Workshop Proceeding

The Science of Responding to a Nuclear Reactor Accident: Summary of a Symposium (2014)

The topic of the 2014 Gilbert W. Beebe symposium was prompted by the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that was initiated by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami off the northeast coast of Japan. This was the fourth major nuclear accident that has occurred since the beginning of the nuclear age some 60 years ago. The rarity of nuclear accidents and the limited amount of existing experiences that have been assembled over the decades heightens the importance of learning from the past on how response to these accidents can be improved.

Symposium participants identified several gaps in knowledge and practice that present challenges in responding to a nuclear reactor accident. Themes discussed at the symposium include: The lack of evidence-based science related to nuclear reactor accident response measures and risk reduction; the need for nuclear reactor accident response plans in regions that are not immediately impacted by the accident; the need for formal integration of different information capabilities (for example for environmental monitoring) into a nuclear reactor accident response; and the need to improve communication and coordination. Some participants noted that addressing these challenges effectively may better prepare the United States for responding to a future nuclear reactor accident. Individual speakers and discussants noted that nuclear reactor accidents share some common characteristics with other radiological emergencies, and more broadly with other types of disasters. Therefore, in their view, the themes outlined at the symposium may also be relevant for responses to other types and scales of emergencies.