The New York Times has a long but fascinating article today about how the nuclear industry and political allies took control of the public perception of nuclear power in Japan. One strategy was to censor school textbooks of any scientific or historical information that might raise doubts. Another was to hire young women to represent the industry, providing a visual reassurance to women who had a special interest in the health and safety of their children.
It’s often been asked why Japan is sending men into the hot zone, under conditions so dire that older men are volunteering for what many see as a suicide mission. Why is the world leader in robotics sacrificing human beings this way? Yesterday’s robot fail was posted here, and there is, ironically, a local connection to New England…
Japan, after all, is the world’s leader in robotics. It has the world’s largest force of mechanized workers. Its humanoid robots can walk and run on two feet, sing and dance, and even play the violin. But where were the emergency robots at Fukushima?
The answer is that the operators and nuclear regulators, believing that accidents would never occur, steadfastly opposed the introduction of what they regarded as unnecessary technology.
“The plant operators said that robots, which would premise an accident, were not needed,” said Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, 77, an engineer and a former president of the University of Tokyo, Japan’s most prestigious academic institution. “Instead, introducing them would inspire fear, they said. That’s why they said that robots couldn’t be introduced.”
Even before the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, Mr. Yoshikawa, a robotics expert, and other researchers began building emergency robots capable of responding to a nuclear accident, eventually producing a prototype called Mooty. The robots were resistant to high levels of radiation and capable of surmounting mounds of rubble.
But the robots never made it into production, forcing Japan, in the aftermath of Fukushima, to rely on an emergency shipment of robots from iRobot, a company in Bedford, Mass., more famous for manufacturing the Roomba vacuum. On Friday, Tepco deployed the first Japanese-made robot, which was retrofitted recently to handle nuclear accidents, but workers had to retrieve it after it malfunctioned.
There’s a great deal in this article that will make Americans uneasy if we consider that the marketing and collusion of government and industry happens here as well. I think much of the disparaging of conservation, common sense and investment in safe, renewable energy is orchestrated, and Japan’s recent history illustrates how that can be done.
Read the article in the New York Times here-Safety Myth Left Japan Ripe for Nuclear Crisis
UPDATE: Japan’s nuclear cleanup could take decades. We’re gonna sell a lot of Roombas.