Atom Wave: December 2007

Atom Wave

Monday, December 31, 2007

Radioactive Remix

Significant paranoia still surrounds modern nuclear fission plants. The legendary failures at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl still frighten many citizens with the threat of doom and mutanthood. Despite twenty-one years elapsing since the explosion at Chernobyl, many still fear the dark beauty of the atom. The hour is later than you suspect. Investigations have revealed that potentially harmful radioactivity waits for you at your nearest coal fired power plant.
Coal as you remember is a fossil fuel formed from the oxygen starved degeneration of swamp plants. It tends to form as a sedimentary rock and acquires minute radioactivity due to the presence of uranium and thorium. Once it is burned however this radioactivity gets amplified ten times and the final product fly ash can be up to 100 times more toxic then radioactive waste.
It turns out that people living near coal plants will receive the same amount of radiation or more than if they reside next to a nuclear power plant. It is estimated that this could be up to 18 millirems above the natural background radiation of 360 millirems. Background radiation includes artificial sources such as smoke detectors and residual fallout from past nuclear tests.

Evidence over the hazards of coal ash was first uncovered in 1978 by J.P McBride of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. They measured the radioactivity of coal and its ash and used the values to estimate annual exposure for individuals living nearby.
Before you run screaming from your house, these numbers are only slightly above average. You will still have to take your chances at the hospital x-ray machine and I didn’t even mention the other toxins spewing from those smokestacks. Minors might still be at risk, so I’ll give them the head start.
The end of the debate over nuclear power remains nowhere near abating; in the meantime we still need somewhere to put the waste. Why not put it back where you mined it? I’m serious; it called Remix and Return. In this cycle you just take your waste and blend it with mining debris until it is back to its original level. Then all that is needed is to return it to the mine and you are finished.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Laser Tag No Fun Without Cylons

We all have our favorite TV shows and movies. One of my personal favorites is the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series. It is an exceedingly clever and believable story about the people of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol following its destruction by the Cylons. Being a hardcore fan, I have produced my first work of fan fiction for the series, enjoy.

By the Caprica Press Network
Published December 23, 2007

Caprica(CPN) – Local merchants are upset about the decline in laser tag memberships following the start of the cylon war. Before the cylon war: anyone could come into an arena, pay a modest fee and engage in a challenging fight with a cylon. Today they can still come in, but with the staffing shortage it is difficult to find a competent opponent.
“I used to be able to come in at anytime, plan a strike with my friends, only to be mowed down by a clever cylon”, said Matt Castle at Combat Industries.
The shortage isn’t expected to abate anytime soon. War has erupted between the twelve colonies and the cylon forces ever since the cylons claimed responsibility for the nuclear annihilation of the Picon colony. The colonial fleet has responded by launching all of its ships, but two Battlestar groups are already reported lost.
President Elliot is currently in talks with a cylon representative aboard Colonial One. The word is that they are attempting to negotiate an armistice. Progress has been reported as slow due to the cylons demand for unconditional surrender.
“Why can’t we be friends?” complained Emily Whitaker about her inability to have any fun with her friends since the cylon shortage.
Game centers aren’t the only merchants suffering from the recent cylon shortage. Malls, restaurants, and meat packers are also reporting severe labor shortages. Cylons used to serve in many of these jobs, but they were deactivated after three were caught kidnapping Caprica citizens and disposing of them at meat processing plants.
President Elliot is still promising a swift end to the war, but that remains out of sight. The Colonial fleet has yet to score a single victory against cylon forces despite heavy losses. Reports indicate that all engagements up to this point have been a draw at best.
“We are doing everything within our means to win this battle. Three Battlestars are already in refit to provide better countermeasures against cylon hacks,” said Captain William Adama, spokesman for the Colonial Fleet.
Experts remain unsure when the current war will end. The costs are already in the tens of billions with at least 30,000 crewmen dead or missing. In the meantime fans of laser tag will continue to struggle to find worthy opponents to play with.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Final Frontier

Science has been burning the deuterium at both ends this past century, with both fantastic and stagnate results. This past century alone has shown the discovery of atomic structure, the isolation of DNA, and the detection of galaxies billions of light years distant.

Despite the insomnia of so many scientists, centuries of investigation still await future generations. This is in part reasonable, research is a sequential process requiring baseline knowledge to develop into more advanced techniques. The next factor is one that not even science can control, funding.

