Category Archives: Nature

EnviroWatch: Seals, soil, climate, nukes, more


First up, another outbreak from Süddeutsche Zeitung:

Deal Seals In Germany May Have Had Virus, Hunters Called In To Kill Sick

Since early October, at least 180 dead seals have been found along the North Sea coast of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Dead fish and sea creatures often wash up onto beaches along the North and Baltic seas, but experts now say that these seals may have died of a virus that risks spreading further.

The situation is particularly worrisome because 200 of the 1500 seals living on the Danish Baltic Sea island of Anholt have died since August. “A flu virus was found in the cadavers,” says Hendrik Brunckhorst, spokesman for the state government-owned Company for Coastal Protection, National Parks and Ocean Protection in Schleswig-Holstein.

To stem further deaths, seal hunters have been called to kill sick seals on the beaches of Helgoland, Amrum, Föhr and Sylt islands. “Ninety-five percent of the seals found on the beaches are already dead,” says Sylt-based hunter Thomas Diedrichsen.

The Independent covers coming crisis:

Britain facing ‘agricultural crisis’ as scientists warn there are only 100 harvests left in our farm soil

Intense over-farming means there are only 100 harvests left in the soil of the UK’s countryside, a study has found.

With a growing population and the declining standard of British farmland, scientists warned that we are on course for an “agricultural crisis” unless dramatic action is taken.

Despite the traditional perception that there is a green and pleasant land outside the grey, barren landscape of our cities, researchers from the University of Sheffield found that on average urban plots of soil were richer in nutrients than many farms.

Sampling local parks, allotments and gardens in urban areas, Dr Jill Edmondson showed that the ground was significantly healthier than that of arable fields. Allotment soil had 32% more organic carbon, 36% higher carbon to nitrogen ratios, 25% higher nitrogen and was significantly less compacted.

Cooking with the Guardian:

2014 on track to be hottest year on record, says US science agency

  • Global average temperatures in September were highest ever, following warmest year to date since 1998

The world is on course for this to be the hottest year ever, with global land and sea temperatures for September the highest ever recorded for the month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Monday.

The findings, which confirm September as the warmest such month on record, continue a string of record-beating months for global temperature.

The year to date for 2014 is already tied with 1998 as the warmest such period since record keeping began in 1880, Noaa scientists said.

On a parallel note, via BBC News:

Europe emission targets ‘will fail to protect climate’

Europe’s leaders are about to consign the Earth to the risk of dangerous climate change, a UN expert says.

Prof Jim Skea, a vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says the EU’s plan to cut CO2 emissions 40% by 2030 is too weak.

He says it will commit future governments to “extraordinary and unprecedented” emissions cuts.

The Commission rejected the claim, saying the 40% target puts Europe on track for long-term climate goals.

From TakePart, chemical killing:

The U.S Approves a Powerful New Pesticide Deadly to Monarch Butterflies

The dominance of genetically modified crops requires ever-more-toxic pesticides that are wiping out the iconic insect’s sole source of food.

Is the monarch butterfly the new polar bear?

The iconic insect, whose numbers have plummeted from 1 billion to 35 million over the past two decades, is emerging as the latest symbol of environmental catastrophe: In this case, the impact of industrial agriculture, genetically modified crops, and skyrocketing pesticide use on wildlife.

The latest fight over the future of the monarch broke out on Wednesday, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved a powerful—and highly toxic—new weed killer called Enlist Duo. Made by Dow AgroSciences and designed to be sprayed on genetically modified corn and soybean crops, Enlist Duo combines glyphosate and 2,4-D in a formula that’s supposed to kill weeds that have developed a resistance to each of those individual pesticides.

One wild plant that has not developed defenses against growing pesticide use is milkweed, which is essential to the monarch’s survival.

And from Al Jazeera America, an American tragedy:

UN officials ‘shocked’ by Detroit’s mass water shutoffs

  • Two UN rapporteurs recommended Detroit immediately resume water service for residents unable to pay their bills

Surrounded by a frenzy of cameras, Detroit resident Rochelle McCaskill explained her predicament to a team of United Nations officials on Sunday: The numbers simply didn’t add up.

Out of her $672 monthly disability check, McCaskill spends $600 rent, she said, leaving her unable to pay the city’s water bills, which have skyrocketed to more than twice the national average.

“They need a category for those of us who cannot pay,” said McCaskill, whose water was shut off this summer as part of a wave of disconnections that, block by block, have left thousands of city residents without running water.

The city turned off McCaskill’s water despite the fact that she had been paying down her $540.10 water bill in increments and that she suffers from MRSA, a contagious infection that the NIH considers a “serious public health concern” and requires frequent bathing.

Spare the air with the Guardian:

India’s air quality figures can’t be trusted

  • Delhi is the most polluted city in the world, but it may actually be worse as faulty instruments, data fudging and lack of regulation allow industries to pollute with impunity

India is changing the way it maps pollution, with an update to its air quality index.. In its initial phase, eight pollutants will be tracked in 46 cities with populations exceeding a million people. After five years, the rest of the country will slowly be brought into the system.

At the launch, the minister for environment and forests, Prakash Javadekar, said it wouldn’t be “business as usual” anymore.

The move couldn’t have come a moment sooner.

Five months ago, World Health Organisation declared Delhi to be the worst polluted city on earth. In a study spanning 1,600 cities across 91 countries, the organisation used India’s own officially released data to show the city had the world’s highest annual average concentration of microscopic airborne particles known as PM2.5.

These extremely fine particles of less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter are linked with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease as they penetrate deep into the lungs and pass into the bloodstream. Delhi’s annual PM2.5 reading was 153 compared to London’s 16. Indian officials contested the study’s finding but agreed Delhi was as bad as Beijing, although the latter’s PM2.5 reading was only 56.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Asahi Shimbun:

ASAHI POLL: 27% of Fukushima voters want immediate end to nuclear power

Twenty-seven percent of voters in Fukushima Prefecture, home to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, want Japan to immediately abolish nuclear energy, around double the national average, an Asahi Shimbun survey found.

About 55 percent of voters in the prefecture support a break away from nuclear power in the near future, according to the telephone survey conducted on Oct. 18-19.

The survey results showed anti-nuclear sentiment is higher in Fukushima Prefecture than in the rest of the country.

Hot to trot with JapanToday:

Obuchi’s departure won’t affect nuclear reactor restarts

The Japanese government’s plan to restart nuclear reactors shut down after the Fukushima disaster will not be affected by Monday’s resignation of the industry minister, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is losing a convincing advocate of a step most view with suspicion.

The resignation of Yuko Obuchi, 40, from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, six weeks after she was appointed, is the latest hitch in a process bogged down by documentation over safety standards, concerns about natural disasters and local opposition.

“Obviously as a young mother, the youngest cabinet minister, she was a reassuring figure (who showed) that restarting the reactor wouldn’t be as threatening as people feared,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Japan campus.

“Now that she’s gone, Abe has lost that reassuring presence and it’s unlikely that he’s going to be able to find anyone as convincing as her,” Kingston said.

NHK WORLD covers an okay:

City assembly approves Sendai plant restart

A special panel at a city assembly in southern Japan has approved a petition to allow a local nuclear power plant to resume operations.

The panel at the Satsuma Sendai city assembly in Kagoshima Prefecture discussed petitions both for and against the restart of the Sendai plant on Monday.

The plant is operated by Kyushu Electric Power Company. Last month it became the first to pass new regulations for nuclear plants introduced after the 2011 Fukushima accident.

But the meeting at which the decision was made was marked by controversy, as second NHK WORLD report notes:

Opponents scuffle with officials

People opposed to the restart of the Sendai nuclear power plant in southern Japan scuffled with city officials when they tried to enter a room where the city assembly’s special panel was meeting.

After the panel adopted a petition calling for the restart of the plant, people gathered in front of the Satsumasendai city hall to protest the decision.

And plans for the restart of another nuclear complex are moving forward as well, NHK WORLD reports:

KEPCO to submit revised Takahama safety plan

The operator of a power plant on the Sea of Japan coast says it will submit revised safety measures to the country’s nuclear regulator as early as next week.

Officials of Kansai Electric Power Company say they have completed recalculations of the potential maximum height of a tsunami that could hit the Takahama plant.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority, or NRA, had pointed out to the utility that it underestimated the height in its first assessment. The company was obliged to conduct tsunami simulations for 2 reactors at the plant.

Finally, from the New York Times, what could possibly go wrong?:

Power Plants Seek to Extend Life of Nuclear Reactors for Decades

The prospects for building new nuclear reactors may be sharply limited, but the owners of seven old ones, in Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina, are preparing to ask for permission to run them until they are 80 years old.

Nuclear proponents say that extending plants’ lifetimes is more economical — and a better way to hold down carbon dioxide emissions — than building new plants, although it will require extensive monitoring of steel, concrete, cable insulation and other components. But the idea is striking even to some members of the nuclear establishment.

At a meeting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in May, George Apostolakis, a risk expert who was then one of the five commissioners, pointed out that if operation were allowed until age 80, some reactors would be using designs substantially older than that.

“I don’t know how we would explain to the public that these designs, 90-year-old designs, 100-year-old designs, are still safe to operate,” he said. “Don’t we need more convincing arguments than just ‘We’re managing aging effects’?”

EnviroWatch: West Nile, spider, smog, volcano


We begin with a story close to home [esnl’s], and an enigma, via the Oakland Tribune:

West Nile cases surging in state, Bay Area

In the midst of a historic drought, public health officials are searching for clues as to why cases of West Nile virus have exploded statewide since last year, making this season the worst for human infections in California since 2005.

The surge in mosquitoes found carrying the virus in 2014 has not only reached unprecedented levels, it’s also creating headaches for local vector and mosquito control districts, which are pushing hard to kill the disease-carrying pests and their larvae.

In Santa Clara County, where more than one-third of the state’s entire count of West Nile-positive birds have been found, fogging operations for mosquitoes have hit an all-time high, as have the number of human cases. Alameda County’s Mosquito Abatement District, too, is pulling out all the stops to quell concentrations of infected mosquitoes in otherwise water-starved areas. And in Contra Costa County, the Mosquito and Vector Control District sprayed for adult mosquitoes 14 times between April and September.

Over the summer, the Santa Clara County Vector Control District found as many as 1 in 20 mosquitoes infected with West Nile in the area, acting manager Russ Parman said.

The Guardian covers a growing environmental disaster:

Amazon deforestation picking up pace, satellite data reveals

  • Data indicates 190% rise in land clearance in August and September compared with same period last year

The deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has accelerated rapidly in the past two months, underscoring the shortcomings of the government’s environmental policies.

Satellite data indicates a 190% surge in land clearance in August and September compared with the same period last year as loggers and farmers exploit loopholes in regulations that are designed to protect the world’s largest forest.

Figures released by Imazon, a Brazilian nonprofit research organisation, show that 402 square kilometres – more than six times the area of the island of Manhattan – was cleared in September.

The government has postponed the release of official figures until after next Sunday’s presidential election, in which incumbent Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ party faces a strong challenge from Aécio Neves, a pro-business candidate who has the endorsement of Marina Silva, the popular former environment minister.

And one factor in that deforestation is Europe’s hunger for wood, as Agence France-Presse reports:

Deforestation

Program notes:

Greenpeace denounces the export of wood acquired illegally in Brazil’s Amazon region to European countries like Belgium, France, Sweden and the Netherlands.

From USA TODAY, one damn big arachnid:

Scientist stumbles upon spider as big as a puppy

Strolling through a Guyana rainforest one night, a scientist heard some rustling and thought he’d encountered a furry mammal.

Well, he was right about the furry part.

The creature was actually a Goliath birdeater spider, LiveScience reports — the world’s biggest type of spider, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It can weigh up to 6 ounces. For comparison, National Geographic reports a black widow weighs roughly .035 ounces; that’s 170 times lighter.

Scientist Piotr Naskrecki writes its weight is “about as much as a young puppy,” while its leg span can be a foot long, comparable with a kid’s forearm, notes LiveScience. The body itself is fist-sized, Naskrecki says. The fangs? Two inches long. The thing won’t kill you, but its bite feels “like driving a nail through your hand.”

The Independent covers a Chinese quandary:

Beijing marathon runners choked by smog are forced to wear face masks

Runners were forced to wear face masks as tens of thousands of competitors took part in an international marathon in Beijing under a thick blanket of smog – despite warnings that everyone in the city should avoid outdoor activities.

About 30,000 runners were expected to take part in the event on Sunday morning, with the organising committee making 140,000 sponges available at supply stations along the marathon route so runners could “clean their skin that is exposed to the air,” the Beijing News reported.

“On a normal day, nobody would run in such conditions,” said participant Liu Zhenyu, a computer engineer. “But the event is happening today, so what can we do?”

Although organisers had warned on Saturday night that “there might be slight or moderate smog”, the air was deemed to be severely polluted on Sunday morning, according to the real-time monitoring of Beijing’s environmental centre.

A video report from Deutsche Welle:

Beijing’s Smog Marathon

Program notes:

Thousands of runners have battled thick smog to take part in the Beijing Marathon. Some athletes donned masks as air pollution soared toward 14 times the maximum recommended level. Chinese organizers rejected calls to postpone the event.

For our final item, via JapanToday, an explosive concern:

4,000 take part in Mt Fuji eruption drill

Nearly 4,000 people took part Sunday in a mass evacuation drill to test responses to a possible eruption of Japan’s highest peak Mt Fuji, weeks after a nearby volcano blew its top and killed at least 56.

The 3,776-meter Fuji last erupted in 1707 but geologists have included it as one of 47 volcanoes in the Pacific Rim country believed to be at risk of eruption in the coming century.

