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Monday, March 14, 2011

International Pi Day



I have appointments for most of the day.

I note that although there have been bi-hourly announcements of the impending meltdowns of the Japanese power plants, the latest headlines tell me that the Japanese are struggling to prevent disaster. When it comes to numbers, perhaps ten atomjacks (plant workers) have been hurt, no one has been killed, and fewer than 100 people off site have been exposed to some elevated level of radiation. There have been small releases of gasses.

This is not Chernobyl or even above ground nuclear weapons testing. This isn't even a mine disaster or a school bus destroyed by a coal-carrying freight train. It's a disaster but it's mostly economic. A coal fired plant routinely emits annually far more radiation (there are radioactive ores in coal; not many but not zero) than will have been released when this is over. Or so it seems to me. 

The disaster in Japan is caused by flood and earthquake. Concentration on the nuclear bit is political.

And I am off. Note that there was both mail and a view on this last night.


1630: back from an interview and lunch with Glenn and Helen Smith Reynolds down at the PJTV studios in El Segundo. Also had a very pleasant coffee and conversation with Roger Simon, CEO of Pajamas Media. I return to find that although it's pretty clear that the excitement over the Japanese nuclear incidents is pretty well over, the Union of Concerned Scientists experts are still trying to keep everyone nervous and scared. After all, it's nucular.

Note that if you take an iron frying pan and try to melt your way through it, and someone else pours water into it, you won't succeed so long as the water keeps flowing. If you can prevent the water from getting inside the pan, but the pan's protector manages to keep water flowing under the pan so that the outside of the pan is cooled, you aren't likely to burn your way through the pan either. The news I hear is that the Japanese engineers, having given up trying to salvage anything from the reactors, are now pumping in boron and sea water. The reactors are long since scrammed. The cadmium control rods were inserted and the self-sustaining reaction stopped. The fuel rods continue to be radioactive and generate heat, but nothing like what they did; and a great deal of residual heat remains in the system. That's no problem so long as coolant continues to circulate. Now, though, there is no electric power from the reactor, and the electric power to pump in the coolant comes from Diesel engines that started automatically when the scram was initiated.

In the Japanese case there were about a dozen redundant engines for each reactor. There was plenty of fuel for them. There was plenty of cooling water. All was well -- for less than an hour, after which the tsunami arrived. Of course there was a sea wall, but this was a really large tsunami. The diesels were flooded out. There was other damage. Meanwhile the electric power grid was out due to earthquake, and then tsunami. And now the residual heat in the reactors began to manifest itself. Pressures built up. The media got wind of that and the hoopla began, and those who pointed out that it sounded like hysteria were told they were poo pooing the dangerous story.

Pumping in sea water was always an alternative, but it is a desperate one in that it condemns the reactor to becoming a bad; it won't be salvaged after you have done that.

That's the story as known in Southern California at 1700 PDT. The amount of radiation released was very low. It has yet to be demonstrated that anyone outside the plant periphery received a dose as large as, say, a chest X-ray. Plant employees may have been exposed to larger doses. The economic costs of this are high. The ecological costs are comparable to the environmental impact of any large power source. Of course what we hear is different.


I also hear stories about potassium iodide tablets being scarce and price gouging, and such. You may safely ignore this. If you or your children need or can benefit from potassium iodide tablets (which essentially supply the system with non-radioactive materials so that you won't absorb any radioactive potassium or iodine from fallout), you will learn that from a reliable source.

Enough. I have just heard that flying through the radioactive cloud released from the Japanese reactors subjected helicopter crews to "about a month's worth of natural background radiation." You may note that you receive a month's worth of background radiation each and every month of your life. There are many things to worry about in this world, but I will wager that the lack of nuclear plants as a result of this accident will cost you more in both money and health than any other effect from it, and by orders of magnitude. Back in the days of above ground nuclear testing the situation was different, but that's not happening now, and despite the Union of Concerned Scientists and other media hysteria, the Japanese reactor situation hasn't made taking iodine tablets necessary now. (And yes, the Japanese government has issued them to some people in the area of the reactors in danger. The Japanese do that. The reactors are in their back yard. They are not in yours.)



I saw the Geographic presentation on TV last night: this was the one about "finding Atlantis." It was slow paced and they had problems finding enough to say to fill the time so they showed a lot of repeat shots and extraneous material, and in my judgment they did not make their case. The area of Spain just north of the Straits of Gibraltar have long been thought a candidate for the site of lost analysis. This does not make the case in my judgment. If I had to choose a site, I'd choose Minoan Crete/Santorini.


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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Ides of March   

Stefan T. Possony born in Vienna March 15, 1915


The press proclaims the end of the nuclear energy program: end of new construction is automatic, and the "struggle" will be over how soon all the existing nuclear plants can be closed.

This will be an economic and ecological disaster of enormous dimension; and it is being proclaimed before we have any idea of the actual damage from the nuclear component of the Japanese disaster. Whatever that is or ever will be, it is not likely that it will approach what the media is making it.

We don't have a lot of information from the actual scene. I do have this:

Trying to make sense of Fukushima 

Dear Jerry,

I've been trying to make some sense of what's going on at Fukushima to figure out what the realistic risks are and I wanted to ask for the help of you and the other readers.

According to the IAEA's web site ( http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/
news/tsunamiupdate01.html ) the spent fuel storage pond at Unit 4 was on fire, releasing radioactivity into the air but has now been extinguished. I'm at a loss as to how a pool catches on fire. Could that much hydrogen be formed and be bubbling up? I thought that would require high temperatures and the storage pool shouldn't be anywhere near those levels. From what I have been able to piece together, each of the reactors had its own storage pond. I would have expected storage pond to be on the ground somewhere, but apparently at Fukushima, these ponds are located on top of the containment building, within the metal superstructure that has been blown off of two of the reactors.

I was fairly confident of the actual containment of the core itself once I figured out that what had blown off was basically just a cover for the machinery. However, now this information about the spent fuel pools is alarming me. I've found a number of articles that claim that if the water levels in the pools drop and the spent fuel is uncovered there is a high probability it will catch on fire and once that happens, it's just like Chernobyl.


Any informed opinions out there? I'm out of my depth. The analysis seems plausible but I don't understand the materials well enough to know if it really is or isn't.

Apparently this "feature" is straight from GE so I have to pardon Japanese engineering for this. The Vermont Yankee plant is said to be identical in design to the Fukushima reactors. My understanding of nuclear power plant design was that these cooling pools were originally only meant to be used to short term cooling until the rods had decayed enough to not be so radioactive and they could be safely moved to the permanent repository or be reprocessed so as usual it's engineering that is not being used for its intended purpose and coming back to bite us. Didn't the US promise Japan that we'd take the spent fuel and put it in our repository so they didn't need to build there only repository.

Dry cask storage is in use in multiple places as well. The diagrams seem to show bundles of fuel rods in close proximity, so I'm at a loss as to why they're safe in a dry cask, but will catch on fire if exposed to the air in a cooling pool. Is it simply a matter of how long they've been out of service? If there's a mix of old fuel rod bundles and "fresh" fuel rod bundles in a pool and the "fresh" ones catch on fire, would the fire spread to the old ones? Since they're in an open pool, is it feasible to just run a fire hose up there and keep the pool filled? There must be reasons why this isn't happening.

Tokyo remains calm but there is a lot of uncertainty. One of our workers is evacuating with her kids to a southern island to be with her in-laws. I thought I had more gas in the car (I only drive the thing once a week usually) than I did so I wound up looking for gas this afternoon. All of the gas stations in the neighborhood were closed being out of gas. Oh my way back, one of the stations had just had a delivery and so they opened up. I wound up in a line of 10-15 cars and was allowed to buy 20 liters of gas. Everyone was polite and there was no honking of horns or fighting breaking out. We had rice scheduled to be delivered next week, but were short so we wound up queuing at the neighborhood rice store (we usually buy at the supermarket but they were out - the rice shop is like going to the butchers). He'd had a truck come in shortly before and we were in line with about 20 people to buy a 5 kilo sack of rice. Again, everyone was polite, stayed in line and were served by the owner who was making change out of a pile of cash stuck under a paperweight.

Rolling blackouts were announced but people cut consumption enough to make them unnecessary, at least in our areas of Tokyo. The trains are running, but without a schedule. I made it over to Ginza yesterday in a reasonable amount of time. I wanted to get a spare battery for my MacBook Pro. As it turns out, the Apple Store was closed (I'd called ahead but got an error message so I figured the phones were still flakey). The department stores were still open and I ducked into one to use the restroom. The first floor is all cosmetics and perfumes and all of the stations were open and the staff were ready to serve customers.

If you do have to go through a disaster there are definitely worse people to do it with than the Japanese.

Dave Smith

Japan will recover. The world will learn much from this disaster, as the 1923 Tokyo 8.3 earthquake brought about enormous changes in skyscraper designs. Frank Lloyd Wright's design of the Imperial Hotel kept it from collapsing, but it had enough structural damage to require a redesign.

The Bhopal disaster in 1984 is estimated to have killed about 15,000 people. It did not end the chemical industry. Aut0mobiles kill above 30,000 people a year in the United States.

Wealthy civilizations have costs. They are small compared to the grinding costs of poverty. Low productivity produces poverty. High energy costs lower productivity. Before we call for any drastic reduction in energy production, it would be well to see what the maximum disaster costs might be, and what can be done to mitigate or prevent such in future. That does not appear to be the advice the media is giving us.

An observation by one physicist correspondent:

Skimming the news, I found a report (I've misplaced the URL and don't have any more time to chase it this morning) that background radiation at Tokyo has increased by a factor of 23.

Over the course of a year, that's still in the realm of industrial exposure limits, and the exposure will probably be significantly less than a year.

I also note that Germany has shut down the seven older of their seventeen plants in response. I guess they're afraid of tsunamis over their design limit.

At this point, I have to say intermediate between TMI and Chernobyl. By the time this is over, a few hundred thousand civilians might get doses of between a month's and a year's industrial exposure. That is significantly less than the risk attendant to not having the electricity.

My advice is, Don't Panic. Do know where your towel and your cup are.


The Nikkei is falling. The effect on the US economy will be large. Panic will make it larger. There is already a call for more US stimulus spending (thus adding to the deficit). This fallout scares me a lot more than the physical fallout from the Japanese nuclear plants.


And while we are contemplating costs of industrialization, and what actions we can take to mitigate those costs, we might think about unwanted consequences of best intentions:



For as many details as are likely to be known, presented in a rational manner, see http://mitnse.com/ .

The Worst Case for Fukushima Daiichi

I begin with this

Rising Sunburn 

Dear Jerry:

You asked for numbers on radiation leakage levels on the East coast of Honshu At the stricken Daiichi plant, 400 millisieverts an hour has been reported and confirmed.

By comparison, global fallout radiation peaked around 1963 at 0.15 millisieverts a year

As 400 milliseiverts x 24 hours = one very dead spectator, get ready for billions and billions rhetoric from such as floor their diesel engines to flee the sight of a lit cigar. At last account, one spent fuel pond had commenced boiling.

This is not a good sign.

As the heat is largely from long lived fission products and eventually the surrounding concrete will suffer. The prospect of Wigner energy release isn't pretty either.

-- Russell Seitz
 Fellow of the Department of Physics

The problem here is that Russell has left a great deal as exercises for the reader, and thus the conclusions here are not obvious without a bit of work. To begin with, the global fallout radiation is for the entire world, or about 500 million square kilometers. The radiation plume of 400 milliseiverts is from a small area of certainly no more than 100 square meters. If we assume that the Fukushima Daiichi reactors collectively manage a plume the size of a square kilometer, then to get comparable numbers we need to multiply the 400/hour by (24 x 365) to get a year's worth. Assume uniform distribution and divide by 500 million. That comes out to .007 milliseiverts / year. (For purposes of this analysis a seivert is equivalent to 100 rad. A rad is "roentgen equivalent dose" is equivalent to a rem or "roentgen equivalent man", and the various distinctions among units don't matter for the gross estimates we are doing, although I resent enormously the invention of a new unit that differs from the old by orders of magnitude.  A chest X-ray is a dosage of about  0.1 mSv.) I know of no scenario in which the Japanese reactors could sustain an emission rate of 400 milliseiverts per hour for a week, much less for a year, nor how there could they generate radioactive fallout uniformly over a square kilometer.

Playing with the numbers and possible scenarios comes up with this analogy. In 1961 the Russians tested a 50 megaton hydrogen weapon. The fireball touched the ground and vaporized a great deal of dirt. The resulting fallout spread across the earth and contributed to that 0.15 milliseiverts mentioned above. If you work at worst case scenarios, you can come up with ways for each of the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi to contribute about one Tsar Bomba equivalent to global fallout.

 Assume that each event triggers the next reactor.

 The scenarios assumed are each highly unlikely, but they are worst case assumptions, so that in the scenario you get the maximum amount of superheated gumk from each event. Understand that there is no nuclear explosion here. The melting fuel rods are producing enough heat to make superheated steam under high pressure. That converts stuff inside the reactor into oxides that instantly dissolve. The reactor then blows in a manner that sprays the solution into the atmosphere. Not being superheated any longer, the oxides precipitate, and not as tiny little crystals but as fluff and flakes that are carried away by the winds, rise into the stratosphere, and are distributed by the jet stream throughout the northern hemisphere and later into the southern.

The worst case fallout from Fukushima Daiichi is six Tsar Bombas. Russell is quick to add "Of course one Tsar Bomba can ruin your whole day." In fact, though, that depends on where you are and where Tsar Bomba is. On October 30, 1961 I had a rather pleasant day. And be certain to understand that we are not talking about a 50 megaton explosion: only the fallout equivalent. You can't make a nuclear explosion, or even a chemical "dirty bomb" out of Fukushima Daiichi. (Note)


A stock tip for what it's worth: apparently there will be noticeable and possibly significant releases of radioactivity from Fukushima Daiichi. The winds are from the west. A lot of tuna are caught east of Japan. As Russell Seitz puts it, "Would you like to eat the top of the food chain caught downwind of Fukushima Daiichi?" The inference is that tuna will become more rare, and thus tuna futures will go up. I haven't looked at the commodity market to see if the market has already figured that out. Indeed, I haven't even figured out how to get current tuna futures quotes. Use this information at your own risk, and don't blame me if you lose your shirt.


