The brain is the limit

As I mentioned in my very first post, I was fairly busy during the past few weeks as I had to prepare an important report for uni. Now I have submitted though and am slowly getting back to real life… But that is taking a while. I’m sure everybody is familiar with that strange feeling you get after you’ve achieved something: you’re exhausted. You know you should be happy and relieved and celebrating, but instead the main feeling is exhaustion. You’re low on adrenaline, your body shuts down, and you’re quite likely to get ill, simply because your body somehow knows it can afford it now. I’ve always been quite fascinated by how people physically react to stress. When I observe myself I realise that in the past I was rarely ill during exam periods, but usually instantly came down with something afterwards. The body just knows that it has to function in busy times, but also that it’s then okay to show a bit of weakness later on.

This time however, I was even more fascinated by the fact that my brain changed: it literally turned itself into a one-track mind while I was working on my report. I was fully able to write, go back and forth within the document without losing track of what I was doing, changing things here and there and still maintaining a somewhat clear structure. (At least that’s what I think now – in a year or so I’ll probably laugh about what I’ve written… But never mind.) The thing is, while I was somewhat in control of my mental abilities when it came to the report, I could not focus on anything else. I forgot what people told me, lost track of time, or kept repeating myself. Okay, such smaller slip-ups are almost normal in circumstances like these; but towards the end of my work I realised that I couldn’t focus on other things any more even if I tried. The weekend before I submitted, I had a two-day break from writing as my document was being proofread by someone else, so I decided to join some friends on a weekend away in the English countryside. It was sunny, fun, relaxing – and still, my brain was stuck thinking about my report. Not even in a guilty, “you should be working right now” sort of way – but subconsciously it took up all my energy and simply wouldn’t let me think about anything else. This became particularly obvious when some of the boys went to play Croquet and tried to explain it to me. I’d heard of this game before, but thought it was mainly about taking a big wooden hammer and knocking a ball through a metal hoop. But oh no! It’s so much more than that! You can somehow also hit other people’s balls and then you are allowed to position your own ball next to the one you’ve hit so you can kick it out of the way, and then you get another go with which you most likely try to get through a hoop, but only from one side, and once you’re through there you get yet another hit, which of course you can use again to hit another ball, but you may only hit a certain person’s ball a specific number of times (I still haven’t figured out how that rule works), and all of that can also be done in teams, so you and your partner both try and get the other team’s balls out of the way while at the same time helping each other out, but you constantly need to be careful that nobody hits your ball against this pole positioned in the middle of the field because then you’ll have to go back to hoop one……… I don’t know. It’s probably not even that difficult, but my brain was unable to follow. “Ball through hoop”, that was as much as I got, unable to force myself to take anything else in. Capacity overload. My mind was busy with other things.

And while that distraction-defying attitude was good during the preparation of my report, I am quite glad that my brain is now letting me focus on other things again too. I might even give the rules of Croquet another go! The good thing is that I now have time to do all that, because – surprise surprise! – I didn’t even get ill this time. So kudos to my immune system – and brain, next time we’ll try multitasking!

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Denmark adventures – in Australia!

Apparently I’m not the only one who recently started a blog: I just discovered that David Bomba, who runs tours in Denmark, is also in the blogging business now. “Wow”, you might think, “he runs tours covering an entire country??” Well, I have to disappoint you there (although I’m sure it would be great to tour all of Denmark The Country) – what I’m talking about here is Denmark The Town, which is located south of Perth in Western Australia:

 

I visited Denmark in late 2007 and absolutely loved it. There’s not all that much to do in the town itself, but the surrounding coastline is just spectacular. I rented a bicycle for a day while I was there and just cycled around myself, while on two other days I went on tours with David. They were some of the best tours I’ve been on in Australia, even though they didn’t go to spectacular sites like Uluru or get you face-to-face with the likes of crocodiles and sharks – but David tailors the tour to your wishes and really knows what he’s talking about. He clearly appreciates what nature has to offer and is happy to share his knowledge.

