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Monday  March 14, 2011

Subject: Raw video of tsunami coming in

Hello Jerry,

I saw this linked on Jeff Jarvis' Twitter feed... It is 6 minutes of raw video of the water coming in. Not sure exactly where in Japan. It is stunning and the power of the water is awesome, in the original sense of the word.


Thanks for your coverage of the news from Japan it is valuable to have a different insight into the crisis, as you say, the hysteria from the media reports are not that helpful. In watching the network news tonight I learned that some of the stations will now be sending the news anchors. THAT will make it better. (sarcasm) Please networks, just have reporters there, we don't need stand ups from news anchors!

Best wishes, I enjoy seeing you on Leo's show TWiT, I hope you'll be on again soon.

Elizabeth Branch


Letter from England

The PRIVACY Forum carried a report that the TSA will be retesting airport body scanners after some were reported to be emitting ten times the expected level of radiation. See the original story here: <http://tinyurl.com/4vfvc5a>. It was my experience that that category of equipment was frequently well out of calibration, usually in the high power direction.

 UK Government warned that a policy of restricting student visas to play to domestic politics will damage the higher education sector. See <http://tinyurl.com/6gu6opy> and <http://tinyurl.com/68cv4wf>. The expatriate community in the UK is holding their breath--we're obvious targets for the next set of sanctions.

 The academic union (UCU) has announced a strike for 24 March. It doesn't seem to have majority support from the union members. I'm reminded of the PATCO strike during the Reagan Administration.

 The UK population does not trust the UK Government with NHS reforms. <http://tinyurl.com/6d2y3jx>

 Police cover-up of phone-hacking investigation: <http://tinyurl.com/62e8mcc>

 The dangers of allowing students to drop history at 13: <http://tinyurl.com/5wotjbk> First foreign languages and now history. Of course, math and science are also abandoned early.

 The count of reactors that have lost cooling in Japan has now risen to six <http://tinyurl.com/47gzqqb>.


If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? (Albert Einstein)
Harry Erwin PhD





(Also seen on Drudge Report from New York Times -firewalled) and other sources located via Google News)

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and other US Navy ships in the waters off the quake zone in eastern Japan were repositioned after the detection of a low-level radiation plume from the troubled Fukushima nuclear plant <http://abcnews.go.com/International/
reactor/story?id=13126081>  located 100 miles away. <snip>

"The maximum potential radiation dose received by any ship's force personnel aboard the ship when it passed through the area was less than the radiation exposure received from about one month of exposure to natural background radiation from sources such as rocks, soil, and the sun," Davis said.

That is surprisingly high given the distance; I notice that no actual numbers are in the report. It is more than TMI produced total. Of course it is also from a sea coast out to sea, and the makeup of the cloud is not given.

The incident is not trivial, and I may be belittling it as a reaction to the general hysteria. I keep repeating that we don't know the numbers. But the chances of any of that getting to the United States are miniscule.

I remember when fallout from nuclear tests was quite real. We all survived that.


Is it more dangerous to be near a troubled Japanese nuclear plant or pass through TSA "security"? - 


"The Transportation Security Administration announced Friday that it would retest every full-body X-ray scanner that emits ionizing radiation - 247 machines at 38 airports - after maintenance records on some of the devices showed radiation levels 10 times higher than expected."

I am not trying to make less of the horrors happening in Japan. However, with the focus on the struggle to restore control of the reactors affected by the Tsunami, it may be time to point out that the radiation releases in our own airports may be greater.

R, Rose

Flying in an airplane exposes you to additional radiation.


NYT's nuclear article

It wasn't as bad an article as it could have been. Nothing in here about relative risk, though.



Fredrik V Coulter



A useful link about radioactive decay heat of a nuclear reactor after shut down.

Jim Crawford


It gets hot in there, but cooling the reactor vessel prevents it from being melted.


Libya and logistics

Regarding reader Tim Herbst's point that if stability is the criteria why not support Ghadaffi, it would seem a good point - if in fact Ghadaffi had successfully "kept a lid on things" (he palpably hasn't if there's a civil war underway) or for that matter if Ghadaffi were on his way to clamping the lid back down successfully anytime soon. The tone of press reports over the weekend made it seem that way, but if you take a look at the latest AP reports ( http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/
=2011-03-13-15-30-15 ) there are indications that Ghadaffi is running into (predictable) problems with small numbers of troops, unreliable troops, bypassed rebels, and stretched supply lines.

I'll state explicitly what I left implicit before: Ghadaffi doesn't seem to have the troops to patrol and pacify all the rebel cities. Nor is he likely to be able to muster the firepower to apply the Hama solution and quickly shell them into submission. Both require an order of magnitude beyond what it takes to blast through untrained unsupported rebel roadblocks in open country. Left alone, the Libyan civil war is likely to drag on inconclusively - and messily - for quite a while.

From a coldly rational viewpoint, Ghadaffi may eventually be able to suppress this rebellion, but the effort would likely disrupt oil exports for a long time. The rebels seem to have sufficient popular support to impose stability more quickly, given modest external military support.

From a humanitarian viewpoint, Ghadaffi's chief option to restore uncontested rule with his limited resources is terror via massacre.

Either way, intervention seems the least of the available evils. If done, 'twere best done quickly, of course. Alas, the prospects for quick action of any sort still seem poor. The main positive result of this mess may be its serving as a horrible example of what happens when the US refuses to lead.


Gaddafi is certainly a slayable dragon and deserves slaying. "These things shouldn't be allowed to live" the knight tells Arthur in the Sword and the Stone. The problem is that after you slay the dragon, do you want to colonize his territory? If not, what do you do? Jefferson sent the Marines to Tripoli, but they wisely raised no flags, and sailed away from the burning ships in the harbor, having made their point about tribute.


