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Okay, so it’s a Series not a movie
I’ve watched the whole Sopranos series at least twice, same with Boardwalk Empire, and have been mulling over going back and watching them again.
But that ain’t gonna happen while there are still episodes of this beauty that I haven’t seen, and re-seen.
Wow, a Black Country Tony and his boys and girls, waltzing along like a half-gypsy Nucky and his mad opponents, set in post WW1 Birmingham, England and environs. Vicious Belfast SIS Agents and Jewish gangsters with Cockney accents, IRA scum, Chinese hookers, stolen Lewis guns and rigged horse races, PTSD Tommies, beautiful undercover agents – in more ways than one, a bloody good Winston Churchill, even an appealing (if somewhat Sopranos derivative) music score… and that’s just in the first half of Season 1.
Enough, don’t waste any time reading my crap, go fire it up on Netflix right now. I’m going back to it now.
Let’s Do the Time Warp Again
I watched this shivery, savory, slippery, updated, undead creature of the last night with great antici….
… pation, and it was, in a word fabulous, an absolute hoot from the opening scenes right through to inevitable tragic conclusion, in many ways and many scenes a slick improvement on the original (not a replacement)!
Full of heaps of subtle new jokes (watch Brad after he shakes hands with Ralph at the wedding) with all of the old favorites reprised (and often deftly respun), the musical performances are outstanding (particularly the delectable Usherette in the new opening movie theater scene).
Laverne Cox as the mad Dr. Frank and Janet and Eddie, Magenta and Columbia are all outstanding – and as pointed out in the full review in the link below, this 21st C Riff-Raff appears to be channelling Richard O’brien, the original ‘faithful handyman’. It was somewhat sad, but in some ways exhilarating to watch Tim Curry gamely fighting the effects of his 2013 stroke as the Criminologist.
Dr Scott was, in my view, an improvement on the original. Rocky was just as beautiful and buff, confused and afraid and altogether fascinating as he used to be, although like the reviewer below, I wasn’t keen on the gold gangsta shorts.
One of the best touches was the theater audience, throwing toilet rolls and holding newspapers over their head, as my friends and I used to do back in the day. (Harrumph) youth today though, all goth and can’t be bothered to dress as their favorites, like we did.
My only real issue with it was that Laverne Cox, while she has Frank’s voice and mannerisms absolutely perfect (Oh Rocky!) is just too damn straight katooey sexy, too feminine, a slightly jarring and not altogether welcome departure from Curry’s confused and vulnerable sexuality, whatever it was. Of course, in 1975, a sweet transexual, transvestite Transylvanian, was pretty shocking, as opposed to today’s fully PC transgender version.
Not to be missed. The next time I see this I want to be sitting up there in the back row alongside that usherette. Woof. Maybe I can drag her up on the dance floor for a little time warping of my own.
A fairly balanced review here
As a follow up to ‘we’re all gonna die part 3…
Congratulations to Prince Edward County Field Naturalists and to their lawyer, Eric Gillespie, and his team.
Fittingly, on the anniversary of D-Day the Environmental Review Panel found that the remedial measures proposed by Gilead and by our Government were not acceptable and revoked Gilead’s Renewable Energy Approval for seven turbines, all to have been located on Government land and within a designated Important Bird Area.
All that now remains is for Premier Wynne to grasp the nettle and kill the project once and for all.
The proposed project made no sense from the get-go. But even so it took hundreds of thousands of dollars of money from County residents without benefit of tax receipts and six years of PECFN courage and persistence to achieve the result that should have been obvious even to the closed minds at Queen’s Park.
Much of the reasoning and precedents cited in the Gilead ERT…
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…well, it’s still a book but I have no doubt the movie is on the way.
This is the most kick-ass crime thriller I have run into since I first met Jack Reacher digging swimming pools in Key West!!
Finished it in one sitting and to hell with mowing the lawn, and started in again the following morning to re-read it and to hell with the lawn again.
‘Babe’ Crucci, wise-guy hitman just out of his second stretch at San Quentin, for a Manslaughter plea deal that should have been Murder 1 and a shot of Jesus juice, reunites with his long estranged son Leo, a robbery-homicide detective working out of Rampart Division of the LAPD. Leo wants nothing to do with his old (thug) man, but needs his help to smooth over some overdue mob gambling debts…
And three.. two.., one…. BLASTOFF!!! This Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler/Robert B Parker inspired noir takes off like one of Elon Musk’s Falcon 9s and accelerates up – up and away. I see Russell Crowe as ‘Babe’, maybe Leo himself as Leo (and I can’t wait) and I need to give my Hollywood cousin a heads up in case it hasn’t been optioned yet. God forbid Tom Cruise gets his hands on it.
The casting director is gonna have a lot of fun filling out the unbelievably rich cast of cops, robbers, call-girls and crack-whores, hot babes and hitmen, Italian, Irish, Cambodian mobsters, murder victims and perpetrators, wandering wives and vengeful hubbies and a father – son relationship that is… how shall I put this? …somewhat dysfunctional.
Mr. McClure has crafted a masterpiece of the genre; taut prose. tense and convoluted plot (with -as far as I could see – only a single very minor hole) and with heaps of horror, surprise and sudden belly-laugh, very non-PC humour (I am still sniggering about the warm and grisly delights of the Ukrainian Witness Protection Programme). Mr. McClure, even got the gun stuff right.
This book absolutely has it all, from hot sex to hotter homicide, to innovative ways of dealing with family discord of various kinds. I could not put it down (or more accurately could not stop flicking pages on my android reader).
If you read this Mr. McClure, your wife is right, stuff the law practice and get back to that keyboard, I need to find out whether Babe and Leo ever get to that Dodger’s game.
I am enjoying it even more the second time round – now the character traits of the labyrinthine cast have become clear since I know where it is going.
In case I haven’t made myself clear, this is one not-to-be-missed helluva good yarn. I sincerely hope there is a follow-up in the works.
You know you love ’em…
After my last three substantive posts, all based in consensus reality I am heartily sick of the real world. From corrupt politicians in Canada (here’s another one with some really scathing general comments about the lot of them), through Global scandals on money laundering, through continuous evidence of war crimes in Syria I am fed up with most of humanity and its works. Except sailboats.
So I am going to go adventuring, at least mentally.
I have recently been reading a couple of interesting books on anomalies, one by John B. Alexander and another by Colm Kelleher. Both hold PhD degrees, Colonel Alexander’s in (I think) Public Policy and Administration (obtained from a reputable distance learning school) and Dr. Kelleher’s in Biochemistry from Trinity College Dublin. Both had long and distinguished mainstream careers, Colonel Alexander’s in the US Army where he enlisted as a Private, retired as a Colonel of Infantry in 1988 and commanded troops in Vietnam. As a staff Officer and Washington insider he created and ran an unofficial Interagency investigation into UFOs from the early 80s and his latest book recounts his views on that subject and other anomalous phenomenon.
After he retired from the Military he became (amongst other things) an investigator for the National Institute of Discovery Sciences (NIDS) where he collaborated with Dr. Kelleher on various projects including work at the infamous Skinwalker Ranch.
After obtaining his PhD in biochemistry in 1983, Dr. Kelleher worked at the Ontario Cancer Institute, the Terry Fox Laboratory at the British Columbia Cancer Research Center in Vancouver and the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine in Denver. More recently, Dr. Kelleher served as Research Director for Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas and as administrator for one of its subsidiaries, Space Sciences, Inc.
Dr. Kelleher was team leader and project manager for the NIDS during its 8 years of operations until it closed in 2004.
Reading these books on anomalous phenomena has fired me up on the subject again.
One of the most influential books I have ever read was Robert Anton Wilson’s The New Inquisition. Wilson discusses various unexplained phenomena and makes the point that mainstream science does not like to consider anomalies – it can be career suicide and dissenting scientists are often hounded out of their learned societies. So called skeptics are often really debunkers who don’t let the evidence get in the way of their preconceived positions that such things don’t exist and therefore they can’t.
