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.