Half-Life Histories
February 21, 2024 7:30 PM   Subscribe

Half-Life Histories (Youtube playlist link) is a mini-documentary series about nuclear and radiological disasters by Youtuber and science educator Kyle Hill. Hill's series covers both well-known and major nuclear accidents and disasters like the Demon Core at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Castle Bravo detonation on Bikini Atoll, and less well-known incidents like what happened when scientist Anatoli Bugorski accidentally put his head in a particle accelerator beam, and the only recorded death from an unknown source of radiation.
posted by yasaman (11 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
My father somehow ended up with a chunk of trinitite, which as far as I know is still maybe in a sock in the bottom drawer of his dresser. I sort of expect to inherit it. It's a lovely weird little nuclear history artifact.

I grew up not too far from Trinity Site, and have been there a couple of times, and the whole Los Alamos/White Sands dichotomy in the state of New Mexico lurks strongly in the background of my childhood.
posted by hippybear at 8:47 PM on February 21 [3 favorites]

Japan had a pair of nasty nuclear accidents in the late 90s, one when trying to encapsulate nuclear waste in hot tar (what could go wrong??)

Then two years later an off-the-books enrichment facility got caught out cutting corners , tragically getting 2 workers killed as they tried to produce reactor fuel by hand.

And while not a contamination event, in late 1965 a US aircraft carrier had an oopsie and dropped a nuclear-armed A-4 (off the elevator which went straight to the bottom, ~200 miles south of Kyushu, something right out of a Godzilla movie.
posted by torokunai at 9:29 PM on February 21 [3 favorites]

Feynman's autobio also had his story about serendipitously preventing a criticality event at Oak Ridge during the war, since they were storing their U-235 production in liquid form in barrels, and stacking them too close or something.

I think my favorite nuke-related triviatum is U-234. It was probably only carrying unenriched uranium oxide, but the Germans were world-class physicists and chemists, so you never know . . .
posted by torokunai at 9:45 PM on February 21

In the 1960's the CIA lost a plutonium powered remote monitoring station in the Indian Himalayas.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 10:22 PM on February 21

well thanks yasaman I was planning to get some work done today but so much for that!

I have (so far) only watched Anatoli Bugorski get a particle beam through the head (and then get shafted by Soviet healthcare bureaucracy for some insult on the old injury!).

These things are so fascinating to me. I'm probably going to have to watch them all. Work Schmork!
posted by supermedusa at 9:36 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]

The most important one for me was his video on the Therac-25 incident, which I believe should be etched into the mind and soul of every programmer as a reminder that fucking up on program design can cost lives.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:41 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Something funny happened this morning involving radioactivity and “artificial intelligence”.

I was testing a sample of Moctezumite to make sure it is the real deal by using an alpha radiation sensible Geiger counter to compare a 10 minute background reading to a 10 minute reading next to the sample.

The results were good and I uploaded a 10 second video of the counter bleeding and blooping and chirping to Slack to show a friend. Slack somehow decided to do a transcript of the video, and the result was "嗯嗯".

According to online translators this means “mmmm-mmmm” or “yeah-yeah” or something else along those lines.

Is the Geiger counter expressing pleasure at being hit by ionizing particles? Is Slack’s transcription “AI” advanced enough to understand philosophy and know that signals emitted by an instrument fulfilling its design purpose should be translated as expressing positivity? Is this how the AI singularity starts? Is my Geiger counter a perv?

I think if I was the kind of person that does social media something like this could become viral.

This is a screenshot, you can see the transcript under the thumbnail.
posted by Dr. Curare at 12:04 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]

After watching the Castle Bravo one wonders if there were any actual 'adults in charge' of this program. (This was the first detonation of what they were calling The Super in 'Oppenheimer'.)
posted by Rash at 12:06 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Is Slack’s transcription “AI” advanced enough to understand philosophy and know that signals emitted by an instrument fulfilling its design purpose should be translated as expressing positivity?

This is the early emergence of the Genuine People Personality feature that would later be implemented widely the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.
posted by hippybear at 12:09 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]

When I was a kid in the 1950s, my father bought me a subscription to a monthly series of supposedly kid safe science experiments by mail. One of them included a little cardboard box the size of a pack of cigarettes that contained a half inch cube of fused sand from the Trinity test site. Which looked like melted swiss cheese in miniature. It has been long buried in a landfill in southern Idaho or so I suspect.
posted by y2karl at 12:27 PM on February 22

Japan had a pair of nasty nuclear accidents in the late 90s

A little preemptive CW on anything related to the Tokaimura incidents. Some articles include pictures of the technicians who died as a result of the 1999 event. These are horrific. I'm not overly squeamish, but these photos are deep into "can never unsee body horror".

Also, the “the only recorded death from an unknown source of radiation” video is basically a dramatic read of the Wikipedia page for Douglas Crofut (CW: suicide)
posted by scruss at 9:17 AM on February 23 [3 favorites]

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