The 1968 Condon Report on the US Air Force Project Blue Book investigation into UFOs is a very good example of that mind set. The summary of the Report (written by Prof Condon himself) basically ignored the substantial number of highly anomalous unexplained cases presented in the main body of the report.
So there was and still is a strong bias amongst ‘serious’ scientists and investigators against discussing these troublesome subjects.
However, as Dr. Kelleher, writing with journalist George Knapp in their excellent book on the NIDS Investigation of the Skinwalker Ranch points out:
“At its most basic level, science is supposed to represent the investigation of the unexplained, not the explanation of the uninvestigated. Yet few scientists are willing to risk the criticism of their peers (or the withdrawal of their research grants) if it means pursuing the subjects that are deemed by unofficial acclamation to be unworthy tabloid fodder, the rants of disturbed minds, or the folklore of drunken trailer park lowlifes.”
While I certainly admit to getting drunk now and again, I don’t live in a trailer park and I have a lifetimes experience as a scientifically trained investigator. I admit that various people in my life have considered me a lowlife. I leave it to my vast army of readers to decide.
So this post is going to provide some information about some of the anomalies I have had the personal privilege of encountering during my last 65 orbits around the sun. These include ghosts, UFOs, dowsing, spirit intrusions from another dimension, advice from advanced spirits via channelling, evidence of unknown earth history and a whole lot of shit that I don’t have names for. Yes, it is pretty much all anecdotal and except for the Sphinx anomaly I don’t have any real evidence that would hold up to peer review. But I am a trained observer with advanced degrees based in science and law and with more than 40 years experience as an investigator. So for what it is worth (and it is after all my blog), I am going to set down a few of my experiences with the unexplained.
Anyone who cares to read this post can tell me I am full of shit if they want. Well maybe that’s true, but I know what I saw, and consensus reality doesn’t always fit in the picture.
UFOs I have dealt with already. Ghosts – I only have one good personal experience of one and will save that for later. Spirits and channelling and such are a little sensitive for personal reasons (both mine and others) and I need to be careful there so I think I will start with dowsing.
Back in first year Geology one of the most popular lectures of the year was Professor Fred Joliffe’s lecture on dowsing during which he thoroughly debunked it totally and demonstrated to all hundred or so first year intellectual sponges sitting in front of him that it was all a load of codswallop and didn’t work. A bit like an avuncular James Randi.
I took it aboard as gospel of course. I was learning to be a scientist and engineer after all!
About a decade later, a couple of years into my first career as a newly minted consulting geotechnical engineer, I was spending a lot of time sitting near drilling rigs while the crews bored holes in the ground, took samples and carried out testing for engineering design purposes. One balmy summer day in 1978 or 1979, I found myself watching a track mounted hollow-stem auger rig, not unlike the one in the image below, as it was unloaded and set up at a site in Mississauga, in the west of the Greater Toronto Metropolitan Area.
The drillers were setting up to take soil and rock samples along the alignment of a new storm sewer tunnel we were helping design and I was running the site investigation. I had been all over the extended site in previous days, locating proposed borehole locations every few hundred meters or so along the alignment and undertaking the necessary service clearances.
I had contacted all of the utility companies and located watermains, storm drains, electrical cables, gas lines, cable TV lines and so forth, made sure the borehole locations were clear of all (doesn’t do to drill a hole in a watermain) and had spray painted big red bullseyes on the ground where I wanted the holes.
At most places I was expecting to run into a couple of feet of soft soil, maybe old fill (the area had first been settled as farmland about a hundred and fifty years before – and we always had to watch out for Indian – oops, pardon me – First Nation artifacts), then glacial till, then limestone bedrock which we would core down past the invert of the planned storm sewer using a diamond drill core barrel for later lab examination.
This particular site was a dusty vacant lot adjacent to a local road and the hole was about 50 feet back from the road where I had parked my first (and last) ever new car (a flashy metallic green Toyota Corolla hatchback with an illegal radar detector and a comfortable cruising speed of 130 kph – but I digress) and where the transporter had unloaded the drill rig.
About 0930 hours I guess, the drill crew backed up the rig to my mark, erected the mast and unloaded their drilling paraphernalia. I got my big clipboard out and started filling in my first drilling log sheet.
Then, just as we were set to go, the driller did something weird. He rummaged in an old tool box, came up with a piece of wire bent into an L-shape, held it loosely in his hand out in front of him and walked around the rig. I watched, quite mystified.
As he got level with the business end of the rig, the wire suddenly swung to one side. He stopped, backed up – the wire swung straight forward again. He walked forward and this time kept going as the wire swung sideways again and then straightened out. He walked around the other side of the rig and once more the wire deflected as he passed the spot on the other side in line with the bullseye on the ground.
He turned to me, “I cain’t drill here, thur’s sumfin’ down thur, yull hef ta move the hole”.
“What? How do you know?” I asked.
He gestured with the wire, shrugged, “Dowsing rod”.
The cocky young engineer (me) was having none of this nonsense, “There’s nothing there, I’ve cleared all the services.”
“Thur’s sumfin’ down thur,” he insisted, “y’ gotta move the hole”.
I went back to my car, got the service clearance file out of my briefcase and double checked that all had been properly signed off. All clear.
I went back to show him the checklist. He shrugged again, still insisting, “Thur’s sumfin’ down thur”.
He was missing the point, dowsing didn’t work, and besides, I was the boss. I thought for a minute and then, in a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead told him, “Drill”.
He wasn’t happy, “Yer fault effen we hit sumfin’ “.
I stood back to watch. He walked back to the rig, muttering, said something to his assistant who was, in time-honored driller’s helper fashion asleep in the cab from the previous evening’s beer. The helper jumped out with alacrity, and backed away from the rig. The driller rummaged in the cab and came up with some really heavy duty rubber gloves, pulled them on, then fired up the big diesel engine. He worked his levers, the hydraulic drill head pulled the auger stem off the ground and he gave it a quick spin and dropped it back onto the ground onto the middle of my bullseye.
“Ye sure?” He asked.
I had a momentary vision of the entire City of Mississauga being plunged into darkness and me being led into court in handcuffs. But I was young. WTF.
“Drill!” I said. He used a stick to push the lever to engage the drive then backed away. The auger spun, the steel teeth bit into the ground and the auger head quickly disappeared into the dirt.
About 3 feet down, suddenly there was the gawdawful unmistakable shriek of steel-on steel and the ten-ton rig started shuddering and bouncing on its chassis. The driller leaped back in and shut it down, turned to me with a reproving glare. “Now ye believe me?”
I stared in amazement for a moment, then… “Teach me how to do that trick with the wire.”
And the rest of the morning passed at the expense of the taxpayers of the City of Mississauga while the driller and I played with his bent wire all over the site and his helper napped peacefully in the cab of the rig. I found it worked for me too (apparently it doesn’t for everybody). We located all of the services I had already marked and we even located a big watermain so distant from the hole I hadn’t bothered to mark it on the ground.
After lunch I picked another spot about twenty feet away, and after checking it with the dowsing rod we got back to work.
About three weeks later we were sinking some trial pits on the various sites and when I had the chance I got the backhoe operator to dig on top of whatever it was we had hit. Sure enough, he unearthed an old flattened steel drainage culvert that had been buried some time back, probably when whatever old farmhouse or barn or whatever which had been on the site was demolished.
Throughout the rest of my career as a geotechie I used the bent wire to check whatever ground I was about to dig up. It works on pipes, wires, buried things. It even works inside buildings where it will respond to cables and pipes both overhead and underground.
You can make a dowsing rod yourself by taking some wire snips to a coat hangar. Cut it and bend it into an L shape so you have about a one foot long length and about a five or six inch length on the short L. Hold it level and loosely in your hand by the short leg with the long leg pointed forward and walk over the suspect area. Go try it in the back garden or over the tile bed for your septic tank. I dare you.
I don’t have an explanation for it but it has never failed for me. I think it perhaps may have something to do with the human energy field reacting to subtle changes in the earth’s energy field due to disturbed ground or other discontinuities, but I don’t know. That’s the engineer in me talking rather than the scientist – who cares why it works as long as it works?
