The nuclear crisis and the Japanese government | MIT News
The Japanese government’s response to its ongoing multiple disasters has been better than its past performance in times of crisis, but the country’s political leaders still have a long way to go to handle events well and gain public trust, said experts from MIT at a public forum. Wednesday night.
âAs far as I know, people were pretty straightforward to reveal what was going on,â said Kenneth Oye, associate professor of political science who was in Japan during Friday’s earthquake and for a few days afterward. However, he noted, in the past, Japan had “a culture and a system that often valued secrecy and covered up problems”, which has proven to be significantly problematic with regard to current crisis.
While the current problems with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remain extremely serious, in its comprehensive emergency response to those affected by Friday’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami, “the government has learned and benefited from the mistakes of the government. past, “said Richard Samuels, Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT and Director of the Center for International Studies. Samuels noted that 100,000 troops have been mobilized for the larger relief effort.
However, as Samuels also noted, “it remains to be seen whether the government will be up to the task.”
What’s more, while government and industry leaders have seen nuclear power as a logical option in a “resource-poor” country, Samuels noted, many problems in recent decades, including an accident and the management-ordered cover-up at a power plant in 1999 eroded public confidence in the matter. âThe public has been deeply ambivalent about the introduction of nuclear power to Japan,â Samuels said.
Snapshot: Tokyo during the earthquake
At the event, which is part of the Starr Forum series organized by the Center for International Studies and co-sponsored by the Departments of Political Science and Nuclear Science and Engineering, Oye gave his first-hand testimony on the earthquake at Japan. He was scheduled to meet Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Friday at 6 p.m. local time as part of a delegation from the US-Japan Council. When the earthquake struck hours earlier, Oye was sitting in a bus in a parking lot, far from potential danger.
Right after the earthquake on Friday in Tokyo, “people were calm,” Oye said, and over the weekend, “life was relatively normal.” But as the nuclear reactor situation worsened on Monday, “life was changing,” Oye observed, with gradual blackouts to conserve energy and much of Japan’s public transport networks shut down. This resulted in a “shutdown of the economy to a large extent”.
“The level of cooperation in terms of responding to the crisis was really quite remarkable,” Oye said, noting that villages in northern Japan “were self-organizing” to obtain water and provide sanitation, demonstrating a great “spirit of cooperation from below”.
Video of Wednesday’s event.
The fact that Tokyo’s buildings survived the main earthquake and its many significant aftershocks is a “testament to the quality of building codes, the quality of engineering and enforcement of those codes,” said Oye said. However, he made a distinction between the vigilance Japan has shown in the area of ââseismic security and the relative lack of rigor it has shown in the area of âânuclear energy. âThe same country and the same political system that has worked so well in terms of seismic codes for buildingsâ¦ is also the country that has not performed as well in terms of proactive responsesâ regarding power plants, he said. he declares.
One of the reasons for this, Oye suggested, is that since earthquakes are a recurring phenomenon in Japan, they have provided a lot of natural feedback for “a political system and a regulatory system designed to learn from experience.” In contrast, he said, the “lack of integrity and frankness” regarding Japan’s previous nuclear incidents “has led to poor policies and poor response to accidents. You don’t react well when you lie because you are lying to yourself and others. And that’s what happened in some of the previous crashes. “
Still, Oye said, “I think things have improved,” a judgment handed down in part after speaking at length with officials and government observers before leaving Japan on Tuesday.
The next phase of government action will depend on events at the Fukushima Daiichi factory. Michael Golay, professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, summed up the situation at the power plants at Wednesday’s forum, partly echoing information shared during a discussion Tuesday at MIT.
Showing the design drawings of the types of reactors at risk, Golay again highlighted the problems caused by the power plant’s lack of electricity, which led to major cooling problems of the active fuel rods and spent fuel rods at the plant. Fukushima Daiichi.
âWith any nuclear power plant today, if you lose electricity, you’re going to have this problem,â Golay said. âIt doesn’t depend on the exact material here. So the idea that these reactors in Japan had problems because they represent older technology “may be overstated.” In addition, Golay said, “the time to restore the network has been much longer than you would have liked.”
Due to the release of radiation from the reactors, an area with a radius of about 12 miles around the plant was evacuated, by order of the Japanese authorities, and those within a 20 mile radius received the order to take shelter. Golay stressed that while the situation worsened considerably, however, an evacuation of Tokyo (with a metro area population of around 35 million located around 130 miles away) was not a realistic scenario.
âIf there was a greater release of materialâ¦ the main option will be sheltering the public and decontamination,â Golay said.
As Golay noted, however, the situation is constantly changing and it is not possible to draw definitive conclusions based on limited information from a distance.
“This story is not over,” Golay concluded.