I am reliably informed that the reactor crews at Fukushima removed the fuel rods from reactors 4, 5, and 6. The rods were put into a storage pool. There has been an incident at number 4, and the water temperature which ought to be about 40 C has doubled. It is not yet boiling. Removing the rods from the reactor makes the "Tsar Bomba" scenario impossible; the worst case is now 3 Tsar Bomba fallout equivalents. Note that we speak of fallout equivalents, not of a nuclear explosion.

The following numbers are from a very reliable source:

Radiation levels at the plant perimeter reached about 120 milliseiverts/hour at peak and then fell to below 10. Levels in the plant itself reached 400 at peak. Peak levels in Tokyo were 0.801 micro Sv/h, which is detectable but not important even if that were constant for a full year.

The 400 peak in the plant was serious. The 120 peak at the periphery would have been very serious if it had been maintained for many hours, but it was a short peak. The 10 at present (1600 hours Tuesday) is enough that no one should remain at the plant periphery lest they exceed the safe dosage levels, but someone wandering there and being warned away (hard to believe anyone would do that) would come to no harm. The "evacuation" of the plant is normal since the biggest problem here will be workers exceeding their badge limits: if they are not doing a critical job they ought to be sent off site. There could be more spikes at the periphery. Reporters ought to avoid going down to the plant fence for a look.


And we sailed in the lowlands, lowlands, low...

Much of the media attention to the damage in Japan seems focused on the nuclear events, and not many have noticed that there were some drastic earth shifts involved. Not only did the Japanese islands get moved horizontally by a matter of feet, but there were vertical shifts as well. If you watch the tsunami footage closely you will see that in places the tsunami bores suddenly seem to be running downhill. Some of the coastal plain seems to have shifted to below sea level. It's impossible to know how much without more satellite observations -- GPS among them -- but there could be tens of square miles of former rice paddies now below sea level. That number could be as large as hundreds of square miles. When you see standing water where there were formerly roads and houses, you are likely looking a land which has fallen lower and is now below sea level.

I have a mental picture of Japan with its own Zuider Zee (about 50 by 100 km) which formed in 1287. The industrious Dutch have been pumping the water out and reclaiming the land ever since. Dikes and windmills and time. I can see Japan having to do much the same thing.


I am told that I am off in my calculations above, but off in the correct direction, which is to say the levels are too large. That's unfortunate in that I don't like to be wrong, but it also emphasizes my point, which is that the absolute worst case has no more global effect than did an event that many weren't even aware of, and which didn't have any great global effect.

The important lesson from Japan is that we took obsolete reactors with old designs and safety features, and subjected them to a 9.0 quake and a very large tsunami, and the damage to the planet is an unfortunate but hardly decisive event. It is now time to stop worrying about this mess until things settle and we can see precisely what we have learned, and factor that into the next generation designs. Note that almost everywhere in the world we are building reactors with much better design and far better safety features than those being destroyed now. Concentration on how awful is the nuclear mess takes our attention off the economic and human disasters from the earthquake and tsunami.

I make no doubt that someone will send me a corrected paragraph.

There is an excellent explication on units at the MIT site http://mitnse.com/ about halfway down the series of essays and topics.


Typical media:

Contradictory press.

"These are figures that potentially affect health. There is no mistake about that."


"The level has come down to the level to cause no harm to human health, according to the report I have received."


--- Roland Dobbins

As I go to bed, most of the plant workers have exceeded their annual badge limits and are being sent home. There will be a circulation of atomjacks over the next few weeks as these heroes continue to make sure that the amount of radiation emitted is minimized. It is clear from the numbers which I finally got that what is being emitted is fission products, not actinide oxides. The inventory is not going up the flu. The scenario for that to happen requires that the reactors be intact, and temperatures of live steam in the order of 500 C; that will dissolve a lot of stuff, and as water dissociates you get a pretty corrosive situation. The solution to this is to keep pumping in water. Boric acid is also pumped in to further damp out reactions. The reactors are well below critical reaction rate but there can be some interaction, so absorbing neutrons helps the cooling process. Cooling out will take time, and should be monitored, but it doesn't take the large crew of normal operations to do that, so of course as many workers as possible are being sent home. The main injuries, now that the quake and tsunami are over, will be exceeding dosage limits. The remedy is to be sent home. That is happening but of course since they will need workers over time they send home all that aren't immediately needed.

I am getting weary of the breathless panic in the media including Fox News. For some it's ignorance. For others it's simply trying to keep the story going. But the truth here is that the situation is not good because it is not going away fast, and given the tsunami devastation around the power plant -- including the houses of a number of the plant workers, I would wager -- evacuation is difficult. Plant periphery emissions have been high at peak but haven't been sustained. They will probably spike again. There may be some exposure of people off site, but so far to the best I can get from the numbers, no one off site has received any dosage that would have caused them to be sent home if they worked in the plants.

That ain't good, but it isn't being run over by a freight train, and since most of those people live in a devastated flood plain they have a lot more to worry about than radiation exposure. The situation isn't good, and there will be some more setbacks simply because it is so hard to get into there now, but neither the world nor the Japanese people are in any great danger. Godzilla isn't going to rise up out of the Godzilla Springs resort...

Don't panic. But it never hurts to know where your towel and cup are.


I'm going to bed. The mushroom cloud watch continues. Meanwhile it is snowing in the devastation areas. Japanese fire, police and military are trying get people food and water and shelter. We should all wish them well. God bless them.

Tomorrow we will have a look at Libya where things are happening. I repeat what I posted yesterday:

Peak levels in Tokyo were 0.801 micro Sv/h, which is detectable but not important even if that were constant for a full year.



A note on the Tsar Bomba calculation. I originally had a mistaken conversion, because they didn't have Sieverts as units when I last studied this stuff.

Here is the original text:

The problem here is that Russell has left a great deal as exercises for the reader, and thus the conclusions here are not obvious without a bit of work. To begin with, the global fallout radiation is for the entire world, or about 500 million square kilometers. The radiation plume of 400 milliseiverts is from a small area of certainly no more than 100 square meters. If we assume that the Fukushima Daiichi reactors collectively manage a plume the size of a square kilometer, then to get comparable numbers we need to multiply the 400/hour by (24 x 365) to get a year's worth. Assume uniform distribution and divide by 500 million. That comes out to .007 milliseiverts / year. (For purposes of this analysis a seivert is equivalent to a rad. A rad is "roentgen equivalent dose" is equivalent to a rem or "roentgen equivalent man", and the various distinctions among units don't matter for the gross estimates we are doing. A chest X-ray is a dosage of about 15 milliseiverts.) I know of no scenario in which the Japanese reactors could sustain an emission rate of 400 milliseiverts per hour for a week, much less for a year, nor how there could they generate radioactive fallout uniformly over a square kilometer.

(Note that I probably did some numbers wrong but in ways that overestimate the radiation levels so that does not change the conclusions.)

Here is the correct conversion:

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.

A chest x-ray is 100 microsieverts. The conversions drive me nuts because some are reported in micro and some in milli and -- ah, to heck with it.

There is an excellent explication on units at the MIT site http://mitnse.com/ about halfway down the series of essays and topics.




