The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Monday, March 14, 2011

Underestimating nature: Japanese hubris.

Nature should never be underestimated, nor human prowess overestimated. The Japanese are guilty of both. Indeed, their hubris may yet lead to a kind of disaster and human tragedy that has not befallen a developed nation in modern memory.

The Japanese mistake comes, in a very deep way, from their national personality. Their own mythology and culture, so evident in their manga comics, is that technology can triumph over all. They seem to believe that not only is there a technological solution for all problems, but that the Japanese are themselves equipped to deliver it. This attitude has led to some successes in certain fields of engineering and electronics, but it has also led to foolish decisions on a national level. One of those is the placement of 55 nuclear reactors, in Japan, within the influence of the “Ring of Fire”, seismically active zone.

Japanese decision makers, rather puzzlingly, from an objective point of view, ignored the fact that Japan is one of the most seismically active places on Earth, and ordered a dense network of nuclear reactors to be built. They believed that their engineers could make their reactors entirely earthquake proof, eliminating the dangers of having fission reactors in a seismic zone. Indeed, they planned for earthquakes of a particular seriousness – but this particular quake seriously surpasses their design limits. In short, the Japanese underestimated nature.

There is a lesson for all nations here and all politicians. The Earth is entering a time of ever greater extremes in natural phenomena, such as weather. This means that events once thought rare, will become increasingly common and, unfortunately for us (and the world’s insurers) ever more savage. Those planning against such eventualities, should try their best to OVER-estimate the seriousness of events. They should plan for the worst possible imaginable circumstances – and then some. The only safety, in the face of the “natural” disasters to come, will be in what may seem like excessively cautious preparation. However, when the time comes, it will not seem excessive at all. It will seem like the wisdom it is.

So, let not the world make the Japanese mistake. Plan ahead for the worst of all possible scenarios, in all areas of natural disaster. Overengineer everything that needs to be protected. Such preparations are the only measures that can reduce the impact of the many disasters to come, which we shall all see in our lifetimes.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:33 AM 


Blogger Demel said...

From what I'm understanding, some of the nuclear reactors affected are actually rather old - 30+ years for Fukushima 1 if I'm not wrong. Perhaps it's more of their protective measures being outdated?

And to nitpick a bit, I'm pretty sure the earthquake alone isn't what made the situation so dangerous; the tsunami that followed killed whatever backup power there was in case the power to the nuclear plant was cut off (which happened due to the earthquake).

The decision to build so many nuclear plants near a subduction zone still escapes me, though I'm not too inclined to look into the rationale behind such a decision (made almost 40 years ago, too). Hoepfully they can see this situation as a signal to move towards other forms of renewable energy, though I somehow don't think it'll happen so soon.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Demel, they are old. However, that is no excuse, since Japan has always been prone to earthquakes, so they would have known this when they built them.

For me, the dumbest aspect of this is not realizing that with earthquakes, come tsunamis...and not preparing for the latter, properly, in the event of the former. That is just dumb and shows a failure to see the full context of the planned for events.

Japan, of all places, should not have nuclear power. That is clear...but, as with you, I doubt they will move swiftly to renewables, though they should.

Thanks for your thoughts.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Helkost said...

Hi Valentine,
first of all, many compliments for your blog, you write very well and, even if I don't always agree with what you say, I appreciate your efforts to raise awareness on important topics like environment and education.

Regarding this article, I wanted to point out that Japan has little choice regarding energy production: they can import it, or... they can import it.
what kind of energy to use to supThey have little resources on their own, so, they had to chose, in the years of their economic boom,what kind of energy to use to support their growth. It is true that, being them in an extremely sismic zone, they could have chosen better than to rely on Nuclear Energy, but we say it with
hindsight, and we know that politicians / economists are the same race everywhere, shortsighted and unconcerned about environmental problems. Plus, 40 years ago, even with the Three Miles Island disaster, faith in nuclear energy was much greater, because they were just starting to look into it and there weren't many people who could understand its implications to the fullest.

I guess that a combination of these factors, economic necessity and confidence (but generalized, not just in Japan) is the reason that they built so many reactors for. And I don't find it much more commendable than many other things that happen in the world every day. Yes, the whole thing seems pretty dumb, but the same we could say for other countries, re. other different things, which have a terrible impact on environment.

as of today, I read from wikipedia that, even if renewable energies in Japan play little role (1% of total production), they're 2° or 3° in the world for photovoltaic energy production and they exploit largely geothermaal energy. Eolic is probably not an option there. So, it's not that they're not trying.


P.S. Sorry if my english is a little messy, it is not my mother language. Corrections are much appreciated, if you have the time :).

1:44 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Valentina for your kind words regarding my writing. It is appreciated.

As for Japan's energy situation: from my point of view, not enough thought was put into planning the earthquake resistance of the reactors. The probability of tsunamis is an obvious aftereffect of earthquakes and should have been protected against. That the diesel power generators were accessible to flooding and knocked out, stopping them from pumping water through the reactors is shockingly shortsighted.

The Japanese could have used wind or wave power too: as an island they have ready access to a lot of water. So, nuclear power wasn't the only choice. I think they just love technology too much. They might not love it so much after this, though.

Your English is quite good, Valentina...much better than my understanding of your own language is likely to be. Unfortunately, I can't correct the errors since there is no edit function in blogger before posting your comments. Sorry!

Thanks for your views.

8:03 PM  

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