markets as it evaporates…

I have talked about the eventual emergence of a new pan-Asian power – China – and its own currency, soon to encompass all the natioons of the Pacific Rim and which will eventually overthrow the Europeans at the near end of WWIII to soon begin in earnest — months away….Keep your eyes affixed on Hama and Hezbollah in July and august and then Tehran leaading the charge!

Buy gold!

The “KGB Putinites” – Japan – and China will form a strong alliance and the sooner someone at the WH and in Congress reads the Bible and scripture, the sooner new American policies and relatinships can be broken and tied up — the beginning of a roller coaster down into the pit of decay – Nearly 15 trillion times “bankrupt” the ride began far earlier —

Fukushima is nothing compared with what is in stre for We no longer are a nation to repent, a nation to have regard and the strength to stand proudly and sing on behalf of the red, white and blue — we are a tattered nation and son the local economies will not have the means to even retain sufficient numbers of first responders.

My suggestion, the lessons we learned at FuKushima is that government fails and from house t house, street to street, community to community, we must forge an alliance among us to respond —

We have been hoodwinked, raped and thrwn to the “beltway bandits” and their puppets, the inept members of the US Congress!

Christopher Tingus

Comment by Miya Riehl

April 15, 2012 @ 8:54 pm

I value the article post.Really looking forward to read more. Cool.

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