While everyone was focused on the nuclear plant

March 14th, 2011

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While the world was obsessing over the problems with cooling the cores at severely damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, there are a few things that seem to have gone all but unreported.

This is a terrible situation that goes far beyond the nuclear plant issues.

The New York Times has a very sobering gallery of before and after satellite images of the areas hit by the quake and tsunami.

Meanwhile the media is having a field day with the nuclear reactors. Though the plant was damaged heavily, this is the least of Japan’s problems.

I fear that the continued obsession with the nuclear reactor situation may lead to precious resources and attention being diverted from those who need it most.


This entry was posted on Monday, March 14th, 2011 at 4:42 pm and is filed under Announcements, Bad Science, Enviornment, Good Science, History, media, Misc. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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49 Responses to “While everyone was focused on the nuclear plant”

  1. 1
    joe Says:

    Thanks for keeping it in perspective.


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  2. 2
    drjim Says:

    Agreed. We need to keep this in the greater perspective, even while the Greenie-Weenies are dancing in the streets chanting “We told you so”.
    The plants suffered unrecoverable damage, but nothing melted-down into the center of the Earth, and there was no Chernobyl-style blast, regardless of what the so-called “experts” were proclaiming.
    The Japanese are a resilient people. They will recover.


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  3. 3
    DV82XL Says:

    In the coming weeks and months, this lack of perspective is going to turn around and bite the perpetrators of this propaganda fraud in the rear-end. As I wrote in another thread, history demonstrates that the public can and does become inured to this sort of artificial media panic, and I suspect that this will happen here just because the reactor issues are not an isolated story. Had there been a sequence of failures of this sort without the earthquake and tsunami, it might be different, but because it will be seen to have been an insignificant side story to the real event, the public will see that they have been jerked around.

    This is probably the worst way a reactor accident could occur for those that hope to leverage one to stop the development of nuclear energy, and each time they have tried to whip up fear over it, they have dug the grave they are going to fall into when the dust settles, a bit deeper.


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  4. 4
    drjim Says:

    The interesting thing is that these plants were designed to withstand an 8.2 quake. That they came through an 8.9~9.0 is a testament to their design. And IF the diesel generators hadn’t been knocked out by the tsunami, this whole even would most likely have been a NON-event.


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  5. 5
    Mike Says:

            drjim said:

    The interesting thing is that these plants were designed to withstand an 8.2 quake. That they came through an 8.9~9.0 is a testament to their design. And IF the diesel generators hadn’t been knocked out by the tsunami, this whole even would most likely have been a NON-event.

    Also, just for the people who aren’t familiar with the Richter scale, each increase of 0.2 corresponds to a doubling of intensity. Thus, the quake in Japan was over 20 times more powerful than what the plants were designed for, yet for the most part they’ve help up well. They will almost certainly never be able to operate again, but that’s not the goal here.

    It also should be pointed out that (as I understand it) it is PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE for these reactors to explode in the same way Chernobyl did. Chernobyl used the much more dangerous RMBK technology, as well as graphite rods, which would be almost guaranteed to catch fire in this type of situation. Also, Chernobyl had ZERO containment systems of any kind. I’m no expert, and I’m sure the author knows much more about it than me, but to even compare this incident to Chernobyl is just plain laughable. Oh, and I also should point out that the people overseeing Chernobyl in its final hours displayed such reckless disregard for every single safety procedure (well, whatever rudimentary ones they had), that it was almost as if they INTENDED to cause a meltdown. This is hardly the case for the Japanese reactors.


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  6. 6
    AAron H. Says:

    I made this point over at JREF and on the Canadian Nuclear Society’s email list:

    Death tolls since Thursday:
    Quake & Tsunami: 10,000+ and climbing
    Global effect of coal pollutants: between 2,000 and 8,000 and climbing
    Fukushima Incident: 1 (with 2 missing)

    For coal pollutant effects, I used James Lovelock’s and Nex Big Futures numbers. Estimates for global annual loos of life from coal pollutants are all over the map, but few come below 5 digits.

    I see no way to see this except as a spectacular victory for nuclear engineering.


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  7. 7
    Josh Says:

    According to WNN:
    The torus at unit 2 may have been damaged. The bangs were likely this happening rather than any explosion. Cooling is being resumed.
    Radiation levels spiked briefly but have fallen back. This may have been due to a fire at unit 4 that is now out. The fire wasn’t caused by fuel.

