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The butterflies of Fukushima
August 16, 2012 5:54 PM   Subscribe

"This study is important and overwhelming in its implications for both the human and biological communities living in Fukushima." . . . "These observations of mutations and morphological abnormalities can only be explained as having resulted from exposure to radioactive contaminants." Severe abnormalities found in Fukushima butterflies. Full report here.
posted by flapjax at midnite (76 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
A new meaning of the butterfly effect.
posted by stbalbach at 6:08 PM on August 16, 2012


Sooooo... Mothra, then. Great.
posted by chambers at 6:09 PM on August 16, 2012 [19 favorites]


Similar issues at Chernobyl (wikipedia):

Biologist Anders Møller from the University of Paris Sud in France has been examining the effects of radiation on animals around Chernobyl for two decades. "Areas with higher radiation have fewer animals, survival and reproduction is reduced, sperm are abnormal and have reduced swimming ability. Abnormalities are commonplace and mutations rates are much elevated," Møller said.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) that live in or around Chernobyl have displayed an increased rate of physical abnormalities compared to swallows from uncontaminated areas. Abnormalities included partially albinistic plumage, deformed toes, tumors, deformed tail feathers, deformed beaks, and deformed air sacks.
posted by Golden Eternity at 6:16 PM on August 16, 2012


chambers: "Sooooo... Mothra, then. Great"

No worries, the radioactive water that leaked into the ocean should ensure Gojira's arrival any day now, and it'll all balance out.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:17 PM on August 16, 2012 [11 favorites]


Seriously, though, I hope there are scientists there for decades documenting all possible mutations in every species they can get their hands on. There should have been more of it at Chernobyl, but the amount of secrecy, downplaying, and the nature of the USSR at the time really interfered.

I have more hope (from my admittedly limited, inaccurate cultural understanding) that in Japan it will be easier for scientific research regarding the wide-ranging, long term effects. I fully expect further concealing and roadblocking will still be more directed at the why and how it happened, as it has a more direct link to where to place the blame/responsibility.
posted by chambers at 6:22 PM on August 16, 2012


Canaries in a coal mine.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:53 PM on August 16, 2012


i mean, how far into denial do you have to be to be shocked that there are effects on the environment when a fucking nuclear reactor blows up? who's sitting at home waiting for more hard data to come in before making up their mind?

nothing against the post at all - but the human capacity for denial blows me away.
posted by facetious at 7:08 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


who's sitting at home waiting for more hard data to come in before making up their mind?

You'd be surprised.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:09 PM on August 16, 2012


i mean, how far into denial do you have to be to be shocked that there are effects on the environment when a fucking nuclear reactor blows up?

One thing among the general public that gets in the way is the lack of long-term genetic damage from the atomic bombs of WWII. Most genetic damage was seen in those in utero or very young that the time of the blast. So many people for long time did not really consider the long term effects, and only think about the initial event.

They don't really consider that a reactor meltdown is and entirely different kind of radiation as well as the method of exposure. It kills/mutates you by emitting radiation from the food, water, and dust that not only you directly consume/inhale, but every creature in the food chain that leads to your food/drink/environment. It just sits in your body and slowly does it's work throughout your system, as opposed to a millisecond of gamma ray exposure from a blast. In more powerful, modern weapons, the fallout is much more similar in its effects, but it all gets balled into one general idea in peoples minds, and you have a big confusing mess for those who don't look into it.

It is unfortunate that the distinction between the two has not been taught well enough.
posted by chambers at 7:27 PM on August 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


In an age of "teach the controversy," I wouldn't at all be surprised if there are radioactive mutation deniers out there who, right now, are listening to some charleton explain to them that the actually cause of these mutations was too much exposure to sunlight.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:28 PM on August 16, 2012


"...listening to some charleton..."

Took me a minute to figure out that should have been "charlatan".
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:31 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


too much exposure to sunlight.

Nah, these butterflies probably just flew too close to a banana.
posted by No-sword at 7:37 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Radiolab has a decent short piece on one of the handful of people to be both in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during both blasts, and survive. It hits on a couple of the things I mentioned above.

Although the damage caused by the bombs by the initial explosion were horrific, the lack of damage of the gene pool that was studied for years afterward was a large part in the idea of a 'survivable' war, and the general population's belief that radiation infusing itself into entire ecosystems was not a large concern.
posted by chambers at 7:38 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


facetious: "i mean, how far into denial do you have to be to be shocked that there are effects on the environment when a fucking nuclear reactor blows up? who's sitting at home waiting for more hard data to come in before making up their mind?

nothing against the post at all - but the human capacity for denial blows me away.
"

Who is in shock about this, or in denial? I've heard pretty vehement arguments about why the Fukushima disaster is far worse then most people give it credit for, and pretty vehement arguments about why it's not as big a deal as its being given credit for, but I've never heard anyone say or imply that there would be no effects on the environment.
posted by Bugbread at 8:12 PM on August 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just as a reminder: coal plants still killing people at a 4000:1 ratio to nuclear.

That being said, oh hey, we're kinda sorry we downplayed this but Bad Things have happened at Hamaoka also and we kinda indicated that it wasn't a big deal.
posted by unixrat at 8:18 PM on August 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yet more proof that humans do not understand or process risk well.

On the hand, we have mutated butterflies.

On the other hand, we have the entire fucking Midwest burning up, with every indication that this will happen over and over and over and over, all over the world.

