It was a year ago this week that the world watched in horror as a powerful earthquake and tsunami devastated the northeast coast of Japan.
Then, as if that double disaster were not enough, a new nightmare began to unfold — nuclear reactors hit by the earthquake and tsunami were out of control and melting down, spewing radiation across the region.
While the Japanese people have made a heroic effort clearing away the debris and starting to rebuild cities and towns, the damaged Fukushima reactors remain a serious problem, as does the cleanup of radioactive contamination in the exclusion zone surrounding them.
Japan's ongoing nuclear disaster has raised important questions about the safety of reactors here in the United States, including the nearest facility in Seabrook, N.H.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said Seabrook is safe from the kind of catastrophic failures that caused the Fukushima disaster. But the NRC has also drawn up a lengthy list of new procedures and checks that Seabrook and other plants will need to adhere to in the coming months.
U.S. nuclear plants will be asked to re-evaluate their earthquake and flood hazards and to strengthen emergency operation procedures, an NRC spokesman told a reporter from our sister newspaper, The Daily News of Newburyport.
The Seabrook plant's operator is already tackling that checklist. NextEra Energy Seabrook has spent 8,500 hours re-evaluating risks and safety procedures. The company has invested $1 million in new safety measures, including new diesel backup pumps to cool the reactor in an emergency.
Loss of cooling was a major factor in the Fukushima disaster. The reactor at Seabrook is a different design from the reactors at Fukushima.
And the Seabrook area itself differs from coastal Japan. There are no offshore faults likely to produce magnitude-9.0 earthquakes and subsequent tsunamis.
While there is no absolute guarantee of perfect safety, the odds of a disaster on the New Hampshire coast of a scale similar to Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami are slim indeed. It seems to us the operators of the Seabrook plant are taking prudent steps to protect their reactor and the public.