Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Big One

Residents in earthquake-prone regions are said to be waiting for “The Big One.” There have only been three earthquakes registering 9.0 or higher on the Richter scale in recorded history:

• A 9.5 earth-shaker that struck southern Chile on May 21, 1960, killing 1,655 people and creating a tsunami that rode across the Pacific Ocean to Japan

• A 9.2 temblor that struck Prince William Sound, Alaska on Mar. 27, 1964, claiming 131 lives

• The 9.1 seaquake on Dec. 26, 2004, created a tsunami that struck 12 countries and killed 227,898 people.

The U.S. Geological Service has upgraded the quake from 8.9 to 9.0, so Japan now joins The Big Nine club.  The effects of this earthquake practically qualify as Biblical: a tsunami, fires, nuclear meltdown, subsequent power outages, famine, and possible radiation sickness. Does that mean that Japan experienced their “Big One”? Or are they holding out for even worse?

Smaller quakes have killed greater numbers. We can only estimate the death tolls of quakes in ancient times. A quake in Shaanxi, China, on Jan. 24, 1556, was said to have killed 830,000 people. A quake in Calcutta, India, in 1737, claimed 300,000 lives.

In modern times, a 1920 quake in Gansu, China, registering 7.8 on the Richter scale, claimed 200,000 lives, while a 7.3 quake in Turkmenistan in 1948 killed 110,000. As architectural standards rise in industrialized nations where buildings are better able to withstand major earthquakes, death tolls are mercifully reduced.

A moderate earthquake would leave New York City, with its ancient water pipes and century-old brownstones, ripe for a disaster. The Ramapo fault line runs nearby (a section of which runs under the Indian Point nuclear power plant on the Hudson River). Last year, an unexpected 4.5 earthquake struck out in the Atlantic near Long Island. I felt it in my office although my co-workers were totally oblivious. Once you’ve experienced one, you never forget what an earthquake like.

We had one back in the late Seventies in northern N.J. Our house was built on a huge boulder in a rocky, marshy cleft between two hillsides. It felt – and sounded - like we were in a rock tumbler. Last year, another one passed right under my feet, like a subway train. Our Northeast quakes are nothing to California’s though. There are two kinds: the ones that shift from side to side and the other kind that undulates up and down.

For the Liberals, the “Big One” is another one of those crises that they don’t intend to let go to waste. Look how terrible nuclear power plants are? You see what will happen if a really big, 9.1 earthquake strikes your area? Uh-oh. You’d better shut down Indian Point right away. Look how we Libs shut down Shoreham on Long Island, before it even got going. We picketed and rallied until they finally gave up.

And now look at the prices New Yorkers have to pay for their electricity. Obama has promised they’re electric bills will go even higher when he closes all the coal plants down. They’re dangerous, too. Just imagine if that 4.5 earthquake last summer had damaged Shoreham. Yeah. You’d better listen to us.

Indian Point, for all that it was built right on top of a known, active fault line around 1950, has had very few incidents. The few times they’ve had alarms – one bonafide evacuation – they’ve managed it with no radiation leaks. The residents have had plenty of notice. You can’t miss Indian Point’s alarm – you can literally hear it 50 miles down river, yowling away. The residents can get evacuate quickly because the area isn’t congested – it’s a rural area - and they’re right near a major highway.

Best of all, they don’t have outrageous electric bills. It would have been nice if they could have not built Indian Point right near the fault line, of course. Right on the bend in the river. They tried to claim that the glacier that created the Hudson River just lost its way and righted itself again. My mother reported on the building of Indian Point back in the day. She saw the original plans. She says it used to be a picnic area.

However, I don’t want to sound like I’m a Greenie, that I’m anti-nuke. The Greenies should research the number of times the Con Ed plant in New York has had problems. Or how dangerous it is when transformer boxes blow. If you’re going to worry about fault lines, you might as well not build anywhere. The earth is full of fault lines. They’re just more prolific in the Pacific where there’s more volcanic activity. They have plenty of earthquakes in the Middle East. But that doesn’t stop the Arabs from drilling for oil.

Japan is a hotbed of earthquakes. Indian Point? Our area gets hit by a 4 or 4.5 now and then, sometimes we feel it, sometimes we don’t. One answer is sodium iodide, although it is dangerous and should only be taken in an extreme emergency. If you start seeing squirrels glowing green, then take the stuff.  The sodium iodide tablets keep the radiation from hitching a ride on our RNA cells and attaching themselves to healthy cells in our bodies, destroying them. It’s not a cure-all. I worked for a company that hired nuclear power plant workers. The closer you are to the core, the bigger the blast of radiation you’re going to get. Sodium iodide is going to help a core worker who uses more than his one-day-a-year of exposure.

You’re more likely to get cancer from sitting out on a sunny beach too long (especially if you have fair skin) than you are from Indian Point. I wouldn’t recommend going for a picnic in Buchanan. And certainly if you feel the earth shake in one of those occasional Ramapo Fault quakes, that might be a good day to go for a picnic in, say, the Adirondacks or Pennsylvania Dutch country. By the time you come back, whatever radiation they couldn’t contain (and the newer plants have better containment systems) will have dissipated.

You don’t realize it but you’re surrounded by radiation every day from the original “Big One” – the Big Bang. The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) is a source of microwaves that supports the science of cosmology's Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe.

Every time you microwave a dinner, you’re giving your meal a very low dose of radiation. A microwave oven passes (non-ionizing – non-charging – but don’t ever put aluminum in your oven or it’ll catch fire) microwave radiation (at a frequency near 2.45 GHz) through food, causing dielectric heating by absorption of energy in the water, fats, and sugar contained in the food. Microwave ovens became popular in the late 1970s, following development of inexpensive cavity magnetrons (the “engine” that makes a microwave oven operate). Water in the liquid state possesses many molecular interactions which broaden the absorption peak. In the vapor phase, isolated water molecules absorb at around 22 GHz, almost ten times the frequency of the microwave oven.

Microwaves do not contain sufficient energy to chemically change substances by ionization, and so, are an example of non-ionizing radiation. The word “radiation” refers to the fact that energy can radiate. The term in this context is not to be confused with radioactivity. I t has not been shown conclusively that microwaves (or other non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation) have significant adverse biological effects at low levels. Some but not all studies suggest that long-term exposure may have a carcinogenic effect. This is separate from the risks associated with very high intensity exposure, which can cause heating and burns like any heat source, and not a unique property of microwaves specifically.

Microwaves are electromagnetic waves with wavelengths ranging from as long as one meter to as short as one millimeter, or equivalently, with frequencies between 300 MHz (0.3 GHz) and 300 GHz. This broad definition includes both UHF and EHF (millimeter waves), and various sources use different boundaries. In all cases, microwave includes the entire SHF band (3 to 30 GHz, or 10 to 1 cm) at minimum, with RF engineering often putting the lower boundary at 1 GHz (30 cm), and the upper around 100 GHz (3mm).

Here in America, it used to be that we also didn’t put all our energy resources in one basket. We have coal, water, natural gas, and nuclear. But if the Greenies have they’re way, we won’t be using any of those. We’ll be using the two most undependable, unreliable sources for energy on the planet earth – the sun and the wind.

So, if we’re going to tear down all our nuclear power plants for fear of radiation during a possible earthquake, and rely on gerbil power instead, we’ll have to nuke our microwave ovens as well, and our GPS devices, the police will have to surrender their radar guns, and we’ll have to give up our computers because the process used to make the semiconductors employs microwave technology. And the very electron microscopes that can may one day cure cancer use microwave technology.

Mother Nature killed more Japanese people with the tsunami than are likely to die of radiation exposure. Fifty Fukushima workers volunteered to stay behind to contain the leak, saving the lives of Japanese residents. Their sacrifice is amazing and should long be remembered in the annals of humankind, especially the humankind that believes humankind is evil.

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