Populations of African buffalo in the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya have crashed, due to domestic livestock grazing and global warming. Arup Shah / NPL / BBC

By Matt Walker Editor, BBC Nature
31 May 2011

Populations of wildlife species in the world-renowned Masai Mara reserve in Kenya have crashed in the past three decades, according to research published in the Journal of Zoology.

Numbers of impala, warthog, giraffe, topi, and Coke's hartebeest have declined by over 70%, say scientists.

Even fewer survive beyond the reserve in the wider Mara, where buffalo and wild dogs have all but disappeared, while huge numbers of wildebeest no longer pass through the region on their epic migration.

However, numbers of cattle grazing in the reserve have increased by more than 1100% per cent, although it is illegal for them to so do.

This explosion in the numbers of domestic livestock grazing in the Mara region of south-west Kenya, including within the Masai Mara national reserve, is one of the principal reasons wildlife has disappeared, say the scientists who conducted the research.

Dr Joseph Ogutu, a senior statistician in the Bioinformatics unit of the University of Hohenheim, Germany conducted the study with colleagues there and at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya. …

"We were very surprised by what we found," Dr Ogutu told the BBC.

"The Mara has lost more than two thirds of its wildlife." …

The declines are particularly surprising, say the scientists, as they had expected animal populations to have recovered since 2000-2001.

That is when major conservancy efforts, and an increase in local policing, began in an attempt to protect the wildlife there.

"But to our great surprise, the extreme wildlife declines have continued unabated in the Mara," says Dr Ogutu.

"The great wildebeest migration now involves 64% fewer animals than it did in the early 1980s," he adds. …

There appear to be three main causes of these dramatic declines: the activities of poachers, changing land use patterns in ranches within the Mara, and an increase in the number and range of livestock held on these ranches. …

Wildlife 'crash' in the Mara region of Kenya, Africa

28 May 2011

Early last Tuesday, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva, a forest activist and tree nut harvester, and his wife, Maria do Espirito Santo, drove a motorcycle through Brazil’s northern Para State, in the Amazon rain forest. As they crossed a river bridge, gunmen lying in wait opened fire with a pistol and shotgun, killing them.

It was a gruesome attack: before they fled, the assassins severed one of Mr. da Silva’s ears as a trophy, a signature of hired gunmen in the region. At least 15 bullet casings were found at the scene, reports said.

News of the slayings, emerging on the same day that Brazil’s parliament was to vote on a controversial revision of the country’s forest protection laws, rocketed through Brazil’s political classes. Within hours, senior government officials were briefed on the crime and President Dilma Rousseff had ordered an investigation by the federal police.

Yet whether that investigation results in punishment for the killers — or those who likely hired them — is deeply uncertain. More than 1,000 rural activists, small farmers, religious workers and others fighting the region’s rampant deforestation have been slain in the past 20 years, but only a handful of killers have ever been successfully prosecuted, according to a statement by the Pastoral Land Commission, a Catholic organization that tracks rural violence.

The successful prosecution of the powerful farmers, ranchers, loggers and industrial interests behind the killings, meanwhile, is almost nonexistent in the region, the group said.

Environmental campaigners said that endemic corruption in Para State’s judiciary has allowed the murder of forest activists to be committed with impunity.

“Corruption is part of the process here,” said Paulo Adario, the Amazon campaign director for Greenpeace. “Para is a state completely out of control. It continues to be the Wild West.” …

Murder of Activists Raises Questions of Justice in Amazon

U.S. medication shortages, 2001-2011. The country is experiencing record numbers of drug shortages, where medications are in tight supply or completely unavailable. University of Utah Drug Information Service / AP / miamiherald.com

30 May 2011

WASHINGTON -- A growing shortage of medications for a host of illnesses - from cancer to cystic fibrosis to cardiac arrest - has hospitals scrambling for substitutes to avoid patient harm, and sometimes even delaying treatment.

"It's just a matter of time now before we call for a drug that we need to save a patient's life and we find out there isn't any," says Dr. Eric Lavonas of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

The problem of scarce supplies or even completely unavailable medications isn't a new one but it's getting markedly worse. The number listed in short supply has tripled over the past five years, to a record 211 medications last year. While some of those have been resolved, another 89 drug shortages have occurred in the first three months of this year, according to the University of Utah's Drug Information Service. It tracks shortages for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

The vast majority involve injectable medications used mostly by medical centers - in emergency rooms, ICUs and cancer wards. Particular shortages can last for weeks or for many months, and there aren't always good alternatives. Nor is it just a U.S. problem, as other countries report some of the same supply disruptions. …

There are lots of causes, from recalls of contaminated vials, to trouble importing raw ingredients, to spikes in demand, to factories that temporarily shut down for quality upgrades.

Some experts pointedly note that pricier brand-name drugs seldom are in short supply. The Food and Drug Administration agrees that the overarching problem is that fewer and fewer manufacturers produce these older, cheaper generic drugs, especially the harder-to-make injectable ones. So if one company has trouble - or decides to quit making a particular drug - there are few others able to ramp up their own production to fill the gap, says Valerie Jensen, who heads FDA's shortage office.

The shortage that's made the most headlines is a sedative used on death row. But on the health-care front, shortages are wide-ranging, including:

  • Thiotepa, used with bone marrow transplants.
  • A whole list of electrolytes, injectable nutrients crucial for certain premature infants and tube-feeding of the critically ill.
  • Norepinephrine injections for septic shock.
  • A cystic fibrosis drug named acetylcysteine.
  • Injections used in the ER for certain types of cardiac arrest.
  • Certain versions of pills for ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
  • Some leuprolide hormone injections used in fertility treatment.

No one is tracking patient harm. But last fall, the nonprofit Institute for Safe Medication Practices said it had two reports of people who died from the wrong dose of a substitute painkiller during a morphine shortage. …

Hospitals hunt substitutes as drug shortages rise

Reactor buildings of Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 and 2, 6 May 2011. TEPCO

31 May 2011

Water levels in the basement of the No. 1 reactor building at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant increased dramatically on May 29 and 30, raising fears of radioactive water leaking from the site.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), said the water level rose 19.8 centimeters over the 24 hours to 7 a.m. on May 30, 18 times the increase over the previous 24 hours.

