17 March 2011

Our environmental problems originate in the 
hubris of imagining ourselves as the central 
nervous system or the brain of nature. We're not 
the brain, we are a cancer on nature.
     - Dave Foreman
My spouse is a retired nuclear physicist. We've been watching the tragedy in Japan unfold for a week now, and he's horrified by what's going on. This morning, I heard him typing at his desk, and an hour later, an article by Daniel Holz from the "Cosmic Variance" blog on Discover Magazine's website appeared in my inbox.

The author has presented the information in a way that non-physicists can understand -- nuclear power, and the mechanics of fission and meltdown explained in laymen's terms.

Now that I understand what's really been happening, I'm horrified, too. Misery loves company. As much as I hate sending readers away, I encourage you to read the article, "Don't Lose Your Cool," in its entirety. Here's an excerpt:
This is by far the most dire situation on the planet at the moment. It has the world’s attention. We’ve had almost a week. Why can’t we just fix it? There are a number of serious complications. First, there’s the issue of radiation. People are unable to walk up to most of the buildings and see what’s going on, lest they get immediate and severe radiation poisoning. There are remote sensors and cameras, but fundamentally everyone is guessing as to what’s happening inside. Even if we knew exactly how things looked, it’s still a major engineering feat to get the appropriate amount of water running through these highly complex systems to do the cooling. There have been explosions, there are stuck valves, there are broken pumps, there are ongoing fires. The world’s resources are focused on this problem. Millions of lives potentially depend upon the outcome. And, thus far, progress has been haphazard and halting, despite heroic efforts on the part of the Japanese crew. The engineering challenges may simply be too great.
Excuse me. I'm off to find a Shinto shrine where I can offer up prayers for those who died, and those who will die, due to our human arrogance and stupidity.


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