Its now been three full weeks since the Tohoku Daishinsai, the Great North-East Earthquake of March 11 2011. What I'd like to focus on in the next series of posts are continuing after effects of the 3-11 earthquake.
It's clear that power company TEPCO, Tokyo Electric, has severely mismanaged the crisis at Fukushima.
Image source- unknown
(See this post for the original PSA of which this image is a parody.)
1. The Tokyo Electric Company reactors should have been locked down much sooner, possibly with international assistance.
The fact that the General Electric reactor design was 40 years old and the reactors were at the end of their functional design lives, should have been decommissioned, were built right on the coast and so susceptible to tsunami's. Over the first two weeks, despite offers of foreign expert help, TEPCO had tried to deal with the crisis on its own until recently. Its also become apparent that TEPCO had intended to salvage the reactors until this last week. The result of these indecisive actions has caused the spread of radioactive material into a much wider area than might have otherwise occurred had TEPCO tried to seal off the reactors immediately after the earthquake. There may now be a 10-20 mile dead zone around the Fukushima plant for decades to come. And after 18 days of efforts, TEPCO has finally decided to scrap the four worst reactors. And that effort may takes decades to do.
As of today a leak has been confirmed at reactor #2 and highly radioactive water is draining into the ocean near the nuclear facility. Further, reactor #1 appears to be leaking Iodine 131 into the local Fukushima groundwater.
2. TEPCO did not have emergency procedures in place for a crisis of this scale.
Reports are coming out that shortcuts were taken with safety procedures at the TEPCO facilities, the most recent incident was contract workers who stepped in pools of radiation with out protection of boots, just standard shoes. The public perception in Japan is that TEPCO decision making has been lacking and bordering on negligence. There are stories about TEPCO workers at Fukushima here, here, and here.
There is now talk of Nationalizing the TEPCO power utility (see here as well) as the massive cost to pay for damages caused by this radioactive fiasco has probably rendered TEPCO stock worthless, Moody has already downgraded TEPCO stocks from A1 to Baa1.
3. The lack of crisis management and slow public notification has caused excessive radioactive contamination and exposure.
TEPCO and the government has been slow to relay information to the public when in a crisis like this, timely information on the threat to human life is critical. The long term effects is that many people in the 20 mile exclusion zone will probably become sick with radiation-related illnesses as they were not told to evacuate in a timely manner. The thing to remember is that even if radiation levels aren't immediately threatening to human health those effects are cumulative .
There was a report on NHK this very night, 4-2-2011, on the cumulative risks to Tokyo residents. At present, if radiation levels in the environment, food and water are at maximum safety levels, within 90 days the risk is 0.02% of developing cancer, or 1 in 5000 people. In contrast, a village near Fukushima was calculated to have a .1% risk. While this may not sound like much, if cleaning up the reactors takes years or decades, this is something to be concerned about by Japan's long term residents and their children.
4. TEPCO's treatment of its customer base during the crisis has been appalling and punitive. This is why corporate monopolies are detrimental.
TEPCOs solution to the energy shortfall due to the disaster has been rolling blackouts, enforcement of reduced electricity usage via the government, and hiking electricity prices to encourage conservation. These will go on for months until infrastructure can be rebuilt. So in addition to suffering three hour power blackouts on a daily basis, Japanese citizen will have to pay more. It is frustrating that TEPCO is shifting its management sins onto its customers.
Here are a few sensible reports on the radiation issue at Fukushima.
Note: I will source the images when I get a chance, images copyright the creators, I am using them for educational purposes.