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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fortean / Alternative News: Fukushima Daiichi Level 7, Thylacine Search Expands and Moose Hunt in New Zealand

Japanese Declare Crisis at Level of Chernobyl

The Japanese government raised its assessment of the monthlong crisis at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to the highest severity level by international standards—a rating only conferred so far upon the Chernobyl accident.

Japan's nuclear regulators said the plant has likely released so much radiation into the environment that it must boost the accident's severity rating on the International Nuclear Event scale to a 7 from 5 currently. That is the same level reached by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the former Soviet Union, which struck almost exactly 25 years ago, on April 26, 1986.

"Based on the cumulative data we've gathered, we can finally give an estimate of total radioactive materials emitted,'' Hidehiko Nishiyama, spokesman for Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said at a press conference Tuesday.

Even as they upgraded their assessment of the situation, Japanese officials went to lengths to say that the problem they are struggling to contain isn't anywhere near the disaster of Chernobyl.

"It is quite different from Chernobyl," said Mr. Nishiyama. "First, the amount of released radiation is about a tenth of Chernobyl," he said, adding that while there were 29 deaths resulting from short-term exposure to high doses of radiation at Chernobyl, there were no such deaths at Fukushima.

"At Chernobyl, the nuclear reactor itself exploded," he said, adding that at the Fukushima plant, the pressure vessel and the containment vessel were largely intact.

Still, Fukushima Daiichi operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. warned Tuesday that since the Fukushima Daiichi plant is still releasing radioactive materials, the total level of radiation released could eventually exceed that of Chernobyl, a spokesman said.

The new assessment comes as Japan admits that the effects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident—which has already caused the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and spread radiation through groundwater and farms over a broad section of eastern Japan—are likely to be long-lasting and grave. The accident was precipitated by the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which knocked out Fukushima Daiichi's power and cooling systems, causing several of the reactors to overheat.

The International Nuclear Event scale, whose development is coordinated by the International Atomic Energy Agency, measures the severity of accidents based on how much radiation is released, the degree of damage to the nuclear cores and how widespread and long-lasting the effects are likely to be.

Level 5—the previous level given the Fukushima Daiichi accident—indicates a "limited release'' of radioactive materials requiring "some planned countermeasures.'' The 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania was rated a 5.

Level 7 labels this "a major accident," the most serious on the international scale. It means high levels of radiation have been released, and that the amount of time needed to bring the plant under control will require an extended period. But not all "major accidents" are equal in severity.

The decision to upgrade formally the severity of the accident came a day after Japan broadened the 12-mile nuclear evacuation zone around the plant to include all or part of five towns and villages that housed tens of thousands of people before the disaster, a sign that officials now see the long-term risks as far higher than originally estimated.

And the crisis appears far from over, with constant reminders that efforts to bring the crippled reactors under control are far from complete. Operator Tepco scrambled to keep reactors stable in the wake of another big earthquake Monday and a battery fire Tuesday morning, signs of how vulnerable the plant remains a month after the quake.

Experts have predicted it could take months for Tepco to bring Fukushima Daiichi's reactors truly under control, and years to clean up the plant itself.

Japanese nuclear regulators determined that after the accident, the plant has likely released tens of thousands of terabecquerels—or a mind-boggling tens of thousands of trillions of becquerels—of radiation in the immediate area. That's a level that's been recorded only during the Chernobyl accident.

While the new assessment puts Fukushima on a par with Chernobyl, there are key differences between the two, suggesting the Ukraine disaster was still far more serious.

The Japanese government said the monthlong crisis at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is on par with Chernobyl in terms of severity. WSJ's Mariko Sanchanta and Yumiko Ono discuss the public's reaction to the news.

In the case of Chernobyl, a graphite fire burned uncontrolled for days, spewing out radioactive smoke that spread around the world. Fukushima, unlike Chernobyl, has a containment structure, which, even if damaged, has meant that the Japanese accident has shown "much, much, much lower'' traces of far-flung radiation, Wolfgang Weiss, chair of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, said in Vienna last week.

