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Radiation Consideration

Nuclear power talk. Also: Ben Stein's service. The Westboro crimes. Honoring Ernie Banks. And more.  

4.4.11

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NO JOKING MATTER
Re: William Tucker's Pass the Plutonium:

The article "Pass the Plutonium" by William Tucker gave an interesting perspective on the future of nuclear power.

The notion of the public losing its nuclear virginity and starting to think like adults about the effects of a nuclear accident could be supported by a recent article by Ann Coulter titled "A Glowing Report on Radiation." If one overlooks the a snarky comments by Coulter, the data she mentions actually shows a health benefit from events that exposed large populations to radiation many times the limits set by regulators. If prostate cancer and breast cancers actually decline years after the tragic events in Japan, there may be reason to question the linear dose theory that regulates most nuclear activities.

It was unfortunate that the publication date happened to be April 1, since that date could lead people to not take the article seriously.
 -- Joseph Bell
Marietta, GA

That is the most sensible article I've seen on nuclear power. The Carter decision to stop reprocessing was not only bad for the U.S., it represented a completely naïve way to think about how sovereign nations and even children behave. Carter justified it on the basis that the U.S. would set a good example and by doing so lead other nations to not reprocess and isolate plutonium. That sounds like what he might tell his 3rd grade Sunday school students, be good and stay in line because that sets a good example of the 1st graders. My experience is that the 1st graders don't pay attention to 3rd graders and it now looks like other sovereign nations did not pay attention to the U.S. either. I supported and voted for Carter and all other Democrats except probably Mondale because the candidates put up by the other side are always completely unacceptable to anyone but a rich fat cat. That said, I have no problem with Democrats throwing Carter or any other past president under the bus. The Republicans hero worship, why should any else?

The public and more importantly the journalists really do need to understand a bit of nuclear physics. Why is it hard to explain that radiation happens when an atom changes from one material to another? Half-life is the time that is needed for ½ of the material to change. Iodine-131's half-life is 8 days and Plutonium's half-life is 100,000 years. Put a pound of Iodine-131 in your right hand and a pound of Plutonium in your left hand. In 8 days you will only have ½ pound of Iodine but you will have .9999995 pounds of Plutonium. The radiation from the Iodine will have killed you while the radiation from the Plutonium is almost negligible. The lesson: things with a short half-life are the dangerous radiation source but they are soon gone. In Japan Iodine-131 seems to be getting into the air and seawater, but it will be gone (actually reduced by 99%) in a year. Cesium's half-life is about a 1½ so it will take 15 years to reach the 99% decay stage but it is heavy so it will settle into the ground or sea floor with no real way to concentrate into living things. Saying spent fuel will be dangerous for millions of years because it contains Plutonium is mixing facts. It is radioactively dangerous for perhaps 100 years; the embedded Plutonium will continue to decay for millions of years but the radiation from a slight amount of plutonium embedded in tons of stable Uraniunm-238 may not even be detectable.

However, saying Plutonium is not radioactively dangerous is not the same as saying it is safe. In pill size dosages it seems to be a poison in the same sense that Arsenic is a poison. Further, Plutonium can be used to make a nuclear bomb, but not from spent fuel in anyone's basement shop. Plutonium is created when a U-238 atom ingests a slow neutron (they are abundant in power plant working reactors) then changes into Americium, which decays to Plutonium-239. But in reactor fuel that lives for 6 years in a slow neutron rich environment some of that Plutonium (Pu-239) will ingest another neutron or two so the Plutonium mix will include Pu-239, Pu-240, Pu-241…. The even number isotopes would poison a bomb. Nations have built nukes with Pu from reactors. To do so they clad the reactor with U-238 pads then remove the pads after a short period (measured in weeks not years). This means very little of the produced Pu-239 sees a secondary conversion. Because the pads contain very little Pu-240 they could chemically isolate bomb grade Plutonium. But apply the process to spent fuel and you get the mix of Pu-x isotopes. To get bomb grade you then need to separate the odd isotopes via a nuclear scale centrifuges, diffusion membranes, etc . Those machines are found next to a power plant, not in a basement shops for very good reasons. 

Leaving spent fuel in a pool for 10 or 15 years will let most of the fast decay and thus radioactively dangerous fission byproducts degrade to stable lead. Then reprocessing to extract U and Pu will reduce the waste remaining from tons to pounds. The Uranium isotope mix is like natural ore so it can be enriched but it can also be mixed with Pu to become MOX-like fuel for a slightly modified reactor.

