Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Trap of Prometheus" Series Part 2 - Resignation of a Researcher (3/4)

(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 Installment 12, we learned that it was a surprise for the Ministry of Education when the PM's Office didn't follow the agreed-upon protocol to use SPEEDI and unilaterally issued an evacuation order in concentric circles.

In the Installment 13, we'll learn how the NISA was on the verge of coming up with the "correct" evacuation map that was not in concentric circles.


Resignation of a Researcher (13) 167 simulation maps that were never sent


How was the SPEEDI simulation data shared? (reporting by Kentaro Uechi)


7:03PM on March 11, about 4 hours after the earthquake/tsunami. The national government declared nuclear emergency. The Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters was set up in the Prime Minister's Official Residence.


The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry acted as the secretariat of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters. But at the same time, it also set up the Emergency Response Center (ERC) on the 3rd floor of the annex building of the Ministry. People from other ministries were also called in.


SPEEDI simulation is normally done every hour by the Nuclear Safety Technology Center under the direction of the Ministry of Education and Science. The simulation map is sent to NISA. But NISA wanted to do its own simulation, and invited an operator from the Nuclear Safety Technology Center to its ERC.


The 1st SPEEDI simulation result by NISA came out at 9:12PM. The simulation was about how radioactive materials would disperse if the vent was done on Reactor 2 of Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant at 3AM on March 12. The result showed that radioactive materials would be dispersed southeast over the Pacific Ocean.


The 2nd simulation result by NISA was out at 1:12AM on March 12. This time, the assumption was the vent of Reactor 1 at 3AM. Again, radioactive materials would disperse over the ocean. By March 16, NISA would create its own 173 maps in 45 simulations.


What was unique about NISA's simulations was that they estimated the amount of radioactive materials that would be released, using various data. Unlike the simulations done by the Ministry of Education that used the unit emission (1 becquerels/hr), the accuracy of the NISA simulations was much higher.


There was an operation room in the basement of the Prime Minister's Official Residence where the working groups from various ministries were stationed. NISA had several officials (assistant manager class) there. The room was equipped with the dedicated terminal to receive the simulation maps from NISA.


The core members of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters including Prime Minister Naoto Kan remained on the 5th floor of the PM's Official Residence. It was this core members who decided the evacuation zone, and that decision was to be based on the SPEEDI information. Which means the simulation maps should have been received at the terminal [in the basement] and then carried to the 5th floor. But...


Only the 1st and the 2nd simulation maps were sent to the dedicated terminal in the operation room. Of all SPEEDI simulations that NISA did on its own, 167 maps from 43 simulations remained at [NISA's] ERC.


Worse, only the 2nd simulation maps were printed out and handed to an official of the Prime Minister's Office. There were three pages of maps for the 2nd simulation, but NISA does not know how many pages were handed to the official, or what happened to them afterwards. How did this happen?

Stay tuned for the last segment of this appalling saga of bureaucrats and politicians being bureaucrats and politicians (i.e. doing what they knew how, best) in the face of the grave nuclear accident.


jmdesp said...

Thank you, that's real info about something really malfunctioning in the way the politicians handled that crisis.

I wonder if it was some kind of anti-scientism at work, like oh my god those maps are so complex, and I'm sure they will be proven wrong, we'll all look stupid when it happens, so let's just go with something much simpler that takes just a few seconds to explain.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the "Sir Humphrey" explanation really does justice to the actions of the Japanese bureaucracy and government throughout the crisis. The high level bureaucrats in METI and NISA are tied to TEPCO and other Japanese corporations by a thousand threads of patronage and corruption. Revolving doors, and "amakudari", where METI and NISA bureaucrats who were, on the face of it, supposed to regulate the nuclear industry and ensure the safety of the public, resign from government service into top level and highly paid sinecures in the companies like TEPCO is just one thread.

It is probably impossible to answer this unless Wikileaks or someone from TEPCO or the bureaucracy spills the beans, but my question here is to what extent was the "incompetence" displayed by the NISA and METI bureaucracy during the crisis deliberately intended to protect the interests of TEPCO and the nuclear industry?

johdax said...

btw, trap of prometheus is also available on http://ajw.asahi.com/, somewhat behind the print issue, but still

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