Tag Archives: Japan

illusion: Impossible roof defies gravity

Post by Sandrine Ceurstemont, editor, New Scientist TV

Impossible objects, like those drawn by artist M. C. Escher, don’t seem like they could exist in the real world. But Kokichi Sugihara from Meiji University in Kawasaki, Japan, is well known for building 3D versions of these structures.

Now a new video shows his latest construction: a gravity-defying roof that seems to attract and balance balls on its edge. When the house is rotated, its true form is revealed.

Source: New Scientist TV: Impossible roof defies gravity.

Related: Kokichi Sugihara at Meiji University in Kawasaki, Japan, has… (thekidshouldseethis.com)

Birth of a Conspiracy Theory: There Is No Finland

A study of how a conspiracy theory as absurd as “There is no Finland” can even exist.

by Brian Dunning via Skeptoid

We’ve all heard a lot of really weird conspiracy theories about the world — the Flat Earth, the Hollow Earth, and the world’s governments all conspire to cover up the truth, for some reason. Some of these are so bizarre that they can only be jokes. None more so than the claim that Finland doesn’t exist. The idea here is that where we all think Finland is is actually just ocean, and that Japan and Russia conspired to persuade the world there’s a country there, to cover up the fact that Japan does unlimited fishing and whaling there with no international oversight. Today we’re going to study why a tale so trivially disproven as that can actually survive to become passionately believed by a small but vocal group of conspiracy theorists.


On any map, Finland borders Russia to its east, and its south and west borders are in the Baltic Sea. To its north, Finland connects to Sweden and Norway. Believers in the conspiracy theory have drawn a new map in which most of Finland is simply erased, extending the Baltic Sea all the way to the Russian border; and the northern third of Finland is simply renamed as more of Sweden, thus extending Sweden’s territory significantly. And thus is the Baltic Sea greatly expanded as well, giving those Japanese fishing boats plenty of space to do what they do, unpestered by fishing regulators.

How would such a thing come to be? According to the conspiracy theory, after World War II, Russia found itself short of food (and this is quite true). Japan was facing a related problem, in that they found they’d been overfishing and needed new waters. So they approached Russia with the idea of granting them secret fishing rights in the Baltic; and to hide it from the rest of the world, they’d mutually agree to tell everyone that much of the Baltic Sea was actually a landmass called Finland so there’s no need for anyone to try and regulate fishing there. Russia agreed, and together they built the Trans-Siberian Railway to facilitate the endeavour, and as a quid pro quo, Japan donated much of its catch to Russia.

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The Battle of Los Angeles – YouTube

Hey, Where’s the Fukushima Plume?

Mike RothschildBy Mike Rothschild via Skeptoid

After I started writing about the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it quickly became clear that there was a huge amount of fearmongering about it. Garbage anti-science pieces like “At the very least your days of eating Pacific Ocean fish are over” and “28 Signs the West Coast is Being Absolutely Fried by Fukushima Radiation” were needlessly scaring the crap out of those who didn’t have the training, knowledge, or common sense filter needed to see through them.

fukushima bread 02_200pxThe result was that people became afraid that radiation was melting all life in the Pacific Ocean, that cancer was slamming the West Coast, that fish were inedible, that the beach was a death zone, that Japan would be obliterated, that half of America would have to be evacuated, that giant marine animals were washing ashore, that the ocean was broken, that life as we knew it was over, and on and on.

And all of that horror was before “the plume” reached the West Coast.

The radiation leak from Fukushima actually has two components. One was the initial leak from the incident itself, which hit the US fairly quickly. The other was the much slower moving “plume” of radioactive water, the extent of which only became clear last year after Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) admitted that 300 tons of runoff was leaking into the Pacific every day, with no way to stop it.

The New York Times’ map of the Fukushima Plume projection. (click image for larger view)

The New York Times’ map of the Fukushima Plume projection. (click image for larger view)

There were generally two reactions to the news that a plume of radioactive water was heading straight toward the West Coast:

Scientists did science. They researched, they set up studies, they developed computer models, they wrote papers, they disseminated their findings, they adjusted their hypotheses accordingly. The aim was to determine when the plume would arrive, what danger it carried, and what the next steps should be.

Panicmongers mongered panic. They wrote long blog posts trumping up the unknown dangers, they spread false stories, they relied on dubious sources, they sold anti-nuclear products, they accused researchers and government officials of covering up the “real story” of how bad it was. The aim was to make money, abolish nuclear power, and spread fear.

What the researchers looking into the plume found was, at least to me, fairly comforting:

  1. Traces of Fukushima radioactivity would reach the West Coast of the US sometime in early 2014.
  2. Because of the natural dilution of a relatively small amount of water in the hugeness of the ocean, they would be just that – traces.
  3. However, there was no way to tell exactly when the radiation would arrive.
  4. Therefore, monitoring of the radiation levels in sea life and water should continue.
  5. While that’s happening, go about your business safe in the knowledge that you aren’t being fried.

So here we are, past early 2014. Almost halfway through the year, really. What’s the status of the plume?

For one thing, we still don’t know when the plume will hit, or if it actually has. The estimates are still a moving target.

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Fukushima vs Chernobyl vs Three Mile Island

Years after the disaster, some claim that Fukushima radiation is still going to cause widespread death.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid.com
Read Podcast transcript below of Listen here

In March of 2011, an undersea earthquake sent tsunamis thundering across Japan, killing nearly 20,000 people and creating the most expensive natural disaster in history. Among the casualities was the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which was almost completely submerged by the tsunamis; an unprecedented event. Power was lost (obviously), cooling systems stopped, and the net result was a complete meltdown of three of the plant’s reactor cores. It was a perfect storm of worst case scenarios. And now, even years afterward, some are calling it a worldwide radiation disaster, worse than even Chernobyl, that will produce a staggering death count for decades or even centuries. Today we’re going to evaluate these assertions and see if we can separate fact from fiction.

Fukushima_250pxWith the shocking end-of-the-world-scenario headlines — such as “Your Days of Eating Pacific Ocean Fish Are Over” and “28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima” — either Fukushima was the worst environmental disaster ever, or some of the worst misinformation ever is being trumpeted. To find out which, we’ll put it into context with the two other best known nuclear disasters: the 1986 explosion of a reactor at the Chernobyl plant in the Ukraine, and the 1979 partial meltdown of a reactor at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania.

The most important technical point to understand about various reactor kinds is the moderator. The moderator is a substance that slows down the fast neutrons being shed by the radioactive uranium fuel, converts the kinetic energy into thermal energy, and turns them into slow, thermal neutrons. A thermal neutron is much more likely to strike another uranium nucleus. This allows a chain reaction, in which the fuel produces enough heat to power a conventional steam generator. Most nuclear reactors use water as the moderator. Put uranium fuel rods into water, in the proper configuration, and you’ll get a chain reaction.

Chernobyl, however, was a very different type of machine. It was what we call an atomic pile, the devices first designed during World War II to produce plutonium for atomic weapons. The atomic pile is literally a pile of graphite blocks, half a meter long and a quarter meter square, with a hole bored through the long axis. These graphite blocks were used as the moderator.

chernobyl_mapThe problem with building a reactor out of graphite blocks is that graphite burns. Contain burning graphite within a concrete structure, and it explodes. This is exactly what happened at Chernobyl, and it’s exactly why nobody would ever build a graphite-moderated reactor today; the whole reactor core was literally a bomb waiting to go off.

Three Mile Island and Fukushima were both water moderated reactors. This was one of the most significant safety improvements of the early 1950s. Fukushima’s basic design is one of the earliest, called a BWR (boiling water reactor). The moderating water, which is also the cooling water, is directly boiled and drives a steam generator. The reason the Fukushima accident happened is that all sources of power were destroyed by the tsunami, including backups, backups, and their backups; and without the pumps to keep the system circulating, the cooling water boiled completely away, and the fuel melted. For months, firehoses sprayed water into the open reactors to prevent open flames from pumping radioactive smoke into the atmosphere. This contaminated water was barely containable; it leaked into the ocean, and was stored in anything that could be used as a tank.

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More Fukushima Scaremongering Debunked

Mike Rothschildby Mike Rothschild via Skeptoid

Another day brings another science-free but hysteria-packed screed of terror about how radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant incident will bathe all of us in torrents of cesium-soaked death. Fukushima_250pxA few months ago, I took on one of these rambles, Gary Stamper’s not at all melodramatic “At the very least, your days of eating Pacific Ocean fish are over” and determined that nothing of the sort is even close to true, with the evidence behind it either willfully misinterpreted or simply incorrect.

Now it’s time to get the knives out for a newer piece of Fukushima scaremongering, published just over a week ago on “Activist Post.” While it’s just as wrong and hysterical as Stamper’s piece, it’s also just as popular, with 28,000 shares on Facebook already. It’s sad that far more people are drawn in by crap than in the debunking of said crap, but that doesn’t mean we stop spreading the correct message: that the radiation released by Fukushima, while serious enough to be cleaned up and monitored, is having a negligible effect on everyone but the unfortunate people living in that area.

28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima

fukushima bread 02_200pxAnd we’re off to the races: specifically, the Gish Gallop, a fallacious debating technique that involves overwhelming your opponent with information, without any regard for its accuracy. Also, I’d like to know what “absolutely fried” means. Is it measurable? Is there a unit that denotes “absolutely fried” as opposed to “mostly fried” or “somewhat fried?” How many AF’s (absolutely frieds) does the radiation from Fukushima contain? And what’s a survivable dose of AF’s? I have many questions about the science underlying this clearly scientific measuring tool.

Michael Snyder
Activist Post

According to his blurb on Activist Post, Michael Snyder is a former Washington D.C. attorney who now publishes The Truth. His new thriller entitled “The Beginning Of The End” is now available on Amazon.com.

Snyder’s site appears to be some kind of Christian doomsday prepper clearinghouse, and his novel is about (surprise) the economic collapse of America. So if you’re looking for a way to incorporate hoarding precious metals into your fellowshipping, Snyder is your man. None of this is a knock against him, but he does seem to have a vested interest in trying to convince you the world is about to end. Spoiler alert: it’s not.

The map below comes from the Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center. It shows that radiation levels at radiation monitoring stations all over the country are elevated. As you will notice, this is particularly true along the west coast of the United States.

map_600px

The name “Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center” sounds a lot like a government regulatory body. It’s so incredibly the opposite of that. The website is a slapped together map of the supposed radiation levels at nuclear sites around the world. It’s got no indication where it’s getting its information or what it means, but it does have a fee based service that will alert you to radiation spikes anywhere in the world. And Bible quotes.

Every single day, 300 tons of radioactive water from Fukushima enters the Pacific Ocean. That means that the total amount of radioactive material released from Fukushima is constantly increasing, and it is steadily building up in our food chain.

I already covered this in the Stamper piece, and why it seems much worse than it actually is. The short of it is that 300 tons of radioactive water is literally a drop in the bucket compared to the 187 quintillion gallons that make up the Pacific Ocean. Whatever radioactivity is in that water will be diluted to the point of harmlessness.

[…]
We are talking about a nuclear disaster that is absolutely unprecedented, and it is constantly getting worse.

It’s not unprecedented. Chernobyl remains the worst nuclear disaster in human history, much worse in virtually every measurable way than Fukushima.

The following are 28 signs that the west coast of North America is being absolutely fried with nuclear radiation from Fukushima…

Bring it, list. Bring it.

1. Polar bears, seals and walruses along the Alaska coastline are suffering from fur loss and open sores…

Stamper referenced the same article that Snyder does. And if I may be so bold as to quote myself: “The article Stamper links to specifically says ‘Reuters noted that preliminary studies do not support a theory that the disease is due to contamination from the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.‘”

Citing an article that specifically refutes the point you’re trying to make is not the way to make that point.

2. There is an epidemic of sea lion deaths along the California coastline…

There is an epidemic of sea lion deaths along the west coast, happening for as-yet unknown reasons. But it’s sea lion PUPS dying, not sea lions as a whole. Radiation does not distinguish whether an animal is young or old, so it’s highly unlikely, if not impossible, that Fukushima has anything to do with this.

3. Along the Pacific coast of Canada and the Alaska coastline, the population of sockeye salmon is at a historic low. Many are blaming Fukushima.

Sockeye salmonSockeye salmon numbers have been in decline for decades.[/caption]And they would be wrong. Sockeye salmon stocks are low in Canada’s Fraser Basin, with experts in the field researching a number of causes for it. But it’s a decline that began in 1992, long before Fukushima was scaring the crap out of people.

4. Something is causing fish all along the west coast of Canada to bleed from their gills, bellies and eyeballs.

Just as “many” does not equal “people who understand this stuff,” “something” does not equal “Fukushima.” The link Snyder sites doesn’t even talk about “fish all along the west coast of Canada.” It mentions one school of herring found to be mysteriously bleeding. The cause of this is unknown right now, but even the biologist who discovered the herring isn’t blaming Fukushima – and she discovered them before the plume of radiation would have reached Canada.

5. A vast field of radioactive debris from Fukushima that is approximately the size of California has crossed the Pacific Ocean and is starting to collide with the west coast.

I don’t know where the “size of California” bit comes from, and I can’t find any reputable source to back it up. There is a large field of debris from the post-earthquake tsunami that will hit the west coast, but interestingly, the link Snyder cites has another link to a BBC article that says it won’t happen until March, 2014. And the debris is not likely to have anything more than traces of radioactivity.

6. It is being projected that the radioactivity of coastal waters off the U.S. west coast could double over the next five to six years.

True, and nothing to be concerned about, given how low the current radioactivity level of the west coast is. To quote Dr. Claus Boning from the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany: “The levels of radiation that hit the US coast will be small relative to the levels released by Fukushima. […] But we cannot estimate accurately what those levels will be because we do not know for certain what was released by Fukushima.”

7. Experts have found very high levels of cesium-137 in plankton living in the waters of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the west coast.

This is entirely expected and in keeping with a radioactive leak. The amount of radioactivity in the plankton will continue to decay as it moves up the food chain, staying well within Japan’s newly-raised acceptable levels of becquerels per kilogram of foodstuffs.

8. One test in California found that 15 out of 15 bluefin tuna were contaminated with radiation from Fukushima.

Yet another link Snyder cited without actually reading. It references a CNN article that states: “Tissue samples taken from 15 bluefin caught in August, five months after the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, all contained reactor byproducts cesium-134 and cesium-137 at levels that produced radiation about 3% higher than natural background sources.” (Emphasis mine)

A 3% increase in radiation is negligible. It’s around the same amount of additional exposure you get flying in a plane, or sleeping next to someone. If that worries you, then it’s time for separate bedrooms.

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