Unlimited Energy: Physicists Assert We Already Have a Viable Model of a Fusion Device


One of the biggest challenges in the fusion energy development is finding the best shape for the device to contain the plasma, but physicists in the United States believe they may have found a new kind of nuclear fusion device that could be the most commercially viable design yet.


Physicists around the world are on a mad dash to build a nuclear fusion machine that can replicate the Sun’s atom-fusing process and provide everyone with a low-cost, sustainable energy resource—effectively ending our dependence on fossil fuels.

Replicating how the sun and stars create energy through fusion is essentially like putting “a star in a jar,” although there is no “jar” in existence that is not only capable of containing superhot plasma, but also low-cost enough that it can be built around the world—although it’s not for lack of trying.

In fact, physicists are working on a new kind of nuclear fusion device that could be the most commercially viable design yet.

 In a new paper published in Nuclear Fusion, physicists working at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) assert that a model for such fusion device “already exists in experimental form – the compact spherical tokamaks at PPPL and Culham, England.”
Test cell of the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade with tokamak in the center. (Photo by Elle Starkman/PPPL Office of Communications)
Test cell of the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade with tokamak in the center. 


Current designs for this so-called “jar” essentially call for doughnut shaped objects that come complete with powerful magnetic fields which suspend the plasma inside it, called tokamaks. It’s incredibly expensive to make and also hard to maintain, which is why physicists continue to develop new designs that will, hopefully, keep the cost down.

So far, there are two advanced spherical tokamaks in various stages of development. The first is the Mega Ampere Spherical Tokamak (MAST), which UK expects to be completed soon; the other is the National Spherical Torus Experiment Upgrade (NSTX-U) at PPPL, which went online last year.

“We are opening up new options for future plants,” said Jonathan Menard, lead author and program director for the NSTX-U.

But the devices, described in the 43-page paper, still have a long way to go. They must first be able to control the turbulence created after the plasma particles are subjected to electromagnetic fields, and also control how the superhot plasma particles interact with the device’s walls to avoid possible disruptions, which can happen if the plasma becomes too impure.

PPPL Director Stewart Prager said these two reactors, “will push the physics frontier, expand our knowledge of high temperature plasmas, and, if successful, lay the scientific foundation for fusion development paths based on more compact designs.”



Genetic test can predict if you survive radiation poisoning.

A team of scientists have found an accurate way to immediately identify long term radiation damage by examining blood-bound genes, allowing more accurate predictions of who can survive radiation exposure after a nuclear catastrophe or a dirty bomb.

Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin

In previous nuclear incidents, such as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the USSR or the 2011 Fukushima debacle in Japan, doctors and scientists were unable to accurately diagnose the radiation damage a patient has been exposed to.

They had to estimate the level of radiation poisoning by basing it on where someone was during a nuclear disaster or by taking blood samples and seeing how many white blood cells have died.

Neither of these two techniques can differentiate between a deadly dose of radiation and a very high but survivable one.

“After a radiation release, there is currently no way to tell who was exposed and who wasn’t, and if someone was exposed, is it lethal or not?” said Dipanjan Chowdhury of Dana-Farber’s Department of Radiation Oncology, the report’s senior author.

Chowdrhury together with a team of scientists at Harvard Medical School and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City have found a way of telling exactly what radiation dose someone has had by looking at the genes in their blood. Their findings were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

A tiny group of free-floating pieces of genetic information called microRNAs reveal how much radiation someone has received as well as the damage this will have on their body.

The scientists subjected two groups of mice to 650 rads of radiation, which is a high but survivable dose, and 800 rads which is lethal.

By any other means of analysis both groups of mice looked the same for the first two weeks after exposure, and it was only by testing their microRNAs that the scientists could determine which mice would survive.

MicroRNAs were identified only 20 years ago. They help the human body translate DNA into a workable blueprint to build new cells.

According to the new research, radiation actively alters the structure of the microRNAs in mice; the bigger the dose the greater the change. Only 68 of almost 170 types of microRNAs are in the blood, but the scientists found that by analyzing just a handful of these they could tell the amount of radiation damage someone had received in the first 24 hours after exposure.

“All of the equipment used to detect these microRNAs is already widely available in many clinics. So there’s no obvious reason that such a test would be expensive,” Chowdhury said, as cited by Popular Mechanics.

