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Posts Tagged ‘nuclear

“Eight years involved with the nuclear industry have taught me that when nothing can possibly go wrong and every avenue has been covered, then is the time to buy a house on the next continent”*…

 

 

The Yucca Mountain Waste Depository sits empty.  Starting 1983, our electricity bills contained a tiny charge (a tenth of a penny per kilowatt-hour) meant to pay for the storage of nuclear waste until it’s safe– an estimated 10,000 years– at Yucca Mountain.  In 2014, after collecting $30 billion, the Department of Energy stopped the fee.  Five miles of tunnels—out of the intended 40—had already been carved into the rock, but there was no radioactive waste stored there.  Having missed its planned opening date of January 31, 1998 by an embarrassing margin, the Obama administration in 2010 abandoned the languishing plans to build Yucca Mountain.  Three-and-a-half years later, a court ruled the federal government couldn’t keep collecting fees for a site it had no intention of building.

That’s one way to see Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository’s continued nonexistence, as yet another political boondoggle: thirty billion dollars of taxpayer money collected to build a mythical mountain.

But Yucca Mountain is more than that. The ambition behind it far exceeds the two- or four- or even six-year terms of any politician. Here we were trying to build a structure that would last longer than the Great Pyramids of Egypt, longer than any man-made structure, longer than any language. When forced to adopt a long view of human existence—when looking back on today from 10,000 years into the future—it’s hard not to view Yucca Mountain in near-mythical terms. We can imagine future earthlings pondering it the way we ponder the Parthenon or Stonehenge today—massive structures imbued with an alien spirituality.

Ten thousand years may be the time scale of legends, but nuclear waste storage is a very real and practical problem for humans. It is a problem where incomprehensibly long time scales clash with human ones, where grand visions run up against forces utterly mundane and petty…

In 1981, the Department of Energy convened a task force on how to communicate with the future.

The panel of consulted experts included engineers, but also an archeologist, a linguist, and an expert in nonverbal communication. Dubbed the Human Interference Task Force, they were tasked with figuring out how to keep future humans away from a deep geological repository of nuclear waste—like Yucca Mountain…

Read more about HITF’s attempts to communicate with our far future selves at “The Cat Went Over Radioactive Mountain” in the terrific new Method Quarterly.

* The late, lamented Terry Pratchett

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As we reach for the kitty litter, we might send penetrating birthday greetings to Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen; he was born on this date in 1845.  As a physicist working at the University of Würzburg in 1895, Röntgen became the first to discover– to produce and detect– electromagnetic radiation in the range we now know as x-ray (originally called “Röntgen ray”).  Two weeks after his discovery, he became the first person to create an image with x-rays, when he took a “picture” of his wife Anna Bertha’s hand.  For his discovery, Röntgen was awarded the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.  And in 2004, element number 111 roentgenium (Rg) was named in his honor.

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Written by LW

March 27, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”*…

 

As this interactive graphic from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reveals, the number of nuclear weapons in the world peaked in the late 80s.  But there are still roughly 10,000 nukes floating around the world, and in the hands of an increased number of countries…

Explore the Nuclear Notebook.

* J. Robert Oppenheimer, quoting the Bhagavad Gita as he recalled the Trinity Test (the first atomic bomb detonation)

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As we duck and cover, we might recall that today is the Ides of March.  An occasion in the Roman calendar for religious observances, it retains a certain notoriety as the date, in 44 BCE, of the assassination of Julius Caesar– becoming, thus, a turning point in Roman history… and the prompt for Shakespeare’s immortal warning (from a soothsayer to Caesar in Julius Caesar): “Beware the Ides of March.”

The Death of Caesar (1798) by Vincenzo Camuccini

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Written by LW

March 15, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There is no virtue whatsoever in creating clothing or accessories that are not practical”*…

 

Officially known as the “President’s emergency satchel,” the so-called nuclear “Football”—portable and hand-carried—is built around a sturdy aluminum frame, encased in black leather. A retired Football, emptied of its top-secret inner contents, is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. “We were looking for something that would demonstrate the incredible military power and responsibilities of the president, and we struck upon this iconic object,” says curator Harry Rubenstein.

Contrary to popular belief, the Football does not actually contain a big red button for launching a nuclear war. Its primary purpose is to confirm the president’s identity, and it allows him to communicate with the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon, which monitors worldwide nuclear threats and can order an instant response. The Football also provides the commander in chief with a simplified menu of nuclear strike options—allowing him to decide, for example, whether to destroy all of America’s enemies in one fell swoop or to limit himself to obliterating only Moscow or Pyongyang or Beijing.

Although its origins remain highly classified, the Football can be traced back to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis…

Read more about “the ultimate power accessory” in “The Real Story of the ‘Football’ That Follows the President Everywhere.”

* Giorgio Armani

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As we play “button, button, who’s got the button,” we might spare a thought for Showa Tenno Hirohito, the 124th Japanese monarch in an imperial line dating back to 660 B.C.; he died on this date in 1989– after serving six decades as the emperor of Japan.  He was the longest serving monarch in Japanese history.

Made Regent in 1921, Hirohito was enthroned as emperor in 1928, two years after the death of his father, Emperor Taisho.  During his first two decades as emperor, Hirohito presided over one of the most turbulent eras in his nation’s history.  From rapid military expansion beginning in 1931 to the crushing defeat of Japan in 1945, Hirohito stood above the Japanese people as an absolute monarch whose powers were sharply limited in practice.  After U.S. atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was he who argued for his country’s surrender, explaining to the Japanese people in his first-ever radio address that the “unendurable must be endured.”  Under U.S. occupation and postwar reconstruction, Hirohito was formally stripped of his powers and forced to renounce his alleged divinity, but he remained his country’s official figurehead until his death.  He was succeeded as emperor by his only son, Akihito.

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Written by LW

January 7, 2015 at 1:01 am

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