At one stage I thought about having a crack at Randi’s million dollar challenge, but then I read his conditions. I couldn’t do that although I am confident I could find the pipes within a foot or so at least, whether they had water in them or not. A lot of Randi’s critics reckoned he had rigged the deck.
BTW, there is a conventional (sort of) explanation for dowsing phenomena – the ideomotor effect.
Unknown Earth History – the Age of the Sphinx
This is one I really got my teeth into back in the 90s. As set out in my UFO Post, I first started getting interested in this stuff in about ’92. By 1994 my interest had broadened to include various other phenomena – once you start into the weirdness it all kind of tends to lump together. You find yourself surfing from one interesting story to another, trying to keep an open mind while excluding the obvious trash and not being so open minded that (in the words of my arch skeptic ex-brother in law) your brains fall out.
From UFOs to theories about ancient astronauts (cf. Von Daniken), I got into unknown earth history and stories about ancient civilizations we know nothing about. Atlantis of course, plus Mu and Lemuria, Edgar Cayce, the Tunguska event, (here’s my review of my friend Vladimir Rubtsov’s excellent book on the event BTW), trace radiation supposedly from 8000 year old nuclear explosions in Pakistan and so forth. All (except for Tunguska) pretty speculative if entertaining… and then I hit paydirt.
This from a post I wrote on Compuserve to an anomalies interest group in January 1995, immediately after I returned from a ‘New Age’ tour to Egypt. I’ve spiced it up with a few images:
“Some time ago I promised D___ M____ I would make some observations for him at the site of the Great Sphinx at Giza and I am posting them on the open forum because they may be of some general interest, in particular, as they support the view that the Sphinx is an artifact of an unknown, prehistoric civilization (or so it seems to me).
Firstly, some background:
The Great Sphinx is located on the edge of the Giza plateau, shockingly close to downtown Cairo, about 10 kilometers West of the Nile and perhaps 500 meters East of the Khafre pyramid (one of the two ‘Great’ pyramids). It is sited in a depression excavated on the edge of a bluff about 40 meters high which marks the edge of the Giza plateau. In 2500 BC the bluff was on the edge of a Canal brought in from the Nile.
The Sphinx is 21 meters high and 73 meters long and was carved out of native limestone in-situ and it sits in a ditch in the native bedrock.
Conventional Egyptology attributes the construction of the Sphinx to the king Khafre (Chephren), a Fourth Dynasty monarch (ie about 2700 BC), whose brother is credited with construction of the second ‘Great’ pyramid. The Sphinx, together with the ‘Great’ Pyramids of Khafre and Khufu (Cheops), is the only one remaining of the seven wonders of the ancient world which were exalted by the Greeks in the second century BC.
When Napoleon’s expedition arrived in the late 18th Century, the Sphinx was buried up to its neck in the sand and the Temple of the Sphinx (sometimes referred to as the Temple of the Sun) adjacent to it was buried and invisible from the surface. Caviglia excavated it in 1816, but by 1853 it was buried up to its neck again (the prevailing April Khamsin winds blow sand into the hollow). Mariette excavated it again in 1853 but by 1888, it was buried again and was dug out by Mastero. By 1916, it was covered again, and was excavated by Baedecker and has been kept cleaned out ever since.
It is interesting to note that Thutmosis IV placed a stone tablet between it’s front paws in about 1400 BC, on which he recorded a vision wherein the Sphinx promised him the crown of all Egypt if he would see to removing the sand that was troubling it (he dug it out and subsequently became Pharoah).
There is another tablet in front of it erected by Ramses II in about 1200 BC, which indicates that it was uncovered during the intervening period, but when Herodotus visited Egypt in the fifth century BC, although he made great play of the pyramids and the underground Temple, he did not so much as mention the Sphinx – ergo, it was probably buried. Just another giant head lying about on the sand.
Napoleon Expedition Drawing
Obviously, when it is left alone, it quickly becomes covered in sand (and thus unsusceptible to wind-born or aeolian erosion).
Late 19th Early 20th C. Note Weathering Patterns and Large neck
Over the past three-quarters of a Century, there has been considerable controversy regarding the age and origin of the Sphinx (and a number of the other important Egyptian monuments as well).
To summarize, there is considerable evidence to indicate that the Sphinx and its attendant structures are very much older than the conventional view would admit. The most important of the physical evidence is the depth and character of the weathering patterns associated with the Sphinx and its enclosure. Work done in the 1990s by American geologist Dr. Robert Schoch of Boston University has essentially confirmed that the weathering patterns on the structures were caused by large quantities of flowing water over extended periods of time. Dr. Shoch’s work was presented at the Geological Society of America’s 1992 convention and essentially accepted, although there have been more recent attempts to debunk it.
Images courtesy of Dr. Shoch’s Website
Not Aeolian Weathering
The geologic record shows that the last time the region suffered any sort of large quantity of rainfall puts the age of the Sphinx at between 5,000 and 7,000 BC AS A MINIMUM.
Further, the depth of weathering of the rock at the base of the enclosure is considerably greater than that around the nearby pyramids – ergo, the base of the enclosure has been exposed for considerably longer than the plateau around the pyramids. Considering that we know this fabulous beast has spent most of it’s time over the last 5000 years covered over in sand (and thereby impervious to weathering) this is an interesting fact and tends to indicate a much earlier date than could normally be calculated using weathering effects. Although the arguments are too long and complex to relate here, the gist of them is that the Sphinx probably dates from before the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 BC, and may be much MUCH older.
On December 19th 1994, I had the opportunity to spend about an hour and a half crawling over and around the publicly accessible areas of the site, in bright sunshine and dry weather. I made the following notes and observations:
The blocks in the Temple of the Sun next to the Sphinx have granite facing blocks (Ashlars for all you Freemasons reading this) over the limestone. Some of the granite blocks are up to 25 tons. The granite was quarried at Aswan, some 700 kilometres upstream of Giza. The granite and limestone blocks in the Temple have been dressed and fitted together with an uncanny precision. In particular, in places, the granite blocks have the same slight rounding on corners, tight fit and ‘jigsaw’ appearance as the stones I have seen in many of the pre-Columbian monuments in South America, for example, Sacsaywayman and Macchu Picchu. The peculiar ‘jigsaw’ fit is remarkably similar to the South American stones. The visible limestone blocks range up to about 50 cubic metres, ie, perhaps 100 tons, and some of my sources list blocks of up to 200 tons. The blocks are buff coloured, fossiliferous, local limestone, perhaps somewhat silty and dolomitic to my rather rusty eye, exactly the same stone as that exposed in the ‘Great’ pyramids, however, even the blocks that were buried in sand in the Sphinx excavation are VERY much more heavily weathered than the similar limestone blocks exposed in the pyramids.
Typical weathering depths on relict joints in individual blocks of 20 cm or so – ie. the blocks have planar weathering depressions half a foot wide and a foot deep, whereas the ones at the pyramids appear fresh and virtually unweathered in comparison.
The weathering patterns on the side of the Sphinx depression are obviously water derived, not wind. Vertical and subvertical joints have been widened and weathered to considerable depth. Wind weathering does not produce that sort of vertically oriented pattern, and, in any event, the beast has been protected from wind weathering for most of recorded history through a cover of sand.
The reports on the geological investigation which identified the evidence for the Sphinx’s antiquity, note that the seismic geophysics that was done in the enclosure has identified cavities in the rock beneath the beast. While at the Sphinx, we were informed by our guide (a prominent ‘conventional’ Egyptologist), that the Egyptian Government is planning to excavate one of these cavities, beneath the left paw, sometime in 1995. I shall be looking for further information on that. Herodotus reported an underground temple, and of course we all know what Edgar Cayce said about the Sphinx.
Interestingly enough, in 1998 the Egyptians, under the direction of Zahi Hawass (virtual ruler of the Giza Plateau since the 1980s and arch foe of ‘unconventional’ Egyptology) actually did open a number of cavities under the Sphinx, two of which were tunnels which led to large natural caverns and which had apparently been known and worked by the ancients. Apparently they found no artifacts.Or at least did not report them if they did.
