The Fukushima disaster could have been averted, and was

Remember the earthquake that sent a tsunami which flooded the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant? Remember the flooding, and meltdown, and ongoing radiation leaks? Very dramatic, wasn’t it. What most people don’t know is that there was another nuclear reactor in Onagawa, closer to the epicenter than Fukushima, that didn’t have any problems, except some flooding in the basement.

It turns out that the designer of this plant, Yanosuke Hirai, wanted to make sure that the plant was protected. He wanted the plant to be built 50 feet above sea level, with a cooling system that would work even if the water receded. The original sea wall was supposed to be 10 feet (bureaucrats), and he wanted 49 feet. In a culture of conformity he managed to get the sea wall to 46 feet. The Fukushima sea wall could only protect against a 19 foot tsunami.

On 11 March 2011, the earthquake released a 43 foot tsunami. Hirai’s stopped it. His plant shut down cleanly, and was used as an evacuation center in Onagawa. Fukushima’s sea wall was overwhelmed and the plant is still releasing radiation.