Mistakes and accidents do actually happen

Three former executives at the company that runs the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have been acquitted of failing to take action in anticipation of the March 2011 nuclear meltdown, in the only criminal action resulting from the disaster.

Tsunehisa Katsumata, a former chairman of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) and former vice presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, had apologised for the triple meltdown at the plant, but said they could not have foreseen the disaster.

AKA hindsight is 20/20.

27 comments on “Mistakes and accidents do actually happen

  1. If all the greenfreak bullshit written about Fuku was piled up in bales on the seashore it would have been enough to hold back the tidal wave.

  2. Nuclear plant suffers significant damage, with some radiation released.

    During, and as a result of, a tsunami that kills over 19,000 people.

  3. The mistake was building a (any) nuclear plant in an earthquake-prone area (California, please note). These three were not responsible for that and the Japanese Public Prosecutor initially decided not to prosecute them – the men responsible for that decision have presumably been dead for decades – so Rentamob bullied it into a prosecution that duly failed (for the deaths of hospital patients who mere moved from one hospital to another – surely if there was negligence involved that was the fault of the hospital?).
    Fukushima should not have been built but a show trial of the guys left holding the baby 40 years later was unjust.

  4. @john 77: indeed Fukushima should probably not have been built. I’m anti-anti-nuclear, but I wouldn’t build the things on the Ring of Fire.

    There were, however, sensible precautions that could have been taken against tsunamis, involving detailed layout decisions. I’d be interested to see a defence of these decisions not made – there may be a decent explanation I suppose.

    It’s worth noting that the vast majority of the deaths attributed to the incident did not occur at the plant nor were they caused by radioactivity – they were a consequence of the hysteria promoted by the media and the government.

  5. @ dearieme
    Agreed – but the decision not to tsunami-proof the plant was made in the late-1960s when the plant was designed not by the three persecuted individuals.

  6. Japan has no coal or oil and, as a technological society, it needs energy. Nuclear power is an attractive answer. And all of Japan is in the Ring of Fire.

    So they NEED nuclear, and cant build the power stations anywhere else.

    If anything, we should investigate the design decision that meant that the emergency power generators were sited low down and susceptible to flooding. that was the crucial issue. Although this was an old installation, all the safety systems worked with the exception of power maintenance. So any blame should be directed towards that design decision…

  7. Dearie me
    Locating the emergency power generators in the basement was dumb. If they’d relocated them to the roof, the plant could have kept generating to provide power to the emergency services.
    The risk of a tsunami featured in the original planning for the plant, so this would have been one of your sensible precautions.

  8. My understanding was that they were warned a number of times that having the emergency generators where they were meant that they were exposed to tsunami damage but they chose not to do anything about it. It was an entirely avoidable problem. The reactors themselves were not troubled either by the very large earthquake or the tsunami, but there was no emergency plan about what to do if they had no emergency power for cooling water.

    They may have escaped legal sanction, but there’s no doubt that they were negligent and should have taken action. Nuclear power world wide has been set back by this negligence to plan for an entirely foreseeable event.

  9. JL – 19,000 dead

    Alternatively, given the respective numbers dead, the issue here is allowing towns / houses to be built, occupied and not adequately protected on a coast line where tsunamis are rife…

  10. Alternatively, given the respective numbers dead, the issue here is allowing towns / houses to be built, occupied and not adequately protected on a coast line where tsunamis are rife…

    In other words, we need to move Japan someplace else.

  11. The Japanese have been building houses in tsunami zones for millennia. That’s not going to change. The only land flat enough to build houses on is by virtue of that flatness a tsunami risk area.

  12. “In other words, we need to move Japan someplace else.”

    No, it was simply a bit of perspective wrt the nuclear issue, criminality and relative numbers of deaths (next to zero?) – which is presumably a measure of the “crime” – compared to the tsunami.

    Although… With anything, if the risk is considered real, does one mitigate. For example, tall buildings are built to different standards in Japan (re sway, etc). Coastal areas – a bit of elevation if the calculated risk in a particular area deemed it to be warranted? Purely in the context of: if one was serious about criminal responsibility?

  13. “the decision not to tsunami-proof the plant was made in the late-1960s when the plant was designed”

    In one sense, yes. But in another sense that same folly was perpetrated year after year when nobody grasped the nettle and moved the emergency generators.

    To put it at its simplest, I suspect that moving the generators would cost only a trivial amount.

  14. I don’t know about Japan but in Britain it was, I think, in the 1970s that methodical procedures were widely taught within firms for “Hazop” – Hazard and Operability Analysis.

    New graduate recruits would have spotted that problem. In fact new recruits might have spotted the problem with no more training than a half hour pep talk on the principles, and an instruction to get the drawings and get to work. A wise boss would give a reminder, I’d expect, to take the occasional pootle outdoors to check the accuracy of the drawings.

    Certainly my experience in running a lab is that it was all too easy to miss hazards if you chattered idly about “common sense”. It was valuable to have a procedure that obliged at least two people to try to foresee problems calmly, and argue through the issues with each other.

  15. @ dearieme
    Since, in Japan, tornadoes are more frequent than earthquakes, let alone tsunamis, putting emergency generators on the roof at Fukushima would have significantly increased the risk. Putting them in the basement minimised perceived risk.
    To adequately tsunami-proof the plant they probably should have built it in Siberia or Outer Mongolia.

  16. Dearieme, this is *Japan* you’re talking about.. With a work ethos and Office Politics completely alien to us Westerners.

    You do not, *ever* , criticise a superior. Period.
    Doubly so when a perceived problem is something that superior would be responsible for, even if “inherited” from a predecessor. And social propriety *always* trumps common sense.
    There are ways to go about it, but they are circuituous and full of social/hierarchical pitfalls.

    Odds are 10:1 at least that someone spotted the generator risk. Probably multiple times over the years/decades. Perhaps even during the planning stage.
    There’s equal odds that getting the message up the company management pyramid would have been impossible without breaking Propriety. So the warning died somewhere halfway.

    It is entirely possible the three were not even aware of the potential problem. No-one would have dared to point it out to them.

  17. @Grikath: I once read the memoirs of the US military attache in London at the beginning of WW2. He was fascinated to observe that in the British forces junior officers were encouraged to give their views in discussion with their seniors. He told his readers that this was unknown in the US.

    He was also struck that the RAF was happy to have NCOs piloting planes even if this occasionally led to an NCO being “skipper” and a commissioned officer aboard not-skipper. The US (at least at the point) insisted that only officers could be pilot.

  18. Prosecution Dept should have been robust and told greens to FO. I’m pleased the show trial prosecution failed.

    @Dodgy Geezer September 19, 2019 at 10:38 am

    +1

    I’ts same as firms putting backup generators and UPSs (or business critical IT) in basement then expressing surprise when they fail in a thunderstorm/flood

    Backup generators and UPSs should be in an above ground level “bunker/safe-room” with snorkel intake & exhaust

    .
    @dearieme September 19, 2019 at 8:55 pm

    Yep. UK officers (eg at Sandhurst) are taught by NCOs and learn to respect their knowledge.

  19. Locating the emergency power generators in the basement was dumb. If they’d relocated them to the roof…

    My structural expertise is lacking, but I understand from the guys who do know this stuff that putting lots of mass high up in the structure is generally a bad idea in seismically active areas.

  20. Dearieme, this is *Japan* you’re talking about.. With a work ethos and Office Politics completely alien to us Westerners.

    You do not, *ever* , criticise a superior. Period.
    Doubly so when a perceived problem is something that superior would be responsible for, even if “inherited” from a predecessor. And social propriety *always* trumps common sense.

    When I first started travelling to Asia for work my boss, who’d spent a lot of years there, explained it to me as:

    “Imagine you’re stood at the edge of a building with your boss and he says jump, you just hope its the first floor or he’s provided a soft landing”.

  21. Yep. UK officers (eg at Sandhurst) are taught by NCOs and learn to respect their knowledge.

    An anecdote as I kill some time ……

    Doesn’t mean they always accepted it, though. I had a young officer arrive as troop commander for a comms installation in Troodos in the mid ’80s. As the technical SSgt I was responsible for the site and comms and he was responsible for, well nothing really, but was nominally in charge. We had lots of disagreements as he constantly wanted to take everyone off adventure training, drill or being soldiers and I insisted that the main comms terminal had to remain manned during extended working hours as we were the main hub for the Island and that the duty techs had to be on site 24 x 7.

    I was on leave one day and was at home in Platres when I got a call from my very irate boss in Episkopi asking why all the military inter-island comms were down and he couldn’t reach anyone on the Cypriot landline. I rushed up the mountain and found the whole troop doing drill.

    When the dust cleared he was much more amenable to my suggestions of how we worked and we became quite good fiends. It turned out that after leaving Sandhurst and going to the School of Signals some passed over major had said they shouldn’t listen to their WOs and SNCOs.

  22. The mistake was building a (any) nuclear plant in an earthquake-prone area (California, please note).

    All nuclear power plants are built in earthquake prone areas from a risk point of view, when taken in the context of engineering risk. Britain, for example, is actually earthquake prone and the 1,000 and 10,000 year events are quite severe. We don’t notice this because these events fall outside the lifetime of a human, but these are what engineers who design nuclear power plants have to consider (I used to do this as a job).

    The problem with Fukushima was not that it was in an earthquake zone – the building and all the components remained intact – but that nobody considered the event where a tsunami knocks out the emergency diesel generators which keep the coolant flowing during a shutdown. There are better solutions to this than trying to find earthquake free areas of the globe or moving the stations inland (and trying to find coolant water).

  23. To put it at its simplest, I suspect that moving the generators would cost only a trivial amount.

    I’ve yet to see an industrial facility where the EDGs, diesel storage tanks, and transformers are installed anywhere other than on the ground. I’m not sure what size they are in a nuclear power plant, but the transformer house at the Sakhalin II LNG plant was about the size of a large farmyard barn.

  24. I don’t know about Japan but in Britain it was, I think, in the 1970s that methodical procedures were widely taught within firms for “Hazop” – Hazard and Operability Analysis.

    HAZOPs only apply to hydrocarbon or chemical processes. A HAZID (Hazard Identification) would have picked up the tsunami risk.

  25. “A HAZID (Hazard Identification) would have picked up the tsunami risk.” An intelligent schoolboy would have picked up the tsunami risk. The risks that are a bugger to pick up are the ones that depend on several events happening on different systems at the same time, plus someone important being asleep, or having the flu, or being otherwise incapacitated.

    I repeat: the cost of locating the kit more intelligently would have been trivial – compared to the costs they’ve faced by not doing it. Hell, in a hilly country like Japan you could probably mount the stuff higher and still have it “on the ground”.

    Just about related: I am getting out of touch. Did anyone ever find a probable cause for the Bhopal disaster?

  26. Did anyone ever find a probable cause for the Bhopal disaster?

    Indian management operating an American-owned plant in a dangerous manner; the Americans had tried to close it because it was making a loss, but the local Indian government refused to allow it, because of its importance to the local economy.

  27. @ Tim Newman
    I stand corrected (my comment about Siberia was only half-flippant); I had not expected anyone to site emergency generators far enough away from a plant to allow it to use sea-water as a coolant while the generators were too high up to be vulnerable to a tsunami.

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