SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Across the West, early miners digging for gold, silver and copper had no idea that one day something else very valuable would be buried in the piles of dirt and rocks they tossed aside.
There's a rush in the U.S. to find key components of cellphones, televisions, weapons systems, wind turbines, MRI machines and the regenerative brakes in hybrid cars, and old mine tailings piles just might be the answer. They may contain a group of versatile minerals the periodic table called rare earth elements.
"Uncle Sam could be sitting on a gold mine," said Larry Meinert, director of the mineral resource program for the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va.
The USGS and Department of Energy are on a nationwide scramble for deposits of the elements that make magnets lighter, bring balanced hues to fluorescent lighting and color to the touch screens of smartphones in order to break the Chinese stranglehold on those supplies.
They were surprised to find that the critical elements could be in plain sight in piles of rubble otherwise considered eyesores and toxic waste. One era's junk could turn out to be this era's treasure.
"Those were almost never analyzed for anything other than what they were mining for," Meinert said. "If they turn out to be valuable that is a win-win on several fronts — getting us off our dependence on China and having a resource we didn't know about."
The 15 rare earth elements were discovered long after the gold rush began to wane, but demand for them only took off over the past 10 years as electronics became smaller and more sophisticated. They begin with number 57 Lanthanum and end with 71 Lutetium, a group of metallic chemical elements that are not rare as much as they are just difficult to mine because they occur in tiny amounts and are often stuck to each other.
Unlike metals higher up on the table such as silver and gold, there's no good agent for dissolving elements so closely linked in atomic structure without destroying the target. It makes mining for them tedious and expensive.
"The reason they haven't been explored for in the U.S. was because as long as China was prepared to export enough rare earths to fill the demand, everything was fine — like with the oil cartels. When China began to use them as a political tool, people began to see the vulnerability to the U.S. economy to having one source of rare earth elements," said Ian Ridley, director of the USGS Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center in Colorado.
Two years ago, China raised prices — in the case of Neodymium, used to make Prius electric motors stronger and lighter, from $15 a kilogram in 2009 to $500 in 2011, while Dysprosium oxide used in lasers and halide lamps went from $114 a kilogram in 2010 to $2,830 in 2011. It's also about the time China cut off supplies to Japan, maker of the Prius, in a dispute over international fishing territory.
That's when the U.S. government went into emergency mode and sent geologists to hunt for new domestic sources.
"What we have is a clash of supply and demand. It's a global problem. A growing middle class around the world means more and more people want things like cellphones," said Alex King, director of the Critical Materials Institute of the Department of Energy's Ames Research Lab in Iowa. "Our job is to solve the problem any way we can."
At the University of Nevada-Reno and University of Colorado school of mines, USGS scientists used lasers to examine extensive samples of rocks and ore collected across the West during the gold rush days by geologists from Stanford University and Cal Tech.
"If we could recycle some of this waste and get something out of it that was waste years ago that isn't waste today, that certainly is a goal," said Alan Koenig, the USGS scientist in charge of the tailings project.
One sample collected in 1870 from an area near Sparks, Nev., where miners had searched for a viable copper vein, has shown promise and has given researchers clues in the search for more. They have found that some rare earths exist with minerals they had not previously known occur together.
"The copper mine never went into production, but now after all of this time we've analyzed it and it came back high with Indium, which is used in photovoltaic panels. It never economically produced copper, but it gives us insight into some associations we didn't previously recognize," Koenig said.
Indium also has been found in the defunct copper mine that dominates the artsy southern Arizona town of Bisbee.
Koenig and his colleagues are working to understand the composition of all of the nation's major deposits sampled over the past 150 years. In some cases, the mines were depleted of gold or copper, but the rocks left piled alongside mines and pits could hold a modern mother lode.
"We're revisiting history," he said.
They are compiling data from 2,500 samples to better understand whether it's possible to predict where rare earths might be hiding based on the presence of other elements there too.
"If I had to venture a number, I'd say we have found several dozen new locations that are elevated in one or more critical metals," Koenig said. "With this project the goal would be to have this large data base available that would allow us to predict and to form new associations."
