Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Farewell, Elizabeth

The queen of American film drama has made her last exit.  Her stormy relationships, her heartfelt causes, her lingering beauty - even her top-selling perfume all made a major impression on our lives.  She will be missed, but not easily forgotten.  

A link of interest:

Happy reading, all.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Potential bombs

     The nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan right now is a real wake-up call.  There are 104 operating nuclear plants in the U.S. today.  If any one of them had a similar loss of power, and catastrophic build-up of heat the way the Japanese reactors did, the results would be terrible.   Especially the 23 that are of similar internal design.    We should seriously rethink our commitment to building yet more of these plants.

     One in particular, the Pilgrim station in Plymouth, Mass, has had many documented problems, including the release of radioactive Tritium into the groundwater!  This plant has been in license limbo since 2006, and has been dogged by problems.  Public statements by the operating companies always seem to assure the utmost safety – and then something like the Japanese Earthquake/tsunami occurs, and the ugly truth emerges.

     It is high time that we own up to the fact that nature will throw us disasters when we  least expect, that human error occurs, and that these large nuclear installations are all potential bombs that could cause massive injury and death if an accident occurs.    Sure, safeguards have been built into the plants, including the concrete containment towers.  But a large earthquake can still make short work of even a mountainous structure.  A few good shakes of the Earth, and all is naught!

     Some Internet research reveals the costs involved.  A new nuclear power plant, like some twin reactors being constructed in China, can run in the neighborhood of five billion dollars.  This includes site planning, construction, financing, licensing and the like.  Enormous capital costs, and relatively low fuel costs.     High initial costs, many years of construction, and onerous safety requirements and procedures.  All for a lousy 1,500 MW of electricity.    (

     Wind Turbines similarly require a high capital outlay – around 3.5  million for a new 2 MW turbine. 
( .  But these can be erected faster, and interconnected.  The energy cost is free as the wind, since it is the wind.   Building an interconnecting grid adds to the cost.  But the safety hazards seem limited to avoiding the spinning blades!   A convenient storage method for this energy is still lacking.  But it is my strong belief we should commit research dollars to working to solve this issue, rather than building more last-century technology nuclear power plants.

     Nature holds one possible answer.   Living processes that occur, like those within plant cells, are decentralized.  Every plant produces its own energy.   If we humans could imitate nature’s design, we might decentralize our energy production down to the level of, say, a city block.   Small solar/wind combination towers could produce lots of power, and store some of it in battery banks located right next to the towers. ( A turbine would spin at the top, and the tower could also be draped with thin-film solar cells to generate additional power.)  This way, if one or a few were destroyed, the others might all contribute a small portion of their excess to the grid, and make up for the loss.  A fallen tower or damaged solar panels would not emit hazardous radiation that would threaten life for years and years. 

     There are a few problems with this idea.  Battery banks would need maintenance, and could be hazardous in cases of earthquake or tornadoes.    Building thousands of these towers would be expensive.  But the relatively passive energy collection performed by a facility like a “power tower” seems safe and easy by comparison to a typical nuclear plant. 

     In any case, the ongoing tragedy in the reactors at Fukushima Dai-ichi is a real jolt.  More earthquakes will happen; it is only a case of when.   Fifteen more countries want to build nuclear reactors.   Statistically this seems like a guarantee of more disasters in the making.   Surely we can do better than this?  We are a technologically advanced society.  We build spacecraft that leave the Solar System, we build computers that store trillions of bits of data, fiber optic networks that span the globe, and so on.    We should be able to come up with safer ways to generate the electrical power we need to continue our lifestyles.   The alternative is more disasters, more loss of life, more irradiation of the air and water we all need to survive.    This is unacceptable.   Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japan disaster

This is horrible, and a stark reminder that nature holds all the cards.  We build up an enormous, complex society and then the Earth wipes it out in a hearbeat.  All we can do is adapt and survive.  Frightening.  Here is hoping that they can rebuild and go on.  Wonder when California will get hit.   Hopefully not in my lifetime.