Hoaxsters frustrated: Alert called off at Nebraska nuclear power plant

July 15, 2011

Sometimes time and events just catch up to the hoaxsters.

In Nebraska, on Wednesday July 14, the Cooper nuclear generating station of the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) ended it’s “notification of unusual event” as floodwaters of the Missouri River retreated from the site.

Walkways for flood at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station, 2011

Publicity photo from Omaha Public Power District

According to the Associate Press report, the alert for the nuclear power plant at Fort Calhoun remains in effect.  Fort Calhoun is upriver from Cooper, and lower in elevation in relation to the Missouri River.  Fort Calhoun also was offline and in cold shutdown when the alert was posted, because it had been in a refueling operation.  Fort Calhoun is operated by Omaha Public Power district (OPPD).

NRC Chairman tours Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station

Publicity photo from OPPD

No damage was done to the reactor at either site.  Operations continued at Cooper.

Rumors of a serious incident aroused conspiracy nuts when a hoax report out of Pakistan claimed the Russian nuclear agency had said the Fort Calhoun plant was in meltdown.

NRC chair tours Fort Calhoun NGS in Nebraska, 2011

No meltdown. Photo from OPPD

How with the hoaxsters spin it now?

More, resources:

Earlier at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:


Hoaxed Nebraska nuclear plant crisis update

June 24, 2011

Help me out, Dear Reader:  Here is the English language site of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (FAEE), the press site.  Can you find any statement at this site relating to the power plants in Nebraska along the flooding Missouri River?

Fires in Japan after tsunami -- not a nuclear power station

What some reports appear to paint as the Nebraska nuclear generating stations (However, please note: In this photo, no nuclear power plants appear)

Cooper nuclear generation station in 1993 floods

What you really see: Cooper Nuclear Generating Station in Nebraska -- still there (from a 1993 photo)

I have found no mention of any U.S. incident.   This suggests the Pakistani news report of a Russian agency report of disaster is hoax, too.

Claims of a crisis in Nebraska are hoaxes,  I think.  The Russian agency from which the report is claimed to have come, does not show such a report.

This is more evidence that the whole flap is a hoax.

True to form, several birther and other conspiracy paranoiac sites claim that these plants in Nebraska are gone, in flames, or leaking water that nearly glows.

Can’t Sarah Palin point her bus to Nebraska and let her press entourage get the real story?


Nuclear power plant incident in Nebraska?

June 19, 2011

A Pakistani newspaper, The Nation, should not be confused with the U.S. magazine of the same name, as I originally did.

Late Friday The Nation questioned an alleged news blackout around an incident at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant outside of Omaha, Nebraska:

A shocking report prepared by Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency (FAAE) on information provided to them by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) states that the Obama regime has ordered a “total and complete” news blackout relating to any information regarding the near catastrophic meltdown of the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant located in Nebraska.

According to this report, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant suffered a “catastrophic loss of cooling” to one of its idle spent fuel rod pools on 7 June after this plant was deluged with water caused by the historic flooding of the Missouri River which resulted in a fire causing the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) to issue a “no-fly ban” over the area.

Located about 20 minutes outside downtown Omaha, the largest city in Nebraska, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant is owned by Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) who on their website denies their plant is at a “Level 4” emergency by stating: “This terminology is not accurate, and is not how emergencies at nuclear power plants are classified.”

So, we have some questions to deal with:

  1. Is there a serious incident at the Fort Calhoun facility?
  2. Has anyone ordered a news blackout, and if so, why?
  3. Is it likely that a Pakistani newspaper relying on Russian sources can better report on a nuclear power plant in Nebraska than, say, the local Omaha newspaper?

As much as we might like to give The Nation a chance at being accurate, how likely is it that a U.S. president could order a complete revocation of emergency safety plans for a nuclear facility, when, by law and regulation, those plans are designed to protect the public?  The story smells bad from the start, just on government processes in the U.S.

The Nation, Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, nuclear power plant

This is the photograph used by The Nation to illustrate its online article claiming a meltdown at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power station in Nebraska. It shows a flooded nuclear power station, Fort Calhoun we might assume. Is it? Does the photograph show any problem besides the flooding?

The Russian report is too strong, probably.  First, there’s no news blackout, as evidenced by local reporting.  Second, our American “be-too-conservative-by-a-factor-of-ten” safety standards make piffles sound like major problems.  The story’s being filtered through a Pakistani newspaper should give us further pause in taking things at face value.

