Nuclear Ambition

New Scientist reports that the cooling towers of nuclear power plants "could be evolutionary hotspots for new respiratory diseases."
It's architecture as a stimulus for Darwinian novelty.

[Image: Didcot power station; from Wikipedia].

The "warm, wet conditions" inside the towers have been found to host "several previously unknown strains of bacteria, including some that were similar to Legionella pneumophila, the cause of legionnaires' disease." The scientist behind this discovery warns that cooling towers are thus a source of pathogenic "aerosols" – invisible germ-clouds blowing out from their architectural origins to infect the lungs of animals nearby.
This nuclear landscape of concrete hyperboloids belching steam, and virulent microbes, into the sky should therefore "be monitored for emerging pathogens." Super-germs. Radioactive pneumonia.
Sci-fi novelists, heads up: a new plot beckons.

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The image you have used is of a Coal Fired powerstation...

August 31, 2006 5:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, buit they have the same types of cooloing towers. The principle is the same.

August 31, 2006 10:18 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

I found that photo first. Besides, I think the mistake is actually that cooling towers in general are hosting these new micro-organisms, not just nuclear power cooling towers... So I may even change that.

August 31, 2006 10:55 AM  
Blogger Steve P said...

Why stress nuclear power though when the real substance of the article is steam generator cooling towers?

Over here (UK) our nuclear stations are predominantly coastal and use seawater for cooling, so most don't have cooling towers.

Ah, to pass Ferrybridge at night. A dark structure silhoutted against the sky, red aircraft warning lights gently blinking, with steam rising from darkened towers, odd floodlights picking out parts of the structure.

August 31, 2006 11:30 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Stressing nuclear power adds an undertone of mutational possibility to the microbes, and so I stressed it. Sorry. Again: all cooling towers are able to host these new microbes; not just nuclear power plants.

Steve, meanwhile, I've been to Romney Sands with my wife, and we went out to the nuclear power plant there (SE England). A weird howling siren cuts through the air as you approach, and then, upon entering, you're told by a series of well-meaning exhibits that seagulls just love the nuclear power plant because its heated wastewater dumped continuously into the sea through underwater vents kills all the nearby fish - thus giving those appreciative gulls something to eat...

And I believe photographer Michael Kenna has a gorgeous series of black and white photographs of British cooling towers. Nuclear and otherwise. Indeed: here it is.

August 31, 2006 11:43 AM  
Blogger Tim Chapman said...

When my wife was little, her dad told her that these cooling towers were cloud factories. It's good to reimagine the environment at an early age...

August 31, 2006 12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whenever those cooling towers go otta business, they'd make wonderful houses (except, of course, for their disease infestation). You could throw a spiral staircase right through the middle, add distinct floor levels (including a trampoline room), carve some holes for windows with a jackhammer, and voila!

August 31, 2006 4:55 PM  

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