Alternatively the Pu could fuel a government owned and tightly IEAI monitored fast neutron reactor that converts Pu to power. Although the PURX process used in Europe for reprocessing may not be the optimal one it will work until we discover a better process. That we have not found that process to date is really the criminal effect of Carter's decision. We stopped reprocessing research for 20+ years and in the world of research you never find out anything if you don't look. In the world of golf they say "No short putt ever sinks." Carter saw the possibility that a longer putt might roll off into the rough so he putted short. However, we are still on the green and the thunderstorm is approaching.
 -- Tom Barker

A GOOD MAN
Re: Ben Stein's A Smile on My Face:

Thank you, Ben Stein, for fresh hope to start the day here on our ranch in East Texas. I have been alone for a day while my husband travels on business. While alone I became fixed on thoughts of our two children serving in the military. One just returned from a war zone, another leaves shortly for his 10th tour at war. And my sadness had to do with Libya and wondering how deeply entrenched we will become in a war so quickly entered in to, and quite unsatisfactorily explained. I see friends in our small town each and every day and they seem so carefree. Why wouldn't they be, they don't worry about children leaving again for a war that should have been won years ago. Instead we drag on with this war, start another and find ourselves feeling for the children of a Daddy who they have been around less than one-half their little lives.

Your optimism and love for country remind me why our children serve, Mr. Stein. And it reminds me why our son and his wife named their first daughter, Liberty. It is a precious reminder of what we love and treasure so very much. And blessings to you for loving an old dog so much as to put up with the inconvenience of incontinence. Our oldest dog, a blind cocker spaniel, lived until 15 and she passed in her sleep recently. And her passing, the day after my father passed on, nearly broke my heart along with losing dad.

So, bright East Texas greetings to you. You would love this part of the country, too, with its pine trees, dogwoods, good hard working people and ranchers who love this land as much as you.
 -- Beverly Gunn
East Texas Rancher

Thank you for that article. Forty-two years ago, I was one of those guys in WRAMC and was the recipient of some really neat visits. Mr. Stein did a very worthwhile thing in blessing those young men with his presence and good will. Thank him for me.
 -- Paul A. Guthrie, Jr.
Eustis, Florida

I have no idea how to reach Ben Stein, but I have a solution to his dog slipping down. Please tell him to buy dog rain footies. They will give the dog the traction he needs to stay afoot.

I went through the same thing with my beloved schnauzer of 16 years and it made the last months of her life much, much more bearable.
 --
Don Daughtry
Johns Creek, GA

Dear Mr. Editor (please forgive me if you're a "she" rather than a "he"):

Please pay Ben Stein more. :o)

Smiling in Fairport, NY
 -- Jim Scott

UP FROM UNIONS
Re: RiShawn Biddle's Return of the One-Room Schoolhouse:

RiShawn Biddle is correct in calling for a 21st century approach to education. The problem is that many teachers continue to cling to their unions which support a yesteryear, industrial-style model of negotiations and do little to actually advance the profession.

Leaders in the reform effort often highlight innovations in policy that affect student achievement. What they need to know is that there is a new and innovative approach to teacher representation that supports educators without the stigmas and stifling contracts associated with labor unions known as the Association of American Educators, a national nonunion organization for professional educators.

Established in 1994, AAE is a modern day professional educators' association where educators can obtain important benefits they need like legal and liability insurance but at a fraction of the cost of unions. Further, AAE does not get involved in political campaigns or issues outside of education.

AAE calls on reformers to not only be part of the push for education innovation but advances in association representation that seeks to guide teachers into a new age in the classroom. We invite education leaders and teachers alike to join the hundreds of thousands of educators already in the nonunion educators' movement.
 -- Gary Beckner
Executive Director, Association of American Educators

THE REAL CRIME
Re Christopher Orlet's Local Hero:

Regarding the "Westboro bunch," Mr. Orlet, I don't think ignorance is their crime. Would that were so. I think they know the facts, and know full well what they do. Spewing hatred of the worst sort, and vomiting their bile all over our best, our fallen young men and women, and their bereaved families -- that is their crime. Overstepping the boundaries of decency not by inches but by light-years, and laughing and bragging all the while -- that is their crime. And doing all of that for publicity, and in the name of God -- those are crimes, too. Crimes against humanity, and all that is good in this world. So the real question, especially regarding the recent Supreme Court decision, is whether this level of vileness should be outlawed, and the answer probably is that it should not be. They should be made to keep a respectful distance from the fallen and their families, and leave the rest up to a greater power. If God is watching, there is no way He can be happy with these people.
 --
D. Reich
Auburn, NY

LET'S PLAY TWO!
Re: Aaron Goldstein's My 2011 MLB Predictions:

I hope Aaron is right!. As a long time Cub fan who's been waiting since Ernie Banks came on the scene... I hope he's right. If he's wrong it won't be too long of a wait... they seem like they have some very strong talent on the farm. So the future looks bright(er).
 --
Frank J. Baron
Glen Ellyn, IL

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