funranium: (Duck 'n' Cover)
NB: I held a DOE "Q" Clearance, which is the nuclear weapons secrets side of the house.  As I've since discovered, classified materials rules are somewhat less stringent outside of there.  I'm not sure whether I'm happy or disappointed about that.

No, I don't have an opinion on any of the stuff released so far because I haven't read any of it, nor do I intend to unless specifically ordered upon re-issuance of security clearance with requisite 'Need To Know".

"Why?" might you ask.  Because it was classified information.  In the United States, it is a crime to be unlawfully in possession of classified material.  The common defense of "Well, it was all publicly available information anyway" doesn't hold water in the face of that.  Which is why the classification control officers at LLNL are tearing their hair out as people say things like "Should I look at it here on secure networks, or should I wait until I go home to look at it?" The correct answer is, "Neither.  As the possessor of a security clearance, you should not be knowingly seeking out classified materials, regardless of the venue in which they are presented."

Now, why would this stop me, considering I don't have a security clearance?  Answer: because I might want to have a clearance again someday and this might be career limiting.

Also, current and former clearance holders are also known as Informed Individuals.  Because we have been privy to restricted information, we have the ability to confirm and debunk any or all of this information.  Of course, the act of doing this is also a security violation.  It is a Schroedinger's Cat problem where all of this is a disclosure, but it's not an actual crime until someone confirms that it's a disclosure of classified information, which is an crime too.

Even if we don't give a yea/nay on any given bit of information in the Wikileaks documents, the things we go look for as we inspect what has been revealed is informative in and of itself.  That's why people at the Lab want to go look at things, to research what has been divulged.  But the act of the search itself may constitute classified information.  Is your brain hurting yet?

I'm not going to address declarations that none of this should be classified or that "information should be free".  I can only address my personal desire to not go to jail.  Anyone who has ever held a security clearance before should consider this before going to peek.
funranium: (Duck 'n' Cover)
Gonna do this short and sweet, just hoping you'll trust me:
  1. No, you are not going to die of cancer.  It is safe unless you getting scanned more than 100000 times per year.  This is only likely to happen to the seriously bored TSA agents in East Bumfuck, MO.  
  2. Seriously, chill the fuck out.  I don't need to think of the children because THEY HAVE SKIN, just like you do.
  3. The unborn are just fine.  They get to use your skin.  Chill the fuck out.
  4. Yes, they will see your bits.  Please understand that your bits aren't that interesting.  If they are interesting, you've probably made them that way on purpose.
It is also annoying the shit out of me that they keep quoting the wrong dose limits.  The public dose above and beyond background is limited to 100mrem/yr of deep, penetrating whole body for members of the general public.  The scanners barely penetrate the dead layer of skin.  In this case the only exposure is to a single, rather radio-resistant organ: the skin.  Skin dose limits, by contrast, are 50,000mrem/yr.  Dose per scan is roughly .02mrem.  Please accept that THE DEADLY RADIATIONS are not going to get you and that this is preferable to getting The Grope.  Yes, it is fallible and easily evaded.  It is a very expensive prop in security theater that still requires thoughtful screeners to be useful.  No, I'm not thrilled about them.

I am spending far too much time fielding questions about this.  Don't even get me started on the radio/microwave toxicity fucknuts on the rise in San Francisco.  I can only make my withering glare for questions related to that work in person.
funranium: (Duck 'n' Cover)
More than a few friends sent this story from CNN my way with a modicum of panic and hope that I could explain things a bit more. 

Now that I am teaching radiation safety at a local community college in addition to my day job, it has been made very, very clear to me:
  1. What little the average person knows about radiation has mostly come from movies and 30 second news blurbs.
  2. The students that came to my class know how little they know and lay it squarely at the feet of shitty science-ignorant media reporting.
To a reporter acquaintance, I said to his shamed face "Science reporting would have had to have been informed reporting before it could have been slanted.  Most of what I read comes across as opinion piece at best.  This article definitely would have received an F if I got it as a student paper."

I think the highlight of inconsistency in this story is the statement in paragraph 2 "...authorities discovered the Uranium 238, known as yellowcake, in a garage..." versus the paragraph 13 "...will perform an expert analysis of the seized uranium to establish the enrichment percentage and the country of origin".  Paragraph 9  "...undercover policemen acquired less than one gram of the substance and sent it to the United States for analysis, which confirmed that it was uranium 238", if true means paragraph 13 is unnecessary and this whole story belongs in the Those Dumb Crooks section of the paper.

I Explain Why They're Idiots In More Detail )

It's hard enough to convey chemistry to people.  When you try to tell them that the entire Periodic Table of the Elements is only one axis on the Chart of the Nuclides (the axis of # of protons vs. the axis of # of neutrons) so you can build all the isotopes, their eyes go funny.
funranium: (Science Diet)
To explain what the hell I was talking about the other day with the my creation of the word "nuclearche", let's fill you in on the whole story.

