The PJ Tatler

A physicist speaks about Fukushima

Via Anthony Watts’ Watts Up with That, physicist Peter Heller’s article on Fukushima.  The link to Heller is in German; Watts publishes an English translation by Bernd Felsche and Pierre Gosselin.

There’s no place on earth I would rather be right now than at Fukushima – right in the atomic power plant, at the centre of the event. I say this because I am a physicist and there is no other place that could be more exciting and interesting for a physicist. The same goes for many, if not most physicists and engineers, on the planet. ….

The great minds that accompanied me through my studies [of Physics] were Planck, Sommerfeld, Bohr, Einstein, Heisenberg, and a host of others who, for us physicists, are still very much alive today. They are great thinkers who contributed to unravelling the puzzles of nature and the forces which keep the world together through the most minute structures. I devoured the stories of Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner, of Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller – to name a few – and on how they created completely new technologies from theoretical concepts, how the energy stored in the nucleus of an atom could be used for the good of man and how it became possible in a single process to tap into this source of affordable, clean and plentiful energy on a large scale as never seen by man. Electricity illuminates our world, drives our machines, allow us to communicate over great distances, thus making our lives easier and more comfortable. It is a source of energy that staves off poverty and enables prosperity.

Electricity: manufactured by splitting atomic nuclei with neutrons, gained through the direct conversion of mass into energy. It is the principle by which (via the reverse process of fusion) the stars twinkle in the night sky, a principle by which our sun enables life on our planet.

As a physicist it fills me with great joy and pride to see how man is able to rouse this force of nature at the most minute structural level, then amplify, control, and use it for our benefit. As a physicist I have the fundamental understanding of the processes – I can imagine them and describe them. As a physicist I have neither fear of an atomic power plant nor of radioactivity. Ultimately I know that it is a natural phenomenon that is always around us, one we can never escape – and one that we never need to escape. And I know the first as a symbol of man’s capability to steer the forces of nature. As a physicist I have no fear of what nature has to offer. Rather I have respect. And this respect beckons us to seize the chances like those offered by neutrons, which can split nuclei and thus convert matter into energy. Anything else would be ignorance and cowardice. ….

I am a physicist. My wish is to live in a world that is willing to learn and to improve whatever is good. I would only like to live in a world where great strides in physics are viewed with fascination, pride, and hope because they show us the way to a better future. I would only like to live in a world that has the courage for a better world. Any other world for me is unacceptable. Never. That’s why I am going to fight for this world, without ever relenting.

Read the whole thing.