Thursday, December 25, 2008

It Is Christmas Once Again

I would just like to take the time to wish my readers a nice Christmas and hope that they got all that they asked for on their lists. I also hope that they get plenty of good food to eat and that their guests do not become too much of a burden. Finally, while you are making sure that everybody is having a wonderful time, do not forget to enjoy yourselves as well.

Although I am an atheist, I celebrate Christmas because the true meaning of Christmas which is happiness and celebration during the dreariness of winter is something that we could all appreciate. All of the religious trappings such as the legend of the birth of Jesus and Solstice celebrations are merely window dressing obscuring what is important, which is to have a good time. Christmas was never originally a Christian holiday because the idea had been stolen lock stock and barrel from the Roman holiday of Saturnalia as well as borrowing extensively from the Yule celebrations of the Germanic tribes. The legend surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ was added much later by early Christians as part of an adaptation of the pagan holiday.

This could be said to be similar how the tradition of Halloween was adapted and eventually secularized from the Celtic tradition of Samhain. Few people who go out trick or treating know the cultural origins of Halloween and how it originally became established. I know that some people have started branding Halloween as a pagan holiday as of late and are therefore refusing to celebrate it, but if that is the case, than Christmas is guilty of that offense as well.

In fact, during the Cromwell rebellion of Great Britain during the 1600's; the celebration of Christmas was banned by Cromwell because he correctly thought that it was pagan by nature and wanted to set a good example for the Puritans to follow. Needless to say, Christmas was immediately reinstated with the reestablishment of the British monarchy during the reign of Charles II.

So keep in mind that the tradition of Christmas is as pagan as holidays come. To all of those people who are saying that non-Christians are ruining the holiday, step back and consider who's holiday it was to begin with. Very few things including religious ideas are truly original, as they are merely adaptations of the things that came before them in history. Merry Christmas, everybody!

Merry Christmas From Old King Coal

It looks like the citizens of Harrington, Tennessee have been naughty this year. A coal slurry retaining wall has broken, contaminating four hundred acres worth of property with coal ash and demolishing fifteen homes in the process. That is more than enough coal for anybody's stocking, no matter how bad they have been.

The aging Tennessee Valley Authority site has been damaged as a result of the heavy rains that have been hitting the area in recent weather patterns. This has caused the retaining wall of the coal slurry reservoir to break and overflow. Clean up is going to be an extensive process lasting several years, possibly enough to warrant classifying the area as a Superfund site.

The reason why this is such a disaster is that coal slurry is vile stuff. Coal slurry is coal ash that has been mixed with water to make the particulate matter less apt to blow away and contaminate the quality of the air. Coal slurry contains numerous heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic to name just a few hazardous substances. The irony is that problems like this go largely unnoticed by media sources while the same agencies go into hysterics about the isolated issues of some nuclear power plants.

Let this be a lesson to the people who are against nuclear power of what reliance on coal power actually means. Disasters like this are by no means uncommon in the coal industry because by nature coal power is a dirty business. The sooner we switch to nuclear power the sooner that events like this will become a thing of the past. King Coal rules his kingdom with a sooty fist and all of us are suffering from his oppression.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Rick Warren? Give Me A Break!

I guess Obama decided to once again curry favor with the Religious Right by picking a staunch fundamentalist to give his Inauguration Day speech. Rick Warren is openly against atheists, homosexuals, and is a Young Earth Creationist to boot. Why do slimeballs like this always get into power?

I hope that we will not have to put up with leftwing theocrats during the Obama presidency like we have had to stomach rightwing theocrats during Republican rule. America was NOT founded on religious principles, but a clearly stated separation of church and state. By choosing people like Warren to represent our political leadership, we are dragging ourselves to the bad old days of that 'ol time religion of intolerance and bigotry. Is this what we really want?

Shearon Harris Plant Renews Operating License

Okay, first of all, I apologize to my readers for not updating in awhile but I have been swamped since mid-November with Thanksgiving and finals. It has been a busy three weeks. Thankfully, that is all over for now so I can continue to post about things that we all know and love.

Anyway, the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant has been green-lit to have its operating license renewed. The Shearon Harris nuclear plant is located in New Hill, North Carolina where it generates around nine hundred megawatts of power. As the 40-year operating license limit for nuclear power plants was arbitrarily chosen by the NRC this will allow 12% of North Carolina's total energy supply to remain online. The future for nuclear power is looking bright, indeed.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Elizabeth Dole's Campaign Actually Backfired

It is doubtful that this was the only reason that Dole lost against Hagan but it does show that it making slurs against atheists in public is no longer being considered acceptable in some social spheres. Within a very short time of Dole airing her infamous ad, her political opponent soon began getting several thousand campaign contributions during a campaign fundraiser in Boston. These contributors were composed of not only disgruntled atheists, but also religious people who thought that Dole's ad was highly offensive and inappropriate even for a campaign ad.

Historically, in public polls atheists are regarded as being the least popular minority by the general populace in regards to being fit for political office. This is why "under God" was added during the Pledge of Allegiance during the red scare in order to distinguish Americans from the "godless" Soviet Union. I am glad to see that people are beginning to challenge the negative perception that atheists have in the US and I hope that atheism will no longer be regarded as a dirty word by many people.

Web Seminar Reactions

I listened to the free web seminar on nuclear energy that was broadcast yesterday. I was very impressed as it contained accurate information presented in a professional manner. I am glad that I had the opportunity to attend such a gathering.

