A team of risk experts who have carried out the biggest-ever analysis of nuclear accidents warn that the next disaster on the scale of Chernobyl or Fukushima may happen much sooner than the public realizes.
Researchers at the University of Sussex, in England, and ETH Zurich, in Switzerland, have analyzed more than 200 nuclear accidents, and – estimating and controlling for effects of industry responses to previous disasters – provide a grim assessment of the risk of nuclear power.
Their conclusion is that, while nuclear accidents have substantially decreased in frequency, this has been accomplished by the suppression of moderate-to-large events. They estimate that Fukushima- and Chernobyl-scale disasters are still more likely than not once or twice per century, and that accidents on the scale of the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island in the USA (a damage cost of about $10 Billion) are more likely than not to occur every 10-20 years.
The team also call for a fundamental rethink of how accidents are rated, arguing that the current method (the discrete seven-point INES scale) is highly imprecise, poorly defined, and often inconsistent.