Fukushima and Chernobyl

It is somewhat ironic that the second worst nuclear disaster might have turned out differently had the worst disaster not been associated with a test at Chernobyl that might have prevented the escalation of the problems at Fukushima Dai-ichi.

The disaster at Fukushima was due to a failure of the cooling systems. The root cause was the loss of power to drive the pumps. When the earthquake hit, the reactors were SCRAMed immediately. This terminated the on-going critical reaction. All that was left to do was to cool the reactor from the residual or decay heat is dissipated (typically a few months).

Normally at that point the plant would have been switched over to the electrical grid becoming a consumer of power instead of a producer. However, the earthquake damaged the grid in that area. And even had the grid escaped unscathed, many other power plants had shut down after the earthquake, and it is not likely that there was enough power available.

Satellite view of Fukushima I
Satellite view of Fukushima I

The next level of safety equipment were the back-up diesel generators. The generators kicked in almost immediately at Fukushima. However, due to design flaws, the generators were not protected against the tsunami. The seawall was only 5.7 metres tall, which was easily topped by the 15 metre tsunami. The generators were located in the non-water-tight turbine room instead of inside the watertight reactor building. The Fukushima II plant had the reverse layout and it better survived the tsunami.

The final line of safety was to go to batteries to power the cooling equipment. The batteries ran out after about 8 hours.

This is when the cooling stopped and the nuclear crisis really began.

The disaster at Chernobyl was caused by a bad reactor design and a badly created test plan.

It was well known that the loss of power can cause problems for reactor cooling after the plant is no longer generating power. The Chernobyl Reactor 4 was being shutdown for normal maintenance that night, nearly 25 years ago. A test was planned to see if there was enough steam left after a shutdown and from the residual heat, to power the turbines and generators to provide power for the cooling systems during the time from emergency shutdown until the diesel generators are up to full power. This can take a minute or two.

The test was to be run during the day shift; they had been trained on the procedure. However, an unexpected shutdown at another plant meant that the power from Reactor 4 was still required for the city of Kiev, so the test was postponed until later in the evening. This meant that the test would happen with the next shift, who were not trained on the procedure.

Around 1AM, the power levels were reduced at the plant to prepare for the test. However, due to the design of the old reactor, power levels fell too far to start the test, so the control rods preventing the reaction were withdrawn. Poisoning of the reaction by accumulated xenon-135 meant that the decision was made to remove more control rods to increase the reaction back to the level required for the test.

This, and changes to the flow rates of the cooling pumps, caused more water in the core to turn to steam. This had the detrimental effect of increasing the reaction (positive void coefficient of reactivity). This is because water is denser and can absorb neutrons, but steam is much less dense (and less mass per volume) and thus the neutrons are free to continue the nuclear reaction. More reactions means more heat. This caused more steam, which meant more reactivity. The reactor was nearly out of control at this point.

The final step occurred at 1:23AM. For reasons not fully explained, the reactor was manually SCRAMed. It might have been an accident, or it might have been to attempt to control the reactor; many alarms had been sounding in the control room during the test.

This is where the final, fatal design flaw sealed the fate of Reactor 4. The first 4.5 meters of the control rods used in the RBMK reactor were not made of neutron absorbing materials such as boron, but rather graphite which does not absorb neutrons. As the rods were lowered, the graphite tip displaced even more water, which greatly increased the reaction. The power levels quickly rose to over 30 gigawatts, over 10 times the normal operating maximum. This massive spike in power flashed the remaining water into steam in a runaway reaction.

Chernobyl Disaster
Chernobyl Disaster

This caused the steam explosion that destroyed the reactor and the building. It blew the 2,000-ton upper plate off the reactor and utterly destroyed the reactor building.

And here is the irony. Had the test been successful (combined with correcting the design flaws at Fukushima I), it might have provided a method to temporarily power the cooling systems at Fukushima. It seems inconceivable, but it is possible that the best solution at Fukushima might have been to let the reactor continue to operate, in order to power its own pumps.

This of course would not have been the safest course of action, based on the lack of hard data at the reactor in the hours after the earthquake. While continuing the reaction to power the cooling at Fukushima would seem like a good thing, it also meant that a large aftershock could further damage an active nuclear plant. Shutting down and stopping electrical generation was the safer option, based on the vast number of unknowns in the hours after the earthquake.

