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Secret Nazi nuclear weapons testing bunker unearthed in Austria

The secret weapons complex was found near Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria (Herwig Prammer/Reuters)


The secret weapons complex was found near Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria (Herwig Prammer/Reuters)

An underground weapons bunker built by Nazis to test nuclear and chemical weapons has been unearthed in Austria.

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New truths revealed about 1961 nuclear weapons accident in North Carolina

The T-249 switch used to arm nuclear bombs on Strategic Air Command bomber aircraft. Photo courtesy of Glenn's Computer Museum.


The T-249 switch used to arm nuclear bombs on Strategic Air Command bomber aircraft. Photo courtesy of Glenn's Computer Museum.

A recently declassified Sandia National Lab report published by the National Security Archive offers new details about a 1961 nuclear weapons accident in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

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Marshall Islands sues 9 nuclear powers, including US and Russia, over failure to disarm nuclear stockpiles

The Castle Bravo nuclear test on Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands. A 15-megaton device equivalent to 1,000 Hiroshima blasts was detonated in 1954. Photograph: US Air Force - digital version


The Castle Bravo nuclear test on Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands. A 15-megaton device equivalent to 1,000 Hiroshima blasts was detonated in 1954. Photograph: US Air Force - digital version

The Marshall Islands is suing the nine known nations with nuclear weapons at the international court of justice at The Hague, over charges they have violated their legal obligation to disarm under the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). From the Guardian:

In the unprecedented legal action, comprising nine separate cases brought before the ICJ on Thursday, the Republic of the Marshall Islands accuses the nuclear weapons states of a "flagrant denial of human justice". It argues it is justified in taking the action because of the harm it suffered as a result of the nuclear arms race. The Pacific chain of islands, including Bikini Atoll and Enewetak, was the site of 67 nuclear tests from 1946 to 1958, including the "Bravo shot", a 15-megaton device equivalent to a thousand Hiroshima blasts, detonated in 1954. The Marshallese islanders say they have been suffering serious health and environmental effects ever since.
Named in the lawsuit are the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel, an undeclared nuclear weapons state.

Officials testing for possible radiation leak at New Mexico military nuclear waste site


WIPP. Photo: DOE.

Last Friday night, elevated levels of radioactive particles were measured at an underground nuclear waste site near Carlsbad, New Mexico [Map].

Here is the Department of Energy's official statement on the incident [PDF].

Snip: "DOE emphasizes there is no danger to human health or the environment. WIPP’s system of air monitors and protective filtration system continue to function as designed. The source of the airborne radiation is still being investigated."

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Chernobyl's deadly Elephant's Foot

This is a photo of the Chernobyl "Elephant's Foot", a solid mass made of a little melted nuclear fuel mixed with lots and lots of concrete, sand, and core sealing material that the fuel had melted through. The photo was taken in 1996. At that point, the Elephant's Foot had cooled enough that a human being could stand directly in front of it for an hour before receiving a lethal dose of radiation. When the Foot was first discovered, shortly after the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl power plant, it delivered a lethal dose in just five minutes. You can read Kyle Hill's interesting history of the Elephant's Foot at Nautilus. And be sure to check out this 1991 video that shows how people were able to rig up robotic camera systems to safely take photos of the thing (though, as Hill points out, not all the photos of Elephant's Foot were taken safely).

The secret twin of Stuxnet


Natanz, Iran's primary uranium enrichment facility.

"The real program to sabotage Iran's nuclear facilities was far more sophisticated than anyone realized," writes Ralph Langner in Foreign Policy Magazine.
Three years after it was discovered, Stuxnet, the first publicly disclosed cyberweapon, continues to baffle military strategists, computer security experts, political decision-makers, and the general public. A comfortable narrative has formed around the weapon: how it attacked the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz, how it was designed to be undiscoverable, how it escaped from Natanz against its creators' wishes. Major elements of that story are either incorrect or incomplete. That's because Stuxnet is not really one weapon, but two. The vast majority of the attention has been paid to Stuxnet's smaller and simpler attack routine -- the one that changes the speeds of the rotors in a centrifuge, which is used to enrich uranium. But the second and "forgotten" routine is about an order of magnitude more complex and stealthy.

More on the Fukushima water leaks

The New York Times has a story that ties together several reports of contaminated, radioactive water leaking into the ground and the nearby harbor at the site of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan. From the sounds of things, this water has not yet heavily contaminated the open sea. That's the good news. The bad news is that everybody pretty much agrees that TEPCO has no idea what to do when it comes to actually stopping the leaks, and no clue how long they could continue.