[ profile] robyngoodfelloe found this article regarding the oddity of the Dry Valleys near McMurdo in Antarctica.  I would like to bring your attention about two thirds of the way down to the picture of the Most Important Seal Carcass EVAR.  "Why is this most important seal carcass", I hear you ask, "Do you have the brain worms again?"  No, I don't but let me explain myself.  It is so for two reasons:

1) It is a good example of the danger of doing science and not questioning your assumptions. 
2) It is used as a basis of support for Young Earth Creationism (YEC) that is less shaky than the idiocy of carbon dating dinosaur bones and I want you to be able to call bullshit on it.

DISCLAIMER: To people I have given this rant to in person, I have squared away my numbers.  I got several of them wrong in off the cuff conversation due to the rounding and order of magnitude errors of the brain.  As a physicist, getting it within plus or minus an order of magnitude is normally good enough.  Not this time.

First, a quick review of the basis of carbon dating for those that don't know it... 

More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Carbon Dating )
funranium: (Rad Worker)

So, a few of you had questions for me about this story. I feel it will save some time to answer them here. Take the time to read the article first before enjoying my rant.

First, the title. The title of this article should have been something closer to the title of my post. Yes, all the words they chose are factually accurate, they are just very imprecisely used. Three Mile Island (TMI) has all manner of sources of radiation around...should the people of Harrisburg be concerned about the Deadly Radiations that TMI is emanating at them? Why are they cutting pipes at TMI? Are they trying to cause leaks to kill us all with Deadly Radiations? Definitely an eyecatching title. (there was a silent "...douchebags" at the end of that sentence)

Second, thank you for reminding us that Three Mile Island Reactor 2 (TMI-2) suffered a meltdown in 1979. I'm sure we'd all forgotten. The meltdown had fuckall to do with this. Actually, I take that back. The only reason this story is being reported is that it happened at TMI which, in general, is the only named reactor most Americans recognize other than Chernobyl. This particular kind of personnel contamination event happens with somewhat disturbing regularity every time a reactor outage happens all over the world, but you haven't heard about them have you? If I told you something like this happened at San Onofre, unless you live in San Diego, you'd probably ask me "What's a San Onofre?" But Three Mile Island, that you know and invokes and instant panic response, gaining readership thusly.

Okay, I know all of you really want to know is what actually happened. This is all supposition, but it is somewhat educated:

1) TMI-1 was idled for regularly scheduled maintenace AKA "an outage". Like any other power plant, nuclear power plants need cleaning and maintenance too, just slightly different operations. The main goal of this outage was to replace the steam know the big honking turbines.

2) One of the other regular maintenance operations is removing the limescale from the cooling lines. Just like your showerhead builds up the crusties if you have hard water, so too do the cooling lines. Unfortunately, the limescale due to dissolved particulate in the water in a nuclear reactor has been in a nuclear reactor. Thus, it is radioactive due to neutron activation. This is why we do our best to keep the cooling water in reactors as clean/distilled as possible and recirculate it. City water is waaaaay too full of mineral content to want to use for cooling. This is what they were cutting into the cooling lines to do.

3) Cooling lines are closed loop systems of some of the thickest goddamn pipes you have ever seen. You have to cut into them because they don't want even the slightest possibility of a leak at some gasket somewhere, so its all solid construction. Air handling systems are part of the integrated design because they were built with this future maintenance operation in mind.

4) The actual removal of the limescale is usually done by blasting the pipe interior with CO2 beads. Pipes as thick as these take a long time to cool down. If you are impatient about letting the pipe cool down, because every minute you delay is a minute 850MW is not on the grid, then you start throwing dry ice at a hot thing and you get a lot of CO2 gas...enough to overpressurize the air handling system filter. The overpressurized filters then burp particulate which will then crap up the workers where the filter exhaust is...and the area radiation monitor (ARM). If there is more radioactive particulate than you're allowed to breathe constantly in a 8 hour workday, then the alarm goes off.

What happens to the workers next? Well, they get decon'd. Then they likely have to do a urinalysis bioassay to see if they've had an uptake. If they have, their committed lifetime dose due to that uptake is noted in their medical records.

Comments? Questions?