David Sedaris

No Photos Please
No Photos Please

Tonight, Rosa and I went to the NAC to see David Sedaris, one of my favourite authors. He was just starting his new tour, and had all new material, including some readings from his diary and a few short stories. Interestingly enough, as he was reading them, he was marking the paper with a pencil, presumably to indicate if something needed a little work, or perhaps notes on how to read the stories. He was also noting how long it took to read each of the short stories. Some of the stories had never been previously read to an audience.

For the other author nights (Douglas Coupland and William Gibson), I took their pictures. David Sedaris does not want his photo taken, so instead I took a photo of the sign saying not to take his photo.

I wish I had even the smallest fraction of his talent at telling stories.

Moving to Blu-Ray

I decided that it is time to move to Blu-Ray.

My current (old) TV and receiver do not support high definition. However, my Dell U2410 LCD monitor does support 1080p high definition so I choose to get a Blu-Ray drive for my home PC.

I choose the LG BH12LS35 12X Blu-Ray Burner. It will compliment my existing Samsung SH-S203B DVD-RW burner. The Blu-Ray burner is on order and should arrive in a few business days from RB Computing.

I also chose to upgrade my video card. My current card, a Sapphire Radeon HD3870, was fine for my current usage, but it did not have HDMI out. It did support a DVI to HDMI converter, but I thought it doesn’t hurt to move to a newer card anyways. My HD3870 was 3 years old.

I selected the Sapphire Radeon HD6950 2GB GDDR4 as the replacement. It is the mid-range of the new AMD HD 6900 series.

I benchmarked my HD3870 before I removed it, using the Unigine benchmark tool.

Antec P182SE (Mirror edition)
Antec P182SE (Mirror edition)

Next, it was time to open the case. I have the wonderful Antec P182SE with a mirror-finish. It looks great, and it is so nice to work with. It has screwless access to almost everything, separate removable drive cages, cable organizers and even an interior light when working inside the case.

I had to remove my Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer Fatal1ty Pro to get access to the plastic PCIe lock on the motherboard. I pulled out the old card and went to put in the new card. Wow! The HD6950 is huge. I had to remove two hard drive rails from the middle drive cage to make room for the card. I connected up the two 6-pin power leads, reinserted the sound card and booted it up.

After checking that I had the latest drivers from AMD, I ran the Unigine benchmark again. My scores doubled compared to the older card. Very impressive.

I can’t wait for the drive to arrive. I’ve already bought my first Blu-Ray: IMAX: Hubble.


(Originally, I wrote this in September of 2010, but did not post it, as the person in question changed his mind and did not follow through on his proposed burning of the Qu’ran and Talmud. I am posting it now, as the “pastor” changed his mind again and was part of a group that “put the Qur’an on trial“, convicted it and proceeded to burn the Muslim holy book. )

I am so deeply disgusted with the plans of the “pastor” in Florida who plans to burn copies of the Qur’an and Talmud on the September 11th anniversary. I feel ill when I think about someone so completely ignorant. How can any thinking human being be so disrespectful?

The person in question is the senior pastor of a church in Florida. This church has previously put anti-Islam signs on the front lawn of his church and congregation members sent their children to school wearing T-shirts with anti-Islamic messages on the front. The pastor invited Christians to participate as a way of remembering the attacks in 2001.

I am stunned by such displays of overwhelming ignorance.

I really dislike ignorance. Ignorance, in contrast to stupidity, to me means that a person has chosen not to understand something. It is a choice that a person makes to be ignorant. There is a world of knowledge and information available to anyone. It’s so sad when people choose not to use the available resources.

WTC Memorial Lights from the Empire State Building
WTC Memorial Lights from the Empire State Building

The event is timed to coincide with the anniversary of September 11th. The implication here is two-fold. The first is that followers of Islam were the cause of that tragic attack. The second is that only Christians died in the attack.

On the first point, you need to ask, at what point does a persons activities no longer reflect the values of his or her community? The 19 terrorists murdered 2,977 people of all races, religions and countries. Why should those 19 people still be considered followers of the prophet after committing an atrocity of such a scale? Would Christians consider someone like David Koresh (his Branch Davidian followers killed 4 federal marshals) or Rev. Jim Jones (he forced 909 of his Peoples Temple congregation to commit suicide) to represent mainstream Christian values? No, of course not.

A related argument is to ask if it is right to judge the actions of a community of about 1.5 billion people based on the actions of 19 people? Would it be fair to judge Christians based on the actions of David Koresh or Jim Jones? Would it be fair to condemn all Roman Catholic males as ephebophiles or pedophiles because of 4,392 priests allegedly involved in the Catholic sex scandals in the United States?

