Monday, May 01, 2006

Pandora's box

Pandora was, according to the Greek mythology, the first woman in the world. Zeus has constructed her to punish the men for Prometheus' theft of the secret of fire. Good job, Zeus.

She had received gifts from all Gods. How do you say it in Greek? Yes, "all" is "pan" like in "pan-American". Gifts are given by "donors", so a girl who got gifts from all Gods must be Pandora. :-)

The gift from Zeus, the God of Gods, was a box. She was instructed not to open it. However, as a curious woman, she opened it and released sorrow, plague, poverty, crime, and other misfortunes of mankind. (Well, Adam and Eve did more or less the same thing with the Macintosh.) She closed the box before the hope evaporated: hope was the only ingredient that was left in Pandora's box. Later, she opened the box again and released hope: this act of hers ended a very bad period of the human history.

What is the message? The message is that what you get from Pandora's box depends on the timing and other circumstances. Pandora's nuclear box was first opened in Summer 1945, and although the obvious consequences looked horrific, most historians and others agree that the nuclear bombs saved a lot of lives. Nuclear weapons give people a certain additional power and the power can lead both to clearly bad as well as relatively good outcomes, in comparison with the non-nuclear alternatives.

I think that this was essentially the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The White House would be mad if they declared the nuclear weapons to be forever unusable. I've been always amazed how many nuclear heads have been produced despite the tiny probability that someone would like to use a significant portion of them. When I was a kid, we would hear about the disastrous consequences of nuclear weapons all the time. Life on Earth would end, and all this stuff.

I no longer believe these alarmist ideas; they look kind of childish and irrational to me. Life on Earth did not end with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In fact, even life in Japan did not end; on the contrary, Japan started one of its most optimistic historical periods. The higher the moral standards of the main nuclear powers are, the better outcome one can expect from a possible nuclear confrontation.

A necessary condition for the hundreds of thousands of Hiroshimas in the currently existing warheads to destroy life is that they're controlled by a lunatic such as Mahnoud Ahmadinejad or the leaders of Sudan. And one of the tasks for responsible politicians is to guarantee that such a thing won't happen.

Figure 1: In fact, it's a task for both of them.

In the real world, there are many other sources of evil, instability, and numerous threats, and there are easy-to-imagine circumstances in which the nuclear weapons could become helpful for a more civilized party in a certain conflict. Yes, I still prefer a future without nuclear confrontations, but the price to pay for such a future can't be infinite.


  1. Does any one know that there is a small permanently burning fire in the Ueno Park in Tokyo, Japan. It's called the nuclear fire. It's not just a symbolic fire but it was really THE nuclear fire: Some one returned to Hiroshima and found the fire still burning in the ruins of the first uranium bomb dropped. So they carefully collected and preserved the fire until today, and for many more years to come.

    The lesson to learn is nuclear weapons are not against one particular nation or political group. It is against the whole humanity, and threats the very survival of the same.

    I applaud the fact that the Hiroshima and Nakasaki bombs did expedited the ending of WWII, and saved many lives by cutting the war shorter. But I insist that it would have been a much better outcome had the bombs not used, and had more US soldiers needed to be sacrified to end the war, in a conventional way. It would have been a higher price to pay, but for a much better future of humanity. The point is the first battle field usage of nuclear bombs opened up a Pandora's box and once it's opened, it is very difficult to close it again.

    The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were the first bombs to be dropped. But they are definitely not the last one to be dropped. We will be expecting many many more to be dropped in current or future conflicts of all kinds, including, god forbit, some that could be dropped on US soil, either by terriorists or by an avderse nation either in an initial attack or in a retarliation.

    Savings of half a million US lives in cutting short WWII is nothing to be bragged about, when you consider how many more lives will be killed by future nuclear conflicts. Had we never dropped the first bomb, there might be a possibility that no bombs will ever be produced or used. But we missed that chance.

    Now even tiny countries like Isreal could own several hundred nukes. What prevents other countries from acquiring the knowhow and build the nukes, if they feel that they need to have one to protect themselves.

    And what can prevent lunatics from acquiring the nukes? Lunatics can and has been elected to power by perfectly democratic processes, as shown by history, and hence inherit any nuclear capability that existed in the first place. I support the effort of the US government in trying to deal with Iran's nuclear ambition. But if President Bush believes that nuclear option is to be used in such a situation, and that he thinks it can make our country safer, I would have to call him an illusional lunatics.