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Wednesday,  March 16, 2011

On Libya: Max Boot has an article in today's Wall Street Journal called "It's Not Too Late to Save Libya." (Link) His main point as expressed in the title is correct. We could do it. We could probably do it with a no-fly zone, and almost certainly with air support of the rebels, although coordinating that would be very difficult without putting some ground observers/controllers in. As to the no-fly zone:

In reality, it would not be hard to ground Gadhafi's decrepit air force.

The job could probably be performed with just one American ship—the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, now in the Red Sea, which has 34 F/A-18F Super Hornets and 10 F/A-18C Hornets along with a full complement of electronic-warfare aircraft. The Enterprise strike group could also unleash a devastating array of Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Which is quite true. What hasn't been stated is what the targets of those cruise missiles would be. One would be a massive air strike against Gaddafi's air defense radars and missiles. To do it right, to really establish air supremacy, you also hit fuel dumps -- which would of course also be the proper targets if we are to support the rebels. So far all that sound, well, almost acceptable: a series of military air strikes against a country we are not at present at war with. With or without a Declaration of War (American Pearl Harbor?); but perhaps the ends, saving Libya from Gaddafi, justify the means. (If ends don't justify means, nothing does.)

Now add something I don't know for a fact but am pretty sure of: Gaddafi is not an idiot, and many of his air defense radars are conveniently located at mosques, orphanages, hospitals, synagogues if there are any left in Israel, Christian churches if there are any left in Libya, and grade schools. Confining the strikes to night might be all right for schoolyard targets, but hospitals run 24 hours a day. You may be sure that an al Jazeera photographer will be first on the scene after the strikes, followed closely by Katie Couric and CBS News. (One presumes that Gaddafi has his crowds under control so she will not be assaulted; that can't be assured if she visits a rebel stronghold to get a picture of the people we are saving.)

There will then be a series of pictures showing the costs of war. Teddy bears, wounded infants, crippled children, elderly grandparents frantically searching for their relatives -- you can make your own list. Then the rebels will triumphantly go from town to town along the coastal highway, firing all their ammunition into the air in exaltation at each town they take (someone will have to bring more in for them). This will be known as "saving Libya." If there is any attempt to impose order on this situation it will be depicted by the BBC, al Jazeera, and the US news media as the return of colonialism.

I may exaggerate but not by a lot: if we save Libya we need to be prepared for all this. I suspect the President is aware.

I will say this: if we are going to save Libya, we need to do it quickly while there are some non-Gaddafi Libyans to save.


The situation at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site is pretty well unchanged from yesterday afternoon, so there is little to add to what I said then; if you haven't read it, there are some true numbers there on the actual radiation release levels so far. The last I heard the peaks are down to the lower levels and steady, but there are expected to be some more spikes over time. The whole facility was damaged by the earthquake, the crews have exceeded their badge limits, and simple physical repair of a hole in a spent fuel rod containment pool so the water won't run out is a very dangerous thing for those stalwarts to be doing. The managers are husbanding their resources to deal with crises. Keeping skilled people from being over exposed to radiation means not putting them into non-critical work that will increase their radiation: they're kept "evacuated" from the plant until needed because the radiation levels at the plant are high enough to add to badge limit doses.

This situation will continue for weeks. Radiation levels at the plant periphery will continue to be fairly low but there will be spikes if cooling pools continue to develop leaks. Over time the leaks will be fixed, but the press will continue to play each spike in radiation release at the periphery is a forewarning of a new Hiroshima. And so it goes.


A comment on western news coverage in Japan:

 O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An' foolish notion
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us
An' ev'n Devotion



Well, some are listening to the western news I guess:


Apparently financial salarymen are not well instructed outside their specialties. One wonders what they do know.

Today we have:


 I presume I do not have to remind readers that we can now detect extremely low levels?

On the other hand, given these headlines, I wonder what tuna futures are doing? Does anyone have a good link to the actual commodity price for tuna futures?


This seemed sufficiently well done to put it in View.

Libya Intervention 


Not having a WSJ subscription, I haven't read the Max Boot article, but I expect I'd agree with him that we're still physically more than capable of deposing Ghadaffi at relatively low short-term cost. I remain strongly inclined to agree with you and Victor Davis Hanson: Either do it now, do it right, and have a plan to cope with the likely consequences, or stay out of it. (Hanson, for what it's worth, seems to be on the same page as you on Libya: "..we have no business going in unless we’ve thought through exactly what we mean to do." http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/
victor-davis-hanson )

Hanson goes on to list a number of reasons to refrain, however distasteful the result. Not least of these is the extreme unlikelihood that our current Administration, given its past tendencies and the likely pressures on it, could form a sensible Libyan intervention policy then stick to it over time. That last point I find particularly hard to argue with. After the last few days of watching the Western alliance (such as it is) attempt to get its act together, I'm reluctantly moving toward the view that we probably won't do it anything close to right, so we shouldn't do it at all.

The reasons to do it and do it right remain valid, mind. On that subject, one of your readers proposed a thriller plot the other day, with Saudi Arabia secretly conspiring against the West in this matter to raise oil export prices. Implausible - Saudi Arabia is acutely aware that their continued existence depends on a strong West, and they weren't notably short of revenue before the recent oil price increases. Russia, on the other hand, is the world's second largest oil exporter, very much needs more oil revenue, and in recent years has missed no opportunity to weaken the West. Note in that regard Russia's threatened Security Council veto and reports of arms transfers to Ghadaffi from the Russian satellite Belarus, and draw your own conclusions.


My view has always been that we are better at being the United States of America than we are at interfering with others, and we have lost a lot of our ability to be ourselves by making concessions with the Left in order to get their support or lack of opposition for interventionism. The best way for America to save the world is to get rich, stay that way, and show how that is done. We can send help sometimes and privately we can send a lot. But we are not good at the empire business.

Competent empire is a viable but in my judgment incorrect strategy. Incompetent empire is disastrous. Building American independence can be done and is the best policy.  Or so I have been saying for forty years. Invest in America, not in Egyptians or Libyans.

We are the friends of liberty everywhere. We are the guardians only of our own. We should start guarding.

But if we are going to save Libya, we must do it quickly and decisively. There is no time for golf.


Divine Wind

The April Wind Rose for Tokyo airport. This is a trade wind. Thanks to Russell Seitz for calling it to my attention. Russell points out that the  kamikazi --= divine wind -- saved Japan from the Mongol invasion. Perhaps again?  But in fact it is not likely to be needed. The media continue to report crisis, but reports from the plant itself are that things are stable. Stable means improving because the sources of heat are now the radioactive decay of fission products. Most of those have a short half-life, and thus are very intense but for a short period. Conditions won't be entirely stable for weeks, but the amount of potential energy in each system decreases hourly. There has to be cooling or there will be a crisis, but once again conditions improve as Fukushima Daiichi receives more electric power.


1730 Wednesday: I learn that the rods from reactor 4 had been removed from the reactor 4 months ago and put in the spent fuel pool. Thus a lot of the really hot fission products had already been removed. That makes it a bit more difficult to understand just what was "burning" in the fire reported from 4; but the good news is that the potential energy in 4, 5, and 6 is considerably less than I feared. It will take time for them to get to stability, but there's no real reason to think it won't get there.