Enjoy it or not, financing in the industry is subject to more than just merit. The forces of politics and profit have long dominated the division of cash and neither is unbiased. The ascendant motivation is always results, and with this constraint the investigations will always be limited. Merit or the perception of merit, politics, and the thirst for profit are the typical deciding factors. People only want to study the known, but it is the unknown possibilities where the next great discoveries await.

Science is a chaotic endeavor; with its long periods of inactivity followed by random unexpected discoveries. It has only been 9 years since astronomers observing distant Type 1a supernova stumbled on dark energy. Few guessed until early last century that it was conceivable for a star to collapse until its escape velocity exceeded that of light.

As with all sales pitches, beware of the fine print. Certain endeavors still don’t qualify as science. Remember Intelligent Design? The fanciful claim that an undefined deity manipulated dust until they were man and woman. It is a travesty that fails to obey the method even liberally, and really is only a religious argument thinly veiled as science. It is a deception and distraction from the real work that only intends to apply dogma to the unbelievers.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Dream Of The Micro-Nuke

The Architect has bought out Darkstar’s stock.

We all have the same dream: a wife, two kids, a nice home, and a nuclear reactor. This dream might soon be in sight for many Americans, assuming that they own 25,000 homes.

The company Hyperion Power Generation is currently attempting to patent a new self-contained fission reactor system that would be about the size of a home water heater and output about 27 megawatts of thermal energy. It gets better; the device would not even require a human operator and would take minimal assembly. The deal is that you take a critical mass of uranium hydride, enclose it in a hydrogen isotope atmosphere, and encase it in concrete. Then all that needs to be done is to truck it to the site, hook it up to a steam turbine, bury it underground and you are done.

This machine is the product of Hyperion Power Generation, a start-up of Los Alamos National Laboratory and the insight of Otis Peterson in 2003. The plan is to be building 4,000 of these machines in New Mexico by about 2012. The company claims that this device would not be a reactor, but instead a battery since it contains no moving parts.

In theory, the nuclear reaction would be self-sustaining. The critical uranium mass would output heat, neutrons, radiation, and fission products. The light atoms of the hydrogen atmosphere would dissipate the energy of the damaging neutrons and fission products while transferring the heat energy to an exchanger for the steam turbine. The final concrete case and Earth would absorb any remaining energy.

Nuclear batteries have been in existence for some time actually. The first one was launched into space in 1961 aboard a Navy Transit Satellite. Conventional nuclear batteries or Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators rely on the natural decay of Plutonium 238 instead of fission. They provide the advantage of very long lives, but are not very efficient. They have only been used on satellites and remote unmanned outposts.

It still remains to be seen if these machines will ever be used commercially or by the military, but they have already earned their inventor Otis an award from the Federal Laboratory Consortium of Technology.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dude, Where Is My Star?

Stars are all about the world today, from the heroin heroes of Hollywood to the thermonuclear fireballs scattered across the sky. Some of them are dark, but enough about me. Astronomers are now on the trail of a new theoretical beast that would be dark (in visible light) and built of the elusive dark matter that haunts scientists today.

This new framework is the chief product of Paolo Gondolo of the University of Utah. His thesis is that with dark matter being highly abundant and dense in the early universe 13 billion years ago, it is conceivable that some of it collapsed into stars. These wouldn’t be stars in the classical definition but instead fuzzy clouds of dark matter and hydrogen being held up by matter-antimatter reactions.

Dark matter as you suspect is an unknown substance, but the current best guess is that it is composed of WIMPS or weakly interacting massive particles. This theory requires a subcategory of WIMPS known as neutralinos that would annihilate their opposing partner, releasing additional quarks and anti-quarks. These quarks would further annihilate each other outputting gamma rays, neutrinos, heat, and more antimatter. Aside from delivering a scorching burn to any souls unfortunate to be nearby, these stars would be titanic. It is estimated that one star could be anywhere from 4 to 2000 Astronomical Units across, plenty to consume the solar system or a respectable clump of the galaxy.

As with all stars, they would in time fade. It could be a few months or billions of years, but the inevitable result would be that their neutralinos would vanish leading to another implosion. This time the hydrogen would ignite and they would evolve into real stars. Probably blue supergiant stars, as they were fashionable in early time. These stars might even still persist to this day in cold molecular hydrogen clouds.