Fukushima 50 not doing it to save some executives’ hides

The Japanese PM “lays down the riot act” to Tepco executives:

Kan, who had already announced he would take personal control of a new joint-response headquarters involving the power company and the government, reportedly warned Tepco of serious consequences should it decide to pull its workers out before the plant has been made safe. “In the event of a withdrawal, I’m 100% certain that the company will collapse,” he said. “You must be determined to solve this.”

And so the workers stay:

Between 50 and 70 employees – now known in English as the Fukushima 50 – all in protective gear, were left at the plant to battle myriad problems. Some are assessing the damage and radiation levels caused by the explosions, while others cool stricken reactors with seawater to try to avert a potentially catastrophic release of radiation.

Something seems somewhat odious about this. The PM could’ve spoken to the workers directly, or passed on to them through their bosses that the nation was grateful for what they were doing, and would look after them and their families, and recognised that they are heroes – but instead it’s put in terms of how the executives can save their hides.

All I can say is, these brave people had better be lauded as heroes, and their names known around the world. (Like those who died smothering Chernobyl aren’t.) Their sacrifice isn’t being made for the company.

UPDATE (18/3): That’s more appropriate:

THEY are being hailed as the modern-day samurai – the 180 brave men who stayed behind to fight the crisis at Fukushima nuclear power plant knowing it was very likely they had volunteered for a suicide mission…

Prime Minister Naota Kan told the volunteers: “You are the only ones who can resolve a crisis. Retreat is unthinkable.”

I’m sure there was something in there about his gratitude, too.

11 responses to “Fukushima 50 not doing it to save some executives’ hides

  1. “All I can say is, these brave people had better be lauded as heroes, and their names known around the world. (Like those who died smothering Chernobyl aren’t.) Their sacrifice isn’t being made for the company.”

    You are of course joking? There is ample evidence on what companies do with their workers when they’re done with them. Unless of course your company directors are related to a Prime Minister or similar.

  2. I think the Japanese PM’s statement says a lot about a culture we don’t understand. Who knows what’s going on behind closed led doors. But yeah they’re not doing it primarily for the reputation of the company, they’re doing it for a variety of reasons, personal honour, loyalty to Japan and their families (and possibly because they weren’t given much of a bloody choice by Tepco). Tepco’s pretty well assuredly fucked anyway I don’t doubt. The PM was saying in a roundabout way that Tepco cannot leave the plant completely unattended and put the whole country in a state of continued threat which carries in it the an unspoken and obvious ‘solution’ of leaving people there to continue on for as long as they can.

    Poor bastards, I certainly hope they got to choose, but doubt we’ll ever know.

    I wonder why they can’t snap freeze the whole shebang with nitrous oxide? They’re now talking about dumping acid in.

  3. Splatterbottom

    This is yet another example of too much blind trust in the work of scientists. In the early 70s Sir Ernest Titterton, one of the world’s leading nuclear scientists and Head of Department of Nuclear Physics at the ANU, assured us that nuclear power generation was safe and that the risk of anyone being killed was trillions to one against. Sadly the work of this scientist (who also supported British nuclear testing at Marilinga) was given too much credence by the authorities of the time and nuclear power stations proliferated. A bit of common sense and critical thinking needs to be added to the mix when big decisions are being made.

    After Chernobyl it was said that this was just the fault of poor Russian design and nothing like that could happen in the West. Not everyone was convinced:

    Thirty-five years ago, Dale G. Bridenbaugh and two of his colleagues at General Electric resigned from their jobs after becoming increasingly convinced that the nuclear reactor design they were reviewing — the Mark 1 — was so flawed it could lead to a devastating accident.

    Questions persisted for decades about the ability of the Mark 1 to handle the immense pressures that would result if the reactor lost cooling power, and today that design is being put to the ultimate test in Japan. Five of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which has been wracked since Friday’s earthquake with explosions and radiation leaks, are Mark 1s.
    “The problems we identified in 1975 were that, in doing the design of the containment, they did not take into account the dynamic loads that could be experienced with a loss of coolant,” Bridenbaugh told ABC News in an interview. “The impact loads the containment would receive by this very rapid release of energy could tear the containment apart and create an uncontrolled release.”

    Sadly the highest price is paid by the poor schmucks who have to clean up the mess. The politicians and executives who built the reactors won’t be anywhere near them when the shit hits the fan.