Nearly 4,000 residents in 26 cities, towns and villages in Shizuoka, Yamanashi and Kanagawa prefectures around the mountain took part in the first-ever such drill, said a disaster management official for the Shizuoka prefectural government.

Mt Fuji is just 100 kilometers west of Tokyo.

From ABC Australia: Earth on fire


A chilling documentary from ABC Australia [itself the target of fossil-fuel addicted neoliberal Aussie ire and pending major budget cuts], this July documentary presents a chilling [er, scorching] vision of the future, in which vast fires sweep across landscapes around the globe.

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Catalyst – Earth of Fire

From the transcript:

NARRATION: Earth is the only planet in our solar system that burns … and there’s one main reason why. Plants.

Since they first evolved more than 400 million years ago, land plants have changed the world, from the soil to the atmosphere.

Even the origin of fire is tied to the origin of plants. Fire couldn’t exist here until the fuel and oxygen from land plants made this planet flammable. So for nearly half a billion years, the Earth has been in flames. In turn, fire shapes the patterns of life, the climate, and ultimately, our own survival. But fire is changing.

Over the past decade, every forested continent has seen an alarming surge in large, uncontrollable fires. Mega-fires.

Prof David Bowman: The sort of metaphoric equivalent of an atomic bomb, that’s what a mega fire is, it’s muscular, it’s mean, it’s big, it’s aggressive.

Prof Tom Swetnam: Really fast burning fires. And their local intensity is just amazing.… these are extraordinary fire events.

NARRATION: So extraordinary, they demolish the very ecosystems that have thrived with fire for millennia.

Anja Taylor: Here in the Southwest US, the fires have become so large and so intense that whole forests are transforming into entirely different landscapes.

NARRATION: No longer can we count on what we thought we knew about fire.

Mark Horstman: In Australia, catastrophic megafires are tearing landscapes apart. It means we all have to rethink how to live on this flammable continent.

EnviroWatch: Struggles, species, and fuels


We begin today’s report on the relationship between people and world with two  videos on struggles to save some of the world’s truly wonderful places from the ravages of development.

First, via Mother Jones:

Fight for Areng Valley

Background from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting:

Fight for Areng Valley

A revolution is awakening in Cambodia—with protests led by a monk who is speaking out against the environmental destruction of his country.

The Cambodian government intends to build a network of 17 dams across Cambodia, hoping this will generate enough electricity to meet domestic demand, reduce energy costs, and export surplus energy abroad. While the goal of transforming Cambodia into the power plant of Southeast Asia may promise economic gain, it also entails significant costs.

For this project, filmmaker Kalyanee Mam travels to Areng Valley, a remote area in southwest Cambodia at the foot of the Central Cardamom Protected Forests. She follows a group of young dissident monks who traveled over 150 miles from Phnom Penh, the capital, to join the Chong people in their fight to protect their forests, livelihood, and heritage from the looming construction of a hydroelectric dam.

Mam looks at how the Chong people of Areng Valley and the monks of Cambodia are striving to protect not only the forests, but also the very essence of the Cambodian people’s livelihood and spiritual well-being, rooted and grounded in nature.

Born in Cambodia, Mam fled her home country in 1979, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, which claimed nearly two million lives. When she returned to Cambodia for the first time in 1998, Cambodia was rebuilding from the rubble of civil war. Now, 16 years later, the country must balance its need to feed the energy demands of a burgeoning society with the necessity of conserving and protecting its natural resources.

Next, via Yale Environment 360:

Indonesia – Dayaks and Drones- How technology can promote sustainable forests and communities

Program notes:

The villagers of Setulang in Indonesian Borneo have enlisted a new ally in their fight against the illegal clearing of their forests for oil palm plantations: aerial drones.

Setulang lies within a forest conservation area managed by the indigenous Dayak people, who have fostered a thriving tourism industry based on the rainforest’s rich biodiversity and their own cultural heritage. After successfully ousting an oil palm company operating illegally in their territory, the Dayaks are now hoping the drones can help them protect their land.

“Dayaks and Drones,” a video produced by Handcrafted Films, chronicles how the villagers teamed up with an Indonesian nonprofit to learn how to program and operate drones. Equipped with GPS technology, the small drones photograph the forest and monitor the area for illegal activities, especially plantations and mines. The villagers will use information gathered by the drones to create a detailed map of their land, which will help in future conservation efforts.

“The international community must help Indonesia accelerate the recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples,” Abdon Nababan, an Indonesian indigenous rights leader, tells the filmmakers.

From the Observer, a magnificent species draws closer to extinction:

Death of white rhino in Kenya leaves only six animals alive in the world

  • Fears grow for future of northern white rhino species after loss of 34-year-old Suni, one of last two breeding males in the world

An endangered northern white rhino has died in Kenya, a wildlife conservancy has said, meaning only six of the animals are left alive in the world.

Suni, a 34-year-old northern white, and the first of his species to be born in captivity, was found dead on Friday by rangers at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy near Nairobi. While there are thousands of southern white rhinos in the plains of sub-Saharan Africa, decades of rampant poaching has meant the northern white rhino is close to extinction.

Suni was one of the last two breeding males in the world as no northern white rhinos are believed to have survived in the wild. Though the conservancy said Suni was not poached, the cause of his death is currently unclear.

More species in decline via the Hindu:

Over one-fifth of India’s frogs under threat

More than 20 per cent of frogs and toads — 78 of the 340 species — found in India are under threat, according recent findings of the Zoological Survey of India.

In a publication titled ‘Threatened Amphibians of India’, which catalogues these species, the ZSI pointed out that of the species under threat, 17 are ‘critically endangered; 32 are ‘endangered’, 22 are ‘vulnerable’, and the remaining seven are ‘near threatened species’.

According to ZSI scientist Kaushik Deuti, frogs and toads are very sensitive to habitat and climate change and are referred as “bio indicators.” “Their presence or absence denotes whether a habitat is in good condition or is undergoing change and is under threat,” he said. One of the main reasons behind the diminishing numbers of the amphibians, ZSI director K. Venkataraman said, was climate change, widespread deforestation and destruction of the frogs’ natural habitat. Frogs are also captured to be sold off in the global market.

According to the ZSI, of the 17 critically-endangered species — whose total population is less than 250 — one particular species of frog, known as Resplendent Bush Frog (Raorchestes resplendens), can only be found in a 3 sq km area atop the Anamudi Peak in Kerala’s Idukki district.

Still more species in decline from the Ecologist:

African habitat loss driving migrating birds’ decline

A new report reveals huge declines in the UK’s migratory birds that winter deep in Africa’s rainforests. Shorter distance migrants are performing much better, with some recording big population increases.

The latest in the annual series of State of the UK’s Birds report, published today, shows alarming declines among 29 migrant species which nest in the UK in summer and spend the winter around the Mediterranean, or in Africa south of the Sahara Desert.

The most dramatic declines are among species which winter in the humid zone of Africa – stretching across the continent from southern Senegal to Nigeria and beyond.

Of this group of species, which includes whinchat, nightingale, tree pipit and spotted flycatcher, 73% have declined since the late 1980s, 45% by more than half.