Radiation is bad, mmkay? But it's typically bad in a small area, and it's bad in ways we can directly measure and understand. Fossil fuels are much, much worse, because while the acute local impact is usually not that bad, the chronic global impact is devastating.

If all our power came from nuclear plants, and we'd had another twenty Fukushimas over the last fifty years, we'd be in much better shape than we are now.
posted by Malor at 8:31 PM on August 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


There's really no need to bring coal into it. Everyone understands that burning fossil fuels is causing anthropogenic climate change.

However, this is a separate topic entirely. Kind of a derail to bring it up.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:35 PM on August 16, 2012 [22 favorites]


Kokuryu, you owe me for a new mouse, since I just broke my current one clicking the favorite button so hard.
posted by Bugbread at 8:38 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, my heart sank when I saw those deformed butterflies. I posted the link to my FaceBook wall with the word, Godzillaflies but I felt awful about it. And I worried about you, flapjax, and your family.

Bigger pics of the deformed butterflies.
posted by nickyskye at 8:42 PM on August 16, 2012


Apparently this researcher is using wild monkeys to help gauge Fukushima radiation
posted by KokuRyu at 8:51 PM on August 16, 2012


It's a Fukushima thread. It's only a matter of time before it becomes another shitstorm between pro and anti nuke people, none of whom actually live here, or have anything to worry about.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:53 PM on August 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Speaking of which, I will be back in Tsuruga for two and a half months starting towards the end of September (possibly in Tokyo for a couple of days in December). All the excitement seems to have died down, but it will be interesting to get a closeup look at the demonstrations, which apparently have become pretty normal in the Tsuruga area.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:00 PM on August 16, 2012


Joakim Ziegler: "chambers: "Sooooo... Mothra, then. Great"

No worries, the radioactive water that leaked into the ocean should ensure Gojira's arrival any day now, and it'll all balance out.
"

My primary worry then is...

Who can get me tickets to Pripyat?
posted by Samizdata at 9:04 PM on August 16, 2012


In some ways this makes sense: animals (and plants, etc.) that reproduce more quickly are less resilient to environmental (and here probably genetic) shocks. Larger animals with longer life cycles and gestational cycles tend to be more resilient. I bet the local fruit flies are even worse -- or that the fruit flies around Fukushima are pretty recent immigrants and just aren't descended from the fruit flies that lived there during/before the meltdowns.

A related population ecology topic: the Survivorship Curve.

For a while, I've thought that there's got to be some Goldilocks Zone for Radiation: small, quickly reproducing animals and plants are too susceptible to accumulating mutations to really thrive during times of increased radiation the same way that these butterflies are; large, slowly reproducing, long lived species (like us) end up getting cancers from radiation and can't make it to gestational age; but plenty of species must fit into a range that probably does just fine under these conditions.

... which is not to say that the tsunami and resulting radiation leaks aren't terrible tragedies for the people of Fukushima, and the people working at the plant. But this is probably the most dramatic example out there of changes that this accident caused, and they probably won't be this dramatic for very long.
posted by wormwood23 at 9:12 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


But this is probably the most dramatic example out there of changes that this accident caused, and they probably won't be this dramatic for very long.

I probably should have said "the most dramatic example out there of genetic changes".

Yeah, Fukushima was pretty heartbreaking, most of all to the people who live there. The ecology will do fine by comparison.
posted by wormwood23 at 9:17 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Question: What was the butterfly mutation rate before Fukushima Daiichi melted down?

Mmm?

Just as a reminder: coal plants still killing people at a 4000:1 ratio to nuclear.

The coal plant nearest you has emitted, over its lifetime, at least three orders of magnitude more Becquerls of radioactive materials than Fukushima Daiichi has. And, worse, what Fukushiam Daiichi emitted was things like N14 and I131 -- materials with half lives of days. They've undergone about 200 halvings since they were emitted.

And, because you are so afraid of nuclear power, you are going to insist that nuclear plants be shut down and never built again.

And, so, we'll just build coal plants.

Which means you will get *all* of the radioactivity, cubed, plus the destruction of the biosphere by carbon emissions.

(This is where dreaming idiots will tell me solar can replace coal power. This is where dreaming idiots forget that the sun sets. Every. Goddam. Day.)
posted by eriko at 9:20 PM on August 16, 2012 [11 favorites]


eriko: "This is where dreaming idiots forget that the sun sets. Every. Goddam. Day."

Before you make fun of someone for saying something, you should probably wait for them to, you know, actually say it. I know Bush was big on the whole "preemptive strike" thing, but I thought us MeFites were generally opposed to that approach.
posted by Bugbread at 9:28 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


eriko, you seem to be suggesting that there is no reason to be alarmed by the meltdowns.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:28 PM on August 16, 2012


Hey, you know what really doesn't help people become aware of the emotional component of their reaction to something and consciously adopt a broader, more scientific view? Patronizing affectations picked up from TV shows.
posted by No-sword at 9:32 PM on August 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just as a reminder: coal plants still killing people at a 4000:1 ratio to nuclear.
It's amazing how often those stats are repeated. If you actually look into it, it's just the result of a bunch of pro-nuclear bloggers guessing at numbers, there's no original academic source at all. There's no peer review unless by "peer review" you mean more pro-nuke bloggers linking to each-other.

But it's interesting you would say "still" since all that happened was someone made a new infographic with the same, old bogus data after fukushima without updating it at all.

The thing is, those numbers do take into effect estimated cancer and other health problems caused by pollution from coal and other fossil fuels. But they do not take into effect the same problems caused by Fukushima or Chernobyl.

