“The tiny nation of the Republic of the Marshall Islands is once again at the center of international activism, filing two lawsuits, one in US federal court against the United States, and one in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against all nine countries that possess nuclear weapons,” writes Robert Alvarez at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
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.
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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."
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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:"
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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.
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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.
Steven Boyett sez, "Wreck diver and videographer Adrian Smith has launched a Kickstarter project to fund an expedition to document the forgotten wrecks sunken by the Bikini Atoll atomic explosion in 1946. No video record exists of these historic wrecks (many of them captured German and Japanese warships), and they are quickly eroding."
The naval vessels exposed to close-range atomic blast at Bikini Atoll represent the three major Pacific combatants of World War II. They are the only vessels ever sunk through the detonation of atomic weapons. These unique ships and submarines lie almost two hundred feet underwater, and are rapidly deteriorating. No comprehensive visual record exists to document their current state or unique reactions to their exposure to close-range atomic detonation. Soon it will be too late.
The ships themselves lie in waters from 40 ft (12 m) to 185 ft (56 m), deep but diveable with the correct equipment and training.
The “Baker” blast at Bikini Atoll was global front-page news when it occurred — so well-known that a French designer scandalized the world by introducing a line of two-piece swimsuits a mere four days after the Baker blast. The name of this new fashion? The bikini.
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:
"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.
From 1962, a sparkling set of electronics for your fallout shelter.
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)
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. Working from memoirs and memoranda and the terse and sometimes profane notes from the computers' logbooks, he paints a picture of the human strengths and foibles and the rivalries that sometimes spurred the project to greater heights, and sometimes held it back. He gives us an Institute riven by prejudice between the humanities and math people, and then the pure and applied math people, and then shows how these problems are dwarfed by the ethical issues raised by the intimate relationship of the computer project to the nuclear weapons project.
Reading Turing's Cathedral, I was never far from the sense that the computer was both the unique product of certain specific geniuses and the collective effort of dozens of people, some of whom violently disliked and disagreed with one other. Turing's Cathedral is a story of sparks arising from friction, and of the ways that too much friction could extinguish sparks, too, wasting human potential. It is also a powerful story of the ethical dimension of scientific research, a story whose lessons apply as much today in an era of expanded military R&D as they did in the ENIAC and MANIAC era.
Like The Information, James Gleick's history of information theory, Turing's Cathedral contains a good many technical concepts that arose from the development of the computer, from "incompleteness" to artificial intelligence. Dyson's technical explanations are less forgiving than Gleick's, and are also less central to the narrative. On the other hand, Dyson closes the book with three absolutely, hair-on-neck-standing-up inspiring chapters on the present and future, a bracing reminder of the distance we have come on some of the paths envisioned by von Neumann, Turing, et al (see this for a bit of a preview).
If I have one complaint about this book, it's that there isn't enough of Dyson, personally in it. I've heard him talk about this stuff before, and his own personal recollections are lively and do much to humanize the subjects. But if you've followed Dyson's work on space travel, the history of nuclear weapons, and even his science fiction, you already know that.
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.
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.
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The current evacuation zone in Fukushima is only 20-30 kilometers. The Japanese government has compensated the evacuees from inside that zone and has financially supported them in moving out of it. However, as more and more high levels of radiation are being discovered outside of the evacuation zone, many more Fukushima residents (and many others located nearby Fukushima) want the government to also help them logistically and financially so that they can move out further away from the nuclear plants. Especially since many children are now being exposed. But the government does not want to do this at all and many people are getting very upset. This video was filmed in Fukushima at the Corasse Fukushima Building on July 19, 2011. The meeting was entitled "Japanese Government Discussion - Demands for Evacuation Authority". This meeting was attended by residents of Fukushima and some Representatives for the Nuclear Safety Commission Of Japan. It was filmed by some anonymous members of the "Save Child" website. This site includes Japanese news about the Fukushima Nuclear disaster, advice on how to avoid contamination, and many, many related videos. This site is much like enenews.com on steroids! I checked domaintools.com and the name of the registration is private. You can see the original Japanese videos of this meeting on the Save Child website here (English), and on Youtube here. This video was translated by pejorativeglut. And, for sure, the English subtitles are correct. I was not involved in the production of this video.