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Japan

Why Onagawa Nuclear Power Station Survived the Tsunami 148

Posted by timothy
from the pure-driving-will dept.
Kyusaku Natsume writes "While the town of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, was hit hard by the March 2011 tsunami, the nuclear plant it shares with the equally devastated city of Ishinomaki survived. The reason it did so is mostly down to the personal strength and tenacity of one Yanosuke Hirai, who passed away in 1986 and insisted that the plant should have been protected by a 14.8 m tall seawall. A great quote from the article: 'Corporate ethics and compliance may be similar, but their cores are different, from the perspective of corporate social responsibility, we cannot say that there is no need to question a company's actions just because they are not a crime under the law.'"
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Why Onagawa Nuclear Power Station Survived the Tsunami

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  • Legality (Score:5, Insightful)

    by macraig (621737) <`mark.a.craig' `at' `gmail.com'> on Saturday March 31, 2012 @10:37PM (#39538527)

    Laws and legal liability are a subset of social ethics. Just because you can do something legally isn't a vindication that you should do it.

    • Re:Legality (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hey! (33014) on Saturday March 31, 2012 @10:44PM (#39538545) Homepage Journal

      Laws and legal liability are a subset of social ethics. Just because you can do something legally isn't a vindication that you should do it.

      Laws and legal liability *intersect* social ethics. There are cases where complying with law or regulations would be unethical.

      • by macraig (621737)

        Okay, granted... I was imagining the legal ideal. If we actually had that ideal we wouldn't need jury nullification.

        • Re:Legality (Score:5, Informative)

          by Sarten-X (1102295) on Saturday March 31, 2012 @11:22PM (#39538671) Homepage

          Just to clarify a point here, because it's a pet peeve of mine...

          Jury nullification is for when the law itself is unethical, not just when one application is unethical. If you have an ethical reason to break a law, that's mitigating circumstances, which can itself lead to a "not guilty" verdict, without bringing the issue of the law's legality into question (which almost always just makes a trial more complicated).

          There are really rather few cases where nullification is a reasonable option, but the hivemind here seems to be obsessed with it as a panacea for unpopular laws.

          • by macraig (621737)

            E.g.: felony murder rule.

          • Re:Legality (Score:5, Interesting)

            by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Saturday March 31, 2012 @11:32PM (#39538707)

            JN _is_ a viable way to fight unjust laws. not just instances of injustice but whole laws.

            we all know that getting laws passed (or even worse, revoked) is near impossible for regular people.

            the JN option is essentially the only option we have left, as 'little people'. our power faded when corps took over making (and even sometimes enforcing) laws.

            but if you are in the jury box, you DO have a way to say 'enough is enough' this is bullshit and this guy does not deserve X to happen to him. I simply don't give a shit about what law you claim he broke; sending him to prison is WRONG and I won't allow it'.

            that's what JN is about. standing up for your view of ethics even in the face of 'establishment' saying otherwise.

          • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

            by roman_mir (125474)

            "Unpopular laws"? Nonsense.

            The correct application of the jury nullification is any time when there is a conflict between the individual and the collective.

            Any time at all when an individual is brought up on any charges by the Federal government jury nullification must be applied.

            • You aren't an Article 3, Section 2, kind of guy?
            • The correct application of the jury nullification is any time when there is a conflict between the individual and the collective.

              The collective is all the other individuals. You don't seem very keen on democracy.

              • by roman_mir (125474)

                Oh, by the way, while you are absolutely correct about my stance on democracy, that was not really the main point of the comment.

                The main point was that at any time that federal government is one side of a legal issue and an individual on the other side, federal government must always lose, no exceptions.

                There can be no case when it is correct or right or moral or just for the federal government to win any case at all when it concerns an individual.

                States can deal with criminal and other laws where it conce

                • so if the federal government asserts that they have the right to restrict citizens from owning nuclear bombs, you're going to say the feds must lose on that issue? nuclear non-proliferation is the job of the states?

                  what's your feeling on discipline in the armed forces? you think courts martial are unconstitutional because it's the feds vs an individual?

                  • by roman_mir (125474)

                    so if the federal government asserts that they have the right to restrict citizens from owning nuclear bombs, you're going to say the feds must lose on that issue? nuclear non-proliferation is the job of the states?

