Archive for March, 2014

Disgruntled Worker Sets Fire, Destroys US Nuclear Submarine

March 31, 2014

The USS Miami SSN 755 arrives in port in Florida. A fire aboard the nuclear-powered submarine injured four people. (photo: AP Photo/U.S. Navy, PH2 Kevin Langford)
The USS Miami SSN 755 arrives in port in Florida. A fire aboard the nuclear-powered submarine injured four people. (photo: AP Photo/U.S. Navy, PH2 Kevin Langford)

By David Sharp, Associated Press

31 March 14

 

he Navy said farewell Friday to the USS Miami, the nuclear-powered submarine whose service was cut short when a shipyard employee trying to get out of work set it on fire, causing $700 million in damage.

The somber deactivation ceremony at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard marked the beginning of an inglorious end: Next year, the submarine will be towed to the West Coast to be cut up for scrap metal.

Rear Adm. Ken Perry, commander of the submarine Group Two in Groton, Conn., where the sub was based, acknowledged the disappointment over its premature retirement but told the crowd they were there to celebrate Miami and its crew members for nearly 24 years of service.

“This is a tribute,” he said. “This is a celebration of the ship’s performance and the superb contributions to the nation’s defense and this is how we’re going to treat it. So I expect to see some smiles out there.”

Perry praised the ship’s performance over more than a dozen deployments that included clandestine undersea warfare missions and back-to-back deployments in which it fired cruise missiles in Iraq and in Serbia, earning the nickname “Big Gun.”

The audience included crew members and their families and seven former Miami commanding officers, including retired Capt. Tom Mader, the sub’s first skipper.

At the end of the ceremony, the crew filed out of the auditorium after its top enlisted sailor, Chief Tyrus Rock, led them in a cheer, shouting out the first part of the ship’s motto, “No free rides!” The crew finished by responding, “Everybody rows!”

Cmdr. Rolf Spelker, the Miami crew’s current leader, said he came to Portsmouth thinking his assignment was to return the ship for service.

“They are no doubt disappointed and saddened that they can’t take the ship out to sea,” he said of his crew. “They have gone through the tidal wave of emotion.”

After the fire, the Navy originally intended to return the ship to the fleet next year after extensive repairs. But it decided to scrap the submarine when estimated repair costs grew substantially above a $450 million estimate.

Instead, shipyard workers will remove nuclear fuel and ship it to a federal repository in Idaho. They will make enough repairs so that the submarine can be towed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington state, where it will be cut up for scrap. The estimated cost of the sub’s inactivation is $54 million.

The Los Angeles-class submarine was damaged at the hands of a shipyard worker who set a fire in May 2012 while the submarine was undergoing a 20-month overhaul.

Seeking an excuse to leave work early, Casey James Fury set fire to a box of rags on a bunk, and the blaze quickly spread throughout the forward compartments. Fury pleaded guilty and is serving a 17-year sentence in federal prison.

It took 12 hours and the efforts of more than 100 firefighters to save the vessel. The fire severely damaged living quarters, the command and control center and a torpedo room, but it did not reach the nuclear propulsion components at the sub’s rear. Seven people were hurt dousing the flames.

The Navy launched a series of investigations after the fire that led to recommendations, including installation of temporary automatic fire detection systems while submarines and other vessels are being repaired or overhauled.

 

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US Nuclear Waste Dirty-Bombs New Mexico With Plutonium

March 31, 2014

WIPP is the third deepest geological storage site in the world, behind two facilities in German. (photo: AP)
WIPP is the third deepest geological storage site in the world, behind two facilities in German. (photo: AP)

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

30 March 14

 

Radiation from a half-mile underground reaches atmosphere.

t was Valentine’s Day when the nation’s only radioactive nuclear waste facility first released radioactive particles including Plutonium and Americium into the atmosphere of New Mexicoand beyond, including into Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico. Earlier that same day, the New Mexico Environment Department opened the public comment period on an application to modify and expand that nuclear waste facility, which the department said it planned to allow.

The first thing the U.S. government and the government contractor charged with running the supposedly secure radioactive waste project immediately did, when faced with the first-time-ever release of radioactivity from the underground site, was not tell anyone anything. They told no one the truth for four days, even though the truth didn’t seem all that bad, as such things go. Unless contradictory data emerged, this would seem to be a brief release of a relatively small amount of very dangerous isotopes from nuclear weapons waste stored half a mile underground in a salt deposit. While the full scope of the release remains unknown weeks later, it seems clear that this was no Fukushima, except for the operators’ default to instant deceit.

The next day, February 15, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy, which is responsible for the project, issued “Event News Release No. 1,” a reassuring press release about “a radiological event” (not further defined), misleadingly stating that “a continuous air monitor detected airborne radiation in the underground” (NOT a release into the air). [emphasis added]

The press release expanded on its false reassurance by saying: “Multiple perimeter monitors at the [facility’s] boundary have confirmed there is no danger to human health or the environment. No contamination has been found on any equipment, personnel, or facilities.” No one was exposed, the press release implied, and added further details to reinforce the “no danger to human health or the environment” claim that is so often the first thing the nuclear industry says about any “event,” regardless of what people may or may not know to be true. Other press releases maintained this official story for several days.

Nuclear industry lies are rational in terms of protecting interests

According to that story, “there were no employees working underground at the time,” and the 139 employees at the surface had to be “cleared by radiological control technicians” and test negative for contamination before they were allowed to leave the site, an odd precaution for radiation that was reported only underground. The official story did not mention that the underground part of the facility had been closed down for the previous nine days, since February 5, when a 29-year-old salt truck had caught fire, forcing the evacuation of all 86 employees then working underground.

To be fair to the folks running the underground nuclear repository, which bears the anodyne name Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), when the continuous air monitoring system first detected radioactivity being released on February 14, 2014, the system automatically shut down air exchange with the outside, at least according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which describes the facility this way:

“WIPP, a cornerstone of DOE’s [nuclear waste] cleanup effort, is the nation’s first repository for the permanent disposal of defense-generated transuranic radioactive waste left from research and production of nuclear weapons. Located in southeastern New Mexico, 26 miles east of Carlsbad, WIPP’s facilities include disposal rooms excavated in an ancient, stable salt formation, 2,150 feet (almost one-half mile) underground. Waste disposal began at WIPP on March 26, 1999.”

The waste isolation mine was designed to last 10,000 years without leaking. As of 2014, WIPP had more than 1,000 employees and a $202 million annual budget.

Among the details that remain unclear about this WIPP accident are how long it took the system to detect the release and how much Plutonium and Americium were released. The government’s initial position was none. That wouldn’t last long.

On February 17, the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CERMC) posted on its Facebook page that it “is currently processing and analyzing ambient air filters from our air samplers located near the WIPP facility. We should have results by the end of the week which will give some indication as to whether any radiation was released into the environment. Hopefully CEMRC will get its filters from the exhaust air shaft at the WIPP site soon so we can analyze those for radionuclides as well. Lastly, remember that adults living within a 100-mile radius of the WIPP site can receive a free whole body count to see what types and levels of radiation are in their lungs and/or whole body….”


http://www.cemrc.org 

Government admits radioactive release, says: don’t worry, be happy

It wasn’t until February 19 that the Energy Department issued a press releaseacknowledging the reality of the airborne release of radioactivity. And this was only after that day’s edition of the local newspaper, the Carlsbad Current-Argus, had already reported on the Carlsbad Environmental Center’s news release about higher than normal levels of radioactivity including Plutonium and Americium. The government belatedly confirmed the report, without apology, instead putting a positive spin on it, even though officials had been denying it (or perhaps had not known about it) for days. Under the headline “Radiological Monitoring Continues at WIPP” – even though the radiation was detected a half mile away – the new DOE release said:

“Recent laboratory analyses by Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CEMRC) found some trace amounts of americium and plutonium from a sampling station located on the WIPP access road. This is consistent with the fact that HEPA [high-efficiency particulate absorption] filters remove at least 99.97% of contaminants from the air, meaning a minute amount still can pass through the filters. As noted by the CEMRC, an independent environmental monitoring organization, the levels found from the sample are below the levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure public health is protected.”

The Carlsbad Environmental Center, a division of the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University, is a quasi-governmental agency. Besides monitoring the waste project, the center has been a contractor for government labs –  the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Sandia National Laboratory – as well as the Nuclear Waste Partnership, a private contractor. The center also works with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on issues relating to conventional explosives used to spread radioactive materials (or, in the words of the website: “issues involving Homeland Security, particularly those involving radiation dispersal devices (RDDs or dirty bombs).”

Radiation reached Carlsbad by February 24, but officials did not say this publicly until March 10. A week later they denied the report, saying the Carlsbad radiation came from somewhere other than the waste plant. They didn’t say where.

Dirty bomb or accident – different intent, same effects

Anyone making a dirty bomb would be delighted to use Plutonium as a terror weapon, because Plutonium is very deadly, and remains deadly for a long time (Plutonium 239 has a half-life of 24,000 years). A lot of Plutonium will kill you very quickly at close range, especially if it’s been made into a bomb, which the U.S. proved pretty definitively at Nagasaki in 1945. But even a tiny amount of Plutonium, inhaled and lodged in your lungs, can kill you slowly. In that sense, what happened at the nuclear waste isolation facility was that its operators managed to set off a small dirty bomb. No wonder they claimed no one was exposed.

Talking about dirty bombs or even RDDs is not a preferred public relations approach for most of the nuclear industry, even when their facilities actually become radiation dispersal devices (RDDs). The spin is always about how safe everyone is and how trivial the level of radiation exposure is. The public relations pattern with the New Mexico waste project release is standard – and fundamentally dishonest, as it has been always. On February 24, the Energy Department produced another press release with the benign headline, “WIPP Reports New Environmental Monitoring Data” with text that included:

“Dose assessment modeling, which calculates potential radioactivity exposure to people, from the release data showed a potential dose of less than one millirem at each of the environmental sampling locations. A person receives about 10 millirems from a single chest x-ray procedure. The average person living in the United States receives an annual dose of about 620 millirem from exposure to naturally occurring and other sources of radiation.”

Even though the basic assertions here may be factually true in a narrow sense, the implied argument – that there’s nothing to be concerned about – is a lie. First note the use of “potential” – twice – which makes clear that the “dose of less than one millirem,” which could potentially be much more, has little meaning for understanding reality. The statement is careful NOT to use “maximum” or any other limiting word. The first sentence implies a full body dose, the next sentence executes a bait and switch, referring to a chest X-ray which delivers a targeted dose. The last sentence pretends to put it all in perspective by trivializing the earlier doses in the context of an average annual dose of 620 millirem.

Plutonium: one millionth of a gram, officially “safe,” can be lethal

In this press release and thousands like it, the government lies with an apparently reasonable tone, good enough to persuade The New York Times and others. But it’s a big lie, because governments know that no radiation exposure is good for anyone, that any exposure is a risk. The honest discussion would be over how much radiation a person can tolerate and remain healthy for a reasonable time. There are many correct answers to that depending on the particular conditions of exposure. It is dishonest to conflate “naturally occurring and other sources of radiation” because “other sources” are mostly from nuclear medicine, power plants, and warheads – all sources created by deliberate human choice.

The deeper lie is in the suggestion that, since a person gets 620 millirem a year, what harm can come from a little bit (or a lot) more? The answer is that great harm can come from very limited exposure, although that’s not necessarily likely. The official “acceptable” body dose of Plutonium is less than one millionth of a gram, and even this amount can eventually be lethal, because Plutonium that gets into the human body doesn’t all come out. It tends to concentrate in the blood, muscle and bone. Americium behaves similarly in the human body. Another official lie embedded in government language is the suggestion that 620 millirem is somehow “safe.” It’s not. It’s already too great an exposure, and the effects of radiation are cumulative.

A particularly articulate internet post, Bobby1’s Blog of February 22 (and later revisions), challenged the official story as to both the amount of radioactive material released, how far it had spread, and the danger it posed.

But the official spin works. Matthew Wald of the Times has been writing about nuclear issues for years, yet on February 25 he still managed to start his piece with error-filled credulity: “Almost two weeks after an unexplained puff of radioactive materials forced the closing of a salt mine in New Mexico that is used to bury nuclear bomb wastes, managers of the mine are planning to send workers back in and are telling nearby residents that their health is safe.” The mine was already closed when the so-called “puff” of Plutonium and Americium created conditions that no one can honestly call “safe.” The rest of his piece reads like Wald is also on the DOE payroll.

Energy Department said no one was contaminated. That was false.

On February 26, in a letter to residents of the Carlsbad area, DOE field manager Jose Franco made what appears to be the first official admission that workers at the waste pilot plant had suffered internal radioactive contamination. Franco wrote that “13 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) employees that were on site the evening of February 14 were notified that they have tested positive for radiological contamination.” Previously the agency had said there were 139 employees on site at the time of the release, and no external radiation was detected on any of them.

“It is premature to speculate on the health effects of these preliminary results, or any treatment that may be needed,” Franco wrote, adding that the contamination was “likely at very low levels” and “predominantly americium-241, material which is consistent with the waste disposed of at the WIPP. This is a radionuclide used in consumer smoke detectors and a contaminant in nuclear weapons manufacturing.”

Franco said it would probably take weeks to establish a credible estimate of the contamination dose these 13 employees received. The Times of February 27 carried the story on page A16 and online with Matthew Wald downplaying its importance. Local media gave the development more scrutiny, since the implications were clear: among other things, officials had no idea why there was a Plutonium release, they had no idea how much Plutonium was released, they had no idea how far the Plutonium had traveled, and they had no idea how many people had been contaminated (the number of contaminated employees later rose to 17, and then to 21).

Actually the detected level of Plutonium was millions of times higher than officials first acknowledged.

On March 2, another articulate online post, Pissin’ on the Roses, presented a cogent argument that the Plutonium release had been much greater than the official story allowed. Basing the conclusion on public and leaked documents, the blog argues that the numbers are inconsistent and make sense only by assuming that the radioactive release lasted about 33 minutes: “When we ‘followed the math,’ the story didn’t square with what the public was told, i.e. ‘the release was less than EPA reportable requirements’ (supposedly 37bq/m^3 for Plutonium). In fact, the math showed levels thousands of times greater than EPA reportable requirements for Plutonium.” But there was no report to the EPA.

Almost a month later, Southwest Research and Information Center, an independent organization that focuses on health, environmental, and nuclear issues, used Energy Department data to reach a similar but more extreme conclusion: that the release actually lasted more than 15 hours.

Asking questions is a problem: we might find the wrong answers

Actually, the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) was stalling, apparently reluctant to get involved with protecting the environment around the government’s only underground nuclear weapons waste storage site, now that it had begun releasing radiation for the first time. On February 27, New Mexico’s two U.S. senators wrote directly to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, asking for the EPA’s independent assessment of the “event,” as well as deployment of EPA assets to New Mexico to assess the situation independently. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both Democrats, noted that since “the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the primary regulatory authority in regard to any releases of radioactive materials to the environment from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant,” the EPA should do more than merely monitor the Energy Department and other agencies involved.

The EPA stonewalled. In effect, the Democratic administration in Washington had this answer for the two Democratic senators: Drop dead. The EPA said it at greater length, but not until March 5, and then in a letter from the regional administrator, not the administrator in Washington. “We are still evaluating the situation,” wrote Ron Curry, without ever saying why the primary regulatory authority was refusing to “conduct independent studies.”

“As you know, the EPA’s primary regulatory responsibility is to ensure that any releases of radioactive material from the WIPP facility are below the EPA exposure limits for members of the public,” the regional bureaucrat began, launching a paragraph of denial and irresponsibility. Curry said that the EPA would “inspect” the work of others and, so far, “it is very unlikely that any exposures would approach these regulatory limits or represent a public health concern.” EPA doesn’t know this, EPA has no independent way of knowing this, and as of March 5, EPA had no interest in knowing this independently, even as the primarily responsible regulator.

Besides, Curry added, “we note that the available information supports the conclusion that nearly all of the radioactive material was retained within the filtration system … [and] that radiation levels have declined significantly….” Translation: that’s what we’ve been told officially and that’s good enough for us.

