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Discussions of Hydraulic Fracturing Should be Based In Reality?

February 25, 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird QuoteMr. Thomas R. Muth, Materials Science & Technology Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory sent me an article, “Discussions Of Nuclear Power Should Be Based In Reality,” by Theodore Rockwell published by “The Scientist” on March 16, 1998. The piece is all about the importance of putting topics into the proper context with real-world meanings and the pitfalls of expanding a hypothetical conjecture into a real-world problem.

The article applies as much to the hazards of hydraulic fracturing as it does to the dangers of nuclear power plants. To read the entire article, go to:

The great scientist-philosopher Sir Arthur Eddington wrote that his words about “the soulless dance of bloodless electrons” might be truth, but they were not reality. He urged us to get away from theoretical speculations periodically and watch a sunset. Speculation is our business, but when people ask us about a technical matter, they deserve an answer that has real-world meaning, not a hypothetical argument.

For example, one-day consumer activist Ralph Nader was debating radiation pioneer Ralph Lapp. Nader stated that a pound of plutonium could kill every human being on Earth. One could picture a one-pint jar of the stuff spilling on the ground and its deadly vapors spreading until all life was obliterated. That’s what Nader’s statement means in the common-sense real world. But Lapp put the statement in its proper context by replying: “So could a pound of fresh air, Ralph.” Now how can that be? We’ve been repeatedly told that plutonium is the deadliest substance known. And we know that fresh air is literally the breath of life. What’s going on here? Nader’s statement was not actually a lie; he was just trying to make us think that a hypothetical conjecture was a real-world problem. He’s saying that the lethal dose of plutonium is a five-billionth of a pound. It’s really several thousand times larger, but even if Nader were correct, the only way you could actually kill the world’s 5 billion people with just one pound would be to line them up and have a trained physician inject into each person just the toxic amount of plutonium-no more or there wouldn’t be enough to go around. It would have to be in a fine aerosol mist, or it wouldn’t be lethal, and it would have to go directly into the lung. Then we would have to wait several decades, protecting the individual from other life-threatening influences such as cars, smoking, and malnutrition, until he or she died of lung cancer, because plutonium poses no other health threat.

Nader’s statement is truth, of sorts, but it is not reality. In reality, atomic bomb tests have dispersed about six tons of fine plutonium mist into the air, enough to give each person in the world 1,000 cancers, and we’ve had some laboratory accidents and spills that contaminated people. But not a single case of plutonium-caused cancer has been found, despite diligent searching. (Incidentally, plutonium is not the deadliest substance known; there are pesticides we throw onto food crops by the ton that are more toxic, spoonful for spoonful.)

And what about Lapp’s statement? It is true in precisely the same way as Nader’s. If a tiny bubble of fresh air is injected in just the right way into the bloodstream, a fatal embolism will develop. The only difference from the plutonium case is that you wouldn’t have to wait decades for cancer to develop. We do not think of fresh air as deadly, lethal, or dangerous, and rightly so, although people have been killed by air bubbles in their blood. How dangerous is plutonium in the real world? The answer is: Not a single death has resulted from plutonium poisoning, although we’ve been handling it in tonnage lots for a couple of generations. A sheet of paper, or even a few feet of air, provides enough shielding from its radiation. That’s the difference between the world of the imagination and the real world we live in.

Since most nonscientists don’t flit so easily from the hypothetical world to the physical world, we should be clear when we do. When we talk about casualties, we should distinguish between real and hypothetical deaths. For example:
1. Persons who die of food poisoning are known by name and can be counted. They are real.
2. Persons who die from particulate air pollution are largely unknown individually, but their numbers can be estimated approximately by methods that are subject to peer evaluation. These victims are nameless and their number controversial, but they are probably real.
3. Deaths “predicted” from exposure to radiation levels less than natural radiation backgrounds are wholly hypothetical, since the premise on which such calculations are based is an administrative convenience, not a scientific model. The premise is that individually harmless doses of radioactivity in a population can be added up to “predict” illness and even deaths in that population-a notion that affronts both science and common sense.

These various kinds of victims should not be compared as if they were the same. We should not justify America’s 9,000 annual food-poisoning deaths and tens of thousands of air-particle deaths by claiming we have avoided hypothetical deaths that might result from irradiating the food or replacing coal-burning plants with nuclear. Scientists have expressed their concerns about global warming and particulate emission predictions but have been surprisingly reluctant to speak out on radiation questions. Why? We are told that we must choose between wrecking the planet by continuing to burn fossil fuels at current rates or wrecking the economy by drastically reducing our energy usage. We don’t even discuss the option of using nuclear power to produce as much energy as needed without creating pollution or economic disruption. Nuclear power has been reliably and safely generating 22 percent of the United States’ electricity for a full generation. But we ignore fission and talk about untried hopes such as fusion, solar power, and undefined “renewables.”

We decide not to build another nuclear power plant because “we haven’t solved the waste problem.” How many people do we save by not adding to the nuclear waste? None. No one has ever been hurt by nuclear waste in the U.S., and no one is ever likely to be. We should treat radioactive waste just as we do selenium, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, barium, and other toxic materials whose half-lives are infinite. With such toxins we have ample experience that simple, common-sense waste disposal practices are fully adequate.

Another notorious hypothetical scenario is the dreaded nuclear reactor meltdown and the subsequent China syndrome, in which the molten core melts into the Earth on its way to China. (We’re talking about the only kind of reactors built in the West and in the Pacific Rim. The Chernobyl reactor is a different story-not as bad as you’ve heard, but not relevant here.) To get radioactive clouds and evacuation plans and all the other aspects of a nuclear emergency, we had to dream up a situation that would get all of the water out of the reactor vessel fast; otherwise, the reactor will not melt. In the laboratory of the mind, that’s easy. We came up with the “guillotine break,” a magical, instantaneous shearing of the heavy-duty main coolant piping. But even that is not enough, because the water can’t escape rapidly unless the sheared pipe ends move out of the way of each other quickly so that the water can flash unimpeded into clear space. No problem-the mind can move the pipe ends instantaneously, even though the pipe walls are more than an inch thick and made of high-grade stainless steel.

Other scenarios spring up like mushrooms. To study how radioactive clouds disperse under the worst possible weather conditions, we imagine a hierarchy of fantastic scenarios. This requires us to put a network of radiation monitors around each nuclear plant. And we put more engineering hours into calculating the impact of severe earthquakes than we used to use for the whole plant design. And we set up elaborate security provisions. And every component and safety system is backed up with backup systems. And we put the whole thing inside a steel-reinforced, leak-tight containment structure. And we prepare emergency procedures involving local, regional, and national police and fire and emergency organizations, and we run periodic drills. And then we turn to the public and say: “How about that! Are we safe or what?” And the public says, “Gosh, they must really be scared of this stuff.” And who could blame them?

The public didn’t know we were just playing games-serious games, legitimate games, but hypothetical speculations, not reality. What does the real world say about nuclear safety? Quite a bit, actually. Experiments and theoretical studies have been made, and we had the real thing at Three Mile Island in 1979. Nearly half the core melted down, and tons of the molten stuff fell down onto the bottom of the pressure vessel. That is the start of the China syndrome scenario. But in fact the core penetrated only a small fraction of an inch into the thick vessel wall and stopped. Negligible radioactivity was released; the nearest residents got about as much radiation from the accident overall as they get each day from the natural radiation background (having nothing to do with the nuclear plant). No one was hurt, not even the operators. When I pressed a Nuclear Regulatory Commission official as to why this was not more nearly the model for a major reactor accident, rather than various theoretical speculations, he looked shocked and said: “If I really thought that, I’d have to ask what I’m doing here!” I assured him he should ask exactly that, as we all should.

