Friday, May 13, 2011
(and Thursday, May 12)

Troubles on Friday the 13th - Server troubles stopped me from getting the update posted earlier today, and somehow it lost the previously posted Thursday's update too - so Thursday's post follows today's.

One of the reactors at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant has a hole in its main vessel following a meltdown of fuel rods, leading to a leakage of radioactive water, its operator said on Thursday. The disclosure is the latest indication that the disaster was WORSE THAN PREVIOUSLY DISCLOSED, making it more difficult to stabilize the plant.
The discovery of the leak provides new insight into the sequence of events that triggered a partial meltdown of the uranium fuel in the No. 1 reactor at Fukushima after the plant was struck by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11. The battle to bring Fukushima under control has been complicated by repeated leaks of radioactive water, threatening both the Pacific Ocean and nearby groundwater. Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have been pumping water into at least three of the six reactors on the site to bring their nuclear fuel rods to a "cold shutdown" state by January. But after repairing a gauge in the No. 1 reactor earlier this week, TEPCO discovered that the water level in the pressure vessel that contains its uranium fuel rods had dropped about 5 meters (16 ft) below the targeted level to cover the fuel under normal operating conditions. "There must be a large leak. The fuel pellets likely melted and fell, and in the process may have damaged...the pressure vessel itself and created a hole."
Since the surface temperature of the pressure vessel has been holding steady between 100 and 120 degrees Celsius, Matsumoto said the effort to cool the melted uranium fuel by pumping in water was working and would continue. The finding makes it likely that at one point in the immediate wake of the disaster the 4-meter-high stack of uranium-rich rods at the core of the reactor had been entirely exposed to the air. U.S. nuclear experts said that the company may have to build a concrete wall around the unit because of the breach, and that this could now take years. TEPCO should consider digging a trench around reactors 1-3 all the way down to the bedrock, which is about 50 feet below the surface. This should be filled with zeolite, which can absorb radioactive cesium to stop more poisons from leaking into the groundwater around the plant.
"TEPCO seems to be GOING BACKWARDS IN GETTING THE SITUATION UNDER CONTROL and things may well be slowly eroding with all the units having problems. At this point, TEPCO still finds itself in unchartered waters and is NOT ABLE TO CARRY OUT ANY PLAN to get the situation under control." The utility will study whether to increase the amount of water it was injecting to overcome the leak and raise the level of water covering the fuel, at the risk of allowing more radioactive water to leak out of the facility. Nearly 10,400 tonnes of water has been pumped into the reactor so far, but it is UNCLEAR WHERE THE LEAKED WATER HAS BEEN GOING. The high radiation levels makes it difficult for workers to check the site. TEPCO announced a timetable last month for addressing the crisis, saying it aimed to cool reactors to a stable level and reduce the leakage of radiation within the first three months, then bring the reactors to a cold shutdown in another three to six months. TEPCO is set to review its timetable for stabilizing Fukushima on May 17 and officials indicated that the initial progress targets could slip.
Officials had planned to use the same set of steps to stabilize reactors No. 2 and No. 3 that are under way at No. 1, which workers re-entered last week for the first time since the earthquake. But it is likely that the pressure vessels in the other two reactors could be leaking as well if fuel rods had collapsed and melted after the earthquake and tsunami. "It is necessary to make a reassessment of the condition of the nuclear reactor." On Wednesday, TEPCO sealed a fresh leak of contaminated water found near the No. 3 reactor that may have seeped into the Pacific Ocean from the coastal plant. A previous ocean leak sparked international concern about the impact of the disaster on the environment. Traces of radioactive cesium were detected in sewage treatment centers in Ibaraki and Kanagawa prefectures, both to the south of Fukushima, Japanese media reported on Thursday.

"Now Friday [the 13th] came, you old wives say,
Of all the week's the unluckiest day."