The rising water level, apparently caused by rain flowing into the basement, is the latest headache for workers trying to contain the crisis at the plant.

With the typhoon and rainy seasons already drenching Japan, TEPCO had already expressed concern that a deluge could result in leaks.

TEPCO spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said before the latest data was announced: "The roofs of the No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4 reactor buildings have collapsed, so it is unavoidable that rain will get into those facilities."

With huge quantities of radioactive water being stored in various locations at the plant, and workers continuing to pump water to cool down the reactors, the worry is that additional heavy rainfall will inevitably increase the volume of contaminated water.

In the basements of the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors' turbine buildings, in particular, there is evidence that the pools of contaminated water are not isolated from the surrounding groundwater. Water levels in those buildings do not drop when water is removed. …

It has not been confirmed that contaminated water has leaked into the groundwater from the basements in large quantities, but the levels of contaminated water in the basements are currently only a few meters lower than that of the groundwater. …

Water level at Fukushima reactor rises dramatically

Treasures left behind in Minamisoma, Japan after the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns: An old black and white photograph still in its shattered, blackened frame, is left behind in the rubble. Getty Images / dailymail.co.uk

By Yuriy Humber and Stuart Biggs
30 May 2011

Radioactive soil in pockets of areas near Japan’s crippled nuclear plant have reached the same level as Chernobyl, where a “dead zone” remains 25 years after the reactor in the former Soviet Union exploded.

Soil samples in areas outside the 20-kilometer (12 miles) exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant measured more than 1.48 million becquerels a square meter, the standard used for evacuating residents after the Chernobyl accident, Tomio Kawata, a fellow at the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan, said in a research report published May 24 and given to the government.

Radiation from the plant has spread over 600 square kilometers (230 square miles), according to the report. The extent of contamination shows the government must move fast to avoid the same future for the area around Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant as Chernobyl, scientists said. Technology has improved since the 1980s, meaning soil can be decontaminated with chemicals or by planting crops to absorb radioactive materials, allowing residents to return.

“We need to finish this treatment as quickly as possible, within three years at most,” Tetsuo Iguchi, a specialist in isotope analysis and radiation detection at Nagoya University in central Japan, said in a telephone interview. “If we take longer, people will give up on returning to their homes.”

Soil samples showed one site with radiation from Cesium-137 exceeding 5 million becquerels per square meter about 25 kilometers to the northwest of the Fukushima plant, according to Kawata’s study. Five more sites about 30 kilometers from Dai-Ichi showed radiation exceeding 1.48 million becquerels per square meter.

When asked to comment on the report today, Tokyo Electric spokesman Tetsuya Terasawa said the radiation levels are in line with those found after a nuclear bomb test, which disperses plutonium. He declined to comment further. …

While the area containing soil pockets over 1.48 million becquerels a square meter is smaller than around Chernobyl --600 square kilometers compared with 3,100 square kilometers -- the level of contamination means soil needs to be cleaned or removed before residents can return, Kawata said in his report. …

Fukushima Risks Chernobyl ‘Dead Zone’

A stream in the Japan Alps near Takayama. The river bed is limestone; hence the clarity and brilliant colour of the water. johnrf / redbubble.com

By arevamirpal::laprimavera
30 May 2011

Radioactive pollution is now detected in snow and freshwater fish.

And Japan's Kan administration still pushes for nuclear power, not just for the Japanese but for the up-and-coming countries in Asia and the rest of the world.

From Mainichi Shinbun Japanese (5/30/2011; link, emphasis added):

山岳愛好家らで作る「高山(たかやま)の原生林を守る会」は29日、福島市周辺の山岳地帯から採取した雪の放射線量分析結果を公表した。標高1500メー トル以下を中心に高濃度の放射性セシウムが検出され、最高は箕輪山東斜面の1338メートル地点で1キロ当たり2968ベクレルだった。市内の阿武隈川の ヤマメなど川魚からは国の暫定規制値(1キロ当たり500ベクレル)を上回るセシウムが検出され、雪解け水の流入が原因とみられるという。

On May 29, a private association of mountain lovers [in Fukushima], "Association for preserving the primal forests in Takayama Mountain", announced the result of radiation analysis of snow samples taken from the mountains around Fukushima City in Fukushima Prefecture. High concentration of radioactive cesium was detected from snow samples taken below the altitude of 1,500 meters (4,921 feet), with the highest being 2,968 becquerels per kilogram from the sample taken on the east slope of Mount Minowa at 1,338 meters high. Radioactive cesium that exceeds the provisional national limit (500 becquerels per kilogram) has been detected from freshwater fish in the Abukuma river that runs through Fukushima City, and it is considered that radioactive cesium in fish comes from the water from melted snow.

High Level of Radioactive Cesium from Snow in #Fukushima

Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station rubble around reactor building 3, 21 May 2011. Radioactive debris of 1,000 mSv/h was found in this area. TEPCO

May 30 (Xinhua) – Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and the Japanese government officials said Monday that two of the utility firm's employees who have been working at the crippled Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant in northeast Japan may have been exposed to radiation exceeding the legal limit of 250 millisieverts.

The two male workers in their 30s and 40s have been working at the radiation-leaking complex since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered the worst nuclear crisis.

A spokesperson for TEPCO said that the two men had been exposed to increasing amounts of radiation since March 11, amassing several hundred milllisieverts.

To deal with the escalating crisis, the government raised the legal limit of radiation workers could be exposed to in an emergency situation from 100 millisieverts to 250 milliseiverts.

However, according to the power company and government officials, the two workers who had their thyroid glands tested on May 23 had absorbed 7,690 and 9,760 becquerels of radioactive iodine-131 -- a level 10 times that of other workers tested.

The two men had been assigned to work details at the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors, which involved being inside the reactors' control rooms as well as outside on the complex's grounds.

The embattled utility firm said it plans to test 150 more workers who have been assigned similar work duties. …

Japan nuke plant workers likely exposed to radiation far beyond legal limit via The Oil Drum

Record rise, despite recession, means 2C target almost out of reach

Economic recession has failed to curb rising emissions, undermining hope of keeping global warming to safe levels. Photograph: Dave Reede / All Canada Photos / Corbis / guardian.co.uk

By Fiona Harvey, Environment correspondent, www.guardian.co.uk
29 May 2011

Greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.

