Predicting the Chances of Another Nuclear Accident in Japan

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People will bet on just about anything.

And the lure of gambling is clearly all-consuming for some, even gamblers who survived this weekend's horrible bus crash that killed 15 people.

And now, in the aftermath of the quake in Japan comes the opportunity to bet on whether or not another explosion will happen at that country's nuclear facilities, thanks to Intrade (but is the mushroom cloud imagery really necessary?)

The Dublin, Ireland-based firm has a long history of creating "prediction markets" where people can trade on the likelihood of something actually happening in the world.  Intrade sets up markets, just like a stock exchange, where people can buy (predict something will happen) or sell (predict something won’t happen) shares.

Shares trade between zero and $10. The closer shares trade toward that maximum amount, the more likely it is that people believe an event will happen.

Chances that Vladimir Putin will announce a run for President? That's trading at $5 a share, which translates into a 50 percent that he will. Those are also the same odds of Muammar al-Gaddafi no longer leading the Libya by the end of the year (53 percent).

Interestingly enough, those are also nearly the same odds of Charlie Sheen being arrested, in rehab or in the hospital before then end of June (50 percent).

But back to Japan. Intrade has also set up prediction markets for the International Atomic Energy Agency to upgrade the Fukushima reactor to higher and more dangerous levels.

Chances of an upgrade from a Level 4 (Accident with Local Consequences) to a Level 5 (Accident with Wider Consequences) are now at 24 percent.  For context, Three Mile Island was classified as a Level 5 incident.