Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Biggest Room

The biggest room anywhere is the room for improvement. With this note, I feel privileged to list the following four items.

1. Tokyo Shinbun reported yesterday the differences in two tsunami counter measures. Tepco operates Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and Tohoku Denryoku, Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant. The Onagawa plant is located in Miyagi prefecture and it was closer to the epicenter of the 9.0 than Fukushima Daiichi plant, but it had a little damage, and all the reactors have been stable.

For the Onagawa plant, Tohoku Denryoku estimated the worst tsunami at 9.1 meters high and built the plant on 15 meters higher ground which was 5 meters higher than the place Fukushima Daiichi Plant is. Tepco estimated tsunami at 5.5 meters.

I did hear on March 12th or 13th from a Tepco spokesman about their assumption, 5.5 meters tsunami. I had no idea how high a tsunami climbs, so I felt sympathy to Tepco then. Since March 11th, I’ve listening to new numbers for the highest tsunami. It’s been climbing up. I heard “more than 10 meters” one day, “must be 14 meters or so,” then yesterday, “It was in fact 16 meters,” and according to Nikkei newspaper yesterday, Yoshiaki Kawata, a professor of Kansai University said the number, “50 meters.” He is a Disaster Prevention Engineering expert. All the information came from reliable sources.

I think all their numbers are matters of national security. All the companies that own nuclear power plants need to share such important information among them. On sharing, I don’t mean to expect such as “Oh, I sent my report and mailed it,” or “I don’t know what they did with it because they haven’t responded.” To me, this is not the way to sharing our concern. To be responsible, sometimes, we need to be pushy! For Americans, we use the word, persuasion, but for Japanese, I would use this wrong word, push push and push. We need to persuade others to check and balance.

Also, according to the article, Fukushima Daiichi plant was built facing the vast Pacific Ocean, but the Onagawa plant was built inside a bay. So the tsunami weakened a little by the time it reached the plant.

It sounds as though the design of the plant has flaws. NY Times on March 25th shows that the plant was built in 1970. My goodness, it’s very old for such a super technology.. I guess Tepco does not own reactors, but paying license fees yearly or something. I don’t know the detail, but IBM mainframe machines are similar. We renew contracts for license, but IBM provides new machines, and computers don’t explode. So, this comparison is not the greatest, but l’d like to know the detail about the contract on maintenance. I think GE has responsibility in the design of the nuclear plant and the maintenance is a part of the design, I think. What do you think?

2. I tried to find the article I’ve read, but couldn’t find it, but I read that the regulators or engineers had recommended Tepco to retrofit the reactors before the earthquake happened. Tepco has not responded, but the regulator gave renewal permission anyway. Readers probably read that news because I think I read it in English. It must be more than a few days old papers. Yes, I’m disturbed by this article, but I’m equally disturbed to have read it in English before finding the counterpart article in Japanese. Maybe, I missed it because I’m not reading all the papers. Now I try to read Nikkei, Asahi, and Tokyo newspapers, and sometimes, Yomiuri.

3. Scheduled DR exercise is a must.

Companies need to follow yearly or whatever reasonable timeframe schedule for disaster recovery exercise.

In 2008, the northeast general Inspection body conducted a disaster recovery exercise, Tokyo Shinbun reported yesterday. The assumption was to be hit by magnitude 8.0 off the Miyagi coast. It included two prefectures which house 22 towns in their cities. Private companies joined them. The article said, “The exercise excluded Fukushima prefecture. Because the headquarters of Tepco is located in Tokyo, therefore scheduling coordination for the DR exercise would be difficult. Tepco did not join the exercise. It operates two nuclear power plants in Fukushima. There is more to the article, but I stop translating it for now.

I can’t tell you how important scheduled disaster recovery exercises are. I used to be a disaster recovery contractor in systems. My background is operating systems programming in mainframe computers. I did data center merge, split, moves, and set up a disaster recovery exercise environment and scenario. I did that from 1984 to 2008. Although I don’t know anything about nuclear reactor, I’ve learned quite a bit in last two weeks. What I’ve learned is that the basic idea is the same. We can’t act properly at the time of crisis without exercises. So, I recommend Tepco and all other companies to conduct scheduled DR exercises.

4. Need to talk.

PM Kan has been criticized to have visited Fukushima Daiichi at the time of crisis. Boy, I can’t believe this criticism. This proves to me that Tepco executives and many people in Japan are not in tune with crisis management. I knew all along that we are behind in setting up DR exercise and crisis management, but I thought by now, we must be equipped with such procedures. I was wrong. If a manager or two cannot receive PM at the problem site and communicate what’s going on at the time of national crisis, we all are in trouble. Communication is required especially in crisis. I think we need to get used to that if we aren’t.

Also, I want to add one more odd matter. I didn’t see any women among Tepco executives or in other scenes. I think they can benefit from female talents. I think at least she would have noticed the workers who were going into the Turbine room without rubber boots!


keiko amano said...