This morning -

Yesterday -
5/12/11 -

Spain earthquake: Thousands of people have fled the Spanish town of Lorca following the 5.2 earthquake that left nine people dead and damaged hundreds of buildings. Many residents have gone to stay with friends and family in other areas, some because their homes are unsafe and others fear aftershocks. Troops and emergency workers have put up hundreds of tents for about 3,000 homeless people still in the town. The quake struck the southern town on Wednesday evening, about two hours after a quake measuring 4.4. In Lorca says almost every building in the town has been damaged. Inspection teams are going house to house assessing the damage before declaring which buildings are safe to return to. Some residents are starting to question the quality of the building work in their homes. Initial feelings of fear and panic are giving way to a mood of deep frustration.
Shops, restaurants and schools have been closed and a steady stream of cars was leaving the town in Murcia region. Bulldozers have been clearing streets of rubble and crushed cars. Many ancient buildings were among those badly damaged. Many of those residents left behind are immigrant labourers who have nowhere else to go. Those left behind have been queuing for tents, food and drinks. People in towns and cities across Spain marked a minute's silence on Thursday in memory of the victims. Thirty people remained in hospital, three in a serious condition. The dead included one child. Spanish seismological experts are predicting smaller aftershocks over the next month in the area, which lies close to the geological fault line separating Europe and Africa.
The president of Spain's College of Geologists said the quake should not have been strong enough to bring down buildings and the scale of the damage must have been due to pre-existing structural problems. The area's sandy soil also made the impact worse. It was the deadliest tremor to hit Spain since 1956 when an earthquake killed 11 people in Albolote, Granada.

Republicans say aid efforts in Haiti are a failure - House Republicans told the top US foreign aid official on Wednesday that his agency's earthquake relief efforts in Haiti have been a failure. Citing inspector general reports, only 5 percent of the rubble has been removed and 22 percent of the needed transitional shelters have been built. USAID's record wasn't much better in Iraq and Afghanistan. The agency inspector general concluded wildly inaccurate claims were made about operations in Iraq. Among them:
22 individuals attended a five-day mental health course, yet 1.5 million were reported as beneficiaries.
123,000 were reported as benefiting from water and well projects that did not produce potable water.
280,000 were reported as benefiting from $14,246 spent to rehabilitate a morgue.
262,482 individuals were reported to have benefited from medical supplies which were purchased and treated only 100 victims of a specific attack.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah introduced a picture of himself in Haiti in March, standing on rubble next to a sign saying the site had been cleared "with funding from the American people." "This is blatant fraud." (photo)


VIRGINIA - 5/10/11 - Cause of mystery boom may have been found. Hundreds of people in Hampton Roads and Virginia's Eastern Shore reported a loud boom Tuesday evening, but its cause remained a mystery. That is, until now. A NASA scientist believes he might have an answer. “It's most consistent with a meteor coming coming into the Earth’s atmosphere and creating a large sonic boom. We’re on the tail end of a meteor shower here, which peaked last week. It could be associated with that.” It is not uncommon for meteors to create large booms. In fact, a meteor is believed to have caused a similar racket in the area two years ago. An object as small as a golf ball could have created the sound if traveling fast enough. Officials had already ruled out an earthquake, weather and a rocket launch as possible causes.


ITALY - Mount Etna Erupts Again, Send Lava Flying Through The Night Sky. Mount Etna erupted for the second time this year early Thursday morning, spewing molten hot lava and clouds of ash into the sky. The eruption, whichcan be seen in the raw video below, was most intense between midnight and 4am GMT. The lava flow luckily only reached uninhabited areas, though the nearby town of Catania was forced to close its airport after it became covered in ash. Before its January 13, 2011 eruption, Etna hadn't experienced major volcanic movement since 1992. The previous eruption also resulted in the airport's closure and caused little to no damage. (video)

No current tropical storms.