Anyone intrigued by this definite anomaly can read the full story (including geological details and refutations of ‘prosaic’ explanations here on Dr. Schoch’s website.
Dr. Schoch makes a convincing case that the head of the Sphinx was recarved in antiquity from some other effigy (hence the large and out-of-scale neck in the old pictures), perhaps a Lion – which would tie in with the location in the sky of the Constellation Leo up to about 7,900 BC.
Interlude – A Brief Reality Check
Before I get too much further into this subject it occurs to me I had better take a step back. I can hear some of my more skeptical readers like my Physics Prof brother starting to snort and gurgle at my outlandish claims.
Nonsense!!! Parallel realities?? Other dimensions??? Spooky action at a distance??? Balderdash!!! Can’t be, not possible!!!
Except… why that almost sounds like quantum mechanics?!?!
Indeed it does. It is perfectly all right for mainstream physicists to discuss quantum teleportation, instantaneous information transfer over the entire width of the known universe, the infinite number of parallel universes existing a millimeter away from us in some of the other of the 11 (or maybe 26) dimensions predicted by String Theory that we cannot see or detect. This is the stuff of current cutting edge science and mainstream peer-reviewed journals.
That’s perfectly all right. Where they get upset is when some not-so-mainstream observer, like… Ahem… yours truly, puts forward the suggestion that what we see as ghosts, telekinesis, telepathy, UFOs, ascended spirits and other strange shit could be leaking over into our reality from the neighbouring ones (which they are happy to admit exist – at least in theory). Well, fuck that, if the theory is right what about the reality?
This is one of the hypotheses put forward by Drs. Alexander and Kelleher to attempt to explain the undeniable and (conventionally) unexplainable events that they documented at the Skinwalker Ranch. That’s good enough for me and with that in mind I will move on to some even weirder stuff in Part 2 of this Post – when I get around to finishing it and changing the names to protect the guilty.
Keep your eyes on the skies.
Probably from heart attacks when we open our electricity bills
The graphic above was the lead image for a lecture I gave (and was actually paid for!) in October 2012. My brief was to present a 2 hour University level lecture on Wind Energy to a crowd of intelligent and inquisitive over-50s. The organisation which staged it – Later Life Learning:
” …offers the retiree and mature audience a public forum in which prominent speakers and experts discuss an enriched variety of interesting topics. Past lectures have touched on local, national and international issues: politics, economics, labour relations, new technologies, health and life issues as well as the arts. “
Yes yes, I know, how the hell did I get lumped into the category of ‘…prominent speakers and experts’? Well, when I was invited to speak I was sitting as co-Chairman of the Kingston Environmental Advisory Forum and had been exercising my brains and capability to annoy people and trying to influence local environmental policy (for the better obviously).
That was not an easy task, like all administrations there are political realities and resource constraints that hold back even the best initiatives, and these problems are exacerbated in multi-level democracies like Canada, as often the different levels of Government are at odds with each other. It pissed me off so much that eventually I resigned from KEAF, got ready to move back to Hong Kong and, as is my wont, shot my mouth off about it in the local press. A fairly restrained diatribe for me, I stayed away from naming local politicians who had been particularly obstructive and from blasting the higher levels of Government for the obvious corruption and influence peddling that permeates most of the Western so-called democracies and is especially prevalent in Canada. But I digress.
One of the hot topics that we dealt with on KEAF during my time thereon was so-called ‘renewable energy’, in particular Industrial Wind Energy, characterised by Industrial Wind Turbine (IWT) ‘farms’ as they are often called. IWT’s and solar photovoltaic (PV) had been making inroads in the energy industry worldwide, aided by generous subsidies to make them competitive with conventional energy sources.
However, in 2009, the Liberal Ontario Provincial Government passed the Green Energy and Green Economy Act, 2009 (The GEA), intended to expand renewable energy production, encourage energy conservation, assist in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, wean Ontario off of coal fired power and create green jobs. All very admirable. However, as Samuel Johnson reportedly said:
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”
In retrospect, as regards the former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals (or the McGuilty Fiberals) as they are better known, I would say that in the case of the GEA, the Road to Hell was paved with incompetence, political influence peddling, collusion, biased decision making, coverups of unfavorable scientific evidence and probably bribery. But I am getting ahead of myself.
In 2008 when I was invited (due to my …Ahem, vast and broad-based International experience as a professional environmentalist) to sit on KEAF (not making this up) I knew the basics about IWTs and renewables.
I knew that the modern interest in Wind Energy was sparked by the oil crisis of the 1970s but more importantly, that Wind Energy had been used since the earliest human civilizations.
The first recorded use of wind energy was in sailboats with woven reed sails, first appearing in the early Babylonian civilizations. This guy was probably sailing on the Euphrates River.
Sailing is still popular today, but as any sailor is well aware, there is a major problem with harnessing wind energy… intermittency. Sometimes there isn’t any. I’ll come back to that.
Throughout history, humans have put a lot of effort into developing technologies to harness wind energy. The Chinese claim to have been using vertical axis windmills to pump water since about 1700 BC but the evidence is sparse.
Here’s a wind powered machine designed in the first Century AD, by the chap who is also credited with the first steam engine and the first vending machine, amongst other marvels. It’s a wind powered organ. God knows what tunes it played.
And here’s something a little more recent and a little more utilitarian:
Apparently, similar machines have been in use since about 500 AD in Persia.
Windmills (and to some extent water mills) were arguably responsible for the first major Industrial Revolution, which took place in Europe, in particular Holland beginning in the 14th Century.
For the first time in human history (at least as far as we know), large scale concentrated industrial processes were powered by other than animal power.
Spanish and Dutch Windmills
Map of Windmills Near Amsterdam 1500s (I think)
History however, does not count this as an Industrial Revolution, that appellation is reserved for the process that began in England in about 1760 from when machines started to be used in manufacturing. But I am digressing again. The fact is that wind energy powered a lot of industry through the late middle ages up until it was supplanted by steam power and then electricity.
Water energy has retained it’s place throughout history as other energy forms (wait for it) ebbed and flowed. Arguably, this is because, in most well sited water mills, be they medieval grist mills or modern dams, power from water mills is not generally intermittent (except in the case of large scale drought) and is at all times ‘dispatchable’.
That quite simply means that energy will be there when you flick the switch. If the grid signals it needs more power you can open the floodgates further, ramp up another turbine or crack the whip on the horses.
And therein lies the basic problem with wind energy. It is not dispatchable. You can’t guarantee it will be there when you need it. Just like the sailboats in the right hand picture above. It is fair enough if you are a sailor to be becalmed now and again (if very frustrating) and as long as you are not racing you can always fire up the donk (ie put on the engine – or in more technical terms, engage a dispatchable power source), but intermittency is not compatible with modern civilization.
When Aunt Madge and Uncle Henry show up for Christmas dinner you don’t want to have to say ‘sorry, the turkey isn’t cooked because there wasn’t enough wind’. Here is a nice little succinct note on dispatchable power. But I am getting ahead of myself again. Back to the history of wind energy.
The world’s first automatically operated wind turbine was built in 1888 by Charles F. Brush in Cleveland. It was 60 feet tall with a diameter of 56 feet, weighed 80,000 pounds and had a 12kW dynamo which charged the home’s 12 batteries. The batteries solved the intermittency problem and his was the first electrically powered home in the city. The turbine operated for 20 years.
Small wind turbine electrical generators were popular in remote off grid areas from the early 20th Century and wind power is still used to pump water on farms. Think of the water storage tank as a giant battery. Again, the intermittency problem needs to be addressed through some form of energy storage.
Here are some examples of largely experimental wind turbines, a 1.25 megawatt turbine built during WWII to generate power for the local grid in Rutland Vermont (it failed and broke up after 1100 hours), experimental turbines erected by NASA in the 1970’s and one of the world’s first commercial wind farm built at Altamont Pass in California in the 1970s.
