FuKuSHiMa: CoRRuPTioN, SySTeMiC FaiLuRe oR BoTH?

williambanzai7's picture




[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.

We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know.



Before I get started, I want to make two initial points:

First, if you go and look at Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) published last October, Japan was ranked 17 and the United States was ranked 22 (a ranking of one being least corrupt). For this purpose, corruption is defined as "the abuse of entrusted power for economic gain." We all know there are many shades and gradations of "corruption."

No matter how you cut it, the United States is hardly in a position to call the Japanese kettle black, particularly when you examine the sorry state of our captive/revolving door regulatory system. This is one of many reasons why I find the Fukushima catastrophe particularly relevant at this time. This is not just about the viability of nuclear power, it is about the way government institutions assess risks and hazards, how policies are framed and how those policies are then enforced vis a vis the private sector. We have more than a little to be concerned about given recent events.

Second, as I have said in other posts, there is a tremendous human tragedy unfolding in Northern Japan. That tragedy has by and large dropped off the front pages of the MSM. As a matter of our common decency and humanity, we should remember this and strive to do whatever each of us can do to help. Help, does not necessarily mean sending money. I for one do not believe money or the lack thereof is what is causing the suffering going on at this time. 

I don't mean to preach here. I merely want to point out that one can focus attention on the unfolding nuclear crisis without necessarily debasing the importance of the human tragedy. Indeed, the former is having a huge impact on the Japanese government's ability to deal effectively with the latter. Moreover, thousands of evacuees are unable to get on with recovering their personal lives because of the the unfolding nuclear crisis.

Known Knowns

I am not an engineer or scientist. But I am a student of human nature and the interaction of government and private sector. There are a number of "known knowns" at this point. I will hit upon two that jump out at me.

First, the nuclear power industry in Japan, of which TEPCO is the leading private sector player, has a long and storied history of lying and falsifying data. It is very easy to research this point. Look for the Articles written by Mark Johnston. I will only say that forcing a change of management at the top of TEPCO is not a panacea for curing an embedded culture of deception in the name of the mother ship and the attendant forms of information opacity. CEO Shimizu, who is apparently vacationing with King Abdullah, was clearly not the guy to remediate the problem.

On the other hand, I am not certain that the opacity we are now seeing is primarily caused by coordinated management deception, "face saving" or good old Yankee C.Y.A.S. (cover your ass syndrome). TEPCO is under siege and events are spinning rapidly and skirting the edge. They are "frantically" trying to regain control or "stabilize the situation." I suspect what we are seeing is the inability of the Japanese "collective" style of management and government oversight to decisively keep up with a crisis event of this complexity and magnitude. Almost two weeks ago, TEPCO proposed handing the whole thing over the the government. Why? 

Meanwhile, every day brings a new question. Yesterday I was wondering how is it that nobody started planning around the need to bring in fresh water 2 weeks ago? Did someone just have a eureka moment before the weekend? Yikes, we better switch to fresh water or the reactor will fill with sea salt! Call the US Navy barge crew.

Today I am wondering why everyone is surprised that the sea is so contaminated. They have been spraying tons of sea water on the thing for over a week. Where else is the run off going to go. Now they suddenly realized that they have to remove the contaminated water from the reactor buildings and they are "frantically" trying to figure out how to do that. Hey Abbott!!!!! 

The company also apologized for communication problems leading to the injuries on Thursday. To me, ignoring instrument measurements and warnings is a curious communication problem. Perhaps someone was told not to worry?

In the midst of all this, I have lost track of where precisely operation extension chord stands. 

My point here is, the "Japanese way" of managing human endeavors is not ideally suited for dealing with so many turbulent events occurring simultaneously or in quick succession. Remarkably, the government's point man for dealing with the nuclear disaster was appointed only yesterday. He is the former Transportation Minister. I am sure he knows how to keep a schedule.

Conversely, what do you think the government's calculus of information flow is given the paramount objective of maintaining public order in the most orderly country in the world behind Switzerland? How many disaster movies of recent vintage have exhausted that imponderable?

Second known, known. This one is very simple. The management of TEPCO was warned of the very real possibility that a tsunami exceeding the design parameters of the site could strike. Even if they listened to the warning, it is unclear that they could have taken preventive measures in time to avert the disaster. But the point is they refused to accept a very real scenario given other recent events in the region such as the SE Asian tsunami and its impact on a reactor site in India. According to news reports, the government agencies involved did not overtly object.

Here is my way of looking at these risks. I don't know if Japan could or could not exist without greater Tokyo. What I do know is that a Japan without an inhabitable Tokyo would be a very very different Japan indeed. It's not like everyone could just pick up and move to Montana soon. For that reason alone, one would think that all risk assessment exercises should have been very very very conservatively framed. 

Known Unknowns

Once again, there are many of these flying around. But here are the two that stand out from my layman's perspective.

The pro-nuclear pundits keep telling us this is not the same as Chernobyl. I would agree at face value that this appears not to be Chernobyl.

But the town of Chernobyl is not Tokyo either. I don't know what the tipping point is for telling everyone it's time to leave Dodge City and I doubt anyone knows the answer to that question in Tokyo. All we keep hearing is stay calm please. Exactly how calm would you be if this was your city?  We know what expatriates have been told to do by their governments. For the record, I'm not saying people shouldn't be calm.  They'd better be.

But just think about it, the government announces the crisis is a 6 out of 7 and tells you to please remain calm. Does that mean, as a matter of human nature, you don't start thinking about your plan B?

Second, it is very difficult is it not, to keep up with six chess matches running simultaneously. Particularly when the state of play in each match impacts the ability of the player to properly attend to the other ongoing matches. That is what is happening in real time. If one reactor starts smoking or steaming or leaking or who knows what else, everything else is impacted. This means if one of these things really goes big time, you lose control of the whole site.

BTW, who is the Gary Kasparov running the show? What are his credentials?

This is truly frightening to consider. No wonder the Prime Minster is "gravely concerned." There is no point in trying to spin this.

Just as an aside, I thought I would call attention to the fact that Tokyo, being the center of Japan Inc., has more than its fair share of above average engineering intellects watching the evening news. I wonder what they are all thinking cooly and calmly.

Unknown Unknowns

The one's we don't know we don't know. When we refer to outliers and Black Swans, this is what is being referred to. Things we don't know we don't know. When I read all the technical summaries released on a daily basis and look at the debris strewn multi-reactor site, I think about this.

Right now,  every day that whole site is one big unknown unknown.

Here's an unknown for you: Is the guy that is saying there is nothing to worry about willing to indulge in some Fukushima sushi with a bottle of fresh tap water?




OoPs make it a 6, I'm to tired to get the water bucket again ;-)





Life imitating cartoons.


Happy 80th Birthday Mr Spock...


Jim: Mr Spock are you getting any readings on those instruments?

Spock: Yes, sir. There's a...tiger, tiger burning bright into the forest of the night.



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thegr8whorebabylon's picture

Thank you WB and Zerohead.  thank you.  Will do William, I'll look up kw.

thegr8whorebabylon's picture

There is one law

one discipline

one truth,

all else is derivative.


I'm Catholic.  Today is Sunday.  Japan is on my mind.  The readings today feature God's feet, thirsty people, and leaving slavery;

Exodus 17: 3 - 73 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people murmured against Moses, and said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?" 4 So Moses cried to the LORD, ...


Until science and religion fully understand that they are not mutually exclusive, there will be no progress or healing, personally or collectively, for man or  earth.

'We are but shadows and dust.'  Gladiator 

thegr8whorebabylon's picture

With silence only as their benediction

God's angels come

Where, in the shadow of a great affliction,

the soul sits dumb

James Greenleaf Whittier

New_Meat's picture

WB: great (written) post, top o' your game.  Some comments.

