Sunday, March 20, 2011

Japan Nuclear Disaster? The Scorecard So Far

“…Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so…” --- Bertrand Russell

Things have calmed down quite a bit concerning the nuclear accident at the reactors in Fukushima. The situation is stable as reported by Japan's stalwart NHK news. 

Can one judge the stability of the situation as it is being perceived by foreigners through the foreign media too? Yes. But, in my case, do I make this judgement that things have calmed down from viewing the news in Japan? No. The news in Japan is pretty much the same today as it was over these last four days: Calm, collected and reporting the facts on the ground without resorting to hysteria. It's too bad that the foreign community in Japan does not bother to learn enough conversational Japanese to be at least able to watch and understand news broadcast in the native tongue of Japan.

I also judge that the situation has calmed down quite a bit for the west in that western media has stopped making ridiculous doomsday pronouncements about nuclear melt-downs and comparing Fukushima to Chernobyl. News in the west has suddenly shifted away now from the potential "nuclear meltdown" in Japan to events in Libya. 

Of course, western news media can get away with this. Attention spans in America are short. 

Think about it person sitting in their home in America - or even Japan... One day you are told to fear for your very lives because of the nooklar boogeyman and a nuclear melt-down... The next minute? Well, look at that! We're bombing Libya! 

If the situation in Japan were so serious and so dangerous to you and your family safety and our lives were coming to an end, do you actually believe that the mass media would be switching your attention so easily to bombing some lunatic in North Africa? 

Hey! There's a novel revelation for me right there! Doh!

Is this sudden switching of attention proof of ridiculous mass media induced tabloid sensationalism? Absolutely. I rest my case, your honor. The mass media in the west is guilty as charged.

Other foreigners in Japan feel the same

Don't think that I am the only one - the only foreigner - in Japan who thinks this way. There are lots of us. You can also bet that very many Japanese are unhappy about this too. There are also several of us long time residents of Japan who, while they won't use the term 'disgusted', are quite dissatisfied with how this situation was handled and reacted to by the foreign news and community in Japan.

(L-R): Me, Daniel Kahl and George Williams drinking together in 2009 

One aquaintance, Daniel Kahl, probably one of the top two experts on Japan (along with George Williams) made this excellent Youtube video... Daniel fumbles his words a bit but I think he can be forgiven because he is restraining himself as I can tell he is actually furious (to put it lightly). Watch:
I enjoy the part at the end where Daniel says, "Cut it out. Knock it off, or your just not going to have any fans in the country." Hilarious. Daniel, my friend, you don't actually think the mass media care about fans or regular people, do you? They only care about ratings and money. That's why they do this sensationalism. Either way, thanks Daniel. I owe you a beer next time we drink together at George's house. 

What's going to happen to the relationship between the Japanese and the foreign community in Japan? I think the actions of many of the foreigners (not just in the media) have created much distrust and disrespect of those foreigners (especially in management) by their Japanese counter-parts. I already posted about one foreign company, Coca Cola, whose foreign upper-management committed the sin of running away while taking paid leave (isn't stealing from your own company considered theft?) while expecting the Japanese to continue working as if nothing at all happened?

If the situation were so bad and they bothered to make rational decisions - while showing a tiny bit of leadership qualities - then they'd have had the guts to say that they were running away and told the Japanese staff to go home; or they would have sent their families away and stayed with the ship. I know for first hand fact that the Japanese staff left over by their panicking foreign bosses have very little respect for those people. They probably should have zero; which were just about the odds of a nuclear disaster hitting Tokyo.

Let me give you an example of a leader who deserves massive respect and knows how to make a company culture whereby his staff and workers will follow him to the end of the earth. I heard from an extremely reliable source that, during the crisis, the foreign president of Godiva chocolates, Jerome Chouchan, decided to send his family away but he stayed on because he said that he felt like, "If I leave now and leave my Japanese staff to fend for themselves it would be like the captain leaving the sinking ship first." He said this and this gentleman is a French citizen! (This means you other westerners who diss the French must bow their heads.) Bravo!

This gentleman calmly made a professional judgement using the basics of risk management. He was able to control his emotions and make a logical, clear-headed decision. Contrast that with how so many foreigners panicked and ran off like some Bruce Willis movie.

This gentleman showed the qualities of a true leader. He has made a situation whereby his staff have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for him. They would follow him to the end of the earth. As a customer, I will always buy Godiva chocolate.

Coca-Cola? No. 

Let me ask you a question. If you are foreign management in Japan - or foreign management returning to Japan after panicking and running away - and are reading this, how would you judge yourself and your status and level of respect amongst your Japanese staff at this moment? 