Altamont has been a disaster for local bird life, killing an estimated 1300 raptors a year, including on average about 70 Federally protected Golden Eagles. It is still operating but the older smaller turbines are being replaced with larger modern models which are supposed to be more ‘bird friendly’. Yeah, right.
Here’s what a modern wind turbine looks like in detail:
This is a fairly typical wind turbine for modern onshore industrial wind energy production. They are normally in the range of about 2 MW nameplate capacity (ie, their rated power output operating in optimum conditions). And believe me, these puppies are BIG.
I borrowed these simulations from a friend of mine over at Wind Farm Realities.
This is absolutely the best site around if you want to really learn about everything that is wrong with wind energy. I’m only going to touch on most of the negatives in this post – where I really want to go to town is the absurd economics, the obvious political corruption (in Ontario at least) and the vanishingly small effect they have on carbon emissions.
But first, here are some of the proven negative impacts of wind energy:
Noise, Shadow Flicker and Health Issues
In Ontario, it was shown by the leaked Hall Memorandum that experts in the Ontario Ministry of the Environment found errors in the calculations used to determine the legal setbacks from ‘sensitive receivers’ (ie people), for operating wind turbines when those setback regulations were published. It has been suggested that the highest levels of the Government buried these negative views while the GEA was implemented. It is likely the decision was made by John Gerretsen, the Minister of the Environment and MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament) for Kingston at the time, the father of Mark Gerretsen the current Kingston Federal MP. Based on the Hall Memorandum, the setbacks were put into Regulation by senior decision makers who were aware that people would be subjected to Noise levels above World Health Organisation guidelines. Gerretsen Senior was the guest of honour when they opened the 86 Turbine Trans-Alta project on Wolfe Island, which I can see from SDM.
In any event, do you think you could live with this, 24/7, 365?
Despite vehement denials by Big Wind (and boy, there are some big number$ involved), it’s clear that anyone unlucky enough to have one 0f these things installed anywhere near where they live is going to suffer. In Ontario the legal setback distance is 550 meters. Some jurisdictions, including (I think) New Zealand and Victoria Australia require 2 km.
BTW, one of the apparent corollaries for the implied (and buried) Hall Memorandum scandal noted above is that some commentators have calculated that had the computed setback been any greater than 550 meters it would not have been possible to site an economically viable turbine grid within any of Ontario’s rural areas, where concession roads (and sensitive receivers) are governed by the 19th century one mile road grid.
There has been huge debate about the health impacts of the nuisance caused by these things, with many studies funded by wind industry proponents (ie industry lobby groups) saying that the impacts are purely psychological, there is no real health impact, blah blah blah.
But people who are forced to live too close to these things are getting sick. As far as I am concerned, it doesn’t matter if the scientists can’t agree what the mechanism causing the health impacts is, it’s clear that if you have one of these things too close to you you will probably suffer health impacts. It took them 40 years to agree that cigarettes cause cancer, do we have to wait that long to agree why wind turbines ruin peoples lives?
I’ve actually got a dog in this particular fight. If you can stand the shameless self promotion on my LinkedIn page, you may note that one of the most recent projects I list is as an Expert Witness for an Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) Hearing on a proposed IWT installation in a sensitive and important habitat on the North Shore of Lake Ontario.
I roundly criticised the conduct of the Environmental Assessment on technical grounds in particular as it dealt with the effects on the local ecology. The Tribunal listened to me (surprising as my testimony was given late at night our time over a computer link and I had indulged in a few bevvies prior to the session), and thence paid attention to a report prepared by others on the potential impacts on a threatened species (Blanding’s Turtle). To everyone’s surprise, the ERT agreed the project would likely cause irreversible harm to the threatened populations of turtles and revoked the GEA Approval for the project. First time ever.
The developer was unfortunately only delayed and has gone back to the courts – the approval is still sub judice but I often pat myself on the back for allowing a few more years of life for these poor turtles. And for setting a legal precedent against rubber stamp IWT approvals. Back to the facts.
The facts are that IWT installations kill huge numbers of birds and bats. IWT proponents claim that cats and lighted buildings kill far more birds and that’s true. Cats and skyscrapers kill sparrows and robins. But cats don’t kill golden eagles, short eared owls and red-tailed hawks. IWTs wipe out the top avian predators. See the video I posted above.
Read more over at Wind Farm Realities.
Studies published by researchers funded by Big Wind show there is no effect on property values. They normally take an extremely large sample of properties, some close to turbines and some not so close. Their distances are usually set at about the ten km mark where people can see turbines. One recent study which received a lot of press in Ontario surveyed over 5000 property sales, but only 123 of them were within 5 km of a wind turbine. Not surprisingly no significant effect was found. This is the sort of thing typically published by academics and researchers funded by the industry.
However, a simpler approach was taken in Ontario by a real estate professional, Ben Lansink, who looked at actual sales prices of homes before and after IWTs were installed nearby. He only had a small sample, but nonetheless, his real world non-statistical, non-hedonic analysis showed an average 37% drop in price.
It is actually quite difficult to find figures on sales of homes affected by IWTs. Quite simply, no one is prepared to buy them.
Incidentally, there have been lots of cases of IWT developers buying out homeowners who complained loudly enough. These people are all, without fail, required to sign non-disclosure agreements related to price and health impacts before they get paid. Lots more information on Wayne’s site at Wind Farm Realities.
What happens when you have 200 tonnes of complex machinery suspended 300 feet above ground in 40 knots of wind in the dead of winter, rotors whirling round at maximum (about 15 – 20 RPM) blade tips scything the air at ¼ of the speed of sound, generator turning at 1800 rpm, putting out 2,300 kw at 690 volts…
…and something goes wrong?
These are not isolated incidents.
Social Justice and Other Issues
The imposition of the Green Energy Act in 2009 effectively took local planning authority from communities and transferred it to provincial authorities.This has resulted in marginalisation of local community stakeholders in favor of corporate wind industry interests and has caused rifts in communities.
The effects of this have not been well analyzed to date but are being seen in increasing civil protests and court actions against the imposition of IWT developments.
As far as being a ‘green’ industry, well – look at what they do to bird and bat populations. And if you really want to see some horrific environmental degradation, look at the impacts in the areas in China where they mine the rare earth elements necessary for the technology involved in IWTs. Here’s a sample.
Okay, this is all gilding the lily.
My main issue with IWTs is simply that they are a complete and utter WOFTAM.
They do NOT result in a significant reduction in carbon emissions and they do NOT produce reliable dispatchable energy. Their only effect on the grid is to raise electricity prices to unsustainable levels (and increase maintenance costs on the conventional power sources used to back them up). Most of the jobs they create are temporary and studies in Europe have suggested that for every ‘green’ job created, 2 conventional jobs are lost due to increased electricity prices.
Let’s take these points one at a time.
That’s what it’s all about, right? This is the reason we pay higher prices for so-called Green Energy, right? And the Wind Energy proponents are happy to tell us just how much carbon they are saving.
But the fact is, it’s a lie. IWT proponents ALL (and this is worldwide) routinely calculate their stated carbon savings by the simple expedient of assuming that every watt of power generated (and sold to the grid) is replacing a watt generated by unregulated dirty coal. Of course, that is not the case. In Ontario for example, Wind is usually replacing much cheaper (and really green) hydropower and nuclear. What other evidence do they offer other than these unsubstantiated and unsound claims? Why, none whatsoever.
Here’s an essay discussing this in detail.
In the more than forty years that wind energy has been forced onto the grid, there has n0t been one single independently audited study (that I can find, and believe me I’ve looked as have many other investigators) showing the grid scale effect on carbon emissions of adding IWTs – with a single exception: the Bentek Study.
This study was carried out by a gas industry consultant who looked at real world data from Colorado and Texas. It was carried out to demonstrate that gas turbines make a better backup for wind than coal plants and it did that. It also demonstrated that the effect on CO2 emissions of adding Wind to the grid is essentially non existent.
In fact, real world experience shows that for various technical reasons, in most cases IWTs produce negligible savings and in some cases IWTs on the grid can increase emissions.
