Monday, April 18, 2011

Post # 41: Fukushima – A Black Swan For Nuclear Energy?

Many of you may be familiar with Nassim Nicholas Taleb's recent best selling book, "The Black Swan".  In his book Taleb defines a "Black Swan Event", as an unexpected / rare event with large consequences that changes the course of history.  He lays out three defining Black Swan Event criteria that Wikipedia summarizes as:

1. The event is a surprise (to the observer)
2. The event has a major impact
3. After it's first recording, the event is rationalized by hindsight as if it could have been expected (e.g. the relevant data were available but not accounted for)

Taleb's book is a dialog about robustness and fragility in systems.  Post Fukushima, I've been thinking about robustness and fragility in our present energy system and in any sustainable energy system of the future.  I'm concerned about the utter dependence, in my view of sustainable energy paradigms on the successful growth and deployment of nuclear energy.

So, I ask, "Is the Fukushima Dai-Ichi event a "Black Swan Event" for nuclear energy?"

It certainly was a surprise (Criteria # 1): Back-to-back beyond design basis earthquake and tsunami

It was / is a major event (Criteria 2): Category 7 on the IAEA INES scale

With respect to Criteria # 3, many are pointing out the (now obvious) observation that accidents in one unit at a multi-unit nuclear plant site can impact other units and complicate access to the units following the initiating event.   Similarly, it seems rather obvious that storing highly radioactive used/spent nuclear fuel in close proximity to the reactor may not be the best choice.... I could go on, but these two observations are sufficient to illustrate the point. 

Looks like a Black Swan to me...

But will it change our approach to nuclear power?  Will we evolve to nuclear power systems that are more robust and less fragile?   How about sustainable energy systems that are robust?  What does that look like?

Just thinking...

No comments:

Post a Comment