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Thu Sep 14, 2017, 09:19 PM

Oh oh. A plutonium powered satellite hit the atmosphere and the SNAP device vaporized.

As the beautiful Cassini mission comes to an end, I am reminded that television physicist with a cool hair cut, Michio Kaku, opposed the mission, since he was concerned it would crash into the earth, the plutonium RTG - the same kind of device that ironically went to, um, Pluto (for which the element is named) - and wipe out all life on Earth.

And Michio Kaku would know, since he's a famous physicist who appears on TV all the time.

And, now, I have the unpleasant duty to inform you that the very event he feared has happened, and has been reported in a major scientific journal; be scared; very scared.

Here's the report: Atmospheric Burnup of a Plutonium-238 Generator (P. W. Krey, Science 158 (3802), 769-771 1967)

Excerpts from the text:

On 21 April 1964, a navigational satellite employing a SNAP-9A generator (Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power) did not reach orbital velocity because of a rocket failure after launch. The SNAP-9A generator is a nuclear fueled power package which converts the heat developed by a radioactive source into electrical energy, contains about 17 kilocuries of 238Pu and weighs 12.3 kg (1). Since 238Pu is a highly toxic nuclide, and since bone is the critical organ for soluble plutonium and lung for insoluble plutonium, considerable interest was exhibited in the ultimate fate and disposition of the 238Pu. Korsmayer (2) estimated that the satellite entered the atmosphere at about 150,000 feet (46 km or 46,000 m) over the Indian Ocean in the Southern Hemisphere. There are three alternatives as to what could have happened when the SNAP-9A reentered the atmosphere. One is that it plunged intact into the Indian Ocean leaving little or no remnants in the atmosphere. A second is that the heat of reentry into the atmosphere completely consumed the device and the pyrophoric 238Pu ablated into small particles.

Now the bad news:

A synoptic distribution of the debris on a global scale for the period of January to March 1966 is shown in Fig. 2. One can see from this distribution that little SNAP-9A has passed from the stratosphere into the troposphere by this time. The low concentrations in the equatorial stratosphere, increase in altitude of the concentration contours at the equator, uniform concentrations in the Northern polar stratosphere, and the bulk of the SNAP-9A debris in the middle to upper latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere are clearly discernible. This distribution is in accord with Machta's model of stratospheric winter circulation with each hemisphere (4); Machta describes a rising, air column in the equatorial regions, a poleward flow at about 110.000 feet, and a downward flux at middle and upper latitudes…

… By integrating the contours in Fig. 2 (6), a total stratospheric inventory of 15 kg of SNAP-9A 22 Pu or 88 percent of the 17 kg in the original generator can be accounted for. Of this, 80 percent resides in the Southern Hemisphere stratosphere, while only 20 percent was transported into the Northern Hemisphere. Surface air concentrations and deposition values of SNAP-9A 2' Pu in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres will ultimately reflect this 4 to 1 proportion. Based upon this inventorv of SNAP-9A 2. Pu, we conclude that the generator completely burned up during reentry and ablated into small particles.

I conclude we're all going to die.

As for Michio Kaku, I have had occasion to watch him on TV. He has a very cool haircut and it makes his kind of slightly supercilious lectures a little bit more tolerable. I can't say I've watched a lot of his shows, but he certainly does seem to know something about stars and stardom.

But again, I haven't watched him too much. I'm not all that much into television physicists.

I will say this. Scrolling ten minutes through Cassini pictures is, for me at least, worth a lifetime of Michio Kaku television appearances.

Just this morning I was reminding of reading, a few years back, Jared Diamond's fabulous book, COLLAPSE: HOW SOCIETIES CHOOSE TO FAIL OR SUCCEED

In it he tells the story of the demise of the Greenland Norse, who he concludes died out because unlike the Inuit, who survived quite well in exactly the same region, even further North than the Norse, the Greenland Norse had some kind of cultural prohibition, a CULT prohibition perhaps, against eating Salmon.

