The nuclear crisis in Japan and why your creativity is needed

Tudor Rickards

Many people in and outside Japan believe that Japanese people are not particularly creative. This is a fallacy. There is plenty of contrary evidence from its great companies. However, its culture is more disposed to incremental creativity rather than to radical breakthrough ideas. This becomes important in its response to crises. The Fukuyama nuclear crisis demonstrates the need for creative actions.

Over the last week, the world has watched with horror as the dreadful tragedy of the earthquake and Tusnami was followed by escalating problems at the Fukuyama nuclear plant. Various efforts to restrict the consequences of radiation leakage have been tried. In general, however, the crisis management seems to have proceeded in an over-linear way. By that, I mean that standard or pre-planned responses were initiated. Once there was evidence that Plan A was failing, a Plan B idea was attempted.

So, for example, once it became clear that cooling water was needed, a Plan B was suggested to dump water from a helicopter. Once this Plan B was found to expose the pilots to unacceptable risks of radiation, a Plan C was tried, as water cannon were mobilized.

A different way

My concern, based on involvement in numerous creativity sessions attempting to support industrial crisis situations, is that there is a need for large numbers of possible ideas, some of which appear hopelessly unrealistic at first. Furthermore, efforts need to be directed towards multiple ‘mini-scenarios’ which involve as many teams as can be engaged with the creative effort. It can be argued that this is a form of work requiring creative leadership. If carried out with pre-training, the teams can be expected to come up with more, and better possibilities.

It can’t be done

One aspect of such creative work. The most promising ideas are almost always emergent. They are far from obvious at the start of the meetings. When suggested to others in the early stages of idea development they are likely to be greeted with ‘expert’ evidence that they are not feasible.

What might work better

What might work better is a response through social media. The ideas can be generated in large numbers and from multiple perspectives very rapidly. The sheer scale of ideas needs to be managed (the so-called variety-reduction process). I estimate there are thousands of teams who have worked in creativity mode on industrial crisis problems all over the world. But the capacity for self-organisation of such an effort is immense.

Let’s get started

Let’s get started. Hold on to a few basic principles for creative effectiveness. Collaborate with others by improving the unusual ideas, particularly if you can see concealed strengths, perhaps through technical know-how. Look for ideas close to a specific action requiring a short time-period for implementation.
And remember, impossibility is often a matter of perspective not logic.

My first idea is to get this message to students and colleagues who collectively have something to contribute. Creativity can also ‘go critical’. My next idea is to work with colleagues on the matter this morning and identify bloggers who might also be interested.

Not just in my backyard

This blog site is too insignificant of itself to be more than a catalyst. Please spread its proposal as far as you can.

The author

The author has worked in nuclear science (radiation chemistry) as well as in various projects internationally which have generated industrial innovations through applying creative problem-solving techniques

Red Cross and other useful links

The red cross appeal is one charity appealing for funds to support the wider humanitarian crisis in Japan. This Google site is a further great source of information. See also comments to this post, and also for discussion on Risk management

24 Responses to The nuclear crisis in Japan and why your creativity is needed

  1. Stephen M Merz says:

    Couldn’t they deploy a hose (or other water conduit) over the reactor using cables from 2 or three helicopters. The aircraft could fly on a pattern not directly over the reactor and deploy the hose with some precision without being exposed to excessive radiation or heat.

  2. Jack Cheong says:

    7 days of water to hose down the reactors isn’t exactly a long term solution. it’s delaying a catastrophe. They should have several teams working the problem on multiple fronts.
    1) Have teams of folks building water fountains to hose down the reactors using seawater to reduce radiation.
    2) start working on a concrete containment
    3) work on several power lines
    4) read on wiki that boric acid stops fission
    5) shut down the active reactors to reduce further problems

    Hope things turn better for the Japanese soon

  3. Tudor says:

    Reply to Jack and Stephen. Thanks to both, for illustrating what can be done creatively. I’m sending emails to my various contacts over the next few days, and they will be encouraged with the first day’s ideas from yourselves. Many regards.


  4. Creativity is needed all the time, especially in crises. In order to help Japanese people we must conduct what might be considered a “Global Brainstorming” and a “Global CPS”. That’s an ethical creative task. The question is how to manage such a huge task?

    (Thanks Prof Tudor for your great effort)

    Abdullah Al-Beraidi
    Saudi Arabia

  5. Fumi says:

    I have been circulating the Red Cross links in Japanese and English to my colleagues and friends last couple of days – but I wish I had much bigger creative ideas to respond to this very very difficult situation in Japan right now.

  6. Tudor says:

    I have received many supportive emails from my contacts from Universities and beyond. I’m sure we will have some ideas that will help. How to match the ideas with those able to act? The challenge which Social Media may be going someway to solve.

  7. James Burnside says:

    How about pouring some kind of liquid nitrogen on the rods in order to help super cool them. I know, that this will create a temporary minor to medium explosion because of the sudden temperature change, but it could cool down the reactors enough to temper the cores long enough for them to get in and do something about it… This in combination with boric acid may be the key that we are looking for? Don’t know, just throwing out ideas…

  8. Yiyu Chen says:

    Was high nuclear exposure to human pilot the reason why the plan was ditched? Who would have thought above all coutries Japan would have this problem? What happened to all the Honda robots? UAVs?

  9. Tudor says:

    Reply to James and Yiyu Chen
    Boric acid one of the ‘go to’ chemicals for these situations.
    I also wondered about Honda’s robots.
    These are great starting ideas. We also need ‘networking’ ideas on ‘how to reach those who can do something’ (Military? Commercial? Governmental? Educational?)
    Note how techniocal idea can be ‘yes anded’ ‘Yes and how about other cooling processes?’

  10. Tudor says:

    …And what about the famous syphon effect using sea water perhaps cascading?

  11. alexhough says:

    I was reading the FT yesterday. Pepsi have invested in a new media opperations room. Its the sort of thing that I’ve had in my mind for something like this.

    Perhaps this kind of set up could be re-purposed
    for crisis analysis…. at universities .. like Manchester… network them together with others. While social media is useful, I think face to face is networking is needed too and universities with a concentration of technical expertise and curiosity in organizational behavior, leadership and teamwork could think about resourcing something like this??.

    As ‘croud sourcing’ becomes more viable option, perhaps disaster planners could start to think about it in up-front? Perhaps they already are?

    Resource – not everyone can drop everything, but they might drop by to a designated space if there were a disaster on the go and there always seems to be.

    The ‘twitter revolutions’ had some hacked together aggregators where hashtags were pulled together. The variety attenuation was done by people in the same room with laptops. A human touch to sort out the
    noise still needed?

    (unfortunately I neglected to tag these pages – a personal #AlexSystemFailure)

    The power plant has opened a twitter account;
    I think the challenge for the org receiving the advice though such a channel has factors: balancing PR with accepting and encouraging advice.

  12. Tudor says:

    Thanks Alex

    I’m glad you focused on the practicalities of implementation.

    Also, the point about variety attenuation builds significantly on the point about variety management in the post.

  13. Tomohiko Kano says:

    First of all, thanks Tudor for your leadership to start this.

    Just a quick update from Japan. The worst one, severely damaged No.3 plant, had been successfully poured with seawater for 13 hours operation over night, 2,000 tons of water. The temperature of the pool came down from some 67 degrees to 37. You can see how it was done seeing link below.

    This is also the link of how we are going to deal with other plants, from No.1 to 6. Sorry that I don’t have time to translate, but the blue line shows the power supply already implemented. Other red dotted lines show that it is planned to install the power supply on 20th (today).;g=96958A9C93819595E3EBE2E3EB8DE3EBE2E1E0E2E3E39F9FEAE2E2E2;bf=0;ad=DSXBZO2531268019032011I00002;R_FLG=0;z=20110319

    As power supply comes back to each plant, cooling system will come back live and help lowering temperature.