What if Qaddafi Wins? 


While it is clear that Michael Totten does not like Muammar Qaddafi, he does have a few interesting things to say:


“If something doesn’t change soon, Muammar Qaddafi will kill his way back into power over all Libya’s territory. His forces are retaking rebel positions. The opposition is crumbling. And it looks like the United States and Europe will stand back and just let it happen.” <snip>

“He’ll emerge meaner and more isolated than ever and hell-bent on revenge. We can forget about going back to the status quo ante when his relations with others were more or less “normal.” Whatever reluctance he felt against acting out will be eroded, if not lost entirely, now that he knows the West has little appetite to move against him, even when he is cornered and at his most vulnerable.

“If the only Arab rulers to be deposed by revolution are the nominally pro-American “moderates,” while the mass-murdering state sponsors of terrorism hang on, change indeed will be coming to the Middle East and North Africa, but it won’t be the change we were hoping for.” <snip>

As Macbeth said, “If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well It were done quickly.” The intervention was not done quickly. Should it be done at all? Certainly after what Clinton and Obama have said, Kaddafi will be no friend of the US. Wonder if we have more Lockerbies in our future?


Gaddafi has never been a friend of the US, and nothing we could do would make him one. He has previously been afraid of us.




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Tuesday,  March 15, 2011

Spent nuke fuel pool may be boiling, further radiation leak feared | Kyodo News


I wonder how much spent fuel is stored in the pools. Japan reprocesses wastes so they shouldn't have moe than a year or two worth of spent fuel on site. The US idiocy of neither recycling or disposing of spent fuel has resulted in large inventories being kept on site. I am amazed that the pool is boiling since the decay heat should have dropped to levels that can be accommodated with passive cooling.

The more I learn about this incident, the less I understand.

Jim Crawford

Which is probably the right conclusion. The US authorities have done what they have to do: we have sent what help we can. The Japanese authorities are taking all the precautions they can take, evacuating people and recommending that people minimize exposure to existing and potential radiation leaks.

In the absence of both reliable information and the need to do something, the proper course of action is to reduce uncertainties: learn more before acting. There is little else that the people of the United States need do.


: Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now! 


Seems some Brits agree with you. “Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now!” they say:



It is certainly an expensive test to destruction: but before we build more reactors now, perhaps we ought to wait until we can evaluate what we have learned?


Some Perspective On The Japan Earthquake - 

Excellent background commentary on the Japan earthquake. Covers Japanese disaster preparedness and what went right (a lot). Good commentary on the nuclear plant aspect as well.

Some Perspective On The Japan Earthquake



Jim Riticher

I believe we have pointed to this before, but it is a good background source. In the absence of reliable information on what's happening, it is well to be informed about background; but it is pointless to form conclusions until we know what actually is happening.


I wonder where the generators are located at Fukuchima?


I thought one of the lessons learned from the flooding in New Orleans was that it makes no sense to place your backup generators where there is a potential of getting wet. If you are going to place your power plants near the ocean, it might be a good idea to place the backup systems somewhat higher than sea level.


Daniel Brodsky

A good question. One ought to learn from disasters, but I do not recall the media pointing that out after New Orleans.


Thinking like a novelist

Dear Doctor Pournelle,

Thinking like a novelist, re: Libya, I wonder-

If the Saudi are willing to overtly send troops into Bahrain, as they have done, to prop up a fellow Gulf monarch and keep the oil flowing from the restive Shiite regions, might they also not covertly support the Libyan rebels with enough tools of war to keep the pot simmering, and oil near $100 barrel?

Might such actions by the Saudi regime not meet with a blind eye, or even a wink, from the current administration, as high oil encourages markets to go along with their Green, Anti-Carbon agenda?

After all, the Saudis tend to do what is in their interest. I wonder what it is like to have a government that does that?


I don't think I want to write that novel, but I can think of writers who could do that theme well.



For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:



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Quality control.


The Drug Enforcement Administration confirmed Tuesday that the agency seized the state of Georgia's supply of a key lethal injection drug because of questions about how the stockpile was imported to the U.S.

DEA spokesman Chuvalo Truesdell said he didn't know if other states' supplies of sodium thiopental were being collected. The seizure comes less than two months after a convicted killer in Georgia was executed, despite raising questions about where the state had obtained the drug and whether or not it had expired.

--- Roland Dobbins

Bureaucratic absurdity on stilts! I have trouble believing this! Quality control! Why it might -- it might kill someone!


Now add this

The Iron Rule in action: FAA booby traps airplane lavatories! 

Hello Dr. Pournelle,

You might have noticed that the FAA, under the cover of safety, had airlines remove the oxygen generator canisters from the toilets of all passenger planes. They did it covertly under a secret directive.

Curious minds want to know what is so dangerous in having emergency oxygen in the toilets! This gives the answer:


It's an accurate yet amusing technical analysis of the matter. You wrote many times about the dangers of chasing the wrong problem and spending millions on illusory threats. This is a perfect example of an expensive measure that leaves us with more, not less, risk than before.

And soon they will unionize and negotiate work rules. The Republicans ought to defund this farce.


Wholesale prices up 1.6 pct. on steep rise in food - Yahoo! Finance

Wholesale risk of rebellion rises...


Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan,KSC

Food prices will rise as we burn food to add stuff to gasoline.


Fear vs Panic

You linked to a very interesting article showing the Japanese perspective on the BBC's coverage of the earthquake. The writer disputed many details, including the description of people as panic stricken. The armchair TV viewer may be tempted to dismiss that as a quibble.

