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In wake of Japanese nuclear crisis, University professors discuss impact on policy

Haley Hoard/Daily
Engineering Prof. John Lee speaks on the panel at a town hall meeting on nuclear energy in the MLB on March 26. Buy this photo

BY BRANDON SHAW
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 27, 2011

The recent earthquake in Japan and subsequent nuclear power plant disaster at Fukushima Dai-ichi will serve as a crucial model for establishing more efficient safety regulations of nuclear power plants around the world, according to University experts.

About 50 people gathered in the Modern Languages Building Saturday afternoon to listen to University nuclear engineering professors discuss a range of subjects related to the nuclear fallout that stemmed from the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, including the importance of establishing increased preventative measures at power plants.

John Lee, Bill Martin and Kim Kearfott — professors in the University’s Department of Radiological Sciences and Nuclear Engineering — as well as David Dixon, a scientist and representative from Los Alamos National Laboratory, participated in the symposium that was moderated by James Holloway, College of Engineering associate dean for undergraduate education.

The audience, which was mostly comprised of University students, listened as the professors discussed the comparisons between the accident at the Japanese power plant Fukushima Dai-ichi and a similar 1979 incident at Three Mile Island, where a nuclear power plant in Dauphin County, Penn. partially melted down.

Kearfott — an expert on safety precautions in nuclear energy and nuclear power plants — told the audience that the crises at Three Mile Island and Fukushima Dai-ichi bear several similarities, but also vast differences.

According to Kearfott, the accident at Three Mile Island led to the implementation of drug testing for employees and the introduction of a better system of communication among nuclear power plants worldwide.

While the incident led to positive changes in the regulation of nuclear power plants, Kearfott added she wanted to refrain from a “post-analysis” of the crisis in Japan since speculation may be premature.

However, Kearfott hypothesized that as a result of the incident at Fukushima Dai-ichi, a better system of analyzing coolant pools and establishing backup coolant systems will most likely be enacted. She noted that coolant systems were a core cause of the nuclear disaster in Japan — a problem that should be corrected out of concern for the health of the people in and around the plant.

The 9.0 magnitude quake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11 and devastated the northern part of the country. The official death total has risen to 10,100 and more than 17,000 other people are still missing.

Engineering senior Ryan Penney — who is studying nuclear engineering and radiological sciences and was the principal organizer of the event — said in an interview after the panel discussion that the purpose of the event was to educate the public about the crisis and its subsequent effects on the power plant and individuals who live near it.

Penney said there has been “too much speculation and possible misinformation by the media” about the crisis, adding that the event’s purpose was to provide a more scientific approach to the recent events.


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