The web seminar examined the current state of the nuclear industry worldwide and what should be done in terms of researching new nuclear technology. It also examined some of the economic drivers behind nuclear power development such as the projected ten year approval and construction time for new reactors. One reason why it takes so long is because this is an estimate based on market uncertainty because of the difficulty for proposed reactors to get loan guarantees. This is also in addition to assumptions about taking construction delays into account because of local opposition near the construction site. If both of these barriers could be mitigated, the process of licensing and construction of new reactors could proceed at a much faster pace.

I do have somewhat more hope for the development of nuclear power after listening to the seminar as I am glad to see that there is a serious effort being made to revive what was once a dying industry. I hope that people will learn to get over their fears about nuclear energy and embrace it as being the energy source of choice as opposed to coal. Finally, I offer my gratitude to Dan Yurman for doing such an excellent job reporting at the seminar.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Robert F Kennedy Junior?! Oh HELL NO!

There is an ugly rumor ciculating around that Obama is considering putting Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency. It is too early to confirm or deny the probability of this happening, but if it does the fate of energy production in the US is in BIG trouble. Not only was he fighting to shut down the Indian Point nuclear power plant, but he also wants to phase out all fossil fuels INCLUDING nuclear power! He feels that solar, wind, and biomass would be enough to satisfy the growing US demand for energy!

This experiment has already been tried by Germany, and look what happened. Der Vaterland is now on its way to being covered by a massive grey cloud as a result of all of the coal smog that is being churned out. Germany outlawed the construction of new nuclear plants back in 1998. This caused a major energy shortage so now new lignite-burning coal plants are being built to take up the slack when the promise of renewable energy fails to deliver which is unfortunately most of the time. If we follow suit, it would be even worse than Germany since we do not have any nearby countries to buy electricity from since Germany is riding on France's nuclear infrastructure.

Why do "environmentalists" keep lumping nuclear power in with fossil fuels? I will say it now, and I will say it again, WE NEED NUCLEAR! Nuclear is the only option if we want to rid ourselves of fossil fuel dependence. If you care about the environment, you are going to have to support nuclear power. It is the only alternative that is free of emissions yet produces enough energy for base load power generation. Wind and solar actually lead to increased dependence on fossil fuels in the form of backup generators using natural gas. Wind and solar power are too unreliable to contribute to the energy grid in any practical fashion. Biomass is the exception in that while it is reliable, it also produces large amounts of pollution in the form of smog and particulate matter as it basically comes down to burning obscenely large amounts of wood and garbage on a daily basis.

I apologize if I have offended any of my dear readers here with my small emotional outburst but I am tired of bad science and bad economics being used to justify impractical energy policies for political expediency. I am not sure if Robert F. Kennedy Junior would make it through the Senate conformational hearing but this is exactly what I meant in my earlier post in regards to my fear of the anti-nuclear politicians of the extreme left.

Perhaps I am overreacting. I do not regret my voting decision, but I am worried that we might see a return of the anti-nuclear brigade in Washington rather than a serious evaluation of our national energy policy. However, it is still better than facing another round of the neo-authoritarian religious right in the form of the current day Republican party. I digress.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thoughts on Obama...

The Democratic candidate, Obama triumphed over McCain in the national election last night. In addition, the Democrats also won a few more seats in the Senate. I admit that I voted for Obama and Senator Durbin in my state despite my strong disagreements with some of the more extreme elements of the Democratic party.

As I have said before in a previous post of mine, both parties are by no mean perfect, but the Republicans frightened me even more. Since the 1980's, the Republicans seem to have strongly allied themselves with the religious right which has taken every opportunity to insert itself into the public education system. As a result, we still have fundamentalist Christians challenging the teaching of evolution in public schools in addition to pushing bible study classes and school-led prayer. The quality of science education has suffered greatly under their attacks as many school districts are afraid to even mention evolution in biology class for fear of being shouted down.

Religious fundamentalists have been chipping away at the separation between church and state little by little since the Reagan administration. They could hardly have asked for a better candidate to further their agenda when George W. Bush took office in 2000. He was an ignorant, scientifically illiterate, easily influenced man who could serve as their mouthpiece as they moved their goals forward. This allowed such disasters as the "faith-based initiatives" to be passed in addition to denying public funding for stem cell research.

Trying to define an embryo as a person is nothing short of ridiculous. It does not have an active consciousness, and it is entirely dependent on the uterine environment for its existence. Biologically speaking, the closest thing it could be compared to is a parasite. This is because if the placental barrier ever broke down, the immune system of the mother serving as the host body would consider the embryo as a foreign invader and promptly destroy it.

An embryo could be best said to be a POTENTIAL child, as it is not a child. People do not seem to realize that potential is not the same as actual. Everybody in the world has the potential to win an Olympic medal as well as win the lottery or be involved in other potential scenarios but it would be absurd to say that these would be a realistic probability for most of the populace. There is also the fact that the spontaneous natural abortion rate of human embryos is quite high, due to innate flaws in the structure of many embryos that render them non-viable.

