Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Bedtime Story

An Adult Nightmare: New York City will vanish in a pillar of nuclear fire within four years.

All the pieces are in place, if you choose to pay attention. The biggest hurdle was cleared by Iran just last month when they announce that Iranian scientist have succeeded in producing a “small” amount of enriched uranium. This is “THE” big step to creating a nuclear weapon. It’s not the engineering, the cost, the time, the effort, or the will. Getting the Uranium is the battle. First let get a crash course in Modern Physics 101.

Uranium is a naturally occurring element that comes in several different isotopes (flavors, if you will). Chemical they are all the same, but some have more neutrons in the center of the atoms than others. The two isotopes we are most concerned with are Uranium 235 (U-235) and Uranium 238 (U-238). For every thousand uranium atoms only seven of are U-235, so only about 0.7% of naturally occurring uranium atoms can be used for fission. Since theses two types atoms are chemical the same, you have to find a way of physical separate them. U-238 is slightly heavier than U-235. So you can separate the flavors of atom physically by weight (mass). In the past, this would take a lot of work. (It took the United State over two years scrap enough U-235 together for the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.) This is no longer the case due to a very clever scientist named Gernot Zippe. He came up with the bright idea to take Uranium and convert it into a gaseous from, Uranium Hexafluoride, then sort the uranium by weight. This is what a gas centrifuge does. By spinning the uranium gas, the lighter U-235 can be separated from it’s non-fissionable sister U-238. The act of concentrating fissionable nuclear material is called enrichment.

Most light water reactor require 5% of the uranium in a fuel pellet to be U-235, that is called enriched uranium. There are some other types of reactors that need the concentration of Uranium 235 to be as high as 20 percent and weapons grade uranium is 90 percent U-235. Gathering the material is the hard part, building a atomic weapon is trivial, especially if you don’t have to put it in a plane or in the nose cone of a missile.

The simplest atomic weapon is a gun type bomb, sillier to the device use at the end of the Second World War. Basically, you take two large pieces of Uranium 235 and smash them together. One piece is the target. The other piece is the “bullet”. You can smash the “bullet” into the target by using high explosives. What makes this design so dangerous is how simple it is. The whole weapon would fit very nicely into a standard shipping container. Even if you completely mess up the design the explosives will scatter the uranium all over the place contaminating hundreds of square city blocks. If the device works the death toll could be in the hundred of thousands if not millions.

I’m not saying Iran, Iraq, or any other nation would be stupid enough to destroy a major city. However, having a less than stable nation producing large quantities of uranium 235 without very tight regulation and safe guards would be a very bad idea.

Building a weapon is no problem. Getting it in a shipping container is just a matter of bribing a bored, greedy longshoreman. Just tell him it x-rated DVD’s and he’ll let it right through. Just take the example of the Chinese foreign nationals who smuggled themselves into Seattle. This certainly put a new spin on a foreign company trying to get a contract to run some of the United States largest shipping ports.

Maybe I’m just paranoid.

One thing I forgot to mention is how useful Uranium 238 can be. Normally, U-238 is not fissionable. However, that does not make it worthless. A quick look at any periodic table will tell you that all the elements listed after Uranium are artificial, in other words there are created in a breeder reactor or particle accelerator. These transuranium elements all start with a base of Uranium. By bombarding a target Uranium atom with neutrons or alpha particles you make the all the elements heavier than Uranium. All of theses elements are highly radioactive and some or so unstable they only exist for fractions of a second before decaying into something more stable. However, there are some useful products gained from this process. The most useful of theses transuranic element is fissionable Plutonium. A breeder reactor converts Uranium (or Thorium) into Plutonium. Plutonium can be used in reactors for power, or for making nuclear weapons. (Aside: The second atomic weapon used by the United States in World War II was a plutonium device, the infamous “Fat Man”.) What makes Uranium-238 so useful is the fact it can be used in a breeder reactor to make Plutonium.

