Archive for August, 2012

Record Radiation Found in Fish off Fukushima

August 21, 2012

Published on Tuesday, August 21, 2012 by Common Dreams

– Common Dreams staff

Fish recently caught off the shores of Fukushima have shown the highest level of radioactive caesium detected in fish and shellfish caught in Japan since the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster last year.

Fish on sale near Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011 (Agence France-Presse)The fish were caught 12.5 miles off the plant on August 1 and registered 25,800 becquerels of caesium per kilo, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said.

The amount is 258 times the level that the government has set for safe consumption.

The greenling fish may have fed in “radioactive hotspots”, according to Agence France-Presse, but more samples of fish and seabed soil will be taken to measure patterns of radiation in the next few weeks.

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Free Hug for Peace

August 21, 2012

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXqWJNOAX8M

Watch other videos there.

 

Buddha: Friends make the whole of our life.

Confucius: Jen is the loving feeling between two persons.

Religion: Friendship (Mitra, Mithra, Maitreya, Mazda, …)

Illinois Nuke Plants Dumping Millions of Gallons of Near 100-Degree Water into Waterways

August 21, 2012

Published on Monday, August 20, 2012

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is allowing power stations “to dump millions of gallons of hot water into Illinois waterways each day,” a Chicago Tribune report released Monday shows.

Byron Nuclear plant in Illinois (photo: Michael Kappel)Coal and nuclear power plants have had problems getting discharge waters down to the thermal limits because the waters they are bringing in are already warmer than normal due to excessive heat and drought.

Provisions from the agency now allowfour coal-fired and four nuclear plants to discharge water up to 97 degrees, the report shows.

Environmental groups warn that releasing these hot waters back into waterways can cause ecological harm.

Josh Mogerman with the National Resources Defense Council told CBS Chicago that the warmer water “impacts fish that are evolved to live in a specific sort of a temperature. You’re basically scalding the fish; forcing them either to dive deeper for cold water, or in the case of our rivers, we’re boiling them.”

Mogerman noted the impacts of global warming. “We shouldn’t be thinking about our power plants in the context of just one year’s drought, or one year’s heat wave. It’s very likely that the conditions we’re seeing are going to become more normal.”

Global Warming Causes More Extreme Shifts of the Southern Hemisphere’s Largest Rain Band, Study Suggests

August 19, 2012

ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2012) — The changes will result from the South Pacific rain band responding to greenhouse warming. The South Pacific rain band is largest and most persistent of the Southern Hemisphere spanning the Pacific from south of the Equator, south-eastward to French Polynesia.

Occasionally, the rain band moves northwards towards the Equator by 1000 kilometres, inducing extreme climate events.

The international study, led by CSIRO oceanographer Dr Wenju Cai, focuses on how the frequency of such movement may change in the future. The study finds the frequency will almost double in the next 100 years, with a corresponding intensification of the rain band.

Dr Wenju and colleagues turned to the extensive archives of general circulation models submitted for the fourth and fifth IPCC Assessments and found that increases in greenhouse gases are projected to enhance equatorial Pacific warming. In turn, and in spite of disagreement about the future of El Niño events, this warming leads to the increased frequency of extreme excursions of the rain band.

During moderate El Niño events with warming in the equatorial eastern Pacific, the rain band moves north-eastward by 300 kilometres. Countries located within the bands’ normal position such as Vanuatu, Samoa, and the southern Cook Islands experience forest fires and droughts as well as increased frequency of tropical cyclones, whereas countries to which the rain band moves experience extreme floods.

“During extreme El Niño events, such as 1982/83 and 1997/98, the band moved northward by up to 1000 kilometres. The shift brings more severe extremes, including cyclones to regions such as French Polynesia that are not accustomed to such events,” said Dr Cai, a scientist at the Wealth from Oceans Flagship.

“Understanding changes in the frequency of these events as the climate changes proceed is therefore of broad scientific and socio-economic interest.”

A central issue for community adaptation in Australia and across the Pacific is understanding how the warming atmosphere and oceans will influence the intensity and frequency of extreme events. The impact associated with the observed extreme excursions includes massive droughts, severe food shortage, and coral reef mortality through thermally-induced coral bleaching across the South Pacific.

“Understanding changes in the frequency of these events as the climate changes proceed is therefore of broad scientific and socio-economic interest.”

The paper, “More extreme swings of the South Pacific Convergence Zone due to greenhouse warming,” was co-authored by Australian scientists Dr Simon Borlace, Mr Tim Cowan from CSIRO and Drs Scott Power and Jo Brown, two Bureau of Meteorology scientists at the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, who were joined by French, US, UK, and Cook Island scientists.

The research effort from Australian scientists was supported by the Australian Climate Change Science Program, the CSIRO Office of Chief Executive Science Leader program, and the Pacific-Australia Climate Change Science and Adaptation Planning Program.

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Climate Change Will Have Profound Effects On Northeast U.S. Forests, Report Says

August 19, 2012

ScienceDaily (Aug. 15, 2012) — A new report by U.S. and Canadian scientists analyzes decades of research and concludes that the climate of the Northeast has changed and is likely to change more. The report outlines the effects of climate change on multiple aspects of forests in the northeastern corner of the United States and eastern Canada and concludes with recommendations on adaptive and mitigating strategies for dealing with future effects.

The report, “Changing Climate, Changing Forests: The impacts of climate change on forests of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada,” brings together science on all aspects of forest health, from changes in the water cycle to changes in trees, wildlife and nuisance species. The report focuses on established science and offers recommendations for decision-makers on steps that will make forests more resilient to the effects of climate change.

“Nothing is certain about climate change except that it poses a tremendous challenge to forests,” according to Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. “Forest Service science is developing tools such at this report that will inform decision-making and contribute to making the nation’s forests more resilient to changing conditions.”

The region covered by the report includes seven states in the United States — Maine, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island — and the Canadian provinces of Quebec, Labrador, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. The report stems from the work of Northeast Forests 2100 Initiative, a coalition of 38 U.S. and Canadian scientists. Results of Northeast Forests 2100 research were published in a series of papers in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research in 2009.

As part of the Northeast Forests 2100 project, scientists examined the influence of climate change on the forests of the Northeast using historic records, experimental studies, and computer models, and found linkages between climate and the basic functioning of the region’s forests. Scientists concluded that climate change will have profound effects on Northeast forests with the accelerating rate of climate change and the associated stresses that climate change generates.

“The quantity of information available about climate change sometimes makes it hard to find information that is relevant to a particular region,” according to Lindsey Rustad, a team leader and research ecologist with the Northern Research Station. “Our intent was to create a credible go-to source of science on the effects of a changing climate on Northeastern forests.” The report concludes with recommended adaptive and mitigating measures that could help sustain forest health and make forests more resistant to the effects of a changing climate.

The NE Forests 2100 initiative has been supported by grants from the Northeastern States Research Cooperative (NSRC) and by organizing efforts of the Northeastern Ecosystem Research Cooperative (NERC). The development of “Changing Climate, Changing Forests” was supported by the U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

Published by the U.S. Forest Service as General Technical Report NRS-99, it is available at:http://nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/41165

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Nuclear waste issues freeze permits for U.S. power plants

August 19, 2012

By Steve Hargreaves @CNNMoney August 9, 2012: 7:12 AM ET

U.S. halts permits for new nuclear power plants and renewals at existing reactors until waste issues are settled.U.S. halts permits for new nuclear power plants and renewals at existing reactors until waste issues are settled.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The U.S. government said it will stop issuing permits for new nuclear power plants and license extensions for existing facilities until it resolves issues around storing radioactive waste.

The government’s main watchdog, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, believes that current storage plans are safe and achievable. But a federal court said that the NRC didn’t detail what the environmental consequences would be if the agency is wrong.