I have to admit that I was lucky too – I was the only one on the tours back then, so it felt more like spending a day with a friend than being on an impersonal, hectic, over-organised tour. David really seems to enjoy what he’s doing and thus got Denmark up high on my list of places I recommend visiting.

But if you can’t visit right now (I admit, it’s a bit far away for most of us…), here’s some pictures to give you an idea:

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Going nuclear on facebook

A few days after the Japan earthquake hit, a link to a blog giving background information on the Fukushima I reactors was circulated on facebook. It originally appeared on this page (with the interesting title “Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors”), but was soon moved to the “MIT NSE Nuclear Information Hub“. The original page now shows this explanation of how the post came into being:

I am a mechanical engineer and research scientist at MIT. I am not a nuclear engineer or scientist, or affiliated with Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, so please feel free to question my competence. The text is based on an email that I send to family and friends in Japan the night of March 12. It was posted on this blog by my cousin Jason, went viral and has been equally popular with people who hate it and love it ever since.

The actual post – well, the modified version – can now be found here, or here with pictures. Unfortunately now both the title, which was the first thing that caught my eye when I discovered it on facebook, as well as the main conclusion, “The plant is safe now and will stay safe”, have been removed. No comment. Which reminds me: Comments on the post have now been disabled too. Hm.

As much as I appreciate people trying to explain the scientific background of things and prefer them over those who simply run around like headless chickens, I got really mad reading this article – mainly due to the ridiculous title and the absolutely unrealistic conclusion (remember, the post was written only two days after the earthquake, when nobody really knew yet what was going on at Fukushima 1). So in the end I spent quite a bit of my time replying to the three people who posted the article on facebook. Sorry, this is a pretty long post, but I thought it would be nice if these discussions didn’t remain only on facebook. I removed all names (except for my own) and replaced them with a bit of info on where the participants are from.

