Published: March 31, 2014

Dr. Jerry Peterson is our second featured scholar at the CAS Annual Symposium: Catastrophic Asia, to be held this Friday, April 4 beginning at 1:00 p.m. in the Center for British and Irish Studies room on the fifth floor of the Norlin Library. Dr. Peterson will follow Magdalena's talk with a discussion of the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan entitled "Recovery and Lessons Learned from Fukushima Dai-ichi." 

One of the many dire problems resulting from the March 2011 Great Tohoku earthquake was the loss of cooling water to three operating nuclear power reactors at TEPCO’s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.  Without the cooling, residual radioactive heating began to melt some of the components within the containment vessel. Radioactive material was released from these components, and some left the plant in the air, ground water, and sea water, with wide media coverage. Although the reactor safety systems themselves worked as designed, the entire system was overwhelmed by the quake and tsunami. This system, we now realize, included a wide range of regulatory, corporate, public information, and other social, economic and political ingredients.

This accident has been called “a new type of nuclear disaster found at the interface of both social and natural phenomena.” With nuclear fission providing 11% of global electricity, we must learn how to prevent, plan for, and deal with future incidents, within a much wider range of responsibilities.

Using accelerators around the world and appropriate collaborations, Dr. Peterson measures reactions with beams of protons or pions on complex nuclei, seeking the simple features. Recent solo work has used scaling relations as in the papers above as an attempt to unify these results. As a sideline, he works with nuclear astrophysics issues at very low beam energies. I am also active in policy circles, as an analyst and advisor on matters of energy (particularly nuclear fission) and environmental issues.

Dr. Peterson has been with the Department of Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder since 1970. After receiving his undergraduate (1961) and graduate (1966) degrees in Physics at the University of Washington, he was an instructor at Princeton University and on the research faculty at Yale University. His research interests have covered many arenas of nuclear physics, including nuclear astrophysics, nuclear reactions, nuclear fission, and applications of nuclear reactions to computer memory elements. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Copenhagen (Niels Bohr Institute), the University of Tokyo, and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He is a 2007 Jefferson Science Fellow, Foreign Fellow of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Physical Society. Professor Peterson is also a member International Affairs Program committee at the University of Colorado Boulder. His recent teaching has included classes in Physics, Environmental Studies, Journalism and International Affairs.