Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Trap of Prometheus" Series Part 2 - Resignation of a Researcher (2/4)

(Recap from my previous "Prometheus" post:)

Asahi Shinbun's "Trap of Prometheus" series is still on-going, and right now it's Part 3 about suppressing the scientific data. It continues to be an excellent article, and it continues to be printed on the "third page" (see my post on the Part 1 of the series).

I just finished reading the Part 2 "Resignation of a Researcher", which has 21 installments. Even though Asahi Shinbun is busy taking down the blog sites that compile all the series articles for convenient reading, they cannot suppress them all, and I read it on this blog.

In it, there is a very curious piece of information about SPEEDI simulation, the NISA and the PM's Office's decision to set the evacuation zone in concentric circles. In short,

  • The Ministry of Education had ordered the SPEEDI simulations from the beginning and knew exactly where to send the official to do the actual measurements in Namie-machi, Fukushima;

  • Not only the Ministry of Education ordered SPEEDI simulation calculations but also the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency ordered its own SPEEDI simulation calculations with much more accuracy;

  • NISA was setting the evacuation zone on March 11 evening based on the simulation;

  • NISA stopped their work as soon as the PM's Office, based on no credible information or agreed-on procedure, announced the concentric circle evacuation zones.

Reading the Part 2 of the series, it sure looks as if almost everything bad that happened afterwards could have been prevented if the politicians and bureaucrats on the initial (and crucial) 1st and 2nd days of the nuclear accident had acted to protect the public, which I think is their constitutional duty. Instead, they played games, a turf war as if this was just another ordinary day in Kasumigaseki.

In the Installment 11, we learned that the Ministry of Education knew exactly where to look for high radiation because it had SPEEDI simulation result, but it didn't bother to tell anyone about the radiation levels when the information would have made the difference. In the next Installment 12 below, we'll see in more detail why the information wasn't shared.


Resignation of a Researcher (12) Suddenly, it was evacuation in concentric circles


Why was the Ministry of Education able to precisely identify the location that would measure 330 microsieverts/hour radiation on March 15? (reporting by Takaaki Yorimitsu)


The Ministry of Education and Science in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo. Itaru Watanabe (age 53), Senior Deputy Director-General, Science and Technology Policy Bureau talks with occasional gestures. "In fact, we used SPEEDI in unit emission mode."


SPEEDI is a simulation system to forecast the effect of radiation. It considers wind directions, wind speeds and topography and forecasts the dispersion of radioactive materials released.


Radioactive materials do not spread in concentric circles, and the area of contamination would take the shape with multiple protrusions. Forecast the shape of the contaminated area with SPEEDI and evacuate residents as quickly as possible - that is the fundamental principle of nuclear emergency preparedness.


The forecast would be based on the information from the nuclear plant as to how much radioactive materials are being emitted. That information was not available in this accident.


However, it is possible to make forecast by entering a formal [as opposed to actual] number. That is the "unit emission", which assumes 1 becquerel/hour emission. Using this method, Watanabe was able to correctly identify the area with high radiation contamination.


It is not that Watanabe used a special method. The guideline set by the Nuclear Safety Commission specifies that the simulation calculation is to be done by unit emission or by the predetermined number because it is difficult to know the precise amount of emission right after the accident. Based on the map thus calculated, the areas and the directions that will need increased monitoring are to be decided.


"It was exactly according to the manual, to provide information of the unit emission calculation. It was in the manual that the unit emission calculation was to be distributed to parties involved when the actual amount of emission was unknown."

マニュアルによると、配る先は一部の省庁と原子力安全委員会、福島県、そして現地対策本部。「実際に避難範囲を決める場合、SPEEDIを使ったのかどうか は文部科学省では分かりません。避難範囲を決めたのは文科省では無く、原子力対策本部ですから。今回は本来の使い方はされず、いきなり同心円状で避難の指示がなされた」。

According to the manual, the information was to be distributed to several government ministries and agencies, the Nuclear Safety Commission, Fukushima Prefecture, and the local countermeasures headquarters [in Fukushima]. "The Ministry of Education does not know whether the SPEEDI result was used in deciding the evacuation zones. The evacuation zones were decided not by the Ministry of Education but by the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters. This time, the manual wasn't followed, and the order to evacuate in concentric circles was issued abruptly."


According to that manual, the Ministry of Education would provide information, and using that information the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters would issue evacuation orders. The Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters was the Prime Minster's Official Residence.


However, Prime Minister Kan, Minister of Economy and Industry Banri Kaieda, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano all insist that they didn't know about SPEEDI. In particular, Kaieda and Edano said in the Diet meeting that they didn't know about it until after March 20. What was going on?

(To be continued in the next posts.)

It sure looks like someone (or some people) couldn't resist playing "Sir Humphrey" in what may have been the biggest emergency situation that the country ever faced. And PM Kan, unlike the fictional PM Hacker, didn't care to know how to use the career bureaucrats.


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