#1 By: Cory Doctorow, December 30th, 2013 12:02
#2 By: nox, December 30th, 2013 12:14
Fukushima, the disaster that keeps on giving.
Hopefully Takayoshi Igarashi is harder to disappear than a random hobo.
#3 By: newliminted, December 30th, 2013 12:21
Ah, the value of human life. Just one can earn a corporation many thousands of dollars.
#4 By: GWWebster, December 30th, 2013 12:31
Seems to me, in Japan you have a major robotics industry and a whole lot of gamers. Assign each gamer a robot capable of picking up trash and remotely viewable cameras, and give out points and prizes.
#5 By: xzzy, December 30th, 2013 12:38
Subcontractor scapegoating, it's the wave of the future!
I'm glad the problem isn't serious enough that they're looking for an actual solution, but instead investing all their efforts into assigning blame and handing out diminutive fines. It's not like anyone is going to die over it or anything.
#6 By: Fascinoma, December 30th, 2013 12:53
Well, not right away, anyhow. You have three sets of planning in Engineering- Planned to Last, Built to Last, Built to Last to My Retirement. The third one is generally how long things are planned to last.
#7 By: Spence, December 30th, 2013 13:00
Robots cost money. Homeless people apparently don't.
#8 By: gwwar, December 30th, 2013 13:17
Not only that, but they were developing the wrong sort of robots. Cute ones for entertainment value, or ones that were aimed at trying to help an aging elderly population. After the disaster, they had no robots that had enough shielding to withstand the radiation, or do anything practical in the cleanup.
One of the most highly innovative countries in the world did not have the technology it should have had.
By Michael Fitzpatrick, contributor
FORTUNE — Two years since a shudder in the Earth’s crust devastated Japan, the country’s scientists and engineers are still attempting to develop technologies to make Fukushima safe from radiation. But progress has been slow and—because of institutional failings—more advanced technologies have not been available to workers at the site.
A country known as a technological superpower ultimately had to rely on low-tech methods during the disaster, including dumping water from the air to cool the raging reactors. High radiation levels prevented engineers from approaching critically damaged areas at the plant two years ago—and still does so today. Robots that some expected to be on call were conspicuously absent. The country faces a bill of between $100 billion and $250 billion dollars to dismantle the Fukushima plant, and 40 years until it is safely decommissioned.
Only now are robots being developed that might be able to access the most contaminated areas within the shattered reactors’ cores. So how did Japan, with the worlds’ most “advanced” robots (not to mention the biggest population of them), fail to deploy the machines that might have spared dangerous human toil?
“For a start,” says Dr. Masashi Goto who worked on designing containment vessels of Mark-1 reactors like those at Fukushima Daiichi, “neither Japan’s nuclear power industry nor the government concede that an accident like this could ever happen. They have long held that all of Japan reactors are ‘absolutely safe.’” In other words, why prepare emergency backups or robots for the event of a quake-induced meltdown when the authorities denied such a thing could ever happen? Doing so would acknowledge a danger perpetually denied.
MORE: Nobody needs an Apple iWatch—or anything like it
“They said that accidents owing to earthquakes would be minimal,” adds Goto. “As a consequence the companies involved in designed these reactors were told only to make ‘voluntary efforts to make the reactors’ containment vessel quake proof.”
Although TEPCO the firm that built and ran the reactors, and the authorities knew disaster response technology on hand was old, little was done to provide backups, such as robots, in the event of a meltdown. Cheap nuclear power was—and still is—too important to Japan’s economic competitiveness.
Luckily, so far radiation released from Fukushima is only one tenth of Chernobyl’s. The Ukrainian plant blew its top, literally, and spewed, chimney like, nuclear fallout far and wide. Daiichi shutdown, Chernobyl did not. Enough safety protocols functioned to avert an even larger disaster, but the reactors remain unstable. Still, the fact is that no machine exists that can safely obtain proper readings from near the radioactive cores. “It will be difficult to explain where the fuel is. We can’t get close enough for proper measurements,” admits Yoshinori Moriyama, of Japan’s nuclear watchdog NISA.
At the centre of all this are the Daiichi workers—those unlucky enough to have the task, limited to a few moments at a time, of labouring inside the debris-strewn reactor buildings. With radiation high enough to sabotage electronics, American robots donated to the Daiichi plant have been missing in action, along with a Japanese robot dubbed Quince. Human labor for some of the most dangerous tasks has had to substitute.
“Untrained casual laborers used dustpans to scoop up highly radioactive water into buckets; dashing in and out of doors to reduce their exposure times,” says local Fukushima councillor Hiroyuki Watanabe who is studying Daiichi workers and acts as an unofficial spokesman for them. Says one anonymous worker “for all of Japan’s high-tech prowess, none of those lauded humanoid helpers were any good at all,” referring to Japan’s robot programs.
