Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Nuclear Leaks 1: Hanford

The GammaMaster: Japanese wristwatch and Geiger counter in one.  Image Source: MedGadgetCurrently sold out, the watch sells for USD $250 and was previously available out of Hong Kong.

Caption for the above photo: Leave it to the Japanese to integrate both a digital timepiece and a fully functional Geiger counter, all of it crammed into into a standard sized wristwatch. ... Feature-wise there are limits to what you can do in a wristwatch format. There's the time display in traditional dial analog format - it is a watch after all. For displaying radiation dosage, in addition to a digital display, the GammaMaster has an LCD analog display, which provides a visual indication of the current dose rate and cumulative dose. Both can be run in dosimeter mode or in survey meter mode.

Warning alarms can be set to indicate when a specified dose rate or cumulative dose is exceeded. Alarm settings are always displayed on the analog scales. Some minor negatives with the GammaMaster. For one, the radiation units of are in metric µSv/h and don't include mRems/hr, more commonly used in the U.S.

This month, I am doing a countdown to the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster by highlighting nuclear accidents, leaks, tests and similar incidents that have occurred elsewhere in the world. If oil is the fuel of our present, nuclear power is - or seemed to be - synonymous with the future. Yet it is a future not of clean burning high-tech scientific efficiency, but one of apocalyptic consequences if mismanaged, damaged or disrupted. The operation systems of nuclear facilities are also vulnerable to computer hacker attacks (which I have blogged about here and here).

In the wake of the Japanese crisis at the Fukushima plants, the internet public is getting very jumpy. One of my friends described the slow burn that is wearing down our sense of well-being as an "apocalyptic pressure on the metaphorical inner ear." (Thanks, J.)  On Twitter, I notice that nerves are raw. On 17 March, @ozcanyuksek tweeted: "travellers from Japan have triggered the radiation detectors at Chicago's airport. Though the report does stress the levels were very low." Amid assurances that Japanese radiation fallout levels were low, @MorrisonMD remarked: "Worried about radiation from Japan coming to US? Vast majority will be dispersed, but take antioxidants & Vit C." On 23 March, Tomoko Hosaka commented: "More on Tokyo tap water. Expert: Stress people get from radioactivity is more dangerous than radioactivity itself." On 28 March, @leashless commented: "Insomnia and flashes of ill temper. I am subtly, but deeply, stressed." On 1 April, after Tokyo Electric had repeatedly made alarming comments about radiation levels, then retracted them, the company announced they were sending in a robot to find out the source of an unknown leak, which they later isolated on 2 April. By 1 April, there were alarms raised by "experts" - despite all previous claims that levels of radiation currently spreading globally from Fukushima were harmless - that the world food supply was threatened by Japanese fallout.  There is a low grade, growing background fear that reflects our helplessness and global connections back at us.

Radiation from radioactive elements - an invisible, little understood force that can kill you at high or prolonged doses - is, like petroleum, one of the millstones hanging around our collective necks from the twentieth century.  Nuclear power may not survive very far into Millennium if public opinion turns sharply against the industry.  Yet it has overcome serious incidents before, so it may continue, no matter how people feel about it.  This is the central, all-consuming problem of our times - how to create enough energy to fuel our global economy without destroying ourselves in the process.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Nuclear Culture 1: Healthy Radiation?

Caption for the above photograph: "Doramad was a toothpaste created in Germany in 1945. It was made by Auergesellschaft of Berlin, a company that was founded by the inventor of the gas lantern mantle, Carl Auer von Welsbach. On the back of the product’s tube it stated that ‘radioactive radiation increases the defenses of teeth and gums… cells are loaded with new life energy, the destroying effect of bacteria is hindered… it gently polishes the dental enamel and turns it white and shiny.’"

