Category Archives: Nature

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The University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia has rescinded the decision of the University’s journalism school Grady College to invite FrontPageAfrica newsroom editor Wade C. L. Williams for its McGill Lecture slated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

EnviroWatch: Drought, critters, crime, nukes


We being with the latest California drought development from the Los Angeles Times:

Amid drought, Mayor Garcetti directs L.A. to cut water use 20% by 2017

Mayor Eric Garcetti on Tuesday challenged Los Angeles residents, businesses and city agencies to cut water use by 20% over the next 21/2 years and warned of new water restrictions if conservation targets aren’t met.

In announcing the plan, Garcetti said the city’s already significant reductions in water use were inadequate given the seriousness of the drought.

“The ongoing drought has created a water crisis second to none. We need bold action,” the mayor said.

From the Guardian, a deadly nexus:

Fossil fuel industry supported by a ‘toxic triangle’ that puts 400 million at risk

  • Political inertia, financial short-termism and vested fossil fuel interests threaten to push up global temperatures, says Oxfam

Political inertia, financial short-termism and vested fossil fuel interests have formed a “toxic triangle” that threatens to push up global temperatures, putting 400 million people at risk of hunger and drought by 2060, Oxfam said on Friday, a week before a European Union summit to finalise a new climate and energy policy framework.

In its Food, Fossil Fuels and Filthy Finance report, Oxfam warned that EU leaders must resist pressure from the fossil fuel industry, which spends at least €44 million (£35m) a year on lobbying the European bloc, and commit to cuts of at least 55% in carbon dioxide emissions, energy savings of at least 40% and an increase in the use of sustainable renewable energy to at least 45% of the energy mix.

EU leaders meet in Brussels on October 23-24 to agree on targets for emissions cuts by 2030, deployment of renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. The meeting comes ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris next year. The leaders are expected to agree an emissions cut target of 40% over 1990 levels, but Oxfam said this would not be enough if Europe was to make a fair contribution to tackling climate change. The European Union emits about 10% of global carbon dioxide.

Another deadly entity from Science:

Deadly virus striking European amphibians

A virus that has slipped into several European countries is alarming herpetologists, as it ravages amphibians. A type of ranavirus (RV) is being blamed for gruesome deaths and declining populations of a wide range of species in the Picos de Europa National Park in northern Spain, according to research published today in Current Biology. “This is the best example to date of RV being a serious threat to amphibian populations,” says Karen Lips of the University of Maryland, College Park, who was not involved in the research.

The virus adds to the woes of the world’s amphibians, which have been declining at a worrying rate. A major culprit, the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has afflicted a wide range of species since it was discovered in 1998. In particular, it has apparently driven many species of frogs extinct in the tropics. The new RV, in contrast, seems to be a problem for temperate species.

Unusual amphibian deaths in the Spanish park were first noticed in 2005. With help from Jaime Bosch of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, park biologists have kept close tabs on six common species of amphibians that live there. They’ve been seeing sick animals with necrotic tissue, open sores, and internal hemorrhages. Some vomit blood. “It’s not a pretty sight,” says Stephen Price, a molecular biologist at University College London.

Bearing arms against bears from the Guardian:

Romanian politician calls for the army to help control bear population

Csaba Borboly has called for military assistance and for culling quotas to be lifted following a spate of cases involving brown bears damaging property in Romania

In the depths of Transylvania, Romania, a war against one of Europe’s largest brown bear populations is looming.

Following a string of cases involving damage to private property from bears in recent months, Csaba Borboly, a senior politician from the Transylvanian region, has called for the army to be brought in. “The [bear] problem needs the involvement of specialised state institutions such as the police, the paramilitary and even the army.”

Borboly’s remarks follow on the heels of a decision made in late September by the Romanian government to raise the bear hunting quota by the largest margin in recent history. The new quota allows for 550 bears to be killed over the next 12 months, up two-thirds from the 2012 quota.

Some good news for a magnificent endangered critter from Punch Nigeria:

Interpol issues arrest warrant for Kenya’s ivory kingpin

International Police Organisation (Interpol) on Thursday issued a warrant to arrest Mombasa businessman Feisal Ali Mohammed, suspected dealer in poaching syndicate in East Africa region.

