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Earth

There's A 50% Chance of Another Chernobyl Before 2050, Say Safety Specialists (technologyreview.com) 140

An anonymous reader writes from a report via MIT Technology Review: Spencer Wheatley and Didier Sornette at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and Benjamin Sovacool at Aarhus University in Denmark have compiled the most comprehensive list of nuclear accidents ever created and used it to calculate the chances of future accidents. They say there is a 50:50 chance that a major nuclear disaster will occur somewhere in the world before 2050. "There is a 50 percent chance that a Chernobyl event (or larger) occurs in the next 27 years," they conclude. Since the International Atomic Energy Agency doesn't publish a historical database of the nuclear accidents it rates using the International Nuclear Event Scale, others, like Wheatley and co, have to compile their own list of accidents. They define an accident as "an unintentional incident or event at a nuclear energy facility that led to either one death (or more) or at least $50,000 in property damage." Each accident must have occurred during the generation, transmission, or distribution of nuclear energy, which includes accidents at mines, during transportation, or at enrichment facility, and so on. Fukushima was by far the most expensive accident in history at a cost of $166 billion, which is 60 percent of the total cost of all other nuclear accidents added together. Wheatley and co say their data suggests that the nuclear industry remains vulnerable to dragon king events, which are large unexpected events that are difficult to analyze because they follow a different statistical distribution, have unforeseen causes, and are few in number. "There is a 50% chance that a Fukushima event (or larger) occurs in the next 50 years," they say.
Earth

Bigger Isn't Better As Mega-Ships Get Too Big and Too Risky 265

HughPickens.com writes: Alan Minter writes at Bloomberg that between 1955 and 1975, the average volume of a container ship doubled -- and then doubled again over each of the next two decades. The logic behind building such giants was once unimpeachable: Globalization seemed like an unstoppable force, and those who could exploit economies of scale could reap outsized profits. But it is looking more and more like the economies of scale for mega-ships are not worth the risk. The quarter-mile-long Benjamin Franklin recently became the largest cargo ship ever to dock at a U.S. port and five more mega-vessels are supposed to follow. But today's largest container vessels can cost $200 million and carry many thousands of containers -- potentially creating $1 billion in concentrated, floating risk that can only dock at a handful of the world's biggest ports. Mega-ships make prime targets for cyberattacks and terrorism, suffer from a dearth of qualified personnel to operate them, and are subject to huge insurance premiums. But the biggest costs associated with these floating behemoths are on land -- at the ports that are scrambling to accommodate them. New cranes, taller bridges, environmentally perilous dredging, and even wholesale reconfiguration of container yards are just some of the costly disruptions that might be needed to receive a Benjamin Franklin and service it efficiently. Under such circumstances, you'd think that ship owners would start to steer clear of big boats. But, fearful of falling behind the competition and hoping to put smaller operators out of business, they're actually doing the opposite. Global capacity will increase by 4.5 percent this year. "Sooner or later, even the biggest operators will have to accept that the era of super-sized shipping has begun to list," concludes Minter. "With global growth and trade still sluggish, and the benefits of sailing and docking big boats diminishing with each new generation, ship owners are belatedly realizing that bigger isn't better."
Earth

CO2 Levels Likely To Stay Above 400PPM For The Rest of Our Lives, Study Shows (inhabitat.com) 331

An anonymous reader writes: A new study from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere are likely to remain above 400 parts per million (ppm) for many years. Specifically, scientists forecasted that levels would not dip below 400pm in "our lifetimes." The CO2 concentrations of "about 450ppm or lower are likely to maintain warming below 2 degrees Celsius over the 21st century relative to pre-industrial levels." However, lead author on the paper Richard Betts said we could pass that number in 20 years or less. In an article on The Guardian, he said even if we reduce emissions immediately, we might be able to delay reaching 450ppm but "it is still looking like a challenge to stay below 450ppm." El Nino has played a significant role in climbing carbon dioxide levels, but it's likely we'll see higher CO2 levels than the last large El Nino storm during 1997 and 1998 because "manmade emissions" have risen by 25 percent since that storm, according to The Guardian. Met Office experts predicted in November 2015 that in May 2016 "mean concentrations of atmospheric CO2" would hit 407.57ppm -- the actual figure was 407.7ppm. The NOAA reported during 2015 that the "annual growth rate" of CO2 in the atmosphere rose by 3.05ppm. NOAA lead scientist Pieter Tans said, "Carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years. It's explosive compared to the natural processes."
Medicine

