Daily Archives: December 7, 2011

SETI will listen to newly discovered “Earthlike Planet”

First, I should say right away that the planet that has been in the news so much lately is not known to be “earth like” … depending on what you think “earth like” is. What we know is that the planet orbits its star in a position that allows for the possibility that water on its surface could be liquid. But, the possibility that the planet has a “surface” … as opposed to some increasingly dense gaseous layer like Neptune … has not yet been established. Not that this would favor life one way or another. For all we know, getting life started on a hard crust covered earth is way harder than on a gaseous liquid water rich blob of a planet.

Either way, it is very interesting that, according to reports, the US Air Force is paying SETI to restart its operations and focus on this new planet to see if we can pick anything up.

Which makes a remarkable amount of sense, don’t you think? If there’s liquid water, there’s probably life. If there is life, there is probably Milton Berle.

Source and more info

The Inquisition of Climate Science

i-83328c4df9ead07f8e3ed3183519523e-inquisition_of_climate_science.jpgI’m enjoying James Lawrence Powell’s book “The Inquisition of Climate Science” Powell’s book specifically addresses the clilmate change denialist movement and the global warming deniers themselves, and does so severely. He documents and discusses who is paying for climate change denialism documents the lack of scientific credenntials of the denialists, and outlines and describes in detail events such as “climate gate.”

The book is exceptionally well documented and could actually be used as a supplementary text in a class on science policy or science and society.

Author’s bio from the pulbisher’s web site:

James Lawrence Powell was born and raised in Kentucky and graduated from Berea College. He received his Ph.D. in Geochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has had a distinguished career as a college teacher, college president, museum director, and author of books on earth science for general audiences. He serves as executive director of the National Physical Science Consortium, a partnership among government agencies and laboratories, industry, and higher education dedicated to increasing the number of American citizens with graduate degrees in the physical sciences and related engineering fields, emphasizing recruitment of a diverse applicant pool that includes women and minorities. He has taught at Oberlin College and has served as its acting president. He has also been president of Franklin and Marshall College, Reed College, the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush appointed Powell to the National Science Board.

Major Ocean Data Initiative Is Cool

Opening Our Oceans With Data.Gov

Today, we are pleased to announce the release of ocean.data.gov, the newest community on Data.gov. This effort is the result of two important initiatives of the Obama Administration: the development and implementation of the National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, our Coasts, and the Great Lakes and the creation of Data.gov to make Federal data more accessible to the American people.

Since President Obama signed the Executive Order establishing a National Ocean Policy, the Administration has been working steadily to implement this policy. One cornerstone of the policy is the Framework for Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning, a science-based, regional planning process conducted jointly with states and tribes that guarantees the public and stakeholders a voice in decisions affecting the ocean. Making the science that is available to the Federal Government accessible to all ocean users is a key to the success of this initiative. That’s why the National Ocean Council has teamed with the Data.gov initiative to create an open and accessible website that houses and references a wealth of information and tools available to support ocean planning efforts.

Source and more information here.

Eugenie C. Scott on Denialism of Climate Change and Evolution

On Rationally Speaking:

Our guest Eugenie C. Scott joins us to talk about a new initiative of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) to tackle denialism of global warming. Both evolution and global warming are “controversial issues” in the public sphere, but are not controversial in the world of science. There is some overlap between the two issues, but far more people are climate change deniers than evolution deniers. What is interesting to skeptics, however, is the similarity in the techniques that are used by both camps to promote their views. The scientific issues are presented as “not being settled,” or that there is considerable debate among scientists over the validity of claims.

Podcast is HERE

Sebelius: No morning after pill for girls under 17

The FDA will not remove restrictions on access for the Morning After Birth Control Pill.

In a statement today, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said she was convinced that the product, called Plan B One Step, is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy after unprotected intercourse for women of all ages. Currently the product is available without a prescription only to those age 17 and over. As long ago as 2003, two FDA advisory panels recommended the product be made available over the counter without age restrictions.

Hamburg, however, was overruled by her boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. As a result, the drug makers’ application to remove the age restriction has been denied, and girls under age 17 will still need a prescription.


I would like to take this opportunity to request Sebelius resignation.

Margaret Hamburg’s statement is here. The most important part is here:
Continue reading Sebelius: No morning after pill for girls under 17

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update # 41: Good News – it’s bad. Bad news – it’s worse than we think


p class=”lead”>There is a lot of news in Ana’s Feed about the nuclear power industry world wide, as well as across Japan, and especially disturbing news related to the Fukushima plant in particular. In brief, the main reason that the situation at these reactors seems to be kinda-sorta under control (as in the water in the plants has stopped boiling uncontrollably) is that much of the nuclear fuel has melted its way into the underlying geology, and/or all over the plant’s foundation structures, and/or dispersed through groundwater that is moving through the system. Towards nearby rivers and/or the ocean.