Also on March 5, the Energy Department issued a press release asserting more apparently good news: “Follow-up testing of employees who were exposed … shows exposure levels were extremely low and the employees are unlikely to experience any health effects as a result…. [tests] came back negative for plutonium and americium, the two radioactive isotopes that were detected in preliminary bioassays.” The release does not offer an explanation for this reported atypical behavior of ingested Plutonium and Americium.

Area residents received a letter from DOE dated March 5 containing an identical reassurance. It also expressed hope that workers might be able to re-enter the mine the following week, for the first time since the February 5 salt truck fire.

Fear of more Plutonium? Expert says: Don’t lick your iPhone charger!

During February, in response to continued rising public concern, the Energy Department started holding regular public meetings. On March 6, five nuclear waste officials appeared at a sparsely attended public forum billed by the Energy Department as a “WIPP Recovery Town Hall Meeting” at the Civic Center in Carlsbad. The almost 90-minute session (recorded by DOE with low quality audio) featured David Klaus from the DOE, David Huizenga from DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, Joe Franco from the DOE Carlsbad Field Office, Farok Sharif from Nuclear Waste Partnerships [he was later removed from the job and replaced] and Fran Williams from Energy Department contractor UCOR, who told the audience flatly: “There are no health impacts to you, to your family, the members of your community from the event.”

Williams, Director of Environmental, Safety, Health and Quality for Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s contractor UCOR has 35 years of experience in her field, health physics and occupational medicine. Although the “Town Hall” received little coverage, Williams made the most news with her comments 57 minutes into the meeting about radiation levels in the region: “They’re down at the levels of licking your iPhone charger. I’m not trying to be funny; I’m trying to equate radiation exposure to something that you can understand…. I hope that helps.”

“Many left Thursday night’s meeting [March 6] with the Department of Energy uneasy,” reported Albuquerque TV station KRQE. “They pleaded for more information about the underground radiation leak last month that seeped radiation outside, but many remain frustrated and concerned for their safety. The DOE tried to reassure people they are safe even though the underground storage areas remained sealed off.”

The next night (March 7) the local Republican congressman, Rep. Steve Pearce, held his own town hall meeting. The long time backer of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (whose private contractors contributed to his campaigns) promised to ask tough questions. Pearce said, “I will hold their feet to the fire.”

Other than his meeting with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and New Mexico’s two senators the day before, Pearce’s involvement in events at WIPP appears largely limited to cheerleading, as in his February 5 press release saying everything was fine after the fire and hisFebruary 15 press release saying everything was fine after the release of radioactivity.

Pearce has touted his vote for a bill dealing with the “IRS scandal” that didn’t happen as an effort to “restore accountability in Washington.” He has made no apparent effort to address the EPA’s continuing unwillingness to act accountably as the primary regulatory authority for WIPP radioactivity releases into the environment.

Radioactive waste isolated for 10,000 years – until it’s not 

More than three weeks after the detection of airborne Plutonium, no one had been able to re-enter the salt mine to assess conditions underground or to determine the cause of the accident. WIPP was built without underground surveillance cameras. Officials at the Energy Department and other agencies have refused to speak publicly about the issues or to answer reporters’ questions on the record. Even their public bromides began to diverge, with DOE suggesting that WIPP would be operational in the near future, while the NM Environmental Department issued a legal notice saying WIPP would “be unable to resume normal activities for a protracted period of time.”

On March 8, the Albuquerque Journal News published a story that said, “No one knows yet how or why a waste drum leaked at southeast New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant on Valentine’s Day, triggering alarms, exposing workers and setting off a cascade of events that could cripple the nation’s radioactive waste disposal system.”

Reviewing Department of Energy records, the Journal concluded that there were only two likely scenarios for the February 14 accident:

(1) If a waste drum’s contents overheated, that might cause a spontaneous explosion that spread radioactive debris. Planners in 1997 contemplated this possibility before WIPP opened, and gave odds of it happening as 10,000 to 1.

(2) If the roof in one of the salt cavern rooms fell, that might rupture one or more waste drums and lead to the spread of radioactive debris. Planners gave the odds of that happening as one in a million.

The most likely cause of an accident, planners thought, would be mishandling of waste drums by workers, but there were no workers underground on February 14.

The next day, March 9, DOE announced that remote testing of areas not in the path of the radiation release showed “no detectable radioactive contamination in the air or on the equipment lowered and returned to the surface. Air quality results were also normal. These results were expected….” DOE suggested that workers might be sent down the mine before the end of the week.

The Energy Department also announced that four more workers had been contaminated by ingesting Plutonium or Americium at “extremely low levels,” bringing the total to 17 workers contaminated. [On March 27, DOE would announce four more being tested for contamination, raising the total to 21.] The DOE also announced that there would be no workforce layoffs during “recovery efforts,” for which there is no estimated end point.

A fire suppression system is useful when there’s a fire

One of the problems for the workers underground on February 5, when the 29-year-old salt truck caught fire, was that the truck’s onboard automatic fire suppression system had been deactivated. Emergency teams put out the fire and evacuated the tunnels without any injuries other than six workers needing treatment for smoke inhalation. Rep. Pearce promptly issued a press release calling it a “minor fire” that posed no threat to public health or safety, which appeared true at the time.

But the deactivated fire protection on the truck turned out to be just the first of a host of shortcomings and failures relating to the waste plant, problems that are still being uncovered.

“This accident was preventable” was the understated conclusion of the Accident Investigation Board in the Department of Energy in its 187-page report released March 13. The Board’s four-week investigation included at least two pre-accident visits to the mine, which has been inactive since February 5. The Board praised the workers and their supervisors for responding quickly, knowledgeably, and cooperatively to minimize the emergency. The Board found extensive fault with management’s performance over a longer period of time, finding that maintenance programs were ineffective, fire protection was inadequate, preparedness was inadequate, emergency management was ineffective – and that these criticisms had been made before, some more than once. According to one news report:

At a community meeting in Carlsbad on Thursday to preview the report, the lead investigator, Ted Wyka, praised the 86 workers who were half-mile underground in the mine when the fire started, saying they “did everything they could” to tell others to evacuate.

But a number of safety systems and processes failed, Mr Wyka said. Emergency strobe lights were not activated for five minutes and not all workers heard the evacuation announcement.

One worker also switched the air system from normal to filtration mode, which sent smoke billowing through the tunnels.

New Mexico’s senators, in a joint statement, found the Board’s report “deeply concerning” and urged DOE management to take the critique seriously and fix the shortcomings. For his part, Rep. Pearce “applauded” the DOE for “a candid, transparent report” that demonstrated how poorly they had been doing their job for many years.

Senators Heinrich and Udall have written to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, asking why his agency has failed to carry out its responsibility under federal mine safety law, which requires the Mine Safety and Health Administration “to inspect WIPP no less than four times a year.” Records show that WIPP was inspected twice – instead of 12 times – ­in the past three years.

With WIPP closed, Los Alamos waste has to be trucked to Texas

The Los Alamos National Laboratory has been a disaster waiting to happen for years, a disaster that almost happened in 2011 as wildfires approached the facility where radioactive waste was stored in roughly 20,000 steel drums above ground. The fires were held back, but the waste is still there, scheduled for “permanent” storage at the underground waste plant before the next fire season in the summer. Now that can’t happen because WIPP is leaking, and closed.

On March 20, the Department of Energy and its contractor, Nuclear Waste Partnership, announced plans to truck the Los Alamos waste to West Texas for temporary storage at Waste Control Specialists, another government contractor. DOE “has committed to the state of New Mexico to removing several thousand cubic meters of TRU waste from LANL by June 30, 2014. The waste will be moved to WIPP for final disposal once the site reopens.”

According to DOE, it has already moved most of the Los Alamos waste, which “consists of clothing, tools, rags, debris, soil, and other items contaminated with small amounts of radioactive elements, mostly plutonium.”

On March 21, the New Mexico Environment Department withdrew its temporary permitthat would have allowed the waste plant to expand. That’s the same permit that the department said on February 14 that it would approve at the end of the 60-day public comment period. The permit would have allowed WIPP to build two new disposal vaults in the salt mine. According to the news release:

“NMED [NM Environment Dept.] cannot move forward on the WIPP’s request to open additional underground storage panels and for the other requested permit modifications until more information is known about the recent events at the WIPP,” said Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn. “Just as NMED needs more information to make informed decisions on permit modifications, the public also needs more information about the radiation release in order to provide informed input during the public comment period. Once NMED has all of our questions answered, we will proceed with consideration of a revised draft Permit.”

