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Nuclear Meltdown in Fukushima: Human Accident or Natural Disaster?


Beth A. Carle
Mechanical, Manufacturing, and Electromechanical Engineering Technology
Rochester Institute of Technology


This decision case study is based on the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan that began on March 11, 2011 and examines its status through September 2013.  The seven parts of the case were originally developed for delivery over two 75-minute class periods.  Day 1 focuses on the technical background of the accident, the effects on the local population, and cleanup efforts.  Day 2 focuses on the human actions that contributed to the accident and its progression, the plans intended to prevent an accident, and the responses of the government and electric company.  Day 2 wraps up with a discussion of the overall question of "Was the Fukushima disaster primarily a natural disaster exacerbated by human actions, or was it primarily a human accident precipitated by a natural disaster?" This case was developed as a starting point for an introduction to nuclear energy course at the junior or senior level in engineering technology or engineering.  It could also be used at a lower level and in other energy-related courses.  It presumes little-to-no nuclear energy background.  Technical background on nuclear reactors and radiation is provided in the teaching notes.

  • Describe the role of nuclear power world-wide.
  • Outline the accident at Fukushima.
  • Discuss the human toll of the accident.
  • Describe the cleanup efforts.
  • Discuss how nuclear power plants are designed to avoid accidents.
  • Discuss emergency planning and response.
  • Discuss how the management of the accident has affected the residents of the surrounding areas.
Keywords: Fukushima; nuclear energy; disaster; regulatory bodies; radiation; tsunami; evacuation; Chernobyl
Topical Area: Ethics, Regulatory issues, Science and the media
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Analysis (Issues), Dilemma/Decision, Discussion
Language: English
Subject Headings: Engineering (General)   Natural Hazards  
Date Posted: 9/24/2015
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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