Fukushima: robot finds massive deposits thought to be melted nuclear fuel


Click to enlargeInt’l Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning/Kyodo News

❝ Images captured by an underwater robot on Saturday showed massive deposits believed to be melted nuclear fuel covering the floor of a damaged reactor at Japan’s destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant.

The robot found large amounts of solidified lava-like rocks and lumps in layers as thick as 1m on the bottom inside a main structure called the pedestal that sits underneath the core inside the primary containment vessel of Fukushima’s Unit 3 reactor, said the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co.

❝ On Friday, the robot spotted suspected debris of melted fuel for the first time since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused multiple meltdowns and destroyed the plant. The three-day investigation of Unit 3 ended on Saturday.

Locating and analysing the fuel debris and damage in each of the plant’s three wrecked reactors is crucial for decommissioning the plant. The search for melted fuel in the two other reactors has so far been unsuccessful because of damage and extremely high radiation levels…

When you screw-up a nuclear-fueled power plant the sort of damage you produce is generational in scope.

Groundwater pumping is drying up the Great Plains


Click to enlarge — Arikaree River in high water season, nowadays

❝ Farmers in the Great Plains of Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas and the panhandle of Texas produce about one-sixth of the world’s grain, and water for these crops comes from the High Plains Aquifer — often known as the Ogallala Aquifer — the single greatest source of groundwater in North America. A team of researchers, including Colorado State University and , a CSU alumnus and an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, have discovered that has led to long segments of rivers drying up and the collapse of large-stream fishes.

If pumping practices are not modified, scientists warn that these habitats will continue to shrink, and the fish populations along with them.

❝ The research team combined modeling from the past and future to assess changes in Great Plains streams and their fish populations associated with groundwater pumping from the High Plains Aquifer. The findings have implications for watersheds around the world, because irrigation accounts for 90 percent of human water use globally, and local and regional aquifers are drying up…

❝ Kurt Fausch described the situation as a “wicked problem,” one with no good solution. “More water is pumped out every year than trickles back down into the aquifer from rain and snow,” he said. “We are basically drying out the Great Plains.”

Any ideas? Know any conservative politicians with any useful ideas? RTFA for more details, more sad news.

Big Oil just realized Electric Car demand is rising

❝ The world’s biggest oil producers are starting to take electric vehicles seriously as a long-term threat.

OPEC quintupled its forecast for sales of plug-in EVs, and oil producers from Exxon Mobil Corp. to BP Plc also revised up their outlooks in the past year, according to a study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance released on Friday. The London-based researcher expects those cars to reduce oil demand 8 million barrels by 2040, more than the current combined production of Iran and Iraq.

❝ Growing popularity of EVs increases the risk that oil demand will stagnate in the decades ahead, raising questions about the more than $700 billion a year that’s flowing into fossil-fuel industries. While the oil producers’ outlook isn’t nearly as aggressive as BNEF’s, the numbers indicate an acceleration in the number of EVs likely to be in the global fleet…

❝ BNEF expects electric cars to outsell gasoline and diesel models by 2040, reflecting a rapid decline in the cost of lithium-ion battery units that store power for the vehicles. It expects 530 million plug-in cars on the road by 2040, a third of worldwide total number of cars.

❝ Long-term growth depends on a wide range of factors, including policy decisions by governments seeking to tackle air pollution to the cost of the lithium-ion batteries that account for about a third of the cost of each one.

Yet even as oil majors lift their outlook, they remain much less optimistic than the automakers. The world’s top automakers have a combined plan to sell 6 million EVs a year by 2025, rising to 8 million in 2030, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

2030 or 2040 might be doable for me. Looking forward to a greener more sensible world – and hopefully education and understanding keep up.

The Trump government continues to remove scientific data from the Web


Click to run

❝ In our latest episode of Ars Technica Live, Ars editors Annalee Newitz and Joe Mullin talked to UC Santa Cruz sociology professor Lindsey Dillon about how the Trump administration has been removing scientific and environmental data from the Web. Lindsey is part of a group called Environmental Data Governance Initiative (EDGI), which is working on ways to rescue that data and make it available to the public.