"Almost two weeks ago, TEPCO proposed handing the whole thing over the the government. Why? "

... er ... TEPCO and LDP == Oil and Water.  The demands of the U.S. nuclear industry on transparency and culture were fundamentally changed following TMI-2.  There are a set of practices under the heading of  "Safety Conscious Work Environment" that require openness.  There are rather severe sanctions for non-compliance (at personal, professional, and organizational levels--see e.g. 'Davis Besse reactor head'  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davis-Besse_Nuclear_Power_Station

GW group cleared port and have to have been running the 'vaps at max to get fresher water.  But again, face saving and in particular remember Hillary saying that emergency coolant had been flown in.

Please keep up excellent work.

- Ned


williambanzai7's picture

Tnx Ned. What is very interesting about this is all of the studies and books written on Japanese management hierarchy and command behavior. It is highly unsuitable for this kind of a fluid situation. People will be studying this for decades, provided we make it through in one piece.

velobabe's picture

learn to F  L  O  A  T , folks. easier in salt water, as well†

fat americans will have it come to them easy, but will fight it, i perhaps know this known.

breezer1's picture

you produce some awesome shit billy b .

williambanzai7's picture

Link: http://j.mp/dSfOub

Translation of Takashi Hirose on Japanese TV

tim73's picture

Why is it that every time there is an accident, Americans start their little panicked headless chicken "we are all gonna die"-games?! It got real ridiculous during the BP diaster. All seas would die and we would face mass starvation etc etc etc. Every other guy was all of sudden an oil industry expert. The air was thick of total BS talk. Americans just can't shut the fuck up even when they know nothing or care finding out even the most basic facts.

Is it the poor public education or what?

thegr8whorebabylon's picture

just you wait, (tim73)buster.

Sabibaby's picture

 It got real ridiculous during the BP diaster.

Are you suggesting the BP disaster is done and over with? You certainly displayed your education with that one!

gall batter's picture

tim73, so, you think the BP disaster is over--no more problems, oil dispersed, thanks to Corexit.  like Katrina and New Orleans?  everything fine there.  and, yeah, they'll probably have all this annoying nuclear shit cleaned up in the next week.  

Beau Tox's picture

One of the unifying facets to this thread, starting with WB7s writings, is the topic of water.  Think on these issues since day 1; 10m wall of sea water, radiation in the water table of Tokyo, sea water cooling the spent rods, fresh water needed in enormous quantities, displaced farmers without homes or bottled water, Iodine radiation in the sea, Katrina blunders from Kathleen Blanco to George Bush (Remember how many days it took for helicopters to get bottled water to those trapped on overpasses and in the Superdome? I was here.  After the storm, my artesian well in Mandeville came in very handy for the neighbors and for our own benefit).

It seems that government and corporate types are completely befuddled by their individual cog placement in the machine which modern, commercial Babylon has made of civil society.  The extreme division of labor into which they have sold their manhood is now coming back to stupidify them.  Maslow's hierarchy of needs places food and water near the baseline of requirements for human sustainability.  Water should be the first thought of ALL responders after a catastrophe.  Water has become merely a Platonic archetype to these bureaucrat entities, always needing to cover their ass when the machines breaks or slows down.  

Water is the great cleanser.  Any machine that can't handle the rain and the floods will not last long on earth.

williambanzai7's picture

Speaking as one educated in the US, Japan and the UK, I would say it probably has something to do with having a government with a serial history of lying, distorting and withholding the truth.

Implicit simplicit's picture

Don't forget about the all important: The thinks we think we know that just ain't so.

This could be a subcategory of:

But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know.

YouBetYourLife's picture

I suspect there are also things we don't know but we suspect, as well as things we know enough about to be suspicious of, plus things about which we do know some things but suspect we don't know everything, things we now know we should have been suspicious of, things about which we know only the unknowing would be suspicious, "et cetera, et cetera, et cetera."  