Interpol has sent out a Red Alert to member countries to assist in the arrest of Feisal, who is wanted for alleged engaging in wildlife trophies trade in Kenya.

Police say Feisal is wanted in connection to last year’s seizure of three tonnes of ivory found in a yard in Tudor in Mombasa. Interpol is expected to send the Red Alert to member countries, notifying officials it is a priority to pass along any information on his whereabouts.

A source within the police indicated that Interpol will increase information exchange, support intelligence analysis and assist national and regional investigations, to apprehend kingpins in wildlife poaching.

Questions about another critter under deep threat from KCST in Seattle:

Is Alaska Safe For Sea Stars?

Program notes:

A deadly disease has been wiping out West Coast starfish for more than a year. One place that has held off the disease the longest is Alaska. Researchers recently traveled there to search for new clues.

“Almost everywhere we’ve looked in the last year, we’ve seen catastrophic losses of sea stars,” says Pete Raimondi, a biology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has been studying an alarming epidemic that’s been killing starfish by the millions.

Raimondi’s team has been tracking the spread of the disease. They noticed signs of the disease in Sitka in the summer of 2013, but there hasn’t been a mass die-off until now. Scientists believe that warming water or an infectious pathogen, like a bacteria or virus, may be to blame, but no one knows for certain.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now! with the Asahi Shimbun:

Plans to remove cover over damaged Fukushima reactor draws concern

Amid local concerns of the further spread of radioactive materials, Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced plans to start dismantling the canopy installed over the destroyed Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant’s No. 1 reactor building.

The operation, announced by TEPCO on Oct. 15, will remove the cover that was erected in October 2011 over the building to prevent radioactive materials from entering the atmosphere.

The structure’s walls and roof were destroyed in a hydrogen explosion that occurred after the plant was struck by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami

The Japan Times covers political resistance:

More answers about Fukushima disaster needed before reactor restarts, Niigata governor says

Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida said Japan should not restart any nuclear plants until the cause of the Fukushima meltdowns is fully understood and nearby communities have emergency plans that can effectively respond to another major disaster.

Izumida, whose prefecture is home to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s seven-reactor Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, said on Wednesday that regulators look at equipment but don’t evaluate local evacuation plans.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to restart two reactors in Kagoshima Prefecture that last month were the first to be approved under stricter safety requirements introduced after the Fukushima disaster started. Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has called the new standard one of the world’s highest.

And from the London Telegraph, Britain’s just-approved nuclear power complex hits a stumbling block:

Hinkley Point nuclear energy deal under investigation by National Audit Office

  • Spending watchdog quietly began probe a year ago, it emerges

The National Audit Office has been quietly investigating the subsidy deal for the proposed Hinkley Point nuclear plant for the past year, it emerged on Thursday.

In recent days both the Labour Party and the Commons Environmental Audit Committee have urged the spending watchdog to examine the deal, which commits consumers to pay up to £17bn in subsidies to developer EDF over a 35-year period.

But the NAO confirmed on Thursday night that an investigation was in fact already well underway. It announced the move in a little-noticed statement on its website on October 21st last year, the day the headline terms of a subsidy contract with the Government were unveiled.

The statement said the watchdog would investigate the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)’s “commercial approach to securing this deal and the proposed terms of the contract” and would “report to Parliament on value for money and the resulting risks which the Department must manage”.

More nuclear questions raised, via Al Jazeera America:

Former workers, whistleblowers shed light on nuclear site safety setbacks

  • Former employees at Hanford, the country’s most contaminated nuclear waste site, discuss its disturbing safety culture

On the banks of the Columbia River, miles of open land sit undeveloped behind barbed wire fences. A handful of mysterious structures dot the landscape, remnants from the early days of the Cold War. Passing by the old Hanford nuclear production complex can feel like a journey into the past.

Known simply as Hanford, workers here produced plutonium for the world’s first atomic bomb and for many of the nation’s current nuclear warheads. The site was first developed in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project and ceased plutonium production nearly 50 years later, leaving behind 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste. Spanning 586 square miles, it is now ground zero for the largest cleanup project in America.

