Probabilistic risk assessment (PRA) is an important methodology for assessing the risks of complex technologies. This paper discusses the strengths and weaknesses of PRA. Its application is explored in three different settings: adversarial policy processes, regulatory/licensing procedures, and plant safety audits. It is concluded that PRA is a valuable tool for auditing safety precautions of existing or planned technologies, especially when it is carried out as an interactive process involving designers and plant personnel who are familiar with actual, everyday operations. PRA has not proven to be as well-suited in providing absolute risk estimates in public-policy debates concerning the acceptability of a technology, or for the licensing and regulatory procedures. The reasons for this are discussed.