In other words they only count "direct" deaths due to nuclear, but speculate about cancer rates caused by coal pollution.

Anyway, no one is actually advocating for coal anyway, Natural gas is much cleaner, and solar and other renewables are more then capable of providing our energy needs over time.

It's interesting though, for some reason nuclear power results in a lot of people acting like political partisans, believing whatever it is that they need to make nuclear power seem like a good idea, and ignoring everything else. It's the same thing you see in politics, as well as Mac vs. PC, etc debates that people get ridiculously passionate about even though they don't actually have a stake.
posted by delmoi at 10:31 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


If all our power came from nuclear plants, and we'd had another twenty Fukushimas over the last fifty years, we'd be in much better shape than we are now.
Well, the nice thing is that going forward: we can use neither!
posted by delmoi at 10:33 PM on August 16, 2012


(This is where dreaming idiots will tell me solar can replace coal power. This is where dreaming idiots forget that the sun sets. Every. Goddam. Day.)
Actually natural gas has already replaced more then half of coal we used to burn. Seriously. The U.S's carbon emissions have actually been dropping over the past few years (since you get less CO2 per kWh with methane then coal). There's also far, far less pollution (and fracking is less damaging to the environment then mountain top removal)

Anyway, as I've said several times before, mathematically solar can easily produce all the power we need during the day, with far lower construction costs per kWh/year today. It's not too surprising that some people think knowing how to do math makes you an "idiot" if the result disagrees with their preconceived ideas. Oh well, nothing you can do about that.

Also, the sun actually shines 24 hours a day. It's just that the earth rotates, so you can't actually see it all the time.

posted by delmoi at 10:51 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also: Radioactive oatmeal exports.
posted by Decimask at 11:09 PM on August 16, 2012


If all our power came from nuclear plants, and we'd had another twenty Fukushimas over the last fifty years, we'd be in much better shape than we are now.

Dude, this is a strawman and "well, it could have been worse" argument in the face of readily available technology that could make things better without the hazards of radiation deadzones and increased cancer rates all over the globe.

If we're willing to take the extreme risk of quarantining vast tracts of land for tens or hundreds of thousands of years for the benefits of cheap nuclear-generated electricity - why aren't we willing to use huge chunks of land for solar or wind where it doesn't poison the land for geological or biblical times?

We can do large scale solar right now with existing technologies. We can invest the money that we'd use to build and fuel new nuclear plants to create PV solar panel plants of a wide variety of types. We can be installing solar in large scales like the Sahara and Arizona.

But we're stymied and fought tooth and nail by the entrenched fossil fuel extraction, processing and delivery industry, who wail and gnash their teeth about how they're supposed to make a profit off of free, global, decentralized energy.

When the answer is simply "We're sorry. You don't. You're obsolete as soon as we make and install enough solar panels off of your fossil fuels to replace you. Soon we'll be able to get energy at night from the sunlit side and we won't worry about the variability of solar, because it will be everywhere. Somewhere the sun is always shining with petawatts of power."

We don't have to wait for fusion. We don't have to wait for vaporware or unobtanium. We can do this now at a low cost and great benefit to the entire planet. It can happen now. We should have started 20+ years ago. Solar provides energy on nuclear power scales without the dangerous radioactive waste. The more solar you build and install, the more power you have, the more solar you can build.

For the same price that we've been investing in nuclear power and research for both fission or fusion power we could have been building long lasting, low impact solar plants now, and yesterday. Once they're built they provide power wit little upkeep, risk or cost.

But profiteering, provincial, small-minded fuckwits are blocking us and preventing it from happening.

Nuclear isn't the only option. It isn't even the best option. It's not even close.
posted by loquacious at 11:34 PM on August 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


[Hey, guys, Fukushima was/is a big thing and there are many stories and aspects connected with it. Some of those will be posted here for discussion. Please don't automatically turn every single Fukushima-related post into a binary pro-/anti-nuclear power shitfight.]
posted by taz at 11:35 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Question: What was the butterfly mutation rate before Fukushima Daiichi melted down?

Mmm?


"The Japanese researchers have been studying the species for more than a decade..."

And: "they began noticing a suite of abnormalities that hadn't been seen in the previous generation - that collected from Fukushima...."


And: "They were considering using the species as an "environmental indicator" before the Fukushima accident, as previous work had shown it is very sensitive to environmental changes."
posted by GeorgeBickham at 11:37 PM on August 16, 2012 [12 favorites]


Thanks for your comment just above, GeorgeBickham. Some people RTFA, some don't.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:53 PM on August 16, 2012


without the hazards of radiation deadzones

Given that Bikini Atoll is one of the healthiest coral reefs in the world, one could argue that radioactive "deadzones" are a feature, not a bug.

In other news, it's kind of sad that humans just hanging out are more hostile to the environment than being nuked every 50 years.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:56 AM on August 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is where dreaming idiots forget that the sun sets. Every. Goddam. Day.


I suppose if everyone was a dreamer, you wouldn't need much electricity at night anyway – everyone would be asleep, dreaming.
posted by romanb at 4:06 AM on August 17, 2012


Given that Bikini Atoll is one of the healthiest coral reefs in the world, one could argue that radioactive "deadzones" are a feature, not a bug.
I'm pretty sure that events like fukushima or chernobyl put out more radioactive contamination then individual nuclear bombs.

