The Engineer & Nuclear Secrecy
Two recent stories, one from from Bloomberg and another from Nuclear Power Daily, that report on engineer Mitsuhiko Tanaka’s disclosure of his coverup of manufacturing problems in Dai-Ichi Reactor unit 4.
Tanaka says the reactor pressure vessel inside Fukushima’s unit No. 4 was damaged at a Babcock-Hitachi foundry in Kure City, in Hiroshima prefecture, during the last step of a manufacturing process that took 2 1/2 years and cost tens of millions of dollars. If the mistake had been discovered, the company might have been bankrupted, he said.
Inside a blast furnace the size of a small airplane hanger the reactor pressure vessel was being treated one last time to remove welding stress. The cylinder, 20 meters tall and 6 meters in diameter, was heated to more than 600 degrees Celsius (1,112 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature that softens metal.
Braces that were supposed to have been placed inside during the blasting were either forgotten or fell over when the cylinder was wheeled into the furnace. After the vessel cooled, workers found that its walls had warped, Tanaka said.
After a month of computer modeling, Tanaka came up with a way to use pumpjacks to pop out the sunken wall. While it would look like nothing had ever happened, no-one knew what the effect of the repair would have on the integrity of the vessel. Thirty- six years later, that reactor pressure vessel is the key defense protecting the core of Fukushima’s No. 4 reactor.
I can’t help but think this situation mirrors the concept of nuclear secrecy, which I define as:
The intentional blocking, compartmentalizing, concealment, control, distorting, hoarding, censoring, and manipulation of information related to the numerous dimensions of historic and ongoing atomic or nuclear fuel cycle activities, including access to information related to pollution, risk, public health, waste, and weapons development. Nuclear secrecy is institutionalized through bureaucratic organization, statute, regulation, decree, security classification of information, language, control of the media, and informal practices, carrying with it some type of penalty for disclosure such as harassment, monetary fines, incarceration, and other means of silencing individuals.
Clearly there would have been penalties for disclosure of the manufacturing problems, among them loss of prestige and trust for Babcock-Hitachi, perhaps even a diminishment of public confidence in nuclear power, not to mention personal consequences for Tanaka. Unit-4 may well go down in the STS (Science and Technology Studies) and the sociology of disaster literature as a case worthy of continuing scholarly investigation into bureaucratic communication and decision making during disasters and its relation to secrecy, tantamount to the Challenger, BP oil spill, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters.
Reuters (2011, December 21), Government muddle, Tepco missteps cited by Fukushima panel