Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nuclear Energy: We think too highly of ourselves.
Wikileaks revealed an illuminating conversation between Minister of State for Education & Defence Lawrence Wong and US Embassy Officials on Singapore's nuclear energy ambition.

Do we think that the human mind is capable thoroughly thinking through this issue of nuclear energy so that it would be safe? To me this is just one of those low probability, high impact risks. I think it is better for other countries to gain a lot of practical experience before we try it ourselves.

Keep is simple, stupid. Better not think too highly of ourselves. Other countries have the land to site and move away from a nuclear accident. We do not have that option. By the way, 30km buffer was too close for the Chernobyl disaster, which even threaten to poison the water table. None of these situations were anticipated. 30km was too close for the Fukushima meltdown too.

Have you watched NatGeo Air Crash Investigation series? The take away is that we could never anticipate every accident or mishap. Practical experience is of utmost importance and not negotiable.

Remember what SR Nathan said about Goh Keng Swee rejecting the offer for some fighter aircraft because they weren't battle tested? The wise man know the limits of cognition and theory. Now the stakes for committing to nuclear energy on the little soil we have is infinitely more severe. Singapore could practically cease to exist.

What about our neighbors? If we have nuclear reactors, they might also build some for themselves. And what if they are sited too near to us? In a nuclear meltdown they could move far away from Singapore and the site of their plant. What about us, where can we go? Also what pressure can we bring on them to stop building a reactor when we have them ourselves?

The recent lessons from financial history is pertinent and instructive about or human abilities. So many things that weren't supposed to happen had happened. GIC invested in UBS, which has a huge investment banking operation, i.e., a sort of casino. For a while, the dice were loaded in favor of the banks who were trading. That unfair advantage disappeared after the last crisis. So it boggles my mind why they were still so confident about Citi and UBS. My point? We make mistakes even when they were not supposed to happen. A few of us who can spot it, our opinions rarely count or were even heard. We simply cannot understand something with have no practical experience well enough. It is a human limitation.

I think we are in danger of thinking too highly of ourselves. This will be the occasion we over reach ourselves with disastrous consequences because trying your best is simply not good enough. You have to as sure as the sun will rise again tomorrow. This is not about air crashes, which are terrible. At stake here, no matter how theoretical, is the disappearance of Singapore.

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