Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘radiation

Fukushima Lies

with 18 comments

Well, as was obvious almost immediately, the nuclear power lobby and their supporters went into overdrive to downplay and obfuscate the seriousness of the Fukushima crisis in Japan. No, this isn’t another Chernobyl. And World War Two wasn’t the same as World War One, that doesn’t mean World War Two was no big deal either. I’ve even read commentaries claiming Fukushima “proves” that nuclear power  is safe. My jaw drops on that one, the Fukushima crisis isn’t over yet, so how the hell does this prove nuclear power is safe? Until the plant is safely brought back under control, and that may take up to a year, it’s a little premature to claim that this crisis is even over, let alone claim that Fukushima is no big deal.

The biggest lie I see about nuclear accidents is ones revolving around the death toll. By focusing entirely or almost entirely on how many people died, it’s easy to make nuclear power look safe compared to say coal power. There are two things horribly deceptive about this argument. For one thing it relies on the lowest possible estimates for deaths caused by nuclear accidents, often even limiting it to the people directly killed on site! It’s debatable how many people were killed by Chernobyl, maybe a few thousand, maybe many more, but focusing on this single statistic obscures the bigger picture. What about the people who got cancer but didn’t die? What about the hundred thousand people who were rendered homeless by Chernobyl? What about the area the size of Rhode Island (or Lancashire) that was rendered uninhabitable by Chernobyl? And what about the incredible cost of accidents like Fukushima or Chernobyl? Can a fire at a coal power plant bankrupt a nation?

And speaking of coal power plants, the claim is often made that we have a choice between coal power plants and nuclear power plants. To say this is oversimplification would be unfair, this is simply regurgitated energy industry propaganda. The energy industry has done a fabulous job convincing people that the only way to provide power in the modern world is giant power plants and their attendant giant electrical grids. Conservation, energy efficiency, distributed power generation, etc. are all simply dismissed as hippie nonsense. If this were really the case, the energy industry wouldn’t need tireless propaganda for their cause, and more importantly, it completely obscures the massive public subsidies that the energy industry has enjoyed for decades. From the Rural Electrification Act to the development of nuclear power itself the energy industry has enjoyed generous public subsidies. Not to mention that the health costs of both coal and nuclear power are simply dumped on the public. Anyone who says coal and nuclear plants and centralized power  are the “only option” is missing a big part of the picture.

Then we come to the amazing amount of misinformation spread about radiation itself. Mostly through conflating various types of radiation, and by claiming that “radiation” is normal and that a little bit more won’t hurt. Yes, we live in a world where there is a lot of radiation, it’s unavoidable. What the “it’s all OK” people deliberately ignore or don’t mention is that fallout is not normal. Fallout is radioactive particles that get released into the environment. And yes, the radiation produced by fallout is trivial. What they don’t mention, is that if the fallout gets incorporated into bodily tissue, it is horrifically non-trivial. It’s like if someone was shooting at you with a BB gun, close your eyes and you would be safe. If however they could insert that BB gun inside our body at shoot at point blank range at various organs, the results would not be pretty. This is the difference been the radiation one receives on a  plane flight and the radiation one receives by ingesting fallout, same “radiation,” wildly different consequences.

The other way that nuclear industry apologists deliberately understates the risk from fallout is that they make the claim that it’s so widely distributed in the environment that the dose anyone gets is small. While this is sort of true, it completely ignores the way fallout in the environment get concentrated in the food chain. Sure, there’s very little fallout on that grass. Then however the cows eat that grass, and a small amount of radioactive fallout gets concentrated and becomes dangerously radioactive milk or meat. In fact there are all sorts of ways radioactive fallout can get concentrated in the food chain, many of them no doubt as yet unknown. This especially goes with the release of fallout into the sea, this is simply a complete unknown at this point. Don’t worry though, the risk is so small that our government is going to protect us by not even bothering to test for it. Phew, see, no problem.