The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially "dangerous climate change" – is likely to be just "a nice Utopia", according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. It also shows the most serious global recession for 80 years has had only a minimal effect on emissions, contrary to some predictions.

Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.

"I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions," Birol told the Guardian. "It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say."

Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change for the Treasury in 2006, warned that if the pattern continued, the results would be dire. "These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a 'business as usual' path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] projections, such a path … would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100," he said.

"Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce." …

Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink

Demolished: An aerial view of the plant taken on March 24 shows Unit 4 and Unit 3 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi. A red crane far left shows the valiant efforts of the 'Fukushima 50'. dailymail.co.uk

TOKYO, May 29 (MarketWatch) – Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501.TO) is coming to the view that it will be impossible to stabilize the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant by the end of this year, possibly affecting the timing for the government to consider the return of evacuees to their homes near the plant, Kyodo News reported, citing senior company officials.

The revelation that meltdowns had occurred at the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors at the plant, most likely with breaches to pressure vessels encasing nuclear fuel, has led the officials to believe that "there will be a major delay to work" to contain the situation, one of them said.

The plant operator, known as TEPCO, announced on April 17 its road map for bringing the troubled reactors at the plant into a stably cooled condition called "cold shutdown" in six to nine months. …

But "the nine months is just a target deadline for which we are making efforts," a senior TEPCO official said, indicating that the likely delay would affect the plan to review the evacuation of local people, which the government is hoping to implement once the reactors are brought under control. …

The official added, "Unless we understand the extent of the damage, we don't even know how long that work alone would take," noting the need for one or two months more than previously thought to establish an entirely new cooling system.

Another senior TEPCO official said workers tackling the crisis at the plant are likely to have to give up their New Year's holidays, saying that work has not been proceeding at an equal pace at the three troubled reactors. …

Tepco can't stabilize reactors by year-end: report

Image of abalone in water containing 1,800 ppm CO2 is an example showing abnormal shell development. ubc.caIncreasing levels of ocean acidity could spell doom for British Columbia's already beleaguered northern abalone, according to the first study to provide direct experimental evidence that changing sea water chemistry is negatively affecting an endangered species.

The northern abalone--prized as a gourmet delicacy--has a range that extents along the North American west coast from Baja California to Alaska. Even though British Columbia’s northern abalone commercial fisheries where closed in 1990 to protect dwindling populations, the species has continued to struggle, largely due to poaching.

To better understand the impact climate change — and specifically, increasing ocean acidity — has on this endangered species, UBC researchers exposed northern abalone larvae to water containing increased levels of CO2. Increases from 400 to 1,800 parts per million killed 40 per cent of larvae, decreased the size of larvae that did survive, and increased the rate of shell abnormalities.

"This is quite bad news, not only in terms of the endangered populations of abalone in the wild, but also the impact it might have on the prospects for aquaculture and coastal economics," says Christopher Harley, Associate Professor with the Department of Zoology and one of the authors of the study.

"And because the species is already thought to be limited by reproductive output and recruitment, these effects are likely to scale up to the population level, creating greater limits on population growth."

Average CO2 levels in the open ocean hover at 380 parts per million, a number which is expected to increase slowly over the next century.

What concerns the researchers are the much higher spikes in dissolved CO2 that are already being observed along the BC coast, particularly in late spring and early summer when northern abalone populations are spawning.

The findings were published in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. …

Endangered Gourmet Sea Snail Could be Doomed by Increasing Ocean Acidity

A digitally enhanced satellite image shows the oil spill cleanup effort in the Gulf of Mexico. The image uses the satellite's sensor bands to highlight the oil and dispersant. DigitalGlobe via Reuters

ScienceDaily (May 26, 2011) — A technical comment published in the May 27 edition of the journal Science casts doubt on a widely publicized study that concluded that a bacterial bloom in the Gulf of Mexico consumed the methane discharged from the Deepwater Horizon well.

The debate has implications for the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem as well as for predictions of the effect of global warming, said marine scientist and lead author Samantha Joye, University of Georgia Athletic Association Professor in Arts and Sciences.

Based on methane and oxygen distributions measured at 207 stations in the Gulf of Mexico, a study published in the January 21, 2011 edition of Science concluded that "nearly all" of the methane released from the well was consumed in the water column within approximately 120 days of the release. In the current paper in Science, Joye and co-authors from 12 other institutions make the case that uncertainties in the hydrocarbon discharge from the blowout, oxygen depletion fueled by processes other than methane consumption, a problematic interpretation of genetic data and shortcomings of the model used by the authors of the January study challenge the attribution of low oxygen zones to the oxidation of methane gas.

"Our goal is to understand what happened to the methane released from the Macondo discharge and in the larger framework, to better understand the factors that regulate microbial methane consumption following large-scale gas releases," said Joye, a professor in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "I believe there is still a lot to learn about the environmental factors that regulate methane consumption in the Gulf's waters and elsewhere."

Joye and her co-authors note that low levels of oxygen are known to occur in the Gulf of Mexico because of bacterial consumption of carbon inputs from the Mississippi River as well as the bacterial consumption of hydrocarbons that naturally seep from the seafloor. The researchers point out that given the uncertainty in oxygen and methane budgets, strong supporting evidence is required to attribute oxygen depletion to methane removal; however, a study published in the October 8, 2010 edition of Science showed low measured rates of methane consumption by bacteria. Joye and her co-authors note that samples from the control stations and the low-oxygen stations that were analyzed for unique genetic markers in the January 2011 study showed no significant difference in the abundance of methane consuming bacteria. Joye and her colleagues also argue that the model the study used neglected important factors that affect the transport and biodegradation of methane, and that it only provided a tentative match of the observational data. …

Scientists argue against conclusion that bacteria consumed Deepwater Horizon methane

Demonstrators shout slogans in Desaguadero, Peru, on Wednesday, May 18, during two weeks of protests against Vancouver-based Bear Creek Mining's proposed silver mine. Juan Karita / Associated Press

Reporting by Marco Aquino, Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Peter Cooney
27 May 2011

LIMA (Reuters) - Hundreds of demonstrators mobbed government buildings and burned police cars in southeastern Peru on Thursday as a protest against mining firms intensified 10 days before a presidential election.

