Archive for 2010

randform was a bit on the sites

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Unfortunately the laptop crash problem is still unresoved and blogging will stay retarded. Before the crash I edited already two posts.

This here is the first post it is about comments on nuclear energy which I left on other blogs. Moreover it gives a motivation why I wrote the second post which is an overview over the posts on nuclear energy on randform. (please see below)

nuclear science on randform, overview

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010


A short overview over posts on randform which deal with nuclear science, in
particular the ones including information about (new) nuclear power generation.

funding declaration: Me, the author of the posts was supported in the time of writing the below linked posts by no other source than personal income from teaching at Berlin high schools, working as a visiting assistant professor at the Department of Mathematics at Kyushu University (Fukuoka, Japan), as a wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter at the Department of Physics at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (Munich,Germany) and by my husband Tim’s income as a professor at Kyushu University and at the Technical University of Munich. The blog posts were written in my freetime, they are my private views and they have nothing to do with the above mentioned sources of income.

intention of posts:
The intention of the posts was to raise awareness about the problems of nuclear power generation and to gather scientific information about this issue. Last but not least it was arising from the wish to accumulate scientific facts which should serve to justify my claim that given todays situation one should better refrain from using commercial nuclear power generation. The claim was stated first in this post. Note that I do think that nuclear energy for medical applications should be supported. I think also that nuclear research in general should be supported, however not on the expense of research in more environmentally friendly technologies and basic research. Note also that nuclear science has not been my most favorite science topic, but that I regard it rather as my duty as a physicist to inform the public about the risks.

The intention of this overview is to link together the separate blog posts on randform in order to make the line of argumentation more visible.

I often cite information at the website of the world nuclear association, because this site is rather detailled and written by experts and because it is rather a pro-nuclear source. I think it is less helpful to use anti-nuclear resources (like Greenpeace etc.) if one wants to make a case against the use of commercial nuclear power generation.

A main topic in the nuclear discussion on randform is that I tried to explain that typical claims like “nuclear has been safe for a long time” are more or less void, since a lot of new and/or different nuclear technology than nowadays technology will have to be installed.

The question of the limited supply of Uranium 235 which amongst others makes the increased use of nuclear breeder reactors very likely (nuclear breeders are nuclear reactors, which may “breed” (i.e. produce) new material for nuclear power generation) had thus been discussed already in one of the first posts on that issue on July 17th 2007 (a birthday post): “on nuclear energy”

Especially fast breeders are currently not as common as other types of nuclear power plants (according to world nuclear there have been altogether 20 fast neutron reactors since the fifties, very few of them for commercial power generation – as a comparision there are currently some 440 nuclear power reactors in use, I couldn’t find a number how many reactors were in use since the fifties, but according to world nuclear there are (as of today) 14170 reactor years of civil nuclear power and 390 reactor-years experience with fast reactors.

An introduction to the different materials used in breeders and the basic build-up of a breeder is given in that post, as well as an overview and calculation of how much nuclear energy may contribute and contributes to world energy production.

One distinguishes two main types of breeders: Fast breeder reactors (FBR) or short fast breeders and thermal breeders.

In the post “on nuclear energy” fast breeders are mentioned in particular and a link to a post about Russia’s nuclear energy plans (which includes FBRs) and climate change from May 9th 2007 at “change” is given.

(short supplement on the “fast” and “thermal” in front of the word “breeder”: In a nuclear fission reaction a neutron splits an atom. In the reaction new neutrons are released (usually two to three new neutrons) . These new neutrons can again split an atom. Since the number of neutrons is approximately doubled after every split the number of neutrons involved in such a reaction grows rapidly. This is called a chain reaction. In nuclear reactors one manages to control a chain reaction by controling the number of neutrons, which may split atoms. In the control of such a reaction the velocity of the neutron plays an important role. Thus there are fast neutrons or neutrons which have been slowed down, called thermal neutrons. Fast breeders are fast neutron reactors which breed (sofar most conventional fast neutron reactors breed), thermal breeders are breeders with neutrons that had been slowed down. Different materials react differently upon wether a neutron is fast or thermal. The control of a chain reaction in a fast neutron reactor is harder than in a thermal reactor. A failure to control a chain reaction properly may result in a nuclear melt down )

One big problem with breeder technology -apart from e.g. safety problems- is amongst others that breeders may fuel a plutonium market. As was described in the post “on nuclear energy” plutonium 239 has to be bred in breeders. The post from Oct. 10th 2007 at “nuclear energy in the US”

mentions that this plutonium can be used in other types of reactors, which are partly going to be newly built. These reactors are using MOX fuel – a mixture of Plutoniumoxide and other ingredients (there exists also Thorium-Mox). It is not mentioned in this post but should be mentioned that also existing reactor types may be (re)licensed to use MOX fuel. From the world nuclear association (see MOX use):

The use of up to 50% of MOX does not change the operating characteristics of a reactor, though the plant must be designed or adapted slightly to take it. More control rods are needed. For more than 50% MOX loading, significant changes are necessary and a reactor needs to be designed accordingly.

Even Thorium reactor types, which some people would like to dub “green” often include the use of plutonium, this was first mentioned at the example of India’s nuclear energy program, in a longer discussion with a randform reader: “nuclear future-part II”

The first part of the discussion is at “nuclear future.”
(see also the citation in the introduction to this post)

That is also these reactor types may fuel a plutonium market. Plutonium causes high proliferation problems, it is rather difficult to handle and transport, it causes more severe waste problems (like MOX fuel seems to be usually recycled only once).

According to world nuclear association:

Fast neutron reactors allow multiple recycling of plutonium, since all transuranic isotopes there are fissionable, but in thermal reactors isotopic degradation limits the plutonium recycle potential and most spent MOX fuel is stored pending the greater deployment of fast reactors.

Or in other words if you want to mitigate the waste problem then more fast breeders (FBRs) have to be built. And in the turn FBRs usually need to use highly enriched uranium or plutonium for operation, which fires again the plutonium market.

The motivation for the use of plutonium in the case of Indias nuclear power program are mostly economic ones. Economic considerations play also a role in the maintanance and safe-guarding of nuclear energy as is displayed in the post: “about inspection optimization in nuclear energy”

Economical considerations are playing also a role in the operational life-span extension of nuclear power plants in Germany: “national cuts”

(Not mentioned in the post: here the german electricity market has to compete with the european market which is under strong pressure last but not least due to the french electricity generation from nuclear power plants.)

Economic considerations play also a role in the use of breeders, since the availability of Uran 235 could be e.g. greatly enlarged via seawater extraction. They play also a role in research funding. (There are a couple of posts related to that issue, but I don’t list them here now).

Not only for this reason the role of economy, optimization and competition had been discussed in many separate posts on randform.

addition 26.02.2013: In particular, if there are no economic counter measures then it is not too unlikely that the nuclear waste problem may aquire similar dimensions as the CO2 problem (here CO2 is seen as a “waste product” from energy production). You may want to read about that problem at this post at the Azimuth project which is part of an article draft.

I haven’t written sofar much on nuclear accidents, dangers and the problems with nuclear waste however there is a bit on randform:

Nuclear energy generation is growing, see e.g. the articles about
Plans For New Reactors Worldwide or Nuclear Renaissance at the world nuclear association.
The above mentioned post “on nuclear energy” gives a calculation how an increase of nuclear energy looks like with respect to world wide energy production. It is also mentioned there that an increase of nuclear energy leads to a manifold increase of the nuclear waste problem, since nuclear waste is currently accumulating.

Thus this has been also pointed out as a special topic in the
Statement at International Conference on Management of Spent Fuel from Nuclear Power Reactors of the IAEA. Interestingly among others the statement says:

A key issue for storage is that the fuel (and facilities) must not deteriorate and that one must be sure of being able to remove the fuel (or sometimes the full cask) at the end of the storage period. Although the experience so far is very good, new challenges are connected to the trend of increasing burn-up. The IAEA SPAR projects are designed to collect information on fuel and facility behaviour.

You would assume that it shouldn’t be necessary to point out that storage facilities shouldn’t deteriorate, however the IAEA considers this to be necessary. In particular if you look on the IAEA website it looks like (at least to me, however not everything is open accessible) as if the IAEA is not getting very much information about the waste in the respective countries. As an example: if you look on Germany’s country waste profile report one sees that the description is not very detailled. (Apart from this fact the report is using a lot of unexplained abbreviations (page cannot be found), so I I couldn’t assess for example wether the dump site ASSE is included (it seems to me not).) I also couldn’t find a map, which shows the sites.

The problems of the documentation of dumb sites and information about the dump sites at Gorleben and ASSE had been adressed in the randform post: “about gorleben”

In particular in this post it is described how new very small reactors are currently been constructed, which makes the problem of controling nuclear waste even worse.

Here some examples about leaking incidents:
A sodium leak at the breeder in Monju, Japan: “nuclear bombs and Monju”

A problem with leaking waste in France: “about the leakage at Tricastin”

A problem are also military sites, which are even more prone to be less documented. Here an example of a military dump site near San Francisco, USA and a discussion about at increased occurence of certain types of cancers: “just waste”

However even the operation of current conventional types of nuclear reactors seems to be not so safe as one would think. Here a post about a study, which revealed that children who are living in the vicinity of a german nuclear power plant are more likely to die from childhood Leukemia: “on a recent study of increased risk of cancer in the vicinity of german nuclear power plants”

This study has been supported by another study described in the randform post: “On the socalled Greiser-study”

Since the german government just decided to extend the life-time of nuclear power plants there is probably more data to be gathered.

supplement 26102014: The post “remarks on latent nuclear risks in the vicinity of nuclear plants” gives mostly an update on childhood Leukemia studies in Europe.

supplement 05.10.10:

The randform post at “nuclear vehicles” contains an essay on electric cars and nuclear energy.

In the randform post “nuclear prognosis” further links for the assertion, that nuclear power generation is growing, are given.

supplement Jan 10 2012:
Although we were almost immediately very concerned when we heard about the disaster in Fukushima , we postponed to comment on it here immediately for several reasons.

The following posts deal not only of course also with the Fukushima disaster:

Fukushima, calculations and comments from march 14 2011 gives general information about the Fukushima disaster and in particular about the chances to induce artificial rain.

about the Fukushima plant from march 18 2011 links mostly to sites which monitored Fukushima.

criticality from march 29 2011 links to comments about possible criticality events in Fukushima

Fukushima and nuclear power from April 4 2011 links to a comment about Fukushima and Chernobyl.

power from where? from April 11 links only to a Geiger counter but provides a discussion about smart grids in Germany and a link to the role of economy in energy production.

25 years after the Chernobyl disaster from April 26 2011 commemorates Chernobyl and links to a discussion about Fukushima.

The post reactor reaction from July 27 2011 deals with the traveling wave reactor (TWR) and in particular that a critical randform comment to the reactor design seemed to have been quite right.

destructive sides of the power of science from August 7 2011 commemorates Hiroshima and contains a link to a comment where randform tries to explain some arguments that Germany’s renunciation of commercial nuclear power generation leads to more carbon output are flawed.

from the lost radioactive property office from Nov. 11 is a short post about an occurrence of a very small temporal radiation in Europe, where the source couldn’t be found

mini nuclear reactors from Jan 9 2012 gives an update about some small nuclear reactor types and their current developments.

mac dead yourself

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Short note: Unfortunately my Apple book stopped suddenly working. Looking at customer complaints it might be a known problem. May be not. Looking at the complaints it is not clear how obliging Apple will be about the problem and since I don’t have currently money for repairs blogging will be probably retarded. In particular I am currently learning about new methods on how to treat lousy joints (by looking at the images – the mainboard has apparently to be baked at 22o C°)

Tim at Mathematical software congress

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Brief update: Tim is currently coorganizing a session at the ICMS 2010 – The Third International Congress on Mathematical Software.

A patented circular traveling firewave kind of reactor

Monday, September 6th, 2010


patent conflicts

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

A reader called Sybille stated in the randform post about jBoard – Tims software for electronic boards: “What I do not like about those tablets is that you need to use these uncomfortable pencils.”

Here my brief reply to Sybille:
you do not always need pencils, it depends on the tablet. In this randform video a neighbour uses gift wrap as an input device. You can see that with the thick side of the wrap she draws on the ipod, the small side seems to produce not enough capacitance for drawing. Using two loops of the wrap the gesture translation system translates this into the ipod zoom. So depending on your gesture translation you could even maybe play a little cricket game.

However in some sense your body acts as a conducting material, hence you have to be careful, since if you should accidentally hold an open wire of an electronic device, like a speaker cable in your other hand then you may be in conflict with a Microsoft patent - if I rightly understand the abstract at


Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Clear visibility – road sign in front of trees

There is currently a not so easy discussion about the ambiguity of perception in the comment section of the post about dripping pains. Thinking about the ambiguity of perception I was asking myself why I had heard a lot about protests against windfarms (see e.g. this website) but for example not so much about protests against the visual (and sometimes auditive) pollution of advertisements.

Wind farms are rather loud and ugly and it would certainly be nicer to have a landscape without them, however the alternative is apart maybe from solar energy usually much, much uglier or dangerous (like to have a nuclear power plant instead). I am asking myself wether beople don’t see that these are the (more or less only) alternatives to wind farms or wether they really prefer to choose e.g. a nuclear power plant (see e.g. this and/or this randform post) over a wind farm.

Moreover one has some flexibility in installing a windfarm, like one should be able to find a compromise in order not to install it right next to a concert hall, just as one usually builts wind farms a little away from streets in order to ensure the safety of traffic.

And as I said already for some strange reason not so much protest is heard about the pollution of advertisement and their danger in traffic. The images (top and bottom) illustrate how advertisements may or may not draw the attention of a traffic participant away from street signals and signs.

How dangerous are advertisements like of this kind where the stop lights are almost invisible? (high resolution)

air condition

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Tim just reported that the server at Technical University of Berlin is down. The reason may be that THIS solution of which we think is a construction on top of the math building hasn’t worked out in the long run.

about competition, part II

Thursday, August 12th, 2010


In an earlier randform post I tried to give some motivations on why one should see “competitions” more critical.

For the major aspects of a competition I identified – as mentioned in the post – the existence of a “measure scale” and the fact that a choice is made according to that measure scale. Note that with that identification a choice with an “undefinable measure scale” (like if there are too many sorting criteria with eventually uncomparable values) would rather not count as a “competition”. Maybe these cases should then rather be simply called “selections”. Psychological aspects like in particular motivation were also mentioned in the post.

It is important to mention two more aspects which appear in the context of a competition. These are the questions on “how much is at stake” and “to what extend are participants forced into a competition” . These two aspects are usually not independent.

how much is at stake?
If a you train half of your life for winning a running competition at the Olympic games than “a lot is at stake” at that one particular running competition where your perfomance decides wether you have reached that goal or not. If your company needs to “win” one particular contract in order to survive you would say “a lot is at stake”. If you eventually ruin your or others health by taking part in a contest than “a lot is at stake”. If you play a game of scrabble with your buddies than usually there is “not so much at stake”. That is in this case there won’t be any severe changes/losses taking place which are dependent on the outcome of the competition.

Moreover it is usually true that “the more there is at stake, the fiercer the competition”.

In the last randform competition post I wrote about the negative aspects of a too fierce competition. So in order to mitigate the danger of a too fierce competition it is important to assess that for all participants there is “not too much at stake.” Apart from private considerations this is important for the field of science, as well as for business and politics. In an earlier randform post it was in particular mentioned that a fierce competition in science where the selection criteria is wether “a certain result is achieved first” can be problematic. This specific “result-oriented competition” neglects other criteria such as e.g. how elegantly or clearly the investigations leading to a result had been presented, how much the involved methodologies and themes influence other areas, to what extend the involved research encompassed educational and public value, how high the costs were, how equal the working conditions were a.s.o. A fierce business competition may lead e.g. to exploitation, unethical/half criminal behaviour and negligence (see last randform competition post). In politics it may lead e.g. to unfairness.

Note that the reverse conclusion namely “the fiercer the competition, the more is at stake” is not necessarily true. Often psychological components may lead to a fierce competition, where this is wouldn’t be necessary. A sad example of such dynamics was the recent death at the finnish sauna world competition.

If the fierceness of a competition is due to such psychological components it is often easier to mitigate than if there is too much at stake. Here independent observers and helpers can be of great use, moreover in some cases an interference of independent observers should be seen as a duty (like e.g. for the case of the Sauna death). In science this could be for example done by something like an “Ombudsman.”

If there is “too much at stake” then interference is often difficult. Thus one should try to avoid such competitions or -like in sports- impose strong regulations and control.

To what extend are people forced into a competition?

If you choose voluntarily to take part in a competition than you have a “navigation space”, i.e. you can decide for yourself of how “far you would go”, how much you want to invest in the competition etc. If the participaton at a competition is not fully voluntary then things may get nasty, since in such a case you can’t e.g. just quit the competition if it gets too fierce for you.

A participation at a competition can be less voluntarily if there are e.g. economic constraints, which can also be seen as something that “is at stake”. Thus for example architectural competitions may be seen critical if these are more or less the only possible sources of income. That is if you are an architectural office which has a couple of little contracts than you may eventually dare to take part in a midsize competition, however if the overall competition is so big that you “have” to win an architectural competition in order to exist, then again a lot is at stake. Likewise it is problematic if the labour market is getting more and more “competition-oriented” (see e.g. the competitions concerning the job market in software development and research mentioned in the randform post about jobs). This is especially problematic as the overal competition grows due to a declining labour market (see again the randform post about jobs).

Economic constraints are of course not the only possibilities why people are forced into a competition. Like there may be again psychological factors, as they often occur in group dynamics or in a hierarchy. For example power games, which may go as far as to abuse (see also this randform comment) often lead to such psychological enforcements. In some way some wars may be seen in such away. Like during old European wars of succession subjects were often forced by nobles to take part in a succession “competition”/war.

nuclear dangers

Friday, August 6th, 2010


I would like to link to an older randform post comemorating Hiroshima and Nagasaki and in particular mentioning the Monju nuclear reactor which is meanwhile working again and whose new fast breeder prototype is expected to open in 2025 (randform on nuclear technology (part 1 and part 2) and in particular on fast breeders).

My wish to link to this post is not only due to the anniversary of the bombings but unfortunately also due to the recent danger of nuclear pollution in russia caused by wildfires. So e.g. by looking at the german news from novosti (I couldn’t find an english or russian version of this article on novosti) about the fires there is currently the danger that the fires going west and south (to Brjansk, Tula and Lipezk) may release radioactive particles into the air.

The wildfires seem -at least in part- to be due to a reform of forest surveillance/maintanance. From an article in gazeta:

«До реформы законодательства 2007-2008 годов существовала государственная лесная охрана. Леса делились на обходы, которые были закреплены за конкретным сотрудником – фактически это и был классический лесник. Он знал свою территорию, патрулировал ее и любые нарушения пресекал. После реформы лесхозы объединили в лесничества. Нынешние лесничества включают в себя иногда 4-5 лесхозов. При этом число сотрудников сократилось», – рассказывает Захаров. Сейчас, по словам Захарова, лесничий просто не успевает патрулировать огромные территории леса, кроме того, должен выполнять много «бумажной работы».

translation without guarantee:

Until the legislative reforms dating to the years 2007-2008 there existed a state-run forest protection. The forest was partitioned into ward rounds, which were enforced by concrete workers – effectively by the classic forest superintendent. He (what’s with female forest workers?) knew about his territory, was patroling in it and remedy any incident. After the reforms the leskhosi were joined in lesnitshestvos. The present day lesnitshestvos include 4-5 leskhosi. Apart from this the number of workers was reduced, says Sakharov. Today according to Sakharov, the forest workers just don’t succeed in patroling those vast forest territories, apart from this they have to do a lot of “paper work”.

(-> for comparision: optimization reforms underway in nuclear energy)

At this place one should mention that the air pollution caused by the wildfires is already quite harmful to health. Last but not least one can expect that e.g. the levels of mercury in russian air are higher than before. (->see e.g. an older study by the atmospheric modeling research group together with the GKSS Research Center in Geesthacht and the semi-private research project CARIBIC.) However a pollution with radioactive particles would probably much more harmful.

So lets hope that the russian firefighters can keep the fire away !!!

->further videos and infos from russian firefighters
->not sure how good these firefighting songs may help.

What would happen if those plans about a nuclear reactor grid in russia should become future?