SPEEDI revisited: from the perspective of structural integration and functional disintegration

From such a perspective, the undisclosed results of SPEEDI resulting from institutionalized secrecy discussed in Chapter 1 exemplify the coupling of structural integration with functional disintegration in the current context. Chapter 1 explained that the Guideline for Monitoring Environmental Radiation stipulated details on the utilization of SPEEDI at the time of the Fukushima accident as the institutional design yielding institutionalized secrecy. Probing the impetus of such a design, it is clear that structural integration existed within relating laws for nuclear disasters more than 10 years before the Fukushima accident.

The Guideline for Monitoring Environmental Radiation was originally made by the Nuclear Safety Commission in 1984.31 In 2008, previously separated stipulations for ordinary and emergency situations were integrated, from which the detailed stipulation for the utilization of SPEEDI was embodied. The legal basis for this guideline originates in the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness that was ordained in 1999 and came into force in 2000, then amended in 2006. The objective of the act was “to strengthen the counter-measures against nuclear disasters so that the lives, bodies, and goods of the general public may be protected from the disasters” (Clause 1). Based on this act, in 2010, the Meeting of Related Ministries and Agencies to Control Nuclear Disaster Crisis resulted in the creation of the Manual to Cope with Nuclear Disasters, a manual that institutionalized the channels through which the results outputted from SPEEDI were circulated through its network system. In other words, monitoring data from nuclear power stations, weather reports from the Japan Meteorological Agency, and local monitoring data and weather reports from the local governments were inputted in the Center for Nuclear Safety Technology', from which SPEEDI was operated. After receiving instruction from MEXT, results outputted from SPEEDI were transmitted to both the local governments and the Local Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, or “off-site centers,” through which relevant instructions are supposed to be transmitted to local residents around nuclear power stations. The flow of information conceived by this institutional design was designed to be as follows (see Figure 4.3).32

In addition, the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness provides stipulations for a high degree of uncertainty involved in nuclear disasters; in particular, uncertainty in assessing the seriousness of radioactive exposure and the distribution of doses that are difficult to determine under the general category of “occurrence of disasters” under the Basic Act on Disaster Control Measures. As a result of such a high degree of uncertainty, discrepancy in the assessments of a disaster and resulting delays in taking countermeasures can be expected. Precisely to prevent such a delay from taking place, the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness prescribes the

Flow of SPEEDI-Related Information Source

Figure 4.3 Flow of SPEEDI-Related Information Source: Produced based on MEXT (n.d.)

Declaration of a Nuclear Emergency Situation by the prime minister. The declaration bestows a high degree of freedom on related agents to take immediate and proper measures against nuclear disasters.

Despite the structural integration of related laws and special prescriptions of this kind, in the Fukushima accident, no associated functional integration was expected from such a structural integration. It is true that a Declaration of a Nuclear Emergency Situation was made by the prime minister at 5:22 on March 12 in accordance with the act above; nevertheless, there was no transmission of the declaration from the governmental sector to residents or local governments in Namiecho and others. The original precept of the declaration, which was structurally integrated with act, was to bestow a high degree of freedom on related agents to deal with a high degree of uncertainty. However, there is no evidence showing that the declaration functioned in this intended, integrated manner because there was no release of relevant information directly to some local residents and local governments, which should have been enabled by the high degree of freedom bestowed on the related agents by the declaration at the time of the accident.

Concerning the transmission SPEEDI results, special-purpose terminal units designed for this purpose that were installed in Fukushima prefecture’s Headquarters for Disaster Countermeasures were damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake. Because of this, SPEEDI results were sent via an ordinary email server to the headquarters. According to the ex post investigation by the headquarters into the handling of the results sent via email, 65 out of the 86 emails conveying the results during the critical moment of the Fukushima nuclear accident (from 23:54 of March 12 to 9:45 of March 16) turned out to have been missing due to mismanagement (Headquarters for Disaster Countermeasures of the Fukushima Prefecture 2012). These emails were missing at the critical moment when evacuation was most needed for the residents around the nuclear power station, as the hydrogen explosion in Unit 1 of the nuclear power station happened at 15:36 of March 12, Unit 3 at 11:01 of March 14, and Unit 4 at 6:14 of March 15 (NAIIC 2012b; Governmental Investigation Committee 2012b; TEPCO 2012). Ultimately, SPEEDI worked, and its results were transmitted; however, they were not used (that is, they “disappeared”) due to mismanagement by the local government at the critical moment of the hydrogen explosions. There is no better term to describe this situation than functional disintegration.

