Fukushima No. 1 boss admits plant doesn’t have complete control over water problems

The manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has admitted to embarrassment that repeated efforts have failed to bring under control the problem of radioactive water, eight months after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the world the matter had been resolved.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator, has been fighting a daily battle against contaminated water since Fukushima No. 1 was wrecked by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Abe’s government pledged half a billion dollars last year to tackle the issue, but progress has been limited.

“It’s embarrassing to admit, but there are certain parts of the site where we don’t have full control,” Akira Ono told reporters touring the plant last week.

He was referring to the latest blunder at the plant: channeling contaminated water into the wrong building.

Ono also acknowledged that many difficulties may have been rooted in Tepco’s focus on speed since the 2011 disaster.

“It may sound odd, but this is the bill we have to pay for what we have done in the past three years,” he said.

“But we were pressed to build tanks in a rush and may have not paid enough attention to quality. We need to improve quality from here.”

The Fukushima No. 1 plant, some 220 km northeast of Tokyo, suffered three reactor core meltdowns in the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The issue of contaminated water is at the core of the clean-up. Japan’s nuclear regulator and the International Atomic Energy Agency say a new controlled release into the sea of contaminated water may be needed to ease stretched capacity as the plant runs out of storage space.

But this is predicated on the state-of-the-art ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) project, which removes the most dangerous nuclides, becoming fully operational. The system has functioned only during periodic tests.

As Ono spoke, workers in white protective suits and masks were building new giant tanks to contain the contaminated water — on land that was once covered in trees and grass.

A cluster of cherry trees is in bloom amid the bustle of trucks and tractors at work as the 1,000 tanks already in place approach capacity. Insulation-clad pipes lie on a hill pending installation for funneling water to the sea.

“We need to improve the quality of the tanks and other facilities so that they can survive for the next 30 to 40 years of our decommission period,” Ono said, a stark acknowledgement that the problem is long-term.

Last September, Abe told Olympic dignitaries in Buenos Aires in an address that helped Tokyo win the 2020 Games: “Let me assure you the situation is under control.”

Tepco had pledged to have treated all contaminated water by March 2015, but said this week that was a “tough goal.”

The utility flushes huge amounts of water over the reactors to keep them cool. That water mixes with groundwater that seeps into the damaged basements of the wrecked buildings, requiring more pumping, treatment and storage.

In a rare success, the government won approval from fishermen for plans to divert into the sea a quarter of the 400 tons of groundwater pouring into the complex each day.

But things keep going wrong.

Last week, Tepco said it had directed 203 tons of highly radioactive water to the wrong building, flooding its basement. Tepco is also investigating a leak into the ground a few days earlier from a plastic container used to store rainwater.

In February, a tank sprouted a 100-ton leak of radioactive water, the most serious incident since leaks sparked international alarm last year.

A hangar-like structure houses Toshiba Corp’s ALPS system, able to remove all nuclides except for less noxious tritium, found at most nuclear power stations, its planners say.

It sat idle for 19 months after a series of glitches. The latest miscue occurred on Wednesday, when a ton of radioactive water overflowed from a tank.

“The ultimate purpose is to prevent contaminated water from going out to the ocean, and in this regard, I believe it is under control,” Ono said. But the incidents, he said, obliged officials to “find better ways to handle the water problem.”

The government says it will help fund the filtration system, build an underground ice wall and erect more storage tanks.

The 1,000 tanks hold 440,000 tons of contaminated water. Some 4,500 to 5,000 workers, about 1,500 more than a half year ago, are trying to double the capacity by 2016.

Once the deal was clinched with the fishermen, Tepco embarked on a plan to use a water bypass, from as early as next month, to funnel clean groundwater to the sea.

But the latest samples next to the bypass found elevated levels of radiation and the project was placed under further scrutiny. Tepco said the radiation was within permitted limits.

Plans also call for building an experimental 1.4-km underground freezer to create a wall of ice around the plant to block the groundwater. Tests began last month and Tepco hopes next year to begin construction — sinking giant refrigeration rods into the ground to create an impermeable wall of frozen earth.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Search reveals extent of ocean garbage

It’s a wing.… It’s a seat cushion.… It’s an icebox lid?

The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has turned up a lot of debris. Unfortunately, so far at least, none of it appears to belong to the missing Boeing 777.

Vast quantities of trash bobbing around the ocean have made the Sisyphean search for wreckage from Flight 370 all the more complicated.

In the weeks since the March 8 disappearance of the plane, searchers have darted about the Indian Ocean, following evolving analyses of radar data and potential clues offered by satellite imagery.

Unfortunately, garbage floating on the ocean waves looks an awful lot like plane debris, says Malcom Spaulding, a former oceanography professor at the University of Rhode Island who has been involved in search and rescues since the 1970s.

Vortex photogenic plastic

Global Warming Scare Tactics; How to sell Climate Change

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If you were looking for ways to increase public skepticism about global warming, you could hardly do better than the forthcoming nine-part series on climate change and natural disasters, starting this Sunday on Showtime. A trailer for “Years of Living Dangerously” is terrifying, replete with images of melting glaciers, raging wildfires and rampaging floods. “I don’t think scary is the right word,” intones one voice. “Dangerous, definitely.”

Showtime’s producers undoubtedly have the best of intentions. There are serious long-term risks associated with rising greenhouse gas emissions, ranging from ocean acidification to sea-level rise to decreasing agricultural output.

But there is every reason to believe that efforts to raise public concern about climate change by linking it to natural disasters will backfire. More than a decade’s worth of research suggests that fear-based appeals about climate change inspire denial, fatalism and polarization.

For instance, Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” (total Bulls**t) popularized the idea that today’s natural disasters are increasing in severity and frequency because of human-caused global warming. It also contributed to public backlash and division. Since 2006, the number of Americans telling Gallup that the media was exaggerating global warming grew to 42 percent today from about 34 percent. Meanwhile, the gap between Democrats and Republicans on whether global warming is caused by humans rose to 42 percent last year from 26 percent in 2006, according to the Pew Research Center.

Other factors contributed. Some conservatives and fossil-fuel interests questioned the link between carbon emissions and global warming. And beginning in 2007, as the country was falling into recession, public support for environmental protection declined.

Still, environmental groups have known since 2000 that efforts to link climate change to natural disasters could backfire, after researchers at the Frameworks Institute studied public attitudes for its report “How to Talk About Global Warming.” Messages focused on extreme weather events, they found, made many Americans more likely to view climate change as an act of God — something to be weathered, not prevented.

Some people, the report noted, “are likely to buy an SUV to help them through the erratic weather to come” for example, rather than support fuel-efficiency standards.

Since then, evidence that a fear-based approach backfires has grown stronger. A frequently cited 2009 study in the journal Science Communication summed up the scholarly consensus. “Although shocking, catastrophic, and large-scale representations of the impacts of climate change may well act as an initial hook for people’s attention and concern,” the researchers wrote, “they clearly do not motivate a sense of personal engagement with the issue and indeed may act to trigger barriers to engagement such as denial.” In a controlled laboratory experiment published in Psychological Science in 2010, researchers were able to use “dire messages” about global warming to increase skepticism about the problem.

Many climate advocates ignore these findings, arguing that they have an obligation to convey the alarming facts.

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But claims linking the latest blizzard, drought or hurricane to global warming simply can’t be supported by the science. Our warming world is, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, increasing heat waves and intense precipitation in some places, and is likely to bring more extreme weather in the future. But the panel also said there is little evidence that this warming is increasing the loss of life or the economic costs of natural disasters. “Economic growth, including greater concentrations of people and wealth in periled areas and rising insurance penetration,” the climate panel noted, “is the most important driver of increasing losses.”

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Claims that current disasters are connected to climate change do seem to motivate many liberals to support action. But they alienate conservatives in roughly equal measure.

What works, say environmental pollsters and researchers, is focusing on popular solutions. Climate advocates often do this, arguing that solar and wind can reduce emissions while strengthening the economy. But when renewable energy technologies are offered as solutions to the exclusion of other low-carbon alternatives, they polarize rather than unite.

One recent study, published by Yale Law School’s Cultural Cognition Project, found that conservatives become less skeptical about global warming if they first read articles suggesting nuclear energy or geoengineering as solutions. Another study, in the journal Nature Climate Change in 2012, concluded that “communication should focus on how mitigation efforts can promote a better society” rather than “on the reality of climate change and averting its risks.”

Nonetheless, virtually every major national environmental organization continues to reject nuclear energy, even after four leading climate scientists wrote them an open letter last fall, imploring them to embrace the technology as a key climate solution. Together with catastrophic rhetoric, the rejection of technologies like nuclear and natural gas by environmental groups is most likely feeding the perception among many that climate change is being exaggerated. After all, if climate change is a planetary emergency, why take nuclear and natural gas off the table?

While the urgency that motivates exaggerated claims is understandable, turning down the rhetoric and embracing solutions like nuclear energy will better serve efforts to slow global warming.

Hillary Clinton accused shoe-thrower linked to Colorado mass shooter James Holmes

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Alison Michelle Ernst, charged with throwing a sneaker at Hillary Clinton during a convention speech Thursday, has been escorted by security guards before. She made a scene in Colorado in 2012 at a hearing for James Holmes, the mass shooter who attacked a movie theater showing a ‘Batman’ movie.

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The Genius of Stanley Kubrick and His Hidden Codes

stanley_kubrick_by_joscrosbot

I just saw a documentary that obliterated my cranium. It’s the best nonfiction film I’ve seen all year: Room 237, screened at the New York Film Festival. Directed by Rodney Ascher, Room 237 is an examination of five “secret meanings” within Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 psychological horror-thriller The Shining.

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