Sunday, January 6, 2013

#Fukushima Nuclear Accident: Japan's Top Bureaucrats Didn't Know GIS, Couldn't Figure Out Data Given by the US, a Japanese Magazine Alleges

I have read incredible news over the past 20 months, but this one, if true, may take the cake.

I saw the article below back in July last year, and was going to post it but I couldn't manage to do so. On December 31, 2012, the news by Kyodo surfaced that the team the US government sent to Japan right after the start of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident was a special nuclear counter-terrorism group. That resurrected the news in June last year that the Japanese government did not disclose the US data in a timely manner and the government ministers of the Noda administration apologized.

Yukio Edano, then Minister of the Economy, Trade and Industry, was heard again apologizing, as Kahoku Shinpo (original is probably from Kyodo News; 1/1/2013):


Mr. Yukio Edano, then in charge of crisis management as Chief Cabinet Secretary, said, "(If the US data was utilized) it is possible that we could evacuate people in the 'indoor evacuation area' sooner. Why wasn't the data brought up to the parliamentary official level? It is really lamentable."

Well, if the Shukan Playboy magazine is right, it was because no one in the national government could make head or tail out of the US data because it was in GIS format, it didn't even occur to them that the data was in GIS format.

From Shukan Playboy (7/23/2012; part):


The biggest problem was that there was no one at Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency or Ministry of Education who could [recognize the data as] the GIS data. The national government had enacted the law to utilize GIS, but the elite bureaucrats in the Japanese government did not know how to use this data [from the US government].


[We learned that] there were bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki [in Tokyo where the national government ministries are located] who printed out the vast amount data on paper and stared at it, even though the numbers wouldn't mean a thing unless they were opened in GIS software. [Otherwise] competent reporters of the media are equally incapable of making full use of this valuable data. They even call the data "cipher", even if it is not a military secret.


That's the reason why the US government has made the "raw data" available on the Internet since October 2011 that includes locations measured, types and amounts of radionuclides measured, and dates measured. They are making the data directly available because they can't trust the Japanese government or the media [to do anything with the data].


The Japanese government could not understand nor utilize the radiation contamination data taken by the US military because the data was meant to be used in GIS. As the result, the Japanese people did not have a chance to learn about this valuable data. Not even today, more than 1 year after the start of the Fukushima nuclear accident. What good is the NSDI Law [National Spatial Data Infrastructure Law, which became the law in 2007] that is supposed to "fully utilize GIS"?

It's not that this reporter knows much about GIS himself, as he writes,


GIS is a technology that combines geographic information and data such as "main contaminant", "areas of high contamination", "timeline" etc. as a single map to allow sophisticated analysis and quick decision-making when an accident or disaster happens with large-scale contamination of the environment.


GIS software can be downloaded free of charge. With high-performance hardware available at cheaper cost, GIS is widely used throughout the world.

I don't know for certain but it is not likely that the GIS system used by the US government is free software. It is likely to be from Esri, definitely not free, nor cheap. The reporter seems to think it's like a GPS car navigation system from Garmin, or Google Earth.

GIS is decidedly not a technology only for a big accident or natural disaster. It is about how to organize and visualize information geographically.

But isn't this sad, if the article is true? Bureaucrats at the powerful ministries didn't have any idea what the data was about, and they were staring at the printouts and trying to make sense of the numbers, as if by intuition that might come in a divine flash.

Many Japanese readers dismissed the article as "not credible" because it came from a soft-core men's magazine. I found it very credible, particularly the part it describes elite bureaucrats staring at the printouts trying to make sense out of the numbers. That image fits very nicely with the then-head of NISA, who left the disaster response headquarters inside the Prime Minister's Official Residence and went home on March 11, 2012 because he was a "liberal arts major". He never returned to the headquarters afterward.


Anonymous said...

And the other sad point is that "normal" publications never have the balls to write the truth.

netudiant said...