For 27 years, Mike Geffre was part of that effort, working in an area known as the tank farms: 177 massive underground storage tanks, which hold up to 1 million gallons each of the country’s most toxic nuclear waste.

Fracking foe intimidation from the Guardian:

Anti-fracking activist faces fines and jail time in ongoing feud with gas firm

  • Company claims the Pennsylvania woman showed ‘blatant disregard’ for injunction banning her from being near well sites

An oil and gas company is seeking fines and jail time for a peaceful anti-fracking activist in Pennsylvania, according to court documents.

In a motion filed this week, lawyers for Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation, one of the biggest operators in Pennsylvania, asked the Susquehanna County court to find longtime activist Vera Scroggins in contempt of an injunction barring her from areas near its well sites.

The row between Cabot and Scroggins became notorious in environmental and human rights circles after the company sought last year to ban the activist from an area of about 310 sq miles (803 sq km) – or about half the entire county. The scope of that ban was later reduced

Finally, from Science cold [shouldered] fusion:

U.S. fusion plan draws blistering critique

Many U.S. fusion scientists are blasting a report that seeks to map out a 10-year strategic plan for their field, calling it “flawed,” “unsatisfactory,” and the product of a rushed process rife with potential conflicts of interest. One result: Last week, most members of a 23-person government advisory panel had to recuse themselves from voting on the report as a result of potential conflicts.

“The whole process was unsatisfactory,” says Martin Greenwald of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Plasma Science and Fusion Center in Cambridge.

Achieving fusion—nuclear reactions that have the potential to produce copious, clean energy—requires heating hydrogen fuel to more than 100 million degrees Celsius, causing it to become an ionized gas or plasma. Huge and expensive reactors are needed to contain the superhot plasma long enough for reactions to start. The largest current fusion effort is the ITER tokamak, a machine under construction in France with support from the United States and international partners. But no fusion reactor has yet produced more energy than it consumes.

California’s drought: Another week, no change


From the U.S. Drought Monitor, more dismal evidence that if it’s really the Golden State, that’s because of all that drought-withered vegetation:

BLOG Drought

EnviroWatch: Ills, the endangered, nukes


And more. . .

From South Africa’s GroundUp, a reminder that Ebola has killed far few people thus far than have some other diseases prevalent in Africa [Malaria is estimated to have killed 627,000 people in 2012, 90 percent of them in Africa, and most children]:

A deadly disease that demands huge investment

No doubt you’ve heard there’s a disease about that is infectious, difficult to treat and that has an extremely high death rate.

It’s drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Several thousand people died from it in our country last year; more will likely die this year.

There were just over 54,000 recorded TB deaths in South Africa in 2011, the last year for which data is available. The actual number of TB deaths is probably much larger than this. It is by far the biggest single cause of death in the country, and it is exacerbated by the HIV epidemic. On the positive side, as more people with HIV have gone onto antiretroviral treatment, the number of TB deaths has declined; there were over 70,000 recorded deaths a year in the mid-2000s.

One spot of good news from the Daily Monitor in Kampala, Uganda:

Uganda is now Marburg-free, says Health ministry

he government has declared the country Marburg-free as no new case has been registered in more than a fortnight.

According to the state Minister for Primary Healthcare, Ms Sarah Opendi, there is no new confirmed case of Marburg since the first that occurred on September 30, involving a health worker who was working at Mengo Hospital, who died of the hemorrhagic fever.

“We continue to receive and investigate all alert cases from different parts of the country. None has so far tested positive for the Marburg virus,” Ms Opendi said at Marburg status-news conference held in Kampala yesterday.

But another Daily Monitor story hints that something else may be lurking in the biosphere:

Panic in Kayunga as child dies from strange illness

Panic has gripped residents and health workers in Kayunga District following an outbreak of a strange disease that has so far killed one person and left others admitted.

Mr Ssenoga Mubanda, the Kayunga District health educator, yesterday identified the dead as Andrew Kigundu, 6. Those admitted in Kayunga hospital include Alice Nabukalu, 26, Steven Miiro, 10, Deo Kigundu and Sam Luutu all of Namagabi B village.

