Anorak | Japan’s Media Apocalypse: Dr Peter Heller Makes An Urgent Appeal For Science

Japan’s Media Apocalypse: Dr Peter Heller Makes An Urgent Appeal For Science

by | 21st, March 2011

JAPAN’S Media Apocalypse :  Dr Peter Heller reacts to the media hype and scaremongers on Fukushima.

Dr Peter Heller is an Astronomer, Physicist. He is not a journalist nor a singer .

This is a translation from the original German.

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.

Already at a young age I knew one day I would study physics. As a boy, I received a telescope for Christmas, and from that point on my view was fixed on the night sky; gazing at star clusters, nebula and galaxies was my favourite preoccupation. It was only later that I learned that these lights and the twinkling in eyepiece were actually the expressions of a chaotic and violent force of nature – the direct conversion of matter into energy during the fusion of an atomic nucleus.

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My curiosity carried me, as if on a high, through 10 semesters of study and subsequent graduation. It was a time of discovery that involved the tedious task of understanding. At times I felt exasperation and self doubt with respect to the sheer complexity and breadth of what there was to learn. Yet, there were times of joy whenever the fog lifted and the clarity and beauty of physical descriptions of natural phenomena moved in its place. It was a time that, unfortunately, passed all too quickly and is now some years in the past.

The great minds that accompanied me through my studies 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.

Dark times in history

There were times in history when ignorance and cowardice overshadowed human life. It was a time when our ancestors were forced to lead a life filled with superstition and fear because it was forbidden to use creativity and fantasy. Religious dogma, like the earth being the centre of the universe, or creationism, forbade people to question. The forbiddance of opening a human body and examining it prevented questions from being answered. Today these medieval rules appear backwards and close-minded. We simply cannot imagine this way of thinking could have any acceptance.

But over the recent days I have grown concerned that we are headed

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Posted: 21st, March 2011 | In: Technology Comment (1) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink