Discussion: Is Japan in danger of a nuclear disaster or not? What source to trust?

mytest

Hi Blog.  I have to admit being thoroughly confused about what’s going on at Fukushima’s nuclear power plant.  Are we in danger of a nuclear meltdown or aren’t we?

I’m hearing from NHK and the connected authorities that there is no cause for concern and everything is under control (as roofs get blown off plant buildings).

I’m also hearing from overseas sources that there is little cause for alarm.  For example, here.

Yet I’m hearing from sources on the ground without an interest in the nuclear power industry making statements like these:

(Source is anonymized, but is a trustworthy on about matters dealing with U.S. military:)

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March 14, 2011:  You are absolutely right to have zero trust in Government of Japan (GOJ) or Japanese-controlled press on this.  The Japanese authorities simply won’t confirm the meltdown that is occurring.  Here are some of the facts from the western press:

1.  The USS Ronald Reagan, located 100 miles Northeast, had to relocate due to a radioactive plume cloud heading their way.
2.  17 members of the Reagan’s helicopter crews doing rescue missions have tested positive for radioactivity.  All helos are being decontaminated as they return to the Reagan.
3.  The Navy has tested positively for airborne radioactivity up to 100 miles away from the plant.
4.  The Japanese are pumping saltwater in to cool the rods.  This is only done as a last-ditch effort, since salt corrodes the reactors.  After that, they are out of options.
5.  Cesium has been detected by the Navy in the air.  The presence of this element in the air is an indication that the rods have actually started melting.
6.  The plant at Onagawa is also experiencing abnormally high radiation levels.  This plant is much closer to Tokyo.

Now, let’s remember how the GOJ is treating the casualty numbers.  They are reporting 1600 casualties right now.  That’s because they do not even consider a person “dead” until they are identified, so even though they have thousands of bodies piled up, they won’t report them yet as “dead”.  That is the way the GOJ operates.   They are simply not forthcoming with information.  The US Govt. was extremely frustrated at this way of operating during the Kobe earthquake.  The US Government could not get adequate situational awareness because the GOJ was simply not forthcoming.  This is no different.

Right now, the GOJ “officials have yet to confirm a meltdown because IT IS TOO HOT INSIDE THE TO CHECK.” (cnn.com) So, do they expect the reactor to cool down so they can check and confirm that the rods are actually melting?  Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesman for Japan’s prime minister, said Sunday the situation was “under control.” (cnn.com).   Under control? You can’t confirm if the rods are melting because it’s too hot to check, but everything is under control?

Stephanie Cooke, editor of Nuclear Intelligence Weekly for the atomic-energy community, said best summarized the GOJ on this issue by saying “The more they say they’re in control, the more I sense things may be out of control. (cnn.com)”

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So which is it?  Again, Debito.org is disinclined to trust official sources given their record regarding safety and forthcomingness (witness 1999’s nuclear accident at Tokai-mura and the consequent media debacle).  But I wish I knew what to believe.  Suggestions and links from Debito.org Readers welcome.  Arudou Debito

UPDATE MARCH 16: The thing that I don’t get about recent developments is that Japanese society tends to overcompensate in regards to safety issues.  Why don’t we see that happening whenever there’s a case of nuclear energy?  “Just stay indoors for the duration” is not what I would call adequate safety advice.

70 comments on “Discussion: Is Japan in danger of a nuclear disaster or not? What source to trust?

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  • I think you will find that the Onagawa nuclear facility is to the north of the Fukushima plants and further from Tokyo. There were earlier reports of high radiation levels at the Tokai plant which is, in fact, closer to Tokyo. Later reports suggest that those readings may have been lifted by leakages from the Fukushima Daiichi event.

    Someone should have double checked their facts. It tends to diminish the credibility of the real threats when false threats are posted.

  • OMG, that’s scary!!!!1
    Do you have any reliable information about:
    1. Can we expect a Chernobyl type explosion?
    2. How much radiation constitutes a serious health risk? Like, equivalent to X numbers of x-ray exams?
    3. How much radiation could actually be released into the air by a meltdown at these reactors?
    4. How much radiation would be dispersed by the wind before it reaches Tokyo?
    4. How much radiation would be sustained by an unprotetwd person in Tokyo if the wind blows in that direction?

