Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Professor's Essay on Nuclear Safety Culture

Prof. Najmedin Meshkati recently published an article* that reviews how the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters demonstrated the essential need for a strong safety culture (SC) in the nuclear industry.  The article is summarized below.

He begins by reminding us the root cause of the Chernobyl accident was a deficient SC, a problem that affected not only the Chernobyl plant but also permeated the entire Soviet nuclear ecosystem. 

Fukushima is characterized as an anthropogenic accident, i.e, caused by human action or inaction.  He contrasts the fate of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi plant with the Tohoku Electric Power Company’s Onagawa plant.  Onagawa was closer to the earthquake epicenter than Fukushima and faced a taller tsunami but shut down safely and with limited damage.  The author concludes Tohoku had a stronger SC than TEPCO.  We reviewed Meshkati’s earlier paper comparing TEPCO and Tohoku on March 19, 2014.

He also mentions the 1961 SL-1 reactor accident** and the 1979 TMI accident.  Both presented the opportunity for SC lessons learned but they were obviously not taken to heart by all industry participants.

The author concludes with a cautionary note to newly expanding nuclear countries: human factors and SC are critical success factors “and operators’ individual mindfulness and improvisation potential need to be nurtured and cultivated by the organizations that operate such systems; and regulatory regimes should envision, encourage, and enforce them.”

Our Perspective

There is nothing new here.  The article reads like a reasonably well-researched paper prepared for a college senior seminar, with multiple linked references.***  Meshkati does have the advantage of having been “on the ground” at both Chernobyl and Fukushima but that experience does not inform this article beyond adding a bit of color to his description of the Chernobyl sarcophagus (a “temple of eternal doom”).  Overall, the article does not provide new information or insights for Safetymatters readers who have examined the accidents in any level of detail.

What’s interesting is the platform on which the article appeared.  The WorldPost is produced by The Huffington Post, a politically liberal news and opinion website, and the Berggruen Institute, a political and social think tank.  We would not have expected the HuffPost to be associated with an article that exhibits any faint pro-nuclear flavor, even one as vanilla as this.

We don’t celebrate the anniversaries of Chernobyl and Fukushima but we should certainly remember the events, especially when we see the nuclear industry hubris meter trending toward the red zone.


*  N. Meshkati, “Chernobyl’s 30th Anniversary (and Fukushima’s 5th): A Tale of Preventable Nuclear Accidents and the Vital Role of Safety Culture,” The WorldPost (April 22, 2016).

**  Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One (SL-1) was a U.S. Army prototype small power reactor.  A Jan. 3, 1961 accident killed its three operators.

***  I looked at all the links but didn’t see anything new for the “must read” list.  However, you might quickly check them out if you are interested in these significant historical events.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment. We read them all. We'd like to display them under their respective posts on our main page but that's not how Blogger works.