Source of increasing contamination at Fukushima Nuclear Plant unknown


Via VOA: "A leakage detective unit (C) and its detection punch unit on an underground water storage tank are seen at TEPCO's tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant in Fukushima, in this undated photograph released by TEPCO on April 6, 2013."

Snip from a report by Voice of America's Steve Herman in Tokyo:

"Fresh revelations about radiation contamination from the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant and a government regulator are prompting new concerns in Japan. What is expected to be a decades-long battle to halt radiation leaks and to clean up contaminated soil and water at the Fukushima-1 nuclear plant is back in the public eye following the release of new information this week."

TEPCO, the plant's operator, says there's a steady increase in the levels of radioactive cesium in the groundwater, and in levels of strontium and tritium offshore.

U.S. backtracks on nuclear stockpile secrecy


Still from an important 1964 documentary on nuclear one-upsmanship.

Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News writes, "In May 2010, the Department of Defense disclosed that the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal consisted of 5,113 warheads (as of September 30, 2009). This was a disclosure of great significance," and "an unprecedented breakthrough in secrecy reform," being the first time America had disclosed the current size of its nuclear arsenal. 

The Obama Administration’s promise to be “the most transparent Administration ever” is often viewed ironically in view of the perceived prevalence of overclassification. But when it comes to nuclear stockpile secrecy (and at least a few other important topics), that promise was fulfilled quite literally.
How so? Today, the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal today is once again classified. Read more: Pentagon Reverts to Nuclear Stockpile Secrecy - Secrecy News.

Safecast, crowdsourced radiation monitoring project, logs 10 million data points

The crowdsourced radiation monitoring project Safecast, which was launched in the weeks after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, has reached a big milestone: they have collected and published over 10,000,000 individual data points.

53 years of nuclear tests as electronic music

I've seen this video described as a musical depiction of all the nuclear bombs ever detonated. But that sort of makes it sound like you're about to get a particularly bombastic version of the 1812 Overture. Instead, "1945-1998" by Isao Hashimoto is more like an infographic with sound effects — or, possibly, a mash-up of the games Simon and Global Thermonuclear War.

What you get is an interesting depiction of nuclear tests through time — 2053 of them (including the non-test explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki). I found it particularly interesting to watch the slow ramp up over the course of the late 1940s and early 1950s, when months or years would tick by between tests. After that, beginning in the late 1950s, you see these patterns of sudden flurries of explosions, usually happening in the US and the USSR almost simultaneously. The cultural sense of panic is almost palpable.

Nuclear contaminated water leaking from storage tanks at Fukushima site

Over the last couple of days, Japanese electrical company TEPCO has announced that they found leaks in three of the seven underground tanks used to store contaminated water at the site of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. They've also admitted that the tanks aren't reliable. And here's where we get to the fun part: Despite that fact, there aren't many other options. The water is stuff that's been used to cool down fuel rods that melted during the April 2011 disaster. You have to put water on the fuel rods, or they could overheat again. But once you're done with that water, it's not particularly safe, either, so you have to contain it somehow. And until other options can be built these tanks are the only place to put it. The third, most recent, leak was found when TEPCO tried to move water from the known-to-be-leaky tanks to another they thought was in good shape. This is just a mess.

Amazing photos of 1946 nuclear weapons test

Baker was a 23-kiloton nuclear weapon that was detonated underwater at Bikini Atoll in 1946. The goal was to see what would happen to Navy boats if they were in the region where a nuclear bomb went off. The boats you see in this photo were unmanned, but there were sailors relatively close by, taking these shots. There's evidence that they weren't properly protected against fallout, and later used contaminated water to drink and bathe in. (Also, as a fictional side effect, Bikini Atoll nuclear tests like Baker might have been responsible for the creation of Spongebob Squarepants.)

My Modern Met has compiled several photographs and video that give you an up-close, mind-boggling view of the explosion — including the massive column of water that shot into the mushroom cloud and the 2-mile-high tidal wave that followed.

