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This is not a test

23 Comments
By J T Cassidy

Before the devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, its epicenter of Sendai was at the middle of another gripping event that rocked the nation. At the center of that story, which dominated headlines for weeks, was a 19-year-old native of the area caught cheating on his university entrance exam. The breach prompted a massive response from authorities who remanded the young man to the custody of the Kyoto prefectural family court some 640 kms away from his hometown where he awaits trial to this day.

Japanese officials behind the arrest saw it as the ounce of prevention that would save them from applying a pound of cure to fix the cracks in their exam-driven educational system. Others viewed the punishment as being so heavy-handed that it tipped the scales of justice. This was just a kid who made an all too human mistake. Sure the authorities overreacted, but the young man's arrest and transport via helicopter safely away from the tsunami's kill zone may have actually spared his life.

Had Japanese government authorities reacted to the breach at the Fukushima nuclear power plant with equal zeal, we might not be looking down the barrel of a melting nuclear core today. In the critical early hours of the disaster, the power plant's owner, TEPCO, chose to save its corporate assets at the expense of everyone and everything else. Instead of moving right away to cool the reactor with seawater, it waited for hours in fear that the saltwater would ruin the precious equipment they had invested in. Since then, it has been a chain reaction of tragic errors that should have prompted the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan to sideline the private power company and take command. Unfortunately fear of political fallout in upcoming elections that could result from taking charge of this nuclear nightmare has rendered the government as useless as the damaged reactors themselves.

While the word "Fukushima" is fast becoming a synonym for "too little, too late," maybe part of the solution to this major problem lies in previous lessons from Sendai. The Japanese government should at least apply the same standard to its nuclear power industry that it uses for would-be college kids caught sneaking a peak at their partner's test paper. If this were an exam, both TEPCO and the government would surely be called out for cheating the public of safeguards that should go well beyond seawalls.

The scary thing is this is not a test. When you mix radioactivity with mammoth tidal waves and earth shattering quakes, an ounce of prevention just doesn't measure up to the task at hand. It's time to apply a pound of cure to nuclear power stations before the cancer they've spread over the years grows. It's time to lock them down, because like that poor kid from Sendai, it may just spare our lives.

As Japan rises from the rubble left behind in the wake of the obliterating wave that wiped away entire cities and towns along the northeastern coast of the country, there are signs of hope shining through the despair. Will Japan choose to build on that hope and forge a future driven by viable alternative energy resources, including self-sufficient smart homes and more? That would be a choice we could all live with.

The writer lives about 250 kms downwind of the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

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23 Comments
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I'd like to know what "...chain of tragic errors..." there's been.

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In the critical early hours of the disaster, the power plant’s owner, TEPCO, chose to save its corporate assets at the expense of everyone and everything else. Instead of moving right away to cool the reactor with seawater, it waited for hours in fear that the saltwater would ruin the precious equipment they had invested in.

OH, the condescending attitude! Another armchair nuclear expert. There's a reason putting seawater in the reactors is not the first, second, third, fifth, 10th choice of things to do, and it has less to do with saving "precious" assets than being really, really unsafe. That salt in the seawater cakes on all this precision equipment and can make things much hotter and brittle in the long run. Why do you think they've been flushing the reactors with freshwater since its become possible?

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"viable alternative energy resources"

Let us know when you come up with some, JT Cassidy.

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forinagai: "I'd like to know what "...chain of tragic errors..." there's been."

You really want a list?

Before the accident.

Storing spent fuel rods on top of reactors next to the ocean in a tsunami and earthquake zone. Failing to have greater redundancy in back up power generation. Failure to heed recommendations that may have made the plant better prepared.

After the quake.

Failing to more more quickly to cool the reactors. Failing to press the government to accept foreign nuclear support earlier in the game. Failure to accept the offer of military generators offered very early on in the game. Failure to provide adequate equipment and supplies for workers conducting emergent work at the site. Failure to provide honest and open information. Enacting pointless activities like helecopter drops of water. Waiting until just this past week to finally allow in foreign response teams.

There's a lot more, but these are the highlights I found startling.

As for alternative energy. Japanese people must learn to live with less electrical consumption. Less bright lights in the city, less light in the office, less aircon in the summer and less wasted energy in general. This is not elective, this is reality post disaster.

Japan can and should replace as much of her power generation with green solutions as she can. This is true of every nation. We can and should live with less consumption. Only people in denial can think we can go on as we have. Change is inevitable and necessary. And it will not be easy or cheap. Deal with it as it is coming like it or not.

Failing to accept early offers of reserve generators from foreign countries. Waiting weeks to all
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Instead of the salt-water -I would like to know how come generators were not able to be replaced in 24hrs -and hopefully hours. Even boats could have beached and thru an electrical line out. Generators on trucks or flown in by helicopter.

People need to hold the Gov responsible as much as they hold the slaves responsible. =Right now it seems like the slaves are taking 90% responsibility while the Gov figures out which information (data) or lies to release. =People expect direction from the Government so the Gov uncertainty does not help much.

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Badsey - the generators are insanely specialised things and are not items just lying around! They are not your run-of-the-mill generators!

The fact is that rumours and half-truths are, and have already been, spread by articles like this... I liked Smorkian's comment of "armchair nuclear experts" comment and nobody is really helped by the kind of thing!

