Monday, July 23, 2007

Nuclear Nervousness...

Last week there was a big quake in Niigata, one that registered a 6.8 on the Japanese scale for measuring earthquake severity. 7.0 is the highest, I believe. So you can easily understand how strong this quake was.

It did a lot of damage and there were some fatalities, too. But the thing that has a lot of people worried is the damage to the world's largest nuclear power plant, where some radioactive water actually spilled into the sea. The authorities are cleaning up the mess, but you have to wonder how something like this could happen in a safety-obsessed nation like Japan.

Except in rare cases (sometimes involving contractors with yakuza ties), Japan is not a place where people half-ass construction projects. Or much of anything for that matter. Even a house renovation features an elaborate metal framework being constructed on the building's exterior and tarps being suspended all around the site. And as the only country to have been attacked with nuclear weapons, Japan is very sensitive about this particular topic.

The "Godzilla" films are a kitschy expression of Japan's nuclear-phobia, at least in terms of the superpowers' world-ending weaponry. But Kurosawa Akira's 1990 film Yume (Dreams) features a segment titled "Mt. Fuji in Red," where a nuclear power plant near Fuji experiences a melt-down and causes the great mountain itself to erupt in torrents of deadly radiation. It's nightmarish and apocalyptic and really hits home now that I live in the same prefecture.

So combined with quake-consciousness, it's surprising to me that not only did Japan put a nuclear power plant on a fault-line, but the authorities also didn't do enough to fortify it against damage.

In order to save face and restore public confidence, you can be sure the government will expend enormous effort in fixing this problem and cleaning up the mess. But it's something that probably could've been avoided, especially in a place that's so conscientious about doing the right things in the right time.


Anonymous said...

I think you need to relook at the facts. Japan has a history of shoddy design and poor management at its nuclear power facilities.

Joel Bryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel Bryan said...

And I think you need to re-read this post. The point isn't that Japan hasn't been slack about its nuclear power plants, but that I personally am surprised they are, given their nuclear history and general atomic allergicness, and their care in so many other construction endeavors.

But thanks for the info!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I would tend to disagree. The Japanese construction industry does a lot of half-ass work. Next time you go into a 20 year old house here compare it to a house of the same vintage back home. Or do the same with a commercial building. Buildings here have recently been built to be earthquake safe, but that doesn't mean they're quality constructions in any other sense. Try renting a house built by Daito Kentaku or any of the other large property rental firms. All build to the very edge of the law. And those laws are based on the absolute minimum permitted by what we know of earthquakes. Ever take a look around you and wonder why there are so many power lines strung haphazardly 10m above our heads despite the fact that we're living in one of the world's most earthquake-prone nations? Building codes permit it - because putting them underground is costly, and the individual householders here don't like giving up control of what little land they have to municipal control. This DESPITE their experiences in Kobe and Niigata. The Japanese construction industry puts care into SOME areas, but in others they are just ... stupid.