March 14, 2011
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Facts First: how a school teacher got a world beat

I’m accustomed to the shoddy state of science journalism. But Saturday morning I woke up early, turned on my iPad, and there was the BBC trumpetting a "huge explosion" at the Fukushima power plant. Another BBC story worried about “strong magnitude 6 aftershocks”, leaving us to wonder what a weak magnitude 6 aftershock might be.

Huge explosions happen near nuclear power plants every day. We call them thunderstorms.

This is news. We want to know the facts. What exploded? In what way was it damaged? Who was hurt? Was the explosion expected? What was done to avert it? What was done afterward? What consequences can we expect?

Now, this is complicated because nuclear power is complicated, and because the people on the scene who have the best information must make the reactors their first priority. They seem to have their hands full. Nevertheless, we can expect better reporting.

For example, one critical distinction is between radiation leakage from venting activated water -- which some contains N16 (half life 7.13 sec) and O19 (half life 27 sec), -- and leakage of melted core materials that contains Cesium 137 (half life 30 years). Yes, that nitrogen and oxygen is radioactive now, but it in a few minutes they it won’t be. The cesium and iodine, on the other hand, would be radioactive for a long time. So it’s one thing to release activated water – not a good thing, but not necessarily a disaster – and another to let core material escape from containment.

The best explanation of the situation I found Sunday was written by Josef Oehmen and published by a high school English teacher from Australia who lives in Kawasaki. As far as I can see, this teacher had a world beat on a story that every science desk in the world was trying to cover. Appalling and inexcusable.

On a similar vein, anyone who reads the trade press and major newspapers would gather that the iPad 2 launch was an interesting but mixed bag, that the iPad 2 has lots of problems and drawbacks.

The iPad 2 launched on Friday. Monday morning, it appears that the entire supply of iPads has been sold, and Apple is quoting 4 week delivery time.

Sure sounds like a product dogged by competitors and crippled by the lack of Flash to me!