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Fukushima whodunit

Steven Weissman, associate director, Center for Law, Energy and the Environment | July 9, 2012

In a remarkable and significant new report, Japanese experts have concluded that the Fukushima nuclear accident was a “man”-made disaster – phrased this way perhaps in a gallant effort to allow all women to distance themselves from the decision making process. This dramatic conclusion prompts yet another question: If “man” isn’t responsible, then who is? Was it a dolphin conspiracy, perhaps? Or some nefarious abalone alliance? Can the decision to construct a facility housing a nuclear reactor in an active earthquake zone be attributed to natural causes? Can the failure to design the facility in a manner that could successfully resist the combined forces of an earthquake and tsunami be blamed on anyone other than human seismologists and engineers? Can the conclusion — that any residual risk inherent in building that plant in that location was a risk worth taking — be attributed to an act of God?

I mean, the earth and waves near the plant were just doing what earth and waves do. It was people who decided to put a nuclear plant there. Or, to ask the question another way, if a person is injured while going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, are those injuries the result of a natural disaster?

To be fair, the study offers a far more significant conclusion. In the words of the New York Times, investigators found that the “nuclear accident at Fukushima was a preventable disaster rooted in government-industry collusion and the worst conformist conventions of Japanese culture.” One is left to wonder: If there were a comparable accident in the U.S. at San Onofre or Diablo Canyon, what would investigators conclude?

Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet, a Berkeley Law/UCLA Law collaboration.

Comments to “Fukushima whodunit

  1. There are (from memory) 23 similar Mark I GE reactors, on the mainland US. Good luck, stopping ALL of them, from doing something really dangerous or even deadly, for the 10,000 year-order-of-magnitude, which chilling their deadly media takes, upon decommissioning.

    Does anyone at all have any idea, why the US exports the drug war, which prevents the fine media, from Henry Ford, who was making hemp ethanol and plastic, since the Model T was manufactured?

    Does anyone have any idea, why we don’t already at least know somebody, who is processing algae and switchgrass, with ultrasound, to make ethanol?

    Does anyone have any idea, why people who pronounce any word, “nukuler” are allowed to call any shots, whatsoever?

    Does anyone have any idea, why nuclear power persists, given every last project comes in, over budget, on the order of hundreds of millions or billions, of dollars?

    Does anybody have any idea, just how bad “Ooops!” can get?

    One of those reactors over there in Fukushima has a submerged seal, which can fail, and if it does, we have all kinds of contamination, which will reach California and anybody else in range, of currents, from Japan.

  2. “man-made” simply refers to the series of decisions before and after the earthquake and tsunami that turned a likely containable problem into a much harmful one. While I see your point about location, that ship has sailed. More meaningful lessons for existing plants will be better attained focusing on these pre- and post-disaster decisions and the level of adherence to protocol.

  3. RE YOUR QUESTION: “If there were a comparable accident in the U.S. at San Onofre or Diablo Canyon, what would investigators conclude?”

    ANSWER: “— (insert ‘Congress’) was a preventable disaster rooted in government-industry collusion and the worst conformist conventions of (insert ‘American political) culture.”

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