                    - yes.

                    what's your feeling on discipline in the armed forces? you think courts martial are unconstitutional because it's the feds vs an individual?

                    - I am against standing armies, especially on federal level. They are just a hair-trigger away from becoming tools of oppression.

                    • I'm sure the guys who wrote the constitution would be surprised to hear that courts martial and other decisions and rules that run the armed forces are blatantly unconstitutional.

                    • by roman_mir (125474)

                      Did I say court martial is unconstitutional? Articles of War handle this provision.

                      I said: I am against having standing armies and just like the Founders, I prefer State militias to be handling border patrol. But Constitution DOES allow federal gov't to 'provide' Navy and Army.

          • by Shavano (2541114)

            In a democratically controlled system of government, there is no excuse for the existence of unpopular laws.

    • Re:Legality (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Saturday March 31, 2012 @11:28PM (#39538687)

      it works the other way, too.

      just because someone bought a law decrying X to be illegal does not mean its immoral to so X.

      in fact, if the law is recent enough, likely THE LAW is unethical and the behavior perfectly fine. very likely, given our back-assward world we now live in.

    • by jd (1658)

      Agreed. Common Law is perhaps the most useful subset of law, in this regard, in that it provides a framework for understanding (common law marriage, for example) but that's all it provides. Criminal and civil law are intended to draw absolute lines over which people should not cross, but they're now too complex to parse and contradictory, and are therefore useless in any practical sense as that framework.

      But laws (even well-written ones) can only ever be a framework, a skeleton on which other things can han

  • Huzzah! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tqk (413719) <s.keeling@mail.com> on Saturday March 31, 2012 @10:50PM (#39538571)

    ... we cannot say that there is no need to question a company's actions just because they are not a crime under the law.

    The spirit of the Samurai still lives. This is good. I'd thought MacArthur had bled that out of the Japanese.

    • Re:Huzzah! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday March 31, 2012 @11:05PM (#39538613) Homepage

      The spirit of the Samurai still lives. This is good. I'd thought MacArthur had bled that out of the Japanese.

      Samurai were conservative engineers? Who knew? I thought they were a warrior race. Did they wear the Medieval Japanese equivalent of a pocket protector?

      • Re:Huzzah! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tqk (413719) <s.keeling@mail.com> on Saturday March 31, 2012 @11:46PM (#39538759)

        The spirit of the Samurai still lives. This is good. I'd thought MacArthur had bled that out of the Japanese.

        Samurai were conservative engineers? Who knew? I thought they were a warrior race.

        Wikipedia: "From the earliest times, the Samurai felt that the path of the warrior was one of honor, emphasizing duty to one's master, and loyalty unto death." That's what I was talking about. He didn't just "build to code." He built what he believed was necessary to satisfy the requirements of the situation. He was also proved right.

        • by Shavano (2541114)

          Duty to one's master an loyalty until death is a recipe for all kinds of corner cutting and neglect of wider obligations.

          Samurai isn't the right model for obligation to society at large. But what is?

          • by tqk (413719)

            Samurai isn't the right model for obligation to society at large. But what is?

            I don't recognize any obligations I have to society at large. As long as my fist isn't impacting your nose, I shouldn't be any problem for you. I try to get along and cooperate with and support others when it's in my interest, as should you. I avoid and boycott bad behavior on the part of others, as should you. I don't think any more should be expected of either of us.

      • by Jawnn (445279)

        The spirit of the Samurai still lives. This is good. I'd thought MacArthur had bled that out of the Japanese.

        Samurai were conservative engineers? Who knew? I thought they were a warrior race. Did they wear the Medieval Japanese equivalent of a pocket protector?

        Actually, they were not a "race" at all. They were a warrior class, though in the case of the Samurai, "warrior" is a rather inadequate term to describe the those bound by Bushido.