Misery loves company

From now on you might see that some of these foreigners who panicked and took off will be coming back embarrassed and feeling a bit ashamed. Rationalization will be their tool in defending their actions. Let us forgive them. I hope the embarrassment they feel in their hearts will be sufficient punishment for them. I'm sure this lesson has also taught their children well. After all, aren't the parents responsible for building strong minds and a strong character in their children? 

Once again, let me state that there is no problem in the world with wanting to protect your children and - making a level headed judgement based on basic risk assessment - then sending them away if deemed necessary. But panicking and making hasty decisions is not teaching them an important lesson in life.

What lessons did your reactions teach your children about how to handle themselves and what to do in an emergency?

Another foreigner who has lived in Japan all his life - has been the president of a world famous major foreign corporation in Japan - wrote to me and said;

A lot of the expats were getting that kind of pressure (to panic and run away) from their families from overseas as well.. But in many cases, it was just blind, stupid fear without digging into the facts.

Not everyone has the choice to leave and when people come back, there will always remain the question about how much can we trust or rely on these people..!

I do have a number of friends that call me every night to check in.. Partly out of concern, partly out of guilt.. But mostly I think because they are bored to death with nothing to do.
Aha! Yes. I couldn't have said it better, "...there will always remain the question about how much can we trust or rely on these people."

The time is coming to assess the situation and to pay the piper. This means that everyone will have to judge their actions during this crisis. Foreign parents and company executives need to stand in front of the mirror. They need to look themselves straight in the eye and make serious and fair judgements about how they handled themselves in front of their own children and their Japanese employees. Did they panic? Or did they make rational decisions? Did they gain respect or lose respect during this time?

I think far too many will not like what they see. 

A Japanese family recovers clothes from their destroyed home

And now, finally, the scorecard as of right this moment about the nuclear accident: 

In the first sign that contamination from Japan's stricken nuclear complex had seeped into the food chain, officials said Saturday that radiation levels in spinach and milk from farms near the tsunami-crippled facility exceeded government safety limits.
Minuscule amounts of radioactive iodine also were found in tap water Friday in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan — although experts said none of those tests showed any health risks. The Health Ministry also said that radioactive iodine slightly above government safety limits was found in drinking water at one point Thursday in a sampling from Fukushima prefecture, the site of the nuclear plant, but later tests showed the level had fallen again.
Six workers trying to bring the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant back under control were exposed to more than 100 millisieverts of radiation

Now we must make a judgement about nuclear power. Is it safe? Is it safer than, say, burning coal or gas refineries that spew toxic wastes into the air that we breathe? This next piece of information from Energy From Thorium

Q: Is nuclear power unsafe?

A: No. It is far safer than chemical power and renewable power. Look at the burning refineries and gas lines. There are no burning reactors. People are scared of "radiation" and don't understand what it means. The media makes little attempt to tell them. I am trying to be a resource to help explain because I have had some training in this area. A dam gave way due to the earthquake. That's not safe either.

Ultimately, the scorecard up until now shows that deaths from the nuclear accident until now are zero. On the other hand, tens of thousands of dead and many more than 11,000 people are still missing, and more than 452,000 are living in shelters. Now that is the catastrophe.
Japanese refugees after earthquake and tsunami left them homeless

The foreign media sensationalizing the nuclear reactor accident and then the foreigners panicking and running away all contribute to the news ignoring the true humanitarian crisis in this country. Those people need our help, not our abandonment.

That's the score as of today concerning the real disaster here in Japan. 
Please donate & help if you can

Thanks to: Daniel Kahl,  George Williams,  Michael Distacio,  Michael Anop,  James Allen,  Mike Newton,  Tim Rabone,  Paul Guilfoile,  Roger Marshall,  Steve "Poots" Candidus,  Marc Abela,  Ken Nishikawa,  Yuka Rogers,  Jon Lynch,  Google,  Rob Schwartz,  Tina Kawamura,  Jerome Chouchan


Ben said...

That's exactly what I want to express Mike, thanks for that.
The other facet I want to mention though are 'The New Tokyo Heroes'.
These are the Johnny Panic club who refused to listen to people trying to reassure them, screamed apocalypse and fled.
Then when it scare is over, march back into Tokyo trumpeting about how Tokyo is safe and how the media over-reacted.
They then accept all the admiration from others about being so positive and brave in a crisis when in reality they shat the bed and ran home.
To at least have some dignity they should admit they ran but are happy everything turned out okay.
As you said, panic is easy spread and they can be forgiven, if they acknowledge it.
But the likelihood is that we'll be hearing tales of triumph over adversity and valour from the people who were never here.
The people who really did tough it out, you won't hear from because their mentality isn't about promoting themselves.
As you wrote, the people who stayed were acting in support of the community and the people they share the land with.
However it's the media we should hold most accountable for causing people to feel that way, to feel they had to leave.

