Thursday, July 14, 2011

UC Berkeley Nuclear: If Its Not Raining Here, Its Not Raining ANYWHERE?

The UC Berkeley Nuclear Engineering BRAWN team seems to have to gone out of their way to rationalize why the detection of radioactive peaches in California is no reason to investigate further. Its the equivalent of telling fire spotters to ignore smoke in the woods during fire season; the public safety implications are obvious. It is easy to conclude that there is bias coming out of the BRAWM team.

It is a troubling bias because these people are responsible for training the next generation of nuclear engineers who will sign off on the safety of nuclear projects. I continue to hope that it is a bias driven out of ignorance / incompetence rather than a desire to keep their entire undergraduate nuclear engineer enrollment from dropping to zero again like it did after Three Mile Island.

The obvious bias aside, people do look to them for information and data; they count on the Berkeley team because of their perceived reputation. Its a reputation that is taking a hit with those who practice science, but much like "Climate Gate" it takes a while for that knowledge to filter down to the public. In that regard, lets examine the smoke and mirrors used to seemingly justify why there should be no further investigation of the radioactive peaches detected in Santa Monica.

The gist of one claim coming out of UC Berkeley is that a Geiger counter with a pancake tube specifically designed to detect contamination is not capable of rapidly detecting the difference between background radiation and 2 times background radiation. They couch that claim by treating that report as if it came out of an instrument that displayed raw data, instead of the 30 second moving average it actually displays. They also ignore that the reported detections were the MINIMUM SUSTAINED READINGS from two different peaches; and that the local background was also read.

That is enough information to make any person who knows the least little bit about Geiger counters to cringe at UC Berkeley's claims. But it gets worse, any good scientist adept at data analysis and collection would cringe when the BRAWN team suggested that a Poisson uncertainty should be applied to data resulting from a moving average. Combine that with their use of such dubious logic as a rationale to avoid further investigation, and you have what I refer to as DOUBLE STUPID.

But the most damning thing straining the credibility of UC Berkeley Nuclear Engineering department is this diddy, 'If it ain't rainy here it ain't raining anywhere, therefore no further investigation is needed'. The actual quote is "There is absolutely no way that fallout from Fukushima could possibly be detected with a handheld radiation meter here in the US. The quantities have been far, far too small for this to be the case." its a statement that should make ANY SCIENTIST OR MATHEMATICIAN CRINGE. That statement is the fundamental equivalent of claiming that because weathermen in the major cities are not reporting any rain that you can't possibly be having rain at your house. Such logic is obviously cringing to ANY person, scientist or not.

I wonder if the BRAWN team member who posted that is willing to back it up by resigning from the nuclear industry if they are wrong. After all, if a nuclear engineering professional is willing to risk the safety of every Peach Eating American-Californian's Health (P.E.A.C.H) on such flimsy mathematically unsubstantiatable logic he/she should not be involved in educating the next generation of Nuclear Engineers who will sign off on the safety of future nuclear projects.

If there is one thing that is abundantly clear to me is that the UC Berkeley Nuclear Engineering Department's BRAWN team is engaging in advocacy analysis, and that they are hedging it against the public health. Why do they go out of their way to make cringing credulity breaking statements to avoid doing a statistically valid sampling of their own local peaches? It is an obviously strange position to take given that there is an on going nuclear fire up wind. Dare I call it "PEACH GATE".

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