Some 5,000 protesters have descended on the city of Puno over the past two weeks to demand concessions be revoked for mining companies they say will contaminate their lands. Roads to neighboring Bolivia are now blocked, paralyzing commerce.

"They've started to loot public and private institutions, banks and shopping centers," police officer William Anda said on local radio.

President Alan Garcia earlier this week authorized the army to help maintain order in Puno, 620 miles south of Lima, but it has yet to use force to end the protests. The government has sent representatives to negotiate with the protesters but an agreement has not been reached.

Garcia's government has helped line up $40 billion in investments in mining and oil projects over the next decade.

Intent on averting a violent clash that could overshadow the election, Garcia has said the government would not try to stop the protests until after the June 5 presidential vote. Polls give right-wing lawmaker Keiko Fujimori a narrow lead over leftist Ollanta Humala in the runoff.

Both candidates pledge to solve social conflicts over natural resources in Peru. Analysts say protests are caused partly because communities do not feel they have benefited from Peru's mineral wealth and decade-long economic boom. The conflicts frequently turn violent.

Several small precious metals miners operate near Puno as well as Minsur, Peru's largest tin miner.

Anti-mining protest escalates in southern Peru

May 27 (CBC News) – Indigenous protesters opposed to a Canadian company's plans for a silver mine in the southern highlands of Peru sacked public buildings and set fire to several vehicles in the regional capital of Puno on Thursday.

The protesters are mainly Aymara Indians living of the shores of Lake Titicaca. For two weeks they have been holding protests against proposed mining, oil and gas and hydroelectric developments and blocking roads along the border with Bolivia.

They're demanding the government cancel the licence for Vancouver-based Bear Creek's Santa Ana mine. The protesters fear contamination of the lake, hurting fishing and agriculture.

President Alan Garcia says the government cannot cancel the license.

On Tuesday, Peru responded to the protests by suspending mining development in the region and announcing a six-month study by government ministers and elected local officials into the protests. …

Opponents of Canadian miner sack buildings in Peru

Catch Trends by Valuable Marine Species Groups, 1970-2008. UNFAO, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2010

Growth of tuna fisheries halted in 2008 as catches of this species group decreased by 2.6 percent after the 2007 global record of almost 6.5 million tonnes. While maximum tuna catches in the Pacific Ocean (which represents about 70 percent of the global catches) and in the Indian Ocean were reached in 2007 and 2006, respectively, the peak of Atlantic tuna catches dates back to 1993. Shark catches decreased by almost 20 percent from their 2003 peak at 0.9 million tonnes. It is hoped that this reduction is partially due to the effectiveness of the management measures (e.g., finning ban) implemented at the national and regional levels to regulate both fisheries targeting sharks and shark bycatch, rather than to stock decline resulting from overfishing of sharks.

The decline of the gadiformes (“cods, hakes, haddocks” in Figure 7) seems relentless. In 2008, catches of this species group as a whole did not total 8 million tonnes, a level that had been until then consistently exceeded since 1967 and that reached a peak of almost 14 million tonnes in 1987. In the last decade, catches of Atlantic cod, the iconic species of this group, have been somewhat stable in the Northwest Atlantic at about 50 000 tonnes (very low by historical standards), but in the Northeast Atlantic catches have further decreased by 30 percent.

Cephalopod catches set a new record in 2008, although their growth seems to have levelled off. This is the species group that has shown the strongest performance in recent years, with a gain of more than 1 million tonnes since 2002 (Figure 7). Crabs are another group of invertebrates that reached a maximum in 2008, with overall catches growing by one-quarter in the last six years. On the other hand, shrimp catches have decreased slightly but remained at more than 3 million tonnes in 2008 (Figure 7). The four groups of bivalves as a whole were very steady in 2005–08, although different trends are shown by the groups. Oyster and mussel catches have been declining since 2000, whereas scallops and clams have recently recovered from previously negative trends.

The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2010 [pdf], FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS, Rome, 2010

Verhalen, Texas — Dry weeds surround a wooden cross in a field near the town of Verhalen, 21 May 2011. The state is suffering from a severe drought that is causing wildfires and hardship for ranchers and farmers. PHOTOGRAPH BY: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

By Adriana Acosta
26 May 2011

BAY CITY - With much of the nation focused on historic floods and deadly tornadoes, Texas has been suffering through a drought being compared to the severe record drought of 1895.

"With history as a guide, we have some very serious times coming our way without any significant rain in the next few months," said Bob Rose, chief meteorologist for the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Rose spoke to a full house at the 16th annual Matagorda County Local Emergency Planning Committee luncheon on Thursday.

"The past few months have brought on some interesting and bizarre weather, making 2011 the worst drought in 100 years," Rose said.

He discussed the weather conditions in Texas, including rain fall, tornadoes as well as the latest drought impacting the region.

"It has been an interesting year for weather, just phenomenal with the severe weather that the nation has seen," he said.

Rose said severe weather reports have been off the charts this year with tornado fatalities being one of the highest since 1950.

"Normally, we see big tornadoes hitting rural areas but this year, tornadoes have been hitting big cities," he said. …

2011 drought worst in Texas since 1895

A fire truck sprays water at No 3 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Tomioka, Fukushima prefecture in this still image taken from a video by the Self Defence Force Nuclear Biological Chemical Weapon Defence UnitBy Geoff Brumfiel
26 May 2011

As more details leak out about the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, it's become clear that something else is leaking—radioactive water from the cores of three damaged reactors.

Leaks have been a persistent problem at the plant since it was struck by an earthquake and tsunami on 11 March. Three reactors operating at the time of the quake went into meltdown after the tsunami wiped out emergency generators designed to circulate water through the cores. TEPCO recently admitted that all three units probably suffered complete meltdowns before workers could flood them with seawater.

Since then, reactor operators have kept water flowing to the cores and several fuel storage pools above the reactors. That same water appears to be flowing out into the basements of buildings and eventually the Pacific Ocean, where environmentalists and scientists have raised concerns about possible contamination.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which runs the plant, hoped to rectify the problem by pumping water into storage tanks until it can be reprocessed, but today Reuters reports that the storage tanks appear to be leaking.

And that's just the start of the bad news because the reactors themselves appear to be leaking as well. TEPCO initially hoped that the leaks were largely coming from pipes that could be repaired, but they now concede that both the reactors' pressure vessels and primary containment vessels, which are designed to contain an accident, are probably leaking water.

The leaks will probably force TEPCO to abandon its plans to set up a recirculation system that can cool the reactor cores. That's a serious blow to efforts to bring the reactors to a safe temperature within months. Recirculation is far more efficient (and less radioactive) than simply dumping water into the cores. A new plan posted on 17 May seems to indicate that TEPCO will instead try to recirculate water from the basements of the damaged buildings into he reactor cores. It would be better than nothing, but a far cry from a closed loop efficiently cooling the reactors. …

Fukushima nuclear plant is leaking like a sieve

Aerial view of flooded city in Pakistan, 13 September 2011. MSNBC

London, May 10, IRNA – An all-party committee of MPs Tuesday expressed concern that only $700 million of a $2 billion appeal has been delivered on the ground to help millions of victims caught up in Pakistan's worst-ever floods last year.

“Two thirds of the funding called for had still not been delivered by the end of January this year – this is unacceptable,” the parliamentary International Development Committee warned.

Pakistan's floods afflicted 18 million people, including displacement of 12 million with more than 1,900 losing their lives in an area covering one fifth of the country, larger than England, the MPs said in a report on The Humanitarian Response to the Pakistan Floods.

“The international community can and must learn some important lessons from its response to the Pakistan floods, which will help in preparing for future disasters.” said committee chair Malcolm Bruce.

“In particular it needs to train-up a cadre of people to lead and coordinate complex emergency responses,” Bruce said. … The report found that the scale of the floods overwhelmed the capacity of the international system, which was already stretched by the earthquake in Haiti, to respond effectively.

The UN response was said to be “patchy with poor leadership and coordination.” …

Only third of appeal funds for Pakistan flood delivered, says UK report

Aerial view of a flooded village in Pakistan, 2010. phillyworkersvoice.wordpress.com

ISLAMABAD, May 29 (PakTribune) – Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on Saturday said Pakistan suffered a loss of Rs855 billion ($10 billion USD) to the economy due to the worst floods last year.

“The worst affected sector was agriculture that suffered loss of around Rs429 billion, followed by housing (Rs135 billion), Transport and Communications (Rs113 billion) and financial sector (Rs57 billion),” the prime minister said in his opening remarks at the outset of National Economic Council that met here with his chair.

The premier, welcoming the participants of the annual NEC meeting, (NEC) said, “Since start of our government in 2008, we have faced serious economic challenges as the worldwide economic recession also caused slow down of our economic activities. However, our government has been able to restore and maintain economic stability in the country,” he added.

“At the onset of current fiscal year, we were looking forward to reap the benefits of economic stabilisation and to regain the momentum of economic growth to a higher level. We were unfortunately hit by the most devastating flood in the recorded human history. The flood spreading over 50,000 square kilometres affected around twenty million people in eighty two districts,” the prime minister said.

He said the Damage and Need Assessment Report, prepared by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, estimated an overall loss of around Rs855 billion to the economy due to worst flood last year,” he added.

The prime minister said to provide immediate relief to the affected people, we had to modify our priorities.

He said the federal government had to enforce a cut of Rs100 billion in its development budget. “The provincial governments also managed savings in their respective budgets to provide rescue, relief and rehabilitation work,” he added. …

Floods caused Rs855 bn loss: PM Gilani

SINKING FORTUNES: Threats to dolphins include certain tuna fishing practices and run-off of agricultural and industrial chemicals into rivers that drain into coastal areas of the ocean where dolphins spend much of their time. Pictured: bottlenose dolphins. Image: Tom Brakefield, Thinkstock

By Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss
27 May 2011

Dear EarthTalk: How are wild dolphins faring on the high seas? Recent reports of dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico may well be due to last year’s BP oil spill, but I imagine there are many threats to dolphins from pollution, human overfishing and other causes. -- Henry Milken, Atlanta

Dolphins are probably the most iconic and best loved species of the marine world. Their playful nature and high intelligence have endeared them to people for eons. But our love of dolphins might not be enough to save them from extinction brought on by overfishing, pollution, climate change and other environmental affronts perpetrated by humans.

The nonprofit International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which maintains a worldwide “Red List” of at-risk wildlife species, considers 36 of the world’s 40 different dolphin species to be in trouble. Yes, specific events can cause problems for dolphins—researchers believe that the deaths of 300 dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico over the last year can be blamed on the BP oil spill there. But more widespread and constant forms of pollution—such as run-off of agricultural and industrial chemicals into rivers that drain into coastal areas of the ocean where dolphins spend much of their time—are having a more lasting negative effect on dolphins by poisoning them and causing reproductive problems.

Also, dolphins have long been the unwitting victims of fishermen targeting large prey, such as tuna. According to Defenders of Wildlife, fishermen started to notice a half century ago that schools of yellow fin tuna seemed to follow dolphins that swim higher in the water column, especially in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. “Fishermen there have consequently found that setting nets on dolphins to catch the tuna swimming underneath is a lucrative technique for tuna fishing, despite the fact that the practice is extremely injurious to dolphins,” reports the group, adding that some seven million dolphins have since been killed as a result of the practice.

Also, our unrelenting demand for seafood—which has caused rampant overfishing throughout the world’s oceans—means that dolphins, which feed on smaller fish such as mackerel, cod and herring as well as squid, are having a harder and harder time finding food. And in Turkey, Peru, Sri Lanka, Japan and elsewhere, dolphins are hunted as a delicacy and also to decrease competition for fish resources.

As if these problems weren’t enough, climate change also looms as one of the biggest threats of all to dolphins. “Due to the rapidly rising oceans temperatures, the dolphin’s primary food sources are seeking deeper cooler waters,” reports the Defenders of Wildlife. “Scientists are concerned that the dolphins will have difficulty adapting as quickly as necessary to find new feeding grounds to sustain their populations.” …

Flipped Off: Pollution and Overfishing Spell Trouble for Dolphins Worldwide

Republican House Representative Dana Rohrabacher believes that razing down rainforests will solve global warming.

Commentary by Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
27 May 2011

Republican House Representative Dana Rohrabacher shocked scientists on Wednesday when he asserted clear-cutting the world's rainforests would be a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reports Politico.