So, after 40 years’ experience and running more than 100 U.S. nuclear power plants (plus twice that many in the Navy), plus hundreds more in other countries, the Three Mile Island accident is the worst the real world can offer: nobody hurt, no environmental damage. Yet we proceed as if the speculations were real. The game is now costing hundreds of billions of dollars: making multimillion-dollar studies; “decontaminating” land that is already harmless; designing shipping casks with yet another layer of protective shield although the radioactive cargo they contain poses less of a public hazard than the diesel fuel in the truck that carries it. And spending $13 billion to dig a hole in Yucca Mountain in California to hold some shielded casks of spent fuel and nuclear wastes.

On June 3, 1997, the Department of Energy issued a report “after six years of study and analysis,” predicting that 23 people will be irradiated to death as a result of shipping shielded casks of radioactive waste from the weapons program (not civilian waste). Let me tell you how this works. As a truck with a shielded cask drives by, a government official says to a bystander: “Congratulations, sir. You are the millionth bystander.” The puzzled fellow asks. “What do I get?”

“You get to die,” replies the official. “This cask has been emitting radiation at one-millionth the lethal level. We have now passed a million bystanders and no one has died, so it’s up to you.”

“But I got only one-millionth of a lethal dose, right?” he asks. “And that can’t hurt me, right?”

“Correct, sir. But we have delivered a lethal dose overall, to the whole population of bystanders. I don’t expect you to understand it. Just be assured that these calculations have been peer-reviewed by scientists. You can count on them.”

“Tell me this is just a game,” the poor chap moans.

Do you doubt it?

PS: I lived with my wife and newborn son near the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster. Though we evacuated the area that Friday night when the non-condensable hydrogen bubble in the reactor vessel was about to breakthrough, I returned Monday morning. Measurements of the radiation level taken at the RCA Picture Tube Engineering, facility in Lancaster, PA with calibrated Geiger counters showed a background radiation level lower than that taken after China detonated their first nuclear weapon. Also, no one in my family glows in the dark!

Are Gun Control Advocates Going About It All Wrong?

February 14, 2015

Most interpret the Second Amendment on what it says, not on the grounds of what it does not say.

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, ratified as part of the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights, reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

According to Chuck Dougherty, The Minutemen, the National Guard and the Private Militia Movement: Will the Real Militia Please Stand Up? , 28 John Marshall Law Review 959, 962-970 (Summer 1995), “The colonists (arriving in America during the seventeenth century) drew from their knowledge of the militia system in England to develop their own military forces. The resulting colonial militia laws required every able-bodied male citizen to participate and to provide his own arms.”

Eighteenth-century thinking viewed Militia as that comprised of all able-bodied civilians eligible by law for military service to supplement a regular army in an emergency. The individual right to bear arms was legalized, defined and reinforced by the Militia Acts of 1792 and 1795.

Congress passed the Militia Act of 1795 before the Militia Act of 1792 expired, which was to remain in force, during the term of two years, and to the end of the next session of Congress. The Act of 1795 mirrored the provisions of the 1792 and provided federal standards for the organization of the Militia. This Militia Act was in turn amended by the Militia Act of 1862, which allowed African-Americans to serve in the militias of the United States. It was superseded by the Militia Act of 1903, which established the United States National Guard as the chief body of organized military reserves in the United States.

The federal standards enacted by the Act of 1795 stipulated: “Each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia…..”

Scholarly commentaries and Supreme Court decisions on the meaning of “well regulated militia,” “the right of the People” and “keep and bear arms” began soon after approval of the Bill of Rights with the 1803 publication Sir William Blackstone‘s Commentaries on the Laws of England by constitutional theorist St. George Tucker and the 1820 Supreme Court case of Houston v. Moore.

The founding fathers interpretation of the right to bear arms granted to U.S. male citizens between the ages eighteen and forty-five therefore included:

  • Felons,
  • Prison Inmates,
  • Sexual Predators,
  • Mentally Insane, and
  • Terrorists.

Women and those of each gender under 18 and over 45 were expressly prohibited from bearing arms.

In closing, gun control advocates should not call for limitations on the right to bear arms rather they should protest for inclusion of those who present a danger to society on the grounds that the founding fathers did not explicitly exclude these groups from the Second Amendment. Women, it looks like the Amendment is not in your favor in owning guns.