According to the local Nebraska newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald, the Fort Calhoun facility powered down on April 9 for refueling.  Because of the pending floods, it was not yet refired up.  A powered-down reactor is unlikely to melt down.

O W-H, Nebraska’s largest and most venerated newspaper, reports on a second problem at a second nuclear plant.  Reports on the second “incident” give a clear view into just how careful U.S. plants are usually operated:

Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville, Neb., declared a “Notification of Unusual Event” about 4 a.m. Sunday when the Missouri River there reached a height of 42.5 feet.

The declaration, which has been anticipated by the power plant’s operators, was made as part of safety and emergency preparedness plan the station follows when flooding conditions are in effect.

The plan’s procedures dictate when the Missouri River’s water level reaches 42.5 feet, or greater than 899 feet above sea level, a notification of unusual event is declared. If the river’s level increases to 45.5 feet or 902 feet above sea level, plant operators are instructed take the station offline as a safety measure.

An earlier story at the O W-H dealt specifically with issues at Fort Calhoun, and the flooding — again suggesting there is little danger from that facility.

FORT CALHOUN, Neb. — Despite the stunning sight of the Fort Calhoun nuclear reactor surrounded by water and the weeks of flooding that lie ahead, the plant is in a safe cold shutdown and can remain so indefinitely, the reactor’s owners and federal regulators say.

“We think they’ve taken adequate steps to protect the plant and to assure continued safety,” Victor Dricks, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Thursday.

Tim Burke, vice president at Omaha Public Power District, said the plant’s flood barriers are being built to a level that will protect against rain and the release of record amounts of water from upstream dams on the Missouri River.

“We don’t see any concerns around the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station,” Burke said at a briefing in Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle’s office.

The nuclear plant, 20 miles north of Omaha, was shut down April 9 for refueling. It has not been restarted because of the imminent flooding.

Who do we believe, a Russian report issued more than 6,000 miles from Nebraska, reported in a newspaper in Pakistan, or the local reporters on the beat?

Fort Calhoun nuclear generating plant, flooded by the Missouri River, on June 17, 2011 - Photo by Matt Miller, Omaha  World-Herald

Photo caption from the Omaha World-Herald: "The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station from the air Thursday. OPPD was putting the finishing touches on federally ordered flood-defense improvements before flooding began. MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD"

More, other resources:

UPDATE, June 20, 2011:  Let’s call it a hoax

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to call the claims of a serious accident, emergency and potential disaster at the Fort Calhoun site, a hoax.  The Russian report — if it exists — may not have been intended as a hoax, but coupled with filtering through the credulous and gullible foreign press (we’re looking at you, Pakistan’s The Nation), it has risen to hoax level, to be debunked.  Sure, you should be concerned about safety and security at Fort Calhoun and Cooper — but you should be concerned about safety and security at every nuclear power plant around the world, all the time.  This may be a good time for you to reread John McPhee’s brilliant Curve of Binding Energy.  It’s dated — Ted Taylor died October 28, 2004  (was his autobiography ever published?) — but still accurate and informative, plus, any excuse to read any work of McPhee is a great one.


What’s the radiation level right now?

March 19, 2011

Concerned about radiation from Japan?

It’s highly improbable that dangerous levels of radiation would drift more than a few miles from the damaged nuclear power plants in Japan, but maybe seeing some actual readings might convince people there’s not much to worry about — other than our sympathy for Japan, the Japanese people and especially those workers who have stayed on the site of the power plant to work to secure the reactors so they do not become hazards to the population at large.  Those workers may be exposed to significant, harmful radiation, and they deserve all the thanks you can give them.

Below is a map of the contiguous 48 states of the U.S., showing live readings from about a dozen sampling sites across the nation.  The map should update about every minute (if it doesn’t, and  you want to see updates, click through to the Radiation Network site).

Normal background levels are about 25 to 75; a low-level warning might be given if readings are sustained at 100.  These numbers are Counts Per Minute (CPM), a very crude measure from a Geiger counter showing how many radioactive particles or rays hit the sensor in a minute.  It does not distinguish alpha, beta or gamma, and it may be dependent on the design of the Geiger counter, especially the size of the sensor — differently designed machines give different readings even right next to each other.

