• Nuclear crisis worsening; growing radiation leaks at reactors nos. 3, 4

    The situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant appears increasingly dire, as efforts to cool overheating reactors have failed; Japanese military fire trucks are now spraying water at the plant’s no. 3 reactor; earlier efforts on Thursday to use helicopters to dump water on the rods have failed; the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman is particularly concerned about reactor no. 4 which houses spent fuel rods; spent fuel rods, placed in cooling tanks, are rapidly overheating as they are boiling away the water they are submerged in; the secondary containment unit at reactor no. 4 has been breached and radiation is now freely leaking out of the plant; high radiation levels are hindering efforts to repair the reactors

  • Cable connected to reactor no. 2, coolant pumps to be restarted

    Tepco, the operator of the stricken reactors, says — and the IAEA confirms — that its engineers have been able to reconnect a power line to reactor no. 2; the 1-km cable connects to the main power grid; restoring power should enable engineers to restart the pumps which send coolant over the reactor and into the pools where radioactive waste is stored; Tepco said the process of reconnecting power could take up to fifteen hours; senior IAEA official Andrew Graham said the situation at Fukushima had not deteriorated, but could yet do so. He described the situation at “reasonably stable”; the head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, is heading to Tokyo to be briefed by Japanese officials

  • Japan worst-case scenario unlikely to cause catastrophic radiation release: expert

    Two U.S. nuclear experts — both professors in the No. 1-ranked University of Michigan Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences — say that while exposed spent fuel rods at the failing nuclear reactors in Japan pose new threats, the worst-case scenario would still be unlikely to expose the public to catastrophic amounts of radiation; “The worst thing that could happen now is the fuel rods could be exposed to the air and that could be, then, down to our last barrier,” says one of the experts; “We could not have a recriticality, or a nuclear explosion. It’s physically impossible in this kind of system”

  • Past "hyperthermals" offer clues about anticipated climate changes

    Bursts of intense global warming that have lasted tens of thousands of years have taken place more frequently throughout history than previously believed; most of the events raised average global temperatures between 2° and 3° Celsius (3.6 and 5.4° F), an amount comparable to current conservative estimates of how much temperatures are expected to rise in coming decades as a consequence of anthropogenic global warming; most hyperthermals lasted about 40,000 years before temperatures returned to normal

  • Shock absorbers making buildings earthquake-proof

    An upstate New York manufacturer has developed dampers, or shock absorbers, which increase the earthquake resistance of a building by threefold; the patented dampers are based on technology first developed by the military to protect U.S. missile silos against Russian attacks during the cold war

  • Minnesota braces for spring floods

    As dense snow packs in Minnesota begin to melt, officials are preparing for what may be their worst spring flooding yet; with record snow falls and heavy rains expected, weather officials are forecasting that floods are on their way; last September’s heavy rains saturated the soil with water which will exacerbate spring floods this year; officials are preparing the state for floods and St. Paul city officials have sent letters to all residents warning that they should find alternative places to stay and keep their vehicles in safe areas if they are forced to evacuate as water levels rise

  • Japan's nuclear crisis increasingly dire

    Japan’s ongoing nuclear saga took a decided turn for the worse on Tuesday when a third explosion at a nuclear reactor may have cracked the containment unit protecting it, causing large amounts of radiation to leak out; the government requested assistance from the IAEA on Tuesday and teams were dispatched to help monitor radiation and human health; citizens within a thirteen mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant were evacuated and 140,000 residents within a twenty mile radius have been advised to stay indoors; officials also established a twenty mile no-fly zone around the power plant; officials in Tokyo reported that radiation levels were ten times their normal levels; experts say that these increased exposure levels do not pose an immediate threat to people, but the long-term effect remains unknown; the Tokyo Electric Power Company is considering using helicopters to pour cold water on top of overheating rooftops covering spent fuel rods; a small crew of fifty technicians at the badly damaged power plant is bravely fighting through high radiation levels and fires to contain the three reactors

  • EU considering subjecting nuclear plants to stress tests

    The EU is considering subjecting the 150 nuclear reactors operating in Europe to stress test to check their safety in light of Japan’s nuclear crisis; the EU’s executive arm has no power to send experts to nuclear plants to see whether they are safe, but can discuss stress tests to see if EU nations would authorize them

  • Californians anxious about safety of nuclear reactors

    The parallels between Japan and California are sobering: As in Japan, California’s two plants — Diablo Canyon near San Luis Obispo and San Onofre in Southern California — sit in active earthquake zones; like Japan’s, both rest beside the ocean and were built more than a quarter-century ago; perhaps most troubling, the San Onofre plant straddles two counties in Southern California with a combined population of 6 million people

  • The problem nuclear power generation faces: wary investors

    The Japanese disaster, in which four nuclear reactors were damaged, is important for the future of nuclear power generation not because it demonstrated the inherent risks of nuclear power (so far there are no reported death attributed to the damaged reactors); rather, the problem of nuclear power is the reluctance of investors to invest in it; experts say it was clear that the situation in Japan would further erode enthusiasm and may even affect applications for continued use of existing plants

  • Official: U.S. safe from Japanese radiation

    U.S nuclear officials said that there was very little chance that harmful levels of radiation from Japan’s nuclear reactors would reach Hawaii or the west coast of the United States; the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) also said nuclear plants in the United States were designed to withstand natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis; readings from radiation sensors placed on the west coast have not detected any increases in radiation levels and experts do not expect any increases; Japanese utilities have flooded two nuclear reactors with sea water in a desperate attempt to cool them down and prevent a meltdown; the NRC has dispatched two nuclear experts to Japan to assist with efforts to keep three damaged reactors from melting down

  • Future of U.S. nuclear plans uncertain after Japanese nuclear crisis

    As Japan continues its struggle to control its nuclear reactors, the future of the U.S. nuclear industry has become increasingly uncertain; nuclear power had emerged as the bipartisan solution to easing America’s dependency on oil; in February 2010, President Obama announced $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to energy companies to build the first new nuclear power plants in the United States in almost thirty years; some lawmakers have called for a moratorium and stricter safety regulations, while others are urging for a more measured response; Energy Secretary Stephen Chu and Gregory B. Jaczko, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, will testify before the House Energy and Commerce committee on Wednesday

  • Japan facing a nuclear catastrophe

    Initial estimates say that the Magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami killed about 10,000 people and made hundreds of thousands homeless; Japan is facing another threat: radioactive contamination from four damaged nuclear power plants; the tremor damaged the cooling systems in the reactors, forcing the companies operating the plants to flood the reactors with corrosive sea water and boric acid; one containment vessel was destroyed in an explosion, and in order to prevent more explosion, radioactive-contaminated hydrogen had to be released, increasing the radioactive levels to unsafe levels; more than 200,000 people living in the vicinity of the reactors were evacuated; the government has began distributing iodine pills to citizens (the pills are used to protect the thyroid gland from the effects of radiation); the difficulties at the nuclear power plants mean that rotating power outages will be imposed across Japan as of Monday

  • Sensors detecting nuclear tests detect tsunamis, too

    The Comprehensive Nuclear test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is supported by arrays of sensors at sixty sites across the world that listen for the low boom of atmospheric blasts. They are tuned to infrasound — frequencies under 20 hertz (cycles per second), the lowest humans can hear; these sensors are meant to pick up illicit nuclear tests, but they can also pick up tsunami-producing tremors — and provide timely warning to those likely to be affected

  • New tool to build water infrastructure resiliency

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to roll out its new Community-Based Water Resiliency (CBWR) Electronic Tool this spring; the tool is designed to give organizations in charge of critical water infrastructure a way to assess their community’s ability to continue delivering water in the event of service disruptions and enhance resiliency; a major natural disaster or terrorist attack could leave large portions of a state without access to drinking water for months; Matthew Everett from the EPA will be present at the upcoming Government and Security Expo to discuss the EPA’s new initiative; the conference will be held from 29 March to 31 March in Washington, D.C.