I have always enjoyed Michael Crichton's books, but sometimes turn up my nose at his science. I must say though that the chain of seemingly stupid errors that led to the park crashing in Jurassic Park bear an amazing resemblance to what is going on with the Japanese nuclear plans. I don't buy his application of chaos theory to the chain of events, but its hard not to see parallels to this:
Engineers had begun using fire hoses to pump seawater into the reactor — the third reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 complex to receive the last-ditch treatment — after the plant's emergency cooling system failed. Company officials said workers were not paying sufficient attention to the process, however, and let the pump run out of fuel, allowing the fuel rods to become partially exposed to the air.
Once the pump was restarted and water flow was restored, another worker inadvertently closed a valve that was designed to vent steam from the containment vessel. As pressure built up inside the vessel, the pumps could no longer force water into it and the fuel rods were once more exposed.
The other line I am reminded of comes from the docu-drama "From the Earth to the Moon." In the episode after the fire on Apollo 1, they have Frank Borman testifying to a hostile Congressional committee about the fire. When asked to explain the root cause, he said "a failure of imagination." I don't know if this is a true quote of his or purely fiction, but it resonates with me from my past troubleshooting work. Almost every fire or major failure we looked at in the refinery resulted from a chain of events that no one had even anticipated or thought possible, generally in combination with a series of stupid human screwups. I would describe the Japanese nuclear plant problems in the same light.
From IMDB, how the line was quoted in the mini-series
Clinton Anderson: [at the senate inquiry following the Apollo 1 fire] Colonel, what caused the fire? I'm not talking about wires and oxygen. It seems that some people think that NASA pressured North American to meet unrealistic and arbitrary deadlines and that in turn North American allowed safety to be compromised.
Frank Borman: I won't deny there's been pressure to meet deadlines, but safety has never been intentionally compromised.
Clinton Anderson: Then what caused the fire?
Frank Borman: A failure of imagination. We've always known there was the possibility of fire in a spacecraft. But the fear was that it would happen in space, when you're 180 miles from terra firma and the nearest fire station. That was the worry. No one ever imagined it could happen on the ground. If anyone had thought of it, the test would've been classified as hazardous. But it wasn't. We just didn't think of it. Now who's fault is that? Well, it's North American's fault. It's NASA's fault. It's the fault of every person who ever worked on Apollo. It's my fault. I didn't think the test was hazardous. No one did. I wish to God we had.