Uranium's Peaceful Cousin

This is a pretty interesting article about Thorium being almost the ideal fissile material for nuclear power generation. (Yes I read Treehugger. It's the reason our house is down to 6 incandescents. A renaissance man am I...)

Basically the only reason nuclear energy is based on Uranium (and byproducts of Uranium) is because controllable nuclear fission technology was just a byproduct of the Manhattan Project. It's very possible in some parallel universe where WWII or the Cold War never happened some university developed a Thorium based fission process and they're fossil fuel free -- or very much reduced. The reason the Hippies would desist in the banner making is that the Thorium atom breaks apart much more gracefully than ol' #92:

In today's "once-through" uranium-fueled reactors, we mine uranium, enrich it a
little in uranium-235, burn-up some of that U-235, and then throw it away,
supposedly in Yucca Mountain. (very much in the model of a ‘throw away society’)
When we start out with pure uranium oxide, (roughly 97% U-238 and 3% U-235) and
run it though current methods we end up with three broad categories of "stuff"
in the fuel.
First, there’s the unburned uranium-238 and uranium-235. This
uranium is no more dangerous after being in the reactor than it was before
(except that now it’s mixed with other products). It has billion-year
half-lives, which means it practically never decays (which is why it's still
around to dig up five billion years after it formed in a supernova). So the
uranium’s not a risk.
Then second group of leftovers are the fission products
(the actual waste of fission). These fission products are very radioactive, and
give off dangerous radiation. We have to keep these fission products away from
people and the environment. But because the fission products are so radioactive,
they decay quickly. Most decay to stable elements in a few hours, some take
days. And a very few take years or decades. But, if we leave the fission
products alone for a few hundred years, they will decay to normal background
levels of radiation (Safe enough we don’t need to worry about them as
Finally, there are the transuranic isotopes. These are formed when
uranium absorbs a neutron and doesn’t fission, and include some nasty elements
like neptunium, plutonium, americium, curium. The transuranics are radioactive
for hundreds to tens of thousands of years, and as they decay they give off
different kinds of radiation. It's the transuranic waste that is the reason why
you have to build a place like Yucca Mountain that must remain geologically
isolated for tens of thousands of years.
In contrast Thorium byproducts are highly energetic with half-lives measured in human timescales:
Thorium is better because it has to absorb five neutrons before it will turn
into a transuranic isotope, whereas common uranium only has to absorb one- a
built in buffer. So by operating a reactor on pure thorium and uranium-233, you
can avoid producing the kind of long-lived waste that needs a place like Yucca
Thorium is a great possibility- it could be a high density source
of clean energy. The fluoride salt thorium reactor can produce nuclear wastes
that consist only of fission products, which quickly decay to stable elements -
in fact some elements like xenon or rhodium represent valuable commercial
products after a few months 'cooling down'.
The best part is that Thorium is three times more common than than Uranium. Easily exploitable reserves could last for tens of thousands of years.
Maybe instead of attempting to transform anthropogenic climate change from an engineering problem into a moral/religious issue the Pelosi posse could annouce reasearch into this.


Holy Carp!

When I was home in Indiana for the holidays my Dad talked a about an invasive species that he had read about called the Asian Carp which has been making its way up the Mississippi River and its tributaries, threatening to invade the Great Lakes. The only thing keeping the carp from making its way into Lake Michigan is an underwater electronic barrier that has to be re-funded every year. The bummer is that there is the ever-present threat that some short-sighted committee with revoke the funding which would be a disaster. Check out the following videos to get an idea of just how big of a disaster I'm talking about.

(The second part is much more entertaining/ridiculous.)

Part 1

Part 2

On the good side though, an emerging market for the fish has evolved that may take some of the urgency out of the problem. From Andrew's fav, NPR:

The fish weigh at least 15-to-25 pounds each, and some are much larger. They fetch about 14 cents a pound. That's not a lot, but Briney says the huge volume of carp he catches more than makes up for the low price-per-pound. Since he started fishing for carp, Briney says he's doubled his income.

Briney used to think carp were ugly. "But now, I think they look pretty good," he says, laughing, noting that they bring "about $4 a fish."

A Growing Market

On a recent day, Briney and his stepson, Jeremy Fisher, took in about 10,000 to 12,000 pounds of Asian carp from the Illinois River. Their catch ended up at Schafer Fisheries, a processing plant in Thomson, Ill.

