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Fukushima Six Years After: East Asia’s Nuclear Energy Conundrum

Courtesy of thierry ehrmann/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) on 16 March 2017.

Synopsis

Human factors such as complacency and lack of questioning attitude have been  identified as key contributors to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. But six years after the incident, East Asian states have yet to address human factors to make nuclear energy safe and secure in the region.

Commentary

JAPAN COMMEMORATED the sixth anniversary of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster on 11 March 2017. Since the tsunami–triggered disaster, qualified observers assess that the biggest risk associated with nuclear power comes not from the technology of the infrastructure but from human factors. The Fukushima incident must be regarded as a technological disaster triggered not just by “unforeseeable” natural hazards (earthquake, tsunami), but also human errors.

Comprehensive reports on Fukushima, including findings made by the Japanese parliament and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), examine how human factors such as the complacency of operators due to ‘safety myth’, the absence of regulatory independence from the nuclear industry, and reluctance to question authority all contributed to the “accident”. The Fukushima incident, like others before it, accentuates the utmost importance of addressing human and organisational factors so as to prevent nuclear accidents from occurring, or mitigate their consequences if they do occur.

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Iran’s Beef

U.S.A. embassy

The former US embassy in Teheran, Image: Örlygur Hnefill/Flickr.

This article was originally published by the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) on 21 December 2014.

“Where you stand depends on where you sit” is an old maxim of politics. Where Iranians sit is on a lot of history that inclines them to resent and mistrust America and Britain, and mistrust in particular anything that would compromise their freedom of action. It’s a history of which we in the West are barely aware, but which determines in large part Iran’s view of the world.

The current talks between Iran and six other powers about Iran and nuclear weapon potential are mostly about technical capabilities. The history is rarely taken into account by the other participants. Yet it is a factor.

Iranians remember with chagrin that for a long time, outside powers decided what policies they should follow and who be their leader. » More

No New Dawn Likely in US-Iran Relations

Obama phoning Rouhani

President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. Photo: The White House.

Iran has a new president, Hassan Rouhani. He speaks eloquently about wanting a rapprochement with the West and of a desire to refrain from developing a nuclear weapons programme. The Obama administration has responded by opening the first serious high level diplomatic engagement with Iran since 1979. The two leaders have even spoken by phone. But, the odds are that this is a waste of time despite Rohani’s insistence that the environment for negotiations is ‘quite different‘ from that of the past.

Any official representative of the Iranian regime cannot be trusted. The regime has frequently used brinkmanship tactics over the nuclear issue for its own benefit. This takes the familiar form of Iran coming to the table when it feels the squeeze of negative attention and/or sanctions. After a period of ‘diplomacy’ Iran then retreats from the talks and goes back to the business of being a pariah state. Meanwhile, an unbroken pursuit of attaining mastery over the nuclear cycle goes on. The goal always has been for Iran to have a nuclear option due to its precarious regional situation in which it is under threat from all directions, including internal. This pattern has repeated itself so often in the last decade that there is no reason to believe Rouhani this time. » More

Let Iran Have its Nuclear Technology

Nuclear Energy. Image by Sakucae/flickr.

As the United States prepares to head for the finish line in an election year the period between now and the time when the next administration assumes the helm of the nation can be the most critical in terms of foreign policy. Call it the political equivalent of the sailing on the dark side of the moon.

This period in nether-politics can be a dangerous one as parties involved in a conflict can take advantage of this lack of focus from US policy to push ahead with programs they otherwise would find great opposition from American policymakers. Israel’s desire to rid itself of the threat posed by Iran regarding the Islamic Republic’s pursuit of nuclear technology comes to mind in such a situation as new rumblings of an Israeli strike on Iran are getting louder.

As we draw closer to election day in November the administration will find itself more and more caught up in getting the president re-elected and the president himself more and more caught up in darting form state to state to win back last minute indecisive voters, so much so, that foreign policy does not just take a back seat to domestic policy, it is relegated to the back of the bus, where it is likely to remain until after inauguration day in January. » More

Democracy, Science and Nuclear Reactors in India

Photo: Sakucae/flickr

Speaking at a major event in New Delhi earlier this month, former Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad alleged that India’s problem is its democracy. The country, he advised, would do better with less rather than more democracy. With hordes of protestors on hunger strike over the construction of India’s newest nuclear reactors at Koodankulam, one might not find it hard to second-guess the source of inspiration behind Dr Mahathir’s astute observation. Democracy, one might argue, has led to policy paralysis in modern India; nothing could be more illustrative of this than the now-rusting steel of Koodankulam. For a country which is the world’s fourth largest consumer of energy and heavily dependent on imports to satisfy its energy demands, nuclear energy seems to be the only way out of the perennial and potentially dangerous problem of energy insecurity.

Built at an exorbitant cost to the Indian exchequer (with help from our all-weather Russian friends), the Koodankulam reactors should already be operational. Instead, the reactors are at the center of controversies concerning safety and environmental issues. The population in the surrounding areas is vehemently boycotting the reactors being brought online, fearing drastic environmental degradation and potential loss of habitat if something goes wrong. While reservations were apparent right from the project’s conception fifteen years ago, the Fukushima nuclear accident has undoubtedly led to an intensification of resistance. » More

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