So it’s a crude count, but it’s a map of counts.

Radiation Network map of radiation in the U.S.  Read legend, use with caution

Radiation Network map of radiation in the U.S. Read legend, use with caution. Click map to go to Radiation Network site.

Here is legend information for the map:

Legend for Radiation Network map

Sampling station symbols, Radiation Network

Nuclear site, calculated by the Radiation Network

At left is a symbol used on the map to mark “nuclear sites” by the Radiation Network.  Note that a nuclear “site” is not necessarily a nuclear power station.  For example, there are nuclear sites designated near Moab, Utah; there are a couple of ore refining facilities or tailing ponds there, but no nuclear power station.  The map shows a nuclear site in the Texas Panhandle.  There is no nuclear power station there.

Instructions on how to read the map, from RadNet:

How to Read the Map:

Referring to the Map Legend at the bottom left corner of the map, locate Monitoring Stations around the country that are contributing radiation data to this map as you read this, and watch the numbers on those monitoring stations update as frequently as every minute (your browser will automatically refresh).  The numbers represent radiation Counts per Minute, abbreviated CPM, and under normal conditions, quantify the level of background radiation, i.e. environmental radiation from outer space as well as from the earth’s crust and air.  Depending on your location within the US, your elevation or altitude, and your model of Geiger counter, this background radiation level might average anywhere from 5 to 60 CPM, and while background radiation levels are random, it would be unusual for those levels to exceed 100 CPM.  Thus, the “Alert Level” for the National Radiation Map is 100 CPM, so if you see any Monitoring Stations with CPM value above 100, further indicated by an Alert symbol over those stations, it probably means that some radioactive source above and beyond background radiation is responsible.

Notice the Time and Date Stamp at the bottom center of the Map.  That is Arizona Time, from where we service the Network, and your indication of how recently the Radiation Levels have been updated to the Map.

(Please note: Any White circles on the map represent Monitoring Stations that are running Simulations, instead of using a real Geiger counter, so any Alert levels that may occur over those stations are to be ignored since they represent only momentary testing.)

Remember, “alert level” is sustained count above 100. But again, be alert that this is only counts per minute, and may be difficult to translate to an accurate radiation reading.

The Radiation Network is an all volunteer operation, no government funding or other involvement.  In fact, the network is seeking volunteers to get a Geiger counter and hook it up to the internet to provide even more real-time readings.  See “How to Participate in the Nationwide Radiation Network.”

If you’re a denier of global warming/climate change, you should use your usual denial tool, claiming that because radiation at background levels is “normal,” no level of radiation can be harmful.  In fact, if you’d make that claim and volunteer to go staff the crews trying to cool the reactors, the entire world would salute you.

Should you be concerned? MIT’s Technology Review explains that the levels of radiation at the plant site itself are quite low, though higher than normal (article by Courtney Humphries).  The article also explains that radiation levels rapidly drop the farther from the plant one is; while we may be able to detect increases in radiation attributable to the radiation from Fukushima site, it is highly unlikely that radiation will exceed safety standards:

In terms of potential health dangers from radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, “the people who are in the most immediate danger from acute and severe radiation doses are those people who are on site at the moment and who are desperately trying to keep the reactors under control,” says Jacqueline Williams, a radiation oncologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Moving away from the immediate vicinity of the plant, radiation levels drop very rapidly. James Thrall, radiologist-in-chief at Massachusetts General Hospital, says that radiation levels are inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source: The level at two miles from the source are one-quarter what they are at one mile, and “at 10 miles away, it’s almost an infinitesimal fraction,” he says. Individual exposure also varies widely depending on whether a person is outside or indoors, or shielded with protective clothing. Japanese authorities have evacuated the population living within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant, and have warned those living within 30 kilometers to stay indoors. Some experts say that people living beyond this range have no cause for concern at this time. “This has nothing to do with the general population,” McBride says.

The trickier question is whether lower doses of radiation—well below the threshold of acute illness—could lead to long-term health consequences for those in that area. Thrall says that epidemiological studies on survivors of nuclear attacks on Japan have found that those receiving 50 millisieverts or more had a slightly elevated cancer risk—about 5 percent higher than expected—and that risk seemed to rise with higher exposures. But scientists still vigorously debate whether that risk can be extrapolated down to even lower exposures.