The conditions in the actual reactors are not so clear. Sea water contaminated the whole process. As Russell Seitz points out, you have about half the periodic table in a soup with high pressures and a lot of heat, and the concrete in the area has a lot of Wigner energy -- essentially energy stored up by atoms physically displaced by neutron and alpha bombardment -- in that stuff. Megawatts, which has to be dissipated. That too will take time.

If you want a nightmare scenario, imagine an aftershock that produces a tsunami larger than the sea wall. A new quake and tsunami would not have enjoyable results.

Bottom line as of now: so far it's not a lot worse than TMI. It's certainly not Chernobyl. And we're down to an upper limit of three Tsar Bombas.

Russell Seitz likes this wind rose better:


And those interested in what's going on are invited to this top secret military photo data: http://s2.hubimg.com/u/2220813_f520.jpg




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Thursday,  March 17, 2011

St Patrick's Day

We are now down to an absolute worst case of two Tsar Bomba fallout equivalent from the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Note that we are talking about fallout only: there is no danger whatever of an actual nuclear explosion. The media are breathlessly telling of a nuclear cloud approaching the United States. NPR proclaims that no nukes is good nukes. The Union of Concerned Scientists will cheerfully furnish you with as gloomy a forecast as you'd like whether you ask for their view or not.

In fact the situation is slowly coming under control. Fukushima Daiichi sits on the coast amidst a scene of almost unimaginable destruction, in freezing weather, with high winds. Every road, water pipe, and power line is gone. Debris litters the passageways to the plant. Fukushima Daiichi was protected by a 20 foot sea wall. Most of the surrounding countryside wasn't protected by a sea wall at all.

At reactor four the fuel rods were in a spent fuel pond: the reactor was shut down in December. The pond was on the roof of the reactor building, which seemed like a good idea at the time, and could withstand an 8.0 quake, and being on the roof had a really short path from the reactor to the storage pond. All was well, until the quake cracked the pool wall. Well, that's all right, we pump in water. Only there's no power because the reactors scrammed at the first large tremor. That's all right, the diesels kick in and the water pumps start up. Only now there's a tsunami. Well, that's all right, there's a twenty foot sea wall. Only the tsunami is 23 feet, and maybe there has been some subsidence of the land level due to the quake. Water rushes into the complex. Back at reactor 4: the water is flowing out of the spent fuel rod pool. The rods stand on end, 14 feet tall, with about 40 feet of water in the pool. The water is flowing out. Everyone is worrying more about the three reactors which are scrammed but which still contain the fuel rods. Those rods are really hot: they are full of just created fission products, some with half lives in minutes to hours so producing a lot of heat. Over in four all the really hot stuff -- fission products -- has decayed out. But the water is leaking. Temperatures are going up.

At some point the water in the four tank boils furiously near the zirconium rod containers. Superhot steam plus zirconium metal produces very fast rusting. This is also known as oxidation. Rapid oxidation is often called burning. The oxygen in the water is stripped off to become zirconium oxide. That leaves hydrogen (contaminated with some tritium since we still have neutrons and beta products coming from the radioactive decay of the fission byproducts). Hydrogen gets out into the room enclosing the spent fuel pool. It mixes with oxygen from the outside. It ignites. There is an explosion that blows off the roof of the rooftop spent fuel enclosure building. Water continues to leak from the pool.

The remedy is to get water into that pool, but we still don't have much power for pumps, nor water supply, because we are still surrounded by devastation, and we still have the problem of the reactors that have just been scrammed and are really really hot because they have recently created fission products in them.

But we can call in helicopters to drop water into the now-exposed pool.  That ought to work only there is a 20 knot wind, so not all the water dropped can get into the pool, and much goes downwind in a televisible display plume.

And there we are. The good news is that the wind is blowing the results out to sea. The bad news is that a plume hundreds of miles long develops and in that plume are detectable -- not dangerous but detectable -- levels of radiation, and out there away from the destruction, not hampered by the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami, are a lot of  news people desperate for a story, and --   I leave the rest as an exercise for the reader. Detectible soon becomes potentially dangerous levels, and it's hundreds and hundreds of miles, and a Union of Concerned Scientists expert will now tell you about it all.

I can't say that this won't be worse than Chernobyl, but so far we have no stories whatever of anyone off the plant site injured, which makes this a TMI story, not a Chernobyl story. And that's the way things are at Noon on Thursday as best I can tell. Here's the headline:

Japan nuclear crisis deepens as radiation keeps crews at bay

Race is on to restart cooling systems with emergency power after dropping water on damaged reactors has little effect

To the best of my knowledge the Japanese crews are winning the race. This will end up worse than TMI because many of those in the plant will be injured, and some may be killed: I understand that some workers have voluntarily exceeded their annual badge limits and by a lot because they thought their work was critical. At TMI there were no off site injuries, and the worst to the workers was that they exceeded their badge limits and were sent away. At Daiichi there have so far been no off site injuries, but some to many of the plant workers have exceeded their badge limits. In addition six or more have mechanical injuries, some from the hydrogen explosions, one from a heart attack. Pray for them.



The news from Libya: the mercs are winning. Gaddafi has invited all the rebels to flee to Egypt. Benghazi is the next objective in the east, while other Gaddafi troops mop up the area around Tripoli, after which they will clear the coast road from Tripoli to Al Agila. It's right out of the Afrika Korps game plan. From here on out intervention by outside powers will require reconquest not simple defense. A week ago the border could have been stabilized west of al Agila with major oilfields and refineries in the west as well as the east, forcing them to come to some terms. That becomes increasingly difficult.

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly


Radiation is coming! To America! Radiation! From Japan!

Radiation could reach us tomorrow! Running about aimlessly squawking like a chicken is the only known remedy.

Serious advice: don't take iodine pills and don't give them to your children. Don't panic. But know where your towel and cup are. And really you don't have to run around squawking like a chicken. I made that up.


The  MIT site http://mitnse.com/ is kept as up to date as any information source, and is competently done and easily comprehended. About halfway down in the series of topics and essays is an excellent explication on units and radiation levels.


The Nuclear Plume is Coming! The Nuclear Plume is Coming!


Londonderry Air

Poul Anderson

My Morris Minor's running out of petrol,
The bomb is set to go at half past five.
It's twenty past, and we're stuck here in traffic.
I fear we'll not, get out of this alive.

The IRA, has really blown it this time.
This time I fear, we'll spread ourselves too thin,
And when the bobbies clear away the traffic,
On every Ulster face you'll see a narsty grin!





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Friday,  March 18, 2011

Japan Admits Using Dihydrogenmonoxide

In desperate attempts to prevent a meltdown that could contaminate the world with radioactive fallout and send deadly radiation across the Pacific to the United States, Japan is now using dihydrogenmonoxide.

Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) is a colorless and odorless chemical compound, also referred to by some as Dihydrogen Oxide, Hydrogen Hydroxide, Hydronium Hydroxide, or simply Hydric acid. Its basis is the highly reactive hydroxyl radical, a species shown to mutate DNA, denature proteins, disrupt cell membranes, and chemically alter critical neurotransmitters. The atomic components of DHMO are found in a number of caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds such as Sulfuric Acid, Nitroglycerine and Ethyl Alcohol.


