Tour Chernobyl!

4 01 2011

So you might not believe it, but the Ukrainian government has recently announced that beginning in 2011 they will open the sealed zone around Chernobyl to the public.

As you should remember, or at least have learned about, Chernobyl was the site of an actual nuclear power plant meltdown in 1986.  It’s located in what was then Soviet Russia — the U.S.S.R.  The Cold War had been raging for decades, and the techniques had been honed so well that practically no one outside of the Soviet government knew about the incident — not even the residents in the surrounding areas — for days after the catastrophe.  The U.S. first learned about the accident from infrared satellite photos.  When first reported on in American newspapers, Russian officials had denied anything out of the ordinary.  It was then that I learned that nuclear disasters could be very quiet things.

Today there is a restricted zone 30 miles in radius around the facility.  Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the danger, and the ground is still popping with radiation.  Just last April, the Ukrainian president was telling folks how the reactor was still a threat.  Reportedly, there are still 2500 people who work for the government around and within the restricted zone to maintain the area.  This isn’t too dangerous as long as their exposure is kept brief.  But being irradiated, even to a small degree, many times over the course of a year does eventually build up.

But for someone like you, who could perhaps visit for a day and then leave, the danger would be minimal.  I would *love* to go there… just to see a place that was so secret when I was in high school.  It would be fascinating, not just to visit the reactor, but to walk the grounds where the plant and animal life were exposed to such high levels of DNA-altering particles.  Understand, I am not an anti-nuclear power activist –in fact, I’m totally in favor of it, and I believe that the US would be better off by building a few more plants to supply our energy needs, but this is a lesson we could all learn from. This accident occurred because of a careless act.  A slip of the brain.  Negligence on the part of the administration and the scientists who felt that the reactor was so safe they could run experiments while it was operating.

As Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman, Yulia Yershova, said, “There are things to see there if one follows the official route and doesn’t stray away from the group, though it is a very sad story.”

Opening up this ‘museum’ to visitors would give us all a firm reminder of the danger trapped within the smallest of particles.  I hope one day to get to visit.



Our Earth As Art

30 01 2010

Our Earth As Art is a joint project from the USGS and NASA.  With that in mind, I bet you can guess it involves satellite images of the Earth.  I was going to put up one of the several images of craters that give a stunning reminder of the dangers of meteor impacts, but then I came across this…

This gorgeous view is an ‘icefall’ off Lambert Glacier in Antarctica.  From the website:

The Lambert Glacier in Antarctica is the world’s largest glacier. The focal point of this image is an icefall that feeds into the Lambert glacier from the vast ice sheet covering the polar plateau. Ice flows like water, albeit much more slowly. Cracks can be seen in this icefall as it bends and twists on its slow-motion descent 1300 feet (400 meters) to the glacier below.

Each of the images contains a description and a link to a much larger, printer-quality image.  And best of all, they’re all free to use as long as you include proper credit.

Image courtesy of USGS National Center for EROS and NASA Landsat Project Science Office

Awesome View From ISS

5 07 2009

So, catching up I must get you this:

iss volcano shotClick on that pic for a link to a NASA page with a HUGE picture you can download!

This is an image taken from the ISS during a very fortuitous flyover of the Sarychev volcano in Russia near Japan at just the right time.  Simply amazing.

If you’ve noticed some beautiful purple and pink sunsets lately, now you know why.

Earth Day

22 04 2009

Happy Earth Day!

If you google Earth Day you’ll find an eponymous collection of historical and propaganda-esque pages — both positive and negative.  It’s almost annoying how a non-state holiday commemorating an idea instead of an event can cause controversy .  Well, I have a couple of thoughts on this myself, of course…

To begin, I’ve met Senator Nelson, celebrated founder of Earth Day.  At least the one celebrated here in America.  He was warm and well-educated.  I got to ask him what he felt was the most pressing issue facing global ecology today, and his answer was very insightful.

I met him at Governor’s School in 1989 when he came as an invited speaker.  He talked for over an hour with no slides or video, just him and a podium.  Fascinating talk about the history of Earth Day and his purpose for presenting the bill to Congress.  The environment was as big of an issue then as it is now, but focused more on clean air than temperatures.  Here’s how the conversation went:  (if this seems really stiff and rehearsed, it’s because it was!  heh.)

Me:  What can I do as just some teenager to help the global crisis?

Nelson:  Try to keep your neighborhood clean and be wary of pollution from local industries.

[right, you see the blow-off generic response he did there?]

Me:  What I mean is, there’s a lot of talk about the destruction of tropical rain forests.  I want to help fight this problem.  Is there some way I can take part?

Nelson:  There’s a lot of press on what’s happening in Brazil, yet no one seems to notice that we’re wiping out the old-growth forests up in Washington State.  If the citizens there would start paying attention to what’s happening around them, that destruction might be deterred.  What sort of stuff is happening around here that should be stopped?  Do you know?  Why would you, as a teenager, ever care more about Brazil than your own backyard?

At that time I felt he was avoiding the question.  I wanted an answer to the question I asked, but what I got was a re-direction and an accusation. Because I felt jilted, I remembered his words and dwelled on them for a long time.

What I remember most about Senator Nelson was his domineering size.  He was somewhat tall and moderately built, but his hands were huge!  When I shook his hand I could swear that he could have wrapped it around mine three times!  Guess that makes him a born politician.

Now that I’m older and have become a realist (instead of a youthful dreamer), I understand that what he said has a lot of merit, if not an absolute truth.  I’m still not sure what to do about the global condition, but I *do* try to pick up bits of paper and other trash when I see it wherever I go.  As long as we can leave this world a little better than we found it, then we’ve done our part.

So I’m really glad I got a chance to meet him, and I do look forward to Earth Day every year.  If each one of us just did a little bit toward helping our environment then we wouldn’t have the major problems that require us to spend countless millions of dollars to fix.  The definition of “little bit” may be different to a preschooler from a corporate director, but the decisions we make each day do make us who we are.  And those decisions aren’t just for you — they’re for all of us.