March 18th, 2011

breaking bad

Fukushima again

I agree that the suffering in Japan as a result of the tsunami is very serious. If I pick out the nuclear reactor to discuss it isn't that I think the other issues and loss of life are unimportant. It's because the nuclear containment is more open to debate and intellectual evaluation of messages and so on. Whichever I post about, that won't help or hurt anyone.

I still stand by my position that as we find out more the situation is more worrying. Also the assurances and in fact all communication around the subject seem unconvincing.

Cosmic Variance is a science blog I have been reading off and on for many years. It's written by a group of physicists, and is currently hosted by Discover Magazine. Today's item was written by Daniel Holz who is a Feynman Fellow at Los Alamos. He says:
The latest claim (by the Chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission) is that the storage pool at the #4 reactor has little to no water. If true, this is a very ominous development. This is by far the most dire situation on the planet at the moment. The world’s resources are focused on this problem. Millions of lives potentially depend upon the outcome. And, thus far, progress has been haphazard and halting, despite heroic efforts on the part of the Japanese crew. The engineering challenges may simply be too great.

He outlines a worst-case scenario, which I won't quote as he considers it unlikely, and concludes.
The best-case scenario, and probably most likely, is that the Fukushima-Daiichi plant will limp along, without any catastrophic event.

Of what I have read recently, this is the type of message I have found most convincing. I don't think an evaluation of the likelihood of catastrophe in this case, or the safety of nuclear power in general, is affected by any comparison with other energy sources. Evaluation should be prior to comparison.

Also, this situation confirms my belief that authorities should be more honest and open about problems, and information in general. The result of the type of thing that is happening here is a permanent legacy of suspicion. My generation were fed a pack of fibs in school about various issues such as drugs, and I think we are a suspicious bunch now. Feed more lies, teach a blanket mistrust.

ETA you might like to read the comments to the article, which range from furious disagreement to concurrence
breaking bad

Starman

This story would make a brilliant and tragic film. (Emergency note I must add - gruesome picture alert on that link. You can get the story from my excerpts here without clicking that.)
This extraordinarily intimate account of the 1967 death of a Russian cosmonaut appears in a new book, Starman, by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, to be published next month. The authors base their narrative principally on revelations from a KGB officer, Venymin Ivanovich Russayev.

Starman tells the story of a friendship between two cosmonauts, Vladimir Kamarov and Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin, the first human to reach outer space. The two men were close; they socialized, hunted and drank together.

... technicians had inspected the Soyuz 1 and had found 203 structural problems — serious problems that would make this machine dangerous to navigate in space.

Although he knew this, Kamarov refused to back down from piloting the Soyuz.
"If I don't make this flight, they'll send the backup pilot instead." That was Yuri Gagarin. Vladimir Komarov couldn't do that to his friend. "That's Yura," the book quotes him saying, "and he'll die instead of me. We've got to take care of him." Komarov then burst into tears.

On launch day, April 23, 1967, a Russian journalist, Yaroslav Golovanov, reported that Gagarin showed up at the launch site and demanded to be put into a spacesuit, though no one was expecting him to fly. Golovanov called this behavior "a sudden caprice," though afterward some observers thought Gagarin was trying to muscle onto the flight to save his friend. The Soyuz left Earth with Komarov on board.

And he died in space.
When the capsule began its descent and the parachutes failed to open, the book describes how American intelligence "picked up [Komarov's] cries of rage as he plunged to his death."
It is reported that Gagarin later met with Brezhnev, and threw a drink in his face. Gagarin died the next year in a plane crash.