Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

British MP Seeks to Incorporate Astrology Into National Healthcare System

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Well at least the US is not alone in having idiots for elected leaders.

Via the BBC:

Astrology-loving MP seeks health answers in the stars
A Conservative MP has spoken of his belief in astrology and his desire to incorporate it into medicine.

David Tredinnick said he had spent 20 years studying astrology and healthcare and was convinced it could work.

The MP for Bosworth, a member of the health committee and the science and technology committee, said he was not afraid of ridicule or abuse.

“There is no logic in attacking something that has a proven track record,” he told BBC News.

He said he had studied the Indian astrological system Iahiri and the way it was used by that country’s government and recalled how Chris Patten, Britain’s last governor of Hong Kong, had an official astrologer, whom Mr Tredinnick had consulted while on a parliamentary delegation there.

The MP recently spoke about his beliefs at the Glastonbury Festival, sharing a platform with Daily Mail astrologer Jonathan Cainer.

Recalling the experience in the House of Commons, he said he had been invited to take part because of his “radical agenda” on complementary medicine – he is vice-chairman of the government’s herbals working group.

He said he had been the subject of much ridicule for his beliefs over the years, including a fake Twitter account entitled “Inside the head of David Tredinnick”, but many of the sceptics who had attacked him were “bullies” who had “never studied the subjects”.

“I am absolutely convinced that those who look at the map of the sky for the day that they were born and receive some professional guidance will find out a lot about themselves and it will make their lives easier,” he told MPs.

Explaining his beliefs to BBC News, Mr Tredinnick said he had been right about herbal remedies and healing, which he said were now becoming accepted in parts of the NHS, and he now wanted to promote astrology, which was not just predicting the future but gaining an insight into personal problems.

I don’t have much more to say to this. I have, however, studied the subject. No, I have not studied the mechanics of astronomical prediction, but I have studied the accuracy, repeatability and social acceptance of astrology. I can say that science undoubtedly shows it does not work. This is no surprise, of course. The basis is arbitrary animals, characters and objects that ancient people say in the patterns of stars, which are themselves many light-years apart in space.

The fact that herbal and “natural” medicine is becoming accepted by NHS is not proof that it works. It’s proof that politicians and the public are ignorant of the subject and demand it. We have the same problem of alternative medicine creeping into the mainstream in the US. In fact, most countries seem to have that issue these days.

It’s also not a huge surprise that the former governor of Hong Kong had an astrologer. Many politicians are prone to believing in astrology or other superstitions.

Of course, when they use these superstitions to govern, that can be a problem. Thankfully for the UK, this one member of parliament is unlikely to be able to do much about getting astrology officially recognized or making it part of the medical system.

It is still unfortunate that this MP sits on science and health committees. Isn’t there someplace else they can put him? What about the Ministry of Silly Walks?

Tomorrow Is When I Will (hopefully) Get the Nomination

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Just a brief announcement: Tomorrow is the state Republican Convention. It’s the day when delegates will vote on who the candidates are for state and Federal offices.

I am competing with one other for the nomination to be the party-sponsored candidate for the US Congress. I’m pretty confident I will get it, but a lot can change, even at the last minute.

If you want to watch it happen, you can do so on the Connecticut Network, which has streaming live coverage of the convention caucuses. The Congressional one starts at 4PM Eastern Time.

Ivanpah Solar Power Facility Is Incinerating Birds

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is a very large solar thermal power facility.  And by “very large,” I mean very large.  In fact, it is so enormous it’s hard to even wrap your mind around how large it is.   It also cost about 2.2 billion dollars, which is quite a lot of money.   A reasonably sized nuclear power plant could be built for the same cost.  In the US, this would be difficult, given the regulatory costs, but other countries have built modern Generation III+ reactors for two billion dollars per unit or less.

 solarfacility

Of course, that’s just the capital cost.  It’s harder to pin down the operational cost.  As many will point out, it doesn’t use any fuel in the conventional sense.  But it does employ 86 full time workers, plus an even larger number of contractors.  It also has a lot of sensitive equipment baking in the sun, which is likely to need frequent replacement.   It’s hard to know exactly what it costs to operate the plant and what the cost per kilowatt hour comes out to be, because the operators have kept much of the relevant financial data confidential.