With that being said, the stem cell research ban is religiously motivated, rather than having any sort of scientific or rational justification for being in place. Because of the enormous potential to medical science that stem cell research represents, it is inexcusable that the US government is not dedicating public funding to this field. There are thousands of millions of people each year that are in need of an organ transplant or suffer the amputation of a body part. If we had the technology to grow and regenerate failing or lost body parts, we would eliminate a major source of suffering for many people world wide. Unfortunately, religious fundamentalists do not see it that way and are attempting to ruin it for everybody else much like the perpetual wet blanket at your birthday party. We should deal with them the same way by promptly showing them the door.

Another nightmarish aspect of the current day Republican party has been its stance on civil rights. I do not understand how the Republican party considers itself to be the party of "small government" yet creates bureaucratic messes such as the department of Homeland Security, passes bills such as the Patriot act and the FISA bill, as well as create such idiotic legislation such as Proposition 8 in California. During the Bush years, we have seen the steady erosion of the constitution and other safeguards on government power. The executive branch under Republican rule with the aid of a do-nothing Congress has grown into a bloated monster with little in its way to stop it from trampling all in its path.

Indeed, the Republican party has gleefully aided and abetted Bush as he created detention centers that hold and torture people without charges, even with little reason for those people to be there in the first place. The same Republicans that chastised Clinton for the abusive power and overuse of executive privilege did not seem to mind when the Bush administration claimed executive privilege in order to avoid turning over incriminating evidence by court order. Even Vice President Cheney became so bold as to practically claim that his office was in a "fourth branch of government" and therefore not subject to the demands of bothersome executive orders.

I once had hope for John McCain way back in 2000 when he seemed to be a refreshing change of pace from the assorted undesirables in the Republican party. However, he soon became a continuation of the same failed policies as the Bush administration as his voting record was 90% congruent with Bush. To make matters worse, McCain could be seen embracing Bush in a big open armed hug as if he decided to leave all of that silly talk of "change" behind. For all intents of purposes, the "maverick" had now become another Republican steer. Even worse, he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate after branding Obama as being "inexperienced.

Sarah Palin was little more than a gimmick in an attempt to woo away bitter Hillary Clinton supporters from the Democratic party. By choosing a female Vice President, this was an  obvious ploy to take advantage of demographic politics. This proved to be a mistake, because Palin's personality could be described as "vapid" at best and she had even less experience than Obama. To make matters worse, she was a fundamentalist Christian who voiced her open support of the religious right and young Earth creationism at every opportunity. Even if I had wanted to vote for McCain, there would have been a very real possibility that he would have died before the end of his term from health related issues because of his age and past medical history. This would mean that Palin would finish his term, which would have been a disaster of EPIC proportions.

This is not to say that I am not without reservations in regards to Obama. I did not like the way that he voted "yes" on the FISA bill that gave telecommunication companies retroactive immunity in regards to warrantless wiretapping  investigations. I am also not sure what he plans to do about the future of energy production as demand is only going to grow in the US.

The green wing of the Democratic party has been heavily pushing solar, wind, ethanol, and other forms of alternative energy for several decades now. After billions of dollars being funneled into "alternative" energy, it remains clear that it is still not a viable alternative for energy production at all. The only realistic options at this point are coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear.

Nuclear would be the best choice as it provides low cost energy at a very efficient scale. As another advantage, it is a much cleaner form of energy compared to coal, oil, or natural gas. It does not produce emissions and the only byproduct of nuclear energy is a small amount of spent fuel that can easily be stored on site or in a geological repository like in Yucca Mountain. Uranium is as plentiful as tin and even at greatly increased levels of demand, it would last for millennia. The only reason why the price of uranium is going up at the moment is because much of the uranium fuel used in the US actually comes from decommissioned nuclear warheads and our stockpile is running low. The uranium industry is in shambles because of the rate of reduced demand since the 1970's which has artificially increased the relative scarcity of available uranium ore. If we actively pursued uranium exploration again and also reprocessed spent fuel instead of using a wasteful open fuel cycle, the price of uranium would once again drop dramatically.

Newer designs of reactors such as the molten salt reactor do not even have to use uranium as fuel, but can run on thorium instead (See my prior posts on the Molten Salt Reactor). Thorium is even more plentiful than uranium and a closed Thorium fuel cycle can be used to breed more fuel. Even better is the fact that the isotopes produced in the Thorium fuel cycle make it practically impossible to divert into producing fissile material for nuclear warheads. As an added bonus, the high heat of some of the newer designs of nuclear reactor can be taken advantage of to produce hydrogen for a fraction of the cost of conventional methods.

All is not rosy, however. The environmental movement which has allied itself with many members of the Democratic party remains vehemently anti-nuclear despite all of the benefits that nuclear power brings. It has used its lobbying clout to effectively kill off any active research into nuclear energy and set up multitudes of roadblocks in the way for the construction of new nuclear reactors since the 1970's. President Carter, a well-meaning but rather ignorant man, passed a ban on the reprocessing of spent fuel due to an irrational fear of his that it would lead to nuclear weapons proliferation. During the Clinton years, President Clinton cancelled all funding for the Integral Fast Reactor despite its advantages over the Light Water Reactor because of Clinton's anti-nuclear stance. The infamous Al Gore is also dead set against nuclear power as he continues to push for "alternative" energy that does not get anybody anywhere, except the natural gas industry. Indeed, the natural gas industry is rubbing its hands with glee as it sees business increase as natural gas powered generators are being built to take up the slack of wind and solar installations due to the unreliability of solar and wind power.

There is also the fact that in the US, coal is king. There is an existing incentive to build coal plants more than any other form of energy because of the cheap construction costs involved. Coal has massive external costs, but as with most things, short term goals are usually pursued over long term objectives no matter how much more sense it makes to think in the long run. Because coal is so deeply entrenched in our energy policy, the coal lobby has massive political clout in terms of influencing what paths to energy the US takes. Taking into account the amount of ignorance and gullibility as demonstrated by the average political leader as well as the average citizen, there is a very real possibility that the our main plan for the future will be investing heavily into the hoax that is "clean coal".

Obama did mention that he is not ruling out nuclear for the future energy plan of the US, but it remains to be seen if he actually intends to follow through on that claim. There is also some disturbing evidence that he might instead listen to the "alternative energy" segment of the Democratic party and promptly ignore nuclear power entirely like previous Democratic leaders have. However, despite all of the reservations I might have about Obama I still feel that he is a significantly better choice rather than risking putting the Republican party in power again for the time being.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Some Suggestions, Please...

This is still a fairly new blog, so I am not sure if I have enough of a reader base to get many comments on this post. However, I am looking for some suggestions or feedback for reading material or things to take note of or pay attention to when it comes to environmental awareness. Please note, that although I frequently chastise the "Green movement" on my blogs, I do so not because I do not care about the environment. It is because I care about it enough to realize that most of the sorts of things that "environmentalists" waste time staging protests over are not the things that they should be worrying about.

Most of the time, environmentalist protests are mere publicity stunts that only accomplish in pissing people off without doing anything useful for the environment at all. The average "environmentalist" seems to be somebody who protests about issues that are a threat to a philosophy governed by neo-luddism; i.e. scaling back production and consumption because modern technology is "evil". This as opposed to a true environmentalist who is concerned enough about the environment to identify what the real problems are as derived by credible scientific research and suggests practical solutions to them, instead of wanting to drag everybody back to the middle ages.

I care about the environment not just because I am a biologist and I like plants and animals. It is also because from a pragmatic standpoint, you cannot isolate humanity from the natural environment. Whatever heavy metals leak into the water table or poisonous substances drift into the air, you and I will eventually ingest or inhale. There is no running away from that fact. Other species may long be affected before humans are by this phenomenon, but a dirty environment would not do anybody any favors. I also admit that for me, there is a bit of a sentimental dimension to this as well. I would much rather look at a beautiful forest or a rustic coastline, rather than miles of solar panels or wind turbines.

Anyway, the reason for this post is that I want to know what would be the best sources of information for credible environmental news or research? I do not consider myself an expert on this subject by any means. However it is often hard to determine what "big" issues are based on valid evidence and what are not as you read the daily news, as even otherwise intelligent leaders are buying into pseudoscience. The government mandated wasting of money in the form of subsidies for wind, solar, and ethanol across the world is a prime example of this. None of these three sources of energy are economically feasible. All they are doing is driving up costs for food and energy, in addition to destroying valuable or beautiful land just so the Greens and various politicians can feel good about themselves. The fact that even otherwise intelligent people have bought into this fiasco hook, line, and sinker disgusts me to no end.

I have been recommended a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjørn Lomborg during a conversation with a friend of mine who is a respected geologist. I have not had a chance to read it yet. Has anybody else who is currently reading this blog read this book? What other recommendations would my readers make?

Scotch Tape Emits X-Rays! OH NOES!!11

Just when you thought that you were safe from radiation by boycotting the evils of nuclear power, along comes a report detailing how scotch tape actually produces a fairly large amount of X-rays when peeled. One of the researchers had successfully produced an X-ray image of his index finger using the emissions produced by this unusual phenomenon. So, to all of you Greenpeace lurkers out there, here is one more thing to add to your boycott list!

Well, okay, there is a limitation to generating X-rays using this method. Scotch tape only produces X-rays when peeled in a vacuum. This means that unless you have a vacuum chamber set up at your house, you will not get any X-ray exposure from peeling Scotch tape. So fear not, Christmas shoppers; you can now breathe a huge sigh of relief. Of course some of you (...cough, cough, Greenpeace members!..cough, cough) are still going to be boycotting Scotch tape after reading this anyway because of the paranoia surrounding radiation.

I should have posted this earlier, like on Halloween. Oddly enough, this was known for quite some time by Soviet researchers, but it sort of got lost in the shuffle. The interesting thing is, that this might have some useful scientific applications such as building disposable X-ray machines.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This is Really Getting Old

Theocrats are being dragged into the future kicking and screaming; especially when you have universities in in Kentucky rehashing the Scopes trial even though the issue has long been settled (Or should have been) within the scientific community. America has not been founded with a state religion despite what the religious right would have you believe. How often must people listen to these lunatics before they understand that religion does not belong on the curriculum of a public school?

The fact that religious right is so intent on inserting itself into the US public school system should be a warning as to what exactly it has in mind. It mirrors the "hook 'em while they're young" approach used by the tobacco industry. However, I would say that tobacco executives are more honest by comparison as religion has been running this scam for thousands of years.

The "Greens" Are Running Out of Arguments

This has got to be one of the most idiotic reasons to oppose nuclear power that I have ever heard of. There are literally THOUSANDS of fish eggs produced by a single female with most fish, and of that number, only a few hundred would survive whether or not they were caught in a nuclear cooling tower. Fish eggs are tasty to a large number of animals; this is why fish evolved to produce large numbers of eggs to compensate for the amount of predation that their eggs face.