Currently there is only one U.S. mine producing rare earths— at Mountain Pass in the Southern California desert. Molycorp Inc.'s goal in reopening the defunct mine is 20,000 metric tons of rare earth elements by this summer, including cerium oxide used to polish telescope lenses and other glass.
The USGS is counting on companies like Molycorp to use the information they've gleaned to uncover other easy-to-reach deposits sitting on federal land and elsewhere.
"Without rare earths we'd be back to having black-and-white cellphones again," said the USGS's Ridley.
An 6.9 magnitude earthquake hits New Zealand's capital, Wellington, and surrounding areas on Sunday. CCTV footage shows employees at a television station ducking under desks as the quake hits. There has been some minor damage but authorities have not recorded any serious casualties.
'Prolific Partner': German Intelligence Used NSA Spy Program
20 July 2013
Angela Merkel and her ministers claim they first learned about the US government's comprehensive spying programs from press reports. But SPIEGEL has learned that German intelligence services themselves use one of the NSA's most valuable tools.
Germany's foreign intelligence service, the BND, and its domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), used a spying program of the American National Security Agency (NSA). This is evident in secret documents from the US intelligence service that have been seen by SPIEGEL journalists. The documents show that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution was equipped with a program called XKeyScore intended to "expand their ability to support NSA as we jointly prosecute CT (counterterrorism) targets." The BND is tasked with instructing the domestic intelligence agency on how to use the program, the documents say.
According to an internal NSA presentation from 2008, the program is a productive espionage tool. Starting with the metadata -- or information about which data connections were made and when -- it is able, for instance, to retroactively reveal any terms the target person has typed into a search engine, the documents show. In addition, the system is able to receive a "full take" of all unfiltered data over a period of several days -- including, at least in part, the content of communications.
This is relevant from a German perspective, because the documents show that of the up to 500 million data connections from Germany accessed monthly by the NSA, a major part is collected with XKeyScore (for instance, around 180 million in December 2012). The BND and BfV, when contacted by SPIEGEL, would not discuss the espionage tool. The NSA, as well, declined to comment, referring instead to the words of US President Barack Obama during his visit to Berlin and saying there was nothing to add.
'Eagerness and Desire'
Furthermore, the documents show that the cooperation of the German intelligence agencies with the NSA has recently intensified. Reference is made to the "eagerness and desire" of BND head Gerhard Schindler. "The BND has been working to influence the German government to relax interpretation of the privacy laws to provide greater opportunities of intelligence sharing," the NSA noted in January. Over the course of 2012, German partners had shown a "willingness to take risks and to pursue new opportunities for cooperation with the US."
In Afghanistan, it says elsewhere in the document, the BND had even proved to be the NSA's "most prolific partner" when it came to information gathering. The relationship is also close on a personal level: At the end of April, just a few weeks before the first revelations by former intelligence agency employee Edward Snowden, a 12-member high-level BND delegation was invited to the NSA to meet with various specialists on the subject of "data acquisition."
At UFO symposium, participants urge open-mindedness
By Riley Snyder Sunday, July 21, 2013 | 4:18 p.m.
It's easy to stereotype the sort of people who attended the annual Mutual UFO Network Symposium in Las Vegas this weekend.
After all, it takes a special kind of person to travel to Las Vegas, fork over close to $250 and sit through dozens of speeches about faster-than-light travel, alien DNA analysis and 'new' information about 70-year-old alleged alien encounters.
But even though the topic matter seems a bit fantastical, and despite a handful of alien-encounter zealots, a large number of conference attendees were not the type of tinfoil-hat wearing crackpot conspiracy theorists that are often associated with the field of ufology, the study of unidentified flying objects.
In fact, many attendees, such as retired military medic Marc Johns, said the reason for attending the conference and studying ufology stems from a desire to use scientific methods and research to tie the subject to respected fields such as astronomy and physics.
"There's an awful lot of people out there who aren't kooks who are interested in this topic," Johns said.
Johns, who traveled from Chester, England, to attend the conference, said he was more attracted to the open-mindedness of the symposium, and strongly disagreed with the sort of blind faith found in straight-up alien believers and deniers. Johns said he was much more interested in using science — collecting hard data before making any fantastical or otherworldly postulations.
