Nullary Sources

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Peter Reinhardt:

About a century ago, an adventurous Scandinavian discovered the first black thorium rock on a remote island in the Norwegian Sea. Now thorium is slowly heating up debates about the future of nuclear power, energy independence, and global warming.

I wanted to get to the bottom of this surge in nuclear enthusiasm, and I was inspired by Peter Thiel’s lecture on energy markets. This post encapsulates the surprising things I learned about thorium and nuclear reactors.

Great piece.

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Atom splitting in my kitchen was a hobby, man tells Swedish police

The AP:

A Swedish man arrested on charges of unauthorised possession of nuclear material after trying to split atoms in his kitchen says he was only doing it as a hobby.

Handl kept a blog about his experiments, describing how he created a small meltdown on his stove.

Only later did he realise it might not be legal and sent a question to Sweden’s radiation authority, which sent the police.



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Sunflowers to clean radioactive soil in Japan

From the AFP:

Campaigners in Japan are asking people to grow sunflowers, said to help decontaminate radioactive soil, in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster that followed March’s massive quake and tsunami.

Volunteers are being asked to grow sunflowers this year, then send the seeds to the stricken area where they will be planted next year to help get rid of radioactive contaminants in the plant’s fallout zone.

Sunflowers were also used to help leech radiation following the Chernobyl disaster. The use of plants to help clean up environmental problems is called “phytoremediation.” Sunflowers can also be used to absorb arsenic. There are a lot of plants that can be used to do stuff like this. Nature: fuck yeah.

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NRC and industry rewrite nuke history

When commercial nuclear power was getting its start in the 1960s and 1970s, industry and regulators stated unequivocally that reactors were designed only to operate for 40 years. Now they tell another story — insisting that the units were built with no inherent life span, and can run for up to a century, an Associated Press investigation shows.

Regulators and industry now contend that the 40-year limit was chosen for economic reasons and to satisfy antitrust concerns, not for safety issues. They contend that a nuclear plant has no technical limit on its life.

But an AP review of historical records, along with interviews with engineers who helped develop nuclear power, shows just the opposite: Reactors were made to last only 40 years. Period.

In 1982, D. Clark Gibbs, chairman of the licensing and safety committee of an early industry group, wrote to the NRC that “most nuclear power plants, including those operating, under construction or planned for the future, are designed for a duty cycle which corresponds to a 40-year life.”

And three years later, when Illinois Power Co. sought a license for its Clinton station, utility official D.W. Wilson told the NRC on behalf of his company’s nuclear licensing department that “all safety margins were established with the understanding of the limitations that are imposed by a 40-year design life.”

Weeeeelllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllp. I am not a nuclear power alarmist, but shit like this does not help your credibility at all guys. Really. Cut it out.

Also, thumbs up to the Associated Press National Investigative Team for doing actual, real reporting on an issue related to nuclear power.

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Japan Cannot Catch a Break

New York Times:

The isotope, cesium 137, was measured in one village by the International Atomic Energy Agency at a level exceeding the standard that the Soviet Union used as a gauge to recommend abandoning land surrounding the Chernobyl reactor, and at another location not precisely identified by the agency at more than double the Soviet standard.

Dr. Lyman said that if a plume of contaminants had drifted with the wind, a large amount could have been dumped in one spot by a rainstorm. “I think it’s not surprising that there would be local concentrations that high,” he said. But Japan should expand the evacuation zone, now set at 19 miles, he said, and the International Atomic Energy Agency should release data faster. The measurements were made between March 18 and March 26, the agency said.

This is bad news any way you slice it.