However, I have recently been reading With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, Eugene Sledge's memoir of serving with the Marines in WWII. Writing about his initial reaction about going into combat on Okinawa, his second campaign, Sledge specifically emphasized that while he felt a high level of fear, it was not overlaid with the sense of near-panic that he felt landing on Peleliu because this time he knew from experience what was happening and when the only thing he could do was endure it.

So that's why I'm in a more receptive frame of mind for the writer's assertion, "There was no panic or 'the end is nigh' sentiments. It was well rehearsed and everyone was doing exactly what they had been trained to do." In life there is a difference between feeling fear and feeling panic, if not in a TV studio.

--Mike Glyer

Japan and the US Fleet are doing what they are trained to do: take all precautions one might reasonably take. Act as if the threat is worse than it is, and in particular husband your resources: don't expose your technical workers to any new radiation that would increase their dose levels unless you have to.

Radiation scares hell out of rational people. Having undergone a great deal of it recently I have some better understanding than I used to.

The important thing is not to lose your nerve.


Qaddafi Forces Near Benghazi as Rebel Commander Says World ‘Has Failed Us’ - Bloomberg

Wait, didn't these people not want our help? So they lied or our media lied. I don't trust either...


Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan,KSC

The Brits sent in some SAS specialists with diplomatic passports to Benghazi. The rebels arrested them and expelled them from the country. They didn't need no stinking help.  But once you have fired all your ammunition into the air, you must blame someone.

I understand that the young Egyptian rebels told the Secretary of State to pound sand. A quarter or more of out foreign aid goes to Egypt.

One does not always expect rationality in the Middle East.

The great thing is not to lose your nerve.


the situation in Japan keeps getting worse. Meanwhile, Obama does a B Ball bracket on ESPN.

 Jim Crawford


No, it's not getting worse in Japan. It is not getting better as fast as we would like, but the radiation releases peaked at acceptable levels and fell to quite low ones. The rods are out of the reactors in 4 5 and 6 and we are now dealing with spent fuel; it won't go critical, it won't produce enough heat to melt anything real, and there will be no superheated steam.

Jerry Pournelle

 Far, far more Japanese are going to freeze to death for lack of electricity and intact housing than will die from the fallout from a worst case scenario with the reactors. If the lack of water and sanitation causes an epidemic, the deaths will be orders of magnitude higher.

Your frying pan analogy is excellent. What has provoked my concern is that keeping the frying pan cool seems to be taking far more water than it should. My calcs show that the radioactive decay heat of the fuel in a reactor core should have by now decayed to the point that a garden hose would be insufficient to replace water lost to evaporation/boiling but a fire hose would be more than adequate. The reactor cores might be producing far more heat than my calcs predict do to ongoing fission in the subcritical mass. There are a lot of isotopes (primarily Pu-240) in the fuel rods that undergo spontaneous fission. Even in a subcritical reactor, with say a .95 gain rate, the heat generated by fission is not inconsequential. Alternatively and more seriously, the reactor systems and the containment have some leakage. After riding out an 9.0 earthquake, this is to be expected.

The dramatic film footage of the upper thirds of the reactor buildings blowing up is certainly not reassuring. Having these upper structures referred to as a "containment" by industry spokesmen as well as the media only adds to the anxiety. I would think once the first building exploded the plant operators would decide that releasing mildly radioactive gases is preferable to risking another hydrogen explosion. Aside from potential damage to the cooling systems, the damage from the explosions make it impossible to defile the reactors. Most people are left wondering if Homer Simpson is running the plants.

Your analogy of each reactor year of waste being equivalent to a Tsar bomb might not be exact but it is informative. The energy equivalent is about the same but the spectrum of fission products from prompt neutrons is different than for thermal neutrons. However, your analogy is reasonably accurate. That monstrous Tsar bomb lofted vaporized dirt with condensed fission products to such a high altitude that by the time the material precipitated out the radioactivity had decayed by several orders of magnitude. The delay time for radioactive steam from the nuclear plant to condense is highly dependent on the weather. You will recall that while the Hiroshima produced nearly no fallout, the Nagasaki bomb did because a rainstorm condensed and washed out the fission products. As long as the wind is blowing the fallout out tobsea, the consequences will be minimal. A shift in the wind that blows then fallout towards Tokyo combined with weather that precipitates it will be a problem.

Discussions of what is a safe dose of radiation is dependent on context. An elderly sic fi writer with brain cancer choosing to expose himself to massive doses is acceptable. The same dose involuntarily administered to a thousand, young, healthy people is not.

Perhaps the carnage to the refugees from hypothermia, starvation and disease will ve so severe that we will be able to have a rational discussion about the risks of nuclear power. The new Westinghouse SP 1000 reactor would not be having cooling issues doubt loss of power.

Jim Crawford

We have tested some older designs to destruction. By "we" I mean the human race. We will learn much about reactor designs from this. The way to do that is to get all the data, and we don't have that. We will also learn more about possible accidents to spent fuel storage facilities. When it is done we will know more about nuclear power safety.

All energy industries have costs in both money and lives. None are completely safe. If we want to return to a low energy society those who impose that will need all the guns they can get because some will not want to live that way. They can hope for mercenaries who will fight for a lower standard of living. The performance of the Wisconsin Democrats is a harbinger for how hard civilized people will fight to keep what they have.


"A Vermont neighborhood is being stalked by a renegade gray squirrel."


Perhaps I be a wee cynic, but when this is one of the mornings headlines, my Knowledge Bump whispers "The "crisis" is past, the "fever" has broken, they are back to dredging up silly stuff to feed the beast."

