Posts Tagged ‘accidents’

The Anti-Obama Right Grabs at Anti-U.S. Pakistani Conspiracy Delusion

June 19th, 2011 No comments

Interpol surveillance photo of suspected Pakistani ISI agent (left) and American gun-nut right-winger (right). Note the concealed-carry permit in the latter's wallet.

As a second nuclear plant in Nebraska issued a “notification of unusual event” because of rising floodwaters, right-wingers are spreading the Pakistani story of a “news blackout” around the Ft. Calhoun nuclear plant…for no reason other than that it gives them an excuse to hate the government and be paranoid.

The “notification of unusual event” came from Cooper Nuclear Station operated by the Nebraska Public Power District — about 70 miles south of Omaha. It is a level 1 alert, which occured simply because the floodwaters reached a certain level. There has been no operational deviation within the plant itself. On the U.S. NRC’s scale, level 1 is the first of four levels of alerts for nuclear plants, and it means nothing in operational terms. The only thing that’s being done is that the plant operators have stacked sandbags and done other flood-preparedness activities. There is no “meltdown,” “nuclear disaster,” or “nuclear event.” There are only the rising waters.

Specifically, the notification was triggered because floodwaters surrounding the plant reached a level of 42.5 feet, and are expected to reach 42.7 feet (90 feet above sea level) this afternoon. If they rise another three feet, the plant goes offline — it’s currently online and generating power.

There’s no news on the Ft. Calhoun nuclear plant itself other than that I found this really freaky photo gallery of the workers there, on Looks to me like those kids have been having a good time…

But it should be no surprise to me that “gun owners” in forums like this one right chere don’t care that no news is good news, or understand how to limit their Google searches to the latest results. Some anti-government conspiracy theorists — have seized on yesterday’s hysterical, fanatical report from a country whose rogue intelligence agency is currently waging a de facto proxy war with the United States in Afghanistan.

They do this without, apparently, being able to tell the difference between Pakistan’s The Nation and the U.S. “progressive” magazine The Nation (which also doesn’t like nukes all that much.)

No, this shouldn’t surprise me…I’ve been reading gun forums for years now, and the posters there are a bizarre mix of borderline-genius highly-functioning lunatics, garden-variety reasonable people and start raving mad fuckwads. Whenever the tone of the discussion migrates away from specific gun-related facts and experiences, the overheated core of roadside-attraction weirdness that forms the guns-and-butter heart of Bitterly Clinging America begins to puke forth its molten zirconium. Wanna know the terminal ballistics of a thirty-ought-six round in a deer’s ass or a human chest cavity? No problem, son, pull up a notepad and get ready for a six-hour lecture, with diagrams. Wanna know what’s going on in politics? Obama’s trying to take away our guns. Sometimes it seems like that’s all you need to know to talk politics on a gun forum…and all you ever need to know.

The same inexplicably credulous and stumblingly pro-Pakistan paranoia is true of these foaming-at-the-mouth right-wingers “inspired” by the supposedly “Libertarian” Gentleman from Texas at The Daily Paul, which repeated theclaim of a “news blackout.” The Daily Paul essentially republished without commentary the Pakistani article, which incidentally I already pissed on from a great height here, in case you missed it.

Out in liberal Oregon, spread the anti-Barack yowls of certain doom, even going so far as to poop out a paranoid, deceitful and blatantly ignorant paragraph like this one:

US Orders News Blackout Over Crippled Nebraska Nuclear Plant

Report notes the “cover-up” of this nuclear disaster by President Obama is based on his “fantasy” of creating so-called green jobs which he (strangely) includes nuclear power into.

(MOSCOW ) – Editor’s note: I am about to approve a comment on this story that claims it is a hoax, in fact it is not a hoax, it possibly may not be entirely accurate, but this piece has been carried by many agencies already. There are so-called ‘Citizen Journalism’ sites that sometimes strike it with groundbreaking news, so the fact that they allow people to post their own stories means they need disclaimers, unlike which is staffed by working news editors and other personnel

Now the fact that it is on Wikipedia does not make it true, but I think if that information were blatantly false, the nuclear plant’s publicists would have instantly stripped from the pages of the world’s online public encyclopedia.

This “editor” had the gall to add the “crippled” moniker to Ft. Calhoun — apparently by making it up wholesale. Maybe he wanted to make the situation seem worse than it is to attack Obama’s attempt at creating “green jobs” — without looking critically at whether Obama’s political opponents are also supporting nuclear…or, if they’re opposing it, looking at if they’re opposing it because they’re in bed with Big Oil and Big Coal, which never did anything to fuck us, did they?

Then again, maybe the need to leap on the conspiracy-theory bandwagon is just a desire to justify in right-wing anti-Democratic terms the verbatim reposting of an article that seems obviously, to me, written by a hostile foreign country’s intelligence service to discredit the the United States.

Here’s where I get mad. Here’s where I go screaming into I-Love-America territory. Here’s where I look suspiciously like the rednecks looked thirty-five years ago before Carter, before Reagan. Here’s where I start to look, if I may, like the crazed prospector stock character in a Western movie, with Tabasco on his butt plug.

Here’s where I hate on the gun nuts.

Look, I know full well that I am a howling-mad socialist liberal on the domestic front, except for the most part on gun control (which I think is  a turd-sniffing straw-man the Left should forget about). But in international terms, I’m actually a bit of a policy hawk. I think it’s a pretty fucked world out there, and if the U.S. helped make it that way…well, that blows, but it sure as hell doesn’t mean I’m going to “blame America first.” It means I think most governments blow steaming chunks, and America should be blamed when it’s culpable.

But let’s blame Pakistan when it’s culpable, shall we?

My problem with certain born-again anti-taxation pasty-faced right-wingers who name their rotary-magazine shotguns things like Lucille and their Chris Crafts things like the Freedom Isn’t Free is not so much when they’re anti-intellectual, xenophobic assholes who hate the rest of the world and any Americans who think differently than them.  It’s when they do it badly. People should refrain from making paranoid anti-government posts online if they can’t be bothered to figure out the international political playing field before they start believing anti-American stories that seem almost certainly promulgated by the sworn enemies of the United States they claim to love so much (except on April 15).