 

~~~~~ Discussion 1 ~~~~~

An Italian friend of mine (living in London) posted the article on someone’s wall, saying: Worth reading..
14 March at 17:21

Her boyfriend “likes” the article.

Me: What’s to like about this?
15 March at 00:46

My friend: Well, it’s just reassuring, I was honestly scared by what could have happened
15 March at 07:13

Me: It’s not about what “could have happened”. It’s about what’s happening *right now*. Writing things like “The plant is safe now and will stay safe” is ridiculous – nobody can predict something like that, and everything that’s happening right now indicates that this person is simply wrong! I can’t believe people write things like that claiming *they* are the ones who are propagating the truth – what does it take to show people how dangerous nuclear power really is and that you simply *cannot* predict whether a plant will stay safe or not?? Hundreds of thousands being evacuated and/or contaminated is not enough? How do you think the affected people *feel*, having to live with the fear of disease or the thought of possibly never being able to come back to their homes? That fear alone should be enough to make governments rethink their approach to nuclear technology, let alone the actual and quite real dangers of the technology itself!
Well, let’s keep on reading the news (because I *trust* them – certain things just can’t be denied) and people will realise that “the plant […] will stay safe” is a pretty bold statement!!!
15 March at 09:11

A German friend of ours (living in London/Spain): Whoa! Quite outspoken, Sarah!
Regarding the article, although I believe that scientific explanations and reassurances are far more believable and justified than spreading panic through exaggerated news reporting, the scientific explanation still has to be based in fact.And unfortunately, in the case of this article and the reactors at Fukushima, the article and reality don’t seem to add up. I don’t know if you’ve read most of it, but the gist of the article is that the reactor is inherently safe, because even in the case of a total nuclear meltdown, the radioactive material would be contained in a huge containment structure beneath the reactor, which would catch all the molten uranium oxide. Now, unfortunately, Fukushima doesn’t seem to have or only partially have this kind of outer containment structure. Oops!
At least so far, the radiation leaked is much less than what would usually affect human health. Whether it stays that way, we’ll have to see.
15 March at 09:44

Me: Exactly. I’m not a fan of exaggerated media coverage either and prefer scientific explanations instead, but saying that everything will be okay (and, as you say, maybe not even getting the facts right either!!) is just wrong. That’ll give people a sense of safety that’s just not there!
And even if Fukushima *had* this containment structure, who can say that’ll never burst either? Some things you just can’t predict, so making any sort of comment on what will happen in Japan is just negligent. It’s unpredictable, end of story.
And on a personal note, I’d prefer if people over here were a bit shocked, woke up and switched to Green Electricity as a result of this. Rather than just falling back asleep pretending everything’s okay. That’s just ignorant.
15 March at 09:58

My friend who posted the article: I completely agree with what [our German/London/Spain friend] said.
I didn’t post this article because I think that the nuclear reactors are safe or that it’s a smart source of energy, or that people in Japan should walk like nothing is happening.
I just found it was explaining things in a proper way, and it made sense to me, for as far as I could understand, and I prefer this kind of information to the one of the papers that make people freak out, basing their articles on imprecise information.
15 March at 10:02

Me: I understand that, and it sure is nice to have someone explain the scientific background too. But I simply don’t trust anyone who, in the same context, says that a nuclear catastrophe is impossible. Who does he think he is, God??
15 March at 10:18

Our German/London/Spain friend: [To our friend who posted the article]: No need to justify, I quite liked the article as well, until I noticed that it doesn’t actually describe the Fukushima reactor exactly. And even then it’s a good explanation (although a bit too much nothing-will-ever-happen, as Sarah said).
[To me]: I believe they define “impossible” in their own theoretic world, “given that all I said is true, it’s impossible”. Only, their assumption doesn’t hold…
15 March at 10:24

Me: Sure, physicists (as well as other scientists) like to define their “events” first and then talk about them. However, this was specifically written for a layman audience, so it should’ve been clear that “impossible” means “not possible” to the readers and not “not possible under the given conditions”.
Well, enough about that now, I think I made my point: I don’t like nuclear power, and I particularly don’t like people playing down the dangers of this technology under the pretence of “scientific explanations”.
I would’ve commented all this on the blog itself, but – oh surprise! – they’ve disabled the comments…
16 March at 14:55


~~~~~ Discussion 2 ~~~~~

A German friend of mine (who lives in the US) posted it on his on wall, saying: and here I was getting ready to carry the fire… guess that’ll have to wait for another day
14 March at 21:02

Me: Writing things like “The plant is safe now and will stay safe” is ridiculous – nobody can predict something like that, and everything that’s happening right now indicates that this person is simply wrong! I can’t believe people write things like that claiming *they* are the ones who are propagating the truth – what does it take to show people how dangerous nuclear power really is and that you simply *cannot* predict whether a plant will stay safe or not?? Hundreds of thousands being evacuated and/or contaminated is not enough? How do you think the affected people *feel*, having to live with the fear of disease or the thought of possibly never being able to come back to their homes? That fear alone should be enough to make governments rethink their approach to nuclear technology, let alone the actual and quite real dangers of the technology itself!
Well, let’s keep on reading the news (because I *trust* them – certain things just can’t be denied) and people will realise that “the plant […] will stay safe” is a pretty bold statement!!!
15 March at 09:18

My friend: I think the key piece of information to take from this is, that even though things went wrong, they did so within the scenarios that had been envisioned by the architects of these power plants, which is quite a feat. Personally, I would not want to live in close proximity to such a plant, however I think most reports of the release of radioactive material I have read in the more mainstream media have been incredibly undifferentiated (“Oh no! radioactive! scary!”), so it doesn’t hurt to see both sides of the argument.
I like how this was posted by multiple [people] and you took the time to comment on each of them 🙂
15 March at 17:01