Johns wasn't among the majority of conference attendees, however. Utah woman Sandra Wood claimed that demonic beings traveling in flying discs had been stalking her family and young daughter for several years, and that she was often followed by government vehicles due to her husband's work in "exposing" UFO truths.
Don Donderi, a retired university professor and conference speaker, gave an hourlong speech Sunday morning much along the same lines, partially skipping over hard evidence on the actuality of alien existence, and jumping straight to alien policy decisions. How, he asked, should aliens respect and follow Earth treaties?
But jumping to such conclusions didn't sit well with 32-year old Sam Rux, an elementary school teacher from New York City and first-time attendee. Rux, who became interested in ufology as a child after seeing a friend's reaction to a UFO at a summer camp, said he wanted to keep his mind open for any unexplained phenomena — whether it's strange weather patterns, government vehicles or actual alien crafts.
Though Rux isn't as zealous about the existence of aliens as other attendees, he said he enjoyed going to the conference because it provided a rare opportunity to have open discussions and meet ufology authors. Again, he said being open-minded helps when confronted with the wide range of theories and speculation about UFOs.
After all, Rux pointed out, it's a little ridiculous to assume Earth is the only planet in the universe supporting life.
"I think people should keep an open mind; there's a lot of things about space we don't know," he said. "We're not that unique."
MUFON, the nonprofit organization that organized the conference, is also invested in keeping the study of ufology as scientific as possible. The group has trained hundreds of volunteers on how to interview witnesses and file reports for possible UFOs, requiring a test on a 300-page manual, according to the group's website.
Open-mindedness plays a major role for attendees like Johns and Rux, who both indicated the importance of remaining skeptical yet open to discovering and understanding UFOs.
"Don't be swayed by the media and science-fiction and blind faith," Johns said. "Do your own research."
Imagine how awesome — or distracting — it would be if human skin lit up every time something pushed on it. Pulsing arteries, mosquitoes, a rude shoulder-check on the sidewalk, or scratching an itch would transform a person into a blinking light show.
Now, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have designed an electronic skin that does actually does this: Super-thin and flexible, the skin lights up when touched. More pressure produces a brighter light, the team reports July 21 in Nature Materials.
Thinner than a sheet of paper, the skin is made from layers of plastic and a pressure-sensitive rubber. A conductive silver ink, organic LEDs, and thin-film transistors made from semiconductor-enriched carbon nanotubes are sandwiched between the layers. Applying pressure sends a signal through the rubber that ultimately turns on the LEDs, which light up in red, green, yellow or blue.
Instead of using the material to create bodysuits for Burning Man or other illuminated party tricks, scientists suggest that it might be used for smart wallpapers, health-monitoring devices, or in robotics. The type of interactive pressure sensor developed by the Berkeley scientists could also be useful in artificial skin for prosthetic limbs. For years, scientists have been working on developing systems and materials that could be integrated into a functioning, stimulus-responsive skin — something that can sense temperature, pressure, and stretch, and can heal itself. In addition, such a sheath might one day transform an ordinary robot into an interactive machine that’s capable of responding to tiny changes in its environment.
If and when that day comes, we will welcome our touchy-feely glow-bot overlords.
In Louisiana, the wife of a former soldier is scaling back on Facebook posts and considering unfriending old acquaintances, worried an innocuous joke or long-lost associate might one day land her in a government probe. In California, a college student encrypts chats and emails, saying he's not planning anything sinister but shouldn't have to sweat snoopers. And in Canada, a lawyer is rethinking the data products he uses to ensure his clients' privacy.
As the attorney, Chris Bushong, put it: "Who wants to feel like they're being watched?"
News of the U.S. government's secret surveillance programs that targeted phone records but also information transmitted on the Internet has done more than spark a debate about privacy. Some are reviewing and changing their online habits as they reconsider some basic questions about today's interconnected world. Among them: How much should I share and how should I share it?
Some say they want to take preventative measures in case such programs are expanded. Others are looking to send a message — not just to the U.S. government but to the Internet companies that collect so much personal information.
"We all think that nobody's interested in us, we're all simple folk," said Doan Moran of Alexandria, La. "But you start looking at the numbers and the phone records ... it makes you really hesitate."
