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Status of “design” re: Japanese nuclear crisis? March 17, 2011

Posted by @Karen_Fu in change, design, environment, human quality, life challenges.
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[picture source: Guardian.co.uk]

Thought I paste my reply to a forum post which I think is important. I’ve found Clive Dilnot
Professor of Design Studies from the School of Art Design History and Theory Parsons School of Design, New School University; more than thoughtful. This is only my answer to the initail part of his email post to PhD forum. I have suggested an initail idea of a multilayer lead net to contain radioactivity. But I believe the more important issue is to change the minds on consumption and the way we live. The psychology behind is to focus both in policies and products. here’s the copy of my reply, open for crit:

Can’t help it but to want to post thoughts on Clive’s email after seeing how the Japanese community here felt and how I come to shock of the latest events in Japan. All these, despite natural disaster, has
a strong link to human error in design.

In regards to the unfolding double tragedies in Japan, Donald Norman’s
“leap-to” diatribe in defense of engineers completely misses the
point. In fact, it is part of the problem (in that, as the subsequent
replies showed, it diverts the real question in all the wrong
directions—no Virginia, building a 100-metre sea wall is not the
answer).

Totally agree on this aspect. But unortunately many scientists, engineers etc do not think this way. Despite the prowess of what advance science and technology can do, the ultimatum is still human factors. I see this tragic event the result of systemic loopholes. The other thought that came to my mind is that we over emphasis about nuclear energy and being awfully over confident about our abilities to contain such technology. Our human complacency can often misquide us to think that advanced know-how is the solution to all, which unfortunately isn’t.
Its often like a problem left to the open thinking that you could swat them with a large net, forgetting that the problem may be larger and more powerful in strength. When all these add up, it mutates into
a snowballed problem that could have been sorted at base point.Nuclear energy is by far, I think, the most dangerous form of energy to use. It may be economical from a commercial standpoint, but the opportunity cost is often devastating. Apparently Fukushima had mechanical problems way back in the 70s. But strangely, they have not been totally cleared off. It makes me wonder how could engineering problems such as pressure and cooling systems were solved. I would have thought policies or products to encourage alternative fuel sources with possible policies to cut down unneccessary consumption would greatly reduce the need for electrical energy. On many levels, psychology may well be the most fundamental aspect in solving energy problems.The immediate thought was to design a kind of ‘lead net’ that covers the entire nuclear plant in several layers before it actually explodes. Damn thick wall, but I suppose it is better than nothing or leaving 50 brave Japanese rescuers choosing to risk their lives to look for survivors. I think its utterly unfair to these people. The persons who design the reactors and those who allowed the faulty systems to be in place for so long should be the ones to take on most of the responsibilities.

My original post asked two questions. The first was open—what does the
word “design” mean when it is used in connection with the design of  (or
what I would call the configuration) of the Japanese nuclear plants?
What is “design” here? What is that in the nuclear plant or as a quality
of the plant, that causes commentators to talk of its ‘design”?

Design here would simply mean to be responsible; be wise & honest to know the risks; be
intelligent to fit all the demands with a solution that has a backup for possible accidents despite the
magnitude.

No design is considered even passable, when any kind of problem is overlooked.
The age of the reactors may be a problem. But I think the system in place is a greater problem.
The thinking of those people who design the policies and the physical product are the most
important factor. Everything grows old with age. But why is it that some products/buildings could last
while some don’t? Simply because the strict attention to every design detail in compliance to
different kinds of human environments & our common natural environment keeps it good.

Only have this bit of bedtime for the long torso and tail bit of Clive’s detailed thought on the mega accident. It’s actually a wake up call not only for Japan but to everyone of us on this globe. We have not yet figure out the pending danger it poses to the environment. Looking at the line of eathquakes that have happend,will there be a string of other similar earthquakes waiting to errupt ?

Pretty frighteining stuff if you pile all these up with what Dr Stephen Hawkings had mentioned that
our future is in space. But instead of lining up to fly to Mars or wherever into the unknown, we need to solve the problem that is inherent within us. I see it as a root problem. For if it is not solved by the root, your evergreen tree cannot grow, and nevermind if it would last.

That’s how I see it.

Night night all,
Karen Fu

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