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    We’re all gonna die! IX

    March is the last month of the fiscal year in Japan, and even though I’m not a banker or accountant, it’s still raining Excel sheets for another week or so yet. And the fact that the cherry trees bloomed early this year means that everyone has essentially been scrambling to move up the planned blossom-viewing parties. Kind of busy.

    A few news items of interest here while my attention was diverted elsewhere:

    A district court has ordered a nuclear reactor shut, deeming its earthquake-proofing inadequate:

    The Kanazawa District Court on Friday ordered Hokuriku Electric Power Co. to stop operating the No. 2 reactor at its Shika nuclear power plant in Shikamachi, Ishikawa Prefecture, ruling that the reactor may be susceptible to earthquakes.

    The ruling recognized a demand by a citizens group that the 1,358-megawatt No. 2 advanced boiling-water reactor be shut down.

    Hokuriku Electric has said it will appeal to the high court to overturn the ruling.

    Presiding Judge Kenichi Ido said, “The reactor has a problem in its antiseismic design, and there’s a real possibility that the plaintiffs might be exposed to radiation if there was an accident at the plant.”

    The district court then ruled, “An earthquake beyond Hokuriku Electric’s expectations could occur,” and pointed out the following:

    — The estimate that the largest earthquake that could possibly hit the area would have a magnitude of 6.5 is too conservative.

    — The probability of an earthquake occurring along the Ochigata fault line was not taken into consideration.

    — The method employed to determine the correct design needed to adequately cope with an earthquake is inappropriate.

    Three reactors at Tohoku Electric Power Co.’s Onagawa nuclear power station in Miyagi Prefecture were automatically shut down in August after being rocked by an earthquake stronger than had been factored into the reactors’ antiseismic designs.

    I haven’t heard much more detail than that, but it certainly doesn’t sound out of the realm of possibility. The Yomiuri has a summary of the factors that are supposed to be considered in such assessments. Yesterday’s main Nikkei editorial observed drily:

    It’s not that power generation would be disrupted by unanticipated vibrations, or that they would lead to the release of mass quantities of radioactive material. The issue is risk evaluation for the system in toto, and whether it’s rational to go so far as to halt operations. In that respect, the ruling was on the abrupt side; however, we must give serious thought to grave indications that the state and [plant] operators have been slack about incorporating the latest technology and approaches into quake resistance evaluation.

    The editorial points out that feel-good estimates about how severe an earthquake in any region could be fail to take into account hidden fault lines and other unpalatable possibilities.

    Oh, yeah, and inspectors identified a crack in a pipe at another reactor, this one in Fukushima and owned by TEPCO.

    If you’d like to escape the possibility of being double-whammied by a catastrophic earthquake and radiation exposure, you may want to fly out on ANA:

    Trouble-plagued Japan Airlines Corp. was reprimanded yet again Wednesday for operating a 134-seat McDonnell Douglas MD-87 passenger plane for 10 days without conducting a mandatory inspection on its main landing gear.

    The cause for the failure to inspect the landing gear was simple: The JAL official in charge forgot to give the instructions.

    And when the airline finally did the required inspection on Monday, it bungled that as well.

    The plane was supposed to have been thoroughly examined by March 11 for cracks in a metal part of the left main landing gear.

    JAL maintenance workers had, in fact, scheduled the inspection for Feb. 26, well before the due date, and entered that date on their computers, airline officials said.

    But the employee in charge of the inspection forgot to give the instructions.

    On Monday, the employee realized the inspection had not been carried out when the computer flashed a warning.

    The MD-87 was inspected Monday at Shin-Chitose Airport in Hokkaido. But JAL’s problems did not end there.

    The transport ministry found out Thursday that the JAL inspector who conducted the check omitted an important procedure.

    The 44-year-old inspector was supposed to have used a fluorescent solvent to search for cracks. However, he did not use this solvent, and said he didn’t find any cracks.

    And if you decide you’d prefer to evade the risks of modern life by leaving this world of dew behind altogether, there’s apparently a great doctor we could hook you up with:

    Police are investigating the deaths of seven elderly patients at a hospital in Imizu, Toyama Prefecture, who died between 2000 and 2005 after a surgeon removed their artificial respirators, the hospital said Saturday.

    Imizu City Hospital said it contacted the police last year as it suspected the surgeon euthanized the patients.

    The first ruling by a court in the nation on a doctor administering a mercy killing was in March 1995, when the Yokohama District Court gave a doctor at the Tokai University School of Medicine Hospital a two-year suspended prison sentence for administering a lethal injection of potassium chloride in April 1991 to a patient suffering from terminal cancer. The doctor was arrested on suspicion of murder.

    In the ruling, the presiding judge set four conditions that must be met to allow doctors to legally euthanize a patient:

    — The patient is suffering from unbearable pain.

    — Death is inevitable and close at hand.

    — There is no other way to relieve the patient’s pain.

    — The patient has clearly expressed consent that his or her life be shortened.

    I think it would be heartless to deny hopelessly ill people with untreatable pain the right to go off artificial respiration if their heads are clear and they know what they’re doing; but of course, in this aging society, it would be exceedingly dangerous to set precedents that could allow doctors to off patients in an effort to free up beds or save money.

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