"Is there some thought being given to subsidizing the clearing of rain forests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases?" the congressman asked Todd Stern, the lead U.S. climate negotiator during a politically-charged hearing on climate change.

"Or would people be supportive of cutting down older trees in order to plant younger trees as a means to prevent this disaster from happening?"

Rohrabacher seemed to rationalize his argument by saying that 80-90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are "generated by nature itself." He neglects to mention, or fails to understand, that these emissions mostly balance out, unlike emissions from burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, which primarily contribute to climate change.

"He’s seriously confused,” Oliver Phillips, a professor of geography at the UK's University of Leeds in Britain and an author of several papers carbon storage in forests, told The New York Times. "He’s just got half of the equation. Natural things decay, of course, but they also grow. … The need is to reduce deforestation." …

Congressman Rohrabacher believes chopping down rainforests will solve global warming

Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) Co.'s crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is seen in this still image taken from a video shot by an unmanned helicopter on April 10, 2011 and released by TEPCO April 11, 2011, one month after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami battered Japan's northeast coast. Credit: Reuters / Tokyo Electric Power Co / Handout

By Chisa Fujioka and Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Nick Macfie
27 May 2011

(Reuters) - Japan will pay schools near the quake-ravaged Fukushima nuclear power plant to remove radioactive top soil and set a lower radiation exposure limit for schoolchildren after a growing outcry over health risks.

The Education Ministry triggered protests in April when it set a radiation exposure limit for children of 20 millisieverts per year, the same dosage the International Commission on Radiation Protection recommends for nuclear plant workers.

The decision became a focal point for anger over Prime Minister Naoto Kan's handling of the crisis and the forced evacuation of tens of thousands residents.

Education Minister Yoshiaki Takaki said Tokyo would pay for local schools to remove topsoil in playgrounds that exceeded radiation limits.

It would also set a target of radiation exposure for children at schools of one-twentieth of the previous limit.

"We will provide financial support to schools for measures to deal with soil in school yards as a way to lower radiation levels for children," Takaki told a news conference. …

Japan moves to protect children as new nuclear leak revealed

Water level in the Three Gorges Dam: design capacity versus predicted 2012 level. Currently, in the situation of drought, the water level stands at less than 151.7 meters, and the dam may be forced to lower the level below 145 meters for drought control. China Daily

By Wang Qian (China Daily)
28 May 2011

BEIJING - The Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydropower project, might lose the battle against the worst drought to hit Central China in 50 years if no rains fall by mid-June.

"If the drought continues and there is no rainfall before June 10, the dam will lose the capacity to relieve the drought," Wang Hai, director of the transport division of the China Three Gorges Corporation, told China Daily on Friday.

The dam's water discharge rate is expected to reach 11,000 cubic meters a second on average (about 3,000 cubic meters a second more than the water flowing in) from May 25 to June 10, and its water level had fallen to less than 151.7 meters on Friday afternoon, according to the corporation.

The hydropower project is designed with a capacity of more than 22 billion cubic meters for drought relief and flood control. Ideally, the dam's water level will reach the 175-meter mark in flooding season (generally from June to August) until early next year, when water will be gradually discharged to 145 meters, for drought relief.

Because the bottom-line for safe water transport in the upstream of the Yangtze River, the water transport hub, is 145 meters, Wang said.

More than 22 billion cubic meters of water are left for flood control and drought relief, but that might be far from enough for the severe drought hitting the down reaches.

As of Thursday, the drought had parched more than 6.2 million hectares, leaving more than 5 million people short of drinking water across the country, especially in Hubei, Hunan and Gansu provinces, according to the latest statistics released by the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

"Although water levels of major lakes along the Yangtze River have gone up after the dam increased water discharges, we are still worried that the drought may continue and the water level will drop when less water is discharged from the dam after June 10," Huang Qi, head of the disaster prevention and reduction office of the Yangtze River Water Resources Committee, said on Friday. …

Three Gorges Dam's power is seeping away via The Oil Drum

Two local residents wade through flooding caused by high ocean tides in low-lying parts of Majuro Atoll, the capital of the Marshall Islands. Extreme high tides have flooded parts of the low-lying Marshall Islands capital Majuro with a warning Sunday of worse to come because of rising sea levels. physorg.com

25 May 2011

NEW YORK -- Global sea level rise has put a handful of nations at risk of extinction -- small island states in the Pacific and Indian oceans. But this week, a collection of international lawyers and politicians have begun work to ensure that doesn't happen.

They can't prevent what many scientists see as the physical inevitability: a rise in ocean levels of 1 to 2 meters (3 to 6 feet) by 2100, even if all greenhouse gas emitting into the atmosphere were to cease tomorrow. Rather, they are exploring ways to use existing formal and informal rules that would allow many nations to continue as legal entities entitled to ocean fishing and mineral exploration rights, even if their entire populations were forced to relocate elsewhere.

The tiny nations of the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati and more are among those at most risk in the Pacific. These atoll nations are among the lowest-lying in the world, and should their archipelagos not completely submerge, it's likely that rising sea levels and extreme saltwater flooding will permanently damage freshwater supplies and destroy agriculture, making them uninhabitable. The Maldives and Seychelles in the Indian Ocean face the same risks.

But at a three-day discussion on their legal options at Columbia University, wrapping up today, scholars are pointing out ways that these states can still maintain an identity and international legal authority, even as they lose all their habitable territory.

"It's important to maintain a government that can defend its interests in the international arena," advised international law expert Jenny Grote Stoutenburg of the University of California, Berkeley.

Conceived last year by the government of the Marshall Islands, this week's three-day seminar on "Legal Implications of Rising Seas and a Changing Climate" is the first to gather experts together to develop a formal body of knowledge that can guide the most vulnerable nations, should their worst fears become reality. …

The questions are serious ones, and at the same time intellectually interesting.

What happens to the people forced to relocate, and what is their citizenship status? Do their governments survive, and if so, do they retain their full seats at the United Nations, even though they have no habitable land to control? And do they still control the fisheries and mineral rights to the surrounding seas they now enjoy, or do those become international waters? …

Island Nations May Keep Some Sovereignty if Rising Seas Make Them Uninhabitable

Feb 21 (AFP) – Extreme high tides have flooded parts of the low-lying Marshall Islands capital Majuro with a warning Sunday of worse to come because of rising sea levels.

