Editorial: Funding needed to protect from nuclear fallout
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 23:01
Radiation is both a blessing and a curse of modern science. It can provide life-saving treatments like chemotherapy and is vital to countless modern instruments (smoke detectors for example). On the other hand, it’s also the source of the damage caused by nuclear weapons and made the disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima more dangerous than they should have been.
That being said, radiation is nothing new. It exists naturally (technically everywhere) but is one of the greatest dangers of space flight. Astronauts are protected from the worst of it by Earth’s magnetic field, but strong bursts of radiation can pierce the field and be felt on Earth. Too much of it will disturb life on earth, perhaps even destroying it.
Enter a mysterious fossil record from the eighth century. Scientists found a surge of carbon-14 in the rings of ancient cedar trees. Scientists soon put away the obvious candidates for increased radiation (supernovas are the usual suspects) and were stumped for a while. The new theory posits that two black holes collided, merged and sent out a strong yet brief burst of gamma radiation, causing an extra layer of carbon-14 on the fossil record, and a mysterious line in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recording the appearance of a “red crucifix” seen in the skies after sunset.
Why is this important? Well scientists have estimated that whatever caused the radiation surge had to be at least three thousand light-years away. Otherwise the radiation would have killed us all. The years 774-775 were a time of primeval technologies and agrarian non-industrial economies. If there were to be another black-hole collision at the non-lethal distance of 3,000 light-years, the current world economy based on electricity, wireless connection, computerized air travel and an electronic infrastructure would face intense damage, if not total collapse.
But scientists are positive that we, as a species, can prepare for these sorts of events. While excuses for science funding are often referenced as “money-spending endeavors without profitable benefits,” the continued survival of the human race, and life-as-we-know-it might be profitable. It becomes an effort of minimal comfort now, for an unsecure future, as opposed to small sacrifices, for a secure future. Science has produced so many benefits, but it’s most important use is to protect us from foreseeable harm. Here’s to science funding.