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The Japanese Meltdown.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | March 17, 2011

No. 601

How quickly it can happen! A large segment of a heavily populated nation has been reduced to rubble. Thousands are dead. Many others are missing. Survivors are trying to cling to life with severely limited food, water and shelter.  The world’s third largest economy is in total paralysis.  The risk to the public health from damaged nuclear power plants is unknown but the dagger of disaster appears to be hanging by a thread. Attempts to cool the runaway reactors have taken on the appearance of desperation.

Since the the atomic bomb ended the Second World War, the specter thermonuclear war has haunted the world.  It never happened.  Then, the possibility that nuclear materials smuggled from the former Soviet Union would be hijacked by terrorists loomed. That hasn’t happened, at least not yet.

What did happen was, yes, what we call a Black Swan. It happened, in large part, because it wasn’t expected.  If Japanese planners hadn’t thought that their nuclear power plants were earthquake-proof, they probably wouldn’t have  constructed them at all, and certainly not within miles of a fault line.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his now classic book “The Black Swan, the Impact of the Highly Improbable” defines the term:

“First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact.  Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”

In other words, the same people who couldn’t and didn’t foresee the Japanese disaster will soon be telling each other that it was inevitable.  They will eventually fortify against the recurrence and inevitably will miss the next Black Swan.

But even though we cannot predict what disaster will happen next, or where or when, we can predict with certainty that it will, and soon.  It hasn’t been that long ago that the BP spill was threatening the ecosystem of the Gulf Coast.  Or the infrastructure of Haiti was blown away. Or, before that, the City of New Orleans was brought to the point of collapse by the inability of the levee system to withstand the ravages of a well-placed hurricane. If you think the frequency of disasters, natural and otherwise, is increasing, I agree.  The technology of the world is getting to be so complex that it is multiplying the likelihood that some catastrophe will happen.

But there also seems to be a ray of hope. The destruction is never total.  Some survive and in time recover.  Technology makes that possible too.

The moral of all this:  Disaster is coming soon.  And recovery follows.


CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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