      • by jafac (1449)

        Frankly, the Samurai were a privileged upper-class of the 16th-18th century. And even then, most men who could call themselves "Samurai" were really basically accountants or family members, of the very upper echelons, who perhaps spent a lot of time studying martial arts, and zen philosophy, because they had nothing better to do with their time, because they had the peasants doing all their work for them. When the gun came, the Shogun dispensed with the need for sword and spear-wielding footsoldiers. Jus

    • Re:Huzzah! (Score:5, Funny)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday March 31, 2012 @11:48PM (#39538767) Journal
      I'm not sure that's a 'Samurai' thing as much as a 'not a sociopath' thing...
  • by wickerprints (1094741) on Saturday March 31, 2012 @11:16PM (#39538651)

    The right thing to do is not necessarily the profitable or expedient thing to do.

    To quote Richard Feynman, "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled." Engineering must NEVER have its integrity compromised by issues of money, politics, law, marketing, religion, bureaucracy, or superstition. History repeatedly teaches this to us and yet we still obstinately refuse to learn. And the result is that people are injured or killed.

    • by giorgist (1208992) on Saturday March 31, 2012 @11:25PM (#39538679)
      Always relevant

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlVDGmjz7eM
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday March 31, 2012 @11:57PM (#39538787) Journal
      I think that Feynman, while he has a nice point, is really far too optimistic in saying that we 'refuse to learn'. There are, certainly, examples of engineering fuckups caused by genuine failures of understanding or lack of information; but there is also the common instance where the 'we' making the decision knows full well that they won't be the people who get injured or killed(or even subjected to civil or criminal liability) and so make the perfectly value-rational decision to go ahead and do it.

      There are ignorance problems and there are malice problems(and, hovering somewhere between the two, there are the gamblers who take on risks that turn out to go badly)...
      • by TapeCutter (624760) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @03:43AM (#39539417) Journal

        or even subjected to civil or criminal liability

        No, unlike software engineers, real engineers are legally accountable (at least in the west). If you sign off on a doggy bridge design and the bridge falls down, it will be shown (by other engineers) that you failed in your due dilligence, you will go to jail, you will never hold another engineering position on a western project. You will get sued in civil court, not just by the victims but also by the insurance companies that will have to pay to clean up your mess and build a new bridge.

        Politicians have nowhere near this level of accountability. If they are warned about (say) levees but ignore the problem for decades. When they inevetibly break at the hieght of a king tide, it's called a "natural disaster", "a freak occurence" or if they're really nailed to the wall, "aging infrastructue".

        • Software engineers at least in my country are also liable, just like regular engineers. In fact they are regular engineers. Software developers not so much.
          • True, I should of used scare quotes to indicate that a lot of people with the HR title of "software engineer" are not engineers at all, they're software developers.
        • If you sign off on a doggy bridge design and the bridge falls down

          The poor little pooches :(

        • by Solandri (704621)

          No, unlike software engineers, real engineers are legally accountable (at least in the west)

          In a way, that's part of the problem. Too much emphasis on punishing failure, not enough on rewarding success. That philosophy works well when the failure mode is commonplace. If you design a plane and it can't fly, you can't sell it. The failure forces you to redesign it until it can fly.

          But in the case of rare failures (plane crashes, nuclear accidents, bridge collapses, etc), it's not an adequate motivator

        • There is a phrase, charming in its expressive brevity and loathsome in its application, that was popularized in American financial services fraud circles during their most recent heyday:

          "I'll be gone."

          As you say, real engineers are on the hook for their designs. However, the engineer in TFA died in 1986(and quite possibly retired before then). Had he done the wrong thing, he would have avoided inconvenience then and been worm food before it turned out to be a problem.

          More broadly, of course, there
    • by lennier1 (264730) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @12:19AM (#39538831)

      Better safety measures to protect their million/billion dollar assets are very much in their interest.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo AT world3 DOT net> on Sunday April 01, 2012 @03:17AM (#39539339) Homepage

        Better safety measures to protect their million/billion dollar assets are very much in their interest.

        Two reasons why it is not:

        1. Profits are higher 99% of the time, and when something goes wrong it wasn't their fault (big tsunami, rouge operator mistake etc). Ultimately someone has to decide to spend money on safety, and chances are that person won't be to blame if there is an accident but will get a bonus if the share price goes up so there is little incentive for them to chose the less profitable option.

        2. The majority of the cost of an accident is born by the government anyway. The cost of insuring nuclear installations would make them uneconomical so the government has to do it. I don't have a figure for Japan to hand by in the UK the required insurance is £140m per site and in the US it is $10bn for the entire industry. Fukushima has already cost orders of magnitude more than that, and while TEPCO will eventually pick up some of that cost the majority is being met by the government.

    • by Shavano (2541114)

      The first and most important engineering principle I learned - informally - was Murphy's Law.

      It really should be taught as a formal discipline in all engineering schools, along with methods to assess and prioritize possible modes of failure and their consequences.

  • As a computer engineer, I am always a little jealous of the "all in a days work" attitude of good civil engineers. This is a bit of a puff piece, but the unfortunate fact is, we, as engineers, often can't or at least don't anticipate all possible problems down the line. This is an amazing story of success, but it just underscores the fact that this is exception, not the rule. Regardless, technology keeps marching and we can only hope to get better and better, despite governments' inadequacies.

    • Re:Civil Engineers (Score:4, Informative)

      by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @04:33AM (#39539565)
      I wouldn't say its the exception. After all it not news when bridges don't fall down, or last longer than expected or [insert positive outcome here]. Its only news when something goes wrong. The bulk of our engineering works fine not only in design conditions, but well in many cases a little "off design".
  • Social Contracts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrKaos (858439) on Saturday March 31, 2012 @11:35PM (#39538723) Journal
    Too often, in corporations, we see that it is up to the individual making sacrifices to their career to make a company fulfil it's social contract to operate ethically to make profit.

    I wonder if TEPCO will attempt to claim credit for something they didn't want to do.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday March 31, 2012 @11:51PM (#39538777) Journal
      We at TEPCO are proud to retroactively congratulate any and all peons whose thankless personal sacrifices turned out to have been in our best interest. We would like to take a moment to encourage future sacrifices by employees on behalf of TEPCO.

      While not everyone will have the honor of insisting on sound engineering at vulnerable nuclear facilities, we are sure that all of you can find a way to squeeze in some unpaid overtime or not seek reimbursement of job related expenses.
      • Re:Social Contracts (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 01, 2012 @02:48AM (#39539243)

        what's so sad about the whole fukushima mess and this article, is that the meltdown wasn't even caused by the tsunami - unit 1 (at least) was already melting down, out of control, and venting radioactive xenon, iodine and caesium before the tsunami even hit. the earthquake itself was enough to shear the reactor coolant pipes. even if the diesel generators weren't wiped out, the plant would have suffered the exact same fate.

        but for all the apologists saying plants in the usa are safe, i wonder what they'll do when an earthquake knocks out cooling for a plant that's nearby themselves or their family. probably run for the hills i assume - any nuclear plant that's not 100% passively safe (that is, every plant on the face of the earth as of right now) should never have been built. then again, who cares what engineer's think about failsafes.

        but we had to go with a reactor that could breed bomb-grade plutonium, instead of a passively safe plan like a thorium reactor. look where it's got us.

        • Even if Fukushima's Daiichis Unit 1 was already damaged by the quake (I haven't found any reference for this, the closest is the manual shutdown of the emergency cooling system at march 11 2011, 15:03), the accident recovery was severely hampered by the tsunami. If the emergency generators had survived, the accident at Fukushima Daiichi would have been a Ievel 3 or 4 accident at worst.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @12:22AM (#39538837) Journal

    They should build a giant statue of Yanosuke Hirai as a reminder. My organization needs one also.

    • by Bayoudegradeable (1003768) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @06:52AM (#39539897)
      Hirai-sama Banzai! (No, no, no, this is not a war chant. It literally means, "Sir (give or take) Hirai, ten thousand generations!" May Hirai be remembered for ten thousand generations, indeed.
    • A toast to a great engineer, indeed.