No, that would not be valid. And so it must also be when it comes to September 11. It is time to stop associating 9/11 with Islam. There was widespread condemnation of the atrocity by Muslims around the world in the hours and days after the attack. The Islamic community made it clear that they did not support the actions of those 19 so-called Muslims or the al-Qaeda leadership.

The second fallacy from the “pastor” is that only Christian Americans died on 9/11. In fact 2.1% of the people killed on September 11 were Muslim. That’s three times higher than the Muslim population in the U.S. (0.6%). About 15% of the victims were Jews. The victims likely included Hindus and Sikhs and atheists and agnostics. More than 90 countries lost citizens.

The actions of this pastor and his followers are a symbol of the rising Islamophobia in America. Another example is the campaign against the Park51 community centre, also known as Cordoba House, in New York City. It made me just as ill when I read what was happening there too.

Freedom of religion was one of the founding reasons for the existence of the United States. It is a basic human right – to practice a religion without fear. The early colonists fled the enforced religions of their birth countries to seek religious freedom in the New World. It is protected by the First Amendment in the Constitution, which also forms the first part of the Bill of Rights.

When they attack another religion by physically destroying their holy book, these Floridian religious bigots are going against the very freedoms that their ancestors sought and worked so hard to achieve.

By turning against the founding principles of the country, they do a great disservice to their countries heritage of free and open religion, free from persecution and government interference.

I also feel that so many of the people who have such hatred or fear of Islam do not understand the deep connections between the three Abrahamic religions. I doubt that this pastor is aware of these connections.

The Dome of the Rock, the location of the First and Second Temple and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Dome of the Rock, the location of the First and Second Temple and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Muslims, Christians and Jews all pray to the same God – all are monotheistic religions. Jesus was a Jew, born of Jewish parents. It was at the Second Temple, the most holy place in Judaism, that he threw out the moneychangers. He was crucified on the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover, a celebration by the Jews of their release from slavery in Egypt by Moses. The Prophet Muhammad is buried in Medina with an empty tomb next to him for Jesus, who was considered a great prophet in Islam. When Muhammad made his night journey (Isra and Mi’raj) to heaven, he met Moses, who counseled Muhammad to petition Allah to reduce the number of Salat prayers from 50 to 5 per day. According to tradition, the Foundation Stone, which is currently inside the Dome of the Rock, is the spot where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and was the location of the First Temple (the location of the Ark of the Covenant), and Second Temple (the location where Jesus threw out the money changers) and is the spot where Muhammad ascended to heaven during Isra and Mi’raj. According to tradition, Abraham and his son Ishmael build the Kaaba, the most holy place in Islam, towards which all Muslims pray during the Salat.

Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, London
Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, London

The three great monotheistic religions are deeply tied together through tradition, history, geography and devotion to a single God.

(This is an important topic to me, and because I wanted to adequately express my feelings, I’ve spent about 8-10 hours writing and rewriting. I also did not specifically name or link to the pastor or his organization because I don’t want to provide any more publicity – it seems that this might be the true root cause of his actions)

News Overload

I feel like I’m suffering from news overload. There is so much going on. Who would have predicted any of the events of the first 11 weeks of 2011 (also, the first 11 weeks of the new decade). What’s going to happen in the next 41 weeks?

First, the UN declares a no-fly zone over Libya. With the opposition forces pushed back from the outskirts of Tripoli to their main area of control in Benghazi, it almost seems too late. They had almost completed the overthrow of their dictator ruler and soon lost momentum within sight of their goal.

Then CBC reported that special forces have already been in Libya. I didn’t know that. What the hell are special forces doing in a foreign country like that? That doesn’t seem right, even if Qaddafi is a complete nut case. I’m so conflicted – the people of Libya deserve freedom, but I would hesitate to engage another country militarily, especially after the stellar jobs the Western powers have done in Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon, Cambodia, IranYemen and Somalia, just to name a few.

And just minutes ago, CNN announced that Libya is calling for a cease-fire, which would be a good sign if true.

In Japan, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has announced that the problems at Fukushima are now a Level 5 nuclear incident on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. This is equal to the Three Mile Island incident.

In Yemen, 45 people were massacred while protesting against the government.

And for some good news, you have to leave the planet. For the first time in history, a space probe has entered the orbit of Mercury. Surprisingly, probes have already been in orbit around Venus, the Earth and Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, but not Mercury. The surface of Mercury was only 40-45% mapped before the MESSENGER probe was launched. We know far more about Saturn, which is 14 times further away (0.6 AU vs 8.5 AU).