WHO: Drinking Extremely Hot Coffee, Tea 'Probably' Causes Cancer (usatoday.com) 274

An anonymous reader writes from a report via USA Today: The World Health Organization reports that drinking coffee, tea and other beverages at temperatures hotter than 149 degrees Fahrenheit may lead to cancer of the esophagus. These hot beverages can injure cells in the esophagus and lead to the formation of cancer cells, said Mariana Stern, an associate professor of preventative medicine and urology at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine. But scientists did say that if you drink coffee at cooler temperatures, it is not only safe but it may decrease of the risk of liver cancer by 15%, according to research published in Lancet Oncology. Previously, the International Agency for Research on Cancer ruled coffee was a "possible carcinogenic" in 1991. The research involved Stern and 22 other scientists from 10 countries, who examined about 1,000 studies on more than 20 types of cancer.
United States

Antibiotic-Resistant E Coli Reaches The US For The First Time (reuters.com) 203

New submitter maharvey writes: A woman in Pennsylvania has contracted a strain of E Coli that is unaffected by all known legal antibiotics, including the antibiotics of last resort. We have had bacteria that were resistant, but this is the first bacteria that is completely immune. Such bacteria were known in China, but since the woman has not traveled recently it means she contracted it in the wild in the USA. This is a major step toward the terrifying post-antibiotic world.
Earth

Burning All Fossil Fuels Would Scorch Earth, Says Study (phys.org) 418

mspohr quotes a report from Phys.Org: A new study published in the Journal Nature Climate Change shows our precarious climate condition: "Using up all known fossil fuel reserves would render Earth even more unlivable than scientists had previously projected, researchers said on Monday. Average temperatures would climb by up to 9.5 degrees Celsius (17 degrees Fahrenheit) -- five times the cap on global warming set at climate talks in Paris in December, they reported. In the Arctic region -- already heating at more than double the global average -- the thermometer would rise an unimaginable 15 C to 20 C." This would make most of Earth uninhabitable to humans (although the dinosaurs seemed to do fine with it 65 million years ago). The report also stated that if fossil fuel trends go unchanged, ten times the 540 billion tons of carbon emitted since the start of industrialization would be reached near the end of the 22nd century. For comparison, "older models had projected that depleting fossil fuel reserves entirely would heat the planet by 4.3 C to 8.4 C. The new study revises this to between 6.4 C and 9.5 C," writes Phys.Org.
Government

How the Pentagon Punished NSA Whistleblowers (theguardian.com) 134

10 years before Edward Snowden's leak, an earlier whistle-blower on NSA spying "was fired, arrested at dawn by gun-wielding FBI agents, stripped of his security clearance, charged with crimes that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life, and all but ruined financially and professionally," according to a new article in The Guardian. "The only job he could find afterwards was working in an Apple store in suburban Washington, where he remains today... The supreme irony? In their zeal to punish Drake, these Pentagon officials unwittingly taught Snowden how to evade their clutches when the 29-year-old NSA contract employee blew the whistle himself."

But today The Guardian reveals a new story about John Crane, a senior official at the Department of Defense "who fought to provide fair treatment for whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake -- until Crane himself was forced out of his job and became a whistleblower as well..." Crane told me how senior Defense Department officials repeatedly broke the law to persecute whistleblower Thomas Drake. First, he alleged, they revealed Drake's identity to the Justice Department; then they withheld (and perhaps destroyed) evidence after Drake was indicted; finally, they lied about all this to a federal judge...

Crane's failed battle to protect earlier whistleblowers should now make it very clear that Snowden had good reasons to go public with his revelations... if [Crane's] allegations are confirmed in court, they could put current and former senior Pentagon officials in jail. (Official investigations are quietly under way.)