No, when I refer to the “sworn enemies of the United States,” I’m not referring the people of Pakistan — many Pakistanis and Pakistani-Americans are not anti-American, even remotely. Others are, sure; you don’t have to work to find anti-Americans in most part of the world, alongside people who support the U.S. (everywhere — including Iran).

Pakistan is a big frickin’ place. I would never make the kind of generalizations about the population of Pakistan that I read in gun forums routinely – where posters often can’t be bothered to know the difference between, say, the terms “Muslim” and “Arab,” which are completely unrelated descriptors. The result is that bizarre paranoid statements

Mind you, I’m not claiming that the majority of the Pakistani population in Pakistan loves the United States — as George W. Bush claimed the population of Iraq did. In fact, the nuclear scientist and entrepreneur A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani who pseudo-stole nuclear weapons technology from the Dutch and then sold it to Libya and North Korea and tried to sell it to Iran, remains a national hero in Pakistan. But it’s not just the people — many of whom are astonishingly underprivileged — who raise Khan to the level of a national saint. It was the government of Pakistan, which without question knew about Khan’s activities in selling nuclear weapons technology to three “rogue” nations…and then claimed not to. The government hung Khan out to dry and made him issue a broad confession of his crimes in public…in English…a language most people in Pakistan do not speak. In case anyone’s wondering who really sold North Korea those nukes probably aimed at Tokyo, it almost surely wasn’t Khan…at least, not acting alone. He had the support of some elements of the Pakistani government. Which ones? Fuck if I know — people who have worked for the CIA can’t keep that shit straight in Pakistan right now! Which is probably one of the many reasons they had no idea North Korea had a nuke until they detonated one.

As a liberal, I’ve been accused of being anti-America. I’m anti-America? I’m not going to claim that my fellow left-of-centers weren’t posting some serious jackass shit in the wake of the Fukushima crisis, but at least their information didn’t come from fucking Pakistan!

Anti-Obama right-wingers: You love America, right? You love the Second Amendment? Do you love the First Amendment? Do you think they have freedom of the press in Pakistan? Do you think that something published in is unlikely to be vetted by the ISI — the Pakistani intelligence service? Do you credit for an instant — or even know about — the claims of American military intelligence operatives that one of the biggest problems of the war in Afghanistan is separating out “insurgents” from the Pakistani ISI itself? That it’s not just that the ISI is supporting anti-US Afghan rebels, but that they’re the same goddamn people?!?

Whether those facts (covered in some detail in this book by Army Reserve intelligence officer Lt. Col. Anthony Schaffer) are credible I don’t really know; I found the book far more convincing than the claims of the DOD that went out of its way to censor it.

But I sure as hell am aware of those claims. I know that I’m going to question a report coming out of Pakistan about a broad Obama-based conspiracy to hide a major disaster in Omaha from the American people — when Obama made himself the explicit enemy of the Pakistani government by making the first real overtures in years toward Pakistan’s nemesis, India, including advocating India getting a seat on the U.N. Security Council!! Do you think maybe there’s an anti-American slant going on here, from the government-controlled press of a nation whose government is waging a war against the U.S.???

Or could the Pakistani ISI and Afghan anti-American forces even be conspiring to keep the heroin flowing to Europe and the U.S. both to screw the US attempt to hold on to its role as the defining regional power in Central, South and Southwest Asia, and because dope is profitable?

Nah, what are the chances of that?

For fuck’s sake, all you Goldwaterites and concealed-carry lunatics out there!!! Get your sources straight!!! URLs do not stop at the dot!!!! is not the same as!!!!! Russia provoked a war with U.S. regional ally Georgia just to warn Ukraine not to join NATO!!!! The Pakistani ISI is in a proxy war with the United States, people!!!It has been since at least 2001!!!! Get with the program!!! Just because it’s anti-Obama doesn’t mean it’s true!! Put down the shotgun and read a fuckin’ book once in a while, people!!!!

Pakistani Slam Piece Spreads Panic Over Ft. Calhoun

June 18th, 2011 1 comment


Image from Omaha Public Power District.

A truly crazed article in Pakistan’s The Nation leads one to believe that the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant is a Fukushima-style disaster not just about to happen, but already happening…and President Obama is to blame. Please don’t think for a second I believe the federal government is incapable of lying, or that there’s complete freedom of the press in the U.S. Far from it! But in this case, Pakistan’s The Nation is off its rocker, and factually mis-states something so critical that it totally derails any claims they make. This is anti-American hysteria, pure and simple, whipped up by a Pakistani publication and supposedly supported by a Russian agency that I know nothing about, but that I would, at face value, be inclined to trust about as far as I could throw it.

Regardless, the kind of hysterical coverage seen in the Pakistani article is just out of control. Here’s the madness:

A shocking report prepared by Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency (FAAE) on information provided to them by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) states that the Obama regime has ordered a “total and complete” news blackout relating to any information regarding the near catastrophic meltdown of the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant located in Nebraska.

According to this report, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant suffered a “catastrophic loss of cooling” to one of its idle spent fuel rod pools on 7 June after this plant was deluged with water caused by the historic flooding of the Missouri River which resulted in a fire causing the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) to issue a “no-fly ban” over the area.

Located about 20 minutes outside downtown Omaha, the largest city in Nebraska, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant is owned by Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) who on their website denies their plant is at a “Level 4” emergency by stating: “This terminology is not accurate, and is not how emergencies at nuclear power plants are classified.”

Russian atomic scientists in this FAAE report, however, say that this OPPD statement is an “outright falsehood” as all nuclear plants in the world operate under the guidelines of the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) which clearly states the “events” occurring at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant do, indeed, put it in the “Level 4” emergency category of an “accident with local consequences” thus making this one of the worst nuclear accidents in US history.