    There is word about damage to primary containment at unit 2, but I’m not clear what is meant by “damage” at this point. We can probably bank of the fuel being severely damaged, though I have no confirmation on that.

    Unit 2 is certainly the most severe problem yet. Hopefully it will resolve without much more than soiled undergarments.


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  8. 8
    Josh Says:

    Containment no change! Containment no change! Containment no change!


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  9. 9
    XPLAlN Says:

            DV82XL said:

    In the coming weeks and months, this lack of perspective is going to turn around and bite the perpetrators of this propaganda fraud in the rear-end. As I wrote in another thread, history demonstrates that the public can and does become inured to this sort of artificial media panic, and I suspect that this will happen here just because the reactor issues are not an isolated story.

    Sorry DV, I don’t share your optimism. The media are whipping this up. They are not going to start running news features in 3 months on how they got all alarmist about these reactors. What will live on in the public psyche are the lurid headlines we are getting now. The rational assessments will go virtually unheard.

    The BBC just had a Prof Paddy Regan in their news studio. They put all sorts of questions to him on the latest developments (the just extinguished fire and the “high” 400 mSv radiation). His response was distinctly non-alarmist. As soon as he’d left the BBC were back to majoring on the scary stuff. The disaster that really has happened – the tsunami – was almost a side show.


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  10. 10
    Anon Says:

            XPLAlN said:

    Sorry DV, I don’t share your optimism. The media are whipping this up. They are not going to start running news features in 3 months on how they got all alarmist about these reactors. What will live on in the public psyche are the lurid headlines we are getting now. The rational assessments will go virtually unheard.

    Once the problem is over (late next week?) the media will be reporting on what has actually happened as far as is known and they’ll probably also report when the investigation is completed and have a summary of the results.

    They won’t give it as much coverage as they’ve been giving the events going on now but they will give enough coverage for the majority to know that there wasn’t the disaster the anti-nukes predicted.

    If you haven’t already you might want to read http://depletedcranium.com/this-is-our-generations-three-mile-island-lets-not-screw-it-up/?cp=2#comment-31377 which to me seems to provide some of the grounds on which he is able to base his confidence.


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  11. 11
    geoff Says:

            DV82XL said:

    In the coming weeks and months, this lack of perspective is going to turn around and bite the perpetrators of this propaganda fraud in the rear-end.

    No it won’t, it never does. Consider the ramp up to the Iraq war. The media bought the administration’s claims hook, line, and sinker and were the most important cheerleaders swaying public opinion for the invasion. Knowing what we know now, no news source has been held accountable. The examples are inexhaustible.

    I keep reading from industry insiders that this is no big deal, calm down, the media have no idea what they are talking about. Discounting for media embellishment and hyperbole, I’m still worried. Not for myself or family here in the states, but worried nonetheless. Each day brings another complication and an escalation of the problems in Japan.

    Just as the media and anti-nuclear people (I’m teetering on the fence) tip the argument too far to one side, I can’t help but feel nuclear proponents do the same in the other direction. Japan is a wealthy, prepared country. The deaths, injury and destruction is horrible, but I am also fully confident that the Japanese government is doing all that can be done to recover from this disaster. I don’t think the attention on the nuclear plants is unwarranted, perhaps mixed with a level of ignorance, but warranted all the same. People fear what they don’t understand, especially when it can’t be seen, touched or smelled and kills you from the inside out.


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  12. 12
    Krzysztof Kosiński Says:

            geoff said:

    I don’t think the attention on the nuclear plants is unwarranted, perhaps mixed with a level of ignorance, but warranted all the same. People fear what they don’t understand, especially when it can’t be seen, touched or smelled and kills you from the inside out.

    Except the radiation hasn’t killed anybody. If this was a chemical leak, e.g. a chlorine leak, there wouldn’t be such obsession over it, even though it’s potentially much more dangerous to people and definitely more damaging to the environment. (See: Bhopal disaster, Seveso disaster.)

    Maybe they should give each group of evacuated people a cheap dosimeter, so they could “see” the radiation. This could give them some sense of confidence, as they could independently verify that there is no danger.


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  13. 13
    Calli Arcale Says:

    The reason the media is whipping this up isn’t the “greens” but rather the media’s tendency to focus on anything that might say “the worst isn’t over yet”. Admittedly, this stems in considerable part on an ignorance of what risks there really are, but the media isn’t doing this because of the greens but because of their natural tendency to seek disaster and the latest new scoop. The other damage has, for the most part, been done. This is the closest thing they can see to a “developing” situation rather than a “terribly sucky and depressing situation”. (They don’t like reporting on the latter very much; just look at how rarely they report on Haiti, still struggling to rebuild since their horrendous earthquake which luckily did not trigger a tsunami.)

