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The REAL lessons from Fukushima (part 1)

March 31, 2011

Reading technologically oriented web forums, like e.g. Slashdot, amongst those that are not outright against nuclear power, two views seem to dominate in this author’s opinion:

  • The earthquake and tsunami were unprecedented, no-one could prepare for that.
  • If only TEPCO had sited their backup generators better, there would not have been a problem

As a computer security professional, this line of thinking sounds familiar to me: it’s a ‘Default Allow’ strategy. This is where you allow full operation, and only build in safeguards or blocks against exceptional circumstances.

Unfortunately, as any professional in the field can tell you, this is a losing strategy; defense against exceptions is futile, as there will always be an exploit that you did not foresee. This makes your security policy an endless race to catch up to the bad guys, a race where you will always trail the leader.

If the nuclear industry’s view on safety really comes down to assuming safety and planning for contingencies, then any mistrust thrown their way is deserved. This strategy leaves us scrambling for a solution when, not if, a disaster occurs. Fukushima is merely a case in point.

The only way to implement fundamentally safe nuclear power is:

  • Make sure that with no outside intervention the reaction slows down and stops gracefully. Any system that relies on outside influences on the reactor core to keep it stable is fundamentally unsound.
  • Assume failure. Build emergency response procedures assuming total failure of even the passive systems mentioned above. The point is not to think of what can go wrong and try to prevent it, but act to contain the damage if things do go wrong.

As long as these two principles are not implemented, not widely supported, and not communicated to the public, the industry will have to live with a well-deserved reputation of being dishonest about the risks of nuclear power.

Categories: English, Technology
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  1. April 3, 2011 at 10:01 am
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