Last month former government contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents revealing that the National Security Agency, as part of its anti-terrorism efforts, had collected the phone records of millions of Americans. A second NSA program called PRISM forces major Internet firms to turn over the detailed contents of communications such as emails, video chats, pictures and more.
Moran's husband, an ex-Army man, already was guarded about using social media. Now she is looking through her Facebook "friends" to consider whom to delete, because she can't know what someone in her network might do in the future. Moran said she's uneasy because she feels unclear about what the NSA is keeping and how deep the agency's interests might go.
In Toronto, attorney Bushong let a free trial of Google's business applications expire after learning about PRISM, under which the NSA seized data from Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and AOL. Bushong is moving to San Diego in August to launch a tax planning firm and said he wants to be able to promise confidentiality and respond sufficiently should clients question his firm's data security. He switched to a Canadian Internet service provider for email and is considering installing his own document servers.
"I'd like to be able to say that I've taken all reasonable steps to ensure that they're not giving up any freedoms unnecessarily," he said.
Across the Internet, computer users are talking about changes small and large — from strengthening passwords and considering encryption to ditching cellphones and using cash over credit cards. The conversations play out daily on Reddit, Twitter and other networks, and have spread to offline life with so-called "Cryptoparty" gatherings in cities including Dallas, Atlanta and Oakland, Calif.
Information technology professional Josh Scott hosts a monthly Cryptoparty in Dallas to show people how to operate online more privately.
"You have to decide how extreme you want to be," Scott said.
Christopher Shoup, a college student from Victorville, Calif., has been encouraging friends to converse on Cryptocat, a private messaging program that promises users they can chat "without revealing messages to a third party." Shoup isn't worried that his own behavior could draw scrutiny, but said the mere idea that the government could retrieve his personal communications "bothers me as an American."
"I don't think I should have to worry," he said.
Cryptocat said it nearly doubled its number of users in two days after Snowden revealed himself as the source of leaks about the NSA's programs. Two search engine companies billed as alternatives to Google, Bing and Yahoo are also reporting significant surges in use.
DuckDuckGo and Ixquick both promise they don't collect data from users or filter results based on previous history. DuckDuckGo went from 1.8 million searches per day to more than 3 million per day the week after the NSA revelations came to light. Ixquick and sister site Startpage have gone from 2.8 million searches per day to more than 4 million.
Gabriel Weinberg, chief executive of DuckDuckGo, said the NSA programs reminded people to consider privacy but that government snooping may the least of an everyday computer user's concerns. DuckDuckGo's website warns of the pitfalls of Internet search engines, including third-party advertisements built around a user's searches or the potential for a hacker or rogue employee to gain access to personal information.
Potential harm is "becoming more tangible over time," said Weinberg, who is posting fewer family photos, dropping a popular cloud service that stores files and checking his settings on devices at home to ensure they are as private as possible.
At Ixquick, more than 45,000 people have asked to be beta testers for a new email service featuring accounts that not even the company can get into without user codes, spokeswoman Katherine Albrecht said. The company will levy a small charge for the accounts, betting that people are willing to pay for privacy. As computer users grow more savvy, they better understand that Internet companies build their businesses around data collection, Albrecht said.
"These companies are not search engines," she said. "They are brilliant market research companies. ... And you are the product."
Representatives for Google, Yahoo and PalTalk, companies named in a classified PowerPoint presentation leaked by Snowden, declined comment. Microsoft, Apple and AOL officials did not return messages. Previously, the companies issued statements emphasizing that they aren't voluntarily handing over user data to the government. They also rejected newspaper reports indicating that PRISM had opened a door for the agency to tap directly into companies' data centers whenever the government pleases.
"Press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users' data are false, period," Google CEO Larry Page said in a blog post.
It's not clear whether big Internet companies have seen changes in how their products are used. An analysis released this month by comScore Inc. said Google sites accounted for two-thirds of Internet searches in June — about 427 million queries per day.
In Tokyo, American expat Peng Zhong responded to the spying news by swapping everything from his default search engine and web browser to his computer's operating system. Zhong, an interface designer, then built a website to help others switch, too. Called prism-break.org, the site got more than 200,000 hits in less than a week after Zhong announced it on social networks.
Since then, Zhong said he's seen numerous people talking online about their own experiences in changing their computing habits.
