Many of us don’t think too much about radiation levels in our area, until a nuclear disaster hits and questions are raised. Radiation monitoring is an important undertaking, both from a public health perspective and as a way to monitor things like weapon development. So why is it done, how is it done, and what role can concerned citizens play in keeping an eye on things?
This multifaceted fail comes to us straight from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, where a group of friends apparently decided that a fun weekend project would be trying to turn over the iconic ferris wheel in the Pripyat Amusement Park. The [Kreosan] crew documented their admittedly very creative attempt at suicide in the video after the break, but we can save you some time by telling you right up front that the decades-old ferris wheel never actually rotates more than a few degrees. Though that’s hardly the key failure of this endeavour.
Even if you don’t understand anything they’re saying (we certainly don’t), it’s not too hard to follow along with this harebrained scheme.
Under cover of darkness, the troupe gains access to the mechanisms below the towering Soviet-era ride, and removes the brake unit mounted next to the motor. With the wheel now free spinning, the team is elated to see the mechanical advantage is such that spinning the shaft by hand is enough to cause a very slight rotation of the pulley and cables attached to the wheel.
Realizing they need more speed, the group then spends the rest of the night and apparently a good deal of the following day attempting to spin the mechanism using the rear wheel of one of their electric bicycles. But a rubber wheel held by hand against a rusty shaft, rather unsurprisingly, turns out to be a fairly poor mechanical linkage. They get a couple partial rotations on the pulleys, but still no serious movement.
One of the guys was working on the next phase of the inexplicably misguided plan, removing some heavy counterweights hanging under the ferris wheel, when a young woman shows up with a dosimeter and starts taking some measurements. Eventually, one of these moonlighting ferris wheel engineers uses the meter to observe the elevated radiation levels of the dirt and rust accumulated on his bare hands. This swiftly brings the operation to a close, and they all ride off on their bikes.
This was, without question, a monumentally stupid thing to do. Even if this was just a run-of-the-mill ferris wheel that had been abandoned and exposed to the elements for over thirty years, climbing on the thing and trying to get it to spin would be dangerous. But when you combine that with the fact it’s common knowledge to those who explore the Exclusion Zone that there are parts of the ferris wheel still emitting radiation at hundreds of times the normal background dose, this misadventure is a strong contender for the 2019 Darwin Award.
We’re lucky the remnants of Chernobyl’s number four reactor are locked away inside the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement, or else some up-and-coming Internet celebrity might try to get in there and spin up the turbines for a laugh. We’ve seen some pretty crazy stunts from [Kreosan], and we’d like to see more. So please, stay safe(r) guys!
Have you been watching Chernobyl? Well, so has everyone else. Right now it seems the whole Internet is comprised of armchair dosimetrists counting roentgens in their sleep, but [Mark Wright] doesn’t need a high-budget TV show to tell him about the challenges of wrangling the atom with 1980s technology. He’s done it for real. His memories of working at a Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactor over 30 years ago are so sharp that he’s been building a nuclear reactor “simulator” running on the Raspberry Pi that looks nearly as stressful as sitting in control room of the real thing.
The simulator software is written in Python, and is responsible for displaying a simplified overview of the reactor and ancillary systems on the screen. Here all the information required to operate the “nuclear plant” can be seen at a glance, from the utilization of individual pumps to the position of the control rods.
When featuring cool hacks repurposing one thing for something else, we prefer to focus on what we could get our hands on and replicate for ourselves. Not this one, though, as nobody else has the misfortune of being responsible for 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) of radioactive contaminated land like the government of Ukraine. Trying to make the best of what they have, they’ve just launched a pilot program working to put up solar power farms inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
This is sure to invite some jokes in the comments section, but the idea has merit. Thirty years of weather has eroded the worst aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion. That area is no longer immediately lethal and people have been making short visits. Spanning from safety inspectors, to scientists, to curious adventurers with questionable judgement making television shows. Supposedly, by following rules on what not to do, it’s possible to keep radiation exposure of a short visit down to the level experienced by frequent fliers. But that’s still too much radiation for long-term stay. That means no homes, office parks, or factories. No agriculture either, as plants and animals grown in the area should not be eaten.
So what’s left? That’s what Ukraine has been struggling with, as it tried to figure out something positive to offset the headaches of monitoring the area.
Well, next to the defunct power plant is the electric distribution infrastructure it used to feed into, and photovoltaic power generation requires little human oversight. Some maintenance will be required, but hopefully someone has worked out how to keep maintenance workers’ cumulative exposure to a minimum. And if this idea pans out, clean renewable energy would start flowing from the site of one of the worst ecological disasters of our era. That makes it a worthwhile hack on a grand scale.
Whenever there’s a new Windows virus out there wreaking global havoc, the Linux types get smug. “That’ll never happen in our open operating system,” they say. “There are many eyes looking over the source code.” But then there’s a Heartbleed vulnerability that keeps them humble for a little while. Anyway, at least patches are propagated faster in the Linux world, right?
While the Linuxers are holier-than-thou, the Windows folks get defensive. They say that the problem isn’t with Windows, it’s just that it’s the number one target because it’s the most popular OS. Wrong, that’d be Android for the last few years, or Linux since forever in the server space. Then they say it’s a failure to apply patches and upgrade their systems, because their users are just less savvy, but that some new update system will solve the problem.
There’s some truth to the viruses and the patching, but when WannaCry is taking over hospitals’ IT systems or the radiation monitoring network at Chernobyl, it’s not likely to be the fault of the stereotypical naive users, and any automatic patch system is only likely to help around the margins.
So why is WannaCry, and variants, hitting unpatched XP machines, managed by professionals, all over the world? Why are there still XP machines in professional environments anyway? And what does any of this have to do with free software? The answer to all of these questions can be found in the ancient root of all evil, the want of money. Linux is more secure, ironically, at least partly because it’s free as in beer, and upgrading to a newer version is simply cheaper.