He is, however, worried that developing an emergency test for assessing radiation poisoning might take quite some time, as “unlike developing cancer drugs, this is not an area that’s considered very lucrative.”

Radioactive water leaked from Fukushima storage tank

A minor leakage of radioactive water has been detected at Japan’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co said. Radioactive liquid was detected under a storage tank with radiation-contaminated water.

An aerial view shows the Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and its contaminated water storage tanks (top) in Fukushima. (Reuters/Kyodo)

A total of 40 milliliters of water was discovered, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the plant’s operator, said on May 1.

The company believes that the liquid leaked from the storage tank, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun paper reported Saturday.

TEPCO stated that it placed bags of sand around the tank to prevent water from contaminating other areas.

The wet patch measuring 20 square centimeters was discovered by one workers at around 9:30am local time on May 1, it added.

According to TEPCO, seventy millisieverts per hour of beta ray-emitting radioactivity were detected on the surface where the water had leaked.

The leak was detected on the same day as tests began in preparation for the construction of a 1.5-kilometer-long frozen soil wall around the reactor buildings.

A project is aimed at preventing further leaks of radioactive water into the sea from the Fukishima plant.

Three of the Fukushima plant’s reactors suffered a nuclear meltdown due to an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, causing the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The water used to keep the reactors cool is tainted with radioactive material and has since been leaking and mixing with groundwater that has been seeping through the facility.

In late April, the water transfer pumps at the Fukushima plant were shut down due to a power outage, leading to the leaking of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.

It was preceded by a series of toxic leaks in February, which saw around 100 tons of highly radioactive water leaked from one the plant’s tanks.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant tragedy with nuclear meltdown of three of the plant’s six nuclear reactors was caused by an earthquake-triggered tsunami in March 2011.

TEPCO’s efforts to manage the release of radioactive material have been slammed by the global community due to its suppression policy. This year the company was revealed to have been concealing reports of dangerously high radiation levels at the plant since September.


‘Fukushima lessons: Any notion that nuclear power is clean is obsolete’.

The unit No.1 (L) and No. 2 reactor building of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (Reuters / Itsuo Inouye)

The unit No.1 (L) and No. 2 reactor building of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (Reuters / Itsuo Inouye)

The world must phase out nuclear power because it is absolutely not clean from the mining processing of uranium to the generation of high-level radioactive waste, Kevin Kamps for the radioactive waste watchdog Beyond Nuclear, told RT.

It’s been four years since the most powerful earthquake in Japan’s history struck the Fukushima nuclear power plant. All of Japan’s 43 operable reactors have been shut down since 2013, because of safety checks required after the accident. The operator of the nuclear plant has sent a second robot inside the Fukushima reactor to collect data from it. The first robot became immovable after recording some footage from inside the reactor.

RT: Since the disaster, Japan has allocated more than $15 billion to an unprecedented project to lower radiation in towns near the power plant. However few locals believe Tokyo’s assurances that the site will eventually be cleaned up. Do you think their fears are reasonable?

Kevin Kamps: Yes, it is an unprecedented catastrophe. Of course there was Chernobyl, but in this area of Japan – it is so densely populated all over. So when they are trying to clear the landscape down to a certain depth, it is going to be more and more expensive. When you add all of the projects from decommissioning of the nuclear power plant to trying to clean up the landscape to loss of economic activity – we’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars all together. It is going to be very difficult for anything like normal life ever to return there.

RT: In addition to massive radioactive remains, Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise following the increase in coal-fired power. Should environmentalists sound the alarm here?

KK: Just in recent days there have been the admissions by high-ranking Tokyo Electric officials that the decommissioning of the nuclear power plant could take more like 200 years because of the lack of technology to do the job. They are going to have to invent all of these robotic systems and engineering processes to try to remove the melted cores at Fukushima Daiichi because that is their current plan unlike Chernobyl with the sarcophagus. The current plan in Japan is to remove those melted cores to somewhere else – perhaps to geologic disposal, they haven’t said. But it is going to be very challenging.

RT: How has the country been handling the shortage of nuclear energy so far?

KK: It is high time for Japan, but I should also say the US and many other countries, to do what Germany is doing – which is to make the transition in its energy sector to efficiency and renewables. Germany will phase out the nuclear power by 2022. This is a direct response to Fukushima. And it will also largely phase out fossil fuel by the middle of the century, by 2050. Germany is the fourth largest economy in the world. So if Germany can do it, so can other developed countries in the world. It is high time that we do this so that dangerous nuclear power plants can be shot down, and we don’t have to turn to polluting fossil fuels.

