Sunday, November 16, 2014

General Electric: Nuclear Catastrophe in Fukushima (2011)

General Electric Co. logo

On March 11, 2011 an earthquake of a 6.8 magnitude had struck the Pacific Ocean near the coast of Japan which triggered a tsunami. The mountain of water then roared towards the coast of Fukushima crashing into the city and continued into the main land destroying homes, cars and claiming the lives of those who could not outrun the inescapable wave. Among the destruction was three dismantled nuclear power plants that that once stood prominently on the coast of Fukushima. The three of six power plants that were on the afflicted coast had experienced severe and major meltdowns due to the loss of coolant for the reactors which caused the explosion in each of the plants. The designers of the plant was General Electric or GE and was now faced with three failed reactors that were spewing massive amounts of radioactive material over miles of the surrounding habitat. For nuclear reactor, designs for the containment compartment are supposed to stand up to natural disasters such as this one so that they do not experience major melt downs. Under further examination it was found that the design of these particular reactors, known as Mark 1’s, have been under scrutiny for many of years due to their weaker containment compartments. Many times it has been suggested to GE that they revisit the design of the Mark 1 and fix it so that it could adequately handle the dynamic loads experienced by a meltdown. Despite these complaints GE decided to keep the design of the Mark 1 and introduce a couple insufficient modifications to silence the dissatisfaction of the nuclear community. In result the design of the containment compartments were not robust enough to handle the tsunami and experienced a meltdown causing the reactors to scatter radioactive material about the land and ocean.

When the meltdown occurred there was a massive explosion that crop-dusted miles of the country side and inland with toxic radioactive material which poisons the land and people. In effect the meltdown has rendered the surrounding environment inhabitable, the aquatic life and water supply have been contaminated by the radioactive mater which is making the community sick and the fish inedible. The environment and the people that once lived in it are irreversibly effected by the radioactive material causing cancer in the Japanese citizens and leaving the land to be tarnished by radiation for many years to come. Along with the irreversible destruction to the land and the people, the business entity and its employees as well as investors are effected greatly. The disaster that occurred has taken a huge toll on the company financially especially for the following reparations and clean up that is required to restore the city and plant facilities. For employees their suffering comes in the form of unemployment because they no longer have a facilities to work in. Investors as well are taking a hit because they have lost their money from the decrease in stock price.

A photo of the nuclear plant exploding in Fukushima

Individualism was created by a man named Milton Friedman where the priorities of the business are more focused and not as concerned with matters that lie beyond the business. In Friedman’s theory of individualism the main concern is that the business, when making decisions on what actions to take, must always be focused on maximizing profits in a manner that stays within the confines of the law. It is Friedman’s belief that this maximization of profits is the only concern of the business and does not have any obligation to be “socially responsible.”(Case manual). This means that the business should not spend money on things like donations, employees or resources because this would be stealing from the owners of the company including stockholders.
Through the lens of Friedman’s Individualism theory the actions of GE were relatively congruent to the values and rules of the theory. When GE designed the Mark 1 back in the seventies they designed it to be superior compared to other models in the Market in terms of efficiency and cost effectiveness. In their design the company did what was best for them in terms of maximizing profit in a way that allowed them to save money and produce more of the nuclear plants. Although there was large amounts of scrutiny over the designs of the Mark 1 and its capability to defend against meltdowns it met all the requirements for nuclear reactors therefore was within the confines of the law. Despite their legally sound practices, with the destruction of their plants came the destruction of the public opinion on GE. Before the disaster, the public opinion on GE was relatively high because GE is known for its incredible innovations in the medical and powering industries as well as other industries which help push the limitations of mankind further and further. Although GE still values the community and pushing technology forward their name is tarnished by its neglect to heed the warnings of regulators and concerned employees. Now instead of reviews of praise GE receives less admiring reviews like this one from an angry and concerned citizen. “We need justices and prosecutors who know how to categorically enforce the laws against GE and a great multitude of immoral polluters that are endangering everyone on the planet with their reckless conduct made in a negligent attempt to gain fame and fortune.”(General electric…Fukushima). For GE to be more profitable and stay within the law they should engineer reactors that are robust enough to withstand a meltdown with innovative but safe measures.