The continuing efforts at Fukushima

As with everyone outside of the Middle East (where people are dealing with the continuation of the Libyan civil war and the invasion of Bahrain by foreign troops), I’ve been watching the events at the Fukushima I nuclear power plant.

Earthquake and Tsunami damage-Dai Ichi Power Plant, Japan
Earthquake and Tsunami damage-Dai Ichi Power Plant, Japan

Firstly, the on-going heroic effort to contain or reduce the damage at the plant is incredible. Unlike Chernobyl, where the disaster was complete in just seconds (a massive explosion) and the rest of the effort was to contain the damage already inflicted, the cascading disaster at Fukushima is about trying to stop further damage. In my mind, it is more like Apollo 13, where one issue was resolved just in time for a new issue to arise. At Fukushima, the loss of power, then the loss of backup power led to overheating, which required steam releases, which caused hydrogen explosions, which damaged the other cooling apparatus for other parts of the plant, which was impacted by an oil fire, and so forth. The three reactors that were operating at the time of the earthquake are possibly damaged, but to what extent no one seems to know for certain. Now the cooling pools that I mentioned yesterday are overheating. In one report, the pool has boiled dry, a very bad situation.

There is so much conflicting information about what is really happening there. In that respect, I have to say it is eerily similar to the lack of good information during the early days of the Chernobyl disaster. Timely information about Chernobyl was not freely available as that event happened near the end of the cold war and the communist control of the country did not allow a free press.

Secondly, I am surprised at how many people have offered their own definitive opinion on the issue, which is often formed without little hard data.

MIT professor Dr Josef Oehmen posted a blog message entitled “Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors” (which has since been modified). He made the claim that “there was and will *not* be any significant release of radioactivity from the damaged Japanese reactors.” It was a stunning act of hubris considering the lack of reliable, available information. It turns out that he is not a nuclear specialist, but rather a risk management specialist. In my opinion, no one can predict what new fault will occur. Predicting that nothing more will happen when there is not enough information at present seems like a poor risk assessment technique to me.

Others in the US and Europe have also chimed in on their opinions. France’s ASN nuclear safety authority said that the incident should be classified as Level 6 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES). Some have speculated that the situation is both worse and better than is being reported. It seems few are being honest that they do not have enough information.

Lewis Page at The Register posted today that “Still No Cause for Alarm” where he claimed that “there remain no grounds for anyone to fear for their health.” The New Scientist published, “Why Fukushima Daiichi won’t be another Chernobyl” while Scientific American published “Fukushima Will Be [a] Wasteland” which has the statement “This is going to be like Chernobyl.”

On CBC Radio this morning, during the 9:00am hourly news, the newsreader claimed that 5 workers at Fukushima had died, at least one of them from radiation. I believe that was a mistake by CBC or the reader.

In Japan, reports over the past few days indicate that radiation levels are up to 400 or 800 times higher than the legal limit, depending on the day and source of the report. Helicopters were being used to dump water on the plant, but had to stop because the radiation levels were too high. Some airline passengers arriving from Japan have been found with low levels of radiation.

According to Salon.com: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko is saying the cooling pool is completely dry, without giving any details on how he came to this conclusion. Tokyo Electric Power, which owns and runs the plant, is saying it is not empty. The difference in opinions is itself newsworthy.

There is unexplained white smoke coming from one of the reactor buildings. There was an explained “loud noise” at the plant. How can anyone truly feel they can predict that everything will be fine (Dr Oehman, Lewis Page) if all the current facts are not even available?

I just don’t understand how there can be so many opinions when there are just not enough facts.

Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant – continued

Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant
Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant

I continue to follow the events at the nuclear power plants hit by the 2011 Sendai earthquake and tsunami.

I had one of those d’oh moments. Whereas yesterday I was confused by the continuing issue with cooling a subcritical reactor, today I realized I should have known this all along. D’oh.

The heat currently being generated in the subcritical reactors is from decay heat. It’s not from the primary nuclear reaction that is used to generate heat and power. But rather it is because of the products of the nuclear power generation.

The fission of the uranium (and in some cases plutonium) is the process of the large unstable atomic nucleus splitting into two lighter nuclei and releasing neutrons (which then can continue the reaction by causing other uranium nuclei to split) and energy (following the famous E=mc^2 mass-energy equivalence equation).

The smaller nuclei produced by fission are often also radioactive. Meaning they also decay by fission over time. The description of how frequently the smaller fission products themselves decay is measured by the half-life of the isotope. The description of the chain of radioactive decays is called the decay chain. For nuclear fuel, this decay chain ends with the stable lead nucleus.

