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Reflection on Disaster in Japan

A Bryn Mawr resident says their challenges are great, but don't give in to fear mongering.

The Japanese earthquake is a disaster of unimaginable proportion and the misery is far from over. The folks in many areas have lost power, phone water and gas, fires are burning and rescue and response are hampered by highways either blocked by debris or clogged with people heading for safer areas. On top of all of this is the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Unfortunately our press seems to dwell on the nuclear issue and fails to adequately address the scale of the overall problem.

The word of the day is “meltdown” and it strikes terror in our collective mentality. We forget that the accident at TMI involved a meltdown but no one in the public sector was harmed as a result of that accident.  Is there core melting in the Fukushima 1 reactor, most certainly BUT, and this is a big, but the primary containment is intact. The public has very limited understanding of the defense in depth built in to these plants or in the training of the plant operators, maintenance and engineering personnel.  Why? Because it isn’t nearly as “sexy” as a “meltdown” and it doesn’t fit in to a 10 second sound bite.

Folks, these plants are extremely robust and the training is intensive. The accident that has taken place is NOT unimaginable to the folks at these plants; it is the basis for their training. Emergency drills are designed to take the situation to these unimaginable levels including total loss of power (referred to as station black out) and complete loss of cooling. Somehow the Operators and Engineers always found ways to overcome the challenges in these drills and protect the public health.

The people in Japan, particularly in the northern areas, face incredible challenges ahead. They have been hit by events that are far beyond anything imaginable.  The earthquake was the largest in history to hit Japan and one of the largest in the world. Tsunamis typically hit 60 minutes after earthquakes but in this case they struck in as little as 10 minutes and overwhelmed barriers and systems designed to protect coastal areas. And Japan has the best emergency preparedness in the entire world. In the near future they will have to deal with the fallout from the fires at the refiners and other public health crises resulting from lack of potable water and electricity not to mention caring for all the people injured and burying their dead.

So folks, pray for them and let all of us learn from this disaster. Let us not make speedy decision based on sound bites and fear mongering. We can learn much from disasters and how they are managed and improve our systems and planning.

(By way of background, I spent most of my 40 plus year career in the nuclear power industry in many different roles including emergency preparedness. I was trained on boiling water reactors of the type at Fukushima plant and completed a great deal of training including courses at Northwestern University and MIT.)

North Wayne April 19, 2011 at 03:03 AM
I do not have a problem with anyone making political statements or voicing their opinions (or opinions of opinions). However, I do not consider personal attacks on public figures "petitioning one's government." Not that I agree with Nagle in this case or others, but how he and others are represented on SAC does not progress the conversation. The SAC was created with a noble mission, which unfortunately has been overshadowed by the childish name-calling of its blog's contributors.
Rita April 19, 2011 at 03:47 AM
Nice attempt to change the subject North Wayne, but this is about John Nagle's demonstrably incorrect Fukushima nuclear column - not about how you think Nagle is unfairly represented on S.A.C. (a website on which Nagle himself used to often blog), or whether S.A.C. has devolved from what you've deemed to be noble roots into what you characterize as 'childish name-calling'. Also, since you (like me) disagree with Nagle on Fukushima, please explain to me why I am so off-base in requesting that Nagle publish an updated (and hopefully apologetic) column?
politeia April 19, 2011 at 05:28 AM
And who is to say that what you consider a “personal attack” against a public figure, North Wayne, is not the God’s honest truth in the view of another? Some say Julian Assange of WikiLeaks is a treasonous fiend who should be assassinated. Others say he is a hero. It’s fine to take one side of an issue and to argue the points. To say someone’s opinion about a public figure is a personal attack is not only chilling in regards to freedom of speech and the right to petition the government (petitioning the government can be as simple as stating your opinion about a government agent), but it also invokes and/or alludes to thuggish attempts by government to silence critics who freely exercise their rights in a perfectly legal and legitimate manner. Further, Rita’s opinion is that Nagle is wrong about his views on the Japanese nuclear disaster. This is very relevant to Nagle’s position as a commissioner in regards to how he would manage a dangerous and potentially deadly emergency in Radnor Township. If you feel Nagle has the wherewithal and ability to manage a serious emergency in Radnor, then that is the point to argue - and Nagle‘s statements about the Japanese nuclear disaster provide relevant talking points. The “personal attack” statement is nothing but a red herring and suggests that you may well want to deflect from Nagle’s ability to handle an emergency situation that may arise in Radnor.
Carla Zambelli April 19, 2011 at 10:12 PM
North Wayne, You wrote "The SAC was created with a noble mission, which unfortunately has been overshadowed by the childish name-calling of its blog's contributors." Hmmm. So what do you know about the SAC site? It's no secret I blog there and under my own name, and I also freelance occasionally for a couple of the Patch sites and elsewhere. While I don't agree with Rita on everything, I do believe she has the right to her opinion. Even John Nagle will tell you she has a right to her opinion. Slinging the mud with your quip about "SAC-style personal attacks" ironically puts you right down at the level of things you seem to be protesting. It brings to mind a do as I say not as I do scenario. The SAC site isn't for everyone, but it always amuses me how many people follow it, so it must be doing something right. Thanks!
Rita April 20, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Somebody actually echoed (kinda) Nagle's pro nuke opinion in today's Main Line Suburban Life. So, his opinion (though mercifully rare) is not entirely unique. What's also unusual (and probably unique) is that Nagle, back when he was a director at the Radnor CONservancy, did a pro-nuke presentation. But hey, that's life in Radnor, where we often have difficulty distinguishing the purported preservation groups and energy companies/developers. Heck, former Radnor CONservancy president Elaine Paul Schaefer had her 2009 Commissioner campaign publicly supported by a high-ranking executive at Toll Brothers. There's a neat discussion about the effectiveness of Radnor's supposed environmental/preservation groups (CONservancy, 'Friends' of the Willows Cottage, and the Radnor Historical Society) on a SAC post today (specifically, Louella).

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