With so many other questions to be answered, the question of whether WIPP will everre-open gets harder to answer with any certainty. There have been numerous reports, by DOEand others, of further radioactive leaks from the site – none of them known to be large and all considered officially “safe.” As Arnie Gundersen at Fairewinds notes, DOE says that when the WIPP ventilation system is set on filtration mode, its air filters collect 99.97% of all the radioactive particles headed for the atmosphere. Accepting that capture rate as correct, Gunderson points out that, mathematically, if the filters are 99.9% effective (which he doubts), that means that out of every 1,000 minutes there is one unfiltered minute. In other words, the radioactive leak continues, albeit slowly, even when the filters work at peak capacity (which is not a constant). Just since February 14, Gundersen calculates, perfectly functioning filters would still have allowed another half hour of contamination into the environment.

Nuclear supporters continue to minimize any danger. Plutonium and Americium are heavy elements, the argument goes, so they fall to the ground quickly. And they stay there unless there’s a lot of wind. No one knows now just how much Plutonium or Americium the waste plant has already emitted, or how much it will emit. But anyone who cares to know knows that this is spring in the Southwest, when the winds pick up and dust storms have already happened this year.


William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

 

Gerd Ludwig’s Long Look at the Chernobyl Disaster

March 31, 2014
  • PROOF:
  • 4 days ago

Q&A: Gerd Ludwig’s Long Look at the Chernobyl Disaster

Author

Alexa Keefe

27 

“Deep inside, at a dark hallway, we stopped in front of a heavy metal door. The engineer indicated I had only a brief moment to shoot. It took him a long minute to open the jammed door. The adrenaline surge was extraordinary. The room was absolutely dark, lit only by our headlamps. Wires were obstructing my view. At the far end of the room I could make out a clock. I was only able to fire off a few frames and wanted to wait for my flash to recharge. But he already pulled me out. I checked my pictures. Out of focus! I begged him to allow me in one more time. He gave me a few more seconds to frame the clock showing 1:23:58 AM—the time when on 26 April, 1986 in the building that housed Energy Block # 4, time stood forever still.” —Gerd Ludwig on photographing inside reactor #4, where an explosion caused a catastrophic nuclear meltdown. Ludwig describes this as one of the most challenging situations he has ever photographed.

The evacuated city of Pripyat, once brimming with life, is now a chilling ghost town. For an exiled resident, the stillness of a city boulevard stirs memories of her former life. In her hand is an old photo of the same street years earlier.
2005. The evacuated city of Pripyat, once brimming with life, is now a chilling ghost town. For an exiled resident, the stillness of a city boulevard stirs memories of her former life. In her hand is an old photo of the same street years earlier.

Picture of an abandoned school in Pripyat, Ukraine
2005. A peeling mural of an abandoned school creates a poignant reminder of the residents that once called Pripyat home.

When the tsunami caused disastrous damage to Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011, German photographer Gerd Ludwig’s agency, Institute, was contacted by photo editors atTime wanting to assign him for the story. Ludwig was unreachable, at a hotel without internet access at the site of another disaster that happened 25 years before—Chernobyl.

Ludwig has been photographing Chernobyl since 1993 and has returned to the area three times since—in 2005, 2011 and 2013—ultimately venturing deeper inside the reactor than any Western photographer.

“Of all man-made environmental catastrophes in human history, Chernobyl is considered to have caused the most lasting impact. Seeing the full extent of the destruction inside the reactor, and the full force of health consequences—not only in Ukraine but also in neighboring Belarus—is why I felt that I would need to revisit Chernobyl on a regular basis,” he says.

Ludwig is currently working on a photography book, the Long Shadow of Chernobyl, documenting his 20-year relationship with what noted scientist Alexei Okeanov calls “a fire that can’t be put out in our lifetimes.” Ludwig recently shared his thoughts with Proof:

Alexa Keefe : What is the most important part of telling this story?

Gerd Ludwig: These images remind us that accidents like Chernobyl are a possible outcome of nuclear power—anytime, anywhere. I want my project to stand as a document of this man-made disaster—to remember the countless victims of Chernobyl, and to warn future generations of the deadly consequences of human hubris.

On April 26, 1986, operators in this control room of reactor #4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant committed a fatal series of errors during a safety-test, triggering a reactor meltdown that resulted in the world's largest nuclear accident to date.
2011. On April 26, 1986, operators in this control room of reactor #4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant committed a fatal series of errors during a safety-test, triggering a reactor meltdown that resulted in the world’s largest nuclear accident to date.

Workers wearing plastic suits and respirators for protection pause briefly on their way to drill holes for support rods inside the shaky concrete sarcophagus, a structure hastily built after the explosion to isolate the radioactive rubble of Reactor #4. Their job is to keep the deteriorating enclosure standing until a planned replacement can be built.  It is hazardous work: radiation inside is so high that they constantly need to monitor their Geiger counters – and are allowed to work only one shift of 15 minutes per day.
2005. Workers wearing plastic suits and respirators for protection pause briefly on their way to drill holes for support rods inside the shaky concrete sarcophagus, a structure hastily built after the explosion to isolate the radioactive rubble of Reactor #4. It is hazardous work: radiation inside is so high that they constantly need to monitor their Geiger counters—and are allowed to work only one shift of 15 minutes per day.

Although radiation levels only allowed for a few minutes of access, workers initially had to pass over hazardous ladders to a section underneath the melted core with life-threatening contamination. In order to facilitate faster access, a daunting hallway, called “the leaning staircase” was erected. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine 2011
2011. Although radiation levels only allowed for a few minutes of access, workers initially had to pass over hazardous ladders to a section underneath the melted core with life-threatening contamination. In order to facilitate faster access, a daunting hallway, called “the leaning staircase” was erected.

Alexa: Were there times when you felt in danger?

Gerd: Exposing your body to radiation inside the reactor is only one side of the danger. The other risk comes with radioactive dust specs that can settle easily into soft materials. If ingested they can stay in your body and cause cancer.

After each entry into the reactor I undergo a careful cleaning process: leave the protective gear behind, take a long, hot shower, and change into clean clothes. When I asked a safety specialist to check my equipment after my last visit deep into the reactor, I could read in her face that she thought I was being paranoid. Reluctantly she checked my gear, but then her facial expression completely changed, and she kept repeating again and again “Oh my God! Oh my God! You need to clean your cameras. You need to wash them.”

It turned out that the camera straps were contaminated. I gave my cameras a good cleaning that night, until my Geiger counter indicated that they were fine. And I got new camera straps.

Severely physically and mentally handicapped, 5-year-old Igor was given up by his parents and now lives at a children’s mental asylum, which cares for abandoned and orphaned children with disabilities. It is one of several such facilities in rural southern Belarus receiving support from Chernobyl Children International, an aid organization established in 1991 in the aftermath of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.Vesnova, Belarus, 2005
2005. Severely physically and mentally handicapped, 5-year-old Igor was given up by his parents and now lives at a children’s mental asylum, which cares for abandoned and orphaned children with disabilities. It is one of several such facilities in rural southern Belarus receiving support from Chernobyl Children International, an aid organization established in 1991 in the aftermath of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

Suffering from thyroid cancer, Oleg Shapiro, 54, and Dima Bogdanovich, 13, receive care at a thyroid hospital in Minsk, where surgery is performed on a daily basis. As a liquidator, Oleg was exposed to extreme levels of radiation. It was his third thyroid operation. Dima's mother claims that Chernobyl's nuclear fallout is responsible for her son’s cancer, but his doctors are more cautious: Belarusian officials are often instructed to downplay the severity of the radiation. Minsk, Belarus 2005
2005. Suffering from thyroid cancer, Oleg Shapiro, 54, and Dima Bogdanovich, 13, receive care at a thyroid hospital in Minsk, where surgery is performed on a daily basis. As a liquidator, Oleg was exposed to extreme levels of radiation. It was his third thyroid operation. Dima’s mother claims that Chernobyl’s nuclear fallout is responsible for her son’s cancer, but his doctors are more cautious: Belarusian officials are often instructed to downplay the severity of the radiation.

