Voice of Sanity – August 2016
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Seniors & Students: $15/year
Editor: Joyce Bates
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The Voice of Sanity
THE NEWSLETTER OF THE UPSTATE S.C. SECULAR HUMANISTS
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The Sunday meeting has a meet and greet or special activity from 10:00AM to 10:45AM
At 11:00AM there is usually a talk, video, or general discussion from 11:00AM to 1:00PM
Location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville.
Sunday, August 14th
10:00AM: Meet and Greet
11:00AM: Greer Relief
Sunday, August 21st
10:00AM: Being new to humanism and how to transition
11:00AM: To be announced
Sunday, August 28th
11:00AM: To be announced
The Free-Thought group will meet at 7:00PM August 18th and September 21st (both Thursdays) for pool at Bailey’s Sports Bar & Grille, 2409 Laurens Rd, Greenville.
The Free-Thought group will meet at 7:00PM August 11th and 25th (both Thursdays) for a meal at California Dreaming restaurant; 40 Beacon Drive; near the Pelham Road exit off I85.
August 13th: Second Saturday Brunch will be at 10:00AM at Golden Corral, 3240 North Pleasantburg Dr. Greenville, SC 29609
August 20th Saturday: Adopt-a-Highway/Adopt-a-Road, 9am-1pm,
Meet at Earth Fare, 3620 County Road 492, (Pelham Road), Greenville, SC
UNFOLDING OF EVENTS IN TWO NUCLEAR DISASTERS
Both the incidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima remind us of our inability to forecast future events well enough to insure the safety of nuclear reactors. The technology involved in constructing and operating these facilities is necessarily complex because of the consequences of a nuclear accident. The concern for safety must not only involve reliability of equipment and competence of personnel but complex networks of rapid communication.
A nuclear reactor is based on the ability to both split an atom and control the resulting chain reaction. This process is called induced fission and uses a neutron to split the target atom. When the atom is split protons and neutrons are discharged. Intense heat and radioactivity are also released. The chain reaction happens when some of the neutrons discharged in the original atom, target other atoms causing them to split. This releases more neutrons triggering more splitting and so on. The idea is to use the resulting heat to create steam to run turbines to produce electricity. At the same time the chain reaction has to be confined to the release of a limited amount of neutrons.
The reactor itself contains two types of rods: fuel rods of uranium 235 and control rods. The control rods contain various materials including water or graphite and certain elements whose atoms “bounce” rather than split when hit by neutrons. Such materials inhibit the action of released neutrons. The control rods are inserted or withdrawn from the reactor to either increase or reduce to amount of fission so that the process neither stops nor gets out of control. The whole assembly is encased in a water bath enclosed in an airtight steel container which in turn is encased in another thick concrete reinforced shell designed to contain radiation. The reactor building is constructed of thick reinforced concrete but this is to prevent damage coming from the outer environment.
Both Chernobyl and Fukushima are terrible disasters but are very different in the way events unfolded that led to uncontrolled releases of radiation and environmental contamination. Both had worrisome lapses in human communication.
Ironically the Chernobyl accident was precipitated by a safety test. The Soviet reactors in Chernobyl were gigantic. It had been known for some time that such large reactors when kept operating for long periods on less than half power were susceptible to sudden overheating in the core. This runaway action could be stopped by dropping all control rods into to core at once. The move would take fifteen to twenty seconds in the Soviet reactor but the complete shutdown would leave over a million people without electricity. So it was decided to continuously run the reactors at full power all the time.
However, no test was ever made on reactor Unit 4 to determine what would happen if some outside force caused the electrical grid to do down. If this occurred there was a good chance that the cooling system for the core would shut down before the emergency driven generators on site could takeover. The backup system had to come on line precisely when the turbines that produced electricity had run out of momentum. The test to find out the answer was not considered a problem because there was a third emergency system on hand to close down and cool the reactor.
