Monday, 14 March 2011

Why Fukushima will not become a second Tschernobyl

I've been watching events in Japan unfold with, I think, much the same sense of horror anyone viewing the footage must be feeling. I knew something massive had to have happened when I checked my email on Friday morning and saw over 30 notifications sitting in the "USGS" folder. I'm signed up to the US Geological Service earthquake notifications list, which means I get an email notification of any earthquake of magnitude 4.5 or higher. 30+ notifications invariably means something absolutely massive has hit; and sure enough, it had.

In the first 24 hours, there were over 150 aftershocks of magnitude 5.0 and over, of which more than 20 were magnitude 6.0 or higher, with 2 at 6.8, a 6.9 and a 7.1.

The Japanese Geological Service has since upgraded the initial temblor to 9.0; Robert Geller - seismologist working at the University of Tokyo - has referred to it as a 9.1. It triggered a tsunami over 10m high that raced inland several kilometres - and that raced across the Pacific at 500kmh to hit the opposite side of the ocean. In most places it had diminished to only 0.6m high, but local geography caused it to reach 2m when it hit some US coastal areas, causing significant damage to the marina at Santa Cruz and to Crescent City.

Initial measurements showed that the force of the temblor had forced a 500km long section of the ocean floor 7m towards Japan; measurements at an observatory in northern Tokyo showed it had moved 8m west. Subsequent GPS from 1200 sensors mshowed that the whole island of Honshu had shifted 4m to the west, and the Earth's axis had been tilted by 4-6" due to the force.

All these statistics are staggering enough without adding in the statistics of those injured, displaced, missing or dead. I've found it easier to concentrate on facts and figures; it's not that I'm callous to the loss of life - there is simply nothing I can do for it other than express sympathy and condolences, and post links to suitable charitable organisations, which I've been doing on Facebook, Twitter and a few online communities.

Increasingly I've been reading people expressing most concern over the damaged nuclear power plants, specifically Fukushima Daiichi (Number 1).

Fukushima is not going to become a second Tschernobyl, which I think is what everyone is dreading; it can't, because the conditions are completely different. The reactors are completely different types, for a start; for another, at Tschernobyl the reactor was still running when the meltdown occurred - at Fukushima all three reactors shut down automatically and safely the moment the earthquake was detected.

At Tschernobyl, the reactor core was fully powered and operating when (against all safety protocols) they decided to take all the safety systems offline to simulate a power cut - and then couldn't bring them back online again. The core started to overheat but they were unable to scram the control rods to shut down the reaction. The core went into meltdown and exploded, blowing open the top of the containment chamber and the roof of the plant, spreading radioactive vapour and contamination over a wide area. The core continued to burn for three days before they were able to bring it under control and quench it.

The situation at Fukushima is very different. As I said, the emergency systems kicked in automatically the moment the earthquake hit and the control rods were scrammed safely, halting the reaction. The core pile still holds a lot of residual heat however - in excess of 250°C. At this point the cooling systems should kick in to circulate water around the pile to cool it, but the power was knocked out. Back-up generators should kick in at this point, but the power station was built to withstand up to a magnitude 8.6 earthquake and a tsunami of up to 5.7m in height - and the earthquake was actually a 9.0 (they revised it yesterday from the initial reports of 8.9) and the tsunami was in excess of 10m, so the back-up generators were knocked out as well.

As the water in the reactor core evaporated, the fuel rods were exposed to the steam which split into oxygen and hydrogen. This started happening first in Reactor no. 1; they tried venting off some of the hydrogen, but detected radioactive caesium and iodine, which meant enough of the rods had been exposed to cause a meltdown as the zincaloy casing of the fuel rods melted. This meant the control rods were no longer fully inhibiting the reaction so the temperature started to rise to the point where the hydrogen exploded, which happened on Saturday. This only damaged the outer building shell of the reactor however, not the inner containment core.

Once they'd ascertained that the inner containment shell was still secure, they started pumping in sea water laced with boric acid; the boron in the boric acid retards any further reaction and basically acts as one huge liquid control rod. However, the core in Reactor no.3 went the same way as no.1 resulting in a hydrogen explosion that blew off the concrete roof over the reactor - again, without damaging the inner containment shell. They are flooding no.3 with sea water and boric acid as well, and are trying to do the same with no.2 - however they're having problems pumping in the sea water as fast as it is evaporating, and it's believed the core was, briefly, completely exposed for a short while. They don't know yet whether any melting of no.2's core has taken place, but they've detected hydrogen and rising pressure inside the core which suggests at least partial meltdown. They are carefully trying to vent off the hydrogen and prevent another explosion.

However, even if all three reactors go into complete meltdown, it won't be a disaster; each reactor stands inside an outer steel containment shell filled at the bottom with several metres depth of inert boron-containing concrete designed in such a way that if meltdown occurs, breaching the base of the reactor core, the molten core will spread out on the floor of the containment chamber, increasing the surface area so it will cool faster. Once it has all cooled and hardened, engineers in protective clothing would then break up the core mass and it would be removed to a nuclear waste processing plant. There would be no massive explosion and no radioactive contamination beyond a local amount.

