Tag Archives: japan tsunami

Invasive species still hitch a ride on 2011 Japanese tsunami

The 2011 Japan tsunami was so massive that even today, debris from it keeps washing up in Washington – and that might be a problem. Scientists report that along with the debris, invasive species are also make their way to the USA.

Just one of the boats that the 2011 tsunami sent to the Washington coast. Image via Komonews.

The 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku was one of the biggest in recorded history. The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 40.5 metres (133 ft), traveling 10 km inland. Even today, we’re still feeling some of its effects – and in more ways than one. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s aquatic invasive-species unit has recently discovered a barnacle-encrusted Japanese skiff. Three other boats reached the state in the past year alone, and all of them were colonized by dozens of thriving species which have great invasive potential.

“These become their own ecosystems in the ocean,” he said. “What’s not natural is that they’re on man-made objects that don’t disintegrate.”

Invasive species are becoming a greater concern in the modern world, being a rather unforeseen consequence of globalisation. Invasive species are plants and animals not native to a specific location; they’re basically an introduced species with a great tendency to reproduce and overcome native species, causing significant damage to the local environment as well as to human activities and health.

This is an issue that our society, generally speaking, is not prepared to deal with. We have ships traveling from one place to another, bringing with them numerous invasive species, and we even transfer these species ourselves. A 2005 study found that in the US alone, invasive species cause damage of over $138 billion annually, and that number seems to continue to grow.

fukushima-butterfly-radiation

Mutant butterflies found near Fukushima linked to radiation exposure

Immediately after the incident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, as a result of the devastating tsunami which swept the country resulting thousands of casualties and damage amount to $40 billion, Japanese authorities quickly evacuated the local human population such that exposure to radiation could be kept at a minimum. The local wildlife, however, wasn’t treated with the same privilege. A month after the tsunami, scientists collected butterfly specimens in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant and found that the insects presented a number of peculiar mutations. Six months later the same check was made for the same species, and findings suggest that the mutations actually multiplied, as an evident effect of radiation exposure.

fukushima-butterfly-radiationSome 144 pale grass blue butterfly were collected, of which 12% of them showed a number of strange mutations, like dented eyes and deformed wings.  When they mated, the offspring showed a mutation rate of 18%, and when one ‘infected’ butterfly was mated with a healthy one, that rate jumped to 34%.This suggested that the butterflies’ germ line, or the cells that turn from egg to sperm, had suffered irremediable damage, which get transmitted to the offspring. Scientists say these mutations will get passed down for many generations.

“Our results are consistent with the previous field studies that showed that butterfly populations are highly sensitive to artificial radionuclide contamination in Chernobyl and Fukushima. Together, the present study indicates that the pale grass blue butterfly is probably one of the best indicator species for radionuclide contamination in Japan,” researchers wrote in the report published in the journal Nature.

The species is notoriously sensitive to environmental contaminants, which is why scientists decided to study them to begin with, so the fact that the pale grass butterfly has suffered mutations isn’t a indicator that other local fauna may have been subjected to the same genetic anomalies, though possible. I’d like to see, personally, a similar research catering to other species, insects or mammals.

The levels of radiation absorbed by the butterflies are not enough to harm humans, however. In fact, Japanese researchers have found very low amounts of radioactivity in the bodies of about 10,000 people who lived near the Fukushima Daiichi power plant when it melted down. The threat appeared to be considerably lower than in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident, the experts agreed.

“Out of 10,000 people with a dose of 1 millisievert, the radiation would cause two to get cancer during their lifetimes, but about 3,500 would get cancer also without any radiation,” said Roy Shore, chief of research at the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima, Japan. “The jury is still out, but I expect the public health impact from radiation to turn out to be considerably lower than that of Chernobyl.”

via 80 Beats.

The Metsamor nuclear power plant at the base of Armenia's towering symbol, Mount Ararat.

Armenia’s Metsamor nuclear power station – most dangerous in the world?

