Fukushima Management and Government Performance

  1. Apr 24, 2011 #1


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    This seems to be a high interest topic and nobady else started it so I will. If previous discussion is evidence of a future trend please put on your asbestos underwear before you post.

    Before you start throwing knives, I will concede that there have been serious mistakes and defective communication during the past 6 weeks. There will have to be an accounting for those lapses. Keep in mind that the Japanese culture is also part of this. It doesn't excuse them, but it may be part of the problem which will be hard to change. Try to put yourself in their shoes during the early hours of this esvent. Be honest can you guarantee you could have prevented this?

    I have sent the following in two private messages as my response to the general distrust and fear of the "nuclear industry." As part of that industry I have seen good people and bad, competent and incompetent, dedicated and lazy. In short they are human beings.

    "So why should you trust these people to do the right thing? To me, it seems the public looks at the nuclear "industry" as a small group of old white guys sitting around a conference room in a skyscraper hundreds of miles away, trying to squeeze more profit out of a plant by cutting corners, threatening the workers, and lying to the government and the public.

    The best argument I can offer is that the engineers and managers at nuclear plants LIVE there too. They have homes, children, and friends that they value and want to protect. Yes there have been cases where managers have retaliated against workers who have raised safety questions, but the reason we know that is that those managers have often been prosecuted or fired as a result. In general most of my colleagues were not reluctant to raise safety issues, partly because of whistle-blower protections, but mostly because they want to protect themselves, their families, and their communities."

    I know there are evil people: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, the Borgias, Charlie Manson. I can say confidently that I have never met one of those and I certainly have never worked with one. Okay, now I'll call the fire department to stand by. In the words of Breaker Morant "Shoot straight, you B******s.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 24, 2011 #2


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    This has been my experience as well. Folks at NPPs have a personal stake in the safe operation - namely their families, friends and neighbors.
  4. Apr 24, 2011 #3
    They did grave mistakes, both government and TEPCO. But still they are trying their damn best to resolve the situation.

    People who are constantly bashing TEPCO and the government for their disaster response don't seem to realize that both gain nothing in actively hampering relief efforts.
    In Germany you hear nothing, absolutely nothing positive regarding TEPCO and the japanese government. On the contrary, they are depicted as incompetent, lying fools who don't want to resolve anything. I'm seriously annoyed by that attitude of my people.
  5. Apr 24, 2011 #4
    Well, the cutting corners happens. That's how the boral sheet swelling problem was solved. By cutting corners. :)

    I would say, there are many entirely different classes involved:
    Owners. They own this stuff. How they came to be this wealthy? Many, by investing.
    White collar businesspeople who manage owner's investments, buying and selling stock etc.
    White collar management of the company, in skyscrapers hundreds of miles away. Their job is to maximize profit. They're in a control of a big power utility - which has power lines, nuclear reactors, coal plants, etc. These guys have no clue and greatly exaggerate safety figures and believe in those figures.
    Engineers of varying levels. That part may be very thin. There are engineers employed by the power company, and the engineers employed for regulation.
    Technicians and low level workers. In Japan, very low level, judging by wages.
    The list is by no means comprehensive or detailed.

    I do not trust the management to do the right thing. And they run this show. They can screen for potential whistleblowers (with some euphemism such as testing for 'teamwork attitude').

    On the topic of trust - if only it was so simple. The psychological research shows that people tend to shy away the responsibility and choose inaction.
    Watch this - the people's behaviour - unrelated to nuclear power, but so related to the trust:
    (notably, not a single person did the right thing - calling the police and informing the woman)
    Read on the milgram's experiment:
    It takes a lot of willpower, a lot of guts to stand out and blow the whistle. Those qualities can be screened against when hiring if they interfere with profitability, and its very easy to say that it is about team work, or about background, or what ever. Military types - I really can't trust military types. Who would willingly join organization where you're being bossed around all the time, with very strict hierarchy?

    It is all nice to say that so far nuclear power did not claim many lives - but imagine that Japan was not about 25% nuclear but 75% nuclear, at the time of tsunami, with same quality of power plants. It is kind of obvious enough that 3 Fukushimas at once would be far worse than 3 times Fukushima, as a: it'd be dominated by worst case out of 9 reactors and 12 spent fuel pools, b: there would be far fewer resources for handling it.
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2011
  6. Apr 24, 2011 #5


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    Dmytry, I have reordered this to address similar things together. I hope I haven't distorted your position.

    I'll accept that there are investors. I don't think any US nuclear utility is privately owned. That is because until recently utilities were strictly regulated. Executives responsible for operation of nuclear plants are required to sign correspondence with the NRC under Oath and Affirmation which puts them under penalty of law for the completeness and accuracy of the content. I have never seen one of them that doesn't take that seriously.