For what it’s worth, the claim about a Level 4 emergency is complete and total garbage, and that’s really significant. It’s a basic fact that cannot be disputed…unless the NRC and plant officials are lying. I’m not saying they’re not — I have no idea — but I have no indication that they are, and that is not what the Pakistani source says the Russians say. Their claimed “falsehood” does not derive from a cover-up of facts (for instance, if there had been a release of radiation but the power company did not report it) — but from a FUNDAMENTAL MISREADING OF THE International Nuclear Event Scale that even I, a simple caveman with about a 7 I.Q. and an inability to do basic math, can understand.

That comes from an official Russian source? I hope not. If it does, the world has bigger problems than Fort Calhoun.

A Level 4 event requires a release of radiation to generate local consequences, or at least one death locally (i.e., in the plant) from radiation, not just from anything. (That’s OR! Or!! Not AND!). When the crane operator died at Fukushima, that did not fulfill the criteria for a Level 4 event — because he did not die of radiation.

However, for some time after that, Tepco was lying. The implication, here, in the Pakistani source, in claims they attribute to the Russians, is that the Obama administration is lying. I’m not saying they’re not — I haven’t the foggiest fucking idea. But it completely misconstrues the facts to claim that the reported incident on June 7 at Fort Calhoun is a Level 4 event. According to the report to the NRC (see my earlier article on this), there was no release of radiation. There were no deaths associated with radiation. There wasn’t jack kitty crap, other than a temporary evacuation.

Is Omaha Public Power District lying? I haven’t the foggiest, but either the Pakistani The Nation or the Russian source, and probably both, are deliberately misstating the facts of the INES, which you’d think Russia would have a handle on…given, you know, that its precursor state kinda set the standard for nuclear accidents.

Yes, that’s true, people, I, who never shut up about how full of shit the American press is, would still rather rely on the American press than on the Russian nuclear agency and the Pakistani press to tell me the truth about my own country. You know why? Because I know a thing or two about Russia and Pakistan. When they handed out Freedom of the Press, Pakistan was on vacation. And the government of Pakistan needs all the anti-American sentiment it can get, in order to counter the swiftly growing American political and economic overtures toward its perceived nemesis, India. Hey, I can’t say I blame them; as a nation, Pakistan is threatened by internal instability. Furthermore, after years of getting a free ride because it helped the U.S. in the “war on terror,” the Pakistani government is finding that the Obama administration is less inclined to completely blow off India in favor of a country that handed nuclear weapons technology over to North Korea and tried to sell it to Iran and Libya…then blamed it on a single rogue nuclear scientist, who had stolen said technology from the Dutch in the first place and who remains a national hero in Pakistan.

Don’t get me wrong…the U.S. press is repeatedly asleep at the wheel in covering both corporate malfeasance and environmental crises. I’m not trying to be an American chauvinist here — believe me, no one loves America or wants to slap it around more than I do. But in the case of hysteria like this — with a clear political bias — what irritates me is that a lot of the world will believe it.

Meanwhile, the dark tentacle-gods of Big Coal are locked in their hellspawn canyons deep beneath the earth, counting their gazillions…

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No-Fly Zone, “Level 4 Emergency” at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant?

June 17th, 2011 2 comments

Screencap detail of AP photo, from USA Today.

About an hour ago, Reuters published an article reassuring readers about the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant, North of Omaha, Nebraska. Associated Press published one about an hour and a half ago saying the same warmed-over crappy “Don’t Panic” garbage, with very little real information.

But viral sources are spreading fear right now about Ft. Calhoun, and it’s just getting started. It’s not surprising, after the gross malfeasance of Tepco and the Japanese government following the Fukushima nuclear crisis. (Incidentally, it is significantly ongoing — and maybe getting worse, though Al Jazeera‘s latest bit of “infant mortality” panic seems to be a gross misrepresentation of what passes for data).

Meanwhile, back in Nebraska: The Forth Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station is currently on an island in the Missouri River. No, it wasn’t on an island until the recent flooding…that whole being-on-an-island thing is new. I came to it because someone sent me an email with the quote, taken from a comment (not a post) on SFSIst, that said, and I quote:

“In other news, we have a level-4 emergency alert at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant, which is now under water as a result of the Missouri River flooding and The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is advising people to avoid contact with the Missouri River altogether.”

First and foremost, the reason the Kansas Department of Health and Environment advised people to avoid contact with the Missouri River is (they claimed) because the flood could sweep “pathogens” into the water. That comment leads one to believe that the Missouri is about to become radioactive because of a release of radioactive material from Ft. Calhoun. That is not the case — at least, not insofar as public information is available. Could it be a smokescreen? Sure, but I see no indication of that, given that there’s been no reported release at all from Ft. Calhoun, no meltdown, no core damage, no irregularities in any core, just a bit of a problem cooling fuel rods…no big deal. Not that it’s not a big deal, exactly…but I do not see the faintest hint of a “level 4 emergency” — which is to say, basically, a radiation release.

And that “level 4″ tag is significant here, because Fukushima was a Level 4 for a while. So check it: A “level-4 emergency,” on the International Nuclear Event Scale would be kind of a big deal north of Omaha. (Or anywhere…but that’s, you know, like, in my country and stuff, so I get kinda worked up.). A level-4 event would mean something like either at least one death from radiation, or damage to a small part of a reactor core (0.1%) or “Release of significant quantities of radioactive material within an installation with a high ­probability of significant public exposure,” which would be indicated if you were to, say, assume that the Missouri was being irradiated and that’s the “real” reason Kansas doesn’t want you to drink the water…not because it has cow poop in it.

Things at Ft. Calhoun sure seem shady. But there’s no indication that there’s a huge problem. This local Fox News 8 story, which draws heavily from Reuters, adds a couple of details like the fact that the plant authorities have not declared a “notification of unusual event” to the NRC, and won’t until the water gets higher than it is. What that means is that there is no “Level 4 Emergency” — as far as the NRC is concerned. What there was, was an electrical fire with poisonous gases on June 7, which caused a “Halon fire extinguisher activation” and a partial evacuation, and was reported as a Level 2 event. That’s a hell of a lot different from Level 4.