But that said It's not as much of a problem for 'nature' as it is a problem for humans who can't enter or use the land, which, if they had their homes their makes them refugees. So putting aside risks to health the property values for the land in the fukushima exclusion zone must have been immense. Apparently about 88,000 people had to give up their homes for good. (According to this the government will pay $54 billion to buy up all the land, out of a quarter trillion dollars total to pay for the complete cleanup.

Calling that a "feature" is not really going to win many people to the side of actually building nuclear power plants anywhere near their homes.
posted by delmoi at 4:13 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hi, I'm a radioecologist.
(For now, I'm in the process of selling out to do homeland security work that actually gets funded)

So Moller and Mousseau are kind of the topic of the moment. I was talking about some of their work at a meeting a few months ago and mentioned how they are increasingly shaping the narrative. Now they show up on metafilter...

Over the last several years they have published a lot of papers, mostly from two several day long trips to Chernobyl. They turned these two trips into an huge collection of papers that purport to show ecosystem level effects based on levels of radiation where no deterministic effects would be expected. They have recently started doing some work in Japan, but I'm not too familiar with those papers.

I do not trust their data. I'll talk briefly about why. In one representative figure they display dose vs. butterfly populations at several locations near Chernobyl. More radiation= less butterflies. Don't quote me on this part but I think it looked linear on a log-log plot. Some unit conversion and background reading reveals some interesting things. Their relationship between dose and butterfly population shows dramatic decreases in butterfly populations at levels of radiation which are below the natural background in many parts of the world. The dose limit for radiation workers in the USA is 5 rem, at this level, extrapolating from Moller and Moussea's work, you would not expect any living butterflies.

I can imagine several explanations for these results, the main ones are these:
1. M&M are right about everything. The fundamental scientific basis used for radiation protection around the world is fundamentally flawed.
2. M&M are seeing real effects, but their dosimetry is very poor. E.g. their Chernobyl data is all from a geiger counter, which is going to miss alpha emitters entirely. It also neglects ingested or inhaled radionuclides which could plausibly be the dominant source of dose. It may be they are seeing a real effect, but their dosimetry data is not trustworthy. Neither of them have a background in radiation and this is clear from their papers. They have not been publishing in journals specializing in radiation effects, radiobiology, or radioecology.
3. M&M aren't seeing real effects. Their results haven't been replicated and the apparent effects are the result of poor sample design, small sample sizes, human error, or human malfeasance. (See the controversy links below, they have received criticism from both standard ecologists and people who radiation effects backgrounds). Scuttlebutt is they haven't been willing to let other people look at their data, I can't verify this, I haven't asked.

My impression is the answer is a mixture of 2 and 3. A prominent group of European scientists has a paper in press (abstract, full article is paywalled) They synthesized a bunch of data and were looking at the difference between radiosensitivity in the laboratory and in the field. They include, about two orders of magnitude below the rest of their data, some data points labeled "Outliers from Moller and Mousseau (2009)." Though interestingly the data from this paper also implies population level effects from doses at allowable radiation worker levels, which is surprising and will likely be the source of much further work. Moller and Mousseau are so far away from the consensus though that is it hard to take their results at face value. They may be on to something, the work of Garnier-Laplace et al. indicates population effects at levels a fair bit lower than we expect. It may be Moller and Mousseau are seeing real effects and just have inaccurate dose numbers.

I'm attaching a few links with some background on controveries with Moller and Mousseau, there are more out there:

An ecologist at U Alberta who questions the trustworthiness of Moller's data. Mousseau writes in with comments. (There is also a link to a report from Moller's former employer stating that after an investigation: "there is not sufficient proof to charge Anders Paper Moller with scientific fraud")

Letter to the Royal Society of Biology Letters criticizing Moller and Mousseau's methodology. Moller responds

posted by pseudonick at 4:36 AM on August 17, 2012 [34 favorites]


The letter from Wickliffe in RSBL starts off with one of the bigger smackdowns I've seen in the press:

"The study on the detrimental effects of Chernobyl on insects by Moller and Mousseau represents a very interesting and unexpected conclusion, which conflicts with the vast knowledge regarding ionizing radiation effects and the principles of dose-response in the field of toxicology and radiation biology. In addition, the experimental design does not appear to hold to contemporary, rigorous standards."

I was just rereading the "EvolDir exchange regarding questionable Moller data" from the first controversy link and it also is not short on invective. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read scientists getting snippy with one another. Note: This work is from before Moller and Mousseau started doing radiation work.
posted by pseudonick at 4:49 AM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Metafilter commenters who are adamant anti-nuclear proponents would better serve their purposes if they didn't condescend and sneer at those with different opinions. Is it really so offensive to suggest that maybe power generation is a complex problem, and maybe there isn't a single source answer? I don't have a position in that argument because I've yet to do the back-of-the-envelope calculation to see if it's reasonable. And frankly, the standards of skepticism that commenters on both sides of this question are applying to their opponents' arguments are not the same that they apply to their own.