They are using as much of this stuff as they can in a desperate attempt to control the runaway reactors at the notorious Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex. Six nuclear reactors threaten release of deadly radioactive elements into the atmosphere and thus threaten every person in the world. Some of the elements released will be radioactive for thousands of years. In an attempt to mitigate this disaster Japan is using hydric acid in ever larger quantities. They are even said to be using contaminated DHMO.

Meanwhile, radioactive particles from Japan are known to have crossed the Pacific and now expose citizens of California to detectible levels of radiation. California officials are telling people to remain calm and say that the levels are small and can be ignored. Others question whether the government is telling the truth.


Of course every statement in the above is literally true. Japan is using every means possible to employ water to cool the fuel rods in reactors 1,2,3 , and the fuel rods in the cooling storage pools in reactors 4,5,6, including using sea water to cool the outsides of the reactor vessels in 1,2 and 3.

One does hope they are not using sea water in reactor vessels: introducing random elements into a high temperature pressurized nuclear environment makes possible a number of fearsome scenarios, most of which no one has thought much about. Seawater contains about half the elements of the periodic table in some quantity or another; the chemistry of that kind of mixture in high temperature and high pressure environments is simply unknown. (My thanks to correspondent Russell Seitz for pointing this out to me.) All reports that I have on the situation at Fukushima Daiichi are that sea water is being used on the outsides of the intact reactor vessels.

The latest reports are that conditions at the site are "stable", and both power and water supplies to the reactor site are being restored. A road has been opened through the debris fields surrounding the site and fire trucks are now present. Given reports of high pressures in the reactor vessels we can assume that the reactor vessels in 1,2 and 3 (which contain fuel rods) are intact. If they continue to overheat at high pressure (remember the "hydrogen bubble" at Three Mile Island) then the probable consequences are what happened at TMI:

At Three Mile Island, approximately 50% of the core’s nuclear fuel melted, and just 5/8 inch (out of 9 inches) of the reactor pressure vessel’s internal surface was ablated. During the corium’s contact with the bottom of the vessel, the vessel glowed red-hot for about an hour. The heat to which the vessel was exposed induced metallurgical changes in the steel, rendering it more brittle. Instrumentation penetrations in the lower vessel head also suffered damage. Nevertheless, the molten core was contained by the vessel.


It's not Chernobyl. It is already "worse" than TMI in terms of  radiation release outside the plant periphery, but so far there is no report of anyone off the plant site being injured.

My advice continues: don't panic, but know where your towel is. But then you should always know where your towel, your cup, and your spoon are. A toothbrush won't hurt either.


This came in before the President's speech on what we are to do in Libya.

Another Libya Skeptic

Mark Krikorian has some scathing things to say about our intervening in Libya at NRO's "The Corner": "Of course our armed forces will again perform brilliantly, and Qaddafi and his repellent mafia clan will be hanging from piano wire in no time. But everyone knows we’ll end up staying to pacify the country, trying in vain to reconcile one gang of cretinous barbarians with the neighboring gang of cretinous barbarians." http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/

On the other hand, the Security Council resolution reportedly forbids occupation of Libya. And someone persuaded both Russia and China to abstain, after both had indicated they'd veto. Maybe there's an adult involved on our behalf somewhere? We can but hope.

And on the gripping hand, it would take some truly brilliant maneuvering at this point to avoid major damage to Libyan oil facilities. Many of the inland facilities reportedly have been retaken by Ghadaffi forces over the last few weeks, and would presumably be demolished if those forces are cornered. Our best hope of seeing Libyan oil back on the market soon might be decapitation followed by negotiation - quickly kill Ghadaffi and immediate heirs, then cut deals with his stranded forces.

One last note for anyone who thinks any part of this will be straightforward: Iran vociferously approves of intervention against Ghadaffi. There will be no lack of convoluted and counterintuitive politics before this is over. Hold on to your hats, it's going to be an interesting ride.


I find little to disagree with.

Regarding the President, it's not entirely clear what President Obama did say. Apparently neither the United States nor anyone else will "take a leadership position" in whatever effort is made against Gaddafi. I presume this means no unity of command. I do hope that it does not mean that the Legions are to be sent into situations without proper plans and preparations: flying our aircraft through missile defended areas without means for taking out the radars. I would say one thing is certain: al Jazeera is already making sure that every camera crew has a teddy bear to add to the rubble from something destroyed by intervention forces.

The President has ordered Gaddafi to stop attacking civilians. Are the civilians the ones firing guns in the air, those not firing guns in the air, or those without visible guns? And does this mean that Libyan police cannot suppress robbers? What about looters? I understand that this sounds callous, but were I the Air Boss on a US carrier I would not know what rules of engagement to give the pilots.

Presumably Gaddafi will declare a cease fire and use that to suppress all dissent within the areas he controls. What happens after this isn't clear. How is "allowing the dissidents to depart in peace" different from what we once called ethnic cleansing, or are tribal differences ethnic? I ask a bit tongue in cheek, but in fact I do not know the answer. I'll think about it.

I would say that putting out a contract on Gaddafi's head, and pointedly saying that Delta Force, SAS, and the Foreign Legion are eligible to collect it might do wonders.


The Japanese situation and Libya are taking far too much attention from other important matters. There is more going on in the world. Some, like the continued rise in commodity prices, are exacerbated by the above incidents, of course.


I am continually amazed at those who accuse the Japanese authorities of saying "everything is fine." There is devastation of most of a prefecture, tens of thousands dead and missing and almost no chance that many of the missing are not dead, roads gone, electric lines gone, water systems destroyed, and a great deal of effort that would normally be employed in trying to recover from earthquake and tsunami going into taking all prudent measures to be sure the Daiichi situation does not get worse, and when the Japanese authorities announce that the situation is stable, they are accused of saying that everything is fine.

Everything is not fine. This is a horrible situation. Fortunately one part of the disaster is not getting worse, and is very likely to be under control. It will take a lot of effort to keep it under control, but those efforts are being made. I for one find that worthy of rejoicing.

If the situation goes critical and becomes another Chernobyl it will not be possible to conceal that. Many to most of the casualties at Chernobyl were among the responders, most of whom were aware of the dangers and went in anyway. So far there have been no fatalities among the responders at Daiichi, but there very likely will be as workers are allowed to exceed their annual badge radiation limits by a factor of two or more, and some beyond that. No one likes that situation. No one believes that this is fine. There is already evacuation of a large area around Daiichi in case this does go to Chernobyl levels. That does not sound like saying everything is fine. It is probably needless, but it is prudent in case things go far worse than we can reasonably expect.

Everything is not fine, but a lot of brave people are working to control the situation. They deserve honor.

And I have just heard a nuclear expert say on the air that dumping water into the system is not the right way to do this, they need to get the primary cooling system working again. Well, yes. Of course those at the plant should have thought of that. Perhaps they just forgot to try? If that is the level of technical advice we are prepared to offer the Japanese (as it seems to be the explanation the expert is giving to the American people) then perhaps the Japanese would have better uses for their time.

See the 3/18 1100 EDT report from MIT for latest details. http://mitnse.com/ Be sure to refresh if you already have the site in a browser since it does not automatically refresh and there are updates from time to time. This is the best reasonably technical source for non-emotional information that I am aware of. It does not say that all is fine, but it does not say it is time to panic. There is a link to primary data on off-site radiation levels. Those remain low.


