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“What—Me Worry?”

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Abstract:

Infrequently, it seems that a significant accident precursor or, worse, an actual accident, involving a commercial nuclear power reactor occurs to remind us of the need to reexamine the safety of this important electrical power technology from a risk perspective. Twenty‐five years since the major core damage accident at Chernobyl in the Ukraine, the Fukushima reactor complex in Japan experienced multiple core damages as a result of an earthquake‐induced tsunami beyond either the earthquake or tsunami design basis for the site. Although the tsunami itself killed tens of thousands of people and left the area devastated and virtually uninhabitable, much concern still arose from the potential radioactive releases from the damaged reactors, even though there was little population left in the area to be affected. As a lifelong probabilistic safety analyst in nuclear engineering, even I must admit to a recurrence of the doubt regarding nuclear power safety after Fukushima that I had experienced after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. This article is my attempt to “recover” my personal perspective on acceptable risk by examining both the domestic and worldwide history of commercial nuclear power plant accidents and attempting to quantify the risk in terms of the frequency of core damage that one might glean from a review of operational history.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2011.01780.x

Publication date: 2012-09-01

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