Another look at Fukushima's legacy

Recently, I linked you to a report on the World Health Organization's estimates of the long-term risk of cancer and cancer-related deaths among people who lived nearest to the Fukushima nuclear plant when it went into meltdown and the people who worked to get the plant under control and into a cold shutdown. The good news was that those risks seem to be lower than the general public might have guessed, partly because the Japanese government did a good job of quickly getting people away from the area and not allowing potentially contaminated milk and meat to be consumed. The bad news: That one aspect isn't the whole story on Fukushima's legacy or the government's competency. Although the plant is in cold shutdown today, it still needs to be fully decommissioned and the site and surrounding countryside are in desperate need of cleanup and decontamination. That task, unfortunately, is likely to be far more difficult than anybody thought, with initial estimates of a 40-year cleanup now described as "a pipe dream". One key problem: The government cut funding to research that could have produced the kind of robots needed for this work, because it assumed that nobody would ever need them.

The legacy of Fukushima

At Time, Bryan Walsh reports on two pieces of news coming out of the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. First, the World Health Organization has released estimates of the health effects on the plant's workers, the people who were involved in shutting it down, and the local residents who lived closest to the plant when it went into meltdown. These people will have an increased risk of leukemia, thyroid cancers, and cancer, in general. But the increase isn't as large as you might have feared. Walsh does a very good job of breaking down the statistics, here. The second bit of news is, unfortunately, not so good. In Germany, which decided to phase out nuclear power in the wake of Fukushima, coal power is on the rise. And it's rising faster than the increase in renewable energy.

New Hiroshima bombing photo shows split mushroom cloud

A photograph that shows the Hiroshima atomic bomb cloud split into two sections, one over the other, has been released by the curator of a peace museum in Japan. It was discovered on Monday among a collection of some 1,000 archival items related to the bombing, all of which are now in the possession of Honkawa Elementary School in Hiroshima city.

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Sandy slows US nuclear plants, oldest in US declares alert: morning-after update

Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey was placed on "alert" status last night, after a storm surge from Sandy caused water levels at the plant to rise over 6.5 more than normal, threatening the "water intake structure" that pumps cooling water throughout the nuclear plant.

Snip from Reuters update:

Those pumps are not essential since the reactor has been shut for planned refuelling since Oct. 22. However, a further rise to 7 feet could submerge the service water pump motor that is used to cool the water in the spent fuel pool, potentially forcing it to use emergency water supplies from the in-house fire suppression system to keep the rods from overheating.

On Tuesday, an NRC spokesman said the levels reached a peak of 7.4 feet -- apparently above the threshold. As of 6:10 a.m. EDT waters were at 6.5 feet, with the next high tide at 11:45 a.m. He said the company had moved a portable pump to the water intake structure as a precaution, but has not needed to use it.

The plant's operator, Exelon, says there is no threat to public safety, or the structural integrity of the plant.

Mitt Romney does not understand how one creates a "dirty bomb"

Mother Jones today published a second part of the video secretly recorded at a Mitt Romney fundraiser in Boca Raton. The first bombshell will forever be known as "47 percent," but the portion getting attention today focuses on a response the Republican presidential candidate gave to a question about the Israel/Palestine peace process. The tl;dr there: he doesn't believe it'll happen, and intends to "kick the ball down the road" and let the next administration deal with it, or something like that.

But here's a derpworthy moment in the video that may be of interest to science fans, and people who have actually done some reporting on how so-called "dirty bombs" work.

Here's a transcript for the relevant portion of the video:

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For those with cancer: make your own "With great power comes great radiotherapy" t-shirt

Science blogger Ed Yong whipped up this awesome graphic and made me a one-off tshirt to wear to radiation treatment for breast cancer.

Cancer patients, radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, and the people who love them all can make their own t-shirts and stickers with the JPEG if you are so inclined!

Thanks, Ed!

Report: hackers targeting Iranian nuclear facilities "AC/DC-rolled" workstations after attack

Mikko H. Hypponen of F-Secure publishes an email he claims is from a scientist with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (or AEOI), which details a new "cyber attack" wave against Iranian nuclear systems.

Snip: "There was also some music playing randomly on several of the workstations during the middle of the night with the volume maxed out. I believe it was playing 'Thunderstruck' by AC/DC."

Mikko can't validate the email or the tale therein, and neither can we, but if it's true? Heh.

* The 'shoop above is mine, not the hackers'.

Full Body Burden: Memoir about family secrets, government secrets, and the risks of industrial pollution

Image: A worker at Rocky Flats handles a piece of plutonium using gloves built into a sealed box. The plutonium was bound for the innards of a nuclear bomb.

