SCDigest: Geiger Counters for the Supply Chain?
a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current
article from Supply Chain Digest.
Towards the close of March, it looked
like the Japanese had been able to get their troubled nuclear reactors under
control. Now, though fears of a full meltdown seem reduced, a few of the reactors
are still spewing out dangerous levels of radiation. This naturally is leading
to growing concern about radiation spreading from the reactor site to elsewhere
in Japan and the rest of the world.
Concerns about radiation have already disrupted
commercial shipping, with carrier line Hapag Lloyd AG halting services to Tokyo,
the Japanese government barring vessels from within 30 kilometers (19 miles)
of the plant and overseas authorities scanning cargo. One cargo vessel was
rejected by a port in China in late March because of “abnormal” radiation
levels after passing more than 120 kilometers off the coast of the Fukushima
prefecture. India has already banned food imports from Japan.
So what would
happen if the level of radiation release from the reactors in Japan gets worse?
Would consumers and business be so concerned about possible contamination that
imports from Japan might be banned in some countries? Also, suppose more countries,
such as the U.S., implemented such a ban temporarily, while others, say Korea,
did not. That would likely mean some products exported from South Korea to
the U.S. or elsewhere would contain Japanese components that consumers may
fear are radioactive.
It may sound silly, but at its most extreme scenario, it could
mean ports and even companies themselves would need to deploy advanced radiation
detection systems to ensure their employees and their customers that nothing
coming in has been contaminated.
Where this could get really interesting is
if some products/components have very small levels of radiation, deemed “safe” by
experts but which consumers won’t want to touch or be near regardless of how
low the levels are. I do not expect companies would try to push products with “safe” levels
of radiation on worried customers. Already, experts are saying the radiation
now being detected in milk from West coast farms is at “safe” levels
(airborne radiation to grass to cows).
I was with a small group last week, and
we were joking that some large retailers would add “radiation checker” systems
in their stores right next to the “price checker” stations where
you go up and scan the UPC bar code to make sure you know the item’s price.
A handy self-service Geiger counter could let you know if the product is radioactive.
kind of a funny thought, but of course the supply chain would have stopped
the product before it ever reached the store shelf — I think.
Still, given the
complexity of the supply chain in terms of embedded components, and the likely
public rejection of anything that has any radiation no matter how small
the levels, I think this is a scenario companies ought to be looking at right
now, and clearly, in case the level of radiation released in Japan gets any worse.
Discussion Questions: Should companies be thinking about how to safeguard their supply chain from any potential radiation threats? How receptive will consumers be to even mildly-radiated products deemed to be perfectly safe?