The situation at the six nuclear power plants at Fukushima is dire and worsening by the day. Many people in Japan and other countries are ill from radiation poisoning. Fukushima is already many times graver than Chernobyl. Japanese engineers on the front lines are desperately calling for our help. 

An Explorer’s Wheel helps you frame the central scientific and technical challenges in pictures, images, metaphors, and stories. By “democratizing” the challenges in this way, every curious person can now make an imaginative contribution that will save lives. 

Suppose you and a million comrades join a Corps of Discovery with instantaneous feedback and coaching from a private wise avatar, Your Personal Explorer’s Wheel. The more you learn, the more the Wheel learns from you and everybody else in the Network. 

Here are two Inventive Challenges which are at the heart of the Fukushima crisis.

Example 1:  Cooling the Hot Fuel Rods

At Fukushima the fuel rods in the boiler water reactors are organized in assemblies and stored in water cooling pools located 100 ft above the ground. This makes them more likely to leak and difficult to maintain, especially during an earthquake. The following is a picture of a single fuel rod.

 If this fuel rod catches fire, it could spew Strontium 90, Cesium 134 and 137, and even more dangerous, “hot” nano-radioactive particles into the atmosphere, first over nearby Tokyo but then by wind currents rapidly around world.

Today this hot fuel rod is cooled by water. If there is an earthquake and the cooling water is lost, the fuel rod could catch fire, or even worse, these rods could come in contact and produce a fissionable reaction that would create intense heat and radiation. Planners at Tokyo Electric Power Corporation (TEPCO) are hoping that another 9+ level earthquake will not re-occur because the plant has only been designed to withstand 7 level earthquakes. But how safe is this assumption? *

The Challenge: Can you invent a way to cool this fuel rod when the water of the pool starts to leak during an earthquake? Can we find a way to cool the rod without touching or going near it? 

Example 2—Diverting the Stream

Every day 300-400 tons of radioactive waste is discharged from the Fukushima plants into the Pacific Ocean. The bulk of this radioactive waste is produced by the contamination of a stream which flows directly underneath the plants. If it were possible to stop or divert the stream, TEPCO would be able to curtail a significant percentage of the contaminated discharges. A significant amount of the remaining contamination could be processed by Toshibas’ Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) or some enhanced version.

We have substantial experience with diverting water containing a wide variety of contaminants. Why not apply this knowledge at Fukushima? Here is one example:

water diversion images

Explorer’s Notes:

* It is easy to cultivate your Explorer’s Mind. All you need to do is Let Go (Release the Clutch!) Follow Your Breath to the Count of 10. Inhale 1, Exhale 2, and so on. Simply observe. Trust Your Connection to your friends and the living world. Be patient with uncertainty and not-knowing. Simply hang out with the Inventive Challenge. It is somewhat the way Dian Fossey befriended her beloved gorillas. She let them come to her. Great ideas flow this way. 

* Identify your main limiting assumptions-- then drop them. Now you can explore the puzzle with fresh eyes. Marcel Proust once remarked, “"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."What if” can become your friend.

* Lead User Innovation—My college chum, the now famous Professor Eric Von Hippel of MIT, has given to the world the idea of “lead user innovation.” Von Hippel argues that someone somewhere has confronted this problem, perhaps in a very different time and setting, and has imaginatively solved it. For Von Hippel the world is a treasure quest to find these lead users. What lead user applications can you identify to either of these inventive challenges? 

* Dream Incubation—Why not explore “creative reverie”? Here’s how you do it. Simply keep a pad by your bed. Just as you drop off to sleep you may notice that images or stories start to rise up in your mind. Some of these images are so lifelike you cannot distinguish them from “normal” reality. This curious state is known by psychologists as “hypnagogia.” It has been the enabling condition of many of the great breakthroughs in science, business, technology, and the arts. All you need to do is “tee up” one of the above inventive puzzles, hold it for a few seconds in your mind’s eye, and let it go! That’s it! Fall asleep. As you wake up in the morning pay attention to what you are dreaming. Don’t seek to understand the dream. Simply write it down—BACKWARDS. In other words the most immediate element first and then retrace the entire dream—step by step. Keep a record of your dreams. In subsequent blogs we will provide further tools and suggestions on how to translate and interpret them. Our minds speak in a secret code. 

* Here is a curious hint: Some of the most innocuous, boring and seemingly trivial dreams contain the richest material. It seems our unconscious has a sense of humor and likes to play hide and seek with us.


* * The dominant majority of seismologists and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) insist that earthquakes by contrast with volcanoes are inherently impossible to predict. This premise needs to be challenged and explored rigorously. For a different perspective see:

* Piloting Through Chaos—The Explorer’s Mind (especially Book II, Chapter 2)

* User Innovation

* Gayle Delaney, Breakthrough Dreaming 1991

* Please send us your ideas and suggestions:


© Copyright Julian Gresser October 2013, All rights reserved. This article may be freely, copied and used for non-commercial humanitarian and educational purposes with appropriate attribution. The author wishes to thank his colleague Dr. Dick Wullaert, for his advice and guidance in framing the core inventive challenges.