    But you’re right that it will play (and is playing) right into the hands of the anti-nuke contingent. Kudos to you for focusing on the real scope of the disaster. You say it could damage the monetary system of Japan — I’d go one further and say it definitely will. It would take nothing short of a miracle (a real miracle, not just the “oh, how nice, it turned out okay” sort of thing that’s usually called a miracle) to keep the yen from falling any more in the face of such massive destruction of Japanese industrial facilities and infrastructure along the Pacific coast.


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  14. 14
    DV82XL Says:

            geoff said:

    No it won’t, it never does. Consider the ramp up to the Iraq war. The media bought the administration’s claims hook, line, and sinker and were the most important cheerleaders swaying public opinion for the invasion. Knowing what we know now, no news source has been held accountable. The examples are inexhaustible.

    Accountable? We don’t hold news sources accountable in countries with a free press. Credibility, on the other hand can be lost, and with it influence. Propaganda is very much a double-edged sword, and while it can work in the short term, it does so at the expense of long term trust.

    This has been known to be true since the time of Aesop the Greek fabulist to whom the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, is attributed. The public can and does become inured to this sort of manipulation, after which it does not work.


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  15. 15
    Daryl Vernon Says:

    I just remembered you guys, in the wake of Japan happenings, as probably a bunch so deluded that no matter what happens, no matter absolutely what, the prevalent theme here would be, nuclear power is worth it. # of dead, $ cost, whatever, you are completely impervious to understanding context. I’ve even guessed that this site might have been purposefully started just as the newer push for newer nuclear plants began a few years ago. I remember in Ontario where I am, not long after an Ottawa-hosted Bilderberger conference, where the Premier of Ontario was said to have given assurances to the oligo-techno-cratic elite, that as usual, Canada, through Ontario, would serve as loyal lapdog (eg as with the staged G20 violence recently), in launching new nuclear. So right after we get a barrage of billboards declaring nuclear as part of the energy “mix”. No real public discussion. The 2007 election campaign saw the only main political antagonist here, leader of the third provincial party, get zero attention for this issue he has even authored a book about as inappropriate for Ontario, and he said he couldn’t get media attention even were he to walk naked down a certain main street in Toronto. Then the main televised leaders’ debate during the campaign, saw the Premier actually give himself away with body language when asked briefly about new nuclear — very strangely for an accomplished politician, he actually turned his head away from the camera, he has something uncomfortable inside. Then, no discussion again, they turn around and can plans for new reactors, surely based on at least partial retraction of financial backing due to expected medium term interest rate hikes. You guys here, pitiful servants of that oligo-techno-cracy. Skeptics only up to the point where real skepticism makes you uncomfortable, the most dangerous skepto-trash of all, misleading decent people that you are thoroughgoing reasonable, just like re kill telephony.


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  16. 16
    Daryl Vernon Says:

    Didn’t bother to look at all the comments, but saw a ref. to “greenie-weenies” — the fool who used that term should know that very many of those are very pro-nuclear, unable to think clearly and contextually (tending to be engineers, of course) in assimilation to the regnant technocratic madness…which is worth it, no matter what, to skeptokooks, alienated as they are from some basics of human existence.


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  17. 17
    Looking Says:

    I fear that the continued obsession with the nuclear reactor situation may lead to precious resources and attention being diverted from those who need it most.

    Really? Please describe the mechanism. And how is attention “precious?” The Japanese are certainly not ignoring the non-nuclear disaster, nor are the media here or elsewhere. It sounds like to don’t want anyone to so much as notice that some of Japan’s nuclear facilities are on the brink of disaster.


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  18. 18
    Looking Says:

    By the way, about that list of things that have “gone all but unreported.” Where did you find out about those things? From reports, maybe?


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  19. 19
    Kenn Says:

            Daryl Vernon said:

    I just remembered you guys, in the wake of Japan happenings, as probably a bunch so deluded that no matter what happens, no matter absolutely what, the prevalent theme here would be, nuclear power is worth it. # of dead, $ cost, whatever, you are completely impervious to understanding context.

    Here’s some context for you my friend:

    Number of casualties as a result of anything happening at Fukushima Daiichi: one dead from explosion, four hospitalized from explosion, two hospitalized from earthquake injuries, and one hospitalized for acute radiation exposure.

