Monday, April 4, 2011

BP Seeks to Resume Drilling in Gulf of Mexico - BP has asked United States regulators for permission to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The petition comes less than 12 months after a rig BP had leased there exploded, causing a huge oil spill and killing 11 workers. The accident tarnished BP’s image and raised questions about its safety procedures. Just last week, the Justice Department confirmed that it was considering a range of civil and criminal penalties against BP, including potential manslaughter charges for the deaths of the rig workers, as part of its ongoing investigation into the accident. At the same time, President Obama, in a major statement on energy policy last week, said the administrations was seeking to reduce dependence on imported oil in part by increasing domestic production, both onshore and off. BP was one of the major producers in the gulf before the accident. BP is seeking permission to continue drilling at 10 existing deepwater production and development wells in the region in July in exchange for adhering to stricter safety and supervisory rules. An agreement could be reached within the next month but would not include new drilling.
Royal Dutch Shell won approval on Wednesday to drill off the coast of Louisiana on the condition that rigorous new safety standards were met. Other companies that have been allowed to continue drilling in the region include Exxon Mobil, Chevron and BHP Billiton. But granting permission to BP would be more controversial because the British oil company is still paying for costs related to the oil spill, the cleanup and the continuing civil and criminal investigations into the accident. BP so far has set aside more than $40 billion to cover those costs. The company has said publicly it needs to resume drilling in the gulf in order to have the financial resources to pay the claims submitted by federal and state officials, and individuals and businesses. The British oil company suffered a setback in its expansion strategy last month when a Swedish court blocked a $10 billion cooperation agreement with Rosneft of Russia, which was supposed to give the company access to the Arctic.

JAPAN - Fence-in Pacific to try to corral radiation coming from nuclear plant. Workers at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are onto "Plan C" in their bid to stop highly radioactive water from gushing directly into the Pacific Ocean through a cracked concrete shaft. Neither of the first two attempts to fill up the 20-centimeter (8-inch) crack outside the No. 2 reactor's turbine building -- on Saturday by pouring in concrete, and then Sunday by using a chemical compound mixed with sawdust and newspaper - has been successful.
As they mull other ways to cut off the leak at its source, workers will install a silt fence - screening usually used to prevent erosion in construction projects - along the damaged sea wall that surrounds the plant, Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan's nuclear and industrial safety agency said Monday. The goal is to prevent the spread of radioactive particles into the sea. Workers have injected a dye tracer into the water that will allow them to track the dispersal of such particles.
This is the latest, but hardly the only challenge at the nuclear plant, 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of Tokyo. The facility has been in constant crisis the epic March 11 quake and subsequent tsunami knocked out systems that cooled nuclear fuel and was followed by several explosions. Fixing the problem quickly is critical because officials believe it is one source of alarmingly high levels of radiation spotted in seawater near the plant, as well as in nearby groundwater. In some cases, authorities don't even know how much radiation is getting out. One reason is that the dosimeters being used don't go above 1,000 millisieverts per hour. Authorities know the water in the cracked concrete shaft is emitting at least that much radiation - which equates, at a minimum, to more than 330 times the dose an average resident of an industrialized country naturally receives in a year.
In the Pacific Ocean itself, the last reported measurement (from Thursday) of seawater taken 330 meters (361 yards) offshore were said to have levels of iodine-131 at 4,385 times above the standard and cesium-137 at 527 times beyond normal. Experts say the latter radioactive isotope may be a greater concern because it persists longer, taking 30 years to lose half its radiation - compared to an eight-day half-life for the iodine-131 isotope.
On Monday, a Tokyo Electric spokesman said the idea of wrapping some or all of the plant's six reactors containment buildings in massive amounts of sheeting, in order to curb the release of radiation had been discussed in recent talks with government officials. The utility company is considering the concept. Ultimately the goal is to make sure that the nuclear fuel, and the potentially cancerous materials it can release, never poses a threat again. "Finally, we (need to) establish a long-term policy to cool the reactors," acknowledging that much work needs to be done in the meantime.

***The true harvest of my life is intangible -
a little star dust caught,
a portion of the rainbow I have clutched.**
Henry David Thoreau

This morning -
None 5.0 or higher.

Yesterday -
4/3/11 -

INDONESIA - Quake prompts Indonesians to flee homes. A powerful earthquake which struck off Java in the early hours yesterday has stoked the lingering fears many Indonesians have years after a tsunami devastated much of the western coast of Aceh. The quake, which hit at 3.06am local time (6.06am AEST), was felt across Java including in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, where buildings shook for more than 30 seconds, as well as in Denpasar on the island of Bali.
A tsunami alert was issued but later cancelled by Indonesian authorities who reported a magnitude-7.1 quake at a depth of 10 kilometres, with its epicentre in the Indian Ocean 293km southwest of Cilacap in central Java. The US Geological Survey, however, registered the quake at magnitude-6.7, reporting it struck at a depth of 24km, 277 kilometres south of Tasikmalaya in West Java and 241km east-north-east of Christmas Island. The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre did not issue a tsunami warning, or a tsunami watch, saying that based on historical earthquake data, a destructive widespread threat did not exist. But the centre did initially warn of "a very small possibility" of a local tsunami that could affect coasts no more than a hundred kilometres from the earthquake epicentre. While there were no reports of injuries or damage, the early morning shock was enough to cause panicked residents in Cilacap to flee their homes, some seeking higher ground as fears of a tsunami spread.
The speed at which panic spread shows how many Indonesians remain severely scarred by the events of December 2004, when a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered a tsunami that devastated much of the western coast of Aceh, on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. About 170,000 Indonesians were killed or went missing in the disaster, while another 500,000 were left homeless. Just over three weeks ago, when Japan was hit by an earthquake which has so far left more than 12,000 people confirmed dead and about 15,500 missing, many people on islands in Indonesia's north-east also fled their homes for higher ground after parts of the country were put on a tsunami watch.

Turkey Coastal Nuclear Plant To Be Built Near Earthquake-Prone Area, Draws Fierce Opposition. Turkey plans to build a coastal nuclear power plant close to an earthquake-prone area, dismissing neighbors' fears that Japan's nuclear disaster shows that the new plant COULD BE A RISK TO THE WHOLE MEDITERRANEAN REGION. Greece and Cyprus say the move is a gamble that could cause catastrophe and want the European Union to scrutinize the EU candidate's plan in a debate fraught with political and historical baggage. Turkish officials insist the plant is safe and necessary to keep the country's strong economy going.
The EU is reassessing the whole 27-nation bloc's energy policy (143 reactors) and questioning the role of nuclear power on a continent where no one can forget that Ukraine's 1986 Chernobyl disaster spewed radiation for thousands of miles (kilometers). But Turkey is standing firmly by plans to build three nuclear power plants in the years ahead – including one at Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast, close to the Ecemis Fault, which an expert says could possibly generate a magnitude-7 quake. Turkey says the 1,200-megawatt Russian pressurized water reactor, the VVER-1200 – a new model yet to be operated anywhere in the world – will be quake-proof and meets the highest nuclear safety standards. Turkey has already signed a deal with Russia's Rosatom agency for the plant's construction, which has yet to begin, and hopes the completed facility will start producing electricity in seven years. "I wonder whether those who oppose nuclear energy do not use computers or watch television because of the radiation risk?" So far no country has reached a conclusion on the safety requirements for nuclear plants following the Fukushima accident.
Turkey is also holding talks with Japanese companies for a second plant near the Black Sea coastal town of Sinop, 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of the North Anatolian Fault, which generated two powerful earthquakes that killed 18,000 people in western Turkey in 1999. Activists have also protested the selection of Sinop but with no immediate progress in that project, the spotlight is focused on Akkuyu. Turkey has not disclosed the possible location of the third nuclear plant yet.

New seismic information shows that the risk of earthquakes damaging many of the USA's nuclear plants — including TVA's in Tennessee — is HIGHER THAN HAD ONCE BEEN ESTIMATED. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that the shift is incremental and that all of the nation's plants remain safe despite the new data. "There is no plant in this country where the information changed enough to make us have any question about the current safety margin."
Still, the report raises new questions in light of the earthquake- and tsunami-damaged nuclear reactors in Japan and the Tennessee Valley Authority's aggressive push toward more nuclear power. The higher damage estimate "is large enough to warrant continued evaluation" for about one-fourth of the operating plants in the country. There are 27 plants on the list, including TVA's Sequoyah and Watts Bar nuclear plants in Tennessee, where the NRC report shows that earthquake risks are 5 to 6 TIMES GREATER than previously thought. TVA says it is prepared. "We are designed for the worst-ever-seen earthquake in the eastern part of the United States and a margin factor 10 times higher." Nevertheless, TVA and owners of other plants will be asked to reassess their reactors to determine whether something might need to be done differently, such as more frequent inspections or retrofits to improve safety. "We'll see if there are things plants may be able to do to increase the safety margin without spending billions of dollars." Since the disaster in Japan, all plants in the United States will be re-evaluated. The major change for TVA's reactors came about because of a strip running through East Tennessee where the USGS concluded more earthquake activity could be expected. The New Madrid seismic zone running along western Tennessee and eastern Missouri was already known to be a likely spot for a major quake. TVA officials say they are well prepared for severe floods as well as earthquakes at all of their reactors.

CALIFORNIA - The Diablo Canyon nuclear plant has more than 12 years to go before the licenses for its two reactors expire. There's plenty of time for its owner, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., to conduct a new seismic safety study. That's all the more important after the Japanese earthquake showed that seismic faults can throw off bigger jolts than geologists expected. And it is imperative after the U.S. Geological Survey found a previously unknown fault along the central California coast, near the plant.
How near is the Shoreline fault? No one knows exactly, which is partly the point. The fault was found through the mapping of clusters of smaller earthquakes. The fault could be half a mile away, or a few hundred yards, or under the reactors. The California Energy Commission has recommended a three-dimensional imaging study — a sort of geological CT scan — to determine the precise location of the Shoreline Fault and learn more about it.
"As delighted as we would be if nuclear power were the clean, safe answer to this country's need for oil independence and a stable energy supply, our position is that the dangers outweigh the benefits. The nation's future lies in sustainable energy sources, not in nuclear. The decommissioning of today's nuclear plants, though, is far off. In the meantime, the minimum requirement should be complete study of seismic risks in order to protect California's coast."


AUSTRALIA - Cyclone alert for Kimberley region. Communities on the Kimberley coast are on cyclone alert as a tropical low tracks southwest just offshore. The low may develop into a tropical cyclone today as it moves towards the west southwest and over open water. Gales with gusts to 100km/h may develop in coastal areas. Tides in the area may be higher than normal and heavy rain is expected to cause flooding over the north and northwest Kimberley


AUSTRALIA - RECORD WET SEASON wreaks havoc in Top End. More remote communities isolated by the Northern Territory's continuing record-breaking wet season have been evacuated. Northern Territory Emergency Services began evacuating outstations in Arnhem Land on Saturday, after a low in the Timor Sea, that has since moved west to batter the Kimberley Coast in Western Australia, last week dumped more heavy rain on the region. Many remote outstations in the Maningrida area, about 500km east of Darwin, have been without power for some time. "The vast majority of these outstations have been isolated for extended periods of time and some are running dangerously low on supplies." Several other communities in Arnhem Land were being considered for evacuation. "Communities able to sustain themselves but running low on supplies, yet not wishing to be evacuated, will be facilitated with food drops." Police have warned people to stay off the roads in Ramingining, about an hour further east of Maningrida, after three pieces of earth-moving machinery got bogged. The road to Ramingining Airport has been washed out.
About 500 residents in the Aboriginal community of Daly River, about 250km south-west of Darwin, had to be evacuated earlier this year in the wake of Cyclone Carlos when the river broke its banks and began encroaching on homes. With four weeks remaining until the official end of wet season, Darwin Airport has ALREADY BROKEN ITS PREVIOUS RAINFALL RECORD of 2499mm set in 1997/98, receiving 2782.2mm between October 1 last year and 9am (CST) Sunday. Just 17 days into February this year, Darwin had recorded at least 830mm of rain, beating the previous total February monthly record of 814mm in 1969. The Top End has endured 137 days of rain so far this wet season.