Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.
BBC News
Accident at Japan nuclear plant

Monday, 9 August, 2004, 10:32 GMT 11:32 UK

At least four people have been killed in the worst ever accident at a Japanese nuclear power plant.

Ooops. Why is it that I don't trust them when they say stuff like, "In the aftermath of the accident, no evacuation order was given to residents living near the plant, and city official Nobutake Masaki denied there was any danger to the surrounding area." This is probably because they lie. At least some people are brave enough to blow the whistle.


If, as has been reported, the workers have been killed by a rupture in the steam system feeding the turbines, I wouldn’t overly worry about the environmental impact. Such “secondary” steam is produced in a heat exchanger and is not in direct contact with the “primary” radioactive cooling fluid coming from the reactor proper.
A leak of lethal high-pressure and high-temperature steam can also occur in coal-, oil- or gas-fired power plants...

For those into nuclear reactor porn, I’ve googled up a schematic of a PWR (Pressurized Water Reactor) design as used e.g. at the Mihama plant.

It looks like even a primary — i.e. radioactive — circuit leak in the steam generator, as occured at Mihama in 1991, was well contained — as intended, engineered, and predicted — and thus didn’t release much radioactivity in the surroundings.

Not sure if this latest accident occured in the same reactor, though.

Joi, before you say they are lying, do you know anything about nuclear power plants? I don't mean this as a slight against you cos' obviously you are very intelligent. But before we jump the gun, we should learn what was going on exactly. There is a reason why nuclear power plants are encased in slabs of thick of concrete.

I think we also have to keep in mind that mobs can be dangerously irrational and if the officials said everyone should evacuate, more people would have probably died from the ensuing mass panic than from the radiation exposure if there was any.

" I wouldn’t overly worry about the environmental impact."

Mega-millage frequent flier Joi Ito worry about environmental impact?

I wouldn't worry about that MostlyVowels. ;P

I'm sorry. I'm being EXTREMELY cynical. The treatment of the TEPCO info was cover-up after cover-up and after all was said, I met the whistle-blower and found out that some of really important stuff was still covered up.

My point is that I don't trust ANY news about stuff like this, even if it is reported in the press and it's sad that I don't trust the reports.

It's hard to hide dead bodies, but pretty easy in Japan to lie about what happened.

Anyway, this report is probably true. I was just expressing my knee-jerk reaction of mistrust.

If you want, I'll write another blog entry of all of the incredible lies we've been told in the past with respect to public safety in Japan.

Jerry, I blogged about the impact of my travel and aviation on global warming a while ago. I don't travel without guilt. What do you suggest I do about it? I have yet to hear of any feasible alternatives and I do talk about it and discuss the issue with people whenever I get a chance. What do you suggest?

I had no idea. heh, I guess i'm showing my knee jerk reaction too. I don't blame you. I'm in America and I'm cynical about a lot of the news coming out too. It's hard. I'd be interested to hear more about what's going on though. I'm not in Japan and don't really follow.

I apologize if you took offense. Thanks for blogging. =)

Not taking offense. Actually, just being defensive. ;-)

I guess my point is that I'm not questioning the technical robustness of the announcement, but the fundamental trustworthiness of the announcement. Anyway, we'll see as the news plays out. The typical anti-nuclear people will go nuclear and the government will be typically evasive and we won't know what really happened is my prediction.

That's how it plays out in the States too a lot of times. Never really get the whole story. Bits and pieces put through a prism and spit out whatever which way.

Insightful stuff though.

Given your concerns about this incident, would you be willing to share your views on the proposed construction of a fusion reactor in Aomori-ken?

So here I'm going to be a bit of a wimp. I don't know enough about the risks of nuclear energy to have a strong opinion for or against building such a reactor. My main issue is with the way these organizations deal with disclosers and whistleblowers.

maybe a bit off topic but some news last night pointed that the Mihama reactor started opration since 1975 and there was no inspection of the pipe in the last 28 years. this is unbelievable safety keeping operation! everyone knows mechanical things have decay.

however, I cannot resist to add a suspicion on safety margin in design. because the reactor was build arouund 1974 and at that time we didn't have computers with enough CPU power to simulate many elements of nuclear reactor design, or even architectural design too.

I particulary know that because my father was an architectual designer working at Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute. as a kid I had many chances to visit his office at JAERI and saw most of architecture design computation were done by bunch of hand held calculators. I had helped my father's work when he had massive load of calculation for quantity survey. and actually he had transfered alone to Tsuruga/Mihama region for several month in around 1971 or so to help building nuclear reactors there.

I guess that we may need to review safety of those old heavy duty critical infrastructure stuff or may need to terminate using them.

Joi, I consider your distrust to be totally justified, though you come down perhaps a bit too hard on the Japanese government: numerous examples — e.g. financial institutions, Snow Brand, Mitsubishi Motors — demonstrate that Japanese corporations are no less proficient than the government at being arrogant, incompetent, irresponsible or prone to cover up problems. I wouldn’t be surprised if an inquest revealed that such mores also afflicted Kansai Power...

It’s true, however, that the extent of the tangible and/or moral damage caused when the government is failing the public is much more significant than in the corporation’s cases...

I hasten to add that incompetence and irresponsibility are certainly not exclusively Japanese traits. This 1975 incident where even the ECCS was disabled takes, um, the candle ;-)

“[..] Brown's Ferry, Alabama, USA
Fire in plant caused by electrician checking for air flow with candle. Destruction of 2,000 cables, Emergency Core Cooling System, reactor core isolation cooling system and all important regulators and emergency cooling systems. ”

My first reaction to this when I heard about this accident was similar to Joi's, although I didn't think about the radioactivity as much as I wondered if the accident could have been prevented far in advance. Japanese companies and government agencies are _notorious_ for not taking needed safety steps to prevent accidents, and then covering up or simply apologizing when something like this happens.

In fact, Japan is probably the only industrialized country in the world where both industry and government agencies can get away with huge scandals by either having people resign, pay a little money, or disolve the organization - only to regroup under a new name. What's most frustrating about it is how little stir the Japanese media creates, and most of the Japanese people I know don't have a healthy enough distrust of the media or government to question what they are told. Even if they did, public demonstrations that actually get results are almost unheard of. There is just no accountability.

'In fact, Japan is probably the only industrialized country in the world where both industry and government agencies can get away with huge scandals'

Not so. The entire world appears to bear the same levels of corruption. Media complicity does seem mostly confined to Europe, North America, Japan et al. (ie. so-called Westernized nations) but it is truly a giant cesspool.

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