Irrational Fear of Technology

The media is consumed by the Japanese nuclear power plant problem caused by the earthquake and tsunami hyping it as the next Chernobyl.  Make no mistake it is a big problem.  But the coverage the past few days has raised new questions about the safety of nuclear power in the United States and around the world.

A more rational assessment of the impact of the earthquake and tsunami on the Japanese nuclear plants will be made, but those who understand such things are telling us that the Japanese plants are performing as or better than expected given the circumstances.  Of course, there are problems and some could get more serious.  But the difference between Chernobyl and Fukushima is night and day.

On a much less significant scale, California Public Utility Commission Chair Michael Peevey this week seemed to have resigned himself to considering an opt-out provision enabling customers with a fear of wireless technology to evade smart meter installation at their residence.  Maine is also considering such an opt-out alternative after 3,000 customers out of 135,000 who received smart meters in the Central Maine Power Company service territory objected.

Our world is full of risks we must face every day otherwise we are unable to function. The Japanese more than any other people on earth understand the risk and consequences of using nuclear power, yet they have chosen to provide about 30% of the electric supply from nuclear power.  Why?  Because it is reliable, cost effective and safe when properly designed, constructed and operated.

The GE designed Mark I boiling water reactor at use in Fukushima has been a workhorse of the energy industry for more than 40 years.  Here in the United States there are 23 operating nuclear power plants of the same vintage. Are we going to shut down all nuclear power plants because Japan had an earthquake and tsunami and one might happen here—of course not.  For the same reasons we do not stop driving our cars or flying in airplanes or crossing a busy street because an accident happened.

Closer to home, I wonder if those who object to smart meters use cell phones or avoid grocery checkouts with handheld scanning devices or use Fast Track to pay he toll for crossing the bridge to get to work—or the thousands of other convenient applications of wireless technology at use in our lives today.

There is a balance between prudence and risky business that most of us know when we see it. There also is a balance between reasonable risk and irrational fears that we make every day.  When things are in balance our daily lives and the world works as planned, but tilt the balance either way and “stuff happens”.

We expect our government regulatory and safety agencies to search for balance.  We expect our utilities and service providers to make prudent choices that maintain that sense of balance.  As consumers we are expected to be rational and “caveat emptor” look out for ourselves.

We don’t want government agencies allowing the squeaky wheel of those with irrational fears or political correctness run amok to hijack our business or personal choices, drive up our costs unreasonably to compensate for their fears or policy agendas, or substitute their judgment for ours in living our lives.

Take a deep breath, people, and step away from the panic button!


1 Comment

  1. With the possible dangers of a nuclear meltdown, plants need to have designs that can withstand the worst of anything. It’s cracking me up to see nuclear energy supporters saying the situation in Japan is a safety “success.” It must be great to be an advocate of something that’s considered a success when it leaks radioactive contaminants over massive stretches of land and sea.

    It’s now clear that these plants are putting lives and the planet on the table in an unending game of chance with nature. Whether or not they’ve been a statistical success thus far is completely irrelevant.

    The cost of failure isn’t worth it.

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