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Najmedin Meshkati Discusses Nuclear Safety Culture On Air and In Print

The Epstein and Astani Department safety expert has been studying reactor accidents for years, including an investigation of Chernobyl
lisa Heckaman
April 25, 2011 —

From his web biography: Najmedin (Najm) Meshkati is a USC professor in the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and in the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the Viterbi School of Engineering. His research is concerned primarily with the risk reduction and reliability enhancement of complex and large-scale industrial complexes.

Safety expert Najmedin Meshkati has been widely quoted in the media regarding the developing Japan reactor problems
  These include transportation, energy generation (including nuclear power) plants, petrochemical plants and refineries, transmission and distribution grids, gas and liquid fuels pipeline systems and telecommunication networks. A characteristic common to many of these high-risk systems is the large amount of potentially hazardous materials concentrated in single sites under the centralized control of a few human operators.

The effects of human error in these systems are often neither observable nor reversible; therefore, error recovery is either too late or impossible. Potential catastrophic breakdowns of these systems (e.g., nuclear power plants), which often are characterized as ‘low probability, high consequence,’ pose serious threats for workers in the plant, the local public, and possibly the neighboring region.

In May 1997, Meshkati was invited by the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Yasushi Akashi, to present his research on nuclear safety at an international seminar on Chernobyl that was held in Moscow.  At the invitation of the General Director of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station he visited the plant and met with the staff.  He spent two days at Chernobyl Reactor #3 (sister reactor of the exploded #4), including several hours in its control room, and met with the operators.

Meshkati has been widely quoted in the media regarding the Japanese nuclear crisis, and, more recently, on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster and the hearings on the San Onofre Nuclear plant in California.   Here are some of this thoughts from a variety of media sources.

To request an interview or quote from Najmedin Meshkati, please email the Viterbi Communications team                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 


April 27, 2011: Which Way LA? San Onofre's 'Safety Culture' (7:12PM) USC Engineering Professor Najmedin Meshkati is not opposed to nuclear power, but he says the "safety culture" at nuclear power plants is deteriorating. Tomorrow, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on safety issues at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station three miles south of San Clemente. Yesterday, Meshkati wrote an op-ed in the LA Times titled "How Safe is San Onofre?" We speak with the professor and with Gil Alexander, spokesman for Southern California Edison. .
April 26, 2011 “I have been closely following nuclear safety issues at the San Onofre plant, and I spoke on the matter at a 2009 NRC public meeting on San Onofre,” Meshkati wrote. “I believe that although there are some discrete token improvements, the overall situation at the plant has been continuously deteriorating. But the era of a piecemeal approach toward addressing safety issues at San Onofre must end.”
April 25, 2011: However, we need a paradigm shift in dealing with nuclear power plant safety. The era of continuing piecemeal approach toward addressing safety issues at our plants is over. As Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said April 4, "The crisis at Fukushima Daiichi has enormous implications for nuclear power and confronts all of us with a major challenge (and) we cannot take a 'business as usual' approach.
March 31: Morning Edition "Japan's Nuclear Crisis Takes Its Toll On Utility" Najmedin Meshkati, engineering professor at the University of Southern California, has been less than frank..."One of the biggest problems with Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has been its lack of leadership.
March 29: A U.S. nuclear design engineer said he believes the water accumulating in the tunnels and turbine rooms comes from water cannons and helicopters that attempted to spray water into the spent fuel pools but missed their mark. "All that seawater they have been spraying on the reactors, tons of seawater, it basically had to go somewhere," said USC nuclear safety expert Najmedin Meshkati.
March 28: At the week end, the spike in radiation forced a suspension of work at the reactor, with experts warning that Japan faced a long fight to contain the world's most dangerous atomic crisis in 25 years. "This is far beyond what one nation can handle -- it needs to be bumped up to the U.N. Security Council," said Najmedin Meshkati, of the University of Southern California.
March 26: Why (or why not) nuclear energy? It's not because of safety concerns, but rather because of the importance of energy diversity and energy security, said Najmedin Meshkati, nuclear safety expert at the University of Southern California. "Nuclear power provides that energy security, It's very secure and very reliable. It's there for you. Nobody else can control it." After many decades, if the site of Fukushima could be cleaned up, a new generation of "inherently safe" reactors may one day operate in the same place, he said, but don't hold your breath. "It's not going to be in my lifetime," Meshkati said.
March 23: "Dr. Najmedin Meshkati, a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California specializing in risk reduction of complex systems joins us to discuss the ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. He outlines the situation at the facility, the contamination of surrounding seawater, the history of problems in the Japanese nuclear industry and other key issues.
March 22:  In the wake of the Fukushima I disaster, “we really need to go back and take a hard look at safety assumptions for systems and safety practices in the plants themselves,” says Naj Meshkati, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering.
March 22:  Op-ed  Reactors' spent fuel pools: Serious safety, security hazards  "We have to learn lessons from Fukushima and count our blessings in the United States. And urgently start, before it is again too late, decommissioning the highly risky spent fuel pools, now scattered all over the country in 33 states. This can be accomplished by reactivating the Yucca Mountain deep geologic disposal site for high-level nuclear waste, the study of which has been going on for more than 25 years with the staggering cost of $38 billion to date..."

March 20:  Certain countries, including Japan ...  can't afford to drop it entirely, experts say. "In a year or two, the public opinion will still be negative, but there are some energy realities that may dictate the future," said Najmedin Meshkati, nuclear safety expert at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

March 18 - There are few options, none of them good.
"The most imaginative engineers in the world couldn't have dreamed up a situation like this," said Najmedin Meshkati, a USC professor and nuclear power expert.
March 17 -  "Judy Woodruff weighs the threat of the spend fuel pools with the University of Southern California's Najmedin Meshkati and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Rearch's Arjun Makhijani"
  March 16 - Najm Meshkati discusses radiation emanating from nuclear accidents

March 16 - Q&A: What do latest events at Japan nuclear power plant mean?

  March 15 - Meshkati describes how engineers are desperately trying to cool the reactors and spent fuel rods after the electricity was cut off by the earthquake and tsunami, knocking out cooling systems.
  March 15 - The boron in boric acid helps slow nuclear reactions by absorbing neutrons, says Najm Meshkati, nuclear power plant safety expert.
  March 15 - See video of Meshkati as he says what could be next for Japan, and what the U.S. can learn from the disaster 

March 14 -  Japan's crisis may have already derailed the current 'nuclear renaissance' in which the world has seen a surge of nuclear  projects.  Meshkati is quoted.


March 14 - Meshkati relates how boric acid  helps slow nuclear reactions, but the acid also melted away steel when used repeatedly at a troubled northern Ohio nuclear plant.

  March 15 - Meshkati talks about earthquakes and the nuclear power debate
  March 15 - Meshkati comments how the Japanese are spraying water and acid on the stricken nuclear plant

March 17 - Meshkati looks at the future of nuclear power including regulation and safety, and in particular, the practice of storing spent nuclear fuel rods on site