Posts Tagged ‘Japanese earthquake’

Alabama reactor same kind as Fukushima’s

May 2, 2011

The tornadoes that swept Alabama knocked out three reactors at the Tennessee Valley Authority nuclear plant at Brown’s Ferry.  Reuters reported that they are of the same design as the crippled Fukushima reactor in Japan, and also store spend nuclear fuel rods in an unprotected place.

The Brown’s Ferry reactor weathered the tornado all right, but it is near the New Madrid earthquake fault line, where an earthquake more powerful than the Japanese earthquake is possible.

I think that the United States needs nuclear power.  But it is a bad idea to operate nuclear power plants near earthquake faults, and to continue to operate poorly-maintained reactors of outdated design.

Hat tip to Washington’s Blog for pointing all these things out.

Earthquakes, monopoly and supply-chain risk

April 26, 2011

Barry C. Lynn, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, says the Japanese tsunami shows the vulnerability of the global corporate economy.  The tsunami and earthquake destroyed factories that make a high proportion of essential components for the world’s industry – 60 percent of a resin used in making semiconductors, 90 percent of copper for lithium batteries, 50 percent of a microprocessor used to control automobile transmission and brakes.  The result is a domino effect that has hit not only Japanese industry, but industry worldwide.

Before globalization, he said, industry wasn’t this vulnerable.  Industrialists such as George Eastman and Henry Ford sought to make their corporations as self-sufficient as possible.  Eastman Kodak Co. processed the wood pulp for its photographic paper; Ford Motor Corp. operated rubber plantations to have raw material for tires.  Supply disruptions might affect one corporation, but not a whole nation, let alone the world.

Now companies are tightly linked to independent suppliers located all over the world.  To avoid the cost of maintaining inventory, they rely on just-in-time delivery.  So they are vulnerable to any interruption in the supply.

Lynn said the problem isn’t really globalization, outsourcing or just-in-time delivery.  The problem is monopoly.  Companies are not vulnerable if they have many suppliers, spread all over the world.  But when they come to depend on one company at one location, they are at risk.

The problem, Lynn said, began under the Reagan administration, which abandoned a commitment to promoting business competition, and adopted the philosophy that monopoly is all right if it promotes economic efficiency.  Lynn said the Reagan administration at least fought for the interests of American business against foreign monopolies.  He said it was the Clinton administration that abandoned economic nationalism and adopted the gospel of efficiency on a worldwide basis.

The problem is that economic efficiency increases risk.  If you squeeze all slack and duplication out of a system, you make it more efficient, you save money and time, but you have nothing to fall back on if the system fails.

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A real life action hero

March 24, 2011

Hideaki Akaiwa

A Japanese man named Hideaki Akaiwa, whose wife and mother were missing in the earthquake and tsunami, found scuba gear somewhere, jumped into the tsunami and rescued them.  Having shown it could be done, he then devoted himself to rescuing members of the public.

The Los Angeles Times reported:

Akaiwa said he was at work a few miles away when the tsunami hit, and he rushed back to find his neighborhood inundated with up to 10 feet of water. Not willing to wait until the government or any international organization did, or did not, arrive to rescue his wife of two decades — whom he had met while they were surfing in a local bay — Akaiwa got hold of some scuba gear. He then hit the water, wended his way through the debris and underwater hazards and managed to reach his house, from which he dragged his wife to safety.

“The water felt very cold, dark and scary,” he recalled. “I had to swim about 200 yards to her, which was quite difficult with all the floating wreckage.”

With his mother still unaccounted for several days later, Akaiwa stewed with frustration as he watched the water recede by only a foot or two. He repeatedly searched for her at City Hall and nearby evacuation centers.

Finally, on Tuesday, he waded through neck-deep water, searching the neighborhood where she’d last been seen. He found her, he said, on the second floor of a flooded house where she’d been waiting for help for four days.

“She was very much panicked because she was trapped with all this water around,” Akaiwa said. “I didn’t know where she was. It was such a relief to find her.”

Click on For one quake survivor, self-help in the face of seeming helplessness for the complete report in the Los Angeles Times.

Click on Badass of the Week: Hideaki Akaiwa for an illustrated tribute to his heroism.