environment

Fukushima, Again

Yet again this week there has been another round of scare stories about what is happening at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant which was so catastrophically crippled by the tsunami following the 11 March 2011, magnitude 9.0 earthquake.

We had headlines and comments like:

Radiation levels in the Fukushima reactor are soaring unexpectedly [Science Alert]
Radiation In Fukushima Is Now At ‘Unimaginable’ Levels [Huffington Post]
The situation has suddenly taken a drastic turn for the worst [EcoWatch]
Fukushima nuclear reactor radiation at highest level since 2011 meltdown [Guardian]
Blazing radiation reading [Japan Times]
Radiation Levels Are Soaring Inside the Damaged Fukushima Nuclear Plant [Gizmodo]

As I suspected when I first saw the stories, and has been confirmed by Jonathan O’Callaghan at IFLScience and Azby Brown at Safecast, this is the usual sloppy, not to say totally misleading, reporting. (Both these reports are worth reading; neither is especially long or difficult.)

Yes, TEPCO (who are responsible for the plant) have measured incredibly high radiation readings (530 Sieverts an hour — with an error of +/- 30% — that’s enough to kill a human in seconds) inside Fukushima Daiichi Unit 2. To do this they have used a 10.5 metre robotic arm to image further inside the Unit 2 containment vessel that they ever have before. The images appear to show a 1 meter square grating melted by exposed fuel rods. From the data obtained TEPCO have estimated the radiation level. But this does NOT mean radiation levels there are rising. That is not what the data are indicating — they can’t say that as this area has not been measured before, so there is only this one reading.

As IFLScience reported:

Measurements in new locations … pin-point hot-spots and understand the nature of the radioactive materials within the reactor complex and to better inform us on suitable strategies for long-term decommissioning and clean-up … The purpose of this was to plot out a route for a robot [TEPCO] is planning to send into the reactor … But the robot is only able to survive an exposure of up to 1,000 Sieverts. At 530 Sieverts per hour, it would be destroyed in just two hours. Thus, this latest finding is likely to complicate [the decommissioning] even further.

They also point out:

While a higher level of radiation has been found inside the plant, levels around it are continuing to fall. This suggests no radiation is escaping from Fukushima into the surrounding environment … There are many people wandering around in Japan with radiation monitors and it would be very easy to see if there was an increase in radiation coming from the plant.

So note carefully: that despite all the problems and the environmental contamination, the various levels of containment vessels in the reactors essentially did their job. They have contained the vast, vast majority of the radioactive material under conditions which were way beyond their design.

That doesn’t take away from the human disasters nor from the unimaginable work which will have to be done over the next, probably, 50 years to decommission the site. But it does show that this was not the immense catastrophe so often painted by the media and environmental groups.

In a classic piece of understatement IFLScience conclude with:

So radiation levels aren’t soaring, but it’s a grim picture all around really. As the latest announcement from TEPCO shows, the clean-up of Fukushima is going to be anything but easy — and there’s a long, long way to go.

Time to stop panicking and enjoy the weekend!

Your Monthly Links

Here’s this month’s instalment of links to items of interest, or amusement, you may have missed he first time round.

Science & Medicine

Who thought leprosy was only a biblical and medieval affliction? Well it ain’t, ‘cos it seems British red squirrels carry leprosy — only the third known species after humans and nine-banded armadillos.

Who’d be a scientist’s cat? Not content with abuse by Schrödinger, scientists continue to drop cats in aid properly understanding their self-righting mechanism.

Trees do it in secret. Communicate, that is. Ecologist Peter Wohlleben thinks he knows what trees feel and how they communicate. It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.

The Guardian has a very interesting page which (goes some way) to showing you how visually impaired people see the world.

So why is it that French mothers don’t suffer from bladder incontinence? It sounds deeply dodgy, but it does appear to be a thing.

So there was this contemporary of Isaac Newton who produced the foundations of the current Information Age. Yes, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

Sexuality

So here’s yet another article suggesting that women don’t actually know what orgasm is. I had hoped we’d got past all this by now!

Environment

So here are ten things about our cutest invasive species: cats. If they weren’t so cute they’d not get away with half what they do.

There’s an interesting new theory about how the brown rat has conquered every city around the globe.

