Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Perspective on Japan crisis

Patrick McKenzie blogged a piece in response to what he apparently considers the terrible English-language coverage of the Japan crisis.
Quite a lot of the reporting on Japan, including that which is scaring the heck out of my friends and family, is the equivalent of someone ringing up Mayor Daley during Katrina and saying “My God man, that’s terrible — how are you coping?”
I'm not sure I agree with McKenzie 100%, but he makes the same good point about the proper functioning of many Japanese infrastructure systems in the wake of the quake and tsunami that some aircraft-safety engineers make with regard to passengers who survive aircraft crashes: rather than considering such events miracles, we should consider them the hoped-for results of extensive safety engineering applied to those systems. Luck plays a role, but so do design and personnel training.

That said, the Mark 1 reactors currently in jeopardy in the Fukushima Daiichi plant were based on a G.E. design known to be vulnerable to precisely the kind of failure that we're seeing.

Everything at the Daiichi reactors might have worked as well as it was designed to work, but that doesn't mean the design was good enough for that plant.

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