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — George Zimmerman helped rescue four people from an overturned vehicle in central Florida last week, just days after he was cleared of all charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, officials said Monday.
Seminole County Sheriff's spokeswoman Kim Cannaday said in a statement that deputies responding last Wednesday afternoon to the wreck in Sanford — the Orlando suburb where Martin was shot — found Zimmerman and another man had already helped a couple and their two children out of a flipped SUV off the road near Interstate 4. They were not hurt.
Zimmerman spoke with a deputy at the scene and then left, the sheriff's office statement said. He did not see the crash happen.
This is believed to be the first time Zimmerman, 29, has been seen publicly since his acquittal on a second-degree murder charge in the 17-year-old Martin's death in February 2012. Zimmerman's parents and his attorneys have said in interviews since the verdict that they fear for his safety because of those who may not agree with it.
A message left at the office of Zimmerman attorney Mark O'Mara was not immediately returned Monday.
Robert Zimmerman, Jr. on Monday posted on his Twitter account about his brother's actions: "George saw a need, he acted. Our parents taught us to help, never to boast. Humility is George's finest trait."
Martin's shooting death spurred debate across the U.S. over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice. Protesters nationwide lashed out against police in Sanford because it took 44 days for Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, to be arrested last year. Many, including Martin's parents, said Zimmerman had racially profiled the unarmed black teen. Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, said he acted in self-defense during a fight with Martin.
Six female jurors, whose names have not been released, considered nearly three weeks of often wildly conflicting testimony over who was the aggressor on the rainy night Martin was shot while walking through the gated townhouse community where he was staying and where Zimmerman lived.
The acquittal prompted rallies nationwide in the days afterward calling for a civil rights investigation and federal charges against Zimmerman.
It also led to a sit-in at Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office demanding that legislators repeal the state's stand-your-ground self-defense law. The law, passed in 2005, generally eliminated a person's duty to retreat in the face of a serious physical threat. At least 21 states have a self-defense law similar to Florida's.
Deadliest Catch: Dutch Tourist Reels in Anti-Tank Weapon
A Dutch tourist fishing in eastern Germany reeled in an unusual catch this weekend -- a World War II anti-tank bazooka. A bomb squad removed it without anyone getting injured.
22 July 2013
If you want to go fishing in Germany, you had better watch what you put on your hook. It's a lesson that a Dutch tourist learned on Sunday when, instead of using bait, he decided to try using a magnet.
His fresh catch was probably more than he bargained for. The fisherman reeled in a World War II-era Panzerfaust anti-tank shell in a shallow stream in Seifhennersdorf in the eastern state of Saxony.
Local military ordnance removal officials secured the bazooka and nobody was injured.
Unexploded bombs or munitions are commonplace in Germany, even nearly seven decades after the end of World War II. Hardly a week goes by without the discovery of another bomb that threatens public safety.
Obama asks Hollywood celebrities to help pitch ObamaCare enrollment
By Justin Sink 07/23/13
President Obama met Monday with celebrities who are helping him promote his signature healthcare law ahead of the October 1 launch of state insurance exchanges.
The president dropped by a White House meeting with singer Jennifer Hudson and actress Amy Poehler, as well as representatives for Oprah Winfrey, Alicia Keys, and Bon Jovi, according to CNN.
Other attendees included officials from the Grammy awards and the Funny or Die website, which is a brainchild of actor Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay.
The President stopped by the meeting to engage artists who expressed an interest in helping to educate the public about the benefits of the health law," a White House official told CNN. "The reach of these national stars spreads beyond the beltway to fans of their television shows, movies, and music – and the power of these artists to speak through social media is especially critical."
The Washington Post reported that the meeting was led by senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.
The celebrity outreach effort coincides with work by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to recruit top athletes to help promote the insurance exchanges. Last month, Sebelius told reporters she had been "very actively and enthusiastically engaged" with the National Football League.
The administration is planning a massive blitz ahead of the opening of the exchanges, where individuals who are currently without coverage can buy subsidized insurance. The White House is hoping that nearly 3 million healthy adults who are without insurance now will enroll, enabling the cost savings necessary across the program.