    Number of casualties as a result of Earthquake and tsunami: 10,000+ at a bare minimum.

    And the way the media is reporting on the reactors is extremely misleading. How is it even remotely relevant or appropriate to illustrate and article with a gloom and doom headline like “Disaster at Nuclear Plant” with a firey image of destruction from a completely unrelated industrial facility miles away? It is more than a little bit misleading. At best this is idiocy, and at worst, a criminal disregard for truth in pursuit of a political end. From the tone of the reporting, one could almost conclude the media wants to suggest the Nuclear plant caused the frigging tsunami.

    And as far as your disdain for the “oligo-techno-cratic elite,” you would do well to investigate the petrochemical industry, who’s environmentally destructive and deadly but immensely profitable operations would be seriously threatened by a thriving nuclear power renaissance.

    Just as a matter of further context, I wonder how the number of injuries and deaths related to the fires and explosions at the Chiba and Sendai oil refineries compare to the casualties at Fukushima? Unfortunately, the media seems little interested in these fires, except as dramatic photos to illustrate articles full of anti-nuclear fearmongering, so good luck finding out about those casualties.

    And furthermore, whatever the casualties, those two refinery fires have without a doubt released more hazardous and toxic material into the atmosphere than the reactors at Fukushima ever will.

    This is your bloody context, and may you choke on it.


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  20. 20
    Daryl Vernon Says:

    Kenn dear, we’re already choking on your petro-context, physically and politcially &c for about a century, I can talk about that aplenty if you will. So need for your (typical for this website) disgusting language.


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  21. 21
    Daryl Vernon Says:

    That would be rather: NO need for your…


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  22. 22
    Kenn Says:

            Daryl Vernon said:

    Kenn dear, we’re already choking on your petro-context, physically and politcially &c for about a century, I can talk about that aplenty if you will. So need for your (typical for this website) disgusting language.

    Forgive me for being angry and frustrated with what amounts to outright lies. And you’re right. 10,000 dead is a thoroughly disgusting thing. I apologize for allowing reality to intrude into your paranoid/narcissistic universe.

    For what it’s worth, how do you suggest produce the energy required to keep all of us living at our present quality of life (and for that matter, provide the resources to respond to massive natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis)? Shall we continue to suffocate ourselves with fumes from the burning of fossil fuels? Shall we continue to turn sections of earth into industrial wasteland producing the hazardous and exotic materials necessary to produce large scale wind and solar installations (assuming they actually produce usable power reliably, which is a VERY big if)? Shall we return to stone age level subsistence farming and the resulting massive decrease in standard of living that will inevitably follow?

    Nuclear power is my solution. Show me your solutions. And they better work. The engineers you seem to despise so as part of the “technocratic madness” make their living by dealing with reality. We have no use for solutions that will not work in the real world. The last fifty years have proven how safely and efficiently nuclear power does work.


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  23. 23
    Matthew Says:

            Kenn said:

    Forgive me for being angry and frustrated with what amounts to outright lies.

    Kenn, it’s Daryl. Outright lies are his stock in trade. What did you expect from him, honesty, rigour, and context?


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  24. 24
    Zeph Says:

            Mike said:

    Also, just for the people who aren’t familiar with the Richter scale, each increase of 0.2 corresponds to a doubling of intensity. Thus, the quake in Japan was over 20 times more powerful than what the plants were designed for, yet for the most part they’ve help up well.

    I know you are well meaning, but this is seriously confused. Of course, almost of the world’s reactors survived this 9.0 earthquake from enough distance!

    The design was for an 8.2 earthquake AT THE PLANT. The 9.0 earthquake was about 180 km away!

    However, nuclear engineers don’t use the Richter scale anyway – that’s for geologists. Who cares what the maximum intensity was somewhere? What matters is the damaging aspects of shaking at the plant, which depends on quake magnitude, distance, and shape (which direction of sheer) among other things, and also on the local geology at the plant site. I have not yet seen any analysis of that (measurements of actual vs design shaking). Even on the fault, the shaking relevant to a reactor is only loosely correlated to the Richter scale.

    There are not yet any kudos going to the plant’s resilience based on 9.0 vs 8.2, not by anybody with a remote understanding of the issues. Hold your applause until we know more.


