Lessons Learned, from NASCAR?
01 Apr, 2011
[Approx. Read Time: 2 min]
In the recent weeks following the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami affecting Japan, the generation of electricity by means of nuclear fission energy has been a much debated topic. However, I am still convinced that there is a role for SAFE, CLEAN, and RELIABLE fission energy in the United States. I do not intend to make light of the situation in Japan, as the events occurring at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant are very serious and should be the basis of many lessons learned for the international nuclear industry.
Without revealing too much of my “southern culture” and which some may refer to as “being a redneck,” I would like to look at how NASCAR responded to a tragedy and implemented lessons learned when the sport lost one of its most iconic figures. During the 2001 Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt passed away as a result of a last lap crash; instantly NASCAR was changed. In the months following his death, NASCAR examined the fundamentals of the sport and identified ways to improve safety. As a result, drivers were required to wear head and neck restraint systems, crews began to wear protective equipment, barriers were added to retaining walls at tracks to dissipate energy during accidents, and the cars were redesigned to increase driver safety.
Some of the major lessons learned from the Fukushima accident will be similar to the lessons learned by NASCAR a decade ago, such as ensuring fundamentals of design, verifying preparations for accidents, as well as asking the question, “what can be improved?”
Examining the events that have occurred at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant, there is an obvious item that could be revisited here in the United States. The item that can be improved upon is the permanent storage of radioactive waste. Although the nuclear industry currently provides safe and sufficient storage of radioactive nuclear waste, a solution that provides reduction of waste and permanent means of isolation would be ideal. This solution I am referring to is one which is viable. It would include reprocessing of spent fuel, which is currently performed in other countries, and a permanent storage facility for waste, such as the Yucca Mountain Waste Depository project in Nevada that was cancelled by politicians last year.
Although NASCAR made fundamental changes to improve safety, they did not stop racing or even reduce the speed at which the drivers compete. That is because speed in NASCAR is a necessity of the sport, in the same way that SAFE, CLEAN, and RELIABLE fission energy is a necessity of the world that we live in.