"We have the next couple of months laid out with a very busy and engaged schedule to make sure we're ready for marketplace enrollment on Oct. 1," Sebelius said.
Otherworldly Photos Capture Mysterious Phenomena in Upper Atmosphere
By Adam Mann 07.23.13 6:30 AM
Above: Spectacular Sprites
Ashcraft captures a large sprite hanging over West Kansas.
In the blink of an eye, an enormous bright red light flashes above a thundercloud, spreading energetic branches that extend five times taller than Mount Everest and look like jellyfish tendrils and angel's wings.
These mysterious phenomena are known as Transient Luminous Events (TLEs), and are usually invisible to the naked eye because they happen on millisecond timescales, too fast to be seen. They occur between 50 to 100 kilometers above the ground, a long-ignored area of the atmosphere that is too high for aircraft but too low for satellites to investigate. There, the thin air interacts with strong electrical fields to ionize molecules and create arcing plasmas.
These spectacles are relatively new to science. Pilots had reported enigmatic bright flashes throughout the 20th century, but their anecdotal evidence didn't amount to proof. The first image of a TLE was captured accidentally in 1989 when a University of Minnesota professor aimed a low-light TV camera at the sky to film a rocket launch. Replaying the tape later on, Professor John R. Winckler saw brilliant columns of light extending from the tops of storm clouds. Hearing of the finding, NASA officials immediately ordered a review of video tapes taken from the space shuttle that looked at lightning events on Earth. They found dozens more examples of TLEs, and later scientists have been recording them ever since.
"One of the neatest things about TLEs is that first image in 1989 was just a serendipitous capture," said amateur radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft, who has been photographing the events for several years.
Using a relatively simple camera and radio dish, Ashcraft has seen a whole bestiary of odd TLE phenomena. The most common are sprites, tall and highly structured bursts of light that appear above thunderstorms. They ionize the nitrogen in our atmosphere, causing a red glow. Often, they happen in conjunction with “Emissions of Light and Very Low Frequency Perturbations due to Electromagnetic Pulse Sources,” also known as ELVES, which are enormous halos of light that shoot outward to cover up to 500 kilometers in a millisecond. Though they are too short-lived to see, ELVES can produce bright afterglows that some people have mistaken for UFOs. Other TLEs have names like blue jets and trolls.
To deliver great TLE shots, Ashcraft first checks radar maps of the local area around his observatory in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Red spots on such maps indicate strong lightning cells, which increases the probability of sprite activity. Because the phenomena are mostly visible in near infrared wavelengths, he uses a modified off-the-shelf DLSR camera from which he removed the clear glass filter covering the CCD that blocks infrared light.
By taking continuous three-second exposures, Ashcraft records thousands of pictures each night. He then goes through the catalog looking for a sprite to appear. If he spots something, he can check a video camera that he has running during the night to see if captured more detail there. He shares his most interesting findings with other sprite observers, who may chime in with their own pictures from other positions.
From Santa Fe, Ashcraft says he can usually catch sprites up to 1,000 miles away. “I can see big storms out over the Great Plains, usually beyond Oklahoma city and into Nebraska,” he said. “After that, the curvature of the Earth gets in the way.”
Using a radio dish, Ashcraft also captures extremely low frequency emissions that the TLEs give off. He converts these into sound files, which can be heard in his videos, and can help researchers pick out details they might otherwise miss.
A lot of research regarding TLEs is still cutting-edge science, said Ashcraft. Only in recent years have scientists aimed high-speed cameras capable of capturing thousands of frames per second to study the spectacles in detail. While researchers had originally hypothesized that the phenomena were starting at the tops of thunderclouds, fast-motion videos prove that TLEs start as luminous spheres and then shoot upwards and downwards at the same time.
In this gallery, we take a look at some of Ashcraft’s most spectacular TLE recordings to get a better appreciation of these weird and wonderful phenomena.
Fishermen slam tardy admission of radioactive flow into sea, of well levels in sync with tides
Tepco held back groundwater news
Kyodo July 24 2013
Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s admission Monday that radioactive groundwater from under the disaster-struck Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has reached the Pacific Ocean came about a month after the problem was confirmed.
Tepco had been taking groundwater samples from wells near the shore at the crippled plant to test for radioactive substances. It claims it only recently realized the water levels in the wells rose when the ocean tides did.
