“I use ‘disruptive’ in both its good and bad connotations. Disruptive scientific and technological progress is not to me inherently good or inherently evil. But its arc is for us to shape. Technology’s progress is furthermore in my judgment unstoppable. But it is quite incorrect that it unfolds inexorably according to its own internal logic and the laws of nature.”
In the last forty years, the world has witnessed three major (preventable) nuclear power plants accidents with serious consequences—Three Mile Island (US, 1979), Chernobyl (Ukraine, 1986), and Fukushima (Japan, 2011). In the interim, we have learned that the safe and efficient operation of these complex systems is a function of the interactions among their three major human, organizational and technological/engineered subsystems. In these interactions, safety and security culture is analogous to the human body’s “immune system.” Lessons from past nuclear accidents have important applications in the Persian Gulf, where the operation of at least five newly-built nuclear power reactors is expected in the next five years, and where a major accident with radiation contamination could have spillover effects. These lessons also apply to systems for seawater desalination, oil and gas drilling, and heavy maritime traffic, where accidents could have significant combined effects on sea-life and the ecosystem of the Gulf.
Najmedin (Najm) Meshkati is a Research Fellow with the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is a Professor of Civil/Environmental Engineering; Industrial & Systems Engineering; and International Relations at the University of Southern California. Between 2009-2010, he was a Jefferson Science Fellow and a Senior Science and Engineering Advisor to the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser of the U.S. Secretary of State. He has inspected many nuclear power plants around the world, including Chernobyl (1997), Fukushima Daiichi and Daini (2012). His current interests include nuclear safety, environmental sustainability, and developing cooperative regional approaches to nuclear fuel cycle management.