Science & Technology

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Must Read: Japan Asks US for Help with Nuclear Crisis; Still No Radiation Threat to California

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Mar 18, 2011 at 7:05 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. Japanese officials asked the United States for help in dealing with its worsening nuclear power plant crisis as engineers struggled to keep dangerously exposed fuel rods from melting down, AP reports. The New York Times reports that Japanese officials also raised the threat level posed by the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and planned to import boron from South Korea, a chemical that can slow a radioactive meltdown. Officials apparently plan to mix boron with the water being sprayed on the heavily damaged nuclear reactors and nearly evaporated cooling ponds.

2. US health officials, meanwhile, continued to try to reassure anxious West Coast residents, saying the Japanese nuclear crisis poses no health threat, the Chron reports. Health officials also disputed a computer model that predicted a radioactive plume was heading across the Pacific and could hit the West Coast today, the Mercury News reports. Experts continue to say there is no threat of radiation poisoning here unless there’s a catastrophic explosion in Japan that sends heavy amounts of radioactive matter into the jet stream.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thursday Must Read: Japanese Attempts to Cool Reactor Fail; California Legislature OK’s Cuts to Poor, But GOP Blocks Attempt to Kill Redevelopment

by Robert Gammon
Thu, Mar 17, 2011 at 7:03 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. Japanese authorities resorted to desperate measures in an effort to cool an overheated nuclear reactor at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, dropping water from helicopters and spraying it from nearby fire trucks, but the attempts appear to have failed so far, The New York Times reports. High radiation levels near the plant forced crews to pull back and the Associated Press reports that much of the water dropped by helicopters appeared to disperse in the wind. Water inside at least two reactors is at dangerously low levels — or has evaporated completely — leaving radioactive fuel rods exposed and increasing the threat of a total meltdown at the plant. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission warned that radiation levels near the plant are extreme and that the situation is dire.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday Must Read: Japan Meltdown Threat Worsens; Californians Want to Vote on Brown’s Tax Measures

by Robert Gammon
Wed, Mar 16, 2011 at 7:05 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. Japan’s ongoing nuclear power plant crisis appears to be worsening as officials announced that a second reactor at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi facility might have ruptured and appeared to be releasing radioactive steam, the New York Times reports. The plant operator also evacuated workers from the facility for a time when radiation levels spiked.

2. Meanwhile, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced that it's increasing the number of radiation detectors on the West Coast, the Mercury News reports. The EPA, however, refused to divulge where the monitors would be stationed.

3. Experts say that Oakland and Alameda would be in harm’s way if a massive earthquake were to strike off the coast of Alaska and generate a giant tsunami, the CoCo Times. Once waves pass the Golden Gate, they likely would head straight for the Port of Oakland.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday Must Read: Fears of Nuke Meltdown in Japan Spur a Run on Iodine in Northern California; Brown’s Budget Talks with GOP 5 Unravel

by Robert Gammon
Tue, Mar 15, 2011 at 7:05 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. Fear of a nuclear power plant catastrophe in Japan is spurring a run on iodine pills in Northern California, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports. Some distributors of potassium iodide say they’re already sold out as Northern Californians worry that a potential Chernobyl-like disaster in Japan will spew huge amounts of radiation into the air and that it will spread to the West Coast. Potassium iodide can help prevent thyroid cancer caused by radiation exposure. Scientists tell the Bay Citizen, however, that fallout from a nuclear meltdown in Japan is unlikely to cause harm to West Coast residents — unless there’s a huge explosion and the radiation reaches the jet stream. At that point, it could be carried toward the West Coast at about 100 mph in high concentration levels.

2. In Japan, meanwhile, efforts to prevent a full-scale nuclear disaster appear to be unraveling, the New York Times reports. Japanese government officials urged calm but told people living within eighteen miles of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station to stay indoors. In addition, most of the 800 workers at the station, who have been struggling to keep its three damaged reactors from melting down since last week’s monster 8.9 earthquake and giant tsunami, were told to go home to avoid deadly radiation exposure. About fifty workers will remain, but if they leave, experts say the reactors will melt down, resulting in a major nuclear disaster. "It's way past Three Mile Island already," said Frank von Hippel, a physicist and professor at Princeton. "The biggest risk now is that the core really melts down and you have a steam explosion."

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cal Scientists: The End is Near

by Ellen Cushing
Tue, Mar 8, 2011 at 11:13 AM

Well, here's some uplifting news: according to an article written by a bunch of UC Berkeley paleobiologists and published in last Wednesday's edition of Nature, the earth may be close to mass extinction. Like, really close. According to the study, current patterns indicate that we could lose 75 percent or more of the earth's animal species within the next 300 years, making this the sixth such mass wipeout in the last 540 million years (just in case you're not totally fucking terrified yet, keep in mind that the last one of these was the one that KILLED THE DINOSAURS 65 million years ago.)

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Though changing global habits related to conservation, population growth, and development could steer us back on track, things aren't looking good, as the current rate of extinction is estimated to be three to 80 times higher than what's typically considered normal.

“If you look only at the critically endangered mammals — those where the risk of extinction is at least 50 percent within three of their generations — and assume that their time will run out, and they will be extinct in 1,000 years, that puts us clearly outside any range of normal, and tells us that we are moving into the mass extinction realm,” principal author Anthony D. Barnosky told UC Berkeley's NewsCenter.

OH, GOODIE.

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Tuesday Must Read: Oakland Council Puts Parcel Tax on Ballot; Brown’s Budget Plan Stalls in Sacramento

by Robert Gammon
Tue, Mar 8, 2011 at 7:01 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. The Oakland City Council voted 5-2 last night to put an $11 million per year parcel tax on the June ballot — assuming that the state legislature also agrees to hold a June special election, the Chron and Trib report. However, Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente single-handedly blocked a proposal from Mayor Jean Quan to also consider phone and property transfer tax measures. City law required that the council unanimously declare a fiscal emergency in order to put those measures before voters, but De La Fuente voted against the declaration — even though the city is grappling with a $46 million deficit. De La Fuente and Councilwoman Libby Schaaf also voted against asking voters to approve the parcel tax. If Ok’d, the parcel tax will sunset in five years.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Oakland Submits Bids for Lawrence Berkeley Lab Campus

by John C. Osborn
Fri, Mar 4, 2011 at 9:21 AM

As was reported in this week's issue, proposals from at least five East Bay cities will be submitted to the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to attract its lucrative second campus. But now there's another set of players vying for the prize — coming out of Oakland.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

UC Berkeley Study: Scat-Sniffing Dogs Invaluable for Wildlife Surveys

by Nate Seltenrich
Mon, Jan 17, 2011 at 12:43 PM

You knew your Labrador retriever could track the neighborhood cat’s scat from a hundred feet away — and probably wish he wouldn’t. But did you know this special canine talent could be put to use for science? A study published this month in the Journal of Wildlife Management by former UC Berkeley graduate student Sarah Reed — she wrote the study while a PhD in UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and is now a post-doctoral fellow at Colorado State University — shows that dogs can be highly useful in locating the scat of various species in natural settings.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Because It Is Adorable, and Because It Is About Socks

by Chris Thompson
Tue, Aug 31, 2010 at 9:17 AM

All kneel before the great UC Berkeley sock-folding robot! Gasp in wonder as it performs an essential household chore! Murmur awestruck praise as it incidentally polishes a dowel! Marvel at its grace and aplomb! Think of an appropriate name and post it in the comments section! (hat tip: Discoblog)

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