October 14th, 2015
in Op Ed
by Reverse Engineer, Doomstead Diner
Discuss this article at the Nuke Puke Table inside the Diner
Amongst the numerous other problems we have with Climate Change, Population Overshoot and Geopolitical Conflict, one of the main worries these days amongst KollapsniksTM is the residue of the Nuclear Power Industry which grew up in the aftermath of WWII, when a few brilliant scientists applied the ideas Albert Einstein had about the equivalence of Matter and Energy, most remembered by the famous equation E=mc2.
What that tells you is that the amount of Energy contained in a bit of "matter" (the stuff around you) is equal to that amount multiplied by the Speed of Light SQUARED. For the mathematically challenged, "squaring" means multiplying a number by itself. The speed of light by itself is pretty darn fast, so square it and you get a REALLY big number! Lots of energy contained in Matter, if of course you can convert the matter to energy, and figuring out how to do that was not in Einstein's Department. Einstein was a Mathematician and Theoretical Physicist, not an Engineer.
However, this potential source of Energy and POWER was pretty seductive, particularly in a big time WAR like WWII, where if you could harness said energy, you could make a REALLY BIG BOMB, and wipe out entire cities with it. The RACE WAS ON between the scientists on either side of the Pond as to who could figure out how to do this first!
The German nuclear weapon project (German: Uranprojekt; informally known as the Uranverein; English: Uranium Society or Uranium Club), was a clandestine scientific effort led by Germany to develop and produce nuclear weapons during World War II. This program started in April 1939, just months after the discovery of nuclear fission in December 1938, but ended only months later due to the German invasion of Poland, after many notable physicists were drafted into the Wehrmacht.
A second effort began under the administrative purview of the Wehrmacht's Heereswaffenamt on 1 September 1939, the day of the Invasion of Poland. The program eventually expanded into three main efforts: the Uranmaschine (nuclear reactor), uranium and heavy water production, and uranium isotope separation. Eventually it was assessed that nuclear fission would not contribute significantly to ending the war, and in January 1942, the Heereswaffenamt turned the program over to the Reich Research Council (Reichsforschungsrat) while continuing to fund the program. The program was split up among nine major institutes where the directors dominated the research and set their own objectives. Subsequently, the number of scientists working on applied nuclear fission began to diminish, with many applying their talents to more pressing war-time demands.
The most influential people in the Uranverein were Kurt Diebner, Abraham Esau, Walther Gerlach, and Erich Schumann; Schumann was one of the most powerful and influential physicists in Germany. Diebner, throughout the life of the nuclear weapon project, had more control over nuclear fission research than did Walther Bothe, Klaus Clusius, Otto Hahn, Paul Harteck, or Werner Heisenberg. Abraham Esau was appointed as Hermann Göring's plenipotentiary for nuclear physics research in December 1942; Walther Gerlach succeeded him in December 1943
In August 1939, prominent physicists Leó Szilárd and Eugene Wigner drafted the Einstein-Szilárd letter, which warned of the potential development of "extremely powerful bombs of a new type". It urged the United States to take steps to acquire stockpiles of uranium ore and accelerate the research of Enrico Fermi and others into nuclear chain reactions. They had it signed by Albert Einstein and delivered to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt called on Lyman Briggs of the National Bureau of Standards to head the Advisory Committee on Uranium to investigate the issues raised by the letter. Briggs held a meeting on 21 October 1939, which was attended by Szilárd, Wigner and Edward Teller. The committee reported back to Roosevelt in November that uranium "would provide a possible source of bombs with a destructiveness vastly greater than anything now known."
Briggs proposed that the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) spend $167,000 on research into uranium, particularly the uranium-235 isotope, and the recently discovered plutonium. On 28 June 1941, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8807, which created the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), with Vannevar Bush as its director. The office was empowered to engage in large engineering projects in addition to research. The NDRC Committee on Uranium became the S-1 Uranium Committee of the OSRD; the word "uranium" was soon dropped for security reasons.