After the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, the population experienced a surge in thyroid cancers in children. However, scientists found that the culprit was not radiation in the air but radioactive contamination of the ground, which eventually found its way into cow’s milk. Thrall points out that in Japan, this is highly unlikely because the authorities are carefully monitoring the water and food supplies and keeping the public informed, which did not happen at Chernobyl.

More, resources:


Moab’s uranium tailings, still “going to be moved”

June 8, 2009

Has this news story changed at all in the last 30 years?

You may remember last March when last the Bathtub visited the issue of uranium tailings near Moab, Utah — “soon” to be moved in a multi-million dollar project.

Still pending — but with more money! At this rate, by 2050, this project will have enough money to buy Utah and force all the residents out.  Then the tailings may not need so urgently to be moved.

(Actually, if you read the article at Planetsave, it says the tailings are being moved.  Good news.)

Cool picture, though:

Caption from Planetsave:  Desert spreads endlessly beyond the horizon, where crystalline azure meets rusted bronze. This is red rock country. Moab, Utah is known for its breathtaking scenery. Red rock arches, labyrinth-like canyons, the clever Colorado River. This paradise permeates the soul and the soil.  But something else sleeps in the soil: uranium tailings.

Caption from Planetsave: Desert spreads endlessly beyond the horizon, where crystalline azure meets rusted bronze. This is red rock country. Moab, Utah is known for its breathtaking scenery. Red rock arches, labyrinth-like canyons, the clever Colorado River. This paradise permeates the soul and the soil. But something else sleeps in the soil: uranium tailings.


Cuba treats Chernobyl victims

April 7, 2009

Here’s a very odd news item.  It’s odd because, first, the disaster at Chernobyl is widely dismissed, and certainly out of the news, so it’s unusual to see any news item that suggests it remains a big problem, or that hints at what a big problem it was (especially from a nominally communist view); and second, who would have predicted Cuba would play a role at all?

I found this at a blog dedicated to news from and about Cuba, Nacho’s Blog/El Blog de Nacho.  I’m guessing “acn” is a Cuban news agency:

(acn) - Havana – Over 20,000 children suffering from different diseases have been seen in Cuba as part of the Cuban Medical Program for Children of Chernobyl, marking last Wednesday the 19th anniversary of its creation. The plan began in 1990, when children and their relatives began to arrive en masse from Russia, the Ukraine, Byelorussia, Moldavia and Armenia to the former Pioneer Children’s Camp in Tarará, east of this city. Dr. Julio Medina, coordinator of the Program, explained that from 700 to 800 children arrive in Cuba annually to be treated by multidisciplinary teams of Cuban specialists. So far, patients with blood diseases have been treated, especially with different variants of leukemia; bone marrow and kidney transplants have been done, as well as cardiovascular surgery due to congenital malformations.

Ukrainian Dr. Nadiezhda Guerazimenko, coordinator of the Program in that country, highlighted the professionalism of Cuban doctors. She added that the best example of this statement lies in the high figure of patients who have returned to their respective countries cured of their ailments. The Program has a significant impact in the health and recovery of children and their families. In its almost two decades of existence, it has treated more than 16,000 Ukrainians, almost 3,000 Russians, and 671 Byelorussians. Some 40,000 people died immediately and millions were contaminated as a result of the nuclear disaster on April 26, 1986, which at first hit the Ukraine, and then extended to Russia, Belarus and different parts of Europe and Asia. The event caused several types of diseases, like leukemia, tumors, heart malformations, kidney problems, psoriasis, vitiligo and alopecia. Many of the children and youngsters seen today in Cuba weren’t even born when the disaster occurred. However, their parents were affected by the radiation.

______________

Yes, it turns out “acn” is the Cuban News Agency.


Olla podrida, end of spring break 2009

March 23, 2009

A lot of stuff to catch up on, and no time to do it.


News from the energy boom-before-last

March 10, 2009

Excited about the prospects of nuclear power as an alternative to burning fossil fuels?

Comes this story from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Officials are shooting for an April 20 starting date for the long-awaited cleanup of the Moab, Utah, mill-tailings pile.

U.S. Energy Department officials last week opened a 3,800-foot section of rail track they will use as a staging area for shipments of mill tailings from the pile to a disposal site to the north, near Crescent Junction.