Language

Oxford University Press have recently published a massive new dictionary. It lists every surname found in the UK (including imported ones like Patel) which is held by 100 or more people. That’s almost 50,000. Not just that, but the OUP and academics have done deep research into all these names to determine their origins, often finding previously unknown documentary evidence. Want a copy? OK, well it’s four volumes and will set you back £400. But they reckon there will be an online accessible version.

Art & Literature

Prepare to be amazed. Artist Charles Young has created a complete animated metropolis from paper.

History

It seems the Romans really were ahead of the game. Researchers have discovered metallic ink used on some of the scrolls from Herculaneum (neighbour of Pompeii). That’s around 500 years earlier than previously thought.

Birth by C-section is rather (too?) common these days. But in days of yore, before modern medicine, C-sections were only performed in order to save a child by sacrificing the mother. It was rare for the mother to survive. But new evidence suggests that Beatrice of Bourbon survived a C-section as early as 1337. The previous record was of a Swiss case in 1500.

London

London blogger IanVisits walks the route London’s Roman Wall.

In which Diamond Geezer considers becoming a London cabbie.

Many pubs have dutiful dogs to look after them, but there are London pubs with characterful cats too.

Lifestyle

Just in case you hadn’t realised, there are actually good scientific reasons why you should always be naked. What’s more I can vouch for this from personal experience.

It seems we have it all wrong about addiction. We need to build “rat heaven” for humans rather than prison cells, as this video explains.

To quote poet Philip Larkin: They fuck you up, your mum and dad / They may not mean to, but they do / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you. So yes, here are 30 ways in which your childhood can affect your success as an adult. Which explains a lot.

I have a dream that one day the medical profession will make up their minds about alcohol consumption. Now some new research suggests a beer a day helps prevent stroke and heart disease.

Not content with London, Diamond Geezer takes an away-day to Lowestoft, Mrs M’s home town.

Shock, Horror, Humour

And finally … it seems that in the Middle Ages witches stole penises and kept them as pets or even grew them on trees as fruit. [The mind boggles over whether the fruit would be sold by the butcher or the greengrocer!]

More next month …

Oh what a surprise!

So, as usual it seems, we’re now being told that the bill for Heathrow Runway Three is going to be much higher than is being said. Worse, that extra cost is going to fall on the taxpayer and not on the private enterprise (the airport). Yesterday’s Guardian reported former Transport Secretary as the person raising the concern:

“There will be a number of specific things we will be doing for Heathrow. The government and Heathrow need to come clean on what the cost to the taxpayer is going to be.” … While the [Davies] commission report estimated a £5bn bill for new roads and rail links, Transport for London put the potential cost as being as high as £18.4bn.

Heathrow said it had earmarked just £1bn, and that it only accepted direct responsibility for works to the M25, which the third runway would cross, and a few minor roads. The airport contends that it will be cutting traffic, despite adding up to 55 million passengers a year, and that revenues could offset the bill.

Oh? Pray tell me how adding 55 million passengers a year will reduce traffic.

Moreover:

Heathrow confirmed on Wednesday that executives would be paid bonuses, for securing a new runway, that would be expected to run into several million pounds.

And there’s even more …

Campaigners have highlighted an apparent admission that pollution is likely to rise in parts of London with a third runway, which they say potentially makes the scheme illegal.
The report, produced by Parsons Brinckerhoff for the DfT, said that Heathrow was “at risk of worsening exceedances of limit values alongside some roads within greater London, but this would be unlikely to affect the overall zone compliance”.
However, this is likely to be contested. Legal opinion obtained by the Clean Air in London campaign, from Robert McCracken QC, states that worsening pollution in any areas that already exceed legal limits would break the law.

That’s alright then, bugger the law. Oh we’ve already done that.

And don’t you just love “at risk of worsening exceedances of limit values”. WTF language do they think they’re writing? Can’t be Vogon; we’d stand a chance of understanding that.

So as usual it seems we’re not being told the whole story; there are hidden vested interests and conflicts of interest. And the whole funding situation is being fudged so that in years to come it will be too expensive (financially and politically) to scrap the project so it is completed with money we don’t have, provided by central government and filched from the pockets of the already screwed taxpayers — or worse borrowed on the never-never. (See HS2 and London’s proposed Garden Bridge for similar current likely examples.)

It’s another plane crash (in so many ways) waiting to happen. And government don’t get it. In spades. FFS!

