• U.S. earthquake resilience needs strengthening: report

    A new National Research Council report presents a 20-year road map for increasing U.S. resilience to earthquakes, including a major earthquake that could strike a highly populated area.; the report was mostly written prior to the 11 March earthquake in Japan, but the committee of experts who authored it noted that the Japanese experience is a reminder of the devastation that can occur even in a country acknowledged as a leader in implementing earthquake-resilience measures

  • Rising seas and coastal risks

    Most scientists believe that melt water from glaciers, the Greenland ice sheet, and possibly the West Antarctic ice sheet, along with thermal expansion from warming oceans, will raise sea levels by one-half to one meter (1.6 to 3.2 feet) over the next century and by one meter to two meters (6.5 feet) over the next 200 years; if sea level rises by a meter, “we will see higher tides, higher tidal velocities and tidal inundation every day,” says one expert; “And we’ll have a different shoreline”

  • U.S. reactors have weaker back-up batteries than Fukushima Daiichi had

    Almost all American nuclear power plants have backup batteries that would last only half as long as those at Japan’s troubled Fukushima Daiichi plant did after a tsunami knocked out power there; just eleven of the U.S. 104 plants had eight-hour batteries, and 93 had four-hour batteries; the batteries are not powerful enough to run pumps that direct cooling water, but they can operate valves and can power instruments that give readings of water levels, flow and temperatures

  • Securing critical infrastructure no short term fix, experts say

    Federal officials have long sought to secure critical infrastructure from potential attack, and recent events like the 2003 blackouts and the Stuxnet virus have added increasing urgency to government and private sector efforts; speaking on a panel at the Government Security conference and expo in Washington, D.C., security experts that specialize in critical infrastructure discussed the challenges of protecting infrastructure and steps that both governments and businesses can take; experts discussed addressing vulnerabilities in the smart grid, Stuxnet as a game changing cyber attack, and protecting critical infrastructure as a portfolio management problem

  • Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant lost

    The radioactive core in the Unit 2 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and is now resting on a concrete floor; officials are now struggling with two crucial but contradictory efforts: pumping in water to keep the fuel rods cool and pumping out contaminated water; an investigation found that Tokyo Electric Power Co. officials had dismissed scientific evidence and geological history that indicated that a massive earthquake — and subsequent tsunami — was far more likely than they believed; more than 11,000 bodies have been recovered, but officials say the final death toll is expected to exceed 18,000. Hundreds of thousands of people remain homeless, their homes and livelihoods destroyed. Damage could amount to $310 billion — the most expensive natural disaster on record

  • Japan begins road to recovery

    Japan’s long road to recovery has already begun; it is estimated that more than 135,000 buildings were destroyed and the Japanese government estimates that the recovery will cost as much as $310 billion; in the Miyagi prefecture, 80 miles from the quake’s epicenter, construction will soon begin on 1,110 temporary homes to shelter the more than 243,000 people who are now homeless; authorities are struggling to provide those living in shelters with enough food, clothing, and sanitary supplies; experts believe that Japan can rebuild quickly; Miyagi plans on building 10,000 temporary homes

  • Nuclear power here to stay

    There are currently 441 large nuclear power reactors in 35 countries, 120 of which date from the 1970s and early 1980s; collectively the 400-odd reactors supply about 15 percent of the world’s electricity (the average in OECD countries being more than 22 percent); the United States has the greatest number operating, with 104 units providing 20 percent of its electricity supply; this is followed by France with 57 (producing nearly 80 percent of its supply), and Japan, with 54 (providing about 30 percent); so far, the world’s 441 reactors have racked up more than 14,000 reactor-years of operation; to generate electricity for a city of a million people, coal-fired power stations have to burn about three million tons of coals a year, releasing about ten million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in the process; to generate the same power, nuclear reactors consume only one ton of the fissile uranium isotope, U-235 — and release no carbon dioxide

  • Japan's disaster draws attention to little-known U.S. nuclear insurance plan

    A little-known insurance pool in the United States that would provide insurance coverage for victims of nuclear reactor accidents occurring in the United States; the pool has been around for decades; Created under the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act of 1957 (Price-Anderson), the pool provides general liability insurance

  • Biosensor improves pathogen detection in food, water

    A nanotechnology-based biosensor being developed by Kansas State University researchers may allow early detection of both cancer cells and pathogens, leading to increased food safety and reduced health risks

  • "Solarball" promises to deliver clean water to developing countries

    Contaminated drinking water is the world’s leading killer with more than 3.4 million people a year, including two million children, dying from water borne diseases; to help combat these preventable deaths, one Australian university student has designed an affordable solution to provide clean drinking water to people across the world; the device, called the Solarball, can provide up to three liters of clean water a day by harnessing the energy from the sun; the Solarball can be manufactured cheaply, is simple to use, and made of durable materials; it was designed specifically for use by people in hot, wet, tropical climates

  • Fifteen U.S. nuclear reactors are located in an active seismic zone

    There are 104 nuclear plants in the United States, and fifteen of them are located in what is known as the New Madrid Seismic Zone, a region defined by a fault line of the same name; the New Madrid Seismic Zone involves eight states, and it is an active earthquake area in the central United States that follows the Mississippi River between Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Tennessee; while the U.S. earthquake zone is active, scientists say the ingredients do not exist there for a Japan-style nuclear disaster; should a large seismic event strike this part of the country, seismologists offer Christchurch, New Zealand, rather than Japan as an example of what to expect. In February, Christchurch suffered a 6.3 magnitude quake and billions of dollars in losses

  • Detecting critical flaws in railroad lines

    Rails are the only thing keeping trains weighing thousands of tons travelling anywhere from 70 to 160 miles per hour grounded, thus any flaws or imperfections in these rails could result in accidents or major delays; railroads transport more than 25 percent of the goods in the United States including critical resources like coal, lumber, chemicals, and grain; one firm has developed the technology to detect flaws in rails that could cause major disruptions or delays; most flaws occur inside the rail and cannot be seen with the naked eye

  • Germany's drive to end nuclear power serves as model for others

    Germany’s ambitious plan to wean itself from nuclear power and transition to renewable energy can serve as a valuable model for other countries seeking to do the same; nuclear power provides Germany with 23 percent of its energy; seven of its seventeen nuclear reactors will be taken offline; experts warn that the shutdowns could cause instability in the power grid and even blackouts; economists also say that the transition will be costly and result in higher energy prices for consumers; the government remains optimistic; renewable energy provides 17 percent of Germany’s energy needs and the Environment Ministry says that in ten years renewable energy will constitute 40 percent of all production

  • Zion's nuclear dry-cask storage solution

    In Illinois, 28,588 fuel assemblies, each containing a bundle of 200 rods and weighing about 600 pounds, are cooling in pools on the ground or above reactors — as in Japan; experts say they are “very inviting targets for terrorists”; moreover, “No one has come up with a solution to safely store this waste for 10,000 years into the future”

  • U.S. industrial processes vulnerable to Stuxnet-like attack

    Cyber security experts recently warned that U.S. manufacturing plants and critical infrastructure were vulnerable to a Stuxnet-like attack; industrial plants, transportation systems, electrical grids, and even nuclear plants could be crippled by new cyber weapons that target specialized control core processes; concern has spread after the Stuxnet virus targeted these systems and created physical damage; experts have likened Stuxnet to “the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield”