Skip to main content

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.

Comments

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…
see
http://apu.blog.so-net.ne.jp/2011-08-23

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.
http://www.nilim.go.jp/lab/bbg/saigai/h23tohoku/110314sabo.pdf

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot.

Lohud.com, the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.


From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…