Saturday, March 23, 2013

Welcome To Weirdsville: Some of the Biggest Spills And Accidents

(from M.Christian's Meine Keline Fabrik)

 This is exceptionally cool: a brand new piece I wrote for Dark Roasted Blend - on Some of the Biggest Spills And Accidents - just went up. Check out the teaser below - and for the full thing just click here.

And, don't forget, I have an entire book of this stuff available right now: Welcome To Weirdsville!

Some of the Biggest Spills And Accidents

"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." -Oscar Wilde

What makes this quick look at ten big-time spills, accidents, and boo-boos especially scary is that they far too often involve stuff that you’d think we'd be taking extra-extra-extra special care with: industrial waste, nuclear weapons, molasses, and - more shocking than anything else - beer.

Even though evolution has graced us homo sapiens with two of them, the briefest glances at the history of extremely large scale accidents is more than enough to make us wonder if we should be sporting nothing but thumbs.

10. The Demon Core

It seems as soon as mankind started splitting them, we've been letting atoms slip through our fingers. Even putting aside the sad irony of Marie Sklodowska-Curie dying by her own discovery of radioactivity, our earliest attempts to harness the power of atomic energy are filled with shuddering tales of glow-in-the-dark slip-ups.

Back in 1945, when the scientists of the Manhattan Project were first banging blocks of uranium together, there was a nightmarishly series of accidents involving what - very aptly - came to be called The Demon Core.

Basically just a little-less-then 15 pound ball of plutonium, in August 21, the core went first went demonic when Harry Daghlian accidentally dropped a brick of tungsten carbide into it. Heroically, Harry managed to pull the brick out - avoiding a supercritical reaction - but died shortly thereafter from radiation poisoning.

A few months later, on May 21st, Louis Slotin tried to – and if this doesn't make you shiver then nothing will - "tickle the dragon's tail' by basically pushing the core as far as they could ... his only safety feature being a carefully inserted screwdriver.

All it took was for that well thought-out safety feature to slip and the core went momentarily supercritical: as with Daghlian, Slotin managed to prevent a chain reaction, but fatally dosed himself - and exposed eight other people nearby with enough radiation to seriously shorten their lifespans.

9. The Kyshtym Disaster

American scientists weren't the only ones fumbling and bumbling with nuclear power. On the other side of the world, the Soviets were racing with mad abandon to catch up with their counterparts ... emphasis on the phrase "mad abandon."

In the closed science city of Ozyorsk, they built the vast plutonium manufacturing plant of Mayak. Unfortunately, they were more-than-a-bit fumbling in the dark when it came to nuclear power, and on September 29th, 1957 a radioactive waste tank exploded. While the blast itself was impressive - it tossed the tank's 160 ton lid completely off - the release of toxic materials contaminated the region, resulting in an estimated 8,000 deaths.

What's particularly surreal about the The Kyshtym Disaster is that it didn't officially exist: the Soviets simply erased not just the accent but the town itself. The name "Kyshtym Disaster" is used because Ozyorsk and Mayak were erased from all subsequent maps and Kyshtym just happened to be the closest landmark.

If that makes you shake your head, keep shaking: there are reports that while the Soviets made Ozyorsk and Mayak "go away" the CIA knew of the disaster but kept the information secret to protect the US's own nuclear power industry.


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