Category Archives: Public health

Surfing a vortex: energy and climate

Among the few benefits a Trump administration might have brought was review of energy policies. Only three months after the 2016 elections, however, hostile actions and childish tantrums had cashiered the chance. After that opening, any proposals would be greeted as tainted goods and attacked in federal lawsuits.

Stephen Bannon–latter-day Rasputin–had coaxed his proxy, Donald Trump, to rail against climate change as a “hoax.” Props for the accusation came from clannish behavior of scientists starting in the 1990s, trying to manage access to historical data they had carefully combed. Those tactics produced a so-called “Climategate” incident and risked both scientific and political mischief.

Limits of knowledge: Climate change and measures proposed to cope with it remain clouded by knowledge issues. Some key factors are intrinsic to the physics of weather. Working at MIT in 1963, the late Edward N. Lorenz, a meteorologist, found, while trying to compute results from apparently straightforward equations representing circulation in the atmosphere, that they would not provide stable solutions. Instead, results would diverge by greatly varying amounts.

Comparable behaviors are well known for turbulent fluid flow, and they had been suspected as early as the 1880s for orbits of moons and planets. Lorentz found development of weather patterns similarly lacked predictability. Small eddies could grow into large disturbances. Such effects greatly complicate analysis of climate, which indicates long-term weather.

Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius first estimated the effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide on the Earth surface temperature in 1896. He predicted that a doubling of concentration would lead to a temperature rise of around four degrees Celsius (deg. C). As late as the 1970s, a way to increase the Earth temperature was sometimes welcomed for help in staving off “global cooling” and perhaps another ice age.

Early predictions did not consider time dynamics or the many interacting influences–including changes in plant growth, solar output and Earth orbit, clouds, dust, aerosols, surface variations, water-vapor cycles, human activities, methane and other gases. “Greenhouse factors” relating gas concentrations to temperatures remain uncertain to a fair degree. While few laboratory scientists doubt that there are linkages, measuring the factors became a great challenge–complicated by intrinsic unpredictability of weather, by dynamics of exchanges between the atmosphere, oceans and Earth surfaces and by issues of reliable measurements.

Historical data before the last few decades proved erratic. A 1956 survey of carbon dioxide measurements from the atmosphere found values published during the 1820s through the 1950s ranging from about 200 to 550 parts per million (ppm) by volume. Its authors proposed to “select” some lower values as representative, but they lacked an approach validated through primary evidence.

Improving knowledge: The late Charles D. Keeling, while a geochemistry fellow at Caltech in 1956, began the first systematic survey of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He calibrated newly developed infrared absorption spectroscopy against a primary standard from gas manometry, providing much more reliable measurements than previously available. He soon found regular daily and seasonal variations.

Keeling series, carbon dioxide in ppm, monthly

Source: Scripps and U.S. Department of Energy

The Keeling series, measured since 1958 at Mauna Loa, shows atmospheric carbon dioxide already at a steep rate of increase when it began and therefore at an elevated level–a 1958 average of about 313 ppm. During 2016, the average high-altitude concentration in the northern hemisphere rose above 400 ppm. The residual level from the 1600s, after Columbus and before intensive coal mining, was around 280 ppm.

Measuring solar output and global average Earth temperature is more difficult than measuring atmospheric gas concentrations. Direct temperature sampling is concentrated within industrialized countries. Every populated location has sources of bias. Solar measurements from the Earth are skewed by effects from the atmosphere. More progress was achieved after the deployment of polar-orbit weather satellites by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, starting with Nimbus-7 in late 1978.

GISS series, Earth temperature

Source: NASA Goddard Institute of Space Science

Satellites do not measure Earth surface temperatures directly. They measure infrared emissions from the sun and from the atmosphere. There is no signal to separate low-altitude from high-altitude emissions, so that numerical interpretations are needed to estimate surface temperatures. Those are among many adjustments applied to satellite data. The adjustments have often changed as measurement issues have been discovered.

The two series shown indicate strong association between carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere and Earth surface temperature, as estimated from satellite data. For 1979 through 2014, carbon dioxide increased from about 313 to 398 ppm, a base-2 logarithm of 0.35, while estimated Earth surface temperature rose from about 14.2 to 14.7 deg. C, an increase of 0.5 deg. C. Those amounts lead to a “greenhouse factor” of about 1.4 deg. C for a doubled carbon dioxide concentration–when about 4 deg. C was predicted by Arrhenius.

Controversies: Substantial controversies remain over “greenhouse effect” measurements and their interpretations. The relatively short time spans of reliable measurements–around 35 years–may not be enough to allow mixing between the atmosphere and the oceans. That should produce positive feedback, when warmer temperatures cause carbon dioxide to be released. However, warming effects from greenhouse gases also tend to be offset by cooling effects from human-generated aerosols.

The main source of information about atmospheric changes over much longer time spans has come from analysis of ice cores, starting in the 1970s. The longest cores extracted so far trapped air over around a million years of snowfalls. The 1985 Vostok core from Antarctica was the first to span a glacial cycle, providing a look at transitions between low and high temperatures and gas concentrations over geologic times. That inspired mathematical modeling efforts, trying to reconcile factors contributing to observations.

Over longer times–from dozens of years to a few hundred years–data from ice cores suggest that the carbon-dioxide increase already incurred from human activity, since the 1600s, can produce temperature increases two or more times more those already measured. The Keeling series shows that about half the total increase in carbon dioxide has happened since 1980. Research continues at an active pace, still dotted with controversies.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 12, 2017

David Cohen, Albright on Trump: Bannon pulling the strings, Politico, February 5, 2017

Atmospheric carbon dioxide data, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and U.S. Department of Energy, January, 2017

Atmospheric carbon dioxide, monthly, Scripps Institution, January, 2017

Surface temperature analysis, Goddard Institute for Space Science, U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, January, 2017

Land-ocean temperature index, monthly, Goddard Institute, January, 2017

Spencer R. Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming, American Institute of Physics, January, 2017

Edward Wong, Trump calls climate change a Chinese hoax, New York Times, November 18, 2016

Robert Monroe, The Keeling curve: carbon dioxide measurements at Mauna Loa, American Chemical Society, 2015

Adilson E. Motter and David K. Campbell, Chaos at fifty, Physics Today 66(5):27-33, 2013

Andrew Freedman, Satellite climate data at 33 years, Washington Post, December 20, 2011

R.J. Nevle, D.K. Bird, W.F. Ruddiman and R.A. Dull, Neotropical human–landscape interactions, fire and atmospheric CO2 during European conquest, The Holocene 21(5):853-864, 2011

Patrik Jonsson, Climate scientists exonerated in Climategate but public trust damaged, Christian Science Monitor, July 7, 2010

Christopher Booker, Climate change: worst scientific scandal of our generation, London Telegraph, November 28, 2009

Kenneth Chang, Edward N. Lorenz, meteorologist and a father of chaos theory, dies at 90, New York Times, April 17, 2008

C. Lorius, J. Jouzel, D. Raynaud, J. Hansen and H. Le Treut, The ice-core record: climate sensitivity and future greenhouse warming, Nature 347(6289):139-145, 1999

J.M. Barnola, D. Raynaud, Y.S. Korotkevich and C. Lorius, Vostok ice core provides 160,000-year record of atmospheric CO2, Nature 329(6138):408-414, 1987

Walter Sullivan, International team of specialists finds no end in sight to 30-year cooling trend in northern hemisphere, New York Times, January 6, 1978

Stig Fronselius, Folke Koroleff and Karl-Eric Wärme, Carbon dioxide variations in the atmosphere, Tellus A 8(2):176-183, 1956

Svante Arrhenius, On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground, Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science (Fifth Series) 4(251):237-276, 1896

After a disaster: confining Chernobyl

In the spring of 1986, toward the end of the Soviet empire, disaster erupted at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, Ukraine, located along a river bank a few miles from the southern border of the Soviet Republic of Byelorussia (now the Republic of Belarus). Soviet managers had continued to build potentially unstable graphite-moderated RBMK reactors, long after the U.S. and other advanced countries abandoned the technologies. Compounding their mismanagement, Soviet agencies approved building large power reactors without secure, heavy enclosures.

The positive void-coefficient of the RBMK design is prone to runaway power surges, and the graphite components readily burn in air. The main advantage of the technologies, which mattered for early programs to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, had been that they could operate with natural, unenriched uranium.

The Chernobyl disaster resulted from rogue testing of an accident-recovery procedure, aiming to measure responses to system failures. Plans for testing, using Unit 4 at the Chernobyl plant, had been proposed by plant engineers but never submitted to Soviet regulators. Because the plans called for deliberately disabling safety systems, regulators would probably have intervened had they known.

Disaster strikes: The testing was performed during the midnight shift early on April 26, 1986, by young, inexperienced reactor operators, after most plant engineers went home. Erratic maneuvers by the operators put the reactor into a highly unstable condition.

An enormous power spike overwhelmed the partly disabled safety systems, causing the reactor’s water coolant to flash into steam and explode. The two-million-pound cover of the steel reactor vessel blew into the lightly built roof of the reactor building, shattering walls and exposing fuel rods and graphite components to the atmosphere.

Chernobyl Unit 4 shattered, May, 1986

Source: Ministry of Nuclear Energy, USSR

That led to a swift temperature surge. Reactor core materials caught fire, burning out-of-control for hours. Multiple explosions occurred, fed by steam and hydrogen. After burial in millions of pounds of sand and chemicals dropped from helicopters over a few days, remains of the reactor core smoldered for about a month.

Two technicians directly exposed to the initial explosion died at the scene of the disaster. Aleksandr Akimov and Anatoly Baranov, a senior operator and senior engineer on duty at the time, died several days later from radiation exposure. Thousands of rescue workers and salvage workers called “liquidators” who were exposed to intense radiation suffered, and many died from radiation effects over the following years, although few were tracked. More than 300,000 residents of the area were relocated.

Soviet officials tried to ignore the severity of the incident, finally outlining a disaster almost two days after the initial explosion. They and some of their successors after the end of the Soviet empire have never acknowledged the heavy burden of delayed sickness and death. Outside the Soviet empire, concealment failed. Less than 24 hours after the initial explosion, nuclear researchers working in Denmark described a reactor meltdown. A day later, U.S. satellite photos showed massive destruction at the site.

Winds quickly carried fumes and particles into eastern Europe, Scandinavia and then western Europe. Strong, airborne radioactivity appeared within a week in Albania, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and Yugoslavia. Within a month, radioactivity from the disaster had been detected worldwide. Testing and mitigation efforts are likely to continue in Europe for generations.

Covering up a disaster scene: In a half year after the disaster, Soviet workers buried the Chernobyl disaster site in a makeshift of steel beams, concrete and metal panels. The unstable, so-called “sarcophagus,” loosely assembled from about four million pounds of materials, was not expected to last more than 30 years.

Following over 15 years of negotiation, planning, design and construction, this fall a large, so-called New Safe Confinement structure, costing about $1.5 billion, has been mounted over the Chernobyl “sarcophagus” assembled in 1986. After the disintegration of the Soviet empire, there was no coherent government left to salvage Chernobyl. Most of the burdens of the confinement project are borne by countries of the European Union, who remain at high risk from further site degradation and spread of radioactivity.

Despite its name, there is nothing entirely “safe” about the newly installed confinement. Experience at the Fukushima nuclear-disaster site in Japan shows that the intense levels of radioactivity inside it can degrade electrical mechanisms and robotic systems the confinement houses and polymers used to protect structural steel against rust. The confinement structure is rated to withstand an F1 tornado, but a stronger one could warp and might collapse it.

The mechanisms and robotics were intended to allow recovery and permanent disposal of the Chernobyl Unit 4 ruins. However, so far no detailed plans have been published for such a project, which would probably take decades, and no funds are available to carry it out. There is no known safe repository for the debris, some of which will remain strongly radioactive for at least hundreds of years and hazardous to health for up to a million years.

A substantial fraction of the reactor’s final inventory of radioactivity remains in soils and water bodies of the surrounding Chernobyl “exclusion zone”–about 1,000 square miles. No substantial remediation has been performed; none is currently planned. Trees and other plants have been allowed to grow unmanaged, absorbing radioactivity from soils. A wildfire could spread another Chernobyl radiation disaster throughout Europe.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 30, 2016

John Wendle, Chernobyl’s radioactive ruins get a new tomb, National Geographic, 2016

New Safe Confinement, Chernobyl Shelter Fund, European Bank, 2016 (technical description, 2 MB)

Chernobyl accident 1986, World Nuclear Association, 2016 (brief summary)

A. Artmann, G. Pretzsch and V. Krasnov, Radioecological problems in connection with the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement (Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reaktorsicherheit, Germany), Eurosafe Forum, 2016

Madhi Rageb, Chernobyl accident, University of Illinois (Urbana), 2015

Inside the sargophagus, Chernobyl Gallery (UK), 2015 (recent photos)

Gerd Ludwig, The long shadow of Chernobyl, Gerd Ludwig Photography (Los Angeles, CA), 2014

Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2013 (brief summary)

Dirk Bannink and Henk van der Keur, Chronology of the Chernobyl disaster, Nuclear Information & Resource Service (Netherlands), 2011

W. Robert Johnston, Chernobyl reactor accident 1986, L-3 Comunications Systems, 2006

Alexey Yablokov, et al., The Chernobyl catastrophe: consequences for human health, Greenpeace (Netherlands), 2006

Bill Keller, Chernobyl plant being mismanaged Pravda charges, New York Times, April 25, 1988

Report on the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, NUREG-1250, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 1987 (poor quality reproduction)

Robert Gillette, Evidence mounts of high-level Soviet lapse in Chernobyl alert, Los Angeles Times, June 20, 1986

Soviets admit nuclear accident, British Broadcasting Corporation (UK), April 28, 1986

Serge Schemann, Soviet announces nuclear accident at electric plant, New York Times, April 26, 1986

Craig Bolon, Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants, Brookline Beacon, September 27, 2015

Obama’s legacy: tracking hate crimes

Electing an African-American as U.S. President in 2008 capped centuries of bigotry and began a legacy of inclusion. An image of Obama taking the oath of office became a picture worth a billion words. Despite all the flapping from Europe and Asia about peace and tolerance, so far nothing comparable happened there. For example, there has been no Franco-Arab president of France–not even someone mentioned or on the horizon.

A quiet message, the obverse of promoting inclusion, was delegitimizing racial and ethnic hate. From growing up with bigotry, signs are easily remembered–serving as sly handshakes through words and acts that signal shared outlooks: “one of the gang.” Electing a black President, then re-electing him to another term said, “No, that’s not OK any more. That’s not us.”

Lynching and race riots grew in the aftermath of the Civil War and continued into the 1940s. The way of inclusion became an official outlook through the Great Depression, the era of World War II and the landmark Brown v. Board decision from the Supreme Court in 1954. That did not make it the common way of life. Hate crimes against African-Americans surged during civil rights struggles of the 1950s through the 1970s.

Tracking hate crimes: The U.S. Department of Justice finally began to record hate crimes in 1992, as required by the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 and the Arson Prevention Act of 1996. [Public Laws 101-275 and 104-155] About 17,000 law enforcement agencies now contribute to annual reports. Records since 1996 are available online as part of Uniform Crime Reports compiled by FBI central offices. However, the Justice Department does not publish trends and has not tried to provide consistent reporting.

Anti-African-American hate crimes

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

Data from the U.S. Department of Justice show that the most numerous reported hate crimes target African-Americans, Jews and Muslims. For 2015, recent hate crime data show about 1,750 incidents targeting African-Americans, about 660 targeting Jews and about 260 targeting Muslims.

Anti-Jewish hate crimes

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

The most recent U.S. population survey for race and ethnicity estimates 43 million African-Americans. The most recent survey for religion estimates about 6 million Jews and 3 million Muslims. Proportionately, the 2015 rates of hate crimes per million residents were about 40 targeting African-Americans, 110 targeting Jews and 90 targeting Muslims.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

Crime trends: Hate crime statistics reflect crime motives as reported by law enforcement agencies–not as determined by courts or as found by other third parties. They are affected by reporting bias. If, for example, law-enforcement training increased likelihoods that incidents were flagged as hate crimes, then rates of reported hate crimes would rise, but such increases would reflect training rather than changes in crime rates.

The falling rates of reported hate crimes targeting African-Americans, down about 20 percent for the five years from 2010 to 2015, signal apparent progress during core years of the Obama administration. There was similar apparent progress in lower rates of reported hate crimes targeting Jews, falling about 25 percent over that five-year span.

However, reported hate crimes targeting Muslims increased significantly, about 60 percent over those years. All of that increase occurred during the final year, 2015. Not shown in the foregoing charts, a sustained and even greater increase occurred in reported hate crimes targeting Native Americans. They tripled between 2010 and 2013, then remained nearly steady at the increased rate.

Situations of Native Americans might be so different from those of other groups for reported rates to be largely fictions. On the basis of hundreds of interviews, Barbara Perry, a professor of criminology at the Ontario Institute of Technology, estimated in 2008 that hate crimes targeting Native Americans had been drastically under-reported. A sharp rise in reported rates between 2010 and 2013 could stem from reporting improvements during the Obama administration. Ken Salazar, Interior secretary during those years, promoted policies of inclusion toward Native Americans. So far no systematic survey has addressed the issues.

Causes and consequences: Filth spread by Donald J. Trump’s campaign for President acted to relegitimize and encourage racist behavior, starting in 2015. Trump did not need to “be” a racist or an anti-Semite but just to become a fellow traveler. His race-baiting dog whistles drew poisonous support from Nazi, Klan and other white supremacist groups. He circulated some of their propaganda. There is an obvious precedent. Former President Wilson also drew support from racist groups. The first Southerner elected since Taylor in 1848, he resegregated parts of the federal workforce, notably the Post Office.

Just as Wilson’s attitude and behavior encouraged lynching and growth of the Ku Klux Klan, vile propaganda emerging around the Trump campaign probably encouraged recent hate crimes–notably against Muslims, whom Trump savaged. People with antisocial outlooks and violent bents are apt to find signs of acceptance and perhaps approval. Unless Donald J. Trump were somehow to reverse his ways and become a beacon of tolerance, we can expect a parade of moral cretins and their crimes to surge in future years.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 18, 2016

Errin Haines Whack, Associated Press, Trump’s staff picks alarm minorities: ‘injustice to America’, U.S. News, November 18, 2016

Hate crime statistics for 2015, U.S. Department of Justice, November 11, 2016

Adrian Walker, The politics of hatred and resentment seem headed for defeat, Boston Globe, November 7, 2016

Dana Milbank, Anti-Semitism is no longer an undertone of Trump’s campaign. It’s the melody, Washington Post, November 7, 2016

Trump closes his campaign as he opened it: preaching xenophobia and hate, Daily Kos (UK), November 7, 2016

Michael Finnegan, Trump stokes terrorism fears, citing refugee ‘disaster’ in Minnesota, Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2016

Sarah Posner and David Neiwert, How Trump took hate groups mainstream, Mother Jones, October 14, 2016

Stephanie McCrummen, Finally: someone who thinks like me, Washington Post, October 1, 2016

Daniel Marans, Meet members of Donald Trump’s white supremacist fan club, Huffington Post, August 25, 2015

Martin Pengelly, American Nazi Party leader sees ‘a real opportunity’ with a Trump Presidency, Manchester Guardian (UK), August 7, 2016

Emily Flitter, Reuters, Trump tweet that blasts Clinton as corrupt includes the Star of David, Washington Post, July 2, 2016

Tom Shoop, When Woodrow Wilson segregated the federal workforce, Government Executive (Washington, DC), November 20, 2015

William Keylor, The long-forgotten racial attitudes and policies of Woodrow Wilson, Boston University Office of Public Relations, March 4, 2013

Population statistics, Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce, 2016

Gregory Smith, et al., America’s changing religious landscape, Pew Research Center, 2015

Barbara Perry, Silent Victims: Hate Crimes Against Native Americans, University of Arizona Press, 2008

Brown v. Board of Education, Leadership Conference (Washington, DC), 2004

Robert A. Gibson, The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, 1979

Craig Bolon, Election aftermath: recovery starting, work pending, Brookline Beacon, November 9, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump disease: political virus, Brookline Beacon, October 2, 2016

Chump disease: political virus

This fall finds more cases of “Chump disease”–a political virus in the same genus as those from the late Father Charles Coughlin, Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R, WI) and Gov. George Wallace (D, AL). Species of the disease organisms can be classed by their targets–for those species: Jews, Communists and African-Americans. Traces of a recent outbreak of a related disease can be found in remains of the Pea Potty.

Chump disease has been multivalent, provoking attacks on women, African-Americans, Mexicans, Muslims and Jews. Acute onset tends to be accompanied by bloviating from which a few words tumble, including “fat,” “ugly,” “crooked,” “lyin’,” “crazy” and “little.” Disease carriers are urged against the targets. Writing in the Washington Post October 1, Stephanie McCrummen profiled the behaviors of a disease carrier: “Someone who thinks like me.”

Origins of Chump disease extend far back into the Years of Slavery. Former Presidential diseases in this genus included those from Jackson, who treated the federal government like his private farm, and from Polk, who bought and sold slaves at his desk in the Oval Office–both virulent racists hailing from Tennessee.

Michael Finnegan and Evan Halper wrote warnings this August in the Los Angeles Times: “Trump says ’2nd Amendment people’ can keep Clinton from naming justices” and “Virus spreads to Presidential politics.” Mr. Halper was writing about a biological virus–one that sometimes causes lasting nerve damage–but it suggests a metaphor for Nazis. The Chump was reported to keep a copy of Hitler’s speeches in his bedroom.

The Chump’s emotional awareness looks to have frozen at around age four, before he might have learned to share. His language seems to have stalled a few years later–leaving him barely able to produce a full sentence, let alone a paragraph. “I guess, right? Right? I guess. Right?” Now he’s a freak: a frightened child hiding inside an aging person.

Recently the Chump has been getting more of the treatment he deserves from mainstream media: ignoring his tantrums as circus sideshows. Zombies still wave and clap for him, but they are due a surprise, once they look around. At a fork in a road, many of their neighbors went another way.

When the Chump verged from freak show to center ring, he was badly exposed. He had neither training nor experience. In the newer environment, he is wildly outclassed. Exiting the first Presidential debate of 2016, he seemed flustered yet unaware of how thoroughly and skillfully he had been skewered. Soon he was venting over a former beauty queen, whom he helped to crown two decades earlier.

The next evening, as wounds from his thrashing began to burn, he dropped “Secretary Clinton” and relapsed into “Crooked Hillary.” As though on cue, his claque of would-be brown-shirts screamed, “Lock her up! Lock her up!” A few weeks from now, he’ll rest in a memory heap–somewhere far beneath Jennings Bryan, the Cross of Gold candidate from 1896 who, at age 36, could indeed produce complete sentences.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 2, 2016

Jenna Johnson, Trump urges supporters to monitor polling places in ‘certain areas’, Washington Post, October 1, 2016

Stephanie McCrummen, Finally: someone who thinks like me, Washington Post, October 1, 2016

James Hohmann and Breanne Deppisch, Trump stumbles into Clinton’s trap by feuding with Latina beauty queen, Washington Post, September 28, 2016

Jenna Johnson, At Florida rally, Trump resumes attacking ‘crooked Hillary Clinton’, Washington Post, September 27, 2016

Paul H, Jossey, How we killed the Tea Party, Politico, August 18, 2016

Michael Finnegan, Donald Trump says ’2nd Amendment people’ can prevent Hillary Clinton from choosing judges, Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2016

Evan Halper, Zika virus spreads to Presidential politics, Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2016

Martin Pengelly, American Nazi Party leader sees ‘a real opportunity’ with a Trump Presidency, Manchester Guardian (UK), August 7, 2016

Thomas Beaumont, Associated Press, Charting a road to 270, Clinton sets out most efficient path, WTOP (Washington, DC), August 6, 2016

Jill Colvin and Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press, Fact check: Trump’s Iranian propaganda video a concoction, WTOP (Washington, DC), August 4, 2016

Jonathan Mahler and Matt Flegenheimer, What Donald Trump learned from Joseph McCarthy’s right-hand man, New York Times, June 21, 2016

Holocaust Encyclopedia, Charles E. Coughlin, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, June, 2016

Ibram X. Kendi, The eleven most racist U.S. Presidents, Huffington Post, May, 2016

Debbie Elliot, Is Donald Trump a modern-day George Wallace?, (U.S.) National Public Radio, April, 2016

Joyce Oh and Amanda Latham, Senator Joseph McCarthy, McCarthyism and the Witch Hunt, Cold War Museum, 2008

Marie Brenner, After the Gold Rush, Vanity Fair, 1990

Richard Kreitner, William Jennings Bryan delivers Cross of Gold speech, The Nation, 2015 and 1896

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 2 returns as anti-Semite, Brookline Beacon, July 3, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 3, plain vanilla creep, Brookline Beacon, June 16, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 3 sounds like No. 2, Brookline Beacon, June 11, 2016

How soon will Zika disease spread to New England?

Zika disease, at epidemic levels in Brazil for more than a year, has come to Miami, FL. Although often described as a “tropical disease,” it has escaped the tropics, and people are keeping a greater distance. This month, the Miami Herald quoted the operator of a Florida travel business, saying, “I had to cancel eight out of my 12 weekly summer season tours.” In recent days, several locally transmitted Zika cases were reported in Miami Beach, and the danger zone was expanded from 1-1/2 square miles to most of the community.

Origin of the threat: Zika is not a new threat. It was first found almost 70 years ago as a disease of rhesus monkeys in the Ziika Forest–for which the disease was named–located near Lake Victoria in Uganda. The cause is a flavivirus (“yellow virus”). That virus family and genus includes the agents of yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya and West Nile fever. The diseases have mostly been transmitted by aggressive species of mosquitos common in the tropics. Some of the diseases have migrated to temperate regions, and some infect wild and domesticated animals–including goats, sheep and mice–as well as humans.

The flaviviruses are single-strand RNA viruses, like the virus that causes AIDS. Lacking stabilizing effects of DNA-based genetics, they mutate relatively often, sometimes producing new, persistent strains. Research shows that happened in recent years with Zika. The original strain found in Africa caused mostly mild, brief illness in humans. The common symptoms were low fever, sometimes with skin rash or joint pain, that lasted up to a week.

The disease spread from Africa into south and southeast Asia. A 2007 outbreak on Yap and nearby islands of Micronesia drew attention because it seemed very widespread, even though it caused no deaths or long-term health problems. A survey using immunology tests suggested that about three-quarters of the population had been infected. Those tests encounter cross-reactions among the flaviviruses. A previous infection by dengue or chikungunya may produce a positive result. Since dengue is often present where Zika strikes, estimates of infections using immunology tests can be clouded by errors.

Growth of the threat: Starting in 2013, another flavivirus epidemic occurred in Tahiti and nearby islands of French Polynesia. This time health centers had genetics tests available when live virus could be sampled. They distinguish more clearly among viruses, and Zika was soon identified as a main cause of the epidemic. However, the virus had mutated, producing new strains. Some victims had more severe symptoms than previously reported for Zika disease. A small fraction of the victims developed long-term problems including profound muscle weakness, known as Guillain-Barré syndrome.

After the epidemic in French Polynesia, unusual problems began to be found in newborns: smaller heads than normal, called microcephaly. While such symptoms occur without Zika, they occurred more often in births from pregnancies during the epidemic. Other severe problems began to be found, including defects in the brain, eyes and spinal cord. Immunology tests associated a high proportion of newborn victims with Zika exposure.

During 2014, newer strains of Zika spread eastward, appearing in other Pacific islands and then in South America. During 2015, the disease spread through most of Brazil, then appeared in neighboring countries and Central America, including the Caribbean. Windblown mosquitos helped spread the disease, but epidemiologists also attribute the spread to infected people traveling to places where aggressive species of mosquitos are common. Cabo Verde, near the west coast of Africa, recently reported cases involving newer strains of Zika.

As of 2012, only five strains of Zika had been reported. By early spring, 2016, about 60 Zika strains had been identified by gene sequencing. Comparisons found two main groups: one common in Africa, the other common in south and southeast Asia. Strains responsible for the 2013 outbreak in French Polynesia and the recent outbreaks in South and Central America had developed from previous Asian strains. As with older strains, many people apparently infected by newer strains did not seek care for relatively mild symptoms, while the virus was infecting cells and multiplying.

During the past year, publications surged. By mid-September, 2016, gene sequences for almost 100 strains had been reported. Compared with other diseases, however, research on Zika immunology and therapeutics remains poorly developed. According to a recent review of the science, researchers “currently lack major basic tools for [Zika vaccine] development, including reliable animal models, reference reagents and assays.” In Congress, for months Republicans driven by reactionary agendas failed to act on President Obama’s request of February, 2016, seeking $1.9 billion in emergency funds for applied research on Zika.

Dangers and precautions: Soon after an infection has taken hold, Zika has been found in many body tissues and fluids. It may persist for months after symptoms of an infection–if there were any–have gone away. Laboratory measurements found that newer Zika strains are highly infectious; just a few copies of the virus may be needed to transmit the disease. Although apparently not contagious, the disease is transmitted by intimate contact, including sex. Since current genetics tests cannot insure that levels of Zika virus are below an infectious threshold, major health organizations have been recommending long delays between potential Zika exposure and pregnancy.

It is not yet known whether antibodies produced during infection by one Zika strain can prevent infection by other strains. A pattern from the closely related dengue virus is troubling. A previous infection involving one class of dengue virus does not prevent infection by strains belonging to another class and may worsen health hazards. Early indications, still controversial, suggest Zika infections might behave similarly.

There is no approved vaccine against Zika. One candidate vaccine recently began the first of three stages in clinical trials: testing for safety. The first vaccine approved against dengue began marketing just this year, after over 80 years of experiments, and already it has been clouded with safety issues–potentially worsening health hazards, including those from Zika.

Spreading disease: Mosquitos, notably those in the Aedes genus, have been the main vectors for Zika and other flaviviruses. The Aedes aegypti species is adapted to humans and their habitats. Other Aedes species are also frequent carriers, helping to infect wild and domesticated animals as well as humans. Although often called “tropical,” Aedes mosquitos live throughout the southern half of the United States. They are also key vectors for yellow fever virus, which became a scourge of East Coast and Mississippi River cities during the late 1600s through the late 1800s. New England is already visited by dengue fever, the flavivirus most closely related to Zika.

New England dengue fever cases

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council, 2009

The Aedes aegypti mosquito range extends into New England, including at least the western seacoasts of Connecticut. However, laboratory experiments show that mosquitos in the Culex genus can also carry Zika. They are common back-yard and house mosquitos throughout New England, with ranges extending well into Canada. During the last few decades, they have become vectors in the region for West Nile virus, and they may be vectors for dengue virus. Although the region is not likely to see Zika epidemics as widespread as those in the tropics, New England remains under threat.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 20, 2016

Roni Caryn Rabin, Zika test not easy to obtain, New York Times, September 20, 2016

Brendan O’Brien, Florida expands Zika zone in Miami Beach after five new cases, Reuters (UK), September 17, 2016

Lizette Alvarez, Pregnant women anxious as Florida’s Zika test results take weeks, New York Times, September 13, 2016

Chabeli Herrera, Nancy Dahlberg and Nicholas Nehamas, Zika takes bite out of Miami-Dade economy, Miami Herald, September 9, 2016

Maggie Fox, Zika funding fails again in Congress, NBC News, September 6, 2016

WHO expands Zika sexual transmission advice, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, September 6, 2016

Wanwisa Dejnirattisai, et al., Dengue virus sero-cross-reactivity drives antibody-dependent enhancement of infection with Zika virus, Nature Immunology 17(9):1102-1108, September, 2016

Raj K. Singh, et al., Zika virus: emergence, evolution, pathology, diagnosis and control, Veterinary Quarterly 36(3):150-175, September, 2016

Rafael A. Larocca, et al., Vaccine protection against Zika virus from Brazil, Nature 536(7617):474–478, August 25, 2016

Luisa Barzon, et al., Infection dynamics in a traveler with persistent shedding of Zika virus, Eurosurveillance 21(32) online, August 11, 2016

Paulo Prada, Brazilian scientists find Zika traces in Culex mosquitoes in wild, Reuters (UK), July 21, 2016

Jesse J. Waggoner, et al., Single-reaction multiplex reverse transcription PCR for detection of Zika, chikungunya and dengue viruses, Emerging Infectious Diseases 22(7):1295-1297, July, 2016

Didier Mussoa and Duane J. Gublerb, Zika virus, Clinical Microbiology Reviews 29(3):487-524, July, 2016

Contrary dengue vaccine response hints at possible problems with Zika, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, July, 2016

Amanda B. Keener, Zika and dengue immunity: a complex relationship, The Scientist (Canada), June 28, 2016

Ingrid B. Rabe, et al., Guidance for interpretation of Zika virus antibody test results, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 3, 2016

Charlotte J. Haug, et al., The Zika challenge, New England Journal of Medicine 374(19):1801-1803, May 12, 2016

Van-Mai Cao-Lormeau, et al., Guillain-Barré syndrome outbreak associated with Zika virus infection in French Polynesia, Lancet 387(10027):1531-1548, April 9, 2016

Estimated U.S. ranges of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 1, 2016

Lauren M. Paul, et al., Dengue virus antibodies enhance Zika virus infection, Florida Gulf Coast University (not yet published), April, 2016

New CDC laboratory test for Zika virus authorized for emergency use by FDA, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 26, 2016

Jason Beaubien, Zika in French Polynesia, (U.S.) National Public Radio, February 9, 2016

Jon Cohen, Zika’s long, strange trip into the limelight, Science (online edition), February 8, 2016

Andrew D. Haddow, et al., Genetic characterization of Zika virus strains, Neglected Tropical Diseases 6(2) online, Public Library of Science, February, 2012

Mark R. Duffy, et al., Zika virus outbreak on Yap island, New England Journal of Medicine 360(24):2536-2543, June 11, 2009

Kim Knowlton, Gina Solomon and Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, Mosquito-borne dengue fever, Natural Resources Defense Council, 2009

Andrea Ryan and Melissa Lee Smith, Major American epidemics of yellow fever 1793-1905, (U.S.) Public Broadcasting Service, 2006

Laura B. Goddard, et al., Vector competence of California mosquitos for West Nile virus, Emerging Infectious Diseases 8(12):1385-1391, December, 2002

China’s influence on nuclear power

Over the next several years, China is likely to influence “third generation” nuclear power more than any other country. That is partly because China already is and will likely continue to be the largest market. It is also because China has the most active efforts at nuclear design, manufacturing and construction.

China’s nuclear fleet: Before 1994, no nuclear power operated in China. China never built “first generation” nuclear-power plants or any power plants with “boiling water” reactors. During 2016, 34 “second generation” nuclear-power units are or will be in full, normal operations at 11 power plants in China. Organizations primarily responsible for construction have been China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) of Beijing–5 plants and 15 units–and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) of Shenzhen–6 plants and 19 units.

Nuclear-power units operating in China during 2016

Click Here for a table of China’s nuclear power-plant units in full operation during 2016: plant and province, unit number, rated net MW, equipment type and source, year and month in full operation, builder organization.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency, 2016

CNNC worked with several types and sources of equipment designs. CGN concentrated on a single type, first sourced from France. After building four units, CGN localized the type to China, with increased output, as the CPR-1000 design. That became the major nuclear-power design in China, built by CNNC as well as by CGN and representing 19 of the 34 units operating in 2016. The first CPR-1000 unit at Ling Ao in Guangdong province took 6-1/2 years to build. More recent CPR-1000 units have been completed in a little over 4 years, with about 90 percent of the value sourced from China.

Responses to disaster: After the Japanese nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in March, 2011, the government of China briefly halted nuclear plant and unit authorizations and began a review of China’s nuclear-power programs. A so-called “white paper” from October, 2012–officially a statement of “energy policy”–provided the following:

“Since the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster in 2011, China has launched comprehensive safety inspections at all nuclear-power plants. The inspection results show that nuclear security is guaranteed in China…China’s installed capacity of nuclear power is expected to reach 40 GW by 2015.” [Information Office of the State Council, China’s Energy Policy 2012, as released in English October 24, 2012, pp. 12-13 of 25]

The capacity goal was silently ignored. China’s net rated nuclear generation capacity at the start of 2015 totaled only 20 GW–half the claimed goal. No clear public statement came from China’s government reflecting the nuclear safety review. There was little chance of a candid assessment amid a command economy and regimes long arrogant toward the people of China. Because disclosing information outside official channels is harshly punished, China’s regulation of its nuclear industry is far less effective than even United States regulation in 1974, before dissolving the former Atomic Energy Commission and starting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Some changes began with retirement of Hu Jintao as general secretary in the fall of 2012 and succession of Xi Jinping. During the Hu regime, China promoted pell-mell industrial growth at the expense of infrastructure and environment. Energy production gorged on China’s coal and led to large coal imports. Motor vehicle traffic grew apace, combining exhaust fumes with coal smoke to produce intense storms of air pollution–sometimes worse than Pittsburgh in the 1940s but enormously larger.

Regime change: Near the start of the Xi regime, the Chinese government lifted the moratorium on nuclear authorizations and quickly moved to consolidate and spur activities of nuclear organizations. Owing to needs for large sources of capital, these are all effectively arms of government–regardless of charters. A modest growth in nuclear-power capacity became a surge. More than half the nuclear generation capacity at the end of 2016 will have begun normal operations within the latest three years.

Nuclear generation capacity in China by years

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency, 2016

A practical effect in China of the nuclear catastrophe in Japan was to accelerate “third generation” nuclear-power technology, in hopes it would deliver on claims of safety yet to be proven through operating experience. Plans for “second generation” units were cut back and new plans for “third generation” units pushed forward. China had already contracted to build four AP-1000 units at Sanmen and Haiyang, mostly designed at Westinghouse in the United States, and two EPR units at Taishan, mostly designed at Areva in France. China had licensed Rev. 15 of AP-1000 designs from Toshiba of Japan–omitting aircraft impact resistance and rejected for U.S. plants, which use Rev. 19 of AP-1000 designs. Chinese organizations apparently saw EPR technology as less promising and had not licensed it from Areva of France.

In a reversal of usual behaviors, typically more proactive CGN had taken responsibility for EPR technology, while CNNC took responsibility for AP-1000 technology. Nevertheless, CGN moved rapidly toward a Chinese localization of “third generation” nuclear-power technology using AP-1000 rather than EPR as a model. The overall approach appears to wrap protective AP-1000 “third generation” elements around CPR-1000 “second generation” designs–the latter adapted and promoted by CGN but also utilized by CNNC.

For a time, CNNC and CGN elaborated separate, competitive approaches to integrating AP-1000 “third generation” nuclear technologies into Chinese “second generation” designs. Both organizations had built locally sourced “second generation” nuclear units at multiple power plants. In early 2014, China’s government directed the two organizations to produce a single design. They soon began to refer to the object of the joint effort as the 华龙 Hualong (grand China dragon) design.

Disputes over still separate elements of plans were resolved by reviewers assembled by Hualong International Nuclear Power Technology Company, a 50-50 joint venture of CNNC and CGN begun in March, 2016. Bloomberg News reported in early August, 2016, that CNNC elements were chosen over those from CGN. The organization will seek overseas business. Its 1.09 GW nuclear-power design has been designated HPR-1000. Geographic regions were separated for CNNC versus CGN activity. CGN, now focused on Guangxi, Guangdong and parts of Fujian provinces, will pursue opportunities in Europe. CNNC will seek overseas business in South America.

CNNC asserts that the HPR-1000 “design concept and technologies…have been verified” by “natural science.” That sounds like an appeal to magic. By comparison with the United States and the European Union, regulatory review in China has been, at best, extremely hasty. News sourced from China shows foundations being built for the first HPR-1000 unit in May, 2015, before organizing joint management and more than a year before resolving design issues. In telling contrast, U.S. regulatory review for the AP-1000 design took from March, 2002–when the first complete design was submitted–through December, 2011. No construction occurred during that interval.

Developing technology: The HPR-1000 design is not a knockoff of the AP-1000 design, although it uses similar approaches and has nearly the same external ratings. Obvious differences include these five. (1) AP-1000 has a water reservoir for passive cooling on the roof of its containment building; HPR-1000 has a water reservoir inside its building. (2) AP-1000 has two “loops”–steam generators; HPR-1000 has three. (3) AP-1000 has four coolant pumps moving reactor water through its steam generators; HPR-1000 has three. (4) AP-1000 has a core with 157 fuel assemblies, each 264 rods that are 15.0 ft long; HPR-1000 has a core with 177 fuel assemblies, each 264 rods that are 12.7 ft long. (5) AP-1000 has a vessel with 13.3 ft diameter around the core; HPR-1000 has a vessel with 14.4 ft diameter around the core.

Nuclear “third generation” designs in China

Characteristic AP-1000 HPR-1000
rated net MWe 1110 1090
heat transfer 2-loop 3-loop
coolant pumps 4 3
fuel assemblies 157 177
rods per assembly 264 264
fuel rod length 15.0 ft 12.7 ft
vessel diameter 13.3 ft 14.4 ft
water reservoir on roof inside
passive survival 72 hr 72 hr
ground acceleration 0.3 g 0.3 g
seamless vessel on core yes yes
bottom cap solid solid
double containment yes yes
load following yes yes
refueling cycle 18 mo 18 mo
design life 60 yr 60 yr

Source: China National Nuclear Corporation, 2016

The HPR-1000 design leverages China’s infrastructure built around the CPR-1000 design, by far its most widely applied nuclear-power technologies. Chinese type AFA3G fuel assemblies have become its high-volume nuclear fuel, required by the CPR-1000 units. Type CF3 fuel rods for HPR-1000 assemblies are slightly (15.9 mm) shorter than type AFA3G rods for CPR-1000 assemblies and use a double-welding process. Dimensions of reactor vessels and steam generators nearly match, assuring that current manufacturers will be able to build them.

China’s nuclear industries remain plagued by lack of consistent standards for dimensioning, measuring, testing, inspection and qualification. Instead of adopting or developing a comprehensive set of standards, China continues to apply multiple standards copied from the countries that have been sources for equipment. Those include France, Russia, Canada, the United States, Japan and Spain. A document from China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration suggests that the French RCC-M code (Règles de Conception et de Construction des Matériels Mécaniques) may be the most common standard, because it was used for the CPR-1000 design. When foreign standards are revised–a frequent occurence–it is unlikely that the forest of Chinese copies can be kept synchronized. Over time, that can become a potential source of equipment failures.

According to CNNC in 2015, longstanding Chinese official policy of a “closed nuclear fuel cycle” remains unchanged. A presentation at a meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil stated, “China has been adopting the closed nuclear fuel cycle, i.e., the spent fuel shall be reprocessed to recycled uranium, plutonium and other elements to enhance the fuel utilization.” [text in English, figure legends in Chinese] However, locations in the general area of a reprocessing facility proposed near Jiayuguan in Gansu, near a military outpost since the 1950s, currently provide only storage, despite a claim by CNNC about plans for “big commercial reprocessing.”

Energy context: During 2015, China’s nuclear-power fleet produced about three percent of China’s net electricity. So far, growth in nuclear electricity is far outpaced by growth in coal-fired electricity. Between 2014 and 2015, a rated 6 GW of nuclear capacity was added, while a rated 72 GW in coal-fired capacity was added. At recent rates of change, China might never achieve the current world average of about 11 percent nuclear electricity.

Quoting from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, Energy Post–produced in the Netherlands–finds that renewable electricity has been growing faster. Between 2014 and 2015, China reported adding about 33 GW, peak in wind capacity and adding about 18 GW, peak in solar capacity. Discounted by typical capacity factors of 90 percent for nuclear, 25 percent for wind and 12 percent for solar, China reported adding about 5.4 GW in average nuclear capacity and about 10.3 GW in average renewable capacity. There has been no information on China’s internal energy development costs that is generally regarded as reliable.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 9, 2016

Nuclear power-plants in China, International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna), September, 2016

Nuclear power in China, World Nuclear Association (London), August, 2016

Tom Holland, Why Britain’s Hinkley nuclear reactor is a horror show, South China Morning Post, August 29, 2016

Edward Wong, Coal burning causes the most air pollution deaths in China, New York Times, August 18, 2016

Chris Buckley, Chinese city backs down on proposed nuclear fuel plant after protests, New York Times, August 11, 2016

Aibing Guo, CNNC says its plan to merge ‘Hualong One’ reactor designs favored, Bloomberg News, August 3, 2016

David Dalton, China nuclear companies form joint venture to export ‘Hualong One’ reactor, NucNet Newsletter (Brussels), March 17, 2016

‘Hualong One’ joint venture officially launched by China, World Nuclear News (UK), March 17, 2016

China’s electricity mix, Energy Post (Netherlands), March 1, 2016

China to build more ‘Hualong One’ reactors, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), February 25, 2016

Nuclear fuel industry in China, China National Nuclear Corporation (Beijing, in English), October, 2015

Chinese reprocessing plant to start up in 2030, World Nuclear News (UK), September 24, 2015

Haiyang Wang, China’s nuclear power development and ‘Hualong One’ (HPR-1000) pressurized water reactor technology, China National Nuclear Corporation (Beijing, in English), September, 2015

Emma Graham-Harrison, China warned over plans for new nuclear power plants, Manchester Guardian (UK), May 25, 2015

Fuqing-5 foundation in place, World Nuclear News (UK), May 12, 2015

Tang Bo, Use of mechanical code and standard in Chinese nuclear-power plants, National Nuclear Safety Administration (Beijing, in English), c. 2015

Ian Hore-Lacy, China’s new nuclear baby, World Nuclear News (UK), September 2, 2014

Caroline Peachey, Chinese reactor design evolution, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), May 22, 2014

Jane Nakano, The United States and China: making nuclear energy safer, Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution (Washington, DC), February 6, 2014

Matthew L. Wald, Approval of reactor design clears path for new plants, New York Times, December 23, 2011

Craig Bolon, Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress, Brookline Beacon, September 6, 2016

Craig Bolon, Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2016

Craig Bolon, Will New England revive nuclear power?, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2016

Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress

The AP-1000 nuclear power-plant design from the U.S. Westinghouse division of Toshiba in Japan may become the major and perhaps sole survivor of competition in “third generation” nuclear. Eight units are currently under construction in the United States and China. The European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) from Areva of France has four units under construction in Finland, France and China. However, it is currently on life-support, owing to design and testing scandals and to major manufacturing defects.

“Third generation” nuclear from Rosatom in Russia, Kepco in South Korea and Hitachi in Japan gained little traction outside countries of origin. No plants are under construction, and no financing has been announced for deals reported with governments in Egypt, Abu Dhabi, Poland and India. A former barrier to manufacturing–as of 2009 only one plant, located in Japan, able to produce critical components–has been overcome by large, new steel forging facilities in several countries, including China, Korea, India and the United States.

There are other claimants to “third generation” technology–not credited by international business. In Japan, Hitachi completed four ABWR units in the 1990s. All remain idle in the aftermath of the March, 2011, nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Using French technology, China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) in Guangdong province developed the CPR-1000 design. Like the Hitachi ABWR, it produces a slightly improved “second generation” nuclear power-plant. More recently, possibly using technology from the AP-1000, CGN announced another cheapened design called ACC1000 at first and more recently 华龙一 Hualong One, couched in Chlingish, or HPR-1000. A prototype has been announced for the Fuqing plant in Fujian province, which currently has two CPR-1000 units.

Schedules and costs: There are currently four AP-1000 nuclear units under construction in the United States, using the Rev. 19 design–providing aircraft impact resistance–approved in 2011 by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There are four units under construction in China using the Rev. 15 design, documented in 2006 by the U.S. but lacking aircraft impact resistance. A nationalized company in China licensed the Rev. 15 design and announced plans to build 10 or more additional units. Rev. 19 of the AP-1000 received “interim” approval by the UK in 2011. Currently, UK officials remain conflicted about whether to build EPR units. The Office for Nuclear Regulation has registered slow movement toward final AP-1000 approval.

An AP-1000 unit in Sanmen, China looks likely to become the first “third generation” nuclear unit to operate. Chinese industry got a head start by adopting the Rev. 15 design, rejected for U.S. plants. However, all AP-1000 projects world-wide are around three years behind schedule. The worst delays were caused by test failures of coolant pumps built by Curtis-Wright of Cheswick, PA. Those were controversial elements, based on technology developed for U.S. nuclear-powered submarines. Each AP-1000 unit has four of the pumps, using an innovative, sealed design unproven in industrial applications. After delivery delays of up to about two years, revised pumps have been installed at four of the eight AP-1000 units currently under construction. The revised pump designs are apparently not part of the Rev. 15 technology licensed to Chinese industry.

Fully burdened costs of AP-1000 units in the U.S. were recently reported more than $7 a watt, nearly a factor of two cost overrun. Full cost of the EPR unit at Flamanville, France is also reported at over $7 a watt–and still growing. Both European EPR projects are around ten years behind schedule, with cost overruns at least a factor of three. Schedules for the two EPR units in Taishan, China leaped ahead of the two in Europe, under a less demanding regime of regulation. However, schedules for all EPR projects are now in question from recent threats of catastrophic failure, owing to major manufacturing defects that remain under review in Europe.

Safety concerns: Safety concerns are always relative. Fatalities in automobile crashes per miles of vehicle travel probably peaked in the United States during 1900 through 1920, years before the U.S. government compiled records. Since 24.1 deaths per 100 million vehicle-miles for 1921, official tallies fell almost continuously to a low of 1.08 for 2014. For decades, however, the lures of automobile travel distracted U.S. attention from the dangers, while enthusiasm surged.

Lures of nuclear power in China and several other countries will more likely be weighed against hazards of alternatives rather than against hazards of nuclear power-plants. Hazards in those countries are dominated by large-scale burning of coal. Chinese steel, smelting and cement plants have been expanding rapidly, most of them burning coal. Over the past ten years, China added more than 800 coal-fired power units averaging 600 MW capacity. Academic research published in the summer of 2015 attributed more than a million and a half deaths per year in China to air pollution.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 6, 2016

First two AP1000s move closer to commissioning in China, World Nuclear News (UK), May 26, 2016

Scott Judy, U.S. contractor shake-up stirs nuclear project’s acceleration, Engineering News Record (Troy, MI), March 31, 2016

‘Hualong One’ joint venture officially launched by China, World Nuclear News (UK), March 17, 2016

Heavy manufacturing of power plants, World Nuclear Association (UK), 2016

Fatality analysis reporting system, U.S. National Highway Safety Administration, 2016

Jim Green, EPR fiasco unraveling in France and the UK, Nuclear Monitor (WISE International, Amsterdam), October 15, 2015

Rod Adams, Reactor coolant pumps for AP-1000 still a problem, Atomic Insights (Crystal City, VA), August 29, 2015

Dan Levin, Study links polluted air in China to 1.6 million deaths a year, New York Times, August 14, 2015

As U.S. shutters coal plants, China and Japan are building them, Institute for Energy Research (Washington, DC), April 23, 2015

UK assessment of AP-1000 design advances, World Nuclear News (UK), March 12, 2015

Robert Ladefian, The world’s largest canned motor pump, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), January 1, 2013

AP-1000 overview (Westinghouse), International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna), 2011

Sven Baumgarten, Bernhard Brecht, Uwe Bruhns and Pete Fehring, Reactor coolant pump type RUV for Westinghouse reactor AP-1000, American Nuclear Society, Paper 10339, Proceedings of the International Congress on Advances in Nuclear Power Plants, June 13-17, 2010

Stephen V. Mladineo and Charles D. Ferguson, On the Westinghouse AP-1000 sale to China and its possible military implications, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (Arlington, VA), March 29, 2008

Craig Bolon, Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2016

Opioid overdose deaths: Brookline reporting low hazards

Opioid overdose deaths, caused by both prescription painkillers and illegal narcotics, have grown rapidly in the past few years. According to recent articles in the Boston Globe, the problem is particularly severe in New England, including Massachusetts. However, community burdens are grossly unequal.

A recent Globe article indicated that some small towns, including Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard, have major problems. However, the Globe lacks math skills. Its reporters and editors failed to consider whether data they presented had statistical significance. For Aquinnah, numbers of events were so small that there was little significance. Lack of significance occurred with 254 of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns.

Rates of opioid overdose deaths varied greatly among the 97 communities for which data had strong statistical significance. For the four years of data now available, calendar 2012 through 2015, the statewide average was 162 deaths per year per million residents. Communities can be compared by the differences between their opioid overdose death rates and the state average. Expressing those differences in units of confidence intervals gives a statistically weighted picture when comparing communities.

Considered that way, the three least hazardous communities were Brookline, Needham and Wellesley:

Community 4-year rate 95%-confidence interval difference, in intervals
Brookline 17 17.0 -8.5
Needham 9 26.0 -5.9
Wellesley 9 26.8 -5.7

From 2012 through 2015, Brookline experienced a rate of 17 opioid overdose deaths per year per million residents–from a total of 4 events. Statistics gave 17.0 as a 95%-confidence interval for its rate. The Brookline rate was 8.5 confidence intervals lower than the state average: a very significant difference.

At the other end of the scale, the three most hazardous communities were Lynn, Quincy and New Bedford:

Community 4-year rate 95%-confidence interval difference, in intervals
Lynn 357 62.9 +3.1
Quincy 333 60.1 +2.9
New Bedford 329 58.8 +2.8

From 2012 through 2015, Lynn experienced a rate of 357 opioid overdose deaths per year per million residents–from a total of 125 events. Statistics gave 62.9 as a 95%-confidence interval for its rate. The Lynn rate was 3.1 confidence intervals higher than the state average: a very significant difference.

Massachusetts opioid overdose deaths concentrated in 17 high-hazard communities: Lynn, Quincy, New Bedford, Fall River, Worcester, Lowell, Haverhill, Brockton, Everett, Revere, Weymouth, Pittsfield, Taunton, Malden, Wareham, Stoughton and Carver. With 18 percent of the state population, they experienced 33 percent of the events.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 4, 2016

Lenny Bernstein, Deaths from opioid overdoses set a record in 2014, Washington Post, December 11, 2015

Matt Rocheleau, Opioid overdose deaths by Massachusetts town from 2012 to 2015, Boston Globe, May 3, 2016

Opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts communities, 2012-2015, Brookline Beacon, May 4, 2016

Software magic: epic bungling of

In October, 2013, New York Times reporters Robert Pear, Sharon LaFraniere and Ian Austen first reported gross conflicts and disorganization among contractors developing the major U.S. health-care Web site,, and their supervisors who were federal government employees. While the Times described problems soon after a crisis became public, its reporters did not explain how the problems developed.

Three weeks later, Washington Post reporters Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin traced them to blunders committed by lawyers who were serving as government officials but had no significant operations backgrounds, technical competence or business experience–their authority underwritten directly by Pres. Obama.

Protracted failures of the U.S. Web site became a classic case of the “software runaway,” memorialized about 20 years ago in the like-named book by Robert L. Glass. Recently, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided a legal-eye view of this epic disaster.

Within the industry, a disease had been recognized by the late 1960s, with crashes of early airline reservation systems as the major, public danger signs. After a few years, remedies were known, and software professionals were addressing issues when clients and employers allowed them the time and responsibility to do that. The Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie-Mellon University gradually created a new profession: “software architect.”

However, the lure of “coding” as a source of instant magic remained amazingly seductive and has continued to undermine efforts. Project failures remain common, although few become as dramatic as the one that almost capsized the federal Affordable Health Care program. The root causes are usually the same: muddlers in charge of projects–lacking strong skills and strong character. Muddlers can be pleasant to work with and are often successful in some roles. Developing new software is not one of those, nor is designing a new bridge.

Assigning blame: As Daniel Levinson, inspector general for Health and Human Services, wrote, core elements in the recent disaster were:
Poor leadership: “ lacked clear project leadership to give direction and unity of purpose, responsiveness in execution and a comprehensive view of progress.”
Poor management: “[The office] mismanaged the key…development contract, with frequent changes, problematic technological decisions and limited oversight of contractor performance.”

The software, coordinating transactions between millions of users and hundreds of back-office systems, would have been a nightmare on a sunny day. As usual, the foul-ups began at the beginning: writing requirements. The approach in nearly all durable efforts has been to start modestly and build out in steps. Disregarding readily found advice, spun from a long history of painful failures, government nitwits bought into the aptly named “big bang” approach: launch everything–all at once–and make it slick and shiny, and thus very complicated.

Chief Muddler at Health and Human Services was Marilyn Tavenner, the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services–not a “dear, sweet woman” but by training a nurse and street-wise organizer. Trying to direct technology, she was out of her depth. She lacked the sense to find and hire someone who could do the job.

While manufacturing a disaster, she had plenty of help from White House nitwits. They had only dreams of sharing limelight in a splendid performance. They had no industry backgrounds and no role in making anything actually work. Up against those would-be luminaries, Ms. Tavenner lacked the character to say “No,” and she lacked the skills to see she was merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Remedies and wreckers: Mr. Levinson, the inspector general, seems to think remedies are obvious. He calls for “clear leadership.” However, his approach of “project leaders” would not help when designated leaders were also nitwits or muddlers. He is on sounder ground seeking “factors of organizational culture” that might help. However, as a career bureaucrat and a lawyer, Mr. Levinson does not seem to understand just what those factors might be or how to get them.

No major news source has yet described how a senior Administration official behind the blunders, Nancy-Ann Min DeParle–former director of the Office of Health Reform at the White House and from 2011 to 2013 Pres. Obama’s deputy chief of staff for policy–was allowed to quit the government before the health-care reform program began operating.

An ambitious person, regarded as a health-care policy expert, Ms. DeParle had served in prominent positions in the federal government and the state government of Tennessee, where she spent much of her youth and graduated from college. Her most obvious blunder, failing to set and then freeze program requirements, allowed a stream of changes ordered when efforts were already gravely behind schedule.

By failing to name key perpetrators in the collapse and failing to state plainly what they did wrong, Mr. Levinson, the inspector general, emulates ancient Tibetan lamas. He is spinning prayer-wheels. His report will be shelved and forgotten, as federal government lurches toward its next appointment with disaster.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 23, 2016

Daniel R. Levinson, U.S. HHS inspector general, CMMS management of the federal marketplace: case study, February, 2016

Amy Goldstein, HHS failed to heed many warnings that was in trouble, Washington Post, February 22, 2016

Robert Pear, Sharon LaFraniere and Ian Austen, From the start, signs of trouble in federal project, New York Times, October 13, 2013

Sharon LaFraniere, Ian Austen and Robert Pear, Specialists see weeks of work ahead on federal health-care exchange, New York Times, October 21, 2013

Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin, How political fear was pitted against technical needs, Washington Post, November 2, 2013

Robert L. Glass, Software Runaways: Monumental Software Disasters, Prentice Hall, 1997

Diversity Commission: messengers and victims

A regular meeting of the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission on Wednesday, January 27, started at 6:30 pm in the Denny Room at the Brookline Health Center. The agenda included review of the commission’s recent statement on institutional racism in the Brookline work force, which was read by Alex Coleman, chair of the commission, at a public hearing held by the Board of Selectmen on January 5.

Town government, according to the commission statement, has a “culture of institutional racism” that “the Board of Selectmen…allowed.” The statement read by Dr. Coleman called on the Board of Selectmen, “as the elected leaders of the town, to exercise your responsibilities and duties, as commissioners of the Police and Fire Departments…to stamp out this culture.”

Attacking messengers: The commission’s January 27 meeting began with a statement from Bernard Greene, who is the delegate from the Board of Selectmen. Mr. Greene said his board was “actively taking steps to determine the facts” about complaints of racial mistreatment. However, he claimed the commission’s statement “has not been helpful to efforts to deal with these problems.”

Mr. Greene objected to what he called a “pathetic process that resulted in the statement.” He said he was “here to request that this commission rescind that statement and disavow it to the board and to the public.” After it does that, he said, “maybe the board can then begin to fulfill a useful role in addressing those problems.” Mr. Greene then left, saying he had “another meeting.”

Commission members had previously received a message from Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, sent by e-mail to Dr. Coleman on January 15. Ms. Murphy claimed the statement was “causing damage to the Town’s reputation as a community and employer.” She demanded “that the Commission take immediate steps to retract this statement and publicly acknowledge that it was not factually supported at the time it was made.”

Another objection to the commission’s statement circulated at the meeting, written by Neil Gordon, a Brookline constable and a Precinct 1 town meeting member. In it, Mr. Gordon said he could “find no meaningful substance behind the statement.” He asked “where the commission reviewed” employment practices of the Board of Selectmen and whether “the process by which the Board of Selectmen appointed Joslin Murphy as Town Counsel [was] tainted by a ‘culture of institutional racism’ that was allowed by that board.”

Blaming victims: Dr. Coleman described contacts with Ms. Murphy, recalling that “she was saying we had no facts supporting” the statement. However, it was delivered in the context of a two-hour public hearing including several personal descriptions of alleged racial mistreatment by Brookline employees. He recounted telling Ms. Murphy, “We look forward to working collaboratively.”

Ms. Murphy is one of several defendants in a federal civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of a group of plaintiffs that now includes eight Brookline employees and residents. According to allegations made in this lawsuit, “…the Town of Brookline appointed a white woman with multiple relationships within the workforce, Defendant Joslin Murphy, as the town’s chief legal counsel” in 2014. [Amended complaint, paragraph 132, p. 42]

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege blaming victims as a theme of racial mistreatment, writing, for example, that Brookline “allowed false rumors to spread that [a plaintiff's] complaint was meritless; it encouraged [other employees] to shun and ostracize him.” [Amended complaint, paragraph 8, p. 5] In another instance, an alleged breach of confidence identified a plaintiff “as the one who had protested the use of racist language and caused [the plaintiff] to be ostracized within the department.” [Amended complaint, paragraph 19, p. 9]

Responses: With 11 of 12 members participating, the commission did not seem inclined to a change of mind about its statement. Tony Naro stated, “The way Town Counsel has addressed the Commission through [Dr. Coleman] is disrespectful…Our statement was an opinion…[Others] should not threaten us, bully us and demand that we retract the statement.” Dr. Coleman commented, “We are not a fact-finding group.” Malcolm Cawthorne said, “We stand by our statement.”

Several commission members suggested ways that the commission might describe the background of its statement, but only Sandy Batchelder proposed to reopen and possibly revise the statement. No one proposed to rescind or retract it. Kelly Race said, “We should take a vote on whether we stand by our statement…It was the opinion of the commission.”

Speaking from the audience, Frank Farlow, a Precinct 4 town meeting member and co-chair of Brookline PAX, agreed, saying, “It was the unanimous opinion of a large commission after extended discussion.” Commission members decided not to compose an immediate reply to criticisms but instead to resume reviews at their next regular meeting in February.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 29, 2016

Statement to the Board of Selectmen on institutional racism in the Brookline work force, Commission for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations, Town of Brookline, MA, January 4, 2016

Letter to commission chair Alex Coleman, from Joslin Murphy, Brookline town counsel, January 15, 2016

Amended complaint and jury demand, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed January 26, 2016

Board of Selectmen: complaints of racial mistreatment, Brookline Beacon, January 27, 2016

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2016

Civil rights lawsuit: town and individuals accused, Brookline Beacon, December 14, 2015