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First of Japan's 50 reactors restarts since nuclear crisis; Japan's energy policy still in turmoil

Photo: Oi Nuclear Power Plant, via Wikipedia.

The No. 3 reactor at the Ohi (or Ōi) nuclear plant in Japan went back on the grid Thursday morning, according to a statement from its operator, the Kansai Electric Power Company. The nuclear reactor in western Japan became the first in the country to restart since last year's tsunami and earthquake caused a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant, and led to intense debate over the future of energy in Japan.

Also today in Japan, a parliamentary inquiry concluded that the nuclear accident at Fukushima "was a preventable disaster rooted in government-industry collusion and the worst conformist conventions of Japanese culture." Hiroko Tabuchi at the New York Times has more.

Anarchist group targets scientists in terrorist attacks

Last year, I told you about Individuals Tending Towards Savagery, a terrorist group that has mailed bombs to nanotechnology researchers in Mexico, Chile, France, and Spain. Their stated goal: Stop technological innovation. And they aren't alone.

At Nature News Leigh Phillips reports on a group called the Olga Cell of the Informal Anarchist Federation, which is dedicated to the suppression of science in general and technological innovation in particular. The group is behind several bombings and shootings, mostly targeting nuclear scientists and nuclear energy advocacy groups. Now, the Olga Cell says that it's joining forces with other anti-science terrorist groups around the world. This group is apparently communicating with Individuals Tending Towards Savagery, though it's not clear how close the collaboration is.

On 11 May, the cell sent a four-page letter to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera claiming responsibility for the shooting of Roberto Adinolfi, the chief executive of Ansaldo Nucleare, the nuclear-engineering subsidiary of aerospace and defence giant Finmeccanica. Believed by authorities to be genuine, the letter is riddled with anti-science rhetoric. The group targeted Adinolfi because he is a “sorcerer of the atom”, it wrote. “Adinolfi knows well that it is only a matter of time before a European Fukushima kills on our continent.”

“Science in centuries past promised us a golden age, but it is pushing us towards self-destruction and total slavery,” the letter continues. “With this action of ours, we return to you a tiny part of the suffering that you, man of science, are pouring into this world.” The group also threatened to carry out further attacks.

Read the rest of the story at Nature News

More detail on what Kodak was doing with a neutron multiplier

Earlier today, David told you about a news story that's everywhere right now: The fact that the Kodak company ran a small nuclear facility at its research lab in Rochester, New York.

The facility closed down in 2007, but I can totally understand why this story interests people. It's nuclear! And it is really weird for a corporation to be sitting on 3.5 pounds of uranium. Like David said, this is unusual today. David did a good job covering this in a sane way. The TV news I saw this morning at the airport ... not so much. That's why I like the detail provided the Physics Buzz blog, where Bryan Jacobsmeyer explains, better than I've seen elsewhere, just what exactly Kodak was doing with their nuclear system. Turns out, it's really not all that odd for this specific company to own this specific piece of equiptment when they did. That's because of what Kodak was. We're not just talking about a corporation in the sense of middle managers and salesmen. We're talking about original research and development—a job for which a californium neutron flux multiplier is quite well suited.

In fact, these research reactors can be found on several university campuses, and they are operated under strict guidelines without any nefarious intentions.

Researchers working at Kodak wanted to detect very small impurities in chemicals, and Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA) proved to be one of the best techniques to find these impurities. During NAA, samples are bombarded with neutrons, and elemental isotopes from the sample will absorb a small fraction of these neutrons.

Many of these stable elemental isotopes will become radioactive after gaining a new neutron; consequently, they will emit gamma rays. With the right equipment, researchers can measure the precise energy levels of this radiation and narrow down which elements are in the sample.

Basically, it provided a way to sift through the components of a sample at a molecular level, and spot the things that shouldn't be there. Originally, the lab used just californium. Later, it added uranium plates that helped make the system more powerful.

Read the full Physics Buzz post

Via Jennifer Ouellette

Image: IMG_7391.jpg, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from jameskarlbuck's photostream

Listen to a sane debate about nuclear energy

What happens when you get the chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, the chief scientist of Greenpeace, an energy and environmental policy expert, and an environmental activist/politician in a room together to talk about nuclear energy?

You can listen to the whole (very, very interesting) conversation—part of the Science Question Time series—which was recorded last Thursday at the Institute of Physics in London.