“We are now considering all available options for resolving the waste issue,” the five-member NRC said in a ruling earlier this week. “But, in recognition of our duties under the law, we will not issue [reactor] licenses until the court’s remand is appropriately addressed.”

There are 14 reactors awaiting license renewals at the NRC, and an additional 16 reactors awaiting permits for new construction.

Ultimately, it’ll be up to lawmakers to find a solution to long-term nuclear waste storage, but their track record on the issue hasn’t been good. Nuclear waste disposal has been a daunting political question that is still unanswered after decades of study.

But the NRC is expected to do more research around what would happen if a long-term waste storage facility isn’t built. It will also conduct more research into the environmental impact if waste can’t safely be stored on-site at nuclear plants, where it’s currently stored.

Analysts feel the agency can conduct its research relatively quickly without having a major impact on nuclear plants currently seeking license extensions or utilities seeking permission to build new reactors.

“We believe that the NRC will have sufficient time to complete its waste confidence and temporary storage fixes well ahead of license expirations,” Christine Tezak, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, wrote in a research note Wednesday.

But nuclear watchdog groups — which don’t agree with the NRC’s assertion that the waste is currently safely stored — are hoping the new review will provide an opportunity to push for stricter standards at nuclear power plants.

There are currently 104 operating nuclear reactors at 64 plants across the country. Half are over 30 years old.

‘”The court is ordering them to do this analysis that should have been done a long time ago,” said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The more information there is, the more ammunition there is to make changes to the safety regulations.”

In particular, UCS and others want less of the waste to be stored in pools of water, which they believe are vulnerable to sudden draining and possible meltdown, and more of it to go into secured concrete bunkers known as dry-cask storage.

Nuclear power provides the country with about 18% of its electricity. Renewables make up about 14%, with about half of that coming from hydroelectric dams. Most of the rest is split roughly evenly between natural gas and coal.  To top of page

First Published: August 9, 2012: 5:36 AM ET
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European Forest Fire Information System: Current Situation in Europe

August 19, 2012

The 2012 fire season has been characterized by a high number of fires in the early season. (Credit: Image courtesy of European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC))

ScienceDaily (Aug. 14, 2012) — The 2012 fire season has been characterized by a high number of fires in the early season. Over 100,000 hectares had already been consumed by fire at the end of March. July brought critical fire episodes in Spain and Portugal, which led to a number of human casualties.

Fire danger has been very high in southern Europe during the last weeks, in particular in Portugal, Spain, southern France, central and southern Italy (where a large number of fires are still active), the Balkan region, Greece and Turkey. The current fire danger forecast provided by the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) confirms a slight improvement in the situation at the beginning of this week as forecast end of last week.

However, fire danger conditions remain very high in the western part of the Mediterranean region, in Portugal, Spain and France, and will return to a situation of critical fire danger in the overall Mediterranean region by the end of this week.

The forest fire situation in Europe is constantly monitored by EFFIS, a system developed and run by the European Commission’s in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) in collaboration with the Directorate General for Environment (DG ENV) and the Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DG ECHO).

EFFIS (http://effis.jrc.ec.europa.eu) provides updated and reliable information on wild land fires in Europe supporting forest fire prevention and fire-fighting services in the European countries, the European Commission’s Monitoring and Information Centre (ECHO MIC), based in Brussels, and other organisations in the field.

EFFIS provides fire danger forecast up to six days in advance, enhancing the preparedness of the countries at risk of fire. Furthermore, fires are monitored and mapped by EFFIS, providing near-real time estimates of fire damages across Europe. Maps and key data on fire danger and individual fire effects can be consulted at (http://effis.jrc.ec.europa.eu/current-situation).

Up to now, approximately 580,000 hectares have been burnt this year in the area monitored by EFFIS, which includes Europe, Middle East and North African countries.

