It feels good to tell ourselves that everything is going to be okay. It’s an urge that everyone can understand. So, when I read the Washington Post’s editorial, Learning lessons from Fukushima, a part of me can empathize. The Washington Post editorial clings to the conclusion of the NRC’s Near-Term Task Force Review of Fukushima, concluding that “America’s plants are safe. But they could be safer.” With nuclear power, though, it is hard to imagine the definition of “safer” beyond “safe.” How many accidents will it take to be “safest”? How many strikes and you’re out?
Nuclear power is inherently unsafe technology that has resulted in some of the worst environmental disasters in history. It may be of low probability that we will experience a catastrophic disaster exactly like Fukushima in the United States, but some kind of accident is bound to happen – something that the nuclear industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are now claiming can’t happen or perhaps something that we haven’t even imagined. Even looking past the earthquake/tsunami one-two punch that was Fukushima, nuclear reactors are at risk in all kinds of extreme weather and environmental situations, including flooding and fires – not to mention vulnerable to terrorism.
Nonetheless, PSR agrees with the Post on at least one point: the NRC should learn lessons from the Fukushima disaster and get cracking on safety improvements, many of which the public interest community has been sounding the alarm on for decades. PSR can’t, however, agree with the Post that some new rules should be voluntary. Conforming to the highest safety standards for an inherently unsafe technology should not be optional.