Here are 10 lessons from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 25 years ago and the Fukushima disaster this year.
1. Nuclear power is a highly complex, expensive and dangerous way to boil water to create steam to turn turbines.
2. Accidents happen, and the worst-case scenario often turns out to be worse than imagined or planned for.
3. The nuclear industry and its experts cannot plan for every contingency or prevent every disaster.
4. Governments do not effectively regulate the nuclear industry to assure the safety of the public. Regulators of the nuclear industry often come from the nuclear industry itself and tend to be too close to it to regulate it effectively.
5. Hubris, complacency and high-level radiation are a deadly mix. Hubris on the part of the nuclear industry and its government regulators — along with complacency on the part of the public — has led to the creation of vast amounts of high-level radiation that must be guarded from release to the environment for tens of thousands of years.
6. The corporations that run the nuclear power plants are protected from catastrophic economic failure by government limits on liability. If the corporations that own nuclear power plants had to bear the burden of potential financial losses in the event of a catastrophic accident, they would not build the plants because they know the risks are unacceptable. It is only when government limits the liability, as the Price-Anderson Act does in the United States, that companies go ahead and build nuclear power plants. No other private industry is given such liability protection, which leaves the taxpayers on the hook.
7. Radiation releases from nuclear accidents cannot be contained in space and will not stop at national borders.
8. Radiation releases from nuclear accidents cannot be contained in time and will adversely affect countless future generations.
9. Nuclear energy — as well as nuclear weapons — and human beings cannot coexist without the risk of future catastrophes. The survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have long known that nuclear weapons and human beings cannot coexist. Fukushima, like Chernobyl before it, makes clear that human beings and nuclear power plants also cannot coexist.
10. The accidents at Fukushima and Chernobyl are a bracing reminder to phase out nuclear energy. We need to move as rapidly as possible to a global energy plan based upon conservation and various forms of renewable energy: solar cells, wind, geothermal, and energy that is extracted from the oceans and the tides and the currents.
Poet Maya Angelou once said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage doesn’t need to be lived again.” We need the courage to abandon nuclear power. No one should have to experience the wrenching pain of another Chernobyl or another Fukushima.