Monthly Archives: August 2013

House Of Cards

!!! WARNING *** POST IS META *** WARNING !!!

We’ve been watching the new House of Cards (produced by Netflix). Here’s how I can tell it is good. Amanda actually started to watch it, which is unusual because she rarely watches anything. But she watched the first one, liked it, then tuned in to the second one a few days later and I had the opportunity to watch it with her. But I decided not to for reasons I won’t bore you with. However, I did catch the first two or three minutes. Which caught my attention so I caught the next five or six minutes. And so on. I ended up watching the entire episode. Then a couple of days later we watched the next episode. And so on. Now I’m watching it. It’s actually been a while since Amanda and I watched the same series (we hardly ever do that) so this is good.

There is something about House of Cards that I think is worth noting. I’ve only see a couple of episodes so this is subject to revision. Hopefully you’ve never seen it, so I can play this out with you and you’ll appreciate it more when you do watch it later. But if you’ve already seen the first several episodes or more, just go with me on this for a moment while I describe a couple of the sequences.

OK, so there is the Democratic Congressperson, Francis Underwood, who is Majority Whip (he’s in charge of rounding up votes for the party). There is a Democratic president in the White House, and the Democrats seem to be in charge but that does not mean that everybody has the same goals.

So, in one episode the following things happen. First, they are trying to get a major super duper educational reform bill passed, but all the different people at the table have different objectives so it looks like it will never pass, what with the unions and the educational reform people and whoever whoever fighting over it. Meanwhile, in Underwood’s home district in the south, a young girl is killed when she runs off the road texting something about a large well lit (at night) water tower that is designed to look like a giant peach (the local peach industry likes that) but really looks like a sex organ of some kind. She was texting about that when she ran off the road.

So, all the selfish lobbyists and others are fighting over details of the education bill and can’t get their acts together, and all the people at Underwood’s home town, including the bereft parents of the deceased girl, a local political opponent of Underwood’s, etc. are doing crazy things because they are either crazed with grief or crazed with power tripping over exploiting someone else’s grief.

So, Representative Underwood goes down to his home district but stays on the phone with his office in Washington, DC.

The outcome: Everybody in his home district calms down, he gets the Peach Grower’s association to agree to turning the lights on the sex organ/peach thing off at night, gets pro-safety billboards put up about texting, and established a college fund in the name of the dead child. He also delivers a moving impromptu sermon at the local church and makes everybody feel better about everything. Meanwhile, he smooths over all the problems with the education bill and gets it out of committee.

Knowing all that, the only thing you can conclude is that this guy, Underwood, is great! A progressive southern Democrat who knows how to get things done. Oh, and by the way, his wife runs a pro-environment non-profit! Wow!

OK, now it’s your turn. Have you seen House of Cards? Did I characterize it well? If you’ve not seen it, go watch the first few episodes and report back.

Vaccination, Anti-Vax, Measles Outbreak and a Poll

Apparently, there is a Faith Healer [who] Convinces Followers To Never Vaccinate, [and] Now Church [is] The Center Of Measles Outbreak

The Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas, run by Kenneth Copeland Ministries, has long been a strong anti-vaccination stronghold. Now, it is the epicenter of a major outbreak of Measles in the United States.

And, here is a poll that asks: Should anti-vaccine parents be held liable if their child spreads an illness?

Say an unvaccinated child has the measles and passes the disease onto a baby who’s too young to be vaccinated. If that baby gets ill (or worse), should its parents be able to sue the infected child’s parents for negligence?

Last time I checked, “No” was winning, with about 7K votes in.

It is reasonable to ask “The vaccination does make the baby cry, so why do it?” Here’s the answer.

Atlantic Tropical Weather Update (Updated)

So, how has the Atlantic hurricane season shaping up so far?

According to data accumulated by the National Weather Service, as shown (with added items) here …
cum-average_Atl_1966-2009_modified
… we should have had about four or five named storms at this point in the season. Since numbers for this time of year are small, variation is large, so this is not too meaningful but it can give us an idea.

So far, we have had these storms in the Atlantic:

Tropical Storm ANDREA
Tropical Storm BARRY
Tropical Storm CHANTAL
Tropical Storm DORIAN
Tropical Storm ERIN

The next storm will be named Fernand, and it may be forming as we speak:

Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 11.27.20 AM

There is a 60% chance that this stormy blob will turn into a named tropical storm over the next few days. Also there are several interesting looking proto-stormy-blobs between the west coast of Africa and the Caribbean that have promise.

This possible named tropical storm, which would be Fernand, is aimed at Mexico.

UPDATE: The stormy blob is now officially a tropical depression, and there is a hurricane hunter heading for it right now. Expect this to become a named storm later today. Then, it will cross the coast in Mexico and turn back into a stormy blog. But for just a short while, very likely (but maybe not), Fernad will exist.

UPDATE: Yup, Fernand formed, is now over land in Mexico, and will dissipate.

So, we have had five named storms. By the end of the month, we’ll probably have six. And that is about right.

