Risk Assessment for Politicians 101

Dear readers,

just a few days ago I already talked about those cases of maximum credible cruelty, as exhibited by German politicians and their tendency to use every event for their own financial benefit – even if it’s the death and unspoken misery of many thousands of people (see here).

On that very topic, one of those people – one Dr. Wolfgang Götzer, member of the German parliament for the CSU party – made the following interesting statement:

“In light of the current events, the negligible risk of a plane crashing onto the Isar 1 power plant can no longer be neglected. Powering that plant down is the logical consequence.” [1]

So, I’m somewhat confused here (and I guess you will be, too). For decades, the risk of a plane crashing onto a specific plant and the results thereof could be neglected. Now this has changed. This hasn’t changed because the plant has changed, or the kind of airplanes has changed, but because a country several thousand miles away was hit by a catastrophic earthquake. How does that fit together? Let’s have a look at how this is done properly:

Risk Assessment and the Fault Tree Analysis

When designing a system, the risks of its use are described in a risk assessment. Then, those risks are defined as “undesired events” – and for those, a so-called fault tree analysis (or FTA for short) is executed [2]. This FTA has the undesired event at the top, and below that are events leading to this – either alternatively (e.g. the light can go out in your room if either the power is down or the bulb has failed) or in combination (e.g. the driver behind you isn’t warned you’re braking if the right and the left and the center braking light fail). The events here can further be described by the propabilities that they will happen.

Generally, what do you do with the results of such an alaysis? It allows you to identify the weak links in your system, and then to define measures to reduce the risk of the undesired event happening. Sticking with the “lights gone out” example: if you find that the overall risk of the bulb going out is much higher than that of the power failing, you could install a second bulb, maybe one that gets switched on only if the first one fails. Or if the risk of the power outage is much higher, you could use an UPS – or do both.

So let’s look at our plane crash scenario, shall we not?

In that case, our undesired event is the MCA – the maximum credible accident (GAU in German – and if you wonder what a Super-GAU is – don’t, it’s supid press, nothing more and nothing less. The correct abbreviation is GAU, or MCA in English). That maximum credible accident for a nuclear power plant is the breach of the reactor core. So let’s see how this is related to the plane crash scenario and to the events in Japan Dr. Söder cited in his risk analysis:

So we see that a plain crash can in fact lead to the MCA, both via a direct damage to the reactor core, or by triggering a meltdown via damage to the cooling system. So which role does the earthquake in Japan play here? It’s not even in the FTA! No wait, it is – on the far right hand, and obviously connected to another analysis altogether – so let’s have a look at the whole picture:

This is the fault tree analysis for Dr. Götzer (MdB)’s very own maximum credible accident: he gets less of the taxpayer’s money. So what should he do? Fortunately, the tool of the FTA is of help here. The MCA happens if he does not get reelected. This in turn happens if three conditions are fulfilled:

  1. there is a major earthquake in Japan
  2. other parties (Die Linke/Die Grünen mainly) start a train of demagogic propaganda.
  3. Dr. Götzer himself fails to jump onto that evil propaganda bandwagon himself.

You would consider this a safe system – you have a total of three root causes that must all be fulfilled to in turn lead to the MCA, Dr. Götzer no longer being able to properly rip people off. Unfortunately for this poor soul, both events one and two have already happened – so now it’s clear that Dr. Götzer needs to do everything in his power to avoid event three happening. Fortunately for him, this is entirely in his command and only needs a short interview with a local newspaper – a cleverly designed fault-tolerant system!

This system, as you may have noted, is not in any way connected to the safety of German power plants (or to anything beneficial to any voter, for that matter). Those are completely unrelated systems, held together only by demagogic propaganda.

It’s obvious that Dr. Götzer does not care the least for the safety of these plants, their MCA, or the well-being of the people of Germany. In fact, in case of that power plant’s core really melting, the taxpayer of course finances an airplane which can quickly take him to a beautiful place of his own choice. The risk here hasn’t changed a bit. What has changed is the risk assessment in Dr. Götzer’s very own and personal FTA.


  1. Isar 1 wird wohl abgeschaltet (Vilsbiburger Zeitung) – my translation.
  2. as defined by IEC 61025 or EN 61025.
  3. Merkels Atomwende (Süddeutsche Zeitung).

Post Scriptum

You may think that I hold a grudge specifically against the politican mentioned in this post. This is not the case – at least not more than I do against all those similar politicians who have in the last few days driven an evil and inhuman campaign. So if you believe that the politician of your choice is different – check his statements from recent days closely, and I’m sure his maximum credible accident is just the same as in the example above. Even so, for some politicians, the tree looks different, and one positive example (although not a person whose work I enjoyed so far) is Erwin Huber [3].


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