Apologies, but shit happens, y’know?

Local residents and environmental groups have reacted angrily to the announcement that prosecutors have decided to drop the charges for responsibility for the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

As Japan nears the third anniversary of the March 11 earthquake that crippled the plant, no-one has been held accountable for the second-worst nuclear accident in history, despite the independent investigative committee set up by the government concluding in July 2012 that the accident was “man-made disaster” caused by shortcomings in Japanese corporate culture.

“Absolutely no-one is taking responsibility for this huge accident and when all these people are suffering,” Aileen Mioko-Smith, of Kyoto-based Green Action Japan, told The Telegraph.

“The investigation clearly stated this was an accident created by humans, not a natural disaster, but the judicial system here has now decided to side with the powers-that-be,” she said.

“The government will be happy with the decision, but it is completely irresponsible,” she said. “And I fear that failing to prosecute in this case will lead to another disaster in the future.”

Even if we accept that it was indeed human error that led to this disaster (something I’m entirely unsure about myself) this does not therefore lead to the conclusion that someone, somewhere, is criminally responsible.

Because, sadly, sometimes shit just happens. And for something to be a crime then the sequence of events has to be at least vaguely forseeable. And, oddly, no one really did forsee the idea of a massive earthquake followed by one of the world’s largest ever tsunamis.

26 thoughts on “Apologies, but shit happens, y’know?”

  1. Maybe German manufacturers can now sue the Japanese for Merkel’s decision to close down the nuclear plants.

  2. “And, oddly, no one really did foresee the idea of a massive earthquake followed by one of the world’s largest ever tsunamis.”

    Even that’s not strictly true. From what i understand, that was a combination of eventualities were planned for. Hence, the outcome has been remarkably slight.
    But it’s not exactly a thing you can do a dry run on, for proof of principal, is it?
    Have now, though. Just not dry.

  3. Sorry Tim, but I’m going to contadict you and support (it goes against the grain) the Green.

    The tsunami was entirely predictable. Historical records show these are regular occurances. TEPCO chose to site its emergency generator plus fuel supply in a tin shed on a tsunami-prone coast. The inevitable happened and everything turned to shit.

    TEPCO had 40 years to study the historic record and to learn from the Indian Ocean tsunami. Instead of reviewing performance and improving procedures, they did nothing except sit back, hope nothing went titsup, and wait to collect the pensions.

    TEPCO senior staff, especially their engineering management, need to be sent to jail for their monumental fuck up and total abrogation of responsibility.

    I live in Tohoku (northern Honshu) and have visited the tsunami affected areas. Perfectly standard reinforced concrete buildings withstood the tsunami, no problem. Had the backup systems been housed in resilient structures, the entire fuckup could have been avoided.

  4. I think the lesson of the whole business is how good those reactors were. They were an obsolete design, due to be shut down in the next couple of years, and coped well with an earthquake way past what they were designed for. The issues with the site were largely those with the spent fuel pools, which now everyone knows either should be retired in favour of dry storage or put under a containment building

  5. So lets see. Japanese engineers fuck up, cause some deaths by negligence (actual numbers unknown at the moment, less than 10 directly attributable to the accident), and the book is required to be thrown at them. Fair enough.

    NHS through negligence manages to kill several thousand people per year for a number of years (and probably still is) and………..crickets.

    What’s the odds that if Tepco was a State owned and run organisation there would be a similar silence?

  6. So Much for Subtlety

    “Absolutely no-one is taking responsibility for this huge accident and when all these people are suffering,” Aileen Mioko-Smith, of Kyoto-based Green Action Japan, told The Telegraph.

    Bloody foreigners. Going to someone else’s country. Mucking everything up. Someone ought to send the [email protected] home

    (OK, I assume she is a Japanese dim bint married to a foreign gutless wonder – but how can anyone resist?)

  7. BiJ, so why aren’t the Japanese trying to take all the people who built seawalls too low in all the places where thousands of people actually died? No one died in Fuji, and the disruption of society around it is more to do with overly cautious safety on the precautionary principle.

  8. SBM: I’m not sure what you are asking. Its not possible to build a 50 metre high sea wall along the entire length of Japan’s eastern coast. That is, very approx, 2,000 km.

    Question. Assuming you are in the UK, how practical is it to build a 50 metre high sea wall from John O’Groats to Lands End?

    The issue is that Fukushima Daichi plant had its emergency backup power supply (generator plus fuel) in a tin shed on the beach. The meltdown occurred because the power supply to the pumps failed, and the backup generator system had been destroyed. If the backup system had been in a tsunami-proof building and ready to come on line, then the entire cluster fuck would have been avoided.

    Tsunami-proof doesn’t require some nuclear-attack style defence. As I noted above, perfectly standard reinforced concrete buildings survived the tsunami intact.

  9. Bloke is Japan is right. Power stations built later had strict requirements for protection from Tsunamis. It was a known problem. Not having enough power to cool the reactor is a problem known to everyone, since Nuclear power began. All Nuclear power stations also have backup generators in case the reactor goes off-line and they’re disconnected from the grid. Newer power stations in Japan were required to protect both the reactor and backup power against Tsunamis. Fukashima was old, it had been built before those regulations and it’s management decided not to upgrade it.