Mississippi Flooding Threatens Louisiana Oil, Gas Production - The rising floodwaters of the Mississippi River, threatening towns and farms between Memphis and the Gulf of Mexico, may affect 10 percent of Louisiana’s onshore crude oil production. A total of 2,264 oil wells are responsible for about 19,000 barrels of crude a day. 150 companies are preparing for flooding in a four-parish area in the southern part of the state. As much as 252.6 million cubic feet a day of gas may be threatened, along with operations at 10 Louisiana refineries that account for about 14 percent of U.S. operating capacity.
For weeks, the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, swollen by heavy rain and melted snow, have been inundating cities and towns, flooding cropland and disrupting shipping. The Ohio rose to 61.72 feet (18.8 meters), a record in Cairo, Illinois, before joining the Mississippi there. The threat of that flood reaching Baton Rouge and New Orleans has the Mississippi River Commission considering opening the 125 gates of the Morganza Floodway. Built in 1954, and only used in 1973, the floodway would release 600,000 cubic feet of water per second into central Louisiana and the Atchafalaya River, taking pressure off the Mississippi and the cities downstream. The decision will be made if the flow at Louisiana’s Red River Landing north of Baton Rouge reaches 1.5 million cubic feet per second. The flow was at 1.46 million cubic feet per second Wednesday. “We’re not waiting for that. We’re telling our people to prepare for the worst.”
The Mississippi crested earlier this week in Memphis at 47.87 feet, just under the record 48.7 feet set in 1937, and threatens to set more high-water marks before the flow splits in Louisiana, with 70 percent remaining in its channel and 30 percent running down the Atchafalaya. Cities and towns on both waterways are preparing for flooding. City workers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s capital, have placed two miles of orange tubing filled with water on top of an earth and concrete levee to raise it above the expected record 47.5-foot crest the National Weather Service says may arrive by May 22. “It’s been a grueling two-and-a-half to three weeks for us. If there is a breach in the levee, we’re going to have some problems.” The Corps of Engineers already opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway upstream from New Orleans to siphon Mississippi water into Lake Pontchartrain. “THIS IS THE BIGGEST TRAIN WRECK IN THE HISTORY OF LOUISIANA, but it’s the slowest train wreck in the history of Louisiana." The Mississippi may flood 3 million acres in southern Louisiana, affecting more than 20,000 people. The river is expected to crest at 19.5 feet in New Orleans, which is protected by levees to 20 feet, unless the spillway is used, according to the Corps of Engineers.
Before the high water hits Louisiana, it has to travel past Mississippi, where officials are watching tributary flooding in the fertile Delta region in the northwestern corner of the state. The flood has shut 17 of Mississippi’s 19 river-based casinos in the U.S.’s third-largest gaming-employment market, jeopardizing thousands of jobs and $13 million a month in taxes. Flooding will slow the state’s recovery from a recession two years ago, already lagging behind the U.S.


FDA seeks to shutter Memphis companies' food warehouses - Citing a failure to address repeat violations, the US Food and Drug Administration yesterday requested a permanent injunction against two food companies — American Mercantile Corp. and Ingredients Corp. of America — and the two companies' owner. The complaint charges that the Memphis-based companies and owner "violate the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by preparing, packing, and holding food under insanitary conditions where it may have become contaminated with filth." The companies handle a wide variety of food products and ingredients, including spices, herbs, and sauces. Previous FDA inspections, including one at each company in 2010, revealed that the companies failed to implement basic food sanitation practices at their warehouse and processing operations. The complaint alleges that FDA investigators found widespread insect and rodent activity, a failure to store raw materials properly, and poorly maintained facilities. Despite warnings and a May 2009 food seizure at American Mercantile, the companies failed to correct violations.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Spain: Earthquake rocks Lorca, Murcia, killing 10. - Italy didn't get the monster quake that was predicted to hit there yesterday, but Spain was hit by THE MOST SERIOUS QUAKE TO HIT SPAIN IN ABOUT 50 YEARS. Hundreds of people have spent the night outdoors in the southern Spanish town of Lorca after a 5.2 earthquake which killed at least 10 people. The tremor toppled several buildings after striking at a depth of just 1km (0.6 miles), 120km south-west of Alicante. Lines of cars lay crushed under tonnes of rubble and a hospital was evacuated as a precaution. Wednesday evening's quake came about two hours after a 4.4-magnitude tremor. It is not clear how many people were injured, although Spanish media say there are dozens.
Spanish TV captured dramatic images of a church bell tower crashing to the ground, landing just metres from a cameraman. Shocked residents and workers rushed out of buildings and gathered in squares, parks and open spaces. Old buildings were badly damaged. As night fell many people were still too afraid to return to their homes. "The whole of the centre of Lorca has been seriously damaged. There are thousands of very disorientated people." A doctor and her colleagues went into the streets and treated people with serious injuries, many of them "unconscious. The ambulances could not reach them. They took more than 40 minutes."
The earthquakes were felt over a wide area. "Unfortunately, we can confirm... deaths due to cave-ins and falling debris. We are trying to find out if there are people inside the collapsed houses." A number of aftershocks have been felt in the region after Wednesday's quake, and authorities fear the death toll could rise. Spain has hundreds of earthquakes every year but most of them are too small to be noticed. Murcia is the country's most seismically active area and suffered tremors in 2005 and 1999 [each 6 years apart]. Murcia is close to the large faultline beneath the Mediterranean Sea where the European and African continents meet. Photos