Postscript: The author at 65 is an avid believer of strict gun control measures, holds a concealed handgun license and trained in the art of handling and discharging weapons by the NRA since 12-years of age.

Life Is Beautiful – Randy Pausch’s Inspirational “Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon University

January 2, 2015

Originally posted on BarryOnEnergy:

Today’s discussion is not on energy, nor is it controversial, political, technical or global. At times it becomes necessary to step back from the concerns of the modern world and take a more personal and introspective view on life. Winston Churchill once said:

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”


Such is the case with Randy Pausch’s inspirational “Last Lecture,” which captivated the world and inspired millions. On one hand, Randy’s reason for giving the “Last Lecture” may seem tragic at best, but on the other hand, he left us and the world with a heartwarming and upbeat lecture that serves as a roadmap on how to live life to its fullest and what really matters. The lecture should be listened to by all. After hearings Randy’s speech, it can be said the he “made a life and gave…

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Season’s Greetings

December 17, 2014

Seasons_GreetingsDear Friends and Colleagues,

Wishing you and your family a joyful Holiday Season and an exciting New Year.

With warmest personal regards,

Barry Stevens, Ph.D.
TBD America, Inc.

Who Says Antarctica is Gaining Ice – A Review?

December 5, 2014

iceberg_melting2Like most aspects of climate change, a wide diversity of opinion exists whether the Arctic and Antarctica are gaining or losing ice – a collision between science and belief. In an almost futile attempt to close this chasm, this review presents both sides of the equation. The answer to this dilemma lays in the parable of the blind men and an elephant; “that one’s subjective experience can be true, but that such experience is inherently limited by its failure to account for other truths or a totality of truth.”

To understand this vicious circle, we need to look no further than the top of the globe – the Arctic.

In September 2013, reported that “Arctic sea ice up 60 percent in 2013.”The article states, “The surge in Arctic ice is a dramatic change from last year’s record-setting lows, which fueled dire predictions of an imminent ice-free summer.”  A few days later, Nature World News headlined “Arctic Sea Ice Extent Up 50 Percent from Last Year, but Still 6th Lowest on Record.” The article states, “We had cool conditions, cooler than the long-term average, and yet it is still going to be the sixth-lowest ice minimum on record. However, this year’s ice gain is not of iceberg proportion. Much of the added ice is thin and slushy, which is in line with a general trend towards thinning ice in the Arctic.

Then In November 2014, Nature World News featured a piece “Arctic Sea Ice May Completely Disappear in Our Lifetime.” The researchers featured in this article claim “According to the study, an ice-free period hasn’t been seen in the Arctic Ocean for 2.6 million years, a time when the Earth’s climate was warming up. But now the climate is changing again and global temperatures are increasing, impacting Arctic ice once more. By the end of the present century, researchers say, the Arctic Ocean may very well be completely free of sea ice, especially in summer.” With all this seemingly contradictory statements, it is not too surprising that the question of ice growth or melt is froth with much confusion.

Moving south of the equator, Antarctica is embroiled with a similar quandary. Here, stronger feelings exist that ice is expanding rather than melting in much of Antarctica.

In, “Why is Antarctic sea ice at record levels despite global warming?” The Guardian (October 2014) pointed out “While Arctic sea ice continues to decline, Antarctic levels are confounding the world’s most trusted climate models with record highs for the third year running. The US National Snow and Ice Data Centre records show that Antarctica’s sea ice in 2014 was 1.54m sq. km above the 1981-2010 average. The past three winters have all produced record levels of ice (Figure 1).”

Figure 1: Average Monthly Antarctica Sea Ice Extent – September 1979 to 2014

Antartica Ice Melting 1979 to 2014

Then a few months later, NASA released a review, “West Antarctic Melt Rate Has Tripled” (NASA-UC Irvine December 2014). According to scientists at the University of California, Irvine, and NASA, “A comprehensive, 21-year analysis of the fastest-melting region of Antarctica has found that the melt rate of glaciers there has tripled during the last decade. The glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment in West Antarctica are hemorrhaging ice faster than any other part of Antarctica and are the most significant Antarctic contributors to sea level rise.

