On March 15th I wrote about my decision to leave Tokyo. One of my main concerns at the time was that decision-making pertaining to the six overheating nuclear reactors at the Daiichi Fukushima nuclear facility would be too slow. Given that decision-making in Japan is nearly always done by consensus, the time that would be required to form a consensus among various decision-makers would undoubtedly be too long to control the problems resulting from the earthquake and tsunamiu quickly. Time is not a luxury in any crisis, let alone one with the potential for radiation release.
Officials at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the various government and regulatory agencies did indeed lose valuable time creating and implementing a plan as the nuclear reactors overheated. On March 19th Bloomberg reported that TEPCO considered using seawater to cool one of its six reactors at least as early as the day after the quake struck (on March 12th), but did not do so until Prime Minister Kan ordered it. Valuable time was lost. Additionally, and as reported on March 21st by the Wall Street Journal, crucial efforts to tame the crippled plant were delayed by TEPCO’s concerns over “damaging valuable power assets” and by initial passivity on the part of the government.
I knew that since many Japanese tend to respond reactively (not proactively) to unfolding events, any effort devoted to thinking ahead regarding “worst case” scenarios would likely be insufficient. Even armed with ample time, no one involved with tsunami projections factored in any earthquake larger than 7.5 magnitude. The New York Times reported on March 26th that Japanese earthquake specialists “…failed to make use of advances in seismology and risk assessment since the 1970s…,” adding that, “…over the decades, preparedness against tsunamis never became a priority for Japan’s power companies or nuclear regulators…” I would be surprised to learn that anyone even considered the possibility of failure of all six reactors, let alone what to do in such a case.
I also had great concern, as noted on March 15th, that TEPCO would control what information would be released regarding the state of the six reactors. It is now well known that TEPCO experienced safety violations and deliberately deceived the government and public over several decades. In 1978, control rods at one Fukushima reactor dislodged, but the accident was not reported because utilities were not required to notify the government of such accidents.
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