Several areas of the city were flooded Saturday and forecasters predicted more to come on Sunday evening before the current high tide levels ease.

Flooding of the Marshall Islands atolls, many of which rise less than a metre (three feet) above sea level, will increase in "frequency and magnitude" in the coming years, University of Hawaii marine researcher Murray Ford said.

Ford, who is studying rising sea levels in the Marshall islands, said the weekend's extreme tides of 1.67 metres were exacerbated by La Nina, a weather phenomenon that has caused the base sea level to rise by 15 centimetres (six inches) in recent months.

"As the sea level is temporarily higher as a result of La Nina and overlies long-term sea level rise, the impacts are magnified," Ford said.

"While these events happen only a handful of times a year at present they will continue to increase in both frequency and magnitude."

Ford said a gauge measuring long-term sea level changes at Majuro indicated the "average sea level is more than six inches above predicted" levels. …

Extreme tides flood Marshalls capital

Beach erosion at Long Beach Island, New Jersey, 14 Nov 2009. pressofAtlanticCity.com

May 26 (NJ Press Media) – Sea level likely will be a foot higher along New Jersey by 2050, and at the end of the century “Atlantic City’s going to see three feet,” said geology professor Ken Miller of Rutgers University.

To see what the beaches would do on their own in response to rising sea levels, just compare the present geographic locations of Island Beach State Park or the wildlife refuge at Holgate to those of the heavily developed resort neighborhoods next door.

“It’s not that they’re disappearing — they’re moving,” said Norbert Psuty, professor emeritus at Rutgers, displaying aerial photographs that show the wild beaches shifting hundreds of feet westward.

“Island Beach is in the process of breaking down and being transported inland,” Psuty said at a Wednesday conference on climate change and coastal hazards. At the southern tip of Long Beach Island, the refuge beach now lines up with the middle of Holgate’s street grid.

“What we’re seeing today is unprecedented” — a regional sea level rise rate of 4 millimeters per year after millennia during which sea level was stable or rising by perhaps 1 millimeter a year, Miller said. He studies the shifting coastline with core samples that drill down through tens of thousands of years of sediment.

It’s the fastest increase since the end of the last ice age, when melting glaciers raised sea levels by 40 millimeters a year, Miller told a crowd that included more than 200 area high school students. …

Sea level will rise a foot higher on Jersey coast by 2050

Institute for Marine Mammal Studies veterinary technician Wendy Hatchett lifts a dead bottlenose dolphin that was found on Ono Island, Ala., and brought for examination to Gulfport, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011. Researchers say that more than a dozen young dolphins, either aborted before they reached maturity or dead soon after birth, have been collected along the Gulf Coast in the past two weeks -- about 10 times the normal number for the first two months of the year. Patrick Semansky / kansascity.com

By Mike Schneider
26 May 2011
ORLANDO, Florida — A marine researcher says the BP oil spill may be playing an indirect role in the unusually high number of young dolphins dying in the Gulf of Mexico recently.

University of Central Florida researcher Graham Worthy says in a report he is presenting today that the oil and dispersants used to clean up the spill may have disrupted the food chain and prevented dolphin mothers from building up insulating blubber they need to withstand cold. That could have contributed to calves dying.

Worthy says 153 bottlenose dolphins have washed up on Gulf coasts since January, including 65 newborn, infants, stillborn or those born prematurely.

The presentation is being made in Orlando at a meeting of researchers studying the effects of the oil spill on Gulf marine life.

Dolphin deaths: BP oil spill may have had indirect role, researcher says

View Map of Radiation Measurements by Greenpeace team in a larger map

By arevamirpal::laprimavera
27 May 2011

Radioactive materials in concentration that was up to several hundreds of times the normal level were detected from the soil on the ocean floor in the 300-kilometer strip along the coast from Kesennuma City in Miyagi Prefecture to Choshi City in Chiba Prefecture.

Oh what a surprise. Who could have known?

The Ministry of Education and Science, who did the survey, even goes to contradict the oft-repeated statement by the chief cabinet secretary and says "the marine products may be affected."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano's favorite refrain whenever a new leak was found at Fukushima I Nuke Plant was: "It will have no immediate effect" on health, on environment, on anything. (These days, he is busy trying to "qualify" his use of "immediate". Quite funny if the situation is not this dire.)

No word on other nuclides like plutonium, uranium, and strontium.

I'm trying to locate the original survey data at the Ministry's site.

From Mainichi Shinbun Japanese (1:15AM JST 5/27/2011):

文部科学省は27日、宮城県気仙沼市沖から千葉県銚子市沖まで南北約300キロにわたる海底の土から、最高で通常の数百倍に当たる濃度の放射性物 質を検出したと発表した。文科省は「海産物に影響が及ぶ恐れがある」としている。東京電力福島第1原発から海に流出した汚染水に含まれた放射性物質が、広 範囲に拡散していることが裏付けられた。

The Ministry of Education and Science disclosed on May 27 that radioactive materials in concentration that was up to several hundreds of times the normal level were detected from the soil on the ocean floor in the 300-kilometer strip along the coast from Kesennuma City in Miyagi Prefecture to Choshi City in Chiba Prefecture. The Ministry says "the marine products may be affected". It is now confirmed that the radioactive materials in the contaminated water released [both intentionally and unintentionally] from TEPCO's Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean have spread far and wide.

9日から14日にかけ、沖合約15~50キロの12カ所で海底の土を採取。すべてから放射性物質が検出された。濃度が最も高かったのは、福島第1 原発の沖合約30キロの水深126メートルの海底で、土1キロ当たりセシウム134は260ベクレル、セシウム137は320ベクレルだった。

The soil samples were taken from May 9 to May 14 at 12 locations about 15 to 50 kilometers off the coast. Radioactive materials were detected in all samples. The highest concentration of radioactive materials was detected from the sample taken from the ocean floor, 126 meters deep, 30 kilometers off the coast of Fukushima I Nuke Plant. Cesium-134 was 260 becquerels/kilogram, and cesium-137 was 320 becquerels/kilogram. …

#Fukushima I Nuke Plant: High Concentration of Radioactive Cesium in the Ocean Soil in 300-Kilometer Strip Along the Coast

An abandoned ship is stuck in the solidified salts of the Oroumieh Lake, some 600 kilometres northwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Friday, April 29, 2011. AP Photo / Vahid Salemi

OROUMIEH LAKE, Iran, May 25 (AP) – From a hillside, Kamal Saadat looked forlornly at hundreds of potential customers, knowing he could not take them for trips in his boat to enjoy a spring weekend on picturesque Oroumieh Lake, the third largest saltwater lake on earth.

