The Stupid Human Factor

My GPS is a miracle of 21st Century technology. Linking to satellites in geosynchronous orbit, the GPS uses timing down to a milisecond.

When I turn it on it displays a message– Do not program the GPS while driving the car. Duh.

It’s not that we’re that stupid, it’s that when there’s a temptation to get it done fast, human nature leads us to figure we can get away with it. And we do. Until we don’t.

The same goes for corruption. Ever since I was a kid punching a power press in a factory, and the boss came around in a panic turning the safety shields back into the proper position– instead of pushed to the side so we could work faster– I am unsurprised by expedience. OSHA didn’t have teeth even then, but the prospect of a fine made more of an impression than protecting workers from losing fingers. Of course, after the inspection, he turned the shields back to where they were out of the way.

Raw Story posts this item from today’s Ashahi Shimbun…

A subcontractor at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant told workers to lie about possible high radiation exposure in an apparent effort to keep its contract, reports said Saturday.

An executive at construction firm Build-Up in December told about 10 of its workers to cover their dosimeters, used to measure cumulative radiation exposure, with lead casings when working in areas with high radiation, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper and other media said.

The action was apparently designed to under-report their exposure to allow the company to continue working at the site of the worst nuclear disaster in a generation, media reports said.

If we build more of these nuclear plants, we are creating a permanent hazard for future generations. Will human nature evolve fast enough to carry this burden?

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9 thoughts on “The Stupid Human Factor

  1. There of course is no excuse for stupidity or corruption and the Japanese nuclear industry is mature enough to deal with violators of procedure and law, or dumb contractors. Japan is a crowded, overpopulated, but heavily industrialized nation that needs reliable power 24/7 or its economy will collapse. Japan has precious few natural resources useful for energy and imports all its petroleum, coal and natural gas. Indeed, old militaristic Japan’s blatant assault on southeast Asia and China, and eventually the attack on Pearl Harbor was an effort by Japan to secure energy resources, rather than risk economic suicide. It is not likely that Japan or any other part of the world will return to using polished stone tools and campfires. Just as unlikely will be the discovery of oil, lots of coal or natural gas to keep Japan’s industrial base functioning. Unlike the U.S., the Japanese seem to be realists and understand the need for energy. They also understand the need for improvements in the systems and added safeguards.

    The U.S. has about 105 commercial nuclear reactors in operation. There are more than 100 more military and scientific reactors in operation. There has never been a fatality from any accident in the American nuclear portfolio. So-called “green” technologies are either non-sustaining for 24/7 power needs or have other liabilities mostly ignored. Windmills are big, eyesores, noisy, kill animals, and in their manufacture and installation, generate lots of CO2, and use energy and petroleum to make their. plastic components. Solar only works in the sun, needs lots of energy to make, and generates expensive electricity. Hydro-power is not even considered “renewable” these days of ideology, but is cheap, reliable, and sadly scarce. Geothermal power is great, but sporadic in occurrence. Wave energy is not proven, and can be hazardous to sea creatures. Coal, oil and natural gas are amazingly abundant, have proven technologies associated with them but do pollute to varying degrees. Fusion power has hit a research wall and seems unlikely for the foreseeable future. “Conventional” nuclear power is a known and improving technology, creates no emissions under almost all circumstances and is available for continuing technological advances.

    We really need to be coldly realistic. Providing reliable 24/7 energy is the primary concern for any modern nation’s needs.

    • Actually there have been fatalities associated with nuclear plants in the U.S. I refer you to the SL-1 disaster. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1

      What concerns me more is the storage of spent fuel rods. They require some fairly heavy infrastructure. I’m hoping that physicists figure out ways to neutralize the amount of radiation they emit, and how to reduce the total amount of waste product.

      In that respect I’d say the French are our best source. They reprocess spent nuclear fuel to burn in other reactors.

      And more to the point, the ITER project is moving along – that’s a demonstration fusion reactor. Much safer than fission reactors but here’s the kicker, to start one up you sort of need a fission reactor.

  2. My daughter and son in law gave us a GPS once for Christmas and we never used it.We later gave it back to them when theirs gave up the ghost.I’ve only gotten seriously lost once(in Orange County,NY) that I can remember.usually a glance at a map and I’m good to go.I learned map and compass orienteering in the military but have long forgotten how to do it.It’s not like i go wandering in the wilderness.I’m reading a book now by a guy who considers himself an environmentalist and goes on a tour of the world’s most polluted places including Cherbonyl-it’s very interesting and not at all dogmatic or burdened with preconceived notions.

    • I use mine all the time. It’s gotten me door to door from Providence, RI to Columbia, NC. Of course I use it less now – as I know how to get most of the way there by dead reckoning.

      And my phone has fairly decent GPS capabilities too.

  3. It’s called Visiting Sunny Chernobyl by Andrew Blackburn-you can have my copy when i finish reading it-I have WAY too many books in
    the house already.

  4. There are about 450 nonmilitary nuclear reactors generating electricity in the world, and about 50 more under construction and perhaps another 150 planned. Their safety record is almost flawless when viewed as a whole. Exceptions are dramatic, and using the failures of the old Soviet technology with poor workmanship, design flaws and lack of training, reflects more on the old Soviet style of government than a proven technology. Certainly there are issues and much needed oversight, but to deny the need for a power source that produces no operational emissions, runs 24/7, and has zero climate impact, is less than reasonable.

  5. Indeed, the french reduce waste storage needs by 75-90% (is that # correct) by reprocessing. Most of the energy in fuel rod pellets remains and is ripe for reprocessing. The main issue is that plutonium results from reprocessing. The Nevada waste repository would have been fine for high level waste but was used as a great federal project to generate Nevada jobs, but when completed and ready, taxpayers were left with a multi-billion dollar white elephant.

    I don’t think your Wiki source is accurate related to the SL-1 small military reactor.

  6. The hunt for a hot fusion reactor (other than an H-bomb of course, or looking at stars) seems to be as about as productive as cold fusion was. Magnetic fields containing an ever-exploding H-bomb is as expected a challenge. Interestingly, there has always been a hint of the unexplained in cold fusion–how cool that would be.

  7. The 1961 SL-1 accident was a failure of the CO2 fire retardant system and nothing to do with the reactor. Of course, as in other power plants, from coal fired plants to windmills, there have been industrial accidents. People fall off machines, run into walls with trucks, get shocks from not being properly grounded, or have equipment failures such as new CO2 systems. It is an imperfect world and minimizing risks is not the same thing as not doing anything until there is zero risk. Chipping a flint hand axe had lots of risk: cut fingers, flint flakes in the eye, or not paying attention to to the saber tooth cat in the neighborhood.

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