© UnknownFukushima nuclear power plant
In the aftermath of a disaster, the strengths of any society become immediately visible. The cohesiveness, resilience, technological brilliance, and extraordinary competence of the Japanese are now on full display. One report
- a town of 25,000, annihilated by the tsunami - describes volunteer firefighters working to clear rubble and search for survivors; military personnel and police efficiently directing traffic and supplies; survivors not only "calm and pragmatic" but coping "with politeness and sometimes amazingly good cheer."
Thanks to these strengths, Japan will eventually recover. But at least one Japanese nuclear power complex will not. As I write, three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station appear to have lost their cooling capacity
. Engineers are flooding the plant with seawater - effectively destroying it - then letting off radioactive steam. There have been two explosions. By the time you read this article, the situation may be worse.
Yet Japan's nuclear power stations were designed with the same care and precision as everything else in the country. More to the point, Japan is the only country in the world to have experienced true nuclear catastrophe. They had an incentive to build well, in other words, as well as the capability, the laws, and regulations to do so. Which leads to the unavoidable question: If the competent and technologically brilliant Japanese can't build a completely safe reactor, who can?