Friday, June 17, 2011

Today's Nuclear Misinformation

Or disinformation? Maybe.

There's a video floating around the internets that claims it's showing a fire, Cherenkov radiation, Godzilla (okay, not Godzilla), and other horrors in the spent fuel pool at Fukushima's reactor number 4. It's actually steam and fog in the plant exterior lighting.

Let me count the ways to debunk this. 1) Look at the time stamp. It's rolling pretty fast, which might cause the video to look different. 2) Steam and fog have a different look than smoke. Steam and fog are wispy and kind of uniform, whereas smoke would have a more rounded look. 3) If the fuel pool were on fire, the radiation readings would be going up, and there would be a lot more isotopes detected. 4) Arne Gundersen and others have claimed this before. Recent drone flyovers have shown the fuel pools to be intact and with water covering the fuel, although with some building debris in them. (added later) 5) How anyone can discern Cherenkov radiation on a black-and-white video is quite beyond me.

I'm wondering how many times people can be wrong before other people stop believing them. I guess there's a significant population out there expecting the Rapture to come on October 21, though. Just being wrong doesn't matter if you're a prophet.

Then there's the Fort Calhoun reactor, now dealing with a flooding Missouri River in Nebraska. A power outage, oh noes! And now a no-fly zone! Can you say Fukushima? Chernobyl?

Here are a few more level-headed evaluations of the situation, from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Omaha World-Herald, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Now, the entire flood hasn't played out yet, and we don't know what will happen, pace those who know we're all going to die! But my prediction is that Fort Calhoun will weather this storm. If that happens, I'm hoping that the doomsayers will admit they were wrong. But we do still have those Rapturists preparing for October 21.

Just for good measure, let's have some misinformation about Iran's nuclear program. Jeremy Bernstein has now embarrassed himself with two posts claiming that Iran is unquestionably bound and determined to build a bomb, in fact is in the process of doing just that. One might also think that the New York Review of Books would be embarrassed by Bernstein's fast and loose play with facts, but apparently not.

I thought about posting something when the first of his posts appeared, but got busy and figured I can't correct everyone who's wrong on the internet. My main objection to Bernstein's posts is that he takes some questions that the IAEA has had about the Iranian program and turns them into facts. For example, from the first post:
The inspectors found out that in addition to the centrifuges—of which new and more sophisticated types are being employed—the Iranians are now using laser technology to separate uranium.
IIRC, the IAEA found some evidence of some experiments in laser isotope separation. This is different from "now using laser technology to separate uranium." Or maybe not, if you're worrying about six or eight atoms. If Iran has indeed built a plant with significant throughput, that would be very impressive, since they would be the first.

From the second:
Without notifying the IAEA, which is responsible for supervising the reactor, the Iranians were extracting small amounts of plutonium from it. It is not that these small amounts can be used in weapons, but the methods used in the extraction can be scaled to extract plutonium from reactors such as the Arak reactor in central Iran which can produce enough plutonium to make two nuclear weapons per year once it goes critical. Since this reactor has not been inspected often it is difficult to say when this may happen. One date that is given is 2013. In addition the Iranians were clandestinely making Polonium 210 which is used in the so-called “initiator”—the device that initiates the explosive chain reaction of neutrons in a nuclear weapon. Again it is not the amount that matters, rather it is the clandestine study of the technology.
But it is, again, the amount that matters if the Iranians are headed for a bomb in the next year or so, as Bernstein claims. Note in this quote how hypothetical (which I've bolded) is piled on hypothetical. All of which are based on a further hypothetical, the assumption that Iran is undoubtedly seeking a bomb.

What Bernstein is doing is, of course, begging the question, in the proper but uncommon use of that phrase.

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