The Acceptability Of Risks From Natural Disasters | 9544
Journal of Marine Science: Research & Development
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Engineers may sometimes need to design structures for loads imposed by natural occurrences such as earthquakes and
meteorological events of various kinds. However, no matter what natural event is specified as a practical design base,
something worse is always physically possible. Hence, engineering standards generally imply a risk of failure due to large but
unlikely external natural events.
Little or no account is generally taken of earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and hurricanes in areas that are judged not prone
to such events. However, anything that is physically possible has a finite probability of occurring. Tsunamis are possible on any
exposed coastline; earthquakes and storms can occur anywhere. The probabilities of damaging events vary enormously but are
rarely zero. So, how big a risk is acceptable?
The acceptance of a risk by society depends more strongly on the nature of the risk than its size. For example, the earthquake
and tsunamis at Fukushima on 11 March 2011 killed more than 15,000 people and caused enormous damage but Japan apparently
plans to rebuild the urban areas and most of the industries that were destroyed. On the other hand, radiation from the damaged
nuclear power station killed no-one but there is a strong body of opinion in Japan that the nation should reduce its dependence
on nuclear power and perhaps eliminate it altogether. This would mean burning more fossil fuels, with increased industrial risks,
environmental damage and harm to public health.
Fear of radiation is thus having severe social and economic consequences for Japan, and it has dominated public, media and
political reactions to the Fukushima disaster worldwide, although the actual levels of risk from radiation were small.
In many parts of the world, even where no precautions are taken against tsunamis in the planning of coastal communities,
fear generated by damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant by a tsunami has turned public opinion against nuclear power.
Germany, Italy and possibly Switzerland have turned decisively away from the use of nuclear power. Any proposal to build
a nuclear power station in Australia at present (even inland) would provoke an outraged reaction, with Fukushima cited as
evidence that the risk would be unacceptable.
However, a recent report from the UN Scientific Committee on Risks from Atomic Radiation (2012) puts such risks into
better perspective and has the potential to alleviate the fear of radiation.
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