Tag Archives: nuclear energy

How I learned to stop worrying and love WikiLeaks

What do diplomacy, nuclear fusion, and quantum teleportation have in common? Read on for the answer, or if you’re too impatient, go straight to the source: WikiLeaks cable 10BEIJING263.

In case you were living under a rock for the second half of 2010, let’s briefly review the facts of the WikiLeaks scandal. WikiLeaks is an organization whose stated goal is to “publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous.” Since 2006, they have been publishing previously secret information on their website, helping whistle-blowers either outrage or embarrass various military and political figures. In late November of last year, the group began releasing a slew of classified diplomatic cables sent by US State Department representatives since 1966.

Despite massive amounts of media attention given to WikiLeaks and its spokesperson Julian Assange, I found myself wondering why this release of information upset so many people. In an effort to find some personal connection to the scandal, or at least to share in the sense of mystery and espionage surrounding the cables, I did a quick search for one word: “science”. I’d like to share with you the most interesting result of that search, which was a cable sent on February 2, 2010 from the US embassy in Beijing, China.
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Nuclear power in a nutshell

With all of the media coverage going on right now about the disaster in Japan, perhaps a bit of explanation is in order. (Warning for those of you versed in the world of nuclear physics: this is going to be a relatively simple, watered-down, and incomplete idea of what goes on in a nuclear reactor…don’t get mad at me!) And let me get something out of the way right from the get-go: there’s not going to be a nuclear explosion in Fukushima, Japan. While atomic bombs and nuclear power plants both rely on nuclear reactions, they are extremely different when it comes to their potential to explode.

So here’s the short version. Essentially, nuclear reactors work in the exact same way as certain other engines we’ve been using for hundreds of years: by using steam. At the heart of a nuclear reactor lies a chamber that is submerged in large tank of water. Inside this chamber are a number of uranium “cores,” if you will. These are about the size of a Tootsie Roll, and they’re totally awesome.
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