A gantry crane capable of lifting 50 tons will pluck tailings-laden containers from trucks and place them on railroad cars on a ledge above the pile, which sits near the entrance to Arches National Park.

Why is this relevant to anything?

This tailings pile has been targeted for cleanup for at least 30 years.  The story doesn’t say precisely, calling it “cold war” — it is partly a remnant of the uranium boom of the 1950s.  It may date back to the 1940s.

And, according to the story:

The Energy Department has a 2028 target date for completion of work moving the pile. The cost is estimated to run as high as $698 million.

2028? Ten years of usefulness for the mine, another 60 years to clean it up. Some boom.  Some bust.

You load 16 million tons [of radioactive and poisonous tailings], and what do you get?  A site cleaner in Moab from uranium milled a half-century ago, and a warning to those who push nuclear power for the future damn-the-cost.  There are costs.

Step carefully.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Utah Policy Daily.


Wits, not bombs: North Korea, U.S.S. Pueblo, continued

February 16, 2009

Is it time?  Is there any chance we could bring the Pueblo home?

Regular readers here probably know of my admiration for the resistance put up against North Korea (NPRK) by the captive crew of the U.S.S. Pueblo during their 11 months’ imprisonment in 1968.

In a recent comment to a post I did back in 2006, a reader named Bob Liskey offered an interesting, and rational way by which NPRK could demonstrate lasting good faith in negotiations with the U.S., especially over the state of their energy generation and nuclear weapons production:

We made every effort to avoid the catastrophe of a second Korean War and the use of nuclear weapons such a war. Much better and saner than a RAMBO approach.

At this point in time, I would like to see the OBAMA administration suggest to NK that if they really want to improve and normalize relations with the USA then they ought to return the USS PUEBLO as a clear intent to improve and normalize relations. I would like to see the USS PUEBLO returned to the USA and docked at SAN DIEGO as a memorial to the crew and DUAYNE HODGES and those who undertake secret and dangerous missions on behalf of the USA.

Mr. Liskey offered several other chunks of history of the incidents in 1968 you may want to read, including just how close we were to the brink of using nuclear weapons to retaliate against NPRK, an issue that is not much discussed elsewhere, I think.  Interesting reading.

What’s Bill Richardson doing this week?  Since he’s not on track to be Secretary of Commerce, maybe we could borrow him to establish a pillar of world peace in North Korea, instead?

Mr. President?  Sec. Clinton?  Do you ever drop down into the Bathtub?  What about Bob Liskey’s suggestion?


What should our representatives do?

November 24, 2008

John Florez, writing in Utah’s Deseret News:

It would be even more refreshing to have elected leaders openly declare conflicts of interest without having to be caught or hounded into doing so. Even better would be if they quickly recused themselves where conflicts exist — just because it’s the right thing to do.

It is encouraging to see much of the talk before the state pre-legislative -session talk has included ethics reform and enforcement. That government officials know the public is watching them closely is a gentle and persistent reminder that ethics isn’t going away once the election ended.

Keeping the people’s trust is vital, and that means keeping one’s word. It has been amazing to see the way the administration and Legislature can work together in rapid fashion when they want to accomplish things that a majority of the voters did not want, i.e. soccer stadiums, foreign nuclear waste, vouchers, school district splits, to name a few. If they can do it so quickly for the things we don’t want, they most certainly can work quickly together for the things we do want.


Atomic history, nuclear future

October 19, 2008

We’re going to see more nuclear power plants in the U.S., it’s a safe bet.  Both presidential candidates support developing alternatives to oil and coal.  Nuclear power is one of the alternatives.

John McCain kept repeating his comfort words, that ‘storage of wastes is not a problem.’ There is not a lot of evidence to support his claims.  With turmoil in financial markets, however, the nuclear power issue has gotten very little serious attention or scrutiny.  From the push to get compensation for radiation victims of atomic weapons and development in the U.S., I learned that the issue is not really whether wastes and other materials can be safely used and wastes stored. The issues are entirely issues of will.

Advantage to Obama, I think.  He’s not claiming that the storage problems are all solved.  A clear recognition of reality is good to have in a president.

Son Kenny sent a link to a history site, Damn Interesting, and it tells the story of the Techa River in the old Soviet Union — a place condemned for generations by the nuclear excesses of the past.

