Lessons from Fukushima: Interview with Bill Webster

For the second installment of the “Lessons from Fukushima” video series, William E. Webster, Jr. relays the incredible degree of international cooperation undertaken in the wake of the accident, and draws conclusions for the future of nuclear power and climate change.

Bill WebsterAs the Executive Vice President for Industry Strategy at the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) since 2007, Webster was directly involved in the recovery from the Fukushima disaster. In our interview, he recounts all that was done to foster international cooperation and support for the Japanese nuclear industry, including:

  • Immediate formation and dispatch of a support team that worked directly with Japanese engineers at Tepco,
  • Completion of a study with unfettered access one year after the accident, and subsequent publication of a comprehensive report, and
  • Facilitation of information exchange between Japanese and American Chief Nuclear Officers, with all 30 U.S. CNOs visiting Japan in October 2013.

In the intervening time, Webster emphasizes some important developments that these global exchanges have garnered. In particular, industry conceptualization of scale of preparation and decontamination/decommissioning practices have drastically shifted. The U.S. nuclear industry in particular now bases preparedness on an exaggerated worst-case scenarios, and the international industry, led by Japan, has made dramatic advancements in technological fields such as robotics to reach highly-contaminated reactor components as well as water management and containment systems.

He emphasizes that many of the developments seen in the U.S. can be attributed to an increase in information-sharing within Japan itself, allowing the Japanese industry to best synthesize and share its lessons learned with the world. Webster asserts that the legacy of Tepco in particular will be defined not so much by what happened, but by the response in the wake of the disaster.

After reflecting on the disaster itself, during which he lauds the men and women who provided the initial response for their tenacity and courage under unprecedented conditions, Webster proceeds to opine on the implications for the future of nuclear power. He acknowledges, “The Fukushima accident has had a significant impact on how the public views nuclear power across the world,” citing recent shifts in Germany and the U.S.

He asserts, however, that “Nuclear power is going to play an important role in a carbon-free energy profile going forward… As a matter of fact, we’re not going to meet our carbon targets and goals without a significant role by nuclear.” The role nuclear plays in the future will be dependent on how well the industry learns from Fukushima and how the industry continues to optimize its resilience and operations moving forward.

To close, Webster offers three major takeaways from Fukushima:

  1. The unimaginable can occur, and we must be prepared for it.
  2. Our view of nuclear safety culture needed to be redefined, and we have since made significant progress.
  3. The nuclear energy industry is interconnected worldwide and we must be prepared to support any organization that experiences an event because the level of response required is beyond the capacity of any one organization.

Ultimately, Bill Webster acknowledges that the Fukushima disaster was historic in scale and fundamentally altered many facets of the nuclear energy industry. He maintains, however, that these shifts actually increased the transparency and innovation of the sector, and will maximize its ability to contribute to the global fight against climate change in the future.

Did you miss the first video in the series? Be sure to check out our interview with Randy Edington here.