Alexa: You devote one section of your book to the human victims, particularly children born in the years following the disaster. Tell me about your experience photographing them.

Gerd: Much of the nuclear fallout drifted into the Gomel region of Belarus. In 2005, on assignment for National Geographic, I wanted to photograph the children in an orphanage. In one of the orphanages, I photographed 5-year-old Igor. Severely physically and mentally handicapped, he was given up by his parents, and lived at a home which cares for abandoned and orphaned children with disabilities. He caught my attention because most of the time he was sitting motionless, leaning against a wall. With poor eyesight and hearing he was unable to participate even in the slightest interaction with the other children around him. Once in a while his empty eyes wandered in the direction of the other kids in the room, but when they tried to hug him he started crying. Done photographing him I gave his hand a squeeze. The smile with which he reacted nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Alexa: Another group of people you have photographed are those who have returned to the Exclusion Zone to live—whom you have described as preferring to die on contaminated soil than of a broken heart in an anonymous suburb. What was their attitude towards you as someone coming to tell their story?

Gerd: No journalist can move freely in the zone. We have to be accompanied by a guide who works for the administration but we have to pay for their time. Since there are only a few hundred returnees living in the zone today, the guides know most of them. The only vehicles driving in the zone are those controlled by the administration. There is no public transportation and the returnees do not own cars. That is why many returnees enjoy visits by journalists. They are a welcome change into their rather uneventful daily routine. The guides recommend that journalists bring along goods such as fresh bread, cheeses, sweets that the returnees lack, as they rarely get the chance to leave their villages.

Many returnees are very hospitable, offering everything they grow and produce from their own land, from tomatoes to berries, from illegally caught fish to moonshine. Eating food grown on contaminated land makes me sometimes feel uncomfortable. But as a photographer you walk a thin line: you want to be safe but you also need people’s trust and cooperation to get the pictures.

Picture of an elderly woman who has returned to her village inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
2011. Kharytina Desha, 92, is one of the few elderly people who have returned to their village homes inside the Exclusion Zone. Although surrounded by devastation and isolation, she prefers to die on her own soil.

Picture of vines covering an abandoned house
2011. Vines encroach on an abandoned farmhouse in a remote area of the zone. In villages all over the Evacuation Zone, nature is reclaiming the deserted settlements.

Alexa: The landscape of Chernobyl is changing. Do you see this as a story that will you will continue to tell, or one that you are capturing before it is gone from memory?

Gerd: The reactor may be disappearing from sight under a high-tech dome, the buildings in Pripyat will collapse, the elderly returnees will have passed away, but I am afraid the story of Chernobyl will continue way beyond our lifetime. A scientist in Chernobyl told me, “We could erect fences in certain areas here stating: Not meant for human habitation for 24,000 years to come. And this is only the half-life of plutonium 239.”

The upcoming book though, is a caesura—a pause—but it will not be the end of my coverage. I am curious myself what will be next.

Alexa: What is it about this area of the world that draws you in?

Gerd: My personal relationship with Russia began as I grew up as a child in postwar Germany. My father had been drafted into the Sixth German Army that invaded the Soviet Union in 1942 and fought through southern Russia towards Stalingrad, where the Soviets decimated the German forces. He was lucky enough to be amongst the last soldiers evacuated.

In the darkness of our small refugee room—after WWII my parents had been expelled from their home in Bohemia—I would listen to the sad soothing voice of my father as he conjured images of endless winter landscapes of soldiers battling their way through snowstorms; and people hiding from them in stables and barns. It was not until I grew older that I began to grasp the darkness behind the stories: that the landscapes were stained with blood, the soldiers dying, and the people hiding were Russians filled with fear. My father told these bedtime stories to shed himself of terrible memories of war.

As a young teenager in the mid-1960’s, I was a member of the first postwar generation of Germans. Filled with guilt for my elders’ actions, I compensated by glorifying everything Germany tried to destroy. In particular, I idealized Russia and the communist Soviet system. Finally, Gorbachev’s glasnost—his call for openness in every part of life—confronted me with the social and political realities of a country that had been under totalitarian rule for seven decades.

A rooftop view from the former Polissya Hotel in the center of Pripyat shows the proximity of the ill-fated Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant to this former home of 50.000.  Today, Pripyat stands a ghost town over-run by nature. Pripyat, Ukraine 2005
2005. A rooftop view from the former Polissya Hotel in the center of Pripyat shows the proximity of the ill-fated Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant to this former home of 50,000.

Alexa: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Gerd: As engaged photographers we often report about human tragedies in the face of disaster, and take our cameras to uncharted areas with the understanding that our explorations are not without personal risk. We do this out of a deep commitment to important stories told on behalf of otherwise voiceless victims. While covering this story, I met many caring and courageous people who allowed me to expose their suffering solely in the hope that tragedies like Chernobyl may be prevented in the future.

Ludwig first brought his coverage of this story together in 2011 with an iPad App, The Long Shadow of ChernobylToday he is working on a photo book of the same name. The retrospective is made possible through a Kickstarter campaign.

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Japanese TV: Fukushima fuel cores have ‘molten-through’ containment vessels — Location of molten fuels is unknown — “Risk of re-criticallity” from filling vessels with water

March 30, 2014

Published: March 20th, 2014 at 10:57 am ET
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Email update from Genn Saji, former Secretariat of Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission, Mar. 10, 2014 (emphasis added):

On February 26, NHK released (Japanese only) a news on their overall view on un-dissolved nub parts of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. The identified issues are categorized in the following four topics;

  1. De-fueling of “molten” core debris should start six years from now in the earliest — The core-meltdown has occurred in 1F1 through 1F3, resulting in penetration of the molten high temperature nuclear fuels through the RPV (Reactor Pressure Vessel) and leached at the bottom of the PCV (Primary Containment Vessel) in the Fukushima Daiichi accident.  According to TEPCO’s schedule, the de-fueling should start in 2020 in the earliest.  The overall decommissioning should be completed in a time span of 30-40 years.
  2. Exact damage location of PCVs have not been identified — In attempting the above task, there is an urgent issue waiting for early solution.  First of all, the exact damage locations of the PCVs where the fuel have molten-through has not been identified yet.  TEPCO plans to fill the PCVs with water to shield against radiation […]
  3. The molten fuels have not been characterized — Next issue iswhereabout and characteristics of the molten fuels are not know.  Without resolving these issues, it is not possible to establish the necessary approaches for de-fueling.  In addition, there exists a risk of re-criticallity upon filling the PCV with water.  The contaminated water is hindering human access for inspection with high radiation field and hazardous radioactive species.  The Japanese Government and TEPCO are rushing for R&D of robots as well as theoretical predictions trying to grasp accurate status of nuclear fuels.
  4. Searching for way out of contaminated water issues — Fundamental solutions are waited for the contaminated water issues which are generated through cooling of nuclear fuels.  The contaminated water accumulated at the basements of buildings through leakage from PCVs.  Its volume continue increasing, and a part of the water was found leaked unnoticed last year. […] leak path has not been identified […]

I believe NHK failed to identify two of the most important and serious issues among the consequences of Fukushima nuclear accident […] [one] issue is the root case of hydrogen explosion.  NHK simply followed TEPCO’s scenario of zirconium-steam reaction. […]

(More to come about Saji’s view on the root cause of the explosions)

Published: March 20th, 2014 at 10:57 am ET
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  1. AFP: Fears that molten fuel went into ground after melting through containment vessels at Fukushima — They still can’t find three reactor cores (AUDIO) January 23, 2014
  2. Scientist back from Japan: Melt-through of Fukushima containment vessels being discussed — They can’t locate any of the 3 molten reactor cores — “It’s bad, it’s definitely not over” November 25, 2013
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Nine nuclear base commanders fired from US Air Force over cheating scandal

March 30, 2014

Published time: March 27, 2014 19:40

AFP Photo

AFP Photo

The United States Air Force says it has taken unprecedented action by firing nine nuclear missile base commanders on Thursday amid an ongoing and exhaustive investigation surrounding allegations of cheating.

Dozens of additional employees described as junior officers at those bases will be disciplined as well, the Associated Press reported first on Thursday afternoon, and will join an ever-expanding list of Air Force personnel who have been reprimanded in recent months as part of an embarrassing scandal that has increasingly generated criticism directed at the Pentagon’s nuke program.

