Is Japan’s Nuclear Crisis a Black Swan?
by Franke James
The current nuclear crisis in Japan has me thinking about Black Swan events. Those so-called events that are world-changing and unpredictable. Author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb cites the September 11 attacks as an example of a Black Swan Event — which I find curious as there were many advance clues (although ignored). Here is how Taleb defines Black Swans in a New York Times article:
“What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.
I stop and summarize the triplet: rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability. A small number of Black Swans explains almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives.”
Predicting Japan’s nuclear crisis
So, does Japan’s nuclear crisis fit the definition of a Black Swan in your mind? Could it have been predicted? Was it in fact predicted? What do you think?
In August 2008, I created a story about a propane depot explosion that happened in Toronto. Japan’s crisis is exponentially larger, yet just like in Toronto there were advance clues. Recent news articles on Japan show a pattern of falsified safety records, warnings to Japan about building nuclear plants on active fault lines, as well as ones susceptible to Tsunamis.
Below is an excerpt from my story, 12,000 Sitting Ducks.
Yes. What are the chances it would blow up on a politician’s watch?
The Black Swan Excuse
If we excuse the crisis in Japan as a Black Swan, we miss the opportunity to prepare ourselves for a nuclear crisis here at home. Just last week there was a leak of radioactive water at Pickering, which was covered by the CBC, but got little attention from the public.
Certainly, the US and Canada’s Nuclear industry would love for us to shrug Japan’s crisis off as a Black Swan, but it’s got their PR people worried:
The nuclear power industry must win PR war
Nuclear Industry Worried About PR
Lamentably, Ontario is rushing ahead with its $33 Billion dollar plans for Darlington’s Nuclear Power Plant. Engineers publicly claim Canadian nuclear is perfectly “safe”, but their accountants tell a different story. In an Ottawa Citizen article, Ontario Energy Minister Brad Duguid “attempted to quell fears” by saying “…our current reactors are safe. They’re built to withstand whatever Mother Nature in this part of the world would place upon them.” (See: Japan fallout: Canadians question safety of nuclear power)
Japan’s nuclear crisis has caused me to rethink my ambivalence to nuclear power. I don’t believe it’s worth the risk. We should be committing our resources to renewable energy, wind and solar. (And not supporting the nuclear industry with $405 million a year as the Harper Government has pledged).
“Nuclear technology will always be vulnerable to human error, natural disaster, design failure or terrorist attack.”
Knowing that inevitability, we need to use this:
Read more on Greenpeace about “Ending the nuclear age”
Link to 12,000 Sitting Ducks
“Is Japan’s Nuclear Crisis a Black Swan?” copyright 2011 Franke James.