Learning Danger


We may be taking our ability to learn for granted. It seems such an obvious thing…of course we learn! We went to school, started a new job, did a Masters in something, learned a new language…we can obviously learn.

Unfortunately, one aspect of our learning ability is falling short, mostly as a result of a very common trait – Complacency conveniently disguised as Confidence. We all know that most animals learn by conditioning – anyone who has trained a horse or owns a pet dog recognises that. A dog will eventually learn that going for the brush cutter’s head = smack on the nose. Training it to recognise other dangers (e.g. snakes) is then fairly straightforward.

Most other wild animals learn their predators through experience too. So what’s happened to our ability to learn “danger”? If it isn’t “young people” skylarking on bridges or behind the wheel of a car, it’s apparently “mature adults” skylarking behind the wheels of government and big business…and the stakes are a lot higher.

We still don’t seem to be learning our lesson about the risks of nuclear energy, despite the repeated tragedies over the years. I doubt Japan 2011 will blow some fresh air into the halls of Nuclear Faith either. We’ll act cautious for a couple of years, and then we’ll be back building nuclear reactors all over the place, claiming the safety of technological advancement and “new knowledge” from the Japanese experience.

France has not been phased by the Japanese disaster, pushing ahead with plans for reactors in Britain and even considering building some underwater in the English Channel. This is a complete back flip on Sarkozy’s “Nuclear is dead” stance at the 2009 Copenhagen summit.

Finland is going ahead with building the world’s largest nuclear reactor, even though the president agrees that nuclear energy is not a miracle fix for the future and should only be considered a temporary measure. Germany claims it will hold off on its nuclear program for the time being, although there is some speculation that the moratorium is just an election stunt.

We can only hope that commonsense and the human capacity to learn from experience prevails. Nuclear energy is not a sustainable solution for the future. It is merely another non-renewable resource, with a whole lot more risk attached to it than coal ever had.

Don't stare too long at the spelling error...you might hit the hazard.

© Manu Saunders 2011

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