From Intellicast, we have a picture of the immediate and near future jet stream:

Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 11.31.43 AM

The arrows-bearing white lines curving up over the rockies, across the upper midwest, and down along the east coast indicate a highly convoluted wave in the jet stream. This convoluted pattern is most likely the result of the Arctic being warmed (via global warming). This reduces the gradient of heat from the equator to the pole. A steeper gradient would result in a straighter jet stream. When you get a bunch of convolutions (waves) in the jet stream, owing to complicated meteorological math stuff, the waves tend to stall in place. Areas “under the curve” (like, right now, the middle of the US) get big high pressure systems that move warm air to the north, for several days at a time. A result of this would be a big giant heat bubble as shown in the following GIF I copied from Paul Douglas’s blog:

animation_7

Which, in turn, is likely to seriously exacerbate drought conditions in the region, as shown on this map from US Drought Monitor:

Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 11.41.30 AM

So, really, “Tropical Weather” isn’t just Atlantic Hurricanes, but heat waves at places such as the Minnesota State Fair:

fairMPX_1

News From The Forbidden Zone Is Alarmingly Bad (Fukushima)

News from Fukushima Update # 69

by Ana Miller and Greg Laden

Over the last several weeks we’ve heard repeated, alarming, and generally worsening, news from Fukushima Diachi, the Japanese nuclear power plant that suffered a series of disasters that make The China Syndrome look like a Disney family movie. One question is this: Has a new set of problems (new leaks, apparently the fifth such “unexpected” leak) occurred that is really significant, or is this level of spewing of radioactive waste from the plant pretty much run of the mill but somehow the press only now noticed something TEPCO has been avoiding talking about, or is this part of an ongoing contamination event that began when the plant suffered several explosions and meltdowns but that TEPCO somehow has missed? Or some combination of those things?

The news as complied here has a couple of themes other than the information about the leak (or leaks). For one thing, any suspicion that TEPCO or anyone else in charge of the Fukushima disaster mitigation could ever utter an honest word has essentially vanished. No one believes TEPCO. TEPCO could say the sky is blue and people would assume it must not be. Second, there is little belief on the part of actual experts that TEPCO is competent. Third, and a bit more subtle, this distrust in TEPCO and this understanding that TEPCO has no clue as to how to handle the sort of disaster that many people have been saying for 40 years would ultimately occur is manifest outside of Fukushima and outside of Japan to a significant degree. No matter how much we might need nuclear power as part of the mix to save our planet from the effects of climate change, it is unlikely that newer, safer technologies would ever be developed because as a species we’ve more or less stopped trusting the power industry in general and the nuclear power industry in particular to be honest brokers, and to a somewhat lesser but still significant extent, competent. We also may be resenting the degree to which the traditional (including nuclear) industry has bought our political system.

Anyway, welcome to the 69th installment of our irregular update on the situation at Fukushima Diachi Nuclear Power Plant. The other updates are here.

Before getting on to the news summaries, here’s a question for you: Why do so many journalists refer to the plant at the “Crippled Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant”? Crippled? That would be like calling the dead raccoon you’ve driven by six times this week a “Crippled Carnivore”. Crippled is just not the word for what Fukushima is.

And now, on to the news…

9,640 Fukushima plant workers reach radiation level for leukemia compensation – The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 5, 2013

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  • Nearly 10,000 people who worked at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are eligible for workers’ compensation if they develop leukemia, but few are aware of this and other cancer redress programs.
  • According to figures compiled by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. in July, 9,640 people who worked at the plant between March 11, 2011, when the nuclear accident started, and Dec. 31 that year were exposed to 5 millisieverts or more of radiation.
  • Workers can receive compensation if they are exposed to 5 millisieverts or more per year and develop leukemia one year after they began working at the plant.
  • TEPCO figures showed that 19,592 people worked at the Fukushima No. 1 plant during the nine-month period and were exposed to 12.18 millisieverts on average.
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Fukushima Reinforces Worst Fears for Japanese Who Are Anti-Nuclear Power – PBS NewsHour, Aug. 8, 2013

  • How are the Japanese people reacting to the news of the continuing contamination leak and what does it mean for Japan’s energy policy? Jeffrey Brown talks with Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Kenji Kushida of Stanford University about what the government may do to stop the flow.

Watch Fukushima Reinforces Worst Fears for Japanese on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
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After disaster, the deadliest part of Japan’s nuclear clean-up – Reuters, Aug. 14, 2013

  • The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is preparing to remove 400 tons of highly irradiated spent fuel from a damaged reactor building, a dangerous operation that has never been attempted before on this scale.
  • Containing radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released in the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima 68 years ago, more than 1,300 used fuel rod assemblies packed tightly together need to be removed from a building that is vulnerable to collapse, should another large earthquake hit the area.
  • No one knows how bad it can get, but independent consultants Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt said recently in their World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013: “Full release from the Unit–4 spent fuel pool, without any containment or control, could cause by far the most serious radiological disaster to date.”
  • When asked what was the worst possible scenario, Tepco is planning for, Nagai said: “We are now considering risks and countermeasures.”
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    F02_cleanup

    Nagasaki Bomb Maker Offers Lessons for Fukushima Cleanup – Bloomberg, Aug. 15, 2013

  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) has sent engineers on visits to the Hanford site in Washington state this year to learn from decades of work treating millions of gallons of radioactive waste. Hanford also has a method to seal off reactors known as concrete cocooning that could reduce the 11 trillion yen ($112 billion) estimated cost for cleaning up Fukushima.
  • Hanford stretches over 586 square miles of scrubland southeast of Seattle where thousands of technicians are decommissioning the nine reactors in operation from 1944 to 1987. Its laboratories and plutonium facilities were integral to the Manhattan Project to make the first atomic bomb.
  • Hanford has its own share of containment challenges. Six underground tanks leaking radioactive waste may offer lessons to Tepco in dealing with substances that contaminate everything they come in contact with. The tanks are among 177 buried at Hanford, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Seattle along the Columbia River.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy has spent more than $16 billion since 1989 to clean up Hanford. The weapons production generated 56 million gallons of radioactive waste, enough to fill a vessel the size of a football field to a depth of 150 feet, according to a December report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
  • Tepco is talking with the DOE on whether cocooning could work for the crippled reactors in Fukushima. Sealing them off in concrete for 75 years would allow more focus on cleaning up surrounding areas so that residents could return, said Ishikawa.
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TEPCO is preparing to build the world’s largest underground ice wall – Mining.com, Aug. 19, 2013