Spraying of spent fuel pools at Units 3 and 4 is still underway. Visual inspection of Unit 4’s pool showed water in the pool, and so efforts have been temporarily focused upon Unit 3. While efforts at using helicopters to dump water onto the pools had been largely unsuccessful , army firetrucks used in putting out aircraft fires have been employed with some success. The elite Tokyo Hyper Rescue component of the Tokyo fire department has arrived on scene and is conducting missions of roughly two hours in length, during which they spray the pools for 7-8 minutes, wait for steam to dissipate, and spray again.

A cable has been laid from a TEPCO power line 1.5 km from the facility, which will be used to supply power to emergency cooling systems of the reactors at Units 1 and 2.

Backup diesel generators have been connected to cool the spent fuel pools at Units 5 and 6. As of 4 PM JST, temperatures in those pools have reached 65.5 and and 62 degrees Celsius.


In sum, more and more resources are now available. That makes the prospects better. Everything is not fine, but it's better than yesterday.

And honor to the fire department workers who didn't sign on to be atomjacks, but didn't refuse the duty.


My advice continues: don't panic, but know where your towel is. But then you should always know where your towel, your cup, and your spoon are. A toothbrush won't hurt either.


Someone who isn't freaking out and is looking at the situation calmly:




There is an FPRI essay on Saudi intervention in Bahrain at


The conclusion is that this was a strategic blunder. The analysis gives the reasoning.  I have not yet made a separate analysis.

However, see mail for a different view from Stratfor





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Saturday,  March 19, 2011

Here is news from a surprising source:

Surprisingly sensible reporting on radiation levels from NPR, of all organizations.

'Looking at it another way, a person could spend an entire year at this Fukushima "hot spot" and still not receive a lethal dose of radiation, although he might suffer some radiation symptoms, such as nausea.'


-- Roland Dobbins

However this morning's LA Times still has a certain amount of nuclear gloom in the scenario, and Senators Boxer and Feinstein held a conference to express their concerns. It does look as if most newsrooms have finally asked for advice from people who know what is happening as opposed to those who are good at speculating about what might happen.

Of course it is useful to speculate on what might happen, provided that one is reasonably realistic about it.



French official says French fighter fires on Libyan military vehicle - The Washington Post


The rebels have Tanks and BMPs too. At what point does the enforcement of the no fly zone cross the line to air support. Meanwhile, Iran and Al Quida are applauding the intervention by foreign powers which should provoke reconsideration but doesn't. Will the French and British allow the Rab League to intervene if they have conflict with their own, restive, Islamic fundamentalist minorities?



The enemy of my enemy is my friend? I suspect Iran and al Qaeda have a different view.


I do not do breaking news, but this is interesting: Libya is reporting that the French have struck civilian sites in Tripoli. You may now expect to see the teddy bears on al Jazeera and probably on CNS.

The radio is now announcing that we are launching Tomahawk missiles at air defense installations. One hundred and ten have been launched. Targets were chosen to take out places that were direct threats to coalition pilots but there is talk of other targets (one supposes all known Exocet sites are included). NATO, the Arab League, and some others are now at war with Libya. Unlikely supporters -- one hesitates to call the allies -- are Iran and al Qaeda. The DOD spokesman spoke of SA-5 sites.

First impact was 1500 EDT March 19 2011. A US general is said to be in command, but the plan is to turn this over to a coalition command.


 I do not know of any Congressional resolution declaring war on Libya, but one would consider sending in 110 Tomahawks an act of war. I repeat this is not a breaking news site, but I will try to stay abreast of developments and try to offer analysis if indicated. The military spokesman is reporting on what we have done. Clearly the military is operating on orders of the President. US ships and submarines are involved and most targets are in the western part of Libya. Note that Gaddafi had pretty well completed operations in western Libya; his operations were in the east.

Gaddafi is likely doomed now. What happens after that is not clear. Peggy Noonan's Wall Street Journal column today points out how difficult it is for Americans to leave once we are involved. I do expect to see teddy bears on al Jazeera.


It's still dark in Libya. When the sun comes up we will see destroyed orphanages. Meanwhile the French are providing what amounts to close air support to the rebels in Benghazi, and were doing so before the Tomahawks struck the air defenses. This has been cited as an example of French courage. Not to denigrate the courage of anyone who flies close support missions, Benghazi is in rebel hands, and there were no SA-5 or SA-6 missiles in the area. The French were unlikely to be opposed by anything other than the ubiquitous ZPU-23-4 quad cannon that both sides in the Libyan civil war possess in great numbers. Those can kill you and if enough of them are firing one may hit something -- we lost an FB-111 (ne TFX) over Libya in 1986, quite possibly to one of those. Since everyone in Libya seems to fire into the air at any provocation, you might even be hit by an AK-47. It's bizarrely possible that a rebel firing in jubilation over a French air strike on a Gaddafi loyalist tank might down the French airplane.

BBC is reporting that Gaddafi is issuing AK-47's to anyone who wants one in Tripoli.

And the Pentagon has announced that we have allies whom we can't name. Specifically he said they would name themselves if they wanted to. Apparently we have anonymous allies.

Saddam in 1991 fired missiles against Israel. Fortunately he hasn't any missiles that can reach Tel Aviv. And I have work to do. Watch for the teddy bears tomorrow morning.


There is reported to be intense ground combat in Benghazi. The logical thing for Gaddafi to do is to mingle his people in Benghazi so that the battle is over before the coalition can do anything without sending in ground troops. The sons of Septimius fight for their inheritance.


Gaddafi is now reported to have more than $10 billion in gold with which to pay his soldiers. Many of his soldiers are true mercenaries who probably would change sides for more money: but, alas, the West doesn't have that kind of cash readily available, and in the merc world, cash rules. It would be cheaper to use silver bullets in Libya, but I think we have too few silver dollars in hand.

Understand when I am speaking of true mercenaries I don't mean the soldiers of fortune who choose their sides for reasons other than the highest bidder. That kind of mercenary soldier is  in fact more common than true mercenaries. I have known a number of them, but I have met few of the pure mercenary variety. Being a soldier of fortune is a hazardous occupation, and most fight for something other than money.


Gaddafi is now throwing a large party in downtown Tripoli. This will of course provide him with a human shield against the coalition, which Gaddafi calls "the Crusaders." Big party in Tripoli. Meanwhile the Gaddafi troops are rapidly closing with Benghazi civilians. They hope to be well mixed in by dawn.

Fighting civil wars without troops on the ground is impossible. Changing the battle plans without the President in the loop is very difficult for the United States. Stay tuned.


On A Sense of Proportion

I just read a statistic that needs to be recorded. It belongs in an essay on an entirely separate topic, but it does no harm to present it here:

972,880 gallons of dispersant was sprayed from the air into the Gulf of Mexico as part of the BP oil spill cleanup.

"If the Gulf were the Superdome filled with water, this would amount to only a tablespoon, and all the oil would equal only three beer cans." 