Me: I know, some of the reports in the media have been quite full-on, and sure, you need to distinguish between the different radioactive elements. But still, if only the less harmfull ones get through now, how can I be sure that next time it won’t be plutonium or iodine? Or, if the wind blows all radioactivity away from Tokyo this time, that still doesn’t mean it’ll happen again next time too. So yeah, nuclear power, I’m not a fan…
Hence my comments on all those posts. BTW, copy/paste helps! 😉
16 March at 14:47


~~~~~ Discussion 3 ~~~~~

An Australian friend of mine posted the article on someone’s wall, saying: a great read for anyone that is sick of the shit that the media is producing over this. I encourage everyone to read it and become that bit more knowledgable.
14 March at 23:27

4 people like this.

One of his friends: Of course the media is just out there to propagate fear, all they will do is rehash the whole Chernobyl story. Trouble is, hardly anybody knows the full story, each of the events and the inherent design flaws that led up to the disaster. Instead, all they do is chant about the disaster and the resulting fallout.
14 March at 23:30

My friend: Lucky you aren’t here in Australia. The media is having a field day because a few politicians decided to use the event as an example of why there should never be nuclear power in Au and now everyone else is scrambling to get their opinion voiced in the media too.
14 March at 23:48

His friend again: I could only imagine, hence my comment. Nuclear power will never happen with all of these ignorant people out there in Australia.
Pity.
14 March at 23:51

Another friend of his: This is a great read. Thanks for sharing it, will definitely pass it on to keep as many people informed. Is it sad that I see there being a new arcade game called ‘prevent the nuclear breakdown’ by the end of the month?
15 March at 00:16

Me: I’m sorry, but this doesn’t convince me at all. I’d rather have a wind generator next to my house than a nuclear power plant. Why choose the dangerous option if there are safe ones out there? Nuclear power is not 100% safe. End of story. Oh this makes me angry, I better stop writing.
15 March at 00:45

My friend: Sure – nuclear power isn’t perfect. All this article seeks to do it remove the misconceptions around the current events in Japan. I don’t know anyone that would prefer to live next to a nuclear power station than a wind turbine, but I’d prefer to live next to nuclear than a coal power station.
15 March at 01:36

A third friend of his: Nuclear plant would be quieter.
15 March at 04:01

My friend: and also statistically the least likely to kill you.
15 March at 04:49

The third friend again: and no dead birds and bats on the lawn each morning.
15 March at 05:54

Me: Haha, statistics!! Look how statistics failed in Japan! 99% safety simply isn’t enough! Oh, and statistics with regards to deaths caused by radioactivity are particularly tricky since an enormous number of people die a very slow death – which I’m sure loads of governments manage to not include in their statistics. Anyone who’s ever studied science know for a fact: Statistics Lie.
And sure, nuclear power is greener than fossil-generated power, and it’s quieter too. I am not saying we should choose coal over nuclear. But there’s even better alternatives out there – water, wind, sun!! If the world’s governments finally started *properly* funding research into these areas, they would become better developed, more effective, and a safe and green alternative to anything we have so far.
What really grinds my gear about this article though is that writing things like “The plant is safe now and will stay safe” is ridiculous – nobody can predict something like that, and everything that’s happening right now indicates that this person is simply wrong! I can’t believe people write things like that claiming *they* are the ones who are propagating the truth – what does it take to show people how dangerous nuclear power really is and that you simply *cannot* predict whether a plant will stay safe or not?? Hundreds of thousands being evacuated and/or contaminated is not enough? How do you think the affected people *feel*, having to live with the fear of disease or the thought of possibly never being able to come back to their homes? That fear alone should be enough to make governments rethink their approach to nuclear technology, let alone the actual and quite real dangers of the technology itself!
Well, let’s keep on reading the news (because I *trust* them – certain things just can’t be denied) and people will realise that “the plant […] will stay safe” is a pretty bold statement!!!
15 March at 09:18

My friend: There are two arguments here so lets not get confused. The first is the correct reporting of facts by the media, and the second is the safety of nuclear power generation.
