Exclusion Zone And Criticality

The news from the Japanese reactor incident is not getting better. Why should it? The spew of radiation is still going on.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has told Japan that radiation levels recorded at a village near a stricken nuclear reactor are over recommended levels, a senior IAEA official said on Wednesday.
The IAEA guys are not going to be very popular in Japan.
"The first assessment indicates that one of the IAEA operational criteria for evacuation is exceeded in Iitate village," Denis Flory, a deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said.

"We have advised (Japan) to carefully assess the situation and they have indicated that it is already under assessment," he told a news conference.

Greenpeace this week said it had confirmed radiation levels in this village northwest of the plant high enough to evacuate. But Japan's nuclear safety agency on Monday rebuffed a call by the environmental group to widen the evacuation zone.

Save face or save lives? For now a few extra days of exposure are not going to be very hazardous. Unless radiation levels go up considerably. But that is not all the bad news.
In a potentially negative development, Flory said the agency had heard there might be "recriticality" at the plant, in which a nuclear chain reaction would resume, even though the reactors were automatically shut down at the time of the quake.

That could lead to more radiation releases, but it would not be "the end of the world," Flory said. "Recriticality does not mean that the reactor is going to blow up. It may be something really local. We might not even see it if it happens."

Yep. It might be a minor blip or it could be really serious. But they do confirm that my suspicions expressed at

Criticality Accident?
Worst Case Scenario
Surrealistic Cement Shoes
Core On The Floor

were not unreasonable.

Why are the Japanese having so much trouble? It may be their Culture.

by chindit13 on Wed, 03/30/2011 - 01:23 #1115985


Those of you who have lived in Japan have a pretty good idea of what has been going on and why. You probably have seen the "weeping press conference" a dozen times, each a repeat of the last one save for the names and faces.

Confrontation in Japan is not good. Causing "confusion" is not good. Following the plan and the rules is everything. The unexpected is invisible. One does not say "sorry", rather, one says "it is regrettable that..."

TEPCO probably planned for an 8.5 quake and a five foot tsunami (I'm speculating here.). Perhaps they did not plan for a loss of back-up power. Perhaps they did not plan for a destroyed infrastructure within the vicinity of the plant. When reality fell outside their expectations, they had no plan. At first they could not see reality. Next they could not admit what that reality was. After that they fell back to habit, which is to try to build consensus, deferring to the seniors and elders, even if these "respected" individuals had no clue and the underlings did. After initial discussions, there are reports to write. Then new meetings to discuss the reports. Then suggestions based on the discussion surrounding the reports. Then new reports needed to be written, etc., etc., etc.

The GoJ [Government of Japan - ed.] could not "embarrass" TEPCO by questioning them or question anything TEPCO was doing. Certainly the GoJ could not tell TEPCO to get out of the way and let someone else take charge. TEPCO did not want to "alarm" the Japanese people or "confuse" them by telling the truth; rather they tried to keep the social order by saying "don't worry". Perhaps they themselves did not want to know, so they took no readings. It is not that they were trying to cover their own butts. They really did not want to upset the people by burdening them with the truth, especially at a time of great national suffering. Upsetting people is worse than killing them. This is a fine point, but very real.

Japanese can adapt, but they require time to do so. Time sensitive events are not something they are built to handle particularly well, partly because they might not have a pre-existing plan to deal with it and partly because existing rules must be followed at all cost. (Note that foreign aid for quake-tsunami victims was held up for "rules" such as the requirement to quarantine dogs---even rescue dogs sent to find survivors while survivors were still alive---and the requirement to do exhaustive studies on all imported food.) Things that look like gross negligence and incompetence are not quite what they appear to be. For example, the workers who stepped into contaminated water did not have the proper equipment, not because the bosses are cruel, but because that possibility was never considered so no one could see it, much less plan for it. Then there is "face". Calling in outside experts, especially foreign ones, would be an admission of inferiority. Sometimes death is preferable to shame. Anyone who doubts that should read about the philosophy behind seppuku.

I am no nuclear expert. I have no idea what the worst case scenario is, though I doubt it is TEOTW [The End Of The World - ed.], except for those unfortunate souls living within a hundred or so kilometers from the plant. I suspect we will find out, because everything that makes Japanese Japanese will lead to that worst case.

I am not trying to gang up on the Japanese. All peoples have good points and bad. This crisis has revealed some of Japan's less than optimal national traits. Certainly Americans have more than their share of bad cultural traits, too. Let's just hope that natural selection never meets the "bads" head on. Let's also hope that Japan gets its act together before more of its citizens suffer unnecessarily.

I agree. It is not the end of the world. But it is a serious setback for the world's #3 economy and thus it will be a setback for the rest of the world especially because of the supply disruptions. And we won't notice those (because they are not yet severe) for another month or two. Where will the real hit come? Products for the December holiday season which will go into production (if they haven't already started) by June at the latest.

As to the radiation dangers? They are probably only severe in Japan. For the rest of the world it is the equivalent to a few above ground atomic tests at worst. Not a good thing to be sure. Also not the end of the world.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon on 03.30.11 at 05:33 PM


The 'face' issue goes very deep, and remains baffling to this gaijin. The reporting of workers stepping into hot water will cause a loss of face to the guy who should have written the procedure for that, and for that guy's boss.

In the software arena, one does not report a bug, but one asks the author of the code if there is a possibility for improvement at line X when the accumulator holds '0'.

'We will investigate' usually means 'we found it, but aren't ready to admit it yet'.

Cris   ·  March 30, 2011 7:08 PM

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