  • After admitting that between 300 to 600 tons of coolant water is leaking into the Pacific Ocean every day, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has decided to surround the crippled nuclear power plant with a 1.4 km long ice wall that will cost between $300-$410 million.
  • According to Engineering.com, sink pipes with constantly cycling coolant will surround reactors 1 through 4. Estimated time to completion is one to two years.
  • Ground freezing is used in mining. Cameco used freezing on its Cigar Lake mine to contain underground water, but nothing has ever been built on this scale. If completed the Fukushima artificial ice wall would be the world’s largest.
  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the leaks an “urgent problem.”
  • The expensive ice wall will be a drop in the bucket compared to what Japanese taxpayers have already spent. To date the cost of cleaning up the Fukushima nuclear disaster is US$112 billion.
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Government slammed over monitoring of Japanese seafood – The Korea Herald, Aug. 18, 2013

  • About 3,010 tons of fish requested for import declaration has been found to contain radioactive cesium since March 11, 2011, according to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.
  • However, the food ministry was found not to have carried out additional inspections nor tightened return procedures, after radioactive materials were detected.
  • “They were below the threshold level, which causes no problem for market distribution,” an official from the ministry was quoted as saying by Yonhap News.
  • While most products had below 10 becquerels of radiocesium (134Cs and 137Cs) per kilogram, some products showed up to 98 becquerels ? just two becquerels less than the level considered unsafe.
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The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant said on Monday two workers were found to be contaminated with radioactive particles, the second such incident in a week involving staff outside the site’s main operations centre. -Reuters, Aug. 19, 2013

  • Two workers waiting for a bus at the end of their shift were found to be have been contaminated with radioactive particles, which were wiped off their bodies before they left the site, Tokyo Electric, also known as Tepco, said. Full body checks of the staff members showed no internal contamination.
  • The utility said it could not be sure the alarms were connected with the discovery of the contamination of the workers. The incident is being investiged.
  • Last week, the same monitors sounded alarms and 10 workers waiting for a bus were found to have been contaminated with particles. Tepco said it suspected they came from a mist sprayer used to cool staff down during the current hot summer.
  • The mist sprayer has been turned off since last week.
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    Radiation levels in Fukushima bay highest since measurements began – RT, Aug. 20, 2013

  • Readings of tritium in seawater taken from the bay near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has shown 4700 becquerels per liter, a TEPCO report stated, according to Nikkei newspaper. It marks the highest tritium level in the measurement history.
  • TEPCO said the highest radiation level was detected near reactor 1. Previous measurements showed tritium levels at 3800 becquerels per liter near reactor 1, and 2600 becquerels per liter near reactor 2. The concentration of tritium in the harbor’s seawater has been continuously rising since May, according to Nikkei.
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Fukushima’s Invisible Crisis: Don’t expect coverage of Japan’s nuclear power disaster on the evening news: unlike other environmental catastrophes, Fukushima’s ongoing crisis offers little to film. – The Nation, Aug. 19, 2013

Fo4_invisible_crisis

  • More than two years after the cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima plant is still in crisis. TEPCO still has no sufficient explanation for when the leaks began or why it waited until after the election to reveal them. Its assurances that the contamination is staying within the seawalls of the harbor are less convincing after weeks of assurances that there was no leak at all. The government has estimated that at least 300 tons of contaminated water are being released per day. TEPCO officials would not confirm the estimate.
  • This disclosure is only the latest in a series of well-documented problems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant: a power outage, the release of radioactive steam and the limited space to store the contaminated water (320,000 tons to date, with plans to build more tanks to hold up to 700,000 tons of radioactive water by 2015).
  • Dale Klein, a former head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission invited to serve on TEPCO’s outside advisory committee, reacted to the latest revelation by excoriating the company’s executives: “These actions indicate that you don’t know what you are doing, and that you do not have a plan, and that you are not doing all you can to protect the environment and the people.” The editorial board of the major daily Asahi Shimbun declared it had “zero faith” in the “incompetent” utility, adding that “allowing the company to handle nuclear energy is simply out of the question.”
  • Cordoned off inside the forbidden zone, the leaking plant has come to be a source of embarrassment and anxiety that is too easily ignored. Unlike other environmental catastrophes like BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Fukushima crisis offers little to film, and thus nothing much to lead with on the evening news, aside from pictures of press conferences and the grim face of TEPCO president Naomi Hirose, bowing in yet another apology. The coverage, despite the alarming numbers, seems to suggest there’s nothing to see here. And so the story, when it gets reported, rarely gets the attention it deserves.
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Tank Has Leaked Tons of Contaminated Water at Japan Nuclear Site – New York Times, Aug. 20, 2013

  • Workers raced to place sandbags around the leaking tank to stem the spread of the water, contaminated by levels of radioactive cesium and strontium many hundreds of times as high as legal safety limits, according to the operator, Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco. The task was made more urgent by a forecast of heavy rain for the region.
  • The new leak raises disturbing questions about the durability of the nearly 1,000 huge tanks Tepco has installed about 500 yards from the site’s shoreline. The tanks are meant to store the vast amounts of contaminated liquid created as workers cool the complex’s three damaged reactors by pumping water into their cores, along with groundwater recovered after it poured into the reactors’ breached basements.
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Tepco yet to track groundwater paths: Liquefaction threat adds to Fukushima ills – Japan Times, Aug. 20, 2013