Meanwhile, George Maschke writes: In a presentation to a group of Texas law students, a polygraph examiner for the U.S. Department of Defense revealed that in the aftermath of Edward Snowden's revelations, the number of polygraphs conducted annually by the department tripled (to over 120,000). Morris also conceded that mental countermeasures to the polygraph are a "tough thing."
Transportation

The World's Largest Cruise Ship and Its Supersized Pollution Problem (theguardian.com) 404

An anonymous reader cites a report on the Guardian: When the gargantuan Harmony of the Seas slips out of Southampton docks on Sunday afternoon on its first commercial voyage, the 16-deck-high floating city will switch off its auxiliary engines, fire up its three giant diesels and head to the open sea. But while the 6,780 passengers and 2,100 crew on the largest cruise ship in the world wave goodbye to England, many people left behind in Southampton say they will be glad to see it go. They complain that air pollution from such nautical behemoths is getting worse every year as cruising becomes the fastest growing sector of the mass tourism industry and as ships get bigger and bigger. According to its owners, Royal Caribbean, each of the Harmony's three four-storey high 16-cylinder Wartsila engines will, at full power, burn 1,377 US gallons of fuel an hour, or about 96,000 gallons a day of some of the most polluting diesel fuel in the world.
Power

Scientists Say Nuclear Fuel Pools Pose Safety, Health Risks (nbcnews.com) 166

mdsolar quotes a report from NBC News: Ninety-six aboveground, aquamarine pools around the country that hold the nuclear industry's spent reactor fuel may not be as safe as U.S. regulators and the nuclear industry have publicly asserted, a study released May 20 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine warned. Citing a little-noticed study by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the academies said that if an accident or an act of terrorism at a densely-filled pool caused a leak that drains the water away from the rods, a cataclysmic release of long-lasting radiation could force the extended evacuation of nearly 3.5 million people from territory larger than the state of New Jersey. It could also cause thousands of cancer deaths from excess radiation exposure, and as much as $700 billion dollars in costs to the national economy. The report is the second and final study of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which was pummeled from a tsunami on March 11, 2011. The authors suggest the U.S. examine the benefits of withdrawing the spent fuel rods from the pools and storing them instead in dry casks aboveground in an effort to avoid possible catastrophes. The idea is nothing new, but it's been opposed by the industry because it could cost as much as $4 billion. The latest report contradicts parts of a study by Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff released two years after the Fukushima incident. The NRC staff in its 2014 study said a major earthquake could be expected to strike an area where spent fuel is stored in a pool once in 10 million years or less, and even then, "spent fuel pools are likely to withstand severe earthquakes without leaking."
Earth

India Records Its Hottest Day Ever As Temperature Hits 51C (123.8F) (theguardian.com) 217

An anonymous reader writes: A city in northern India has shattered the national heat record, registering a searing 51C -- the highest since records began -- amid a nationwide heatwave. The new record was set in Phalodi, a city in the desert state of Rajasthan, and is the equivalent of 123.8F. It tops a previous record of 50.6C set in 1956."Yesterday (Thursday) was the hottest temperature ever recorded in the country... 51C in Phalodi," said BP Yadav, a director of India's meteorological department, on Friday.
Businesses

Employers Struggle To Find Workers Who Can Pass A Drug Test 819

HughPickens.com writes: Jackie Calmes writes in the NYT that all over the country, employers say they see a disturbing downside of tighter labor markets as they try to rebuild from the worst recession since the Depression: the struggle to find workers who can pass a pre-employment drug test. The hurdle partly stems from the growing ubiquity of drug testing, at corporations with big human resources departments, in industries like trucking where testing is mandated by federal law for safety reasons, and increasingly at smaller companies. But data suggests employers' difficulties also reflect an increase in the use of drugs, especially marijuana -- employers' main gripe -- and also heroin and other opioid drugs much in the news. Data on the scope of the problem is sketchy because figures on job applicants who test positive for drugs miss the many people who simply skip tests they cannot pass. But Quest Diagnostics, which has compiled employer-testing data since 1988, documented a 10% increase in one year in the percentage of American workers who tested positive for illicit drugs -- up to 4.7 percent in 2014 from 4.3 percent in 2013.