According to health workers and residents, the deceased and the sick first developed high bouts of fever on Saturday and later started vomiting.
Kiggundu, according to the hospital and family sources, died on Sunday and was immediately buried.

Reuters tracks another rapidly spreading virus:

Mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus likely to reach Mexico- health ministry

Mexico is very likely to join the list of countries to register cases of the painful mosquito-borne viral disease chikungunya, a senior health ministry official said on Wednesday.

Chikungunya is spread by two mosquito species, and is typically not fatal but can cause debilitating symptoms including fever, headache and severe joint pain lasting months.

There is no current treatment for the virus, which was detected for the first time in the Americas late last year, and no licensed vaccine to prevent it.

From the Guardian, the nightingale vanishing, and more:

Birds that migrate from UK to Africa in winter declining drastically, RSPB says

Nightingale and turtle dove among populations that have seen dramatic long-term fall in number, annual RSPB report says

Bird populations that make the great journey between northern Europe and Africa – including the nightingale and turtle dove – are drastically declining, conservationists have warned.

Nearly half of the 29 summer migrants, who appear in the UK in spring to breed before returning in the autumn, show long-term population declines.

The nightingale, famed for its song and for inspiring English poets, is one of a group of birds that spend winter in the African humid zone of Sierra Leone, Senegal, the Gambia and Burkina Faso that are suffering particularly badly.

Of this group of 11 humid zone species, eight are declining in number.

An a species invading from the Asahi Shimbun:

Poisonous red-back spiders feared to have started breeding in Tokyo

With an increase in sightings of venomous spiders in Tokyo, experts warn that the elderly and infants are most in danger if bitten.

“Red-back spiders that invaded Tokyo are likely to have started breeding,” warned Toshio Kishimoto, a former senior researcher at the Japan Wildlife Research Center.

The species, endemic to Australia, has been found in 35 prefectures, including Tokyo, across Japan since first being spotted in Osaka Prefecture in 1995 after apparently inadvertently hitching rides on cargo containers, according to the Environment Ministry.

From the Guardian, a pledge:

Australia pledges to halt loss of native mammal species by 2020

Environment minister reveals masterplan that involves tackling feral cats thought to kill 75m birds and mammals a day

The environment minister, Greg Hunt, has set out his vision to reverse the precipitous decline in the number of Australian species, pledging to end the loss of native mammal species by 2020.

Hunt admitted Australia has a legacy of “clear and significant failures” in protecting its wildlife, citing the fact that the country has the worst rate of mammal extinctions in the world, with 29 species perishing in the past 200 years.

“I have set a goal of ending the loss of mammal species by 2020,” Hunt said in a speech in Melbourne on Wednesday. What’s more, I want to see improvements in at least 20 of those species between now and then. Our flora and fauna are part of what makes us Australian. I don’t want the extinction of species such as the numbat, the quokka, the bilby, on our collective consciences.”

To achieve that goal the government will wage war on the feral cat population, which has been cited by scientists as a leading threat to Australian native species. There are about 20m feral cats in Australia, which are understood to slaughter an astonishing 75m birds and ground-dwelling mammals every day.

Restance to the Tory fracking imperative, from the Guardian:

Fracking firm lodging appeal after council rejects its planning application

  • West Sussex county council refused application by Celtique Energie for oil and gas exploration near South Downs national park

A fracking company is lodging an appeal against a county council decision to refuse it permission to explore for oil and gas.

West Sussex county council’s planning committee refused the application by Celtique Energie for oil and gas exploration near Wisborough Green, a conservation area just outside the South Downs national park, in July.

The refusal, thought to be the first time a council had rejected a planning application by a fracking company, was welcomed by local campaigners and environmentalists.

The county council said it turned down the application because Celtique did not demonstrate the site represented the best option compared with other sites, it had unsafe highways access and would have had an adverse impact on the area.

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

Government having trouble locating landowners of planned radioactive waste site

The Environment Ministry has completed briefings for landowners of a site to store radioactive waste from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but attendance at the meetings was less than half the landholders.

A total of 901 property owners of the construction site, located in the towns of Okuma and Futaba near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, attended the 12 meetings hosted by the ministry. Those that participated are believed to account for less than half of the total number who hold land titles to the site.

