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Acceptable risk vs. phantom fear

By E. Ralph Hostetter
web posted May 2, 2005

Acceptable risk is the measure of what man will chance in the pursuit of his material and spiritual wants and needs in so far as it threatens his life, health and general welfare. Risk to life is considered paramount. Concern for the loss of one's life or that of a loved one, of course, would be uppermost in consciousness and would elicit the most response to a fear factor, real or imagined.

The importance of the material object to man or of the spiritual reward to his intellect has a tendency to moderate his fear of death. Materially speaking, the first love of man, his automobile, is one of the greatest threats to his life, yet he accepts and uses it without fear. Spiritually, his love of country will lead him to its defense wherein there is a possibility he will sacrifice his life.

The material risks of life are faced every day. It is well established that the automobile is an acceptable risk, even though tens of thousands of lives (43,000 plus) are lost every year in accidents. There is probably more fear expressed with respect to flying. However, scheduled air travel is the safest means of transport.

A very low fear factor and a willingness to accept risks over the centuries enabled America to elevate the economy and culture of its people to undreamed of heights, even to the moon – and to lead the balance of the world in the same direction.

In the last 50 years activist radicals in the United States have played on the fears of the American public in a manner that creates substantial interference with upward mobility of America's economy and culture.

These radicals are supported by the fact that the nation's public schools for two generations have been teaching more subjects encompassing social issues that make students feel good, rather than traditional subjects such as reading, writing, mathematics, geography and sciences that provide the student with more of an understanding of life as it is.

Furthermore, courses involving memory exercises, such as arithmetic tables and verses of poetry, are no longer taught in public schools. Hand calculators replace mental exercises and the Internet replaces memory.

Vacant minds provide a vacuum for fear. With a fear factor multiplied many times, is it any wonder that when one cow gets Mad Cow Disease in Canada the Canadian beef industry is virtually destroyed? In addition to billions of dollars lost, businesses and livelihoods are wiped out. Mad Cow Disease is acquired, not by contact, but by the cow eating infected parts of other animals. Man would have to eat parts of the Mad Cow.

With one Mad Cow to share with six billion other hungry beef eaters in the world this would seem to be less than zero as an acceptable risk. However, the phantom fear prevailed. It should not be overlooked that the merchants of phantom fear who purveyed the panic are in partnership with a dishonest mass media. A simple explanation of the matter by a truthful media would have dispelled the fear.

The most egregious example of exaggerating the fear factor involves atomic energy.

The general public has been led to believe that every atomic energy electrical generating plant is an atomic bomb that eventually will explode, killing tens of thousands. Again a dishonest media perpetuates this myth.

It is an acceptable risk that no injury to a population has been caused by any aspect of atomic energy use in the pass 55 years, with the one tragic exception of the accident at Chernobyl in the Ukraine.

Chernobyl deaths officially were counted at 31 and were the result of a poorly designed and poorly managed atomic plant. There undoubtedly were other deaths and radiation injuries but nowhere near the number claimed by hysterical radical activists.

Atomic energy plants generate electricity with the use of the atom and all other electrical generating plants use fossil fuels. What are the total risks, including the production of the fuel for each type plant? Atomic-energy plant deaths from actual operations, excluding Chernobyl, stand at three from a reactor accident in Idaho in 1961.

Not including deaths from accidents and explosions in coal-fired, oil-fired and gas-fired electrical generating plants, the preparation of fossil fuels has cost tens of thousands of lives in coal mines disasters (50,000 in China alone), gas line explosions, off-shore drilling platform disasters, petroleum refinery explosions and truck and ship transport accidents over the same 55 years.

Environmental disasters include spilling some 1.5 billion gallons of oil on the oceans of the world, to say nothing of the carbon dioxide created by the burning of various fossil fuels.

With crude oil at $54-plus per barrel and with ever increasing demand, United States' dependency upon foreign imports, now 60 percent, is critical. A sudden interruption of supply could affect America's ability to wage war. Jet fuel represents 20 percent of airline costs. Increased fuel costs will destroy the entire airline industry in America. Furthermore, a fuel crisis of this proportion would present a clear and present danger to the health, welfare and safety of the American public.

President George W. Bush and his Department of Energy must take a serious look at the use of atomic energy for relief in this developing energy crisis. A standard must be established to determine a method for selecting the means to solve this country's energy problem. The time-honored standard of acceptable risk is the only standard that has proved to be useful throughout the ages. The acceptable risk for atomic energy production today is zero.

Had the radical activists of today been around in the formative years of the planet's economic development the earth would still be flat. The use of the wheel, which has contributed to millions of deaths throughout history would have been denied to mankind.

Ralph Hostetter serves on the Board of Directors of the Free Congress Foundation.

 

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