One of the most dramatic declines is that of the turtle dove with a decline of 88% since 1995. Heavy declines have also been recorded over the same period for wood warbler, down 66%; pied flycatcher, 53%; spotted flycatcher, 49%; cuckoo, 49%; nightingale, 43%; and yellow wagtail, 43%.

On to fuelishness with In These Times:

Building Trades Chief Lauds Fracking Boom, Shrugs Off Environmental Concerns

On Tuesday, the Oil and Natural Gas Industry Labor-Management Committee released a report by Dr. Robert Bruno and Michael Cornfield of the University of Illinois which found that from 2008 to 2014, oil and gas development created 45,000 new jobs in the Marcellus Shale region—an area that includes parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The data came from the BCTD; the National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee, a joint labor-management committee that oversees collective bargaining agreements in the construction industry; and Industrial Info Resources, a third party specializing in “global market intelligence.”

Two days later, BCTD president Sean McGarvey, who also serves as chair of the Oil and Natural Gas Industry Labor-Management Committee and whose union is a member of the committee, praised the report and defended the thriving industry.

“Oil and gas industry spending in the Marcellus Shale region has led to significant increases in construction and maintenance jobs,” McGarvey told reporters on a conference call. “At a time when the U.S. construction industry was in the midst of what was arguably a depression, … one of the few, if not only, bright spots, were the jobs that were created by virtue of domestic oil and gas development.”

And one side effect from Yale Environment 360:

With the Boom in Oil and Gas, Pipelines Proliferate in the U.S.

The rise of U.S. oil and gas production has spurred a dramatic expansion of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure. As the lines reach into new communities and affect more property owners, concerns over the environmental impacts are growing.

In the spring of 2012, about nine years after Melissa Owen and her husband purchased 640 acres of remote Arizona desert that they hoped to turn into a wildlife refuge, a representative from the energy giant Kinder Morgan knocked on their front door. The man said his company planned to

They didn’t give it, and the Kinder Morgan visit set off what Owen calls some of the most trying years of her life. Petitions to the pipeline company, local county officials, the U.S. government, and a variety of environmental groups failed to stop the pipeline from earning the necessary permits and gaining access to Owen’s land.

“I’d get up at three in the morning, write letters to the government and Kinder Morgan, and research what I could do, then do my ranch work,” she said. “Then I’d start all over again the next day.”

Next, via the Ecologist, a real gas:

NASA confirms US’s 2,500-square-mile methane cloud

When NASA researchers first saw data indicating a massive cloud of methane floating over the American Southwest, they found it so incredible that they dismissed it as an instrument error.

But as they continued analyzing data from the European Space Agency’s Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Chartography instrument from 2002 to 2012, the ‘atmospheric hot spot’ kept appearing.

The team at NASA was finally able to take a closer look, and have now concluded that there is in fact a 2,500-square-mile cloud of methane – roughly the size of Delaware – floating over the Four Corners region, where the borders of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah all intersect.

This discovery follows the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s new estimates of methane’s ‘global warming potential’ (GWP): 34 over 100 years, and 86 over 20 years. That number reflects how much more powerful methane is than CO2.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Japan Times:

Record cesium level detected in Fukushima No. 1 groundwater; Tepco blames heavy rainfall

A record 264,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per liter has been detected in groundwater at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station, Tokyo Electric Power Co. disclosed Saturday.

The sample was taken Thursday from an observation well near reactor 2 reactor of the plant, which was destroyed by the March 2011 quake and tsunami.

According to Tepco, recent heavy rains pushed up the levels of groundwater, causing it to reach soil containing highly radioactive water leaked earlier from the plant’s crippled reactors.

The per liter level of cesium-137 rose to 200,000 becquerels from 190,000 becquerels in groundwater sampled from the same well on Wednesday. The cesium-134 level was unchanged at 64,000 becquerels.

Finally, from Corriere della Sera, another nuclear woe:

Italy’s Radiation-porous Ports

  • About € 25 million spent on protecting coastline against contaminated materials but ports remain exposed

Italy spend about L.45 billion in 1999 on scanners that could detect radioactivity in cargo arriving from abroad. But even though another €1 million was paid out for acceptance inspections in 2003, the special portals installed at harbour border crossings have remained out of service.

Italy is a major importer of metals, which means that the issue is exceptionally important, not least because in the past the Bel Paese has featured in the illegal trafficking of radioactive waste. The risk of discovering that items in your home are radioactive is far from hypothetical. Here are one or two examples. At Genoa in 2011, checks carried out by a privately owned company led to the blocking of a container carrying several tonnes of cobalt 60-contaminated metal. The cargo had arrived from the United Arab Emirates and was for use at a factory in the province of Alessandria. Before reaching Liguria, the metal, which was accompanied by a waybill, had passed through the port of Gioia Tauro. No one noticed that the container was releasing radiation. Cobalt 60 has turned up in several places up and down Italy. In 2013, it was detected in kitchen utensils on sale in a number of shops. The goods had passed through the port of Taranto without the slightest difficulty. At Turin in 2012, a batch of household trays was found to be radioactive. It’s easy to imagine how many at-risk items could have crossed Italy’s borders and entered the country undetected in recent years.

EbolaWatch: Scares, pols, meds, Africa


And more.

We begin with a video report that lends credence to suspicions we’ve long harbored. From CCTV America:

Ebola outbreaks associated with deforestation

Program notes:

Experts have been trying to figure out what’s behind the recent rise in Ebola cases. Some have turned to nature, specifically the trees, for a possible answer. Some scientists argue that the shrinking size of forests could put people in closer contact with disease carrying wildlife and that possibility is causing global concerns. For more on the impact of global deforestation, CCTV America interviewed Susanne Breitkopf, the Senior Political Advisor for Greenpeace International.

And next to two notable and sad instances of Ebolaphobia, first from FrontPageAfrica, a Liberian paper doing an exceptional job of covering the crisis:

Georgia U. Cancels FPA Newsroom Chief’s McGill Lectures Over Ebola

The University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia has rescinded the decision of the University’s journalism school Grady College to invite FrontPageAfrica newsroom editor Wade C. L. Williams for its McGill Lecture slated for October 22, 2014.

All was set for the trip as the college had already purchased a round trip plane ticket and made hotel reservations for the journalist’s visit when it was forced to cancel last minute to time because of fear she could get sick while visiting the US thereby exposing students to the deadly Ebola virus.

The McGill Lecture, which is free and open to the public is sponsored by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and will be held October 22 at 4 p.m. in Room 250 of the Miller Learning Center but with a new speaker Antonio Mora, a prominent Hispanic journalist who is a two-time winner of the Peabody Award.

“I received a call from Georgia just days before my trip. A woman with a pleasant voice delicately told me that parents were panicking and the general public was against my coming to the university,” stated Williams in a blog post published days after the university reached the decision.