What are Helsinki and Fairbanks to do for power generation? You realize that room temperature super conductivity may not exist, right? Not will be hard to find or implement but may be physically impossible?
posted by samofidelis at 6:43 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dammit, you guys made it into a flamewar before I even got here, THEN went and said everything I was going to say. ON a day I have a derth of work to do as well. *Pouts*

Alright, I'll be the pro-nuclear guy extending an olive branch: Can we all agree that a 200 km radius solar panel in space would be a better idea then EITHER nuclear or solar? Common, badass green science!

samofidelis: We are pretty sure we can make a high temperature (i.e. liquid nitrogen temperature) superconductor out of graphene. There are a lot of people waiting for this in the NMR feild as it will plunge the cost of maintaining them once we can get away from liquid helium.

loquacious: That works great for people near the equator. I think we need to build more solar, and I know a number of people working on better solar cells (Either more efficient, or that use less toxins or rare metals in the production. Or both. Either one would be great). What about us people up at more norther altitudes that don't get much in the way of sun most of the winter? Also, I imagine that solar panels don't work well covered in 30 cm of snow. How well do they respond to temperature changes? I'm not saying you are wrong; just that I don't think solar is the 'one true way'. Hydro is also nice, but my understanding is that we've built about as many as we can in Ontario since it is cheap, easy power.

tl;dr: Solar good. More solar better. Solar in space grabbing gigawatts of energy best. Would cut down on the use of nuclear in places it shouldn't be, like California and Japan. But what about those of us without a ton of sunlight aimed at us?
posted by Canageek at 7:19 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Canageek -- we already have LN2 temp superconductors. The curate family can get as high as the 130K range. Graphene is an exciting material as a ballistic conductor, but there are serious questions about the Dirac cone band structure -- is it intrinsically gapped, can it be doped to exhibit a gap, all kinds of stuff. One of the biggest problems will be getting supported Graphene to exhibit the same kind of properties as unsupported.

But more generally, you're sort of proving my underlying point -- you have a techno-utopian vision that depends on developing a usable technology out of something that simply may not work.
posted by samofidelis at 7:36 AM on August 17, 2012


Cuprate, sorry. Autocorrect.
posted by samofidelis at 7:36 AM on August 17, 2012


Also, re: genetic mutations: article specifically states that the butterflies were in larval stage when the meltdown happened. Some of the comments above I think are not clear on that point; these are not mutations that are happening to already-functioning adults.
posted by curious nu at 7:43 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, guys, come on: they're just some stupid old mutant butterflies! Does anybody really care about butterflies in this day and age? And think about how much it would cost us if we tried to un-mutate all those butterflies anyway. The economics just don't make sense here, people.

Better we learn to love mutant butterflies than imagine a future where we might have to consider occasionally rationing our power use (besides, all you lepidopterists out there, think of the potential trading value of specimens with rare mutations!).

If only we could have nuclear plants on every street corner! Tomorrow, or as quickly as possible, so we'll know they've been safely constructed using only the latest incompletely tested tech! Quick--before we stop to think about what to do with all that spent fuel, since that would only slow us down!

/Sorry to be glib, but it's either mockery or despair.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:02 AM on August 17, 2012


Calling that a "feature" is not really going to win many people to the side of actually building nuclear power plants anywhere near their homes.

I'm not trying to win people to the side of actually building nuclear power plants so much as I am throwing into contrast how hard I find it to get worked up about mutated butterflies at "double" the normal rate. I mean, I do something that doubles my risk of sinus cancer (woodworking) which sounds scary until I consider that I've never met anyone with sinus cancer.

If you drew a circle about, oh, 5000 miles in diameter around the Fukushima reactor and said that was now uninhabitable you'd at least be on par with what concerns me. As it is, this seems like worrying if the deck chairs on the Titanic were painted with lead paint.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:06 AM on August 17, 2012


The Metafilter commenters who are adamant anti-nuclear proponents would better serve their purposes if they didn't condescend and sneer at those with different opinions.

Did you even read eriko's comments above? He basically called anyone anti-nuclear stupid. Maybe you have it the wrong way around.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:09 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This post on Nuclear Diner has an interesting discussion of issues with this paper's methods and conclusions (and media interpretation of the conclusions). The comments also have some good clarification on what the paper is trying to show.
posted by Thalience at 9:52 AM on August 17, 2012


KokoRyu -- maybe I am also introducing my own biases, and failed to weigh equally the lack of decorum on both sides. But I assure you that I do not have it backwards -- there are plenty of examples of those on the anti-nuclear side questioning the motives of their opponents, calling them idiots, and basically refusing to participate in good faith. I know that the same must be true from the other end of things, as it were.

I said previously that I don't have a dog in this fight, and then remarked in passing on my biases in this comment: I do have a bias, in fact: I am biased to believe that there is not an easy answer. I'm a scientist, albeit not a very good one. But one thing I know is that when I see someone making an argument where every single data point supports his claims and refutes his or her opponents' positions, it is time to look more carefully at either his data or his analysis thereof. Even scientists get this wrong -- an amazing number of papers include plots where the standard deviation is used to illustrate error bars on the data points. If every or nearly every error bar intersects the theoretical curve, te scientist is happy because his or her model and experiments agree. But in fact, the plot grossly over-estimates the error -- a fairly confident result can still expect a significant number of error bar misses -- 1/4, even 1/3. Thus, their analysis is flawed, because they have succumbed to this subconscious desire to see all the data agree completely with the model.
posted by samofidelis at 10:14 AM on August 17, 2012


samofidelis, you are asking for respect where some of us think that none is warranted. In fact, some of us think that respect for the nuclear industry is inimical to our own individual well-being. Would you demand that opponents of the NRA show respect for the idea that anyone should be able to own an Uzi?

Even just on the empirical and economic side of things, there is no doubt that solar power is the key to the solution of the global ecological/energy problem. Here are a couple of important and recent facts to consider:
Germany’s solar power plants produced a record 22 gigawatts of energy on Friday, equivalent to the output of 20 nuclear plants. The country is already a world-leader in solar power and hopes to be free of nuclear energy by 2022.