RT: What is the main importance of nuclear power phase-out in your opinion?

KK: I think it’s very important that world turned from the nuclear power. It is absolutely not clean from the mining and processing of uranium to the generation of high-level radioactive waste. Then the routine radiation releases is even from normally operating nuclear power plants. But then certainly you have the disasters like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Any notion that nuclear power is clean is obsolete at this point.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Reuters / Kyodo)

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

RT: On Tuesday, a Japanese court halted the restart of two reactors at the Takahama plant in Fukui prefecture citing safety concerns. Why did the judges issue such a ruling?

KK: They are having a very difficult time. Just in recent days again a judge in Fukui prefecture ruled for the second time against the restart of atomic reactors in their prefecture, this time at Takahama. Two reactor units were blocked by this judge’s ruling from restarting. And last year he ruled against two reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant. So the local population, the local governors of prefectures, and local elected officials like mayors have put a stop to these plants restarting reactors in Japan.

RT: Do you think this latest move by the court is a major blow to the Prime Minister’s attempts to return to atomic energy?

KK: Yes, and in this particular case in the last couple days the judge in Fukui prefecture ruled that the new regulations – supposedly based on lessons learned from Fukushima by the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority – are irrational and do not guarantee protection of public health and safety and the environment. So it is a big blow to Prime minister, [Shinzo] Abe’s plans to restart reactors.

RT: All 40 reactors in Japan are shot down at the moment, aren’t they?

KK: That’s right; all 40 reactors in Japan are currently shot down. And this has been the case largely since the Fukushima catastrophe began. There have been a few exceptions but for very short periods of time.

RT: If the court comes up with further restrictions that would eventually extend the countrywide shutdown of the reactors. What are the consequences likely to be for Japan’s economy?

KK: It has made it. There have been challenges and difficulties; there has been a crash course in energy efficiency and also in energy conservation… And … there have been imports of fossil fuels, natural gas and coal. That is why I said [that] it is important for Japan to as quickly as possible transition to a renewable energy economy. In fact, that prime minister who served during the beginning of the catastrophe, Naoto Kan, implemented laws that would make that renewable transition happen more efficiently.

RT: Are there any achievement that have been made by the Japanese government trying to tackle the problem? Any good news?

KK: The good news is that renewables, especially efficiency, are very quickly deployable. You can establish a large scale solar photovoltaic facility in a matter of months, the same with wind turbines and efficiency is even faster than that. You have companies in Japan that are poised to do this kind of work…So there is a real promise in renewables; Japan has tremendous resourcesboth domestically, but also for the export and the installation of renewables around the world. And you have to always remember that the devastation caused by Fukushima Daiichi is a very negative thing for the Japanese economy. So you could have 40 good years at a nuclear power plant like Fukushima Daiichi, and you can have one bad day that is now tuned into four bad years, and there is no end and sight- this will go on for very long time.

RT: Everyone in Japan and all over the world understands that it is very dangerous industry and something should be done to prevent future catastrophes. So why are Japanese authorities slowing down all these processes?

KK: It is a form of addiction; it is a form of political power that is very deeply ingrained. The Japanese nuclear power industry dates back to the 1950’s. The Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minister Abe, one of its founding planks and its platform was pro-nuclear power. Apparently, it is very difficult for these powerful elites to learn lessons and to change their ways. But I think the Japanese people are showing that they have had enough of these risks to their country: first suffering the atomic bombings of 1945 and now also suffering the worst that nuclear power can deliver as well.

Russia-US nuclear material security cooperation discontinued .

Moscow and Washington have officially ceased 20 years of co-operation over securing storage of nuclear material in Russia, US media reports. Russia’s Rosatom warned that no new contracts with the US were expected in 2015.

The declaration on stopping co-operation in the nuclear material protection sphere was signed on December 16, The Boston Globe reported on Monday. The newspaper obtained a three-page document that draws a line under 21 years of fruitful cooperation between the two nations’ nuclear agencies.

The decisive talks took place in Moscow over a month ago, but the outcome remained secret until early this week.

The meeting was attended by reportedly well over 40 experts from both sides, representing various industries dealing with the use of fission material. According to the Globe, the American delegation consisted of officials from the US State Department, Department of Energy, the Pentagon and its nuclear weapons labs. The Russian host party was made up of officials representing dismantling entities that varied from arms control to outgoing nuclear submarines’ disposal.

Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US assisted Russia in securing its huge stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium, as well as financing dismantling nuclear weapons.

Over the two decades of the Cooperative Threat Reduction programs, the US reportedly spent $2 billion, with $100 million allocated for 2015 and plans to continue the programs until at least 2018. The money was spent on creating a computerized record keeping system, personnel training, inventory of fission materials, and withdrawal of fission materials from former Soviet republics.

Starting from January 1, joint security operations at Russia’s 18 civilian facilities with weapons-grade nuclear material have been discontinued, as well as further security upgrades in 7 ‘closed nuclear cities’ hosting military and civilian nuclear laboratories, institutes and nuclear research centers.

Russian authorities scotched America’s plans to install radiation sensors in the country’s airports, seaports and border crossings that would monitor Russia’s fission material circulation to “catch potential nuclear smugglers,” according to the official version.

Russia also stopped work on diluting its weapons-grade plutonium and uranium stock into a “less dangerous” form, previously conducted at two facilities.

Installation of high-tech surveillance systems at 13 nuclear material storage buildings in Russia has also been called off.

An employee looks at equipment in a new facility at a nuclear waste disposal plant in the town of Fokino in Russia's far-eastern Primorsky region (Reuters / Yuri Maltsev)

An employee looks at equipment in a new facility at a nuclear waste disposal plant in the town of Fokino in Russia’s far-eastern Primorsky region .

“They need continuous attention and international cooperation,” said Siegfried S. Hecker, a former head of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who has traveled to Russia more than 40 times since 1992. “You cannot afford to isolate your country, your own nuclear complex, from the rest of the world,” Hecker stressed, as cited by BG.

Former Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who has fostered and monitored Russia-US fission material control programs over the years, questioned Russia’s expertise in keeping track of its vast reserves of nuclear material.

“The housekeeping by the Russians has not been comprehensive,” Lugar said in an interview. “There had been work done [with the US] hunting down nuclear materials. This is now terminated.”

At the same time, David Huizenga, nonproliferation expert at the National Nuclear Security Administration, who led the US delegation to Moscow in December, said: “We are encouraged that they stated multiple times that they (Russians) intend to finish this work.”

The crisis in Russia–US relations over developments in Ukraine has been deepening throughout 2014, and has finally affected the business of international control over radioactive materials.

The first signs of discord were visible months ago, in August, when BG headlined: ‘US-Russia work on nuclear materials in jeopardy’.

The head of Russia’s state nuclear monopoly Rosatom, Sergey Kirienko, warned in November that no new contracts with the US are planned for 2015. A month later, Kirienko reported that international sanctions on Russia had failed to disrupt any Rosatom contracts planned as far ahead as 2040.

“None of our partners abandoned the realization of signed contract and deals,” Kirienko said, stressing that all decisions made in the nuclear energy sphere are long-term and lie outside politics and political cycles.

Fukushima nuclear meltdown worse than initially reported .

The meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant’s third reactor building was even worse than initially believed, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has announced.

In fact, the power company’s new appraisal of the Fukushima No. 3 reactor building shows that all – or nearly all – of the fuel rods contained inside were melted, dropping onto the floor of the containment vessel. If true, the news means the power plant could be even tougher to decommission.

Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo  (AFP Photo / Kimmasa  Mayama)

According to the Japan Times, TEPCO first estimated back in November of 2011 that roughly 63 percent of the reactor’s fuel rods had melted.

But TEPCO now believes that after studying conditions surrounding the fuel core, the reactor’s cooling system stopped functioning more than five hours earlier than previously estimated. As a result, the meltdown would have started around that same time period.

As reported by the Yomiuri Shimbun, it is possible that with more nuclear fuel resting in the containment vessel than originally estimated, removing it will require even more careful planning.

“As the core meltdown is now believed to have started earlier than was previously thought, the amount of melted nuclear fuel that passed into the containment vessel through the pressure vessel is considered to have been greater, making it technically more difficult to extract the melted fuel and dispose of it,” the newspaper stated.

Despite the new findings, however, TEPCO spokesman Shinichi Kawamura said the company is still hoping to find some fuel that had not melted down.

“We think some fuel still remains at the core part based on the actual plant data,” he said, as quoted by the Japan Times.

