Radioactive Waste Can Power Long-Lasting Diamond Batteries
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A team of physicists and chemists from the University of Bristol have created a manmade diamond with electric currents that last longer than the history of human civilization. If you think that's impressive, listen to this: these super diamonds are powered by our nuclear waste.
Coal Ash Is More Radioactive Than Nuclear Waste
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The energy debate is a heated one. Every potential source of energy seems to have both pros and cons, and it can be hard to keep it all straight. In general, plenty of people think that coal is the bad guy for the environment: it produces dirty air and is non-renewable. On the other hand, some people think nuclear power is the worst culprit. The scary thought about nuclear energy is that it's so, so dangerously radioactive. Right? Well, no. This fact turns the tables a bit: The waste produced by coal power plants is more radioactive than nuclear waste. Who would have thought?
30 Years After A Nuclear Disaster, Chernobyl Wildlife Is Thriving
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In April of 1986, an accident at a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine (in what was then the U.S.S.R.), destroyed a reactor and released massive amounts of radioactive material into the surrounding area. The radiation was powerful enough to contaminate parts of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, and a zone 30 kilometers (18 miles) around the plant was closed off to the public. It's been that way ever since: except for a few scientists and other officials, Chernobyl has seen virtually no human visitors. But this tragedy has a bright side: the absence of human interference has led to a dramatic increase in wildlife. As reported by National Geographic, biologists performing a five-week survey of the area captured images of "a bison, 21 boars, nine badgers, 26 gray wolves, 60 raccoon dogs (an Asian species also called a tanuki), and 10 red foxes." Scientists studying the populations of wolves and other species have noticed similar trends. How well the animals are doing with the radiation levels is up for debate—though they appear healthy, more research is needed to determine if they're experiencing health effects at the genetic level. Delve into the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster in the videos below.
Bomb-Pulse Dating: How Nukes Are a Boon to Science
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When scientists want to find out how old a fossil is, they often look at the amount of carbon 14 it contains. This radioactive isotope was present in the atmosphere in a steady ratio with its more stable counterpart, carbon 12, for a long time. Scientists can cross-check this ratio with knowledge of the half-life of carbon 14 to determine the era a given fossil comes from. That ratio changed in the mid-20th century, when above-ground nuclear testing threw it off by filling the atmosphere with carbon 14, which in turn incorporated itself into the DNA of every plant and animal on the planet. Though this poses a problem for scientists in future millennia (they may no longer have a reliable comparison of one type of carbon to the other), it's a windfall for scientists in the modern day. This glut of carbon 14 has fallen at a steady and predictable rate since testing stopped in 1963, so the amount of the isotope present in an organism alive since mid-century can tell us the exact year it came into being. But this doesn't just go for whole organisms. If scientists want to know when an individual cell was born, they can find out how much carbon 14 it contains, then figure out the year when that much carbon 14 was in the atmosphere. That's why we now know how long each cell in your body lives, from your skin to your heart to your brain.
Key Facts to Know
The outer layer of your skin regenerates itself every 2 weeks. 0:28
Scientist can date your organs by measuring the amount of carbon-14 in them. 2:01
One study found that in a 90 year old brain, the neurons in the hippocampus were only 20-30 year old. 2:50
The Birds Of Chernobyl
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After the 1986 reactor explosion at Chernobyl, a large region around the power plant became inhospitable for humans. This 1,000-square-mile exclusion zone is still home to wildlife, however, some of which has actually begun to adapt to the radioactive environment. Certain species of birds seem to be producing higher levels of antioxidants, and exhibit less damage to their DNA from ionizing radiation. Though other bird species have experienced stark population losses and instances of deformed beaks, this adaptation is a hopeful note in the decades following the Chernobyl tragedy.
from The New York Times
Key Facts to Know
The exclusion zone around Chernobyl has radiation levels that are too high for most species to tolerate. 1:32
Some species of birds in the Chernobyl exclusion zone have exhibited tumors and other physical abnormalities, such as deformed beaks. 2:20
Trees cut down near Chernobyl have a dramatic change in the color of their rings that corresponds with the year of the disaster. 3:28