The paradox of material and technological progress is that we seem to become more risk-averse the safer it makes us.
Thus begins the close of a must-read op-ed in Monday's Wall Street Journal.
It's not a surprise that the WSJ would lament risk-aversion. What was a surprise is that many of the arguments put forth are the same ones I have been making for two days:
- There is no "clean" source of energy -- they all have environmental impacts somewhere in their lifecycles.
- We (humans) are horrible at calculating risk. We think driving a car is safer than flying.
- And, perhaps the most important, American media have blown the incident at Fukushima nuclear power complex out of proportion relative to the deaths of (probably) thousands, the probable permanent displacement of thousands, and the billions -- trillions? -- of dollars it will take to restore infrastructure and homes. Doubt me? Watch a tsunami swamp a city in this first-person video; it's the best one I've seen (.mp4 or Facebook-login required).
In a second op-ed, William Tucker writes more forcefully than I did on Saturday but makes many of the points that I made in the nuclear power explainer published here Saturday. Headlined Japan Does Not Face Another Chernobyl, Tucker explains how we make power from a nuclear reactor. And he makes a point that I have been ranting about offline, although I had not been able to arrive at such a catchy analogy:
You can't have a "runaway reactor," nor can a reactor explode like a nuclear bomb. A commercial reactor is to a bomb what Vaseline is to napalm. Although both are made from petroleum jelly, only one of them has potentially explosive material.
I have not seen a single mainstream media story make this point. (Prove me wrong in comments; I'll apologize.)
He also explains in more detail than I did why this is "not a Chernobyl" and provides the reader with background on nuclear power plant energy design changes in the decades since the Fukushima complex was built:
What the Japanese earthquake has proved is that even the oldest containment structures can withstand the impact of one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history. The problem has been with the electrical pumps required to operate the cooling system. It would be tragic if the result of the Japanese accident were to prevent development of Generation III reactors, which eliminate this design flaw.
Read them. Don't let the fact that they are from the Wall Street Journal scare you off! No paywall and lots of comments already.