Why American Officials Have Been Criticizing the Japanese Nuclear Containment Efforts

Some bloggers as well as readers in comments have been very surprised at and unhappy with the spectacle of American officials taking issue with the Japanese response to the crisis at the Fukushima reactor. For instance, the US recommended evacuation for a 50 mile radius from the facility, as opposed to the 20 kilometers, or 12 miles, established by the Japanese.

The disparity in reporting appears to continue today. Bloomberg’s latest story on the nuclear disaster, which looks to rely on Japanese sources, take a “the worst is over” posture, noting that Tokyo Power hopes (stress on the hope part) to have a new power line out to the plant operational by early PM Tokyo time, which should enable some services, most important some of the water pumps, to be restored. By contrast, the New York Times, which appears to reflect the reading of American experts, is still pretty gloomy. The article perversely starts by conceding that so far, the Japanese are right and the hazardous area appears to be just shy of their cordon. This is a representative bit from the cheerily titled “Radiation Spread Seen; Frantic Repairs Go On“:

….another day of frantic efforts to cool nuclear fuel in the troubled reactors and in the plant’s spent-fuel pools resulted in little or no progress, according to United States government officials.

Japanese officials said they would continue those efforts, but were also racing to restore electric power to the site to get equipment going again, leaving open the question of why that effort did not begin days ago, at the first signs that the critical backup cooling systems for the reactors had failed.

The data was collected by the Aerial Measuring System, among the most sophisticated devices rushed to Japan by the Obama administration in an effort to help contain a nuclear crisis that a top American nuclear official said Thursday could go on for weeks.

Strapped onto a plane and a helicopter that the United States flew over the site, with Japanese permission, the equipment took measurements that showed harmful radiation in the immediate vicinity of the plant — a much heavier dose than the trace levels of radioactive particles that make up the atmospheric plume covering a much wider area.

While the findings were reassuring in the short term, the United States declined to back away from its warning to Americans there to stay at least 50 miles from the plant, setting up a far larger perimeter than the Japanese government had established.

Our Richard Smith, who has among his many talents knowing a bit about reactors (he wrote code for some systems for them) has been gobsmacked by the lack of remotely adequate information coming from the Fukushima site. Having worked with the Japanese (I was the first gaijin hired into the Japanese hierarchy at Sumitomo Bank when it was a leading player), let me hazard some informed guesses:

1. Japan is military protectorate of the US, so we are used to throwing our weight around when conditions warrant. But why is this unseemly display warranted?

2. Japan is not a high disclosure society. Being explicit is considered rude (it’s seen as self absorbed, talking for the sake of hearing your own voice). So not telling the public very much, sadly, is pretty normal.

3. Japanese are also not very good in organizing on the fly group responses. When working with foreigners or independently, Japanese are just as adaptable as any other people. But their group/power dynamics impede taking prompt corrective measures when circumstances move outside anticipated scenarios.

So far, this may seem like tired cultural cliches. But now consider the role of TEPCO. Even allowing for the sluggishness of Japanese decision making in crisis settings, TEPCO looks to be over its head. And the Japanese government is stuck. It doesn’t have a ready source of independent expertise; the plants are TEPCO’s, after all. The authorities really need staff who know the facilities to handle most of the disaster containment measures.

So why the ugly American noisemaking? It called gaijin pressure, and it has a proud tradition in Japan. Gaijin pressure has often served as the excuse for Japan to push through politically contentious measures that were clearly necessary but opposed by a well placed minority.

So in this case, the unusually public US expression of doubts were likely necessary to allow the US to monitor the plant and prod TEPCO to consider other plans of action. It would have been problematic in Japan for the government to do so; it might have been seen as undermining TEPCO (and now the self defense forces working with TEPCO). But foreigners, particularly Americans, can act like bulls in the china shop and get away with it. Note this section from the Times (boldface ours):

“What you are seeing are desperate efforts — just throwing everything at it in hopes something will work,” said one American official with long nuclear experience who would not speak for attribution. “Right now this is more prayer than plan.”…

After a day in which American and Japanese officials gave radically different assessments of the danger from the nuclear plant, the two governments tried on Thursday to join forces.

Experts met in Tokyo to compare notes. The United States, with Japanese permission, began to put the intelligence-collection aircraft over the site, in hopes of gaining a view for Washington as well as its allies in Tokyo that did not rely on the announcements of officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates Fukushima Daiichi.

I read that as saying that there is a minority in the officialdom that believes that TEPCO is way out of its depth and bullshitting too, and further recognizes that the normal Japanese timetable for reaching a consensus that TEPCO is a part of the problem is dangerously slow given the magnitude of the problem. The Americans have thus been invited in but are not exactly welcome.

Westerners no doubt assume that critical comments in the US press would be detrimental. However, saying things out loud that many Japanese suspect but cannot state publicly is actually likely to be helpful to the political dynamic. The foreigners serve as a convenient scapegoat for dispensing with protocols that are deeply rooted in Japanese decision-making processes.

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  1. Phil Perspective

    Number 3 above is spot on, I’d guess. Why? Because that’s what MacArthur said about the Japanese 65 to 70 years ago. I remember reading that he said they were great when they had a thought out plan and stuck to it. If you messed up their plan and made them think on the fly, they were a complete mess. It sounds like that’s still true today.

      1. DownSouth

        Parvaneh Ferhadi,

        I’m going to have to throw in my lot with you and kevin de bruxelles (see his 3:16 a.m. comment below). All this sounds entirely too much like the pot calling the kettle black.

        A great read on this is the evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s chapter “The Faults of Others” from his book The Happiness Hypothesis, which begins with the following two quotes:

        • Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the long in your own eye?…You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
        –Mathew 7:3-5

        • It is easy to see the faults of others, but different to see one’s own faults. One shows the faults of others like chaff winnowed in the wind, but one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice.

        Given what a sordid cesspool the United States has become, maybe it’s not the appropriate messenger to be delivering criticism, even though the criticism is legitimate.

        Personally, I place a great deal of value on criticism and dissent. Too bad our president Obama doesn’t, and has used the long arm of the government to squash any and all criticism and dissent emanating from within the United States. As to criticism coming from without, the United States just ignores it, frequently in a disdainful fit of American exceptionalism. The United States can do this. But when the United States criticizes others, others have to take note. Here in Mexico the metaphor that’s used is of the elephant and the gnat. When the elephant moves, it can mean life or death for the gnat. But when the gnat moves, at most it’s a mere annoyance to the elephant.

        I’m wondering if one of Japan’s problems is not so much it’s culture per se, but the fact that it has a mono-culture and not a multi-culture. Chris Freeman in Changing Maps: Governing in a World of Rapid Change had this to say about Japan:

        Japan, too, has deep problems… Many observers also point to conformism in Japanese society as a possible source of weakness, now that Japan has reached the world technological frontier. Diversity and non-conformism are essential to radical innovation and scientific advancement.

        The cacophonous drumbeat continues in the United State, despite Obama and the radical right’s drive to tear it out root and branch. And maybe that’s a good thing, even though at times it makes the United States a bit difficult to manage.

        1. Parvaneh Ferhadi

          Going to the core of these issues we’ll find bad design decisions by GE and the nuclear industry. That the Japanese Atomic Industry was/is in cahoots with their US counterparts seems to be a given as well, but to try to pin this on the Japanese and their culture is beyond pathetic.
          Let’s pin it on the Americans and their psychopathic Capitalist ‘culture’ instead, shall we. It’s much closer to the truth anyway.


          1. DownSouth

            Parvaneh Ferhadi said: “…to try to pin this on the Japanese and their culture is beyond pathetic.”

            There may be truth to that. Some believe, for instance, that we only give lip service to diversity and non-conformism in the United States, that the real thing doesn’t exist:

            • I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America. The majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.
            ▬Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

            • The demonstrated effectiveness of the new political methods of mass advertising meant, in effect, that the cultural values of the corporate state were politically unassailable in twentieth-century America.