What is known is that the agreed price per wholesale kilowatt hour is “at or below” 12.5 cents per kwh, before time and demand adjustments.  That would seem to imply it is more expensive than other methods of power generation.   Published data indicates the cost of operating a solar thermal power plant is more than 2.5 times that of a coal or nuclear facility.  The Ivanpah facility may benefit from economics of scale to bring that down a bit, but it’s still clear that the plant has a much higher cost per megawatt-hour than a fossil fuel power station.

None the less, plants like Ivanpah are financially viable, at least for the time being.  They receive massive tax credits and other

But in terms of power output, it’s not actually that big…

The total nameplate capacity of the Ivanpah facility is anticipated to be 377 megawatts, when complete.  That’s not small, but it’s not really that large either.  In utility terms, if it were a standard thermal power plant, it would be considered medium sized.  By comparison, a modern nuclear facility with two generation III+ reactors might have an output of between 2.5 and 3.5 gigawatts.  Large coal and gas plants can be equally large and occasionally larger.

floatingpowersystem377 megawatts, however, would be enough to power the New York City subway system, but not during rush hour.  It would power a medium sized aluminum smelter.  It would not be enough to power a city of any size, but could provide the power used by a medium sized town on a summer day.

Of course, 377 MW is the anticipated nameplate capacity of the plant.  The capacity factor is only about 30%, meaning that the plant could be thought of as the equivalent of a continuously operating base-load power plant that produces about 110-120 megawatts.  Most nuclear and coal plants operate at near full capacity most of the time.  There are also many hydroelectric plants that crank out a continuous 120 megawatts night and day.

In utility terms, that’s hardly a lot of power.  It’s more than enough to power everything in many homes, but a power plant with this capacity would not be considered very large at all. It’s more in line with the kind of “distributed” power plants that might be used to provide local peaking and load-following.  It’s less power than a large ship produces.  Even a single 747 can produce more power when cruising.  It is, however, enough to power a few dozen small to medium sized locomotives.

So it is not tiny but not that big, and comes at a huge financial cost.

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Why do enviornmental groups hate desalination?

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Water is one of the most important resources to society.  The availability of water has dictated the locations of some cities and limited the growth of others.  It is also one of the major necessities for agriculture.

Many areas have limited supplies of water and others are prone to shortages or droughts.  Still others do have sufficient water supplies, but in securing necessary water, huge quantities had to be diverted, resulting in ecological disasters such as the shrinking of the Aral Sea.

kennedyquoteOf course, there is an effectively limitless supply of water in the world’s oceans, and many of the most arid regions are located near the coast.  However, ocean water is far too salty for consumption by humans, for irrigation and for most other uses.   Thus, it is not that the world lacks water – we have plenty of it, but that many areas lack fresh water.

Therefore, assuming it could be made economical, desalination would seem like an ideal solution to this persistent problem.  Desalination is the only source of water that can be considered to be, for all intents and purposes, unlimited.  After all, all nearly all water ends up back in the ocean anyway.  With desalination, there are no concerns over droughts or of overdrawing an aquifer.  There are no seasonal shortages or reduction in the availability of water.

It could also be argued that desalination, in and of itself, has virtually no negative ecological consequences.  The need for water has lead to aquifers being depleted, rivers being diverted, lakes running dry and to the construction of massive dams and canals, sometimes with severe environmental consequences.   Therefore, even in areas where adequate fresh water is available, using desalination for basic water needs could greatly reduce the impacts of water sourced from rivers, lakes and aquifers.

The only negative environmental consequence associated with desalination is the need to dispose of the highly concentrated brine that is produced.  Separating the water from the sale of seawater means that salt must be disposed of.  It is usually in the form of a highly concentrated brine, much more salty than the water that was taken in.  This brine is not itself toxic, but the salinity levels are too high for most marine life.   If it were to be discharged directly into the ocean, it would result in the area around the discharge becoming too salty for most marine life.

This is certainly not an unmanageable problem.  The most obvious solution is to dilute and disperse the waste bring back into the ocean.  This is possible, but it can be a major task for large facilities.  Other options include recycling the brine into a useful product.  For example, it can be used to produce saltcrete.  Or, it can be further concentrated and then dried into salt, which can be sold commercially.

desalplantoperationalwThe one major downside of desalination is that it is energy intensive, far more energy intensive than more conventional means of obtaining freshwater. In addition to energy usage, desalination plants can be complicated, and the handling of saltwater requires the use of corrosion-resistant materials.  The water produced often requires additives for PH adjustment and the addition of trace minerals.  All of this adds to the expense of desalination as a water source.