  • About 1,000 tons of groundwater flows from the mountains under the complex daily, and about 400 tons of it penetrates the basement walls of the buildings housing reactors 1 to 4 of the six-reactor plant, thus mixing with the highly radioactive coolant water leaking from the containment vessels.
  • The remaining 600 or so tons apparently flows to the sea and Tepco suspects about half of it gets contaminated somewhere else under the plant.
  • But the exact paths the groundwater takes have yet to be pinpointed.
  • Tepco compiled a groundwater flow simulation for an Aug. 12 meeting with experts from the Nuclear Regulation Authority, but the utility said the simulation was inaccurate.
  • The east side of the reactor buildings, in an area close to the sea where land was filled in, appears more vulnerable to liquefaction. Marui said the reclaimed land consists of clay and crushed rocks, through which water can easily pass.
  • Tepco recently injected liquid glass into the filled land, thereby forming an underground barrier to help prevent groundwater from reaching the sea.
  • Due to technical reasons, the barrier had to be built 1.8 meters below ground, meaning tainted groundwater can flow to the sea above it. Tepco officials believe that is happening now.
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F06_Ground_Water_Diversion_Or_at_least_Diversion

Severity of radioactive water tank leak at Fukushima plant upgraded to Level 3 – The Mainichi, Aug. 21, 2013

  • The leaky tank is located in a section that includes 25 other tanks. The area had been surrounded by a double-layered barrier made of concrete and sandbags in order to prevent seepage, but it was discovered that the contaminated water had escaped through the sandbags.
  • The radiation dose inside the barrier was measured at 100 millisieverts per hour, or 100 times greater than the average yearly exposure for the general population. A high level of radiation was also detected outside the sandbag barrier, at more than 90 millisieverts per hour.
  • The level of radioactive substances inside a drainage canal that connects directly to the ocean, some 20 meters away from the tank, was found to be a low 130 becquerels per liter, however – leading TEPCO to comment that “no spillage into the ocean has been detected so far.”
  • TEPCO is now working to determine the exact locations of the leaks.
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Radioactive Leaks in Japan Prompt Call for Overseas Help – Bloomberg Businessweek, Aug. 21, 2013

  • The crippled nuclear plant at Fukushima is losing its two-year battle to contain radioactive water leaks and its owner emphasized for the first time it needs overseas expertise to help contain the disaster.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said they are prepared to help.
  • At least one commissioner at Japan’s nuclear regulator questioned the accuracy of data being released by Tepco and whether the incident had been fully reported. The leak, along with a separate spill of 300 tons of radioactive water a day into the Pacific Ocean, is raising doubts about the utility’s ability to handle the 40-year task to decommission the nuclear site.
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Fukushima leak erodes confidence in nuclear power – The Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 21, 2013

  • What happened at Fukushima is a rare occurrence, many in the industry stress, and nuclear remains one of the safest and most reliable ways to generate electricity. Still, the political fallout from Fukushima – and the fumbling recovery in its wake – has delivered another blow to a nuclear industry that a few years ago seemed to have finally shaken the stigma of the Three Mile Island disaster.
  • “The [Fukushima] remediation work (and the daily news drip) has likely had a negative impact on nuclear perception in the US, but much less than the accident itself,” Edward Kee, vice president of NERA Economic Consulting, wrote in an e-mail. “The nuclear industry is good at understanding all accidents and incidents (even minor things that do not make the news) and learning from them to prevent similar things from happening in the future.”
  • The US has had its own post-Fukushima nuclear curtailment, but that might be more the result of market forces rather than fear of a meltdown. Subsidies for wind and solar and cheap, abundant natural gas have made it difficult for nuclear to compete in electricity markets. Since October 2012, electric power companies have announced the retirement of four nuclear reactors at three power plants in the US. About 20 percent of electricity in the US comes from nuclear.
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Nuclear meltdown’s effect on B.C. fish unclear – Times Colonist, Aug. 21, 2013

  • Karla Robison, Ucluelet’s manager of environmental and emergency services, wants Ucluelet council to ask senior levels of government to support a study of chemicals in fish.
  • “We could work with local folks who are out fishing to get tissue samples and make sure there are no problems with the fish,” said Robison, who has led much of the on-the-ground response to earthquake debris arriving on the Island. “It’s a very, very important issue and quite frightening,” she said.
  • “Given the thousands of kilometres between Japan and Canada’s west coast, any radioactive material that might have been carried eastward via wind currents was dispersed and diluted over the ocean long before it reached Canada,” Health Canada said.
  • Nikolaus Gantner, an ecotoxicologist affiliated with Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., said the challenge is to discover how much radiation is accumulating in migratory or long-lived fish, such as halibut, salmon and tuna.
    “There are simply not enough measurements being done in water and biota on this side of the Pacific Ocean,” he said.
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    Fo5_Chernobyl_Trees

    Viewing Fukushima in the cold light of Chernobyl – PhysOrg, Aug. 21, 2013

  • The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster spread significant radioactive contamination over more than 3500 square miles of the Japanese mainland in the spring of 2011. Now several recently published studies of Chernobyl, directed by Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina and Anders Møller of the Université Paris-Sud, are bringing a new focus on just how extensive the long-term effects on Japanese wildlife might be.
  • Their work underscores the idea that, in the wake of the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986, there have been many lost opportunities to better understand the effects of radiation on life, particularly in nature rather than the laboratory. The researchers fear that the history of lost opportunities is largely being replayed in Fukushima.
  • Mousseau and Møller have with their collaborators just published three studies detailing the effects of ionizing radiation on pine trees and birds in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. “When you look for these effects, you find them,” said Mousseau, a biologist in USC’s College of Arts and Sciences.
  • In the journal Mutation Research, they showed that birds in Chernobyl had high frequencies of albino feathering and tumors. In Plos One, they demonstrated that birds there had significant rates of cataracts, which likely impacted their fitness in the wild. And in the journal Trees, they showed that tree growth was suppressed by radiation near Chernobyl, particularly in smaller trees, even decades after the original accident.
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Thyroid cancer found in 18 Fukushima children – NHK WORLD English, Aug. 21, 2013 (VIDEO)