The first is the topic of the article. It is laying down the full story of the events at Fukushima. Sure, some assumptions maybe be made about the actual sequence of events but this is the first article I have read over the past few days that is not trying to sensationalise the information.
There is a huge amount of misinformation out there, and as you pointed out statistics can be interpreted in ways to argue any argument. The media does a great job of distributing information, but they exist to make money and they do that by getting readers/viewer. By comparing the current events in Japan to Chernobyl is rather irresponsible by the media and is simply fear-mongering to make the story more sensational. Now – I’m not saying that what is happening in Japan isn’t serious, but we did learn from that disaster in 1986 (and 1979 too). Now Japan is doing completely the right thing – they are trying everything to avert a disaster, cautioning people to stay indoors, distributing medical supplies for just-in-case and perhaps most important of all – trying to be open and honest with the information it has. I just feel that the media however is incorrectly relaying this.
15 March at 11:45

My friend: and an update if anyone is interested: http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/15/fukushima-15-march-summary/
15 March at 11:52

A mutual Australian friend of ours: You know its funny Sarah, renewable energy uses nuclear power too. Albeit the source is a little further away, but still one day it’ll run out of fuel and we’ll have to say bye bye earth!
15 March at 12:12

My friend’s friend whose wall the link was originally posted on: Getting power by wind and sun are incredibly inefficient methods of power generation to date. People forget the huge costs and “carbon” factor of actually building it all, and then maintaining the equipment (life of it, part replacement etc…). It maybe fine for the average household, but EVERYTHING is moving towards a greater need for energy (eg your car and basically every bit of technology that surrounds us)
Unfortunately to power any 1st world nation, you simply need a lot of energy. Nuclear is far from being the most used power source (15%).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EIA2007_f4.jpg
I’d rather see an increase in Nuclear and Household Renewable/Engery efficiency… rather than the alternatives of developing coal/liquid/gas ower stations. But as the trend goes, we’re seeing an ever increasing use of these.
Nuclear waste is even reusable now – they reckon the UK could power through to the 2060 on just their current nuclear waste.
15 March at 12:36

Me: I’m totally on board with informing people about scientific details rather than sensation-seeking journalism. But in my opinion that’s the only good thing about this article, that it’s trying to do that – although apparently even that article got the facts wrong, so who can you trust? And that’s precisely what I’m getting at: you can’t trust anyone, any statements, any predictions. But that article *made* a prediction, a clear statement that Fukushima I is and will be safe. Now I’m not saying it’s not safe, even though the events so far do (more than) indicate that. I’m saying: wait and see! But don’t distribute useless “information” on what may or may not happen. Making people feel safe when actually they’re not is, in my opinion, even more reckless than doing it the other way round!!
A few other points though: I do not believe that the information we’re getting so far is honest, which is another reason why I think nobody should make any assumptions about anything. Tepco, who run Fukushima I, has a shocking record of dishonesty when it comes to covering up faults at the plant etc. etc. I’m not going to make a statement on the honesty of the Japanese government here, but even if they’re being honest themselves they do after all rely on what Tepco tells them, which, as mentioned above, is questionable at best.
With regards to the high energy use of 1st world countries, people need to think outside the box a bit more – the answer to “we use a lot of energy” is not necessarily “we need to get more” – it could also be “we need to use less”. I don’t have a car, I switch all my appliances off when not in use, I have energy saving lightbulbs and so on. Sure, it takes a bit more effort, but I don’t mind doing it, I’m not too lazy – no, on the contrary, I’m proud of doing my bit to save the environment!
Oh, and by the way, building new nuclear power plants and maintaining old ones to somewhat acceptable standards costs quite a bit of money too! Especially if they have to be built “earthquake-safe” (no comment) – we’re talking several billion dollars here. I’d rather invest that sort of money into green energy.
