Environment

Fracking Fallout

A new Harvard study finds that there are significantly elevated levels of airborne radioactive particles up to 31 miles downwind of U.S. fracking sites.

Using 16 years of data from 157 federal radiation monitoring stations, researchers found that sites with 100 fracking wells within 12 miles upwind had an average of about 7% more radiation in the air.

The highest contamination was near the Marcellus and Utica shale fields in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where radioactivity was 40% higher than normal.

While conventional oil and gas drilling doesn’t result in much impact on underground rocks that contain uranium isotopes, hydraulic fracturing blasts through shale and other layers containing them. Scientists say the resulting radioactive particles are carried downwind.

Environment

Lingering Radioactivity

Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdowns blanketed snow and ice around the Northern Hemisphere with a thin layer of light radioactivity dubbed the Fukushima Layer. The nuclear disaster was triggered by a massive thrust earthquake that spawned a devastating tsunami, which knocked out the nuclear plant’s main cooling system. The resulting meltdowns contaminated groundwater around the plant and spewed radioactive particles into the atmosphere. It was thought that the airborne radiation would have faded by now. But scientists writing in Environmental Research Letters say the thawing and melting of glaciers around the hemisphere has made the radioactivity more concentrated, creating a lingering layer of contamination.

Wildlife

Radioactive Habitat

Wildlife is thriving in the most contaminated areas around Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, which suffered meltdowns following a devastating 2011 offshore quake and subsequent tsunami.

Photos from automatic cameras set up by the University of Georgia showed that more than 20 species are flourishing in various areas of the irradiated landscape.

They found almost three times as many species such as wild boar, hares, macaques, pheasants and fox living there than in the slightly contaminated areas where people are able to live.

The research does not address the health and welfare of the animals in the presence of such radiation.

Environment

Radioactive Spike

Tiny amounts of radioactive iodine were detected in the air along Norway’s border with Russia following a deadly explosion that occurred during a secret rocket engine test in northern Russia’s Arkhangelsk region.

Russia’s meteorological agency said radiation levels in the city of Severodvinsk spiked by up to 16 times following the nearby blast.

U.S. experts believe Russia was testing a nuclear-powered cruise missile when the explosion occurred, killing five research staff and military personnel.

Four of the five stations in Russia that scan for radionuclide particles in the air for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization went silent for days following the blast.

Rain Tree

A team of Chinese and international researchers say they have developed an inexpensive solar-powered “tree” that desalts enough water each day from the sea to provide clean drinking water for at least three people per “leaf.”

The scientists say roots made of cotton fibers soak up water and send it up a metal stem, where leaves made of black-carbon paper convert sunlight into heat.

After the water is heated by the leaves to nearly 122 degrees Fahrenheit, the resulting water vapor is cooled and condensed back as fresh water.

The technology could be deployed in small communities or on remote islands to help ease water shortages.

Environment

Chernobyl’s Crumbling Sarcophagus Will Be Torn Down

The giant structure originally constructed around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 to contain the radioactive material released in one of history’s worst nuclear disasters is crumbling. Soon, it will be torn down.

The Ukranian company managing the nuclear power plant, SSE Chernobyl NPP, recently signed a contract with a construction company to take the dome-shaped structure apart by 2023, according to a statement. That’s when the sarcophagus will reach the end of its stable life and “expire,” so to speak.

But that doesn’t mean radioactive material will just slip out into the world. In 2016, a large steel structure called the “New Safe Confinement” was crafted to blanket the sarcophagus and the radiation underneath it. This confinement structure, 354 feet (108 meters) high, was built a distance from the radioactive site and slid into place with 224 hydraulic jacks.

The New Safe Confinement is expected to last at least 100 years and is strong enough to withstand a tornado, according to the report. On the other hand, the crumbling sarcophagus underneath it wasn’t built to last long, and was a kind of Band-Aid approach to quickly contain the radiation during the time of the accident.

The sarcophagus is massive, made up of over 7,700 tons (7,000 metric tons) of metal and 14.1 million cubic feet (400,000 cubic meters) of concrete. But it’s flimsy — it doesn’t have any welded or bolted joints — and could be easily knocked down by an earthquake, according to the report.

It stays upright, not through sturdy engineering but through the force of gravity, according to the statement. Dismantling it will be “extremely complicated” and will happen under conditions of “high nuclear and radiation risk,” the statement said.

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Environment

Radioactive Traces from the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Found in California Wine

Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, radioactive waste leaked into surrounding areas and contaminated waters and food. Seven years later, traces of the disaster were found half a world away — in California’s wine.

A group of French nuclear physicists tested 18 bottles of California’s rosé and cabernet sauvignon produced in 2009 and onward and found that the wines produced after the disaster had increased levels of a man-made radioactive particles. Cabernet sauvignon, for example, had double the amount.