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Newsgroups: comp.risks
X-issue: 5.22
Date: Sun, 2 Aug 87 22:08:43 EDT
From: mnetor!utzoo!henry@uunet.UU.NET
Subject: Publicized Risks  

  [This is not particularly computer relevant (and you may omit it if relevance
  is in with you today) -- except that the conclusion is worth noting.  But,
  please don't respond to the items that are less than relevant.  Yes, it's my
  fault -- I could have omitted Mark Day's precursor as well -- except that
  it had a useful comment on a STILL EARLIER message...  Iterated Mumble.  PGN]

> Car wrecks and cigarette smoking kill more people than nuclear plants, sure,
> but the way that they kill people is very different.  Car accidents
> generally don't affect a zone of several miles' diameter, forcing evacuation
> and abandonment of homes...   [Mark Day, RISKS-5.18]

There is also the question of voluntary vs involuntary risks.  However, the
comparisons here are basically apples-vs-oranges.  A much fairer comparison
is to other risks that are involuntary, affect a zone of several miles'
diameter, force evacuation and abandonment, etc.  There are such, and they
get far less attention than nuclear risks.  One is driven to conclude that
the perceived seriousness of risks has much more to do with the amount of
publicity than with the magnitude of the problem.

Some examples:

- There is apparently at least one place in the US where a dam failure would
	probably kill a quarter of a million people.  The probability of dam
	failure is known to be nonzero, and they are much less carefully
	guarded against terrorist attack than nuclear plants.  Do you know
	whether there is one upstream of you?

- The Bhopal disaster probably (I don't have numbers handy) killed more
	people than all nuclear accidents to date, Chernobyl included.  There
	was noise about it at the time, but it's largely forgotten now.  Do
	you know whether there is a plant handling such chemicals within,
	say, ten kilometers of you?  Do you care?

- The largest peacetime evacuation in history had nothing to do with nuclear
	reactors.  Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from the
	center of Mississauga (which is essentially a suburb of Toronto) when
	tank cars loaded with chlorine derailed a few years ago.  How many
	rail lines are there within ten kilometers of you?  Do the railroads
	using them observe any restrictions on what cargos they carry on
	those lines?  How frequent are derailments on those lines?  (Usually
	the answers are "several", "no", and "much more common than you

People who raise the issue of nuclear wastes should look into the arsenic
content of stack-scrubber sludge from coal-burning plants.  That stuff is
produced in far greater quantities than nuclear wastes, for comparable
power outputs, and arsenic has *no* halflife -- it is dangerous *forever*.
Here we have another comparable, arguably rather worse, risk that is largely
ignored in all the uproar about nuclear power.  Why?  Less publicity.

Henry Spencer @ U of Toronto Zoology {allegra,ihnp4,decvax,pyramid}!utzoo!henry

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