But just to be a total conspiracy nut: Fukushima was said to be a Level 4 for quite an enormously long time…including a significant period of time after radiation was released i nto the environment. In the context of post-Fukushima nuclear politics, questions should be asked, and somebody at the AP and Reuters should have spent the months since Fukushima doing a little research on Wikipedia. The Omaha Public Power District  has not advised the NRC of an unusual event beyond June 7th’s fire, and there’s been no release of radiation.

But for what it’s worth, their report on the June 7th fire…didn’t get sent to the NRC until June 8. So there’s likely to be a lag time even in a relatively small irregularity.

Suggesting there is a “Level 4 event” seems completely unfounded as I can tell, and likely to cause panic.

Incidentally, the Omaha Public Power District is presumably publicly owned — not like Tokyo Electric and Power Co., which is private. The latter are Fukushima’s owners (the plant was built by General Electric).

Also, importantly, it’s a Kansas agency advising people to avoid contact with the Missouri River. It’s the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. They don’t necessarily have the faintest idea what they’re talking about when it comes to radiation safety. They should, sure, radiation being a significant potential environmental risk in a state with nuclear reactors. But we definitely saw with the Fukushima crisis that local and state agencies know fuck-all when it comes to radiation. That’s why there’s an NRC…which is from the government, they’re here to help us.) In any event, it’s far more credible that toxins and sewage are sweeping into the Missouri, not radiation from Ft. Calhoun.

Panic is spreading in places like the LDS Freedom Forum (yes, that’s “Latter Day Saints”), where a poster calling himself “Col. Flagg” (yes, he was the fanatic right-wing CIA agent on M*A*S*H…who knew the guy was still working?) started this hysterical thread that, nonetheless, comes up at the top of a search string for the SFSIst claim…and, not incidentally, has a lot of worthwhile informational links.

In any event, here’s why Reuters says you should not panic:

The Fort Calhoun nuclear power station in Nebraska remains shut down due to Missouri River flooding, but the plant itself has not flooded and is expected to remain safe, the federal government said Friday.

The rising river “has certainly affected the site, but the plant itself, the actual reactor is still dry,” said Scott Burnell, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman.

The 478-megawatt plant north of Omaha shut April 9 to refuel, and has remained shut because of the flooding, said Omaha Public Power District spokesman Jeff Hanson.

“When the river reaches 1,004 feet above mean sea level, we shut down,” said Hanson. “We don’t have any idea when we’ll be able to start again.”

…The Fort Calhoun station is owned and operated by the Omaha Public Power District and supplies power to Nebraska’s largest city. Contractors at the plant have completed construction of an earthen berm around the plant’s switch yard and are protecting the plant and other facilities with large temporary structures filled with water.


Whatever you might say about me, I don’t through the “Corporate Stooge” label around that carelessly, but in this case I can’t avoid it. Reuters isn’t telling even part of the story….it’s actually telling less than none of the story, and the NRC sounds asleep at the wheel here, as far as public information goes.

The backstory, from a June 8 Wall Street Journal article: On June 7, there was a fire at the Ft. Calhoun nuclear facility, and the FAA established a no-fly zone over Ft. Calhoun, after the facility “briefly lost the ability to cool spent fuel rods,” following the fire. Here’s the actual no-fly order; it is, however, possible that it’s being overstated. The restriction is only for altitudes under 3,500 feet, which lends credence to the idea that it’s a PR move, not a safety issue. I don’t know enough about airplane altitudes to say.

Anyway, here’s the WSJ on June 8, following the fire at Ft. Calhoun and the resultant establishment of the no-fly (which is still in effect):

The NRC said the plant recovered cooling ability without activating backup systems and “temperatures in the pool remained at safe levels.” The public was not in danger because the plant has been shut down since early April for a refueling outage, the agency said.

Spent fuel pools in the U.S. have received increased scrutiny after a recent crisis in Japan involving potentially overheated nuclear fuel and the release of dangerous radiation.

The agency declared an alert, the second of four emergency classes, at 9:40 a.m., 10 minutes after “an indication of fire” in a building at the plant. The NRC didn’t disclose the cause of the fire. Automatic fire control systems activated and the fire was out by 10:20 a.m., the agency said. The plant is operated by the Omaha Public Power District.


Spent fuel, of course, was — and is — a huge part of the problem at Fukushima, and one of the things Tepco consistently lied about.

The above, incidentally, comes to me based on to this very helpful Metafilter post (and its sources), and one Metafilter commenter sensibly points out: “One has to wonder if keeping planes, helicopters, etc. in a two-mile radius outside the nuclear plant is really just to keep any embarrassing pictures from being taken and published in the news. Out of sight, out of mind.”

Given how (relatively) few photos have been published of the Fukushima site, and how full of crap the Japanese government, Tepco, and the news was in the Japanese crisis, and how sluggish US public health response was, and the mixed messages and bland disinterest in putting out correct info about, for instance, iodine, and how the Fukushima crisis just seems to keep getting worse despite the recurring ridicule of the pro-nuclear trolls, I’m left asking the same question…and about a million more.


There’s Still-Molten Fuel at Fukushima?

May 12th, 2011 1 comment

National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs), Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

In The Telegraph today, there’s an article about the confirmation, finally forthcoming from Tokyo Electric & Power (Tepco) that in the No. 1 reactor at Fukushima Daichi, there “was” a meltdown. But in case you think this is a “post-mortem” investigation…nope! The crisis is still going on. It’s very much active.

And when I say “active,” I mean…active. Says the Telegraph:

One of the reactors at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant did suffer a nuclear meltdown, Japanese officials admitted for the first time today, describing a pool of molten fuel at the bottom of the reactor’s containment vessel.


Molten. Molten? Molten. Not “melted and solidified.” Molten. That’s kind of bad.