    Yep I see the humor- cutting corners Hee Hee.

    As to cutting corners or squeezing the plant for profits, every plant has two or sometimes more resident NRC inspectors constantly watching for signs of equipment, personnel, maintenance and safety. NRC conducts frequent team inspections and reviews the hundreds of reports and submittals required each year. Then there is INPO, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, conducting surveillance of plant conditions, operating excellence, safety, procedural compliance and use of operating experiences from other plants. There is NEIL, the insurer, looking for conditions which would decrease plant reliability and safety. Neil insurance rates are set accordingly. We have Owners groups, the Electrical Power Research Institute (EPRI), the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) working to share improvements and efforts to address issues. Plant Managers and Operators are Licensed and can be held individually responsible for negligence or misconduct. Professional Engineers have standards and ethics to meet or they can lose their licenses. Add to those steps, procedures for just about everything, second checking and independent verification of everything from valve positioning, to surveillance testing, to annalysis. Add formal corrective action programs. How long would a coverup last? In the United States technicians and laborers in the nuclear industry are well paid.

    This list, too, is not comprehensive and I'm sure others can add more examples.

    I can't argue that those things happened. But you pointed out these events were not related to nuclear power in the US. You won't accept this, but my experience is that trust is justified in people I have known in the industry.

    Actually once a person blows the whistle he, or she, is protected by law from retribution, harrassment, or retaliation. This protection has been more abused by the people that have applied for this protection than the managers and companies. When a manager or executive or supervisor is found to have violared these protections he can be banned from work in the industry or even jailed. Also he is immediately vulnerable to civil suits.

    Your statements above are self-contradictory. You say it takes courage to stand up for what is right and then reject military veterans who are most likely to have exactly that kind of courage and discipline.

    As bad as the current tragedy is, I agree that would be worse. I'm hoping we can learn from this event and make that less likely.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2011
  7. Apr 24, 2011 #6
    While I agree there is regulation and regular inspection, I do have questions about this. Are the resident NRC inspectors paid for by NRC or by the Plant payroll? We have seen other regulated industries where regulators are accountable to federal agencies, but are payrolled by the industries. In situations like this, the question of accountability becomes one of 'Who puts the food on your family's table?"

    Also, it is in the best interest of the NRC for nuclear plants to continue in the US. If all nuclear plants were phased out in the US - so would many of the commission's employment positions. Again, "Who puts the food on your family's table?"

    Now pretty much replace NRC with INPO, NEIL, EPRI, NEI. If all those agencies/orgs/companies/panels/etc are 100% completely independent of the nuclear plants and the decisions those plants make - fantastic - that's one set of safeguards that are working. But we know that without those nuclear plants - they would be downsized and/or die off.

    Some corners are cut in every industry every day - because they are seen 'less detrimental' than others that could be cut. We also know that the good-ol' boy network exists in every industry: as in "Bob, I'll give you 2 days to bring this back up to snuff ... I'll be back and I'll write up whatever I see. " It's all human nature. And the further the Executive Board lives from the industry they manage - the more likely they are to be open to (or to think up) cost- and corner- cutting ideas.

    In a perfect world - with perfect people - nuclear power is the perfect choice. But almost nothing in our human experience is perfect.
  8. Apr 25, 2011 #7


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    NRC inspectors, including the resident inspectors are paid federal employees. NRC is partially funded by fes from the industry and partly out of apportions from Congress. Commissioners are appointed by the President and Confirmed by the US Senate.

    The other organizations are funded by the industry. Admittedly that raises a possibility of colusion or inflence. I don't know what you do for a living, but let me ask you this, "Do you try to give an honest day's work. Do you try to do the right thing?" The fact that you are here asking questions means that you care. Would it really surprise you that most people in the nuclear industry have the same answers to those questions?
  9. Apr 25, 2011 #8
    I work in technical theatre and political data management. Yes, I agree that most do have the same "Yes" answers to those questions.

    But then speaking of theatre ... "Spiderman" Broadway musical, comes to mind when there are safety questions in that industry. The only people that have been hurt are those involved in the show, by the decisions that have been made. They all have appeared to have followed industry and legal guidelines - yet ...

    Do I need to go into political officials and their examples?

    It's about bad judgment not bad intent. And sometimes, bad judgment isn't known until after the ramifications of the decisions have come full-force. And that is really what we are dealing with here - when not dealing with very rare instances of collusion. Problem is - with theatre - bad judgment usually just closes a show ... but with nuclear power - the results can end up like Chernobyl or Fukushima.