And last but not least, like I mentioned in a previous post, I agree with 1) wind/solar/water-based power generation methods are way too ineffecient at the moment, and 2) nuclear power is greener that coal etc. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make here – the point is: 1) inefficiency of alternative energy resources is the reason more money has to be invested in *research* into these areas. We can’t just overlook these technologies just because they’re not perfect yet – we need to improve them! People have been working on, well, let’s call it “nuclear physics”, for decades now (as Japan should remember best…), so obviously they’re ahead (but still far from perfect themselves!!). Time for green energy to catch up. And 2) nuclear power can be as green as it wants, it’s still *dangerous*, so if I have a choice I’ll always go for solar (etc.) power. Because I want my children to be able to eat carrots or potatoes we’ll grow in our own garden – which, incidentally, is something *I wasn’t* allowed to do in spring/summer 1986…
16 March at 00:13

My friend: Another interesting article coming out of MIT: http://tech.mit.edu/V131/N13/yost.html
16 March at 23:30

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More on ze Germans

Seeing as I just gave you a bit of an introduction to Germany in my previous post, I thought I should quickly add something I came across today: the “At-a-glance guide to Germany: Sausages, sexual confidence and surprisingly good hip-hop“, published just a few days ago on The Guardian’s website. It’s part of a larger series on Germany (which I still have to work my way through though).

I quite like the way it is written, and I certainly recognise myself and my friends in a lot of the things that are described here. For example:

Go to a pub with a bunch of Germans, and you are far more likely to talk about the big questions in life than who deserves to get to the next round of The X Factor (or rather, Deutschland Sucht den Superstar).

While that might not be entirely true all the time (errm…), it’s certainly something I missed when I lived in Australia. People in Brisbane are just so laid-back (I blame the 245 sunny days a year) that most of them really don’t want to talk about serious things when they’re out in the pub. Which is probably a good way to escape real life, but to be honest, every now and then I don’t mind a bit of reality either… Even at a pub.

Anyway, another thing that’s certainly true is:

Germans can be quite literal, straight-forward people.

I think this fact has possibly been the biggest source of misunderstandings in my life ever since I moved to London. British people are just so polite! I mean, really polite!! Sure, that doesn’t hold true for everybody (particularly not in London), and I realise I’m generalising a bit here, to highlight certain aspects – I hope you realise that too! So, just to get things straight: I believe it’s not fair to make assumptions about every single person from a certain country based on prejudices or previous experience with one or two other people from that country. But I’m still amazed (and amused!) every time I see something and just can’t help thinking “She’s so German!” or “That’s such a British thing to do!” Yes, it’s fun to observe these things… As long as you take them with a pinch of salt. Seriously.

(I think the fact that I feel the need to say these things tells you quite a bit about us Germans too: we’re really scared of being called racists… I guess we learnt our lesson. Well, I would hope we did!)

But anyway, where were we? Yes, polite Britons. See, the thing is, if I would like to have something, I ask for it – which can be considered as being a bit rude if you are in Britain. On the other hand though, if I don’t want to have something, I have no problem saying that either. For example, if I’m asked if I would like to have a cup of tea, I usually say no – but not to be polite, just to be honest! I really mean no, I’m just not a big fan of tea. Which, in turn, can be considered as being a bit rude if you are in Britain…

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You say potato, I say Kartoffel…

One of the more positive side effects of events such as the Japan earthquake (or the Tunisia/Egypt/Lybia uprisings – yes, that’s still going on too…) is that suddenly the whole world discusses the same topics. Which makes it very easy to compare what people in different countries think, how the media cover certain events, or how governments react. It really teaches you something about cultural differences and similarities!

For example, I think most people here in Europe are amazed by how calm and composed (most of) the people in Japan are dealing with what is going on in their country right now. I doubt it would be the same over here! Although I leave it up to you to decide whether that’s a good or a bad thing… Either way, I enjoy the fact that – despite increasing globalisation – it’s still possible to discover distinguished cultural features in different countries. Otherwise the world would be a pretty boring place, wouldn’t it?

So travelling from one country to another on an almost monthly basis is still quite exciting for me, even though it’s only from the UK to Germany and back. But still, almost every time I discover something new, some sort of striking difference or surprising similarity. For example, if I want to meet up with someone in Germany, I can easily call them a week or two in advance, we’ll set a date, and that’s that – we don’t necessarily need to speak again in the meantime, but both of us will certainly be there, and on time. In England however, people have given me the strangest looks when I tried to get them to arrange something more than three days in advance – and agreeing on an exact time and place 24 hours before you’re supposed to meet? Talk about being a control freak! But whichever side you’re on, I guess it doesn’t really matter – some of us like precision and reliability, while other prefer to be flexible and spontaneous. No problem, I would think, as long as you’re able to come to a compromise. Maybe agree on a date four days in advance and then talk about the details later? Hm?

And speaking of Krauts and Poms, I remember reading a quote in a book years and years ago, which pops into my head whenever I compare these two countries. Obviously I can’t quote it properly now because I forgot which book it was – but hey, other people got much further than me without being able to cite properly… Anyway, it went something like this:

The Germans and the English are similar enough to speak to each other, but different enough to have something to talk about.

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No Atomstrom in My Wohnhome!*

[* A semi-pun in GermanEnglish meaning “No nuclear electricity in my home”.]

Although I really didn’t think I’d be blogging on a daily basis right now, I do feel that I can’t just leave the current situation uncommented…

To sum things up: Three days ago, Japan was hit by a 9.0 (Richter scale) earth quake, resulting in widespread damage and causing a tsunami which swept across vast areas of the country. And what’s more, the combination of both of these events led to faults in four nuclear power plants, with the outer shell of one reactor in Fukushima 1 exploding. At the moment, 1,800 people are confirmed dead, 200,000 being evacuated from the areas surrounding the nuclear plants, and more than 10,000 people are still missing. I thought I should mention that because this post will most certainly be outdated in just a few hours as new information from Japan comes in (as slowly as that is happening…).

Since I am in Germany this weekend I was able to closely follow the re-ignited discussion about nuclear plants in this country, a topic which was already hotly debated just a few months ago when the government decided to keep Germany’s nuclear plants running for an average of 12 years longer than planned by the previous government. Which means that some of them will be running for another 25 years – that’s an entire generation!

Speaking of 25 years, that’s almost exactly the number of years which have passed since the disaster of Chernobyl shocked Europe and the world. So, one disaster every 25 years? Well, with Germany’s power plants still up and running in 25 years’ time, this country might even become proud sponsor of the next big nuclear disaster! Congrats! Although, think twice, such events come at quite a price: apparently even today the Ukraine still has to invest 5% of its annual GDP into dealing with the effects of Chernobyl. Oh, and I heard several people have complained about health problems too.

I apologise, I probably should be a bit less sarcastic about an event with such high international importance. Maybe I’m just getting sick of all the ridiculous pro-nuclear arguments I’ve heard on TV just now, while watching political talk show Anne Will – luckily they were in the minority. But it just grinds my gears when people use phrases such as “But it’s always been this way! Even though we all agree it’s a bad thing, we’ve relied on nuclear energy for decades now, so we can’t just suddenly stop.” Err, excuse me? Yes, maybe we can’t turn back time, but what we can do is change the future! Just because something “has always been that way” it doesn’t mean it has to go on forever – and the sooner we act, the sooner the past will become a better time too. Makes sense?!