But although the Air Force has taken action already in recent months amid reports that missile base personnel cheated on critical military examinations, the AP says officials describe the latest round of terminations as being “unprecedented in the history of the intercontinental ballistic missile force.”

None of the nine fired commanders was directly involved in the cheating, but each was determined to have failed in his or her leadership responsibilities,” Robert Burns wrote for the AP.

According to Burns, a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity told the AP that Air Force investigators believe the cheating scandal started as early as November 2011 and continued for two years.

It involved unauthorized passing of answers to exams designed to test missile launch officers’ proficiency in handling ‘emergency war orders,’ which are messages involving the targeting and launching of missiles,” Burns learned from his confidential source.

This past January, the Air Force said that 34 missile launch officers were implicated in the cheating scandal and stripped of their security clearances, though they may not have necessarily faked their way through their own exams. According to the AP’s latest however, upwards of 100 missile launch crew members from a single facility — the Malmstrom Air Force Base in the state of Montana — were at one point or another linked to the scandal.

Some officers did it. Others apparently knew about it, and it appears that they did nothing, or at least not enough, to stop it or to report it,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said at a news conference earlier this year.

Now two months later, on Thursday the Air Force reportedly took action against a number of officials linked to the scandal by investigators, including Col. Robert Stanley, the commander of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom.

Stanley was allowed to resign, the AP reported, but nine key commanders below him were removed from the Air Force, including the commanders of the 341st Wing’s three missile squadrons, according to Burns, “each of which is responsible for 50 Minuteman three nuclear missiles.”

Also sacked were the commander and deputy commander of the 341st Operations Group, which oversees all three missile squadrons as well as a helicopter unit and a support squadron responsible for administering monthly proficiency tests to Malmstrom’s launch crews and evaluating their performance,” Burns claimed. Members of all three missile squadrons were implicated, he added, although no generals were formally punished.

This week’s news is only the latest to stir up the Air Force’s nuke unit, which for months now has repeatedly come under fire due to a barrage of incidents. The Pentagon removed 17 of its officers from a base in North Dakota last year following a poor inspection rating, and last October it was reported that two US missile technicians assigned with launch keys were discovered repeatedly leaving a blast door open while sleeping on base.

Discoveries Challenge Beliefs on Humans’ Arrival in the Americas

March 30, 2014

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VIDEO|4:52

Humans’ First Appearance in the Americas

In Piauí, Brazil, archaeologists say stone tools prove that humans reached what is now Brazil as early as 22,000 years ago, upending a belief that people first arrived about 13,000 years ago.

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SERRA DA CAPIVARA NATIONAL PARK, Brazil — Niede Guidon still remembers her astonishment when she glimpsed the paintings.

Preserved amid the bromeliad-encrusted plateaus that tower over the thorn forests of northeast Brazil, the ancient rock art depicts fierce battles among tribesmen, orgiastic scenes of prehistoric revelry and hunters pursuing their game, spears in hand.

“These were stunning compositions, people and animals together, not just figures alone,” said Dr. Guidon, 81, remembering what first lured her and other archaeologists in the 1970s to this remote site where jaguars still prowl.

Hidden in the rock shelters where prehistoric humans once lived, the paintings number in the thousands. Some are thought to be more than 9,000 years old and perhaps even far more ancient. Painted in red ocher, they rank among the most revealing testaments anywhere in the Americas to what life was like millenniums before the European conquest began a mere five centuries ago.

But it is what excavators found when they started digging in the shadows of the rock art that is contributing to a pivotal re-evaluation of human history in the hemisphere.

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Reassessing Human History in the Americas

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Hidden in the rock shelters near where the tools were found, paintings number in the thousands. Some are thought to be more than 9,000 years old and perhaps even far more ancient. Painted in red ochre, they rank among the most revealing testaments anywhere in the Americas to what life was like millenniums before the European conquest began a mere five centuries ago.

 Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Researchers here say they have unearthed stone tools proving that humans reached what is now northeast Brazil as early as 22,000 years ago. Their discovery adds to the growing body of research upending a prevailing belief of 20th-century archaeology in the United States known as the Clovis model, which holds that people first arrived in the Americas from Asia about 13,000 years ago.

“If they’re right, and there’s a great possibility that they are, that will change everything we know about the settlement of the Americas,” said Walter Neves, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of São Paulo whose own analysis of an 11,000-year-old skull in Brazil implies that some ancient Americans resembled aboriginal Australians more than they did Asians.

Up and down the Americas, scholars say that the peopling of lands empty of humankind may have been far more complex than long believed. The radiocarbon dating of spear points found in the 1920s near Clovis, N.M., placed the arrival of big-game hunters across the Bering Strait about 13,000 years ago, long forming the basis of when humans were believed to have arrived in the Americas.

More recently, numerous findings have challenged that narrative. In Texas, archaeologists said in 2011 that they had found projectile points showing that hunter-gatherers had reached another site, known as Buttermilk Creek, as early as 15,500 years ago. Similarly, analysis of human DNA found at an Oregon cave determined that humans were there 14,000 years ago.

But it is in South America, thousands of miles from the New Mexico site where the Clovis spear points were discovered, where archaeologists are putting forward some of the most profound challenges to the Clovis-first theory.

Paleontologists in Uruguay published findings in November suggesting that humans hunted giant sloths there about 30,000 years ago. All the way in southern Chile, Tom D. Dillehay, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt University, has shown that humans lived at a coastal site called Monte Verde as early as 14,800 years ago.

And here in Brazil’s caatinga, a semi-arid region of mesas and canyons, European and Brazilian archaeologists building on decades of earlier excavations said last year that they had found artifacts at a rock shelter showing that humans had arrived in South America almost 10,000 years before Clovis hunters began appearing in North America.

“The Clovis paradigm is finally buried,” said Eric Boëda, the French archaeologist leading the excavations here.

Exposing the tension over competing claims about where and when humans first arrived in the Americas, some scholars in the dwindling Clovis-first camp in the United States quickly rejected the findings.

Gary Haynes, an archaeologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, argued that the stones found here were not tools made by humans, but instead could have become chipped and broken naturally, by rockfall. Stuart Fiedel, an archaeologist with the Louis Berger Group, an environmental consulting company, said that monkeys might have made the tools instead of humans.

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“Monkeys, including large extinct forms, have been in South America for 35 million years,” Dr. Fiedel said. He added that the Clovis model was recently bolstered by new DNA analysis ancestrally connectingindigenous peoples in Central and South America to a boy from the Clovis culture whose 12,700-year-old remains were found in 1968 at a site in Montana.

Such dismissive positions have invited equally sharp responses from scholars like Dr. Dillehay, the American archaeologist who discovered Monte Verde. “Fiedel does not know what he is talking about,” he said, explaining that similarities existed between the stone tools found here and at the site across South America in Chile. “To say monkeys produced the tools is stupid.”

Having their findings disputed is nothing new for the archaeologists working at Serra da Capivara. Dr. Guidon, the Brazilian archaeologist who pioneered the excavations, asserted more than two decades ago that her team had found evidence in the form of charcoal from hearth fires that humans had lived here about 48,000 years ago.

While scholars in the United States generally viewed Dr. Guidon’s work with skepticism, she pressed on, obtaining the permission of Brazilian authorities to preserve the archaeological sites near the town of São Raimundo Nonato in a national park that now gets thousands of visitors a year despite its remote location in Piauí, one of Brazil’s poorest states.

Dr. Guidon remains defiant about her findings. At her home on the grounds of a museum she founded to focus on the discoveries in Serra da Capivara, she said she believed that humans had reached these plateaus even earlier, around 100,000 years ago, and might have come not overland from Asia but by boat from Africa.

Professor Boëda, who succeeded Dr. Guidon in leading the excavations, said that such early dates may have been possible but that more research was needed. His team is using thermoluminescence, a technique that measures the exposure of sediments to sunlight, to determine their age.

At the same time, discoveries elsewhere in Brazil are adding to the mystery of how the Americas were settled.

In what may be another blow to the Clovis model of humans’ coming from northeast Asia, molecular geneticists showed last year that the Botocudo indigenous people living in southeastern Brazil in the late 1800s shared gene sequences commonly found among Pacific Islanders from Polynesia.