  • I’m not seeing anything in the “facts from the Western press” that contradicts the official story, which is that they leaked radiation, and the wind carried it out to sea.

    More than covering things up, I’d be worried about them screwing things up. The guys working on this must be sleep-deprived and under horrendous stress.

  • My take on this? When the Prime Minister personally takes charge of a crisis at 2am in the midst of a wider national emergency, it is not ‘under control’.

    I took my family to Kanazawa (western Japan) early on Sunday morning, driving across from Sendai for 16 hours. I had to drag my in-laws as they believed the government line that nothing was wrong. It’s probably one of the best decisions I have ever made.

  • “The plant at Onagawa is also experiencing abnormally high radiation levels.  This plant is much closer to Tokyo.”

    Onagawa is NOT closer to Tokyo. That is ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT. It’s close to Sendai. It might be a simple error and does not equal to the gravity of the situation. However, people should check their geography first before making simple mistakes like that.

  • The GOJ has been lying to us this whole time about the location of a nuclear power plant – Onogawa is actually closer to Tokyo!!

    Glad that’s been cleared up.

    Tends to dampen down the trustworthiness of a source if they can’t read a map wouldn’t you think?

  • I did hear the Navy helicopters test positve for contamination but I also heard the level of contamination was nothing to be worried about from the Navy commander holding a press conference.

  • I seriously hope the GoJ/Nuclear Company is/are not holding back the truth on this, but I have to admit the circumstantial evidence, as you pointed out is really not good.

    I just heard on NHK that there are flames coming from one of the reactors, that doesn’t sound good at all, it was when the reactor at Chenobyl actually caught fire that the damage was done – much mroe serious that the hydrogen explosions we have seen before.

    It’s really unforgivable that there were no adequate back ups to the power plants, especially after all the previous scandals.

    Japan almost certainly needs nuclear energy, no chances should have been taken with safety and no misinformation should be put out now as it will undermine any shred of public confidence that might have been remaining.

    Given that this earthquake might be the 5th biggest on record anywhere ever, a bitg of a wobble with one or two plants might be forgivable, but a melt down that releases significant radiation is just not excusable.

  • Your “trustworthy source” is a tool.

    “17 members of the Reagan’s helicopter crews doing rescue missions have tested positive for radioactivity.”

    Actually, every human being on the planet tests positive for radioactivity. How many micro sieverts? That’s the same response to all the other comments about “abnormally high radiation” and “radioactive plume” — basically your source sounds like he knows nothing about the science involved. I hope he never has to fly on an airplane or get an MRI.

    “The Japanese are pumping saltwater in to cool the rods. This is only done as a last-ditch effort, since salt corrodes the reactors. After that, they are out of options.”

    Oh my God! When they run out of oceanwater — we’re finished!

  • Major Major Kudos to Ryan Macdonald.

    He was just interviewed on the BBC, via skype. He is an American teaching English who live(d) near Fukushima Nuke Plant. He very clearly said he does not trust the NHK nor the Power Plant reps and their ‘explanations’ because of the Japanese culture of trying to keep up the appearance of “things being ok”. Not lying (well we do know this occurs) but not telling the whole truth and not directly.

    He said he watches BBC and CNN to get clear concise direct information. Which is clearly said he does not get in Japan. He had a major global audiance to deliver his message; the one we NJs live with daily.

    I suspect that these reporters from the BBC and CNN will take their own Geiger counters for proper independent tests to confirm/deny what is being said; which no western person believes (and now some Japanese being interviewed on BBC are speaking publicy about their lack of trust in their Govt/system too).

    Tokyo Eletric have covered up so many accidents and deaths that it is a joke. No other nuclear powered country would tolerate such a breach of HES issues. But of course that requires independent agencies and with the mandate to shut down failing plants. Again, not in harmony with the Japanese culture/business.

    This episode of how the Japanese deal with the nuclear plants and how they report this, could be the catalyst that is required for transparancy in business/companies/employment/laws….but i wont hold my breath

  • “Question everything, trust nothing” is the motto I go buy. Don’t accept “facts” on face value. Do your own research & investigation and confirm what you read or hear. If you can’t or are too lazy to, then the least you can do is to keep it to yourself and not spread misinformation around.

  • The NYTimes and Washington Post are good sources of information. Initial reports are that all workers have left the area, and a fire has started at reactor 4.

    I think the Japanese government itself is getting the run around from TEPCO.

  • Where is the best place to run when there is no train service and no gasoline? I live in Fukushima City.

  • “Someone should have double checked their facts. It tends to diminish the credibility of the real threats when false threats are posted.” Good call, Steve.

    Here’s another:

    “They are reporting 1600 casualties right now. That’s because they do not even consider a person “dead” until they are identified, so even though they have thousands of bodies piled up, they won’t report them yet as “dead”. That is the way the GOJ operates. ”

    That’s the way every govt. operates, I should think. Confirm dead and give increasingly accurate estimates on the missing and unidentified bodies. On the other hand, how much do you wish these guys were asking questions of Tepco, the GoJ and the power plant owners, rather than the kisha club lackeys?
    http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/14/exp.arena.japan.nuclear.tepco.cnn?hpt=C2

  • jjobseeker says:

    Here’s something I will throw out there. As much as I tend to not trust the government (of any country), we have to remember that we are not in the LDP era. This is the DPJ era. If PM Kan and his administration handle this properly, there will be nothing–I repeat nothing–the LDP will be able to do to knock the DPJ and PM Kan out of Nagatacho. That alone is incredible incentive for them to get this right. As Cstaylor mentions, I think the real culprit here is TEPCO. For now, I will give PM Kan the benefit of the doubt and see how things are handled.

  • You all need to chill.

    Yo dude, my uncle, mom and everybody is being like “sh*ts gonna explode! run n****! ruuuuuuuuun!!!”

    I’ve been doing tons of research online about all this shit -.-

    Check out this vid, tons of lecture from the University of California Berkeley there:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BHdsjo-NR4

    Also this blog really calmed me down:
    http://theenergycollective.com/barrybrook/53461/fukushima-nuclear-accident-simple-and-accurate-explanation

    http://satwcomic.com/don-t-panic

    Instead of freaking out, please educate yourselves about this as much as possible. shizzle

    Sam (i live in tokyo)

  • Rob, I went through the posts at your recommended site. Looking at all the information with a couple of days of hindsight, it is obvious that every assertion that things weren’t that bad and couldn’t get any worse, have been totally belied by subsequent posts. Almost everything that the author said couldn’t possibly happen, has happened, and rather quickly. His optimism has been proved to have been totally misguided.

  • >Now, let’s remember how the GOJ is treating the casualty numbers. They are reporting 1600 casualties right now. That’s because they do not even consider a person “dead” until they are identified, so even though they have thousands of bodies piled up, they won’t report them yet as “dead”. That is the way the GOJ operates.

    Err… That’s how **every** government operates. They don’t announce official death totals unless individuals have been confirmed.

  • I believe the events of today (Tuesday) answer Debito-san’s question. I also have good reason to believe that the process of rod melt started late Friday night or very early Sat morning. If you are in Kanto please watch prevailing winds. We now have radiation leaking from containment in unit 2 and a fire in a spent fuel pond. This is a tragedy

  • @13
    —–I think the Japanese government itself is getting the run around from TEPCO—-

    The news anchors at CNN are furious at the way TEPCO has given up-dates. It’s only because the US has aircraft monitoring radiation levels that we have an accurate picture.

    I’m in the US right now and according to news reports the situation is getting steadly worse. Unless the U.S. can provide some much needed help I think we can expect a complete meltdown of one or more of the reactors.

  • After reading the headline, I’m relieved to see such sanity in many of the comments. Thank you for restoring my faith in human nature somewhat. Seriously, Debito, this is some pretty irresponsible scaremongering you are promoting here. Yeah, “free speech” and all that. Just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should. And yes, I agree that the Japanese Govt is not necessarily to be trusted (though perhaps TEPCO is the main culprit here). But that doesn’t mean the end of the world is nigh.

    Perhaps it’s the result of too many people with nothing more to do that sit and watch the hype on the news…

    — Did you read the headline? Nobody insinuated “the end of the world is nigh”.

  • BBC are now reporting that radiation levels around the plant have reached dangerous levels and radiation increases have started to be detected in Tokyo.

  • Pretty much all the mainstream media, even when accurate, is a few hours to one day behind in their reporting on this.