    I had same ideas, using robots, dropping hose from helicopter etc., so did many other Japanese. We see in every TV channel, having nuclear specialists, university professors giving their own ides. This time it was the most ‘realistic’ method they have chosen relying on courageous firefighters. However, I strongly feel that, as others proposed, it is also very important that we utilize Twitter/Facebook and other realtime/effective communication tool to gather ideas from all around the world. For that, it is critical for government or related agents, this time it was Tokyo Power Electric Company, to open and share realtime information of what’s going on. There are many lessons to be learned for future disasters all around the world for better/quick solution finding methodology.

    From Tokyo, Tom Kano, MBA class of 2010

  14. Tudor says:

    Dear Tom

    It is good to hear from you. I very much wecome update and will use your views as part of a campaign to start a social-media ‘creativity for crisis’ movement.

    I agree about the lessons, and I will be seeing how Business Schools can play their part, starting in my teaching.

    One story of hope: an MBS student (Masa) in Kobe sent me news after the earhquake. He had been caught up, but actually met a beautiful young lady and he sent me a photograph of them on their wedding day.

    Warmest regards.


  15. David Allen says:

    I am not an expert in nuclear physics and I do not know if it is feasible or useful , but would it help workers if a lead shield was built using as big lead sheets as could be carried on say a dumper truck to move the sheets into position to build a wall to provide some protection?

  16. Tudor says:

    Message from Professor Simon French (Manchester Business School):

    I don’t know if you know of ISCRAM — Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management: and The original site was based on blogging years back and then the Live site was developed which seeks to pull in a lot of social networking.

    Anyway ISCRAM is NOT just IS based. It is all about a range of ways of supporting emergency planning, response and recovery. It has been exploring themes of social networking and sensemaking for several years. The past conference proceedings are up on the and it points to a lot of work particularly by Leysia Palen and her students/colleagues at Colorado. Bartel van de Walle has had a lot of students working on sensemaking and issue structuring in crisis response. It would be good to draw in material from ISCRAM into any MBS initiative to ensure that we move forward with the wheels already developed in place.

  17. Jack Cheong says:

    Hi Tudor,

    Here is proof that the Japanese are keeping their creative juices flowing despite all the insanity and doomsday prophecies … here’s how they’d explain the nuclear crisis to the little ones – 🙂

  18. Paul Ballington says:

    Tragedy upon tragedy.
    Strongly agree with your comments upon the Japanese people and creativity, they will amaze us all with the stoicism and resolve they bring to this. I visited Kobe not long after that Eart quake and it was amazing to see how they repaired their lives and infrastructure, put the events in New Orleans to shame!

    I am sure their will be really important leadership lessons arising from the nuclear incidents, we will have to wait for enquiries to get to the facts, but in the mean- time could we employ our efforts to stopping our press whipping up a pollution and disaster scare that hampers the efforts of the Japanse?
    Paul Ballington

  19. Tudor says:

    Agree Paul. And I think Social Media will be a start to doing this sort of fast reaction stuff.

    Warmest regards


  20. wendy says:

    I know nothing about physics or radiation. But I tried to dream about a solution the other night and all I got was “snow”. Freezing water. Does that mean anything to anybody?

  21. Tudor says:

    The starting idea of freezing the reactor might be changed to a metaphorical freezing which suggests all sorts of ways of sealing. Thanks for creative contribution.

  22. Bob Scruggs says:

    I am understanding that you have water flowing through a breach which is causing troubles. You have applied concrete with did not work well. I would recommend mixing in high performance epoxy with the concrete. This becomes quite sticky, but epoxy gives off water when it cures, and thus is compatible with water present during it’s curer. Epoxy gives added stickiness during cure, and it cures quite well. There are choices of epoxy which will modify the flow prior to cure. My experience was with epoxies made by 3M company.

  23. Tudor says:

    Thanks Bob. I am still forwarding these suggestions to a network for wider insights.

    Your 3M experience is valued (I am a former carbohydrate chemist and can’t think of applications: but now you mention it ….).

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