If you can't scare 'em with nukes in Japan, then blitz 'em with ""When Squirrels Attack!"

Hey, was it a Flying Squirrel? Can we get a No Fly Zone established for Vermont?

Oh, The Humanity!


All is well. Fearless Leader will send in Boris!


1 Sv = 100 rads

Jerry - Read your post regarding the report of a 400 mSv/hr radiation measurement at the Fukushima plant (got there via Instapundit). Thought you should know of errors. ! Sv is equal to 100 rads (not 1 rad). Also, a typical effective dose for a two view (AP and LAT) chest x-ray is 0.1 mSv (not 15 mSv). See for example: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/safety/index.cfm?pg=sfty_xray 

Thought you should know.

I am an Associate Professor of Medicine and Medical Physics at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.  I teach diagnostic x-ray imaging physics in the Medical Physics graduate program here.


Michael S. Van Lysel, Ph.D.

Thank you. I never heard of Sievert units until this came up. I use 15 millirem as the working level of chest x-rays. Some sources say 10. Conversion to Sievert units is not something I usually do. My intent was to show order of magnitude limits, and I am now quite sure that the worst case here is a radiation leak lower than Tsar Bomba (and of course nothing like  megatons of energy release). A back of the envelope approach to finding the upper limit of disaster.

I would much appreciate a paragraph or so on the various units used in these measures and reports.


Worst Case FD & The Media

Just a quick thought. You seem to have singled out Fox News among the panic mongers. I've seen both ABC and Fox News coverage back to back, more than once, as events have unfolded, and while Fox's "news" coverage hasn't distinguished itself positively, it certainly doesn't warrant being distinguished negatively.

That said, Glenn Beck, for whom Fox should be credited good or bad, has had some of the most rational commentary on the reactor events, unlike a certain media-whore physics professor of Asian extraction. While Beck has erred somewhat in his demonstrations, his presentation has been far more accurate than any I've seen in broadcast media.

It's a sad state of the media when a self-confessed ex-rodeo-clown/former-disc-jockey is the one presenting the most accurate, in-context explanation of nuclear physics in the entire American broadcast media.

Tom Kelley Charlotte, NC

I may be too hard on Fox, but I was vastly disappointed with their coverage; I expected better from them. I didn't expect CNN even to try to get things right. Fox I expected better. I do not regularly watch Beck.

My attempt was a back of the envelope limit calculation. I stand by it. Worst case is Tsar Bomba, and we all survived that. In fact the latest projections are that no one off the site will be seriously harmed. That could change if the broken confinement pool continues to leak as fast as they pour water into it. Exposed used fuel rods can be highly dangerous for several weeks.


something you didn't know about "wind power"

Friends, Here is an aspect of "green energy" I'll wager you didn't know. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/

Martin Lee Rose
"The international community seems incapable of organizing a panic aboard a doomed submarine" (wish I knew)



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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tonight in Japan

Tonight in Japan <http://energyfromthorium.com/2011/03/15/tonight-in-japan/

Published in Sendai Earthquake <http://energyfromthorium.com/category/media/sendai-earthquake/>  by Kirk Sorensen <http://energyfromthorium.com/author/Kirk%20Sorensen/>  on March 15th, 2011

Tonight in Japan no one will die from radiation exposure.

But scores will die of cold. <http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/national/news/20110315p2a00m0na024000c.html>  Scores will be sick, lonely, afraid. Thousands will feel hopeless. Some will take their own lives.

Their lives would be better if they were warm, had a hot meal, drank from clean water, had lights and security.

They need the electricity that Fukushima-Daiichi was producing. They need it more than ever.

=== If life is easy, then you're dead 

David Eckard


Fukushima / Nassim Taleb


First a quick thank you from the 14 year old version of me for both "The Mote in Gods Eye" and "Tinker" both of which brought me a great deal of happiness and helped open up the world into a much larger set of possibilities than it might otherwise have been for me. That we are not "half way to Alpha Centauri" by now, as you once put it, is one of the great disappointments of my life; but thats the subject of another letter.

I was curious what you thought about Nasim Taleb's (author of The Black Swan) perspective on the Japan Reactor Crisis? I think it can be summarized as: when you rely on inherently impossible, small probability calculations, you necessarily underestimate unknowable potential consequences. Here is his statement from the "notes" page of his website:

142 Time to understand a few facts about small probabilities [criminal stupidity of statistical science]

(I've received close to 600 requests for interviews on the "Black Swan" of Japan. Refused all (except for one). I think for a living & write books not interviews. This is what I have to say.)

The Japanese Nuclear Commission had the following goals set in 2003: " The mean value of acute fatality risk by radiation exposure resultant from an accident of a nuclear installation to individuals of the public, who live in the vicinity of the site boundary of the nuclear installation, should not exceed the probability of about 1x10^6 per year (that is , at least 1 per million years)".

That policy was designed only 8 years ago. Their one in a million-year accident occurred about 8 year later. We are clearly in the Fourth Quadrant there.

I spent the last two decades explaining (mostly to finance imbeciles, but also to anyone who would listen to me) why we should not talk about small probabilities in any domain. Science cannot deal with them. It is irresponsible to talk about small probabilities and make people rely on them, except for natural systems that have been standing for 3 billion years (not manmade ones for which the probabilities are derived theoretically, such as the nuclear field for which the effective track record is only 60 years).

1) Small probabilities tend to be incomputable; the smaller the probability, the less computable. (Forget the junk about "Knightian" uncertainty, all small probabilities are incomputable). (See TBS, 2nd Ed., or Douady and Taleb, Statistical undecidability, 2011.)