With the software industry already plagued by a shortage of skilled workers, especially female programmers, some software companies think now would be the wrong time to institute drug testing for new employees, a move that would further limit the available talent pool. "The acceptability of at least marijuana has shifted dramatically over the last 20 years," says Carl Erickson. "If the standard limits those that have used marijuana in the last week, you're surely going to be limiting your pool of applicants." Erickson's decision not to drug test stems from a low risk of workplace injury for his workers combined with an unwillingness to pry into the personal lives of his employees. "My perspective on this is if they want to share their recreational habits with me, that's their prerogative, but I'm sure as hell not going to put them in a position to have to do it."
Power

Germany Had So Much Renewable Energy That It Had To Pay People To Use Electricity (qz.com) 298

Quartz reports Germany produced so much renewable energy on Sunday, May 8, that commercial customers were being paid to consume electricity: "Thanks to a sunny and windy day, at one point around 1pm the country's solar, wind, hydro and biomass plants were supplying about 55 GW of the 63 GW being consumed, or 87%. Power prices actually went negative for several hours, meaning commercial customers were being paid to consume electricity." Many critics have argued that renewable energy will always have only a niche role in supplying power to consumers, given its daily peaks and troughs. With that said, Germany plans to hit 100% renewable energy by 2050. Denmark, for example, has already generated more electricity than the country consumes from its wind turbines. It now exports the surplus energy to Germany, Norway and Sweden.
Earth

Five Solomon Islands Disappear Into The Pacific Ocean As A Result Of Climate Change (go.com) 287

An anonymous reader writes: Climate change strikes again. A paper published in the journal Environmental Research Letters says five of the Solomon Islands have completely submerged underwater due to man-made climate change, and six more have experienced a dramatic reduction in shoreline. The Solomon Islands has a population of a little more than 500,000 people, many of whom have been adversely affected by rising sea levels in recent years. NASA scientist James Hansen estimated that seas could rise by seven meters within the next century. In 2014, Losing Ground issued a report that shows how large areas of the Louisiana coastline are being lost to rising sea levels. A 2011 study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey determined that the state's wetlands were being lost at a rate of "a football field per hour." Michael Edison Hayden writes from ABC News, "The Solomon Islands provides a preview of how sea-level rise could affect other coastal communities in the coming years, according to the study, largely because the speed which erosion is taking place has been accelerated by a "synergistic interaction" with the waves that surround it.
Power

AG Scores Victory In Bid To Shut Down Indian Point (lohud.com) 206

mdsolar quotes a report from The Journal News: Federal safety regulators used the wrong data to analyze the potential economic impacts of a severe accident at the Indian Point nuclear power plant, a panel of commissioners for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled Wednesday. The ruling, which reversed an earlier finding, will force the NRC to conduct a fresh analysis of the costs of a devastating accident and cleanup at the nuclear power plant in Buchanan, 24 miles north of New York City. The decision was hailed by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, whose office is spearheading the state's challenge to Indian Point's efforts to renew federal licenses for its two reactors. Schneiderman estimates that some 1.5 million workers would be needed in to take part in decontamination efforts in the event of a nuclear mishap, with cleanup costs surging as high as $1 trillion.
Earth

Oceans Could Soon Not Have Enough Oxygen To Support Marine Life (iflscience.com) 268

An anonymous reader writes: As the climate continues to change in response to the increasing amount of carbon humans pump into the atmosphere, the oceans are being particularly hard hit from melting Arctic sea ice, acidification, and warming surface temperatures. Yet those are not the only difficulties that marine life has to deal with, as a new study reports that the oceans are also losing oxygen. As the majority of marine life relies on the oxygen dissolved in the oceans, it is worrying that noticeable differences have been observed in the gas concentrations in the world's waters. The reduction in oxygen will have profound effects on ocean biodiversity, though as the study published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles shows, not all regions will be affected in the same way or over the same period of time."Loss of oxygen in the ocean is one of the serious side effects of a warming atmosphere, and a major threat to marine life," said lead author Matthew Long of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. "Since oxygen concentrations in the ocean naturally vary depending on variations in winds and temperature at the surface, it's been challenging to attribute any deoxygenation to climate change. This new study tells us when we can expect the impact from climate change to overwhelm the natural variability."

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