And the second incident, via the Star in Nairobi:

Parents in a British school threatens to pull children out over teachers trip to Kenya fearing Ebola

Parents from a British school have threatened to pull their children from school over a planned trip to Kenya by teachers for fear they will contract Ebola.

The Mirror reports that a 60-signature petition has been circulated at Berkeley Primary School in Crewe in Cheshire demanding that the two teachers planning the trip to Kenya for an exchange programme.

They want the teachers isolated for a three-week ebola incubation period.

But the alarm has baffled the school because Kenya is far away from the ebola danger zone of West Africa.

Now on to the gravely serious, first from the Independent:

Ebola outbreak could be ‘definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation’, warns Oxfam

Ebola is poised to become the “definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation”, Oxfam has warned, with more troops, funding and medical aid urgently needed to tackle the outbreak.

In an “extremely rare” move, the charity is calling for military intervention to provide logistical support across West Africa.

It says the world has less than two months to counter the spread of the deadly virus, which means addressing a “crippling shortfall” in military personnel.

Oxfam said troops are now “desperately needed” to build treatment centres, provide flights and offer engineering and logistical support. While Britain was leading the way in Europe’s response to the epidemic, it said countries which have failed to commit troops were “in danger of costing lives”.

Next, analysis from the Associated Press:

Mission Unaccomplished: Containing Ebola in Africa

Looking back, the mistakes are easy to see: Waiting too long, spending too little, relying on the wrong people, thinking small when they needed to think big. Many people, governments and agencies share the blame for failing to contain Ebola when it emerged in West Africa.

Now they share the herculean task of trying to end an epidemic that has sickened more than 9,000, killed more than 4,500, seeded cases in Europe and the United States, and is not even close to being controlled.

Many of the missteps are detailed in a draft of an internal World Health Organization report obtained by The Associated Press. It shows there was not one pivotal blunder that gave Ebola the upper hand, but a series of them that mounted.

Nearly every agency and government stumbled. Heavy criticism falls on the World Health Organization, where there was “a failure to see that conditions for explosive spread were present right at the start.”

WHO — the United Nations’ health agency — had some incompetent staff, let bureaucratic bungles delay people and money to fight the virus, and was hampered by budget cuts and the need to battle other diseases flaring around the world, the report says.

Al Jazeera English covers a reassessment:

WHO promises to review Ebola response

UN agency pledges to review its efforts to contain outbreak after internal document hints at its failings.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has promised to undertake and publish a full review of its handling of the Ebola crisis after a leaked document appeared to show the UN agency had failed to do enough to contain the epidemic.

The WHO said in a statement on Saturday that it would not comment on an internal draft document obtained and released by the Associated Press news agency, in which the organisation blamed incompetent staff, bureaucracy and a lack of reliable information for its allegedly slow and weak response to the outbreak that has reportedly killed more than 4,500 people since May.

“We cannot divert our limited resources from the urgent response to do a detailed analysis of the past response. That review will come, but only after this outbreak is over,” WHO said.

And the Associated Press covers te case that has Americans on edge:

Ebola lapses persisted for days at Dallas hospital

Just minutes after Thomas Eric Duncan arrived for a second time at the emergency room, the word is on his chart: “Ebola.” But despite all the warnings that the deadly virus could arrive unannounced at an American hospital, for days after the admission, his caregivers are vulnerable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pointed to lapses by the hospital in those initial days. And Duncan’s medical records show heightened protective measures as his illness advanced. But either because of a lag in implementing those steps or because they were still insufficient, scores of hospital staffers were put at risk, according to the records.

The hospital’s protective protocol was “insufficient,” said Dr. Joseph McCormick of the University of Texas School of Public Health, who was part of the CDC team that investigated the first recorded Ebola outbreak in 1976. “The gear was inadequate. The procedures in the room were inadequate.”

While Defense One covers a regulatory disaster:

Dallas Hospital Had the Ebola Screening Machine That the Military Is Using in Africa

The military is using an Ebola screening machine that could have diagnosed the Ebola cases in Texas far faster, but government guidelines prevent hospitals from using it to actually screen for Ebola.

It’s a toaster-sized box called FilmArray, produced by a company called BioFire, a subsidiary of bioMérieux and it’s capable of detecting Ebola with a high degree of confidence — in under an hour.

Incredibly, it was present at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas when Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan walked through the door, complaining of fever and he had just come from Liberia. Duncan was sent home, but even still, FDA guidelines prohibited the hospital from using the machine to screen for Ebola.

While the Guardian covers desperate ass-covering:

Texas hospital mounts ‘#PresbyProud’ fightback as Ebola criticism mounts

  • Dallas hospital where nurses were infected engages PR firm
  • Union chief says: ‘There has been no leadership’

The hospital in Texas where two nurses became the first people to contract Ebola inside the US is mounting an aggressive public relations campaign to rescue its image, as nursing representatives call for its top executives to be held accountable for the crisis.

Texas Health Presbyterian hospital in Dallas hired Burson-Marsteller, a New York-based PR firm, to direct a fightback against sharp criticism it received after Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who was first sent home by the hospital, died there from Ebola.

It has since published slick video clips of smiling nurses praising their managers and hosted a brief “rally” of medics wielding pro-hospital placards outside the emergency room for television news cameras. Amid fears patients might stay away, the hospital has tried to flood social media with the hashtag “#PresbyProud” and issued rebuttals to allegations about its practices after nurses Nina Pham and Amber Vinson were infected while treating Duncan, who died on 8 October.

From the New York Times, politics as usual, with a desperate edge:

The Partisan Divide on Ebola Preparedness

After a second case of Ebola was discovered among the staff of a Dallas hospital that treated an infected patient, public concerns are likely to increase about whether the United States health care system can properly respond to an outbreak.

Data from surveys suggest, however, that those views — like so many others — are being shaped by people’s partisan affilations as much as by news about the outbreak itself.

According to a new ABC News/Washington Post survey, only 54 percent of Republicans are confident in the federal government’s ability to respond effectively to Ebola — far fewer than the 76 percent of Democrats who expressed confidence. This finding represents a striking reversal from the partisan divide found in a question about a potential avian influenza outbreak in 2006, when a Republican, George W. Bush, was president. An ABC/Post poll taken at the time found that 72 percent of Republicans were confident in an effective federal response compared with only 52 percent of Democrats.

From the Washington Post, Obama urges:

Obama: ‘We can’t give in to hysteria or fear’ of Ebola

President Obama on Saturday sought to tamp down fears of an Ebola outbreak and defend his administration from Republican critics who have called for a more aggressive response to the disease, including sealing off U.S. borders to visitors from countries battling widespread outbreaks.

“We can’t just cut ourselves off from West Africa, where this disease is raging,” Obama said in his weekly radio address. “Trying to seal off an entire region of the world — if that were even possible — could actually make the situation worse.”

Such actions would make it harder for American health-care workers, soldiers and supplies to reach stricken areas, Obama said. It could also cause residents of countries in West Africa where Ebola is still spreading to try to evade screening on their way to the United States or Europe.