**I have an inferiority complex...but it isn't a very good one.**

5/11/11 -

Turkey plans new 'quake-proof' cities near Istanbul - Turkey plans to build two new cities near Istanbul and relocate up to 1.5 million residents who are most at risk from a possible earthquake in the metropolis.


PHILIPPINES - Tropical Storm Aere left northern Luzon on Wednesday, but not before battering the Bicol region, leaving at least 26 people dead, millions worth of properties damaged, and placing two provinces under a state of calamity. At the peak of the summer season, tropical storm Aere caught many unprepared. Almost 400000 people were affected.


U.S. - Flood's crest delivers fresh misery in Mississippi. Floodwaters from the bloated Mississippi River and its tributaries spilled across farm fields, cut off churches, washed over roads and forced people from their homes Wednesday in the Mississippi Delta, a poverty-stricken region only a generation or two removed from sharecropping days. People used boats to navigate flooded streets as the crest rolled slowly downstream, bringing misery to poor, low-lying communities. Hundreds have left their homes in the delta in the past several days as the water rose toward some of the highest levels on record. The flood crest is expected to push past the delta by late next week. There is no reason to believe a levee on the Yazoo River would fail, but if it did, 107 feet of water would flow over small towns.
The Mississippi Delta, with a population of about 465,000, is a leaf-shaped expanse of rich soil between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, extending about 200 miles from Memphis, Tenn., to Vicksburg, Miss. Along the way are the towns of Clarksdale, Greenville and Yazoo City. While some farms in the cotton-, rice- and corn-growing delta are prosperous, there is also grinding poverty. President Obama on Wednesday signed a disaster declaration for 14 counties in Mississippi because of the flooding. The state is asking local officials to get in touch with people who might have no electricity and phones and thus no way to get word of the flooding.


Crab Nebula's gamma-ray flare mystifies astronomers - The Crab Nebula has shocked astronomers by emitting an UNPRECEDENTED BLAST OF GAMMA RAYS, the highest-energy light in the Universe. The cause of the 12 April gamma-ray flare is a total mystery. It seems to have come from a small area of the famous nebula, which is the wreckage from an exploded star. The gamma-ray emission lasted for some six days, hitting levels 30 times higher than normal and varying at times from hour to hour.
The Crab Nebula is composed mainly of the remnant of a supernova, which was seen from Earth to rip itself apart in the year 1054. At the heart of the brilliantly coloured gas cloud we can see in visible light, there is a pulsar - a rapidly spinning neutron star that emits radio waves which sweep past the Earth 30 times per second. But so far none of the nebula's known components can explain the signal. "The origin of these high-energy gamma rays has to be some other source. It takes about six years for light to cross the nebula, so it must be a very compact region in comparison to the size of the nebula that's producing these outbursts on the time scales of hours."
Since its launch nearly three years ago, Fermi has spotted three such outbursts. These events are unleashing gamma rays with energies of more than 100 million electron-volts - that is, each packet of light, or photon, carries tens of millions of times more energy than the light we can see. But the Crab's recent outburst is MORE THAN FIVE TIMES MORE INTENSE THAN ANY OTHERS OBSERVED. What has perplexed astronomers is that these variations in gamma rays are not matched by changes in the emission of other light "colours". Follow-up studies using the Chandra X-ray telescope, for example, showed no variations in the X-ray intensity. "To have something that puts almost all of its energy into gamma rays is an UNUSUAL thing. We're looking at a big puzzle and are probably going to need a couple of years to understand it."
The best guess so far is that in a region near the neutron star, intense magnetic fields become opposed in direction, suddenly re-organising themselves and accelerating close-by particles to near the speed of light. As they move in curved paths, the particles emit the gamma rays seen by Fermi. "It's just so extraordinary that so many telescopes over so many years have been looking at the Crab and it's been constant all that time, and suddenly we discover that it's not."