Excellent post Mike. Some of the same covers the "horrible" conditions in the industrial revolution. People forget that the alternative was starvation for many.
IIRC the population of England was "stable" for several hundred years before the industrial revolution, and then doubled in less than a century. Mean ol' capitalism has been the only effective method in history of reducing poverty and starvation. Socialism has been an effective way to restore it. Which way is our Gummit heading again...
Busybodies (esp. the variety found in the Gummit) love the "if one life is saved..." arguement-but they don't live it. Would a 25 mph speed limit reduce traffic deaths? Sure. Does anyone (Amish excepted) want/advocate one? Never heard of anyone doing so.
Thomas Sowell has an article today on words that substitute for thought. This type of thinking would fit right in.
We all want to be "reasonably safe", it is agreeing on what that means that is difficult.
As an interesting aside ... after several severe casualties in "sweatshops" in Bangledesh ... workers were asked if they would prefer higher wages or safer conditions. 95% chose higher wages. So safety definitely is relative and I like the option (I ride a motorcycle for example which is clearly not something that puts safety first). My fear as people look for gov't to solve problems is a place where the size of your soft-drink is monitored.
As for "sweatshops" being in quotes, the conditions and wages are very bad compared to the US. They tend to be, however, far better than other options in those countries. So as Nike and others pull out of there for the safety of the people, they will greatly increase misery in those nations. It is very true that the road to hell was paved with good intentons.
Readers should be incensed. Those Gen I reactors were underbuilt for the location and the underwriters will likely lose their business and reputation for not properly considering the tsunami wave height, critical control points for auxilliary power generation for the storage pools and cooling the piles and having bridging generators susceptible to salt water ingression and destruction. All things powerful and convenient must be respected and defended. The Fukushima operators should not be lauded for being lucky. Their job, compensation and responsibility was to be super terrific 100% of the time. They failed and they know it. Lets not spin it.
Titanic shouldn't have been speeding. The WTCs should have had better sprinklers and elevator systems. Buildings in India should be inspected. And no matter how well we fix the bridge infrastructure around San Francisco and the San Andreas, sooner than we'd like, we'll find out more ways we could do better. Human journey, not a race.
On a rough scale of probability, lets assume there are 50 reactors in Japan with a average 20 year operating time so they have 1000 reactor years of experience. Fukushima and the others were built to 100-year event standards. It was apparently well known that >9.0 earthquakes and 40-m tsunamis had occurred in Fukushima area as recently as 800 years ago. The evidence is readily available. With 1000 reactor-years statistically Japan could have experienced 10 reactor events exceeding 100-year limits. In reality they have just experienced 6 of them in March 2011 (there were 6 reactors at Fuk Dai-ichi) causing three meltdowns - fortunately three of them were cold shutdown at the time. Why are we only using 100-year limits?
Now comparing the earthquake and tsunami damage to 120,000 buildings vs damage to 1 reactor plant and where they should have placed the money to make them safer. The article suggested money (if available) to improve safety would have been better spent upon the 120,000 buildings.
Lets assume that another $1 Billion could have improved the reactor plant to withstand the events of March 2011. Failing to do so has probably cost $30-40 Billion. - loss of a plant worth $6B and $20 or 30 billion in property damage and displacement. Untold cost in lives but not immediate.
$1 Billion would have bought $8333 improvement for each structure destroyed. Not enough to withstand much of anything. But for almost $0 cost they could have built their businesses and home 20 mile inland. Look however at the history of low lying areas (New orleans, hurricane Katrina) - people will live close to their source of livlihood and the sea to save time and transportation and risk their lives against a 1 in a 100 year event for that. So even saving $8333 against ebeing 20 miles from the sea is not for them.
The difference between a Fukishima reactor and an ordinary building, dwelling or insfrastructure is, that the building loss is limited to the cost of the building and the property and maybe the life in it (who assumed the coastal risk). With a Fukushima the damage potential is much greater - tens of thousands of lives (who did not get to make a choice) and many square miles of land and other property in consequential damages.
I think there's no question that the $1 billiion would be better spent on protecting the plant with its huge capacity to generate consequential damage in the event of an Event.
The airline industry has professionally trained and certified pilots operating their aircraft, a cast of thousands constantly watching every plane in the air, and years-long investigations of every crash. Automobiles rely on amateurs with less than an hour of testing and often no training at all.
Airlines pay tens of millions of dollars for every plane, several thousand times the cost of the average new car, and yet when a plane crashes, people quite often die. A car crash happens about once every five seconds in this country and yet only 30,000 people a year die.
I think it is clear that our cars are quite safe, that the problem is the concept of nearly 200,000,000 careless amateurs being allowed to operate these devices. When 1/3 of all traffic fatalities are still alcohol related, it's obvious that what we need to fix is the driver, not the vehicle.
patb2009, on the topic of fish, one of the biggest sources of contamination in fish is chemical runnoff, mostly from lawn fertilizer.
What I find interesting in the study you provided the link to is that there is no mention of the level before. This study is a single point in time. You really cannot draw inferences from that. In addition, I am not conversant on what the natural level for these compounds would be in that area, and what the safe levels are considered to be.
Not too long ago there was a NIH study of arsenic, I believe, in rice. The level was higher in US grown rice. All rice has some level of the compound that it absorbed from the soil. As far as I can tell, there is also no standard for the allowable exposure level. That is being studied. I have not heard anything since the press published articles on the study. I do not see any evidence of large scale problems in rice eating countries from this.
My message is, be careful of how you use statistics.
This is a really interesting topic to tackle, Chuck, and very relevant. It's true that safety comes at a price and that the barometer for creating safe products, buildings etc. can't really cover every possible event. Still, when you look at some occurrences in retrospect, it seems like tragedy could be avoided in many cases. Lou has a point that there are a lot of disparities in our attitudes, but generally a lot of products are much safer today than they used to be. One thing to keep in mind is you can't control individuals--you may be able to make a car safer in general, but you can't control someone who is determined to drive recklessly.
it is foolish to apply any form of statistical reasoning to a problem set more akin to a black swan then a normal distribution.
Any system should be designed for robustness as well as net risk assessment and to apply Probabilistic Risk Assesment is to foolishly assume you know the probability of any phenomena occuring.
Fundamentally, the Japanese and GE took a guess at the largest earthquake and tsunami and never looked back.
Had even minor thought gone in, then, the plants would have been sited on mildly higher ground. Fukushima 5 and 6 were 10 meters higher then 1-4 and as a result, rode out the EQ with a writeoff but no meltout.
The failure modes of things matter also, if you ever read Petrosky. If a failure mode
leads to the destruction of large areas of land, or the poisoning of millions, it's not a benign or acceptable failure mode.
It appears the Editors seem pleased that the winds pushed 80% of the nuclear material out to sea and towards California.
I do not think the Editors would be so happy, if the wind had pushed 80% of the material at Tokyo, instead of the 20% it did.
Although plastics make up only about 11% of all US municipal solid waste, many are actually more energy-dense than coal. Converting these non-recycled plastics into energy with existing technologies could reduce US coal consumption, as well as boost domestic energy reserves, says a new study.
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