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Lessons From The Fukushima Disaster For California

A fire engine douses the spent fuel pool of Reactor 3 at Fukushima Dai-ichi.

Credit: Courtesy of Japan Ministry of Defense

Above: A fire engine douses the spent fuel pool of Reactor 3 at Fukushima Dai-ichi.

We're sorry. This audio clip is no longer available. A transcript has been made available.

Four years ago on Tuesday, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake rattled the coast of Japan. That quake triggered a 14-meter tsunami that slammed into the country’s eastern coast, right into the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The wall of water knocked down an inadequate seawall around the plant, shutting down its cooling system and causing a partial meltdown. More than 1,600 people in Fukushima were killed.

Today, California remains the home for two seaside nuclear power plants. San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is in the decommissioning process, while Diablo Canyon near San Luis Obispo is the state's last operating nuclear plant.

Both plants are home to nuclear fuel and waste that isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

David Victor, a professor at UC San Diego's Graduate School of International Relations, said the U.S. regulatory system is superior to Japan’s.

“I am overall impressed by our system,” Victor told KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday. “If you compare the U.S. system to the Japanese system, it’s pretty extraordinary what we have achieved.”

Victor, who also serves as chairman of the community panel on decommissioning the San Onofre plant, said the risks are lower for the California plants.

“The typography of the floor here in California is very different from Fukushima,” Victor said. “We in general have seen lower risks here, but they aren’t at zero. We’re in a totally different situation here right now.”

Rochelle Becker, executive director of the nonprofit Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, said transparency remains an issue for the U.S. when it comes to the nuclear power plants.

“I don’t think we’ve listened to all the lessons,” Becker said. “We’re still having a little problem with transparency here in the United States. I think there are so many unanswered questions.”

Lessons From The Fukushima Disaster For California

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