Saturday, April 2, 2011

Saturd80's: Shadowfax Edition

funny dog pictures - RUN SHADOWFAX
see more dog and puppy pictures

I was introduced to Shadowfax by a young woman on my first geology field trip to southern Oregon and northern California. Jad D'Alura from SOSC led the trip, and we spent the night with various geology students from that university. Many were the rocks beaten during the day, and many the beers who gave their lives that night. I nearly forgot the name of the group in the following years, but a later room mate had a couple of their albums, and I was happily reintroduced to their music. I've been in much need lately of plain and simple beauty, what with all the terrible news, and Shadowfax fits the bill. The name comes from Gandalf's horse.


Another Country:

New Electric India:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wednesday Wednesday


The Most Dangerous Illusion

I was just going through my (week) daily newsletter from Spiegel Online, and saw this attention-grabbing headline:

'Our Most Dangerous Illusion Is that We Can Control Nuclear Energy'

Well. I'm not going to argue that there aren't dangers associated with nuclear energy. Having followed the efforts to determine a site for a US nuclear waste repository for about 30 years now, having been frustrated with the process from the outset, and seeing that we still haven't succeeded in finding a satisfactory location, I'm well aware of the many dangers that can arise from nuclear power.

The issue I have with the overly dramatic statement above though is that the person quoted seems to be utterly unaware that other power sources have higher associated risks. Though I linked this chart a week and half ago without reproducing it, I think I'll be more explicit here:
Energy Source              Death Rate (deaths per TWh)

Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
Coal – China 278
Coal – USA 15
Oil 36 (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass 12
Peat 12
Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
Hydro - world including Banqiao) 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)
The biggest danger of nuclear power is that it and its effects are invisible; without some special devices- which hadn't even been invented a century ago- there is no way to know what your exposure is. The fact that it is imperceptible to an untrained and unequipped person means that the only response possible is panic. Run Away! You can't see it, you can't fight it, you can't protect yourself from it, so the only sensible option is to be somewhere else.

On the other hand, the background knowledge required to deal safely with radiation (in day to day circumstances, not in a reactor) is not that extensive or demanding, the equipment to detect and measure it isn't that expensive, and it's easy to use, so from my perspective, I just don't find radiation or nuclear power all that intimidating. I worked for the better part of a year at Oregon State's research reactor, doing neutron activation analysis on a potential ore body in Africa. I'm no expert, but I know the safety precautions, I know how to keep from being contaminated, and I know what to do if I do find myself contaminated.

On the other hand, I have no idea what the excess mercury load in western Oregon from coal burning is. I suspect it's pretty low compared to what I grew up with in southeast Ohio, but I get the willies wondering what's coming out of the ground water there now, after another half century of intense coal power generation. Not to mention the excess uranium and thorium- two elements that are naturally concentrated by and bound to organic carbon, and which are simply broadcast to the open environment after combustion. Or alternatively, piled up in immense reservoirs of fly ash waste, then ignored until the dam fails. Which amounts to the same thing.

Another note I received this morning from the Union of Concerned Scientists focused on the same issue:

Help Protect the Public from Toxic Air Pollution

Dear Lockwood,

Toxic air pollutants from power plants—mercury, lead, arsenic, and others—are linked to health problems such as cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks, and even premature death. Mercury, for example, is a potent neurotoxin that poses a threat to fetal and infant brain development. And coal plants are far and away the greatest source of mercury air emissions in the United States.

Shockingly, there are currently no national limits on the amount of mercury and other toxic pollutants that power plants can spew into the environment. This gap in our public health protections is all the more disturbing since the Clean Air Act required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to start regulating toxic pollutants more than two decades ago. Thankfully, in mid-March, the agency finally proposed a mercury and air toxics rule, which will limit hazardous air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

Even though the new standards are affordable and would deliver enormous health benefits, some energy companies and their allies in Congress are already working to block or weaken them.

The EPA is now accepting comments on its proposed mercury and air toxics rule. The agency needs to hear from concerned citizens like you, who want a strong rule that protects the public from these dangerous pollutants.

Take Action Today!


Kate Abend
National Field Organizer
UCS Climate and Energy Program

In short, my response to the Spiegel interview is exasperation. Here we have a person who probably has very little knowledge about, or experience around, radioactive materials, and who has a predictable panic response to them. He is advocating for an end to human use of such materials- again, predictably. But- and once more, predictably- he does not propose realistic alternative sources of energy.

I am not a strong advocate for nuclear power generation; I feel it has many shortcomings. On the other hand, so does every other power source we have developed or have contemplated. To argue that one specifically should be eliminated because it's dangerous, while overlooking the dangers inherent in others, seems ignorant at best and dangerously naive at worst.

The "most dangerous illusion" is not that "we can control nuclear energy." It is that uninformed opinion, generated without consideration of the pros and cons of other options, is a useful springboard for fruitful policy decisions.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday Tits

Haven't posted one of these for a while, but this came through my reader yesterday. Works for me.
naughty memes - None!
see more Memebase After Dark

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Don't Panic. Waitaminit.... No, Panic

According to this website, which I linked in last Monday's "Cobbles and Gravel" post,
The estimated overall maximum biological effect from the trace amounts of radiation currently detected in Oregon from the events in Japan is about 0.000160 mrem per day. To put this into perspective, a person would need to be exposed to this level all day, everyday for over 100 years to equal the exposure from ONE chest x-ray.
Cue frantic screaming in 3... 2... 1...

If you're really, really concerned, an overdose of potassium iodide will simply kill you outright, so you won't have to worry about radiation poisoning.

Sunday Funnies

Questionable Content, titled "Oceanography."
Cyanide and Happiness
demotivational posters - CYBORG GIRLFRIENDS
see more Very Demotivational
The Daily What
What Would Jack Do?
4koma comic strip - Star Wars Romance
see more Comixed
Sober in a Nightclub
Doghouse Diaries
Abstruse Goose
job fails - Business Cat Meeting
see more Monday Through Friday
Blue Gal
Comic JK
The Far Left Side
God Hates Protesters
Sofa Pizza
Stealing Candy From a Child Gif- Stealing Candy From a Child
see more Gifs
job fails - Customer Service At Its Best
see more Monday Through Friday
Medium Large
Skull Swap
College Humor- several more Star Wars PSA's at the link.
Tarsier Totally Looks Like Yoda
see more Celeb Look-A-Likes
4koma comic strip - That's Why There's Stirrups in the Tardis
see more Comixed
epic win photos - Completely Relevant News: Friday Forecast
see more Hacked IRL - Truth in Sarcasm
epic win photos - Vengeance WIN
see more Hacked IRL - Truth in Sarcasm
funny puns - But the Angle's All Wrong...
see more So Much Pun
funny pictures - "Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me  these questions three, ere the other side he see!"
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our
The High Definite (turns out this is shopped; it was published with commas in the appropriate spots)
funny celebrity pictures - BRRRRRRRRRRRRRR  I'm a motor boat!
see more Lol Celebs
What Would Jack Do?
Fake Science
Chuck & Beans
Darth Maul Totally Looks Like This Stink Bug
see more Celeb Look-A-Likes
political pictures - Republican Food Shelf
see more Political Pictures
God Hates Protesters
Sober in a Nightclub... "You're a genius, Kelly."
Bits and Pieces
Experimental Fighting Pose Gif - Experimental Fighting Pose
see more Gifs