Triple Hit: Matthew Bunn (left), associate professor of public policy with the Belfer Center, listens as the Hon. Takeshi Hikihar, consul general of Japan, speaks during a JFK Jr. Forum titled "Japan: The Earthquake and the Worldwide Aftershocks."
"After Fukushima: How Should Nuclear Regulators Respond?"
Authors: Matthew Bunn, Associate Professor of Public Policy; Co-Principal Investigator, Project on Managing the Atom, Olli Heinonen, Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, William H. Tobey, Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
With the nuclear crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactor continuing more than a month after the initial damage and radiation leaks, several Center experts responded to the question of what actions should be taken now by nuclear regulators around the world.
Matthew Bunn, Associate Professor of Public Policy
After Fukushima, countries around the world must reassess whether they have done enough to prevent a radioactive disaster — whether by accident or caused by terrorists. The most obvious lessons relate to providing sufficient capacity to power essential cooling systems even in the face of multiple disaster — for example with mobile power units that can rapidly be brought to sites — and having effective and well-exercised plans in place to respond to emergencies.
Every organization operating nuclear facilities must have a “red team” in place tasked with creatively identifying potential vulnerabilities — and cost-effective means to fix them. Countries around the world should set stringent standards of nuclear safety and security, and request independent, international reviews of their safety and security performance.
The high-level ministerial meeting scheduled for June must address not only new safety measures but new security measures as well — for while it took a truly extraordinary natural disaster to knock out both the normal and the emergency cooling systems at Fukushima, for terrorists taking out both these systems might well be part of the plan.
Olli Heinonen, Senior Fellow; Former IAEA Deputy Director General
There are a number of lessons learned and still to be learned. Assessment of the situation and actions taken by various parties from the facility operators and national authorities to the IAEA should start now. These unfortunate events indicate also weaknesses in the international emergency preparedness and response system. Impact of disasters - whether caused by nuclear accidents or acts of terrorism -of this magnitude go beyond national borders. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the IAEA has sufficient procedures, resources, and authorities to be able to respond timely, effectively, and independently, and that it is able to provide its member states and public with independent assessments on implications as well as support member states on further cause of action.
William Tobey, Senior Fellow; Former Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration
First, nuclear regulators must reexamine their assumptions about the combined probabilities of catastrophic events. An event large enough to cause a primary system to fail may also undermine secondary systems. Moreover, there are paired disasters beyond earthquakes and tsunamis—including electrical storms and wildfires and hurricanes and tornados—and we must be diligent in imagining and preparing for them. Second, far from obeying the laws of combined probabilities, terrorists attack them. Nature may cause random catastrophes, but our terrorist adversaries are plotting them. Our defenses, therefore, need to be both robust and deep.
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