In Britain, Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls at the University of Birmingham had made a breakthrough investigating the critical mass of uranium-235 in June 1939. Their calculations indicated that it was within an order of magnitude of 10 kilograms (22 lb), which was small enough to be carried by a bomber of the day. Their March 1940 Frisch-Peierls memorandum initiated the British atomic bomb project and its Maud Committee, which unanimously recommended pursuing the development of an atomic bomb. One of its members, the Australian physicist Mark Oliphant, flew to the United States in late August 1941 and discovered that data provided by the Maud Committee had not reached key American physicists. Oliphant then set out to find out why the committee's findings were apparently being ignored. He met with the Uranium Committee, and visited Berkeley, California, where he spoke persuasively to Ernest O. Lawrence. Lawrence was sufficiently impressed to commence his own research into uranium. He in turn spoke to James B. Conant, Arthur H. Compton and George B. Pegram. Oliphant's mission was therefore a success; key American physicists were now aware of the potential power of an atomic bomb.
At a meeting between President Roosevelt, Vannevar Bush, and Vice President Henry A. Wallace on 9 October 1941, the President approved the atomic program. To control it, he created a Top Policy Group consisting of himself-although he never attended a meeting-Wallace, Bush, Conant, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and the Chief of Staff of the Army, General George C. Marshall. Roosevelt chose the Army to run the project rather than the Navy, as the Army had the most experience with management of large-scale construction projects. He also agreed to coordinate the effort with that of the British, and on 11 October he sent a message to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, suggesting that they correspond on atomic matters.
As we all know now, the Amurkan Scientists beat the Kraut Scientists in this Horserace, and these were the results at Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
Talk about TERRORISM! Beheading a few Journalists is NOTHING compared to this! You got entire countries quaking in their boots if they won't Kowtow to you and accept your Dollar as World Reserve Currency!
At the point in the war these two Weapons of Mass Destruction were dropped, the Nipponese were already FINISHED. They were beaten back to their own islands, their fleet had been destroyed in the Battle of Midway. They could simply have been embargoed and left to starve, but nooooo... a demonstration of POWER was necessary to make to the rest of the world (the Ruskies in particular) aware that we were mean sons of bitches, and don't fuck with us or we will incinerate you in a heartbeat.
Bad as all that was, it may turn out that the worst of the Nuke Puke curse brought on by the insatiable appetite for POWER in the species Homo Sap will not come from the Wartime use of Nukes as Bombs, but from the Peacetime use developed after the War to generate Electric Power for the growing energy consumptive society.
Nuke Puke Power Plants sprung up like mushrooms in the aftermath of WWII, and now there are something like 400 of them sprinkled around the Globe, mainly in the FSoA and Europe, but quite a few other places too. The Chinese want to build still MORE of them to boot! Even though the coal is coming dirt cheap these days, they would like to be able to breathe the air in Beijing without having to wear an Activated Charcoal Filter mask all the time, but of course still keeping the lights on and juice for the Factories to produce toys to be sold at Low, Low Prices Every Day at Walmart. Who will have working money to BUY those toys also remains an open question these days.
Global Nuclear Power Plant Distribution
As you can see by the map above here, the worst Bad Newz on Nukes is on the eastern side of the Mississipi River in the FSoA, in Europe and in Japan. The Chinese will catch up here if they can, but chances are things will go south before they have opportunity to build too many of them. Also it should be noted that this does NOT include all the Nuke Puke reactors aboard Aircraft Carriers, Submarines and in various research facilities in Universities around the globe.
The BIG PROBLEM nobody ever came up with a real good solution for was what to do with the SPENT FUEL from these reactors. NOBODY wanted Nuke Puke in their backyard, the NIMBY problem. For a while the Salt Mines in Yucca Mountain were proposed as a dumping ground for Nuke Puke, but after a few $Billion$ were spent developing this White Elephant, this idea got shelved.
The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, as designated by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987, is to be a deep geological repository storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and other high level radioactive waste. It is located on federal land adjacent to the Nevada Test Site in Nye County, Nevada, about 80 mi (130 km) northwest of the Las Vegas Valley. The proposed repository is within Yucca Mountain, a ridge line in the south-central part of Nevada near its border with California.