The president’s main message was one of calm, coming at a time of growing worry in communities throughout the country. “We can’t give in to hysteria or fear, because that only makes it harder to get people the accurate information they need,” Obama said. “If we’re guided by science — the facts, not fear — then I am absolutely confident we can prevent a serious outbreak here in the United States.”

From the White House, here’s the address:

Weekly Address: What You Need to Know About Ebola

Program notes:

In this week’s address, the President discussed what the United States is doing to respond to Ebola, both here at home and abroad, and the key facts Americans need to know.

Making a list and checking more than twice, via the Associated Press:

More than 100 monitored for Ebola symptoms in Ohio

Health officials in Ohio are monitoring more than 100 people following the visit by a Dallas nurse who tested positive for Ebola shortly after returning to Texas from the Cleveland area.

Officials said Saturday that none of those being monitored are sick.

State officials previously said 16 people Amber Vinson had contact with were being monitored. Officials say the sharp increase is a result of the identification of airline passengers who flew with Vinson between Dallas and Cleveland and the identification of people who also visited the dress shop where her bridesmaids were trying on dresses.

Vinson’s stepfather is quarantined in his home in the Akron suburb of Tallmadge. That is where Vinson stayed during her visit. The stepfather is the only person in the state under such a restriction.

Golden State preparations from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Gov. Jerry Brown says state is working on Ebola safeguards

Gov. Jerry Brown said Friday that the state is drawing up plans to protect nurses, other health care workers and the public from Ebola, saying California must avoid mistakes made in Texas in dealing with the disease.

The governor said he has met with public health officers and spoken with national nurses representatives to devise guidelines that hospitals must follow should an Ebola patient be diagnosed in California.

“We’ve got work to do,” Brown said in an interview with The Chronicle. “It’s a fast-moving story.”

He said Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the state Department of Public Health, is heading up the effort, and that health officials will meet with Cal/OSHA on Tuesday to discuss “issues of workers’ safety.”

From the Miami Herald, preparations in another state:

CDC responds to Florida’s requests for help with potential Ebola outbreak

The federal Centers for Disease Control agreed Saturday to some — but not all — of Gov. Rick Scott’s Ebola-related requests.

The CDC will hold a conference call with Florida hospitals next week on best practices, Scott said Saturday. The organization has also given Florida the green light to spend about $7 million in federal grant funding on protective suits for health care workers.

“The CDC indicated that we will receive formal approval next week, but based on this preliminary approval, we have already begun using these funds to enhance our Ebola preparedness efforts,” Scott said in a statement.

The governor is still waiting on the CDC to contact passengers on a plane that stopped in Fort Lauderdale after carrying a nurse who was later diagnosed with Ebola.

He also has yet to receive 27 of the 30 Ebola testing kits he requested.

From the Associated Press another oversight failure:

Ebola monitoring inconsistent as virus spread

The inconsistent response by health officials in monitoring and limiting the movement of health workers has been one of the critical blunders in the Ebola outbreak. Friends and family who had contact with Duncan before he was hospitalized were confined to homes under armed guard, but nurses who handled his contagious bodily fluids were allowed to treat other patients, take mass transit and get on airplanes.

“I don’t think the directions provided to people at first were as clear as they needed to be, and there have been changes in the instructions given to people over time,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, a doctor who did his residency in Dallas.

Local health authorities have said repeatedly throughout the response that their guidance and direction can change.

“Please keep in mind the contact list is fluid, meaning people may fall off the list or new people may be added to the list depending on new information that could arise at any time on any given day,” said Dallas County health department spokeswoman Erikka Neroes on Friday when asked how many people are even being monitored.

From The Hill, a case where Republicans and businesses are on the outs:

Businesses quietly push back at Ebola travel ban

Businesses are pushing back against lawmakers’ calls to impose a ban on travelers from the three West Africa nations at the center of the Ebola epidemic.

Public opposition is coming from U.S. airlines, who have seen their stocks hit because of fears the Ebola scare will lead to a drop in travel.

Other business groups are quietly telling the White House to stand firm in opposing a ban.

They echo arguments from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that a ban would isolate Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, potentially making it tougher to slow the epidemic in those countries.

From the New York Times, the first of two stories of life in limbo:

Life in Quarantine for Ebola Exposure: 21 Days of Fear and Loathing

As the Ebola scare spreads from Texas to Ohio and beyond, the number of people who have locked themselves away — some under government orders, others voluntarily — has grown well beyond those who lived with and cared for Mr. Duncan before his death on Oct. 8. The discovery last week that two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital here had caught the virus while treating Mr. Duncan extended concentric circles of fear to new sets of hospital workers and other contacts.

Officials in Texas said Thursday that nearly 100 health care workers would be asked to sign pledges not to use public transportation, go to public places or patronize shops and restaurants for 21 days, the maximum incubation period for Ebola. While not a mandate, the notices warn that violators “may be subject” to a state-ordered quarantine.

When officials revealed that one of the infected nurses had flown from Dallas to Cleveland and back before being hospitalized, nearly 300 fellow passengers and crew members faced decisions about whether to quarantine themselves. The next day, a lab technician who had begun a Caribbean cruise despite possible exposure was confined to a stateroom. Medical workers, missionaries and journalists returning from West Africa — especially from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where Ebola is rampant — are also staying home.

Dr. Howard Markel, who teaches the history of medicine at the University of Michigan, said the quarantines recalled the country’s distant epidemics of cholera, typhus and bubonic plague.

“Ebola is jerking us back to the 19th century,” he said. “It’s terrible. It’s isolating. It’s scary. You’re not connecting with other human beings, and you are fearful of a microbiologic time bomb ticking inside you.”

The second, from Bloomberg, covers another woe:

Ebola Fears Stymie Home Quest for Quarantined in Dallas

Louise Troh and the three other people in her household have spent much of their isolation on laptops and mobile phones, playing video games, tossing a football, speaking to relatives and reading the Bible.

The activities have been welcome diversions for Troh, her son and two young men she considers family — “the boys,” as she refers to her housemates. She’s the girlfriend of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die in the U.S. from Ebola.

When they are released from their 21-day, state-ordered quarantine on Oct. 20, they face an uncertain future in Dallas, owing to continued fears about their closeness to the deadly virus. A new-apartment deal busted up after Troh had already made a deposit, and Dallas’s top county official and Troh’s pastor say people are reluctant to rent to someone who was so close to Ebola.

From New York Times, another complication:

Waste From Ebola Poses Challenge to Hospitals

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assured the public this month that most American hospitals could treat cases of Ebola, it was technically correct. Hospitals routinely treat highly contagious diseases, and top-tier ones are extensively equipped to isolate patients who pose special risks.

But the infection over the past week of two Texas hospital workers betrayed what even many of the best hospitals lack: the ability to handle the tide of infectious waste that Ebola generates.

Ebola’s catastrophic course includes diarrhea, vomiting and hemorrhaging of blood, a combination difficult enough to contain in less-communicable illnesses. When they are highly contagious, disposing of the waste and cleaning up what is left behind require expertise and equipment that some specialists said are lacking even in highly regarded medical facilities.