There is also the fact that even if all of those eggs actually hatched into fish fry, most of them would soon be gobbled down by creatures that like to eat baby fish. This also includes their parents in some cases. The fish roe and the fry that hatch from it are doomed in most ecosystems anyway, so it is no big loss to the environment.

Also, why single out nuclear power for this attack, when dams destroy millions of fish eggs and adult fish every year? This is not unique to nuclear power. This also fails to take into account that most LWR sites actually recirculate the water that is taken from an artificially constructed pond or lake, anyway. Finally, if we are going to talk about environmental damage to aquatic ecosystems then surely coal shares a large part of the blame for directly contributing to the phenomenon of mercury and heavy metal contamination of the surrounding water table.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Stupid Child Tricks

I had a vasectomy last year at 23. I do not have any children, and I have never wanted any. Ever. Many people said that my decision was premature and rash, but I do not have any regrets about it. I will be quite frank, children make me cringe. I have neither the patience or the temperment to deal with one on a daily basis. Especially when something like this happens...

I am sorry, but this sort of behavior is INEXCUSABLE even from a child. In order for a child to do this even at such a young age is a sign of some sort of mental pathology. The child might be too young to face criminal charges but I do think that the child should be given a psychiatric evaluation, and be forbidden to go within 50 feet of anybody's pets or zoos. This sort of wanton destructive behavior on his part might eventually extend to other people around him if his mental condition is not diagnosed and treated now instead of waiting until something like this happens to his classmates.

Hope for Thorium Based Power?

Senators Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch introduced the Thorium Energy Independence and Security Act of 2008 on the 2nd of October.

This would clear some of the hurdles in place with the DOE and the NRC that would prevent advanced fission reactors like the LFTR from being built in the US. It would also mean that the thousands of tons worth of surplus thorium that the US has buried in the southwest would finally have a use. Other than the surplus, the US has a very high concentration of minerals that could be mined for thorium ore in Lehmi Pass, Idaho.

If this bill passes, and I hope it does, it would mean that America's energy policy would have some direction after all. Wind and solar power are not going to cut it, and coal has long overstayed its welcome. As an added bonus, the fission byproducts that result from a thorium fission reacton are practically useless for making nuclear warheads out of.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Religious Lunatics Strike Again

Anti-evolutionists on the school board of New Brunswick, North Carolina are pushing to have Creationism taught along side of evolutionary theory. According to resident Joel Fanti of New Brunswick:

"I wasn't here 2 million years ago," Fanti said. "If evolution is so slow, why don't we see anything evolving now?"

You DO see evolution happening. There is the current issue of the growing resistance of bacteria to antibiotic medications in the medical field that is causing many people to worry. Antibiotics that were once considered top of the line a mere decades ago have now been rendered useless through their overuse and the rapid rate at which bacteria reproduce causing resistant generations to appear very quickly.

Evolution can also be seen in action with multicellular organisms as in the speciation of the European blackcap bird. Its population is splittling into two different migration patterns. This is causing two different breeding populations in the European blackcap that will lead to speciation from geographic isolation if this trend continues.

This is also happening with insects. Some European corn borers are now starting to show a preference for hops and mugwort instead of corn and will emit pheromones that will only attract other individuals with this preference. Because of the rapid rate of reproduction seen in most species of insects compared birds, this might cause speciation to happen at an even faster rate than in the European blackcap. Only a person of extraordinary ignorance of the biological sciences would say that evolution is not currently happening.

Fanti himself offered to teach creationism at the school board meeting amid cheering and clapping of hands. Spurred on by the rally against evolution, board members voiced their opposition to evolutionary theory and their reluctance at being forced to teach it. Apparently, this is a backlash against other states being forced to remove creationism from the public school curriculum.

This is exactly why religion is so destructive. If these people had their way, they would probably replace biology with a class espousing biblical literalism. This is the umpteenth attempt by religionists to inject their nonsense into public schools where they can indoctrinate an entire generation of children. I am doubtful that they would be able to get this blatant violation of church and state past the Supreme Court. However, if this attempt fails the religionists will probably try something else. As it is, I am sure that North Carolina's taxpayers are not going to appreciate being stuck with the legal fees that this is going to cost the school board.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mother 3 Translation Project

The Mother 3 translation project is almost complete. Mother 3 is the third installment in the Mother game series (Earthbound in the US). Earthbound 0 was for the NES and a translated cartridge was made by Nintendo but never released in the US until a group of rom hackers copied the rom file from the Earthbound 0 cartridge that had been bought by a collector. Earthbound 1 was the only game in the series that saw a US release on the SNES system. Earthbound 1 was a huge loss for Nintendo as it only sold a few hundred thousand copies and Nintendo had poured a lot of money into the advertising. Because of this, it is probably why Nintendo refused to release Mother 3 into the US as Earthbound 2 in 2006.

Fortunately, there was a group of rom hackers on the Earthbound fan website who decided to translate the game themselves. At first they were reluctant to do so, but this changed after seeing Nintendo practically abandon any attempt at releasing Mother 3 into the US. The hackers of the Mother 3 rom officially stated that they would abide with any wishes by Nintendo if their translation project was thought to be a violation of copyright law. However, Nintendo has yet to send a Cease and Desist order or threaten the translation team with any sort of legal action. Frankly, it almost seems as if Nintendo could really care less about the Mother 3 franchise at all.

