Science and Technology links (January 25th 2020)

  1. Scientists found a way to increase the production of new neurons in the brains of mice, effectively rejuvenating the brains of old mice. (Source: Nature)
  2. How many people died during accidents at nuclear power plants? In North America, the most famous accident happened at Three Mile Island when a reactor overheated, shut down, and small amount of harmless radioactive gas was released. Nobody was harmed.
    In the recent Fukushima accident in Japan, about 50 people died directly as a result of the event. Many more people died following the event, but they did not die due to radiations or exposure to radioactive material. Instead, they mostly died due to the evacuation process, and most of the deaths where elderly or sick people from whom the evacuation was traumatic. It is estimated that infants in the region will see their cancer risk raised by 1% over their lifetime. In comparison the nuclear accident in Chernobyl was more tragic: thousands of people probably died as a result. Should you conclude that nuclear energy is risky? In the seventies, a dam collapsed and killed an estimated 230,000 people. Thus hydro-electric power is far more deadly than nuclear power, when just accounting for this one incident. And, of course, coal power plants are far more deadly than either hydro or nuclear. So we are irrational with respect to our fear of nuclear power. Speaking for myself, I would gladly live and work in a nuclear power plant, though maybe not one designed by the USSR. Furthermore, we now have the technology to build small nuclear reactors that would be orders of magnitude safer, if only we allow it.
  3. Academic researchers continue to fail to report the results of clinical trials in the USA, breaking the law in the process. This can be verified since clinical trials are public events, posted on the Web with the name of the researchers. It would be trivial to identify by name the academic researchers who fail to report the results of their clinical trial. These same clinical trials are typically funded by the government. The lack of compliance has been reported for years.
  4. Japan has 70,000 centenarians.
  5. Topical application of a drug commonly used as an immunodepressor (Rapamycin) appears to rejuvenate the skin of older people.
  6. Researchers were able to regenerate the optical nerve of mice after crushing it. It is believed to be an indication that we could reverse age-related vision loss due to glaucoma or other diseases.
  7. Exercise keeps you healthier, but how the benefits work is a bit unclear. Researchers found that by removing genetically some family of proteins (Sestrins) from flies and mice, they were able to negate the benefits of exercise. In contrast, increasing the production of Sestrins appear to emulate the benefits of exercise. (Source: Nature)
  8. Researchers claim to have found a new form of immunotherapy that would be effective against all cancers. However, it is an early stage and we are not even considering clinical trials at this time.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

3 thoughts on “Science and Technology links (January 25th 2020)”

  1. With all due respect, Daniel, your assessment of nuclear power generation is not rational. You, and others, are quite correct when you point out that the assumptions about the health impact of nuclear accidents have proven to be wrong. The cost equation, therefore, has shifted away from health costs as the key factor to just plain old cost per kilowatt-hour over the lifetime of the plant. Your province has famously implemented a hydro-electric centric strategy. My province (Ontario) has famously implemented a nuclear-power centric strategy that has proven to be safe (CANDU reactors), though finicky, but has proven to be uncompetitive cost-wise.

    What Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima has taught us is that the worst case nuclear accidents (core meltdown) cause very little health costs but that the likelihood of a core meltdown is orders of magnitude worst than any worst case estimates. Ontarian’s woke two Sundays ago to an emergency alert on our phones informing us of a problem at the Pickering nuclear plant. The alert was sent out in error but do a quick Fermi estimate of the cost of an accident that spreads low-grade radioactive material over a swath of dense urban land, like that around the GTA, and I think your opinion about nuclear power would change. This is the risk of all boiling water reactors until an alternative to zirconium clad fuel rods goes mainstream. They are prone to core meltdowns and it is not only due to communist incompetence. CANDU reactors have proven safe but at enormous capital cost.

    In an era of cheap natural gas, it is crazy to promote nuclear energy unless you place an irrational cost on greenhouse emissions. It is also irrational to shut-down nuclear plants prematurely but that is a different argument.

      1. The same argument has been made about SQL databases being decades old. I don’t think you would make the same claim without a careful analysis of the underlying data structures; the kind you are famous for. Bang-for-the-Buck is the metric to use (hopefully minus the hydrogen gas bang) not health costs. I have seen a technical analysis that amounts to more than marketing rhetoric. Natural gas fired power generation is the system to beat, as far as I can tell. Nuclear power has a sweet-spot: submarines. Beyond that I’m not so sure. I’m not against nuclear power ideologically, just economically.

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