 
 

Investigators Looking Into Abnormal Radiological Reading At Hanford – Oregon Public Broadcasting, Aug. 22, 2013

  • Crews were transferring waste at a tank inside what’s known as the C-Farm. That’s about a 9-acre grouping of underground tanks in central Hanford. They hold millions of gallons of radioactive sludge. Operators noticed a big difference in their radiological readings and proceeded to evacuate the entire farm area. Gates were closed to most workers and areas of Hanford were under a “take-cover” status. Special crews surveyed the areas outside of the C-Farm, then got closer to the area where work was being done.
  • Now, crews have given the all clear for most of the farm, but are working on narrowing down where the high reading came from.
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Radiation ‘hotspots’ found in Fukushima tanks – The Raw Story, Aug. 22, 2013

  • “We have confirmed two spots where radiation doses are high” near two other tanks, a company statement said.
  • But the levels of water in these two tanks have not changed since they were pressed into service to store contaminated water and the ground around them was dry, it added.
  • The inspections were prompted by the discovery of a leak that the company said may have carried radioactive materials out to sea, with the country’s nuclear watchdog voicing concerns that there could be similar leaks from other containers.
  • On Wednesday, nuclear regulators said the leak represented a level-three “serious incident” on the UN’s seven-point International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), raising the alert from level one, an “anomaly”.
  • TEPCO in July admitted for the first time that radioactive groundwater had been leaking outside the plant.
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New High-radiation Spots Found at Quake-hit Fukushima Plant – Scientific American, Aug. 22, 2013

  • In an inspection carried out following the revelation of the leakage, high radiation readings – 100 millisieverts per hour and 70 millisieverts per hour – were recorded at the bottom of two tanks in a different part of the plant, Tepco said.
  • Although no puddles were found nearby and there were no noticeable changes in water levels in the tanks, the possibility of stored water having leaked out cannot be ruled out, a Tokyo Electric spokesman said.
  • The confirmed leakage prompted Japan’s nuclear watchdog to say it feared the disaster was “in some respect” beyond Tepco’s ability to cope.
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    Fukushima leak is ‘much worse than we were led to believe’ – BBC News, Aug. 22, 2013 (VIDEO)

  • “The quantities of water they are dealing with are absolutely gigantic,” said Mycle Schneider, who has consulted widely for a variety of organisations and countries on nuclear issues.
  • "What is the worse is the water leakage everywhere else – not just from the tanks. It is leaking out from the basements, it is leaking out from the cracks all over the place. Nobody can measure that.
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Fukushima checking 300 more tanks for toxic leaks – Global Post, Aug. 22, 2013

  • TEPCO has said puddles of water near the tank were so toxic that anyone exposed to them would receive the same amount of radiation in an hour that a nuclear plant worker in Japan is allowed to receive in five years.
  • The utility did not have a water-level gauge on the 1,000-tonne tank, which experts say would have made it a lot more difficult to detect the problem.
  • Thursday’s safety checks on 300 tanks came after Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) chairman Shunichi Tanaka on Wednesday voiced concern that there could be similar leaks from other containers.
  • “We must carefully deal with the problem on the assumption that if one tank springs a leak the same thing can happen at other tanks,” he said.
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    The News From Fukushima Just Gets Worse, and the Japanese Public Wants Answers – TIME, Aug. 22, 2013

  • Earlier this month, at a symposium on the Fukushima nuclear disaster held at the Tokyo International Forum, an unlikely cast gathered to vent fears now gaining traction in Japan. The panel included a bank president, investigative journalist, world-renowned symphony conductor, teenage pop star and the mayor of a radioactive ghost town. For all their obvious differences, this motley crew agreed on one thing: that the damage being caused by the crippled No. 1 nuclear plant is far worse than government officials cared to acknowledge. “It’s time we faced the danger, ” said Takashi Hirose, a writer shocked by the under-reported radiation levels he found on recent trip into the evacuation zone. “So many terrible things are not being reported in the news.”
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    Fukushima Clouds Abe’s Bid to Start Nukes for Recovery: Economy – Bloomberg, Aug. 22, 2013

  • As Abe prepares for a trip tomorrow to the Middle East where he will promote sales of nuclear technology, the atomic industry at home is reeling. Japan’s nuclear regulator said this week that a new radioactive water leak was the most serious incident at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant since the March 2011 accident that devastated the site.
  • The latest setback may stoke public anger over Fukushima, undermining Abe’s efforts to restart some of Japan’s 48 idled atomic plants and boost nuclear exports – elements of his plan to drive an economic revival. Abe, who must decide whether to proceed with a sales-tax increase, is counting on re-opening the installations to help reduce energy imports and fuel growth in consumer confidence and corporate earnings.
  • Apart from backing a return to nuclear power, Abe has made exporting nuclear technology a component of his economic plan and has been a pitch man for companies such as Toshiba Corp. (6502) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (7011) On his Aug. 24–29 trip to four Middle East nations, Abe will offer “cooperation in the nuclear safety field” in Kuwait and Qatar, according to a briefing paper on the tour.
  • Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi agreed to promote nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia on a visit in February, while Japan previously signed a memorandum of nuclear development with Kuwait. Abe and French President Francois Hollande agreed to deepen cooperation on reactor exports in June.
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Twelfth Prefectural Oversight Committee Meeting: Thyroid Ultrasound Examination Results – Fukushima Voice, Aug 23, 2013

