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Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 13:37 | SYDNEY
Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 13:37 | SYDNEY

An atomic obsession



14 March 2011 10:47

The potential damage to nuclear power plants has dominated the media's coverage of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. This is despite all of the deaths and injuries thus far coming from concrete structures collapsing and the power of the waves. Several in the nuclear industry have started to push back :

What is incredible to me, however, is that there are many people who are focusing on the wrong thing and worrying about low consequence details of the damage that should only be a major concern for the people who are directly involved in accident response...From a nuclear power plant point of view only, the worst long term effect of the earthquake will be the fact that there might be a dozen or so plants that remain shutdown for an extended period of time. 

Nuclear weapons are similarly discussed in a manner entirely out of relation to their actual use or effectiveness. So it was pleasing to see four of the leading US security figures argue last week that nuclear weapons were only effective in preventing the 'most catastrophic scenarios'. In the 20th century, nuclear bombs were less weapons of mass destruction than mass fear, demonstrating the constructivist argument that power is as much a function of the way we think about resources as the physical attributes of those resources.

Unfortunately, there are strong incentives for both those who oppose nuclear weapons and those who support them to overplay the power of this technology. Yet this is a fear almost unrelated to the actual effect, as John Mueller argues:

...whatever their impact on activist rhetoric, strategic theorizing, defence budgets and political posturing, nuclear weapons have had at best a quite limited effect on history, have been a substantial waste of money and effort, do not seem to have been terribly appealing to most states that do not have them, are out of reach for terrorists, and are unlikely to materially shape much of our future. 

Wise words. If you want to help, the Red Cross has a donation appeal going for the people of Japan.

Photo by Flickr user Sam UL

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