Victor Brukhanov the supervisor of the plant was called away to Kiev just before the test. His assistant Anatoli Dyatlov was appointed to take his place. While Brukhanov knew about the overheating of the reactor on low power Dyatlow did not. Unfortunately, it took twelve hours of running on less than half capacity to arrive at the proper level for the test. Meanwhile, Dyatlov had the third emergency system shut down to keep it from responding to the test as if it were an accident. Shutting off this system also disabled the pumps sending water to the cooling system as well, but no one realized it in time. When the reactor overheated all of the control rods were manually reinserted at once for the emergency shutdown, but although the process took only about twenty seconds it was too slow to overtake the rapid overheating. The fuel soon reached 5000 degrees Fahrenheit twice the temperature to melt steel and the pressure in the cooling system pipes increased 100 fold causing them to explode. This was followed by another explosion that burst the cylinder around the core and blew the 100 ton roof off the reactor building releasing radiation into the atmosphere.
This was not the end of the problem. The graphite control rods caught fire after the roof explosion. If this fire was not extinguished there would be a total meltdown. As it was, the fire itself was pumping more radiation into the atmosphere. It was finally smothered when approximately 4000 tons of sand mixed with boron was gradually dropped into the burning hole over a period of several days.
Thirty one people died or were near death from the explosion itself. Three hundred people were hospitalized immediately after the accident. Some of them had absorbed so much radiation that they contaminated the doctors and nurses who treated them. Those within one mile of the accident died within the first days and weeks. Those inside a four mile radius had a 50 percent chance of surviving five years. Of those who had participated in the cleanup 4000 died within fifteen years and 70,000 were permanently disabled. Brukhanov and Dyatlov were put on trial and sentenced to ten years in prison. They were released after six years but both died of cancer shortly after.
The Fukushima tragedy resulted from not one but two natural disasters. The earthquake was expected to happen but a fifty foot high tsunami was considered too rare an occurrence to necessitate building a high protective wall. The plant was originally intended to sit atop a bluff but the bluff was lowered about 80 feet to allow easier access to the building site by construction equipment. After this was done the elevation was only 23 feet above sea level so a ten foot wall was constructed to further protect the reactors. Historic records did show that at some point a tsunami had penetrated two miles inland in this area.
Four out of six functioning reactors were severely damaged and leaked radiation. There were two tsunamis both fifty feet high that were instrumental in the worst destruction. These waves inundated the plant and flooded the buildings’ basements where some of the battery driven back-up systems were located. They also took out power connections for all generators including ones standing on higher ground. When this happened, all power to reactor Units 1 through 5 was lost. The emergency power system could only last as long as the batteries did and they would be depleted in about eight hours.
The earthquake had damaged communications with the outside so badly that calls for needed emergency equipment went unanswered and help arrived slowly. Electrical lines and cell towers were down and many roads were impassable. Battery replacement for backup systems luckily arrived within an hour of the eight hour time limit.
In spite of the solution to the backup problem, workers did not really know what was going on inside the reactors because so much of the instrumentation had been damaged. The fear was that heat and radiation could be building up pressure. It was also possible that hydrogen gas would be produced if water came into direct contact with the atomic fuel. Every effort was made to locate and manually open vents on the reactors to relieve pressure. Although some radio activity would be released through these vents it would not be as devastating as a breach of the reactor walls themselves. Eventually communication was restored with the outside world and evacuation was launched from areas around the facility. Pleas for help, equipment, and advice went out to all world atomic energy facilities.
About 24 hours after the earthquake a hydrogen explosion blew the roof off of the Unit 1 building destroying emergency fire hoses. A day later a huge explosion blew out the roof of the Unit 3 building. The following evening two things happened. An explosion was heard below Unit 2 and another explosion ripped through the Unit 4 building blowing away its two top stories. Miraculously the reactors themselves held their integrity through all of this. Although radiation was leaking and workers continued to struggle with pressure and water cooling systems, outside help arrived in time to continue keeping the reactors intact.