As to the flow of information conceived by the institutional design in the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness, there was no incoming data from nuclear power stations due to the destruction of monitoring posts by the Great East Japan Earthquake. In terms of results output by SPEEDI, its results were sent to MEXT, but the ministry did not immediately act due to institutionalized inaction, particularly institutionalized secrecy, as mentioned in Chapter 1 and Chapter 3. The original institutional design intended for the results to be sent to both off-site centers (located in Okumacho in Fukushima prefecture) and their local governments, but the special-purpose terminal units designed to receive these results had been damaged by the earthquake, such that no results arrived. As a temporary fix to respond to this situation, transmission via ordinary email was attempted but most were never received.

Even after the hydrogen explosions in Units 1, 3, and 4 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, there was no attempt by MEXT to release the results directly to local residents around the power station. According to ex post inspection by MEXT (2012), for example, on the evening of March 15, they held a meeting about the SPEEDI results, but even at the time (which was immediately after the last hydrogen explosion in Unit 4), “there was no explanation about whether to make public the results of SPEEDI” nor “any concrete decision on the necessity to do so.”

Thus, SPEEDI was not only working at the time of the accident but also endowed with structurally well-integrated institutional design and prescriptions to convey its results. While MEXT did not deliver the information to the local residents around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station nor their local governments, during its ex post self-evaluation of its own behavior at the time of the accident, it concluded that its behavior “followed the manuals and other related instructions” and that its SPEEDI-related task “was carried out appropriately” as precisely stipulated by the Guideline for Monitoring Environmental Radiation prepared by the Nuclear Safety Commission (MEXT 2012: 12, 14). While, it is true that MEXT precisely followed instructions stipulated by this guideline, this is only because the goal of SPEEDI in an emergency situation is to estimate the effects of radioactive materials and radiation, as mentioned in Chapter 1.

SPEEDPs operation protocols are stipulated in accordance with the four phases of an emergency situation as follows:

  • 1 The phase immediately after the accident
  • 2 The phase in which emission source information is available
  • 3 The phase in which monitoring information in an emergency situation is available
  • 4 The phase after the end of emissions

The following are the stipulations of how to operate SPEEDI in each of the above phases:

  • 1 “To make a monitoring plan in an emergency situation”
  • (Nuclear Safety Commission 2008: 51)
  • 2 “To deliver calculation figures”
  • (Nuclear Safety Commission 2008: 51)
  • 3 “To produce figures”
  • (Nuclear Safety Commission 2008: 52)
  • 4 “To contribute to the estimate of radiation exposure”
  • (Nuclear Safety Commission 2008: 52)

As seen in the above stipulations, there the “health and safety” of the inhabitants is not considered in or included as part of the operation protocols of the guideline. As stated, the focus of these protocols is placed on estimating effects and delivering figures based on the estimations; therefore, both in goal setting and operation protocols, it is true that MEXT precisely followed instructions stipulated by this guideline. Who, then, is responsible for such devastation as was brought about by the Fukushima accident, as well as for the human and organizational errors that were deep-rooted in the nuclear village, as mentioned in Chapter 3? The answer is why institutional design matters. The concept of structural disaster enables, beyond compartmentalized description and analysis, mapping of the overall situation so that analysis can be concentrated on the matters of institutional design that have decisive power in determining the overall situation. For example, institutionalized inaction, such as institutionalized secrecy, can be seen as lacking fulfillment of relevant functions, thus breaking expectation from the structural integration of related laws and prescriptions. With the assistance of the concept of structural disaster, we can understand that structural integration encompasses the governmental, industrial, and academic sectors and that this very integration is coupled with functional disintegration of the SPEEDI network system in terms of the flow of information among the sectors, including the citizens sector.33

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