The odds are stacked against them. Nature has the upper hand. When you bet the house, however small the odds, you end up losing everything sooner or later. It’s a matter of time not luck.
Japan has been in debt for almost a decade (or more) and no relief in sight. To make matters worse, late last week, there is a massive earth quake (8.9 on Richter scale) which is about 1000 times more massive than the earth quake earlier in New Zealand. The human tragedy that unfolded is enormous and I can not express my sadness in words. However, there is a lesson for the rest of the world in all of this.
The destruction that followed this earth quake is shocking and is the worst tragedy that Japan faced since world war II. To make matters worse, there are several after shocks and several tsunamis. You would think that’s enough disaster for a nation and the Sendai province – the epicenter of the earth quake is located in Sendai – to take. However, the Tsunami knocked the power off of the coolant pump(s) in the Fukishuma nuclear plants. This led to another worst disaster. A Loss of coolant accident and subsequent melting of the core. It’s not clear what the actual damage due to all these series of disasters is but it’s estimated to have resulted in loss of 1000s (if not 100s of thousands) people, untold long term misery and billions of dollars in material damage.
Could any of this have been predicted? May be not. Everyone knows that Japan is in earth quake zone and it’s only a matter of time before the big one hits. The government has been prepared for such a disaster. But not the subsequent Tsunami and the nuclear accidents.
Nuclear power plant is one of the safest industry and most accidents like “Three Mile Island” and Chernobyl happened because of human errors and over riding the safety measures that have been built in. The easiest thing is to blame the nuclear industry for the disaster and not get to the root cause of the problem here.
Once again, where there is a probability of disaster, the only way you can ensure minimizing loss of life is to prevent disasters happening in the first place. Japan is a dangerous place and it’s only a matter of time before the big one struck and it did. First and foremost, it’s better not to live in an earth quake zone. But people tend to flock to these areas because these are either tropical paradises or they tend to have fertile land or they tend to have some natural resource (like gold in the case of California). People also forget the threat that’s looming. Let us assume you can’t stop people from living in dangerous places.
The next thing is not to build nuclear reactors in the dangerous areas. Any industry that’s built on such a land should carefully consider what happens in the case of an accident. Loss of coolant accident is the most dangerous situation in a water cooled enriched uranium reactor. The only thing that’s worse than LOCA is full blown out of control nuclear explosion of the reactor. Fukishuma is the wrong place (in fact all of Japan is wrong place) for nuclear reactor.
Here is a map of the world with major earth quakes:
One striking factor is USA and Japan are the two countries that have the largest overlap of nuclear reactor installations and seismic hazard. This means it’s only a matter of time before disaster strikes and then there is compounded damage. Russia, India, Pakistan also seem to have this risk but much less than US and Japan.
Also another striking similarity between Japan and USA is the fact that California (where the overlap of nuclear installations and earth quake risk exists) is in huge budget deficit just like the nation of Japan is.
Capitalism for all it’s virtues, tends to create power law of distribution of wealth and unfortunately power too. (We know that power law is needed for bubbles to form and hence risk inflation to take place) This means energy companies are able to amass wealth and power, get permits to build nuclear reactors where none should have been built.
In most large software organizations, the software engineers who write most code look like heroes when they are coding. But these are the very people who tend to have most bugs in their code because they are writing most code at much faster pace than the careful engineers. They appear like bigger heroes by the time the software ships (a few months or years late thanks to their heroic work) as the very same engineers would have the highest bug fix rate.
In a similar fashion, the very companies that create such disastrous situation in the first place now look like heroes as they spread Boric acid and pump sea water to try to cool the super hot reactor core.
Governments and people everywhere should wake up to the fact that any amount of safety precautions would be useless if the initial conditions reduce the effectiveness of such precautions.
California, wake up!
Japan was as prepared as you can expect any nation to be for the earth quake and subsequent tsunami. I am not sure California is. I was in Southern California when the earth quake and subsequent Tsunami took place in Japan. There were warnings for California, Oregon and Washington about a possible Tsunami of 10 or more feet. However, except in Cresent Bay, California, the impact was minimum. I wonder if these west coast states were prepared. Hawaii and California seem to have handled the situation well. But fortunately these states are spared.