Fukushima and the Inevitability of Accidents via The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

The March 11, 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan replicates the bullet points of most recent industrial disasters. It is outstanding in its magnitude, perhaps surpassing Chernobyl in its effects, but in most other respects, it simply indicates the risks that we run when we allow high concentrations of energy, economic power, and political power to form. Just how commonplace — prosaic, even — this disaster was illustrates just how risky the industrial and financial world really is.

Nothing is perfect, no matter how hard people try to make things work, and in the industrial arena there will always be failures of design, components, or procedures. There will always be operator errors and unexpected environmental conditions. Because of the inevitability of these failures, and because there are often economic incentives for business not to try very hard to play it safe, government regulates risky systems in an attempt to make them less so. Formal and informal warning systems constitute another method of dealing with the inherently risky systems of industrial society. And society can always be better prepared to respond when accidents and disasters occur.

But for many reasons, even quality regulation, close attention to warnings, and careful plans for responding to disaster cannot eliminate the possibility of catastrophic industrial accidents. Because that possibility is always there, it is important to ask whether some industrial systems have such huge catastrophic potential that they should not be allowed to exist.

Continue reading the abbreviated version of this article at Fukushima and the inevitability of accidents

The full contents of this article are available in the November/December issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and can be found here.

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