Business

  • April storms lead to first billion-dollar losses of 2014

    The outbreak of severe weather throughout the United States and other parts of the world in April will prove to have caused the largest economic losses since 2013, according to a report. During the month in the United States, at least 39 people were killed and 250 injured amid nearly 70 confirmed tornado touchdowns, which occurred across more than 20 states in the Plains, Mississippi Valley, Southeast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic.

  • Research reconfirms that public investment in scientific research promotes growth

    New and independent research has reconfirmed and quantified some of the economic and societal benefits of public investment in scientific research. The report says that for every £1 spent by the U.K. government on R&D, private sector R&D output rises by 20p per year in perpetuity, by raising the level of the U.K. knowledge base.

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  • Leaders of Chinese city delay alerting residents to deadly radiation risk

    Authorities in the East China city of Nanjing delayed,for thirty-six hours, notifying residents about the loss of deadly isotope iridium-192 pellets at a local industrial plant. The pellets disappeared on Wednesday, and plant officials informed government authorities on Thursday – but did not inform city residents until Saturday. The extremely toxic pellets, the size of beans, were found the following Saturday in an open field one kilometer from the plant. The plant management detained four employees at the plant on Sunday for violating radioactive work regulations and storage rules, and they are likely to face criminal charges.The plant is using the isotope to find flaws in metal components.

  • Improving gloves to enhance first responders’ safety

    Firefighters wear protective gloves called “structure gloves” to keep their hands safe on the job. The structure gloves currently used by firefighters, however, are not designed for the precision movements first responders must perform. There are many different types of structure gloves available, but none fully satisfies modern firefighters’ needs. Today’s compact tools often have small buttons that require nimble movements. Bulky gloves can make it difficult for firefighters to complete simple tasks without removing their gloves and compromising their safety. As advanced textile technology and materials continue to develop, the science behind firefighter structure gloves has adapted.

  • Limiting methane emissions would more quickly affect climate than limiting CO2

    When discussing climate change, scientists point to “radiative forcing,” a measure of trapped heat in Earth’s atmosphere from man-made greenhouse gases. The current role of methane looms large, they say, contributing over 40 percent of current radiative forcing from all greenhouse gases. The role of methane as a driver of global warming is even more critical than this 40 percent value might indicate, they note, since the climate system responds much more quickly to reducing methane than to reducing carbon dioxide. The implication is that while it is true that in order to slow, or even reverse, global warming we must limit emissions of both carbon dioxide and methane, it makes more sense to concentrate now on limiting methane emissions because reducing methane emissions would buy society some critical decades of lower temperatures.

  • Behind the Boko Haram headlines, slavery in Africa is the real crisis

    The mass kidnapping of schoolgirls by terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria is neither a new nor rare occurrence. Boko Haram has been active in Nigeria for five years and is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Africa’s slavery crisis. In Nigeria, there are tens of thousands of people bought and sold every year, according to Africa experts. The majority are children: in 2003, the International Labor Organization estimated that as many as six million Nigerian children had been trafficked at some time in their lives. In Africa as a whole, the scale of the problem is vast and far beyond the resources currently allocated to fight it, let alone sufficient to help victims. Experts estimate that $1.6 billion profit (an amount larger than the GDP of eight African countries last year) derives from African and Middle Eastern slavery annually.

  • Large areas of Plains states now drier than during Dust Bowl

    As a result of the drought conditions that have largely remained a constant since 2011, parts of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, as well as northeastern New Mexico and southeaster Colorado, are now drier than they were during the infamous Dust Bowl of the 1930s. While experts explain that the possibility of another Dust Bowl is not likely due to modern farming and irrigation techniques which have been enacted as a response in the 1930s, greater erosion due to drought and wind has resulted in a number of vicious dust storms.

  • Bolstering shipping security

    During a press conference following the March 2014 Nuclear Secu­rity Summit in the Hague, President Barack Obama noted that his biggest security concern was not Russia — or any other regional superpower — but rather “the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.” Experts say that the most likely way in which a nuclear weapon would potentially come to a major U.S. city is not on the tip of a missile but in the belly of a ship, noting that this view has been openly validated by the intelligence community. In 2007, Congress passed a law requiring all overseas cargo containers to be inspected before they are loaded on a U.S.-bound ship. That law, however, has never been enforced.

  • Battelle shows smart technology for biodefense and hazard avoidance

    Battelle last week announced production of the next generation chemical and biological hazard sensor system, which the company says operates at a fraction of the cost of current technologies. The technology, known as the Resource Effective BioIdentification System (REBS), is a battery-powered system capable of autonomous use with operating costs of less than $1 per day per unit (the company notes that current system costs that can range from $500 - $3,000 per day) and assay costs of $0.04 per sample (compared to current systems at over $100 per sample).

  • TSA expands PreCheck screening program to international airlines

    The TSA is expanding its PreCheckscreening program to passengers on international airlines. Air Canada is the first international carrier to join the list of PreCheck carriers, which already includes several U.S. airlines.Some international airlines are reluctant to join the PreCheck carrier list because it entails upgrading their computer systems to print a PreCheck logo and embed PreCheck data in their boarding pass barcodes. With Air Canada joining the list, the TSA believes other foreign carriers with a large U.S. passenger base would benefit if they offered PreCheck status to their customers.

  • Industry, Democrats reject GOP-sponsored TRIA-extension draft

    House democrats and members of Property Casualty Insurers, a leading insurance trade group, have rejected a Republican-sponsored draft proposal which would alter some measures of the current Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA). The Property Casualty Insurers did not mince words, calling the GOP plan “unworkable for the marketplace.” The proposal would raise the amount of damage caused by a terrorist attack from the current $100 million to $500 million before government coverage is triggered (the higher threshold would apply to attacks which do not involve nuclear, biological, chemical, or radiological means).

  • Farmers try to cope with the challenges posed by extreme weather

    Across the country, farmers are reporting that they are at yet another critical juncture for agriculture. Citing more unpredictable and severe weather due to climate change, scientists are researching defensive measures and looking to previous agricultural challenges for inspiration. Some are looking to the way individual farmers and government agencies addressed the Dust Bowl hardships of America during the Great Depression as a source of inspiration.

  • States lack expertise, staff to deal with cyberthreats to utilities

    The vulnerability of national electric grids to cyberattacks has caught the attention of federal utility regulators and industry safety groups, but state commissions tasked with regulating local distribution utilities are slow to respond to emerging cybersecurity risks. The annual membership directory of state utility regulators lists hundreds of key staff members of state commissions throughout the country, but not a single staff position had “cybersecurity” in the title.

  • Attackers exploited Microsoft security hole before company’s announcement

    Before Microsoft alerted its customers of a security flaw in Windows XP over a week ago, a group of advanced hackers had already discovered and used the vulnerability against targeted financial, energy, and defense companies.

  • California bill banning use of antibiotics in livestock withdrawn

    The Centers for Disease Control and Preventionreports that 23,000 people die every year from infections that cannot be cured, often due to overuse of antibiotics which creates drug resistant bugs. Last Wednesday, California Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) withdrew proposed legislation which would ban the sale of meat and poultry fed on nontherapeutic antibiotics. He lacked sufficient support from fellow legislators.