Deaths per gigawatt year

Deaths per gigawatt year Deaths per gigawatt year

Hydroelectricity is the best of all according to the EU study, but comes out worst in the PSI study, because the latter surveyed a different set of countries.

When quantifying the public risks of different power sources, we need a new unit. I’ll go with “deaths per GWy (gigawatt-year).” Let me try to convey what it would mean if a power source had a death rate of 1 death per GWy.

One gigawatt-year is the energy produced by a 1 GW power station, if it operates flat-out for one year. Britain’s electricity consumption is roughly 45 GW, or, if you like, 45 gigawatt-years per year. So if we got our electricity from sources with a death rate of 1 death per GWy, that would mean the British electricity supply system was killing 45 people per year.

For comparison, 3000 people die per year on Britain’s roads. So, if you are not campaigning for the abolition of roads, you may deduce that “1 death per GWy” is a death rate that, while sad, you might be content to live with. Obviously, 0.1 deaths per GWy would be preferable, but it takes only a moment’s reflection to realize that, sadly, fossil-fuel energy production must have a cost greater than 0.1 deaths per GWy–just think of disasters on oil rigs; helicopters lost at sea; pipeline fires; refinery explosions; and coal mine accidents: there are tens of fossil-chain fatalities per year in Britain.

Nuclear power has the lowest rate of fatalities of all power sources. Not that surprised, really.

I’ve just started in on this, I don’t know if it’s any good, I haven’t picked up on its bias so far yet, and the website design is horrible, but it comes pretty highly-recommended: Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air by David MacKay ($free).

Plus MacKay invented the death-per-gigawatt-year unit, and anyone who does stuff like that automatically wins points with me.

Gear, Know, Live » No Comments

Best Made Brass Capsule

Brass Match Safe 450x450 Best Made Brass Capsule

Does not include matches. (img by Best Made)

Fitted with an ingenious self-tensioning lanyard, and no-fuss press fit stopper, our brass capsule is larger than most match safes, and infinitely more versatile. We boast to have the ultimate—water tight and indestructible—place to keep small valuables safe. And with a solid liquid-dampened, jewel bearing compass set into the stopper your headings will also be kept from harm’s way.

A wise man once told me that you should always camp with smokers, because you’ll always have a way to start a fire. But so long as you keep one of these match safes around, you won’t have to worry about packing smokers every time you leave the house. Really streamlines the EDC. Also you don’t have to have to use this for matches, it’s not like there are Brass Capsule rules.

Anyway, check out Best Made’s Brass Capsule, ($32).

Gear, Live » No Comments

Drunk with power

RENO unlimited mustang SF6T4812 Drunk with power

img by Gerhard Schmid of

This report will not be your usual Reno air race report, instead it will concentrate on the unique go-fast features and state of the art engineering that makes Unlimited class air racing the world’s fastest motor sport.

Unlimited racers compete around an 8.2688 mile course marked off with pylons. The pylons are 55 gallon oil drums placed high up on a pole. Although no restrictions exist for the type of aircraft flown, the vast majority of racers are ex-World War II fighters. This is simply because these aircraft represented the fastest piston-driven aircraft ever manufactured. Of course, the top racers are highly modified–as we shall see.

Have you ever wondered what happens when you combine a bunch of horsepower-crazed loonies with a bottomless pit of cash? 500 miles per hour, 50 feet off the ground Unlimited Air Racing is what happens. This article goes into painstaking detail explaining just what is necessary to pump a Rolls Royce Merlin V-12 up from a paltry 1450 horsepower to a bowel loosening 3500.

To give that number some perspective, the Merlin 1650 displaces 1650 cubic inches, and in race configuration makes 3600 horsepower. The biggest of the big V8s the 1970s muslce cars were just north of 450 cubic inches and made somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 HP off the show room floor. Crazy, hide the women and children, numbers from those same engines would be in the neighborhood of 750 HP, give or take a hundred. In other words, not even in the same league.

Know » No Comments

Forge yourself a real, working Tesla cannon

Rusty forging at the Hazard Factory 450x600 Forge yourself a real, working Tesla cannon

Real-world mad science at the Hazard Factory (img by Rob/Hacker Friendly)

The Tesla Gun is a hand-held, battery powered lightning machine. It is a spark gap Tesla coil powered by an 18V drill battery. You pull the trigger, and lightning comes out the front.

I’ve given a few talks about how this project came to be, and it’s a bit of a long story. I could not possibly have built it without the help and expertise of Seattle’s many hackerspaces. Take a look at the basic components, and you’ll see what I mean.

Yeah, I see what he means. He means you need a damn fine, extraordinarily professional garmenter with laser-focused attention to detail when it comes to Faraday underpants.

Actually, I really do wonder how they managed to operate this thing safely. They don’t say. And that doesn’t stop them from shooting their lightning launcher. (more…)

Do, Features, Gear, Guides, Make » No Comments

Stare at the sun

Ring of Fire 450x289 Stare at the sun

A woman turns blue as shit after staring at a solar eclipse (img by Inhabitat)

But don’t stare at it directly.

When NASA says that 99% of the sun’s photosphere is obscured during a total solar eclipse, they’re still saying that 1% of the visible sun is out there, and that percent will cut you.

Think about it; since the sun is spherical, that percent is actually a huge swath of intense radiation-spewing nuclear fusion, that if peeled off the sun with a giant solar vegetable peeler and dropped on North America like a nuclear dirty sock, would destroy the planet, the moon, and make Mars a nice warm retreat in the solar system. (I’ve been reading Space Chronicles (Kindle version) by Neil deGrasse Tyson).

People get away with glancing at an eclipse. But staring at one can and does blind people. It’s because your retina doesn’t have any pain receptors; it doesn’t know it’s all burnt and getting all exposed to eyeball cancer-levels of radiation. Looking at the sun through binocs or a telescope or camera is like trading places with bugs under a magnifying glass, as far as your eyes are concerned. Staring at the sun through CDs isn’t really much better, and sunglasses are asking for it.

Either buy real eclipse glasses or other eclipse-purposed viewing aids, (shade 14 or higher–sunglasses are around shade 2 or 3) arc-welding goggles or similar high-intensity eye protection, or make a pinhole camera. All you need for that is two pieces of cardboard, one with a pinhole, and the other for your screen. If you want to get all fancy build a camera obscura with a thin paper screen and a mirror.

Otherwise, yeah, enjoy today’s solar watchamajigger. And if you’re gonna look straight at it, even though you’ve been told… make it quick.

Do, Guides, Live » No Comments

Kodak’s Nuclear Secret

Small Nuclear Reactor 450x301 Kodaks Nuclear Secret

"You press the button. We do the rest." (img by CNN)

Starting decades ago, Kodak had an interest in neutrons, subatomic particles that can be used to determine the makeup of a given material or to create an image of it without damaging it.  In 1974 it acquired a californium neutron flux multiplier, known as a CFX. Small plates of highly enriched uranium multiplied the neutron flow from a tiny californium core.

The device was not much larger than a refrigerator and, in the one available photo, looked vaguely like Robby the Robot from a 1950s science fiction movie. To house it, Kodak dug a cavity below the basement level of Building 82, part of the company’s research complex along Lake Avenue.

The 14- by 24-foot cavity was reached via a corridor with several right-angle turns and a spiral staircase leading to Building 82’s basement, according to a description of the area included in a decommissioning plan Kodak prepared for regulators. The plan and other documents were made public on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission website after the uranium was removed.

Nuclear imaging is interesting stuff for sure, and certainly Kodak isn’t the only company invested in subatomic imagery. What I came away from this was not wondering how secure Kodak’s nuclear facilities were, or how they were quietly dismantled.

Nor was I wondering how hard would it be to come across the relevant materials to make a generator or a bomb; the IAEA keeps tabs on this stuff closely, as does the entire global intelligence community (at least, the heavy metal fuels; heavy water, tritium, and deuterium are theoretically something that can be manufactured, if you know how). Although frankly, some people who wanted to make private nuclear reactors have succeeded.   (more…)

Features, Know » No Comments