ADDITIONAL: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is interested, but not overly concerned, because the contamination for incidents like this is localized in a room or two, never got to the outside environment, is easily cleaned, but you still have to report the event to the NRC. It is NOT because the NRC is in the pocket of the nuclear power industry or because the NRC has wildly inaqequate safety margins for what they consider "concerning". No, they are not trying to sweep this under the rug. The NRC is one of the more diligent and capable bits the bureaucracy has, though it is a bit understaffed in my opinion.

funranium: (Pyscho)

I am going to try to make order of these feelings toward humanity and hope it makes sense:

  1. There are certain social norms of public behavior that are fairly universal, such as "Please do not hurt people without a very compelling reason, such as the one you'll be giving to a judge."
  2. I understand that certain things that I believe are polite are not the same that others believe.
  3. There is a difference between knowing what the accepted norms and polite behavior are AND THEN willfully violating them and being an ignorant, uncultured, unsocialized sub-human (I am continuously guilty of willful violation mainly due to my woeful verbal filters and a strong contrarian streak.  I could Be Offensive for America in the next social Olympics.  In a sense, willful violation is art).
  4. When you violate the mores of society, by will or ignorance, you cause discomfort in those around you particularly in those who know and practice the more you violated.
  5. People who are uncomfortable attempt to get away from sources of discomfort.  Confrontation regarding this violation is uncomfortable as well, so you will very rarely be called to task.
  6. You may be perfectly cultured and socialized by the standards of your home society/country/clique/family but when you run up against another group whose mores are alien to you, you have been demoted to ignorant sub-human again especially when there are many more of them than you.
  7. If you would like to be a Good Human Being (patent pending), it is encumbent upon you to make an effort to not be ignorant.
  8. Your children are your responsibility.  They do not know better, especially if you do not know better either to teach them otherwise.
My parents owned a pet store in a shopping center next to a supermarket.  This meant mothers often left their children in our store while they went shopping to keep them entertained.  We were cheap babysitting.  The kids destroyed merchandise, shoplifted, and tortured animals.  Mothers were indignant when presented bills for their precious little angel's path of destruction.  They were skyscrapers of towering bitchery when I would tell them and their children to leave my store on entry when they would come back the next time.   Apparently, I was supposed to forget.  A sample exchange:

Mother of Terror: "I can't believe you would treat a customer this way!"
Me: "You aren't a customer and neither is your son."
MoT: "How do you know I wasn't going to buy anything?"
Me: "You didn't the last two times you ditched you son here.  Find a different store to play daycare for you."

Grumpy In The Rainforest )
funranium: (Duck 'n' Cover)
I'm going to level with you here.  The number of customers out there who would like a piece of software that could to Monte Carlo simulations of nuclear criticality for safety analysis is not worthy of being called a market.  It could, perhaps, be called that group of guys huffing from the Bag Of Visions in the alley, but not a really profitable group.  Thus there is no such software.

There is, however, adaptations of the code used to model nuclear blasts and reactor design called MCNP.  Because it could possibly be used to help design nuclear weapons, its not exactly widely available.  The first version was designed in the early 50s; the last update that I am aware of occurred in 1975 which makes it as old as me.  Thus, its not exactly bleeding edgeware.  It was made to run on FORTRAN.  FORTRAN may have come into existence to run these codes.

It is worth noting at this point that I can't program worth a crap.  This is one of the reasons I am a bad scientist.  I discovered that I hate  programming, especially on a UNIX platform, as an undergrad and thus my future in physics ended at a BS.  When I was in the lab, I built the apparati, maintained them, snarled at people who tried to fiddle with them, took excellent data, broke the apparati down, and handled of whatever hazardous material there may have been.  I was the experimentalist; my lab partner Jason was the code monkey who crunched the data I took and turned it into pretty fonts.  This is why he went on to get his doctorate in physics and will soon be teaching at the University of Calgary.  My style of science is so pre-Manhattan. 

Because there is not a big group of users, their is no real impetus to improve it or make it more user friendly.  Knowing how to use this bassackward piece of code is what makes a Criticality Safety Engineer, a DOE/NRC official functional in the regulations job title, a $100k+ starting salary job.  It is knowledge being held dear and kept intentionally arcane in an almost Masonic fashion.  I can see the aprons of the Most Irradiated and Sacred Brotherhood of Criticality now..."Warden of the Rod, is this Most Worthy Brother a Man of Control, ready to Fission from the bonds that held him dear?"

What I'm getting at here is that at some point someone was forced to acknowledge that Windows exists as an operating system.  They provided a nice 15 page long instruction manual of how to install this on a Windows system, most of which seems to involve me being at the command prompt doing things I haven't done since before I learned to hate UNIX.  It also seems to not work.  There is not an executable file anywhere that seems to do a goddamn thing.

I am waiting for Fuckles the Professor to actually have something useful to say about this software...
funranium: (Default)
Please get a selection of crazy straws and proceed to drain a full septic tank.  I will also accept a 24 marathon swim in the East Bay MUD Water Treatment Facility, one hour of swim time will be subtracted for each liter of "water" swallowed while swimming.

