Nuclear Power After Fukushima

On November 1, I spoke about nuclear power after the Fukushima accident to the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

During my talk, I first gave a brief overview about the current status and past history of commercial nuclear power worldwide. I then discussed some of the major technical problems at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant such as the vulnerability of the emergency diesel generators to flooding, the dependency of safety systems on electrical power, the difficulty in fully operating the vents to prevent over-pressurization of the reactor’s containment structure, and the hydrogen explosions at reactor units 1, 2, 3, and 4. In addition to these technical failures, there were significant management and safety culture problems including (1) lack of a strong, independent regulatory agency, (2) lack of real protection for whistle blowers despite a law to that effect, (3) inadequate or non-existent inspections of many pieces of safety equipment, (4) a mindset of infallibility, (5) lack of accountability at the Tokyo Electric Power Company, (6) inadequate briefings to political leaders, (7) confusing information presented to the public, and (8) very few independent experts to inform the public debate.

As you can read in the PowerPoint slides, I also reviewed reactions from various countries to the accident with particular attention to the German experience. I argued that the German model of phasing out nuclear power would not be wise for Japan given Japan’s lack of indigenous fossil fuels, its isolation from other countries’ electrical grids, and increasing dependence on liquefied natural gas. Over time, Japan can and should build up its use of renewable energies such as geothermal, solar, and wind and deploy a highly efficient smart grid.

I reviewed recent recommendations from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Task Force Report on lessons learned from Fukushima as well as the draft recommendations from the U.S. Blue Ribbon Commission on nuclear waste disposal. I drew attention for the need for more international cooperation on waste disposal and on public education about nuclear energy issues. As you can read in the slides, I concluded with some recommendations on next steps for education, economics, and waste disposal.

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2 Responses to “Nuclear Power After Fukushima”

  1. Rob Goldston December 1, 2011 at 12:08 AM #

    I am surprised by your advocacy of fast-spectrum reactors. As you know a year’s fresh fuel for 1 GWe of power capacity contains about 2t of Pu, + or -, depending on the conversion ratio. This represents enough fissile material for more than 250 weapons. While we don’t anticipate that Japan will become a nuclear aggressor, we must recognize that States are not going to accept discriminatory treatment. Your thoughts?

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  1. FAS Roundup- November 7, 2011 | From the President's Desk - November 7, 2011

    [...] November 1, 2011: Dr. Charles Ferguson, FAS President, spoke at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs on the topic of nuclear power after Fukushima. [...]

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