2) Model error causes the underestimation of small probabilities & their contribution (on balance, because of convexity effects). Any model error, just as any undertainty about flying time causes the expected arrival to be delayed (you rarely land 4 hours early, more often 4 hours late on a transatlantic flight, so "unforeseen" disturbances tend to delay you). See my argument about second order effects with my paper <http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1669317>  . [INTUITION: uncertainty about the model used for calculation of random effects causes a second layer of randomness, causing small probabilities to rise on balance].

3) The problem is more acute in Extremistan, particularly the manmade part. The probabilities are undestimated but the consequences are much, much more underestimated.

4) As I wrote, because of globalization, the costs of natural catastrophes are increasing in a nonlinear way.

5) Casanova problem (survivorship bias in probability): If you compute the frequency of a rare event and your survival depends on such event not taking place (such as nuclear events), then you underestimated that probability. See the revised note 93 on αδηλων.

Link for this page: http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/notebook.htm 

Link to Taleb paper on calculating risk. THE FOURTH QUADRANT: A MAP OF THE LIMITS OF STATISTICS http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/taleb08/taleb08_index.html

Link to his home page: http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/ 

Link to The Black Swan, which if you haven't read it, I recommend.

thanks in advance

Bob Clark

It is always important to understand the limits to prediction from empirical events when you have no physical model to work with. This is one of the big controversies of the Global Warming debate. We don't have many huge earthquakes to work from so we can't possible estimate their rarity with any accuracy. That will always be the case.

The Black Swan is an important book which I reviewed and recommended some time ago and I do urge readers to be familiar with it; but extrapolating this to everything in life needs to be done with care. We have no real estimate of the probabilities of events we don't understand; we have only the empirical records. Bayes dealt with this, as have others, and that's what real statistical inference is concerned with: what is generally taught in both physical and social science classes does not in fact generate understanding of the fundamentals of statistics. Statistical inference is a model; in general it makes predictions about what will happen in models. When the model pretty well describes reality -- as for instance a dice game -- your predictions are quite accurate over time. I can't tell you whether or not I'll make the next pass at craps, but I can give you pretty exact odds on it. But: that's odds on a model of a craps game. The model won't include throwing the dice on the floor, or taking out a pistol and robbing the book man, and doing that will change everything. Alas I am not sure that Taleb makes that clear enough.


How Washington Ruined Your Washing Machine


In case there is time for non Nuclear discussions.


Your tax dollars at work. We need more bureaus, don't we? BUT SEE BELOW


SUBJECT: Plastic in the oceans.

Hi Jerry.

TED talk on plastic in the oceans.


Cheers, Mike Casey




Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan,KSC


Re: The Fukishima Swan

Taleb writes that the Japanese Nuclear Commission was foolish to make a statement like "The mean value of acute fatality risk by radiation exposure resultant from an accident of a nuclear installation to individuals of the public, who live in the vicinity of the site boundary of the nuclear installation, should not exceed the probability of about 1x10^-6 per year" because they're trying to predict something based on small probabilities.

So...there's dead people, then? And these people died of acute radiation exposure resulting from a nuclear installation accident?

Taleb seems to be assuming that the Japanese government didn't prepare adequately for these events. It seems to me that, actually, they *did*. They assumed that there *was* no good response to a 9.0 earthquake followed by a 10-meter tsunami except to pick up the pieces afterward. Tell people to stay inside, distribute iodine tablets, monitor for radiation exposure, and be willing to write the reactors off.

The flip side of "black swan" unavoidable-unpredictable-total-destruction events is that *any* survival is a win.

-- Mike T. Powers

Well said.


Washing machines...

The writer in the WSJ doesn't do anyone a service by quoting 2007 statistics in 2011 when 15 seconds of research would tell him that his shining example from 2007 is not true in 2011.

I just logged into consumer reports, and they list 3 top-loading washers as "best buys" (priced $500-$700), along with 6 front loaders ($600-$800).

It *is* true that the front loaders do a better job both in terms of energy efficiency and cleaning, and should my venerable top-loader fail I will no doubt replace it with a front-loader for that reason. Unfortunately I can't compare today's tests with those from 1998 when I bought my washer, so I can't confirm whether the washer I have is better than a top-loader I could buy today.


Thanks. We have an ancient Whirlpool top loader that we have absolutely no reason to replace. By ancient I am sure I mean decades. It got a lot of work when there were four boys living here. I have no idea about front loading machines or why they are supposed to be better. My impression was that they don't work very well, but I am sure my impression is based on stand up comics, not on any data.


But then there's this:

I bought my Mom a front-loading Whirlpool a couple years ago and have seen sign after sign that the darn thing doesn't get clothes clean. A pair of my work jeans came out with traces of the smear of mud that was on them when they went in. The bath towels started to have a chronic funky smell. There never seemed to be much free water in the drum, no matter what setting you chose....just looks like wet clothes being gently rolled over themselves.

A little internet searching showed that this is common and the low water level is the cause. I imagine to squeeze ever more "efficiency" they seek to put in just the minimum amount of water because hot water is typically the 2nd highest energy use in a residence*. The things are controlled to put in just a little more water than it takes to wet the clothes - measured by a pressure switch or sensor. http://mikes-duet.blogspot.com/ 

When I did a bit of research about hot water heater efficiency a couple years back, I had my eyes opened to how the DOE controls/limits consumers options through their rule-making authority. As I understand it (you'd know best, I assume), these rules when published in the Federal Register have the force of law. Just like the toilets, manufacturers cannot sell appliances that don't meet their standards for energy efficiency.

That is one little part of soft despotism - expensive appliances that are not allowed to properly perform their primary function....for the common good and without your knowledge, in most cases.

