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March 2011 Archives

Socolow: Reflections on Fukushima

Amazing article from a leading energy thinker. A portion is quoted below; I recommend reading the whole thing.

I can find no escape from Fukushima Daiichi. Words I hoped never to read in a news report, like loss of coolant accident (LOCA), exposed core, hydrogen explosion: Here they are. Except for those who can identify ways to contribute directly to the management of the disaster, we scientists have only one job right now -- to help governments, journalists, students, and the man and woman on the street understand in what strange ways we have changed their world.

We must explain, over and over, the concept of "afterheat," the fire that you can't put out, the generation of heat from fission fragments now and weeks from now and months from now, heat that must be removed. Journalists are having such a hard time communicating this concept because it is so unfamiliar to them and nearly everyone they are writing for. Every layman feels that every fire can be put out.

We must also explain the strange temporal features of radioactive spent fuel. Hour by hour, week by week, year by year, one isotope passes grief to a second and the second passes grief to a third. As the tragedy emerges at Fukushima, the moral complexity is overwhelming. The radiation is coming primarily from short-lived isotopes, and it is lethal in hours for anyone who is near the plant. We are watching a civilized society facing Sophie's Choice writ large, as the Japanese government decides how to use workers and soldiers and volunteers at the site, trading their large doses of radiation against an outcome where far more people will face the statistical risks of a shortened life. Evacuation is another part of the agony. So, too, is distribution of iodide tablets to limit thyroid cancer.

Already, however, the next form of grief is emerging: grief that results from ambiguity. Small quantities of radioactivity are being detected in food. Unless a large dread-to-risk ratio is assigned to choices such as whether to eat or not to eat, the experts' models of risk will not match the choices. Inevitably, much more of the same lies ahead, with immense human costs, as measurements on fields and city streets and in buildings confirm contamination with radioactivity. Notably, two rogue isotopes with 30-year half-lives, Cesium 137 and Strontium 90, will be found everywhere, both of them unmistakably attributable to the accident. They will be measurable throughout the lifetimes of everyone alive today. Throughout this century, the poor will live on the contaminated land, eat the contaminated food, and live in the contaminated buildings.

All aspects of the suffering that has come -- and will continue to come -- from the succession of dominating isotopes are familiar to philosophers and economists, to the nuclear power community and its civil defense counterparts.

Recipe: Mixed Greens, Orange, Spring Onions, & Red Pepper Salad



The title more or less says it all -- just stuff from the fridge and a bit of improvisation. Came together nicely, with the peppers playing off the slightly sour and rather sweet oranges well. The onions and arugula added just a little bite to round it all out.

Things broke badly.

The site went down again this morning as a result of transitioning to a new drive running OS X Server 10.6. The recovery wasn't as bad as in the past -- four or five hours -- but wasn't fun, either.

But we're back - with a new fixed position navigation bar and a few other new tricks.

Nuclear Boy + the fearless fifty

This video is a little strange -- but also telling about the cultural differences in disaster perception (and to an extent, risk communication). I haven't decided if the take in the film is good or bad or propoganda. The majority of the government and corporate communication about the reactors has been less than ideal. But the response among the people -- away from the kludgy, monolithic bureaucracy -- has been graceful and stunning. Its hard to imagine the difficult feat of stillness after such a far-reaching tragedy, yet we witness solidarity, calmness, and quiet amongst the cacophony of tragedy after tragedy after tragedy. And then there are the faceless, fearless fifty [or however many may actually be working at the plant] heroically, tirelessly, without individual acknowledgement or recognition, but with the promise of future danger, malaise, disease... not to be forgotten.

Our response in America seemed the opposite. We're re-learning what it means, as a population, to have a graceful, eloquent government -- and Obama lived up to our new external face. Meanwhile, our population at large exhibited a mixture of some empathy and overwhelming self-concern. The radiation is coming. Where can we get potassium iodide? The tsunami will obliterate the West Coast. And oh yeah... how're the Japanese?

Kristof has a great editorial about "Learning from the Japanese." Read it here.

A weathered skeleton
in windy fields of memory,
piercing like a knife.
- Matsuo Basho¬ć, Japanese Edo-period poet

And unto thee, the white hand of god delivers iPad 2

File it away as possibly incorrect, but I'm guessing that later in the Fall of this year, Apple will drop the 2 from the iPad name and release iPad HD or iPad pro or iPad SOMETHING, marking the first split in this product line. I don't think they'll go iPad 3 -- after all, they declared 2011 the year of the iPad 2.

Update: CLAIM CHOWDAH! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! We're already at iPad (4th generation).