Since our Environment Blog, in its' previous incarnation, had some wonderful posts, we thought it was important to move a selection of the old posts across to get things started on this site. You can see these posts below.
As we are all consumers, I think that a good start for people wanting to make a difference is to consider the ethical aspects surrounding their purchases (Is production environmentally-friendly? Does the company producing the product treat their workers well? Is there cruelty to animals involved? etc.). To help us with these choices, this site is a great resource: http://www.ethicalconsumer.org
25/3/2011 Laurie David
NUCLEAR POWER AND GLOBAL WARMING
To stop global warming, we need a profound shift in how we generate and consume energy, moving beyond the burning of fossil fuels. One argument for nuclear power is that it does not produce carbon dioxide, but as the recent tragic events in Japan illustrate, nuclear energy may not represent a sound, safe alternative.
Recently in The Guardian, Natalie Kopytko, a researcher in the Environmental Department at the University of York, explains why climate change may be the reason we don’t want to shift to nuclear power. Kopytko stresses that climate change contributes to a greater frequency of severe weather events that can cause more nuclear plant emergencies. Click here to read the full story.
For more on the issue, read the Union of Concerned Scientist's position on Nuclear Power and Global Warming. Their conclusion: Nuclear power is not the silver bullet for solving the global warming problem, and a major expansion of nuclear power in the United States is not feasible in the near term.
Calm urged as radiation spreads to Europe, US
Radiation from Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant has reached parts of Britain and the United States.
The UK's Health Protection Agency said traces of radioactive iodine had been discovered in Oxfordshire in England and Scotland, the Daily Mail reports.
"Very low levels of radioactivity, traceable to Fukushima, have been detected at monitoring stations in the UK including Chilton, in Oxfordshire, and Glasgow, in Scotland," the HPA's Dr Michael Clark was quoted as saying.
"These traces have been found in Europe — Switzerland, Germany and Iceland — and in the USA. They're trace levels but of course with radioactivity we can measure very low amounts."
The governments of China, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam reported that radiation had drifted over their territories, although they emphasised the levels were so small that there was no health risk.
"We would like to ask the public not to panic. These are very tiny amounts in the air," Philippine Nuclear Research Institute spokeswoman Tina Cerbolis said, echoing officials in the other countries to have detected the radiation.
"I can firmly assure you that this amount will not have an iota of impact on the lives of ordinary Koreans," Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety chief Yun Choul-Ho told reporters in Seoul.
Nevertheless the development was another reminder for people across the Asia Pacific about the rippling impacts of the damaged Fukushima power plant more than two weeks after a huge earthquake and tsunami crippled the facility.
Traces of radiation had in actual fact drifted all the way to the United States, with rainwater in Ohio found to have been contaminated on Monday, environment authorities there said.
People and governments living in countries neighbouring Japan had already taken a range of precautionary measures as they watched the crisis escalate.
Authorities across the region began testing Japanese food imports for radiation, while some vegetables grown near Fukushima were banned altogether.
Travellers returning from Japan also started to be screened at some airports for radiation.
In China, two Japanese travellers were hospitalised last week after airport officials detected elevated radiation levels on them, although they were later discharged.
Taiwan's Atomic Energy Council reported Tuesday that small amounts of radioactive particles had been detected on 43 passengers from Japan since the crisis began.
The shipping industry has also grown increasingly nervous about vessels potentially sailing into contaminated waters off the coast of Japan.
Chinese authorities said last week that radiation had been detected on a Japanese merchant vessel that berthed in the southeastern port city of Xiamen.
In another development on Tuesday underlining rising fears about potentially dangerous radiation spreading across the region, South Korean officials said they had begun screening fish caught in their own waters.
Fish including mackerel and hair tail were being tested for caesium, iodine and other radioactive materials, although none had been detected, a South Korean agricultural ministry told AFP.
Some European buyers of South Korean farm produce had also started demanding that shipments undergo radiation tests, sending farmers rushing to nuclear safety agencies for screening, Yonhap news agency reported.
In China, the health ministry ordered authorities in Beijing, Shanghai and other highly populated areas to test drinking water and food for radiation, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper.
Greenpeace International nuclear expert Rianne Teule said people outside of Japan should not be panicked by the spreading plume of radiation across Asia and further afield.
"The levels (of radiation) that are reaching countries far away are so low that they will not be a significant health risk," Teule told AFP by phone from Amsterdam.
However she said there was no completely safe level of radiation and that, as more radiation spread, the risks would grow.
"If a very large population is exposed to a very low level of radiation, it will overall increase the cancer risk for that population," she said.
4/4/2011 Tom Burnett
By Tom Burnett, Hawaii News Daily
04 April 11
RSN Special Coverage: Disaster in Japan
Fukushima is going to dwarf Chernobyl. The Japanese government has had a level 7 nuclear disaster going for almost a week but won't admit it.
The disaster is occurring the opposite way than Chernobyl, which exploded and stopped the reaction. At Fukushima, the reactions are getting worse. I suspect three nuclear piles are in meltdown and we will probably get some of it.
If reactor 3 is in meltdown, the concrete under the containment looks like lava. But Fukushima is not far off the water table. When that molten mass of self-sustaining nuclear material gets to the water table it won't simply cool down. It will explode - not a nuclear explosion, but probably enough to involve the rest of the reactors and fuel rods at the facility.
Pouring concrete on a critical reactor makes no sense - it will simply explode and release more radioactive particulate matter. The concrete will melt and the problem will get worse. Chernobyl was different - a critical reactor exploded and stopped the reaction. At Fukushima, the reactor cores are still melting down. The ONLY way to stop that is to detonate a ~10 kiloton fission device inside each reactor containment vessel and hope to vaporize the cores. That's probably a bad solution.
A nuclear meltdown is a self-sustaining reaction. Nothing can stop it except stopping the reaction. And that would require a nuclear weapon. In fact, it would require one in each containment vessel to merely stop what is going on now. But it will be messy.
Fukushima was waiting to happen because of the placement of the emergency generators. If they had not all failed at once by being inundated by a tsunami, Fukushima would not have happened as it did - although it WOULD still have been a nuclear disaster. Every containment in the world is built to withstand a Magnitude 6.9 earthquake; the Japanese chose to ignore the fact that a similar earthquake had hit that same general area in 1896.
Anyway, here is the information that the US doesn't seem to want released. And here is a chart that might help with perspective.
Making matters worse is the MOX in reactor 3. MOX is the street name for 'mixed oxide fuel' which uses ~9% plutonium along with a uranium compound to fuel reactors. This is why it can be used.
The problem is that you don't want to play with this stuff. A nuclear reactor means bring fissile material to a point at which it is hot enough to boil water (in a light-water reactor) and not enough to melt and go supercritical (China syndrome or a Chernobyl incident). You simply cannot let it get away from you because if it does, you can't stop it.
The Japanese are still talking about days or weeks to clean this up. That's not true. They cannot clean it up. And no one will live in that area again for dozens or maybe hundreds of years.