To make the story briefer, in their rush to produce nuclear weapons, the Soviets did nothing to protect Russia from radioactive waste products until it was much too late.  Efforts to reduce radioactive emissions, by storing them in huge underwater containers, resulted in massive explosions that released more radiation than Chernobyl (What?  You hadn’t heard of that, either?).

It’s a reminder that safety and security with peaceful uses of nuclear power depend on humans doing their part, and thinking through the problems before they arise.

Can we deal with radioactive wastes?  We probably have the technology.  Do we have the will? Ask yourself:  How many years has the U.S. studied Yuccan Mountain to make a case to convince Nevadans to handle the waste?  How many more decades will it take?

How is our history of dealing with nuclear contamination issues?  Not good.

Last spring SMU’s history department sponsored a colloquium on a power generation in the southwest, specifically with regard to coal and uranium mining on the Navajo Reservation.   We’ve been there before.

One of the photos used in one of the lectures, by Colleen O’Neill of Utah State, showed two Navajo miners outside a uranium mine during a previous uranium boom.  Neither one had a lick of protective equipment.  Underground uranium mining exposes miners to heave concentrations of radon gas, and if a miner is unprotected by breathing filters at least, there is a nearly 100% chance the miner will get fatal lung cancers.

Of the 150 Navajo uranium miners who worked at the uranium mine in Shiprock, New Mexico until 1970, 133 died of lung cancer or various forms of fibrosis by 1980 ([Ali, 2003] ).

Our Senate hearings on radiation compensation, in the 1970s, produced dozens of pages of testimony that Atomic Energy Commission officials understood the dangers, but did nothing to protect Navajo miners (or other miners, either).  It is unlikely that anyone depicted in those photos is alive today.

AP Photo  (borrowed from ehponline.org)

"Mine memory - Navajo miners work the Kerr-McGee uranium mine, 7 May 1953. Today, uranium from unremediated abandoned mines contaminates nearby water supplies. image: AP Photo" (borrowed from ehponline.org) This photo is very close to the one used by Prof. O'Neill. It may have been taken at nearly the same time. If you know of any survivors from this photo, please advise.

At a refining facility on the Navajo Reservation, highly radioactive wastewater was stored behind an inadequate earthen dam.  The dam broke, and the wastes flowed through a town and into local rivers.  Contamination was extensive.

Attempts to collect for the injuries to Navajo miners and their families were thrown out of court in 1980, on the grounds that the injuries were covered under workers compensation rules (where injury compensation was also denied, generally).

Navajos organized to protest the power plant. One wonders whether they can win it.

Sen. McCain seems cock sure that radioactive wastes won’t kill thousands of Americans in the future as they have in the past.  The uranium mining and uranium tailings issues occurred in Arizona, the state McCain represents.  Does he know?

We regard ourselves in the U.S. as generally morally superior to “those godless communists.”  Can we demonstrate moral superiority with regard to development of peacetime nuclear power, taking rational steps to protect citizens and others, and rationally, quickly and fairly compensating anyone who is injured?

That hasn’t happened yet.

When [uranium] mining [on the Navajo Reservation] ceased in the late 1970′s, mining companies walked away from the mines without sealing the tunnel openings, filling the gaping pits, sometimes hundreds of feet deep, or removing the piles of radioactive uranium ore and mine waste. Over 1,000 of these unsealed tunnels, unsealed pits and radioactive waste piles still remain on the Navajo reservation today, with Navajo families living within a hundred feet of the mine sites. The Navajo graze their livestock here, and have used radioactive mine tailings to build their homes. Navajo children play in the mines, and uranium mine tailings have turned up in school playgrounds (103rd Congress, 1994 ).

Think of the story of Techa River as a warning.

Resources:


40th anniversary: Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (and DBQ)

August 1, 2008

President Lyndon B. Johnson looks on as U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk prepares to join foreign ministers from more than 50 other nations in signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, July 1, 1968.  Photo courtesy the LBJ Library, Austin, Texas.

President Lyndon B. Johnson looks on as U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk prepares to join foreign ministers from more than 50 other nations in signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, July 1, 1968. Photo from the LBJ Presidential Library, Austin, Texas, via the Nuclear Archive.

