The Lessons of Fukushima
Monday 28 March 2011
As an anthropologist, I am always interested in what humans learn from their mistakes. Can humans change their behavior, thereby improving their chances of survival, not just through natural selection, but also through cultural learning? Or are we hardwired to repeat our mistakes over and over, like humanoid lemmings?
More to the point, what lessons will we learn from the nuclear accident at Fukushima, an accident thought to be impossible just two weeks ago?
Some people, many of them presumably already ill-disposed toward nuclear energy, have concluded that the lesson of Fukushima is that nuclear energy is inherently dangerous. Thus, Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post: “We can engineer nuclear power plants so that the chance of a Chernobyl-style disaster is almost nil. But we can’t eliminate it completely — nor can we envision every other kind of potential disaster. And where fission reactors are concerned, the worst-case scenario is so dreadful as to be unthinkable.” His colleague Anne Applebaum wrote on the same op-ed page: “If the competent and technologically brilliant Japanese can’t build a completely safe reactor, who can? … I … hope that a near-miss prompts people around the world to think twice about the true ‘price’ of nuclear energy, and that it stops the nuclear renaissance dead in its tracks.” (The nuclear renaissance comprises plans around the world to build as many as 350 new nuclear reactors, partly as a way of inhibiting climate change.)