How could Polynesians have made it to Brazil? Or aboriginal Australians? Or, if the archaeologists here are correct, how could a population arrive in this hinterland long before Clovis hunters began appearing in the Americas? The array of new discoveries has scholars on a quest for answers.

Reflecting how researchers are increasingly accepting older dates of human migration to the Americas, Michael R. Waters, a geoarchaeologist at Texas A&M University’s Center for the Study of the First Americans, said that a “single migration” into the Americas about 15,000 years ago may have given rise to the Clovis people. But he added that if the results obtained here in Serra da Capivara are accurate, they will raise even more questions about how the Americas were settled.

“If so, then whoever lived there never passed on their genetic material to living populations,” said Dr. Waters, explaining how the genetic history of indigenous peoples links them to the Clovis child found in Montana. “We must think long and hard about these early sites and how they fit into the picture of the peopling of the Americas.”

NASA Models Predict Total Societal Collapse: “Irreversible”

March 30, 2014

societal-collapse

The end of the world as we know it is coming.

You’ve likely heard this before, especially from the growing number of voices in the alternative news and preparedness communities. Often dismissed as conspiracy theory or outright lunacy, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests these fringe thinkers may well be on to something.

Despite assurances from most political leaders, experts and researchers who argue that we live in a stable and sustainable world, a new study utilizing mathematicalmodels developed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center may confirm our worst fears.

According to the Socio Economic Synthesis Center, which led the study’s research team and was made up of well respected natural and social scientists from various U.S.-based universities, society as it exists today is decades, perhaps just years, from a complete collapse of our way of life.

Given economic strati cation, collapse is very difficult to avoid and requires major policy changes, including major reductions in inequality and population growth rates. Even in the absence of economic strati cation, collapse can still occur if depletion per capita is too high. However, collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion. (SESC via Steve Quayle)

The study cites scores of historical examples of civilization collapse dating back thousands of years. Given the facts it is clear that humanity’s long sought after Utopian society is a goal that is simply unachievable. Every five hundred years or so, the whole system simply falls apart.

There are widespread concerns that current trends in population and resource-use are unsustainable, but the possibilities of an overshoot and collapse remain unclear and controversial.

How real is the possibility of a societal collapse?

Can complex, advanced civilizations really collapse? 

It is common to portray human history as a relentless and inevitable trend toward greater levels of social complexity, political organization, and economic specialization, with the development of more complex and capable technologies supporting ever-growing population, all sustained by the mobilization of ever-increasing quantities of material, energy, and information. Yet this is not inevitable.

In fact, cases where this seemingly near-universal, long-term trend has been severely disrupted by a precipitous collapse often lasting centuries have been quite common.

This brings up the question of whether modern civilization is similarly susceptible. It may seem reasonable to believe that modern civilization, armed with its greater technological capacity, scientific knowledge, and energy resources, will be able to survive and endure whatever crises historical societies succumbed to.

But the brief overview of collapses demonstrates not only the ubiquity of the phenomenon, but also the extent to which advanced, complex, and powerful societies are susceptible to collapse.

In short, the mathematical models utilized to determine the results of the study indicate that there are two key causes for what the authors call an “irreversible” collapse.

First, with the earth’s population now over 7 billion people our civilization is burning through resources faster than they can be replenished, and the burden of paid “non-workers” (i.e. those who are given resources for performing no actual function in society) leads to a complete break down in the system.

We can see how an irreversible Type-N (full) collapse of Population, Nature, and Wealth can occur due to over-depletion ofnatural resources as a result of high depletion per capita.

Workers and Non-Workers with the same level of consumption, i.e., with no economic strati cation. The Non-Workers in these scenarios could represent a range of societal roles from students, retirees, and disabled people, to intellectuals,managers, and other non-productive sectors. In this case, the Workers have to deplete enough of Nature to support both the Non-Workers and themselves.

Second, and this may come as no surprise, “elite” members of society are accumulating whatever available resources there are in an effort to maintain control over the “commoners.”

The Elite population starts growing significantly… hence depleting the Wealth and causing the system to collapse.

Under this scenario, the system collapses due to worker scarcity even though natural resources are still abundant, but because the depletion rate is optimal, it takes more than 400 years after the Wealth reaches a maximum for the society to collapse.

In this example, Commoners die out first and Elites disappear later. This scenario shows that in a society that is otherwise sustainable, the highly unequal consumption of elites will still cause a collapse. This scenario is an example of a Type-L collapse in which both Population and Wealth collapse but Nature recovers.

The Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature. Despite appearing initially to be the same as the sustainable optimal solution obtained in the absence of Elites, economic strati cation changes the fi nal result: Elites’ consumption keeps growing until the society collapses.The Mayan collapse in which population never recovered even though nature did recover is an example of a Type-L collapse

There are several other scenarios outlined in the study, but the above two are seemingly the ones that may be responsible for the coming collapse of our own civilization.

In Americanearly 50% of the population produces nothing, yet receives payment in the form of money, goods and services. This takes resources out of the hands of those who actually produce these resources.

Furthermore, it should be obvious that elite members of society simply take what they want through force, whether by taxation or criminal activity (as defined by natural law), putting even more strain on the system.

Over time, the debt builds and pulls forward wealth from generations ahead, resources are depleted, and costs begin to reach levels that are simply unsustainable for everyone, including the elites who attempt to amass as much as they can.

In the end, we all suffer the same fate.

According to this and other studies, like one recently published by the UK Government Office of Science and entitled A Perfect Storm of Global Events, we are very quickly approaching the breaking point. Over the next fifteen years, it is predicted that the strain could become so burdensome on society that the system will crack and eventually break down.

The result will be famine, war, and what some refer to as a “die off.” This will affectall segments of society.

Naturally, there will be those who survive, and it will likely be the people who are able to develop their own sustainable environments on a personal, familial or communal level. These people may have taken steps to not only prepare for long-term crises, but to develop sustainable practices that will allow them to produce their own food and energy.

The mathematics being cited here have been seen time and again in other studies, and they don’t bode well for human civilization as we know it today.

With seven billion people on the planet, a massively unproductive non-workforce, and the greed of the elite, it is only a matter of time before something breaks and there is a real possibility that our civilization will not be able to survive it.

The scary version? According to these studies, the consequences will be felt within most of our lifetimes.

Mac Slavo is the Editor of SHTFplan.com

total collapse

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UN panel: 8 reasons to worry about global warming

March 30, 2014

22 hours ago  •  

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — If you have already read “12 Pieces of Practical Advice from Housecats,” now you can move on to “8 Reasons to Worry about Global Warming.”

A United Nations panel of scientists is joining the list craze with what they call eight “key risks” that are part of broader “reasons for concern” about climate change.

It’s part of a massive report on how global warming is affecting humans and the planet and how the future will be worse unless something is done about it. The report is being finalized at a meeting this weekend by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They assembled the list to “make it understandable and to illustrate the issues that have the greatest potential to cause real harm,” the report’s chief author, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution of Science in California, said in an interview.

But a draft of the list — called by the acronym RFCs — includes science-heavy language, caveats and uses lowercase Roman numerals, for example using iv instead of 4.

A boiled-down version of what the scientists say the warmed-up future holds for Earth if climate change continues:

1. Coastal flooding will kill people and cause destruction.

2. Some people will go hungry because of warming, drought and severe downpours.

3. Big cites will be damaged by inland flooding.

4. Water shortages will make the poor even poorer in rural areas.

5. Crazy weather, like storms, can make life miserable, damaging some of the things we take for granted, like electricity, running water and emergency services.

6. Some fish and other marine animals could be in trouble, which will probably hurt fishing communities.

7. Some land animals won’t do much better and that’s not good for people who depend on them.

8. Heat waves, especially in cities, will kill the elderly and very young.

So far, the scientists haven’t come up with the next step, common on Facebook pages: The interactive quiz to determine which global warming problem you most resemble.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Climate change will exacerbate the risk of extinction for bees and other pollinating insects already under threat from pesticides and habitat loss, experts say

March 30, 2014

Bees and the crops they pollinate are at risk from climate change, IPCC report to warn

Chris Connolly, an academic at the University of Dundee, who provided evidence to the EAC, said the neonicotinoids being sold to gardeners are a less toxic variety.

