Japan Authorities, Firms Closed Eyes To Disaster Potential

Quoted From here.

Monday, May 2, 2011
Authorities, Firms Closed Eyes To Disaster Potential
TOKYO (Nikkei)–While the crisis continues, relief efforts are gradually getting underway in areas afflicted by the March 11 earthquake. But things should not simply be restored to their former state. Past lessons should be heeded in the building of a new country, a new Japan.

Nobuko Takeuchi, a 48-year-old housewife from the hard-hit Funakoshi district of the town of Yamada, Iwate Prefecture, recalls something she learned at school. “A teacher taught me that homes shouldn’t be built near breakwaters,” she said. “The teacher said that tsunami were scarier than war.”

A massive tsunami swallows up the coast in Miyagi Prefecture on March 11.
After a tsunami stemming from the 1896 Meiji-Sanriku Earthquake devastated the district, the deputy mayor at the time resettled local residents on a hilltop. But his advice was ignored, and town-managed housing was built in convenient areas along the coast, where people made their homes. The majority of these homes were swallowed up by the recent tsunami.

“Everyone forgets what happened in the past,” says a 63-year-old fish farmer.

Stone monuments stand several dozen meters above sea level in the Aneyoshi district of Miyako, Iwate Prefecture. The district had twice been destroyed by huge tsunami during the Meiji (1868-1912) and Showa (1926-1989) eras. The monument is engraved with a bleak warning: “Remember the massive tsunami that caused disaster. Do not build homes on sites lower than where you stand…Bear this in mind even after many years have passed.”

Workers in Tokyo make their way home the same day.
The Aneyoshi residents heeded these warnings and their homes were not damaged by the tsunami. This, however, is a rare case. People do not tend to believe that tsunami will reach them.

Safety myth

Everyone believes Japan is a safe country. But even if people are warned this is nothing more than a myth, it has not lead to specific preparations being made.

At a meeting of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy in June 2009 (when the Liberal Democratic Party was in power), a seismologist pointed out the risks involved with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Yukinobu Okamura, head of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology’s Active Fault and Earthquake Research Center, said at the meeting, “The 869 Jogan Earthquake caused a much more massive tsunami than expected.”

A Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) official retorted that the matter should be simply viewed as a topic for research. Less than two years later the huge tsunami struck. The utility said the cause of the nuclear accident was unexpected. But it was expected. The warning was just ignored.

“We don’t see what we don’t want to see. We don’t think what we don’t want to think,” says Yotaro Hatamura, a professor emeritus at University of Tokyo well known for his study of failure. “The U.S. is a country that tries to think about things. Japan is a country that leaves matters without considering them.”

An explosion blew away the roof of reactor 4 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Considering all scenarios

If you envisage a bad scenario, you know it will take time and money to fix matters. If you approach the safety issue directly, the explanation given to local people that something is absolutely safe will be revealed to be a fallacy. Japan is poor in natural resources and has implemented a national policy of promoting nuclear power. The backers of this policy — namely the government and Tepco — have treated the safety issue as something they do not want to see.

Crisis management that does not assume a worst case scenario is limited in scope. For example, Tepco conducted an evacuation drill last November in Fukushima Prefecture. The drill assumed that the Fukushima nuclear power plants all lose power, but under the scenario, emergency power is restored a few hours after the reactors lose their cooling function. “Such an evacuation drill turned out to be useless,” a local resident said.

Citizens in the area had been asking an emergency road to be constructed — something that has yet to materialize. Traffic jams on existing roads during the recent evacuation meant that it took more than two hours to complete what is normally a 15-minute journey.

Slack preparations

A crisis in one small area of Japan will spread across the country, and later throughout the world. The quake and subsequent nuclear crisis left workers in Tokyo — well away from the epicenter — stranded and caused bouts of panic buying in the capital.

Investors rushed to sell stocks to get their hands on cash. A record high 5.8 billion transactions were made on the Tokyo Stock Exchange on March 15. The system could crash if more data is processed than it can handle and any ensuing suspension of market functions could cause confusion across the world.

It was fortunate that the stock exchange began operating under a new system one year ago. “What would have happened if we hadn’t upgraded the system?” a bourse executive said.

A crisis management basic is to identify a crisis in ordinary times and make necessary preparations. A flexible response to unexpected situations is also essential if damage is to be minimized. Politicians, bureaucrats and businesses were slack in their preparations. We have to now learn from this crisis for the sake of the next generation.

(The Nikkei May 2 morning edition)

Update On The Japan Earthquake And Nuclear Crisis

Update via email received from a reporter friend-

This past week, I have sat through countless renditions of the question
‘what is the worst case scenario of the Fukushima crisis’? I’ve
also heard more or less identical answers from Japanese government
officials facing foreign reporters, diplomats and academics: we are
doing our best, the situation could still get worse, and even outright
evasion. But tonight, at a special briefing convened by METI’s Nuclear
and Safety Agency at the Foreign Press Centre (I sneaked in), I heard
something special: the deputy director general of the agency saying that
he did not envisage the situation getting worse. I turned around and
looked at the Wall Street Journal bureau chief sitting behind me, and we
both nodded: this was significant. It confirmed the lull that seemed to
descend on Friday. Friday was in contrast to the other days because
there were no dramatic incidents: no fires, explosions or spikes in
radiation. All the happened Friday was a continuation of the fire
fighting activity, with the emphasis switched from helicopters flying
overhead and dumping water, to water cannon.

