Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
it is not really an answer to mine.

And as far as I can tell, the managers of French nuclear plants do live with their families nearby the nuclear plants they run.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 06:46:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
your point is well made, and we should also include the obligatory nod to Fooled by Randomness :-)  and there's a lot of research on pattern-recognition as a cognitive predisposition, etc.

however, a few false positives don't discredit all pattern recognition, and there's an noncoincidental history of failure to do thorough epidemiology in most of these cases...  I'll concede the likelihood of some overaggressive pattern id on one side, but I think we have plenty of documentation of [my gut feeling is more, and better funded] coverup and denial on the other side.

I'm posting at a disadvantage here being in the midst of downsizing and packing, short on sleep and free time and with half my reference library packed or disarranged so I can't find anything.  in about 4 months, I hope, I'll be able to come back with something more substantive on epidemiology and geomapping of toxic plumes of various kinds...

my fundamental point remains that distance or decoupling, whether geo or chrono, has an obfuscating effect on cost, cause/effect, and a warping effect on ethics.  zBs plastics plants in the SE US are contributing to cancer in beluga whales in the Arctic, but the delay factor and the physical distance contribute not just to deniability, but to a kind of conceptual difficulty in grasping the connection.  as the global commons becomes increasingly saturated with industrial "externalities" refusing to remain theoretical and external, this problem of distance or detachment and its skewing effect on operational ethics becomes more and more urgent;  and imho localisation is far cheaper, more robust and straightforward than micromanagement and totalising surveillance...

btw I am glad the French managers live near their plants.  it's a good policy and s/b law.  for one thing, a manager is far more likely to blow the whistle on a safety vio (even if his job is on the line) if it's his own family in the plume path.  but imho their neighbours should be the designers, the safety inspectors, and the investors...

I will happily live next to any wind or solar farm of any size.  you couldn't pay me enough to live next to a nuke...  maybe if I lived in France I'd be less definite about that, but not in the US.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 07:06:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Since we're getting technical, and to address Jerome's point. Consider
  • Type I error: false positive - attributing a cause to a random event
  • Type II error: false negative - attributing a real effect to chance
And now perform a cost-benefit analysis
  • Effect of a type I error: an innocent organisation pays a settlement [cost] is paid to people as compensation [benefit] for a condition which is the result of chance, and to their ambulance-chasing lawyer [cost], and safety regulations are strengthened [benefit] unnecessarily [cost].
  • Effect of a type II error: people damaged by a criminally negligent (or worse) organisation fail to get compensation and safety regulations are not strengthened as would be necessary.

There is no benefit to a type II error, only costs, and manifest moral iniquity to boot. The type I error is a mixed bag.

Therefore, the probability of a type II error should be minimised, with a limit to the expected cost of type I errors.

In other words, the false positives should be turned into an estimated "expected cost of doing business", and the compensation possibly capped by statute, and then the probability of false negatives should be minimised.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 07:17:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks for making that point, which I was also considering but ran short of time.

I'll also point out that accurate epidemiology gets harder and harder as the potency (lethality), mobility, incubation time and longevity of the toxic material increase.  in other words an oil spill into a harbour is nasty, but it's visible, the immediate kill effect is visible, it's visually detectible and remedial efforts are, if not perfect, at least feasible (booms, absorbent barriers, dispersal with surfactants, pump-n-filter etc).  and eventually -- maybe in years or decades -- that oil will settle or break down.  a plume of fine particulate or aerosol isotopes from a nuke plant is a far tougher nut to crack:  invisible for a start, and depending on the isotope, possibly toxic for millennia rather than a decade or two.  toxic  effect can occur from minimal inhalation or ingestion (i.e. high lethality) with a long delay (incubation), and it's highly mobile (can travel far and wide in a short time depending on wind conditions or river volume and speed).

containment is impossible, you can't put the genie back into the bottle, not even in a half-assed way like an oil spill.  figuring out who is exposed and who is not is nearly impossible, as no one may be immediately symptomatic and the amount of contaminant needed to do mortal harm may be too small to detect.  with a 20-30 year incubation and current standards of mobility, the exposed population may be anywhere by the time they are finally symptomatic.

dimethyl mercury is about as close as the non-radioactive world gets to this kind of bad scariness.  it is lethal in tiny quantities, incubation is fairly long (months/years though not decades, ahd a distinctive neurological trauma signature which makes it a bit easier to trace).  the response of the chemistry labs of the academic research world to a high profile case of death by dimethyl mercury was, in effect, to stop using it -- to phase it out -- because the properties of the substance mean that there is no safe way to use it.

one response to methods or substances which are highly lethal and present intractable epidemiology is to shrug and say "nothing can be proven, we are doing the best we can, it is unreasonable to expect more, no one can show conclusively that these deaths are really related."  another is to conclude that it's inherently unethical to use methods and substances which present so intractable an epidemiology problem that they create a de facto culture of impunity, in which "nothing can be proven."

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 08:05:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When arguing with French technocrats you have to use cost-benefit analysis. I know you'd rather bring the discussion to your frame, but that won't convince them ;-)

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 05:30:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Paris is downwind of Paluel, La Hague, Penly, Flamanville. 8 PWR, 1 repro plant, and the future EPR. And the Riviera is downwind of all the plants along the Rhone (probably 1/3rd of all 59 reactors, and the enrichment plant). France is only about 700 miles x 700 miles. With 59 power reactors, a couple of plants, a couple of research site, there are few places in France that are not with 100 miles of a nuclear plant (Auvergne, Mayenne...


by Pierre on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 03:56:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Cancel Le Tour!

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 08:22:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]


Occasional Series