The news comes as the effects of the nuclear meltdown continue to be felt throughout the region. In late July, a new report discovered that Japan’s famous macaque monkeys were testing positive for blood abnormalities that could potentially make them more susceptible to infectious diseases. The tests were conducted on wild monkeys living in the Fukushima region, and the results of the blood exams were linked to the radioactive fallout at the power plant.

Meanwhile, another July report by Japan’s agriculture ministry found that fourteen different rice paddies – all outside of the power plant’s evacuation zone – were contaminated with radioactive material. As RT reported then, five others inside the evacuation zone were also contaminated, pushing the ministry to order TEPCO to implement better protective measures for future work at the plant

‘Doomsday clock’ still at five to midnight, scientists warn.

The Doomsday Clock has been used by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist since 1947 to represent the perceived danger of a catastophic nuclear event. (AFP Photo / Scott Olson)The Doomsday Clock has been used by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist since 1947 to represent the perceived danger of a catastophic nuclear event.

The doomsday clock – a theoretical device that purports to tell us how close we are to a nuclear apocalypse – has frozen at five minutes to midnight, unchanged from last year. Physicists tell the head of the UN there is little reason to move it back.

The visual metaphor has held its appeal for more than 60 years now. The hands of time are moved in accordance with the analyses of a special board of scientists who ponder international threats, especially those having to do with nuclear armaments.

While a team of physicists writing to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted some positive developments in 2013 – including successful talks on Iran’s nuclear program, and the fact that overall there has been a reduction in nuclear armaments worldwide – they decided there was still little hope for jubilation:

“As always, new technologies hold the promise of doing great good, supplying new sources of clean energy, curing disease, and otherwise enhancing our lives. From experience, however, we also know that new technologies can be used to diminish humanity and destroy societies,” wrote the scientists on the board.

“We can manage our technology, or become victims of it. The choice is ours, and the Clock is ticking,” they added.

The clock was first launched in 1947 by the editors of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The wife of one of the researchers on the team, Martyl Langsdorf, had offered her artistic rendition of the object.

Back in 1947, the clock had showed seven minutes to midnight. In 1953, things looked the most critical in the clock’s entire history to date: they showed two minutes to midnight, following the US and Russian nitrogen bomb tests, spaced only nine months apart.

Meanwhile, 1991 was in the minds of the scientists the safest year: the Cold War had ended, and there was thankfully an agreement between the world’s then-superpowers, the US and the USSR, on reducing strategic nuclear arsenals.


A depiction of the Doomsday Clock is removed following an announcement by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) announcing that it has moved the hands to five minutes to midnight, up one minute from two years ago, at the American Association for the Advancement in Washington, DC (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)A depiction of the Doomsday Clock is removed following an announcement by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) announcing that it has moved the hands to five minutes to midnight, up one minute from two years ago, at the American Association for the Advancement in Washington, DC (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)

All in all, the clock’s hand changed its position 20 times. In 2012 it moved to five minutes to midnight, which symbolizes hypothetical nuclear annihilation.

The scientists believe that Russia and the United States must continue to make progress on eradicating their nuclear arsenals and further negotiate.

Specifically, once there [at the table], “they should take the courageous steps needed to further shrink their nuclear arsenals, to scrap their deployment of destabilizing missile defenses, and to reduce the alert levels of their nuclear weapons.”

They were also not too happy about China, India and Pakistan making strides in the opposite direction with their military developments – including the stockpiling of fissile materials.

The group thought that the Fukushima catastrophe would wake the world up to the necessities of moving away from nuclear energy, but complained that only Germany and Switzerland really made huge strides, while countries like the United Kingdom are discussing the construction of new nuclear facilities yet.

The group is also unhappy with the progress the UN has made in the field of climate sustainability and negotiations on policies in that area. The threat of global warming, they say, is still real. After all, since 2007, they claim the clock reflects not only nuclear catastrophe, but also climate change.

The physicists also wrote that, while there have been leaps in the development and spread of new technologies, the world is not growing fast enough to catch up to them and control them. Amongst them are breakthroughs in the fields of biology and cybernetic technologies – such as drones.

They believe that new bodies must be set up for dealing with all emerging technologies.

“The revolution in information technology is accelerating, and the consequences of such broad and fast-paced technological change cannot be foreseen. Some of the results of this revolution, such as military robotics and cyber warfare, will challenge international law and the norms of war, much as nuclear weapons do. These scientific advances require serious attention and policy action—before our newest technologies fuel another senseless and dangerous arms race.”