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  25. 25
    geoff Says:

            DV82XL said:

    Accountable? We don’t hold news sources accountable in countries with a free press. Credibility, on the other hand can be lost, and with it influence. Propaganda is very much a double-edged sword, and while it can work in the short term, it does so at the expense of long term trust.

    This has been known to be true since the time of Aesop the Greek fabulist to whom the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, is attributed. The public can and does become inured to this sort of manipulation, after which it does not work.

    Poor choice of word…held to account by the public was my point.


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  26. 26
    BMS Says:

            Zeph said:

    There are not yet any kudos going to the plant’s resilience based on 9.0 vs 8.2, not by anybody with a remote understanding of the issues. Hold your applause until we know more.

    That’s all irrelevant anyway, since the plant survived the earthquake just fine, regardless of how much of that 9.0 it was exposed to.

    The tsunami caused all of the problems.


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  27. 27
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Daryl Vernon said:

    no matter absolutely what, the prevalent theme here would be, nuclear power is worth it. # of dead, $ cost, whatever

    You want my honest answer to that?

    Economically nuclear energy is still highly competitive especially in places like China, where it is not crippled with regulations. Also, nobody has died from this incident. People died at petro chemical refineries. People died when their automobiles were swept away. Only one person died at a nuclear plant and that was from drowning.

    However… IF nuclear energy did cost many lives and if it did cost one hundred times what it does then yes I would still support its development 100%. There is no cost so high that it would stop me from supporting nuclear energy.

    There’s a simple reason for this. Nuclear energy is the next great leap in energy not experienced since man first tamed fire. It is the only form of energy that can elevate humanity to the next level of mastery of our enviornment and future. It is the only form of energy that can take us to the stars.

    To reject nuclear energy is to accept that civilization will never get significantly better, that humanity will never leave earth, except perhaps for a brief scouting mission to nearby planets and to guarantee that a worldwide post-scarcity society will never exist.

    As a humanist, I cannot accept that this species will continue to be bound by the chains of chemical energy.

    That said, this is a very lofty and fundamental topic that people with small minds have trouble grasping.


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  28. 28
    Zeph Says:

    Where your attention focuses depends on which aspect you are concerned about.

    If the subject is mourning the dead and injured, of course the quake and tsunami are by far the greater loss. Likewise, probably, financial damages.

    So why does the news continue to give significant attention to the nuclear aspects? Are they just stupid or grinding an anti-nuclear axe?

    No, there are good reasons. The quake and tsunami are (mostly) over – now continues a huge ongoing effort to rebuild and heal, which will be in the news off and on for years to come. But the nuclear issue is still unresolved, with dramatic new development literally every day, and nobody really knows what the outcome will be. And – if the worst case fears were realized, it could yet add a non-trivial amount to the damages and injuries (however unlikely you think that is, there are high ranking people telling the media that it’s a possibility).

    If there was a dedicated team of engineers risking their lives with some technique to avert a potentially huge aftershock, that would be huge news too – because it’s unresolved and heroic and people want to know what’s happening.

    Remember how much attention a relative handful (compared to 10,000+ dead) of trapped miners can get? It’s unfolding and engrossing to people.

    Some people are also concerned that a full scale meltdown could bring the problems home to them. The concern of something which may directly affect YOU the audience in coming weeks, will tend to get a share of airtime alongside a huge tragedy far away which you can’t do much about but sympathize – even if the numbers of potential deaths don’t compare.

    So let’s not feel like the nuclear industry is a victim here. It’s just normal human nature in terms of focus of attention. Surf it, don’t bemoan it. Notice that workers still at the plants are becoming heros, not villians.

    And don’t go giving out premature reassurances which might rebound in distrust later. Things have gone seriously wrong here, and there will be lessons to be learned. We want to mute the hysteria, but also be seen as credible rather than party-line apologists.


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  29. 29
    Kenn Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    To reject nuclear energy is to accept that civilization will never get significantly better, that humanity will never leave earth, except perhaps for a brief scouting mission to nearby planets and to guarantee that a worldwide post-scarcity society will never exist.

    As a humanist, I cannot accept that this species will continue to be bound by the chains of chemical energy.

    That was very well said! Much more eloquent than I could muster, and I agree 100%. I support nuclear power precisely because of my faith in humanity.


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  30. 30
    Zeph Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    That said, this is a very lofty and fundamental topic that people with small minds have trouble grasping.

    How effective are you finding that style in persuading people?

    Is your mind (larger or small?) being focused on feeling superior, or on doing the things which will materially advance the causes you believe in? Are you successfully swaying opinion to inspire more people with your vision, or just reinforcing other people’s dogmas (and maybe your own)?