Finally, to bridge the gap, Skeptical Science explains, “Skeptic arguments that Antarctica is gaining ice frequently hinge on an error of omission, namely ignoring the difference between land ice and sea ice.”

“In glaciology and particularly with respect to Antarctic ice, not all things are created equal. Let us consider the following differences. Antarctic land ice is the ice, which has accumulated over thousands of years on the Antarctica landmass itself through snowfall. This land ice therefore is actually stored ocean water that once fell as precipitation. Sea ice in Antarctica is quite different as it is ice which forms in salt water primarily during the winter months. When land ice melts and flows into the oceans global sea levels rise on average; when sea ice melts sea levels do not change measurably.”

“In Antarctica, sea ice grows quite extensively during winter but nearly completely melts away during the summer (Figure 2). That is where the important difference between Antarctic and Arctic sea ice exists as much of the Arctic’s sea ice lasts all the year round. During the winter months it increases and before decreasing during the summer months, but an ice cover does in fact remain in the North which includes quite a bit of ice from previous years (Figure 2). Essentially Arctic sea ice is more important for the earth’s energy balance because when it increasingly melts, more sunlight is absorbed by the oceans whereas Antarctic sea ice normally melts each summer leaving the earth’s energy balance largely unchanged.

Figure 2: Coverage of sea ice in both the Arctic (Top) and Antarctica (Bottom) for both summer minimums and winter maximums


Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center

“One must also be careful how you interpret trends in Antarctic sea ice. Currently this ice is increasing overall and has been for years but is this the smoking gun against climate change? Not quite” Antarctic sea ice is gaining because of many different reasons but the most accepted recent explanations are:”

“i) Ozone levels over Antarctica have dropped causing stratospheric cooling and increasing winds which lead to more areas of open water that can be frozen,and

ii) The Southern Ocean is freshening because of increased rain and snowfall as well as an increase in meltwater coming from the edges of Antarctica’s land ice.”

“Together, these change the composition of the different layers in the ocean there causing less mixing between warm and cold layers and thus less melted sea and coastal land ice.”

“All the sea ice talk aside, it is quite clear that really when it comes to Antarctic ice and sea levels, sea ice is not the most important thing to measure. In Antarctica, the largest and most important ice mass is the land ice of the West Antarctic and East Antarctic ice sheets.”

“There is variation between regions within Antarctica, with the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet losing ice mass, and with an increasing rate. The East Antarctic Ice Sheet is growing slightly over this period but not enough to offset the other losses. There are of course uncertainties in the estimation methods but independent data from multiple measurement techniques (explained here) all show the same thing, Antarctica is losing land ice as a whole, and these losses are accelerating quickly.”

In closing, it is doubtful that this review will change anyone’s opinion about climate change and its impact on the earth; especially those who deny that global warming is an ever-increasing problem influenced by human behavior. Like the blind men and an elephant, deniers who are limited by its failure to account for other truths, can’t change the irrefutable fact that lays in the totality of truth.”

Deniers need to get over the notion that there is a worldwide global warming conspiracy of scientists, universities, United Nations, nations, government agencies, and corporations. The only conspiracy is those who base their opinion on how their bunion feels.

Are Climate Change Skeptics and Deniers One of the Same?

November 25, 2014

denialismThere is little if any original content in this posting. In his piece, “NPR Finally Stops Referring to Global Warming Deniers as “Skeptics,” published by Huffington Post on November 17, 2014, Mark Boslough – Physicist and Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – framed the hubris of skeptics and deniers, far beyond my power to add further affirmation.


Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) is famous for thinking that human-caused global warming is the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” His belief presupposes the existence of a worldwide conspiracy–sustained over many decades–by scientists of all nationalities, races, creeds, and political leanings.