The location has been highly contested by environmentalists and Nevada residents. It was approved in 2002 by the United States Congress. Federal funding for the site ended in 2011 under the Obama Administration via amendment to the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, passed on April 14, 2011. The Government Accountability Office stated that the closure was for political, not technical or safety reasons.
This leaves US non-governmental entities, such as utilities, without any designated long term storage site for the high level radioactive waste stored on-site at various nuclear facilities around the country. The US government disposes of its waste at WIPP in New Mexico, in rooms 2,150 feet (660 m) underground. The Department of Energy (DOE) is reviewing other options for a high-level waste repository and a Blue Ribbon Commission established by the Secretary of Energy released its final report in January 2012. It expressed urgency to find a consolidated, geological repository, and that any future facility should be developed by a new independent organization with direct access to the Nuclear Waste Fund, that is not subject to political and financial control like the DOE.
What's wrong with Yucca Mountain as a repository for the Nuke Puke? Well, besides the fact nobody in the neighborhood wants this toxic waste in their backyard, it will take constant maintenance in order to keep the shit from either melting down or going super critical and blowing up. Who is going to pay for that maintenance for the next 1000 years...no wait 1,000,000 years?
So what to do with this shit?
Fire it off into space heading for the Sun on one of Richard Branson's spaceships? The Sun is already a nuclear fireball, so that should be OK, right?
A few small problems with this idea. There is Tons of this shit out there, every last one of the Nuke Puke plants has spent fuel ponds with 30 or 40 years worth of Puke in them. We are not talking a few small communications satellites or glorified RVs we put into low earth orbit and call them "Space Stations", we are talking Container Ship loads of the stuff!!!! How much Rocket Fuel do you think it would take to jack all that up even to low earth orbit, much less get it out of the Earth gravity well and hurtling towards the Sun? Answer: a lot more than we got available here.
Second problem even if you had this much energy to do the job is the slight issue of ACCIDENTS occurring, since you would need 1000s of rocket flights up carrying the Puke into space. Just ONE of them explodes like the Challenger did, and the Puke rains down on everyone. Not a good scenario there obviously.
There is another location right here on Earth though where lots of nuke puke resides already, the Core of the Earth, generally composed of Uranium because it is so dense. It provides the internal heat engine for the planet through fission (the Sun works opposite, Fusion of small elements to larger ones). How to get the man-made Nuke Puke down there though?
Well, there are spots under the ocean floor where the crust is pretty thin, and as the plates move over one another, in some spots there are subduction zones, where part of the crust of the earth gets pushed down into the Mantle and gets recycled there.
One such zone is located in the Marianas Trench, the very deepest canyon in the Pacific Ocean.
The Mariana Trench or Marianas Trench is the deepest part of the world's oceans. It is located in the western Pacific Ocean, to the east of the Mariana Islands. The trench is about 2,550 kilometres (1,580 mi) long but has an average width of only 69 kilometres (43 mi). It reaches a maximum-known depth of 10,994 m (± 40 m) or 6.831 mi (36,070 ± 131 ft) at the Challenger Deep, a small slot-shaped valley in its floor, at its southern end, although some unrepeated measurements place the deepest portion at 11.03 kilometres (6.85 mi).
At the bottom of the trench the water column above exerts a pressure of 1,086 bars (15,750 psi), over 1000 times the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level. At this pressure, the density of water is increased by 4.96%, making 95 litres of water under the pressure of the Challenger Deep contain the same mass as 100 litres at the surface. The temperature at the bottom is 1 to 4 °C.
Now of course, the idea of taking Nuke Puke and dropping into the ocean is a big turn-off for the environmentally conscious, not to mention there are all sorts of International Treaties that make this illegal. This does not however seem to stop the Japanese from unloading millions of gallons of Nuke Puke contaminated water from Fukushima into the ocean, and so far nobody from the Hague has arrested the TEPCO managers either.
The Marianas Trench Nuke Puke Disposal PlanTM though is significantly different than the current Nipponese method of dumping the Nuke Puke straight into the bay next to Fukushima and letting it then disperse across the entire ocean.