PS. I know I live near Heathrow (though not under the main flightpaths) but I don’t care where this runway is going to be built. We shouldn’t be doing it. And we certainly shouldn’t be doing it — like most major projects — in such an underhand way.

Heath-NO!

So yesterday, quite predictably and after years of dithering, the government decided that it is going to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

They still don’t get it, do they? See a number of earlier posts hereabouts.

So why do they do it? I suspect it is a combination of (A) vested interests (ie. the business lobby and politicians share portfolios), (B) the fact that governments (like senior managers) have to be seen to do something and almost anything will do especially if it distracts from the real problems they should be fixing, and (C) vanity. And that, of course, is all that matters. Bugger the environment etc. etc.

Not that any work is likely to be done for 4 or 5 years. There is still to be (another?) public consultation followed by parliamentary approval. Add to that all the planning decisions, every one of which you can be sure will be appealed by someone, causing even further delay. Meanwhile the whole of west London — already a disaster jungle of concrete — has another Sword of Damocles (in addition to that of HS2) hanging over it.

So there is still plenty of chance the third runway will never happen, and even by the time it can happen some people will have got the message that (a) it will be an environmental disaster (wherever it is sited) and (b) we really should not need to be flying people around the world the way they do.

As someone commented yesterday, we suddenly seem to be building big things — most of which we really don’t need (eg. runway three, HS2). Moreover we cannot afford them — we have no money, at least so we’re always being told. Nor do we have the labour to either build or operate these facilities as unemployment is at historic low levels. So where do we find the cash and the workers? Oh yes, of course: inward investment and immigrants, neither of which will happen after Brexit.

There is still time for common sense to prevail, but don’t hold your breath.

Gawdelpus!

Climate Change and Airport Expansion

In a comment piece entitled Climate change means no airport expansion — at Heathrow or anywhere in yesterday’s Guardian, George Monbiot has got his knife out again.

His thesis is that:

The inexorable logic that should rule out new sources of oil, gas and coal also applies to the expansion of airports. In a world seeking to prevent climate breakdown, there is no remaining scope for extending infrastructure that depends on fossil fuels … While most sectors can replace fossil fuels with other sources, this is not the case for aviation … Aviation means kerosene.

Essentially The UK cannot meet it’s climate change commitments now and building another airport runway (whether at Heathrow, Gatwick or anywhere else) is only going to compound the problem.

We have to fly less — for both business and leisure. Business has to wake up to the fact that it doesn’t have to fly people around the world — or even drive them around the country — to meetings. We all have to wake up to the fact that we cannot afford — environmentally, and probably soon financially — to jet off around the world on holiday several times a year.

I know I keep saying it, but it really is time to wake up and smell the coffee at home!

[And no, Monbiot doesn’t make this stuff up. There’s a fully referenced and linked version of the article at http://www.monbiot.com/2016/10/19/the-flight-of-reason/.]

Hinkley Point

After halting everything for a few weeks to allow time for a review, Prime Minister Theresa May has now given the go-ahead for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

And I have to say, about bloody time too!

While I accept that nuclear power presents us with long-term waste storage issues, we desperately need nuclear for electricity generation. Renewables, in my estimation, aren’t going to hack it even if we do cover the country in windmills and manage to constrain our thirst for ever more energy.

No, nuclear isn’t without its challenges, but it is a whole bunch cleaner, less productive of “greenhouse gases”, and indeed overall safer, than coal, oil, gas or even biomass generation.

And yes, like many, I’m not entirely happy with the major involvement of a French energy company (EDF) or the need for Chinese funding and technology — but then we go longer have the skills etc., largely due to past government neglect of science and technology. So I still believe this is, overall, the right decision for both the country and the environment.

Lumley’s Folly

So, Joanna Lumley and Thomas Heatherwick’s pet vanity project, London’s so-called Garden Bridge, is coming under increasing scrutiny. And it seems to me rightly so as the whole thing appears to have been stitched up behind closed doors with a total lack of transparency, especially around the financing.

Finally London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has instigated a full review of the project. Khan had previously declined to commit further public money to what is basically a private, commercial, project. The review is to be undertaken by Margaret Hodge MP, the former chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

While we don’t know the details of the review’s terms of reference, it has to be a good thing providing Margaret Hodge is, and can remain, independent and unbiased.

Meanwhile London blogger Diamond Geezer has taken a somewhat cynical (and sarcastic) look at the project.

