Over the past few days there’s been buzz around whether the melted-down reactors at Fukushima Daiichi are near “cold shutdown”. Since the nuclear crisis began, achieving cold shutdown has been the major goal of the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which runs the plant. Loosely speaking, it would mean that the stricken reactors at the plant no longer require active cooling and that the immediate nuclear crisis is more or less over.
One of the weirdest predictions of quantum mechanics is that the vacuum of space isn’t really empty. Because of the uncertainty principle, quantum theory predicts that a constant foam of “virtual particles” is flitting in and out of existence inside the void. Even weirder, these virtual particles can have real effects. This week, a paper in Nature demonstrates just such an effect: if you jiggle a mirror very close to the speed of light, you can turn pairs of virtual light particles into real ones.
Yesterday the Royal Society held a little meeting to discuss its new report on the future of nuclear power here in Britain. It all seemed to be going swimmingly until Chris Huhne, the government’s environment secretary, delivered an unorthodox speech that in part blamed researchers for the nation’s current nuclear woes.
Next week, for the first time ever, a Soyuz rocket will launch from a site outside the former Soviet Union. The Soyuz ST-B will carry Europe’s first two Galileo navigation satellites into orbit. Assembly of the launch vehicle took place in Sepetmeber. ESA has put together this nifty 2-minute video showing the assembly process over a period of about a week.The launch is scheduled for 20 October.
Today, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that one of its nuclear inspectors had been exposed to radiation during a 4 October inspection of the Belgoprocess nuclear waste facility in Dessel, Belgium.
On the eve of the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics, last year’s winner is receiving a funding bump from the British government. Graphene, honeycombed sheets of carbon just one atom thick, will be the focus of a £50 million (US$77 million) global research and technology hub, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (pictured), announced at today’s Conservative Party conference in Manchester. “I want Britain to be the home of the greatest scientists, the greatest engineers, the greatest businesses,” he said in his speech to the party delegates.
China launched the first module of its space station today at around 13:15 GMT. The 20ish ton Tiangong-1 module was carried into low-earth by a Long March 2F rocket. As BBC reports, the Tiangong-1 is a 10.5 m cylindrical module with a few solar panels and communications equipment.
In the days and weeks after the nuclear accident at Fukushima, many journalists, policy-makers and members of the public turned to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for an independent look at the crisis as it unfolded.
The German company Siemens is pulling out of nuclear power for good. In an interview with der Spiegel published on 18 September, CEO Peter Löscher announced that the company would no longer build or finance nuclear power plants in Germany or anywhere else (English version). Löscher said the decision was in large part due to the accident at Fukushima Daiichi and the German government’s decision to shut down its existing nuclear plants by 2022.