Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Threat to Nuclear Establishments in Japan, and Two Posters

Many years ago, I saw a poster whose message has forever remained etched on my mind. It was a poster on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster with a picture of the nuclear station, and just one brief, terse message. But the message captured many things about the nuclear debate, especially the arrogance of the scientific and engineering community and their utter disdain towards any questions raised by citizens. It was a searing commentary on the supremely confident assertions that everything has been thought of, and taken care of and the brushing aside or even ridiculing any other opinion, particularly using the argument that the common people know nothing and understand nothing in these highly technical matters. And then of course, the attempts to to cover up problems when they occur using the tactics of denial, suppression of information with arguments of national security and playing down the risks of problems that are impossible to deny any longer.

As the threat of a nuclear disaster looms large on Japan, I am reminded once again of that poster. It said, simply “They said it could not happen. It did.”

Repeatedly, this is the scenario we face, not just in case of nuclear, but in several other areas. They – in their supreme arrogance – assure us that it will not happen. And it does, with a monotonous certainty. This is especially true with technologies that are “highly advanced”, so advanced that no one except the scientists, engineers and of course the companies that sell them can know anything about the impacts of these technologies. And we are supposed to take them on faith, place complete trust in their sophisticated knowledge that “it can never happen.” Do we have a choice?

I think we do, but the choice has to begin far more upstream than present. It has to begin at the stage where the directions of the technologies themselves are evolving. In this, I am reminded of another poster message that I have seen. It is about all the old and new and great technologies like nuclear, genetic modification, massive dams in fragile environments and many others where the assertion is made that “this is a fail safe technology”. The poster says, “We don’t want fail safe technologies, we want technologies that can fail safely.”

(Image courtesy:


  1. Like the last sentence :-

    " We don't want fail safe technology , we want technology that can fail safely."

    Very perfect for the situation.

  2. can technologies fail safely? especially nuclear technologies? this slogan essentially means that there should be no nuclear technology.

  3. the article is very interesting and quite true an insightful to a certain extent. i do, however, disagree with the fact that the article implies that without more precautions, nuclear energy should be banned. Now, Having places like Japan etc. where earthquakes have happened before, it is quite silly to put nuclear power stations there. however, with the continual decline of non-renewable resources, where can we obtain power? Renewable energy either needs to be popularized on a huge scale or the only other practical alternative is nuclear energy. Places such as Australia are not prone to natural disasters and with the constant advance of technology, these places and parts of America etc. can use nuclear energy to feed to growing power concern that is in the world today.