The release from Fukushima of tens of thousands of terabecquerels of iodine-131, while huge, appears to be smaller than the 5.2 million terabecquerels released from Chernobyl. Japanese government officials said the radiation release was between 370,000 and 630,000 terabecquerels so far from Fukushima. The permissible level of iodine-131 for vegetables and fish is 2,000 becquerels per kilogram, or just a tiny fraction of what has been released.

A 2005 United Nations study said up to 4,000 people could eventually die from radiation exposure to Chernobyl.

In Japan, so far, a handful of workers have been hospitalized, but they were released a few days later, and regulators said they showed no signs of lasting injury.

Japanese suppliers impacted by last month's quake are struggling to hang onto their business amid shortages of key components and electricity. Companies that rely on that hard-hit supply network are also rethinking their exposure to Japan.

There are, however, regular reports in the Japanese press of elevated radiation exposure for the workers trying to contain Fukushima, and it could be months, or years, before the real impact is known. The same is true for the population in and around the plant.

Officials said they expanded the original evacuation zone because the accident had lasted longer than expected.

"Japan has been doing drills for possible nuclear accidents, but they assumed that the accidents would be resolved in about 10 days," said Mr. Nishiyama, the spokesman. "We are now dealing with a crisis of a historic proportion. This has necessitated different kinds of responses than initially planned."

Even in announcing the expanded evacuation zone, Japanese officials said residents of the affected areas weren't in danger of surpassing government exposure limits anytime soon and that they have about a month to move.

Testing by Japanese, U.S. and IAEA officials shows that the radioactive contamination is spreading unevenly from the plant, creating what are known as hot spots due to wind, topography and other natural conditions that show a higher density of radioactive material compared with some areas closer to the plant.

The move will present major logistical hurdles for communities already battered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that damaged the plant as well as much of the surrounding countryside. The area includes towns and villages with a population totaling about 115,000 people before the crisis, though the number of people affected is likely to be far less because the government's order applies only to particular hot spots believed to have higher radiation levels, not a set radius from the plant.

Meanwhile, efforts to stabilize reactors at Fukushima Daiichi continue to be dogged by setbacks and scares, in a sign of how fragile the situation on the ground remains. On Tuesday morning, Tepco said there was a small fire at a battery unit outside reactor No. 4, which was put out shortly after being reported.

On Monday, a 7.1 magnitude quake centered in coastal Fukushima temporarily shut down power supply and makeshift cooling systems to three reactors at the plant, causing the evacuation of workers to the compound's command center. The systems remained down for nearly an hour while the evacuation remained in effect, keeping workers from switching to emergency power generators.

Tepco said the suspension didn't appear to have caused significant safety issues. But the scramble to restore power served as a reminder of how aftershocks and the risk of tsunami could upset the delicate efforts to stabilize the problems at the plant. - WSJ


Moose on the loose in New Zealand?

While in other parts of the world people seek Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster or the Tasmanian Tiger, in New Zealand it is an elusive moose which has the community excited. A century after 10 Canadian moose were released in the southern wilds of New Zealand, a company's offer of NZ$100,000 for "proof of life" has re-ignited speculation about whether any are still alive.

Southland District Mayor Frana Cardno said that some people had searched for the moose for years and she was convinced one would be found in the Fiordland region - New Zealand's least populated area, in the nation's southwest - one day. NZ clothing company Hallensteins have launched a promotion offering $100,000 to anyone who found proof the moose was alive and well in Fiordland.

Company CEO Graeme Popplewell said the reward would be paid to anyone providing "verifiable video or photo evidence that could help us save this giant swamp donkey." In 1910, records show, 10 moose - six females and four males - were released in the area in the hope they would breed and become a big game resource, but the last confirmed shooting was in 1952.

However, biologist Ken Tustin, who has written two books on the topic, claimed there had been DNA and photo evidence of a moose in the area as recently as 15 years ago. Tustin said that a tuft of hair found in 2002 had tested positive for moose genes. "This takes the whole thing beyond the realm of hoax. People are astounded because there's been this whole climate of disbelief for so long."

