Leap Wednesday

February 29, 2012

Good Wednesday and Happy Leap Day. Nice clear day here, but cooler at -10. A breeze blew much of yesterday, demonstrating wind chill very effectively.

Interesting Frontline program last night on the near meltdown of the Japanese nuclear reactors following the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Much of what went wrong was things the designers thought were “unlikely to happen.” Located just a few football field lengths from the sea, engineers put the backup generators in the basement. Knowing that spent fuel rods are highly radioactive, engineers put them on top of the operating units, so if the latter exploded, the former went up into the air with them (Westinghouse contributed that design gem). The reactor chambers had pressure relief valves, but they were electrically operated. Engineers working in the dark with radiation levels climbing had to study blueprints with flashlights to figure out how to open the valves manually. The control panel did not work without electricity, so engineers had to gather a bunch of car batteries and jerry-rig them to power the gauges so they could take temperature and pressure readings, which terrified them. Finally, to cool the reactors local fire departments ran fire hose from the ocean to the reactors and pumped water from a hook and ladder type water cannon. They prevented a meltdown and nuclear explosion, but the reactor site and everything within a radius of ten miles or more was contaminated with radioactive fallout. Best of all, one of these reactors is coming to your neighborhood soon, as fossil fuels run low and carbon emissions force a change of technology.

Local news features a beagle and an ice sculpture of a fish. Presidential hopeful Ron Paul will be here Sunday. Will be interesting to see if local libertarians like him or if it is just the college kids. His call for a greatly reduced US military presence around the world does not please the so-called “vulcans” in the party who cheered on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and now want one in Iran because it is “a threat to US national security.” Here is a map showing US bases in the Middle East (the stars) near Iran (blue country in middle):

Map courtesy Democratic Underground 2005/Juan Cole 2012

All those stars cost major US money.

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