            When the long Republican reign came to an end in 1932, the alternatives envisioned by the Democrats of the New Deal unconsciously reflected the shrunken vistas that remained culturally permissible. Aspirations for financial reform on a scale imagined by greenbackers had expired, even among those who thought of themselves as reformers. Inevitably, such reformers had lost the possibility of understanding how the system worked. Structural reform of American banking no longer existed as an issue in America. The ultimate cultural victory being not merely to win an argument but to remove the subject from the agenda of future contention, the consolidation of values that so successfully submerged the “financial question” beyond the purview of succeeding generations was self-sustaining and largely invisible.
            ▬Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Moment

          2. DownSouth

            Parvaneh Ferhadi,

            I think this begs another question, and that is: Just how culturally different is Japan from the United States?

            Carroll Quigley in The Evolution of Civilizations marks the end of Japanese Civilization in 1950 when it was conquered by the Europeans (Americans). According to Quigley, the only two surviving civilizations in 1961 were the Western and the Orthodox (Russian).

            I have to proceed with some subtlety here, because I am certainly not saying that cultural differences don’t matter. You can mark me up in Stephen Toulmin’s camp when he wrote in Cosmopolis:

            In the late 20th century, we are also weaned from Descartes’ belief that factual realms of human study like history and ethnography lack intellectual depth, and can teach us nothing of intellectual importance about, for instance, human nature. Instead, in Western Europe and North America, people these days are deeply influenced by the insights of anthropology, to such an extent that they sometimes find it hard to evaluate their own cultures, and tend to assume —-often a little sloppily—-that all societies and cultures are equally good in their own ways.

            Anthropological and historical insights need not, however, generate philosophical confusion in general, or a sloppy “relativism” in particular. By now, there are few branches of philosophy in which we can afford to blind eye to these insights. Their importance is clearest in fields like ethics, where Alasdair MacIntyre, say, appeals to them to stimulate serious-minded attention to the varied ways in which moral problems are actually discussed and dealt with in this or that cultural and historical context; in Norse saga cultures as contrasted with medieval Christianity, or in the Lutheran and Calvinist societies of Northern Europe as contrasted with the Catholic heartland of the Mediterranean. Similar points arise across the whole of philosophy, from the theory of perception—-where cultural differences in the recognition of colors, say, undermine attempts to use “sense data” as the building blocks of epistemology—-to the philosophy of mathematics, in which Euclidean idealizations of spatial relations have proved to be more relevant and intelligible for people in some kinds of cultures than others.

            Once the significance of “traditions” and “forms of life” is conceded, of course, one must abandon Descartes’ move in the “Discourse on Method,” in which he required us to ignore traditional ideas in favor of ones whose “clarity and distinctness” to all reflective thinkers made them cultural universals. The questions, whether people in all cultures and epochs have access to the same neutral “basic conceptual framework” equally; and, if so, to what extent and in what respects, is a question of fact that we can face with intellectual honesty only if we are ready to take anthropology and history seriously.

        2. nyc

          Just look, if you have the stomach, at the US response to Katrina. As bad as Katrina was, it didn’t come anywhere near the tsunami (we couldn’t even admit a significant body count for weeks, then all of a sudden it was, since you have to ask, over 1000 – which probably still understates it).

          Now, suppose the Daiichi reactors had been in New Orleans at the time, and sustained the same damage.

      2. freepressmyass

        My sentiments exactly. They’re covering their asses.
        It’s good to be one of Obama’s advisor’s, especially if you’re the CEO of one of the largest corporations in the history of the world.

        I worked for NBC a while back and we’d get countless employee emails from GE. There was one I’ll never forget.
        GE profits 1/4 cent on every single item sold in the world, every single day. Might sound like chicken feed at first, but think about it for a moment.

        Jeff Immelt is gunning for more nuclear power in the US and doesn’t want any shit from anyone. Good thing Obama is committed to it.

        1. bmeisen

          Blame anything except the nuke industry. It was the geeky Japanese who can’t innovate and improvise, who have to talk everything over 10 times before they let the boss make the decision. It’s not a technology that – no matter the configuration, no matter the safety features – threatens this planet with wholesale, long-term devastation.

          It was the Japanese, not the technology. Looks like they’re getting their ducks lined up for more nukes. As the number of plants increases so does the likelihood of failure. Chernobyl was 25 years ago – it’s a good bet that the next one will be in 15 to 20 years.

    1. Invertedtotalitarianism

      Japanese were “great when they had a thought out plan and stuck to it. If you messed up their plan and made them think on the fly, they were a complete mess. It sounds like that’s still true today”

      Phil Perspective are you sure you’re talking about Japan or the US given:

      1. Katrina
      2. Gulf Oil Spill
      3. Afghanistan

      Looks like General MacArthur country is just as susceptible to improvisational deficiencies. Or maybe the US never had a plan to begin with?

  2. Argel

    Given the news that people and luggage from Japan arriving in e.g. Chicago have been exposed to above normal levels of radiation I think it’s pretty obvious who is closer to the truth.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      They are not racist cliches. Japanese say the same thing. They are extremely proud of their distinctive culture but it has some drawbacks. It is hardly “racist” to point them out. And more important, I’ve worked inside their culture, not in a gaijin ghetto, which is what happens to pretty much all Westerners working with the Japanese.

      So my views are informed. Tell me exactly how many dealings you’ve had with Japanese on major decisions?

      1. Expat

        Politically correctness has a purpose, but that purpose should not prevent us from acting rationally and sanely. If we discovered that the increased levels of melanin in blacks’ skin caused a disease and was curable, would be keep our mouths shut and let them die to avoid discussing their skin color? Should we stop research into Tay-Sachs because it implies antisemitism? Should we not arrest corrupt bankers and politicians because it’s mainly a white man’s crime?

        The Japanese think a certain way on aggregate. As do the French and English. Or the Americans for that matter, if they bother to think, that is.

      2. Parvaneh Ferhadi

        Yves, it may turn out that the Japanese didn’t stand a chance from the beginning to get a grip on this.

        As it turns out the design of the reactor was faulty and GE, who designed this Mark-I type, knew of it at least since 1972.

        In 1975 three GE engineers resigned because of this flaw:

        Of course, Immelt is in the White House, so blaming this on Japan and their culturally induced ineptness seems only logical.

        Hiroshima, Nagasaki and now Fukushima.

        1. Mark P.

          Except that the problem — and it could now turn out appreciably worse than Chernobyl — is the many, many tons of stored, closely-packed spent fuel at Fukushima, not the reactors.

          The reactors were not the problem — despite the fact that they’re shitty technology from the 1960s — and probably are not even now, if they melt down.

          The whole Fukushima failure cascade-chain is really a tragic ‘for want of a nail’ thing, since it originates with the loss of the back-up cooling system diesel fuel supply when the tsunami washed the diesel tanks away.

          With each step along the chain exacerbated by the fact that Japan seems a society collectively unable to break ranks as it sleepwalks into a potentially historical catastrophe. It’s insane.

          1. Parvaneh Ferhadi

            Well, the fuel rods in the reactors 1 to 3 still are exposed, so the danger from them still isn’t gone and whether the containments are leaking or not is anyone’s guess.

            However, it was the failure of the reactors’ cooling system that led to the venting being necessary which in turn blew up the building and possibly contributed to the problems in the spent fuel pools.

            So, I think it is certainly not wrong to say the the reactors design has a role in starting this chain of fateful events that ensued.

          2. John L

            No, there has been no coolant failure at any of these reactors. All three active plants were being cooled with backup generators until the tsunami hit. When they were taken offline, the battery backups kicked in and the reactors remained stable. This was a power loss failure, not a coolant failure; had power continued to be supplied to the pumps none of the reactors would have had problems.

            Same with the storage ponds. They have pumps that circulate water through them and keep them full. The loss of power, and then the inadequate amount of power provided from emergency generators, caused all the problems they are experiencing now at this plant. If they can get offsite power re-established at the plant, at least some of the primary cooling systems should be reactivated.