    I have a post that explains today’s measurements and current situation pretty well:

    http://www.mutantfrog.com/2011/03/15/radiation-safety-update/

    The short answer is that there is at present no danger of radiation except very close to the Fukushima Plant #1 (Daiichi) and that the situation seems to be moving towards stability. However, not all reactors are yet fully stable and there is still a realistic, if remote, chance of the situation becoming more serious.

  • Here is a report from a briefing held at 17.00 this evening by the UK’s Chief Scientific Advisor.

    BCCJ Members Update on Japan’s Nuclear Power station situation

    At 5pm Tokyo time (Tuesday 15th March 2011) a telephone briefing was given by Sir John Beddington the UK’s Chief Scientific adviser and Hilary Walker Deputy Director Emergency Preparedness …at the Department of Health. “Unequivocally, Tokyo will not be affected by the radiation fallout of explosions that have or may occur at the Fukushima nuclear power stations.” The danger area is within the 30 kilometer evacuation zone and no one is recommended or will be allowed to enter this area other than those people directly involved with the emergency procedures currently being undertaken at both Fukushima 1 & 2. Sir John went on to answer a series of questions including a comparison between Chernobyl and Japan. He said “they are entirely different, Chernobyl exploded and there was a subsequent fire with radioactive materials being launched 30,000 ft into the air.” The maximum height of any Fukushima explosions would be no more than 500 metres. “The radiation that has been released is miniscule and would have to be orders of 1,000 or more for it to be a threat to humans” This was confirmed by Hilary Walker. He went on to say that the Japanese authorities are doing their best to keep the reactors cooled and that this is a continuing operation. All workers on site dealing with the emergency are being fully decontaminated at the end of each shift. When asked on how reliable was the information coming from the Japanese authorities as to radiation levels he said “this cannot be fabricated and the Japanese authorities are positing all the readings on the recognized international inforamton sites which they are obliged to do. Independent verification shows that the data provided is accurate”. In answer to a specific question from the Head of the British School in Tokyo, Sir John Beddington and Hilary Walker said that there was no reason at all for the school to be closed unless there were other issues such as power outages and transport problems. David Fitton, First Minister at the British Embassy in Tokyo moderated the teleconference and confirmed that a transcript of the briefing will be available on the Embassy website later today. BCCJ members are encouraged to regularly check the Embassy website as well as the Chamber website and Facebook sites for the latest information.

    For more information that I found useful in understanding the facts, here is a good link.
    “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” (AltJapan)
    http://altjapan.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/03/should-i-stay-or-should-i-go.html

  • Thank you for your thoughts.

    This really strikes to the core of what I think the nuclear engineering community (I’ll admit involvement here) needs to be focusing on. We all pretty much downright agree that there are credibility problems not only with TEPCO but the Japanese government as well.

    I’m interested in this questions: What can the experts do to help the average Japanese person?

    To begin with, the experts ARE working and doing everything they can and should to stabilize the reactors. One of the amazing things about this accident is actually that there was not negligence to speak of. The critical negligence was in the setting of the design limits of the plant, and we have every reason to believe it would have withstood that level of quake, this was just bigger.

    On one hand, I find the evacuation measures they’ve taken to do the job. Yes, the fallout makes it further, but it’s much more dispersed by that point. On the other hand, people even in Tokyo are seriously worried that radiation is worsening around them. It’s a difficult egg to crack, but there are certainly more important things than radiation we would like the people to be able to focus on.

    I like to push publicly available radiation monitoring systems. It just seems to me like the engineers have missed the most important points for the public. The public needs to know that they have a system that tells them right away when they’re in danger and needs to feel empowered with knowledge of how to behave in that case. I think that this discussion is very appropriate in the current circumstance. I want to see a shift from fear-mongering about radiation to giving the public piece of mind that even if they are in danger, there is a plan for that.

  • Be careful believing claims of radioactivity. Even bananas are radioactive. No, really.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose

    The press saying things like “radiation xx times more than normal” are fluff, you get a healthy dose of cosmic radiation every time you fly in a plane, that’s xx times the amount of normal. It’s marketing hype by people who want to sell newspapers.

    Personally I suggest reading The Register, it’s written by people who write about science every day so don’t fall for the “THE SKY IS FALLING ON OUR HEADS” fearmongering other news outlets are pumping out.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/15/fukushima_update_tuesday/

  • It is nice to finally see the Japanese government being honest. All is not OK and they do not know what the outcome will be. It was nice to hear the government spokesman finally say that.

