Category Archive 'Japan Steel Works'

22 Mar 2011

Reactor Containment Chambers and Samurai Swords

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Ogata Gekkō, Heian swordsmith Munechika, aided by the kami Inari, forging the blade Ko-Gitsune Maru (“Little Fox”), 1873

George Monbiot (the original moonbat), the very last person in the world whom you would ever expect to become pro-nuke, says that events in Fukushima have caused him to stop worrying and love nuclear power.

You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.


The effectiveness of the containment at Fukushima is based on single-piece steel containment chambers, built by Japan Steel Works, (株式会社日本製鋼所, Kabushikigaisya Nihon Seikōsho), a steel manufacturer founded in Muroran, Hokkaidō, Japan in 1907, which traces its technological heritage directly back to the native Japanese steel-making tradition which produced the Japanese samurai sword.

Justin Hyde:

As fears rise in Japan about nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant, the first and best line of defense are the reactor’s six inch thick steel-walled chambers, made by a company that still forges samurai swords by hand.

Japan Steel Works is the world’s only volume builder of nuclear reactor vessels, the steel container that holds radioactive fuel, and in case of a meltdown, prevents that fuel from leaking and triggering a catastrophe. Founded in 1907 and rebuilt following World War II, it supplied nearly all of the vessels used in Japan’s 54 nuclear power plants, including the containers at the Fukushima Daiichi plants designed by General Electric and Toshiba.

While those vessels were made from steel plates bolted and welded together, modern designs require Japan Steel Works to forge containers from a single ingot that can weigh up to 600 tons. It’s a slow process that takes months at a time, using the company’s 14,000-ton press to shape a special steel alloy that’s been purified to maximize its strength. These methods also minimize seams that can give way in case of a meltdown, where nuclear fuel can reach 2,000 degrees Celsius.

Although Japan Steel Works is a major corporation with 5,000 employees, it also maintains a samurai sword blacksmith, in a small shack on a hill above the factory in Muroran, where a single craftsman still hammers steel into broadswords, as the company has done since 1917.


Japan Steel Works founded its smithy in 1918 by recruiting Taneaki Horii, whose teacher Taneyoshi Horii (c. 1820-1903), had studied under Gassan Sadayoshi (1800-1870), founder of the Osaka Gassan school, and under Taikei Naotane (c. 1777-1857).

Naotane was himself the pupil of Suishinshi Masahide (1750-1825) of Edo, the founder of the Shinshinto (New Revival) period of sword-making. Masahide criticized the showiness and practical defects of the Shinto sword, and advocated the building instead of the fukko-to, “the Restoration sword,” by returning to the sword-making techniques and styles of the Heian and Kamakura periods.


Current master Horii Tanetada making a sword and a tour of the Zuisen Sword Smithy


Horii swords displayed at exhibition hall

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