            All three reactors are listed by IAEA as “stable” and maintaining pressure; that means that despite the core damage they all experienced, they are in no danger of further melting and are cooling down. There may be damage to Reactor #2 and #3’s outer containment structures, but that doesn’t matter if the cores continue to cool and remain filled with seawater/boron. In fact, despite being the core on #2 being exposed twice when the water drained out of the reactor, it suffered only 33% damage, while Reactor #1 suffered 70% damage by only being partially exposed. That tells me right there the cores on #2 and #3 were cooler than #1 when they lost coolant, and are continuing to cool even further now.

          3. Parvaneh Ferhadi

            In response to John L.
            Well, we may want to reserve our judgement on that. We haven’t been told the full truth about this accident on too many occasions to just accept that sequence of events as having been already proven.
            Even if it is true, the cooling system still failed to cool the system as a consequence of which the reactors – or 3 of them – were damaged. The explosion of hydrogen, if that indeed was the cause of the explosion, also is due to the failure of the cooling system.
            Besides GE already knew in 1972 that a failing of the cooling system – for any reason whatsoever – would almost certainly damage the reactor’s containement (see the links I provided) which is what has possibly happened at at least one reactor (2, they are not sure about No. 3) according to JAIF.


          4. Grommet Carson

            In reponse to John L:

            Your post contradicts every other source I read on the matter. Is there any documentation for the facts you assert?

          5. CaitlinO

            In response to John L.: Whether the reactor fuel partially melted because of a failure in the coolant systems or because of a lack of power to run the coolant systems seems like a distinction without a difference.

            Partial meltdown of reactor fuel is considered a catastrophic failure regardless of the underlying cause.

            In addition, there is genuine concern being reported that the series of hydrogen explosions, caused by oxidation of the zirconium cladding due to high temperatures, have damaged the pipes and cooling within the units to the point that restoral of power without accompanying repairs won’t remedy the situation.

          6. John L

            Someone asked where I was getting my information, saying it contradicted “everything they’ve read” about this subject. I can only say to that, stop watching Fox News and CNN. Here’s some of my sources:







            If that’s not enough for you, well that’s just too bad.

        2. freepressmyass

          Anyone else starting to think that the human race isn’t capable of saving tens of thousands of people in a timely manner? Or remedy all the human and animal suffering after massive destruction?
          The arrogance of Obamas real base is so out of touch, they can’t face the fact that some things are just too damn big for them to handle. Mother nature is one thing that can humble our asses. But this nuke situation was entirely man made. A great deal of the rescue is being screwed over due to radiation worries.
          I don’t care if Obama and the assorted Wall St., media, think tank, government agency CDC types blather on about safety or minimal risk or a clean source of energy.
          It’s all bullshit

          If there isn’t a realistic way to remedy a nuclear disaster nuclear power can’t be an option. A sane world wouldn’t have a problem with that concept.

        3. jonboinAR

          Are not the questions of whether the original design has proven to be adequate and whether the Japanese government’s response or the particular utility that’s nominally in charge, its response, has been adequate, are these not at least slightly separate issues. The design may be bad. It will certainly be discussed in depth in the weeks to come. The currently ongoing disaster response may be good or bad as well, and should not be off limits for discussion, I shouldn’t think.

      3. Jonathan Harris

        If one watches the Japanese public broadcaster, NHK, which I have the lack of adequate information has been a constance complaint from Japanese commentators and experts appearing on its news programmes.

  3. optimader

    in and of itself is sufficient reason for

    Two surviving of five firetrucks on site were going to provide the mission critical cooling for five reactors???? With all the surviving resources of Japan that was the best that could be managed…oh, forgot to fill ’em w/ deisel??? Paleaaase! That sad sad keystone kop exercise did not have possibility of succeeding.

    The adverse cosequences of that inappropriate response is on a far larger scale than just japan shooting itself in the head with a transuranic waste bullet.

    Frankly, the keys should have been taken away after the initial assessment of the likelihood of the catastrophic FAIL. It was a virtual certainty.

    1. Wallace

      Exactly. When nuclear meltdown threatens to dump fallout all over the world, it’s not the time to worry about politeness and cultural niceties.

  4. Wallace

    This theory doesn’t explain the corruption that created the conditions for the meltdown to occur.

    Another interesting twist is that while Japan leads the world in robotics, in the place robots are needed most there are none to be seen.

    1. CaitlinO

      It was reported yesterday that France offered Japan radiation-hardened robots that have been designed and created for just this type of application.

      I have no idea how much actual disaster testing and de-bugging the robots have undergone, but they could be flown there with French operators in a half day. If effective, Japan’s government could potentially avoid the tragic situation of having to ask for volunteers for what is, or will soon be, suicide missions.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Most Japanese robots are designed for either factory uses (very specific contexts, repetitive work) or for home uses for the elderly. They aren’t general purpose devices you could wheel in here. I didn’t know about the French robots, but it does seem like a huge lapse that the Japanese didn’t have anything like that on hand.

      A related piece in Bloomberg discusses that TOPCO submitted phony safety reports for years and they and the officialdom placed way too much faith in the plant’s engineering (ie, no matter how bad things might get, the reactor containers would prevent a disaster).

      1. Jessica

        “they and the officialdom placed way too much faith in the plant’s engineering”
        That is very common in Japan (in my 3 decades of experience).
        Even at times, an unwillingness to devote proper resources to preparations for worse case scenarios.

        Top-down systems that lack proper feedback loops (or from which those feedback loops have been eliminated or crippled for the sake of the folks on tops) will eventually find some way to screw up.
        In Japan, it is one nuclear complex. In the US, it is our entire financial sector.

    3. freepressmyass

      So right. Look at the US.

      Every government agency assigned to industry oversight is headed by industry hacks. That’s why shit is blowing up, crubling, and leaking every week for the last five years.
      Whatever they say, it can’t be trusted.

  5. Optimader

    Well, at the highest level regarding a quick fix, how the heck could there have not been a que of helos dropping off 200 kw gensets with in Saturn 3 hours after everyone had tea?? This just seem to bizarre to comprehend relative to the apparent incompetence. Granted, difficult larger circumstance but How about a little prioritization??? WTF

    1. CaitlinO

      Agreed. How many of those monstrous Chinooks must we have at bases in and close to Japan? They could have been running in equipment, protection gear and fuel bladders for a week already.

    2. Cedric Regula

      That’s the most interesting question in this whole timeline, IMO.

      Days ago Yves posted an article from the Union of Concerned Scientists that showed a graph for this reactor design and it indicated it takes 11 hours from reactor shutdown and cooling failure to boil off enough water to start exposing fuel rods and then start burning off zirconium, generating hydrogen, explosions and the rest of mess.

      Then would have been the time to call in emergency equipment, by air, assuming all roads are wiped out.

      1. BS

        There are several stories that say within hours of the backup diesel generators getting wiped out by the tsunami the portable diesel generators were trucked into the site but they couldn’t be used because the plugs they came with didn’t fit.

        Then there is it the issue of the amount of time it has taken to lay 1 kilometer of power line to the site to restore regular power to the plant. They don’t seem to be in any hurry.

        Basically one might think they would be running plans A, B, & C simultaneously; it appears they have not been. It seems more the bureaucracy, seniority and deference to by the book rule following has crippled them.

        Of course, a lot of the media reporting could be incorrect in the details too.

        1. Cedric Regula

          Well, we need much more forensic fact finding than we have so far to make any sense out of this, of course. But the plug story is a funny one. I was thinking the problem might be with the voltage rating on portable diesel gensets – like the right rating wouldn’t available. The pump motors they would drive for cooling are probably not that huge, but US voltages for these motors might be either 480V, 2300V, or even 4000V if they are trying to drive a main condensate pump.

          All power plants have people that are well versed at splicing large high voltage cables together. If a plug got in their way, out come the bolt cutters and the plug is history. Then they splice cable like real men do it.