The director of the Institute of the Renewable Energy Industry (IWR) in Muenster, northeast Germany, said the solar power delivered to the national grid on Saturday met 50 per cent of the nation’s energy quota.

—"Going nuclear-free: Germany smashes solar power world record"

The costs for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have fallen steadily while construction costs for new nuclear power plants have been rising over the past decade, which now makes electricity generated from new solar installations cheaper than electricity from proposed new nuclear power plants, according to a new report published by a retired Duke University professor.

Moreover, the report continues, solar costs are projected to continue its decline over the coming decade while nuclear costs are expected to rise further.
—"Report: Solar Energy Cheaper Than Nuclear Energy"
posted by No Robots at 10:28 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


A lot of folks not familiar with Japan may not quite understand how connected to the land people are outside of the cities. It's different than in North America. We all hear about Shinto and all that sort of stuff, but it people really do feel connected their communities out in the countryside, and not being able to return to your community because of radioactive contamination is really a shocking thing. Not being able to farm is really a shocking thing. Not being able to consume fish is really a shocking thing.

The only bright note here is that Japan endured tremendous environmental degradation in its efforts to industrialize during the Twentieth Century, especially in this region of Japan, which was the center of mining.

With the Tokyo Olympics as a catalyst, plus Minamata Disease, things started to change in the 1960's. Tokyo Bay has been almost completed transformed from a polluted dump to prime marine habitat.

So if the Japanese can do that, I am sure they can do something about Fukushima.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:06 PM on August 17, 2012


samofidelis, you are asking for respect where some of us think that none is warranted. In fact, some of us think that respect for the nuclear industry is inimical to our own individual well-being. Would you demand that opponents of the NRA show respect for the idea that anyone should be able to own an Uzi?

Arguing by analogy is absurd. This is a disingenuous argument. Respectful disagreement is a prerequisite for a civil society. You will not always get what you want.

If your arguments are logical and sound, you have nothing to fear from a reasonable debate. Indeed, we can look upon debate as a process of discovery by which we may arrive at the truth given a set of agreed upon first principles. Perhaps we will have a difficult time agreeing upon that set, but it will do us no injury to consider hypothetical discussions based on any such set.

I mean, come on. This is kindergarten bushwa.
posted by samofidelis at 12:08 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


KokuRyu, there's a part of the world I have a visceral, irrational love for. I am never really happy when I'm anywhere else. If any catastrophe were to befall it, my heart would break and I would lose my damn mind.

Unfortunately, the rest of the United States thinks West Virginia doesn't need its mountains as much as they need cheap electricity. And every year I give what I can to small, grassroots organizations fighting against the coal industry. It doesn't seem to be working and I don't know what else to do.

Maybe how the Japanese feel about their homes is not so dissimilar from how the rest of us feel about ours. People are more often similar than not.
posted by samofidelis at 12:17 PM on August 17, 2012


I don't know what else to do

Maybe show a little less respect. Peace.
posted by No Robots at 12:35 PM on August 17, 2012


Unfortunately, the rest of the United States thinks West Virginia doesn't need its mountains as much as they need cheap electricity.

What does West Virginia think about it? I was under the impression the majority of West Virginians were more upset about losing the coal industry than their landscape.


solar and other renewables are more then capable of providing our energy needs over time.


Over how much time, I wonder? This BP world energy outlook (from Jan 2011) shows coal leveling off at 30% in 2020 and then gradually reducing, gas slowly growing to 25% by 2030, renewables including biofuel growing to 5% by 2030, and nuclear slightly growing to 5% by 2030. The outlook has probably changed significantly since a year and a half ago and biased coming from BP, perhaps gas will increase faster and coal and nuclear will decrease faster, but it seems it would take at least 50 years before over 80% of world energy consumption will be renewable. Wow, this is actually much better than I previously thought.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:48 PM on August 17, 2012


Maybe how the Japanese feel about their homes is not so dissimilar from how the rest of us feel about ours. People are more often similar than not.

Well, yeah, obviously. However, it's really shocking when folks say "Fukushima is an acceptable price to pay for the net benefits of nuclear", that's all.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:05 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm glad someone linked to the Nuclear Diner post on this (though I think it's a little unfair and had already commented there). The frustrating thing about this study is it's the perfect kind of study to result in a stupid public conflict that mostly ignores the science. The lead researcher and Mousseau seem to be pretty strongly playing up the results ("overwhelming") which is pretty lame though painfully common (very few scientific results are "overwhelming"). But it makes for a great quote. Since the media reporting is fairly lazy (a bunch aren't even reporting the journal title right!), this fits right in with a believable narrative so they're doing stuff like invoking Mothra and worries about humans ... even though this is one of only very few studies showing issues with low-dose radiation (I'm pretty sure the first for the Fukushima region).

Strong science results just aren't built on single studies but the media is reporting it as if there are no questions, but as noted in the Nuclear Diner post there are a lot of problems with it methodologically. Some of the samples they used were literally six butterflies from one site. Six. Few were above 20. The odds of finding a false positive result with that small a sample size is pretty large. But since it's about Fukushima, it means the media can report the increases (more than doubled!) and many people won't question it (hell, the reporters probably don't question it).

Media reporting is also cherry-picking the most horrifying results such as eye abnormalities for emotional effect. If you read the paper, however, eye abnormalities are grouped in a bucket of "other" so we have no idea how many of them there really were (abnormality rates for the "other" category was pretty small so the total numbers in those buckets would also be small). The pictures we have might literally be the only ones the researchers found which means it's pretty likely that eye abnormalities just haven't significantly changed (using this data). This is exactly the kind of reporting that gets people to respond emotionally and not think critically.