I copied a great message from Jeff on Facebook.

I have mixed feelings. In one hand, it is surprising and most unfortunate that Fukushima was excluded from national testing and prevention of such scenarios. Yet, in the other hand, not so surprising. It is apparent even the most developed and advanced nations are lacking unification in policies and practices, to prevent all sorts of global risks. This is just a small comparison but, waste management (garbage, compost, & recycling) differs from one town to the next all over the U.S. It may not seem as though this would have such a devastating effect, but by composting we can foster "carbon farming" which is known to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air and thus, reduce global warming. So, I've been finding it is sad that humans, for the most part are, dismissive of the planet. I look forward to hearing more of what you find as things develop. And curious if this experience will wake the world up.

keiko amano said...


Yes, we are connected, and what's happening in other countries affect others in so many levels. It's too bad that most Japanese put so much effort in recycling and trying not to waste material things for all these years, and we've been so much ahead of the U.S. regarding Kyoto Protocol.

But single event set us back. What a waste! It's so sad.

keiko amano said...

I copied a great response from D.

I very much appreciated the points you made
comparing what ought to be--
and the way things are!
Your experience surely would transfer to this situation.
The note about women at the end is true.
I'm sure we would have noticed.

My thoughts are with you

keiko amano said...

Hello D,

Thank you for your comment.
I appreciate you are reading and making effort to comment.

About the last comment, women sense it something wrong right away. The event is truly sad, but because it revealed so much out in public, I'm hoping changes for good will come as strong as the tsunami.

ZACL said...

Keiko, the Japanese are internationally respected for their crisis management; they do understand the importance of it. Every nuclear establishment is required to have regular site exercises wherever they are. The sites will have been monitored for compliance with national and international procedures.

Now that the three disasters have struck, it is a fact that many of the constructs withstood far more stress than originally thought about. A Tsunami was not in the equation of the original design plans, earthquakes were, though to what strength I do not know.

You must remember that the Fokishima reactors, which are 40 years old American reactors and American designs, were due to be closed. They had reached the end of their working lives.

Now, there is a requirement to focus on what must be done in the current situation which is not insoluble so long as the people working in the area of Fokishima can get on with their work and the population respond to requests to help themselves with the guidance given. It is not insoluble because your countrymen and women have been so conscientious about safety in the life and working of these reactors. Any historical failings there may have been, are less significant in the overall present situation.

The International Nuclear Inspectorate are very much in contact with the situation. Today they have asked Japan to create a bigger exclusion zone around the Fokishima plants. This is a sensible precaution.

What surprises me is that no-one is taking cognisance of the burning refineries which disgorge all kinds of toxic chemical materials. People should be protected from this toxicity. One of the reasons for the displacement of attention is that they do not have the scientific term 'nuclear' in their technological specifications.

I doubt you will obtain answers to letters at the moment. Priorities lie elsewhere at this point in time.

Take care.


ashok said...

Keiko, The first step is an international co-operation to overcome the present disaster. After that I think mankind needs to take a serious relook at the whole question of nuclear energy. To me it appears that it is just too dangerous to continue with. I think the industry backed by the money lobby and politicians have for too long downplayed the dangers for temporary profit. This accident has opened the eyes of the public at large around the world and has led to a resounding defeat for Angela Merkel's party in Germany.

keiko amano said...
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keiko amano said...


Yes, it's irresponsible for us to keep running reactors and create more. Yesterday, I read that Tepco has been or is going to construct reactors in the U.S. I was surprised to find the sentence. I hope they are not working in Southern California. We have big Andreas fault.

To me, even if the earthquake like 9.0 occurs once 1000 years, it is still a large risk. Since I read your star and gallaxies blog, I think of 1000 years very short in terms of the universe. And now, we are already talking about another possible quake in Tokai area, southwest of Tokyo, wighint 15 to 30 years.

Ever since 3/11, we have earthquakes all over Japan, and it included even Kumamoto, south of Kyushu and Okinawa. The nature is so beautiful, but so merciless.

keiko amano said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
keiko amano said...


I'm sorry for two deletion. I kept making errors.

I read that one small town in the northeast survived because they had struck by tsunami twice long ago, and each time, they had only a few survivors. So their ancestors made a stone post to indicate, "Do not live under this post." I don't remember the exact height, but it was like 60 meters above sea level. I hear here and there that 30 to 50 meters high tsunami had been recorded in the history.

I think that probably all the Nuclear Plants in Japan do not meet our current sensible requirement of magnitude 9.0 and 1.6 meter or 50 meters high tsunami. I want to stay calm, but this is a huge problem.

We've been saving electricity, and towns are darker at night. People say Britain/England (most of us are unaware of the difference) is dark at night. Well, it is still not as dark as England at night. I think we've been too extravagant in spending electricity. I read somewhere that a foreigner suggested that we have too many vending machines. I thought that opinion funny, but true. This is a positive side of this disaster. It really is a wake-up call, and we need to listen to others.