Implicit simplicit's picture

...or things that we know now that are not correct in the future, like the half life of radioactive material now. Also, time itself can never be known....and a nanosecond past, it is always history.

gall batter's picture

If the "Rapture" doesn't occur on 21 May at 6pm, the date and time predicted by Oakland minister Harold Camping, there will be an Erin Brockovich movie moment.  "Here, drink some of this water and eat your spinach." 

Grimbaldus The Norman's picture

All is forgotten in the stone halls of the dead. These are the rooms of ruin where the spiders spin and the great circuits fall quiet, one by one.

williambanzai7's picture


Takashi Hirose, 68, a prominent anti-nuclear power activist in the 1980s who wrote prolifically on the topic and became a regular fixture on TV talk shows after the Chernobyl accident, lamented the relative lack of concern about the issue over the last decade or so. "There's been something wrong with Japanese media for the past 15 years," he said. "There used to be a time when newspaper reporters and TV would use people like me, let us have our say. I don't know where they've gone. They're not allowing the Japanese people to think." Now Hirose is back on TV and his book is in demand, selling out at Kinokuniya, one of the nation's top book retailers, and Amazon's Japan web site. Nuclear power has come under renewed scrutiny since the Fukushima accident, and Chubu Electric Power Co , which serves central Japan including the flagship factories of Toyota Motor Co , has said it would delay construction of a new reactor at Hamaoka. But Hirose remains on guard and hoped that overseas criticism of Japan's nuclear programme as a result of the current crisis will help his cause. "I'd like to see political pressure from America, and the whole world," he said."If they do that, the Japanese people will realise what's going on." (Editing by Elaine Lies)

Zero Govt's picture

this is a good point in time to point out all those Hollywood disaster movies (asteroids, volcanos, earthquakes, alien attacks etc) that show the US Govt 'doing right for the people' are absolute fiction.

In reality of course, as 100's of years of history shows, Govt is not only the most ignorant vessel in society but also the slowest to react, slowest to face reality, most incompetent to resolve and least thing to trust to 'do you good'.

The correct response is for individuals to ignore the Govt and in their million different ways sort their own 'Plan B' out. If I was Japanese my response would simply be to board a jet out of Japan because the Jap Govts corralling has been inept from the start and their advise cannot, and should not, be trusted

williambanzai7's picture

You are right, the only thing worth noting in those movies is the calculus of pulic order versus transparency.

Zero Govt's picture

you highlight the Jap Govts disaster recovery plan is a disaster itself

...who's surprised, it's completely predictable. Their mistakes from the start of 'going nuclear' (disasterously expensive) are strewn right along this line of mistakes up to and including their response as it unfolded. And we know the cover up (damage limitation) to protect the parasites machine rather than resolve the patent mistakes will continue ad nauseam

fedspeak's picture

Fukushima in Japanese is translated as the "Happy Island" and as we have been finding out...there is nothing happy here and in fact history (if the world is lucky enough to have history here on out) will look back and determine that this may have been the greatest human blunder of all time....  Here are some great Japanese links..




evolutionx's picture

There is still a webcam working at the fukushima plant. It shows pics every hour - sometimes u can see smoke above the nuclear plant.

Link: http://www.mmnews.de/index.php/etc/7479-webcam-fukushima


Workers were evacuated on Sunday from a reactor building they were working in after high doses of radiation were detected at Japan's stricken nuclear power plant in Fukushima, the plant's operator said. 
   Tokyo Electric Power the plant's operator, said radiation 10 million times the usual level was detected in water that had accumulated at the No.2 reactor's turbine housing unit. 
   An official at TEPCO said workers left the No.2 reactor's turbine housing unit to prevent exposure to radiation. 


flacorps's picture

The apparent loss of containment means game over. We lose.

williambanzai7's picture

Those numbers are starting to get TARPesque.

nah's picture

dude banzie


i have been wanting to say for a million years your posts are most cool


so yeah, most cool posts dude

Miles Kendig's picture

It's time for an irradiated crunchy scrodly sushi roll at McD's


And a h/t to Vach


Keep bringing the quality sports wb7.  No games with you and that's a fact

Yen Cross's picture

My Buddies are giggling! We have a small customs check so silence is golden right now. I'm mifi'ing you.