This he concludes from the presence or absence of salmon bones in archaeological sites related to the two cultures. The Norse, he claims, would only eat grain and grain fed domestic animals, and died out, when the temporary warm spell that brought them to Greenland ended. The Inuit lived, eating Salmon, just as they had done for thousands of years.

This is actually relevant to the issue of plutonium burning up in the atmosphere in 1964. (Actually metric ton quantities of it were vaporized in nuclear testing before the SNAP9A plutonium RTG vaporized, but it was generally the 239-isotope and not the more radioactive 238 isotope that powers spacecraft.)

Our atmosphere is collapsing, more rapidly than ever before. We have a cult of so called "renewable energy" to address it, and we've spent trillions of dollars on this cult in just the last ten years, with the result that the rate of the collapse of the atmosphere is increasing, not decreasing.

It has been shown that in the last half a century, the fuel that displaced the most dangerous fossil fuels was nuclear fuel, including a healthy amount of plutonium. There are more than sixty billion tons of carbon dioxide that didn't get dumped into the atmosphere because of plutonium and uranium.

We, however fear plutonium just like the Norse apparently feared Salmon.

Diamond's right; societies choose to fail, apparently in the 21st century, it's all one society, spread across the planet.

And we are failing. In the next two weeks or so, we will reach the annual minimum for the sinusoidal seasonal variation in carbon dioxide atmospheric concentrations. It will come in at above 403 ppm. Ten years ago, the time at which our two trillion dollar expenditure on wildly popular so called "renewable energy" started, it was 381 ppm.

We'd all like to believe that all the responsibility for climate change resides on the right. But just as Lincoln blamed slavery on the South and the North in his 2nd Inaugural address, we on the left have our own guilt in the issue of climate change.

I personally think we should eat the salmon, but I predict we won't.

I'm sorry for this post, but I stumbled across this old paper while researching modern thermoelectric materials, a fascinating subject, and I just couldn't resist this note.

Have a wonderful Friday tomorrow and a wonderful weekend.

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Reply Oh oh. A plutonium powered satellite hit the atmosphere and the SNAP device vaporized. (Original post)
NNadir Sep 2017 OP
Eko Sep 2017 #1
Post removed Sep 2017 #3
byronius Sep 2017 #2
hunter Sep 2017 #4
Eko Sep 2017 #5
hunter Sep 2017 #6
Eko Sep 2017 #7
hunter Sep 2017 #9
Igel Sep 2017 #8

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Thu Sep 14, 2017, 09:41 PM

1. Ha!

Laughable,The "cult of so called "renewable energy"".
We have nuclear waste just piling up now because no one wants to take it cause it's so safe.
What is there over 130 million pounds of the stuff now?
Same old NNadir. You should work for the Nuclear power industry.

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Response to Eko (Reply #1)

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Thu Sep 14, 2017, 09:57 PM

2. Hm.

Mr. Burns.

That's all I have to say.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Fri Sep 15, 2017, 12:11 PM

4. Reaction to this thread will be reflexive.

It's easier to believe "renewable" energy will seamlessly displace all fossil fuels than it is to look at the statistics and do the math.

The only way to quit fossil fuels is to quit fossil fuels and that would require some difficult choices.

A society powered entirely by renewable energy would look nothing like the fossil fuel powered society this planet's affluent people enjoy today.

The scariest energy resource today is so-called natural gas. People perceive it as a clean fuel, a good backup energy source for when the sun's not shining and the wind's not blowing. Unfortunately there's enough gas in the ground to destroy this civilization and what's left of the natural environment.

The largest industrial projects on earth today are gas extraction and distribution. That will be the end of us, not nuclear energy.

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Response to hunter (Reply #4)

Fri Sep 15, 2017, 07:19 PM

5. Sure.

But no one on here said renewable energy will seamlessly displace all fossil fuels or that nuclear energy would be the end of us.

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Response to Eko (Reply #5)

Fri Sep 15, 2017, 10:11 PM

6. What will they do?

If renewable energy doesn't displace fossil fuels, what's the point?