Best regards, S

For those with stinky front loaders, follow the link: http://mikes-duet.blogspot.com/ it may make life easier.

This is of course tyranny. There is nothing remotely contemplated in the Constitution of 1787 or in any of its ammendments that gives Congress the power to tell you how much water you can use to wash your clothes.

Freedom is not free, free men are not equal, equal men are not free. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. We would not have permitted King George to do this. Why let Bush or Obama?








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Friday,  March 18, 2011

Subject: What about the spent rod storage pool


Most of your posts suggest that the real danger of an uncontrolled meltdown lies in the reactors, but if they are scrammed, then it is just a matter of time for them to cool off to safe levels. You took comfort in the fact some fuel rods had been recently removed from service an put into the storage pools by reactor 4, because it meant less fissionable material in the reactor.

However, this New York times piece suggests that there could be significant danger from the spent rods in that storage pool:



"While spent fuel rods generate significantly less heat than newer ones do, there are strong indications that some fuel rods have begun to melt and release extremely high levels of radiation."


"Richard T. Lahey Jr., a retired nuclear engineer who oversaw General Electric’s safety research in the early 1970s for the kind of nuclear reactors used in Fukushima, said that the zirconium cladding on the fuel rods could burst into flames if exposed to air for hours when a storage pool lost its water.

Zirconium, once ignited, burns extremely hot and is difficult to extinguish, added Mr. Lahey, who helped write a classified report for the United States government several years ago on the vulnerabilities of storage pools at American nuclear reactors.

Very high levels of radiation above the storage pools suggest that the water has drained in the 39-foot-deep pools to the point that the 13-foot-high fuel rod assemblies have been exposed to air for hours and are starting to melt, said Robert Albrecht, a longtime nuclear engineer who worked as a consultant to the Japanese nuclear reactor manufacturing industry in the 1980s."


"One factor that might determine how serious the situation becomes is whether the uranium oxide pellets in the rods stay vertical even if the cladding burns off. This is possible because pellets sometimes become fused together while in the reactor. If the pellets stay standing up, then even with the water and zirconium gone, nuclear fission will not take place, Mr. Albrecht said.

But Tokyo Electric said this week that there was a chance of “recriticality” in the storage pools — that is, the uranium in the fuel rods could resume the fission that previously took place inside the reactor, spewing out radioactive byproducts.

Mr. Albrecht said this was very unlikely, but could happen if the stacks of pellets slumped over and became jumbled together on the floor of the storage pool."


That last part, about potential recriticality if the spent rods were to melt and collapse into a pile, really got my attention. If that happened, wouldn't you essentially have chernobyl?

The MIT blog does talk a lot about the condition of a meltdown, mostly in the context of a reactor that has lost cooling, but also contains a brief comment which implies that something similar could occur in a spent rod storage pool.

Perhaps you or your readers have some additional insight to share?

CP, Connecticut

The cracked cooling pond of reactor 4 is probably the worst potential disaster of the lot; that one might result in a Tsar Bomba radiation release. It is not likely, but if there is a radiation fatality (as opposed to one caused by an explosion or a steam leak) that is the most probable place for it to be. Fixing the leak is a matter of plugging a hole in concrete, but apparently the pool is above ground level -- not a design that I would have found attractive -- and a 40 foot pressure head is  large enough to require robust patching. That's easy enough if you can get to it to do it, but the radioactive environment there is intense.

Given a water supply the remedy for the moment is to keep that pool as full as possible.

As to going critical again, who knows? The geometry is important. It is possible but I doubt there is much data on the liklihood. That would produce a Chernobyl style event.

The problem here is that so many have cried wolf that it is difficult to know whose cries ought to be heeded. The Union of Concerned Scientists has wolf cries on an automatic loop.

There is an update to http://mitnse.com/ on criticality and recriticality.


Special Report: Iran and the Saudis' Countermove on Bahrain | STRATFOR 


Stratfor thinks the Saudis had to buttress Bahrain:


“The Bahrain uprising consists of two parts, as all revolutions do. The first is genuine grievances by the majority Shiite population — the local issues and divisions. The second is the interests of foreign powers in Bahrain. It is not one or the other. It is both.

“The Iranians clearly benefit from an uprising in Bahrain. It places the U.S. 5th Fleet’s basing in jeopardy, puts the United States in a difficult position and threatens the stability of other Persian Gulf Arab states. For the Iranians, the uprisings in North Africa and their spread to the Arabian Peninsula represent a golden opportunity for pursuing their long-standing interest (going back to the Shah and beyond) of dominating the Gulf.

“The Iranians are accustomed to being able to use their covert capabilities to shape the political realities in countries. They did this effectively in Iraq and are doing it in Afghanistan. They regarded this as low risk and high reward. The Saudis, recognizing that this posed a fundamental risk to their regime and consulting with the Americans, have led a coalition force into Bahrain to halt the uprising and save the regime. Pressed by covert forces, they were forced into an overt action they were clearly reluctant to take.

“We are now off the map, so to speak. The question is how the Iranians respond, and there is every reason to think that they do not know. They probably did not expect a direct military move by the Saudis, given that the Saudis prefer to act more quietly themselves. The Iranians wanted to destabilize without triggering a strong response, but they were sufficiently successful in using local issues that the Saudis felt they had no choice in the matter. It is Iran’s move.” <snip> They go on to outline Iran’s potential counterploys.