Sadly, that’s not where the bullshit ends. The whole affair is still laced with double-talk. Here’s what The Telegraph said beyond that:

Engineers from the Tokyo Electric Power company (Tepco) entered the No.1 reactor at the end of last week for the first time and saw the top five feet or so of the core’s 13ft-long fuel rods had been exposed to the air and melted down…Previously, Tepco believed that the core of the reactor was submerged in enough water to keep it stable and that only 55 per cent of the core had been damaged.


I’m not sure whether to be more disturbed by the apparently lack of clarity on what exactly a meltdown is, or on Tepco’s math skills. Or is it the Telegraph’s math skills? Well…someone is unclear on how fractions work, that’s all I know. The generally accepted definition of a meltdown in the industry is “heat sufficient to cause core damage.” Now we get to the really technical stuff. Five-thirteenths is 38%, which is less than 55%. I’m unclear what Tepco is now announcing. “We thought only 55% of the core had experienced damage. Now we see that it’s much worse than we thought: It’s a whole 38%!” Just speaking for myself, that’s not the kind of math whiz I want working my nuclear reactor.

Meanwhile, The Atlantic Wire is both reporting that the Fukushima No 1 experienced a full meltdown. I was a liberal arts major, but I remember something about 100% being more than 55%, and considerably more than five-thirteenths. And The Atlantic Wire is also taking great pains to say that nuclear experts are not of one mind as to what the term meltdown means (true), that they may not agree on what the definition of full vs. partial meltdown may be (true), and that the difference may not be that important (kind of bullshit).

The good news is that we knew a long time ago the No. 1 reactor had not yet converted to mixed-oxide or MOX fuel, a mixed plutonium-uranium fuel that (usually) incorporates weapons-grade plutonium and which is far more toxic than the reactor-grade uranium that No. 1 was (presumably) using.

Look, I don’t mean to be a conspiracy freak or anything, but the uranium rather than MOX fuel may be why No. 1 is the reactor Tepco is confirming a meltdown in. Especially since they’re also confirming the likelihood of a containment breach from the No. 1 reactor — in which the fuel melted through the bottom of the vessel:

Now the company is worried that the molten pool of radioactive fuel may have burned a hole through the bottom of the containment vessel, causing water to leak.

“We will have to revise our plans,” said Junichi Matsumoto, a spokesman for Tepco. “We cannot deny the possibility that a hole in the pressure vessel caused water to leak”.

Tepco has not clarified what other barriers there are to stop radioactive fuel leaking if the steel containment vessel has been breached. Greenpeace said the situation could escalate rapidly if “the lava melts through the vessel”.


So…here we go, summarizing: the fuel is still molten, and it is hot enough to have already burned its way through steel. Liquid, molten reactor-grade uranium has breached the containment vessel, is leaking into the ocean, and they can’t hit it with a garden hose ’cause that’ll make the leak worse. That’s not great news. Seriously.

I have to say, I am skeptical of all these news reports, because it seems absolutely impossible that a full meltdown could have occurred at Fukushima, with fuel that is still molten two months after the event, and no one knew it until now. It seems pretty obvious that even when the news from Fukushima Daichi is reported truthfully — which is almost never — it is not reported in a context that means anything.

If the melted corium (melted uranium, fuel rod material, fuel rod assembly, etc) is still molten, that’s way worse than anyone has been led to believe. The Telegraph says that the fuel rods themselves, now melted down and exposed to air, can’t be cooled with more water because that will exacerbate the leak. Tepco  “said there was enough water at the bottom of the vessel to keep both the puddle of melted fuel and the remaining fuel rods cool,” which is crazy enough…But “melted,” not solidified, spells it out. It doesn’t make much sense to my brain, so I don’t know whether to believe the news (which seems unclear on the science) or Tepco (which seems to primarily be concerned with covering its ass).

But are we talking about decay heat or an active nuclear reaction? That’s a really important question.

One thing I couldn’t get a straight answer on was whether melted fuel rods, in which the uranium, zirconium, and steel kinda all goes glorp! together, means that an active nuclear reaction starts taking place — that is to say, have the melted rods in the No. 1 reactor re-achieved criticality, or are they just staying hot from decay heat?

A criticality means an active nuclear reaction. That means that hoppin’ neutrons from one uranium nucleus tend, at a rate higher than 1:1, to go Za-zing! into another uranium nucleus.

Decay heat just means there’s residual heat from natural radioactive decay in the uranium — which can last, significantly, for months or years following shutdown of a nuclear core.

The difference may seem minor. It’s not. The question is whether the fuel a self-sustaining reaction, or if the decay heat will dissipate naturally, and the temperature go down. Decay heat could be enough to cause core damage, as we saw in the midst of the initial crisis, in the warnings about the spent fuel pools at the No. 4 reactor. Those were said to be hot enough from decay heat — and then it was (sort of) admitted that there had been damage to the spent pool containment structure.

Why does it matter? Because the bad news is still piling up. Yesterday, ocean-bound leaking radioactive water from the No. 3 reactor (which also experienced a meltdown) was sealed. No word on how long it had been leaking. No. 2 reactor leaked radioactive water into the ocean last month.

Greenpeace has been putting out independent reports about how much radioactive iodine and cesium have been found in seaweed up to 40 miles from Fukushima — but it’s impossible to place statements like “five times the legal limit” in a meaningful context when it comes to human health. And, like I said, Greenpeace has an agenda here, and has shown in the past that it’s willing to play fast and loose with the facts when it comes to nuclear power. That’s an easy thing to do — the facts, when it comes to radiation and human health, are confusing and ambiguous.

But molten uranium is not that ambiguous. I’m not naive enough to claim “It’s either molten, or it’s not.” But if there’s molten fuel at Fukushima…why isn’t that the headline in The Telegraph, Bloomberg and the Associated Press?

iPad-Controlled Quadricopter Surveys Tuscaloosa Storm Damage

May 8th, 2011 No comments

Screencap from the Parrot AR Drone photo gallery.

The mainstream news is finally catching up on the robot takeover of the globe — and I, for one, welcome our robot overlords.