  • The Proceedings of the Twelfth Prefectural Oversight Committee Meeting for Fukushima Health Management Survey were released on August 20, 2013.  HERE is the translation of the thyroid ultrasound examination.
  • LINK to original Japanese
     

Radioactive groundwater at Fukushima nears Pacific – AP, The Big Story, Aug. 23, 2013

  • The looming crisis is potentially far greater than the discovery earlier this week of a leak from a tank that stores contaminated water used to cool the reactor cores. That 300-ton (80,000-gallon) leak is the fifth and most serious from a tank since the March 2011 disaster, when three of the plant’s reactors melted down after a huge earthquake and tsunami knocked out the plant’s power and cooling functions.
  • But experts believe the underground seepage from the reactor and turbine building area is much bigger and possibly more radioactive, confronting the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., with an invisible, chronic problem and few viable solutions. Many also believe it is another example of how TEPCO has repeatedly failed to acknowledge problems that it could almost certainly have foreseen — and taken action to mitigate before they got out of control.
  • It remains unclear what the impact of the contamination on the environment will be because the radioactivity will be diluted as it spreads farther into the sea. Most fishing in the area is already banned, but fishermen in nearby Iwaki City had been hoping to resume test catches next month following favorable sampling results. Those plans have been scrapped after news of the latest tank leak.
  • “Nobody knows when this is going to end,” said Masakazu Yabuki, a veteran fisherman in Iwaki, just south of the plant, where scientists say contaminants are carried by the current. “We’ve suspected (leaks into the ocean) from the beginning. … TEPCO is making it very difficult for us to trust them.”
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    Fukushima inspectors “careless”, Japan agency says, as nuclear crisis grows – Reuters, Aug. 23, 2013

  • The operator of Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant was careless in monitoring tanks storing dangerously radioactive water, the nuclear regulator said on Friday, the latest development in a crisis no one seems to know how to contain.
  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. also failed to keep records of inspections of the tanks, Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) Commissioner Toyoshi Fuketa told reporters after a visit to the nearby Fukushima Daiichi plant.
  • LINK
     
     

    Despite Fukushima, IAEA sees global progress on nuclear safety – Reuters, Aug. 23, 2013

  • In a report prepared for its annual member state gathering, the International Atomic Energy Agency said nearly all countries with nuclear plants had carried out safety “stress tests” to assess their ability to withstand so-called extreme events.
  • The U.N. agency’s report, evaluating the implementation of an IAEA nuclear safety action plan adopted by the General Conference in 2011 to help prevent any repeat of the Fukushima disaster, said progress had been made worldwide in key areas.
  • These included emergency preparedness, assessments of safety vulnerabilities of nuclear plants, and the protection of people and the environment from radiation.
  • “Since September 2012 … considerable progress has been made worldwide in strengthening nuclear safety through the implementation of the action plan and of national action plans in member states,” the report said.
  • LINK
     

The Fukushima nuclear complex is still not under control – Global Post, Aug. 23, 2013

  • News of the leak was met with a shrug in Japan, where an estimated 94 percent of the population said it believes the disaster has not been resolved, according to a March survey by Hirotada Hirose of Tokyo Woman’s University.
  • Thursday news bulletins on the national Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) prioritized New York Yankee’s baseball player Ichiro Suzuki’s 4,000th hit over updates from the plant. Some private TV stations failed to report any update from Fukushima at all.
  • LINK
     

Tepco testing tainted earth at No. 1 plant: Utility begins digging ground to assess extent of contamination – The Japan Times, Aug. 23, 2013

  • The utility will dig areas measuring 12 sq. meters in total to a depth of 40 to 50 cm where pools of leaked radioactive water formed, and then measure levels to determine how far the contamination has spread and how much soil needs to be removed.
  • Tepco has said puddles of water near the leaking tank were so toxic that anyone exposed to them would receive the same amount of radiation in an hour that a nuclear plant worker in Japan is allowed to receive in five years — 100 millisieverts.
  • LINK
     
     

Abe, Kan among 1,000 at memorial service for former chief of Fukushima plant – Japan Today, Aug, 24, 2013

  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former Prime Minister Naoto Kan were among 1,000 people who attended a memorial service in Tokyo Friday for Masao Yoshida, the man who led the life-risking battle at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant when it was spiraling into meltdowns.
  • Yoshida died of cancer of the esophagus on July 9 at the age of 58. He led efforts to stabilize the stricken nuclear power plant after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami knocking out its power and cooling systems, causing triple meltdowns and massive radiation leaks.
  • After the service, Tokyo Electric Power Co President Naomi Hirose praised Yoshida for his efforts on the front line during the crisis and said all employees of TEPCO must do what Yoshida would have done to cope with the ongoing crisis, NHK reported.
  • Yoshida, an outspoken man, wasn’t afraid of talking back to higher-ups, but he was also known as a caring figure to his workers.
  • LINK
     
     

Climate Change, Cat 6 Hurricanes, Al Gore

These things are all connected.

A couple of days ago a good ally in the climate change fight … the fight to make people realize that climate change is not some librul conspiracy to raise taxes on the rich … goofed. It was a minor goof, barely a goof at all. We do not yet know the nature of the goof but it was somewhere between saying something in a slightly clumsy manner and a bit of misremembering something that happened in 2005 during an interview. That’s it. Nothing else to see here.

But that goof has been wrenched form its context and turned into a senseless and embarrassingly stupid attack on science by the likes of Anthony Watts, who really is one of the more despicable people I know of on the internet outside the MRA community (even he’s not that bad, and I’ve even noticed a sense of humor now and then).

It all started when Ezra Klein published an interview with Al Gore on Wonkblog. It was good interview and it was nicely written up. They talked about crossing the 400 ppm mark, electricity prices from alternative energy sources, the nature of technological change vis-a-vis green energy, international climate treaty making and cap and trade strategies, the politics of climate denial and the shift from being concerned about climate to denying the science in the Republican party, what’s going on in the current administration, geoengineering, storms, and all sorts of other things.

But then Jason Samenow, of the Captial Weather Gang, noticed something in the interview that seemed wrong. He wrote a blog post about “Al Gore’s Science Fiction” to make sure that every body knew about this apparent error. Then, the Union of Concerned Scientists, in an apparent paroxysm of well meant, but really, totally bone-headed, intent to demonstrate that people who are on board with climate science can criticize each other so we must all be for real, restated that something Vice President Gore had said to make him look like he was some sort of dummy, which he is not. The Union of Concerned Scientists, realizing their error, issued a pretty standard notpology. The notpology was disappointing. I know that people there understand that they got it all wrong … apparently at the institutional level they can’t just say “oops, sorry” but rather something more like “oh yes, things were misunderstood, but still, our point is valid.” We are reminded once again that institutions do have their limits.

Anyway, Ezra, for his part, dug back into memory and consulted with Vice President Gore and his staff and clarified what he said Al Gore said. But, that was not before lame, mean spirited, ill intentioned, ignorant, and embarrassingly giddy offal started to spew from the denialists. Anthony Watts got into it because that is how Anthony Watts masterbates. He draws cartoon glasses and piles of dog poo on pictures of Al Gore and that gets him off. The Hill jumped in with a piece by Ben Geman about how Al Gore goofed. The Free Republic came in its pants too. Almost nobody made mention of a single other thing in the interview, nobody checked their facts, nobody understood the original meaning of Vice President Gore’s remarks which were, in fact, dead on. But everybody got dirty. Shame on all of them (to varying degrees).

Here’s what actually happened (never mind the interview, the Union of Concerned Scientists concern trolling, or the circle jerk of denialism with Anthony Watts in the middle).

First, storms got worse. Yes, yes, you will hear climate science denialists insisting that they have not gotten worse, but they have. Hurricanes are worse now than they were decades ago, and global warming is implicated in that.

Then, some people, including some scientists and science communicators, discussed the idea of adding a Category 6 to the Saffir-Simpson scale. This conversation happened in and after 2005. The Cat Six storms would be those greater than 151 or 160 knots. Not many storms have ever been this strong, but there are a few. Robert Simpson, of the Saffir-Simpson Scale, suggested that this would not be necessary because the whole idea of the scale was to represent storms in terms of human and property impacts, and a Cat Six storm would not really be worse than a Cat Five storm because a Cat Five storm is bad enough . He said “…when you get up into winds in excess of 155 mph (249 km/h) you have enough damage if that extreme wind sustains itself for as much as six seconds on a building it’s going to cause rupturing damages that are serious no matter how well it’s engineered.” (I disagree strongly with that statement, by the way.)

There are indeed reasons to revisit the Saffir-Simpson scale. There is a lot of information lost by just looking at wind speeds. Paul Douglas turned me on to this graphic demonstrating that when it comes to hurricanes, size matters:

image001

Look closely. There are TWO Pacific Cyclones (aka Hurricanes) represented in that picture. Reminds me of the drawings designed to demonstrate the vast range of body size in primates, like this one:

f2.1

But I digress. The point is, Saffir-Simpson is inadequate for what we need. We should be able to take a metric used for hurricanes and add the metric up at the end of the season and say something pretty accurate about how much energy was packaged in those beasts that year and in that ocean basin. Indeed, people who study hurricanes do this … they measure hurricanes in various ways. But the Saffir-Simpson scale is the most well known, and it only measures maximum sustained winds and nothing else, and the scale is not open ended so the biggest storms look like the second biggest storms.

So, given that storms are getting worse and the scale is inadequate, the discussion of at least adding a Cat Six happened, and this is what Gore mentioned.

But the Union of Concerned Scientists, or should I call them for now the Onion of Concerned Scientists, said this of Gore’s statement (and I quote mine):

Al Gore, Climate Science, and the Responsibility for Careful Communication…

When I was in fourth grade, I wrote Vice President Al Gore a letter … I believed then, as I do now, that he is a strong voice for issues with an environmental component such as climate change. And, importantly, he has become, to many people, the public face of climate science….But unfortunately he recently got it wrong about the science of climate change…Gore inaccurately suggested that the hurricane scale will now include a category 6… this is untrue. There are no plans by the National Hurricane Center—the federal office responsible for categorizing storms—to create a new category….Since writing that letter as a ten-year-old, I’ve earned a degree in atmospheric science and learned to value to the role that science plays in informing public policy. Science—and climate change especially—needs effective communicators…

and so on and so forth. How annoying of Al Gore to be so annoying. What a disappointment. I WAS A CHILD AND I WROTE HIM A LETTER AND NOW HE DOES THIS TO ME!!!

OK, take it down a notch.

Al Gore was referring to the discussion I mention above. Perhaps he made this reference clumsily. Ezra may have quoted him wrong, and he now states that is likely (he’s not been able to check his tape yet) so them message got further garbled. Then, some bloggers including one at Union of concerned Scientists decided to make a case of it. And now we have a nice science denialist orgy going with Head Orgy Master Debater Anthony Watts running the show. Joe Romm has more on the interview and what Vice President Gore said here.

There are three things you need to take away from this:

1) Al Gore is an effective communicator and knows a lot about climate science. If you hear that he said something that is wrong, before you get all “concerned” consider the possibility that he didn’t.