“Ahmadinejad finds himself in a difficult position. The Saudis have moved decisively. If he does nothing, his position can unravel and with it his domestic political strength. Yet none of the counters he might use seem effective or workable.” <snip>

“At the moment we suspect the Iranians do not know how they will respond. The first issue will have to be determining whether they can create violent resistance to the Saudis in Bahrain, to both tie them down and increase the cost of occupation. It is simply unclear whether the Bahrainis are prepared to pay the price. The opposition does seem to want fundamental change in Bahrain, but it is not clear that they have reached the point where they are prepared to resist and die en masse.

That is undoubtedly what the Iranians are exploring now. If they find that this is not an option, then none of their other options are particularly good. All of them involve risk and difficulty. It also requires that Iran commit itself to confrontations that it has tried to avoid. It prefers covert action that is deniable to overt action that is not.” <snip>

As usual, an interesting piece, and completely different from what the MSM is babbling about. Their free mailing list always brings in great stuff.


FPRI has a different opinion: see View.

I have made no independent analysis as of this time.



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Saturday, March 18, 2011


The seven-ten decay curve continues to work it's magic in Japan. In spite of my earlier concerns, we appear to have progressed past the point where a truly catastrophic release of radioactive fallout is possible. Statistics suggest that fatalities will result, but they will be inconsequential compared to the earthquake.

Meanwhile, the French and the British are enforcing a No Fly and apparently No Drive zone in Libya. The rebels jest shot down. Libyan jet this morning. No doubt Gadaffy's forces will succeed in shooting down a French or British jet. The apparent disunity of cammand suggests that French and British jets might shoot each other down. I'd also not presume that Gaddaffy might make a strike on their airbases. For some reason, this thought amuses me. The resulting political turmoil would be interesting.

Jim Crawford

I do suppose that Gaddafi has a couple of ship-killing cruise missiles of the sort that Argentina had in the Falkland wars. I expect the French may have sold him some -- Exocets? Last I heard France had one working carrier, the de Gaulle. One suspects her defenses against Exocet are better than were HMS Sheffield's. It may be that the missile crews are less competent than Argentina's were. Of course it would be madness for Gaddafi to sink a French nuclear carrier.


China Enters The Big Leagues

This is very bad news.

March 18, 2011: China quickly mobilized military forces, and commercial transport, to evacuate 35,000 Chinese citizens from Libya in late February and early March. A Chinese warship was quickly summoned from the anti-piracy flotilla off Somalia, to protect the commercial ships quickly chartered to take most of these Chinese expatriates out via the eastern Libya port of Benghazi. Others were moved by chartered bus to Tunisia and Egypt, while a few thousand were flown out using chartered aircraft, and four Chinese Air Force Il-76s flown in (via Sudan, a Chinese ally).

For the last two decades, China has been a growing factor in the sea and air transport industries, because of booming exports and raw materials imports. Sending warships to the anti-piracy patrol for the past two years was another exercise of China's growing global reach. But the prompt and orderly evacuation of nearly 40,000 Chinese from Libya was a masterful demonstration that China had entered the big leagues, as far as global logistics was concerned.

This operation also strengthens the Chinese Navy's call for more money, and diplomatic support, to establish some overseas bases (mainly in the Indian Ocean). The government has resisted this so far, but not refused all requests. Thus bases, or basing rights, appear likely in Myanmar (Burma) and somewhere in the Persian Gulf or East Africa.



I have mentioned this before. I had thought that Gaddafi bought a veto in the UN as part of his cooperation with the Chinese; apparently not.


Cthulhu Mythos Permian Earth Political Geography.


- Roland Dobbins

Reunite Gondwanaland!


Law of unintended Environmental consequences


This is a great article from the German News Magazine Spiegel. It reinforces and expands on some of the things you have been saying for years. In many cases, environmentalism is a knee jerk reaction that does not work but the “Greens” will never admit that.


Mike J.


Small Probability Swans

The comments from Nassim Taleb and link were interesting. Now I realloy WILL have to read The Black Swan. What REALLY surprises me, is the lack of 'what next' planning exhibited at the reactors. The probability of the failure modes exhibited was low, but the absolute certainty of what would happen next was never addressed.

So yes, the reactors were designed for an 8.2 quake and a 6.3 meter wave and survived a 9.0 + 7.0 combo. Sort of. But no-one ever bothered, it appears, to think about 'what then'. (Maybe they figured, 'Ok! And then we're dead'!) If the pumps failed for whatever reasons, then there would be heat problems. They knew they could reduce pressure by venting. But did no-one ever consider what the hell would happen if hydrogen built up in the 'containment' building. Of COURSE it would eventually explode. So why wasn't there a proper vent stack with a pilot light at the top, just like on an oil rig? (And condensation plates to trap and return the condensed, radioactively dirty steam.)

Regarding the fuel storage cells: yes, 20 meters in the air is kinda dumb, especially as there was/is a *certainty* of cracks in the concrete from an 8.2+ earthquake. And i don't think that pool has a plastic lining! It should have been inset into the ground. It would then not have needed tons of extra concrete to hold the entire pool 20 meters above grade, only some extra long hoisting cable. In fact, that end of the building would have needed no massive enclosure at all.

And we really do have to ask Homer Simpson, why there is no externally available standpipe to feed water directly to the pool. The present problem is that the damn pool is 20 meters in the air, and there is no direct method of injecting water. Funny that every office building you walk past has an external 'siamese' connection to allow the fire department to *feed water to the sprinkler system*. For a nuclear plant, maybe the end of the standpipe should be a half mile from the building, behind a large berm, and the standpipe should be a semi-rigid continuous plastic pipe, for just this situation.

I suspect that none of these plant builders ever hired an ex US-Navy reactor handler, since everything I have read about their training leads me to believe that the largest part of their training essentially consists of answering the question 'and what do you do if that doesn't work' or 'what if that is not available? Think fast! Improvise!' while being sprayed with cold water or burnt, or both at once. Someone who had thought about the matter would soon recognize that minor additions at the construction stage would be priceless if the certainty of that result ever arose from the improbable cause.