"Look, the boat is stuck. It cannot move anymore," said Saadat, gesturing to where it lay encased by solidifying salt and lamenting that he could not understand why the lake was fading away.

The long popular lake, home to migrating flamingos, pelicans and gulls, has shrunken by 60 per cent and could disappear entirely in just a few years, experts say -- drained by drought, misguided irrigation policies, development and the damming of rivers that feed it.

Until two years ago, Saadat supplemented his income from almond- and grape-growing by taking tourists on boat tours. But as the lake receded and its salinity rose, he found he had to stop the boat every 10 minutes to unfoul the propeller -- and finally, he had to give up this second job that he'd used to support a five-member family.

"The visitors were not enjoying such a boring trip," he said, noting they had to cross hundreds of meters of salty lakebed just to reach the boat from the wharf.

Other boatmen, too, have parked their vessels by their houses, where they stand as sad reminders of the deep-water days. And the lake's ebbing affects an ever-widening circle. …

Beyond tourism, the salt-saturated lake threatens agriculture nearby in northwest Iran, as storms sometimes carry the salt far afield. Many farmers worry about the future of their lands, which for centuries have been famous for apples, grapes, walnuts, almonds, onions, potatoes, as well as aromatic herbal drinks, candies and tasty sweet pastes.

"The salty winds not only will affect surrounding areas but also can damage farming in remote areas," said Masoud Mohammadian, an agriculture official in the eastern part of the lake, some 600 kilometres northwest of the capital Tehran.

Other officials echoed the dire forecast.

Salman Zaker, a parliament member for Oroumieh warned last month that, "with the current trend, the risk of a salt tsunami is increasing." Warning that the lake would dry out within three to five years -- an assessment agreed to by the local environment department director, Hasan Abbasnejad -- Zaker said eight to 10 billion tons of salt would jeopardize life for millions of people. …

Official reports blame the drying mainly on a decade-long drought, and peripherally on consumption of water of the feeding rivers for farming. They put 5 per cent of the blame on construction of dams and 3 per cent on other factors. Others disagree about the relative blame. …

Nasser Agh, who teaches at Tabriz Sahand University, suggested miscalculations led to late reaction to save the lake. "Experts believed it would be a 10-year rotating drought, at first," he said. But long afterward, the drought still persists, with devastating effects.

In the early 2000s, academic research concluded that the lake could face the same destiny as the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which has been steadily shrinking since rivers that feed it were diverted by Soviet Union irrigation projects in 1960s. It is now less than one-tenth of its original size. …

"The lake is in such a misery because of the dams," Ismail Kahram, a professor in Tehran Azad University and a prominent environmentalist, told The Associated Press. Three-fifths of the lake has dried up and salt saturation has reached some 350 milligrams per litre from 80 milligrams in 1970s, he said. …

However, Eskandar Khanjari, a local journalist in Oroumieh, called the cloud-seeding plan "a show." He said recent rainfall was only seasonal, as predicted by meteorologists.

Scoffing at the promises of officials and what he called "non-expert views," he said of efforts to save the lake: "It seems that people have only one way; to pray for rain." …

Iran's largest lake turning to salt

Members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team look at the No.3 reactor building at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (Tepco) Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station in Fukushima, Japan, in this handout photograph released to the media on Friday, May 27, 2011. Source: Tokyo Electric Power Co. via Bloomberg

By Stuart Biggs and Yuriy Humber
27 May 2011

As a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency visits Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled nuclear plant today, academics warn the company has failed to disclose the scale of radiation leaks and faces a “massive problem” with contaminated water.

The utility known as Tepco has been pumping cooling water into the three reactors that melted down after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. By May 18, almost 100,000 tons of radioactive water had leaked into basements and other areas of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. The volume of radiated water may double by the end of December and will cost 42 billion yen ($518 million) to decontaminate, according to Tepco’s estimates.

“Contaminated water is increasing and this is a massive problem,” Tetsuo Iguchi, a specialist in isotope analysis and radiation detection at Nagoya University, said by phone. “They need to find a place to store the contaminated water and they need to guarantee it won’t go into the soil.”

The 18-member IAEA team, led by the U.K.’s head nuclear safety inspector, Mike Weightman, is visiting the Fukushima reactors to investigate the accident and the response. Tepco and Japan’s nuclear regulators haven’t updated the total radiation leakage from the plant since April 12.

Tepco has been withholding data on radiation from Dai-Ichi, Goshi Hosono, an adviser to Japan’s prime minister, said at a press briefing today. Hosono said he ordered the utility to check for any data it hasn’t disclosed and release the material as soon as possible. …

“Tepco knows more than they’ve said about the amount of radiation leaking from the plant,” Jan van de Putte, a specialist in radiation safety trained at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands, said yesterday in Tokyo. “What we need is a full disclosure, a full inventory of radiation released including the exact isotopes.” …

Tepco took more than two months to confirm the meltdowns in three reactors and this week reported the breaches in the containment chambers. The delay in releasing information has led to criticism of Prime Minister Naoto Kan for not doing more to ensure Tepco is keeping the public informed. …

The government needs to investigate the total amount of radiation leaked from the plant to ascertain damage to the ocean from contaminated water, said van de Putte, also a nuclear specialist at environmental group Greenpeace International.

The group found seaweed and fish contaminated to more than 50 times the 2,000 becquerel per kilogram legal limit for radioactive iodine-131 off the coast of Fukushima during a survey between May 3 and 9. …

The company had little choice in pouring water on the reactors because the risk of contamination was outweighed by the risk of leaving fuel rods exposed, Peter Burns, a nuclear physicist with 40 years of radiation safety experience, said in an interview.

Burns, the former representative for Australia on the United Nations’ scientific committee on atomic radiation, added pumping in the water “was a desperate measure for desperate times.”

Tepco Failed to Disclose Scale of Fukushima Radiation Leaks, Academics Say


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