The help came from all countries and private enterprises involved in the production of nuclear energy. The US provided heavy duty pumps from one of their defense agencies situated three hours from Fukushima. Eventually a truck arrived at the plant with a one-hundred sixty four foot articulated boom that could deliver 32,000 gallons of water an hour. This cooled the damaged spent fuel pools that were located above the reactors. A radiation dosage map was made for the site to minimize exposure. 20,000 pounds of boron (used to stifle the atomic reaction) was located in California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant and flown from Vandenberg Air Force Base direct to the airport nearest the site.
But the radiation damage was still terrible. Some villagers in the direction path of the radiation probably will never return to their homes and have lost their livelihoods as well as family traditions practiced for generations. Products coming from these areas have been banned from sale and all farm animals have had to be slaughtered.
Nuclear energy may never go away in spite of the hazards. Neither Russia nor Japan has made much progress discontinuing its use. There will always be accidents.
The Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster, W. Scott Ingram, 2005, Facts on File (Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Fukushima, David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Q, Stranahan, and Union of Concerned Scientists, The New Press
GERMANY HAS SOME SILLY LAWS TOO
South Carolina is not the only place that has unusual and archaic ordinances. Germany has them, too. Martin Budich is a member of a group called Religious Freedom in the Ruhr area of Germany. Every year he gets together a bunch of interested people and rents a place where they can watch one of their favorite movies the Monty Python production of “The Life of Brian”. Every year the film is featured on Good Friday.
That is the problem. Budich has violated the German “holiday laws” by showing a film not approved by the state for viewing on a religious holiday. Undaunted, Budich has sought to make a case against the constitutionality of the law but the High Court in North Rhine-Westphalia has upheld the lower court’s ruling and ordered him to pay a 100 euro fine. Whether he will appeal to the German Federal Constitutional Court is not yet known.
This year, though, the Good Friday attendance for the movie which is usually about a couple dozen viewers swelled to 400. People read of the controversy, realized there was a ban, and since they were not particularly religious decided to support the movement. No one knows what will happen when the movie is offered again in 2017, which it certainly will be. If the high court upholds the present rulings and Budich is arrested, he may well appeal to the highest court.
A BETTER LIFE
There is a new book and movie out by Chris Johnson called A Better Life. It is a larger size book containing photographs and interviews with one hundred atheists. Some, such as Steven Pinker, Janet Asimov, Dan Dennet, Penn and Teller, and Richard Dawkins are well known. Others are ordinary people who live entirely secular lives. Chris has found in his travels around the world that, contrary to religious opinion these people do quite well without religious guidance and are happy to talk about it. Unlike many writings in the past, the book concentrates on the beliefs of non-believers rather than spending time dismantling arguments regarding God.
During an interview on The Friendly Atheist blog Chris discussed the attitudes of religious people in the US towards those who don’t believe. In other countries in the West, he said, most people don’t care about whether an individual is an atheist; in the US they do. In the US we get plenty of bad press as emotionless, morally deficient people lacking in empathy. He agrees there is a social aspect related to religion in certain areas of the country (especially in the South) where even the most secular of activities are infused with religious overtones. Also, many times, those who find religion deficient in supportive answers to their questions about existence and death feel threatened. The threat is abandonment, withdrawal of love, and isolation if they dare to have different ideas.
Chris Johnson is comfortable with the notion that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people but finds that religious belief unrealistically tries to impose order on such a world. He thinks that it is not the responsibility of god, but of people to make a better life for themselves and each other.
And for those Pastafarians who were originally of Catholic persuasion
Hail Pasta, full of grace. The Lord is with fettuccine.
Blessed art thou among colanders
And blessed is the fruit of thy Spaghetti Bartoli.
Holy Mary mother of rigatoni
Pray for our garlic bread
Now and at the hour of our Focaccia.