Careless Whisper's picture

hey guess what, you are all over-reacting! no one will die from nuclear radation. really. it's right here in this bbc article.


Viewpoint: We should stop running away from radiation


tim73's picture

So all nuclear scientists lie their asses off and we should trust zero hedge headless chickens instead? They know everything about well...everything, right?

Careless Whisper's picture

dewd, i'm an idiot. ok. but here's what i'm thinkin'; 1. the nuke plants blowed up. 2. spent radioactive fuel rods were stored in the blowed up nuke plants instead of a steel/concrete bunker away from the plant. 3. the radioactive fuel rods in the reactor need water to keep them cool, otherwise a "meltdown" occurs. they can't pump in enough water to keep them cooled and some of the water leaks out. 4. so my conclusion, from this idiot, is that a meltdown has already started and ther's no way you would get me within a 100 mile radius of that place.

Lord Welligton's picture

"A sea-change is needed in our attitude to radiation, starting with education and public information."

Emm. I think he may just have gotten his "sea-change".

williambanzai7's picture

I read that. Look who wrote it. What a beautiful world it will be.

Radiated fish anyone?

blindman's picture


[OTE102] On the Edge with Nicole ‘Stoneleigh’ Foss March 26th, 2011 by stacyherbert

this is a good interview.

re the system.  it runs on trust.  this is at the

foundation of credit, liquidity, and fed notes.

trust.  a bank is supposed to be a trust. 

the participants have to have confidence that

time will not be erased.  that tomorrow will not

be a completely new experience entirely unhinged

from today or yesterday.  the symbols and triggers

and soft places will not all be mixed up rendering

everyone inconsequential and incoherent.

yet, as systems evolve they can increase in complexity

to the point where all those conditions become manifest

in the system itself.  the debt based credit system

destroyed itself in abuse of trust in a trillion ways.

the fed notes are next as they are destroying the

trust in them in 100 trillion ways.   if you thing about

anything, say buying bread, or going to california,

anything, consider all the trust you must have.

how many thousands of people have to do what they

do, many for almost nothing, just so this everyday

thing can happen.  all that trust is based on federal

reserve notes in the symbolic "economy".   it only

functions because people generally do not understand/

comprehend their condition in the current scheme of

things.  agnotology, along these lines...


"Betancourt's argument is posed ...."

max interviewed him a week ago...

and the saying goes " trust no man ".  any legitimate

government has checks and balances that work

reliably to accomplish just this.  systems that function

to minimize or eliminate the potential insanity of

a man or group of men from committing mass murder

and societal destruction or cultural suicide.  this

is what americans thought they had/have.  they

were wrong and history will judge us accordingly.

ps.  it is not the teachers, pentioners, or social security

that is the problem,  it is the high priests of money

stealing, imo. (the manipulators and keepers of

the symbols of value at the core of the experience

of trust as exchanged in legal and reportable domains).

along those lines....you know

williambanzai7's picture

The crisis of trust is approaching

sagerxx's picture

Simply brilliant.  Thank you WB7.

Viva -- Sager

glistening-control-rod's picture

WB7 - outstanding!  I thought Black (Barack) Swan was untoppable but this tops it, especially with the thoughtful analysis. 

A few points: one, my organization has people posted in Tokyo and there was an update from the American School two days ago about the situation - I was shocked that the only caution was to avoid consumption of tap water by infants.  This might be a country in denial out of no other choice - what do you do with 13 million people 150 miles south of a stage 6 nuclear accident?  Second, a frightening prospect of what can happen to an area after a stage 7 nuclear accident - see post below of Chernobyl today.  Lastly, the point made about risk analysis was excellent, not accounting for the effect of a tidal wave on such a facility in relatively close proximinity to so many people is negligent, criminal, incompetent - take your pick.


williambanzai7's picture

I'm sure that school is more than half empty and those remaining are primarily Japanese.