For this reason, it is not generally used if other alternatives exist.  Many parts of the world, including much of the middle east and numerous islands are dependent on desalination to provide for their basic water needs.  While it does work for this, it remains the option of last resort, due to the economics.

That said, the economics of desalination have been improving steadily over the years.  With increasing demand for water, a great deal has been invested in desalination research and development.  New plants are constantly being built with ever-increasing efficiency and improved economics.  In recent years, major improvements have been made to reverse osmosis-based water desalination systems, which are now being deployed on an industrial scale.  The efficiency of distillation systems have also improved with the introduction of better heat recovery and multiple-effect distillation.

Modern desalination plants can now get a large portion of their energy requirements from the waste heat produced by power generation.  The use of co-generation for desalination further improves economics and reduce energy requirements.  Nuclear desalination is an especially appealing option, since nuclear reactors can produce ample process heat without emissions.  The Soviet Union built a highly successful plant to produce water from the Caspian Sea and today, India and China are exploring the use of nuclear reactors to run large desalination plants.

So, desalination is a good thing and we would like to see it continue to improve and become more economical, so it could be put to greater use….right?

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UN Court Orders Japan To Stop Antarctic Whaling

Monday, March 31st, 2014

I have said it before and I will say it again: if you want to persuade Japan to stop whaling, then you must do so through diplomacy and legal methods.  It’s not that I am a huge fan of whaling, but the actions of Sea Shepherd are totally ineffective, counter-productive, extremely dangerous and highly illegal.  They qualify as acts of piracy, as they are a direct attack on the safety of unarmed vessels on the high seas.

For those who actually would like to see Japanese whaling come to an end, there has recently been a major step in that direction.  And no, it did not happen because a group of idiot activists were ramming Japanese vessels.

Via The New York Times:

U.N. Court Orders Japan to Halt Antarctic Whaling

PARIS — The United Nations’ highest court on Monday ordered Japan to halt its annual whaling hunt in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, saying that its present program was not being carried out for scientific purposes, as Japan has claimed.

In a 12-to-4 judgment, the International Court of Justice in The Hague found that Japan was in breach of its international obligations by catching and killing minke whales and issuing permits for hunting humpback and fin whales within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, established by the International Whaling Commission.

Reading a summary of the judgment, presiding Judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia said that the present “research program,” dating to 2005, has involved the killing of 3,600 minke whales and a number of fin whales, but that its “scientific output to date appears limited.” The ruling suggested instead that Japan’s whaling hunt served political and economic reasons.

Lawyers attending the proceedings said there was a gasp in the audience when Judge Tomka ordered Japan to immediately “revoke all whaling permits” and not issue any new ones under the existing program.

“I rarely heard such an unequivocal, strong ruling at this court,” said a lawyer with long experience at the court who asked not to be named because he is working on a case in progress.

The ruling is binding, and Japan cannot appeal. No immediate reaction from Japan was available, although it has said it would abide by any judgment in the case. But a Japanese delegate said in earlier hearings that Japan might consider withdrawing from the whaling commission, which oversees management of the world’s whale populations.

The court left open the possibility for future whale hunting if Japan redesigned its program. Tokyo has said that it needs data to monitor the impact of whales on its fishing industry and to monitor the whale population’s recovery from overfishing.

Unfortunately, the times article went on to quote a Sea Shepherd representative on the issue, which is a shame, because those idiots should not be regarded as a respectable authority on the issue or even legitimate anti-whaling activists. There are plenty of groups out there who oppose Japanese whaling and do so through legal and sane means.

It’s important to note that while this is a big step, it does not mean that Japan won’t conduct any further whaling or that the issue is closed.   First, this only applies to the Antarctic region.  Although that is the most high profile region of Japanese whaling, the Japanese also conduct whaling in the northern Pacific and that is not affected by the ruling.

Another important consideration is that the decision only reflects Japan’s commitment to the International Whaling Commission treaty.  There is no standing international law against whaling in general.  The only reason Japan is restricted from whaling is that the country signed a treaty to abide by IWC rules.  Those rules include a ban on whaling for all but research purposes.  It should be noted that the research clause was, in part, inserted into the general ban on whaling to appease Japan, who wished to continue whaling activities.  Calling it “research” makes it more politically palatable.

