Monday, May 28, 2012

Ecce Homo

Today former prime minister Kan Naoto is appearing before the Diet's "Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Power Plant Accident Investigative Committee" (Tokyo denryoku Fukushima genpatsu jiko chosa iinkai). Kan's testimony is the culmination of the Committee's investigations, which have seen former minister after former minister summoned to tell his version of what happened during the first few hours, days and weeks of the Fukushima Dai'ichi disaster. Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio had his day before the Committee yesterday (On a Sunday! The Diet is normally like Melina Mercouri -- never on a Sunday!).

Today, however, is the grand finale, the final act, where the biggest fish in the sea is hauled out and interrogated about his actions and decisions in the most hectic and desperate days this blessed land has known since 1945.

The Committee's chairman is Kurokawa Kiyoshi (bio), a Fellow at National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) and an emeritus professor of Tokyo University. Despite the pointed, possibly highly technical questions it might ask, the Committee is likely to not be the kangaroo court the opposition and members of the news media desire.

Nevertheless, the news media and the opposition will hover like vultures over Kan's testimony, trying to find sentences to misconstrue, quote in isolation and otherwise tease and torture until meaning is drained from them. The colossal politico-media-entertainment squid bought into and promoted a narrative that the PM was an impediment to those who were fighting a panicked and ultimately failed effort to prevent meltdowns, explosions and the release of many terabequerels of radiation. Its members even went so far as to accuse him of initiating cascades of events that worsened the disaster.

So far, the news has accentuated the negative:

Japan refused US offer of nuclear experts in PM office

Edano: PM's office did not block use of 'meltdown'

Japan government spokesman says he didn’t deliberately mislead public on nuclear crisis
(Check out the accompanying photo. Shameless!)

As can be expected, each of the participants has used the occasion of his testimony to exonerate himself (E - photo issue as above). As a consequence, the final report of the Committee is likely to present a braid of different narratives, rather than a definitive chain of causation.

Most desperate to get their version out are the Tokyo Electric Power executives, who were not interviewed for the most recently compiled comprehensive investigation into the Fukushima nuclear disaster, produced by Funabashi Yoiichi's Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation (Link - J). If anybody has had a story to tell (and I do mean story) it is TEPCO executives, particularly as then president Shimizu Masataka checked himself into a hospital less than two weeks into the crisis. (E)

In the end, the report will disappoint those who want someone to blame. A giant earthquake and a towering tsunami hit a nuclear power station designed to resist the greatest natural blow this blessed land had heretofore experienced, not a black swan event. With the main and backup systems gone, everyone, with the possible exception of the TEPCO executives and the unprepared public information service of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, performed heroic ad hoc efforts to bring the nuclear reactors under control and ensure the public's safety.

So while the wire services, the nightly news on the anti-DPJ channels and even the reports the neutral channels, out of a misunderstanding of the concept of fairness, will bore in on the confusion and improvisation in March and early April 2011, and tomorrow's newspapers will echo and elaborate upon tonight's themes, the truth is that individuals like former Prime Minister Kan and plant manager Yoshida Masao, by following their better instincts, led others to do the same, and prevented a disaster from becoming a cataclysm.

Hold up your chin, blessed land, for producing men and women such as these.


Troy said...

"A giant earthquake and a towering tsunami hit a nuclear power station designed to resist the greatest natural blow this blessed land had heretofore experienced, not a black swan event."

I object to that wordsmithing.

Fukushima I was a known mis-siting, back in the 1960s they were in a hurry and installed the plant wrong (too low relative to tsunamis in the historical record). They didn't repeat that mistake again, even when building reactors 5 & 6 at that site.

The Christmas Tsunami should have been a wake-up call, but instead TEPCO and their overseers decided to roll the dice for a few more decades until units 1-4 were decommissioned.

(Not only was Fukushima I 1-4 built too low, but to install the pressure vessels from the sea on schedule and with less risk of mishap, natural terrain relief that would have protected the plant was graded away).

MTC said...

Troy -

Your examples of failings at the site are likely some of the reasons why Kan in his testimony insisted that onus for the disaster at Fukushima Dai'ichi had to be placed on the government.

Troy said...

Sure. It's kuni's job to run the country. TEPCO only has to worry about making as much money as it can for its shareholders and featherbed its own.

I've long thought that nuclear power was too inherently hazardous for industry to handle responsibly.

Japan of course was the poster child for all that well before Fukushima.

Q1: What happens if we get a Indonesian-scale tsunami that causes station blackout?

A1: The backup generators will be started.

Q2: Where is the fuel for these backup generators?

In a tank on the pier in front of the harbor.

Q3: What happens if that is lost too in the tsunami?

A3: We can bring in external generators to run the pumps.

Q4: Where is the switching rooms these would be connected?

A4: In the basements of the reactor buildings.

Q5: What condition would these basements be in after the tsunami?

. . .

Now, it wasn't Kan's job to vet every nuclear plant in the country's safety profile, but it was certainly *somebody*'s job.

In postulating the maximum-sized earthquake and tsunami that the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex might face, TEPCO's engineers decided not to factor in quakes earlier than 1896. That meant the experts excluded a major quake that occurred more than 1,000 years ago – a tremor followed by a powerful tsunami that hit many of the same locations as the recent disaster.

A TEPCO reassessment presented only four months ago concluded that tsunami-driven water would push no higher than 18 feet (5.7 meters) once it hit the shore at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex. The reactors sit up a small bluff, between 14 and 23 feet (4.3 and 6.3 meters) above TEPCO's projected high-water mark, according to a presentation at a November seismic safety conference in Japan by TEPCO civil engineer Makoto Takao.

"We assessed and confirmed the safety of the nuclear plants," Takao asserted.


TEPCO found the answer they wanted to find, similar to the faulty engineering risk management that contributed to the loss of Challenger and Columbia.

If the wind had been blowing the other way, Tokyo might look like Futaba now.