    Bringing this back to Fukushima - that is what appears to have occurred in light with this disaster - bad judgment, not necessarily collusion. There were a few bad judgments prior to, including not having diesel generators at high enough elevation. But much of what will be considered (or already considered) bad judgments in reaction to the disaster - initial dismissal of concerns, slow to evacuate or inappropriate evacuation, not having robots at-the-ready (because they decided not to build any years ago), not air-dropping enough personal rad monitors for staff on site until caught by the press, etc etc etc ...

    They all appear intended well - but if we look at the delay of salt water cooling decision - why was it delayed? $$$$$$$$ - they were trying to hedge their bets and not 'ruin' their reactor. What really should have been the first thought? "Damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead" - or - "Damn the reactor - get that water in there and cool it down ... NOW."
  10. Apr 25, 2011 #9
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2011
  11. Apr 25, 2011 #10
    Also, consider Chernobyl. Nobody was being evil there. The experiment was important to safety. To surviving 2 minutes right after blackout, when decay heat is very bad, while backup generators start. To the best knowledge of people responsible, at the time, it was safe to perform outside the specified parameters.
    Graphite tipped control rods were graphite tipped to increase control range and to increase fuel burn-up in the bottom part of core. Not because someone wanted to blow up a reactor.
    End result: worst accident in the history. Maybe to be de-rated to second worst in a year time when Fukushima is properly investigated.

    Consider the Fukushima. Nobody wanted to build unsafe reactors. Yet it so happened - and they never funded their own equivalent of KHG or INTRA because they grossly over-estimated safety of their plants, they have grossly underestimated the tsunami, they had electrical stuff in the floodable basement. To prevent this takes something more than simple naive notion of honesty and good will.
    To prevent this, takes being honest with oneself - and a lot of people are very dishonest with themselves. People routinely deceive themselves. Especially when it comes to safety. It is so easy not to think uncomfortable things. There's nobody in this whole world whom I really trust not to self deceive at all. Not even myself. Everyone is prone to self deception. And there's very, very few people who i trust to think - seriously think - to see if their action is moral or immoral. I don't trust people to recognize immorality of actions their consider, when it is in the slightest mentally demanding. When the immorality is in the slightest non straightforward. When one can make oneself believe that its ok.

    Also. Read this:
    Managers believing in one in 100 000 figures.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2011
  12. Apr 25, 2011 #11
    Even disregarding every other glaringly negligent thing I think TEPCO is guilty of, at least I would have taken this into account:

    Tectonic setting---Pacific "Ring of Fire", same as Japan
    Chilean earthquake and tsunami---May 22, 1960
    Earthquake magnitude---9.5, strongest ever recorded
    Tsunami classification---earthquake generated 25 meter waves

    And Japan is much more seismically active than Chile. Furthermore, the Fuku plant is built on Japan"s most seismically active coast(east). The Chilean mega-earthquake was only 50 years ago.

    Let's start with this little bit of TEPCO's logic-and-probability defiance, before all else.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2011
  13. Apr 25, 2011 #12
    So what? It is the DUTY of both government and the power company that owns the thing to do their damn best to resolve the problem. You want someone to give them a medal for persisting to fix their grave mistakes maybe? High risk behaviour=Maximum profits=Taking the searing heat if TSHTF. I don't know how much money they saved through corner cutting but estimates for the clean up go from conservative billions to perhaps more realistic trillions of yen. Not quite living up to the nuclear industry's spiel about "clean and economical", is it?
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2011
  14. Apr 25, 2011 #13
    See, "trying one's best" might not be sufficient, because it's limited by one's abilities.

    I'm quite sure the tech guys at the plant do the best to their abilities. Their abilities are the result of their training and intelligence. They're (probably) trained to maintain and run a nuclear plant. They're, however, not trained to deal with the current situation. And they're weren't exactly equipped for it, either. Plastic bags instead of rubber boots, dosimeters instead of proper counters, and only one for a group of people?

    Tepco's managers might try to do their best, too. But then, they're managers, whose job it is to run a company efficiently. A disaster managers can deal with is when their company is in financial problems. However, this problem goes well beyond that. If they don't have an engineering/physics background, they will have little understanding of the current situation (and they likely won't even see it that way!). Yet, they're the ones who have to decide.
    They usually have advisors: lawyers and engineers (hopefully more of the latter). However, due to the Japanese culture, these subordinates are in a peculiar situation. They might not be able to express their opinion as freely as needed. And if they do, their bosses might just say "Hai, so desu" ("Yes, so it is", but often more like, "yeah, whatever").

    The problem is, the guys who really have the skills to deal with such a difficult situation are usually stuck in between the tech guys and the top management.