Are solar panels and wind turbines just more short-life toxic industrial crap, "consumer goods," for future generations to deal with, entirely supplemental to our current fossil fueled consumer economy? (In my book anything that lasts less than a century is short-lived. Short life is all right for clothing and food, but not much else, especially things that are not easily and efficiently recyclable.)

In the case of electricity, if you want to disconnect from the fossil fueled powered electric grid, it's easy. Go out and shut off the power at your main breaker. (Or quit paying your electric bill...)

Then what?

That problem is much the same at any scale you like, from your home, your community, your state, your nation, or this world civilization.

Shut off the fossil fuels, then what?

I'm some kind of Luddite. Instead of putting solar panels on my roof to power a refrigerator, why not just get rid of the refrigerator? Instead of buying an electric car, why not walk?

My wife does not agree about the refrigerator, and unfortunately in U.S.A. society anyone who doesn't have a car is not considered a fully functional adult unless they live in certain urban areas. (I have an adult niece and a nephew who don't have cars, but they live in San Francisco within walking distance of BART and Muni. They get around fine and rent cars when they need them.) Every community ought to be built to discourage car ownership. But how am I going to win elections on a platform of vastly reducing the market for automobiles? (I express my own disgust for our automobile culture by driving $900 cars with salvage titles. They pass strict California smog tests, they get good mileage, I don't drive much, but I'm still a hypocrite.) Do I feel sorry for unemployed auto workers? Yes. Do I want them building more cars? No. Maybe they could be doing something that reduces the environmental impacts of humanity, and something that makes them happy too. We ought to be paying people to experiment with lifestyles that have very low environmental impacts.

The nuclear advocates imagine a high energy industrial society with low greenhouse gas emissions, and their numbers largely pass muster. The solar and wind people claim a similar utopia, but their numbers don't work, except in combination with nimble natural gas power plants and gas derived fuels, which still leaves us with all those natural gas "reserves" eventually getting turned into carbon dioxide much faster than our ecoystem can process it, which leads to a much hotter planet than we might have had.

I'm not someone who get's terribly upset by nuclear power. Our industrial society dumps plenty of invisible non-nuclear waste into the environment of equivalent toxicity, much of it having a "half-life" of forever. (The composition of highway dust is frightening...)

So far as toxins in the environment go, I'm currently worried about insecticides that are probably about as damaging to the minds of our children as lead, possibly increasing the general levels of apathy, ignorance, and violence in our society.

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Response to hunter (Reply #6)

Fri Sep 15, 2017, 10:29 PM

7. Is nuclear?

No it is not. It is also creating waste that lasts a thousand years and is piling up. Ive talked to you before about this. Im not upset about nuclear power, no where have I even come close to saying that. But bashing solar and renewable energy isn't helping anything, especially since it is growing faster than nuclear power and is safer from natural disasters. You are a Luddite, cool, I am rational science based person. There are no great options for the power we currently use. The thing is, solar panels are way more recyclable than spent nuclear fuel seeing as how countries are actually doing it right now which makes the waste footprint way smaller. They don't meltdown in natural disasters and there are these things called batteries that are making them feasible for when the wind doesn't blow and the sun isn't shining. How does nuclear largely pass muster? lets assume that someone offered you a small nuclear plant to power your home, or a solar array. Figure both of these can fully power your home. You are responsible for the waste these produce. Which one do you think you could environmentally dispose of? Lets say you are just a jerk, you can throw your solar cells in a ditch in your backyard or your spent nuclear fuel, which one would you choose? Do you actually think that you would have an easier time of finding someone to take your spent nuclear fuel than your solar cells? Do you think that the manufacture of the uranium will take it back and give you a discount on it? Will the solar cell manufacture take it back and give you a discount on future purchases? Which is more possible? Which would you rather have your deplorable neighbor throw in his ditch next to your house? The fact is we are going to need both, but to bash one when it is much safer is just straight ridiculous.
adding this.
"PV Cycle, a European solar panel recycling association, developed a mechanical and thermal treatment process last year that achieves a 96 percent recovery rate for silicon-based photovoltaic panels. The remaining 4 percent is utilized in an energy recovery process, using a waste-to-energy technology. The previous recovery rate for silicon-based panels was around 90 percent, so this new solar panel recycling process is good news for the environment. Non-silicon-based solar panels can have a recovery rate of up to 98 percent." http://earth911.com/eco-tech/recycle-solar-panels/

You know of some place that we can do that with spent nuclear fuel rods? You wiling to transport said spent nuclear fuel rods yourself? Box it up ship it out? No?

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Response to Eko (Reply #7)

Sat Sep 16, 2017, 02:37 AM

9. Spent nuclear fuel just sits there, going nowhere, doing nothing...

...slowly cooling off and becoming less radioative.


In a few hundred years it's much less trouble to deal with

Or it can be recycled. A delicate, but already accomplished process of comparable hazard to several other modern non-nuclear industrial processes, and less hazardous than some (Remember the Bhopal disaster?)

I'll confess, I have a few solar panels on hand for our next big California earthquake.

These panels might be excellent for keeping my wife's cell phone charged, but she'll probably be stuck at the hospital (it's a trauma center) which will be powered by big continuous rated CAT diesel standby generators which send a rumble through our house whenever the power goes out and whenever they are tested. (By some planning and good fortune my wife and I have avoided commuting since the mid-'eighties. We burn less gasoline than most drivers, but we are both close to work, and have to maintain that separation mentally.)

Many years ago I worked at a plant manufacturing single crystal solar panels. Nothing glamorous, I was big, strong, and moved fragile and expensive mechanical stuff. I'd started out moving household furniture, but I also had a two year technical degree, acquired when I was thinking I'd be an engineer. Anyways, the factory produced a lot of liquid chemical waste. Back then the chemical waste haulers didn't pay to much attention to what was actually in the waste, but they did require it to be neutral pH which was achieved by mixing the low pH acid wastes with the caustic high pH wastes in a big tank and stirring in whatever pool chemicals were required before the waste trucks arrived. The place where the haulers dumped the waste was later declared a superfund site, maybe not from the solar factory alone, but from other "clean" no-smokestack high tech industries.

Large numbers of the solar cells I see on my neighbor's roofs were manufactured in places with less stringent environmental regulations than the U.S.A. and from materials even more toxic than those used in single crystal silicon solar cells.

Measured in total tons of raw material moved around per exojoule of energy produced, I wonder how solar, wind, and nuclear compare.

But I don't worry much about used fuel rods stored in dry casks. There's so much worse stuff travelling down the highway, being transported by rail every day and it has killed people, sometimes destroyed entire towns.

The only solar project I really bash our large scale projects on previously undeveloped land. When my neighbors express pride in the panels on their roof, or I see panels installed over parking lots, I'm not bashing that.

I've done some math and I don't think their is anything we can do to make our high energy industrial society sustainable, except maybe nuclear energy and a worldwide standard of living and education that makes smaller families acceptable to the vast majority of human beings. That's a tall order, and if the second is achievable in some way, we might not need much high energy industry or nuclear power.

But electricity certainly improves individual standards of living, especially on larger scales of sewage treatment, cooking, laundry, heating, and cooling.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Fri Sep 15, 2017, 11:26 PM

8. Right.

Life stopped existing on Earth in 1964. It's bad when you make a pre-falsified prediction and stand by it.

At the same time, I'd point out that Jared Diamond had a strict position he defended. The Greenland Norse, even when he wrote, were suspected of "dying out" for a different reason. (The Inuit, of course, hadn't gotten that far south yet.) He also apparently screwed up Easter Island. And in a number of other cases he mentioned (same in Guns, Germs, etc.) I sat there thinking, "But he rather neatly ignores all this information that simply fails to confirm his hypothesis."

It's a serious drawback: You only see what says you're right. That gets you firmly and resolutely to the tut (because the 'r' and the 'h' didn't support the One True Way, they were simply ignored).

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