Analysis & Opinions - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Nuclear Safety and Security Lessons from Chernobyl and Fukushima

| Mar. 11, 2021

Editor’s note: This article is part of a collection of expert commentary on nuclear safety published on the tenth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, produced in a collaboration between the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard Kennedy School and the Bulletin.

At last week’s Harvard Belfer Center conference on nuclear safety and security lessons from the Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi disasters, international experts reflected on matters of preparation, operation, governance, and mitigation related to minimizing and managing nuclear risks.

Niels Bohr introduced the principle of complementarity to physics in 1927, but he also urged its wider application as an epistemological tool. He believed that insights could be gained by weighing two competing desiderata, for example the value of tradition vs. innovation. His technique was evident in the lessons arising from last week’s dialogue among speakers. These lessons include:

  1. We must learn from and remember the lessons of the past—while recognizing that Fukushima is not going to “happen again” as future accidents will have their own characteristics; while remembering the past, we must also avail ourselves of advances in seismology, climatology, engineering, etc.
  2. As we aspire to excellence in safety and security, we must anticipate that human systems can never be perfected and therefore that mitigation must join measurement, minimization, and management of risk.
  3. Deaths per kilowatt-hour is an important measure of risk entailed by various sources of energy, but it is insufficient, as costs from nuclear accidents also take the forms of, inter alia, environmental, economic, and emotional damage.
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Tobey, William.“Nuclear Safety and Security Lessons from Chernobyl and Fukushima.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 11, 2021.

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