09 July 2012

“Learning is not compulsory, neither is survival.”

A civil revolution is taking place in one of the world’s most politically stable places, Japan, whose citizens are known for social conformity and respect for authority.

Tokyo demonstrators (enenews.com)

Tens of thousands of ordinary Japanese are filling the streets of Tokyo and other cities, not just for a day or two but for weeks now. They are protesting against the government’s decision to re-start the nation’s nuclear power plants, following the multiple nuclear core meltdowns in Fukushima last March.

On June 29, 2012 alone, 150,000 to 200,000 marchers surrounded the prime minister residence, according to a major Japanese newspaper Asahi Shinbun.

The Japanese government and industries want nothing more than a quick recovery from last year’s natural disaster-turned major nuclear catastrophe. So they are pushing for a rebuilding of the disaster-stricken region and restoration of economic/industrial output through conventional means, which include re-starting the nation’s nuclear power program.

But this return to “business as usual” approach is too reckless, the protesters say, because the nuclear plants are being restarted with unprecedented fast-track approvals that ignore the lessons of Fukushima. Indeed, a leading seismologist from Tokyo University says some of these nuclear reactors sit right next to the “Devil’s Triangle” where the northern and southern halves of Japan’s crustal plates meet.

Could another nuclear plant accident resulting from earthquakes occur in the near future? In Japan, where nuclear power comprised nearly 30% of electrical production, what is the best next step for economic production, civil activities (trains, air conditioning, etc.), and safety for future generations?

Here in the U.S. heartland, as we endure the sweltering, record-breaking summer heat of over 100°F and multi-day power outages, we can appreciate the concern of all sides in Japan. How do we choose between the stable availability of air conditioning vs. a decades- and centuries-long threat of radiation to our air, food, and water? Do we accept compromise and trade-offs, or are there new ideas? Do we have the necessary innovative vision and strong leadership? We quality practitioners have wrestled with this dilemma for decades.

Dr. Deming famously said:
“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
“Learning is not compulsory, neither is survival.”
Just a few days ago, the Japanese once again rose to Dr. Deming's challenge. Its parliament released a Fukushima study that identified the physical, procedural, and regulatory safety flaws, and concluded that the Fukushima nuclear incident was “profoundly man-made” by the negligence of the plant operator and the culture of face-saving, non-transparency, regulatory collisions, and exclusion of opposing views, all of which exacerbated the severity of the incident.

These challenging times, Dr. Deming would say, require innovative vision, breakthrough changes, and a leadership of courage.

In QFD, breakthroughs can come from both technology advancements and a better understanding of solution-independent customer needs. Also, when designing for a project like a nuclear power plant, it is important to anticipate the low-probability high-consequence risks that traditional FMEA does not handle well (see How To Handle VOC Issues — Lessons from Japan crisis: Anticipating Improbables with Irreversible Consequences).

In the short-term, the people of Japan are becoming more vocal in their needs and demanding providers (including the government and energy companies) be more innovative in their thinking and responsive to citizens and customers, respectively.

Japan is realizing it must learn and it must change. Their survival depends on it.
All our survival depends on it.

aerial view of explosions at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (photo by US Navy)
 

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