    And most of these guys seem to be stuck within their "box", too. Do you guys still remember the lab results showing quantities of 134I? These were declared "faulty" by someone, saying "the reactors are shut down, how would something go critical"?

    The decision not to accept foreign high-tech-help (most of the accepted help is rather low-tech) is a similar issue. They could have had highly specialised robots driving through the plants weeks ago. Instead, they taped a counter to a pimped EOD-robot. They could have had a lab with trained staff on site. Instead, it takes hours to even reach a lab. And in that lab, workers apparently have trouble with their job. They find highly active debris (300-900mSv/h) and put it away, without further analyzing it. Driving water samples to a lab works, but not concrete debris.

    The disaster management we're seeing here is a problem.

    People seldomly step down when they notice their own incompetence. And they even more seldomly notice their incompetence themselves.
  15. Apr 25, 2011 #14


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    Danuta, it looks like you have done your homework. The Valdivia is the most intense earthquake ever recorded. Your numbers for maximum runup of the tsunami are what I found too and 9.5 or 9.6 for Magnitude.

    Runup in Hawaii was about 12 m.

    Runup in Honshu was 5.5 m (close to the 5.7 m design basis at Fukushima.

    Now we have a 9.0 Magnitude earthquake off Honshu and locally a 14 m runup at the Fukushima.

    Scientists tell you that the difference in runup locally between Valdivia and the recent Japanese earthquake is due to the fact that Japan has a longer shoal area off its east coast compared to Chile which has a very short shoaling area on its west coast causing much higher amplification of waves coming ashore.

    Dmytry, please join in on this as well. You have asked me to address hypothetical conditions. Now its my turn.I am going to ask you to be an engineer.

    What height should the wall be at the Onagawa plant which is still operating? I will ask you to explain your answer only in terms of spending money on this wall versus building additional breakwalls and special shelters and warning systems along the coast where perople were killed by this tsunami. If you choose to build the wall to 15 m (just over the size of this tsunami you will be able to save an additional 500 lives in a similar event. If you chose to build it to 25 m to match the Chile tsunami the number of lives saved drops to 400.

    This is not a trick question. There are real consequences to design choices. Budgets are not unlimited. If this is unfair assume that each meter costs only one life. Or even easier. Each meter of wall height means that there will be another $500,000 in property damage that won't be prevented.

    Now once you pick your height for the wall, and it has been built, a scientist comes up to you and shows you this report:


    He tells you that he has used this method and he came up with a vulnerability to a landslide tsunami in New Zealand that had not been mapped before. He predicts that there have been 68 landslides in that area over 20 million years that could produce a tsunami of 35 meters on the coast of Honshu. He estimates that there is a now a 1:5,000 per year possibility of a similar slide. If you decide not to do anything he tells you he will take it to the regulators and the press. What do you do now?

    I know this situation I'm asking you to think about is hypothetical, but it is fair, because it is similar to the choice of a 5.7 m wall at Fukushima based on a historical maximum runup of 5.5 m. If they knew of a probability of a tsunami greater than that, you are now in the same position they were.

    Dmytry, Danuta, You both care deeply about nuclear safety or you wouldn't be here. So do I. and so do 99.9% of my colleagues. (I can't put any more 9s on that because I don't know everybody in the industry.

    Dmytry doesn't trust us. That is good. Watch us like a hawk. In the US we have lots of people and organizations opposed to nuclear power who watch everything we do. If you don't live in the US, I hope that is true where you are as well.
  16. Apr 25, 2011 #15
    Go read this:
    tsunamis as tall as 50 meters happened in Japan during recorded history. I don't know where you got historical maximum runup of 5.5 meters? Are you confusing open-sea height with run-up?
    edit: best yet. Some place was hit by 30 meters tsunami as recently as in 1993.

    At very least: maximum runup on the entire coast over recorded history (NOT just at the reactor site), times 2 for safety factor (takes care of various discoveries such as what you linked). Maybe recalculated run-up for particular near-coast geometry, but only if the fluid simulation model can be trusted not to underestimate.
    The resulting run-up height would be well over 50 meters.

    Probably, that figure would make construction of nuclear power plant impossible at that location. Probably it would have to be built higher uphill, and have some sort of artificial lake for coolant water reserve + pumps to pump water in. Expensive.
    The management would never allow that. The plant has to be build no matter what, and there is a limited budget. The height would be absolute minimum they can get away with. Something like smallest possible estimate of maximum recorded historical run-up on this particular single location, with a tiny safety factor. Then, if you choose a location that was never hit by strong tsunami due to quake never happening near it, you can get away with minimal protection, even though that location is not necessarily any safer than a location which was hit by some really tall tsunami a few hundred years ago.