    I bet you won’t see the Bolt linking to the article quoted above. He seems more intent in pushing the ‘don’t worry, move on, nothing to see here, even Hiroshima wasn’t that bad‘ line.

  4. “I wonder why they can’t snap freeze the whole shebang with nitrous oxide? They’re now talking about dumping acid in.”

    Laughing gas?
    I guess it would pre-empt any panic

    But simply put, drowning a 2200-degree core meltdown (magma flows are about 1300) is a bit like putting the toothpaste back in the tube – you’re fighting against the steam pressure for possibly weeks.

    NOW can we work on geothermal plants? Please??

  5. I’m pretty neutral on atomic energy. If someone can convince me that the generators are safe in 99.999% of cases, that it’s economic and that the long-term issues of waste storage and security are solved then I support it in principle.

    In the same way I support Friedmanite economics and Communism, of course.

    If all things were equal, they’re all great systems. However, I can think of 9.0 reasons why all things weren’t equal in Japan’s use of atomic energy.

  6. jordanrastrick

    I’m still very pro-nuclear power (especially for Australia) despite this terrible tragedy, and what now seems like the usual scramble by some to play down the impacts (to save their own reputations?) while others are bravely putting their lives at stake to prevent as much damage as possible.

    A few of my reasons:

    1) Japan is pretty much the worst place in the world (at least where civilisation has any presence) to have a Nuclear reactor. A 9.0 earthquake and resultant tsunami is ridiculously powerful, and in for instance Australia is an event of vanishingly low likelihood. Even so, and even though nuclear accounts for 30% of their power, this is the first emergency they’ve had that is likely to lead to any harm to civilian health.

    2) These reactors were already producing power when the construction on Chernobyl started. Their core design thus incorporates none of the lessons learned from what eventually happened there (especially the importance of passive safety systems rather than active ones.)

    3) Nuclear is a lot cheaper than current renewables even with costs like waste management factored in. And it is orders of magnitude safer than fossil fuels, even if you ignore climate chnage – for instance if you measure safety in Lives Lost per kWh of electricity produced (since say 1950, if you want to pass over the most dangerous periods of coal mining etc in silence), Nuclear comes out orders of magnitude ahead. Sendai hasn’t and won’t change that equation.

  7. narcoticmusing

    Ironically, Australia’s only nuclear reactor is on a fault line.

  8. The decicion to set up a nuclear plant depends on presentation (the core of politics)…

    If someone approached YOU about investing in an energy plant that won’t even generate for 9 years, and has a life expectancy of only 40 (or 60, depending on their audience), what would you say?
    What if you knew that the necessary fuel would run out in 30 years (at present consumption levels)?
    Or that the project might remain “under construction” for decades (and may or may not get built)?
    Or that you’ll only fill about a quarter (and falling) of your technical staffing positions – the balance being haemorraged to competing industries?
    Or that the plant may not be near the generous transport infrastructure on which it will rely (especially water supply) – meaning that you’ll need to build feeder routes?
    Or that you’ll need a heavier security presence than any enterprise in human history?
    Or that you’re not very likely to find an insurer?
    Or that the market retail rates for competing sources will leave you in the dust, no matter how much money you save on safety?
    Or that you’ll be adopting a 10,000 year moral hazard (the half-life of spent fuel), as will your successors?
    Or that the decommissioning costs after its 40th birthday could rival its construction costs?
    Or that you’ll be held responsible for the lies you’ll have to tell about the projects safety record if you choose not to do that?

    Or that when the expenses of energy and resources in building, operating and decommissioning the plant are tallied, you would end up being a net CONSUMER of both?

    But what if instead, you were told that you’d never have to pay for the plant?
    That the Department of Energy would take care of all that (eminent-domaining the land if it has to)?
    And that the Department of Transport will build whatever infrastructure it needs?
    And that waste management (and its cost and risk) would be taken over by the Department of Environment?
    And that this would relieve you of any insurance burden?
    And that the Federal Police would handle all the security needs?
    And that not even the operating costs would have to come entirely out of the companys own pocket?
    And that for emission purposes, only the reactor itself will count, rather than the whole enterprise?
    And that the returns will come to YOU?

    NOW what would you say?

  9. narcoticmusing

    lykurgus – I think every political advisor would now like to subscribe to your newsletter

  10. Splatterbottom

    Too much trust in too few people leads to disaster.

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