Friday, July 06, 2012

Critical Differences Between the U.S. and Japanese Nuclear Energy Industries

Yesterday, news broke that an independent investigation by the Japanese parliament has concluded that the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was a "man-made" failure that could be laid at the feet of both Tokyo Electric Power Company and the government. According to Tokyo University professor emeritus and Committee Chair Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the Fukushima accident "cannot be regarded as a natural disaster ... It could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response."

The report also points out that elements unique to Japanese culture and industry also played a role in Japan's response to the events at Fukushima:
“This was a disaster ‘Made in Japan, ”Kurokawa said in the report’s introduction. “Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program,’ our groupism, and our insularity.”
But if the accident at Fukushima was unique to Japan, what differentiates their culture and nuclear industry from others around the world, especially here in the U.S.? Just prior to the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations’ release of a detailed timeline of the events at Fukushima, I asked NEI's Chief Nuclear Officer, Tony Pietrangelo, to clarify what sets the U.S. nuclear energy industry apart from Japan:

To read the entire report, click here.

Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission Chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa, addresses Japanese legislators yesterday while presenting his committee's report. Photo courtesy of Voice of America.


jimwg said...

I dunno, maybe it's me, but is the seeming conclusion of this report that were there no quake or tsunami the accident would've happened anyway? I mean you can push the culture factor/excuse so far! Do they also blame airline crashes due weather and ferry disasters in storms as solely human-caused incidents? To me, there's also a weird "Don't blame mother nature!" aspect in this that maybe in some convoluted way makes nuclear energy appear a little more "unnatural" and demonic while giving shines to "natural" solar power and windmills. Maybe it's me, but I just have that queer feeling about that. Yes, maybe it's my American view, but Japan has nothing to be ashamed of at what happened at Fukushima. Their 40-year-old structures survived major rare natural events and their engineering sacrifice resulted in zero casualties. Zero casualties. Were our occasional Gulf rig and refinery accidents -- or most all industrial accidents -- so merciful -- and as memorable. Yet most Japanese over there act like the reactors did all the killing! Critics are missing the forest for the trees with that point. Yes, response mistakes were made (especially with the far more socially damaging evacuation), but to be fair and equal I'd very much like to see the head honchos of their Oil and Gas works hauled up on the carpet to explain and apologize for the lives lost and property damaged on their tuft by the same quake.

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Anonymous said...

That is my concern as well. There seems to be a singular focus on an industrial facility damaged by a natural event with zero resulting casualities. Yet not a word (in the popular media) about the Okura dam (i.e., "renewable" energy)collapse that wiped out an entire village of 1,800 people, the one bullet train washed out to sea that killed hundreds, the oil refineries that burned for weeks in the Tokyo area. Compared to all the caterwauling about the Fukushima "disaster", there has been deafening silence about the real disasters. I wonder why that is...?

Anonymous said...

@anon -
do you have any info or links on the dam failure? I googled for it but all I find for hits are blog comments like yours above. I'm not saying it didnt happen, but where's the info? I'd like to see anything, even if it is in Japanese. Thanks.

Anonymous said...


Photos of the intact Okura dam, taken 8/23/2011. Apparently the news of it's demise are premature.

OTOH, Fujinuma reservoir did collapse, killing 7.