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Originally published Sunday, March 23, 2014 at 6:15 AM

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‘Fukushima:’ a catastrophe that could happen here

The new book “Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster” documents the cascading catastrophes that led to three nuclear meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan in 2011 and warns that the sequence of events could happen anywhere.

The Washington Post

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“Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster”

by David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Q. Stranahan and the Union of Concerned Scientists

New Press, 309 pp., $27.95

In 1982, less than four years after Three Mile Island’s partial meltdown, members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) resisted the need to plan for worst-case scenarios at nuclear plants. The chances of a radiation leak causing widespread death, one member said, were “less than the possibility of a jumbo jet crashing into a football stadium during the Super Bowl.”

Unfortunately, at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011, that jumbo jet came down. In “Fukushima,” two scientists, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group, recount the unlikely story of an earthquake that unleashed a tsunami that caused three nuclear meltdowns.

“Fukushima Daiichi unmasked the weaknesses of nuclear-power-plant design and the long-standing flaws in operations and regulatory oversight,” the authors write. “It is the saga of a technology promoted through the careful nurturing of a myth: the myth of safety.”

“Fukushima” reviews the unpredictable, unprecedented events that unfolded in Japan on March 11 three years ago: a “station blackout” at a plant that needed electricity to prevent disaster; heroic workers MacGyvering solutions to never-imagined problems; and the bumbling of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the Japanese government and the NRC after the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Though the book’s language is often technical, its message is unabashedly activist. “TEPCO and government regulators were merely the Japanese affiliate of a global nuclear establishment of power companies, vendors, regulators, and supporters, all of whom share the complacent attitude that made an accident like Fukushima possible,” they write.

“Fukushima” is a great guide to yesterday’s nuclear disaster that could happen tomorrow.

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