(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘nuclear power

“Fortune’s expensive smile is earned”*…


“Hinkley [the nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset, UK] is set to be the most expensive object on Earth… best guesses say Hinkley could pass £24bn ($35bn),” said the environmental charity Greenpeace last month as it launched a petition against the project.

This figure includes an estimate for paying interest on borrowed money, but the financing arrangements for Hinkley C are so opaque that it is impossible to calculate exactly what the final cost will be.

Even if you stick with the expense of construction alone, though, the price is still high – the main contractor, EDF, puts it at £18bn ($26bn).

For that sum you could build a small forest of Burj Khalifas – the world’s tallest building, in Dubai, cost a piffling £1bn ($1.5bn). You could also knock up more than 70 miles of particle accelerator. The 17-mile-long Large Hadron Collider, built under the border between France and Switzerland to unlock the secrets of the universe, cost a mere £4bn ($5.8bn).

The most expensive bridge ever constructed is the eastern replacement span of the Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco, designed to withstand the strongest earthquake seismologists would expect within the next 1,500 years. That cost about £4.5bn ($6.5bn)…

More jaw-dropping comparisons (and an explanation of the cost) at “What is the most expensive object on Earth?”  Even more background at “Should the UK pull plug on Hinkley Point nuclear power station?” (from whence, the photo above).

* Emily Dickinson


As we duck and cover, we might send birthday greetings that glow in the dark to David Allan Bromley; he was born on this date in 1926.  A winner of the National Medal of Science, Bromley is considered the “father of modern heavy ion science.”  He had a distinguished career in academia (retiring as the first Sterling Professor of Science at Yale) and in government (first at Atomic Energy of Canada, then as Science Advisor to two U.S. presidents).  Among his many achievements, he is probably best remembered as the founder and first head of Yale’s A.W. Wright Nuclear Structure Laboratory, which has produced more experimental nuclear physicists than any other facility.



“Sure, everything is ending… but not yet.”*…


From 365 CE to 10100 years from now, apocalyptic predictions and who made them: the interactive “Timeline of When the World Ended.” (Lots of notice for our old friend Harold Camping.)

* Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad


As we sharpen a Sense of the The Ending, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that a team of scientists led by Enrico Fermi, working inside an enormous tent on a squash court under the stands of the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field, achieved the first controlled nuclear fission chain reaction… laying the foundation for the atomic bomb and later, nuclear power generation.

“…the Italian Navigator has just landed in the New World…”
– Coded telephone message confirming first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, December 2, 1942.

Illustration depicting the scene on Dec. 2, 1942 (Photo copyright of Chicago Historical Society)


Indeed, exactly 15 years later, on this date in 1957, the world’s first full-scale atomic electric power plant devoted exclusively to peacetime uses, the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, reached criticality; the first power was produced 16 days later, after engineers integrated the generator into the distribution grid of Duquesne Light Company.



The eyes have it…

Two extraordinary repositories; two extraordinary new web visualization tools…

From The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, the 3D Collection:

Date of Discovery: 1961
Discovered by: Hisashi Suzuki
Age: About 41,000 years old
Fossil Name: Amud
Location of Discovery: Wadi Amud, Israel

The purpose of this collection [of 3D fossils and artifacts] is to allow you to view your favorite objects from our David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins and to help you share your museum experience with your friends and family. Before our exhibit opened, the objects on display were either CT or laser scanned. The scanning process enabled Human Origins Progam staff to generate 3D models of each object that you can view, rotate, and interact with online. It may take a minute or two to load depending on your computer, but after it is loaded you will be able to move the 3D object around by holding down the left-click button and moving your mouse.

And from the Vatican, the Virtual Reality Tour of the Sistine Chapel:

A virtual tour of Michelangelo’s masterwork — move around the space and inspect from any angle, using your mouse– designed by the Augustinian computer scientists at Villanova University.

As we marvel at time, at space, and at the technology that aims to tame them, we might recall that it was on this date in 1979 that operators failed to notice that a relief valve was stuck open in the primary coolant system of Three Mile Island’s Unit 2 nuclear reactor following an unexpected shutdown. Consequently, enough coolant drained out of the system to allow the core to overheat and partially melt down– the worst commercial nuclear accident in American history.

Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant, near Harrisburg, PA

182 years earlier, on this date in 1797, Nathaniel Briggs (of New Hampshire) patented the first “washing machine,” known as the Box Mangler– a heavy frame containing a large box filled with rocks, resting on a series of long wooden rollers. Washing was laid flat on a sheet and wound round one of the rollers, then two people pulled on levers to move the heavy box back and forth over the rollers.  While it was expensive, heavy, difficult to operate, and even then, jammed often, its failures never led to the evacuation of major population centers.

Box Mangler

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