Friday, March 18, 2011

Voluntary Service

"Warrant Officer Kamori!"

"Hai, Colonel".

"As you know, the situation is dire. Therefore, you must perform this assignment with the utmost in care and precision. At 0830, you will take helicopter #312, attach a bambi bucket to it and fly into the exclusion zone. When you reach the coast, you will turn North and proceed to the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant. When you arrive there, you will dip the bambi bucket into the ocean and fill it with water. You will then fly through the radio active plume and directly over reactor #3 at a low altitude. As you fly over reactor #3, you will toggle the bambi bucket and drop your load of water onto the burning reactor. You must repeat this process four times. After this has been completed you will return to base and land in the special contamination reduction area where you and the helicopter will be decontaminated and you will be medically evaluated. Do you have any questions?"

"Hai, Colonel"

"What is it Warrant Officer Kamori?"

"Are you out of your &^cking mind?"

For those of you older readers, you might recognize the above dialog as ripped off from a comedy bit that was performed by comedians Cheech and Chong. back in the early '70s. Believe me when I tell you that there really is no humor to be found in the above situation. The continuing, escalating nature of the tragedy defies humor, sorrow and every other human emotion. They are being replaced by numbness and resolve. 

The original comedy bit was based on a kamikaze pilot in WWII. I couldn't help but think of the parallels between the kamikaze missions of WWII and that the helicopter missions of yesterday. While I don't know if the current water dropping missions can be considered suicide missions, they certainly are very high risk. Sadly, things gave deteriorated to the point where the risk is justified by the consequences of failure. Desperate times require desperate measures.

Throughout my career, I have believed in performing a risk-benefit analysis (rba) before committing people to potentially risky operations. So far, it has worked out well for me. The time when I miscalculated in my analysis, luck bailed me out. I can't imagine how the rba pencils out at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant, I don't posses the knowledge to accurately assess the situation.

The people in charge of the mitigation efforts at the power plant have a tremendous burden on their shoulders. If they fail, the cost to their society is great. That has to be balanced by the need to protect their subordinates from needless harm. Their decisions should not injure their personnel unless a reasonable chance of real benefit exists.

Based on that, is it unreasonable to order personnel to go on a suicide mission if the potential benefit is vital for society as a whole? Or, should they ask for volunteers?

Conversely, would you volunteer for such a mission?

Regardless, the commanders of the situation in Japan are making difficult choices. The three mitigating risk reducing factors when dealing with nuclear emergencies are time, distance and shielding. All three of these factors are compromised when working around the source of the contamination. The question becomes, how much are these factors compromised?

The pilots, plant workers and other emergency personnel who are dealing with disaster are heroes in my eyes, they are all putting themselves in harms way for the benefit of society. Heroic actions by any standard.

My buddy Capt. Wines had some thoughts on the subject over at Iron Firemen. It's worth a look.

Thanks for reading,

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