The heat being generated in the subcritical core is simply the natural process of the fission products decaying down to a stable nuclei. This natural fission also produces heat. Over time, the heat produced will decrease, at a rate defined by the half-lives of all of the products and sub-products.

Carso Fuel pool
Carso Fuel pool

The d’oh moment was when I realized that that is why the used fuel rods are always kept in a cooling pool next to the reactor. Otherwise, if there was not ongoing heat from the spent fuel, the used fuel rods could just be left in a secure warehouse. I knew about the cooling pools, but never connected it to the heat from the decay chain.

Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant

After the “Arab Spring” events in Middle East and northern Africa, comes the devastating quake in Japan. I’ve been glued to the major news websites for weeks.

The horrific Sendai quake and tsunami in Japan is stunning. There is so much video available of the event – certainly one of the most recorded natural disaster I can remember.

Today, the focus is on the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, a complex with six BWR (boiling water reactor) reactors. Just minutes ago, BBC was reporting that the cooling for reactor #3 has completely failed.

I’ve been very confused by what’s happening at the plant over the last 36 hours. The confusion is because I did not understand some of the nuances in reactor design.

I knew from previous reports and from general knowledge that the reactors would have been SCRAMed immediately during the earthquake. That would lower the control rods into the reactor core, thus stopping the chain reaction. The rods control the amount of neutrons that are moving around the core. The rods are there to prevent the self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, and thus lower the amount of power and heat generated.

So the problems at the plant were confusing. If the rods had been lowered, why was cooling still a problem?

Searching the web and wikipedia, I discovered that even if the reactor is shutdown (“subcritical”), there is still residual heat in the core that must be cooled. This is the cause of the problems in Fukushima. Although the chain reaction has stopped, there is still some spontaneous fission occurring, plus the heat that was in the core at the time of the SCRAM.

Something else bothers me about the first day of the crisis. On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that “We just had our Air Force assets in Japan transport some really important coolant to one of the nuclear reactors.” She used the past-tense instead of future tense, meaning that it had already been done. The Reuters report about her statement was posted only 10h 19m after the quake; the White House web page does not have a timestamp. A video of her remarks is here: http://www.state.gov/video/?videoid=822710919001.

So far, I have not seen anyone in the press ask further questions about this. I have lots of questions.

1. What coolant was sent? Japan uses light water, which is basically normal water. It is different from heavy water used in other reactors; heavy water is where all of the hydrogen in the water molecules have an extra neutron to form deuterium. Is that what was sent?

2. Where did this coolant come from? Was it just sitting around on hand? Next to an air base?

3. How was it transported? In thousands of Evian bottles? What sort of container or containers? How much was delivered to the nuclear plant(s)?

4. How did the Air Force deliver the coolant? Was it a plane or a helicopter? The Secretary specifically said “so Air Force planes were able to deliver that”. If it was delivered by plane, then where did the planes land? Are there airstrips next to the nuclear plants? If the plants were hit by the tsunami, then any airstrip nearby would have also been hit and most likely useable. It is possible that it was a CV-22B Osprey, which can land vertically, but the Air Force only has 12 of them, none of them in Japan as far as I can tell. The Air Force also has two types of helicopters in inventory – the UH-1N Huey/Iroquois and the HH-60 Pave Hawk search and rescue helicopters. The HH-60 can sling about 8,000 pounds, and the UH-1 can sling about 5,000 pounds. That doesn’t seem like a lot of coolant capacity per helicopter, if that was actually the delivery mechanism. Another possibility is that Clinton said Air Force, but meant Marines, as they do have more inventory of helicopters and Osprey. I suppose to a politician, all planes are Air Force planes.

As I said, what Clinton said just seemed odd, although I cannot specifically tell what are the actual facts. Strangely, the Air Force web site makes no mention of this activity all. I would think that if they were involved in an important mission like trying to save a reactor, it would be all over the Air Force news web page.

Mac Hack Attack


Over the past few days, I have not been able to properly see the imdb.com web site. It comes out garbled. I tried it on my Macintosh using three different browsers. I started to worry that I might have been hit by some sort of cross-site scripting attack. I even looked up the DNS entry and went directly to the IP address That didn’t work either.

I also had a problems with a few other pages. The Boeing NLA page on the Wikipedia seemed to have a similar problem that lasted 2 days. The B+H Photo web page had the same problem yesterday, but it is fine today.