Inhofe’s alleged perpetrators include NASA, NOAA, the Pentagon, National Academy of Sciences, American Physical Society, American Geophysical Union, and virtually every other research and scientific organization in the world. Such a conspiracy would require collusion on a massive scale to fudge data and consistently lie to the public and policy makers without getting caught. Extraordinary claim? You bet.

Carl Sagan popularized the skeptical mantra: “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Authentic scientific skepticism is an intellectual and scholarly pursuit that requires honesty, rationality, logic, and evidence. Real skeptics do not cling to absurd conspiracy theories for which there is no evidence, nor do they engage in obfuscation, misrepresentation, data fabrication, smear campaigns, or intimidation tactics. These are the methods of deniers.

Denier is defined by Webster as “one that denies.” The word has been in the English language since the 15th century. The evidence for global warming is incontrovertible and our understanding of the human role is based on empirical data and universally accepted laws of physics. Some people deny it because it contradicts their predetermined beliefs. Put simply, deniers deny. And when they are powerful Senators, they also hold hearings.

Inhofe used his position as chair of the Senate Environment Committee to showcase his hoax theory and try to make scientists look bad. One would expect that such a vast conspiracy would generate a paper trail–even if perpetrated by the cleverest of science geeks. One might even expect a whistleblower among the ranks of scientists involved in climate research. But Inhofe’s hearings turned up nothing.

When the Republicans lost the Senate in 2006, NPR (National Public Radio) Morning Edition’s host, Steve Inskeep, announced that “…one of Washington’s most powerful climate skeptics is about to lose his microphone.” Why did Inskeep use that word to refer to Inhofe, who has never exhibited any of the characteristics of an authentic skeptic?

It’s because deniers have been successful at two things. First, they simply co-opted the term. Calling themselves “skeptics” gave them a patina of credibility. Many members of the media apparently didn’t know that legitimate skeptics do more than cast doubt and disbelieve, so they dutifully used the word that deniers used to describe themselves.

Second, they convinced journalists that “denier” is associated with the Nazi Holocaust and is purposefully used by scientists and their allies as a slur to dehumanize critics and silence debate. Never mind that it’s a word whose meaning hasn’t changed since the Middle English era. Editors and reporters were intimidated into avoiding it, as if it were an offensive racist or sexist curse.

It’s been eight years since the Republicans lost control the Senate, and they just won their way back into the majority. Last week NPR’s Morning Edition’s covered the historic agreement between President Obama and Xi Jinping to limit greenhouse gas pollution. According to the report, any new climate legislation is unlikely because Inhofe is favored to resume his chairmanship of the Senate Environment Committee. Announcer Scott Horsley referred to Inhofe as “…one of the leading climate change deniers in Congress.”

What a difference eight years makes. Thank you, NPR, for using the correct word this time. Please make it your policy from now on.


In closing: If this article fails to convince deniers, which it probably won’t, that humanity is major contributor to climate change, the question than remains, what in the name of reason will it take these people to wake-up and stop gambling with our future and our home? My apologies to Mark Boslough, Huffington Post, my readers and colleagues, for using Mark’s article as is and adding no value other than getting his most eloquent and insightful words out to the public.


See also:

Distinguishing Climate “Deniers” From “Skeptics”” by David Brin, February 11, 2010.

The Real Struggle Behind Climate Change – A War on Expertise” by David Brin, February 09, 2010.

Could It Be a Change of Climate?

November 25, 2014

Originally posted on BarryOnEnergy:

In an effort not to incite to riot disbelievers of “anthropogenic climate change,” this discussion looks at what appears to be a significant change of climate throughout the world.

It is a well-known fact that the earth has gone through mass extinctions and other lesser cataclysmic events without any causality of the human race. Regardless, humans are on the earth and to think that our activities have no effect on our environment is rather naïve.

As a point of reference, given that the earth’s land surface is 148.9 million sq. km or 57.5 million sq. mile, earth’s population density since 10,000 BC to the present is:

Not surprisingly this shows the tremendous growth in population density since the industrial revolution and last half of the 20th Century. From 1950 to 2011, there has been a 65% increase in population density throughout the world. Granted much of the population growth is…

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