Homes ripped apart after the tsunami in Fukushima

Utilitarianism contrary to Individualism has a focus that is concerned with benefiting the stakeholders rather than maximizing profit. In this theory the goal of the business is to make their customers and stakeholders as happy as possible while excluding any pain experienced by the company’s actions. The business should also aim to satisfy the wants and desires of their stakeholders and do so in a way that benefits them in the long run.
For the Utilitarian view on this case the two main stakeholders are the surrounding community of the nuclear power plants and the company itself. For every decision a company makes there are costs and benefits of the outcome where the benefits are weighed against the costs of the decision. For the community the befits of the cheaper nuclear reactor plants is that the plants provide tremendous amounts of power that feed the community so that the energy needs of the community are met. With the cheaper plant design GE is able to construct more plants so that the community will have a larger supply of power to provide energy for the greater community. The costs of this is that the more cost effective design makes the surrounding community vulnerable to major nuclear disasters. For GE the benefit for constructing the cost effective design is that the company would be able to make more money and grow their company. The cost is that this kind of design makes the reactors susceptible to natural disasters which is detrimental to the company as a whole. The long term solution that would benefit everyone in the long run would be to redesign the Mark 1 so that the plant is more capable of withstanding natural disasters. This would benefit everyone because although, there would not be as many plants there would still be plants to supply the surrounding community with power for their energy needs that would not destroy the community.

Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric

Kantianism is an ethical theory that focuses on the actions of the business persons and whether or not their actions have good intentions as the driving factor. Utmost, Kantianism deals with the honesty that the company has with the customer and all autonomous beings. Under the Kantian theory businesses are also not allowed to deceive harm or cheat people but are required to be upfront with all parties and act within the consent of these parties. In the Kantian theory there is also something called the formula of humanity. The formula of humanity states that it is wrong to use people as a means to get what you want (case manual). And that for an action to gain moral worth the action must have the right motivation. If the action is done with bad motivations then that action does not possess any moral worth. If the action is neutral and has neither good or bad motivations driving the decision then that action is not considered morally right. Over all the rule is to Do something because it is the right thing to do.
In The 1970’s GE made a design for a nuclear reactor plant that had been scrutinized for its weaker containment design. The motivations that drove GE to keep the designs and make insufficient modifications to the reactor were bad because the decision was made from irrational thinking and with the goal to save money and make more reactor plants. Under the formulation of humanity, GE cannot be credited with acting in a morally just manner and therefore has unethically made their decisions under the Kantian rules of ethics. Due to the extreme danger of nuclear energy plants like these need to be constructed in a way that is safe for the surrounding community. To conform to Kantian’s rules of ethics GE needs to make a cost efficient reactors not because they want to save money but because they want to supply more communities with ample amounts of energy.

Virtue TheoryVirtue theory deals with the character of a person and how these character traits help that person flourish within society. The rule of this ethical theory is to embody a variety of virtuous character traits so that an individual may avoid bad or non-virtuous character traits.
Opposed to the other ethical theories virtue theory focuses on a person and their character rather than the actions that an individual makes. The character traits of a person can either be vices or virtues. Virtues are traits that make an individual flourish and a vice is a character trait that inhibit flourishing.
The four main virtues of the virtue theory are courage, honesty, temperance and justice. The characteristic of justice was not one of the characteristics that GE displayed in their decision to keep the design of the Mark 1. GE did not make a good and rational decision to keep the design for the reactor because the decision was made with greed. The Mark 1 was not a good quality design that would protect the community from the radioactive material. For GE to have more justice they would need to innovate in a way that is safe and efficient. For the trait of honesty GE also falls short. During the initial testing of the design of the Mark 1 GE was not entirely forthcoming with the amount of testing they performed on the design. To be more honest GE should have owned up to the fact that their design was not as capable of withstanding a meltdown as well as other containment designs could.

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