Therefore the court has ruled that Japan must cease whaling because their activities do not quality as “research,” and therefore are not in line with the rules of the treaty.  However, because it’s a voluntary treaty, Japan could potentially respond by simply choosing to withdraw from the IWC.  They have the right to do so.   They just might end up doing that, as they have considered withdrawing before.

As a result of these limits, this ruling should not be regarded as an the ultimate victory in the fight against whaling.  What Japan will do next is unclear.  Though they have stated they will abide by the ruling, they may decide to leave the IWC, thus voiding their treaty obligations, or they may simply shift the focus of their whaling program to other ocean regions.   None the less, this is still a major step toward reducing or eliminating Japanese whaling.   If the effort to do so is successful, it will be through diplomacy, appeals to the Japanese public and legal efforts and not through harassing whaling vessels with dangerous and illegal stunts.

The Truth About NIF

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

Much has been made about the National Ignition Facility – a US Government facility where as massive array of pulsed power lasers is used to irradiate a tiny capsule of deuterium and tritium in order to produce nuclear fusion.  NIF is a truly giant scientific installation, and there’s no disputing its one of the foremost “big science” centers in the world for things like laser optics, pulsed power, plasma physics and nuclear fusion.  The technology is impressive and it will surely produce volumes of important scientific data.

However, there is some confusion, much of it intentional, about the purpose and capabilities of the facility.

It is often portrayed as an experimental prototype for a power-generating fusion reactor.  It’s really not.  The design of the facility precludes it from ever producing useful energy and that’s not the point.  It’s also not the primary objective of NIF to research how nuclear fusion can be harnessed to produce usable energy.  Data to that end may be generated in the process, but the basic design of the facility precludes such a system from being turned into a power plant.

The stated goal of the facility is also often reported inaccurately.  Achieving “ignition” simply means that enough fusion has occurred for additional fusion to be produced without more external power.  In other words, the reaction becomes self-sustaining, if only for a tiny fraction of a second.  Ignition has not yet been achieved, though it is hoped it soon will.  However, it’s less dramatic than it is often described.  The moment when the calculations come back and reveal that the point of ignition has been achieved will not really be that revolutionary.  it won’t mean that suddenly boundless energy is being produced.  After all, nobody doubts that ignition is possible, it is only a question of how much power will need to be concentrated before it actually happens.
Via the Guardian:

Sustainable nuclear fusion breakthrough raises hopes for ultimate green energy
Scientists have moved a step closer to achieving sustainable nuclear fusion and almost limitless clean energy

US researchers have achieved a world first in an ambitious experiment that aims to recreate the conditions at the heart of the sun and pave the way for nuclear fusion reactors.

The scientists generated more energy from fusion reactions than they put into the nuclear fuel, in a small but crucial step along the road to harnessing fusion power. The ultimate goal – to produce more energy than the whole experiment consumes – remains a long way off, but the feat has nonetheless raised hopes that after decades of setbacks, firm progress is finally being made.

Fusion energy has the potential to become a radical alternative power source, with zero carbon emissions during operation and minimal waste, but the technical difficulties in demonstrating fusion in the lab have so far proved overwhelming. While existing nuclear reactors generate energy by splitting atoms into lighter particles, fusion reactors combine light atomic nuclei into heavier particles.

In their experiments, researchers at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California use a bank of 192 powerful lasers to crush a minuscule amount of fuel so hard and fast that it becomes hotter than the sun.

The process is not straightforward. The lasers are fired into a gold capsule that holds a 2mm-wide spherical pellet. The fuel is coated on the inside of this plastic pellet in a layer as thin as a human hair.

When the laser light enters the gold capsule, it makes the walls of the gold container emit x-rays, which heat the pellet and make it implode with extraordinary ferocity. The fuel, a mixture of hydrogen isotopes called tritium and deuterium, partially fuses under the intense conditions.

No, they didn’t actually get more energy out of the system than was put in. They just got slightly more energy from the reaction than the amount of energy deposited on the fusion fuel capsule to make it happen.   It’s really not getting us any closer to using nuclear fusion as a limitless energy source.  In fact, it should be noted that this is far from the first time humanity managed to get a lot more energy out of a fusion reaction than was used to initiate it.   That happened in 1952 and was significantly larger.

A few facts to put it in context:

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Bill Nye Debates Creationist Ken Ham

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

For those who don’t know, science advocate and educator Bill Nye recently debated young earth creationist Ken Ham in a highly publicized internet-broadcast event.

There have been many mixed feelings from the scientific community on the event.  Many of which, I would tend to agree with.  Debating a creationist really won’t do much of anything.  Believers will continue to believe in what they want, regardless of the arguments or evidence.  Those who look at things objectively will have no choice but accept evolution as a well tested and established scientific fact.

Some might say that the debate raises creationism to a level it does not deserve.  It is not a matter of debate for the scientific community; it was closed long ago.  If we were to assume the earth were thousands of years old, biology were the result of a being simply willing it to be so and the bible could guide all scientific thought, we would have to throw away most of the advancements of science.  Evolution is key to our understanding of biology.  We have seen it happen and have fossil evidence of how it has shaped life over the long term.

Some warned that Bill Nye could end up losing the debate, or just come off looking bad, if Ham backed him into a corner using contentions that were too illogical to easily and directly refute or by forcing Nye to waste his time providing a class in biology 101 in order to simply explain where he is coming from.  Given that creationism has no scientific evidence, only religious faith, it seems likely that a creationist would fall back on appealing logical fallacies.   It should be noted that one can be factually correct and still lose a debate if faced with a skilled opponent.

Thankfully, Bill Nye seems to have held his own.  Still, I tend to side with those who think it was unnecessary and generally unproductive to even bother engaging in the debate.   It didn’t change anyone’s mind.

Here’s the video for those interested (Starts at roughly 13:00)



Why I am against labeling GMO

Monday, November 11th, 2013

I have been asked numerous times by e-mail, often being told things like “You don’t have to think GMO’s are bad to give people a choice” or “If you think they are fine, that’s okay, but what about those who don’t?  Don’t they have a right to choose?”

  1. It’s unnecessary – Regulations may be necessary, but all regulations end up costing money, because enforcement is required.   All regulations place some burden on producers and increase costs to consumers.  Hence, regulations that do absolutely nothing worthwhile should not be tolerated.  Since GMO-containing foods are effectively identical to non-GMO foods, there’s no reason to force labeling and incur the expenses on both the enforcement side and for the producers and consumers.
  2. It places an undue burden on certain food producers - Is it hard to label products that contain GMO’s?   It certainly could be, especially for those who have only a limited amount of control of their supply chain, such as small companies.Imagine, for example, you are a company which produces cookies.   You buy your flour from a wholesaler who buys it from a flour mill who buys the wheat from farmers.  You buy your chocolate chips from a company which imports cocoa and sugar from two different sources and combines with other ingredients to make the chips.   Your sugar comes from another wholesaler who buys it from an importer.   How could you possibly know for sure if there is a GMO product in the mix?   You can’t because you don’t have that level of supply chain management.  Some very large food producers do, but a smaller company would not.   It would be a massive burden to track down all the suppliers.In the end, the smaller companies are likely to have to label everything as possibly containing GMO’s because they lack the resources to prove otherwise.  That would put them at a big disadvantage when faced with customers who fear these harmless products.
  3. It’s damn near unenforceable - How do you know if an end product contains GMO ingredients?   It’s not easy.  One way would be to audit the entire supply chain and attempt to trace all ingredients back to their source.   That might not always even be possible, especially if they came from  a farm that has both GMO and non-GMO products.  Either way the process would be long and expensive.   Either taxpayers would need to foot the bill or the food producers would need to be required to pay for verification or record keeping.The only way to know for sure if something is genetically engineered is to test for the modified genes using expensive genetic sequencing.  The cost and time for these tests has improved, but testing all samples of foods would still be extremely costly.  Worse, these tests won’t even work on all foodstuffs.  If the genetic material has been denatured, as would be the case if the food is cooked or processed in other ways, it might be downright impossible to conduct genetic testing.
  4. You can still have your GMO-free food without labeling – I do not want the cost of my food to go up.  I do not want restrictions on small companies making legitimate products.  I do not want my tax dollars going to support something unnecessary and stupid.   But if you want GMO-free food, knock yourself out.  Nobody is saying that those who wish to market a guaranteed gmo-free product can’t do so.   If that’s what you want, feel free to seek out the products that are GMO-free or research the ingredients that go into your foot.  You can even grow your own if you want.  Nobody is going to force you to eat unlabeled stuff if you do not want.
  5. It implies there is a danger when there is none -(Most importantly) There is no evidence that genetically modified foodstuffs are harmful in any way and plenty of scientific evidence that they are not.   They have been on the market for well over a decade and no ill effects have been detected.  They do not harm the environment, cause cancer, make people fat (any more than other foods) and they are not harmful to the environment.

    Putting a government-sanctioned label “warning” that a food contains genetically engineered material implies otherwise. It’s perfectly logical to assume if something is required as disclosure, there must be an important reason why. It perpetuates this stupid myth.

  6. If the government is going to cave to people saying “I want to know if my food contains genetically modified organisms,” they may as well cave to racists who want to know “was my food ever handled by a black person,” or to those who want to know “Was my food frown in a field that was laid out to Feng Sui geometry.”

    They are all equally valid. In other words, not at all.

Gas Pipeline Has Activists In New York Going Nuts

Monday, November 4th, 2013



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Let me first state, for the record, that I am not a huge fan of the natural gas industry.   As far as fossil fuels go, natural gas is a lot cleaner than coal, but that’s not saying much.   Still, it’s nowhere near as clean or as safe as nuclear fission as an energy source.   Still, gas is certainly a vital part of our current energy mix.  Gas is widely deployed for domestic and commercial heating and hot water and replacing it with cleaner sources would require massive upgrades in electrical or district heating capacity and deployment of new systems.

So, for the time being, gas is a necessity and that gas must come from somewhere and be delivered somehow.  This is what pipelines are for.   Although natural gas is occasionally shipped as a liquid, by tanker, it is most often transported by pipeline, with pipes reaching all the way to the end user.  Yes, there is a natural gas pipe that comes into my home and I’d be pretty cold in the winter without it.

But there is one thing I hate more than the gas industry and that is fear-mongering and outright lying.

I will just make a few points about some of the claims in this video:

  1. Gas pipelines explode.   It happens.  It does not happen very often, but it does happen.   A major leak can send out a massive cloud of gas which then ignites, in effect making it a fuel-air bomb.   However, given the thousands of miles of gas pipeline in North America alone, it’s not a very big danger.   Sure, the safety is not as good as that of a nuclear reactor, but that would be setting the bar unreasonably high.  If you live on a gas pipeline, you should probably be more worried about car accidents or heart disease along with many other things.
  2. Older gas pipelines are at a much greater danger of exploding than newer ones.  Older pipelines may not be built to the same safety standards and are more likely to suffer corrosion or other problems.   New York City already has many old gas pipelines.  If anything, this will improve safety by taking some of the load off of the older infrastructure.  The San Bruno pipeline, which was mentioned, was more than fifty years old when it exploded and had not received any recent maintenance or inspections.
  3. If you don’t like fracking, you had better find another fuel, because that’s where gas comes from these days.  Most gas in North America is the result of fracking to enhance well production.  Although there are environmental issues, they are not nearly as bad as it is often portrayed.  There is still some gas produced by conventional wells.  There’s little solid evidence that this is much better for the environment (all gas production has its issues).   It also does not really matter where it came from, because it’s a commodity that all comes from the same market.  If you buy gas that was not produced from a fracked well, you will just displace gas out of the market and the effect is the same.
  4. The pipeline may well have been approved without most of those in the local community wanting it.  This is known as NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard.  Everyone wants to be able to heat and cook, but they want the infrastructure elsewhere.  New York City really does not have any areas that are not inhabited.  Although, there may be areas that have less vocal hipsters, looking for something to get hot and bothered about.
  5. Natural gas does contain radon when it comes from the well head.  Where it comes from may have some effect on the level of radon, but it’s generally pretty low.  Since radon has a half-life of less than four days, it’s even lower by the time the gas is processed and send to the end user.  Cooking with natural gas does result in some additional exposure to radon and thus radiation dose.  If you are radiophobic, you should probably not cook with gas, although in that case there are many things you should not do (for example, leaving your lead-lined cave.)

    Even if Pennsylvania gas does have higher radon levels as a result of being less distant, the exposure is very small.  It’s much smaller than living in a home with a full basement that was built in an area with uranium-bearing granite.  I should also point out, for the woman who is shocked by the idea of radon in her apartment, that there already is radon in her apartment.  Radon is constantly seeping from the earth and is therefore detectable in the lower atmosphere at all locations.  If she cooks with gas, it is already slightly higher than average.