MORE: Silicon Valley looks to Amy Andersen for love, at $50,000 a pop
TEPCO and the Japanese government are scrambling now to get some stronger mechanical help into the stricken reactors, calling on the expertise of disaster robot specialists at Technology’s Future Robotics Technology Center (fuRo) at the University of Chiba.
But it seems too little, too late. For years much of Japan’s robot research and development—billions of dollars worth—was aimed at developing humanoid helpers for the home derided by some as toys, not practical robots like those from fuRO. With authorities prioritising factory and helper humanoids to do the work immigrants do elsewhere in the world, more useful robotics were marginalised.
“The Japanese like to put a face on things, to make them look like a humans or animals. It’s more done for entertainment value than real practicality,” says Joseph Engelberger the “father of the robotics industry” on Japan’s robots. “They should be able to do more.”
#9 By: Jason Andresen, December 30th, 2013 13:27
Turns out that computer hardware hates radiation almost as much as living tissue. This is one reason space rated computer systems are so hideously expensive and underpowered.
#10 By: miasm, December 30th, 2013 14:00
The problem with using the Corporations favourite dodge, 'the diffusion of responsibility', along with homeless people is that they have not been sufficiently indoctrinated to the cause and so the drum of rhetoric will not be tight and loud.
Using such a dodge in the real world, where they don't have full control over their 'employees', is sure to generate some kind of organised retaliation by the community.
Allowing the host to create antibodies is generally considered to be a bad move for parasites.
Perhaps they can minimise their culpability footprint by forcing the homeless people to sign off on some kind of 'Unfairness Awareness Training' program. A multiple choice, Flash based, click-through quiz which educates them about their status as chattel-property and forces them to sign away their rights before being allowed to complete the compulsory 'training'.
#11 By: oldtaku, December 30th, 2013 14:08
I don't think it's called out very well here, but many (most?) of these service companies and construction companies they're subcontracting to are run by, infested by, or otherwise affiliated with yakuza (organized crime). This kind of thing is their bread and butter (or ramen), rather than cruder stuff like protection rackets. Then they do the mafia thing of using shoddy concrete or this kind of dodge - taking lots of money to supply workers and hiring homeless people for a pittance.
On the plus side, the homeless people are probably more competent than the TEPCO employees.
#12 By: Jason Andresen, December 30th, 2013 14:17
Plot twist: the TEPCO employees were just homeless guys they dressed up in uniforms when the inspectors came to visit.
#13 By: Ed Bear, December 30th, 2013 14:29
I think it's an open question at this point as to whether the "managed democracy" paradigm is actually competent to govern.
#14 By: Raybert, December 30th, 2013 14:34
This is Chernobyl all over again.
#15 By: Cynical, December 30th, 2013 14:54
You're absolutely correct; the yakuza dominate the construction industry (especially labour brokerage) and they are generally able to provide a better service for less money than their government equivalents.
Generally, this works out well for everyone involved but the consequence is a complete lack of oversight or accountability, which only manifests itself in cases like this. Tepco have been using homeless day labourers for years, knowing full well that the fact they are largely invisible to the rest of society (as well as being simultaneously dependent on the yakuza for work and extremely vulnerable to violent reprisals) means that they are unlikely to ever face any consequences for abuse of their labour force.
The BBC made a documentary about this in 1995, which is up on YouTube for those who are interested: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CNq0qyQJ5xs&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DCNq0qyQJ5xs
Anyone who thinks unfettered capitalism is a force for good really should read up on the yakuza. "Goldman Sachs with guns" is the most apt description I've come across so far...
#16 By: Marlborotestmonkey7, December 30th, 2013 15:20
The mercantile tradition that had led to Ionian science also led to a slave economy. You could get richer if you owned a lot of slaves. Athens in the time of Plato and Aristotle had a vast slave population. All that brave Athenian talk about democracy applied only to a privileged few. -Carl Sagan
#17 By: Val A Lindsay II, December 30th, 2013 15:51
I remember hearing how the human immunodeficiency virus, i.e. HIV, basically dies in around 20 minutes after the host passes on. I wonder how long a corporation lives after it has killed all its customers?
#18 By: Charlie, December 30th, 2013 16:09
Forever, thanks to regulatory capture and corporate welfare.
Your taxes at work.
#19 By: Dave Jenkins, December 30th, 2013 17:50
Where is Fukishima? Is it close to Fu**ku**shima?
#20 By: Fodder, December 30th, 2013 20:42
Amusingly enough, this was a sub-plot of a Ghost in the Shell episode in 2004, where refugees are used to clean up a pre-war nuclear reactor
next page →