Radiation Readings and Contamination


p class=”lead”>The catastrophic meltdowns at Fukushima’s Nuclear Power plant and associated plume of radioactive material were picked up some 60 kilometers away from the plant at a medical facility; These data are now available in a pretty, yet scary, graph (see Ana’s Feed). Good news: It may be the case that most of the radioactive substances in the vicinity, which would be Cesium, is on top of everything … i.e., the top 2 cm of soil. Bad news: The Cesium fallout covers a very very large area, including large areas of eastern and northeastern Japan. Having said that, it appears that very few people were zapped with large amounts of radiation at the outset of the disaster.

However, this may not be an accurate assessment, and hopes that decontamination would go fairly quickly because radioactive material is mainly on the surface and just has to be wiped or scraped off do not seem to be working out. Some of the preliminary decontamination efforts seem to indicate that the procedure being used reduces radioactivity by as little as 22%, which is unexpected.

But that’s OK, because TEPCO’s policy is that radioactive stuff that falls on your property is now YOURS, not theirs!

As decontamination of homes in the Fukushima disaster evacuation area begins, the government is considering sending in the “army” to help with decontamination, but other parts of the government want to see data on potential contamination, which is apparently not available, first. There is a plan to build a facility to bury Fukushma waste. The government is looking for a site. So far there have been no volunteers.

There was a complete botch-up regarding Radioactive Rice, in which a brilliant hypothesis of how rice would be not too contaminated was killed by the ugly fact of highly contaminated rice. Also, school children are, apparently, being given contaminated milk to drink. This was discovered by tests applied to milk over the objections of the milk industry. Similarly, baby formula seems to be contaminated as well.

The Cold Shutdown vs. the Meltdown

TEPCO claims that the planned cold shutdown is on schedule for the end of this month. At present, all of the water in all of the reactor machinery seems to be below boiling point. In fact, it turns out that the temperature inside the primary reactor vessels is even lower than expected. It is possible that this is because most of the fuel has leaked out of the vessels to an unknown location. That’s good, right?

TEPCO has produced a study that shows that the containment vessels for the reactors contained the melted nuclear fuel from the plant. This is based on a computer simulation produced a few days ago.

In contrast, the architect of Fukushima Daiichi Reactor 3 suggests that nuclear fuel beneath the plant may be as deep as 12 meters below the foundation level, continuing to melt its way through the earth. If he’s right, that could mean future hydrogen explosions accompanied by massive radiation releases. TEPCO is also concerned about future hydrogen explosions.

Other experts claim that the material from the cores is mixed into the top 70 cm. of material above a steel containment barrier. Yet another suggests that the material is two meters deep into the concrete below the vessel. All of these suggestions are worst than the previously defined “worst case scenario” used by the plant’s engineers and designers.

As efforts leading to the cold shutdown continue, strange things keep happening in the plant with temperature and radiation readings, and there are uncertainties about the instrumentation being used in the plant.

Contaminated Water and Ground Water Problems

One of the major problems at the damaged reactor facilities is still contaminated water in the buildings. TEPCO is unable to remove water from the buildings, though the reasons are somewhat unclear as to why. One of the problems is that groundwater is flowing into the foundations. This is a concern, since the foundations are supposed to be a seal to keep contamination inside the plant in the event of a spill or meltdown. Presumably contaminated water is flowing out if it is also flowing in. It is of some concern that TEPCO can’t identify the source of the groundwater. Modern facilities that will contain dangerous materials are built after accurate groundwater maps and models are developed. This suggests that a review of existing nuclear power plant area groundwater maps is in order.

The good news is that maybe the radioactive stuff under the plants will not actually drill its way through the center of the earth, but rather, it may just flow out into the sea via a nearby river. Extremely high radiation readings have been identified at the mouth of the Abukumagawa River.

Plant Workers

The ex-skf blog expresses concerns over worker’s safety in the vicinity of the plant’s breached containment vessels. Masao Yoshida, the manager at Fukushima at the time of the disaster, has stepped down from his position due to an unspecified illness.

Told you so

More evidence that TEPCO was aware of the threat of a tsunami, but ignored or repressed it, has been brought to light.

Far away but still of interest

Highway 40 in Memphis saw a Uranium Truck crash. No big deal. This time. A coolant leak was reprted at Brunswick Plant in the Carolinas. A recent report suggests that all of the nuclear reactors in France need to be upgraded. Given the geography of much of Western Europe, a Chernobyl or Fukushima type disaster is sometimes called the “10 trillion dollar scenario.” Not only would a major contamination plume cause major direct effects, but at the moment, a huge percentage of Western Europe’s power comes from nuclear.

In Otter Matters

There is still a problem with pets, in the Fukushima area. Volunteers are barely able to handle current needs for care of animals left homeless due to the disaster. Concerns over radioactive contamination? There’s an ap for that! You an now get a Geiger counter attachment for your smart phone.

And now …

Continue reading Japan Nuclear Disaster Update # 41: Good News – it’s bad. Bad news – it’s worse than we think