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tkoind2 - In reply to your catalog of errors:

Not an error - this was how these reactors were design. They had 3 back-ups - all kicked in successfully, unfortunately they could never have predicted a tsunami of the size that swept in. 3.? After the quake: 1. Me thinks they were doing their damnedest to get them cooled! 2. The government very quickly accepted offers of help. 3. Don't know enough of this to comment. 4. Agreed - TEPCO should be hung out to dry for this. 5. TEPCO - maybe. The government has worked hard in this area. 6. Needed to be tried. 7. Not true.
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At the center of that story, which dominated headlines for weeks, was a 19-year-old native of the area caught cheating on his university entrance exam

...

Had Japanese government authorities reacted to the breach at the Fukushima nuclear power plant with equal zeal, we might not be looking down the barrel of a melting nuclear core today.

What a ridiculous comparison.

The writer lives about 250 kms downwind of the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

So? This makes him an expert?

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forinagai: We can argue semantics all day, but built in vulnerabilities qualify as errors in my book. So I will retain 1 as an error.

I will retain #2 for the same reason. As it is clear that additional back ups should have been considered. Going forward at least three levels are needed.

As for post accident. The government did not quickly accept offers. As the media clearly reported, there was considerable concern over the slow uptake of international aid by the Japanese government.

Look, I know it is nice to be a fan of Japan. I am certainly a supporter of Japan always and especially in times of need. But I am equally critical of the capacity to move slowly here. We do know that considerable pressure was brought to achieve the international support that is on site now. Japan should have put pride aside and accepted more support as soon as it was made available.

The same applies to relief efforts. Friends providing private relief were unable to help for the first 8-10 days. While no aid was getting to many places. It took bad press for Japan to clue in and let small relief groups get to people who were in dire need. Unforgivable.

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hind sight is always 20/20

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Japan was coordinating with the US government as to what help the US could provide. This was reported as early as March 17.

How many back-ups should be required? The experts obviously thought three were sufficient - indeed that's often the number of back-ups required in other systems.

The J-government was very quick to accept aid this time round compared to the Kobe earthquake. I think the gov. should be commended for that.

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ebisen - agreed. They obviously had no source of fresh water to draw upon. So, the resorted to the last resort of sea water. I'm sure they were well aware what their decision meant for the future of the plant.

The most important thing is/was to get the fuel rods cooled down to a manageable temperature.

Disagree about police action regarding the cheating incident. I didn't realize cheating was a criminal offence requiring the involvement of police.

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"The J-government was very quick to accept aid this time round compared to the Kobe earthquake. I think the gov. should be commended for that."

Great we can all pat the government on the back. Meanwhile aid agencies with supplies were unable to assist for days. In that time people suffered considerably. And we are not talking about foreign aid agencies. We are talking about small Japan based NPOs.

Look I can see you are all "Go Japan" but we have to be critical where it is required and it is clearly required when aid sits idle while red tape keeps it from getting to people who had no food.

You should spend some time talking with people who have been doing aid work in the more isolated areas last three weeks. They will enlighten you on how much BS red tape hurt people and contines to do so.

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hind sight is always 20/20

+1!

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Man oh man! Where to start?

In the critical early hours of the disaster, the power plant’s owner, TEPCO, chose to save its corporate assets at the expense of everyone and everything else. Instead of moving right away to cool the reactor with seawater, it waited for hours in fear that the saltwater would ruin the precious equipment they had invested in.

What part of "there's no power to run the pumps" - whether fresh water OR seawater pumps - does this guy not understand? Of course, because this guy lives in the ocean 250 kms from the Daiichi plant, naturally that's the ONLY one TEPCO should have been concerned about in the "critical early hours". It obviously stands to reason that ALL the other reactor sites would be daijoubu and therefore not worth their concern.

As has been pointed out by others, these pumps are not something you just run an extension cord to and start back up. They take a SERIOUS amount of current to pump the quantities of water needed.

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For Generators: you either have enough Wattage (kVA-3 phase) to run the equipment you need or not. This is Japan and generators/pumps/and conductive wire abound.

Radioactive capable pumps maybe a different story.

=we are not trying to split atoms here and any mechanical electrician or electrical engineer could have helped fix this. Many facilities have back-up generators that could have been used (businesses, hospitals, military etc)

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As for post accident. The government did not quickly accept offers. As the media clearly reported, there was considerable concern over the slow uptake of international aid by the Japanese government.

Media "clearly" reported? Give it a rest. What was "offered" by foreign parties are nothing more than an abundance of caution and post "stabilization" equipments.

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I said the same this afternoon and got deleted for being 'Off topic'. I fail to see how a comment directly related to a sentence in the article (presumably inserted to impress on us the credentials of the writer) can be off topic, but there you go.

Me too, this morning. Go figure.

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Will Japan choose to build on that hope and forge a future driven by viable alternative energy resources

the solutions have been confirmed three months ago before the tsunami hit the Sendai.

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It would, of course, be nice if the wind ALWAYS blows from west to east...........but, winds do change direction.

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In order to build the mill, what are inputs and business manners? Location, capital investment, and terms ... the investor knows how to complete the deal in 24 hours, even the wind flows from west or east, it doesn't matter, but electricity.

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Badsey - no hospital I know of has a multi MWatt class portable generator that would have been big enough to cover the bare minimum for the pumps to be powered... I believe you don't quite understand the powers needed...

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If you goto wikipedia and search "Fukushima 1 Nuclear Accidents" you can get a timeline of the accidents and solutions they tried.

=external generators were brought in and some of the generators were brought back online. You must remember that all 6 generators got knocked out by water and battery back-up power was only good for 8 hours. 200MW-300MW (x6) reactors have large cooling/electrical needs.

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