In this method, you're not actually disposing of the Puke into the ocean, but rather into the crust of the earth BENEATH the sea bed. I don't think there are any international treaties covering that, or who owns it either. Also, there is no NIMBY problem, since nobody's backyard is even CLOSE to that.
How do you get the Puke into the crust?
In this case, rather than working against gravity and trying to lift up the Nuke Puke, gravity helps you and accelerates the capsule on the way down, and like a Rifle Bullet it will begin to spin if designed as a screw shape. It will drill itself into the ground on impact. The material contained inside can be glassified and solidified so it won't dissolve in the water, and then after that the Earth itself does the work subducting this zone back into the mantle! Problem Solved!
Can such a plan be implemented before complete collapse takes hold? Unfortunately probably not for numerous reasons. First of all, if you start shutting down the Nuke Puke plants, you're going to have shortfalls in electric power wherever they supply the grid, and nobody wants to see their lights go dark, so we'll probably keep them switched on until it is too late. Then you have the issue that environmentalists would likely oppose the plan, and exactly how you would finance it also is pretty tough to figure. So in all likelihood the eventual outcome is a vast number of meltdowns and a lot more radionucleotides in the environment. Whether Homo Saps can survive that and for how long and where remains an open question, but the Tardigrades should make it through at least.
Tardigrades are extremophiles, and can survive just about anything, extreme heat or cold, lack of water, radiation, the WORKS!
Tardigrades (also known as water bears or moss piglets) are water-dwelling, segmented micro-animals, with eight legs. They were first discovered by the German pastor Johann August Ephraim Goeze in 1773. The name Tardigrada (meaning "slow stepper") was given three years later by the Italian biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani. The phylum has been sighted from mountaintops to the deep sea, from tropical rain forests to the Antarctic Tardigrades can survive in extreme environments. For example, they can withstand temperatures from just above absolute zero to well above the boiling point of water (100 °C), pressures about six times greater than those found in the deepest ocean trenches, ionizing radiation at doses hundreds of times higher than the lethal dose for a human, and the vacuum of outer space. They can go without food or water for more than 10 years, drying out to the point where they are 3% or less water, only to rehydrate, forage, and reproduce.
So, anyone suggesting that the Earth will be "barren & lifeless" in anywhere near the near term as Guy McPherson did in a recent essay either doesn't know the biology of tardigrades or else they are being purposefully melodromatic. There are even extremophilic organisms which thrive in wicked conditions, such as around the Sulfur vents on the sea floor. None of these organisms are going to the Great Beyond anytime too soon, no matter what happens to the higher life organisms currently populating the planet, including Homo Sap. Nothing short of an impact with a Planet Killer Asteroid is going to wipe out all life on Earth in any kind of near term timeline.
If past history is any guide, Global Average Temperature will top out at 25C, as it always has even in the Pleiocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)
25C is a cakewalk for a Tardigrade, and in fact many organisms can survive this AGT, just as they did through the millenia of the PETM. The ancestors of Homo Sap were among those creatures.
DONE ONCE, IT CAN BE DONE AGAIN!
Can, Will Homo Sap make it through this Zero Point, the 6th Great Mass Extinction Event on Earth? Maybe, maybe not, but either way the planet won't be lifeless for quite some time to come. For eukaryotic organisms (both unicellular & multicellular species), the Earth's environment should hold up for another 300M years or so, when the Sun starts fusing so much Helium that its radiation output will make the Earth too inhospitable for anything but a few prokayotes. Even the Tardigrades will be toast.
In the meantime, the objective of all living creatures is to live as long as they can until they eventually, inevitably succumb to death. Nothing lives forever, not even Planets live forever. Far as life goes on Earth, it is already in its senecense, the equivalent in the human lifespan of being 90 with a 100 year life expectancy. How much longer we can survive remains an open question, although the timeline of 15 years to Human Extinction is highly improbable. The further out on the timeline you go, the more probable this is.
In the immortal words of Chuck Palahniuk:
One thing is certain, there is no possibility for survival if you quit and say it's all OVAH already and hopeless. You make your best effort to survive as long as you can, and then when you no longer can, you will die. Just like every other life form that was ever born on the face of the Earth.
It ain' OVAH till the Fat Lady sings for you though.