Friday, March 29, 2013

A Gift For The Nuclear Village

The restart of nuclear reactors in this blessed land has run up against a number of hurdles. One is the possibly intentional slow pace at which local communities around the nation's nuclear plants are drawing up evacuation plans (Link – J). Another has been the unwillingness of commissions of experts to declare inactive the seismic faults that run through nation's reactor sites.

Those wanting to throw doubt on the assessments of these seismic experts received a huge gift yesterday:
Fault researcher admits error / Team analyzing Tachikawa geology misidentified material
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Researchers who surveyed the Tachikawa fault reiterated apologies at a press conference Thursday for errors they made in their analysis.

"We're very sorry for having caused confusion," one researcher said. The team was found to have made such mistakes as erroneously identifying man-made material as rock.

Local governments concerned accepted the development in a coolheaded manner, but told residents to continue preparing for earthquakes that could be caused by the fault.

Prof. Hiroshi Sato of the University of Tokyo's Earthquake Research Institute, who wrongly judged the geological structure of the Tachikawa fault, repeatedly apologized for the mistake.

Tatsuya Ishiyama, an assistant professor of the institute who conducted the analysis with Sato, said, "I'm very sorry for causing confusion among local residents and communities."

Regarding the factors that lead to the erroneous judgment, Sato said, "There were artificial materials at a site where I assumed I'd find the fault."

Sato also has engaged in the examination of faults on the grounds of Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Higashidori nuclear power plant, on which a team of examiners compiled a report in February that said it is highly likely they are active faults.

Asked whether he will resign from the research team, Sato said: "If I'm urged to resign for being unqualified, I will quit. But once I accept an appointment, I want to fulfill my responsibilities as a researcher."

As geological experts have predicted that a 7.4-magnitude could strike the Tachikawa fault, killing as many as 2,600 people, residents are highly interested in the research. When the research site opened to the public in February, more than 10,000 people visited.

The central government provided about 100 million yen a year in subsidies for the research, with about 23 million yen already spent on drilling and other work.

The research team said it will restart the analysis using other data such as older geological charts…

Professor Sato did himself no favors at the press conference. From the clips shown on television, his attitude was of bemusement at his misidenfication of the concrete foundations of the former Nissan assembly plant as a natural rock feature demonstrating the likely active state of the Tachikawa Fault.

Shame? OK. Defiance? OK. Bemusement? Probably not so OK.

What would have been Professor Sato's reaction to one of his undergrads presenting a paper misidentifying concrete as a natural formation? An "A" for effort?

The pro-nuclear Sankei newspaper has quite reasonably jumped all over the news of Sato's blunder. By the dastardly and utterly fair tactic of reprinting Sato's definitive statements on the activity of faults, including the incredible claim yesterday that the fault under the Totsu Higashidori Nuclear Power Station is "active without any doubt" –- and noting that Sato is a rotating member of the team of experts investigating the seismic faults underlying the nation's nuclear power plants -- it pretty much detonates the credibility of the team's assessments. (Link – J)

Science is about a willingness to make mistakes, with compensatory measures to catch and identify them. As one earthquake fault researcher points out in the Sankei article, "It often happens that there are differences of opinion over whether, at a given location, a fault is there or not. That is why verification from a number of experts is necessary before a judgment can be delivered."

However, lay understanding of science is that years of training and the scientific method winnow out the possibility of making mistakes, especially boneheaded ones like mistaking concrete for rock.

In this instance, it is hard to fault (pun unintended) the lay understanding of how science should work.

As to the decision to make the fully funded Tachikawa Fault investigation into a public spectacle ("When the research site opened to the public in February, more than 10,000 people visited.") -- that just redefines idiocy downward.

Later - Via the offices of The Japan Times comes the Kyodo News version of the debacle. (Link)


Anonymous said...

I hope you won't think I make a point of catching you out, but wouldn't "Totsu" nuclear power plant be "Higashidori"?

MTC said...

Anonymous -

Not at all. Thank you for your correction.

I unthinkingly wrote down the name of the company using the same characters.