Have a nice day. Please continue consuming the caffeinated beverage of your choice.

Environmental Sciecne: Cool Business in Japan

Japan has found a way to dramatically cut their Carbon Dioxide greenhouse gas emissions. They have turn off the air conditioning in the workplace and encouraged their workers to dress down, giving up the "salaryman" business suit.

Read and listen the the NPR story

Japan Trades in Suits, Cuts Carbon Emissions

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Environmental Sciecne: Could you live as a Freegan?

From Wikipedia

Freeganism is an anticonsumerism lifestyle where people employ alternative strategies for living based on "limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. Freegans embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed." The lifestyle involves salvaging discarded, unspoiled food from supermarket dumpsters that have passed their expiration date, but are still edible and nutritious. They salvage the food not because they are poor or homeless, but as a political statement.

Many freegans get free food by pulling it out of the trash, a practice commonly nicknamed dumpster diving in North America or skipping in the UK. Freegans find food in the garbage of restaurants, grocery stores, and other food-related industries, and this allows them to avoid spending money on products that they claim exploit the world's resources, contribute to urban sprawl, treat workers unfairly, or disregard animal rights. By foraging, they believe that they are preventing edible food from adding to landfills and sometimes feed people and animals who might otherwise go hungry.

Instead of buying industrially grown foods, wild foragers find and harvest food and medicinal plants growing in their own communities. Some freegans participate in "Guerrilla" or "Community" Gardens, with the stated aim of rebuilding community and reclaiming the capacity to grow one's own food. They claim to seek an alternative to dependence and participation in what they perceive as an exploitative and ecologically destructive system of global, industrialized corporate food production.

Articles on Freegans

Freegan Ride: One month as a Freegan

Diving for Dinner

Not Buying It

Freegan Links


Feeding the hungry

Second Harvest

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Environmental Science: China's Population

What is the current population of China? Check out the China Population Clock!

What about India? India's Population clock

Environmental Sciecne: Sustainability

Consumer Consequences - Are you living a sustainable life? (Play the Game)

What would the Earth be like if everyone lived like you. Depending on your choices how many Earths would it take to sustain your lifestyle.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Here is the PDF (adobe Acrobat) File Why Do Humans have Sex?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Mutations and Four Leaf Clovers

It turns out 1 clover in 10,000 is a Four-Leaf Clover. This is sometimes called a somatic mutation, a mutation that cannot be passed on to it's descendants. Whether this mutations is from radiation or environment is still debated today.

Other Mutations of Notes

Extra Nipples
Extra Fingers
Sickle Cell
Cystic Fibrosis

Kobe Beef

So what make Kobe Beef so expensive? Maybe it's all that beer the Japanese feed the cow or maybe it's that daily massage?

Kobe Beef: Prime stock gets beer and massage

NIKON Small World Competitions

Hey! Look it's a mouse Colon! Winners for the 2007 Nikon Small World Competition will soon be announced!
2005 Nikon Small World Winners

2006 Nikon Small World Winners

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Environmental Science: Eating the Land

Depending on what the cow eat the taste of the cheese can vary a great deal. The changing climate around the worlds has altered many of the plants farm animals graze upon. Their changing diet alter the taste of the milk they give and the meat of the animals themselves.

Listen to the NPR story: Cheesemakers Taste a Change in the Weather.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Good Bye Baiji Dolphin

Once again another species has been kicked off the planet. The Baiji Dolphin of China has fallen prey to habitat extinction in the Yangtze River. Damming and overfishing of the river has ruined the once pristine river, thus destroying the only home the dolphin has.

Requiem for a Freshwater Dolphin

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Coal Mining

Current state Mining in the World form Wikipedia

Mining Accident

Comparing Mining in the U.S. , China and the world.

Listen to the NPR news item

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Gliese 581c

Scientist have found the most Earth-like planet to date.

Gliese 581 c

This is an artist rendition of Gliese 581 c taken from Astronomy Picture of the Day.