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In Fukushima Nuclear Plant Crisis, Crippling Mistrust - NYTimes.com
On the evening of March 12, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant's oldest reactor had suffered a hydrogen explosion and risked a complete meltdown. Prime Minister Naoto Kan asked aides to weigh the risks of injecting seawater into the reactor to cool it down.

At this crucial moment, it became clear that a prime minister who had built his career on suspicion of the collusive ties between Japan's industry and bureaucracy was acting nearly in the dark. He had received a confusing risk analysis from the chief nuclear regulator, a fervently pro-nuclear academic whom aides said Mr. Kan did not trust. He was also wary of the company that operated the plant, given its history of trying to cover up troubles.

Mr. Kan did not know that the plant manager had already begun using seawater. Based on a guess of the mood at the prime minister's office, the company ordered the plant manager to stop.

But the manager did something unthinkable in corporate Japan: he disobeyed the order and secretly continued using seawater, a decision that experts say almost certainly prevented a more serious meltdown and has made him an unlikely hero.

by Nomad on Mon Jun 13th, 2011 at 04:57:59 PM EST
Wow. And the article only scratches the surface.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Mon Jun 13th, 2011 at 05:37:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for unearthing this story, which was referred to without details in the government report discussed upthread.

A little detail on legality:

Mr. Yoshida had the authority as the plant manager to make the decision, said Junichi Matsumoto, a senior official at Tepco. And indeed, guidelines from the International Atomic Energy Agency specify that technical decisions should be left to plant managers because a timely response is critical, said Sung Key-yong, a nuclear accident expert who participated in the agency's recent fact-finding mission to Japan.

Considering the above, IMHO the real scandal is not the managers' idiocy in ordering a stop of seawater injection on the basis of a guess that the PM's "mood" is against it, but this:

Last week, Tepco gave Mr. Yoshida its lightest punishment of a verbal reprimand for defying the order.

A reprimand after his decision was clearly proven to have been correct?

The main thrust of the NYC article is something different, BTW: that Kan's justified distrust of the nuclear establishment prevented him from efficient disaster management, relying on advisors who didn't have the necessary information. For example:

This includes the existence of a nationwide system of radiation detectors known as the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or Speedi. Mr. Terada and other advisers said they did not learn of the system's existence until March 16, five days into the crisis.

If they had known earlier, they would have seen Speedi's early projections that radiation from the Fukushima plant would be blown northwest, said one critic, Hiroshi Kawauchi, a lawmaker in Mr. Kan's own party. Mr. Kawauchi said that many of the residents around the plant who evacuated went north, on the assumption that winds blew south during winter in that area. That took them directly into the radioactive plume, he said -- exposing them to the very radiation that they were fleeing.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jun 14th, 2011 at 09:16:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Regarding the US-Japan tussle over sharing information, what about this use of men and equipment by both sides as a means of a dipomatic exchange? (We soon learnt about the theatrical nature of the Japanese reaction, but not the US action.)

The Americans also began voluntary evacuations of nonessential personnel at their bases, and hinted at more drastic steps, even pulling out some essential military personnel, if Tokyo did not share more information, said this American official and Japanese officials, including Mr. Terada.

To show Washington and an increasingly anxious Japanese public that utmost efforts were being made, Mr. Kan deployed military helicopters to drop water into the reactors, Mr. Terada and other Japanese advisers said, adding they knew this would have only a limited effect on cooling them. On March 17, on live television, the helicopters dropped water from the air, though strong winds clearly blew much of the water off course.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jun 14th, 2011 at 09:22:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but on the 16th of March the government announced that SPEEDI wasn't working in the area because monitoring posts around the plant were malfunctioning due to earthquake or Tsunami  the idea that they only found out that day that it existed seems somewhat unlikely, judging by the usual slow release of information.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Jun 14th, 2011 at 04:52:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you have a link for that 16 March announcement? I only found this earlier reference to the effect of local blackouts:

NUCLEAR CRISIS: HOW IT HAPPENED / Government radiation data disclosure--too little, too late : National : DAILY YOMIURI ONLINE (The Daily Yomiuri)

However, the March 11 calamity severed power at the Fukushima plant, meaning SPEEDI data could not be transmitted. The government said it did not make forecasts from the system public because "accurate predictions could not be made."

Despite the information blackout on radiation levels, SPEEDI continued to churn out useful data about radiation emissions immediately after the earthquake and tsunami by inputting provisional readings.

The system's estimates on radiation pollution for the afternoon of March 12 show high contamination in areas eerily similar to those the government eventually designated as "planned evacuation areas" in April.

...Commenting on the matter, Hirotada Hirose, professor emeritus of Tokyo Women's Christian University and specialist in risk psychology, said, "In a fast-changing crisis situation, delays in releasing information to try to ensure accuracy often aggravates people's suspicions and unease."

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jun 15th, 2011 at 03:12:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I found that yesterday, when i was looking. but of course can't see it now.  Various news agencies quoted speedi as being in existence the day before, a german academic was taking SPEEDI  data from a japanese government website the day before, but Fukushima prefecture data was blank. (here's a link from the the guardian posted on the 15th)


Japan nuclear crisis and tsunami - live updates | World news | guardian.co.uk
Laura Oliver points out that Marian Steinbach, based in Germany, is collating all the real-time radiation data, collected via the System for Prediction of Environment Emergency Dose Information(SPEEDI), for the various prefectures in Japan in this Google Doc.

Sadly the Police never think it's as funny as you do.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Jun 15th, 2011 at 08:35:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]