The hacking part of the translation project is now complete today, and all that remains is the testing phase. This will probably take around a month as Mato checks the translation patch to see if there are any remaining issues. For all of you Earthbound/Mother fans, I would probably estimate a release sometime in October. Read the Mother 3 translation blog for further details.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

History of the Oak Ridge Project

If I may direct your attention to the excellent blog, Energy From Thorium run by a man who's father used to be a researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). ORNL was a government project that was setup during the mid 1960's to test the viability of a molten salt reactor. A molten salt reactor is unlike a light water reactor in that it does not use solid fuel pellets of enriched uranium. Instead, the radioactive isotopes are chemically bonded with a halogen such as chlorine or flourine to form a liquid mineral salt that recirculates around the reactor chamber during the reaction.

A molten salt reactor has several advantages over the traditional light water reactor design. First and foremost, it is physically impossible for a molten salt reactor to experience a meltdown since the nuclear fuel is already in a molten state as the reactor operates at a much higher temperature than a light water reactor. There is a cooled plug of sodium at the bottom of the reactor chamber that would heat up and melt during abnormally high temperatures. This would cause the reactor core to drain out into an underground container where it can cool and be safely disposed of during an emergency. Secondly, the actinides that result as a byproduct of nuclear fission would never leave the reactor chamber so there would be little, if any leftover material to be disposed of. As a third advantage, it has a much higher fuel efficiency to energy production ratio than a light water reactor for the same amount of fuel consumed. There is also the fact that molten salt reactors are quite flexible in the isotopes that they can use for energy.

As a variant of the MSR design, the MSR can operate on a closed nuclear fuel cycle between thorium and U233. This produces 10% more fuel than it consumes each year which can eventually be collected to start a new MSR. Finally, the use of flourine instead of chlorine for the fused salt mixture would be advantageous because of the ease of isotopic seperation. In short, this variant of the MSR design is known as a liquid flouride thorium reactor (LFTR).

There is an intriguing article about the history of the Oak Ridge project on the Energy From Thorium blog I mentioned earlier and how it was single handily ruined by one man named Milton Shaw. Because of this, the LFTR project has been dead and buried since the early 1970's. There were managerial issues that resulted from Shaw's mismanagement of the Oak Ridge staff and the bitterness that resulted.

Also, due to the political climate in the US which is deeply paranoid about all things with the word "nuclear" in the title, the LFTR has little hope of ever being built in America. However, all is not lost as France, Japan, India, and Russia are all evaluating the LFTR concept which will probably enter the construction phase very soon in these countries. The US will probably continue to waste time and money on "renewables" and "clean coal" for its energy supply in the foreseeable future, leading to rolling blackouts being the norm for much of the country at peak demand.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Atheist Blogroll

N^4 has been added to the atheist blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, please visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Proposal...

Ever since the creation of the Homeland Security Department, allowing guided tours of nuclear power plants by the public has been forbidden in the ensuing terrorism hysteria. I think that touring of nuclear installations should resume, as it would help educate the public about nuclear technology and its applications. It is not easy to destroy a nuclear power plant. Even in the worst case scenario, a light water reactor would not explode. If the core experienced a meltdown, the radiation released would be stopped by the containment dome. I doubt very much that a terrorist would pick a nuclear power plant as a potential target anyway. If an airplane crashed into a cooling tower, the plane would be smashed to rubble from the impact and there would be no visible damage to the building itself. This is because the outside structure of a nuclear power plant is comprised of solid concrete; six feet thick.

Wall: 1 Jet: 0

So anyway, the Homeland Security department is really making a mountain out of a molehill here (As usual). The public should be able to understand the basic idea of how nuclear power works and that it is nothing to be afraid of. Reinstating guided tours of nuclear energy stations across the country would go a long way towards accomplishing this goal.

Besides, if a terrorist really wanted to do a lot of damage, kill a lot of people, and cause fear, it would be a lot more practical to attack something like a hospital. Not to mention that the security and handling procedures surrounding the isotopes used in the nuclear medicine department are often quite lax. In order to find material for a dirty bomb, terrorists might have better luck raiding a radiology clinic.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Doing the Neutron Dance in Germany...

The Nuke Notes blog put up an interesting post recently,

In order to appease their Green party allies, the German Christian Democrat party wants the currently operating nuclear power plants within the country to help pay for the construction and development of new "renewable" sources of energy such as solar and wind power to offset the large costs of building these new installations and covering their operating expenses. As if the idea of holding nuclear energy for ransom was not brazen enough, the German Green party feels that the Euro equivalent of $56 billion dollars is not enough and are holding fast to their plan of trying to completely phase out nuclear power.

This has been becoming a very contentious issue in the German government ever since the ill-conceived plan to completely rely on "renewables" for the bulk of its energy supply in 1998 when the Christian Democrats and Greens formed a political alliance during an election campaign. However, there is a growing number of dissenting voices in both the German government as well as the public who see the nuclear phase out as being very misguided. This is mainly because coal power plants are being built to take up the slack for energy production as solar and wind power fail to deliver on their empty promises as usual. If the nuclear phase out is not reversed, Germany is going to have to magically pull a replacement for a third of its energy supply out of its ass in 2030 when all of its nuclear plants are scheduled to be shut down. Sadly, it looks like this is going to mean lignite coal burning power plants. Brown must be the new "green". Germany can also be expected to continue its hypocrisy of buying electricity from France that was generated by nuclear power despite being opposed to the construction of any new nuclear plants within its own borders.

