IEEE Spectrum has an excellent writeup of the situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which was precipitated by the recent tsunami there. Here’s my response, reposted here for archiving purposes:
Speaking as a nuclear power advocate myself, this is a huge black eye for the technology in terms of *uninformed* public perception. However, there are a couple important points to bear in mind: First, this disaster, unlike TMI & Chernobyl, was precipitated by a natural disaster, not a design or operational flaw. That makes this the first major nuke plant failure in the world in nearly 25 years. It also means that there have been no major design or operational failures anywhere in that span of time either. Also, although the article says Japan has “top-notch nuclear technology,” this is probably just a relative statement in comparison to other operating plants, since news reports say the plant in question is 40 years old. In fact, one of the reasons given for flooding the reactor with seawater – thus permanently destroying it – was that it was old anyway. The fact is that there is no shortage of newer, safer, much less meltdown prone reactor designs that have simply not been built. These designs are representative of “top notch” nuke tech, *not* the Japanese reactors in question. Pebble bed reactors, for example, are designed to passively reduce to safe power levels during accidents. By no means am I faulting Japanese authorities for using the reactors they do now, but I must say that characterizing them as state of the art is an unfair representation of nuclear power generation technology.