  6. Optimader

    I for one hate the iPhone anticipatory spellcheck … It seems to conspire w the lame virtual keypad to create words like Saturn when I type “say”

  7. kevin de bruxelles

    If we compare this crisis to the BP energy spill you will quickly see that the Japanese / Tokyo Power strategy of understating the damage is quite similar to the course charted by the US / BP.

    There is also a point at which panic could become more dangerous than the raditation leak. Tokyo’s metropolitan area holds 35 million people. If even a percentage of these people panicked and all tried to flee Tokyo the transportation system would be overwhelmed.

    I love the truth as much as anyone. During the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005 I was very close to one of the bombs going off so I knew it was a terrorist attack. I was at first shocked that the BBC were reporting “power surges”. Upon reflection I realized that this lie was broadcast to keep people from panicking and the underground system was relatively calmly evacuated over the next hour and only then was the truth announced.

    On the other hand the need to avoid panic quickly devolves into powerful entities seeking to avoid political damage caused by their mistakes.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That’s a fair point. The US relied on BP and BP lied, and the independent scientists who were seeing evidence from a remove that the leak was large were kept way away from the blowout.

      But in the reactor case, you can argue even with TOPCO being not forthcoming, there was good reason to be concerned (too many problems happening at once and too few people left at the plant.). So the apparently disaffected officials in Japan did what the independent scientists in the US couldn’t do: they escalated it by roping in the Americans.

      But I think there were different biases which were specific to our recent cultural corruption. Obama is incredibly risk averse and really worshipful of CEOs. He’d not rough up a big company until it became absolutely necessary. The Dutch were offering spill sucking up ships early on when it could have made a difference. One blogger went on at length how the booming at shoreline was absolutely incompetent.

      The difference here I think is Americans could have mounted a better response, but Team Obama went for a head in the sand approach. That’s still stunning to me. The most important thing was to figure out how bad the leak was, and there was no reason to believe BP. Plus I recall there was early evidence that the spill was worse than they were saying and the Obama Administration ignored it.

      1. Chicken Little

        The difference here I think is Americans could have mounted a better response, but Team Obama went for a head in the sand approach. That’s still stunning to me.

        In that case, you clearly haven’t been following this Administration too closely over the last few years.

        1. freepressmyass

          Team Obama knew exactly what was going on in the GULF. They chose to cover it up. Obama’s greatest concern was the shareholders. Our navy has instruments and equipment to go down near the blowout and measure how much was spewing out. I’d bet they did just that. The nonsense of the US government getting their info from BP was rubbish.

          Obama didn’t want other governments coming in to help because he had to keep a lid on the facts. Let’s not forget how our Coast Guard worked for BP, and not the people in the Gulf being harassed, lied to, ripped off, and sickened.
          Obama gave the Coast Guard a direct order to protect BP in any way they asked.

          1. sparks8

            Obama knows a lot about a lot of things but he doesn’t know much about deep water drilling. You have to rely on those experts who know what is going on – namely the guys who designed the operation.

            Stop trying to politicize something you no nothing about.

      2. jonboinAR

        So then, although it may manifest differently by culture, the problem may be more one of power and a tendency to disguise the extent of problems. It may be more universal than particular to any culture.

  8. Meteor Blades

    TEPCO’s long history of cutting corners and lying about it when the proof of safety measures not being enforced have come to light have gotten a bit of press in the U.S. traditional media. But, why the reluctance to take a really close look at the 22 G.E. Mark 1 reactors that are exactly like the Fukushima machines? And why not a look at exactly where the spent-fuel pools are in those reactors?

    1. Paul Repstock

      Now Meteor, you know they are totally different. Those are “American” reactors. They are run by Homer Simpson and are therefore in control. Besides, they weren’t shook about by a level 9 earthquake.

      This is the biggest pile of racist xenophobic clap I’ve ever read. It is worthy of Glen Beck and if the post is deleted, I’ll know it was read by the right person.

  9. Tom

    Something I have concerned myself very closely with is the Chernobyl accident. Regarding the information politics everything seems to repeat itself. People back then thought it was purely a Soviet thing. It is not. I was in West Berlin when it happened a good thousand Kilometers away but the ways of Radioactivity are such, that a ahtousand kilometers don´t mean that much. it all depends on atmospheric conditions. Remember that the first to sound the alarms which thought one of their own reactors had gone. Every reactor has all time very detailed on site monitoring for certain radionucleids. Sweden was even further away than Berlin but that is where the accident had its first impact outside of the Soviet bloc.
    Similarly on radiation maps you can see that Gomel, the second biggest city of Belorussia was highly effected more even than parts of the thirty Kilometer exclusion zone around the reactor.
    It´s hardly possible to evacuate a city like Gomel and you definately couldn´t evacuate the only island in the red sea i.e. West Berlin.
    So the authorities in germany tried everything to play down what had happened. Same thing in Japan. If Tokio becomes a second Gomel people will just have to live with it.
    That is not to say that life in Gomel was or is pleasant. I will never forget the woman with three sick kids who wanted to leave the city five years after the blast. She was to poor and she was stuck. And so many more sick children.
    Or the orphan who had neither father nor uncle because both brotheres had been sent to literally drop sand into the reactor. Like a million people more.
    Their death was horrible and a good ten years later. The fortunate thing for the IAEA the world wide Atomic Energy was the fall of the Soviet Union and the following chaos which prevented the aggragation of such deaths. Following what is happening in Japan I believe we are heading towards full melt down and worse pollution than Chernobyl. At least in Chernobyl there were not tons of spent fuel. None in fact. And spent fuel is much, much more radioactive and dangerous than fuel in usage.

  10. Foghorn longhorn

    While the world is focused on Dai-ici,
    What is going on at Dai-ini?
    There were 5 plants originally reported in trouble, but I’m sure everything is just hunky-dorey elsewhere.
    If getting power to the plant is such a high priority, why not airlift a few gen-sets in?
    The old, lie about it in order to prevent panic, meme is REALLY getting old.

    Foghorn longhorn

  11. steve from virginia

    This is BP/Macondo all over again! The US is pushing ‘truthium’ as long as someone else has to bear the burden. I can’t imagine the Wall Street tycoons who own US electrical generating having any better fortune if reactors will failing here.

    Both the US and Japanese establishments have long histories of covering up nuclear ‘difficulties’. It goes with the territory as civilian power is a child of nuclear weapons development and that industry’s attendant need to render everything ‘classified’.

    After all, nuke plants are simply atomic bombs that blow up slowly, sapping the energy to boil water and make steam.

    Meanwhile, the plant itself is in torment. The spent fuel pits appear to have leaks which means highly radioactive water is within the reactor buildings. The ‘power cable to be’ is presented as a panacea. it is not. Even if the pumps can be made to run, the facilities which are connected to the pumps are severely damaged. The pumps are just links in a now- shattered chain. Repairs are becoming abstractions as broken link are becoming inaccessible due to intense radiation.

    At some point the establishment must plan a cleanup and entombment program which will require hundreds of thousands of workers. I suspect this is being avoided due to the staggering cost which will likely be a very large share of Japan’s GDP.

    Which leads to the large question: How is that ‘electricity too cheap to meter’ thing working out for you now, Japan?

  12. fundana

    I currently live in Japan and have been here about 8 years all told. Yves 3 points ring true to me, particularly the second and third.

    I agree that the dearth of information is unfortunately quite common. Often, what is most important in a conversation is what is NOT said. in the organization I work for, I have cause to meet with Japanese management on a regular basis, if there is a particularly controversial issue that needs addressing, that issue will be talked out by senior members and a consensus agreed to at a pre-meeting meeting. Thus the actual meeting is just a forum to officially convey what has already been pre-decided. This avoids potential conflicts and possible loss of face.

    Point number 3 is the most pervasive. Japanese often just freeze when dealing with something that is “not in the manual” They just can’t cope well when an ad-hoc response is required.

