Benefits Versus Risk,by Keisuke Kawahara, the University of Tokyo

I was wondering whether nuclear power can be acceptable to the public. So I chose the question from Dr. Samuel Walker: “Are the benefits of nuclear power worth the risks?” The answer is “yes” from engineers, but “no” from the public side.

Engineers have been making efforts to assess costs quantitatively using risk benefi analysis. This analysis, which can be applied at probability from 10−4 to 10−6, is regarded as the most effective and persuasive method to justify nuclear power so far. However, the public seems to be unable to accept using the analysis and cutting off the risk below 10−6 considering that there still exists a possibility for accidents to occur. This kind of discrepancy can be found between engineers and the public, though it is not realistic to take into account something that would hardly ever occur. There are three points which generate this discrepancy.

First, cut-off risks below the probability of 10−6 are decided by engineers, regarding such a probability equal to a natural disaster that should be socially acceptable. However, the cut-off line may not be acceptable to the public, because the outcome of the accident is related to human activities, even if its initial cause was due to a natural disaster. In addition, from the Fukushima accident, the public realized again that the damage from the nuclear plant was so huge that they might get less and less tolerant of accepting such a way of thinking.

Second, the difference in accidents between nuclear power and other risks is that the damage from nuclear power is concentrated in space and time. This character of nuclear power accidents increases the risk which the public feels from the perspective of fairness and makes people more emotional. In that case, the public cannot calculate the risk as “probability times damage” and risk overwhelms the benefit.

Finally, it is difficult for the public to judge results of quantitative analysis. The public reacts sensitively to risks and makes irrational choices while we engineers ask them to accept quantitative judgments. But making irrational choices is human and making rational choices is inhuman, which hinders accepting decisions based on quantitative cost-benefit analysis.

I could not come up with a clear solution to such a discrepancy from attending this summer school but can only recognize what lies between them. Widening the territory of risk benefit analysis is not meaningful, and it would be hard for the public to completely accept the analysis. However, it must be meaningful to be aware of the discrepancy and, by understanding this condition, both engineers and the public can walk together through the tough path of risk communication. If the benefits of nuclear power exceed the risk from the public side, that is not from conventional risk communication based on risk benefit analysis but from communication taking into account such a discrepancy.

Was Mr. Yoshida Ethical? by Lukis MacKie, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

During his lecture, Dr. Jun Fudano of the Kanazawa Institute of Technology posed a rather deep question to the students: “Was Mr. Masao Yoshida ethical?” The answer is yes.

Mr. Yoshida is the plant manager of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and was on site in the time immediately following the March 11 tsunami. When the ability to cool the reactor's nuclear core with fresh, clean water was lost, the plant workers began pumping salt water through. While salt contacting the fuel rods would accelerate their deterioration, this solution was preferable to not cooling the nuclear material at all.

This action was reported to the highest levels of the Japanese government and began to trickle down the Tokyo Electric Power Company's (TEPCO) senior management. Aware that the central government was concerned with some possible negative ramifications of this endeavor, TEPCO's executives leaned forward and directed salt water cooling activities to cease. Mr. Yoshida received this order and not only decided to ignore it, but misled his corporate leadership by telling them that salt water was no longer being pumped onto the reactor cores.

According to the Josephson Institute of Ethics: “Ethics refers to principles that define behavior as right, good and proper. Such principles do not always dictate a single 'moral' course of action, but provide a means of evaluating and deciding among competing options.” (Josephson Institute of Ethics. “Making Ethical Decisions”. Web. 2011).

Some are questioning Yoshida-san's ethical fortitude because he disobeyed an order from his leaders while at the same time actively deceiving them. It is reasonable to believe that if he disobeyed the order and informed those up his chain of command that he planned to continue cooling the reactors with salt water, he might have been given more external “assistance” than he desired. It is not unreasonable to believe that, if he had informed them of his actions, TEPCO's upper management might have removed him from his post and replaced him with a “yes man.”

If Mr. Yoshida had followed orders and ceased using salt water cooling, it is almost impossible to conclude that the outcome would have improved. If no coolant had been used, the meltdown would have accelerated drastically. This would likely have caused considerably more damage to the surrounding area, and quickly raised radiation levels in the plant too high for personnel to continue working. While contaminated seawater was released back into the ocean, this should be seen as the lesser of two evils and the more desired result given the seemingly only other alternative.

During a crisis, particularly one that is evolving and growing more dangerous by the hour, it is often ill-advised to remove/replace essential personnel and increase bureaucracy. Micro-management from personnel more concerned with politics and less knowledgeable about the full spectrum of events on location can slow down time-critical decisions drastically.

Removing the on-site commander can be just as devastating—but sometimes it is necessary. A new commander most probably lacks the history and important details of how the situation reached its current point in time, and back-briefing him or her will cause delays. However, if the person currently in charge has proved incapable of handling the situation properly, a replacement (hopefully an early replacement) is needed.

If Yoshida had informed upper management of his plans to continue using sea water as the coolant, they might have decided a replacement capable of following orders was necessary and the best solution for the emergency at hand.

Masao Yoshida was the right person for the job. While it is probable that other TEPCO employees with thirty-plus years of experience could have managed the situation properly, none would have known the plant as well as he, nor would they have been there from day zero. By continuing to pump sea water through the reactor core, Mr. Yoshida controlled the radiation leakage as best he could. By lying to his superiors, Yoshida-san controlled the entire situation as best as he could.

Some members of the public, and certainly some members of TEPCO, are questioning Yoshida's ethics because he did not follow instruction and he lied to his leadership about it. Just as the Josephson study stated, the plant manager was left to decide “… among competing options.”

Based on his experience and on-site knowledge of the situation, Yoshida-san made the call to continue using salt water to cool the reactor and deceive his leadership. Those judging his principles could see this as two ethical failures.

However, anyone questioning him must be asked one thing: If Yoshida had stopped using salt water to cool the reactor—or continued using the salt water but been truthful with his leadership, which might have resulted in his swift removal—the radiation contamination would have been much worse. If this had occurred, would you be questioning his ethics then?

Mr. Yoshida acted ethically. He had an understanding of the ground zero situation better than any member of his senior leadership, and better than any member of Japan's central government.

Given all the factors, he made the decision that he believed would result in the lowest possible radiation dose to his employees and his countrymen. He disobeyed and misled those above him; he shepherded the plant workers below him and the civilians who had no say in the matter but needed him to keep them as safe as possible.

Question Mr. Masao Yoshida's loyalty to TEPCO. Question his faith in the company's senior executives. And, if you choose, question his ethical fortitude. And when you are done second guessing his ability to determine right from wrong, thank him for the decisions he made.

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