As a former commissioner at the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Peter Bradford knows something about nuclear power accidents. He had been serving as one of the nation’s top nuclear officials for over two years when, in March 1979, more than half of the fuel in the Unit 2 reactor at Three Mile Island (TMI) melted down — the worst nuclear power accident ever to have occurred in the United States.
I asked Bradford today what he thought of the claims, widespread in the media and in press statements released by some in the nuclear power industry, that the current situation in Fukushima Daiichi, Japan, is not as grave as the accident at TMI thirty-two years ago.
“I’ll be quite surprised if the events at Fukushima are ultimately considered to be less serious than TMI,” he responded, adding that more people have already been exposed to high levels of radiation in Japan than were exposed at TMI.
Bradford, who served on the NRC from 1977 to 1982, also warned against a mindset common in the US nuclear power industry that what is happening now in Japan can’t happen here.
“The phrase, ‘it can’t happen here,’ has been a harbinger of trouble in the nuclear industry,” he said. “Soviet experts came to TMI and solemnly intoned that such an accident could not happen in the Soviet Union because they did not have that type of reactor. They got Chernobyl. After Chernobyl, experts from many nations deplored the unique inadequacies of the Soviet system — inadequate containment, dangerous design, complacency, secrecy. Of course the [Soviet] design did not exist in their countries, one of which now has Fukushima. No doubt the next accident will also be different in its specifics. Nuclear spokespeople in every other country will then spout owlish and well-financed explanations of why it cannot happen to them.”
Bradford’s experience at TMI — where the full extent of the damage to the reactor core wasn’t known until a decade after the accident — makes him skeptical of broad assessments concerning the current situation in Japan.
“It’s important to realized that we know only a small percentage of what we will need to know to reach firm conclusions one way or the other,” he says. “Three days into TMI, much that we believed we knew turned out to be wrong.”
via Former U.S. Nuclear Official Warns: It Can Happen Here - Osha Gray Davidson - Edison 2.0 - Forbes.