    It does not mean that Tokyo is going to be irradiated and a mass exodus of Tokyo is necessary, however I have worked in this industry and what you have is a “perfect storm” and in the industry is a catastrophic event.

    You have loss of coolant accidents (LOCA) in 3 reactors (units 1 through 3) and had burning fuel rods in unit 4 (which was off line). The unit 2 explosion was eventful because the pressure in containment (which is normally at positive pressure) went to 1 atmosphere (or the normal outside air pressure). This indicate containment of this unit is compromised. The fact that hydrogen was present when the units were vented indicates the cladding material around the rods had started to melt. I still believe this started Friday night.

    There is a pump in each unit, called a HPCI (high pressure coolant injection pump). Due to the extremely unusual situation they are in (loss of station service power, loss of local generation, and loss of diesel backup generators) means it is very likely they cannot run this pump (which dumps a tremendous amount of water into the core but requires a tremendous amount of power). It is also likely other aspects of the cooling system are compromised.

    This event is still ongoing and the outcome is uncertain. The winds yesterday were very concerning but fortunately the normal off short pattern has continued. There is other information that I have which I may share after we see what the outcome is.

    For all the posters there saying this is “Hype” I would recomment you still pay attention to what is going on!!! As I said before an evacuation of Tokyo immediately is likely not necessary but if you have a total meltdown and breach of the pressurized reactor vessel (PRV) then all bets are off. Just hope the wind is blowing offshore still. The radiation levels you see now will be nothing if this occurs and this is still a very real possibility.

    My prayers are with the workers in the plant. There are 50 left on site according to TEPCO and these people are knowingly sacrificing themselves (most likely there life) for their communities and families.

    This is not a situation that requires hysteria or evacuation of the country and yes I commend people for being calm and thinking rationally, but on the other hand becoming too complacent is foolhardy at this time.

    In the mean time read about the G.E. engineers who resigned over this type of reactor design (these guys are totally for nuclear power by the way)

    http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/fukushima-mark-nuclear-reactor-design-caused-ge-scientist/story?id=13141287

    — The thing that I don’t get is that Japanese society tends to overcompensate in regards to safety issues. Why don’t we see that happening whenever there’s a case of nuclear energy? “Just stay indoors for the duration” is not what I would call adequate safety advice.

  • “Just stay indoors for the duration” is not what I would call adequate safety advice.”

    But it will pretty much do the job, though. The radioactive iodine that may be released will be carried by the wind, and is only harmful if ingested. So staying inside and eating/drinking supplies for the few days until the radiation has decayed will prevent contamination.

    (The potassium iodide being distributed will essentially block the body from absorbing any of the iodine for a 24 hour period, but obviously it’s better to be safe than sorry)

    There is definitely serious radiation outside the plant, but it lives for only seconds, which is why the exclusion zone was created. The fact they evacuated people right from the word go, before there was any real signs of danger, was a very smart ‘overcompensation’, I think.

    — I think you mean radioactive cesium.

  • The assumption that the seawall would protect them from a tsunami was their biggest failure, and I believe TEPCO did not build the seawall. Decades of collusion between the Jiminto and sub-standard domestic contractors is a big factor.

  • “The thing that I don’t get is that Japanese society tends to overcompensate in regards to safety issues. Why don’t we see that happening whenever there’s a case of nuclear energy? “Just stay indoors for the duration” is not what I would call adequate safety advice.”

    I guess you have to balance the risks of staying and evacuating. Stay, and if something sudden and unexpected happens, you could be seriously irradiated. Evacuate too quickly, and you start a panic – and who know how many casualties would be caused by that. Obviously at the policy level that has been taken on board.

  • It is a society where they get upset about leaving a box on a form blank; or disregarding a change to a contract because you modify right over an old copy, rather than type a new sheet.

    You are so right, Debito, even if the one plant really is farther away from Tokyo than the source said.

    The local press around Pennsylvania is reporting that Three Mile Island reactor #1 is considered the safest in the world. Why? Because of the near-disaster with Unit #2.

    You would think that Japan would have been focusing on reactor safety beyond what design consultants considered to be an adequate disaster-level scenario.

