Are Nuclear Disasters Really Accidents?


Since the invention of nuclear power, there have been numerous “accidents.” From Three Mile Island and Chernobyl to the more recent problems in Fukushima, it would seem nuclear power is not fully under our control. While this makes nuclear no different than any other power source, one thing separates it: the consequences of failing to control nuclear power are generally disastrous.

To this day, Chernobyl is essentially a no-go zone, with radiation levels well above livable limits. Fukushima continues to contaminate the oceans and other food sources around it and may continue to do so for several decades if not longer.

With disasters of this magnitude, we’re frequently left asking the same questions: do they truly qualify as “accidents,” or is there something more at play?

Accidents vs. Negligence

Many would debate human error is near impossible to eliminate. It is the primary reason behind most “accidents” and is just a part of life. But is that really an acceptable answer when the lives of millions are at stake? With the best and brightest minds at work, error should be at a minimum.

That is, of course, unless negligence is a factor. As history has taught us on countless occasions, the single greatest risk we face with technology is laziness. Negligent action taken by supervisors and higher ups leaves these nuclear plants without the necessary facilities to contain a disaster.

Rather than building to define the next industry standard, we instead see corners being cut to save dollars and to finish projects on time. Builders conform to the minimum code specs rather than excelling above and beyond simply because going the extra step takes additional time and effort.

Often when things go wrong it isn’t necessarily because of an accident. Consider the Challenger disaster. The higher ups were well aware their O-rings weren’t built to handle the conditions facing the shuttle, yet they launched it anyway to save face (though tragically it blew up in their face).

The case of Chernobyl is similar in that it was constructed based on shoddy Soviet design and led to the first and only immediate deaths from nuclear power plant radiation. It wasn’t as though this was the first nuclear plant ever built, though. They just cut corners and did a poor job.

Lack of Accountability

Keeping in step with negligence is the lack of accountability in meeting standards and complying with regulations. To this day, Fukushima continues to be an example of this. As radiation leaks seemingly endlessly, we’re treated to story after story about contamination in the water, in the food supply and in wildlife.

Yet in spite of these reports, no one seems in any way accountable. No one is serving jail time or paying exorbitant fines out of their or their company’s pocket. Much like with what seems like a never-ending cavalcade of oil spills, no one’s feet end up on the fire.

Without major personal consequences to the parties involved in building and maintaining nuclear power, how can we truly expect them to be held to the highest standards? The issue is not only with the designers and produces, but in legislators that allow construction to be done without making clear the price of failure.

Fortunately, these events don’t go without some form of social commentary. The South Korean film, “Pandora,” made its way onto Netflix in 2017. It’s an excellent watch as it is obviously based on the Fukushima disaster. It remains viewable in most countries, although those without access can watch by utilizing a VPN service to change virtual locations. Raising awareness about the flaws inherent in how nuclear power plants are regulated might be the only way to inspire action that will prevent future disasters.

Failure to Change

In the PBS documentary, “Command and Control,” we learned much about the Titan missile “accidents” of the 20th century that nearly caused the detonation of nuclear warheads. Errors made by technicians led to the ignition of rocket fuel, nearly setting off a catastrophic blast. For reference, this “error” was a dropped socket wrench.

Yet despite the horrible loss of human life and the threat of genuine nuclear disaster, no policy changes have ever been announced or elucidated even during interview, and no clear effort has been made to alleviate the possibility of similar problems in the future.

The continued existence of nuclear programs—despite their absolute impracticality and total waste of taxpayer money—are just more examples of the inability to change that leads to “accidents.” The continued resistance to nuclear non-proliferation is absurd given the zero sum outcome of nuclear weapon use across the globe.

The Fallacy of “Never Again”

Each time there’s a nuclear “accident,” the bleeding hearts chime in that “never again” will we allow such a disaster to occur. A surge of interest hits the public, often followed by negative sentiments about nuclear power or other forms of proliferation.

But this interest is short-lived. Only a few hang onto their dedication, while much of the rest of the world forgets about the disaster and allows the continued bungling of matters that ought not to be taken lightly. The Three Mile Island accident should have been the final warning about nuclear meltdown, yet just over a decade later we experienced the Chernobyl disaster.

Chernobyl, if not Three Mile Island, should have been the last disaster. Yet here we see Fukushima, another horrible failure decades after the last. And these are just the most notable “meltdowns.” There has been another half dozen accidents across the world during the 20th century that have received very little public attention.

So long as we pursue nuclear power and do so under human standards, nuclear “accidents” will most likely never cease. The only true way to avoid these mishaps is to stop using nuclear power.
That most likely won’t happen, but what do you think?

About the Author: Sandra is a blogger and activist for social change. Always leery about all things “too good to be true,” she holds serious suspicions that nuclear power can be a safe source of energy in the long-term, especially when safer alternatives such as solar and wind exist.




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