2) We really do need to look at how we characterize hurricanes.

3) The science denialists really have nothing, if this is what gets them so excited. They should get out more.

Anthropologist Neil Tappen Has Died

Neil Tappen is probably most well known for having worked out the species and distribution of species in Central and western East Africa in the 1950s, as everyone who has worked in the area since then, from Jane Goodall to Richard Wrangham, has used his work as a tool in their own study of apes and monkeys of the region. He also worked on bone growth and development and taphonomy. Many others know him for his teaching and training of students, of which there were many. If you are reading this blog, you probably know or at least know of Genie Scott, for example. Neil was her undergraduate professor.

Searching for Dinosaurs at Waggoner Ranch, 1951.  Neil Tappen is on the left. from: www.noogen.narod.ru/iefremov/Olson/Ch3.htm
Searching for Dinosaurs at Waggoner Ranch, 1951. Neil Tappen is on the left.
I know Neil as my ex-father-in-law and as the grandfather of my daughter Julia.

Neil died on August 18th after a couple of weeks struggle with a series of medical issues precipitated by a bad fall, which in turn was precipitated by a series of medical issues, all typical of someone 100 +/- 5 years in age. As far as I know he was about as sharp as always right up to that time, though with failing eyesight it took him much longer to devour his usual giant stack of reading every day.

The most important thing I can tell you about Neil, if you didn’t know him, is this: He understood the idea of living in interesting times, and he paid attention to what was interesting about his own times.

He’ll be buried tomorrow, Friday, at Fort Snelling.

How to do any genetic research you want without getting permission.

Let’s say you want to do a market-related study in which you gain entry to one thousand homes representing sets of people defined by the usual variables of income, ethnicity, urban-suburban lifestyle etc. The first thing you do is to ask a few people, real nice like, if you can go through their stuff and take a lot of photographs and notes. Most of them say no, and you perhaps even discover that the one or two who actually agree to this are odd ducks. So you go to Plan B. This involves breaking into the homes when the people are out so you can get your data despite the fact that they don’t want to participate. But you get caught and can’t do that any more. So, now you are faced with the reality that your research plans are done for.

But wait, there is a way to get similar data without needing any permission from anyone and it is not illegal, and in fact, it could actually be cheaper and easier than your original proposal and, while it may not provide the same exact results, it could even provide BETTER results. Let’s call it Plan C.

Plan C involves looking at every iteration of every single Google Street View picture ever taken anywhere in the US at any time. All of them. The vast majority of these photographs will show you nothing, but every here and there, you will get some data. There will be a shot that shows a thing in an open window, or an open door, or an open garage, or being carried into our out of a person’s house, being delivered, thrown out on the curb, sold in a garage sale, sitting on the lawn after an explosion or fire, or in use (especially yard and garden implements). This is not the same thing as sampling hundreds of houses once each, looking at all contents. But it is sampling the homes lived in by hundreds of millions of people, and sampling them dozens of times over a few years. That could be some amazing data.

And nobody can stop you from studying this source of information or doing this research. If someone does try to stop you with silly regulations from a University or something, just change into a Journalist. Then you’re golden. It would be WRONG to stop a journalist from using this information!

Turns out that this works with genes, but even better. One might want to study the relationship between a putative genetic marker and a possible behavioral thing, like maybe a psychiatric disorder or something, in a genetically bottle necked tribal group somewhere. You can try to get permission to do this, and maybe you’ll get it. Maybe you won’t get permission but you can certainly steal the genetic data from some place and do the research anyway. But people will get mad at you and you’ll not get any more research money.

Or, you can go to Plan C.

Here’s how Plan C works with genes. We have a good idea of the distribution of many genetic markers that have to do with geographical patterns over time. (Some people would use the term “race” in that sentence but that’s incorrect and unnecessary.) So, something like “East Asian” or “Native South American” or “Central African” or whatever has a list of genetic markers that go with it. Genes are supposed to “independently assort” and act all random and all, but they don’t. At the finest level, on chromosomes, genetic markers that are near each other travel together because of “linkage.” More importantly, genes move in populations. So, those East Asian genetic markers are not going to get all mixed up with the Central African genetic markers too often. Also, if you have enough samples, some mixing up doesn’t matter all that much.

So, if you want to study a disease-related “gene” (allele, a variant of a gene, really), if you think such a thing exists, you can effectively study it in a small population of repressed brown people who, tired of repression and exploitation decided to be totally unfair to you and not give you their blood, by looking at the association of LBP (“little brown people”) markers and the alleles of interest. It does not even matter if many of those marker associations are found in totally non LBP people. They are still associated. Genetic lineages are the thing, not human lineages. Humans are merely reasonable approximations of genes, really. Or at least, you can make a case for the associations and get your research funded and published without asking anybody any permissions for anything, just using giant available genetic databases. OK, so, maybe this is not “any genetic research you want.” But it is without permission!

This all sounds very nefarious but may not be. Or maybe it is. I’ll leave that to the ethicists.

By the way, if you are interesting in a big fight on the Internet about genetic research, ethics, “IRB” permissions, LBP’s and science and so on and so forth, I recommend the following, in the order suggested.

First, read this blog post: Is the Havasupai Indian Case a Fairy Tale? by Ricki Lewis (and if you have time, along with it, this related blog post)

DON’T READ THE COMMENTS YET

Then, read this blog post: The Empire Strikes Back by Jonathan Marks

Then, go back to the first blog post (Is the Havasupai Indian Case a Fairy Tale?) and read the comments.

Then, report back here and tell me what you think. Especially about that last comment on the PLOS blog post.

Have a nice evening!


Photo Credit: tapasparida via Compfight cc