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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.

Read the original article in French

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