    I regularly employ the “stupid foreigner” routine if I’m somewhere people don’t know me. If you are Japanese you are expected to know and observe the protocols in every situation. If you act like you don’t understand and it looks likely that you’re cause all sorts of trouble you can get away things that Japanese cannot.

    I remember getting on a train with a couple of friends after a Saturday night out in Tokyo. The train was reasonably full with standing room only. However I noticed a Japanese guy, who obviously had too much to drink sleeping quite soundly sprawled across the passenger seats taking up the room of at least 3 people. Of course Japanese people wouldn’t think of asking him to sit up so others could sit down. I went over and gently woke the guy up, he jumped up looked out the window and must have realized he’d missed his stop and rushed out the door. My friends and I then sat down along with a Japanese lady and her friends who all thanked us for waking the guy up. I asked her why she or any of her male companions hadn’t woken him up, her response was that she couldn’t because she is Japanese.

  13. Parvaneh Ferhadi

    I think the US criticism of Japan is simply a cover up of their own failure (and GEs failure). The design flaws of the reactores (designed by GE) were known since at least 1972:

    In 1975 three engineers resigned from GE because of this design flaw:

    And now, please tell me what Jeffrey Immelt is doing at the White House?

  14. Alex Plante

    I used to work for a company that did construction projects all over the world, and after a while you start to notice certain national characteristics. For example, Germans also tend to freak out when things don’t go according to plan.

    Probably the best improvisors are Canadians and Americans, but then North Americans tend to stumble into crises because of a lack of planning and foresight, so maybe they need to improvise more.

  15. YY

    Yomiuri reported that the helicopter water drop was in part in response to and a show for the American government.

    Anybody who watched the drops would know how ineffective they were as the flight path was too high, there was no hovering above the tanks, and this with the crew apparently shielded with lead foil and wearing suits. There is certainly a “kabuki” (as Americans know this term) and probably not entirely one which the people tasked with the problem were seeking. Maybe it’s not worth irradiating pilots for the sake of a show.

    While no doubt serious (officially Japanese safety authorities just marked up criticality to 5 or same as 3 Mile Island), it is being hyped to a both a ridiculous scale and also feeding irrational behavior. It does not help that Gregory Jaczko insists that pool in reacter 4 is dry, when all evidence (forget the sighting, look at the concentration of efforts on pool 3 and not 4 by those who have better guess of what’s going on) suggests otherwise. For him to walk it back a day and a half later is just plain irresponsible.

    Complaints of lack of information seem to feed on itself so at all levels of people supposedly informed (or not) appear to be echoing the same thing. This definitely is not the case. So some of it is well founded, but most of it are from people not paying attention. The press briefing are very clear as to what are known, what are not known, and what is guessed. In that sense they have been very informative.

    Causing a stampede of exiting gaijin at the airport is not really all that helpful.

    If American government is really sincerely concerned about radioactive stuff hurting people, they should start cleaning up depleted uranium ordinance damage.

    1. CaitlinO

      Interestingly, the Director General of the IAEA right now is Yukiya Amano, a native of Japan, who must certainly be sensitive to the cultural mores of his people. Yet he has complained publicly twice already that I’m aware of that the world needs more detailed and more timely information about the events at Fukushima.

      There are experts all over the world who could, and I’m sure would be eager to, offer ideas for solutions if their understanding of the situation wasn’t so spotty.

      1. YY

        He phrased it strangely as if he’s suggesting that others have complained of lack of information, as opposed to he is himself not well informed. In either case he’s insisted on doing his own radiation measurements starting from Tokyo.

        This is politics, not engineering.

    2. Grommet Carson

      The NRC measured an “extreme” amount of radiation. From this they inferred that the official story about the spent fuel ponds must be false. They are not amateur blog commenters.

      1. CaitlinO

        I would guess that they also have access to thermal imaging satellite data. They probably have a better estimate of the temperature and radiation emmission from the units than the people on the ground.

  16. Jessica

    As a of a couple of days ago, all the Fukushima Daini reactors were supposed to be successfully under control.

    Interesting how in the days of newspapers, one simply did without such information, but nowadays we notice the absence. The ability to get much of the information makes us want to be able to get all of it.

  17. Jessica

    Confusion prevention:
    Fukushima Daini is supposed to be all OK.
    Fukushima Daiichi is where the problems still are.

  18. Typhoon

    Q: How can one tell that one is one an airplane full of Americans?

    A: The whining only get louder after the engines are turned off.

  19. Max424

    Everything is fine at Daini. How do I know this? Because no one has told me different.

    Am I alarmed that the area around the Daini plant has been evacuated out to a 10 kilometer radius? I don’t know.
    Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is ignorance. How can you know you know bliss if you are unaware that you are blissful?

    Rachel Maddow, if you’re listening, find out what’s going on at Daini, will ya? You seem to be the ONLY journalist in America working on this “story,” and you have connections. I can’t do it. I just spent two hours Googling Daini, and found nothing but this sentence, which I read 40,000 times; “as of March 12th, all four reactors at Daini have been shut down” … … ….?

  20. YY

    Reading over this post the disturbing thing is that Fukushima #1 is being observed from very high in the sky as if it were a terrorist camp in tribal regions. It’s not just silly but also a metaphor for how decisions are made by the rulers of the planet and why they get them so wrong.

    Hey Tepco is a utility and they’ve done some pretty bad things (not in the order of an Enron) which consist of mostly lying about safety related issues. But to assume that satellite spying is the solution to non-clarity of response from ready to retire bosses of a utility is madness.

    So of course that is not the case. But it will help if the people who think they are making decisions start to get some information from those on the ground and on site rather than rely on satellite photos and incompetent executives to discuss situations.

  21. Transor Z

    TOKYO (AFP) – Japan turned down a US offer to provide technical support for cooling fuel rods at nuclear reactors hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami, a newspaper reported on Friday.

    The United States made the offer immediately after the disaster caused damage to Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant, the Yomiuri Shimbun said, quoting a senior official of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

    According to the unnamed senior official, US support was based on dismantling the troubled reactors run by Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) some 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo, the mass-circulation daily said.

    The government and TEPCO, both having first thought the cooling system could be restored by themselves, rejected the offer as they believed “it was too early to take,” Yomiuri said.

    Some ruling party and government officials pointed that the country could have avoided the current crisis if Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s government had accepted the offer, it said.

    On Thursday, the Japanese military used trucks and helicopters to dump tonnes of water onto the plant in efforts to douse fuel rods and prevent a disastrous radiation release.

    The 9.0-magnitude quake, the biggest on record to strike Japan, hit the eastern coast of the Tohoku region, north of the capital, Friday last week, leaving 15,000 dead or missing.


    1. Invertedtotalitarianism

      This is one of the more absurd pieces I’ve read. How quickly could the US military have dismantled the reactor after the earthquake? The core was incredibly hot even after it was shut down automatically post-earthquake. So unless the US military has the ability to suspend the laws of nuclear thermodynamics I discredit this “news” story completely. Sounds like a politically destabilizing hatchet job to weaken public trust in Japan’s prime minister Kan.

  22. rps

    Take a trip at Elena’s website. She rides her motorbike to one of her favorite destinations which leads North from Kiev, towards so called Chernobyl “dead zone”. The travelogue and pictures of the ghost towns of eerie devastation from one nuclear reactor. Japan is now among the walking dead.


    Excerpt: “….In the first days after explosion, some places around the reactor were emitting 3,000-30,000 roentgens per hour. The firemen who were sent to put out the reactor fire were fried on the spot by gamma radiation. The remains of the reactor were entombed within an enormous steel and concrete sarcophagus, so it is now relatively safe to travel to the area – as long as one do not step off of the roadway and do not stick in a wrong places…….”

    1. petteri

      The motorcycle trip diary is a nice story, but proven hoax. A somewhat out-blown practical joke.

  23. gatopeich

    If there is something actually global nowadays, that is government incompetence. A government’s inability to act effectively upon an emergency cannot be blamed on race or culture.

    Pretty much any current government in the world would have acted like the Japanese: “nothing to see here”, “nobody could see it coming”, extend & pretend, etc.