Anonymous said...

I am tired of the main media hype, specifically aimed at the (indoctrinated government educated) masses. Unfortunately, when the media hypes any story, that usually means that they are covering up a real story. Unfortunately, they have.

My feelings concerning FDR aside, he is quoted as saying, "In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way."

Mrs. R.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Ben! Brilliantly stated!

JT said...

UK's John Beddington seems to have got it wrong already about contamination. Cannot trust what he says now.

The radioactive particles are not going to kill instantly or even within a week like you see in the movies or tv. It is years later when you get cancer, if you get cancer. No one knows what will happen in this regard until it happens.

Unless you ingest it and dependent upon the levels.
So when I heard about the water my first thoughts were about Alexander Litvinenko and his cup of tea. Not to say it is the same.

Now in the free-market you could sue the company, but is that even possible in Japan? In the so called "free market" in the US, the government gives companies monopolies and even immunities.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

JT. You can sue the company in Japan, but would probably lose. This was not an intentional action.This earthquake and tsunami will be considered "acts of God" under law (any other country is the same). Intentional actions that cause loss can be taken to court. Minamata proves that. If you had a loss and the insurance company refuses to pay you, then you could sue them and perhaps win.
An understanding of Japanese law & history explains why you cannot sue for damages in Japan. This was also set up and approved by the western powers after WWII (they needed Japan as a bulwark against the USSR). If you could sue for damages in Japan and win, like in the west, that would open up Japan for massive damages suits concerning WWII, comfort women, slaves from Korea, etc. etc.

Anonymous said...

@JT: Facts please. "UK's John Beddington seems to have got it wrong already about contamination." Where's your proof?

The radioactive particles are not going to kill instantly or even within a week like you see in the movies or tv. It is years later when you get cancer, if you get cancer. No one knows what will happen in this regard until it happens.

"It is years later when you get cancer, if you get cancer.... No one knows what will happen in the regard until it happens" Hallelujah Einstein! What a beautiful bit of meaningless drivel....

Andy "In Japan" said...

Still here up in Akita and hearing every day from panic stricken Americans. With Obama and his gang attacking the innocent Libyan people, we can be assured that the "Japan is Chernobyl on Steroids" headlines will be history. How the bombing attacks are putting an end to violence and saving the Libyan people for democracy will be the new propaganda campaign.

As soon as the situation in the Fukushima nuke plant problems are resolved, Japan needs to collect all of the information about what happened and think long and hard about the future of using nuclear power.

In my mind, it is NOT safe and the fact that private insurance companies will not insure a nuke plant is strong supporting evidence.

JT said...


I was referring more to after the fact. As in, the actions of the company after the tsunami. Even its preparedness/lacking in forethought.

Not like you can sue a concept (government) like you could the individual.


Read mikeintokyorogers posts, then the article and current reports.

"Experts" stating that people are safe, because the levels are lower, are being irresponsible. They do not know if the individual is more prone to cancers, their immunity levels and how much exposure each individual has received.

You cannot say the when and the who gets cancer. You cannot just cure cancer as if it is a cut. We would not have cancer if that was the case.

JT said...

It is possible to use coal cleanly. If something went wrong with a coal plant it is not as bad as a nuclear meltdown. You cannot control the atom. Do you think you have ultimate control of it as if you were god?

The spent fuel is even a problem that doesn't ever go away. If all the power in the world was nuclear, the build up of radioactive materials, that cannot be disposed of, would stack up. That alone is enough of a reason not to use it.

Japan uses what, 20-30% of its power from nuclear? So, Japan is not dependent on it. I do not think there would be even that much nuclear plants being used if it wasn't for the government. It is too expensive to build such plants. That is why Obama wants to give out money to companies to build them. Corporations will build them if that is the case, unsurprisingly.

Governments are (as they say) fail.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Thanks Andy,
I am sorry that I am being misunderstood. Private insurance companies can and do insure nuke plants. Of course.
I mean that people cannot sue the nuclear power plant directly and win damages in Japan. They can, and will, sue the insurance company representing the nuke plant if they are unhappy about settlements offered. It is up to the courts to decide the result of that.
You can try to sue the nuclear plant because an earthquake and tsunami hit them but I doubt that there's a court in the world who wouldn't throw that out immediately. It cannot be considered negligence.
This wouldn't matter if it were an oil platform, or coal burning factory, nuke plant, etc... The law is pretty specific on that. It has nothing to do with the entity, it has to do with what insurance companies and courts deem "Acts of God"

JT said...