Another common point pro-nuclear people like to make is: “Even if Germany stops operating power plants, we will then be surrounded by other countries who still have them – and will have to buy their nuclear energy!” Sure, the first bit of this statement is undeniably true as we can’t tell other countries what to do (hello EU…), but sometimes all it takes to change other people’s minds is by leading with good example. So if one country shows that it is possible to survive the switch from nuclear and fossil energy to renewable resources – which is, I would imagine, about as likely as surviving the horrible effects of Y2K – I can’t see why other countries wouldn’t follow its lead. And I honestly believe that Germany can do it since it is one of the world’s most advanced countries when it comes to environmental issues.
And with regards to buying other countries’ dirty electricity: just switch to green energy! Again, if enough people do it, even the big and frighteningly powerful nuclear industry will have to rethink its ways. [Yes, I’m aware that this argument doesn’t convince everybody, but more on the effect of “if everybody did that” some other time.]

“But why make the switch at all?”, pro-nuclear people will say. “Major faults in nuclear plants are incredibly rare, so what’s the problem?” – Well no, hang on, I’m only 27 and already experienced two, Chernobyl and Fukushima. Fact is, there just is no 100% safety when it comes to nuclear energy. There is minimising risks, sure, but sometimes risks are just underestimated. Power plants in Japan are supposed to be built to resist an earthquake of up to 8.25. Too bad if 9.0 strikes – who would’ve thought, on the Ring of Fire! So if 100% safety cannot be guaranteed, I guess it’s time to rethink things. Seriously, I’d rather have one of those ugly wind generators fall onto my house during a hurricane, killing just me and my family, than a nuclear power plant exploding next door ruining thousands of lives and turning vast areas of land into, well, rubbish.

So to sum things up, even though this whole debate clearly makes me a bit angry when I hear what certain people have to say, I’m still glad it’s back on. Although the “nuclearists” are trying to make us believe this discussion is not actually necessary again as “nothing has changed since last Friday, our nuclear plants are still as safe as they were before”. Again, you’re right, but: the amount of fear of nuclear plants has changed. And fear should not be underestimated. Fear keeps us from doing stupid things. So now that we are experiencing almost first-hand what it’s like to face a massive nuclear disaster (whether it may actually happen or not), we suddenly realise that we are in fact scared of this technology. And even though the consequences of a potential further explosion in Japan will probably not even be felt in Europe directly, thanks to modern media we are all very involved, whether we like it or not (to be honest, I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to show people running for their lives on worldwide TV, but again, that’s a different story). Personally, I believe that you can’t judge anything unless you’ve been through the actual experience. We have now experienced what it’s like to lose control of a nuclear reactor, and most of us are not liking it. So this is the time to act and properly start supporting the use of renewable energies. I know this change won’t happen over night, but still: the sooner the better!

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Spring is here!

Finally it’s getting warmer again, and personally, this is one of my favourite times of the year – it’s certainly up there with summer, autumn and winter…! So just to get things started (with this blog), here’s a very small and not at all impressive collection of pictures I took of blossoming plants in Holland Park in springtime.

By the way, Holland Park is truly beautiful – it contains a small forest, several ponds, a Japanese Garden, loads of peacocks and squirrels, an ecology centre with interesting courses and lots of online information (e.g. on Holland Park’s trees or on Green Gardening), playgrounds, tennis courts and so on… Yes, I highly recommend this little gem in West London. Oh, and it also has a Youth Hostel, a cafe, a restaurant and the Holland Park Opera, although I haven’t tried any of those yet – well, I’d say here’s a plan for the next few weeks! Except for the Youth Hostel maybe, luckily I have a place to live just around the corner…

And speaking of cherries (the last picture in the slideshow), on my way to work I always cycle through a road that’s lined with cherry trees. Each year they all flower at the same time, for about a week or two in March or April. After that, you get the impression that winter has returned – all the trees suddenly shed their white-pink petals, and the street looks like it’s covered in fresh snow! That, just like real snow, certainly adds a nice touch to the concrete desert that is London (in some areas, anyway…).

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