Those shortcomings are compounded, they said, by surprising gaps in scientists’ knowledge about the Ebola virus itself, down to the time it can survive in different environments outside the body.

And from RT, an offer that’s bound to cause heartburn in Foggy Bottom:

Fidel Castro offers cooperation with US in fight against Ebola

Fidel Castro has expressed Cuba’s readiness to cooperate with the US in the global fight against Ebola. Cuba has been on the frontline of international response to the worst outbreak in the disease’s history.

In his article “Time of Duty,” which was published on Saturday, the retired Cuban leader said that medical staff trying to save lives are the best example of human solidarity. Fighting together against the epidemic can protect the people of Cuba, Latin America, and the US from the deadly virus, he added.

“We will gladly cooperate with American [medical] personnel in this task – not for the sake of peace between the two states which have been adversaries for many years, but for the sake of peace in the world,” wrote Castro.

And Sky News covers a plea for help:

Cameron Presses EU Leaders On Ebola Fund

  • The PM urges the EU to double its funding in the fight against the deadly virus, saying “much more must be done”

David Cameron has called for European Union leaders to double their contribution to help tackle ebola, demanding a combined 1bn euro (£800m) pledge.

The Prime Minister has written to the other 26 leaders and European Council president Herman van Rompuy calling for agreement to an “ambitious package of support” at a Brussels summit next week.

He made clear his frustration that other countries are failing to shoulder their share of the burden of international efforts to deal with the epidemic in West Africa which has killed more than 4,500.

Britain has committed £125m to its contribution – the second highest sum after the US. Downing Street said the total contribution from the EU is 500m euros (£400m).

After the jump, the travel industry enters a potential tailspin, cruise ship woes, French flight attendants demand an end to Paris/Conakry flights as France introduces airport screenings, ship screenings in Sweden, travel warnings in Cairo and confidence {SARS-inspired?] in China and a false alarm, a vaccine production delay, Canadian drugs dispatched, on to Africa and a chilling question, Kenyan doctors dispatched, on to Sierra Leone with food on the way, youth join the fight, a street battle with police over a corpse in the street, and an angry bureaucratic shakeup, on to Liberia an a construction shutdown, WHO offers a prescription, a plea for more aid and a promise from Washington, and a warning that things are worse than the press reports, a suicidal leap and an escape in Guinea as contagion spreads into a gold mining region, and from Nigeria, hope accompanied by a warning. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ills, seas, animals, & nukes


First up the latest on an ongoing tragedy from CCTV America:

Number of polio cases in Pakistan highest in 14 years

Program notes:

This month Pakistan broke a 14-year record for the highest number of polio cases in a year. Militants continue to block vaccination efforts. CCTV America’s Danial Khan reports.

And an Asia outbreak continues to grow, via Want China Times:

Record-high number of dengue fever cases expected in Taiwan this year

Over the next few days, the accumulated number of dengue fever cases reported in Taiwan could surpass the previous high of 5,336 such cases recorded in 2002, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said Thursday.

With a rate of 900 new cases per week since the beginning of October, it is only a matter of time before Taiwan sees the worst dengue fever outbreak in its history, CDC Deputy Director Chou Jih-haw said.

According to the CDC, there have been 4,750 indigenous dengue fever cases as of Oct. 13, 47 of which were the more severe hemorrhagic dengue fever, Chou said.

From BBC News, a South Seas climate protest:

South Pacific climate activists blockade Australia port

Hundreds of climate change protestors have attempted to disrupt shipments of coal from a port north of Sydney using their canoes, kayaks and surfboards to form a blockade.

The group included people from countries in the South Pacific who said they wanted to highlight the effects of climate change on their nations. They said the burning of coal mined in Australia was causing sea levels to rise which will impact low-lying Pacific islands.

About 30 Pacific Climate Warriors, as they call themselves, took to the water in traditional canoes. They had come from countries including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tokelau.

From the Guardian, they’re doing it on porpoise:

UK is breaking EU’s conservation laws on porpoises

  • European commission could take Britain to court within two months for failure to protect harbour porpoises

Britain is facing a referral to the European Court of Justice within two months unless it designates more protection sites for harbour porpoises, a threatened species in the North Sea.

Harbour porpoises are the most common, and smallest, cetacean species found in UK waters. Similar in appearance to bottlenose dolphins, they are very social animals, rotund in shape with a small dorsal fin that shows above the waves.

Although they are still relatively abundant, their numbers are thought to be falling fast under pressure from human activities such as fisheries bycatch, starvation, underwater noise and injuries from boats.

Salon casts doubt on a serial killer:

EPA: Bee-killing pesticides used on soy crops don’t even do what they’re supposed to

  • A federal study finds “negligible benefits” to the widespread use of neonicotinoid seed coatings

The EPA has yet to do much about neonicotinoids, the class of pesticides implicated in the United States’ mass bee die-offs, but it has started looking into them. And the results of an extensive review into one such pesticides, commonly applied to soybean seeds, presents another compelling reason to ban them: using them, the agency found, isn’t any better than using no pesticides at all.

“These seed treatments provide negligible overall benefits to soybean production in most situations,” the report concludes; at most, they up revenue by $6, or less than 2 percent, per acre, but the more likely estimate is $0. Part of the problem is that the insecticides are only effective within the first few weeks of planting, while the insects they’re intended to combat aren’t typically active during that time. And if attacks do occur, the study the study identified a whole assortment of other, non-bee-killing alternatives that are both effective and comparable in cost.

Colony collapse disorder, on the other hand, has cost the U.S. an estimated $2 billion in lost hives and, as a result, some $30 billion in crops.

From the Guardian, good on ‘em:

China tests outright logging ban in state forests

  • China has halted commercial logging by state firms in forests in Heilongjiang, a move experts see as a significant step to curb over-exploitation of timber, reports chinadialogue

China has launched a trial ban on commercial logging in state-owned forests in the vast north-eastern province of Heilongjiang bordering Russia, home to much of the country’s timber industry. Forestry experts have hailed the ban as a major step forward, predicting it will enable timber supplies to recover and shift the industry’s focus towards improved forestry management.

To make the ban stick, the central government has allocated 2.35bn yuan a year to cover forestry workers’ living costs between 2014 and 2020, chinadialogue has learned from the State Forestry Administration (SFA). If the trial ban is successful, the policy may be extended throughout north east China and Inner Mongolia.

Sheng Weitong, a forestry expert and former advisor to China’s cabinet-level state council, told chinadialogue that some laid-off loggers “will become forest rangers and learn how to manage forests because the vast numbers of young and semi-mature trees in these districts need management. Workers here neglected forest management in the past.”

And off to Fuksuhimapocalypse Now!, first with NHK WORLD:

Survey: More Fukushima evacuees give up returning

A survey shows more evacuees from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident have given up returning home. The Reconstruction Agency and local municipalities released on Friday the results of the annual survey conducted in August.

