Fukushima closes in on cold shutdown

Fukushima closes in on cold shutdown

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.

Light coaxed from nothingness

Light coaxed from nothingness

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.

Britain’s nuclear future: Royal Society vs. Chris Huhne?

Britain’s nuclear future: Royal Society vs. Chris Huhne?

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.

How to build a Soyuz

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.

UK politicians embrace graphene

UK politicians embrace graphene

Osborne.jpgOn 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.

Siemens pulls the plug on nuclear

Siemens pulls the plug on nuclear

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.