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. Read the rest
"Whatever your attitude toward use of the atomic bomb, you must live with the fact that it exists," commands this ad. About the self-protection steps it details, "The wise citizen of this atomic era will memorize them so thoroughly that their use would be almost instinctive."
A vintage Mutual of Omaha insurance company advertisement from 1951, lovingly scanned and shared in the Boing Boing Flickr Pool by v.valenti.
So, I'll need to look into this further, but did Mutual of Omaha offer "surprise atomic attack" coverage at the time? The ad doesn't make that clear.
(Update: Cory blogged this back in 2010.) Read the rest
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:
Read the rest
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!
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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.
"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'. Read the rest
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. National Archives via Wikipedia.
Kristen Iversen grew up in the shadow of two big secrets. The first was private. Her father was an alcoholic, and his problem grew bigger and harder to ignore or hide as Iversen got older. But the other secret didn't belong to just her and her family. Instead, it encompassed whole Colorado communities, two major corporations, and the US government.
Iversen grew up near Rocky Flats, a nuclear weapons plant near Denver. In much the same way as Iversen's family related to her father's alcoholism, Rocky Flats presented risks that nearly everyone involved preferred to ignore or cover up. In fact, years after several public exposes had made it very clear that Rocky Flats made nuclear bombs and that the corporate and government entities that ran the facility had cut corners and allowed massive amounts of plutonium to escape into the surrounding environment, people who lived in Iversen's neighborhood near the plant still refused to give up their long-held belief that it produced nothing more than Scrubbing Bubbles and dishwashing detergent.
Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats is memoir—albeit one that captures documented history as well as a family's private struggles. It's not really meant to be a book about science. But I think it's a powerful, well-written memoir that science buffs should read. Read the rest
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.
Read the rest
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.
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.
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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.
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. Read the rest
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."
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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.
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.
Read the rest
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 the Fukushima exclusion zone: the photography of Satoru Niwa
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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. Read the rest
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. Read the rest
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:
"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": The Bishop's Rectum"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Arab Courier Attacked by LionsMuseum photos: Mummified Ice-Age bison Read the rest