    For the sake of humanity's very survival for the next one hundred years (one thousand years would be too much to wish for), I would prefer to see a world free of any nuclear material stored any where, or held by any nation or individual. It's a dangerous fire that we human have learned to use but have not figured how to safeguard. We haven't even figured out a safe place to place them!!!

  2. Quantoken,

    It's not just saving 500,000 lives. The air bursts produced no real fallout, because no soil got mixed with the fireball soon after detonation.

    U.S. Congressional Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on Radiation of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, The Nature of Radioactive Fallout and Its Effects on Man, 27 May - 3 June 1957, pages 105-112:

    Dr William W. Kellogg (born 1917), RAND Corp: ‘In the case of the surface burst, large quantities of surface material are broken up, melted, and even vaporized, and some of this material comes in intimate contact with the radioactive fission products. ...

    ‘In the case of an air burst in which the white-hot fireball never reaches the surface, the radioactive fission products never come into close contact with the surface material; they remain as an exceedingly fine aerosol. At first sight this might be thought to be an oversimplification, since there have been many cases in which the fireball never touched the ground, but the surface material was observed to have been sucked up into the rising atomic cloud. Actually, however, in such cases a survey of the area has shown that there has been a negligible amount of radioactive material on the ground. Though tons of sand and dust may have been raised by the explosion, they apparently did not become contaminated by fission products.

    ‘The explanation for this curious fact probably lies in a detailed consideration of the way in which the surface material is sucked up into the fireball of an air burst. [Another contributory factor is that by the time the dust in the updraft stem eventually reaches the fireball, it has cooled below the solidification temperature of the fission products.] Within a few seconds from burst time, the circulation in the atomic fireball develops a toroidal form, with an updraft in the middle and downdraft around the outside. Most of the fission products are then confined to a doughnut-shaped region, and may be thought of as constituting a smoke ring. When the surface debris is carried into the fireball a few seconds after the detonation, it passes up along the axis of the cloud, through the middle, and can often be seen to cascade back down around the outside of the cloud. In its passage through the cloud, it has passed around the radioactive smoke ring but has never mixed with it. (Reference: Kellogg, W. W., R. R. Rapp, and S. M. Greenfield: Close-In Fallout, Journal of Meteorology, vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 1-8, 1957.)

    I don't think Pandora was a bad girl. You can't keep the nuclear genie all bottled up just because many people are childish and lunatics. Over 2 million tons of conventional bombs were dropped during WWII, so the two 20 thousand ton equivalent nuclear bombs weren't significant in the total carnage of the war.

    Do you really believe that if America had not used the bomb in WWII, then Stalin would have followed suite? There was a book Stalin and the Bomb, by David Holloway which quotes Andrei Sakharov's reasons why anything like that would have been taken by Stalin to mean that America is (1) militarily weak-minded, (2) or saving the atomic weapons to use them all in a surprise attack against Russia, or even (3) giving communists the honor of using them first in a war.

    The U.S.S.R. always took advantage of any "weakness" shown by America, utilising the communist mixture of paranoia, hypocrisy and greed, mixed together with efficient propaganda and ruthless action.

    In a controlled sample of 36,500 survivors, 89 people got leukemia over a 40 year period, above the number in the unexposed control group. (Published in Radiation Research volume 146:1-27, 1996.)

    Over 40 years, in 36,500 survivors monitored, there were 176 leukemia deaths which is 89 more than the control (unexposed) group got naturally. There were 4,687 other cancer deaths, but that was merely 339 above the number in the control (unexposed) group, so this is statistically a much smaller rise than the leukemia result.

    Natural leukemia rates, which are very low in any case, were increased by 51 % in the irradiated survivors, but other cancers were merely increased by just 7 %.

    Adding all the cancers together, the total was 4,863 cancers (mainly natural), which is just 428 more than the unexposed control group. Hence, the total increase over the natural cancer rate was 9 %, spread over 40 years.

    The anti-nuclear hysteria is bad for three reasons: (1) it drives fraudulent anti-physics or at least generally anti-nuclear (pro-ignorance) public feeling about the knowledge of the facts of nuclear energy, (2) it ridicules civil defence which would be particularly effective in a terrorist attack or a limited war, at least to minimise casualties from burns, glass and debris and fallout, and (3) it puts a nasty stigma on the big bang cosmology, reducing public interest in the big bang (which is totally absurd, if you see supernovae and compare the energy release to Hiroshima, you see how crazy anti-nuclear fanatism is).