Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster

Overview


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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Overview


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
11/18/2013
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 Publisher

"No one with an interest in the present and future of nuclear power in the United States should miss it."
Los Angeles Times

"There are other books on Fukushima, but the only one covering this ground is Fukushima, 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."
Library Journal (starred review)

"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."
Kirkus Reviews

"Their thriller-like, minute-by-minute chronicle covers every harrowing technical breakdown, backed by briskly informative illuminations of the science underlying the boiling-water reactors and the systems designed to prevent their meltdown. They are equally precise in their coverage of the human side of the story, from the grave dangers confronting the plant’s valiant staff to the scrambling of public officials to the trauma of evacuees as explosions wracked Fukushima and radiation leaks increased. As the crisis at Fukushima continues, 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."
Booklist (starred review)

"Anyone seriously interested in understanding the issues involved in delivering ‘safe’ nuclear energy will be rewarded by reading this book; anybody involved in delivering nuclear power should be required to read it."
—Robert Gallucci, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

"It’s hard to imagine a more comprehensive and compelling account of what happened after an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011. There are lessons in this book for all of us. This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about nuclear power."
—Robert J. Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting

"A compelling analysis of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima and a pointed challenge to the nuclear industry and its regulators."
—Rush Holt, U.S. House of Representatives

"A riveting account of the unfolding of the Fukushima accident that gives the reader a feel for how hard it is to respond to an unprecedented catastrophe in the face of uncertainty."
—Victor Gilinsky, former commissioner at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

"Everyone who cares about the Faustian bargain we make for nuclear energy must read this terrifying story."
—David Suzuki, co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation and host of The Nature of Things

"This amazing book provides both a blow-by-blow account of the Fukushima accident and an exploration of what needs to be done worldwide to improve nuclear safety. Essential reading, whether you agree with all of its conclusions or not."
—Matthew Bunn, professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government

"Gripping and authoritative, Fukushima opens a new chapter in the debate on the difficult and perhaps impossible goal of safe nuclear power."
—Alexander Glaser, assistant professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

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
2014-01-05
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?
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: 101,675
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


David Lochbaum is the head of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project and author of Nuclear Waste Disposal Crisis. He lives in Chattanooga. Edwin Lyman is a senior scientist in the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He lives in Washington, D.C. Susan Q. Stranahan is the author of Susquehanna: River of Dreams. She lives in Maine. The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world.
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