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The performance of Black Swan is a statement on the ethical and ecological consequences of the nuclear age. An excerpt of the narrative was first presented by the author at the Peace Museum Vienna in 2017 to raise awareness of the United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons. The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted later that year on 7 July. That being said, it is indeed a sobering experience to view the list of countries that did not send representatives to the conference or signed the TPNW, that are nuclear weapons endorsers, host nuclear weapons or are nuclear armed states. 

The phrase "black swan" derives from a Latin expression; its oldest known occurrence is from the 2nd-century Roman poet Juvenile’s characterization in his Satire VI of something being rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno (a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan). When the phrase was coined, the black swan was presumed not to exist. The importance of the metaphor lies in its analogy to the fragility of any system of thought. A set of conclusions is potentially undone once any of its fundamental postulates is disproved. In this case, the observation of a single black swan would be the undoing of the logic of any system of thought, as well as any reasoning that followed from that underlying logic.

Juvenal's phrase was a common expression in 16th century London as a statement of impossibility. The London expression derives from the Old World presumption that all swans must be white because all historical records of swans reported that they had white feathers. In that context, a black swan was impossible or at least non-existent. 

However, in 1697, Dutch explorers led by Willem de Vlamingh became the first Europeans to see black swans, in Western Australia. The term subsequently metamorphosed to connote the idea that a perceived impossibility might later be disproven. 

In 2007 essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb popularized the term when he theorized how humans try to make sense of unexpected events. Taleb outlined the three defining attributes of a black swan event:

  • An event that is unpredictable.

  • A black swan event results in severe and widespread consequences.

  • After the occurrence of a black swan event, people will rationalize the event as having been predictable (known as the hindsight bias).

The theme carried throughout the performance of Black Swan is that of death and destruction playing hide and seek as is illustrated by the twists and turns of determining who would live and who would die due to human intervention and the unpredictability of the weather. Both played a major role in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as in the Fukushima nuclear disaster.


"Little Boy" was created using uranium-235, a radioactive isotope of uranium. This uranium-235 atomic bomb, a product of $2 billion of research, had never been tested. Nor had any atomic bomb yet been dropped from a plane. Allegedly some scientists and politicians pushed for not warning Japan of the bombing in order to save face in case the bomb malfunctioned.

The Target Committee serving on the Manhattan Project that produced the bombs reportedly agreed that psychological factors in the target selection were of great importance. Two aspects of this are (1) obtaining the greatest psychological effect against Japan and (2) making the initial use sufficiently spectacular for the importance of the weapon to be internationally recognized when publicity on it is released. 

Kyoto initially headed the list but was removed for seemingly non-strategic purposes moving Hiroshima into place as the 1st target. The port city of Nagasaki was officially added on 25 July, its fourth place position giving it the lowest rank. However, atomic bombs needed to be sited visually rather than relying on radar, which made clear skies necessary. After the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the United States planned to drop the next atomic weapon on August 10, but an extended cloudy forecast meant they had to move more quickly. They switched the attack to August 9, hastily assembled the egg-shaped plutonium bomb “Fat Man,” and loaded it into the B-29 bomber Bockscar. The mission took off from Tinian Island at 3:47 A.M. and flew toward Kokura, the intended target, but visibility over the city was poor. Searching for a window in the clouds, the plane circled the city three times, but Kokura never clearly came into view. Around 10:45, the team abandoned Kokura and flew south toward Nagasaki.


With a high sea wall, backup generators and extensive emergency planning, the Fukushima nuclear plant seemed ready for anything. It wasn’t. The plant suffered major damage from the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011 resulting in the partial meltdowns of three reactors. Radioactive material continues to run off from the land through rivers to the sea and can be found in certain species of fish.

On 5 July 2012, the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) found that the causes of the accident had been foreseeable, and that the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), had failed to meet basic safety requirements such as risk assessment, preparing for containing collateral damage, and developing evacuation plans. At a meeting in Vienna three months after the disaster, the International Atomic Energy Agency faulted lax oversight by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, saying the ministry faced an inherent conflict of interest as the government agency in charge of both regulating and promoting the nuclear power industry. On 12 October 2012, TEPCO admitted for the first time that it had failed to take necessary measures for fear of inviting lawsuits or protests against its nuclear plants.


Fran E. Wright

Acting President UNESCO Club Vienna

Member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN – Austria)

Vienna 20 Sept. 2020

Black swan.jpeg

Image created by Daria Khotuleva

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