Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster


On March 11, 2011, an earthquake large enough to knock the earth from its axis sent a massive tsunami speeding toward the Japanese coast and the aging and vulnerable Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactors. Over the following weeks, the world watched in horror as a natural disaster became a man-made catastrophe: fail-safes failed, cooling systems shut down, nuclear rods melted.

In the first definitive account of the Fukushima disaster, two leading experts from the Union of ...

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Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster

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On March 11, 2011, an earthquake large enough to knock the earth from its axis sent a massive tsunami speeding toward the Japanese coast and the aging and vulnerable Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactors. Over the following weeks, the world watched in horror as a natural disaster became a man-made catastrophe: fail-safes failed, cooling systems shut down, nuclear rods melted.

In the first definitive account of the Fukushima disaster, two leading experts from the Union of Concerned Scientists, David Lochbaum and Edwin Lyman, team up with journalist Susan Q. Stranahan, the lead reporter of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize–winning coverage of the Three Mile Island accident, to tell this harrowing story. Fukushima combines a fast-paced, riveting account of the tsunami and the nuclear emergency it created with an explanation of the science and technology behind the meltdown as it unfolded in real time. Bolstered by photographs, explanatory diagrams, and a comprehensive glossary, the narrative also extends to other severe nuclear accidents to address both the terrifying question of whether it could happen elsewhere and how such a crisis can be averted in the future.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the first comprehensive report of the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe, Lochbaum, Lyman, and other members of the Union of the Concerned Scientists, along with journalist Stranahan, give a blow-by-blow account of the events on March 11, 2011, when extreme nature collided with aging, outmoded nuclear reactors on Japan’s northern coast. Stranahan, the former lead reporter of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize–winning team coverage of the Three Mile Island accident, adds spark to a narrative framed by the scientists’ disturbing facts about the magnitude 9.0 earthquake, one of the five strongest ever recorded, that rattled Japan with a three-minute tremor, followed by a massive tsunami whose waves flooded the power plant. Although the Japanese government and plant officials first assured the public that it was safe, in the subsequent days the disaster terrified citizens as the plant’s fail-safes were overwhelmed—a loss of all external power, cooling systems compromised, overheated fuel rods exposed to fire and explosions. While some serious issues and recommendations of tighter regulations and updating oversight enhance this eye-opening expose, all research points to the scary fact that America can suffer a Fukushima-type event if critical steps are not taken. 39 images. (Feb.)
From The Critics
"It’s been over thirty years since a reactor in the United States melted down. Some believe this indicates that all safety problems have been addressed and no challenges remain. That’s not 'mission accomplished,' it’s just plain luck. The Japanese thought the same thing until their luck ran out."
—from Fukushima
Kirkus Reviews
Technical reports written by committee are almost always dull affairs; this is an exception. The book is a gripping, suspenseful page-turner finely crafted to appeal both to people familiar with the science and those with only the barest inkling of how nuclear power works. Even with the broad outlines of the story in the public record, the authors have uncovered many important details that never came to light during the saturation-level media coverage. The Union of Concerned Scientists has long cast a critical eye on the nuclear industry, and the tone should surprise no one, but its criticisms are balanced, insightful and impossible to dismiss. Reactors are protected by multiple fail-safes, but "[a]ll of Fukushima's defensive barriers failed for the same reason. Each had a limit that provided too little safety margin to prevent error." Essentially, a single unforeseen event, if it exceeds the components' design specifications, will simultaneously disable multiple layers of protection. Furthermore, the safety guidelines proved biased toward "internal events," utterly failing to account for "a sustained total loss of electrical power and the inability to obtain needed supplies because of damaged roads" that resulted from a broader natural disaster. Incredibly, the threat posed by tsunamis on the northeast coast of Japan was never taken seriously; in 2009, Tokyo Electric Power Company management nixed a seawall at Fukushima, concluding, "a tall barricade in front of a nuclear plant would send the wrong message to the public." Ultimately, the authors warn that failure on a similar scale is eminently possible at many American facilities. The fact that worst-case scenarios were finally averted in this instance may be a mixed blessing, as already, new protective measures are being abandoned or watered down, and even in Japan, new nuclear plants are under construction. The events at Fukushima provided a graphic warning of the dangers posed by nuclear power; the most important question asked by this book is, what will be done about them?
From the Publisher

"An indispensable reminder of the nuclear power industry's failure to learn from the past."
Los Angeles Times

"This exacting and chilling record of epic failures in risk assessment, regulation, preparedness, and transparency will stand as a cautionary analysis of the perils of nuclear power the world over."

"A vivid picture emerges of utter confusion in the hours and days after the tsunami."

"A riveting and meticulous account of the disaster as it unfolded."
The Japan Times

"[An] eye-opening exposé…[that] points to the scary fact that America can suffer a Fukushima-type event if critical steps are not taken."
Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
★ 02/01/2014
Lochbaum (head scientist, Nuclear Safety Project, Union of Concerned Scientists [UCS]; Nuclear Waste Disposal Crisis), Edwin Lyman (senior scientist, Global Security Program, UCS), and science writer Susan Q. Stranahan (Susquehanna, River of Dreams), with the UCS itself as an additional author, write compellingly of why the tsunami-driven Fukushima tragedy of March 2011 happened and how to avert future nuclear disasters. During the ordeal, Masao Yoshida, the nuclear engineer in charge of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, inspired his workers to persevere despite miscommunications from authorities and a litany of errors: water hoses too short to reach reactors, insufficient backup batteries, missing instruction manuals, and more. Japan's emergency plans included plenty of redundancies but did not anticipate a 42-foot tsunami. They should have, say the authors, who explain why the disaster was compounded by human error and corruption. They detail how nations suffer a too-cozy relationship between their regulatory agencies and their nuclear industry, underestimating disaster modeling with the refrain, "It can't happen here." Yet it does. VERDICT There are other books on Fukushima, but the only one covering this ground is David Elliott's Fukushima: Impacts and Implications, which takes a more global and policy-related approach. Told with economy, drama, and scientific accuracy, this book is a must for anyone involved in energy assessment or concerned about nuclear energy issues.—Michal Strutin, Santa Clara Univ. Lib., CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781595589088
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 2/11/2014
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 287,223
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

David Lochbum is the head of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project, and is the author of Nuclear Waste Disposal Crisis. He lives in Tennessee and is frequently invited to testify before Congress on nuclear safety matters. Edwin Lyman is a senior scientist in the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and was formerly president of the Nuclear Control Institute. He has published many articles and letters on nuclear issues, and lives in Washington, D.C. Susan Stranahan has written about nuclear energy and the environment for more than three decades, and is the author of Susquehanna, River of Dreams. Her reporting on Three Mile Island for the Philadelphia Inquirer earned that publication a Pulitzer Prize. She lives in Maine.

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