So now we have lots of media reporting shouting about how awful this is with little skepticism. Lots of blog posts. It went thru twitter pretty fast and likely facebook and others too. People who are against nuclear power (for various reasons) are going to line up and say that if you are for nukes after this you are for butterfly harm (and ultimately harm to humans). Some pro-nuke people will dismiss the study out of hand (as the Nuclear Diner post almost does). And people who think nuclear power might just help solve some of our problems if we're careful and dare to point out flaws in the study will be called blind cheerleaders. It's really quite depressing.

(Note: I wrote a much more measured blog post on media response to this study if you prefer to read the more careful version of this. See my profile for my home page link).
posted by R343L at 1:37 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe show a little less respect. Peace.
posted by No Robots at 14:35 on August 17 [+] [!]


Ah, but you are rude enough for two! Thanks for shouldering my burden, brother.
posted by samofidelis at 2:11 PM on August 17, 2012


> For the same price that we've been investing in nuclear power and research for
> both fission or fusion power we could have been building long lasting, low impact
> solar plants now, and yesterday. Once they're built they provide power wit little
> upkeep, risk or cost.
>
> But profiteering, provincial, small-minded fuckwits are blocking us and preventing
> it from happening.

There's quite a bit more than profiteering going on. All forms of Big Energy are pretty repellant. As renewables grow, they too start to look like Big energy, and even enviros who formerly supported them (when they were just theoretical) look at the reality and find themselves getting all opposed.

The new look of NIMBYism (Daily Climate) So-called "NIMBY" activism, once reserved for projects like landfills, prisons and big box stores, has started to impact proposed renewable energy projects throughout the nation. Last year, not-in-my-backyard opposition delayed or cancelled a wide range of proposals involving wind and solar power and biofuels production nationwide.

It’s Green Against Green In Mojave Desert Solar Battle (Yale Environment360)
NIMBY-ism Killed Roughly Half of Proposed Clean Energy Projects (ThinkProgress)
The Environmentalist’s Dilemma (Policy Review)

My own preference is to stop burning fossil fuels cold turkey and not then replace them with anything.
posted by jfuller at 2:17 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Me: Maybe show a little less respect. Peace.
You: Ah, but you are rude enough for two!


See, you can do it!
posted by No Robots at 2:24 PM on August 17, 2012


No one will think you're winning this tête-à-tête, No Robots, because you started from the premise that those who disagree with you do not deserve the chance to elucidate their arguments, then snarked at someone who obviously -- I think it's obvious, although I'm quite biased since it's my own grief -- is upset to see his distant home being destroyed.

I remember the days when I, too, thought a glib comment meant I'd somehow won a debate. Good times.
posted by samofidelis at 2:33 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Green nimbyism is a red herring. No one wants to stop all solar development. What is wanted is a managed approach. In the linked article about the Mojave, Myers of the Wildlands Conservancy makes his position clear:
He says he supports solar development in other parts of the Mojave but prefers power plants be built on degraded farmland, or better yet, through a massive expansion of rooftop solar arrays. The Feinstein legislation includes provisions designed to speed up the licensing of renewable energy projects on federal land elsewhere in the desert and provides incentives to developers who build on former farmland.
This is a very reasonable position.
posted by No Robots at 2:35 PM on August 17, 2012


Fukushima Explosion Was Concealed by Japanese Government Until Right Before It Happened
posted by homunculus at 3:19 PM on August 17, 2012


Newly released evidence from Japanese utility company TEPCO shows that the Japanese government ordered it not to tell anyone that Fukushima reactor 3 was about to explode until right before it happened. Could better procedure have made this disaster less catastrophic?

It's called crisis management, and while it didn't work very well, what would the "Japanese government" (hardly a monolithic establishment) say anyway? As it is, the evacuation procedures didn't work well anyway, sending people directly into the fallout plume that traveled to the northeast of the plant (toward Iitate).

What could have happened was mass panic that would have been largely uncontrollable. There are a lot of people out there saying there was a coverup, or that the Japanese government does not care about the Japanese people, but having worked in government all I can say is that it can take a lot of combined, coordinated effort to turn a ship around.

And at the same time Japan was in uncharted territory. Three - that's three - massive disasters. The scale of the tsunami itself is impossible to comprehend, and add to that the damage, over a huge area, of an earthquake.

No easy way to get in (the two expressways were damaged) and help either.

On top of that, a large, powerful, third-party utility outside of government is experiencing not one but three catastrophic failures.

In summary, sure, government fucked up, but isn't that to be expected in a Black Swan event? The anti-government hysteria (I'm thinking more of Japanese social media) doesn't really help anyone.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:41 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also the most recent comment on Nuclear Diner points out a lot more flaws than I'd noticed. His point about pesticide applications on collected leaves (for the internal exposure experiment) is pretty pointed. It's really a pity how easy it is for one study to be played up.
posted by R343L at 4:11 PM on August 17, 2012


The Metafilter commenters who are adamant anti-nuclear proponents would better serve their purposes if they didn't condescend and sneer at those with different opinions.
Part of the problem is the sneering condescension that many of them heap on people who make other proposals. i.e. one of the first comments in this thread:
(This is where dreaming idiots will tell me solar can replace coal power. This is where dreaming idiots forget that the sun sets. Every. Goddam. Day.)
I don't have a position in that argument because I've yet to do the back-of-the-envelope calculation to see if it's reasonable.
Soo... why don't you actually do that and get back to us?
What are Helsinki and Fairbanks to do for power generation? You realize that room temperature super conductivity may not exist, right? Not will be hard to find or implement but may be physically impossible?
You do realize that superconducting power lines are they are being used in the real world today, right? They use liquid nitrogen to keep them cool. Right now, they're used over short distances, but it's might be cost effective to make them stretch over long distances. HVDC might be another option as well.

