Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster: Engineering Ethics


On March 11, 2011, a devastating earthquake struck Japan’s eastern coast. The earthquake occurred on a zone fault prone to large earthquakes and tsunamis. The generated seismic waves measured 9.0 on the Richter scale. Hours after the tragedy, a tsunami was triggered, spreading across the Pacific Ocean. Following the earthquake, and its subsequent foreshocks, thousands of people were killed as boats, cars, and houses were swept along by the triggered tsunami.

Seismologists claimed that the disaster was the worst in the recorded history of Japan. Apart from the devastating damages, the earthquake and its subsequent tsunami damaged three nuclear reactors at Fukushima nuclear power plant. At the nuclear facility, several electrical generators were damaged with the explosion of nuclear plant reactors. Several thousands of families were affected following the forceful evacuation 20 kilometers around the nuclear plant. In response to the quake, the US government requested its citizens to be evacuated 80 kilometers around the nuclear facility.

What (besides the earthquake followed by a tidal wave) caused the meltdown?

Two days later, the earthquake was preceded by several foreshocks. The earthquake generated a huge tsunami, which damaged many facilities. According to the government geologists, the subsequent tsunami generated by the earthquake had an average height of 7 meters and moved at a speed of up to 5000mph. Despite the Japanese heavy investments in the coastal protection projects, the country’s coastal regions were worst hit by the disaster.

According to independent sources, the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear reactors occurred a few days after the earthquake. Several hours after the quake, the devastating tsunami is believed to have swept away the diesel generators, which were running the cooling system. As a result, the reactor’s cooling system malfunctioned leading, to overheating in the reactors. According to data released by the investigation committee, scientists claim that there was a failure in the cooling system immediately after the earthquake.

This failure must have led to the meltdown. Cooling water pipes busted several hours after the earthquake. Workers, who by then were leaving the nuclear plant, witnessed the busting of the pipes. From a fact-finding mission, it was observed that the reactor’s cooling system was greatly damaged by the disaster. Due to these damages, a meltdown in the reactors was inevitable.

Why didn’t three other reactors meltdown? What wasn’t wrong with them?

Following the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, it was reported that reactors 1, 2, and 3 had undergone a complete meltdown. Unlike the other reactors, the first reactor was adversely affected due to its rearrangement in the cooling system. Rearrangement was implemented after the installation of the reactors, cooling pipes were moved outside the reactors. During the disaster, efforts were made to stop the meltdown by injecting seawater into the reactors.

Through this attempt, the reactors were ruined, causing more damages. However, during the rescuing process, it was discovered that reactors 4, 5, and 6 were unaffected by the catastrophe. Also, before the disaster, reactors 4, 5, and 6 were out of operations. Reactor 4 had been shut down for maintenance. During this maintenance process, its fuel rods had been removed. Inspectors reported that the fuel rods in reactors 5 and 6 were partially damaged by the disaster. Since then, the three unaffected reactors are still being monitored to avoid further damages.

What were the consequences? How many people either got hurt or will be?

After the earthquake and its subsequent tsunami, Japan has been faced with numerous social, economic, and ethical challenges. To date, Japan is still struggling to counteract the quake’s consequences. The Japanese government has had a hard time during and after the disaster. According to The National Police of Japan, about 12000 people died during the earthquake, and approximately twenty thousand people were reported missing.

The earthquake led to the displacement of numerous people. Following the quake, about one hundred and fifty thousand people were forced to evacuate their homes for safer areas. According to Tohoku Electric Power Company, many houses in the area were unsupplied with electricity for several days. Similarly, the Health Ministry confirmed that after the earthquake, several houses remained without water for some days. Equally, numerous Buildings were destroyed, some were burnt down while others were washed away by the tsunami.

According to the Japanese government economists, it is estimated that the country lost up to at least 16-25 trillion Yen in the aftermath of the disaster. Most economic activities like farming, fishing, and industrialization came to a halt for several days. The meltdown of the nuclear reactors forced the Japanese government to raise money for its repair. Similarly, the Japanese Yen faced numerous fluctuations against the US dollar after the earthquake.

During the quake’s aftermath, the Japanese government used trillions of Yen in post-quake relief and reconstruction processes. After the disaster, the management committee was set up to prevent or rather reduce the deaths caused by such disasters in the future.

Who or what is responsible for this event? Or is no one to blame or at fault?

It is reported that the nuclear plant has had a series of minor problems dating back to the year 1960s. These problems were solved. It was noted, that problem beyond the regulatory body’s assumptions was not solved. The stakeholders were too reluctant to invest their resources in the protection of unlikely disasters. Similarly, negligence, which was largely blamed for the accident, had been previously noted in the past, but it was never tackled, due to insufficient legal structures in crisis management bodies.

According to the report presented before the Japanese parliament, the Fukushima nuclear disaster should be blamed on the Japanese culture. Based on their culture, citizens are not only supposed to be obedient but also be reluctant to question the authorities. It implies that the disaster should also be blamed on the Japanese bureaucracy. It is believed that the regulators were too reluctant, to adopt global safety standards.

Engineers have also been blamed for the malfunctions in the initial designs. The initial designs could not withstand earthquakes with higher values on the Richter scale. It means that better robust designs need to be designed to withstand the bigger thresholds.

According to some religious individuals, the earthquake should be considered as an act of God. To them, God can punish, warn, or provoke human beings through unusual natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. These people base their arguments on religious ideologies. Based on these ideologies, engineers, authorities and the nuclear plant operators should not be blamed for such disasters. They argue that human interventions cannot prevent such occurrence from happening.

How can citizens and/or engineers prevent such things from happening again?

To prevent such an occurrence in the future, appropriate nuclear safety measures should be implemented. These safety measures are to cover all nuclear facilities. In the future, safety measures should be tightened to ensure that safe nuclear facilities are designed. Similarly, with the help of the International Atomic Agency, nuclear facilities are supposed to be inspected and serviced regularly (Pfatteicher 67). It is believed that with appropriate oversight, the Japanese nuclear disaster could have been avoided (Petroski 34). In this regard, all the Japanese nuclear reactors should redefine their safety standards to reduce the recurrence of nuclear-related disasters shortly.

An independent regulatory body should be formed and mandated to monitor all nuclear operators in the country (Petroski 45). Through these, all the nuclear operators in Japan should be vetted to ensure that their operations meet global safety standards. On the other hand, Japan should redefine its crisis management system to ensure that in the aftermath of a disaster, appropriate responses are initiated (Petroski 34).

Currently, environmental engineers have been urging the Japanese government to adopt the use of greener technologies rather than the use of nuclear energy. The government has shown interest in these calls. Shortly after the disaster, the Japanese prime minister ordered the closure of the Hamaoka nuclear plant. Similarly, the Japanese prime minister announced that he was going to stop all the plans aimed at constructing additional nuclear plants in Japan in the coming years. According to the prime minister, Japan is going to stop its dependence on nuclear energy in favor of renewable sources of energy shortly (Lillo 23).

Engineers have a role to play in ensuring that engineering ethics are upheld. Through this, engineers are to follow a strict code of conduct to ensure that safety in their workplace is maintained (Pfatteicher 45). It is believed that if engineers and other professional workers could abide by the code of ethics, most of the catastrophes could be significantly reduced (Lillo 56). Similarly, engineers should ensure that nuclear plants can resist high-level floods and are provided with power back up systems.

Works Cited

Lillo, De. White Power. New York: Penguin classic, 2011. Print.

Petroski. To Forgive Design. New York: Havard, 2009. Print.

Pfatteicher. Lessons Amid the Rubble. New York: John Hopkins, 2011. Print.