    Remember the Mexican Gulf, anybody? What did Obama do, aside from allowing BP full command over the efforts to prevent the huge catastrophe they caused (and wanted to hide)?

  24. wunsacon

    Maybe American officials have to criticize Japan’s nuclear industry’s “poor record” in order to follow that statement up with “but we’re not like that”.

  25. monday1929

    I would think most engineer “types” don’t handle unexpected scenarios well, but cultural differences can’t be ignored.

    Has anyone suggested dropping crushed ice, instead of water, onto the reactors? It would not dissipate in the air and would cool its target better. Yes, it would take some effort to make the ice.


    3. Japanese are also not very good in organizing on the fly group responses.

    What about the WW II kamikaze attacks?

    In 1945 the Japanee had no effective weapons to use agains the American fleet. They came up with a strategy that caused the Allied Pacific fleet to sustain serious losses at a relatively light cost on the part of the Japanese.

    Does any instance of an American response in a crisis top this?

    1. Pelle Schultz

      The WW2 kamikaze attacks by the Japanese hardly qualify as an “on the fly” strategy.

      Special air wings were created in 1944 using barely trained pilots (the few competent ones remaining were preserved to fight off B-29s). Ultimately, purpose-designed rocket ‘flying bombs’ were designed and used in kamikaze attacks.

      But it was certainly an effective tactic. My grandfather nearly died when a kamikaze exploded directly above LST. His best friend was not so lucky.

  27. briansays

    in the end they will need to abandon and bury the site
    and when they do erect a sign on top for future generations to read

    “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
    Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

  28. steelhead23

    The nuclear power industry in the U.S. is virtually dead. As such, the kind of familiarity with plant ops. necessary to problem solve is limited. I happened to work at Stone and Webster during the 90s. Folks with nuclear expertise were doing menial tasks and then fired. I suspect the same is true at GE. I am not suggesting that there are no capable experts, I simply suggest that TEPCO bought a product 30 years ago and that over the intervening years, the level of producer support likely declined and demand declined. Hence, part of the early dithering likely had something to do with locating experts, reviewing designs, and developing a remedial action plan. It would be an interesting systems management problem if it weren’t so damn tragic.

    1. DownSouth

      Do you reckon that when you buy a nuclear power plant and call in for technical support, you get to talk to a real human being?

      1. craazyman

        Pretty funny South . . .

        Thank you for calling the Boiling Water Reactor Nuclear Tech Support line. We want to assure you that we are dedicated to resolving all of your technical questions regarding your Boiling Water Nuclear Reactor. An operator will be with you shortly. This call may be monitored for quality assurance. To help us expedite your call, please select from the following options.

        If you are calling about a problem with your fuel rods, press 1.
        If you are calling about a radiation leak, press 2.
        If you are calling about a fracture to your dry cask storage containers, press 3.
        If you are calling about a potential malfunction involving your cooling system, press 4.
        If you are calling about a reactor core meltdown, press 5.
        If you are calling about some other technical issue, please press 6.

        Presses 5.

        Thank you for calling about a reactor core meltdown. To help us route your call, please enter the reactor core model number using the numbers on your touchtone phone, or speak the numbers after the tone.

        enter number

        Due to unsually heavy call volume, you may experience a delay in speaking with a technical support reprentative. You can also visit the technical support page at the Boiling Water Reactor website, where you will find answers to many commonly asked questions. You can also contact our technical staff by email. Please provide a brief description of your problem and a technical support representative will respond, usually within 2 business days . . .

        Presses 0

        All right. We’ll connect you shortly. You may experience a delay in speaking to a technical support representative. Please do not hang up or you will lose your place in the cue. If you would like to leave a message, please press 2, and a technical support representative will return your call as quickly as possible. Thank you for calling the Boiling Water Reactor technical support line. In order to better serve you, we would like to offer you the opportunity to participate in a brief customer satisfaction survey at the end of this call. If you would like to participate in the survey, please press 3 now. If not, please press 4 now.

        Presses 4.

        All right. Please hold on and a technical support representative will be with you shortly.

        [Vivaldi’s Four Seasons begins to play . . . . ]

        All right, it’s not that funny because real humor has to have a core of truth and I’m sure the real world reactor techs are all over the place on site there doing the very best they possibly can under very very tough conditions. Just black humor and a metaphor for the rest of the world these days. I couldn’t help it.

        1. Cedric Regula

          If you are calling about Customer Returns, please press 7.

          presses 7

          We regret that you are unhappy with your Boiling Water Reactor purchase. Please hold while we connect you to a Customer Service Representative who can assist you with your return. Please be aware returns will not be accepted unless the outside of your shipping container is clearly stenciled with your Return Material Authorization(RMA) number. An RMA will be issued to you upon receipt of the original bar code identification found on our original shipping container. This can easily be removed with a cutting torch and sent to our P.O. Box in Battle Creek, MI. A Representative will be with you shortly.


    2. CaitlinO

      In support of your post, an article up at MSNBC says that GE is bring in retired engineers to help with the Fukushima crisis.

    3. sparks8

      There are over 20 “sister” reactors of the same design in use here in the USA. Some of them have been operating over 40 years and repair and maintenance procedures are well understood and practiced by personnel at all the plants. They have had no reason to call GE for years.

      Even the best engineers in the world are helpless to cope when dangerous technologies fail under highly improbable circumstances. Not only did power fail in both primary and backup cooling systems but travel was impeded so that portable power could not be brought in. In addition, the need to constantly keep spent fuel under water complicated things.

      Yes, there were shortcomings in provision for “absolutely worse case” scenarios, but who plans for something that never before happened in Japan’s long recorded history.

      The fact that Germany pulled several reactors off line – even though they are not in a seismic zone – shows that at least some governments are concerned that backup systems are insufficient to deal with the unimaginable worse case.

      It’s time to stop second-guessing the judgement of the Japanese engineers and start reexamining those worse case scenarios to see if reliable ways of protecting the public can be found. If not, we will be forced to come up with greener energy sources or else look for ways to use what we have a lot more efficiently.

  29. PhilM

    These places in Tohoku (N.-E. Japan) are not like Roppongi, where foreigners manage with almost no knowledge in japanese. In very dire conditions, foreigners would manage really bad or just get crazy over there. Therefore it just makes sense to advise them to keep much further away from the plants than for japanese.

  30. TomM

    This entire epesode reminds me of the studies done on Japanese Flight Crews involved in fatal airliner crashes.

    In analysis of cocpit voice recordings the first officer would NOT directly contradict or even override his Captain even when he KNEW he was about to die by hitting the side of a mountain in Guam. He continued to “suggest” that the Captain look at certain data and “perhaps” consider use of engine power or a course change when he KNEW they were headed into a mountainside at 300+ MPH! I can’t help but think the metaphor is appropriate for the Nuclear disaster unfolding before us.

  31. Cedric Regula

    Latest status update from http://mitnse.com/

    This is from MIT.

    Not The Glenn Beck Skool of Nu Clear Fiziks, which I see is of the opinion that restarting cooling pumps without water will cool all 6 reactor cores and the separate large central storage pool irregardless of any plant damage so far, thereby cooling the cores and then re-coating fuel rods with zirconium sealing up any radioactive particles and products of combustion, and then the facility is good as new.

    News Brief, 3/18/11, 10 AM EDT
    Spraying of spent fuel pools at Units 3 and 4 is still underway. Visual inspection of Unit 4’s pool showed water in the pool, and so efforts have been temporarily focused upon Unit 3. While efforts at using helicopters to dump water onto the pools had been largely unsuccessful , army firetrucks used in putting out aircraft fires have been employed with some success. The elite Tokyo Hyper Rescue component of the Tokyo fire department has arrived on scene and is conducting missions of roughly two hours in length, during which they spray the pools for 7-8 minutes, wait for steam to dissipate, and spray again.

    A cable has been laid from a TEPCO power line 1.5 km from the facility, which will be used to supply power to emergency cooling systems of the reactors at Units 1 and 2.

    Backup diesel generators have been connected to cool the spent fuel pools at Units 5 and 6. As of 4 PM JST, temperatures in those pools have reached 65.5 and and 62 degrees Celsius.

    Visual inspections have been conducted of both the central spent fuel pool, which contains 60% of the facility’s fuel, and the dry cask storage area. Water levels at the central pool have been described as “secured”, and the dry casks show “no signs of an abnormal situation”. More detailed checks of these areas are planned for the future.

    A Japanese government agency has released the results of radiation measurements at dozens of monitoring posts. See the data here: http://www.mext.go.jp/component/a_menu/other/detail/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2011/03/18/1303727_1716.pdf.

    These measurements give doses in excess of background radiation, which is why some may appear low. High measurements at reading point 32 are thought to be the result of a controlled containment venting and a simultaneous fire which carried radioactive particles inland. Over the course of the incident, the general trend has been for weather patterns to sweep radioactive particles out to sea.

    As a result of these radiation measurements and the ongoing work, the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency upgraded the event to a 5 on the INES scale. This is the same level as the Three Mile Island accident, and two steps below Chernobyl.

  32. Gerald Muller

    Some people here seem to be knowledgeable in technology. Can anyone say why fireboats that are used in any world harbour such as Tokyo’s could not be bought near the plants and spray water 24/24 on the plants sending about 100 times more water than any land based fire engine?

    1. sparks8

      The reason is that the winds are carrying radioactive particles out to sea. (The US aircraft carrier was moved almost 100 miles out to sea to avoid contact with the stuff).

      Bringing in ships to pump water from seaside would not only subject the seamen to large risks but would likely contaminate the ships so that they would pose dangers to anyone who boarded them for many years.

  33. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    It’s unfortunate that Fukujima means ‘fortunate island’ or ‘fortune island,’ if my Japanese is correct.

    Does anyone know how to say ‘unfortunate island’ in Japanese?

  34. gepay

    Cultural stereotypes are recognized because many of the people in the cultures act that way. In the late 60s I tuned in turn on and dropped out so that some of the hippie stereotyping applied. Even today i am not a mainstream type of American. However when I lived in the Caribbean I was indeed easily recognizable as an American – a continental. I don’t think it would be bigoted to say that some of the ineptness the Bush administration exhibited in the Katrina disaster was due to most of the victims being poor inner city blacks who were more likely to vote Democratic. It suited the ‘powers that be’ to make it more likely that those that left NO didn’t make it back.
    I find the crudeness of using nuclear fission to boil water much more disturbing than the lack of political correctness in using a cultural stereotype to explain why Americans criticizing the Japanese response was not necessarily a bad thing.

    1. sparks8

      Cultural stereotypes don’t apply here. Anyone who faced the Japanese in WWII can attest to the fact that Japanese are smart, tough, persistent and resourceful.

      It’s easy to criticize the progress of the work when you are sitting in front of a TV over 3000 miles away.

  35. Hal Horvath

    Good work Yves. Your post was one of the tiny handful actually worth reading. Most writers were only part of the noise and sensationalism and sensational ignorance. My own blog entry appears cautious and conservative (and isn’t!) — only because of the amazing din of alarm and ignorance that passes for blogging and journalism when nuclear physics is involved.

  36. foghorn longhorn


    The moment nuclear plant chief WEPT as Japanese finally admit that radiation leak is serious enough to kill people


    Last updated at 6:45 PM on 18th March 2011
    Comments (91)
    Add to My Stories
    Officials admit they may have to bury reactors under concrete – as happened at Chernobyl
    Government says it was overwhelmed by the scale of twin disasters
    Japanese upgrade accident from level four to five – the same as Three Mile Island
    We will rebuild from scratch says Japanese prime minister
    Particles spewed from wrecked Fukushima power station arrive in California
    Military trucks tackle reactors with tons of water for second day

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1367684/Nuclear-plant-chief-weeps-Japanese-finally-admit-radiation-leak-kill-people.html#ixzz1GypLU5Q2


    Well there you go.


    1. Mark P.

      Below is a link and abstract to a paper by some significant figures, heavily refereed (submitted 2000, published 2003) that predicts the burning of zirconium cladding and then release of cesium & strontium, then fire spreading to older fuel and, finally, that “the long-term land-contamination consequences of such an event could be significantly worse than those from Chernobyl.”

      Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States
      (submitted 2000; accepted for publication 2003)
      by Robert Alvarez, Jan Beyea, Klaus Janberg, Jungmin Kang, Ed Lyman, Allison Macfarlane, Gordon Thompson, Frank N. von Hippel

      “Because of the unavailability of off-site storage for spent power-reactor fuel, the NRC has allowed high-density storage of spent fuel in pools …virtually all U.S. spent-fuel pools have been re-racked to hold spent-fuel assemblies at densities that approach those in reactor cores. In order to prevent the spent fuel from going critical, the fuel assemblies are partitioned off from each other in metal boxes whose walls contain neutron-absorbing boron. It has been known for more than two decades that, in case of a loss of water in the pool, convective air cooling would be relatively ineffective in such a “dense-packed” pool. Spent fuel recently discharged from a reactor could heat up relatively rapidly to temperatures at which the zircaloy fuel cladding could catch fire and the fuel’s volatile fission products including 30-year half-life 137Cs, would be released. The fire could well spread to older spent fuel. The long-term land-contamination consequences of such an event could be significantly worse than those from Chernobyl.

      “No such event has occurred thus far. However, the consequences would affect such a large area that alternatives to dense-pack storage must be examined —”

      More here —




      So far, most of the MSM and the standard ‘experts’ are still repeating by rote that it couldn’t be as bad as Chernobyl. They don’t know what they’re talking about and their song will change by next week. Yes, at Chernobyl a reactor core explosion blew a radioactive plume directly into the atmosphere, up as high as the jet stream. However, at Fukushima there’s simply many times more radioactive material in those storage pools than there is in a reactor, so the total amount released could be more. The big question mark is distribution— factors at Chernobyl allowed redioactive contaminant, including cesium and strontium, to be very widely distributed. The mechanisms that did that at Chernobyl are not present in Japan, but there may be others, and this is occurring in one of the most crowded countries on the planet where the fate of millions of lives could depend on how the wind happens to be blowing.

      1. Hal Horvath

        The question was always about whether water could be kept in pool 4 (and 3 etc). For instance, even when the top of rods are dry, if much of the rod is in water, there is tremendous heat transfer to the water, etc., etc.

        It’s good to have scenarios of what could go wrong.

        It’s bad to have ignorant assertions in articles that these worst scenarios *have* (past tense) happened, when the complex of information suggests otherwise (to informed eyes).

  37. PQS

    Craazy, Cedric, and DS:

    The Tech Support thread has now entered the email stream….

    Sometimes only the black humor can prevent the onset of tears…I know that my first response on viewing the tsunami wreckage was “There’re going to need a lot of Labor Ready guys to clean that up….”

  38. Westcoastliberal

    I just wonder whether the US government would be so eager to evacuate everyone within a 50 mile radius if it was the nuke plant outside New York City melting down. I’ll bet you would hear the same song & dance that Tepco has been performing.

    And what if Japan had criticized our government’s handling of the Katrina disaster? Betcha there would have been plenty of “pushback” from the “W” admin.

    Truth is, we have no place criticizing any other country now that we’ve become an imperialist state.

  39. YY

    Anybody who’s worked in a situation where demands for report of a task overwhelm the ability to do the task at hand, probably would see the kind of shit that the US government dropped the Kan government into with it’s busybody overeagerness to second guess situations beyond its authority. I really do hope when all this blows over (not literally) that sober analysis is made of yelling fire in a theater. It becomes surreal when the next agenda becomes immediate reassurance exercise in touting safety of local nuclear industry. If there is anything that this so far unfolding crisis has given so far is that, as unfortunate as it is to quote Rumsfeld, there are unknown unknowns. That does not justify worst case scenario being presented as truth.

