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Fukushima Nuclear Incident

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When I saw conflicting reports over the exploding nuclear power plant in Japan that had been damaged by an earthquake and a tsunami, I wanted to believe much of it was due to media-hype and difference in threat perception between the general public and the nuclear industry. Nuclear power was considered safe by experts, but the general public who grew up watching Homer Simpson bumbling at the Springfield Nuclear Plant always maintained healthy skepticism. Daily aerial photos of the fuming plant didn’t speak to me as powerfully as the image above, which chillingly reminds me of the images of Chernobyl disaster nearly three decades ago. Both the Soviet Union and nuclear industry never recovered from that incident. Today, the question is how bad the situation in Japan is going to get and how precisely the Japanese society will be transformed by this incident.

There are already some signs of disquiet. Yesterday, the Japanese Emperor Akihito gave a television address — the first time a Japanese emperor has given a speech directly to the people on television during a national crisis. Beyond poignant comparisons of the address to the radio address his father gave in 1945 to declare Japan’s surrender to the allies after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was a harsh fact that the Japanese public broadcaster NHK instructed its employees to cut into the speech if there were crucial developments in the nuclear crisis. In a country where the Emperor is revered universally, this instruction bordered blasphemy, a potent indicator of the deep cultural impact of the crisis.

It is also undeniable that Japanese culture and psyche too will be greatly transformed by this crisis. In a country where cabinets and prime ministers (31 of them since 1947) came and went, government and industry are effectively run by elite bureaucrats and corporations, with whom Japan always had ambivalent relationship. While revered for Japan’s rapid growth since the Second World War, they were also reviled for elitism and insularity they represented. While the Soviet Union had nomenklatura, Japan’s top civil servants retire to high-paying corporate jobs in a system known as amakudari. Now they seems overwhelmed by the crisis.

While the Soviet belief in the messianic might of their empire contributed to the Chernobyl cover-up, the Japanese brief in discretion is equally troubling. Until recently, many Japanese people concealed their maladies from family members to avoid causing alarm, and disrupting calm. Reassurances along the same vein seem to be coming from Japanese authorities, despite the fact that the situation in the reactors seems to be deteriorating.

According to a wikileaks cable, the International Atomic Energy Agency warned Japan more than two years ago that strong earthquakes would pose “serious problems” to her nuclear plants. I am a strong supporter of the nuclear power, but have always been disturbed by the way industry reacts to such warnings. In university, I took a class on nuclear power with someone who is now the head of his country’s civilian nuclear program. He was very dismissive of my concerns over nuclear waste storage and transfers. Everyone else in the class (there were 15 of them) does not seem to be too concerned either, and quite worryingly, some of them actually went into nuclear industry. My professor have always insisted that Chernobyl was an isolated accident that could not have happened outside the Soviet Union. Let’s hope he’s correct.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 17, 2011 at 2:31 am

11 Responses

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  1. Even if the very worst case scenario happens, it will not be on the scale of Chernobyl. Some sane discussion about the worst case by informed people in the field is here:


    Stewart Johnson

    March 17, 2011 at 2:41 am

    • Hey, how is that: “Not as bad as Chernybl idea turning out?”


      March 30, 2011 at 3:23 pm

  2. […] media coverage is overwhelming. The images will always be there. I’d like to recommend this article at Iconic Photos, and also an earlier post about Chernobyl. Tags: Fukushima, JapanCategory: In English You […]

  3. I think the unfortunate thing about nuclear power is that people are so divided over the issue. There are the people who will defend nuclear power beyond any threats it may cause, and then the people who will dismiss any benefits of nuclear power because of accidents such as these. Personally, I’m a supporter of nuclear power, and watching this entire crisis deteriorate has still shaken my trust in the industry. While I realize that a Chernobyl-like disaster is not possible (the two plants are built differently), the fact that the Fukushima plant officials disregarded warnings prior to this disaster is not an isolated occurrence within the industry.

    At this point, I’m trying to keep a cool head about the entire situation while reminding myself that Japan is proceeding with the utmost attention to the safety of its people, to the best of its ability.


    March 17, 2011 at 7:01 pm

  4. The first thing that industry supporters insisted on is that this won’t be as bad as Chernobyl. That is kind of a low bar, if you ask me.

    On the other hand all one can do is wait and watch what happens and assume that we will only find out the truth, if it is really bad about a decade or so on and then only maybe.


    March 17, 2011 at 11:41 pm

  5. I can’t find a bulletin board for of Nuclear Incidence in Japanese web sites.
    I think water gun from fire engines must fail pouring.
    A long hose durable to water pressure and heat should be pulled to the House, with a leading wire. The leading wire will be hooked up and pulled over the House and dropped off with some weight to another side of the House, for placing the tip of the hose just over the Pool. And then, they should water to the House.


    March 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm

  6. Read the history of the development and growth of the railroads. There was continuing carnage of all kinds. Nothing is going to be made so safe that, between stupidity and nature, someone won’t be hurt.

    S. Petersen

    March 18, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    • All of which is true, but the end results of a single nuclear accident are significantly more significant, than say a single railroad accident.


      March 20, 2011 at 12:47 am

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  9. Never was there a single machine process created, invented, or understood, that didn’t threaten the limb and life of at least one man; the greater the benefit, the greater the risk.

    Imagine the first man(okay, or woman) who understood fire, and learned to control it, or even create it. Everyone would have cursed him for his understanding, because they didn’t understand the benefit.

    Imagine mankind back in the age before fire, is that really where you want to send your children?

    Wake up. Progress has risks. No person lives forever.

    Possibly the greatest risk in Japan today is they will no longer be able to blame Godzilla on America.


    April 12, 2011 at 7:16 am

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