The Metsamor nuclear power plant at the base of Armenia's towering symbol, Mount Ararat.

The Metsamor nuclear power plant at the base of Armenia's towering symbol, Mount Ararat.

In light of recent catastrophic events that plagued Japan, and the consequent nuclear crisis recently raised to level 7 on par with Chernobyl, the talk of the day in every scientific and political circle seems to be that of nuclear safety. Armenia’s 31-year old only nuclear power plant located in Metsamor is one of the few remnants of the old soviet nuclear reactors built without primary containment structures. Only a few of these first generation water-moderated reactors are still in use today, being past or near their original retirement ages, but what sets the Metsamor facility apart from all the others is the fact that it’s located in a potentially hazardous seismic zone.

Seven years ago, the European Union called the facility “a danger to the entire region,” but Armenia later turned down the EU’s offer of a 200 million euro ($289 million) loan to finance Metsamor’s shutdown. The same thing was underlined by the United States government as well, which has called the plant “aging and dangerous,” and urged construction of a new one.

How could the Armenian government afford to close the power plant, though, considering that 40% of the countries energy output comes from Metsamor? For the more than 3 million Armenians the Metsamor power plant is more than a simple industrial electricity facility, it’s a symbol – the symbol of light.

“People compare the potential risk with the potential shortage of electricity that might arise if the plant were closed,” says Ara Tadevosyan, director of Mediamax, a major Armenian news agency. “Having had this negative experience, people prefer to live with it, and believe that it will not be damaged in an earthquake.”

Seven years ago, the European Union’s envoy was quoted as calling the facility “a danger to the entire region,” but Armenia later turned down the EU’s offer of a 200 million euro ($289 million) loan to finance Metsamor’s shutdown. The United States government, which has called the plant “aging and dangerous,” underwrote a study that urged construction of a new one.

Metsamor is located right in the middle of one of the world’s most active and strong seismic zones that stretches in a broad swath from Turkey to the Arabian Sea near India. On December 10, 1988, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck, killing 25,000 people and leaving 500,000 homeless. Luckily, some 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the epicenter, Metsamor, then with two operating reactors, survived the temblor without damage, according to Armenian officials and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Soviet government soon shut the nuclear plant down after the earthquake afraid of a calamity, especially since back then the Chernobyl incident was still very terrifyingly fresh in everybody’s minds.

In 1995 the government of then-independent Armenia decided to restart the younger of the two reactors, finally ending a period of hard seven years in which most of the population was blacked out.

When the unit restarted, “It became a source of energy and a source of hope for Armenia,” explained Tadevosyan. “It was a symbol that dark times are over: ‘We have electricity.’ And it is still seen as such today.”

The Metsamor reactor is much safer than the original unit that went into service at the site on January 10, 1980 however as close to 1,400 safety improvements have been made. Those included “seismic-resistant” storage batteries, reinforcement of the reactor building, electrical cabinets and cooling towers.

While global authorities believe the Metsamor reactor is still unsafe and should be shut down, the Armenian government and other independent entities think otherwise.

“Metsamor is no less safe than any other reactor in operation throughout the world,” said Nuclear engineering expert Robert Kalantari, whose Framingham, Massachusetts, firm, Engineering Planning and Management, consults for U.S. and Canadian regulatory authorities,. “Armenia as an independent country cannot survive without [Metsamor], which is a functioning, safe, and reliable source of energy for the country.”

Story via National Geographic.

Half of Americans see natural disaster as sign of end times

According to more than half of all Americans, God is in complete control of everything that happens on our planet. Slightly fewer people, 44 percent, believe natural disasters, such as the earthquake and tsunamis in Japan are caused by an omnipotent power; but hey, it gets a little better – only 29 percent of Americans believe that God punishes a whole nation for the sins of a few individuals.

America never ceases to amaze me when it comes to things like this. Instead of wanting a rational but less desirable answer, people tend to go to the easier ‘God’s will’ approach.

