Coal, Nuclear

Will Rogers wasnt politically correct

Issue 5 and Volume 101.

Will Rogers wasn`tpolitically correct

Will Rogers supposedly said, “It`s not what we don`t know that hurts us. It`s what we know for sure that ain`t true.” Will Rogers didn`t have to deal with television, fax machines or the Internet bombarding him with information. These media cover us with a mountain of data to sort through.

For power plants, engineers and software developers have given us some tools to help us handle our own information overload. Expert systems analyze reams of plant data, using knowledge gained from many years of experience, and give us probable causes for problems. Computer workstations with artificial intelligence track and analyze parameters from many different sources and produce an assessment of plant condition. Communications technologies–most recently the Internet–give us access to central databases and drawing files, so we have the best and most up-do-date equipment information at our disposal.

Yes, we in the technical community have done what we know best: We have applied a technology-based “fix” to the data overload problem. But how do we know the software developers didn`t make some subtle logic or programming errors that, in certain circumstances, yield incorrect results? In spite of the significant resources devoted to software development and in spite of testing at alpha and beta sites, software bugs and errors still creep in occasionally. Eventually, somebody will find and correct the errors; engineers and other technologists seem to experience great joy in uncovering and publicizing somebody else`s technical error. This is a good system that seems to work most of the time in the technical arena.

In dealing with societal issues, however, the general public does not have access to experts and does not have the benefit of alpha and beta test sites to filter out errors. “Everybody knows” global warming is a major problem in spite of the fact that its existence is still the subject of a lively debate among atmospheric scientists. “Everybody knows” nuclear power plants pose unacceptable risks in spite of their unprecedented safety record. As a result of what “everybody knows” we have squandered untold national assets by throwing away completed or nearly completed nuclear plants. We have spent vast sums trying to ameliorate environmental problems that may not exist. We have done these things because of what “everybody knows.”

This is a rich country. But I don`t think any country is so rich that it can go on wasting its assets for very long. We are being hurt by “what we know for sure that ain`t true.” It`s just not politically correct to recognize that, yet.