Plant owner Mike Schafer has spent the last seven years developing a market for Asian carp. He says his company sells more than 2 million pounds each year -- mostly in Asian-American communities in California, New York and Chicago.

The carp now account for 20-30 percent of Schafer's business. He hopes that a new flash freezer he invested in will help him start selling to China and other Asian markets.

Illinois State Senator Mike Jacobs also wants to expand the market for Asian carp. For one thing, he'd like to see it on the menu in state prisons.

"Some people say that smoked, it's better than salmon," Jacobs says of Asian carp's taste. But the name "carp" is likely putting non-ethnic Americans off trying the fish, he says.

"Chilean Sea Bass wasn't always known as Chilean Sea Bass," Jacobs notes. "There was a time it was known as a Patagonian Toothfish, and people wouldn't eat it."

His suggested name-change? "I'm from Rock Island, so I'm thinking of 'Rock Island Sole,'" Jacobs muses. "Schafer Fisheries is near Savanna, [Ill.,] so Savanna Sole might work, too."

Update: If you have to see anything, scroll to minute 2:45 of the second video. It's worth it.

insight-less 2.0

OK, let's try this again.

You may have noticed something different about insight-less. If so, great! At least you're looking at the thing. Something I haven't managed to do in quite some time. Anyway, this version is powered by Blogger instead of Blogger (beta). And I was just in the process of bragging about it when I tried to publish the post and got an error, hence I'm trying this again. It still seems pretty snappy and easy to make editorial changes 'n such, despite my misgiving but time will tell whether this will improve my posting regularity.

So if there's anything that seems stale and tired on this site, or if more regular posters have requests, comments etc., please let me know.


Why I’m Glad Journalists Don’t Run the economy….

While perusing Newsweek’s International edition I ran across this sentence in a story about social and economic challenges in the EU.

“[The EU’s] economy is outperforming the United States.”

Holy tap-dancing Christ! What on earth is this based on?

So I looked and looked and looked and came across this article reporting on a business confidence survey that for the first time in five years showed Europeans more optimistic about their region’s future economic prospects than Americans over the same period. Oh if only believing made it so!

Here’s a reality check for ol’ Denis:

EU economic growth was only 2.8% in 2006. It was 3.3% in the US – the slowest since 2003.

EU unemployment was 7.7 percent. US unemployment remains steady at 4.5%

So I’m not sure how Denis can conclude that things are better on his side of the pond. The only thing I can think of to account for the inexplicable difference in optimism is the 2006 election media which spiked positive economic news and amplified the bad. Economically things in the US remain far ahead of the rest of the G-7.

Oh yeah this genius is the author of “Chavez is a populist, not a socialist”. Boy was he right.


NPR Loves Donkeys with Boobs from San Francisco

After 6 years of having to stomach GOP leadership I really shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of restraint NPR has had in displaying their glee at finally having a Democrat controlled congress. But after burning so much airtime on the previous “do nothing congress” and “Halliburton cronyism” I’m a little amused at the NPR coverage the new speaker has been getting.

After first cheerleading “tough minded” Nancy Pelosi’s “100 hour” agenda for passing 7 bills with broad bi-partisan support they failed to mention that nothing had actually been accomplished in the first 100 hours and that the 100 hour plan wasn’t really that at all with Democrats arbitrarily deciding what activities count against the clock (current projections show the “100 hour” plan expiring by end of day Jan 18 or 336 hours). However while not passing the recommendations of the 9/11 commission Pelosi did find time to make the Speaker’s Lobby non-smoking –foiling those nasty smoking Republicans- for which she was awarded a profile in courage by NPR.

The most important piece of legislation passed by the democratic house for “people not the powerful” populist democratic base might be the increase in the minimum wage. NPR had ample victory lap coverage replete with Democratic congressmen magnifying the significance of the measure on Americans lives in preacher’s cadence, but to date, has completely failed to mention the most interesting part of the bill. It seems that while every company will be required to pay their minimum wage workers more, one small territory – American Samoa – will not. Star-Kist Tuna is the largest employer of American Samoans and Star-Kist is owned by Del Monte Foods. Of course Del Monte is headquartered in Madame Speaker’s district.

Do you think just maybe NPR would have devoted 5 minutes of their precious news time to report/analyze if the previous congress raised corporate income taxes on everyone except Halliburton?