Here’s a nice little video showing a couple of real world examples of how different energy technologies produce very different results on carbon emissions.
That video came from the website Brave New Climate which is run by Dr. Barry Brooks, Professor of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania, and an excellent source of hard facts on climate change and renewable energy.
Dispatchable Power – the ‘Backup’ Problem
Currently there are no reliable and large scale technologies to store energy (other than pumped storage and most of the good sites around the world have been developed). Most of the other methods discussed by wind proponents (giant flywheels, molten sulphur batteries, compressed air) are currently science fiction. It may be economic to use battery storage for small scale and off grid uses (ie at your cottage in the woods) but for large grid scale developments forget it.
Because of the problem of intermittency as noted previously, without a means of storing the energy produced by wind turbines they have to be balanced on the grid with conventional fast response power plants, usually either coal or gas. Since these plants have to be able to come on line in seconds when the wind energy drops, they have to be kept powered up, which increases wear and tear, maintenance costs and emissions.
The graph above, from real world data on the Ontario grid shows this problem, and also points out the issues with the capacity factor of IWTs, 13.5 % in the example above. Simply put, these developments come nowhere close to achieving their maximum rated output. On average IWTs operate at about 30% of their rated capacity as opposed to conventional power plants which operate at anything from about 50% to 90%.
What this means in real world terms, is that if you need 1000 megawatts on the grid, you can build a conventional 1000 MW of power generation with a high capacity factor, like fossil fuel plants or nukes. Or you can build 3000 MW of wind (again, you can’t expect to get better than about 30% of nameplate capacity), but you will still need 1000 MW of backup conventional power for when the wind ain’t there. By the way, while I have not been addressing solar photovoltaic in this post, the exact same arguments apply.
Wind energy proponents argue that if only the grid is large enough, the wind is always blowing somewhere.
Here is real world data from one of the largest interconnected IWT grids in the world
Now to get to the nitty gritty:
It beggars belief, but the GEA was put in place in Ontario without any cost benefit analysis and the effect on energy prices in Ontario has been catastrophic. That benighted province has gone from having just about the cheapest electricity prices in North America in the early 2000s to being amongst the most expensive. No wonder all the industry is folding up.
But don’t take my word for it, here’s what the press reported when Ontario’s Auditor General weighed in last December. And here’s a somewhat more detailed analysis offered by the Fraser Institute – a heavyweight think tank. As pointed out in this article, the politicians are simply lying about it.
And what else are they doing? Why offering up further ‘renewable’ energy contracts of course.
The press releases from the Government are crowing about how ‘economic’ these new projects will be. Why, consumers will only be paying about 9 cents per kilowatt hour compared to the 13.5 cents on the earlier contracts. What a tremendous saving, until you consider that the gas, hydro and nuclear these contracts will displace typically sell power to the grid at 2 cents per kilowatt hour.
I could go on an on but I am heartily sick of the stupidity and venality being shown by the so-called political leaders who have foisted this sham on their societies.
What’s happened at Ostrander Point on Lake Ontario since I did my bit to stop that project in 2013? The developers are still fighting to take the project forward, but the local communities are putting up a better and better fight. Here’s a good summary of the whole issue by the president of the Prince Edward County organisation trying to stop those projects.
One final word: Why are the Liberal politicians who run Ontario so committed to these wasteful and harmful renewable energy projects?
Here’s one possible answer:
This is Kathleen Wynne – she’s the Premier of Ontario having taken over from Dalton McGuinty who put these ridiculous policies in place.
The woman in the background is Premier Wynne’s ‘wife’, Jane Rounthwaite.
And here’s Premier Wynne’s ‘Brother in Law’:
I couldn’t give a toss about her domestic arrangements, here’s what really makes me sick
That’s right, he sits on the Boards of a number of so called ‘renewable energy’ companies.
Enough, time for a tasty beverage or two to wash the bad taste out of my mouth.
Finally, a few last images taken from my friend John Droz Jr’s website devoted largely to the folly of IWTs.
And finally, finally – if anyone of my vast readership is interested enough in this issue to want to view all of the slides from my presentation to Later Life L:earning back in 2012, they are available on-line. You are welcome to ‘borrow’ any of them but an attribution would be nice.
…but not from the radiation released from Fukushima.
About a year or so ago a friend of mine posted this graphic on FB with a title claiming it represented the spread of radiation from the Fukushima release. This was only one of a great many alarmist and inaccurate posts all over the internet raising concerns about the long term effect of radiation all over the world from the Fukushima nuclear power plant failures.
In fact, the graphic above is an estimate of the wave height generated by the Fukushima tsunami from modelling done by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and has nothing whatsoever to do with radiation. Doesn’t matter though, you will still find it on the net, with lurid write-ups about how we will all die from eating contaminated tuna.
Of course, we all ‘know’ that all radiation is deadly and that the consequences of the Fukushima release were catastrophic and a huge risk to all life on Earth. Right?
The biggest problem with radiation, as my brother (a Physics Professor at the University of San Diego) said once, is that we can measure it in the most miniscule amounts. Any bog standard radiation meter like mine, is fully capable of measuring the radioactive decay of a single atom. We can measure radiation right down to the point where it simply isn’t there anymore. And that would be pretty unusual since our universe is filled with radiation. In fact, by some theories, the universe is made up of nothing BUT radiation.
Here is a chart that got wide circulation shortly after Fukushima. It was prepared by some nuclear reactor operators (who seemed to know what they were talking about) to clarify the potential health effects of radiation exposure and to put them into perspective.
The point is that we live in a sea of radiation and at small doses it is probably beneficial and certainly has no health impacts on the general population.
If you take nothing else away from this chart, look at the average yearly dose received from all sources at 4 mSv (lower left of the green portion of the chart) and compare that to the lowest yearly dose clearly associated with increased risk of cancer at 100 mSv (upper right of the brown portion of the chart). This dose BTW does not produce cancer. It means that in a statistically significant human population exposed to 100 mSv over a year, there will be a statistically measurable increase in cancer rates.
It takes about 400 mSv to cause symptoms of radiation poisoning (usually treatable) and 2000 mSv to cause severe radiation poisoning which may be fatal in some cases. The LD 50/30 dose (defined as the dose expected to cause death within 30 days to 50% of those exposed in a short period of time) is 4000 mSv, 1000 times the average annual exposure and 40 times the annual exposure at which increased cancer rates start to show up on actuary tables.
There is no question that radiation released from Fukushima is showing up across the Pacific. In this New Yorker Article the writer discusses an ambitious ‘citizen scientist’ programme that has analysed water samples taken all up and down the West coast starting in 2014.
The first sample discussed in the article, taken in Burrard Inlet near Vancouver in 2014 and sent to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts was tested with a radiation level of 0.4 becquerels per cubic metre or about 2000 times less than the average banana, caused by cesium 137 (which has a half-life of 30 years), most of which is a leftover from the atmospheric nuclear tests of the 50s and 60s.
Early in 2015, cesium 134 (with a much lower half life of 2 years and therefore likely originating at Fukushima) showed up at Ucluelet, British Columbia, where a dockside sample registered 1.4 becquerels per cubic metre of cesium-134 and about fifteen times the cesium-137 levels of the Burrard Inlet test.
Predictably, the media started screaming and the internet went nuts:
‘Stay out of the water! We’re all gonna die!! Catastrophe!!!’
The lead scientist for the Woods Hole project Dr. Ken Buesseler, has calculated that you would have to swim 6 hours a day for a thousand years at Ucluelet to get the same exposure as a single dental X-Ray. Go and look at the chart above again.
Radiation is a very complex technical subject and I don’t pretend to understand it. Here is a good primer which explains the different types of ionizing radiation and the different ways to measure it.
In general terms, Becquerels measure the actual amount of radioactivity in disintegrations per second. Other units, including Rems, Grays and Sieverts (µSv = micro Sievert, mSv = milli Sievert) are used to measure absorbed dose in tissue and thus are related to health effects).