They aborted Shoreham on Long Island because they concluded they could never evacuate Long Island.

That is a forgone conclusion, if you have ever been to Tokyo.

I don't want to create panic. But when they say it is a level 7, I think it probably means don't go outside.

Confuchius's picture


Two days ago we watched a video of a meeting last week with the most senior Russian scientist who also advised on the sarcophagus construction at Chernobyl. He was in Japan at the request of the government for advice on their problems. He said that after giving them his best advice, they totally ignored all of it and were merely seeking to save face.

He said that he told them to immediately evacuate everyone in a 100 km diameter circle around Fukushima. He also measured the radiation in the soil 60 km from Fukushima and found it was twice as bad as the same measurements taken at the same distance from Chernobyl in 1986. He also said there would be no food grown there again. Ever. Not only that, but the irradiation of the ground water would affect Tokyo itself. He said that there is no safe water in Tokyo at present, nor will there ever be again. Evidently the bureaucrats have given no thought to the evacuation of Tokyo (30 million residents). His most telling comment was that the problems at Fukushima have not even started yet. It will get worsr & worse until they put it all in a proper containment structure, which will take years.

And the best of British Luck to all the world's incompetent bureaucrats. (Which is ALL of them)


Confuchius's picture


Two days ago we watched a video of a meeting last week with the most senior Russian scientist who also advised on the sarcophagus construction at Chernobyl. He was in Japan at the request of the government for advice on their problems. He said that after giving them his best advice, they totally ignored all of it and were merely seeking to save face.

He said that he told them to immediately evacuate everyone in a 100 km diameter circle around Fukushima. He also measured the radiation in the soil 60 km from Fukushima and found it was twice as bad as the same measurements taken at the same distance from Chernobyl in 1986. He also said there would be no food grown there again. Ever. Not only that, but the irradiation of the ground water would affect Tokyo itself. He said that there is no safe water in Tokyo at present, nor will there ever be again. Evidently the bureaucrats have given no thought to the evacuation of Tokyo (30 million residents). His most telling comment was that the problems at Fukushima have not even started yet. It will get worsr & worse until they put it all in a proper containment structure, which will take years.

And the best of British Luck to all the world's incompetent bureaucrats. (Which is ALL of them)


williambanzai7's picture

As I said, I am not in a position to opine on these types of technical issues. But I can say with the greatest confidence that the Japanese establishments machinery is set up to resist unpleasant realities, to stifle negative feedback in any form and to be ruthless in economic survival mode.

In this emergency, the economic loss to the company is still playing a prominent part in the decision making process. It is pure folly to think otherwise.

YouBetYourLife's picture

Working for a Japanese company for almost a decade, I observed first-hand the stifling of negative feedback and economic ruthlessness that you mentioned.  But I also observed their almost fanatic desire to avoid having to admit failure in any form. It had a stigma of dishonor attached to it that was comparable to what used to be associated with, let's say, a sex scandal in our society decades ago - a fate to be avoided at all cost.  It may even be part of the reason hari kari was once considered the better option than to suffer personal dishonor of any sort, which could include personal failure.

So here we have TEPCO responsible for the greatest failure in Japanese history.  It's understandable to me that they may have been partially paralyzed for days, trying to figure out how to deal with their personal crises and the shame of being accountable for this tragedy. I think it definitely clouded their judgment, as they wrestled with how to attempt to mitigate the perceived harm, and thus their personal dishonor, while refusing outside help which might lead to a disclosure of the true extent of the problem.  

williambanzai7's picture

As you know, they are very demure people. The idea of humiliation is one thing. But public huhumiliation is for them is a horror of epic proportions. In our society, the skunks don't seem to give a shit about humiliation and embarassment.