Ministry officials said many of the landowners evacuated as the March 2011 nuclear disaster unfurled and have yet to be found or contacted, which is just one of the obstacles the government’s purchasing plan has to overcome.

The site also includes land whose ownership remains unclear due to the death of the previous owners.

From the Japan Times, tabling emotion:

Fukushima food safety debated at London art show

A controversial performance artist whose work explores the safety of food from Fukushima Prefecture is attracting media interest at one of London’s most prestigious contemporary art shows.

New York-based Ei Arakawa is offering free soup to visitors at the Frieze Art Fair made from mushrooms and radishes grown in Iwaki, a city about 60 km south of the nuclear plant that suffered meltdowns following the tsunami in 2011.

His performance art is titled, “Does This Soup Taste Ambivalent?” and has been picked up by British newspapers with sensationalist references to “radioactive soup” and “poison.”

From Reuters, still on hold:

Japan’s nuclear restart unlikely this year, local vote expected in December

As Japan pitches an unpopular nuclear restart to residents near Kyushu Electric Power Co’s Sendai plant, local politicians say approval is unlikely until December, delaying an already fraught process to revive the country’s idled reactors.

More than three years after the nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima, the worst disaster since Chernobyl, Japan’s nuclear plants remain offline nationwide even as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushes to restart reactors that meet new safety guidelines set by an independent regulator.

The focus has switched to townships located near the Sendai reactors, the nation’s first to receive safety clearance from regulators. The debate over restarts pits host communities that get direct benefits from siting reactors against other nearby communities that do not reap the benefits but say they will be equally exposed to radioactive releases in the event of a disaster.

More from the Japan Times:

Niigata governor says it’s too soon for reactor restarts

Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida said Wednesday that Japan should not restart any nuclear plants until the cause of the Fukushima meltdowns is fully understood and nearby communities have emergency plans that can effectively respond to another major disaster.

Izumida, whose prefecture is home to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s seven-reactor Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, said regulators look at equipment but don’t evaluate local evacuation plans.

While the Wall Street Journal offers hope from the radioactive ashes:

Japan Could Use Fukushima to Develop Safer Nuclear Technology

Japan is looking to put nuclear power back online early next year with the expected restarting of two reactors in southern Japan. They would be the first of Japan’s 48 offline reactors to resume operations under new, tougher safety regulations introduced after the 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi.

While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration wants to get these reactors and others back on line to help power Japan’s economic recovery–provided they comply with the new regulations–opinion polls consistently show that more than half of respondents are opposed to restarting Japan’s nuclear power plants.

Nobuo Tanaka, a public policy professor at Tokyo University and a former executive director of the International Energy Agency, says Japan should go ahead with restarting the reactors, adding that the country has become too reliant on the Middle East for its energy needs. The IEA is a Paris-based agency that advises members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on energy security and recognizes the role to be played by nuclear power in a diverse, efficient and sustainable energy mix.

From TheLocal.de, seeking payment for a shutdown:

Swedes want €4.7 billion for nuclear shutdown

Swedish energy giant Vattenfall wants €4.7 billion from the German government for phasing out nuclear power.

The state-owned energy firm has been seeking money since 2011 as compensation for Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster that year.

But the amount in damages it was seeking was unclear until it was revealed by Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel in parliament on Wednesday.

Vattenfall has filed its case against the German government at the Washington-based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

And for our final item, via the Guardian, presumably too cheap to meter?:

Lockheed announces breakthrough on nuclear fusion energy

  • 100MW reactor small enough to fit on back of a truck
  • Cleaner energy source could be in use within 10 years

Lockheed Martin Corp said on Wednesday it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready for use in a decade.

Tom McGuire, who heads the project, said he and a small team had been working on fusion energy at Lockheed’s secretive Skunk Works for about four years, but were now going public to find potential partners in industry and government for their work.

Initial work demonstrated the feasibility of building a 100-megawatt reactor measuring seven feet by 10 feet, which could fit on the back of a large truck, and is about 10 times smaller than current reactors, McGuire told reporters.

EnviroWatch: Ills, climate, fracking, nukes


We begin today with another reminder that Ebola is only one of health crises facing Africa with this from the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation:

Cholera outbreak at the Upper Denkyira East

Program notes:

The people of Upper Denkyira East are appealing to the government
to complete construction of the clinic and provide more places of
convenience.

