An article on Bloomberg View recently examined the prospects for nuclear energy, particularly with improving technologies and small carbon footprint.
Unfortunately, as the article points out there are still some major concerns when considering nuclear energy, especially high upfront costs and safety. However, looking at Fukushima, the author concudes:
From a nuclear safety standpoint, it’s difficult to imagine a scarier scenario than what happened on March 11, 2011. An earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale — powerful enough to shift the position of Earth’s axis by about 6.5 inches — hit 80 miles off the Japanese coast. Within minutes, a series of seven tsunamis, some as high as 50 feet, slammed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Backup diesel generators, designed to keep the reactors’ cooling water pumps operating, quickly failed. A day later, a hydrogen explosion blew the roof off the Unit 1 reactor building. Over the next few days, similar explosions hit Units 2 and 3. Three reactors melted down.
It was the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl accident in 1986. But here’s the reality: It led directly to exactly two deaths — two workers who drowned at the plant.
It was feared that radioactive materials from the plant would contaminate large areas of Japan and even reach the U.S. That didn’t happen. In early 2013, the World Health Organization reported that radiation exposure due to Fukushima was low and concluded: “Outside the geographical areas most affected by radiation, even in locations within Fukushima prefecture, the predicted risks remain low and no observable increases in cancer above natural variation in baseline rates are anticipated.”
While not downplaying the severity of the Fukushima accident, the author believe that there was a lesson learned:
Fukushima has helped catalyze the push for safer reactors. Several companies are already deploying what are known as Generation III+ reactors, which have stronger containment systems and passive safety mechanisms that can cool and stabilize a reactor core for at least three days, even if there is no electricity.