Currently there are members of the US atomic energy commission, 12 French engineers who are experts in nuclear accidents and a consultant from Tschernobyl on site as well as British scientists assisting the engineers at Fukushima. Yukiya Amano, head of the UN's nuclear watchdog, says Fukushima's reactor vessels "have held and radioactive release is limited" despite the effects of the earthquake and tsunami.Japan has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to provide expert help at its damaged nuclear plant. IAEA will be giving daily briefings on the situation at Fukushima Daiichi, and is satisfied that TepCo have been given full, honest and detailed information on what has been going on - another way in which this situation is completely different to Tschernobyl, where the Russian authorities did not admit a major nuclear incident had taken place until other countries had started detecting elevated radiation levels. Thus far Russia has confirmed it is monitoring radiation levels at its nearest observatory on an hourly basis but detected no increase in radiation, which is in line with what TepCo has reported.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


Trafigura and Carter-Ruck backed down shortly before the 2pm High Court hearing and lifted the gagging order; it must have been obvious it was going to be overturned even to them. The overwhelming response from the blogosphere and Twitter must have been a very nasty surprise for them!

Kudos also to the Spectator, which was the only other media outlet to report on the story. And a big thumbs-down to the BBC and Channel 4 who refused to report on it even when directly asked. Even now that reporting restrictions have been lifted, there is NO mention of it on the BBC website. Shame on you, BBC.

It has been revealed that Trafigura were indeed trying to cover up the injunction against reporting in the British press of the Minton report, on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura. In several incidents, Trafigura dumped thousands of tons of sulphurous coker naptha mixed with caustic soda off Côte d’Ivoire in 2006, with full knowledge as detailed in internal emails that doing so would likely cause thousands of injuries and deaths. The chemical waste came from a ship called Probo Koala and in August 2006 truckload after truckload of it was illegally fly-tipped at 15 locations around Abidjan, the biggest city in Ivory Coast. This led to 16 deaths and 31000 injured.

Trafigura can now thank Carter-Ruck for having ensured that by trying to gag the British press, pretty much the whole world now knows exactly what Trafigura did.

[Edit to add] The BBC finally reported on the lifting of the gag nearly three hours afterwards with a very mealymouthed piece.

Guardian newspaper gagged from reporting Parliament

London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients (who include individuals or global corporations), have actually gagged the Guardian newspaper from reporting Parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights. It's apparently about the question highlighted in red, which has already been on Newsnight(take a good look at the picture Trafigura are responsible for). The blogger Guido Fawkes also covers it.

Please repost this and spread this widely. Carter-Ruck may have gagged the Guardian (for now), but they cannot silence every voice in the blogosphere.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Is Mijn Schatje An Art Thief?

When does art cross the line from homage into theft and deception?

That question has recently elicited an explosion of condemnation from the world of Asian Ball-Jointed Doll aficionados world-wide thanks the the actions of vector "artist", Mijn Schatje (real name Marie Blanco Hendrickx). Schatje has made a name for herself over the past few years as a successful artist who makes a living based off the images she creates. Prints of her work retail for $1700 each, she's made deals with Sony Playstation and Fornarina Clothing, and large-scale statues have been created based on her pictures.

However, what she has not disclosed to these clients and the buyers of her work is that every image in her work is stolen. The beautiful, delicate, elfin wide-eyed "child-like women" in her pictures for which she has drawn so much admiration from the art world are, in fact, traced directly from photographs of dolls; to be precise, BJDs. She has taken images from both owners and companies alike and used them as the basis for her artwork, which is sold in galleries and as iPod skins. This is unfair to the creators of the dolls, for one. These people are responsible for the sculpting, delicate painting, and painstaking photography of these labour-intensive creations. Unlike characters such as Barbie, these dolls are usually made by small teams of artists who work long hours to ensure they make a living. By taking advantage of their photography without permission or credit, Schatje profits from the artwork of others without offering anything in return.

Owner photographs are also significant. These dolls are expensive and designed to be customised; owners can (and do) spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on one doll, not to mention countless hours to alter and eventually photograph these moveable resin sculptures. Mijn Schatje has taken these photos largely without communication to the photographers. When she has done so, she has often asked to "draw" the dolls in question - not incorporate the photos themselves, as the comparison shots indicate. In one case, she requested permission to use a photo as a reference no less than 14 months after she had already used the photo in question for an image that had already been sold to Sony for a Playstation advert; it later transpired that she had stolen no fewer than 7 images from this ne photographer alone.

It is important to differentiate "reference" images and "stolen" images. The overlays show that Schatje did not create images based on specific photos (which in and of itself might be problematic), but actually used these photos directly in her work. Under the vector-based overpainting of her finished pieces, there is someone else's property. This owner - with few exceptions - remains unnamed, and certainly unpaid. Several doll companies have already revealed their dismay that their works are being treated in such a manner, as well as private purchasers of these items.

It is not merely the dolls that have been traced, however; careful investigation by various people on the doll forum Den of Angels revealed that the majority of even the minor images in her work are traced; she has re-used several images repeatedly - sketchwork swallows and a pair of deer are taken from Dover clip art, a lotus blossom stolen from a New Age site, a tiger and a magnolia blossom taken from stock photography, several images stolen from Lisa Frank including hot-air balloons and a pink shoe, and a jellyfish used in her banner image which has been stolen from Scott Thom or Gilbert Williams. She has also made use of a Totoro image from Studio Gibli; it is in the background but instantly recognisable as Totoro. She has not requested permission from Studio Gibli or Disney (who own Totoro rights in the US) for the use of this image.

Lowbrow Art Gallery Kochxbos in Amsterdam is exhibiting/selling all of Mijn Schatje's works at the moment, but having received a large number of emails from concerned BJD fans have stated that they are looking into the allegations.

For further details together with images of the original photos stolen and overlays showing how she has used others' work and claimed it as her own, please see

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

24 hours on Shernhall Street

8:20pm, February 1st 2009

9:16pm, February 1st

10:35am, February 2nd

11:40pm, February 2nd

Monday, 2 February 2009

Why the Underground packs up on a snowy day

This is an excellent explanation of why the whole London Underground network goes down on days like today, written by a Bakerloo driver.

PSA: Travel news for London

At present there are no buses operating an and around London at all; the bus service across the capitol has been cancelled completely by TfL due to adverse and dangerous driving conditions.

Trams: There are no tram services in operation today.

Tube services:
BAKERLOO LINE: Suspended between Queens Park and Harrow and Wealdstone with severe delays on the rest of the line due to adverse weather conditions.
CENTRAL LINE: Severe delays are occurring due to adverse weather conditions.
CIRCLE LINE: Suspended.
DISTRICT LINE: Suspended between Edgware Road and Wimbledon, Earls Court and Kensington Olympia, Earls Court and Richmond, Earls Court and Ealing Broadway due to adverse weather conditions. Minor delays are occurring on the remaining operational line due to the adverse weather conditions.
JUBILEE LINE: Suspended between Waterloo and Stanmore with severe delays on the rest of the line due to adverse weather conditions.
METROPOLITAN LINE: Suspended between Harrow on the Hill and Amersham/Chesham due to adverse weather conditions. Minor delays to rest of line.
NORTHERN LINE: Suspended between Finchley Central and High Barnet due to adverse weather conditions.
PICCADILLY LINE: Suspended between Acton Town and Rayners Lane with minor delays on the rest of the line due to adverse weather conditions.
VICTORIA LINE: Good service operating normally.
WATERLOO & CITY: Suspended.

Train services:
All services are currently suspended until further notice on Southeastern Trains and there is no service on Gatwick Express. Southern and First Great Western are running reduced services.

Note that tube services are likely to deteriorate as the day progresses due to drivers and station staff failing to make it in for their shifts later in the day.

St.Mary's in the Snow

The Ancient House

Looking up Church Lane, E17, with the churchyard railings to the right.

St.Mary's Church belltower in the snow.

Snow-covered tomb.

The Ancient House, looking up towards the Village.

The belltower at St.Mary's in the snow.

View of St.Mary's Church, Walthamstow, taken from Vinegar Alley.

The old graveyard behind St.Mary's in Walthamstow.

The complete set, with larger versions available, is viewable here.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Back garden in snow

Photo Post
Originally uploaded 1 Feb '09, 9.39pm GMT PST.
View of the back garden covered in snow, taken without flash.

Snow settling in Walthamstow, E17

Photo Post
Originally uploaded 1 Feb '09, 8.20pm GMT PST.

Snow in E17

Photo Post
Originally uploaded 1 Feb '09, 8.10pm GMT PST.

Snow on Strawberry plants

Photo Post
Originally uploaded 1 Feb '09, 4.25pm GMT PST.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Check your purses and wallets!

Have a look in your purse or wallet. Got a few 20p pieces in there?

Take a closer look. Find any that don't have a date on them? Then you're very lucky - because that 20p piece is worth a small fortune.

It appears that in 2008, the Royal Mint mistakenly issued a number of 20p pieces without the date on. They rectified the mistake, but not before a few of the dateless 20p pieces had already entered circulation. They are perfectly legal tender, but they are worth far more than 20p to collectors, who are paying silly prices for them on eBay.

So check your purses, wallets and piggybanks - you could be one of the very lucky ones! I've checked my own purse but no luck - I'll be checking my change in the shops later very carefully though!

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


Oh gods, it's "Down the Rabbit Hole" day, isn't it?


I've always hated Lewis Carroll.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

paper ceiling cat

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Papercraft ceiling cat from Tubbypaws.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

DEC Appeal

For some unknown reason, the BBC is refusing to broadcast The DEC Appeal For Gaza. So it falls to the blogosphere to get the news out. Please consider donating to the cause, and pass on the URL to others.

[Follow-up] The BBC has explained its decision here, mentioning that it has been a UK-wide media blackout and that it "wanted to avoid compromising public confidence in its impartiality". Given that the BBC were not exactly impartial over the Darfur appeal, it makes you wonder just whom they're trying to appear impartial to? Certainly not the UK....