In 1981, Harvard law professor Roger Fisher, director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, published a thought experiment in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: what if the codes to launch nuclear war were kept inside the chest-cavity of a young volunteer, and the President would have to hack them out of this young man's chest before he could commence armageddon? Read the rest
Explore how many nukes there are in the world, and where they are, courtesy of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' interactive Nuclear Notebook -- a useful way to discover whether some friendly superpower has stashed nukes in your harbour. Read the rest
Glenn Fleishman writes, "A responsible dealer of the radioactive element radium, a substance once pushed widely as a quack cure, tried to keep the genie in the bottle. Theresa Everline explains that in the first half of the 20th century, Frank Hartman, known as the Radium Hound, kept track of accidents and incompetence in handling radium. His diaries reveal that radium lingers in forgotten places." Read the rest
Mike from Mother Jones sez, "Josh Harkinson writes about the upcoming sentencing of Megan Rice, an elderly nun and Plowshares activist who broke into the Y-12 enriched uranium facility with two fellow aging activists. The incident, which exposed glaring security flaws and was deeply embarrassing to the feds, could get the trio a maximum 30 years in federal prison. Harkinson writes:" Read the rest
The publicly funded, $35B cleanup of radioactive soil around Fukishima is staffed by homeless men recruited from Tokyo Sendai subway stations. They are preferentially sent to the most radioactive zones, and work for less than minimum wage. Mobbed-up subcontractors confiscate as much as two thirds of their pay in "fees." Everyone involved in sourcing the labor for the cleanup denies responsibility for the illegal practices, blaming sub-subcontractors or cowboy recruiters. The president of one contractor, Aisogo Service, defended the practice of not scrutinizing the labor force or the conditions under which it worked, saying "If you started looking at every single person, the project wouldn't move forward. You wouldn't get a tenth of the people you need."
Workers are also recruited from publicly funded homeless shelters. One man worked for a month for a total payout of $10. After this fact was verified and made public, the man disappeared. Workers are charged exorbitant rates for lodgings and food, and are docked pay for being too ill to work. As a result, some workers are in debt to their employers, a debt that deepens the longer they stay employed.
The decontamination project is two to three years behind schedule. Read the rest
Zack writes, "In 1957, Nevil Shute's classic anti-nuclear-war novel On The Beach was published -- and the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) put out a heavily-condensed adaptation with art by Ralph Lane that ran in 29 comic strips distributed to newspapers. All 29 strips are collected here -- I found these through a link in an eBay auction that is selling original art to 21 of the 29 strips."
This is one of those novels that brings me to tears no matter how many times I read it -- a powerful and moving piece of minatory fiction that really does the heavy lifting of science fiction with utter brilliance. The comic strip carries some of that freight (as does the 1959 classic film with Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck), but the novel really is the best version by far.
Matt Novak hits some highlights from Joanne Brown's 1988 Journal of American History paper A is for Atom, B is for Bomb (paywalled link), which discusses the weird, grim stuff that America contemplated at the height of the cold war, and worried about how it would identify the charred corpses of children after a nuclear blast:
In February of 1952 the city of New York bought 2.5 million dog tags. By April of that year, just about every kid in the city from kindergarten to fourth grade had a tag with their name on it. Kids in many other cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Las Veagas and Philadelphia also got dog tags, allowing for easy identification should the unthinkable occur.
But educators weren't considering just dog tags to identify the scores of dead and injured children that would result if the cold war suddenly turned hot. They also considered tattoos.
The BBC's Keith Moore tells the tragic story of Joe Pasquini, an RAF navigator who was ordered to fly a jet through the mushroom cloud rising from the 1958 Grapple Y nuclear test, the largest nuclear explosion ever created by the British (he also flew through the Grapple Z test). He has since survived seven bouts with cancer; his children have also had various cancers. They blame his exposure to nuclear radiation, but have been denied any benefits by the British government, which, unlike the US military, does not acknowledge that veterans of nuclear tests are at any elevated risk of cancer. Here's Pasquini's description of his flight through the heart of a mushroom cloud:
Read the rest
"It detonated at 8,000 feet. We had our eyes closed, but even with our eyes closed we could see the light through our eye lids. It took 49 seconds for the light to stop.
"As soon as that happened, we immediately turned back. Fortunately being in the navigating position, I had a little window and I watched the whole thing develop and spread and then start climbing.
"I think I saw the face of God for the first time. It was just incredible, it blew our minds away. These were things that had never been seen before, certainly not by English people."
When the mushroom cloud had passed over them, Pasquini looked up at the window above him and had another surprise - radioactive rain.
"It's the only time I've experienced rain at 46,000 feet," he says.
"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."
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.
As Kodak stumbles through its bankruptcy, all sorts of weird facts are surfacing, like the news that the company had its own nuclear reactor, producing weapons-grade isotopes. It was installed for neutron imaging experiments in 1974, and while the feds were duly notified, it doesn't look like there was ever a public announcement -- nor was there any notice given to the local firefighters who'd have turned up if anything ever went wrong. If only I'd known about this when writing Makers (which concerns itself with hedge fundies who buy up and strip down Kodak and Duracell), think of the subplots I could have written!
From the Democrat and Chronicle piece by Steve Orr:
Company spokesman Christopher Veronda said he could find no record that Kodak ever made a public announcement of the facility. He also wasn’t sure whether the company had ever notified local police, fire or hazardous-materials officials.
Current city of Rochester officials, whose personnel might have been summoned to Building 82 had an untoward incident occurred, said they were in the dark. Monroe County officials did not provide comment despite several requests.
The Democrat and Chronicle learned of the facility when an employee happened to mention it to a reporter a few months ago.
The recent silence was by design. Detailed information about nuclear power plants and other entities with radioactive material has been restricted since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
(Image: Nuclear Regulatory Commission) Read the rest
Science historian and perennial Boing Boing favorite George Dyson's latest book is Turing's Cathedral, and it is, in some sense, the book he was born (or at least raised) to write. Dyson, the son of eminent scientist Freeman Dyson, was brought up on the grounds of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies during the period when the Institute's cadre of scientists (who included Einstein and Godel) were in the midst of building and operating the first digital computers, under the direction of John von Neumann. George Dyson grew up among these scientists and their children, and witnessed much of this historic period firsthand. He has made a distinguished career out of documenting the remarkable imaginations and scientific acumen of the physicists, rocket scientists, mathematicians, polymaths and engineers who were involved in the R&D swirl that birthed rocketry, computing, radar, weather prediction, and nuclear weapons.
With Turing's Cathedral, Dyson combines his prodigious skills as a historian and writer with his privileged position within the Institute's history to present a vivid account of the digital computer project and the curious circumstances -- the World Wars, the curious nature of the multidisciplinary Princeton Institute, and the odd personalities of the people involved -- that combined to make the computer described by Turing into a reality that could be assembled and run in a building in New Jersey.
Dyson unravels the personal histories of the great personalities of the project, from household names like Turing and von Neumann and Godel to the largely unsung contributions of the likes of Julian Bigelow, Oswald Veblen, Klari von Neumann and Stan Ulam. Read the rest
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:
Below, a video excerpt from Alex's interview with Pillitteri.
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.
More about the radio series follows.