Tepco’s slow action and tardy revelation, coupled with an apparent lack of coordination within the utility in sharing crucial data about the case, is making local fishermen increasingly distrustful of the utility.
At a Tuesday briefing for fishermen in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, the day after the groundwater leak was admitted, participants expressed anger at the utility, with one calling for someone to take responsibility.
Following the March 2011 nuclear meltdowns triggered by the massive quake and tsunami, fishermen in the prefecture voluntarily suspended operations.
Finally in June last year, they began trial fishing in a limited area in the north targeting selected types of fish.
Fisheries officials were also considering launching limited operations in waters off Iwaki in the south from September. Then came Tepco’s admission.
“This will pose a significant hurdle to the trial operation. Even if we can catch fish, will we be able to tell consumers with confidence that they can eat them?” said Masakazu Yabuki, 76, head of the Iwaki fisheries cooperative.
The utility announced in mid-June that high concentrations of radioactive materials were detected in groundwater observation wells located by the sea. It kept downplaying its possible impact on the sea, saying it did not detect any changes in concentration levels in nearby seawater.
The utility’s cautious attitude about announcing the radioactive groundwater flow seems to stem from its urgent need to take measures against the ever-increasing amount of nuclear contaminated water.
At the Fukushima No. 1 plant, a huge amount of water has been pumped into the three reactors that suffered meltdowns. The water was tainted with radioactive materials and recycled for cooling the reactors after removing radioactive cesium and salt content.
Also, about 400 tons of groundwater flows into its reactor building basements daily and gets mixed with the water used to cool the reactors, creating a new contamination problem.
As of July 2, about 400,000 tons of contaminated water was stored in tanks.
The utility had planned to pump out the groundwater and release it into the sea before it enters the ground under the buildings. But it has yet to carry out the plan because of opposition from local fishermen.
The fishermen’s distrust grew further after a series of problems surfaced, including an error in the way Tepco checked the radiation levels of the groundwater it seeks to release into the sea.
Tetsu Nozaki, 58, chairman of the fisheries co-op association of the prefecture, said, “It has become emotionally difficult to accept (Tepco’s groundwater release plan) due to the leakage of contaminated water (into the sea).”
The utility acknowledged the contaminated groundwater was reaching the sea after realizing that the water levels in the wells rose when the tides came up.
The data had been collected since January by Tepco’s civil engineering department working to design a sunken wall to prevent the spread of radioactive materials in the local harbor but had not been shared within the company.
The department overseeing contaminated water became aware of the existence of the data around July 17, sources said.
Tepco informed the Nuclear Regulation Authority of the data the following day, but did not make a public disclosure until the following week, considering the impact it would have on the upcoming briefing, they said.
US House Blocks Democratic Effort to Zero Funds for East Coast Missile Shield
Chamber Moves at Breakneck Speed to Start DoD Bill Debate
Jul. 23, 2013 - 07:56PM By JOHN T. BENNETT
WASHINGTON — The US House started work on a 2014 Pentagon spending bill by blocking a Democratic effort to zero funding for a GOP-proposed East Coast missile shield while voting to build Israel’s Iron Dome missiles in America.
The Republican-controlled chamber also rejected plans for additional funds for new submarine technologies, and an amendment to remove funds for nearly 15 new missile interceptors in the western United States. Both were offered by Democratic members.
Republicans and Democrats sparred for around half an hour on the House floor late Tuesday afternoon over several Democratic amendments targeting GOP and Pentagon missile defense plans.
The chamber defeated (249 nays to 173 yays) a plan offered by Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York and James Garamendi of California to essentially kill a plan crafted by the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee to devote $70 million to the proposed project in 2014. The two Democrats proposed using those dollars for deficit reduction.
Democrats rose to rail against the proposed East Coast shield as not needed, citing DoD officials admission that there is no military requirement for such a system. GOP members said it is needed as soon as possible, citing their own military officials’ comments.
The chamber also rejected (272 nays-141 yays) an amendment offered by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., to remove nearly $110 million called for in the bill to install 14 new ground-based interceptor missiles. Polis wanted instead to used the monies to pare the federal deficit.
