One Switch Away

6a00d8341c091653ef01348841ccda970c-500wiScotland is unfortunate enough to have a major nuclear facility next to its biggest population centre. This wasn’t of course a decision made by the people of Scotland.

If you want rid of it, you’ll have to vote for independence.

When making up your mind on whether or not you want such a thing on your territory or if it doesn’t bother you too much, it might be worth bearing in mind this little story

A four-megaton nuclear bomb was one switch away from exploding over the US in 1961, a newly declassified US document confirms.

Two bombs were on board a B-52 plane that went into an uncontrolled spin over North Carolina – both bombs fell and one began the detonation process.

The document was first published in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

The US government has acknowledged the accident before, but never made public how close the bomb came to detonating.

Ah, but that was in the USA I hear you say, such things couldn’t happen here, could they?

522-romans-750-wideWell, in the Independent on Sunday yesterday there was this item (which I have shortened but full article is here)…

A major nuclear incident was narrowly averted at the heart of Britain’s Royal Navy submarine fleet, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. The failure of both the primary and secondary power sources of coolant for nuclear reactors at the Devonport dockyard in Plymouth on 29 July last year followed warnings in previous years of just such a situation.

Experts yesterday compared the crisis at the naval base, operated by the Ministry of Defence and government engineering contractors Babcock Marine, with the Fukushima Daiichi power-station meltdown in Japan in 2011.

John Large, an independent nuclear adviser who led the team that conducted radiation analysis on the Russian Kursk submarine which sank in the Barents Sea in 2000, said: “It is unbelievable that this happened. It could have been very serious. Things like this shouldn’t happen. It is a fundamental that these fail-safe requirements work. It had all the seriousness of a major meltdown – a major radioactive release.”

Mr Large warned that if a submarine had recently entered the base when the failure occurred the situation could have been “dire” because of high heat levels in its reactor.

Sleep well.

Pronouncing Armageddon

This is not the most important story going on in the world today obviously, but a little thing that has been written about before and I’ve noticed happening with increasing irregularity, is the change in the pronunciation of the word “nuclear”.

Now, the pronunciation of wBHl8CUrCIAAy4uk.jpg largeords changes often, and this comes about over time through usage. Spelling can change to reflect new pronunciations, and the reverse is also true.

With the nuclear example though, something different seems to have been going on.

Bush famously couldn’t seem to pronounce the word New-Cleer and always pronounced it as Nuke-U-Lar, and was of course pilloried for doing so. There was even a Simpsons joke about it. Then, for one or both of a couple of possible reasons that I am about to outline, people started using the Bush pronunciation.

But which people? I noticed it pronounced that way with increasing regularity on Fox News by presenters and by other Republican apparatchiks who, surely, must have known better.

Thinking it through, the possible reasons for this could be…

  1. They heard it on TV/Radio and repeated the pronunciation they heard. Monkey hear, Monkey repeat.
  2. An attempt to cover up the fact that the former president was an ignoramus by rallying round him and using the same pronunciation so that it didn’t seem so bad.

I can’t really think of another reason. Either way, it isn’t very flattering toward people who should know better.

It’s an interesting little case study in how at times reality must be shifted in order to impose a Leader’s view of the world, or at least not make them look silly, and then everyone else must be brought to heel. With the modern echo chamber, it seems that in terms of pronunciation, this can be done faster than ever before.

If A Butterfly Irradiates Its Wings In Japan…

Here is an abridged version of this article, which was on BBC yesterday…

Exposure to radioactive material released into the environment has caused mutations in butterflies found in Japan, a study suggests.

Scientists found an increase in leg, antennae and wing shape mutations among butterflies collected following the 2011 Fukushima accident.

The link between the mutations and the radioactive material was shown by laboratory experiments, they report.

The work has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

In brief, they took  butterflies from 10 different areas of Japan…

By comparing mutations found on the butterflies collected from the different sites, the team found that areas with greater amounts of radiation in the environment were home to butterflies with much smaller wings and irregularly developed eyes.


Prof Otaki’s team then bred these butterflies within labs 1,750km (1,090 miles) away from the accident, where artificial radiation could hardly be detected.

It was by breeding these butterflies that they began noticing a suite of abnormalities that hadn’t been seen in the previous generation – that collected from Fukushima – such as malformed antennae, which the insects use to explore their environment and seek out mates.

Six months later, they again collected adults from the 10 sites and found that butterflies from the Fukushima area showed a mutation rate more than double that of those found sooner after the accident.

The team concluded that this higher rate of mutation came from eating contaminated food, but also from mutations of the parents’ genetic material that was passed on to the next generation, even though these mutations were not evident in the previous generations’ adult butterflies.

Aren’t you happy that, even though they seemed to have stopped talking about it, we are still going to get those new nuclear power plants?

Kraftwerk also had something good to say about it all.

The Pace of Change

Japan is switching off its last working nuclear reactor, as part of the safety drive since the March 2011 tsunami triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima plant.


“There are so many nuclear plants, but not a single one will be up and running today, and that’s because of our efforts,” campaigner Masashi Ishikawa told the crowd.

However, as lovely as this seems, it is only a temporary measure as, for the most part, the reactors have been shut down for maintenance and testing. The Japanese government have also warned that Japan faces a summer of electricity shortages as about 30% of its power was nuclear.

Let’s suppose for a minute that during this process of shutting down the reactors, the Japanese had also spent the time increasing renewal capacity to meet some of the shortfall.

How much of it could they have done in the year and 2 months that has passed since the disaster?

Probably not enough to cover the shortfall but it is sure that they could at least have had some renewable power up and running, maybe quite a decent chunk of their nuclear capacity. Japan is quite famous worldwide for its ability to get things done. This would also have created a number of jobs in a difficult financial climate. Then, when the nuclear reactors were all turned off mightn’t they just decide, having done a large part of it and put the infrastructure in place, just to go the whole way and go all renewable in the coming years?

What it all shows is the problem of will. The protestors have shown an incredible amount of it in order to get so far as they have and get the reactors turned off.

It seems however, that in Japan, like in the rest of the world, there is not the political will at government level to go all out for renewables. The vested interests and the lobbies are still too powerful.

A cynic just might suggest the Japanese government, or any other one in a situation like this, may be disposed just to wait until the discomfort that will be caused by the shortage starts to bite before suggesting it is time to start turning on the reactors again. If this happens a brilliant opportunity for Japan to be a beacon – which was borne out of a horrible disaster, will be lost.