Posted on Mon 14 March 2011 in geek
Let me start by saying that I in no way want to minimise the horror the Japanese have been going through. By any standard the recent earthquake has a big one. Despite their advanced technology and modern 21st century infrastructure there isn't a lot more they could have done to mitigate the effects of nature at it's peak. Having said that the fact Japan is a modern advanced democratic state will no doubt aid it in picking itself up and rebuilding.
However now the news media have shown the awesome power of nature and replayed the footage they have latched onto a new story. I've seen reports comparing the situation to Chernobyl and 3 Mile Island. The fact the buildings housing the reactors have blown up in a photogenic way has no doubt added to the drama. I found it useful to read up on the details in plain English as written by a good friend of mine. As someone who actually knows about nuclear safety she's well worth the read.
There may well be questions about this incident after they have resolved the situation. Nothing can ever be made 100% safe, not everything can be anticipated. What will happen is a long careful analysis of what didn't work (and what did) which will inform the engineering that will go into the next generation of reactors (these having been built in 1971). The anti-nuclear campaigns should think on these facts before declaring that Fukushima demonstrates we should give up on building our own next generation power stations.