The more cynical of the journalists believed that this Friday calm was
artificial – that it was the government putting a cap on the information
being disclosed. Thus, the NYT report this morning was as negative as
ever in its assessment of the situation. I cannot check the London
Times, as it’s behind a pay wall, but one of their extremely
intelligent and capable journalists who attended the briefing also
seemed reluctant to believe the situation had improved. He is a vehement
critic of TEPCO, and it’s possible he cannot bear to allow them any
credit for any improvement.

Another bright spot is that TEPCO now seems firmly out of the picture.
The TEPCO staff is now vastly outnumbered by the combined forces of the
SDF, Police and Tokyo Fire Brigade, with their special trucks and teams.
A headquarters has been set up close to the plant, with some US experts
in attendance, and all under the supervision of a senior official from
METI. TEPCO’s role is now limited to providing the detailed technical
information on the plant necessary for the rescue workers to do their
jobs.

My sense is that the situation is still incredibly dangerous – it
would be madness to deny that, given that THREE sets of fuel rods in
three reactors are exposed – but I feel that we are moving into a new
phase. This involves an expensive, dirty and fiendishly difficult war to
turn three mountains of radio active waste into something that people
can live on, or at least around. It took months to fix Chernobyl
(indeed, Chernobyl has a permanent exclusion zone around it), and it
could take even longer to fix Fukushima. However, finally, we are seeing
a real array of overwhelming force arrayed against the reactors.
I heard some inside information on what turned the situation around.
According to an eccentric but very brilliant source of mine (who is
right about half the time!), the turning point in tackling the disaster
was the emperor’s speech earlier this week, when he highlighted the
gravity of the situation. According to this source, it was the Yukiya
Amano, the Japanese head of the international nuclear watchdog, the
IAEA, who played a key role in all of this. Indeed, Amano comes from an
extremely well connected and aristocratic background. He could see
immediately that TEPCO could not cope on its own, and had to be shifted
out of the picture. He therefore approached the powerful Imperial
Household agency, and advised them strongly to allow the emperor to make
a public appearance. It was this atavistic appeal, said my source, which
galvanized the SDF to put their lives on the lines, and fly their
helicopters through the Fukushima radiation. It was the emperor’s plea
which also cut through the bureaucratic red tape and energised Japan’s
warring bureaucrats and politicians to work together. Plus ca
change…!

Finally, where does it put all of us, regarding the decision of when to
return to our offices? It may take a few days for confidence to return.
I know that many Western firms have closed down for the coming week as
well. ‘One swallow does not make a spring’
is a proverb worth bearing in mind at this point.

Could Get Interesting In Japan- Key Congressmen Call For Pullout Of U.S. Forces From Japan

This could get really interesting in Japan if they do get the US troops out of the nation. Although, the Japanese government/people shoulder about 50% of the costs according to what we hear.

Are we at the end of the American Empire?

Quoted here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Key Congressmen Call For Pullout Of U.S. Forces From Japan
WASHINGTON (Kyodo)–Two veteran U.S. congressmen have called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Japan amid the ballooning U.S. budget deficit.

Ron Paul
”It’s becoming a financial issue,” Ron Paul, a Republican House of Representatives member from Texas, said in a recent interview with Kyodo News, indicating that maintaining U.S. forces in Japan has become a financial burden for Washington.

Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat member from Ohio, said in a separate recent interview with Kyodo News, ”The United States truly cannot afford to construct the new base in Okinawa. Nor can it afford to have a military presence across the globe.”

Kucinich and Paul are heavyweights in the House, and both have experience of seeking the presidency. Paul, an advocate of isolationism, is supported by conservatives, while Kucinich is popular as one of the most liberal figures among the Democrats.

Last week, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff unveiled their latest National Military Strategy report pledging to maintain a strong U.S. military presence in northeast Asia for decades.

Some members of Congress say it is important for the United States to keep forces in Japan as China’s military presence is growing in the region while North Korea continues to act provocatively.

The two lawmakers, however, are opposed to continued stationing of U.S. forces in Japan.

”China’s interested in making money, not war,” Kucinich said.

Paul argued Tokyo should end its dependence on U.S. forces for its defense, saying, ”It’s time for Japan to assume all of their own responsibilities.”

He also dismissed the view that U.S. forces in Japan serve as deterrence, saying this is an ”excuse” to maintain a U.S. military presence in the region.

”For a long time I was probably the only one” who proposed such a view, he said, adding, ”Now we’re getting more support.”

Kucinich is also critical of the current U.S. military strategy. ”We don’t have the money to be the policemen of the world. And we should stop pretending that we do,” he said.

Describing the U.S. military bases in Japan as ”really part of a bygone era,” Kucinich urged the two countries to move away from a relationship prioritizing military cooperation.

”We have a strong friendship with Japan. That friendship is not dependent on a military presence,” he said.

Both Paul and Kucinich said they can understand the feeling of local people in Okinawa Prefecture where a host of U.S. bases are located. Local opposition remains strong against a plan to relocate a U.S. base within the prefecture.

”What if China wanted a base in New York City? We’d be furious,” Paul said.

The problem in Okinawa is not U.S. Marine troops but ”the people in Washington that send them there,” Kucinich said, adding, ”This is an issue that Congress must take up with the White House so that we can make sure that the concerns of the residents of Okinawa are taken into consideration.