I do have some sympathies for the idea that natural gas is just not the safest fuel and that a reduction in the use of natural gas would save lives and reduce environmental damage. That is certainly true. Obviously this is impossible unless an other energy source replaces it. Until that happens, and as long as gas remains a major fuel for domestic use, there will be gas pipelines in cities. It’s better to build new ones than just wait for the old ones to blow up.

Absolute Bullshit from VOA on Fukushima

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

VOA or the Voice of America is a US Federal Government-sponsored international broadcasting organization.  It’s intended to provide news and information with an American perspective to the world.  The official mission is “to promote freedom and democracy and to enhance understanding through multimedia communication of accurate, objective, and balanced news, information and other programming about America and the world to audiences overseas.”  To some, it might be considered straight up propaganda, while others might see it as being the US version of the BBC.   In any case, the organization is supposed to provide accurate news.

Yet if they wanted to maintain credibility, this news story and video are not really doing much in that respect:

Under Fire, TEPCO Prepares for Critical Phase of Fukushima Cleanup
TOKYO — Workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan are about to embark on one of the most critical aspects of the clean-up: removing the fuel rods from one of the worst-hit reactors. Critics say the plant’s owners, TEPCO, should not be trusted to carry out the operation and warn the consequences of any accident would be unprecedented.

Over 1500 fuel rods sit in a damaged storage pool 30 meters above the ground inside the shell of the reactor 4 building at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Safely removing them is the next big challenge for the plant’s owner, TEPCO.

General Manager Masayuki Ono said the operation has been carefully planned.

He explained that because the entire reactor 4 building was destroyed by a hydrogen explosion, TEPCO had to reinforce the structure. This happened during the first year and that new building is now strong enough to stand another earthquake, he added.

That hydrogen explosion – one of the iconic images of the Fukushima accident – left the inside of the pool littered with debris.

TEPCO’s first task is to remove the debris. And then, one by one, the fuel rods will be removed manually using a crane suspended above the crippled reactor building.

Ono explained that a fuel extraction cover was built over Unit 4 and installed at the fuel handling facility. This structure does not put any weight on the Reactor 4 building, and can be used to remove the fuel without adding any additional weight.

The fuel rods must be kept submerged and must not touch each other or break. Nuclear experts warn any mishaps could cause an explosion many times worse than in March 2011.

Mitsuhei Murata, Japan’s former ambassador to Switzerland and an anti-nuclear campaigner, said a series of incidents over the past 30 months – including radioactive water leaks – have called into question TEPCO’s ability to carry out this critical operation.

“The Unit 4 contains 10 times more Cesium-137 than Chernobyl. So in case the worst occurs, a total withdrawal [from the site] will be imposed, which means this can be considered as the beginning of the ultimate catastrophe of the world and the planet,” said Murata.


Click link for the video of the story

I have a few responses to some of the information, or misinformation in this video:

First, using a well known anti-nuclear activist as the expert for a news report is not exactly good journalism. You can expect the comments of such a person to always be as pessimistic as possible and always with a strong anti-nuclear spin. To say that this could be “the ultimate catastrophe of the world and the planet” is ridiculous.

The fuel rods have cooled for more than a year and are now no longer nearly as difficult to handle as they had been. While it is still best to keep them under water, they do not require the cooling they did right after the reactor went off line. They also no longer contain the most dangerous radioisotopes, such as iodine-131.

The amount of cesium-137 in the totality of fuel rods is really not the important thing. For all that cesium to be released, every one of the fuel rods would have to be vaporized or ground into a powder and blown into the wind. Clearly, even under the worst case accidents, that will not happen.

If the fuel rods were to knock into each other, there would be no catastrophe. In fact, nothing would likely happen. Given the precautions and the state of the fuel, a criticality accident is not a major concern. If part of a fuel rod broke off, it would also not be a catastrophe. It would, however, mean that the fuel rod fragment would have to be fished out of the debris, which would be a pain, but not a massive safety problem

Of course, the refueling operation will be long and expensive, just like every part of this decommissioning is, at least relative to other decomissionings. They are working on a heavily damaged reactor and the circumstances demand precision and caution. Support systems were heavily damaged and the reactor was not shut down in a controlled manner. Still, there’s very little danger of a major mishap and zero danger of a global catastrophe.  There’s no significant danger of explosion.