Why have you consciously made the decision to remove the left hand turn lanes and left arrow signals?  Why have you blocked off streets that make the annoying, but San Francisco standard, three-rights-make-left impossible in many cases?  Why have you removed most of the street parking and turned many of the municipal garages into $5 (or more) per hour nightmares of accessability?  Why have you installed roundabouts in intersections too small to have them, for a populace too dim to know how to use them, and then installed stop signs instead of yield signs, defeating the purpose of a roundabout?

I understand that Berkeley desires to be a pedestrian friendly city.  That is not necessarily the same as car hating.  Berekely, as a city, is far too diffuse and large to pretend to be a Tuscan municipality where cars stop at the wall.  The lack of proper signals forces red light turns and crosswalk jumping.  Berkeley brazen pedestrians with a feeling of superiority quite at odds with the laws of physics  do not help either.

If I had my way, I'd never enter your city limits again.  Sadly, you continue to provide good reasons for going there...for the time being.  When they are gone, so too will my custom.

In short, you are asshats.  Your civic planning is driving me away.  Perhaps you are hemmed in by prior construction and dedication to preservation.  May the next earthquake do you a great favor by natural urban renewal.
funranium: (Butt)
So, I was out at a remote facility the other day.  It is their job to blow shit up real good there.  "Remote facility" is a nice euphemism for "the unattractive ass end of nowhere".  The people who work there are the salt of the earth.  PhDs are required to design highly sophisticated explosive devices...less so to press the button and pick up the pieces.

Anyway, last week was Gay Pride Week in SF.  Somehow conversation drifted to gay marriage being wrong and "queers shouldn't prancing around like that".  I am inclined to agree with the latter point.  While it is fun to point and laugh at the Pride Parade for a bit, it gets old.  Activists always tend to damage the people they wish to support in my eyes...PETA comes to mind.

Talking about gay marriage as a moral argument is all wrong.  Speaking of the deep abiding sanctity of marriage is to ignore the fact that marriage as we think of it didn't really exist prior to the 1900s.  Few church weddings, little marriage for love.  It would hardly be proper to call most of them civil unions.

At present we have three categories of couples in the eyes of the law: domestic partnership, civil union, and marriage.  Domestic partnership is allowed for same sex couples, but not opposite.  Domestic partnerships were created so employer benefits could be extended to the same sex partner.  Opposite sex couples are barred from this arrangement and are forced to marriage or civil union (marriage without churches).  This is still missing the point.

What all the argument is about is money and the freedom to spend it how you want.  Tax codes have created artificialities that treat couple differently depending on their ability and willingness to conform to these definitions.  Follow this argument if you will:

I am not supportive of gay marriage, per se.  I am supportive of not making marriage special.  If you want to go pledge yourself before God, by all means go right ahead.  The pledge should mean nothing to a government that actually separates church and state.  That said, my money is my money.  I want to be able to spend it however and on whomever I see fit.

Why yes, I do have a bit of a Libertarian streak.  I am Government Man Come From The Government, The Government Sent Me as GIR says, but that doesn't mean I can't also want the government to fuck off much of the time too.
funranium: (Pyscho)
Because it is a powerful word, a word that is very hard to redeem.  It is unequivocal and it is harsh opinion.

That said, I HATE group project assignments in school.  

I am not a team player.  I know this about myself.  When I "win" with another group of people it is a coalition, perhaps cabal, not a team.  We do not win out of camaradrie, we win because *DOMINATION* is the only option.

Group projects invariably leave me feeling used and abused.  The group is never a group you would have chosen, in the interest of "fostering cross-communication and the sharing of ideas".  Neither of those things necessarily implies "competency", "capability", and "success".  I mean, I could go sit in a room with a fine gentleman from the Kalahari and discuss the finer points of history of coinage, metallurgy, and why the modern US quarter has a milled edge but the nickel doesn't...I would be "fostering cross-communication" and "sharing of ideas" yet accomplishing nothing.

This does not scratch the surface of the shiftless, lazy, ignorant pieces of Hudson River sludge that make up the other group members.  But you cannot let them fail on their own accord because they have been tied around your neck like the 20 ton albatrosses they are and you are plummetting to an F with them.  So you have to do your work, and theirs, and their research in order to keep on top.  And when you have succeeded despite their worthless asses...

"Your group did a great job!  Nice work, guys."

They reap the ill-gotten glory and accolade of your toil!  You could shout to the heavens that they didn't do a damn thing but it doesn't matter; you pulled together "as a team" and it all came out alright.

Sure, they didn't learn as much probably and this will be its own punishment in the end as they are poorer for the lack of experience...aww, bullshit.  We all know that all was learned was "Cool, I didn't have to do much of anything again."  And eventually that person will be promoted out of incompetence to be your supervisor where they can't do as much direct harm.

Yes, I am might bit pissed with my Radioecology class at the moment.  Why do you ask?

December 2012

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