“There’s just something about the randomness of the universe that is too unsettling,” says Scott Schieman, a sociologist at the University of Toronto. “We like explanations for why things happen … many times people weave in these divine narratives.”

The poll surveyed 1,008 adults in the continental United States a few days after the tragic events in Japan, and weighed results by age, sex, geographic region, education and race to reflect more accurately the beliefs of the American people. Another interesting result they got was that evangelical Christians are more likely to see disasters as a sign from God than other religious faiths.

All in all, this is pretty disturbing if you ask me. If half of the population in the most developed country in the world believes that natural disasters are some form of divine wrath, then either I’m missing something, or something is very wrong with the world we live in.

Japan drops water on nuclear plant, situation is still very hot

The situation on the Fukushima nuclear plant is far from calming down, even after the government authorized water being dropped from helicopters, an option which was described as unnacceptable. It is even more unclear what the effect of that water will be, as helicopters threw it without hovering, presumably because of the radiation.

Also, this is a good example of why this method is rarely used: it doesn’t seem to work. The 60 tonnes of seawater seem to have pretty much missed their target, if not entirely, than a quite significant quantity; however, without hard evidence from the ground, video footage is the only way to figure this out, so my guess or yours is just as good as anybody’s on this matter.

The water wasn’t in fact meant to cool the reactors, as reported from many sources, but rather to cool the cooling pools. Without sufficient water, there is a growing chance of releasing radiation into the atmosphere, and the presence of radiation makes it even more hard to contain, because workers cannot be nearby.

“If this is damaged – and we suspect it must be – you’ve got radionuclides being produced and going upwards because of the fire,” said Andrew Sherry, director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester. “[Without water] the immediate outlook is that the fire and the generation of hydrogen will continue, so we’ve got quite an unstable situation.”

Magnitude of Japan earthquake takes scientists by surprise

It’s no mystery for anybody that the earthquake in Japan is one of the largest ever to be recorded in history, and it’s no mystery for anybody that Japan is an area with numerous seismic events, but the magnitude of this one exceeded greatly all expectations, even the most pessimistic one.

The 8.9 magnitude (or 9.0 according to other measurements) earthquake that struck the northeastern coast of Japan “is going to be among the top 10 earthquakes recorded since we have had seismographs,” said seismologist Susan Hough of the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena. “It’s bigger than any known historic earthquake in Japan, and bigger than expectations for that area.”

That particular portion of the Ring of Fire, as it is called, was expected to create a 8, maybe 8.5 magnitude temblor, but something as big as 8.9 is quite surprising; this may not seem like a big difference, but the Richter scale is a logarithmic one, so a 9 earthquake is 10 times more powerful than a 8 earthquake.

The thing is, temblors this big in the crust take place when a long, relatively straight fault line ruptures; a classical example for this would be Peru or Chile, but not Japan, because that tectonic plate boundary is not straight at all, but very irregular. According to USGS, an earthquake this big would require a huge rupture, of more than 300 miles. To top things off, this type of earthquake was perfect for tsunami generation, because it was very big, and at a very shallow depth.

Brilliant picture shows tsunamis estimated heights

This picture, created by a computer model at NOAA displays the expected heights of the tsunamis created by the 8.9 earthquake in Japan (which may be “upgraded” to 9.0 – calculating magnitudes is a pretty delicate issue).

Of course the largest wave heights are expected near the epicenter, off the coast of Sendai, Honshu, Japan. Generally speaking, the heights will decline with distance, but the near-shore heights will also decrease; for example coastal Hawaii will not expect heights of that encountered in coastal Japan.

The earthquake is one of the most powerful ever to be recorded, and it took most geophysicists and geologists by surprise, as almost nobody was expecting an event of this magnitude. Tsunamis caused even more damage, and things can get significantly worse for Japan (and not only) if the meltdown of several affected nuclear plants isn’t prevented. It seems however that the Japanese are handling the situation very well, and everybody is doing everything they can to limit the damage, and most of all, casualties.