Polis summarized the Pentagon’s plans as designed to “deflect missiles from rogue states” like Iran and North Korea.
“That’d be great, if it worked,” he said, noting the GMD program’s last successful test intercept occurred in 2008. “The GMD program is simply a failure so far. ... It would be foolish to throw good taxpayer money after bad.”
During a rapid-fire start to an expected three days of work on the defense appropriations bill, the House, via a voice vote, approved an amendment offered by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., that would make available $15 million to build Iron Dome missiles on US soil.
The Iron Dome system has reportedly helped Israel turn back several short-range rocket attacks. Heck’s amendment would move the $15 million from other parts of the defense budget into an account to “[produce] the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense program in the United States, including for the infrastructure, tooling, transferring data, special test equipment and related components.”
Heck and other members took to the House floor Tuesday afternoon to underscore how the legislation would assist Israel by opening a second production line for the missile interceptors.
Meantime, the lower chamber, via a voice vote as part of a bloc of amendments, approved an amendment offered by Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., that would prohibit any use of funds allocated for 2014 to be spent to foster a “net increase of additional flag or general officers above current levels.”
Grayson’s amendment aligns with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s intention to shrink by 20 percent all Pentagon and combatant command staffs.
The chamber also approved an amendment offered by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, to strip $10 million from the defense-wide procurement account and use those funds to aid wounded veterans.
House Appropriations Defense subcommittee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., rose to support the amendment, a rare bipartisan moment on the House floor.
“PTSD is going to be with us for a long time,” a somber Young said at one point.
The chamber, meantime, rejected a plan offered by House Armed Services intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., that would have taken $22 million from DoD operations and maintenance coffers and shifted the dollars to work on new technologies for US submarines.
Young spoke out against the amendment, saying his subcommittee already allocated $32 million for the work. Young also said because Langevin was proposing to take the funds from accounts used for special operations forces, he was opposing the amendment.
Young contended that “any program manager” within the Defense Department would be unable to properly absorb what would amount to a 63 percent funding hike above what the submarine technologies program received for fiscal 2013.
The chamber also overwhelmingly rejected (372 nays-50 yays) a plan offered by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, that would have increased the budget for the Navy’s Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare weapon and Air-Launched Long Range Anti-Ship Missile program by $104 million. Her amendment would have funded the programs by decreasing operations and maintenance (O&M) accounts by the same amount.
Young spoke against the Gabbard amendment, saying it would take too many funds from accounts used to finance things for special operations forces, which he said are used today more than ever — including “in places that might surprise you.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and John Conyers, D-Mich., saw their amendment proposing to cut by 10 percent the Navy’s request for the Ohio-class submarine program go down (372 nays to 49 yays). The duo wanted to instead use those dollars to help the Pentagon better handle sequestration.
The House began debating amendments around 3 p.m. EST and moved at breakneck speed — by House standards — quickly through more than 35 of 100 amendments approved Monday by the lower chamber’s Rules Committee.
House leadership schedules indicate the legislation could be on the chamber floor most of the week, with a final vote expected Thursday.
Few things are as life-affirming as driving with the top down, and when done right, a convertible is motoring perfection.
But some are better than others. Scarcely a few dozen truly great convertibles have ever graced our highways, and, for our money, these are the cream. The best of the best. What we'd sell an extraneous body part to own and adore. Anyone wanna buy a slice of a slightly (ab)used liver?
Shanghai UFO turns out to be cake-delivering plane 24 July 2013
It didn't create as much of a stir as the Shandong man who claimed to have a captured alien in his freezer, but a small UFO floating over Shanghai's Huangpu River garnered some attention recently until it was revealed to be a lazy man's cake delivery service. Really.
The InCake Bakery turned out to be behind the extraterrestrial fervor, and they have posted this video of their airborne cake-deliverer in action: (video after the jump)
According to China Daily, a local cake delivery company has been strapping its products onto remote controlled planes, and sending them across the river:
The "UFO", which is 1.1 meters long and weighs 10 kg, crossed the Huangpu River in a 45-minute flight to deliver a cake to a customer, according to the bakery that was testing the device, which flies at a maximum height of 100 meters.
In related news, any readers near the Huangpu should keep an eye out for falling baked goods.