Editorial : Nuclear safety - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/16/nuclear-safety.html

THE catastrophe that hit Japan on Friday has assumed terrifying proportions. Thousands of people have died in the earthquake and consequent tsunami, and half a million have been displaced. Now, the stricken nation is facing a seemingly escalating crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. After a series of blasts and fires, by Tuesday radiation levels in the area surrounding the plant had reached harmful levels. The explosion on Tuesday morning damaged one of the reactors’ containment vessels raising the threat of more serious radioactive leaks. The world must salute the courage of the workers inside the plant, amongst them 12 Pakistanis, attempting to contain the crisis. Outside, the Japanese government has extended the danger zone, warning residents to evacuate or stay indoors. Observers are saying that this is the worst crisis faced by Japan since the Second World War. The irony is that the tragedy that hit Japan in 1945 was also nuclear in nature.
Prone as it is to earthquakes and resultant tsunamis, one can readily believe that Japan would have in place every safety measure possible to protect its people and infrastructure. It is inconceivable that it would have slipped up on nuclear safety. But, as the devastating power of nature has shown, it is not always possible to guard against natural disasters. Consequently, countries around the world are scrambling to review the safety levels of their nuclear units, many of them amid anti-nuclear technology protests. A US congressman has called for a moratorium on new nuclear plants in seismically active zones. Germany, too, put in place a moratorium on extending the operation of existing plants in order to review safety standards, while Swiss officials have suspended approval for three new plants. India, where the government has vigorously pursued nuclear energy, has also ordered a safety review of its atomic units.
Pakistan must undertake a similar exercise. The Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority, which is a government body but does not operate under the Atomic Energy Commission, monitors the nuclear facilities. Yet natural disasters can strike at any time and be of any intensity. The wide area affected by the 2005 earthquake would indicate that the facilities at Chashma 1 and 2, Kahuta, Khushab and at the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology lie in earthquake zones. The Karachi Nuclear Power Plant, meanwhile, is on the coast. Pakistan is not a volcanic zone, which is more susceptible to earthquakes, and neither does it witness tsunami alerts. Nevertheless, the government needs to reassure the people that natural disaster contingencies are in place at the nuclear units.

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