    I agree that TEPCO is probably holding information back from Kan, and it’s not the kind of society that likes to say “I don’t know” (which one is?)

  • Just heard on BBC news that the GoJ has invited some experts from the US to help/advise on the Nuclear problem. This is interetsing on 2 counts really.

    1) Asking for outside help…this is the first step. So this must be applauded.

    2) Not sure why ask the US? The UK, France and Germany currently use nuke power far more than the US and have far more experince. I suspect there is some link “business link” from the past…who knows?

    Debito
    “just stay indoors…”
    I think this is because they do not know what else to do or say (who would). Staying inside is also akin to hiding under the table or standing in a door way during a quake. It gives the palpable feel of reassurance. Other than that…not sure.

    Since the only alternative is to evacuate everyone. But that would create a panic. Since the obvious question is why evacuate, implies danger. In times like these caution, measured sensible precautions are often seen as “danger”.

    Tus the only way to the GoJ can offer proper advice, is to be 100% open and honest, real hard core honesty. Something the Tokyo power Co is not being. Get poeple on the ground with calibrated Geiger counters, provide hour by hour updates. Educate people with what the readings are and what they mean for health. Get health experts from Oncology depts to provide advice on national TV.

    What is most bizarre about all this, is the elephant in the room. Cancer. Japan being the only country in the world that has experinced an A-bomb and its effects, ie cancer, yet Japan has a very low level of cancer health care and education. Compared to otehr developed countries the oncology care in Japan is very poor and under developed. (I know this because my wife is a specialised nurse in oncology. She had to go to the UK to get more training).

  • News reports here in the States are saying because of high radiation levels those that were working on the reactors have left. So the question then is who is taking their place and apparently no one.

    The plants will be left unmanned.

    Unbelievable!

  • Steve King says:

    Debito,

    Listen to, or read, and then give adequate space to the briefings that have been put out by the UK, Australian and US Embassies. Your article here is irresponsible because it puts emphasis on only one perspective, and from an anonymous source. The Embassy Briefings on the other hand state unequivocally that i) Tokyo is in no danger, ii) comparisons with Chernobyl are ridiculous and iii) radiation levels are being monitored internationally and it simply isn’t possible for TEPCO or the Japanese government to falsify them.

    Name your source in the US military. I hardly think an anonymous source stacks up credibility-wise against the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Officer, John Haddington.

    — I don’t think anybody has been given adequate information to make an informed decision about what’s going on, and that includes the overseas nuclear experts. Please continue to post your links to informed sources, of course — I am not denying them “adequate space” here. I only hope they have enough information to go on.

  • Where is the seawater being discharged at? I assume the closed loop heat exchanger has long been breached, thus pumping in the seawater. So we pump it in, and right back to the sea? Interesting. Are we getting the contamination from the sea and from the air? I dont think anybody here is fearmongering. Its time for some transparency.

  • “Just stay indoors for the duration” may in fact be adequate safety advice. I’ve worked with radiation before (not nuclear power, but in biomedical research), and though not at all an expert with the design and use of these specific reactors, one of the principles of radioactivity is that energy is inversely proportional to half-life. That means that the shortest lived particles pack the biggest punch. Thus, if there is worry about high doses from short-lived isotopes, staying indoors may prevent particles being inhaled, ingested, etc. to a large extent. Obviously, I don’t know the readings on the ground there, as well as all of what is being released, so, won’t know until after the fact if the measures are sufficient.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that an evacuation, especially after an earthquake and tsunami, with bad infrastructure, and many injured, also has a chance of causing illness, injury and/or death. This is something that must also be considered when deciding what steps to take; an over-exuberant evacuation might hurt more people than allowing them to stay in areas with slight increases in radiation levels.

    Obviously, I don’t know if the government is making the correct decision, and no one will know until after the fact. But what Japan needs now is rational decision making, neither fear-mongering on one end, or minimizing on the other.

    — Given what I know about the stability, insulation, and air-tightness of Japanese homes (especially outside of Hokkaido, where they’re even more shoddily insulated), I remain unconfident.

    I agree with you about the fearmongering. This post is not trying to do that. It’s calling for more accurate information, about which I have strong doubts, given TEPCO’s history and performance thus far, that the public is getting.

