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God is not mocked

"God is not mocked", this were words told by a black man, time and time again. I had them in the 4 years I spend in High School. I don't think that I ever thought about them. Maybe one of the other 1100 students in the institution though of the words that Geoffrey William Griffin kept saying.

Recently, though , the words have come time and again, as I read about world happenings, happenings that mostly involve scientific creations that have gone wrong. It is occasionally in the news, well learned scientists come up with a fail proof invention, then it fails. At times it takes us years to understand how it could have failed. At such times, i wonder, is God showing us that no matter how much we harness nature, we can never overpower it?

The Titanic is one such case, the story of an unsinkable ship. Or maybe we should blame it on the marketers. Why? well, guys in the technology industry will tell you that marketers have the ability to distort facts. They over sell the product. That is a story for another day. As for the Titanic, it was sold as unsinkable, probably misleading the crew into speeding in a sea strewn with ice bergs. Well, the Titanic was not unsinkable, but was designed to be hardy enough to withstand a normal disaster, where 4 of its compartments could be flooded without the ship sinking. The crew was driving so fast that when the ship hit an iceberg, the ice berg bend the hull and tore through 6 compartments. It's even sadder that there were ships nearby which ignored SOS requests from the Titanic, the first one to respond was 4 hours away.

Then there is the bewildering case of Air France flight 447 from Rio De Janeiro to Paris. Before the night of May 30th 2009, its had been unheard of for a whole passenger jet liner to disappear off the sky, but it did happen. More bewildering was that the remains of the plane could not be found, until exactly 2 years later, when the mostly intact remains were found on the floor of the Atlantic ocean. While information from the plane is currently under analysis, most experts are blaming the accident on what they call 'pitot tubes'.

Pitot tubes are small holes around the plane's nose that are used to measure the speed of the plane. The planes computer uses the information to fly on auto pilot. For this case though, its is suspected that they got blocked. In the mid Atlantic, water does not behave the way they taught you in science class. Instead of freezing into solid ice, water droplets remain suspended in the air as a liquid, and will instantly freeze into ice when they come into contact with a solid substance, like when they get trapped in the nozzles of a pitot tube. If you defined this as an answer to a question posed by Kenyatta University lecturers, most of them will mark you wrong for not giving what's in the marking scheme, no one likes a smart ass.

When pitot tubes get blocked, the plane disengages and can not be flown in autopilot - it can't tell its speed. It s interesting to note that once a jet has reached cruising altitude, it becomes difficult to manually fly it. There is a narrow window of speed where the plane can fly - a bit fast shifts the weight of the plane and it flies out of control, a bit slow and the plane stalls in mid-air and drops out of the sky. At cruising altitude, it is almost impossible not to fly on autopilot. It is been mulled that Air France 447 might have entered the 'coffin corner' when it's pitot tubes got blocked, and that the pilots may still have been trying to take over when it crashed.

 Interesting enough, Air France is been blamed for putting a monetary value to life - it was known that pitot tubes had a problem working in ice, and the manufacturer had developed a newer model that worked better in icy conditions. Before the crash, it is claimed Air France had decided it was 'too expensive' to replace the pitot tubes with the newer model. After the crash, it replaced all the old models across its fleet.

Then there is the quite safe nuclear energy. I do not believe nuclear and safe can be used in the same sentence.

Chernobyl was one such instance. The USSR had declared its atomic energy industry as safe, and was quite proud of it. Chernobyl was one safe power station. As the story goes, one of the reactors was under going scheduled maintenance - ironically, a test to check its safety limits. Then hell broke loose, the test went out of control and the nuclear reactor became an atomic bomb, and one which blew furiously. The explosion was so intense it created a new mineral called chernobylite. That was not even the problem, Wikipedia says that the clean up of the radioactive spill out was the biggest civil engineering task in history, involving more than 250,000 workers who all reached the radioactive limit for their life time. More than 5000 metric tons of sand, ballast and boric acid was used to cover the exploded reactor.

The Red Forest, is a pine tree forest next to the Chernobyl
plant whose explosion and resultant radiation turned
vegetation red  (image : http://www.nsrl.ttu.edu )
As a result of the accident, Prypiat - a city of about 50,000 had to be evacuated. Infact, the USSR had managed to keep the incident a secret until workers in a Swedish Nuclear plant , 1100 kilometres away, were discovered to have above normal radioactivity on their clothes. The clean up involved more than 500,000 workers, a majority of who risked and lost their lives in the clean up. Other than working for up to 40 seconds a time to clean up the mess - the 40 seconds were still proved to be over exposing them to radiation, there are cases including that of 3 others who had to swim in radioactive water to open blocked valves to prevent second explosions. 350,400 people had to be relocated, direct and indirect deaths are estimated to be between 4,000 - 200,000 by various institutions. Contaminated land from the fallout is estimated at more than 162, 160 kilometres squared, including wild plants , wild boars as far as Germany and domesticated sheep as far as north Ireland which were all found to contain above safe limits of radioactivity in them.

Who said that people die for their country in wars?

Then there is the recent and ongoing incident of the Fukushima power plant. Unlike Chernobyl , Fukushima had newer, designed-for-safety reactors which were up to 3 times smaller than the Chernobyl one. Japan had anticipated earthquakes affecting the plant, and had built this in to the safety measures. No one ever anticipated that nature can be so merciless as to follow up an earthquake with a 10 metre wall of water from the ocean. Mind you the Japanese had factored this in with protective sea barriers which I think went up to 3 metres, but 10 metres was unheard of, till recently.

A cow in the Fukushima evacuation zone. Is the cow lucky
that it will never be slaughtered, or unlucky from radiation
exposure? (image - Wikipedia)
Nuclear plants are a source of power, but also require power to cool them. Power runs from secondary locations in case of a failure. Back up generators kick in in case of total power failure. The earthquake resulted in the reactors shutting down as they are planned to, but the tsunami damaged the reactors, secondary power backup lines and the generators. The reactors , with nothing to cool them, heated and started melting down, a step away from a Chernobyl like explosion. The Japanese moved in first to control the situation, and they are still mitigating it to now. This has not stopped "steam explosion" from occurring with a tenth of the amount of radioactivity released by Chernobyl escaping the Fukushima plant.

Science- it can never foresee all eventualities. It looks like we can only tame nature to a certain extent.

We still need to believe and trust in God, there is nothing that we will ever do that will exceed his ability.
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