Friday, January 22, 2010

How Gary Powers Could Have Started an Atomic War

From the State Archive of the Russian Federation:
Документальные кадры судебного заседания в Колонном зале Дома Союзов по уголовному делу американского летчика-шпиона Ф. Пауэрса. На столе вещественных доказательств демонстрируют предметы, обнаруженные на сбитом самолете У-2.

Судебный процесс над американским летчиком-шпионам Пауэрсом с очевидностью показал, что империалисты усиленно готовятся к нападению на Советский Союз. Допрос обвиняемого Генеральным прокуром тов. Руденко выяснил, как может вспыхнуть атомная война.
Допрос Пауэрса Генеральным прокурором СССР тов. Руденко.
РУДЕНКО: Вы заявили здесь и на следствии, что выключали рычаги аппаратуры над определeнными пунктами?
ПАУЭРС: Я делал то, что мне было указано.
РУДЕНКО: Не зная о специальной аппаратуре?
ПАУЭРС: Нет, я никогда не видел этой специальной аппаратуры.
РУДЕНКО: Вы с таким же успехом могли бы нажать рычаг и сбросить атомную бомбу?
ПАУЭРС: Это могло бы быть сделано...
Мультипликационный рисунок атомного взрыва. Ослепительно яркая вспышка образует огненный шар, постепенно превращающийся к клубящееся облако. К нему, с поверхности земли, поднимается столб пыли, вследствие чего атомный взрыв приобретает специфично грибовидную форму.

Так одно движение руки подлого диверсанта может повергнуть человечество в неслыханные бедствия и страдания. Мы должны помнить об этой угрозе и быть готовы к защиты от оружия массового поражения.

Врыв атомной бомбы поражает не только силой ударной волны и светового излучения, но и радиоактивными веществами, которые переносятся потоками воздуха на значительные расстояния. Как от них защищаться?
In English:
Documentary footage of the ongoing trial of American spyplane pilot F. Powers in the Column Hall of the House of Soviets. On the table is displayed physical evidence--devices found aboard the downed U-2.

The trial of Powers has demonstrated unequivocally that the imperialists are intensively preparing for an attack on the Soviet Union. Interrogation of the accused by Public Prosecutor Comrade Rudenko demonstrated how a nuclear war might break out.

Examination of Powers by Attorny General of the USSR Comrade Rudenko:
RUDENKO: You reported here in the inquiry, that you turned down the levers of the apparatus above the indicated points?
POWERS: I did what I was ordered.
RUDENKO: While unaware of the special apparatus?
POWERS: No, I never saw this special apparatus.
RUDENKO: You might as well have depressed the lever and dropped an atomic bomb?
POWERS: Could have...

Animated image of an atomic explosion. A dazzlingly bright flash forms a fireball, then gradually evolves into a billowing cloud. Towards it rises a column of dust from the earth's surface, consequently giving the atomic cloud its characteristic mushroom shape.

With one small hand movement a dastardly saboteur could plunge mankind into untold hardships and suffering. We should be aware of this threat and be prepared to defend against weapons of mass destruction.

The explosion of an atomic bomb destroys not only via the effects of blast and flash, but also with radioactive substances, which are carried by air currents over considerable distances. How are they to be defended against?
This is from a late 1960 script for a civil defense film titled "Защита населения по следу радиоактивного облака" (Protection of the Population Along the Path of the Radioactive Cloud). I'm going to try and track down the finished version of the film, which may have been different.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

World Nuclear News on SVBR

World Nuclear News has a new piece about the SVBR, which I blogged about awhile ago: "Initiative for Small Fast Reactors."

The takeaway:
The companies' statement said their initial estimates show that large-scale production of SVBR-100s could bring down costs to the same level as for coal-fired generation. En+ Group CEO Vladislav Soloviev said "We believe that the development of the nuclear power industry is one of the most promising ways to meet the rising demand for energy with the lowest environmental impact."

Deputy director of Rosatom Petr Schedrovitsky said, "We expect the government to provide strong support... It will be put on the list of projects under the aegis of the President's Commission for Long-Term Development."

I.E., the SVBR is now the small modular reactor with the best chance of making it to market... because the Russian government is making it a priority project and funding its development. Compared to similar US projects from NuScale and B&W, which are hobbled by the uncertainty of whether the NRC will change its regulatory framework to enable these small reactor projects, Rosatom is full speed ahead.

If the SVBR turns out as advertised it may end up dominating the world reactor market once it's available for export. Do we really want to let the Russians have this field to themselves?

ScienceBlogs Death Spiral Watch

I've been growing increasingly dismayed in recent months by the decreasing quality of ScienceBlogs. More and more it seems that Sb is less about science than partisan bloviating. Now, it's true that PZ Meyers devotes most of his blog to criticizing organized religion--but he's a very talented science popularizer when he wants to be. But many of the more recent additions to ScienceBlogs have very little to do with any kind of "science."

Take, for instance, Casaubon's Book. This recent addition to Sb is written by Sharon Astyk, who is pretty well-known in the Oil Drum/Energy Bulletin resource pessimist mileau, as well as among boutique farming enthusiasts. Astyk is absolutely convinced that technological solutions to problems like climate change are simply unfeasible, and constantly churns out posts about how we will soon run out of energy to run farm machinery and tens of millions of people will have to become agricultural laborers, how genetic modification is supposedly useless to address the world's agricultural challenges, or endorsing the latest Peak Oil screed on The Oil Drum. The thing is, most of this has very little to do with science and everything to do with reinforcing Astyk's pessimistic attitude towards technological civilization. Furthermore, she has attracted a sizable number of like-minded commenters who attempt to shout down those who point this out.

What I find so infuriating about Astyk is her faux reasonableness, which serves to obscure what is in fact an anti-scientific mentality. A good example of this is her post "Should You Drink Raw Milk?" In this post, Astyk acknowledges the various public health concerns that resulted in the ban on raw milk sales in the US but concludes that:

If you want raw milk, I would purchase it only after understanding the full risk-benefit analysis. I do not recommend it for pregnant women or children under 2, although I know plenty of people do drink it in those circumstances. I would either get your own dairy animal or purchase milk *only* from people who you actually develop a relationship with, after seeing their barn and handling techniques, and knowing what testing they do. I would make sure that I *always* do my milk pickup with a cooler on hand and keep it cool all the time. I would drink my milk quickly, or process it to make cheese and yogurt.

I would love to see raw milk be more available to those who do make informed choices and who want it, and I'd love to see small dairy producers able to sell it. But to do so requires a level of involvement and consciousness about your food that is simply different than picking up a quart of milk at the grocery store.

So Astyk's answer to the question "should you drink raw milk?" is somewhere between "sure, if you want to" and "maybe." The problem here is that this is NOT a justifiable conclusion based on the substantial body of scientific literature on raw milk consumption. The scientific answer to the question is "NO."

For instance, see S.P. Oliver et al., "Food Safety Hazards Associated with Consumption of Raw Milk," published in the September 2009 issue of the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. According to the abstract:
"An increasing number of people are consuming raw unpasteurized milk. Enhanced nutritional qualities, taste, and health benefits have all been advocated as reasons for increased interest in raw milk consumption. However, science-based data to substantiate these claims are limited. People continue to consume raw milk even though numerous epidemiological studies have shown clearly that raw milk can be contaminated by a variety of pathogens, some of which are associated with human illness and disease. Several documented milkborne disease outbreaks occurred from 2000–2008 and were traced back to consumption of raw unpasteurized milk. Numerous people were found to have infections, some were hospitalized, and a few died."
The article reviews CDC records for the last decade regarding outbreaks of illness related to raw milk consumption for the last decade, while cautioning that these are clearly incomplete due to reporting problems. The authors conclude that "Enhanced nutritional qualities, taste, and health benefits have all been advocated as reasons for raw milk consumption. However, science-based data to substantiate these claims are lacking or do not exist. On the other hand, the evidence for the risks associated with raw milk consumption is clear."

There a substantial body of literature supporting the same basic conclusion, going back decades. Some pertinent examples:
Lejeune JT and Rajala-Schultz PJ. Unpasteurized milk: a continued public health threat. Clin Infect Dis 2009;48:93-100
Headrick ML, Korangy S, Bean NH, et al. The epidemiology of raw milk-associated foodborne disease outbreaks reported in the United States, 1973 through 1992. Am J Public Health 1998;88:1219-1221.
Chin J. Raw milk: a continuing vehicle for the transmission of infectious disease agents in the United States. J Infect Dis 1982; 146:440-441.
...and so on. Research on this dates back well into the 19th century.

So what Astyk is ACTUALLY doing, rather than offering a reasonable science-based assessment of the risks and benefits of raw milk consumption, is undermining scientific medicine. It is in fact eerily similar to one of the rhetorical gambits used by the anti-vaccine movement: "shouldn't parents be allowed to weigh the risks and benefits and choose for themselves?" It sounds appealing, but from a scientific standpoint it's indefensible, and it ends up killing innocent children for no good reason.

Perhaps it's unreasonable of me to expect this, but I think something called "ScienceBlogs" should be firmly based in actual science, not in Peak Oil resource millenialism or a faux-progressive pastoral romanticism. To avoid confusion, I suggest that Seed magazine (the sponsor of Sb) change the name to "W00Blogs," and potentially consider inviting advocates of other anti-scientific and non-scientific outlooks to blog there. Is Deepak Chopra available?