  • Steve King says:

    Transcript of the UK Embassy Briefing:

    http://ukinjapan.fco.gov.uk/en/news/?view=News&id=566799182

    This tells an altogether different story than the anonymous US military source, who apparently has no specialist knowledge of nuclear affairs at all.

    Debito, I think you should retract this blog post and replace it with something far more balanced and measured. Your position in the NJ/Naturalized Japanese community carries with it certain responsibilities which I think would lend themselves well to setting the record straight.

    — I wanted people to present evidence and counter-evidence. We have that going on here. Thanks for it.

  • Steve in Tokyo says:

    There is no doubt that this is a massive disaster, but to all my fellow long-term, non-ethnic Japanese residents I would say a few words.

    1. Man up. Sure it`s not pleasant but if you love this country then jumping on a 747 is not the best way to show it. Thousands of people have died, half a million are in shelters. Don`t run away – its disrespectful to those that have died and those who are still suffering real hardship.

    2. Get some balance in your perspective. Watching CNN for 5 minutes will convince anybody that we are going through some form of Armageddon. It isn`t necessarily so. And if (by some chance or sad cobmination of events) it is, then refer to 1 above

    I have absolute confidence in the Japanese nation to surmount this disaster and bounce back. They could use some support from their newer citizens. Do NOT let them down.

  • giantpanda says:

    @Steve, some governments (those that have not already told their nationals to evacuate) are “softly” encouraging foreign nationals to leave, because it will help to ease the strain on resources. One less person using electricity and drinking water means that there is more for the Japanese, most of whom cannot leave. Leaving does not mean that you don’t love Japan.

  • Debito

    Good call on posting the WHO article. I think the key point is whether or not they can prevent a total meltdown of 1 of the 3 reactors that have experienced loss of cooling. The problem is that the chance of a total meltdown increases exponentially with each reactor that is troubled. The fact that the U.S. and Japan are debating whether water in the spent fuel rod pools in 3 and 4 may be depleted is very troubling news.

    The good news is that TEPCO says they are getting close to getting a source of power to the plants, however lacking technical details I think the actual interconnection and commissioning of this connection will be a challenge. The absolutely need the high pressure injection pumps now.

    I would recommend that people pay attention to bullet point 2 of the WHO article. If there is a meltdown of one of the reactors it is all about the wind and rain. The level of radiation that would be released in a breach of the Reactor Pressure Vessel would dwarf what is happening now.

    Jim, regarding the seawater. It is very possible this water is in fact being circulated through Reactor Core Isolation Cooling pump. This is a steam driven pump and this is a closed loop system. The most likely scenario in this case is that the sea water is not being returned to the ocean, but instead is being either recirculated or vaporized/evaporated and exiting the plant as steam. However, not having more information one can only speculate.

    1. This is now a race against time. Can they get adequate cooling into the system before meltdown, and

    2. I honestly believe that most of the panic is not being caused by the media, but rather the lack of information that TEPCO and the Japanese Government are releasing, which is requiring people to speculate without adequate information. Even the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC) is stating that they are having trouble getting adequate information.

    Debito-san – regarding the safety culture in Japan, this is a very long and complex subject and it involves both technical aspects and human factors aspects (such as the reliance on administrative controls and the old “sempai/kohai training system (for lack of a better term)” rather than engineering controls) – I would be happy to provide more information if you wish.

    I reiterate my prayers for those brave people that are still at Fukushima

  • @Steve in Japan “man up” you say.

    this makes me extremely angry, because to me and other non Japanese Confucians this just shows how much you ve become suckered into the whole giri to the company above all system, and for what? For far less rights than a Japanese.

    I am not a permanent resident, I am not married to a Japanese, I have no stake in the system, I am a gaijin, a foreigner, and a “visitor” and I have no local vote and no benefits. Thus, I did what visitors can do, which is I left immediately.

    Now before you try to say something like “we can stay and help”, the reality is that you cannot do much to help.But perhaps you can stay and die to show group solidarity with your Japanese employers (What my soon to be ex boss said). No thanks, bye.

    I have no particular loyalty to the Japanese Empire, maybe if they had given us a local vote we foreign residents would feel more “loyal”.

    In the movie “The Constant Gardener” the main character says “No, we cannot help all of them, but I m saying we can help ONE person, this child, NOW”.