In my view it is high time this appalling project was kicked irredeemably into touch.

PS. I decline to (re)post images of the bridge design etc. but if you want some pictures of the location then do look at Diamond Geezer’s post.

Nationally Scarce

Now this is something I never expected o see here in West London! Noreen found it on the (inside of) the study windows late last evening. It’s a (female) Jersey Tiger Moth.

I’ve only ever seen one once before, in Lyme Regis some 10 or more years ago. They are apparently “nationally scarce”. Once restricted to, yes, Jersey, they are most common along the coastal areas of the South West, although they are obviously spreading and there are now reports from the London area. Instantly identifiable as a Tiger Moth, the size (that’s a 5mm grid), pattern and the distinctively striped head are diagnostic. Oh and they like Buddleia, and we have a bush not far from our back door.

Sorry not brilliant pictures as this was lively, so contained in a plastic bug-catcher, being photographed with my point-n-shoot late at night with flash. I have removed the slight colour-cast from the images, I hope without destroying the moth’s colours.

Jersey Tiger Jersey Tiger
Click the images for larger views on Flickr

[More info on the moths here and here.]

Oak Bush CricketAlso found this morning on our bathroom ceiling was this gorgeous little Oak Bush Cricket. The body is about 17 mm long and note those spectacular antennae which are three or four times the length of the body.

These are not scarce; we often get them in the house at this time of year — one of the benefits of having trees in the garden (including an oak) and being close to woodland. They’re very forgiving creatures and will happily sit still to be photographed, unlike captured moths.

Your Interesting Links

So here’s this month’s collection of pointers to articles you may have missed the first time round. And you’ll be pleased to know there is (almost) no mention of the political omnishambles in the UK.

Science & Medicine

Ooo-eerrr. Did you know you can actually see the evidence for evolution on your body? Goose-bumps. Ear muscles. And more. [Short video]

Why do we have so much trouble with our modern reinforced concrete but ancient unreinforced structure don’t?

Bigfoot — the American version of the Yeti. What if it actually was real?

Sexuality

[Not for the faint-hearted] One man tells what it is like to have 90 degree bend in his penis. Apart from painful, that is.

[NSFW] Girls, have you got a pain in c***? If so it might be vulvodynia. And like bent pricks it can be just as painful and is often curable.

[NSFW] Female Ejaculation. Myth or reality? Here’s some more investigation.

Environment

Given that we should all be concerned to conserve water, mathematicians reckon that we should always pee in the shower.

Beavers. They’re definitely beginning to make a difference to the ecology down in Devon. And it’s all for the good.

Samphire, aka Glasswort. It’s that tiny green, succulent-like plant that is sometimes served with fish. And it is a superb defender, and stabiliser, of our coastlines.

Social Sciences & Business

I promised (almost) nothing about the UK political situation. This is the one exception, and it is really sociology we already knew. There are five lessons which have been brought into sharp focus by the current mess.

I find it surprising that apparently pet ownership is in decline. This article looks at some of the possible reasons.

No apology for returning to one of my regular themes: nudity. Jess Staufenberg in the Independent argues that nudity and naturism is ‘best way to teach sex education’ to children. I agree; and it certainly seems to work for the Dutch.

History

Edward Johnston designed his iconic typeface for London Underground during WWI and, although it has been tweaked over the years, Transport for London have brought it up to date for its centenary. This is the history.

Shock, Horror, Humour

Finally, not so much something shocking or amusing but something philosophical to make you think from zen master, Brad Warner. What if we’re wrong? About everything. And there’s good (if circumstantial) evidence that we might be. And there’s a follow up on life after death.

More next month.

Alternative Garden Bridge

As reported in the Guardian a few days ago, architects Allies & Morrison have come up with a much more affordable version of London’s proposed Garden Bridge — an ill-conceived, cabalistic vanity project if ever there was one. And because it is affordable, and thus won’t be burdened with huge debts or the demands of corporate sponsors, it can be a truly open public space. Basically they are proposing to reuse some of the space on Blackfriars Bridge — a resource which already exists. This sounds eminently feasible.


The Garden Bridge project should be killed — and no I don’t believe Mayor Sadiq Khan when he says it will cost more to cancel it than complete it. This alternative deserves to gain traction.

Read the full Guardian article and Allies & Morrison’s description.