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Nuclear Risk In Japan: What The World Should Learn

Nuclear Risk In Japan: What The World Should Learn

Editorial: The Japanese earthquake sparks danger at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, but not panic. A European Viewpoint.

French nuclear power plant (Ylegrand)

Until the situation is stabilized at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, the threat of a major atomic catastrophe continues to hang over Japan, and the entire world. Is it best to flee Tokyo and head west for Kansai? Or is it wiser to leave Japan altogether and go abroad for fear of a radioactive cloud? Who would not ask themselves these questions?

Given the present circumstances, any country but Japan would already have witnessed massive scenes of panic or looting. In Tokyo, where 40 million people live at a distance of little more than 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the damaged nuclear power plant, people have managed to remain calm and disciplined. Their remarkable dignity and civic sense has stirred the world's admiration: Japan's collective willpower is derived from neither the authorities nor the government, but from the people.

"Safety culture" rules and transparency have not always been a strong suit of local authorities, which is a shame since it is essential element for building public trust. Previous cases of serious nuclear accidents -- such as the one in Tokai-mura (where two people died) or the one in Monju, Tokyo -- have not been fully transparent, either trying to hide information or even provided fake documents in order to protect local administration or national government figures. The Japanese people's dignified reaction to their country's woes should therefore be admired.

It should also serve as a lesson to all those who have seized the Japanese crisis to lambast the entire nuclear industry, in some cases even calling for a complete shutdown. Live footage of the explosion at Fukushima Dai-ichi (the explosion happened at the plant, not inside the reactor, as some have claimed) is certainly poignant, and it has raised questions about the safety of nuclear power plants worldwide. The Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters produced a wave of public distrust that, as we all know, has lasted more than a quarter of a century.

So does this new accident mean that the entire nuclear industry is at fault? It is undoubtedly important to remember that considerable progress has been achieved since the Fukushima-Dai-ichi reactors were built 40 years ago, especially in terms of safety and transparency. The third-generation reactors built today are capable of coping with even more dramatic accidents than the ones which currently affect Japan. The voices of nuclear constructors may be inaudible in the midst of the current clamor, but that is no reason for the world to ignore them.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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