    And thats what I did, I used my credit card to pay for the airfare of one other person out of here.

    so Steve, if you are a gaijin I say “MAN UP” and pay to take several local people out of harm’s way. You can always get another job and pay off the debt later. Are you “man enough” to immediately leave your little J comfort zone and all your possessions and do that?

    Dont try to justify inertia or being in denial of the seriousness of the situation as being particularly “otoko rashi” or what other warped neo confucianist loyalty to the company you ve bought into.

  • jjobseeker says:

    Interesting Editorial in today’s Asahi Shimbun English website:

    http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201103160136.html

    I agree with many points, especially the matter of TEPCO’s non-existent crisis management. To just now think about bringing in generators for the offline pumps today is a clear sign that people there had no idea of how to problem solve in this “worst case scenario.”

    ============================

    POINT OF VIEW/ Kenji Sumita: Responses from TEPCO, NISA came too late
    SPECIAL TO THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
    2011/03/17
    Kenji Sumita (The Asahi Shimbun)

    As a scientist long involved in research and development of nuclear energy, I feel deep regrets for the trouble given to the public by accidents at reactors at the quake-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

    The three towering principles for a nuclear power plant operator to deal with a powerful earthquake are “stop, cool and contain.”

    The operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., managed to halt a nuclear reaction by inserting control rods at the initial stage.

    But I wonder if the control rods were firmly inserted.

    Even if an instrumental device shows that they are, the control rods’ proper insertion should be verified with other means. But there has been no information available about them.

    I find it troubling that no official announcement has been made so far about the position of the control rods although it is crucial in completely controlling a nuclear reaction.

    To cool the nuclear reactor cores, TEPCO made the right decision to resort to the unprecedented method of pumping in seawater, although that step will force it to decommission those reactors.

    But the decision came too late.

    Every step TEPCO has taken is a day late and a dollar short. The release of information from TEPCO is even further behind.

    The exposure of fuel rods at the No. 2 reactor for as long as several hours after the nuclear reaction had stopped should never have happened, even if it came two days after the stoppage.

    The incident revealed TEPCO’s lack of crisis-management ability.

    TEPCO had no choice but to open valves to discharge vapor containing radioactive materials to prevent a wholesale rupture of the containment vessels of the nuclear reactors. The inevitable question now concerns the state of the pressure vessels and containment vessels.

    We cannot make an accurate assessment of their state with the level of radioactivity in the surrounding area alone.

    The vessels’ ability to contain the radiation is apparently endangered, even if temporarily.

    There were reports that a suppression pool at the No. 2 reactor was likely damaged, and radioactive substances may have leaked out from there.

    Right now, the core’s pressure vessel does not appear ruptured and thus the release of an enormous amount of radioactive materials into the atmosphere can be averted.

    Nevertheless, we face a very grave situation.

    As vice chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, an independent body, I took part in an operation to tackle a nuclear-criticality accident at JCO Co.’s uranium-processing plant in Tokai village in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1999. I was at the site.

    The current government’s approach is better than the one by its predecessor back then.

    Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano are showing strong leadership in addressing the nuclear disaster.

    In contrast, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), a regulator that oversees the nuclear power industry, does not seem to be fully functioning.

    I have long questioned the wisdom of putting NISA under the oversight of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which promotes nuclear power generation.

    It seems that the negative effect of having NISA under the ministry has been unveiled in the unfolding event.

    When the JCO accident occurred, many research institutes worked together with us in gathering various data.

    All electric power companies cooperated by dispatching vehicles to monitor radiation levels.

    We were able to ride out the crisis thanks to the full support, including advice and assistance, from people in the nuclear industry and other related sectors.

    But in the current disaster, TEPCO and NISA seem to have taken on all the challenges by themselves, barely utilizing resources at other bodies.

    They should have tackled the ongoing crisis while seeking help from the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan and other bodies, but they have tried to cope with it alone.

    And questions remain over the appropriateness of the steps they have taken.

    The unfolding nuclear disaster has unveiled weaknesses in TEPCO’s crisis-management system and a structural flaw in Japan’s administrative policy to ensure the safety of nuclear power.

    (This article was compiled from an interview by Satoshi Ozawa.)

    * * *

    Kenji Sumita is professor emeritus at Osaka University. He specializes in nuclear engineering and radiation measurements. He served as vice chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan.

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