    The core of rationality is “pay attention to the effects of your actions and adjust them until you begin to achieve your intentions”. That includes not just evaluating evidence based vs faith based models of the universe, but also how we talk to each other and the results thereof. My experience is that putting down people who do not (yet) understand one’s big picture pretty much assures that you’ll have a hard path ever reaching them. Has your experience of the world yielded different results?

    Feeling superior is the ego boo “consolation prize” for the ineffective. Empathy and intuition are hallmarks of effective leaders who actually accomplish things. It makes us feel better (sort of) when we fail to achieve anything productive, because that’s “their fault” for being stupid or small minded. Unfortunately that ego salve comes at the expense of maladaptive behaviors towards creating the big picture we say we are motivated by.

    And – all that’s just human. We all slip into it. No biggee. Noting to agonize over, if it’s an occasional slip. The big question is whether we sink into the mire of self-congratulation for being big minded, or we pull our selves out and DEMONSTRATE the big visions which inspire us.


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  31. 31
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Zeph said:

    How effective are you finding that style in persuading people?

    I think it’s swayed a few. Many of those who can appreciate the profoundness of the ideal of moving toward a civilization with a grasp of energy greater than chemical bonds don’t need persuading to begin with, but I do think I have persuaded a few.

            Zeph said:

    Is your mind (larger or small?)

    Um… I don’t know that I’m the hugest, but, well it’s big enough. I mean I’ve gotten no complaints or anything ;-)

    Seriously though, I guess I can just say that I tend to hope I have a reasonably large mind. I am sure there are those who have larger. However I’m quite sure there are many many with a smaller one.


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  32. 32
    Anon Says:

    I’m really beginning to think that Zeph is just a concern troll trying to get us to shift away from truly coming down on the kooks and to instead let them have complete control over what the public thinks.


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  33. 33
    DV82XL Says:

            Anon said:

    I’m really beginning to think that Zeph is just a concern troll trying to get us to shift away from truly coming down on the kooks and to instead let them have complete control over what the public thinks.

    Of course, you can smell the panic setting in with the antinukes all over the net. They are used to controlling the spin in the nuclear debate, and they where not prepared to face opposition. Now they have softened their approach to throwing our own wait-and-see back in our faces in an attempt to quench debate until they can regain control of the framing.


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  34. 34
    BMS Says:

            DV82XL said:

    Of course, you can smell the panic setting in with the antinukes all over the net.

    Yes, it’s so true. It’s not just here on this blog but all over. Even the mainstream media is starting to panic as well. Observe this pathetic example from the NYT:

    Last Defense at Troubled Reactors: 50 Japanese Workers

    Christ! They’re trying to make it sound like a remake of 300 or something.

    We’re witnessing a new low in American journalism. I can’t speak to how bad things are in other countries.


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  35. 35
    Meredith L. Patterson Says:

    Guys, the tone argument is getting boring on the atheist blogs, let’s not get started with it here, please?

    Media is all about telling stories. Like DV82XL pointed out in a comment a couple of posts back, plane crashes used to be a Big Story, but as time went on, and statistics settled into place, eventually they weren’t all that interesting any more. I do think the analogy falls down with nuclear reactors simply because nuclear incidents are rare as hens’ teeth compared to plane crashes — we just can’t wait for incidents to become boring — so it is incumbent upon us, like Steve says, to counter the fearmongering fairytales, quickly and aggressively.

    The FUD-pushers will, of course, counterattack. After this post went viral two days ago, there was a backlash attempting to discredit the author as an astroturfer, affiliated with Siemens, the usual ratf**k approach. But then MIT nuclear engineers stepped up to lend fact-checking and street cred. Yeah teamwork!

    Zeph mentioned another story which I think will end up carrying the day, though: the “Fukushima 50″. Right now the media are biting their collective nails over the fact that non-essential personnel have been sent away, that the workers pulled back at one point due to a radiation spike, whatever. BFD. Japanese does not have a word for excessive preparation. These guys are brave as hell, to be sure, but they are also managing risk incredibly well. And they are the Big Story now. I’ll wager that by week’s end the names of every one of them will be listed on Wikipedia. There’s already sturm und drang about the “devastating radiation levels” they’re supposedly being exposed to. 400 mSv/hr is the highest dose rate measured so far. The eyes of the world are on them, and will continue to be on them, because the fearmongerers are already predicting the en masse deaths of the Fukushima 50 … and the fearmongerers will be shown up for the fools they are.