Also, you are the first person to bring up superconductors in this thread, and while I've talked about superconducting power lines in the past I was talking about the liquid nitrogen cooled ones. What do room temperature superconductors have to do with anything? I've never heard anyone say that room temperature superconductors are necessary to solve global warming without nuclear power.

I'm not actually 100% anti-nuclear, but right now it's not cost effective compared to solar (and, by the way, this is something that's only changed in the past year or so). The problem is that because of that, nuclear advocates don't have a case unless they can convince people that solar can't work, so they end up sending a lot of their energy trying to do that.

Obviously nighttime energy needs will be something people need to deal with in the future but solar has a long way to go before gets to the point where we need to start figuring it out.
posted by delmoi at 9:20 PM on August 17, 2012


Places like Helsinki and Fairbanks use district heating, usually powered with GHG net-neutral biomass.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:03 PM on August 17, 2012


Delmoi -- thanks for the superconductor link. Do you know how scalable that is? The high T_C superconductors wih which I'm familiar use rare earth dopants and probably can't be produced on a large scale such as would be needed for a power distribution grid. The cost of things like YLF crystals for high powered laser crystals makes me suspicious of any technology that will depend on that kind of material. I think it's a little disingenuous to imply that LN2 temperature superconductors are being used for commercial power distribution, and then to link to an article about what is essentially a demonstration piece. That's like pointing at the Shanghai maglev and saying that superconducting maglev trains are used for commuter traffic. Sure, there's a demonstration piece -- but that's a long way from feasible mass scale operation. Concorde didn't really mean that the age of supersonic commercial aviation had arrived.

It's also kind of shitty that you stacked quotes from two different users up in one italic section, as though to suggest that they came from the same comment. I didn't call anyone an idiot here, and given that I'd been arguing for a need for more civility in this discussion, it seems like you're being unfair.

Honestly, you could just talk about this without the condescension. It would probably work just fine. Just because we don't agree with you on every point doesn't mean we're all idiots.
posted by samofidelis at 1:58 PM on August 18, 2012


Do you know how scalable that is? The high T_C superconductors wih which I'm familiar use rare earth dopants and probably can't be produced on a large scale such as would be needed for a power distribution grid. The cost of things like YLF crystals for high powered laser crystals makes me suspicious of any technology that will depend on that kind of material.
I honestly have no idea what you're talking about. No one in this thread has said that any of that technology is necessary for anything at all. I was just pointing out that it did exist, because for some reason you decided to bring it up as an example of something that might not be possible.

The photovoltaic panels that have become cheap recently are made from silicon, doped with trace amounts of phosphorus and boron, hardly rare elements We have all the technology we need to generate all our daytime power needed without using any superconductors or rare earth elements. Nighttime power might someday use superconducting powerlines, or HVDC lines, or compressed air, flywheels, or whatever. Maybe nuclear power will play a role, maybe wind will provide enough power or maybe we'll have magnetic confinement fusion by then. There are a huge number of possibilities, some requiring no new technology.

(and by the way "rare earth" elements are not actually rare, that's just what they're called).
I think it's a little disingenuous to imply that LN2 temperature superconductors are being used for commercial power distribution
There is more on the web about it then that one article. It's not my job to do your research it, but there are a handful of installations and they are being done commercially. You don't have to believe if if you don't want too.
posted by delmoi at 5:13 PM on August 18, 2012


I think you are being transparently obtuse. In a discussion of how populations far away from viable solar energy sites could still fit into a purely solar economy, high efficiency energy transmission is an obvious requirement. Frequently, room temperature critical temp superconductors are mentioned as an enabling technology. It is my opinion that it is foolish to assume this is a solvable problem; Cooper pairing of carriera may not be possible above cryogenic temperatures. This is a common part of the discussion of solar power.

The materials used in PV cells are not the issue at hand here. Even so, the availability of trace metals may be a problem for scaling up the production of the high efficiency devices that have thus far been demonstrated in a lab environment. On Frday, our group hosted a chemist who has been studying organic PV materials -- the efficiency is much lower; the world record for organic cells is 7.4% if I recall his figure. That's got nothing on the high efficiency devices that have been demonstrate in LAN environments, but organic PV materials use earth common materials (admittedly, the newest polymers are apparently so expensive to fabricate that only a few research groups have been able to study them this year -- that will change, fast, however).

Look, you say yourself that you don't know what I'm talking about. And yet you're quite certain that you're right and I'm wrong. You do have to do your own research, because the arguments that you're making have big holes in them.
posted by samofidelis at 10:51 PM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lab environments, not LAN. There are plenty of other typos left in, however.

And I suppose it would remain an impossibility to see you apologize for quasi-misattribution. Oh well.
posted by samofidelis at 10:55 PM on August 18, 2012


Tepco Finds Extreme Levels Of Radioactivity In Fukushima Fish
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:02 AM on August 22, 2012


Japan aims to abandon nuclear power by 2030s
posted by homunculus at 1:15 PM on September 15, 2012


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