Letter: Fears in the nuclear

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The Independent Online
Sir: Hamish McRae omits an important factor in his article on our perception of risk ("How safe are our reactions?", 14 September). There is the risk of an event occurring (x). If the event does occur, there is assessable damage (y). Our reactions depend, not upon our appreciation of x, but of x multiplied by y.

By smoking, I increase the probability of ill health, premature death, actuarily calculable as x. Whether I am frightened or complacent about the risk will be affected by my assessment, possibly intuitively, of personal factors such as my age, family history, my enjoyment of life, and the state of medical/surgical technology - ie what are the chances of disaster if the event (cancer) does occur?

Producing electricity from nuclear power may have a lower x than doing it from coal oil or gas. The y in this case - nuclear fission/fusion out of control - is the element that Mr McRae does not acknowledge. Logical discussion will not develop from a defective conceptual formula.

Yours truly,

Joyce Prince

Chipping Warden, Oxfordshire

14 September