I recently started describing my position on nuclear energy as "frienemies"—I'm not strictly against it, and think we're likely to need it, but I also have some serious issues with how safety is regulated and what we will do with the waste. I think this nuanced discussion did a nice job of laying out the benefits and detriments in a reasonable way. The discussion gets heated, but it is pleasantly lacking in the sort of wild-eyed propaganda and not-particularly-comforting-corporate-pronouncements that tend to characterize these sorts of debates. (Or, rather, it would be, were it not for one memorable audience heckler.)

Download the audio file.

Visit the Biochemical Society's website for updates about future Science Question Time events.

The Apocalypse will be a lot like flying coach

What could possibly make a 1960s-era nuclear war worse than you'd already assumed it would be? How about being packed like sardines into a fallout shelter with 13 of your soon-to-be-closest friends?

Frank Munger is a senior reporter with the Knoxville News Sentinel, where he covers Oak Ridge National Laboratory—a nearby energy research facility that previously did a lot of civil defense research. Munger turned up this, and several other photos, of mockup nuclear shelter arrangements tested out in the basement at ORNL when the facility was trying to establish best practice scenarios for surviving the Apocalypse.

They look ... less than pleasant.

That said, though, they may not have been meant as long-term arrangements. Munger linked to an Atlantic article that makes an interesting case related to these photos: If what you're talking about is one relatively small nuclear bomb (as opposed to massive, hydrogen bomb, mutually assured destruction scenarios), the idea of "Duck and Cover" isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. If you could get these 14 people out of the way of the fallout for a couple weeks, their chances of survival would rise exponentially. Fallout shelters were not meant to be "the place you and your people live for the next 50 years."

The radiation from fallout can be severe -- the bigger the bomb, and the closer it is the the ground, the worse the fallout, generally -- but it decays according to a straightforward rule, called the 7/10 rule: Seven hours after the explosion, the radiation is 1/10 the original level; seven times that interval (49 hours, or two days) it is 1/10 of that, or 1/100 the original, and seven times that interval (roughly two weeks) it is 1/1000 the original intensity.

See the rest of Frank Munger's photos of ORNL fallout shelter mockups.Read the rest of The Atlantic article on "duck and cover".

Must-listen radio: "Nuclear Power After Fukushima," documentary from BURN: An Energy Journal


Veteran radio journalist and master storyteller Alex Chadwick (who's also a personal friend—he's taught me so much about journalism over the years) hosts a must-listen radio documentary premiering this weekend on public radio stations throughout the US.

BURN: An Energy Journal is a four-hour, four-part broadcast and digital documentary series exploring "the most pressing energy issues of our times."

Part One of the series, titled "Particles: Nuclear Power After Fukushima," coincides with March 11, the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. I've listened in entirety, and followed along as the BURN team researched and produced over the past few months, and I can tell you this is truly powerful work. The show also includes PBS Newshour reporter Miles O'Brien, reporting from inside the Fukushima exclusion zone on his recent trip there.

Carve out some time and listen to it on-air, or listen online at this link.

Snip from description:

Included in the riveting premiere episode is an exclusive, first-time-ever interview with an American who was on-site at the Daiichi nuclear plant when the earthquake and tsunami struck. Carl Pillitteri, a maintenance supervisor and one of 40 Americans in Fukushima on that fateful day, describes his terrifying ordeal as he desperately attempted to lead his men to safety through the enormous, shuddering turbine buildings in total darkness.

Below, a video excerpt from Alex's interview with Pillitteri.

More about the radio series follows.

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Haunting photos from Fukushima, one year later: "Invisible You," by Satoru Niwa

Japanese photographer Satoru Niwa, whose work I blogged in a previous Boing Boing post, has a new series from Fukushima marking the one-year anniversary of the March 11 disaster: Invisible You. Again, beautiful, evocative work. Above: a shot from the town of Namie, which is some 40 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. View the full gallery here (warning: Flash).

Inside Japan's Nuclear Meltdown, one year later: Frontline doc airs tonight on PBS

Airing tonight on PBS Frontline (check your local listings, or watch it online!), a documentary film that provides the definitive inside account of what really happened, moment to moment, during the Fukushima disaster. "Inside Japan's Nuclear Meltdown" features exclusive interviews for the first time with Japan's prime minster and the top executives at TEPCO.

Tomorrow, Frontline is hosting a chat with the film's producer/director, Dan Edge, and Boing Boing science editor Maggie Koerth-Baker will be participating.

There's a terrific interview with Edge on the public radio program Fresh Air.