This past week CNN featured a video from the Parrot quadricopter as it’s flown by CNN reporter Aaron Brodie over tornado-ravaged Tuscaloosa, Alabama, following last week’s storms. It’s pretty amazing footage, and surely it’s only sob sisters like me who worry about getting excited over new technology when so many of my fellow Americans have had their lives completely f*cked by mother nature. But for what it’s worth, the technology is amazing, not because of its absolute value but because of how easily available it is now.

Sold as a “flying video game,” the Parrot A.R. Drone utilizes an intuitive piloting system that makes it reportedly easy as pie to use. It doesn’t just run on Apple products, by the way; it also works with Android. The amazing thing is that it doesn’t just operate from the iPad/iPod Touch/iPhone — it operates from those platforms motion sensors:

The cockpit of the AR.Drone includes an inertial unit, ultrasound sensors and a vertical camera…The combination of these elements which are controlled by an autopilot program allows extremely accurate piloting of the quadricopter. The AR.Drone detects the movements of your iPod Touch®/iPhone® (to go up, down, turn, reverse, go forwards etc.). Anyone can pilot the AR.Drone, it is extremely simple to use.


There’s even a slight flavor of open source about it:

You can also control the Parrot AR.Drone from a Linux PC and a joystick with the software AR.Drone Navigationdesigned for application developers and available for free.

The quadricopter runs about $300 and has two cameras — forward and down — but the CNN reporter added an additional high-definition camera, to the tune of about another $250.

Brodie cogently observed of the technology:

This is really at the low end of what’s possible…There’s much more sophisticated drone technology out there that is now available to really anybody, including us in the news media, and I think this is going to continue to provide a whole new perspective on things.


You can check out the photo gallery at the Parrot A.R. Drone site here — and guess what? if you’ve become enamored of Parrot, you can even like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. See how easy it is to follow the galloping pace of technology?

Incidentally, one of the significant advantages of a quadricopter is that each individual set of rotors can be smaller, reducing the kinetic energy stored. That limits damage if you hit something with the rotors. The platform is also less expensive because maintaining stability with it doesn’t require the same mechanical coordination as a standard helicopter configuration.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have become critical in high-tech military engagements — often with somewhat freaky results. Just last week, a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan was reported to have killed eight; drone attacks are being staged against reputed Al Qaeda figures in Yemen, and U.S. Predators armed with Hellfire missiles are an increasingly important part of U.S. military strategy.

But, of course, the technology’s simplicity is also vulnerability. As far back as 2009, insurgents in Iraq were even reported to have hacked U.S. drones, accessing the video feeds to get their own intel — and determine what U.S. forces could see — using $26 off-the-shelf software.

But UAVs have also become increasingly important in civilian applications, marking the confluence of cheap-and-easy video, wireless communications and increasingly affordable model airplane tech. Once you start talking about the application of drones to “semi-civilian” fields like law enforcement and fire abatement, and things get really interesting. And did someone mention border control? Devoted Techyum readers might remember when a Mexican border surveillance drone crashed in El Paso, which the Mexican government at first denied. An Australian archaeology team used a DIY paraglider drone to survey an ancient site in Thailand. And you might recall the incredible video from a drone flying around New York City.

What Happens When You Get Sucked Out Of A Plane

April 12th, 2011 No comments

I don’t know about you, but I fly a lot and I always have these emergency fantasy scenarios in my head – not the “mile high club” kind. The kind where something goes wrong, horribly wrong on the plane and I have to save myself. The kind where I break out the emergency miniskirt and go-go boots and do something superhuman and impossible and kill all the motherfucking snakes, just like in the movies. Don’t pretend you don’t know exactly what I’m talking about.

The recent incident where a Southwest plane had a hole suddenly crack open in its ceiling during flight scared the crap out of everyone that flies. Period. Especially those of us who had just come back from SxSW 2011 on Southwest Airlines – and we had been delayed six hours due to a technical problem. I am trying to not think about this. But the plane with the hole in it – didn’t you see the story and think about what you would do to survive, if it happened to you?

Well, according to a new article on Discovery News, when there is a hole in a plane that can suck you out of it, you are a snowball in hell and you melt really fucking fast. In fact, the article is rather gruesome, as it goes into detail describing what actually happens when there is a hole in a cabin at altitude, and what happens if you end up outside the plane in that event. Nevermind the fact that you don’t have a parachute. Snip:

For passengers on Southwest flight 812, the consequences were far milder: Soon after its takeoff from Phoenix, the plane made an emergency landing, and everyone was fine.

But people have been hurled through holes in cruising airplanes before. And that raises an important, if gruesome question: What would happen to you if you were sucked into the atmosphere at 30,000 feet?

The prognosis, experts say, would not be good. [Link]

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Magnitude 7.4 Quake Hits Japan; No Abnormality at Fukushima

April 7th, 2011 2 comments

Kyodo News March 23, 2011 photo of Fukushima I, from security gate of #1 and #2 reactors.

The Associated Press reported about 20 minutes ago as of this writing that a magnitude 7.4 quake hit off the coast of Japan’s Miyagi prefecture, about 90 miles from Fukushima. The quake generated a tsunami warning. Kyodo News reports that as of 11:50 Japan time (about 30 minutes ago as of this writing), there was “no extra abnormality” reported at the Fukushima nuclear site, where they’ve been injecting nitrogen into the #1 reactor to decrease the chance of a hydrogen explosion.

The Miyagi quake is far from the first aftershock — there have been hundreds of them, with some of them even topping magnitude 7.0. This one occurred at a depth of 25 miles, which is very deep; shallower quakes tend to cause much more damage and are more likely to cause tsunamis.

Kyodo news also reported before the newest aftershock that the government pleaded for objective reporting of the crisis, noting not only sensationalistic reporting but also, sometimes, out-and-out misreporting (like the five deaths of Fukushima plant workers — not true):


State Foreign Secretary Chiaki Takahashi told a press conference that Tokyo believes some reports by foreign media on the Fukushima crisis were ”excessive” and has urged the organizations responsible for the stories through Japanese diplomatic missions abroad to correctly and objectively disseminate information.