I do hope that the nuclear phase out policy is reversed by the German government very soon, because the construction of new nuclear plants in Europe is practically inevitable as the rising costs of natural gas and the inefficiency of solar and wind energy will practically force countries to explore clean and viable alternatives. Also, people will find out that coal and the word "clean" do not belong in the same sentence.

Here is an interesting article about the history of Germany's nuclear policy.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Watering Down of Biology

The blog, Daylight Atheism brought a depressing article to my eyes today...

Apparently, not all states have requirements to teach evolution in schools as some academic programs do not even mention it. Even among the states that do cover evolutionary theory, few of them discuss the evolutionary path that led to humans. Even worse, religiously indoctrinated students often feel they need to challenge their biology teacher whenever the topic is mentioned.

This should be a warning sign of just how entrenched the whole idea of creationism is. The theory of evolution is FUNDAMENTAL to understanding biology and all of its related disciplines. Teaching a high school biology class without covering evolution would be like teaching geology without mentioning plate tectonics. This is why it is imperative that students understand the basic workings of the natural world, because religion cannot be allowed to cheat future generations out of a good education. It is the beginning of the 21st century, not the 4th; and "God did it!" is no longer a valid answer.

Not that it ever was.

Friday, September 5, 2008

American Nuclear Revival?

The Nuclear Energy Institue created a series of ads to run at both the Democratic and Republican national conventions last week. This is the first time in a very long while that the Democrats have allowed nuclear energy to be freely and openly discussed within their party. Are the followers of Al Gore finally starting to come to their senses?

Granted, the difference between talking about an issue is different than actually acting on it. It could be that even though both parties have brought up the topic of nuclear power, they really do not intend to do anything about it. I wonder how the same environmentalists who have relaxed about nuclear power are going to react when they see them starting to be built? Are Amory Lovins and Helen Caldicott going to raise the battle cry against the nuclear demon rearing its ugly head again in the developed world? Time will tell.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pointless Posturing...

While there may be some concern about nuclear weapons proliferation by allowing India access to uranium, the US cannot be the final arbiter in terms of who is and who is not allowed nuclear reprocessing technology, as a closed fuel cycle is the only way to fully utilize the potential of nuclear technology. Furthermore, Israel is much more extremist in many aspects politically speaking, and the Israeli nuclear weapons program is one of the most poorly kept secrets in the world. There is also the fact that if a country is that hell bent on developing nuclear weapons, there is little that can be done to stop them, short of invading it, and an invasion of India would be VERY pointless.

Britain's Step In The Right Direction

The nuclear power industry may yet be revived in the UK...

One of the major hurdles in reviving a depressed nuclear industry in any country is rebuilding its capability to manufacture the necessary components needed during the construction of the reactor. Because of the decline in construction orders for nuclear power plants, many manufacturers in the industry shut down this business sector. If the Sheffield Forgemaster plan goes through, this might revive interest in nuclear power if there were more companies in this sector to do business with.

Small blood-sucking arthropods...

This is an observation on politics. Those of you who are familiar with the political system in the US know that there are two main political factions, the Democrats and the Republicans. Both of these political parties have traded blows and dialogue with each other since their formation more than two centuries ago. Now this is not to say that the two parties are identical, as there are some key differences between them, but both of them have some rather large faults as they have made the American political system grow so stagnant as we see it now.

Let us take a look at the Democrats first. The Democratic party formed in opposition to the Federalists in 1792. When it was founded by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, it was known as the Democratic-Republican party. The Democratic-Republican party championed state's rights, small government, and the interests of small landowners over the vested interests of corporate and governmental institutions. However, the Democratic wing of the Democratic-Republican party underwent a sea-change during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, favoring an increase in government spending in the form of social welfare and an expansion of governmental programs.

In 1912, the Republican party split off from the Democrats due to internal tensions between conservatism and liberalism in both the economic and social sense. The Democratic party split off with Wilson, the Republican party split off with Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt called his party the Progressive party. With the creation of the New Deal program by the second president Roosevelt (FDR), the Democratic party favored a strong central government over individual states rights as well as an expanded role for the government as a financial regulator. During the 1960's however, things began to get interesting. Up until the 1960's, the American southern states were traditionally Democratic until the Southern Democrats became infuriated over the civil rights legislation passed by president Kennedy. Democrats in the South quickly defected to the Republican party.

The Democratic party underwent another massive identity shift with the rise of the "green" movement during the late 1960's. This pushed its policies further to the left in the fiscal sense with the increased calls for environmental regulation of industry and business. The vilification of nuclear energy was swept up in this movement with the disasters at Chernobyl and the movie The China Syndrome released right before the Three Mile Island near-disaster caused many environmentalists to ally themselves with the Democratic party. This was to try and influence the government to impose strict regulations on what they saw as a threat to the environment.

The "deep green" movement continues to appeal to many politicians in the Democratic party today, who are eager to try and capitalize on this particular segment of the voting populace as it grows in power. Al Gore is a noted example of this phenomenon as he embraces the ideological philosophies of groups such as Greenpeace to form his opinion on what direction the nation's energy policy should take rather than looking at the feasibility of meeting the energy demand of the nation using intermittent and inefficient energy sources such as ethanol, solar and wind power, while shunning nuclear power because of ideological bias.

