Since the dawn of the Atomic Age, nuclear experts have labored to imagine the unimaginable and prevent it. They confronted a deceptively simple question: When is a reactor “safe enough” to adequately protect the public from catastrophe? Some experts sought a deceptively simple answer: an estimate that the odds of a major accident were, literally, a million to one. Far from simple, this search to quantify accident risk proved to be a tremendously complex and controversial endeavor, one that altered the very notion of safety in nuclear power and beyond.
Safe Enough? is the first history to trace these contentious efforts, following the Atomic Energy Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as their experts experimented with tools to quantify accident risk for use in regulation and to persuade the public of nuclear power’s safety. The intense conflict over the value of risk assessment offers a window on the history of the nuclear safety debate and the beliefs of its advocates and opponents. Across seven decades and the accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, the quantification of risk has transformed both society’s understanding of the hazards posed by complex technologies and what it takes to make them safe enough.
About the Author
Thomas R. Wellock is the historian of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
"Wellock’s focus on regulatory principles and practices is key to understanding what nuclear regulation really means. . . . Whether [probabilistic risk assessment] is the best path to follow remains an open issue, as the search continues for an answer to the question that provides the title of this excellent history of technology regulation." — Technology and Culture
"A fascinating story, spanning more than seventy years, of attempts in the United States and abroad to assess and measure risk for a controversial energy source. . . . Wellock’s calm, balanced tone, extended historical sweep, and deep excavation of a variety of archival records make this book a must read for graduate students and scholars interested in risk analysis and the U.S. nuclear industry." — California History
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