I have been reading around the recent tragic events in Japan. In particular, comparisons have been made with the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and so I have read, with morbid fascination, the wikipedia account of that episode. If Tom Wolfe were writing a novel set in a nuclear power generator, this would be it. A still unexplained mechanical failure, followed by a stuck valve, triggered a chain of errors and misunderstandings and other failures that ultimately led to a partial core nuclear meltdown and the release of a large quantity of radioactive gases. The accident inspired Charles Perrow’s Normal Accident Theory in which ‘an accident occurs, resulting from an unanticipated interaction of multiple failures in a complex system’. It’s a thoroughly depressing theory because it argues that accidents like the one at Three Mile Island are ‘unexpected, incomprehensible, uncontrollable and unavoidable’. Meanwhile, I read in this week’s edition of the New Statesman that the Japanese earthquake is estimated to have shifted the earth on its axis by 6.5 inches and caused it to rotate faster, shortening the day by about 1.8 millionths of a second.