Archive for category Science

A New Innovation Center for Progress; Nuclear Debate

I’ve been following the nuclear debate online. I have not blogged anything about Japan’s nuclear plant crisis because there is not enough information coming out (as far as the plant’s condition is concern). Some people on both sides of the nuclear debate have wasted no time in using the crisis to express their nuclear sentiments. By “some” I mean a few people, not all of the pro or anti nuclear people. Some pro side were quick to say “nah it’s safe”. I think that is a little premature for an ongoing development. Some anti people were quick to say “see that’s why there should be no nuclear ever”.

For me, transparency should be mandatory in nuclear industry. So when Japan was covering up their minor nuclear mishaps not too long ago, I was really worried. Because that’s how things get out of hands. They should acknowledge the problem and take care of it head on, leaving no stone unturned. Covering up will just increase the problem exponentially. I am not saying the current crisis have anything to do with their previous non-transparency. Current unconfirmed report indicates tsunami might have swept their backup generator away.

When Harper fired Linda Keen of CNSC, I was equally concern and worried. Sure you can say there is 1 in a million chance that there will be a nuclear accident. But our nuclear industry are operated with very little tolerance for risk. And it should stay that way. Political distractions should play no role in nuclear safety. So Rick Mercer hits the bulls eye with his criticism of Gary Lunn and Harper’s handling of Chalk River’s NRU reactor.

Another troubling action by Harper is keeping the privatization of AECL in limbo for so long. So AECL is essentially prohibited from signing new contracts and making new commitments until they sell AECL off. And that have been going on for so long. There are countries who are interested in signing contract with AECL. But they won’t be able to, due to the freeze arising out of the prolonged government’s inaction. An enterprise that can’t conduct business for few days would lose a lot of money. AECL not being able to conduct business for months, possibly half a year to a year, will surely see its losses mounts. Next time Harper wants to proclaim that there are no incoming revenue at AECL, he should look down his feet and step off AECL’s fingers and let them move again. No wonder some industry insider is claiming that Harper is letting AECL or the nuclear industry “die by thousand cuts”. Harper’s officials claimed that AECL is a sink hole. That will just be a self fulfilling prophesy of increasing magnitude the longer he prevents AECL from conducting its business.

We need to establish an independent Scientific Research Agency. This agency will be independent and free from political interference. Part of AECL’s problem is the constant re-organization and selling off part by part to private organizations. New election, new party, new political appointee at the top, new re-organization. Medical isotope distribution sold off to private company Nordion under Mulroney. In my personal opinion, that took away a potentially lucrative income source for AECL. So it was instead relegated to just producing the isotopes with Nordion distributing them and profiting from them. AECL should at least have a decent share of the profit.

A new scientific institution should be independent and not have the restriction of a Crown Corporation. Which means they will not be restricted from seeking external funding. So private individual can donate for research towards cancer cure. Different funding streams could be setup so that people can target where they want their donations to go to. Such institutions could also coordinate various ongoing research and allows more efficient sharing and exchange of results from their studies. And provide better coordination and gathering of resources to jointly work toward similar research goal (whether it is looking for cures, clean energy sources or future technologies). Everything, especially funding and expenses, would be transparent as all government agencies should be. Independent researchers from different universities and institution under the umbrella of this agency will be preferable over the creation of a new big bureaucracy. A research laboratory with reactors, facilities and equipments will be maintained and available for scientist to use.

If we want to live in a progressive society, status quo or paralysis is not an option. Those two will only lead to stagnation and regression. We must foster continuous innovations for the betterment of our society.

Recommend this post (progressivebloggers.ca)

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NASA’s Bacteria Discovery News Headline is Misleading

When I read NASA’s big announcement about a new bacteria, I thought this is old news. It has long been known that microorganism do exist in volcano. In fact scientist have been studying how such organism can live in such extreme conditions in hopes of finding a cure for diseases, and to suggest that alien life is possible on planets that were considered inhabitable. One article goes back to 2005 >> USGS 2005 article. It just feels like too much hype going on here and it is being trumpeted as a discovery of a new type of bacteria when it is not.  All headlines were similar in declaring NASA discovers a new bacteria and possible proof of the existence of alien life. But such bacteria that feed on arsenic has been known to exist. What is news is Felisa Wolfe-Simon work in identifying the uniqueness of the DNA of this type of bacteria, compared to a normal organism. She is trying to prove existing theory including that of hers. Arsenic is toxic to normal living organism and is known to enhance DNA synthesis (thus cause cancer) at low concentration and suppressed DNA synthesis (kill cells) at higher concentration (source: Ziqiang Meng). So Felisa’s work might explain why these extremopohiles are able to withstand such extreme conditions. i.e. how their biochemistry is different from ours. Thereby increasing understanding of the mechanics of an existing microorganism.

This quote from NY Times offers a note of caution as to whether arsenic is really incorporated into the DNA.

By labeling the arsenic with radioactivity, the researchers were able to conclude that arsenic atoms had taken up position in the microbe’s DNA as well as in other molecules within it. Dr. Joyce, however, said that the experimenters had yet to provide a “smoking gun” that there was arsenic in the backbone of working DNA.

Plus the fact that they still grew better with phosphorous suggest that arsenic is not their native building block. Are they simply more tolerant and can take higher concentration of arsenic than normal organism? Like Ziqiang Meng study shows, at low concentration it might actually lead to increased synthesis of DNA. Is it possible that they are just simply able to take in much higher concentration of arsenic than the common organism? A threshold at which synthesis of DNA is halted?

It is quite interesting indeed to study how this organism functions.

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