Tepco Faces Decision to Dump Radioactive Water in Pacific

Are ethical dilemmas an issue for operational management? If your answer is no, you are wrong.  There are many ethical dilemmas that companies face each day regarding their operations.  This Bloomberg article regarding an ethical decision needed to be made by Tokyo Electric Power Company (or ‘TEPCO’) , a Japanese electric utility company, is ground shaking with the large implications that will result per their ultimate decision.

TEPCO has discovered leaking in water storage pits within the Fukushima atomic station- The station was destroyed in March 2011 from an earthquake and tsunami simultaneously (link to article —-> http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/8953574/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-and-Fukushima-nuclear-disaster-2011-review.html)

From within the seven pits, leaks were found in the basements from when the disaster teams were called in to cool down the reactors. The company is now under pressure because it may be forced to dump the radioactive water in the Pacific Ocean.

Time is of the essence due to the water busting through basement walls at roughly 400 tons per day.  This water is then becoming contaminated, thus a huge issue.

TEPCO has two operational decisions to make to pass down to its work crew:  reduce radiation levels from the water by pouring it into the Pacific Ocean or continue their production of “above-group storage tanks”.

Why such a tough decision for management?  It is essentially impossible to keep up with the inflow of water that is leaking. Even with production of 450,000 tons of the tanks above ground by September 2013 and 700,000 tons by the middle of 2015 this company clearly is fighting an uphill battle.

What are the effects of their decisions? Well, an important factor in this are human lives.  The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (or ‘UNSCEAR’ link to their website here –> http://www.unscear.org/) has remarked that humans can get cancer, such as leukemia, with moderate to high levels of exposure to the toxins.

Even though TEPCO is working on the removal of many of the radioactive substances, the purification system they have created continues to see operational issues in functioning properly.  The company’s image continues to be at stake, they face legal issues, disrupting the fishing industry, and their company’s attractiveness to investors in the future. Other than the business side, their obligated to think of their own people as in their workers and also those people that this could affect.

The original cause of the leaks could have potentially been a flaw in the staffs proper inspection of the equipment and additional tests before dumping toxic water into the leaking pits.

This is an operational nightmare for TEPCO.  I feel that this story directly related to what we have already learned within class.  Within the puppet making exercise the workers continued to feel pressured by upper management to just get the job done. Also, within the tower exercise having an effective team leader was crucial along with the planning phase of construction.

I am curious to hear your thoughts on what truly caused these leaks and what you would do in this situation.

Link to article –> http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-11/tepco-faces-decision-to-dump-radioactive-water-in-pacific-ocean.html