In defense of the bureaucrats, raw data dumps are just a nightmare.
They are totally uninformative, so unless they are extensively massaged into a graphical overview by a skilled practitioner, they are just useless.
If anyone wants to try their luck, the NOAA web site has such data on climate, temperature, precipitation, air pressure, ocean salinity etc etc, in a convenient web site with lots of hand holding and documentation. Imho, it defies any non expert attempt to try to extract actionable output from it. If this is the case for a widely used reference data base, we should pity the poor bureaucrats, clueless about software and hampered by language barriers, limited information and an unprecedented calamity. For them to be trying to decipher stuff dropped off by a quasi military foreign expert group without an expert interpreter is an impossible task. I'd blame the US/Japan government interface for this debacle.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

netudient, true. But they could have asked around. They could have even asked the US, "What is this data and how do we read it?"

I know they wouldn't have asked anyway, because they are the cream of the crop, best of the best. It would have been so below them to ask others and by that admit that they don't know. At least that's what the "liberal arts" major bureaucrats might have felt.

VyseLegendaire said...

The story sounds very realistic to me...

Anonymous said...

Original DOE press release

"U.S. Department of Energy Releases Radiation Monitoring Data from Fukushima Area"

The DOE assessment of The Situation in Japan (Updated 8/3/12)using the GIS data in question

So these Boneheadocrats don't have access to the Internet?

John Bernhart said...

As someone who has been a lecturer at Japanese colleges for more than a decade, it is easy to understand. We are under tremendous pressure from above to hand out 5 to 15 per cent A grades, 10 to 30 per cent B grades, and 55 to 85 per cent C grades. No one is allowed to fail. Tuition money, student/parent happiness, and "credibility of the institution" trump academics at even the best universities. Without Furugana, many students cannot read/speak the Japanese language. I do not blame the horizontal education system, and I definitely do not support the winners/losers education reform. But we should not be surprised by the outcomes of an education system based on shared dishonesty.

Anonymous said...

They also could have just asked this guy he posted this info April 26, 2011

kintaman said...

This is so very true. I recall one time at work (in Japan) that someone who was a project manager but had little technical knowledge printed out an .exe file (executable) as a handout for an internal meeting.

He opened an .exe file in notepad and printed out the hex data which is jibberish of course. This was all due to a misunderstanding he had with his boss. Everyone in the meeting sat there (people who are programmers and very technical) with blank stares without the balls to tell the person what a fuck up he was.

Anonymous said...

A bit naive to think the Japanese government would rather be called stupid than murderers.

At what point in time did any fallout disaster maps come into focus on an executive level, where action is required to protect your population? At least the young and defenseless. I believe SPEEDI maps were discounted early on along with other formats.

It is not to late to still evacuate hot spots, what are they waiting for?

Drink the radioactive water and eat the radioactive food, all while smiling, is the rallying cry and don't complain.

Don't feel bad, the US was/is part of the charade too. Next step is to coverup and hide the results of their inactions by letting people die.

Anonymous said...

they can give their excuses to the devil when they all go to hell, and tell their children on the way when they ask "Daddy (or mummy) what did you do when you knew?"

Anonymous said...

These are the same idiots who try to reassure us that the next round of nuclear reactors will be different, more safe. Trust us.

Anonymous said...

Probably takes the cake yes, even against this challenger :

Anonymous said...

>Probably takes the cake yes, even against this challenger.

The fire problem came to the attention of the industry after the 1975 Brown's Ferry NPP fire. Some moron was detecting and sealing air drafts in the cable trays with a candle this started a fire that quickly drafted through the inaccessible portions of the tray causing a major nuclear emergency. The fire disabled a large number of engineered safety systems at the the operating plant, including the entire emergency core cooling system (ECCS) on Unit 1 it almost resulted in a boiloff/meltdown accident. About half of the reactors in the US were build before 1975 and none of them were refitted with new wire.

Anonymous said...

There's lots of free GIS software that could have managed this data. See:

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