I tried the same sites on my PC, and got the same results (again, using two browsers).

I tried on my iPhone while on 3G, but it went to the mobile web page and it was fine.

Since it was impacting multiple computers at home, I then worried that there was something going on with an IP-redirect. Once, just for a fraction of a second, I thought I saw something that looked like “parkeddomain.com” on the address line before it changed to imdb.com. That had me very freaked out.

Finally, after much googling, I found that the root cause was not a hack attack against my Mac. The Rogers DNS was borked.

I switched to Google DNS, and everything is working fine again.

Breath that lifts

When I was reading Moonfire, one statement really jumped out at me and made me think.

“What a vehicle was the spaceship! A planet-traveler massive as a destroyer, delicate as a silver arrow. At the moment it lifted off from the earth it would be burning as much oxygen as is consumed by half a billion people taking their breath – that was twice, no, more than twice the population of America. What a deep breath must then have been concentrated into the liquid oxygen they were passing into its tanks right now, a liquid oxygen cooled to 297 degrees below zero and thereby turning air to cloud at every hint of contact with the pipes which were in turn contained within other pipes two feet think to insulate the fuel.”

I had never thought about comparing the volume of oxygen used by the Saturn V engines to the breath of millions of people. So, I wanted to look into this in further detail.

F-1 engine from Saturn V (S-IC first stage)
F-1 engine from Saturn V (S-IC first stage)

The human lung has an average total volume of 4 to 6 litres at sea level. That’s the total volume of both lungs combined, including residual volume that cannot be exhaled. Of that volume, an average breath (tidal volume) is 500ml, or about 10% of the total capacity.

Oxygen is about 21% of the air at sea level. Meaning that an average breath contains 105ml of oxygen. Humans breathe an average of 20 times per minute (10-20 resting, I’ll use the higher number as a guesstimate for a daytime office worker). That is a per minute average of 2.1 litres of oxygen.

The first stage of the Saturn V rocket, the S-IC stage, burns liquid oxygen (LOX) and RP-1 (refined kerosene) rocket fuel for the first 160 seconds of flight, and pushes the 3,039 ton rocket from the launch pad to a height of 56km and a speed of 8,530km/h. The thrust is generated from five F-1 engines. Each F-1 engine consumes 93,920 litres of liquid oxygen per minute. The total capacity of the LOX tank in the S-IC stage is 1,204,000 litres (which can also be derived by multiplying 93,920 litres/minute by five F-1 engines by roughly 160 seconds of flight).

Liquid oxygen has an expansion ratio of 860.6:1, meaning that gaseous oxygen at sea level has about 861 times larger volume than the liquid phase.

Translating 93,920 litres per minute of LOX into the gaseous form means that that a single F-1 engine uses the equivalent of 80,827,552 litres per minute of gaseous oxygen (at sea level). The entire S-IC stage would therefore consume 404,137,760 litres per minute of gaseous oxygen (sometimes abbreviated as GOX) equivalent. A human uses 2.1 litres per minute, so the S-IC stage is consuming LOX at the same rate as 192,446,552 adults and one baby. If the lower rate of 10 breaths per minute were used, it would increase to nearly 400 million people.

Brazil has the fifth largest population in the world, 190,732,694 (August 1, 2010, estimated). So the S-IC stage LOX consumption rate is equivalent to the entire population of Brazil breathing. The world’s population in 1969 was 3.6 billion. 192 million people would be more than 1 in every 20 people on the planet.

The island of Manhattan in New York city has a population density of 71,201 people per square kilometre. At the same population density, the S-IC would consume the same amount of oxygen as a city like Manhattan 62,057 square kilometres in size – a little less than the area of the island of Sri Lanka. That’s a city with a radius of 140.5 kilometres (281 kilometres in diameter).

Another interesting statistic is the weight. The F-1 engine burns LOX and RP-1 at the rate of 1,789 kilograms and 788 kilograms per second, respectively.

BMW powered Saturn V
BMW powered Saturn V

My (red) 2003 BMW 330Ci is 1,490 kilograms, unloaded. The weight of the S-IC stage decreases at a rate that is nearly equivalent to 8.6 BMWs per second. Imagine that as a stream of BMWs blowing from the bottom of the Saturn V at 2,989 metres per second to lift the massive 3,039 ton rocket out of the Earths gravity well. The high speed is required. Newton’s Third Law (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction) means that to push a much heavier weight up, a smaller weight needs to be pushed down at a much greater speed, proportional to the difference in the weights.

Or maybe I’m just getting too silly now.