Sharp reminder

Published 12:09 pm Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Daily Herald editorial

People tend, as a whole, to be rather optimistic. How else can one account for our tendency to do things that, despite their benefits, are likely to create a massive disaster if something goes wrong? Case in point: Building a nuclear power plant in a known earthquake and tsunami zone. There’s a lesson there for everyone who is concerned about — and, more importantly, isn’t concerned about — the environment.

In the past, the Herald has opined that it might be wise to at least consider fusion reactors as a power solution of the future. Call that an example of misplaced optimism. With recent weeks’ events in Japan, where a supposedly well-designed and secured nuclear power plant is running amok, we’re reminded of just exactly how dangerous a nuclear problem can be.

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Although the reactor’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, has come in for plenty of criticism since a tsunami disrupted its Fukushima plant, we have no doubt that the company’s engineers were diligent in planning and running the plant. Nature, however, has a way of exceeding all expectations and defeating even plans designed for worst case scenarios.

Very smart people invest countless hours in trying to make things like nuclear plants, mines and other industrial endeavors harmless. And when things go well, it’s easy to forget how big the downside can be if something goes wrong. Japan’s reactor disaster is a reminder that if we aren’t really prepared to accept worst-case results, we ought to be very careful about what we start.