That is where we are now: the situation was perfectly certain to arise, if all the power went off.....

And on that note, I am rather surprised that the Tokyo Hyper Rescue Team have not been using a concrete pumper to deliver water to the fuel pool. A concrete pumper is designed specifically to deliver a liquid through a pipe directly to a remote point, using hydraulic controlled arms. Not spray water in the general direction. One can probably be fitted for complete remote control, and some come fitted with a camera on the end of the arm. They can be designed for an amazing reach as working weight is low. Just add water.

Hhhhmmm, makes me wonder about failure modes in CANDU reactors. Pickering is about 60km away. ISTR something about hydrogen sulphide which has a quite low lethal toxic concentration level and you stop being able to smell it well below that level.


R. Geoffrey Newbury

I will be doing an essay on black swans and statistical inference in View next week. Thanks. My guess is that the Japanese contingency plan for a 9.0 earthquake and 24 foot tsunami got very little attention.

You will understand that for some time after the quake and tsunami there was no road into the power complex from Tokyo.


Missiles are too easy

Dr. Pournelle,

As I wrote previously, Tomahawks are used to prep the battlespace, and their use is indeed an act of war. It is disappointing to be correct. Once again leadership has been too easily convinced that a strike like this is the same as a victory. Cheap first strike misleads political leaders into thinking that the rest will be as easy. Ref Hirohito, either Bush, or Kennedy's attempts at intervention.

Tomahawks were used in Clinton's failed attempt to assassinate Bin Laden. The missiles struck absolutely on target, and missed their objective -- setting us up for the revenge strike.

I've worked on the things as a maintainer, and later on technologies that support Tomahawks as an engineer. I love the technology, but the problem is that, having a political leadership brought up on movies and low-res success cases, and incidentally who also abhor the military, they believe that war is about tactics. I haven't yet heard about exit strategies -- partly because we're apparently in denial about the commitment as well as the fact of the engagement.

We won't get done if we don't know where we're going. Establishing a no-fly-zone is not a strategy. Unless this is followed up by an invasion, there will be a drawn-out, expensive, and unsatisfactory involvement. If there is an invasion, without a clear objective, the result will be exactly what our current CINC campaigned against.


A good summary.



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Sunday,  March 20, 2011     

Please ramble on.

I find your ramblings more intelligent than the edited pronouncements that come out of Washington , D of C.

I do not see that the United States has any vital interests in Libya. Perhaps we do, and I am ignorant of them. If it be the case that we do have vital interests there, then we need a ramps-down invasion and occupation of the country AFTER Congress declares war. Until then, the situation in Libya is a problem for the Arab League and perhaps the EU, but not the United States or NATO.

If the issue be the deposition of a tyrant, . . . well, there are many tyrants, and if that be the criterion, then we shall be at war for the remainder of my life. And my children's. And their children's.

Cuius regio, eius religio.

Live long and prosper

h lynn keith

Cuius regio, eius religio roughly translates to "everyone minds his own religious business" and doesn't try to convert others by force (or indeed doesn't try to make converts by evangelism in Muslim countries, nor in Israel, lest the evangelists be jailed). It was the edict of Augsburg of 1555.

The Peace of Augsburg was a pragmatic sanction that was a mere truce in the religions conflicts that led to the Thirty Years War nearly a century later. That war ended with the Peace of Westphalia. It was supposed to be a peace, but it didn't excite the admiration of the Pope:

Null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane and empty of meaning for all time.
-- Pope Innocent X, on the Treaty of Westphalia, 1648

It did, however, end the Thirty Years War, and pretty well ended religious wars in Europe. That didn't end the religious wars between the Muslim Caliphate and Christianity. Muslims took Spain below the line of the olive early on, then invaded France, where they were stopped by Charles Martel at Tours in 732. The Muslims continued their attempts to conquer and forcibly convert all of Spain until 1212 when a Spanish coalition headed by Sancho the Strong, Pedro II of Aragon, and Alfonso of Portugal destroyed the Berber invader army and shattered the unity of Muslim Spain, so that by 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella could finally retake all of Spain. On the other side of Europe the Muslims took Constantinople in 1453 and besieged Vienna in 1529 under Suleiman the Magnificent. That war continued on until 1683 with the final Muslim attempt to conquer Europe. My point being that "Whose the region, his the religion" applied to Christians, but the Muslims have never agreed to it; the Koran allows truces with unbelievers, but not permanent peace. In the West, the truce became peace only after the Thirty Years War.

Of course the modern religions are political, with democracy the state religion of much of the west, and something closer to despotism or oligarchy being the preference of ruling classes in other parts of the world. That's not acceptable to many in the United States.


I Believe the President Has Gravely Violated the Constitution


Quote out of context: "...Nor, under the Constitution, was it his decision to make: it is an act of war, and it is not taken in response to an actual of imminent attack on the United States or United State citizens or allies."

Although I have no more love for Col. Gadhafi than a Christian should, nor any for his actions, I believe we owe it to ourselves to obey our own laws before we attack another nation. Where is the Congressional declaration of war which is the necessary action before we attack?

I will be contacting my congressional representative and Senator about this matter. Since both belong to the Republican Party, they might even pay attention.

In Sorrow,

Robert Peters

Perhaps there is a Congressional resolution we are unaware of.


Good radiation chart - 

Hi Jerry,

Here's a very easy to read radiation chart.


Thanks for helping control the hysteria.

-- E.C. "Stan" Field

Very instructive. Thanks



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