  10. While I agree with BIJ, there is no prospect of a successful prosecution.
    Tepco were told to build a plant resistant to a magnitude 8.6 earthquake. Which they did.
    The actual earthquake was 9.0 or 9.1
    That’s an earthquake four times more severe than the design.
    The wonder is that more damage was not caused to the other reactors.

  11. Shit happens ,indeed, and some of it can be predicted but calculated as too low a possibility. In the same way TW claimed that nodules, containing rare earth minerals ,being picked off the ocean floors would never happen -last Sunday’s Observer had a big spread on all the huge corporate interests planning to scoop them all up, pronto.

  12. BiJ
    Reports at the time said the reactors and pumps were designed to withstand a 5.7 meter tsunami, and so protected by a 10 meter sea wall. The one that hit was about 14 meters.
    Are you saying TEPCO knew the design goal was inadequate?

  13. Bloke in Costa Rica

    @bif Strictly speaking an M9.0 is ~2.5× an M8.6 and an M9.1 ~3.2×. But the point is valid. If the structures were built to a given protection level but failed when presented with an event beyond those design parameters then one can argue that those drafting the standards were negligent, but it is hard to see how any criminal culpability attaches to the operators.

  14. The earthquake was magnitude 9 at the epicentre – that is offshore Miyagi. It wasn’t 9 in southern Fukushima, more like 6 or 5 (what I experienced in Yamagata). The reactor structure withstood the earthquake and the tsunami, but lost power, and it was the power loss to the cooling system which caused the meltdown, not the earthquake or tsunami themselves.

    Following the Indian Ocean Boxing day tsunami, and knowing their plant was on a tsunami prone coast, TEPCO mamagement and senior engineers should have sat down together and made a rigorous analysis of the true risks, and acted on that. Instead, they were asleep at the wheel.

    There is a nuclear power plant in Miyagi, much closer to the event than Fukushima.

    According to Reuters the Onagawa nuclear power plant was the closest nuclear power plant to the March 2011 earthquake epicenter. All three reactors at the power plant successfully withstood the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, demonstrating the ability of a well designed nuclear facility to withstand even one of most powerful of megathrust earthquakes and tsunamis ever recorded and to shut down safely, as designed, without incident

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onagawa_Nuclear_Power_Plant

    Onagawa is operated by Tohoku Electric Power Company. Tohoku was on the ball. TEPCO weren’t. QED.

  15. Bloke in Central Illinois

    I must say I find the obsession with Tepco and Fukushima somewhat bizarre in light of the fact that the nuclear accident killed 10 people or so out of a total tsunami death toll of around 20,000.

    Surely many mistakes were made in terms of disaster preparedness and response, entire towns were wiped off the map for god’s sake. But the only aspect of it that we ever hear demands for prosecution are for Tepco/Fukushima. Apparently everyone but Tepco performed swimmingly.

  16. Bloke in Japan: you appear to be arguing from the standpoint of res ipsa loquitur. Is that even a thing in Japanese law?

  17. Crikey, David. I had to look that up. I have no idea if it exists in Japanese Law. I’ll ask the memsahib and get back to you. Japanese public opinion definitely carries an expectation of “reasonableness”, and TEPCO have definitely failed on that. The perception here is of an un-responsive behemoth, set on cruise control and managed by bureaucrats more interested in their pensions than running the organisation.

    I’m a geologist, not an administrator or manager. The memsahib owns and runs a small business. What I’ve learned from her is that you can’t stand still in business. What worked 5 years ago won’t work now, and what works now won’t do in another 5 years. Stasis is a guarantee of insolvency or bankruptcy. The impression I have is that TEPCO management failed to re-evaluate their business plan on any kind of systematic basis. For the memsahib, failure would be very inconvenient for us and her employees, but no more. TEPCO’s failure to manage critical risks is a disaster for an entire prefecture and the nuclear power industry nationally and globally.

    BICI. I agree about the obsession with Fukushima vs. the tsunami casualties. However, the physical tsunami damage can be repaired, but Fukishima is left with a large area that (rightly or wrongly) is uninhabitable. There are a lot of people who have lost their homes, businesses etc. Consumers won’t buy food products from Fukushima and all the farmers have gone bust. That is where TEPCO’s risk assesment failure has caused resentment and criticism.

  18. “Res ipsa loquitur”. I ran that past the memsahib, and it was hopeless. Her knowledge of Latin and common law is rubbish.

    Actually after a few minutes of fencing, she opined that if there was no clear breach of written law, then there’s no case. In this case, our collective opinions are worth exactly what they cost.

  19. Japanese law is a civil code system patterned on the German Code. Note that res ipsa loquitur is a negligence concept in common law.

    I dont think the fact that Tohoku EPCO did better than TEPCO would count as res ipsa loquitur, although the inquiries show substantial negligence and incompetence on the part of the regulators and the company. In a claim for damages, yup, this puts them in the jackpot, but since TEPCO (backed by the govt) is going to pay, this isnt really an issue.

    Criminal liability is a different matter.

  20. Thanks ken. I knew that the Japanese health and education systems are based on German models. I didn’t know about the legal system. Very informative.

  21. Japan’s code was going to be French, but the man they hired procrastinated and Japan ended up with a German system. Japan’s army hired French advisers and then replaced them with Prussian ones after the Franco-Prussian War*. Japan’s IJN was based on the British RN, until links were damaged by the Treaty of Washington.

    * No one would have dreamed of hiring a Yank a la the Last Samurai.

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