‘FUKUSHIMA: ONGOING LESSONS:’ Not in the playbook via Wicked Local Plymouth


At first there was little to suggest that Wednesday’s Statehouse forum, titled “Fukushima: Ongoing Lessons for Boston,” might provide anything new to the debate over the general safety of nuclear power or the specific viability of Plymouth’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

The audience included many of the “usual suspects” – members of Cape Downwinders, Cape Cod Bay Watch, Mary Lampert of Pilgrim Watch and more. A second look revealed that the speakers on stage included former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and, from the balcony above, officials from plant-owner Entergy looked down on the proceedings.

When the forum actually began, the tenor of the individual presentations was different from the usual gathering of nuclear power critics, largely due to the experiences of the speakers. These were, for the most part, insiders – individuals who, like Kan, have been privy to the inner workings of governmental organizations during nuclear power’s most important events.

Among those insiders was former NRC Chairman Dr. Gregory Jaczko. Though appointed by President Obama and likely not considered a true insider by existing NRC staff during his short-tenure, Jaczko was on duty during Fukushima and led, or tried to lead, the agency’s response in the month’s afterwards.

During the forum, Jaczko’s most effective insights were not about the inner workings of the agency but about the assumptions under which the agency operated and how Fukushima challenged those assumptions.


Among the specific assumptions of the NRC that Fukushima challenged, Jaczko said, was the belief that the industry knew how to prevent hydrogen explosions.

“We thought we understood how to control the accumulation of hydrogen, that there were systems in place, methods that would prevent hydrogen explosions,” Jaczko said. “But there were three hydrogen explosions.”

Former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford, who also spoke at the forum, noted first the irony of a Bradford critiquing a “Pilgrim.”Bradford said that Fukushima changed the entire nuclear power argument in many specific ways and offered a list of “events once deemed too unlikely to even guard against.”Before Fukushima, no one in the public or the NRC thought they needed to guard against a 9.0 earthquake, or an earthquake followed by a tsunami, or multiple hydrogen explosions, Bradford said.


By far the most affecting speaker at the forum was Kan, the man in charge on that tragic day in March of 2011.

Kan told the audience that, while he understood the science, he was not prepared for the news that he began to receive that day, the news that continued almost continuously for the next nine months.


He has many regrets, Kan said, but he also acknowledged that it could have been much worse. Nevertheless, his experiences have led him to completely change his perspective on nuclear power.

“Prior to March 11, 2011, my position as prime minister was to keep using nuclear power, by ensuring its safety. But after the accident, having understood the enormity of the effects and the potential of a more severe accident, I realized that the only way to ensure that an accident does not happen is not to have nuclear power.”


Watching the proceedings from a balcony overlooking the auditorium were several Entergy officials and before the last attendee had left the building, Entergy released a formal statement and provided a contrasting comment from another former NRC chairman, Dale Klein.

“Pilgrim Station is a safe plant that gets excellent safety ratings from the NRC, including while under the former chairman (Jaczko),” the statement read. “The plant is regularly examined to identify enhancements to make it even safer, including using lessons learned from Fukushima, and many have either been completed or are underway.”

“Just like automobiles today have additional safety features compared to the 1970s designs, today’s U.S. nuclear power plants have added considerable safety systems from their initial designs. The nuclear power plants at Fukushima-Daiichi did not have the same improved safety systems as implemented at our U.S. nuclear power plants. Comparing the U.S. nuclear power plants to those that have not added new safety systems and procedures is simply wrong.”

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One Response to ‘FUKUSHIMA: ONGOING LESSONS:’ Not in the playbook via Wicked Local Plymouth

  1. yukimiyamotodepaul says:

    Kein’s analogy of nuclear safety to that of automobiles is irresponsible and infuriating. The technology to improve car safety is primarily to protect the driver (and other passengers in the car), not always to protect the pedestrians whom the car might hit accidentally.

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