This is in the wake of a cholera outbreak in the municipality. Currently over thirty eight cases have been recorded with no deaths.

The Verge covers other microbes:

NYC rats are infected with at least 18 new viruses, according to scientists

  • Fortunately bubonic plague was not found

Rats: some people enjoy their company as pets, to many others, they are virulent pests that helped the spread of the bubonic plague (“black death”) in Medieval Europe. For New Yorkers, they are just one of many interesting local daily sights on the subway tracks and platforms. I can tell you from experience (source: I live in New York City) that they often seem healthier and in better spirits than many of the humans that call this fair city home. Yet it turns out some of them are carrying a surprising number of previously undocumented viruses, according to the results of a study of the Big Apple’s rodents published today in the journal mBio and reported by The New York Times.

Specifically, scientists captured 133 rats from traps set in five locations around New York City, euthanized them, then took genetic samples of the bacteria specimens found in their tissues and excretions (saliva, feces, etc). The scientists found lots of viruses, not surprisingly. But while many of the bacteria detected were expected — including e. coli and salmonella — the scientists also found at 18 completely new viruses. None of these new viruses have been found in humans, at least not yet, but two of them are structurally similar to Hepatitis C, which does occur in people and raises the risk of liver scarring and cancer. While there’s no immediate cause for alarm, the scientists note that that the spread of these new viruses from rats to humans could theoretically already be occurring and is possible in the future, and are advocating for more comprehensive disease monitoring in humans. Something to think about the next time you’re waiting for the downtown F train.

From the Guardian, another African tragedy:

China ‘main destination’ for illegally traded chimpanzees

  • Baby chimpanzees are being hunted and sold to populate country’s growing number of wildlife parks and zoos, reports

Karl Ammann, in Beijing to show a new documentary on China’s involvement in the illegal trade in chimpanzees, is blunt: “China is the biggest destination for illegally traded chimpanzees.” Almost all chimpanzees performing in Chinese zoos have been obtained illegally, he says.

Ammann, a 66-year-old Swiss wildlife photographer who once said “the lens is my weapon”, was in 2007 named as a Time magazine Hero of the Environment. He first published images of illegal wildlife smuggling in publications including the New York Times and National Geographic20 years ago – showing readers around the world the truth of the bloody trade.

On to climate, with a fascinating video from NASA Goddard:

The Arctic and the Antarctic Respond in Opposite Ways

Program notes:

The Arctic and the Antarctic are regions that have a lot of ice and acts as air conditioners for the Earth system. This year, Antarctic sea ice reached a record maximum extent while the Arctic reached a minimum extent in the top ten lowest since satellite records began. One reason we are seeing differences between the Arctic and the Antarctic is due to their different geographies. As for what’s causing the sea increase in the Antarctic, scientists are also studying ocean temperatures, possible changes in wind direction and, overall, how the region is responding to changes in the climate.

And a water warning from the Guardian:

Sea level rise over past century unmatched in 6,000 years, says study

  • Research finds 20cm rise since start of 20th century, caused by global warming and the melting of polar ice, is unprecedented

The rise in sea levels seen over the past century is unmatched by any period in the past 6,000 years, according to a lengthy analysis of historical sea level trends.

The reconstruction of 35,000 years of sea level fluctuations finds that there is no evidence that levels changed by more than 20cm in a relatively steady period that lasted between 6,000 years ago and about 150 years ago.

This makes the past century extremely unusual in the historical record, with about a 20cm rise in global sea levels since the start of the 20th century. Scientists have identified rising temperatures, which have caused polar ice to melt and thermal expansion of the sea, as a primary cause of the sea level increase.

A two-decade-long collection of about 1,000 ancient sediment samples off Britain, north America, Greenland and the Seychelles formed the basis of the research, led by the Australian National University and published in PNAS.

From BBC News, a new permutation:

Climate change: Models ‘underplay plant CO2 absorption’

Global climate models have underestimated the amount of CO2 being absorbed by plants, according to new research.

Scientists say that between 1901 and 2010, living things absorbed 16% more of the gas than previously thought.

The authors say it explains why models consistently overestimated the growth rate of carbon in the atmosphere.

But experts believe the new calculation is unlikely to make a difference to global warming predictions.

From the Guardian, even castles?:

UK to allow fracking companies to use ‘any substance’ under homes

  • Proposed amendment in infrastructure bill would make mockery of world class shale gas regulation claims, campaigners say

The UK government plans to allow fracking companies to put “any substance” under people’s homes and property and leave it there, as part of the Infrastructure Bill which will be debated by the House of Lords on Tuesday.

The legal change makes a “mockery” of ministers’ claims that the UK has the best shale gas regulation in the world, according to green campaigners, who said it is so loosely worded it could also enable the burial of nuclear waste. The government said the changes were “vital to kickstarting shale” gas exploration.

Changes to trespass law to remove the ability of landowners to block fracking below their property are being pushed through by the government as part of the infrastructure bill.

It now includes an amendment by Baroness Kramer, the Liberal Democrat minister guiding the bill through the Lords, that permits the “passing any substance through, or putting any substance into, deep-level land” and gives “the right to leave deep-level land in a different condition from [that before] including by leaving any infrastructure or substance in the land”.

The Guardian again, desperate measures:

Lost Louisiana: the race to reclaim vanished land back from the sea

  • World’s fastest submerging state is looking to nature in an ambitious plan to turn back the tide, and to BP to fund it – but will it work?

Louisiana is losing land to the sea faster than anywhere else in the world.

But the authorities say they have a plan to turn back the seas – and get BP to pay a substantial share of the $50bn (£31bn) cost out of criminal penalties from the blowout of its well in the Gulf of Mexico.

The plan includes proposals for more than 100 engineering projects along the coastline, diverting the Mississippi, dumping fresh sand on barrier islands, and re-planting degraded wetlands to reinforce the coast. The state’s computer forecast shows that, if all the projects come in on time, by 2060 Louisiana could start regaining land.

The big question is: will it work?

Next up, Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with NHK WORLD:

Briefing on Fukushima waste storage plan completed

The Japanese government has completed a series of briefings on its plan to build intermediate storage facilities in Fukushima Prefecture.

The government plans to buy up land in Futaba and Okuma Towns that host the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to house facilities to store radioactive soil and other waste.

The series of 12 sessions for landowners in the 2 towns began in September after the Fukushima prefectural government accepted the construction of the storage facilities.

Things are heating up, via News On Japan:

Cesium level rises in TEPCO plant well

Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Tuesday reported a sharp rise in cesium levels in water collected from an observation well near the sea at its disaster-crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station.

Water samples collected Monday contained a record 251,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per liter, 3.7 times the cesium level in water collected on Thursday.

The well, located to the east of the damaged No. 2 reactor, is one of the observation wells that sit close to the seawall in the port of the northeastern Japan nuclear power station. Monday’s reading was the highest level that has been marked by water samples from any of these wells.

Of the total, cesium-134 accounted for 61,000 becquerels and cesium-137 190,000 becquerels.

From NHK WORLD, a precautionary failure:

Official arrested over iodine stockpile failure

Japanese police have arrested a former prefectural official on suspicion of forging documents to conceal not having purchased iodine tablets to prepare for a possible nuclear accident.

The suspect, Junichi Ito, handled medical and pharmaceutical affairs for the government of Niigata Prefecture in central Japan.

In April, the prefecture was found to have failed to procure more than 1.3 million iodine tablets for over a year. The tablets are said to protect the thyroid gland from radiation exposure.

The prefecture said Ito concealed the failure to make the purchase. It has filed a criminal complaint against him

And our final item, from the Japan Times:

Japan to pressure South Korea to lift ban on seafood from Fukushima, seven other prefectures

Tokyo plans to use foreign pressure to get South Korea to remove its import ban on seafood produced in eight prefectures, including Fukushima, officials said Tuesday.

The central government will continue expressing its concern about South Korea’s import ban at meetings of the World Trade Organization by saying that the South Korean measure runs counter to international trade rules.

Tokyo will appeal to the international community so that it can resume exports of seafood from the eight prefectures to South Korea, according to the officials.