Another missed anniversary — but a found archive of original documents on a key issue of our time which has flared up into worldwide controversy in the past year: On July 1, 1968, nations that had nuclear weapons and nations capable of making such weapons — more than 50 nations total — joined in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) designed to discourage anyone else from getting “the bomb.” In the past 40 years, few other arms treaties, or any treaties, have worked so well, reducing by two-thirds the potential growth of “the Nuclear Club.”

The National Security Archives at George Washington University (one of my alma maters) assembled a solid history as a press release, featuring links to 34 documents important to the NNPT. For AP world history and U.S. history, and pre-AP courses, and maybe for AP government, these documents form an almost ready-made Documents-Based Question (DBQ).

The Scout Report explains it well:

13. The Nuclear Vault: 40th Anniversary of the Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb253/index.htm

Signed into law on July 1, 1968, the historic Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was a major step towards creating a world that had the potential to be a bit safer from the threat of nuclear annihilation. This particular collection of documents related to the NPT was brought together through the diligence of staff members at the Archive’s Nuclear Documentation Project and released to the public in July 2008. The site starts off with a narrative essay which describes the backdrop to the signing of the NPT in 1968, along with offering a bit of additional context about the international political climate at the time. The site’s real gems are the 34 documents which include State Department cables, internal planning documents, and other items that reveal the nature of the political machinations involved with this process. [KMG]

Nuclear Archive does a good job itself — eminently readable, suitable for high school and maybe junior high:

Near the end of the protracted negotiations that produced the historic Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) 40 years ago, U.S. government officials warned that countries could legally reach “nuclear pregnancy” under the Treaty and then withdraw and quickly acquire nukes, according to declassified U.S. government documents published on the Web today by the National Security Archive (www.nsarchive.org).

The documents detail the well-known resistance to the NPT from countries like India (“China at her back, and Pakistan lurking on the sidelines”) but also from more unusual objectors such as Australia (concerned that the Western Pacific security situation might worsen) and Italy (unhappy about the “second-class status” of non-nuclear states). The documents suggest that the current crisis in the NPT system has deep historical roots, but also that current headlines overlook the long-term achievements of the NPT regime.

During the mid-1960s, prior to the NPT, U.S. intelligence had warned that as many as 15 countries had incentives to become nuclear weapons states but after the Treaty was signed, only five additional countries have developed such weapons (Israel, India, Pakistan, South Africa, and North Korea, while South Africa has renounced them). How much of an impact the Treaty had on keeping the numbers low can be debated, but the non-nuclear standard that it set remains a central goal of the world community to this date.

This is a fantastic source for student projects, for reports, for teachers putting together presentations, for students to read on the Cold War, on 1968, on nuclear weapons, on the Johnson administration, on foreign affairs and how treaties work and are negotiated.

Powerful stuff. Go see.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Dr. Bumsted at Grassroots Research for pointing me to this site.


Atomic bomb madness: A real blast

July 23, 2008

Truly the lazy days of summer — I missed the anniversary of the Trinity Project, the first atomic bomb ever exploded, at White Sands, New Mexico, early on the morning of July 16, 1945. That was 63 years ago.

The Trinity atomic bomb test, culmination of the Manhattan Project, July 16, 1945

The Trinity atomic bomb test, culmination of the Manhattan Project, July 16, 1945

The New Mexico blast demonstrated that atomic bombs work. President Harry S Truman got the word of the successful test while attending the Potsdam Conference with Winston Churchill of England and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union.

The Potsdam Conference, July 1945 - Churchill, Stalin, and Truman at the table - Photo from the Truman

The Potsdam Conference, July 1945 - Churchill, Stalin, and Truman at the table - Photo from the Truman

Truman hoped to avoid a land invasion of Japan, which experts said would leave at least a million dead U.S. soldiers and five million dead Japanese. Truman was a soldier in World War I, who saw the trenches close up. He hoped to avoid anything similar for soldiers, and civilians. From Potsdam, Truman, Churchill and Stalin issued the Potsdam Declaration, ending with an ultimatum to Japan to surrender unconditionally or face terrible consequences.

Japan did not surrender. On August 6, 1945, the U.S. detonated the first atomic bomb used in warfare over Hiroshima, Japan, a city with large military support facilities. Within a few minutes, nearly 100,000 people were dead. When Japan failed to offer unconditional surrender even then, a second atomic device was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9. (Had Japan not surrendered then a scramble would have been on — the U.S. had materials for about four more bombs, but they were not ready to go.)