As part of nuclear-themed posts in the run-up to the Chernobyl anniversary on 26 April, this post covers radioactive elements in their heyday, right after they were first discovered.  There was a time when radiation from these elements was associated with the power of the sun - and the future.  As incredible as it may seem, radium, a highly radioactive element, was seen up to the middle of the last century as a health treatment.  Radium was discovered in 1898 by Maria Skłodowska-Curie and her husband Pierre. New World Encyclopedia: "It was once used in luminescent paints on watch dials, and in the early twentieth century it was added to products like toothpaste, hair creams, and certain foodstuffs, based on the belief that it had curative properties. These ... uses were discontinued when the adverse effects of radium were discovered." The following are pictures of actual products - from toys to suppositories - that were marketed as revitalizing, empowering or inherently fascinating because they were radioactive.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Prometheus Unbound: Fukushima Workers

Unbearable Lightness (2010) © by Elsilencio. Reproduced with kind permission.

The Wall Street Journal has reprinted some messages exchanged on 23 March between TEPCO workers regarding the conditions under which they are struggling to contain the problems at the Fukushima I and II nuclear plants.  They are heartbreaking reflections on drastic courage.  If you pray, remember these brave people in your prayers.  Remember them, even if you don't pray.  They are all that stands between us and disaster. They have been working incessantly since the earthquake on 11 March to stabilize the nuclear crisis. Incidentally, Fukushima (福島市) means good fortune island; let's hope that the place lives up to its name.

What follows below is quoted directly from the WSJ and all credit for translation and reporting belongs to them.  Note that the report does not fully clarify where the writers are referring to Fukushima I (the Dai-ichi plant) which is where the major problems are occurring - or to Fukushima II (the Dai-ni plant), which has been shut down.  But even then, at the Fukushima II Dai-ni plant, one worker died in a crane accident on 13 March and four others were injured, which tells you how desperate conditions are.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Chernobyl Experts Visit United States

Natalia Manzurova, shown here in 1988 in the "dead zone" of the Pripyat, is one of the few survivors among those directly involved in the cleanup of Chernobyl.

About a week ago, AOL News reported on Natalia Manzurova's words of warning for the workers who are desperately trying to contain the brewing disaster in Japan's wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant. Manzurova is one of the last surviving workers who worked to contain the Chernobyl disaster and she is on a tour of the United States this week.  At the time of the Chernobyl disaster, she was a 35-year-old engineer.  She spent four-and-a-half years helping clean the area.  She still lives in Ozersk, a closed town in Russia.  The town is near the Mayek plant which featured the second-worst nuclear accident in history, the Kyshtym disaster of 19 September 1957 (I will blog about that incident in April).  Ozersk is still highly radioactive, so it's strange that her words of advice for the Japanese workers in Fukushima are: "Run away as quickly as possible. Don't wait. Save yourself and don't rely on the government because the government lies. They don't want you to know the truth because the nuclear industry is so powerful."  She bears the so-called 'Chernobyl necklace,' also known as the 'Belarus necklace,' a scar formed after an operation conducted to remove her thyroid gland.  You can see a graphic photo of the necklace here.  She is the author of Hard Duty: A Woman's Experience at Chernobyl.

She explained that when called to help contain the Chernobyl disaster she had no idea how bad it was.  And if asked today to do the same task, "I'd never agree."  She and her fellow liquidators dug holes and buried animals, machines and buildings.  She described it as an unearthly experience: "I always felt I was in the middle of a war where the enemy was invisible. All the houses and buildings were intact with all the furniture, but there wasn't a single person left. Just deep silence everywhere. Sometimes I felt I was the only person alive on a strange planet."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Time Lapses: Norway's Auroras

The Aurora from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

Caption for the above video: Terje Sorgjerd recently captured this ethereal time-lapse footage of the northern lights. Says Sorgjerd,"I spent a week capturing one of the biggest aurora borealis shows in recent years. Shot in and around Kirkenes and Pas National Park bordering Russia, at 70 degree north and 30 degrees east. Temperatures around -25 Celsius."

I09 is carrying the best time lapse video I've ever seen that shows the aurora borealis in all its splendour. This is the beautiful side to the huge explosions on the Sun that have recently occurred.

For my other time lapse video posts, go here, here, here and here.
Click here for all my posts on astronomy.