  40. joselitus_maximus

    Yves, either the japanese state hard facts in understated language, logically following that other japanese understand very well those facts behind the polite speech, or they are saying things in a direct manner and “lying”. IT CAN’T BE BOTH AT THE SAME TIME.
    Japanese understating facts and persons with no knowledge of japanese language polite speech forms and misunsderstanding them is so commom, it is annoying the foreign expats in Japan, that’s why they are criticizing US press.

  41. joselitus_maximus

    Yves, either the japanese state hard facts in understated language, logically following that other japanese understand very well those facts behind the polite speech, or they are saying things in a direct manner and “lying”. IT CAN’T BE BOTH AT THE SAME TIME.
    Japanese understating facts so persons with no knowledge of japanese language polite speech forms end up misunderstanding them is so common, it is annoying the foreign expats in Japan(they probably feel a better translating job should be done in these very serious times), that’s why they are criticizing US press.

  42. skippy

    With regards to the Fukushima power station. Pre / post mortems will come in many stripes, we know this much.

    Although at this moment one must consider how to respond to what I can only describe as an effect, a perfect 2,500lbs.+ JDAM striking over the center of the reactor w/ the blast force channeled by the construction mostly up and sideways, yet the a shock wave (mach 5+) would have been transmitted thought the entire structure. So what was not directly damaged by direct exposure to the blast forces and accompanying debris, would have resonated along all continuous materials, also consider different materials interfacing, modes of attachment, etc. Next factor in heat transfer, blast heat and its effects, assisted by previous fuel rod heating.

    The blast energy was sufficient to assent pieces of reinforced high strength concrete weighing around ten[s[?] of metric tons about 1,500 ft[?]. These buildings took the brunt of a 9.0 earth quake AND a tsunami, only to suffer internal blast forces, after decades next to the most corrosive environment one can build next to, concrete is porous, re-bar is steel, salinity is stainless steels nemesis, the blast could have created an electrical charge (fried electronics), the list goes on and on.

    Skippy…personally I would rather ride my mountain bike from south to north Afghanistan. It has become the most dangerous and difficult work site this planet has ever seen. I can only admire from afar the willingness of those that did not create this disaster, their lives to fix. I hold them in the highest regard with unlimited honor, you make your people proud! Meiyo mu gen.

  43. CaitlinO

    A bit of a beginning of a post mortem is available at the WSJ. It’s far too reminiscent of the Deepwater Horizon crisis in that the corporation left to run the emergency response endangered the public and wasted valuable time trying to preserve company assets.

    Despite hydrogen explosions, which can only mean that excessive temperatures are causing the zirconium cladding of fuel rods to break down through oxidation, TEPCO didn’t begin using seawater as a coolant until ordered to by the Prime Minister:


    Bid to ‘Protect Assets’ Slowed Reactor Fight

    TOKYO—Crucial efforts to tame Japan’s crippled nuclear plant were delayed by concerns over damaging valuable power assets and by initial passivity on the part of the government, people familiar with the situation said, offering new insight into the management of the crisis.

  44. Juan

    “… Rather than address these realistic concerns, the military dismissed them. The opinion in military circles was that the public in the United States had a “hysterical and alarmist complex” about radiation that needed to be corrected to enable the United States to proceed with its testing activities. In internal documents, Department of Defense officials said the process of correction “would be a matter of reeducation over a long period of time.” The objective was in direct contradiction to the advice given by Warren in July 1945: the “reeducation” was supposed to go on until “the public will accept the possibility of an atomic explosion within a hundred or so miles of their homes.” At that point, the establishment of a test site in the continental United States would no longer be a problem. [4] People would then “feel at home with neutrons trotting around” and presumably become comfortable with nuclear tests nearby. It was after all, as the safety preparations were being done in December 1950, “the most important angle to get across.”[5]

    In 1997, when the National Cancer Institute acting under congressional directive assessed milk contamination, it found that fallout from the tests would eventually cause between 11,000 and 212,000 thyroid cancers. The cancer risk fell primarily to those who had been children, with girls being at twice the risk of boys. Those who believed that they were leading healthy farm lives by drinking fresh milk got the highest doses.

    An atomic Kodak moment was playing out in a parallel political and economic universe in the very same period. The photographic film company found its film was getting fogged because the corn husks it was using to make packaging had become contaminated with fallout. Kodak threatened to sue. The government quickly provided data on anticipated patterns of fallout to Kodak and the rest of the photographic film industry so they could protect their products.[8]


    Adding this since no one has mentioned 1945-80s US above ground testing and some of its consequences, e.g., strontium 90 in milk.

  45. Lapri

    I don’t think it is necessarily a criticism of the Japanese government by the US government. The Japanese government, a supreme bureaucrats good at “Extend and Pretend”, wants to control and suppress the flow of information for the noble cause of not creating unnecessary “panic” supposedly. But information wants to be free, and it will come out sooner or later. Hope it will be sooner, for the sake of the Japanese.

    Ever since the earthquake, I’ve been blogging on the quake-related news reported in Japan in the Japanese news media for the Japanese. I quickly translate them and post with my comment and observation. At first the effort was to fill the gap in the coverage, particularly in the nuclear plant containment effort. Then to report on what’s rarely reported outside, such as government bureaucracy that may be killing people. Then, more and more I’m noticing the gaping gap between how essentially the same news is reported one way in Japan for the Japanese, and reported the other way outside Japan by foreign media.

    So I’ve started to blog on my Japanese blog, translating English news into Japanese so that my readers can see what’s reported outside which is quite different.

    In a rare case, both Japanese media and foreign media chose not to notice certain bad news delivered by a career bureaucrat. Here’s that rare occasion, which was carried by Bloomberg Japan in Japanese (I haven’t seen it anywhere else in Japanese media, nor seen English translation in foreign media.) http://bit.ly/gUmQvC

    It’s two different realities, in Japan and elsewhere. They can’t both be right.

    FYI, my blogs:
    http://ex-skf.blogspot.com/ (English)
    http://ex-skf-jp.blogspot.com/ (Japanese)

  46. Random Blowhard

    And now, please tell me what Jeffrey Immelt is doing at the White House? Putting his hand up for more free money and corporate welfare.

  47. Dugsdale

    First off, a link that enables finding the nuke plant closest to your zip code. (I found several plants very close by, including a GE Mark I job just like the ones currently in crisis).


    And a “thanks” to Yves for creating my top “go-to” blog, and all the commenters for contributing in-kind.

    I’m not surprised that pro-nuke spokesmen are flooding the zone right now, dishing out misinformation and trying to tamp down justifiable fear and outrage.

    One of the factors that led to so much pro-environment legislation in the 70s was the complete loss of faith and trust in the word of corporate classes and their legislative henchmen among the general public. I hope we’re entering such a time once again. I expect there to be legions of pro-nuke shills viciously picking apart the Japanese response, the subtext being, of course, “we’re smarter than that.” But, THEY AREN’T.

    Something about the idea of CEOs trying to wring every cent of profit possible out of running a nuclear plant, gives me the willies. That is not a trustworthy class of people to start with, and the errors the Japanese have made are part of being human, I think: folly, self-delusion, fond hopes, good intentions, wishful thinking. There may be circumstances under which nuclear power might be “safe,” but I’m doubtful we humans are capable of creating them.

  48. jclass

    I’d like people to keep in mind that the American government can simply twiddle its thumbs after recommending a 50 mile evacuation zone. The Japanese government actually has to deal with a catastrophe all along its northeastern coast. Draw a circle on a satellite image and you’ll see how evacuating a 50-mile zone thoroughly messes up road transport from the south to the catastrophy zone in the northeast. And these roads aren’t in prime shape after a magnitude 9 earthquake. I suspect the nuclear crisis and iconic photo-ops of reporters walking among drenched rubble has obscured the damage done further inland, as well as the continuing difficulties in providing the afflicted with the bare minimum they need.

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