Lindsey told us how EDGI got started in November 2016, within days of the presidential election. Its founders are scientists and academics whose main goal was to make sure that researchers and citizens would continue to have access to data about the environment. They organized data rescue events around the country, where volunteers identified vulnerable climate information on websites for several government agencies, including the EPA, DOE, and even NASA. The Internet Archive helped by creating digital records of all the at-risk pages…

The Trump administration promises to cut the EPA’s budget by one third, and it has appointed Scott Pruitt to head the agency. Pruitt, who sued the EPA 14 times during his tenure as Oklahoma Attorney General, has just launched an initiative to “challenge” climate change data.

Run the video up top. Check out the discussion. The underground still functions within the most anti-science government elected by an ignorant nation – since Ronald Reagan.

Thawing Permafrost — Quantified


False color image: red = vegetation, blue = waterNASA Earth Observatory

❝ Permafrost — subsurface soil that remains frozen year-round — covers nearly 19 million square kilometers of the circumpolar Arctic and is thought to contain around 1700 billion tons of organic carbon [Schuur and Abbott, 2011]. However, there is high risk of permafrost thaw under projected anthropogenic climate change.

❝ The general processes that would lead to thaw of this vast carbon store are well understood. Increase in length of above-freezing air temperatures leads to boost in microbial activity and release of carbon. Significant releases could promote a vicious cycle, as higher atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) enhances anthropogenic warming. What’s less well understood are abrupt changes, the accuracy of predictive models, and requirements for long-term monitoring…The processes of carbon release are intertwined with multiple factors, including microbial community composition, stability of old carbon, physical soil structure, and relative fraction of leaching to atmospheric emission.

❝ Because this event signifies potential large carbon cycle feedbacks, the Arctic has become a region of intense scientific study in recent years. Scientists expect the top three meters of permafrost is likely to thaw by the end of this century…but significant uncertainties remain on timing, magnitude, and mechanisms. Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences and other journals have seen a number of papers published recently that shed significant new light on many features of this dramatically changing landscape.

RTFA. Less sensational in intent than any transliteration into journalism for the masses, Ankur Rashmikant Desai explains some of the broad swath of research in process. While ideologues try to ignore science, scientists continue their work of examining reality and trying to explain to their peers – and the mass of civilization who would rather just all the bad bits would go away on their own.

Which rarely happens.

China builds its first cute and cuddly solar power plant


UNDP

A Chinese solar power company has just completed the first phase of an ingenious PR stunt: building a 100MW solar power plant in the shape of a panda bear.

According to a release from the company, Panda Green Energy, and the Chinese state press Xinhua News Agency, the first half of the plant, with 50MW of installed capacity, was connected to the electricity grid in Datong, China, on June 29.

The image above of the project, which has gone viral, is not an actual photograph but an artist’s conceptual rendering pre-construction…

Panda Green Energy used a combination of darker monocrystalline silicon (the light-absorbing material in most solar cells) and lighter-colored thin film solar cells to design the solar farm in the likeness of China’s national animal…

While the actual plant isn’t quite as vivid as the sketch, it is nonetheless a significant addition to China’s solar fleet. According to the company, the new plant will avert the need to burn 1 million tons of coal over the next 25 years…

The Panda Power Plant initiative was also incorporated earlier this year into the “Belt and Road” initiative, China’s ambitious plan to invest in development projects in countries along the old Silk Road. The new plant in Datong is expected to be the first of 100 plants in the shape of pandas and other animals to be built in China and elsewhere as part of that effort. Another one, in Fiji, was announced in May.

The new Panda Power Plant is also just the latest showy example of China’s commitment to scaling up solar and other forms of renewable energy while cleaning up coal before eventually phasing it out. Unlike the US, China is on track to exceed its Paris carbon reduction commitments…

Gee, I wonder what Trump and the Republican Congress might come up with to express their failure to commit to cleaner energy?

Waypoint: Volvo cars to be electric or hybrid from 2019


Click to enlargeVolvo electric concepts which may hit the street in 2019

❝ All new cars launched by Volvo from 2019 onwards will be partially or completely battery-powered, in what the company called a “historic end” to building models that only have an internal combustion engine.

Between 2019 and 2021, the firm will introduce five 100% electric models, and ensure the rest of its conventional petrol and diesel range has a hybrid engine of some form. It is the first major manufacturer to make such a bold move.

