SCDigest: Geiger Counters for the Supply Chain?

Apr 07, 2011

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?

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7 Comments on "SCDigest: Geiger Counters for the Supply Chain?"

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Fabien Tiburce
Fabien Tiburce
10 years 1 month ago

I am afraid that “nuclear issues” are not the only threat that manufacturers should protect against. There are many acts of gods that threaten the supply chain, including earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones not to mention potential political unrest (China anyone?). Truth be told, I think it would be very hard, if not downright impossible (or at least prohibitively expensive) to protect yourself from all potential threats. Organizations should however have contingency plans in place (these plans should have been rehearsed and tested) and not put all their eggs in the proverbial basket. Data centers and SaaS providers operate in this manner, so should manufacturers.

Susan Rider
Susan Rider
10 years 1 month ago

Absolutely, companies who are purchasing product internally have a responsibility to insure that they are safe whether it’s for this particular reason or others. This was brought to light when the children’s toys were discovered to have toxic paint. If companies choose to ship or manufacture products from wherever, they do have the responsibility for quality assurance. Consumers are less tolerant currently for exposed radiation products or toxic products. As consumers become more aware, they will be more likely to rebel against such products. As I say this, I think of all the intelligent people that still smoke :)!

Larry Negrich
10 years 1 month ago

The manufacturers need to get out front of this issue as the recent news out of Japan is quickly raising the fears of the consumer. With recent reports of radiation in area fish, and news that the water gushing into the Pacific had radiation levels millions of times above the regulatory limit, any product that comes out of any ocean is going to going to give the consumer reason to pause.

Letting the consumer know that the product has been safeguarded and proactively letting the consumer know the product has not been tainted with radiation will help to alleviate some consumer fear.

Craig Sundstrom
10 years 1 month ago

“Mildly radiated”? The author, I’m sure, is aware that everything on earth receives radiation every day…it’s called sunlight.

Manufacturers, retailers and that guy on the corner who sells daffodils in the spring have an unfortunate choice: ignore what can be properly called mindless hysteria, or show they are “concerned,” and thereby propagate it.

Mark Burr
10 years 1 month ago

From my view, the most important thing on this issue is to be educated–the consumer, the supply chain, and the retailer. At this point the level of education on the real facts of the issue is pathetic. Worse, is the job of the media in assisting the public in educating them on the real facts.

There is a huge opportunity to provide real, true and valid information to the public. Right now, that is absent at all levels.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 1 month ago
Of course companies should be thinking about every safety aspect that affects their products. Toxicity comes in many forms, and many U.S. importers and domestic manufacturers have been exposed as inept at ensuring that their products are safe in all the ways they should be safe. The weekly published recall lists are staggering. The effort to “get the lead out” is still an ongoing effort in China and here after more than a decade of publicity. Poor Toyota, first with their millions of recalled vehicles and now suffering the events in their homeland. Poor parents of babies that guillotine themselves with sliding crib slats. So now we have another product concern: Potential radiation beyond the levels we endure daily from natural sources. What are the daily levels we endure from sunlight and the ground (yes, the ground)? Put a number on it. How much radiation did our Astronauts receive in space without negative effects? If we’re going to deal with this new concern, we need to understand it better. Retailers need to help their customers… Read more »
Dan Gilmore
Dan Gilmore
10 years 1 month ago

I am late responding here, but will just say this relative to a couple of the responses.

Yes we all get radiation daily from the sun and other sources, but does anyone really want any more?

Do some really think that companies/retailers can sell radioactive products by saying they are contaminated but at safe levels?

I don’t think so. If a product has any levels of radiation, and that is known, it will not sell. And any retailer caught selling radioactive products that tries to defend itself by saying they were at safe levels will be crushed, especially with food.

I am hardly an extremist on this, but think if I lived on the West coast I would pass on milk for awhile until the traces of radiation are gone.

Think many others would join me.

Geiger counters are just $495.00 on Bulk discounts may be available. Supply chains, get ready if this goes much further.


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