When safe enough is not good enough: Organizing safety at Chernobyl

By Sonja D. Schmid, March 1, 2011

The threat of global climate change has pushed governments around the world to consider alternative energy sources, including nuclear energy. As the interest in nuclear power increases, serious discussions on safety must resume before moving forward. There is no better time than now, the twenty-fifth anniversary of Chernobyl, to revisit the causes of the worst civilian nuclear disaster in history in an attempt to prevent future accidents. The author reviews initial reports that accused operators of violating instructions, but also looks at evidence that surfaced in the early 1990s, which suggested that the reactor design, combined with a lack of information sharing, were to blame for the explosion. While it is imperative to address human error, design flaws, and communication failures, the author argues that organizational characteristics of the Soviet nuclear power sector deserve more attention by scholars and policy makers. Chernobyl was not a disaster waiting to happen, the author writes, but occurred despite ongoing efforts to improve technical design, operator training, and inter-organizational communication. Chernobyl, in this interpretation, illuminates that what the nuclear industry considers “safe enough” is always linked to specific historical periods, cultural settings, and institutional arrangements, and that even the best efforts to ensure nuclear safety may not be good enough.

RELATED:
RELATED: Comparing nuclear accident responses at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima

As the coronavirus crisis shows, we need science now more than ever.

The Bulletin elevates expert voices above the noise. But as an independent, nonprofit media organization, our operations depend on the support of readers like you. Help us continue to deliver quality journalism that holds leaders accountable. Your support of our work at any level is important. In return, we promise our coverage will be understandable, influential, vigilant, solution-oriented, and fair-minded. Together we can make a difference.

Share: 

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE

RELATED POSTS

Receive Email
Updates