For practical purposes, radiation exposure is sometimes expressed in BEDs, or ‘banana equivalent doses’, an informal unit taken as the radiation exposure obtained from eating one 150 gm banana.
Bananas are amongst the most naturally radioactive foods, containing radioactive Potassium – 40. Eating one banana creates an exposure of about 0.1 µSv (see the chart above – the very top left of the green portion). Truckloads of bananas occasionally trigger radiation monitoring equipment designed to detect smuggling of illicit nuclear material.
The radiation exposure from consuming a banana is approximately 1% of the average daily exposure to radiation, which is about 100 banana equivalent doses (BED). Probably more for my Physics Prof brother who eats a lot of bananas.
The maximum permitted radiation leakage for a nuclear power plant is equivalent to 2,500 BED (250 μSv) per year, while a chest CT scan delivers 70,000 BED (7 mSv). The LD 50/30 dose of radiation is approximately 40,000,000 BED (4000 mSv). A person living 10 miles from the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor received an average of 800 BED of exposure to radiation. You would need to eat 20 good sized tuna steaks from one of the ‘contaminated’ tuna caught off of Japan to get about the same dose of radiation as you would from eating a single banana.
Here’s a nice article from Forbes with more background on eating ‘contaminated’ tuna.
But I digress. I was sounding off about the wrongfully placed fears brought on by the Fukushima ‘catastrophe’.
The Oxford dictionary defines ‘catastrophe’ as
An event causing great and usually sudden damage or suffering; a disaster
Fukushima was indeed a catastrophe, but it seems to me, especially writing 5 years on, that the fears were largely misplaced.
The March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused (according to a Japanese police report quoted on Wikipedia shortly after the event) 15,889 deaths, 6,152 injured, with 2,609 people missing across twenty prefectures, and over a million buildings totally collapsed or partially damaged. The earthquake and tsunami certainly seem to fit the definition.
However, it seems to me to be an over-reaction to call the Japanese reactor situation ‘a catastrophe’.
As of 16 March 2011 the number of people confirmed killed due to the reactor problems at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant was precisely zero. Two employees were missing and later confirmed drowned and about two dozen TEPCO employees and civil defence workers had been injured.
Updating this piece five years on, Wikipedia reports no deaths due to the reactor accident (other than the two drowned workers), 37 workers with physical injuries sustained during the emergency and 2 emergency workers hospitalised with radiation injuries. Approximately 100 emergency workers received higher than statutory limit doses of radiation.
The Fukushima plant issue is, in contrast to the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, a technological problem with potentially significant impact on human healthy and safety, which appears to have been largely brought under control. The main catastrophe that has occurred at Fukushima so far, is financial. The owners and insurers will be writing off billions of dollars from these ruined power plants. And it has no doubt been personally catastrophic for the 160,000 people who were moved out of the 20 km exclusion zone.
Arguably, they were evacuated and have been kept away for no good reason, since except for local and generally short lived hot spots the background levels in the evacuation zone are generally far less than natural radiation levels in places like Ramsar, Iran, where scientists can find no measurable adverse health effects from levels ten times higher than accepted international health standards.
Lets look at some of the facts as regard the Fukushima reactors.
The facts are that when the earthquake hit, the 50 year old systems did what they were supposed to do – they ‘Scrammed’ and shut down the reactors. The auxiliary power came on line and cooling pumps operated to keep water flowing to cool heat from secondary decay. It is worth noting that the earthquake was approximately ten times more powerful than the design (Magnitude 9 versus a design magnitude of about 8), nonetheless the 40 year old structures and containments held up.
The facts are that the auxiliary cooling systems were taken out by the tsunami an hour or so after the quake. The tsunami that hit the plant, like the earthquake, was much larger than the design height of 22 feet.
Either of these events could be classified as ‘black swan’ events – “An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult to predict”. To have two such events occur within an hour of each other would be many times more difficult to predict and it is a tribute to the designers of the plant that the systems held up as well as they have in the face of these two extraordinary occurrences.
The facts are that some of the brave workers at the site may have been exposed to radiation levels that could have health impacts to them at some time in the future. No members of the public have received any significant radiation exposure.
The primary containments have held. So far the release of radiation has generally been short-lived and limited. So far, there is no evidence of a wider release that could have a broader impact on human health and safety and the environment. There seems to be an ongoing groundwater release of radiation that has been difficult to control but has so far not posed any human health or wide ranging environmental issues.
Just before I first heard of the Japan earthquake, I was reading an article about the impacts of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico BP well blowout and oil spill.
The conventional wisdom at the time was that this unfortunate event would turn out to be one of the greatest environmental tragedies in history, that it would cause an ecological disaster of unprecedented proportion and that the clean up operations were mismanaged and haphazard.
In retrospect, what we saw appears to be a typical human reaction to serious environmental (or any) mishap. That reaction included media errors and disinformation, political posturing, interference and grandstanding by those with an agenda to push. Meanwhile science and the facts took a back seat, those who were dealing with the nuts and bolts of the problem were often either ignored or reviled while politicians made far-reaching, expensive and ill-thought out decisions based on who shouted loudest on CNN.
In 2011, a year later, those dire predictions of disaster were not born out by the facts. The ongoing scientific investigations show that oil damage to the sensitive ecologies around the Gulf had been very limited and the clean-up operations appear to have been very effective. Much of the oil appears to have simply disappeared in the Gulf – perhaps consumed by natural biological processes. Approximately 25 miles of coastline (out of the total 1600 miles of the Gulf coast) was affected by heavy oiling. The spill killed an estimated 5600 birds, a tragedy indeed, but compare that to the estimates of as many as 400,000 birds killed annually by industrial wind turbines in the United States.
Even now, in 2016, while researchers are still monitoring the effects in the Gulf, while there is no question that serious impacts occurred and are continuing:
The spill was certainly dramatic, but the long-term toll on wildlife has been mixed; some species in the Gulf are struggling while others are doing fine. Instead of a dramatic collapse of life, researchers are finding subtle effects — some that only emerged three or four years after the spill — that they are still trying to sort out.
I found it an astonishing coincidence that the 2011 article appeared just before the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami. We certainly saw all of the same reactions in the media coverage of the problems at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.
Never mind that in face of this unprecedented double ‘black swan’ event, the 1970s containment systems appear to have done their job. Never mind that the heroic workers on site appear to have managed to bring the reactors under control and that to date the radiation leakage has been very limited and short-lived. While the radiation data is difficult to come by, so far, most of the local residents outside of the exclusion zone appear to have been exposed to about the same radiation from the plant that they would get by eating a dozen bananas and far less than a single chest CT scan.
Meanwhile all that most of the media has done is bray about ‘meltdowns’ and ‘radiation disasters’ and ‘another Chernobyl’.
Meanwhile, many of the politicians have also played their part by responding to the freshly invigorated anti-nuclear brigade and promising to shut down nuclear power programs all over the globe.
Let’s look at a few more facts from credible on-line sources:
As of February 04, 2016 there are 442 nuclear power plant units in operation in 31 countries with an installed net electric capacity of about 384 GW and 66 plants with an installed capacity of 65 GW under construction in 16 countries.
Total number of catastrophic containment ruptures in over 16,000 logged years of reactor operation (World Nuclear Organisation) – zero. (Chernobyl doesn’t count as it had no containment).
Total number of people killed as a result of accidents at nuclear power plants between 1952 and 2012: 66 (including 56 at Chernobyl and possibly as many as 4000 subsequent indirect cancer deaths as a result of Chernobyl).
Total number of people killed IN CHINA ALONE as a result of coal mining accidents since 1949 – about 750,000.
Total number of people killed in the United States as a result of coal mining accidents since 1900 – about 100,000.
Total number of annual road deaths in the United States – over 40,000.
Total number of annual deaths globally from air pollution related to fossil fuel use – about 2 to 3 million (Source WHO).
All technologies have risks and nuclear power generation is no exception. Clearly the nuclear power industry, for all of its much ballyhooed problems has a much better safety record than many other technologies, particularly fossil fueled power generation.
