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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.

Two new nuclear reactors to be built in Georgia

Yesterday, the United States' Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the construction of the first two nuclear reactors to be built in this country since 1978. They're both part of the same power plant complex, near Augusta, Georgia.

As David Biello points out in an excellent analysis of this news over at Scientific American, these reactors are not part of a nuclear renaissance in the U.S. That's simply not happening. But they represent some important shifts in technology. These reactors employ passive cooling systems. Basically, in the event of an emergency, you don't need to rely external pumps or generators to keep the reactor cores cool.

You'll recall, of course, that this was the key problem at Fukushima. The tsunami damaged the generators that powered the pumps, so when the reactors began to heat up, there was no way to get cooling water into them. In Georgia, the new reactors will, instead, rely on gravity. If one of these reactors gets too hot, a heat-sensitive valve will automatically open, releasing cooling water that's stored directly above the reactor core.

Obviously, this doesn't make the reactors fail-proof. If you support nuclear energy, you're going to see this (and the fact that the NRC approval is conditional on utility Southern Company demonstrating that they have learned from the lessons of Fukushima) as a step in the right direction. If you're absolutely against nuclear energy, you're going to be deeply disturbed by this project no matter what happens.

I sit somewhere in the middle. I'm uncomfortable with nuclear energy—as it currently exists—being presented as a long-term energy solution. It can't serve that role as long "bury it" is our only means of dealing with nuclear waste. And whether it's a good idea at all depends on how stringent regulatory oversight is willing to be.

At the same time, though, we are dependent on steady, ever-increasing supplies of electricity. Right now, we get 20% of that electricity from nuclear reactors, most of which are reaching the end of their functional lives. The question of what will replace them is a serious one. There are steps we can take to reduce our energy consumption. We can, and should be, adding more wind, solar, hydro, and other renewable resources to our electric generation mix. But there are some very good reasons why we can't, right now, shut down all the coal, all the nuclear, and all the natural gas power plants. All three of those sources of generation come with big safety and health problems. But we are going to continue to use one or more of them for decades to come. Renewables should be our long-term solution. In the short-term, though, we have some nasty and subjective decisions to make about what risks we're willing to live with. I'm not enthusiastic about nuclear. But a new nuclear power plant, in my mind, is better than a new coal power plant. The trouble with making these kind of decisions, though, is that there's lots of room for reasonable people to disagree.

After nuclear disaster, a harsh winter for Fukushima's abandoned pets (big photo gallery)

Members of UKC Japan care for dogs rescued from inside the exclusion zone, a 20km radius around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. (REUTERS)

As regular Boing Boing readers will recall, I traveled to Japan some months back with PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien to produce a series of stories about the aftermath of the March 11 quake/tsunami, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster that followed.

In the course of reporting our story about Safecast's crowdsourced efforts to monitor radiation, we encountered abandoned pets inside the evacuation zone.

Reuters today published an article about new efforts to save animals abandoned by families forced to flee their homes after the nuclear disaster.

"If left alone, tens of them will die everyday. Unlike well-fed animals that can keep themselves warm with their own body fat, starving ones will just shrivel up and die," said Yasunori Hoso, who runs a shelter for about 350 dogs and cats rescued from the 20-km evacuation zone around the crippled nuclear plant.

The government let animal welfare groups enter the evacuation zone temporarily in December to rescue surviving pets before the severe winter weather set in, but Hoso said there were still many more dogs and cats left in the area.

"If we cannot go in to take them out, I hope the government will at least let us go there and leave food for them," he said.

Inset: Mr. Hoso, who is also director of the United Kennel Club Japan (UKC Japan), speaks in front of a destroyed house in Namie town, inside the 20km exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, January 28, 2012. A photo gallery of more images from their rescue efforts follows (all images: Reuters).

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"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Two nuclear bombs, slightly dented

Earlier this week, I challenged readers to send me photos of their favorite museum exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. Over the next few days, I'll be posting some of these submissions, under the heading, "My Favorite Museum Exhibit". Want to see them all? Check the "Previously" links at the bottom of this post.

Mike Anderson sent in this photo from the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, NM. The museum is home to two (now de-weaponized) nuclear bombs. In 1966—back when these bombs were actually capable of exploding—the United States Air Force accidentally dropped them on Spain.

The accident happened when the plane carrying four of these Mk28 type hydrogen bombs collided with another plane during a mid-air fueling. One bomb fell into the ocean and was eventually recovered. The other three landed near the village of Palomares in southern Spain. Two of the bombs actually detonated—sort of. Only the non-nuclear explosives went off, turning them into what we'd call "dirty bombs" today. Some 650 acres, a little more than a square mile of farmland and rural communities, were contaminated. The U.S. military ended up excavating 1,400 tons of soil from this area and shipping it to the United States for disposal.

You can read an oral history of the cleanup effort. The Brookings Institution has more detail on exactly what happened during the accident and its aftermath.

Previously in this series: