Preparing for the 100 Year Storm and Wondering if the Three Simultaneous Nuclear Crises are an Accident? (Part 2/2)
Right now, mother nature seems to be assaulting 3 nuclear sites in the United States, one at Los Alamos and two in the state of Nebraska, all within the same time period. The web, social networks and media are burning up with activity about the news of these events and will certainly put 2011 into the history books. A quick web search turns up thousands upon thousands of results including video, photos and reports.
A first page result on Google showed a series of conferences being held around the world to discuss how we can prevent these nuclear accidents from happening in the future. For example, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently held a five-day Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in Vienna in late June focused on the events of Fukushima. The purpose of the conference: "To learn lessons from the accident and to strengthen nuclear safety." Conference video and summaries can be found on the IAEA website.
Below are maps of the Commercial Nuclear Power Reactors and Research/Test Reactors that currently reside within the US. The maps were created by The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and their website provides a myriad of additional content that may be of interest.
Three Simultaneous Nuclear Accidents: Is this a fluke, or is there something behind this?
This may indeed be a fluke but there is another theory. At present, the US is experiencing bizarre weather including tornadoes, historic flooding, and even massive forest fires. These floods and fires, in turn, are threatening our nuclear sites. There may be a thread that links all these together. Much of the weather pattern in the US is governed by the collision of cold, arctic air from Alaska and Canada that sweeps down due to the jet stream, with the moist, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico. The boundary where these two large air masses collide forms a corridor which cuts across the US, extending from Texas and the Southwest all the way through the Midwest and onto New England.
Right now, there are two disturbances in this crucial collision. The first is La Nina, which periodically generates cold air in the Pacific. La Nina is apparently distorting the jet stream, causing it to move further over the Midwest. But also, the Gulf of Mexico is heating up by about 2 degrees, carrying more moist air over the Southeast. So the collision of these two large air masses is largely responsible, many scientists believe, for the unusual weather, which is generating monster rain storms, tornadoes, and massive flooding, due to more moisture in the air.
But why are historic levels of tornadoes and floods being recorded? No one knows.
La Nina comes back every few years, so this cannot explain the "100 year floods" and "100 year tornadoes." One possibility is that, on average, the Gulf of Mexico is carrying more moisture over the US, which could signal a historic change in our weather. This means that, on average, we could be experiencing not just "global warming," but more accurately global swings, e.g. flooding in one area and droughts in another. If this is correct (regardless of where this warming is coming from) it means that we might expect more floods to happen simultaneously with forest fires, which in turn can threaten farmland, homes, and nuclear power plants.
If so, there are many lessons.First, we have to factor in the "100 year storm" in all of our large construction projects. Engineers can no longer ignore the 100 year storm just because it will not happen in their life time or children's life time. The 100 year storm seems to be happening sooner than we thought. This will, in turn, make nuclear energy much less attractive. Second, we might have more "unprecedented" nuclear crises due to historically bizarre weather patterns.
This could change our very way of life.... Get used to it.
Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."
- Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
- Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
- Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
- A huge segment of America's population — the Baby Boom generation — is aging and will live longer than any American generation in history.
- The story we read about in the news? Their drain on social services like Social Security and Medicare.
- But increased longevity is a cause for celebration, says Ashton Applewhite, not doom and gloom.
Can you make solar power work when the sun goes down? You can, and Dubai is about to run a city that way.
- A new concentrated solar plant is under construction in Dubai.
- When it opens next year, it will be the largest plant of its kind on Earth.
- Concentrated solar power solves the problem of how to store electricity in ways that solar pannels cannot.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
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