Almost half of respondents from 2 towns designated as an evacuation zone said they decided they will not go back. The percentage of people who gave this answer is up 11 points from last year in the town of Namie and up 3 points in Tomioka town.

Officials say some of the people who were undecided in last year’s survey have made up their mind.

A delay from the Asahi Shimbun:

ANALYSIS: TEPCO behind schedule to eliminate contaminated water despite extra measures

Thanks to the newly set up ALPS units and the improved model to be introduced, it is estimated that the radioactive water processing ability of the plant will rise from the current maximum of 750 tons per day to 1,960 tons, according to TEPCO.

But many problems have been reported with ALPS since it first became operational, repeatedly forcing the plant operator to halt its operations. The utilization rate for the system between January and August was just 35 to 61 percent.

Although TEPCO replaced some components of ALPS with improved parts, problems occurred with some replaced components in late September, forcing the utility to suspend operations of some units of the system.

Whereas TEPCO has set a goal of completing the purification of all highly radioactive water stored on site, it would still be difficult to achieve that goal even if TEPCO could operate all the processing systems day and night.

A state broadcaster rebels, via Public Radio International’s The World:

Japan’s timid coverage of Fukushima led this news anchor to revolt — and he’s not alone

It’s been three-and-a-half years since 83-year-old Kamematsu left his home, with its rice patties, vegetable fields and 10 cows, fleeing the disaster at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor. He still can’t go back.

When will it be ready for people again? No one seems to know — or be interested in telling him. “I can’t take my land with me,” he says, “so I don’t know what to do. I can’t see ahead.”

Kamematsu is one of about 80,000 people in Japan still officially displaced by the nuclear crisis. Questions remain about radiation levels, the clean-up process and when residents can return home. Yasuhiko Tajima, a professor of media studies at Tokyo’s Sophia University, says many Japanese are frustrated by what they see as a lack of information.

Japanese journalists did what Tajima calls “announcement journalism” in reporting on the crisis. He says they were reporting the press releases of big companies and the people in power. And he’s not the only one who thinks so.

“I am a newscaster, but I couldn’t tell the true story on my news program,” says Jun Hori, a former anchor for NHK, the Japanese state broadcaster.

Hori says the network restricted what he and other journalists could say about Fukushima and moved more slowly than foreign media to report on the disaster and how far radiation was spreading. The attitude in the newsroom was not to question official information

Another reactor stress from the Japan Times:

Utilities pressed to make quick decision on scrapping aged reactors

The government called on Friday for utilities to swiftly decide whether to scrap aging reactors that would be particularly vulnerable in the event of a natural disaster.

The pro-nuclear government, which is seeking to reactivate the nation’s idled reactors as soon as possible despite a glut of solar and other renewable energy that is being boycotted by the utilities, is pushing the them to decide quickly in the hope that shutting old facilities will help mitigate public concern so restarts can proceed.

Under new, tighter safety standards adopted because of the 2011 core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, utilities are not allowed to operate reactors for longer than 40 years, in principle.

And here’s one to give you nightmares, from JapanToday:

Expert says 2 Sendai reactors in danger from active volcano

A prominent volcanologist disputed Japanese regulators’ conclusion that two nuclear reactors were safe from a volcanic eruption in the next few decades, saying Friday that such a prediction was impossible.

A cauldron eruption at one of several volcanos surrounding the Sendai nuclear power plant in southern Japan could not only hit the reactors but could cause a nationwide disaster, said Toshitsugu Fujii, University of Tokyo professor emeritus who heads a government-commissioned panel on volcanic eruption prediction.

Nuclear regulators last month said two Sendai reactors fulfilled tougher safety requirements set after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The regulators ruled out a major eruption over the next 30 years until the reactors’ reach the end of their usable lifespan.

More from Reuters:

Japan’s volcanoes made more jittery by 2011 quake, expert says

Japan’s massive 2011 earthquake may trigger more, and larger, volcanic eruptions over the next few decades, perhaps even that of Mount Fuji – but predicting them remains close to impossible, a volcano expert said on Friday.

The nation last month suffered its worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years when Mount Ontake, its second tallest active volcano at 3,067 meters (10,062 feet), suddenly erupted, raining down ash and stone on hikers crowding the summit.

The eruption killed 56 people, exceeding the deaths in the 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens in the United States. Seven victims remain missing, and recovery efforts have been suspended until the spring.

Japan may well be moving into a period of increased volcanic activity touched off by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake of March 11, 2011, said Toshitsugu Fujii, a volcanologist and professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.

“The 2011 quake convulsed all of underground Japan quite sharply, and due to that influence Japan’s volcanoes may also become much more active,” Fujii told reporters.

And we close with another nightmare from NHK WORLD:

Shimomura criticizes Monju operator

Science minister Hakubun Shimomura has criticized the operator of the Monju fast-breeder prototype reactor for its failure to properly maintain equipment. It recently came to light that a number of monitoring cameras at the reactor are not working.

Shimomura told reporters on Friday that it is very regrettable that the operator, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, lacks a sense of responsibility. More than 50 cameras, or about one-third of those monitoring coolant pipes, were found to be broken when Monju was inspected in September.

Shimomura said reassuring the public about Monju’s safety is the minimum requirement for restarting the experimental reactor. He said the prototype reactor may be stopped forever if the operator’s poor management continues.

Celestial arrivals, both ancient and new


Two remarkable celestial encounters to cover, the first a sight that we see today as it existed a very long time ago, the other very close and and happening Sunday.

First from the ODN [previously ITN] YouTube channel, and a long time coming:

NASA’s space telescope spots distant galaxy 13 billion light-years away

Program notes:

If you peered through a giant cosmic magnifying glass, you’d be able to spot a tiny, faint galaxy – one of the furthest galaxies ever seen. Spotted by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the object is estimated to be more than 13 billion light-years away. The galaxy measures merely 850 light-years across — 500 times smaller than our Milky Way galaxy — and is estimated to have a mass of only 40 million suns. The Milky Way, in comparison, has a stellar mass of a few hundred billion suns. Report by Claire Lomas.

And a report on that Sunday encounter from NASA Goddard:

Observing Comet Siding Spring at Mars

Program notes:

Follow Comet Siding Spring at #MarsComet

On October 19, Comet Siding Spring will pass within 88,000 miles of Mars – just one third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon! Traveling at 33 miles per second and weighing as much as a small mountain, the comet hails from the outer fringes of our solar system, originating in a region of icy debris known as the Oort cloud.

Comets from the Oort cloud are both ancient and rare. Since this is Comet Siding Spring’s first trip through the inner solar system, scientists are excited to learn more about its composition and the effects of its gas and dust on the Mars upper atmosphere. NASA will be watching closely before, during, and after the flyby with its entire fleet of Mars orbiters and rovers, along with the Hubble Space Telescope and dozens of instruments on Earth. The encounter is certain to teach us more about Oort cloud comets, the Martian atmosphere, and the solar system’s earliest ingredients.