The moment nuclear plant chief WEPT as Japanese finally admit that radiation leak is serious enough to kill people

By David Derbyshire

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Thanks JT. For one, this news is two days old. For two that level means the radiation at the plant is enough to kill people. Still no one has died due to radiation. The radiation levels in Tokyo are still about 2000 x less than a one way flight from Narita to NY. And at levels comparable to before the earthquake.

Come on JT! Think about it. If you were the in charge of this plant you you are a responsible person and been under stress and grilled by reporters, you might crack under the pressure and cry too.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Japanese upgrade accident from level four to five? The same as Three Mile Island? A five grade means that radiation at the site is considered dangerous. How many people died at Three Mile Island? Zero. Three Mile Island had a 10 mile evacuation zone. Fukushima has 16 miles. How many miles to Tokyo? Over 150.
You can panic if you want JT. Are you even in Tokyo?

JT said...

I posted the article url because it gives a good overall on the nuclear issue. Would be nice to have a similar one on the tsunami.

It is quite shocking to see how long it took to get some supplies to those areas.

As for the TEPCO man crying, he must be contemplating all the aftereffects. Who knows, maybe he feels guilty about things he could have done differently before and after.

I am not saying you will be walking down the street glowing or that you will start losing your hair.

Level 5 is the same level as 3 Mile Island but that didn't have 4 reactor failures, unable to sustain coolant, large explosions, and last a week+. To reach Chernobyl level reactor containers must explode. Gratefully that hasn't happened.

I don't know what it take to reach level 6.

Alex Kane said...

Mike, you are an absolute star and while Im far too ignorant to comment on this topic, I can not thank you enough for your candor and willingness to tell the truth.

Now, I CAN say, as a complete loather of governments and politicians, I can easily see that the earthquake and tsunami and the pain and suffering and loss that so many Japanese souls are coping with now could have been exploited as a distraction to get the bombers to Libya and start imposing some "democracy." At least these pigs are consistent in their arrogance and stupidity.

Anonymous said...

Who cares if the rest of the world has any fans in Japan. Like that is ever considered. Think we have any fans in Iraq, Cuba or elsewhere? You really think Japan can actually get over from the US nuking them not once but twice?

Guy Jean said...

Akiko Fujita tweets, Learned new term tonight: "Fly-Jin." Foreigners who fled Japan.
And Martyn Williams tweets, Trace amounts of iodine found in Tokyo tap water - Kyodo ("trace" = amount detectable but not enough to be quantified)
(Don't know how to link to someone's tweet, sorry!)

Guy Jean said...

The Grauniad caught in the act. "Fukushima workers exposed to illegal radiation levels", levels that, erm, weren't actually illegal, according to the article itself! Sheesh! And they wonder why we don't read them anymore?

Kat said...

I am so glad we stayed in Tokyo.. we felt total peace about staying and the more I read about radiation and what the experts were saying, the less I feared it.. You expose yourself to more radiation getting on a plane and leaving the country.

That documentary on nuclear fear was great!!!

I think that when something tragic happens the first thing people want to do is go home.. Some people I know already had plans to go home on spring break so they decided to leave a few days earlier seeing there's so much confusion or no work anyway.

I don't think it's good to leave out of fear without getting facts straight.. but I want to be careful to judge others who leave because I don't always know their reasons for doing so.

TokyoTom said...

Mike, we've probably all had a number of panicked people calling for us to leave, but for me this is home.

But one of real problems is the question of whether one can get reliable information on what has happened, developments risks. As you pointed out earlier, with Government and big statist corporations running the show, trust seems foolish.

I've posted a few radical, middle-of-the-road libertarian musings, prompted by events here and fuelled by some sharp observations by Shikha Dalmia and Matt Ridley:

In reverse chronological order:

Beyond 'Nuclear Crony Capitalism': Does state-created corporations mean we are stuck with a wonderfully confused 'capitalist' mess of socialized risk?

Matt Ridley, the "Rational Optimist," blasts Japan's "Nuclear Crony Capitalism" but fails to examine limited liability corporations

Shikha Dalmia of Reason Foundation doesn't feel sorry for TEPCO

Sorry, but I can't resist asking: Feel Sorry for Tokyo Electric Power Co?

Institutionalized moral hazard: Fun with Nuclear Power in Japan, or, prepare for a glowing twilight, with scattered fallout in the morning

Brad Geiger said...

Thanks for the perspective, Mike. However, where you say: "Ultimately, the scorecard up until now shows that deaths from the nuclear accident until now are zero", the damage from exposure to radiation may take years to manifest itself. That's what happened with Vietnam vets, many of whom came down with cancer decades after their tours of duty.

But I heartily agree with you on the western media: they hysterically overreact and cannot be trusted on any subject.

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