      As the submitter, even if the article was several days old, I thought that the story was still relevant, not only in the "feel good" department, but in the sense of a very practical benefit of ethical behavior. This is the "month of safety" in my company, and this story helps to drive home the idea that energy workers are responsible not only of their own safety but also of the community they serve. More so when we work for a state owned company, that makes us public serv

  • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Sunday April 01, 2012 @01:50AM (#39539089) Homepage

    If you've read Professor Yunus's Book, "Creating a World without Poverty" in which he describes the concept of "Social Business" as an alternative to pathological profit-maximisation, you will fully appreciate his interpretation of "Corporate Social Responsibility" being synonymous with "Corporate Financial *irresponsibility*".

    the damage caused by allowing Corporations to get so out of control at a National (and an International) level should by now be quite obvious, with these kinds of examples such as Fukushima. there is an alternative pathogen which consumes all resources and maximises its own gain to the absolute exclusion of all other considerations: it's called Cancer. Profit-maximising Corporations are a Cancer and should be treated as a disease.

    • by indymike (1604847)
      Profit-maximising Corporations are a Cancer and should be treated as a disease. Yes, lets go back to the old system where the king was in charge and everyone else was peasants. Putting all that power in the government clearly resulted in more freedom, higher incomes and safer work environments for her subjects. BTW it doesn't matter if the king is a person, committee or computer. The concentration of power is the problem, not the king.
      • by bhtooefr (649901)

        Not only that, but the lack of personal accountability.

        Even Adam Smith, the corporatists darling (even though they ignore this part), railed against any form of limited liability.

        • Did you know that the limited liability corporation is a creation of government, not of private individuals?

          Did you know that before there were LLC's, there were large businesses without the limited liability bonus?

          Don't blame people for using what the government creates to their own benefit. If you disapprove of the LLC, point your anger at its source - the government that created it....

    • by jafac (1449)

      Profit-maximising Corporations are a Cancer and should be treated as a disease.

      There is immense profit to be made in ongoing prevention, diagonsis, and treatment of Cancer. So Cancer is really a good thing. Creates hundreds of thousands of jobs, feeds millions of children.

  • by tp1024 (2409684) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @05:24AM (#39539709)

    While I'm far from disagreeing that nuclear power stations should be as safe as conceivably possible, what about the cities?

    18 Cities were largely or completely destroyed by the tsunami (others merely to some small part). This is where people lived, this is where people died. Where is the scandal, where is the outrage about exposing some 500,000 to the risk of the on-rushing water? Where is the investigation why it could be that almost 20,000 people died?

    There has been so much supposedly outraged talk about Fukushima Daiichi, about how anybody could expose the people to such risks, that it is grotesque that nobody is talking about the risk that was there, that was obvious, that killed people.

    • by MobyDisk (75490)

      I wonder if building a seawall that big around entire cities is feasible, or environmentally sound.

      • by tp1024 (2409684)

        It is certainly much more environmentally sound than letting 20 million tons of debris be washed into the sea. Feasibility is not an issue at all. Just look at the piles of debris still on land that were piled up in a matter of months to make any sense of the chaos at all. Those are much larger in their volume than the walls that are needed.

        Or compare it to large hydro dams - the material used in a single dam like the Itaipu is enough to protect dozens of cities. (This dam is 8km long and 200m high. It's mo

    • by ultranova (717540)

      There has been so much supposedly outraged talk about Fukushima Daiichi, about how anybody could expose the people to such risks, that it is grotesque that nobody is talking about the risk that was there, that was obvious, that killed people.

      Those killed by a tsunami don't make for good propaganda for anti-nuclear lobby.

    • ...and most government officers rarely are good public servants.

      Many cities had seawalls. There were several places that survived the tsunami. The seawalls coupled with the tsunami alerts bought thousands, maybe millions enough time to evacuate, but, since people had to run uphill, this meant that the elderly were unable to evacuate. This is the reason that caused that a very high percentage of elderly people -even for japanese standards- died in the tsunami. They make the bulk of casualties. Is easier to h

      • by tp1024 (2409684)

        I know that most cities were protected by seawalls after the 1896/1933 tsunamies and I had also heard about Fudai on the longnow blog [longnow.org], but not about other villages/towns/cities (I realize those terms have very differnt meanings throughout the world).

        Since I guess that you are Japanese (brilliant guess, I know), can you say something about the general Japanese perception of the earthquake? Here in Germany it has become perfectly acceptable to refer to the earthquake and tsunami simply by saying Fukushima, wi

  • Has anyone figured out what a big wall around fukushima would have cost, and compared that to the loss (many incalculable) from not having said wall? I'm thinking a 1,000 to 1 payback...

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