Reasonable answers to the wrong questions
Higlander's case is that the plant staff has done an excellent job, given the circumstances, and I do not wish to argue with that. The issue, however, is whether inadequate preparation and complacency exacerbated those circumstances and created significant additional risk, turning what could have been a demonstration of the safety of nuclear power into a reason for continuing concern over how it is managed.
He says that hindsight is easy, but in this case, so too would foresight have been. Earthquakes and tsunamis of this magnitude and greater are expected, and their consequences are well-known; as another commenter pointed out, the 2004 Indonesian tsunami should have acted as a wakeup call, even if Tokyo Electric Power had underestimated the risk to that point.
We also have credible reports from the Wall Street Journal that TEPCO delayed taking effective action to stabilize the situation out of concern for its investment in the plant. If confirmed, this would also confirm that TEPCO was unable to manage the crisis effectively, as prioritization of concerns and decisive action are important parts of crisis management.
Highlander questions whether US plants are as well-prepared as were the Japanese ones. It is simply a logical error, however, to think that any alleged lack of preparedness elsewhere justifies TEPCO’s lack of sufficient readiness: it is the wrong measuring-stick. Furthermore, Highlander has apparently missed the irony in his questions about nuclear safety elsewhere, given his pro-nuclear stance.
I, too, am unimpressed by the quality of journalism. One issue is that the media failed to pick up clues, from the factual evidence, that TEPCO’s public assessment of the state of the plant was repeatedly and unrealistically optimistic, so the bias has not been uniformly pessimistic. Nevertheless, I am prepared to accept that is has been pessimistic on balance, but, once again, it would be a logical error to conclude that there is consequently nothing to be concerned about.
Mr. Page’s questioning of apocalyptic, disproportionate and uninformed reporting is valuable, but his unfortunate practice of responding to speculative, biased editorializing in a like manner has robbed him of the chance to be the voice of reason here, and puts him in the same camp as the people he claims to despise.
Even if things turn out as well as Mr. Page predicts, it does not mean that concern is unwarranted. For every technological disaster, there are an order of magnitude or more of incidents that betray the risk without themselves turning disastrous, and there are risks that are predictable even if they have not been realized yet. As a former worker in the nuclear industry who believes it could be our best response to global warming, I am concerned by the frequency with which that industry tends to downplay these warnings. TEPCO’s failings do not, of course, prove that other operators are unprepared, but there is other evidence on that issue.