Officials reject concerns over 500 percent radiation increase on California beach.

AFP Photo / Spencer Platt

Health officials in California are now telling residents not to worry after a video uploaded to the internet last month seemed to show high levels of radiation at a Pacific Coast beach.

The video, “Fukushima radiation hits San Francisco,” has been viewed nearly half-a-million times since being uploaded to YouTube on Christmas Eve, and its contents have caused concern among residents who fear that nuclear waste from the March 2011 disaster in Japan may be arriving on their side of the Pacific Ocean.

Throughout the course of the seven-minute-long clip, a man tests out his Geiger counter radiation detector while walking through Pacifica State Beach outside of San Francisco. At times, the monitor on the machine seems to show radiation of 150 counts-per-minute, or the equivalent of around five times what is typically found in that type of environment.

After the video began to go viral last month, local, state and federal officials began to investigate claims that waste from the Fukushima nuclear plant has washed ashore in California. Only now, though, are authorities saying that they have no reason to believe that conditions along the West Coast are unsafe.

The Half Moon Bay Review reported on Friday that government officials conducted tests along California’s Pacific Coast after word of the video began to spread online, but found no indication that radiation levels had reached a hazardous point.

“It’s not something that we feel is an immediate public health concern,” Dean Peterson, the county environmental health director, told the Review. “We’re not even close to the point of saying that any of this is from Fukushima.”

Screenshot from YouTube user Kill0Your0TV

Screenshot from YouTube user Kill0Your0TV

According to the Review’s Mark Noack, counts-per-minute does indeed measure radiation, but “does not directly equate to the strength or its hazard level to humans.” And while the paper has reported that testing conducted by Peterson’s department on their own Geiger counters has since revealedradiation level of about 100 micro-REM per hour, or about five times the normal amount, officials are confident that there is nothing to be concerned about.

“Although the radiation levels were clearly higher than is typical, Peterson emphasized that it was still not unsafe for humans,” Noack wrote. “A person would need to be exposed to 100 microREMs of radiation for 50,000 hours before it surpassed safety guidelines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he explained.”

Screenshot from YouTube user Kill0Your0TV

Screenshot from YouTube user Kill0Your0TV

Even so, officials are still uncertain as to why those levels — even if they are relatively safe — seem to be five-times higher than what is expected. Peterson told the Review he was “befuddled” over the ordeal, but suggested the culprit could be something not too sinister — such as red-painted eating utensils buried on the beach.

“I honestly think the end result of this is that it’s just higher levels of background radiation,” he said.

Researchers at the Geiger Counter Bulletin website have since tried to make sense of the reading on their own, and agree that the levels being detected are several times over what should be expected. According to a post on their website from this weekend, however, an independent testing of soil taken from near Pacifica State Beach tested positive for some radioactive material — but nothing that would have come from Fukushima.

The results of testing conducted by California’s Department of Public Health are expected to be announced later this week.

Fission Power: The Pros, the Cons, and the Math.

The process of nuclear fission was first discovered in 1938; however, it wasn’t fully explained until a year later. Today – less than 100 years after its initial discovery – it is the poster child of the ‘green energy’ movement (and not in a good way) that is sweeping across the globe.  Most of what we hear about the pitfalls of using fission technology are sensationalist, but there is no doubt that this process has led to nuclear disasters. Recently, reports have stated that the radioactivity level spiked to a level 6,500 times higher than the legal limit at Fukushima, and issues continue to presist in that area. This process has also been linked to  non-localized devastation. During Chernobyl, the Soviet government evacuated about 115,000 people from the most heavily contaminated areas in 1986; however, another 220,000 people had to be evacuated from surrounding areas in subsequent years.

Credit: U.S. NRC

Now, there is a huge debate amongst people as to whether governments world-wide should pursue the continuation of developing safer nuclear power plants, or if it should be scrapped  all together in place of something that is perceived as “safer.” Given the overall importance of the debate to the environment and to our exponentially growing energy needs, everyone should have a proper understanding of the topic; however, for the most part – very few people have more than a very basic understanding of the science and mathematics behind the process. In this article, I want to attempt a more thorough explanation than you may have read before.