Bees pollinate more than £1 billion worth of crops in the UK each year including fruits and vegetables such as carrots, cabbages, apples and pears. Photo: PA

Bees essential to pollinate British crops face increased risk of extinction because of climate change, a major UN report is expected to warn.

Changes to habitats and to behaviour of different species as a result of warmer weather will exacerbate the danger to bee species already facing numerous other threats, according to scientists.

Some species could face extinction while declining numbers would harm harvests of British crops such as apples, raising fears from businesses such as cider-makers that their livelihoods could be at risk.

Bees pollinate more than £1 billion worth of crops in the UK each year including fruits and vegetables such as carrots, cabbages, apples and pears.

In a vast and wide-ranging report on the likely global impacts of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to warn that rising global temperatures are having severe negative impacts on bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects and could result in more species extinctions.

Leaked draft copies of the report say: “Climate change, after land-use changes, can be regarded as the second most relevant factor responsible for the decline of pollinators.”

It cites research by scientist Simon Potts, Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services at Reading University.

Professor Potts told the Telegraph bees faced two major threats as a result of climate change: habitats moving, and changing seasonal behaviour of different species.

“Under climate change you would expect habitats that bees and pollinators use will shift – but the bees may or may not be able to move; there may be no connection between the habitat they have now and the new area,” he said.

As a result of climate change, bees were also “emerging earlier and earlier” in the year.

“Both the bees and flowering plants are shifting because of climate but, on average, the UK flowers are getting earlier by 4 or 5 days each decade whereas the bees we have looked at are becoming earlier by 7-10 days per decade. So we are worried that bees are starting their activity before any of their flowing plants are available.”

He said: “There is definitely an increased risk of extinction. If these things are already vulnerable and climate is increasingly putting pressure on them, it is going to tip them over the edge so we will get local extinctions.”

Professor Potts added: “Climate change is a juggernaut and we are not going to be able to slow it down in the next 10 or 20 years, so we need to do something much more quickly: providing good quality habitats for bees and trying to reduce other pressures on them such as habitat loss and the impact of pesticides.”

Wild bees, which are particularly important for crop pollination and improve the flavour and quality of fruit like apples may be more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than honey bees, according to experts. Bumblebees are also thought to be particularly vulnerable.

Cider-makers are backing calls for action and are looking at ways they can “protect and revive bees and other pollinating insects”, Simon Russell, spokesman for the National Association of Cider Makers said.

“Bees and other pollinating insects are especially important to growers and cider-makers. Without them, blossom is a pointless exercise and we don’t get a harvest. Cider-makers and growers are studying quite seriously issues of climate change.”

Environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth are calling for the government to take action to help boost bees’ resilience to climate change by strengthening a “National Pollinator Strategy” currently being consulted on by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Friends of the Earth nature campaigner Sandra Bell said: “This report is another stark warning about the impacts of climate change, which threatens to wipe out more bee species, affecting our ability to produce food.

“British orchards, recently hit by floods, could be particularly vulnerable to further declines in bee populations.

“Urgent action is needed to tackle climate change but the Government must also help bees and other wildlife adapt to changes already happening.

“That means reducing other stresses by ensuring bees have plentiful and varied food sources and helping farmers reduce their reliance on chemical pesticides.

“The National Pollinator Strategy currently being consulted on must be strong enough to help our bees survive in a changing climate.”

A spokesman for Defra said: “We take the issue of bee health very seriously. The draft National Pollinator Strategy is currently out for consultation and we urge people and groups to respond

Climate Change Already Felt ‘On All Continents And Across The Oceans,’ IPCC Finds

March 30, 2014

Posted: 03/28/2014 2:27 pm EDT Updated: 03/28/2014 2:59 pm EDT

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This story first appeared on The Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Climate change has already left its mark “on all continents and across theoceans“, damaging food crops, spreading disease, and melting glaciers, according to the leaked text of a blockbuster UN climate science report due out on Monday.

Government officials and scientists are gathered in Yokohama this week to wrangle over every line of a summary of the report before the final wording is released on Monday – the first update in seven years.

Nearly 500 people must sign off on the exact wording of the summary, including the 66 expert authors, 271 officials from 115 countries, and 57 observers.

But governments have already signed off on the critical finding that climate change is already having an effect, and that even a small amount of warming in the future could lead to “abrupt and irreversible changes”, according to documents seen by the Guardian.

“In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans,” the final report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will say.

Some parts of the world could soon be at a tipping point. For others, that tipping point has already arrived. “Both warm water coral reef and Arctic ecosystems are already experiencing irreversible regime shifts,” the approved version of the report will say.

This will be the second of three reports on the causes, consequences of and solutions to climate change, drawing on researchers from around the world.

The first report, released last September in Stockholm, found humans were the “dominant cause” of climate change, and warned that much of the world’s fossil fuel reserves would have to stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change.

This report will, for the first time, look at the effects of climate change as a series of risks – with those risks multiplying as temperatures warm.

The thinking behind the decision was to encourage governments to prepare for the full range of potential consequences under climate change.

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Japanese environment minister, Nobuteru Ishihara, (third from the left) delivers a speech at the opening session of the IPCC working group II in Yokohama. Photograph: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

“It’s much more about what are the smart things to do then what do we know with absolute certainty,” said Chris Field, one of the co-chairs overseeing the report. “If we want to take a smart approach to the future, we need to consider a full range of possible outcomes and that means not only the more likely outcomes, but also outcomes for truly catastrophic impacts, even if those are lower probability,” he said.

The gravest of those risks was to people in low-lying coastal areas and on small islands, because of storm surges, coastal flooding and sea-level rise.

But people living in large urban areas would also be at risk from inland flooding that wipes out homes and businesses, water treatment centres and power plants, as well as from extreme heatwaves.

Food production was also at risk, the report said, from drought, flooding, and changing rainfall patterns. Crop yields could decline by 2% a decade over the rest of the century.

Fisheries will also be affected, with ocean chemistry thrown off balance by climate change. Some fish in the tropics could become extinct. Other species, especially in northern latitudes, are on the move.

Drought could put safe drinking water in short supply. Storms could wipe out electricity stations, and damage other infrastructure, the report is expected to say.

Those risks will not be borne equally, according to draft versions of the report circulated before the meeting. The poor, the young and the elderly in all countries will all be more vulnerable to climate risks.

Climate change will slow down economic growth, and create new “poverty traps”. Some areas of the world will also be more vulnerable – such as south Asia and south-east Asia.

The biggest potential risk, however, was of a number of those scenarios unfolding at the same time, leading to conflicts and wars, or turning regional problem into a global crisis, said Saleemul Haq, a senior fellow of the International Institute for Environment and Development and one of the authors of the report.

“The really scary impacts are when things start getting together globally,” he said. “If you have a crisis in two or three places around the world, suddenly it’s not a local crisis. It is a global crisis, and the repercussions of things going bad in several different places are very severe.”

There was controversy in the run-up to the report’s release when one of the 70 authors of a draft said he had pulled out of the writing team because it was “alarmist” about the threat. Prof Richard Tol, an economist at Sussex University, said he disagreed with some findings of the summary. But British officials branded his assessment of the economic costs of climate change as “deeply misleading“.

The report argues that the likelihood and potential consequences of many of these risks could be lowered if ambitious action is taken to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. It also finds that governments – if they act now – can help protect populations from those risks.

But the report also acknowledges that a certain amount of warming is already locked in, and that in some instances there is no way to escape the effects of climate change.

The 2007 report on the effects of climate change contained an error that damaged the credibility of the UN climate panel, the erroneous claim that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035.

This year’s report will be subject to far more rigorous scrutiny, scientists said. It will also benefit from an explosion of scientific research. The number of scientific publications on the impacts of climate change doubled between 2005 and 2010, the report will say.

Researchers said they also hoped to bring a fresh take on the issue. They said they hoped the reframing of the issue as a series of risks would help governments respond more rapidly to climate change.

“Previously the IPCC was accused of being very conservative,” said Gary Yohe, professor of economics and environmental studies at Wesleyan University, one of the authors of the report. “This allows them to be less conservative without being open to criticism that they are just trying to scare people to death.”

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