    For the city - well, well, I'd let sides present their argument, I'd inform people of the historical tsunamis (which can be VERY tall), I'd rather the people decide, do they want to together pay for the wall, or do they want to go without the wall. The problem with city is that it already exists. Also, it is not a communism there in Japan. No central planning. It's one group of people responsible for building a safe NPP, and another group responsible for adding a wall for existing city, and you have no business using pre-existing risks to justify the risk you add when you construct a nuclear power plant. In my eyes, if you have an inclination to use pre-existing risks to justify the extra risk you are responsible for, you are not to be trusted with safety.
    The ordinary immoral person is so due to ability to justify own actions and see them as moral. "Looking at big picture" is a common theme.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2011
  17. Apr 25, 2011 #16
    What height should the walls be at Fuku and Onagawa. That is the engineering question.

    Thank goodness this is a forum and I don't have to write up a few hundred pages of this and that, as would be mandatory in any industry. My answer is hence brief. I would not build a nuclear power station the likes of Fuku or Onagawa on the eastern shore of Japan where they stand now. You couldn't make me. (although I've always wanted an Italian villa of my own, but we won't go there). All other calculations are useless then.

    Dmytry is right about historical maximum for Japanese coastal tsunami being 50 meters, even more, but every nuclear industry person I spoke to kept telling me that was looooong ago in the 1700's and the probability of it happening again could not realistically be taken into account. So I mentioned something more recent. No one from the industry likes to bring up the Chilean quake.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2011
  18. Apr 25, 2011 #17
    For more recent, 30 meters in 1933 .
    and if you read the list of tsunamis on that page, there's awful lot MUCH taller than 5.5 meters. My understanding is that the maximum is localized and it is thus easy to find spots with small local historical maximum (either due to lack of nearby quake or lack of historical recording), which are nonetheless not necessarily any safer.
    There may also be safer spots due to geometry, but verifying that a spot is safe, with back-then computing technology, would have been very expensive. It is very expensive even now.
    Fluid simulation is complicated, and fluid simulation that is guaranteed not to underestimate, is very difficult - I do not even know how you'd assure that. Software also costs money and it could be cheaper to just assume maximum * safety factor than to obtain more accurate estimate that can be trusted.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2011
  19. Apr 25, 2011 #18


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    Non-responsive. If I can summarize your answer You will impose absolute protection standards for the nuclear plant, but the general population will simply be told they are at risk. Really? And you call ME immoral? Your answer is that they can all die as long as they don't die from radiation.

    I asked you how YOU would address the tradeoffs. I said nothing about justifying anything preexisting. Don't try to put this back on me. You were faced with an initial event that I thought was the new record for a tsunami. If the record was 50 m instead of 14 m the same issue can exist. You say that it would make building a nuclear pant impossible to build in that location. The question was what you would do at an existing plant and you go off about justifying a new construction plant in the same location. In my hypothetical problem, you address the first issue of an earthquake generated tsunami and then are faced with a 1 in 5000 chance that your first solution wasn't enough based on new information. You have claimed you are knowledgable about adressing risk. What do you do? Show me that you understand that as we learn more about risks to safety that we have to take further action. Show me that you really understand that a specific risk can not be viewed in a vacuum. Show me that you understand that protecting people from one source of risk while you ignore an even bigger risk is not the morality you speak about so much.

    Instead of answering that question and showing that you understand that there are limits to how much risk we can eliminate, you choose the Kobeyashi Maru way out by changing the question and calling me names.

    You sit there telling us how simple the answers are and that the reason the problems exist is that we can't be trusted. Everybody is wrong except Dmytry. That is the definition of intellectual dishonesty.
  20. Apr 25, 2011 #19


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    Also non-responsive. See my response to Dmytry. I am not trying to tell you there is nothing to improve in managing and operating nuclear power plants. I am trying to help you understand how complicated decisions can become. Hindsight is 20/20 and the people in the cheap seats always know better than the coach on the field.
  21. Apr 25, 2011 #20
    Nuceng, I would never have agreed to build those reactors where they stand. Neva'. Nor would a lot of people. One reason why I run my own business is so nobody can tell me to do what I don't want to do and threaten me with loss of my job if I don't do it. Been there. I think I know how complicated decisions can become without your helping me understand. I have never been in the cheap seats, by the way, so I hope you are not referring to me.

    Edit: Seriously, who would put six reactors in close proximity of each other smack dab in the middle of the world's earthquake and tsunami central? On earthquake and tsunami central's eastern shore no less!! NOT ME.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2011
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