Atomic Fission:

Nuclear Fission (Source)

As most of you will hopefully be aware of, nuclear fission is a chain reaction involving large, unstable nuclei. This chain reaction ignites when a neutron collides with another neutron, resulting in it becoming even more unstable – before one nucleus  divides into two ‘daughter’ nuclei and (on average) 3 more neutrons. After which, the additional neutrons go on to initiate another fission reaction with those they come in contact with. Those neutrons then incite a reaction between other neutrons and so on and so forth (like the domino effect). The most common fuel used for fission is Uranium -235 (that’s 92 protons and 143 neutrons), and the 2 products (plus neutrons) of this reaction could be a range of sized nuclei.

As with any reaction/equation, when broken up, the final number must still sum to what you started with, and this is also true of fission reactions. Ultimately, the total number of nucleons (protons and neutrons) after fission, in whichever new combinations, must still add up to the original number.


So what good is fission to us? Well it produces energy of course! But where does this energy actually come from? I mentioned that the number of protons and neutrons remains the same, and that they are just rearranged into more stable combinations; this is true. However, when adding up the total masses before and after, you will find that the mass will DECREASE. Said decrease in mass is the answer to our question, as the lost mass is converted into pure energy.

With a little prior knowledge (and a very familiar equation), we can calculate the amount of energy produced. An example goes as follows… (warning, complicated math is contained below)

Let us take this reaction:

1 neutron + Uranium-235 à Strontium – 98 + Xenon – 136 + 3 neutrons (Rounded values in relative atomic mass)
  • Mass before = 236.053u
  • Mass after = 235.840u
  • Mass change = 0.213u

To convert this result into kilograms, we multiply the number by 1.661×10^-27 (the mass in kilograms of a nucleon). So:

0.213 x (1.661×10^-27) = 3.538×10^-26kg

Next, using E=MC^2 we can convert this mass into energy (using the rounded value for C)

(3.538×10^-26) x (3×10^8)^2 = 3.18×10^-11J

This isn’t a very large amount of energy – but remember that this is just for a single atom of Uranium! So suppose we could persuade it to fission completely, how much energy would be produced for one gram of Uranium? Since we know how much energy is produced by one atom of uranium, to find the energy produced by one gram, all we need to do is know how many atoms are in a gram. To figure this out, we use Avogadro’s constant, which is equal to the number of atoms of any element in one mole of that element. That number is 6.022×10^23, and we use it in the following equation (probably more familiar to chemists than physicists)

Number of atoms = (mass x Avogadro’s no.) /molar mass Therefore the number of atoms in a gram of Uranium can be calculated as:

(0.001kg x 6.022×10^23)/0.236053 = 2.55×10^21

Now we can multiply this number by the amount of energy produced by a single fission reaction and we get:

(2.55×10^21)x(3.18×10^-11) = 8.11×10^10J

This is a HUGE amount of energy for just a single gram of fuel. Especially when compared to the amount of energy generated by coal or oil, and remains the reason why Uranium is so widely used (despite the potential dangers). Ultimately, The amount of free energy contained in nuclear fuel is millions of times the amount of free energy contained in a similar mass of chemical fuel, such as gasoline. Moreover, the process of decomposition produces a huge amount of heat, a large volume of heavy element atoms, and a lot of neutrons. In addition to these products, the nuclear fission also produces a big volume of radioactive waste. Obviously, this waste needs to be disposed of, as it could cause serious destruction to the environment, should it leak. Proper storage is extravagantly expensive.

But of course, there are a number of advantages to this kind of power. Getting rid of our dependence on fossil fuels is probably the biggest advantage of nuclear power. Power plants that burn coal are highly destructive to the environment (whereas nuclear fission is really only destructive if there is a leak or meltdown). Moreover, the mining process destroys vast swatches of Earth, including a number of diverse habitats. There is also the issue of oil spills (we all probably remember the infamous BP contamination of the Gulf). More importantly, the nuclear fuel used is much more efficient and found in abundance. Large reserves of uranium are spread in many parts of the world. Scientific estimates suggest that the rate at which the fossil fuel are being used today, their reserves are bound to become empty by the end of this century. Yet, the byproducts of the fission process remain radioactive for thousands of years and can cause serious harm to living beings. Although the chances are rare, a nuclear power disaster can decimate a habitat/ecosystem (depending on the size and nature of the disaster).

In the end, it is each individual’s responsibility to acquire the knowledge necessary to make decisions and be informed. Hopefully, this post helped you start (or continue) this journey of discovery.