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US Wind Power Market Riding a Wave That Is Likely to Crest in 2012

August 19, 2012

Facing looming policy uncertainty beyond 2012, the U.S. remained one of the fastest-growing wind power markets in the world in 2011 — second only to China — according to a new report released by the U.S. Department of Energy and prepared by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). (Credit: © wajan / Fotolia)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 14, 2012) — Facing looming policy uncertainty beyond 2012, the U.S. remained one of the fastest-growing wind power markets in the world in 2011 — second only to China — according to a new report released by the U.S. Department of Energy and prepared by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Roughly 6.8 gigawatts (GW) of new wind power capacity were connected to the U.S. grid in 2011 — more than the 5.2 GW built in 2010, but below the 10 GW added in 2009. Driven by the threat of expiring federal incentives, new wind power installations are widely expected to be substantially higher in 2012 than in 2011, and perhaps even in excess of 2009’s record build.

Other key findings from the U.S. Department of Energy’s “2011 Wind Technologies Market Report” include:

• Wind is a credible source of new generation in the U.S. Wind power comprised 32% of all new U.S. electric capacity additions in 2011 and represented $14 billion in new investment. Wind power currently contributes more than 10% of total electricity generation in six states (with two of these states above 20%), and now provides more than 3% of total U.S. electricity supply.

• In spite of the lack of policy clarity, wind turbine manufacturers and their suppliers continued to localize production domestically in 2011.As a result, a growing percentage of the equipment used in U.S. wind power projects is being sourced domestically: 67% in 2011, up from just 35% back in 2005-2006. However, Ryan Wiser, a Staff Scientist at Berkeley Lab and co-author of the report, notes, “behind these positive headline numbers, the domestic wind industry supply chain is currently facing severe pressure, due to uncertain prospects after 2012.” Specifically, profit margins have been declining and concerns about manufacturing overcapacity have deepened, potentially setting the stage for significant layoffs if demand for turbines (for post-2012 delivery) does not pick up.

• Turbine scaling has boosted wind project capacity factors. Since 1998-99, the average nameplate capacity of wind turbines installed in the U.S. has increased by 174% (to 1.97 MW in 2011), the average turbine hub height has increased by 45% (to 81 meters), and the average rotor diameter has increased by 86% (to 89 meters). This substantial scaling has pushed average capacity factors among new wind projects higher over time, though the increase has been mitigated in recent year by significant curtailment of wind energy output in some regions, along with a trend towards wind developers building out lower wind speed sites.

• Falling wind turbine prices have begun to push installed project costs lower. Wind turbine prices have fallen 20 to 30% from their highs back in 2008, but this decline has been slow to show up in installed project cost data, which only began to turn the corner (on average) in 2011. Data from a preliminary sample of wind power projects being built in 2012 suggest further reductions in installed project costs.

• Lower wind turbine prices and installed project costs, along with improved capacity factors, are enabling aggressive wind power pricing. Grouping projects according to the year in which they signed a power purchase agreement (PPA) makes it clear that wind power pricing peaked among those projects that executed contracts in 2009 and has fallen substantially since. Among a sample of wind power projects with contracts signed in 2011, the capacity-weighted average levelized price is $35/MWh, down from $59/MWh for projects with contracts signed in 2010, and $72/MWh for projects with contracts signed back in 2009.

“Wind PPA prices — particularly in the central U.S. — are now approaching previous lows set back in 2003,” notes Berkeley Lab Research Scientist and report co-author Mark Bolinger. “But even with today’s much lower wind energy prices, wind power still struggles to compete with depressed natural gas and wholesale power prices in many parts of the country.”

• Looking ahead, projections are for continued strong growth in 2012, followed by dramatically lower but uncertain additions in 2013. With key federal incentives for wind energy (including bonus depreciation and a choice of the production tax credit, investment tax credit, or Section 1603 Treasury cash grant) currently slated to expire at the end of 2012, new capacity additions in 2012 are anticipated to substantially exceed 2011 levels — and perhaps even the record high set in 2009 — as developers rush to commission projects.

At the same time, the possible expiration of these incentives at the end of 2012, in concert with continued low natural gas prices, modest electricity demand growth, and existing state policies that are not sufficient to support continued capacity additions at the levels witnessed in recent years, threatens to dramatically slow new builds in 2013 and beyond, despite recent improvements in the cost and performance of wind power technology.

The full report (“2011 Wind Technologies Market Report”), a presentation slide deck that summarizes the report, and an Excel workbook that contains much of the data presented in the report, can all be downloaded from:http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/ems/re-pubs.html

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Health Consequences of Meltdown, Damage to Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants in Japan

August 19, 2012

ScienceDaily (Aug. 14, 2012) — The results of two studies in the August 15 issue of JAMA report on the psychological status of workers at the Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan several months after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, and the amount of internal radiation exposure among residents of a city north of the power plant that experienced a meltdown.

As reported in a Research Letter, Jun Shigemura, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Defense Medical College, Saitama, Japan, and colleagues examined the psychological status of Fukushima workers 2 to 3 months after the disaster for symptoms of general psychological distress, including posttraumatic stress response (PTSR). The study included all full-time workers from the Daiichi plant (n = 1,053; plant experienced meltdown) and Daini plant (n = 707; plant experienced damage but remained intact) in May and June 2011. Using a self-report questionnaire, the researchers assessed sociodemographic characteristics and disaster-related experiences, including discrimination/slurs because the electric company that managed these plants was criticized for their disaster response and the workers have been targets of discrimination. Measures of general psychological distress included feeling nervous, hopeless, restless/fidgety, depressed, and worthless in the last 30 days.

Of 1,760 eligible workers, 1,495 (85 percent) participated (Daiichi: n = 885 [84 percent]; Daini: n = 610 [86 percent]). The authors found that compared with Daini workers, Daiichi workers were more often exposed to disaster-related stressors. Experiencing discrimination or slurs was not statistically significantly different between groups (14 percent vs. 11 percent). The researchers found that general psychological distress and PTSR were common in nuclear plant workers 2 to 3 months after the disaster. “Daiichi workers had significantly higher rates of psychological distress (47 percent vs. 37 percent) and PTSR (30 percent vs. 19 percent). For both groups, discrimination or slurs were associated with high psychological distress and high PTSR. Other significant associations in both groups included tsunami evacuation and major property loss with psychological distress and pre-existing illness and major prop­erty loss with PTSR.”

Study Finds Low Levels of Radiation Exposure to Residents of City North of Meltdown

In another Research Letter, Masaharu Tsubokura, M.D., of the University of Tokyo, and colleagues conducted a study to gauge the level of radiation exposure to residents of the city of Minamisoma, located 14 miles north of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. “Release of radioactive material into the air, water, and soil raised concern about internal radiation exposure and the long-term risk of cancer in nearby residents,” they write.

Many residents were evacuated after the meltdown, but by August 2011, approximately half had returned. A voluntary screening program for levels of cesium, known to be representative of total internal radiation exposure, was conducted between September 2011 and March 2012 for all residents ages 6 years or older. Total cesium exposure was converted into committed effective dose (sievert, Sv). Common dose-limit recommendations for the public are 1 mSv or less. A total of 9,498 residents enrolled in the study, 24 percent of the registered population on August 15, 2011. The sample consisted of 1,432 children and 8,066 adults. A total of 3,286 individuals (34.6 percent) had detectable levels of cesium, including 235 children (16.4 percent) and 3,051 adults (37.8 percent). Committed effective doses were less than 1 mSv in all but 1 resident (1.07 mSv).

“To our knowledge, this is the first report on internal exposure to cesium radiation after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant incident. In this sample, exposure levels were low in most adults and children tested and much lower than those reported in studies years after the Chernobyl incident. Even the highest levels of contamination observed are below the thresholds for the administration of Prussian blue [an antidote used in the treatment of cesium poisoning],” the authors write.

The researchers note that because this screening program started 6 months after the nuclear power plant disaster, higher exposure levels might have been detected earlier, and that it is not possible to ascertain whether the low levels of exposure were due to low ongoing exposure or decay from high exposure values. “Because data were collected from volunteers, the results may not be representative of the entire population in contaminated areas. No case of acute health problems has been reported so far; however, assessments of the long-term effect of radiation requires ongoing monitoring of exposure and the health conditions of the affected communities.”

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A New Energy Source: Major Advance Made in Generating Electricity from Wastewater

August 19, 2012

Hong Liu, an engineer at Oregon State University, has developed greatly improved new methods to produce electricity from the processing of wastewater. (Credit: Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 13, 2012) — Engineers at Oregon State University have made a breakthrough in the performance of microbial fuel cells that can produce electricity directly from wastewater, opening the door to a future in which waste treatment plants not only will power themselves, but will sell excess electricity.

The new technology developed at OSU can now produce 10 to 50 more times the electricity, per volume, than most other approaches using microbial fuel cells, and 100 times more electricity than some.

Researchers say this could eventually change the way that wastewater is treated all over the world, replacing the widely used “activated sludge” process that has been in use for almost a century. The new approach would produce significant amounts of electricity while effectively cleaning the wastewater.

The findings have just been published in Energy and Environmental Science, a professional journal, in work funded by the National Science Foundation.

“If this technology works on a commercial scale the way we believe it will, the treatment of wastewater could be a huge energy producer, not a huge energy cost,” said Hong Liu, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering. “This could have an impact around the world, save a great deal of money, provide better water treatment and promote energy sustainability.”

Experts estimate that about 3 percent of the electrical energy consumed in the United States and other developed countries is used to treat wastewater, and a majority of that electricity is produced by fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.

But the biodegradable characteristics of wastewater, if tapped to their full potential, could theoretically provide many times the energy that is now being used to process them, with no additional greenhouse emissions.

OSU researchers reported several years ago on the promise of this technology, but at that time the systems in use produced far less electrical power. With new concepts — reduced anode-cathode spacing, evolved microbes and new separator materials — the technology can now produce more than two kilowatts per cubic meter of liquid reactor volume. This amount of power density far exceeds anything else done with microbial fuel cells.

The system also works better than an alternative approach to creating electricity from wastewater, based on anaerobic digestion that produces methane. It treats the wastewater more effectively, and doesn’t have any of the environmental drawbacks of that technology, such as production of unwanted hydrogen sulfide or possible release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The OSU system has now been proven at a substantial scale in the laboratory, Liu said, and the next step would be a pilot study. Funding is now being sought for such a test. A good candidate, she said, might initially be a food processing plant, which is a contained system that produces a steady supply of certain types of wastewater that would provide significant amounts of electricity.

Continued research should also find even more optimal use of necessary microbes, reduced material costs and improved function of the technology at commercial scales, OSU scientists said.

Once advances are made to reduce high initial costs, researchers estimate that the capital construction costs of this new technology should be comparable to that of the activated sludge systems now in widespread use today — and even less expensive when future sales of excess electricity are factored in.

This technology cleans sewage by a very different approach than the aerobic bacteria used in the past. Bacteria oxidize the organic matter and, in the process, produce electrons that run from the anode to the cathode within the fuel cell, creating an electrical current. Almost any type of organic waste material can be used to produce electricity — not only wastewater, but also grass straw, animal waste, and byproducts from such operations as the wine, beer or dairy industries.

The approach may also have special value in developing nations, where access to electricity is limited and sewage treatment at remote sites is difficult or impossible as a result.

The ability of microbes to produce electricity has been known for decades, but only recently have technological advances made their production of electricity high enough to be of commercial use.

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