I've been having a hard time finding time to write an essay on some things nuclear (and still haven't really). The best I can do is perhaps produce a old lazy river meandering all over an ancient flat plain, with lots of oxbow lakes and sandbars. A river does go someplace, and I would like to think there is a direction to what threatens to be a series of essays. So here is an My Attention Conservation Notice:
Life Figured Out How To Handle Radiation a Long, Long, Long, Long Time Ago
--- or ---
Wow, Maybe White People Really Are Vampires!
(In Which case, I'd Get To Killing Them Off Pronto If I Were You)!
Some people suggested Teller was immortalized as part of the amalgamated archetype Dr. Strangelove in the eponymous movie. Peter Sellers always maintained Dr. Strangelove was based upon former SS officer Werner Von Braun (rehabilitated via Project Paperclip), along with RAND Corporation strategist Herman ("On Thermonuclear War") Kahn, mathematician Johnny von Neumann, with the accent borrowed from Stanley Kubrik's Austrian photography consultant Weegee.
(Kahn was characterized by possible psychopath General Curtis LeMay, along with all those defense eggheads brought in by JFK, as one of those "pipe-smoking, tree-full-of-owls types who had never served and never seen combat". LeMay had a point. Kahn pushed for limited war, and Lemay knew the concept was absurd. If you don't fight to win, you shouldn't fight at all, and Lemay was always for counterforce strategy targeting enemy offensive capabilities).
So, Teller was the Mother of the Hydrogen Bomb. Many call him the Father, but I think of him as a mother - in more ways than one - as he carried the thing to term.
If you want a baby daddy for the H-bomb, go seek out Stanislaw Ulam. (Had Teller been used as a source character for Dr. Strangelove, Bela Lugosi would have been more appropriate, but Bela had already died). In which case, it might have a vampire movie about the end of the world. Which would be sad, as vampires rely on human prey, and therefore would prefer more and healthier humans being around, rather than less and sickly.
Population explosion, anyone?
Okay, point being here what? Or is this going to be rambling commentary on the unthinkable?
I've been ruminating, reading through old books and new, on nuclear fission, nuclear weapons, the nuclear industry, and the biological effects of ionizing radiation. One thing I found interesting is there is evidence that radiation in small amounts is - not necessarily beneficial - but perhaps appears to be beneficial. I explored this somewhat in an essay called The Spa Treatment Mystery. I would like to expand on that, and all this stuff percolating in my brain for the past month has given me a hunch that there is a slippery eel of a gestalt that I've seen glimpses of through the murk and the mire.
But your patience will be required in order for me to sneak up on this slippery eel, and from different directions. This may lead to something, but through a whole forest of false analogies, rather like deriving the correct numerical solution with the wrong equation or the wrong computational model (which happens more often than you would think). Random Items to Get Started:
- Dr. Strangelove may have been a satire, but pretty much every aspect of the movie was true.
- Nuclear fission, and more specifically, Leo Szilard's nucleonic reactor, moved from proof-of-concept to industrial-sized production model in just under 90 days. 90 days. I doubt you can point to many technological endeavors with such a short development time. And the continued development of nuclear weapons probably rivals or surpasses Moore's Law.
- In fact, the prediction of Moore's Law, the integrated circuit and semiconductor industry, would never have come to pass without the heavy subsidies from the Defense Department in pursuit of optimizing nuclear fighting. The entire consumer market of computer/electronic/entertainment would not exist without this initial computerization of war (paid for US government taxpayers, and Internet Libertarians may at this point grind all appropriate gears).
- About one pound of coal gets you one kilowatt hour of electricity (as does one thousand cubic feet of natural gas, or one and a quarter cups of oil). One pound of uranium gets you seven million kilowatt hours.
If you were born between 1951 and 1958, you are a fallout baby. Meaning you were conceived, gestated, born and raised in a sea of poisonous radioactive atmospheric fallout. And yet, the incidence for cancers and birth defects for this group of people is practically indistinguishable from any others.
Last year, I was injected with a small amount of radioactive technicium (Tc-99m) and put under a gamma ray scanner. To my amazement, an image of my right kidney appeared on the screen, looking rather like a night image of the Earth, with little towns and cities all lit up. As for my left kidney? It was looking like North Korea at night - nothing. Tc-99m has a half life of six hours, and so, had I gone ot the airport, I would have been mistaken for one of those mythical yet-to-be-seen dirty bombs that Homeland Security is always looking for.
Interesting how many Los Alamos scientists switched over from bombs to biology at the end of WWII. Nuclear science had matured and looked for another field with the potential for world-changing breakthroughs: molecular biology. Radioisotopes were invaluable for the study of metabolic pathways.
From 1945 onwards, some 2,349 nuclear tests have been conducted worldwide - 528 of exploded in the atmosphere. An estimated 629 megatons of explosives have been set off, and some tens of millions of curies of radiation have been released to the environment, so much so, that the equivalent of World War III has been fought over a 70 year period. Had the same amount of fallout been the product of Orion nuclear rockets, mankind would enjoy a solar system wide empire today. Bartender, canned ape for everyone!
In addition, from 1951 to 1992, some four thousand radiation experiments were conducted by the AEC, the CIA, the DoD, the CDC, the NIH, the VA, and NASA on (for the most part uninformed) ha subjects. As documented by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Eileen Welsome:
"hospital patients at New York's Sloan-Kettering, Cincinnati's General, Houston's Baylor College, and San Francisco's University of California were fully irradiated to produce military data; eight hundred pregnant women were dosed with radioactive iron and their fetuses monitored by Vanderbilt University; seven newborns and over a hundred Native Americans were injected with radioactive iodine; seventy-three mentally disabled children were fed radioactive cereal by Quaker Oats and the AEC; two hundred cancer patients were dosed with enormous amounts of cesium and cobalt ; and 232 inmates had their testicles irradiated at carcinogenic levels by the University of Washington. The prisoners were paid a hundred bucks and sterilized at the end of the experiment to 'keep from contaminating the general population with radiation-induced mutants'. Around two hundred of Nevada's explosions directly irradiated over two hundred thousand site witnesses, most of them servicemen, while around ninety atmospheric demolitions afflicted thousands who would be known as 'downwinders' - resident of Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah." - The Age of Radiance, Craig Nelson
Those are what we know of. There are undoubtedly as many or more cases of radioactive exposure that we do not know of. Every single nation that has pursued nuclear fission has had some type of accident. The US Navy, and the Soviets, have dumped literally thousands of tons of radioactive waste pretty much wherever they wanted into the oceans. The Soviets were so lax in their waste disposal it's almost a surprise their former territories are not luminous. And a dirty little secret in Japan is that most nuclear industry workers are the yakuza. Nuclear waste disposal there is handled accordingly.
And the surprising thing is, after all the meltdowns, atmospheric tests, and industrial accidents, and irresponsible waste disposal involving radioactive materials, statistically and empirically, this has globally added perhaps only some 13,000 additional cases of cancer and birth deformities to the current load. In fact, there is evidence that low level exposure to radiation creates metabolic adaptations to survive - and thrive - in even higher radiation environments.
My take? Well, I don't think the Marvel Comics plan of producing superheroes through mutation was ever considered, but I do think there has been an active plan to get us all used to living with radioactive contamination. Toughening the Breed.
Paranoia? Maybe... more later.