A year on have the lessons been learned from Fukushima?

The No.3 nuclear reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, March 14, 2011 Photo: Reuters

Sunday is the anniversary of the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami that crippled the Fukushima nuclear power station. Flooding water put the station's emergency power out of action, temperatures in the reactor cores started to rise and within three days, nuclear fuel had melted in three of the station's reactors. Hydrogen explosions caused the main damage and release of radioactivity.

After disasters like this everyone prattles on about "learning the lessons". Well have a look at what John Price, a consulting engineer who was a member of the Safety Policy Unit of the National Nuclear Corporation in the UK, has to say about that:

What Fukushima demonstrates is that no lessons are ever really learnt....there was a very practical lesson from Three Mile Island (the accident in the US in 1978): Once the fuel cladding overheats, the zirconium metal in the cladding reacts with water to produce hydrogen gas. The appearance of hydrogen gas during the accident at Three Mile Island caused major alarm, though in the end no damage. So why was no lesson learnt? At Fukushima the buildings of reactors 1 and 3 actually exploded violently while the world watched on television.... Why, given the events of 1978, were the plants at Fukushima, and indeed nuclear plants worldwide, not fitted with the fairly simple means of dispersing hydrogen gas to prevent explosion?

He goes on to criticise safety compromises made between the Japanese nuclear regulators and the operators. He believes that the reactors - a very old design -- should not have been allowed to continue operating.

Experts disagree about how long it will take to clean up after Fukushima -- it could easily be decades.

In case you think I'm ploughing some anti-nuclear furrow - I'm not, I'm just pro-safety.

Police officers in protective suits observe a moment of silence for those who were killed Credit: Reuters

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