NOTE: I wonder how long it takes for someone to attempt to smuggle a moose into New Zealand. Might be worth the risk for a $100K reward...Lon


Sweden launches first medicine vending machine

thelocal - A grocery store in Grebbestad is the first in the country to offer the service, writes the local Bohusläningen newspaper.

Customers just need their bank card and identity number to purchase the medicines in a move that is likey to become more popluar since the laws on the purchase of prescription-free medicines were relaxed.

Customers make their choice on a touch-screen, from which they can also access advice on health problems and various products.

“This is its biggest advantage,” said store owner Eva Dennerlöv–Gunnarsson to Bohusläningen.

“We are not allowed to give advice or even answer questions about medicines because we do not have the right education, but here the customer can get the same information that they would from a pharmacist.”

She also points out that customers can be more discreet with their purchases from a vending machine and save time by not having to stand in long queues.

When stocks are low in the machine it sends an electronic message to a supplier, who can then come and refill it, while customers can still buy other medical products manually in the shop itself.

In the long run it may be possible even for prescription medicines to be distributed in this way, thanks to the newly relaxed regulations in Sweden.

The Swedish pharmaceutical monopoly was abolished in 2009, with the first competitors to Apoteket opening their doors for business in January 2010.

There are now four dominant market actors - Apoteket, Medstop, Apotek hjärtat and Kronans Droghandel.

NOTE: BTW...do they still have marijuana vending machines in California? I see legal medical marijuana possession was passed here in Maryland on Monday...Lon


Fiji police warn against witchdoctors

radiofiji - Police are urging parents to take their children to the hospital or a recognised general practitioner when they are sick - and not to a priest or a witchcraft doctor.

The call comes after police received three reports last month whereby sick girls were raped by witchcraft doctors.

Police Inspector Atunaisa Sokomuri says in the latest incident a parent took their daughter - who was suffering from stomach ache - to a witchcraft doctor in Cunningham.

Sokomuri says the doctor asked the parents to leave their daughter with him for a while so he could heal her.

However the daughter later complained to her parents that she was raped by the witchcraft doctor.

Sokomuri says similar incidents were reported from Duvula Road in Nadera and Narere.

He says all three have been charged. Sokomuri says that parents should never leave their children with any priest and should go to the doctor if they are sick.

NOTE: I was told that there are cannibal sects still active in Fiji. I read a story awhile back about how the WWII Japanese soldiers were scared to death of the Fijian natives...seems more than a few of them ended up in the cooking pot. Lon


Thylacine search in Tasmania and PNG

australiangeographic - In December 2010, the AG Society-sponsored adventurer Andrew Hughes headed into the wilderness in an attempt to see if the Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine - declared officially extinct in 1986 - continues to persist in any remote pockets of Tasmania - and surprisingly, New Guinea.

His eight-week, two-part adventure began on foot as he traversed remote regions of south-west Tasmania. He then travelled to the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) - where thylacine fossils have been found - and learnt about traditional hunting practices, before paddling down the Strickland River in a dugout canoe. "These two very different environments [Tasmania and PNG] were both home to the Tassie tiger historically," he says.

In fact in geological history, when sea levels where much lower, New Guinea was joined to Australia by a land bridge across the Torres Strait. New Guinea shares many species with Australia such as echidnas, quolls, tree kangaroos, possums and birds of paradise.

Unfortunately, Andrew didn't find any evidence for the continuing existence of the thylacine in either location. There was another purpose to the trip, however: it was the fourth in Andrew's Expedition Class series, which teaches Australian schoolchildren about science and the environment by coupling learning with adventure. More than 2000 children followed Andrew's daily web reports and interacted with him.

Andrew's past Expedition Class adventures included sea kayaking from Hobart to Cape York, paddling 2300 km from PNG's Port Moresby to the Irian Jaya border, and a seven-month, 15,000 km journey to the highest peak in each Australian state and territory by foot, kayak and bicycle.