Which leads to another point. It’s so easy to hide the damage caused by this sort of event. Let’s think about this. Governments and the nuclear industry have incredible incentive to downplay the consequences of Fukushima. Combine this with the fact that the actual risks of this, increased cancer rates in decades to come, are going to be very easy to conceal and obfuscate and deny. Pretty sure any poli-sci freshman can give many reasons why governments lie through their teeth in situations like this. This is just how human institutions work, especially today when the mainstream media is owned lock, stock, and barrel by these very same interests that have reason to lie. Is this proof that they are lying or that the consequences of Fukushima are extremely serious? Of course not, but it’s definitely proof that people need to take government, industry, and media “expert’s”  pronouncements of safety with an extremely large dose of salt.

Lastly, a related point that Fukushima illustrates. Nuclear waste. There are decades worth of nuclear waste “stored” at Fukushima, under circumstances that are hardly safe. This is the most toxic waste humans have ever produced, and it’s going to remain dangerous for thousands of years. The fact that the fawning corporate media never even mentions this issue anymore is proof that they are simply shills for big energy and big government. I mean, passing their negative costs onto society is standard procedure for big business, but in this case they are passing the costs on to countless future generations. This should be factored into arguments about how “safe” and “practical” nuclear power is, but instead it simply gets ignored. I’m sorry, but ignoring the nuclear waste issue in the discussion of nuclear power makes about as much sense as ignoring a lump in your breast or testicle in a discussion about your health.

In summary, am I saying that Fukushima is a mind numbing disaster that’s going to kill huge numbers of people and proves that nuclear power is insane? Not at all. I’m saying that Fukushima  is a serous disaster of yet untold proportions, and it’s very much proof that the whole issue of nuclear power needs to be publicly debated. And I’m also saying that anyone, government or otherwise, who claims Fukushima is “no big deal” is at best premature  in their pronouncement, and at worst simply lying. No one knows the future scope of the Fukushima disaster, especially since the reactors and nuclear waste storage pools won’t be brought under control for months at best. This could still get a lot worse before it gets better. Sadly, I’m betting on worse.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. And yes, I’m kinda skirting the boundaries of copyright law here, but since I’m plugging their show, I hope that in the extremely unlikely event that a CBS corporate copyright attorney sees this blog, they can overlook this copyright violation. At worst, they can tell me to remove the image. Credit and Copyright: CBS. Anyhow, I digress. I chose this image for several reasons, the main one being that it illustrates that the comfortable post World War Two fantasy that most Americans have been living in is rapidly drawing to a close, and Fukushima and its attendant costs and disruptions to the world economy are one of the factors driving this sea change. Wealth can only be funnelled upwards while costs are passed onto the public for so long  before the whole rotten edifice collapses of its own weight. And also because it as a really good TV series and I highly recommend it to my readers.)


Written by unitedcats

April 18, 2011 at 7:21 am

Would it be possible to build a suit able to withstand the surface of the Sun’s temperature?

with 12 comments

Another interesting question from Yahoo Answers. I find Yahoo Answers fascinating not only because the occasional very thought provoking question gets asked amid all the “are we all gonna die in 2012?” claptrap,  but because the answers themselves are very revealing of human psychology in general. The question in the post title provoked a number of responses. Many pointed out that on the surface of the Sun there are other problem to deal with, like the crushing gravity or the fact that the surface is a “foam” of hydrogen.  Others helpfully pointed out that there is no known  material that won’t melt at the temperatures on the surface of the Sun. Now I have faith that at least some of my readers are made of better stuff, think about it, does the gentle reader note any problems with the above two answers to the question? This isn’t a trick question. Basically, the problem with these answers is simple … neither of them actually answers the question as asked. The asker did not inquire about what problems there would be besides heat on the Sun’s surface, nor did they inquire whether any known material can remain solid on the Sun’s surface. Yet those were the “answers” they got to their question. And people wonder why I lament the lack of critical thinking that seems to be so prevalent these days?