    You can’t write fiction like that. It won’t be perfect; there will be surprises, injuries, someone may even get killed. But I predict there will be no deaths from radiation poisoning, and probably no serious morbidity from it either … and how will the antis explain themselves then? The media do not like to get egg on their face. They will be more cautious, the next time.


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  36. 36
    Edward Peschko Says:

    Daryl Vernon,

    *Please* take you lithium..


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  37. 37
    Michael Says:

    NO matter which way the hype goes, in the long run the truth will out. If the fires are extinguished without significant radioactive leaks then the fact that the reactors have stood up to such a force of nature will help show that nuclear power plants are very safe.
    If however, a major meltdown/radiation leak were to occur, then the safety of such power stations under extreme conditions will be questioned.
    Propaganda, from either side of the nuclear power argument, will become redundant in a few days time when the facts will speak for themselves.


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  38. 38
    AAron H. Says:

    Daryl, most of the electricity production in the US and Canada is through coal. Coal pollutants cause or contribute to more than 30,000 deaths annually in the US and Canada.

    Since the earthquake thursday evening/friday morning, we have paid a price in lives of more than 400 souls for our electricity.

    Nuclear energy doesn’t pollute the air, soil and groundwater as part of its normal functioning as coal does. If we were 100% nuclear driven, we would have saved those 400+ lives.

    That is the price YOU want us to pay for not switching.


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  39. 39
    Michael Says:

    Of course, my previous comment is probably influenced by the fact that most of the news reports I have seen ARE focusing primarily on the natural disasters with only some reporting on the fires at the nuclear plants and a mention of there being some concern on how this might progress. I’ve only heard “meltdown” mentioned a couple of times and the possiblity of such an event has been played down in our media in New Zealand, and not really hyped up.


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  40. 40
    Anon Says:

            Michael said:

    NO matter which way the hype goes, in the long run the truth will out. If the fires are extinguished without significant radioactive leaks then the fact that the reactors have stood up to such a force of nature will help show that nuclear power plants are very safe.
    If however, a major meltdown/radiation leak were to occur, then the safety of such power stations under extreme conditions will be questioned.
    Propaganda, from either side of the nuclear power argument, will become redundant in a few days time when the facts will speak for themselves.

    Completely true, provided the facts are allowed to speak for themselves which is something the anti-nuclear movement will be working their hardest to prevent should the facts be against them.


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  41. 41
    Daryl Vernon Says:

    ‘buzz puts it as I expected with his credo, making my point of long ago here already, about scientism being religious surrogate, and about self-limiting skepticism. I could go on about origins of this type pf attitude, but I don’t want to shake what might be a last peg for some of you to hang morality on, where you’d risk endangering by more than your commonly foul mouths (which also keep as a vent if you have so much pent up frustration & inability to deal with it, creatively & with attention to context, that is).

    AAron – you are displaying the other typical gross lacuna among types here, in addition to failure to have patience for richer context, serious lack of imagination.

    The sad waste is that tehno-attractees, if they could dispense with their space-man and nuclear & other gargantuisms, ie if they paid close attention to humans and not to “humanity”, are sorely needed in desperate humbler tasks.


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  42. 42
    BMS Says:

    Daryl must be a lonely, lonely man to keep coming back here again and again as he does.


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  43. 43
    Meredith L. Patterson Says:

    Here’s a level-headed summary of the situation as of today, from The Register: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/16/fukushima_wednesday/

    I wish more writers were as unsensationalistic as Lewis Page.


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  44. 44
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Michael said:

    . I’ve only heard “meltdown” mentioned a couple of times and the possiblity of such an event has been played down in our media in New Zealand, and not really hyped up.

    A “meltdown” is the kind of thing that has been sensationalized quite a lot. Basically it means that the fuel bundles have gotten hot enough to have melted, usually temporarily they solidify again when cooling resumes or in some cases when they hit the bottom that acts as a thermal sink.

    Though this is catastrophic to the reactor, it is not in and of itself a danger to those outside.


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  45. 45
    dmfdmf Says:

    I think there is a bit too much minimization and denial going on here. It is true that the term “meltdown” is often used sensationally by the enviros and attention-whoring journalists. However, in this case I think the use of the term is totally justified.

