Thursday, March 07, 2002

Nuclear bomb terrorism?

I posted another item about dirty bomb terrorism a few days ago. It included this link, which I think ought to have been emphasized more. If you missed it the first time, take a look at it now.

Why is it so significant? Because the people in question were working with something much like the internals of a nuclear weapon. Yet but for the criticality accident they caused through carelessness, the radiation dose rates would have been nominal. Moral? Nuclear bombs (as opposed to "dirty bombs") aren't as radioactive as you might think.

Which means that installing radiation detectors in public places would probably be good for little besides PR:
Finally, NEST operations would go into effect if a credible threat of a dirty bomb or a full-fledged nuclear weapon were to manifest itself. If the information available would allow the U.S. teams to locate the city affected, hundreds of team members would fan out along a matrix of the threat region to detect the bomb. Carrying gamma- and neutron-detectors inside carrying cases to preserve secrecy, the NEST members would cover the suspect area on foot, in vans and helicopters — going in and out of buildings hoping to register the tell-tale signals of a hidden bomb. Once found, the bomb is x-rayed, "sniffed" and otherwise analyzed to determine its characteristics.

Obviously, intelligence that helps localize the bomb is the main key to success. Just as obviously, intelligence of such quality is seldom available — as proven on Sept. 11. Such a search could be truly looking for a needle in a haystack, as detection normally would succeed only if the detectors come within a few feet or so of the hidden bomb.
US commercial nuclear power plants don't figure into scenarios for nuclear weapons. There's nothing onsite that you can make into a nuclear bomb - the enrichment is too low, and there's no apparatus for enriching it onsite. There's stuff that's good for dirty bombs, but likely it's so dirty that the creeps stealing it would be incapacitated themselves before they got it anywhere where it could cause much harm.

Maybe something like this will help with detection.

At any rate, nuclear terror threats are old news: has been reported that between 1975 and 1981 NEST personnel were sent to investigate threats in Boston, Los Angeles, Spokane, Pittsburgh, New York, Sacramento, Tennessee, and Reno...

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

Darwin 1, Brady 0

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I contend that much of the support for the theory of evolution comes not from scientific evidence but from people seeking to use it to attack religion.

But hey, I have a scientific background and I recognize natural selection when I see it.

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

It could happen...

Tim Blair has been getting some lip for this quote.

Is it possible for a car to clean the air? Well, you sure wouldn't want to have to breath through a carburetor. Some pollutants are combustible, such as vapors escaping from gasoline tanks. Run them through a car engine and they may well wind up as little more than CO2 and water. If CO2 is to be called a pollutant, then Bambi is a polluter too. (Like I needed another reason to shoot deer - they're living proof that Satan copulates with rats.)

The point is that in principle an automobile's exhaust could be cleaner than its intake air. Whether that ever happens is something else entirely.

This reminds me of my nuclear power days, when I met fellow engineers from all over the country. One of them told me of a plant on the lower Mississippi River which had a special variance for the radioactivity levels permitted in its discharge water. Why? Because the water it was drawing in was already out of spec.

Just why must there be an insanity defense?

I'm not going to offer any facts here, just a sneaking suspicion.

We keep hearing people fuss about our legal system for the way it supposedly hands punishments out unequally. Hey, I'm all for justice. But it seems like some areas get a lot more attention than others.

For instance, does anyone think that psychiatry is so standardized and evenhanded that it can define "insanity" in a legally appropriate way? Surely there can be no justice based on something so arbitrary. So in light of that, why do we tolerate an insanity defense?

Being short of time, I have done no research - maybe I'll get back to this later, and as always feedback is welcome. I'll just note that it has always struck me that insanity as determined by courts correlates directly with your wealth and with your likelihood of receiving the death penalty.

Crunch time

Things will probably be slow around here for the rest of the week. I'm in the middle of crunch time for a big project, and my partner had a family emergency in Asia. I'll be in a tux on Thursday and Saturday, and on Friday I'll be 200 miles away in a maternity ward to welcome a new relative.

And as long as I'm making announcements, this site too will probably be migrating off Blogspot soon. There'll be more on issues nuclear. And I'll be taking on some very politically incorrect topics RSN.

She doth protest too much

Charles Kuffner notes the coeds suing because someone videotaped them while they were flashing.

Who wants to bet that these babes are just stirring up publicity until they can make a deal with Playboy or its ilk?

Monday, March 04, 2002

What a nonbeliever will believe...

Will Wilkinson offers some sophistry to differentiate atheists' beliefs from those of believers, to a hallelujah chorus of comments.

Check this out:
To believe that something exists is to rely on it in your explanation of the world.
Say what? My explanation of the world does not rely on Will Wilkinson. Ergo he does not exist. I'd say the line needs work, and the context is no help.

To those of you who would say "there is no God" (the defining characteristic of atheists) - tell me how you would falsify that statement. Try to come up with something better than "Seeing the Cubs win a World Series".

That includes you, Will Wilkinson, if you exist. I need proof, dammit. Perhaps a burning bush? No, I'm sure I could explain it away. If I needed help, I'd just look in any of innumerable evolution apologies for ideas.

Non-falsifiable statements are not scientific statements. They fall in the realm of belief and faith. So ultimately atheists stand upon the same intellectual foundation the believers do, and have no basis for their near-universal intellectual smugness.

Sunday, March 03, 2002

Leonard Jeffries, take note...

Here's some info on the first nuclear reactor. Check it out. Do it. Now.

Radioactive terrorism?

Nowadays there's noise about putting radiation detectors in various places to intercept nuclear terrorism. Hmm. Here's a little bit of background info.

There's only so much potential for radiation in a given specimen. What is significant is the rate at which it is released. Release it rapidly and it's more dangerous while it lasts, but it won't last long. Release it slowly and exposure rates aren't so bad, but it will hang around longer. If you think about it you'll realize that isotopes with rapid rates of decay don't exist naturally in appreciable quantities, because they've all pretty much burned out by now. The slow ones have been here since evolution day one so we're inherently acclimated to consistent low levels of radiation.

Unfortunately there are some isotopes which lie between the extremes, giving dangerous levels of radiation while they last, while lasting long enough to force us to deal with them. That stuff is what the Yucca Mountain depository is designed for. It's not any good for nuclear weapons for reasons outside the scope of this blog.

But you can use it for a "dirty bomb". This is a bomb designed to cause great amounts of radiation exposure. Hmm - I have to ask why?

Small doses aren't worth the trouble - people might not even know they're getting them, and any results take years to show up, so what's the point?

Large doses? Unless they're truly astronomical, they don't kill people right away. I'm not a terrorist, but I don't think I'd be interested in merely injuring a bunch of people, who'll have plenty of time left to hunt me down and know they're going to die anyway.

About anything that might cause large doses causes huge logistical problems. It's not like nerve gases where the agent can be created at delivery with binary mixtures - it's dangerous all along. The radiation is easily detected even from a distance with simple instruments. Unless of course you're talking about a lot of shielding, which is incredibly heavy and otherwise causes problems of its own.

Then what? If they just scatter highly radioactive substances, it can be cleaned up. It's expensive to do, but I don't see why Al Qaeda or other creeps would be interested in doing what amounts to little more than making a mess.

Order your own geiger counter here. I think you can beat that price.


What ever made anyone think that saying "here kitty kitty..." endlessly in a high voice would ever summon a cat? What do they say in other languages? Should I work in "onomatopoeia" to make life more difficult for Googlewhackers?

6409 miles per gallon?

Yeah, that's the world record for fuel economy according to this. Some restrictions apply...