Moving right along, one I suppose could make a case that the question was badly stated, but still, it’s not so badly stated that it’s hard to understand. Restated, the question is “Is it possible to shelter something from the heat in an environment as hot as the surface of the Sun?” FYI the Sun’s surface, or photosphere as it is called, is at about 6000K (10,340 degrees F, 5736C.) Yes, it’s very very hot, though not nearly as hot as the Sun’s corona, but that’s another topic. And oddly enough to my mind,  sheltering say a Solar probe from such heat is an interesting problem.

Can it be done? Well, let’s look at it. Heat transfer is actually fairly straightforward, there are three ways heat can be transferred to an object from its environment, in this case our Solar probe floating on the photosphere. Conduction, convection, and radiation. Conduction is the most efficient method, this is why a tongue instantly freezes to a cold metal pole or why if immersed naked in 60 degree water, death ensues within hours.  When an object is in direct contact with a solid or liquid, heat just flows like a banshee if there is a big temperature difference. The second is convection, that’s when a moving gas or liquid transfers the heat. This is how one cools a liquid by blowing on it, or why a cold wind is so dangerous. Lastly, and the least efficient is radiation. This is the heat one feels from the Sun when standing behind a window.

Now my astute readers may have noticed there is already a  solution to at least two thirds of the problem. The first two types of heat flow require some sort of contact between the two areas. If we can somehow create a layer of perfect vacuum around our solar probe, even if it is only a millimetre thick, our solar probe is completely safe from heat gain through conduction or convection. So we’re already more than 2/3rds of the way there, already this isn’t nearly as impossible as people claimed.

Lastly we have the radiated heat. So how do we deal with that? Well, the same way we do on Earth in many instances. Mirrors. Radiated heated can indeed be reflected off of a surface. So all we need is a surface that reflects 100% of the radiated heat that strikes it, covered with a layer of pure vacuum. Ha! And they said it couldn’t be done! And there’s even some wiggle room, if say our vacuum or reflecting surface isn’t 100% perfect, heat will build up in our probe. No problem, we just build an air conditioning unit that sucks up some of the 6000k degree hydrogen around our probe, heats it up to 7000k degree and dumps it back onto the sun. So the answer to the original question is an emphatic yes, it is possible to build a suit that would withstand the heat on the Sun’s photosphere!

Is it practical? Well, the asker didn’t ask that, so we must assume he has some pretty awesome technology at his disposal. Frankly I can’t even begin to guess how such a vacuum could be maintained, how a 100% reflective surface could be made, or how an air conditioner that can handle that kind of temperatures can be built. Still, these are engineering problems, which doesn’t mean they can or will be solved, but it at least means that in principle the could be solved.

Still, if we are talking about an actual suit so that some future astronaut can go jet skiing on the Sun, there are indeed other problems that are even more daunting. Heat isn’t the only radiation in the photosphere, so were gonna need a few metres (or miles?) of lead shielding behind our heat shield. And the 28 times Earth’s gravity is, well, a problem. Even if our suit provided 100% support for our Sun surfer’s bones and muscles, things like our heart and internal organs still wouldn’t work in 28 gravities.

Back to the drawing board I guess. Tomorrow, a more down to Earth topic, why haven’t Al Qaeda and the Taliban launched waves of terrorist attacks inside the USA since 9/11?

(The above image was produced by NASA and as such is Public Domain under US copyright law so long as it is not used in a way that implies that NASA endorses a product or service. I can safely say that NASA does not support or endorse Doug’s Darkworld, in fact it’s unlikely that NASA is even aware that an obscure California blogger even exists. I’d feel left out, but my recent cosmology studies have shown that both Doug’s Darkworld and NASA are both so utterly mind-numbingly insignificant in the greater scheme of things that it’s safe to say that Doug’s Darkworld is equally as important to the Universe as NASA. Yes, a case can be made that cosmology is the most depressing subject in the Universe.)

Written by unitedcats

May 17, 2010 at 6:04 am