1945 launched the world into the Atomic Age, by many accounts. The existence of atomic weaponry added to tensions on the planet played out during the Cold War. The creation of thermonuclear weapons, many times as powerful as a simple atomic bomb, only added to the tension. Perhaps we should call it the Atomic Angst Age.

Does that explain the fascination with photos of atomic blasts in recent days?

Wired’s online version noted the anniversary and included a slide show of atomic milestones, featuring a few blasts.

Then this post, from a blog named Picdit — “8 Insane Nuclear Explosions” rode the top of the popularity index of WordPress for the past couple of days. I’m not sure why these photos or the events they portray deserve to be called “insane.” I’m perplexed about why they are so popular.

These events around the creation, testing and use of nuclear arsenals resonate deeply with those of us who lived through any of these times. High school students have tested poorly on these issues during the past five years, however. Many of my history students do not know the significance of the classic mushroom cloud that marks an atomic blast.

I hope the curiosity is genuine curiosity for the historic events, that this curiosity leads to understanding of the destructive power of nuclear weapons, and that those tens of thousands who clicked on those images achieved an iota of understanding. I hope.

The First Bomb at Bikini, Charles Bittinger, 1946 - Captured at the peak of formation, this painting illustrates the classic mushroom cloud shape. The pink color of the cloud is due to the oxidation of nitrogen caused by high heat and radiation from the explosion. The rapidly cooling fireball is the cause of the red glow seen deep within the cloud. The blast wave created the massive waves and steam that engulfed the target fleet at the bottom.

The First Bomb at Bikini, Charles Bittinger, 1946 - "Captured at the peak of formation, this painting illustrates the classic mushroom cloud shape. The pink color of the cloud is due to the oxidation of nitrogen caused by high heat and radiation from the explosion. The rapidly cooling fireball is the cause of the red glow seen deep within the cloud. The blast wave created the massive waves and steam that engulfed the target fleet at the bottom." From the Naval Historical Center Art Collection

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Blog for the environment: Blog Action Day, October 15

September 8, 2007

Blog Action Day, October 15: Organizers hope to have as many as 10,000 blogs writing about environmental issues and environmental action.

Blog Action Day 2007, the environment

If you blog, perhaps you could join in. If you read and comment only, feel free to urge others to join in.

It’s headed up by a bunch from downunder. U.S., Canadian and Mexican bloggers haven’t got on the bandwagon a lot, yet. As the organizers describe it:

On October 15th – Blog Action Day, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind.

In its inaugural year, Blog Action Day will be co-ordinating bloggers to tackle the issue of the environment.

What Each Blogger Will Do

Bloggers can participate on Blog Action Day in one of two ways:

  1. Publish a post on their blog which relates to an issue of their own choice pertaining to the environment.For example: A blog about money might write about how to save around the home by using environmentally friendly ideas. Similarly a blog about politics might examine what weight environmental policy holds in the political arena.Posts do not need to have any specific agenda, they simply need to relate to the larger issue in whatever way suits the blogger and readership. Our aim is not to promote one particular viewpoint, only to push the issue to the table for discussion.
  2. Commit to donating their day’s advertising earnings to an environmental charity of their choice. There is a list of “official” Blog Action Day charities on the site, however bloggers are also free to choose an alternate environmental charity to donate to if they wish.

And that’s it.

A gentle nudge to a better planet. Seems like a good idea to me.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Meeyauw.


Arco, Idaho: Stop and see the first peaceful use of atomic power

August 20, 2007

Nils Ribi is a city councilman in Sun Valley, Idaho, who blogs (public officials who blog, really, is probably a good trend).

Ribi urges that if one should find one’s self driving the highways of Idaho, one might want to stop at the nuclear reactor where electricity was first generated — the first peaceful use of atomic power in the world.

If you are driving the highway between Arco and Idaho Falls, take the time to stop and visit the EBR-1 site that is open to the general public. In 1951 it became the first power plant to produce electricity using atomic energy. It has been nicely restored as a historical site and is well worth the stop, although it is not quite like looking into an operating reactor. The kids will enjoy it too.

His blog features photos of recent forest fires in the area, some of which are starkly beautiful.

Castle Rock fire, near Sun Valley, ID - photo by Nils RibiPhoto of helicopter fighting the Castle Rock Fire near Sun Valley, Idaho, by Nils Ribi.


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