Håkan Samuelsson, the Volvo chief executive, said: “This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car.”

❝ The carmaker, owned by Chinese automotive giant Geely, has yet to build a single fully electric car but already sells five plug-in hybrid models that can run a few dozen miles on battery power before switching to a conventional engine…

❝ Volvo said the first of its electric cars will be built in China, but others would be made in Europe and the US. The company said it had not yet decided on a battery supplier.

Prof David Bailey, an automotive expert at Aston University, said: “It’s indicative of the speeding up of the shift over to electrics, particularly in the wake of the VW dieselgate scandal, and it’s a sign that the industry is really starting to move and it will become mainstream.

“By the mid-2020s I expect there to be a tipping point where the electric car starts to outcompete the internal combustion engine. It’s the way it’s going.”…

And so it goes. Those who whine that the electricity running these beasties isn’t all clean enough – yet – or that the slow pace of the accelerating curve at this end isn’t quick enough understand neither mathematics nor marketing. The biggest chuckle is that the average driver anywhere in the world still hasn’t learned how quick off the line a DC motor can be.

No more Vroom, Vroom… 🙂

What do you think 102 million dead trees mean for wildfire danger in California?


Click to enlarge

The number of dead trees in California’s drought-stricken forests has risen dramatically to more than 102 million in what officials described as an unparalleled ecological disaster that heightens the danger of massive wildfires and damaging erosion.

Officials said they were alarmed by the increase in dead trees, which they estimated to have risen by 36 million since the government’s last survey in May. The U.S. Forest Service, which performs such surveys of forest land, said Friday that 62 million trees have died this year alone….

Scientists say five years of drought are to blame for much of the destruction. The lack of rain has put California’s trees under considerable stress, making them more susceptible to the organisms, such as beetles, that can kill them. Unusually high temperatures have added to the trees’ demand for water, exacerbating an already grim situation…

Although California enjoyed a wet start to the water year in Northern California, the central and southern parts of the state remain locked in what federal officials classify as “extreme” and “exceptional” drought.

Sooner or later – hopefully, the former – folks will realize that climate change means more than a couple paragraphs about global warming. Distorted climates produce untypical environments, often ending in disaster.

Arkansas Regulators Vote To Stop An Epidemic Of Herbicide Damage


Dicamba leaf-cupping

❝ Arkansas’s pesticide regulators have stepped into the middle of an epic battle between weeds and chemicals, which has now morphed into a battle between farmers. Hundreds of farmers say their crops have been damaged by a weedkiller that was sprayed on neighboring fields. Today, the Arkansas Plant Board voted to impose an unprecedented ban on that chemical…

The tension — which even led to a farmer’s murder — is over a weedkiller called dicamba. The chemical moved into the weed-control spotlight a few years ago, when Monsanto created soybean and cotton plants that were genetically modified to survive it. Farmers who planted these new seeds could use dicamba to kill weeds without harming those crops…

❝ The problem is, dicamba is a menace to other crops nearby. It drifts easily in the wind, and traditional soybeans are incredibly sensitive to it. “Nobody was quite prepared, despite extensive training, for just how sensitive beans were to dicamba,” says Bob Scott, a specialist on weeds with the University of Arkansas’s agricultural extension service.

❝ As soon as spraying started this spring, the complaints began arriving. By June 23, state regulators had received 242 complaints from farmers who say their crops have been damaged…

On June 20, the Arkansas Plant Board met to consider an emergency ban on further spraying of dicamba, and farmers crowded into the meeting to argue both sides…

At that first meeting, a procedural mix-up prevented the board from holding a valid vote. On June 23, it reconvened and voted, 9-5, to ban any spraying of dicamba on any crops except for pasture land for 120 days. The ban will take effect immediately if the governor of Arkansas signs it.

More and more this sort of solution to weed and pest control appears to be a long-term failure. I don’t know if Monsanto is up for a re-think; but, more and more farmers suffering the “surprises” they keep receiving from Monsanto need to look for alternatives. Not just for dicamba; but, the whole concept of growing crops engineered to be protected from common ills by the saving grace of specific chemicals designed into their genes. I doubt this can ever be a long-term solution.