Ministry officials said some foreign media, including tabloids, emphasized the danger of radioactive materials leaking from the Fukushima nuclear plant by focusing on extreme projections, while erroneously reporting that the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. has hired homeless people to tackle the ongoing crisis.

Other examples include a report that five nuclear workers had died at the site, giving the impression that they perished due to high-level radiation amid efforts to bring the crisis under control.

In fact, the reported casualties consisted of workers who died shortly after the quake and tsunami hit the plant and those who were missing in Ibaraki Prefecture, south of Fukushima, the officials said.


Carl Safina, for his part, expressed the view in CNN that the radioactive seawater found leaking from the Fukushima plant (and finally stopped a couple days ago) will probably have virtually no effect on human health — especially in light of all the other crap humans do to the environment:

Some higher-end sushi bars do get their fish from Japan, but they’re likely to play it safe on this issue and get fish from elsewhere (or tell you they have; fibbing is a constant issue in the seafood business). The bigger issues with sushi is that top predators such as tuna already have relatively high mercury, and most are overfished and in decline.

Moreover, theoretical models do not predict that hazardous levels of radiation will reach the U.S. coast. However, the most scientifically accurate statement is that while any radiation can pose some health risk, in many cases, including this one, the human health risk is infinitesimally low. Driving a car is certainly much more dangerous.

Radioecologist F. Ward Whicker told National Geographic that the concentrations of iodine and cesium “would have to be orders of magnitude larger than the numbers I’ve seen to date to cause the kind of radiation doses to marine life that would cause mortality or reductions in reproductive potential. I am very doubtful that direct effects of radioactivity from the damaged reactors on marine life over a large area off the coast of Japan will be observed.”


Egyptian Cobra Reported Missing at Bronx Zoo

March 28th, 2011 No comments

Egyptian Cobra by John Walker.

To celebrate the imminent disappearance of the New York Times from my life, I took a long, slow dance with her in the early-morning light. It was much like a bittersweet wake-up tryst with the lover you always knew you’d be with forever and ever, on the morning of her wedding to the wealthy but evil Duke of Paywall. “Go, my love. Go to him. I know you must develop a functioning revenue model for the 21st century, or risk a significant erosion of your journalistic principles. But I will always be with you. Think of me when you’re with your new online subscribers. Think of me, and know that while I may be too poor to keep you, at least we had this one final time. Now go to your new husband, and I shall return to my family estates at Cheapskate, and dream of you, always…”

Anyway, our lovemaking included some sordid dirty-talk, most notably when she told me all about how an Egyptian Cobra was found missing from the reptile house. I know a gentleman never tells tales, but honestly I just can’t resist. Here’s what she told me while she was lacing her wedding dress:

“The World of Reptiles is closed today,” a sign explaining the closing said. “Staff observed an adolescent Egyptian cobra missing from an off-exhibit enclosure on Friday.”

The Egyptian cobra, a favorite of snake charmers — and probably the asp whose venom Cleopatra used to commit suicide — is a dark snake with a narrow hood, and grows up to two yards in length. (The missing animal was only 20 inches, a zoo employee said.) Native to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, it usually preys on toads and birds, not humans, but zookeepers notified the public in an abundance of caution. The snake’s toxins can cause respiratory failure.

The director of the zoo expressed confidence that the snake was still in the reptile house and said the snake would probably avoid open areas. “To understand the situation, you have to understand snakes,” Jim Breheny, the director, said in a written statement. “Upon leaving its enclosure, the snake would feel vulnerable and seek out a place to hide and feel safe. When the snake gets hungry or thirsty, it will start to move around the building. Once that happens, it will be our best opportunity to recover it.”



The New York Times story was published yesterday, the 27th, but a notice on the Bronx Zoo site is dated the 26th, and says the disappearance happened “yesterday,” as in Friday, March 25th. The notice is still up and the Reptile House is still closed.

After learning the snake was missing yesterday afternoon, we immediately closed and secured the building as we took steps throughout the evening to recover the snake. Based on our knowledge of the natural history and behavior of snakes, we know they seek closed-in spaces and are not comfortable in open areas. We are confident that the snake, about 20 inches long, is contained in a non-public, isolation area within the building. We are informing the public out of an abundance of caution and will continue to take whatever steps necessary to ensure public safety. We are making this information public through the media, and at our ticket windows. The Reptile House will be closed until further notice.



Here’s hoping the cobra hasn’t been reading Techyum.

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Radioactive “Zenon” Detected in Fallout from American Science Reporting Meltdown

March 27th, 2011 2 comments

Image from

In tonight’s entry in The Chronicles of Dubious Science Reporting, you could track the high achievement in atomic-powered journalism by whether the copy-editors at a particular news source knew how to spell  “xenon.”

In reporting the “detection” of radioactive isotopes “from Japan” in Nevada today, at least Nashville’s WTVF-TV, USA Today, and the Denver Post knew that it’s spelled “xenon.” The Las Vegas Sun, the Boston Herald, KMOV St. Louis and CBS News called it “zenon” when reprinting the Associated Press story. Whether that meant they introduced the error or the AP got it wrong and then fixed it, I don’t know.

Either way, the quantity discovered is surely irrelevant in health terms. But the source is not the EPA, which reported xenon-133 it suspected was from Fukushima detected by the US Department of Energy site in Sacramento. I believe the site the LA Times is referring to is actually a DOE site operated as part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization monitoring. That xenon-133 was reported in Sacramento on the 18th, making the Nevada detection almost a non-story…if it were from a good source like another CTBTO or DOE site. But it’s from a somewhat sketchy one, at least as far as it’s presented in the AP story.

That source is Ted Hartwell of the Atomic Testing Museum. The Museum is a nonprofit in Paradise, Nevada that operates in partnership with the Smithsonian. I couldn’t find any scientific credentials on Hartwell’s LinkedIn Profile, but it said he’s the Program Manager of the Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP) at the Desert Research Institute. So I hopped over there and…he’s an Anthropologist.

So I find it a little questionable when AP quotes him as their sole source:

Hartwell said he’s certain the isotopes came from Japan because they’re not usually detected in Nevada. But he said the readings were far below levels that could pose any health risks.

“Unless you have an accident like this (in Japan) you wouldn’t expect to see this. No doubt it’s from Japan,” Hartwell told The Associated Press.



I find it even more questionable because what the news stories didn’t mention either in this article or in the earlier articles about the more credible detection of xenon-133 by the CTBTO in Sacramento is that both of the isotopes reported, radioactive xenon-133 and iodine-131, are common products used in nuclear medicine departments in hospitals. That took an old friend of mine from high school who works in nuclear medicine, who observed, “I personally vented xenon-133 into the atmosphere yesterday, and have flushed iodine-131 urine down the toilet.”

Both xenon and iodine-131 are also waste products of nuclear reactors, and likely components of the material ejected by the hydrogen explosions at Fukushima I and the venting of radioactive steam. Strangely, with a cursory look, I couldn’t find a reference for radioactive xenon-133 coming from nuclear reactors; it’s xenon-135 that’s used as a neutron absorber in reactors. Xenon-133 is a byproduct of nuclear bombs, many of which were tested in Nevada. However, it has a very short half-life — less than six days.

Look, despite everything I do sort of trust the EPA. I trust the CTBTO even more. (Not sure I trust the DOE but hey, let’s work with them). If they say the xenon-133 in Sacramento came from Fukushima…I’m willing to run with that.

But are the atoms of xenon-133 and iodine-131 in Nevada from Fukushima I? Sure, maybe. Why would an anthropologist know that? Good question. Wish AP would answer that. And why would two isotopes that are common medical waste be “not usually detected in Nevada?” Wish they’d answer that, too, or at least give me more details about the levels detected.

It’s quite possible that Hartwell has some ridiculously obvious way to know what the source of the xenon and iodine are, but damned if the American news bothers to tell me what it is. I’d really, really like to know the methodology used, because it all seems so very sketchy. At least the news is reporting the amount of radiation as tiny — which it would have to be. But there’s just too many holes in the reporting on this story to have it mean anything, even if the EPA hadn’t already reported the arrival of xenon-133 in the U.S. over a week ago.

Incidentally, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization has been monitoring global radiation levels meticulously just like they always do. The CTBTO does it not to protect your thyroid, but to determine whether North Korea has The Bomb. That means the CTBTO is monitoring radiation at infinitesimal levels. The CTBTO site in Iceland detected radioactive fallout from Fukushima I, also at low levels.

Mixing up “xenon” (an element) and “zenon” (a Greek term related to the god Zeus) is not that big a deal. Elements are, after all, only the fundamental building blocks of nature, not something important like mutual funds or liquor. But as with all late-night news stories published on weekends, the editing got even more screwed up elsewhere. The San Jose Mercury News not only repeated the “zenon” error, but also misattributed the story, not attributing it to the Associated Press (the usual procedure in wire service stories) but crediting it to the Contra Costa Times and bylining it — I’m not kidding — as a contribution of the “Alan Smithee” of science reporters, “???”.

Does this seem nitpicky? Especially to you non-science people out there? Maybe some of you non-former-copyeditors think I’m getting uppity? Maybe some of you people are sympathetic to the plight of newspapers that can no longer afford science dictionaries? “Xenon,” incidentally, is in any dictionary, it being one of the elements in the Periodic Table and all. There’s also Wikipedia, but who trusts Wikipedia? And sure, I’ll admit that even such pinnacles of hard-news reporting as Techyum have been caught in errors occasionally. I once lackadaisically hyphenated “pigfucker,” for instance — a common error of first-year journalism students.

Okay. I’ll admit to being a hella nitpicky son-of-a-bitch. Perhaps not as nitpicky as someone without disclosed or quoted physical science credentials who scours the Nevada desert for isotopes common in medical waste and then is “sure” they’re the products of a meltdown thousands of miles away, because they’re there now and they’re usually not.

But I’m far more nitpicky, apparently, than a wire service that reports that assertion without a comment from a physical scientist of any sort.

Or can’t look up “xenon.”

Fukushima Radioactive Water “Almost Certainly” From #2 Reactor Core

March 26th, 2011 No comments

Kyodo News March 23, 2011 photo of Fukushima I, from security gate of #1 and #2 reactors.

With a spike in radiation levels detected in water pooling at the Fukushima I plant, the air in the Reactor #2 building is reported to be at 1,000 milisieverts an hour — enough to potentially cause acute radiation sickness in an exposed worker over the course of an hour. I believe that would only occur if they were without protective gear, since the 1,000 mSv/hr figure is based on the air.

An Associated Press story said that the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, hitting the Sunday-morning talk shows in Japan, said that the radiation was “almost certainly” seeping from a reactor core.

That would confirm what has been strongly suspected by officials for a while now — that the containment vessel itself at Reactor #2 was damaged in the hydrogen explosion, not just the containment building.

Higher-than-normal radiation has been confirmed in milk and vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, turnips) and in tap water near Fukushima. Officials distributed bottles of water “to families with infants.”

Here another part of the AP story that’s potentially of additional concern:


Just outside a reactor at the coastal Fukushima nuclear plant, radioactivity in seawater tested about 1,250 times higher than normal, Nishiyama said. He said the area is not a source of seafood and that the contamination posed no immediate threat to human health.



It drives me nuts when news sources report radiation as being “X times normal.” That’s not a measurement. “Normal” varies a lot from situation to situation and site to site. So that’s not a helpful piece of information, especially since it’s unclear whether they mean “water from the sea” or “water IN the sea.” Seawater was pumped in to cool the reactor cores, so the radioactive water that is generating the 1,000 mSv an hour is probably seawater to begin with. If significant radiation has escaped into the sea itself, that’s a whole different thing.

The fact that it was addressed whether the place is a source for seafood leads me to believe that they are definitely talking about radiation in the sea itself.

However, without specifics, “1,250 times normal” is not a useful figure, and without numbers, “posed no immediate threat to human health” is nothing more than  a platitude.