    First, at the time of the earthquake Unit 4 was shutdown for refueling. It is reasonable to assume that the spent fuel pool was holding a significant number of recently off loaded fuel bundles that would still be highly radioactive (have you ever seen the blue glow of Cherenkov radiation on a spent fuel bundle? I have, it is amazing) and thermally hot. We don’t know if the SFP sprung a leak due to the earthquake or the operators are unable to keep up with the boil off due to the lack of AC power to run the pumps but it does not matter. It is clear from the earlier reports of two fires at Unit 4 SFP (or one fire that was never really put out, see my final point below) that the bundles in the fuel pool are probably exposed to air. They are now trying to drop water in from helicopters which tells me they are desperate and that the radiation zone is too hot to send in any men or equipment. A fuel pool fire is outside containment and would release horrible amounts of radiation. Under the circumstances if a journalist called that a “meltdown”, though technically incorrect, I could not fault them for such a misuse of the term.

    Second, while the hydrogen explosions that removed the upper walls of the refuel floor in the reactor building above the containments in Units 1 and 3 were dramatic, they did not imply any horrible situation in the reactor below. This is because some hydrogen generation would be expected in an accident of this scale, the hydrogen recombiners were probably out of service without AC power and I would expect hydrogen to accumulate at the top of the reactor building. The same cannot be said for an under vessel explosion at Unit 2 that has reportedly damaged the steam suppression system. A hydrogen explosion under vessel would already imply serious core damage as the rate of hydrogen generation (either through zirconium oxidation or out right thermal decomposition) would be quite high (i.e. no need to slowly accumulate explosive quantities at the top of the building). However, I am not convinced that it was a hydrogen explosion (see my final point below) and quite possibly could have been a steam explosion due to a broken pipe or corium coming in contact with the water somewhere in the bowels of the reactor. An under vessel explosion is always very serious due to limited possible causes (all very serious) and location of critical equipment, including control rod actuators. Even if we assume that it was a hydrogen explosion, the damage to the steam suppression system implies that it will be very difficult to control the reactor pressure without possibly damaging the containment structure and making any core melt with radiation release much more severe.

    One final point — most Americans seem to be unaware that the Japanese generally and TEPCO specifically have a culture of “face saving” and not admitting and/or minimizing bad news. This is important to understand when interpreting the news coming from Japan.

    And for the record, I used to design nuclear reactor feedwater control systems for BWRs. I am familiar with the plants in trouble, though they were built many years before I worked for GE. I am still a supporter of nuclear power and I sincerely hope that things are not as bad as they look to me. If they can restore offsite power (apparently could be any time now) its quite possible things can be stabilized fairly quickly.


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  46. 46
    AAron H. Says:

    Canadian media finally found someone more qualified than Gordon Edwards to discuss the Fukushima incident with. Dr. Dan Meneley, former chief engineer at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.

    http://www.tvo.org/TVO/WebObjects/TVO.woa?videoid?830054922001

    Daryl – pop-psychology based personal attacks don’t become you.


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  47. 47
    Frank Kandrnal Says:

    If chemical pollutants resulting from Japan’s broken infrastructure could be measured as easily as nuclear radiation, and if people really understood how risky some of those chemicals can be, they would want to leave this Earth and evacuate to the moon


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  48. 48
    drbuzz0 Says:

            dmfdmf said:

    One final point — most Americans seem to be unaware that the Japanese generally and TEPCO specifically have a culture of “face saving” and not admitting and/or minimizing bad news. This is important to understand when interpreting the news coming from Japan.

    Thanks for that info. I have heard conflicting things about how forthcoming TEPCO has been. I don’t get the impression they have have lied outright, but they may downplay certain things or hold back info.

    Different companies have different ways of dealing with this kind of crisis. IMHO, “face saving” and not admitting bad news really does not help you in the long run. It may be tempting to try to control damage, but it will come back to bite you in the ass even worse when the truth comes out, and at that point you’ll have even more difficult questions to answer.


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  49. 49
    Frank Kandrnal Says:

    Cooking my Oatmeal breakfast this morning while watching anti nuclear propaganda on TV, the kitchen food reactor operator (me) forgot to control the heat. In no time, the reactor (cooking pot) had complete meltdown. The lid got blown off and my exposed nuclear bio fuel got carbonized and caught fire spewing the carcinogenic plume into the house and countryside. Millions of people will “eventually” die (of old age) as a result of this greatest disaster in the history of oatmeal cooking.

    I love the word eventually. The anti nuclear activists like to use it in their fear mongering. Of course, “eventually” we will all die.


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