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).
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.
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. — Maggie
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."
"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.
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.
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.
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.)
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. — Maggie
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.
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.
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.
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: