When the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami struck Japan, my first reaction was that the tragedy could have been so much worse. Japan was remarkably well-prepared for large earthquakes and tsunamis, and its toll of dead and missing, though large, was less than a tenth of the losses in the 2005 tsunami in Indonesia and the Haitian earthquake of 2010. But soon word came that the tsunami had washed out key backup generators at the Fukushima Dai'ichi power plant and that multiple meltdowns were possible.
Because I had written a chapter ("Fission with Melted Rods") about nuclear reactor meltdowns in my 1995 book Catastrophe! Great Engineering Failure--and Success (W. H. Freeman, Scientific American Books for Young Readers, http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?et=1109336871007&s=-1&e=001fYQQmoPSj8upKaGogcT4peevDGIrJiGDXUVU9K_t1W4d_q0-P3Wka5bsBY6qrYdC-ZfvvRLVntB-tSkUj_VE8o3VH4cwGWIvLGWBFInx6R8XX4ber6yRAA==, I knew that the same political arguments that followed the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents were likely to arise after Fukushima, and they would probably get much louder.
In Catastrophe!, I predicted that my readers would have to make difficult political choices about nuclear power as adults. I noted that as time passed, reactor technology would improve, while the need for electricity would grow. I didn't specifically mention that nuclear energy doesn't produce greenhouse gases, but I was aware that global warming was likely to become a major concern and would be an argument in favor of going nuclear. I was right on target with that analysis.
Now the big question from Fukushima, which is still being argued about, is what the events teach us about the necessity for and possibility of building safe nuclear power. The economic cost and societal impact on Japan are still being evaluated. So are questions of whether the meltdowns were preventable and how likely a similar event would be with new standards and technology. These questions will need time and careful analysis to be answered. To read the rest of Fred's interview go to Spellbinders. You can also check out our other articles from the newsletter/blog designed to help educators and authors inspire lifelong reading.