The Republican party is in many ways even more dangerous and misguided than the Democratic party because it seems to have completely abandoned the idea of social liberalism as well as fiscal conservatism, with the Regan administration while embracing religious fundamentalism. Since the 1980's the Republican party has become more and more puritanical, anti-homosexual, anti-science and more authoritarian as it purges the "moderates" from its ranks in order to enforce a top down ideology based on judeo-christian principles in order to pander to the religious right. The frequent mention of "smaller government" as being one of the principles of the Republican party has long since been abandoned with measures designed to make the government more intrusive into the private lives of American citizens, such as the domestic spying program put forth by the Bush Administration. To make matters worse, the quality of the scientific education offered in our public schools has been suffering greatly as religious fundamentalism tries to sneak creationism into the curriculum under the mask of "Intelligent Design" and other disguises, and this strategy seems to have gotten more than a few sympathetic ears amongst the Republican party. When the religious right has destroyed biology, they will probably swarm and systemically destroy all the scientific disciplines one by one. Astronomy and Geology are probably next.

To make a long story short, both parties are increasingly adhering to rigid ideological principles, each dangerous in their own way. Between the two, I think the Democrats are somewhat less dangerous, but unless we can prevent the "environmentalists" from tampering with a practical energy policy, we will soon be restricted to medieval technology. I consider myself an environmentalist in the sense that I believe that a rational approach to solving environmental problems with cleaner solutions based on SCIENCE rather than ideology is important. Our need for energy is going to have to come from somewhere and forcing energy rationing and fantasy "renewable" solutions down everybody's throats is not going to do the environment any favors at all because people will then resume cutting down trees left and right to use in wood-burning stoves since everything else will probably be outlawed.

Neurovore's Nuclear News Network

Hello, this is my first post on my newly created blog. I have long been interested in the future and development of nuclear power, and I think that it has been greatly mismanaged in the US where I live. There is a lot of unwarranted opposition to nuclear energy, even though it seems to be the only feasible option for baseload power generation. The other alternative is coal, which is a very dirty energy source and it is both directly and indirectly responsible for many deaths worldwide. Renewables cannot be relied on for large scale electricity generation because of their intermittent nature. When the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing, there has to be a backup source of energy; and in the US this usually means oil, natural gas, and usually coal.

Coal is nasty stuff. It comes in three grades. Anthracite is considered the "cleanest" type of coal (Har, har). It is a hard, black, lusterous material that has a carbon content in the low to upper ninetieth percentile. Although it lacks the amount of volatile matter that bituminous and lignite coal have, it still produces many byproducts along with copious amounts of ash like all coal grades. Currently, most of the mining for anthracite coal takes place in Eastern Pennsylvania. Anthracite coal deposits also exist in Southern Canada along the Rocky Mountains, as well as in the Peruvian Andes.

Bituminous coal is the most commonly used grade of coal because of its availability and the fact that it is cheaper than anthracite coal. It is softer and often either black or brownish black in appearance. Bituminous coal also contains a higher percentage of volatiles as well as a substance called "bitumen", hence its name. Bitumen is a sticky, viscous substance that is directly responsible for much of the sludgy build-up that you find on many components at a coal power plant. It also contains many heavy metals; such as lead, mercury, chromium, nickel, and often arsenic. The sulfur in bituminous coal also directly contributes to the phenomenon of acid rain. Bituminous coal is mined in many locations in the world. Because of its frequency, there would be too many to list here.

By far, the worst pollution offender of the three grades listed here is lignite coal. Lignite is a soft, brownish coal that is composed up to 50% volatile matter. This crude form of coal is often rejected in favor of the other two grades because of its lower energy density and higher amount of pollution, but then I suppose if groups like Greenpeace were really worried about pollution they would be rallying for replacing coal with nuclear power. Lignite is also quite plentiful, particularly in Germany and Australia. Since Germany instituted a nuclear phase-out program it has been building coal power plants non-stop after finding that the empty promises of "renewables" are unable to keep up with the demand for energy that is growing each year within its borders. To make matters worse, lignite seems to be Germany's fuel of choice as it has so much of it.

Finally, Germany's nuclear phase-out seems to be little more than a political stunt to please the "greens" in its coalitionary government since the Social Democrats formed an alliance with the Green party during a national election. Germany is piggybacking on French nuclear infrastructure as it buys energy from France which has built more nuclear power plants to keep its neighbors happy causing France to laugh all the way to the bank. Apparently, it is perfectly okay to buy electricity produced by nuclear power plants while decrying nuclear technology as being the "work of the devil".

The US is not in much of a position to gloat, as it has not issued any new operating licenses for nuclear power plants for decades because of the bureaucratic mess that is the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Comission) and the fact that misguided local opposition from various activist groups tie up the construction of new reactors in court for several years pushing up the cost because of budget overruns caused by delays. The reactor licensing system needs to be streamlined, and stick to a standard reactor design, rather than having a piecemeal construction system based on making each power plant a custom affair.

To make a long story short, nuclear power is truly the best and most viable option for the world's future electricity needs. It is long past due to get over our fears about the hysteria perpetuated by movies such as The China Syndrome and the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Not only is nuclear power better for the environment than any other form of energy that we currently have, it is also one of the most efficient forms of energy ever developed.