Earthquakes

Magnitude 5+ Earthquakes – Global

None 5.0 or higher today.

Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

A task of extraordinary delicacy and danger is about to begin at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power station. Engineers are preparing to extract the first of more than 1,000 nuclear fuel rods from one of the wrecked reactor buildings. This is seen as an essential but risky step on the long road towards stabilising the site.

The fuel rods are currently in a precarious state in a storage pool in Unit 4. This building was badly damaged by an explosion in March 2011 following the Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Moving the rods to safety is a high priority but has only become possible after months of repair work and planning.

The fuel rods are four-metre long tubes containing pellets of uranium fuel and the fear is that some may have been damaged during the disaster. When the tsunami struck the Japanese coast, the flood swamped the diesel generators providing back up power to the reactors. Three of the reactors went into a state of partial meltdown.

By coincidence, Unit 4 was undergoing maintenance, so all of its fuel rods were being stored. But the meltdown of a neighbouring reactor led to a build-up of hydrogen which is believed to have led to the explosion in Unit 4. In the days after the tsunami, there were fears that the blast had damaged Unit 4’s storage pool and, in desperation, the authorities used helicopters and fire hoses to keep it filled with water.

A guiding principle of nuclear safety is that the fuel is kept underwater at all times – contact with the air risks overheating and triggering a release that could spread contamination. So the operation to remove the rods will be painstaking.

The rods will be lifted out in batches of 22 and in casks filled with water. This will be done with a new crane, recently installed in the wrecked building, after the original one was destroyed. The task of removing each batch will take 7-10 days.

Two critically important issues are whether the rods themselves are damaged and therefore likely to leak and whether the casks remain watertight to ensure the rods have no contact with the air. The risks include a possible “release of radiation” from the fuel or if the casks holding the fuel are dropped. “Countermeasures” have been prepared – including back-up wires to hold the loads and mechanisms to hold the fuel in the event of a power failure.

The fuel rods will then be deposited into a new “common” pool with a cooling system.

Tepco will not confirm the precise timing of the fuel rod operation but after so much public outrage at the company’s handling of the crisis so far, scrutiny of this latest episode will be intense.

Storms and Floods

Tropical Storms

In the Western Pacific:

Tropical storm Thirty was located 200 nm east-northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The final advisory has been issued on this system.

Category 5 Super Typhoon Haiyan is located approximately 54 nm north of Koror, Palau. Haiyan is forecast to strike the Philippines as a typhoon at about 04:00 GMT on November 8.

Haiyan is a spectacular typhoon with a tiny pinhole eye just 9 miles in diameter. With warm waters that extend to great depth, low wind shear, and excellent upper-level outflow, Haiyan will likely stay at Category 4 or 5 strength until landfall occurs between 03 – 06 UTC Friday in the central Philippine islands of Samar or Leyt

NewsBytes:

China’s corn harvest is poised to decline for the first time in four years after flooding in its biggest-producing province and drought in its fifth largest-producing province cut yields.

Environment

World’s 10 Worst Polluted Places Named

Researchers said the 10 sites were chosen based on the severity of their health risk and prioritized by their value as examples of different kinds of pollution threats around world.

Here are the 10 sites listed in the report, in alphabetical order:

Agbogbloshie, Ghana: This dumpsite in the Ghanaian capital Accra is the second largest e-waste processing area in West Africa. When sheathed cables from electronics like microwaves and computers are burned to recover the copper material inside, metals can particulate in the smoke and get left behind in the soil. An estimated 40,000 people are affected by the pollution threat.

Chernobyl, Ukraine: The world’s worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986 released 100 times more radiation than the atom bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Skin lesions, respiratory ailments, infertility and birth defects affected people in contaminated areas in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine for years and the accident has been linked to more than 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer. Pollution from Chernobyl is estimated to have affected some 10 million people.

Citarum River, Indonesia: More than 500,000 people are directly affected, and up to 5 million people are indirectly impacted, by chemical pollution in the Citarum River Basin in West Java. Lead, aluminum, manganese and iron concentrations in the river are several times higher than world averages because of pollution from industrial and domestic sources.

Dzershinsk, Russia: A major site of chemical manufacturing in Russia, Dzershinsk has high levels of pollutants like dioxins and phenol in the groundwater. Residents suffer from diseases and cancers of the eyes, lungs and kidneys and life expectancy in the city is just 47 for women and just 42 for men.

Hazaribagh, Bangladesh: Tanneries using old, outdated and inefficient processing methods to make leather dump 22,000 cubic liters of toxic waste each day into the city’s main river, impacting more than 160,000 people. This waste includes the cancer-causing chemical hexavalent chromium.

Kabwe, Zambia: Decades of unregulated lead mining in this African city have caused serious health problems for residents of Kabwe, where more than 300,000 people are thought to be affected by pollution. In 2006, children’s blood lead levels in Kabwe were found to exceed the recommended levels by five to 10 times.

Kalimantan, Indonesia: On the island of Borneo, Kalimantan and the surrounding areas have become contaminated with mercury because of small-scale gold mining, impacting some 225,000 people. Miners in the region use mercury in the gold extraction process, resulting in mercury emissions during the amalgamation and smelting processes.

Matanza Riachuelo, Argentina: More than 15,000 industries are thought to be releasing a variety of pollutants into the Matanza River, which passes through Buenos Aires and empties into the Rio de la Plata. Contaminants include zinc, lead, copper, nickel and total chromium (a term that includes two forms of chromium), making the drinking water near the Matanza-Riachuelo river basin seriously unsafe, threating more than 20,000 people who live in the area.

Niger River Delta, Nigeria: An unknown number of people are impacted by the voracious petroleum industry in this densely populated part of Africa, where there were nearly 7,000 incidents involving oil spills between 1976 and 2001. The report said that about 2 million barrels of oil were being extracted from the delta every day as of last year.

Norilsk, Russia: Norilsk is an industrial city in Siberian Russia, where each year, nearly 500 tons each of copper and nickel oxides and 2 million tons of sulfur dioxide are released into the air. Life expectancy for factory workers in Norilsk is 10 years below the Russian average.

Wildlife

Some Endangered Species Actually at Low Risk

Who hasn’t seen the iconic global warming image of a sad, skinny polar bear floating on an ice chip, threatened with extinction from habitat loss and the rapidly changing Arctic ecosystem? But author Jackson Landers argues that the polar bear is one of five species whose extinction risk is actually a myth.

The Nanook of the North has survived multiple warming cycles in the past 600,000 years, Landers writes, and only eight of its 19 subpopulations are in decline. Other predators that are thriving despite reports of their imminent demise include the Komodo dragon and Southeast Asia’s Clouded leopards, Landers said.

On the enormous end of the scale, humpback whales represent a conservation success story, with an estimated 80,000 of the giant beasts swimming the seas, Landers reports. There were probably 125,000 whales before their numbers were decimated due to whaling. Finally, Landers knocks down an urban myth that praying mantises are endangered in the United States. In truth, none of the 20 species of these amazing insects are at risk of extinction.

Polar bear migration