One of the ugly truths of engineering is that life has a price. Cars, buildings, power plants, and industrial machinery can always be made safer for a cost, but manufacturers are at the mercy of the market.
”If you ask people how much money you should spend to save a human life, they’ll always say, ‘Whatever it takes,’” Richard A. Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California-Berkeley and author of the book Energy for Future Presidents, told us. “That’s not really rational behavior, but there’s something dry and inhuman about thinking through the actual numbers.”
Indeed, there’s something cold about it. When we pointed out that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant was originally designed for an 8.2-level earthquake a couple of weeks ago, some readers were incensed. Japan, they said, has a long history of earthquakes and its utilities should have been prepared for a 9.0. “Any designer who fails to look at the 100-year environment is failing to meet the canon of ethics,” noted one commenter on our website.
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