At about 0100 hours on April 26, 1986, the operators at the Chernobyl power plant were running an unauthorised shutdown test on reactor number 4, in violation of their official operating protocols after disconnecting automatic safety systems.
At 0126 hours, the obsolete and unsafe graphite moderated RBMK reactor suffered a power surge which led to a steam explosion blowing the 1000 ton concrete lid off of the reactor core. The graphite ignited. There was no containment structure.
(BTW, you will find lots of photos on the Internet showing mushroom clouds supposedly rising from Chernobyl, misshapen mutants and two headed calves. As far as I can discern these are pretty much photo-shopped bullshit. The photos above came from this website. The photographer who took those pictures reportedly received about 1/3 of an LD 50/30 dose, suffered radiation sickness, recovered and died in a car accident in 2015 at age 78. The photo website wrongly reports his death in 2010 as being from cancer.)
It took ten days to put out the fire and the plume of radioactivity spread over hundreds of thousands of square kilometres and into Western Europe and beyond. The Soviet authorities at first tried to keep it secret and the population of the city of Pripyat only a few kilometres from the plant were not evacuated until 36 hours after the initial explosion. There are reports of people watching lurid purple flames from only a few kilometers away as the reactor core burned.
The Chernobyl disaster released more than five times as much total radioactivity as Fukushima, contaminated about 250,000 sq km in Belarus, the Ukraine and the Russian Federation. In contrast, most of the Fukushima release was blown out to sea, where (as set out above) it has caused measurable but mostly insignificant contamination.
In the almost thirty years since Chernobyl there have been many studies of the health effects on the hundreds of thousands of people who were exposed to higher than ‘acceptable’ levels of radiation. It has been very hard to identify long term health impacts actually attributable to radiation.
From the Final Report on Chernobyl by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation:
“The predicted lifetime excess cancer and leukaemia deaths for 200,000 liquidators, 135,000 evacuees from the 30 km zone, 270,000 residents of the SCZs [‘strict control zones’] were 2200 for liquidators, 160 for evacuees,and 1600 among residents of the SCZs. This total, about 4000 deaths projected over the lifetimes of the some 600,000 persons most affected by the accident, is a small proportion of the total cancer deaths from all causes that can be expected to occur in this population. It must be stressed that this estimate is bounded by large uncertainties.”
One percent increase for liquidators and about 0.1 % for evacuees. In other words, pretty much lost in the noise. Compare those to the figures related to coal mining and air pollution posted above.
As set out in the UNSCEAR study report linked above, by far the most serious human health consequences have been psychological – people who grimly accepted their ‘inevitable’ grisly deaths from radiation exposure and gave themselves up to drink – tens of thousands of mothers who aborted fetuses in fear of mutagenic effects on their unborn babies – suicides by despondent people resigned to their imagined horrible demise.
One of the largest actual health effects was an increase in thyroid cancers in children exposed to foodstuffs contaminated with radioactive iodine – 131. These cancers. mostly treatable, could have been prevented through the simple expedient of providing iodine pills, which was not done for ‘political reasons’.
And what about the devastation on the natural environment in the areas worst affected by Chernobyl? Here is a good article from the Guardian. Clearly nature prefers radioactive contamination to the effects of human development.
HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI
At about 0245 hours on 6 August 1945, the specially modified B-29 Stratofortress ‘Enola Gay’, named by the pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets after his mother, took off from Tinian airbase in the Marianas Islands for Hiroshima on Honshu Island in Japan. At 0815 hours, 44 seconds after Enola Gay released the U-235 ‘gun-type’ nuclear fission bomb, codenamed ‘Little Boy’, the bomb detonated at about 600 m altitude, about 250 m from the aiming point. It realised an explosive power of about 16 kilotons and resulted (the figures are uncertain) in about 90,000 to 140,000 casualties and deaths from burns, shockwaves and radiation.
Three days later, on 9 August 1945, the B-29 ‘BocksCar’ released a plutonium-239 fueled ‘implosion type’ nuclear device over Nagasaki (not the primary target) killing approximately 60,000 to 80,000 people immediately and over the next few months.
In 1947, studies funded by the US commenced to track the long term health effects on the hundreds of thousands who survived the bombings and the immediate heat, shock and acute radiation injuries.
Those studies continue to this day carried out by the joint USA-Japan Radiation Effects Research Foundation.
Here is a transparent summary of their ongoing work from Columbia University.
The most deadly long term health effects on the survivors began to show up with an increase in leukemia starting about 2 years after the bombings which peaked about 4 to 6 years later. Solid cancers started showing up at the ten year mark.
Long term studies showed that on average for all exposed survivors (and the dose rates varied dramatically right up to people who recovered from LD 50/30 acute radiation sickness) their risk of contracting leukemia was about 50% higher than unexposed populations and the risk of solid cancers about 10% higher than unexposed.
The studies showed that even for the very highest exposure levels, even if someone is exposed to a barely survivable whole-body radiation dose, the solid cancer risk will not be more than five times greater than the risk of an unexposed individual.
The studies also showed that health effects have not been seen in the children of survivors conceived after the bombings.
I am not writing to downplay the terrible suffering endured by the victims at Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the awful consequences of the long term health impacts on the survivors. I am writing to set out the evidence and refute the prevailing public mind set that all radiation exposure is unacceptable. Exposure to ionising radiation is NOT an automatic death sentence. You are more like to get mercury poisoning from eating tuna than suffer radiation injury.
BUT WHAT ABOUT ALL THAT NUCLEAR WASTE?
High level nuclear waste is a political problem not a technical one.All of the high level nuclear waste on the planet would fit comfortably within a medium sized football stadium.
Technically we could get rid of it forever by sealing it in containers and dropping it into the subduction zones. It’ll pop back up in volcanoes in a hundred million years or so but that won’t be our problem.
But we don’t want to throw it away… its too valuable. All that high level waste sitting around in swimming pools at reactors, or in dry cask storage in the parking lots behind the plants – that will be the fuel for the next generation of reactors – fail safe liquid sodium cooled Integral Fast Reactors.
The US had one operating at Argonne National Lab and ready for the technology to be rolled out. Bill Clinton cancelled it in 1994 amidst rumours of influence from fossil fuel interests.
A larger catastrophe may be looming, but I submit it is not really related to any serious release of radiation from Fukushima. Arguably, the most important global environmental problem that humanity faces is ongoing climate change. France generates 75% of their electrical needs by nuclear power. Consequently they have the lowest carbon footprint in Europe and amongst the lowest in the world. Denmark has the highest penetration of Industrial Wind in Europe. Also amongst the highest electricity costs and per capita carbon footprint (I’ll be pontificating about Industrial Wind in a future post).
If we are to have any hope whatsoever of effectively combating anthropogenic climate change, nuclear power is needed for ‘base load’ purposes that cannot be supplied by most renewables.
Shutting down nuclear power stations due to misplaced fears driven by media hype will mean that they have to be replaced by fossil fuel based power supplies. In my view, that will be the true catastrophe of Fukushima.
Update 21 May 2016
To celebrate having yet another featured letter in the South China Morning Post, I am adding a little update to my rant on the misplaced fears over radiation.
I fired that off in response to this SCMP lead editorial earlier this month and in response to the editorial writer propagating some of the more egregious myths about the risks of radiation.
It is I admit, rather irksome to see that the editor’s choice of headline for my letter kind of misses the point. It should have more accurately read ‘Health effects of radiation drowned out in the statistical noise,’ but as Robert A. Heinlein once said ‘editors always like the taste better when they pee in it themselves.’
Nonetheless, his main theme, as I stated in my letter was correct. We do need to be building nukes as fast as possible if we want to avoid the worst predicted impacts of Climate change.
My letter above got some nice comments from friends, including one from an old mate now living in the Middle East.
He told me that I was making many of the same points as this award winning documentary.
He was right, and I heartily recommend this important film for anyone with an interest in Climate Change and especially in trying to curb its effects.
You can watch it on Netflix if you have it or at this link if you don’t, although you will have to put up with Spanish subtitles. And if you want another endorsement, here is an excellent review of it.