Planes sprayed a layer about two thousandths of an inch thick.  Source: "The Gulf War" Raffi Khatchadourian New Yorker for March 14, 2011


“I am deeply aware of the risks of any military action, no matter what limits we place on it,” President Obama said from Brazil, the first stop in his Latin America trip. “I want the American people to know that the use of force is not our first choice and it’s not a choice that I make lightly.”

“But we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and his forces step up their assaults on cities like Benghazi and Misurata, where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government,” he said. “So we must be clear: Actions have consequences, and the writ of the international community must be enforced.”

President Barrack Obama

This must be taken in context of course: it doesn't apply to North Korea, Tibet, Sinkiang, Chechnya, or Viet Nam, and presumably not to Cambodia, where innocent men and women certainly faced brutality and death at the hands of their own government. 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. Having said that, it is certainly true that if it were done when it is done, it were well it were done quickly: if we are going to save Libyan rebels it is well to do that while some are still alive to save.

This has certainly managed to get the Japan Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex out of the news.

Meanwhile the President and his family are in Brazil. Brazil is important to the United States. Given modern communications it is probably as easy to start a war in North Africa from Brazil as from the United States. That's remarkable.

One of the charges against Gaddafi was that he was acting so quickly, and although he had proclaimed a cease fire his troops had not honored it; it was now hours after the proclamation and there was still fighting going on. Communications in the West are much better now, but I do remind all that the battle of New Orleans was fought weeks after the peace that settled the War of 1812 was signed. Gaddafi can -- and certainly will -- claim that he had issued the cease fire, but there are always troops who didn't get the word. I suspect there has never been a battle in history in which someone didn't get the word, or didn't care. Given Gaddafi's command and control structure and the nature of his army, it would hardly be surprising to find that a significantly large portion of his troops who were engaged in rapid pursuit of the enemy either didn't hear, or deliberately ignored it. He will certainly claim that he issued the order and was subjected to attack without cause. And, of course, we will find teddy bears in the wreckage.

Egyptian media report that thousands are streaming east across the Libyan/Egyptian border, fleeing Benghazi and Tobruk, the last major rebel cities. If Gaddafi's troops are in Benghazi at dawn, it will be very difficult to sort out who is doing what to whom, and how to intervene.

I am, of course, rambling.


I will of course mention this again (and probably often), but I note that The Legacy of Heorot  by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes is available in the Kindle edition. The price is $6.99 which is higher than I  would have set it, but don't control that. Legacy began as my idea for a story generated during a conversation with Dr. Jack Cohen and the late James White some years ago. I worked on it a bit, then told it to Niven. He thought it would make a sure fire Hugo winner in the novella category and we begand to develop it. It soon became obvious that it would make a full novel, and since we had other book contracts we invited Steve Barnes into the team.  It's about a very strange ecology. It's also about the problems of a human colony on an alien world: they have the technology. They don't have numbers, and few of the colonists have any experience with conflict and war: they were after all selected as brilliant rational people. You may think of it as a collaboration between the entity Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes. As usual I supply much of the plot, Niven supplies the madness, and we mold that into something neither of us would have created; now take that creation and add a younger and more emotional writer working with us. I think it came off very well indeed, and if you didn't know that it was a collaboration I doubt you would detect it from the book itself.

There is a sequel, Beowulf's Children, which follows the colonists as they encounter new dangers and a new ecology; alas it is not yet a Kindle book, but it should become one reasonably soon.



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Sunday,  March 20, 2011

Spring Equinox Tonight


Sometimes, don’t you hate being right? Here the Arab League wanted a no-fly zone. So now we get the headline, “Arab League condemns broad bombing campaign in Libya:”


It’s 112 cruise missiles now. That’s $112,000,000.00+ that I wish we weren’t borrowing.


Of course I have

No “teddy bears”. See Al Jazeera:


Lead story, which quotes President Obama extensively and approvingly. It follows with supporting quotes from President Sarkozy, PM Cameron, and PM Harper.



But I will still wager we will see teddy bears in wreckage from a US strike on a target in Tripoli.  They just won't be able to resist. The Arab League is now saying they never authorized bombing Arabs! Can the teddy bears be long coming?


Gaddafi controls the oil parts of the control. He will now offer partition. He doesn't need the rebel territories. The orders go out: dig in, and let our rebel brothers go in peace. He'll have oil for sale. Who will buy it? Well, Italy, France, England, and if they really tried to boycott Libyan oil, China will take up the slack.

Our coalition is a coalition of the willing. It includes 4 airplanes each from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, none of whom have actually attacked any targets. No one in the coalition is from Africa. It doesn't look as if Iraq is going to join either. So we have another little war on our hands.

The good news is that Gaddafi's aircraft are no longer flying. I have no estimates on the costs of this new little war. Perhaps the Congress will ask someone at the White House, or is it impolite to do so before the President returns to it? I don't know the applicable etiquette here. Perhaps the President will get around to asking for some kind of Congressional Resolution in support of his action, but perhaps not: Clinton didn't bother in the Kosovo Bombardment.


Now there is rioting in Syria. I have not yet heard the call for a no-fly zone in Damascus, but stand by. And in Tripoli they are shooting back at coalition aircraft. This probably means more Tomahawks.


There is heavy rain in Los Angeles. We are under a rain siege. Some of the gutters are filled. I'll try to clear them when the rain breaks; I sure don't want to do that just now.  We had a fire in a floor furnace -- just dust and dog hair and contained in the metal furnace can -- and had The Gas Company inspector out to be sure all was well. It was. The inspector was courteous, competent, and informative. And Chaos Manor, chaotic as always, remains safe. There high winds and blowing rain, and some of the gutters are overflowing, but really all is well.


There are now two holes in the roof of Gaddafi's palace, made by missiles presumably fired by the armed forces of the United States of America.  That, I assume, invites any enemy of the United States to begin conflict with us by attacking the White House. Come to think of it, wasn't that intended on 9/11? But those were terrorists attacking the White House. Attacking the Tripoli Palace was an act of -- well, no term comes to mind. We are not at war and the UN resolution did not extend to making Gaddafi a legitimate target or regime change a UN mission. Precisely what authority we have for bombarding the Tripoli equivalent of the White House is not known. It is now not at all clear on what terms our military involvement for the protection of the Libyan People with the resources of the United States can be ended. When will they be safe, and who determines that?

 "We all yearn to shape our own destiny, These are universal rights and we must support them everywhere." I quote the President of the United States as of thirty seconds ago. Does he mean this? Have we now declared a universal crusade against all those who do not let their people shape their own destiny? Does that include the people of Tibet? Uighers? North Koreans? Muslim minorities in Hindustan? Burmans?

Are these decisions for the President alone? Does Congress get to offer an opinion? If the President alone, do the Legions get a vote? I do not ask this frivolously: the Constitution makes the President the Commanded in Chief, but absent the Constitution he has no qualifications to give orders to the Legions. These are the sorts of questions asked in Roman debates during various constitutional crises of the Republic; they ended when a former Consul led his Legion across the Rubicon river, and the current Consul fled from Rome. Caesar said his aim was to restore the Republic, but the Republic was never restored. After that the Senate still met, elections for Consul were held, but the real power was the Imperium, the right to command. The Constitution fixes that in the President.

I ramble. And on the radio they are discussing whether or not Californians ought to buy gas masks.


Does anyone know why the President seems anxious to put American forces in combat under a foreign general?




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