Environmental

Toxic fears in Malaysia over rare earth plant

Published on Jun 3, 2012 by

Activists have launched a court case against Australian mining firm Lynas in Kuantan, on the east coast of Malaysia.

The Australian company has decided to operate a rare earth refining plant there, but residents in the area are worried about the impact of radiation from the waste created by the refining process.

Production has been delayed at the plant, which can potentially meet up to 20 per cent of global demand for the minerals – used to make high-tech gadgets like smartphones.

Local community and activists say the plant, tipped to be the world’s biggest rare earth processing facility, will generate radioactive waste.

The company says the raw material and residue have low levels of radiation, and that it will recycle some of the waste into fertiliser.

Al Jazeera’s Florence Looi reports from Gebeng.

Safe’ Levels of Arsenic in Drinking Water Found to Compromise Pregnant/Lactating Mothers, Offspring

ScienceDaily (May 31, 2012) — Exposure to arsenic in drinking water at the level the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently deems as safe in the United States (10 parts per billion) induces adverse health outcomes in pregnant and lactating mice and their offspring, concludes a study led by Joshua Hamilton of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and Courtney Kozul-Horvath at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.


The team is part of the Dartmouth Superfund Research Program on Toxic Metals.

Pregnant and/or breastfeeding mothers who consumed low levels (10 ppb) of arsenic in their drinking water, the scientists found, exhibited significant disruption in their lipid metabolism, leading to diminished nutrients in their blood and in their breast milk. As a result, their offspring showed significant growth and development deficits during the postnatal period before weaning. Birth outcomes such as litter size and length of gestation were unaffected.

“The pups were essentially malnourished; they were small and underdeveloped,” Hamilton says. Once the pups were switched to milk from a mother who had not consumed arsenic, their growth deficits reversed, although only the males fully caught up with the pups that had had no arsenic exposure.

The U.S. EPA recently lowered the Maximum Contaminant Level for arsenic to 10 ppb in public water supplies — a regulated level that is considered “safe” for a lifetime of exposure — yet concentrations of 100 ppb and higher are commonly found in private, unregulated well water in regions where arsenic is geologically abundant, including upper New England (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine), Florida, and large parts of the Upper Midwest, the Southwest, and the Rocky Mountains.

“This study raises a couple of issues. First, we have to think again about whether 10 ppb arsenic as a U.S. drinking water standard is safe and protective of human health,” says Hamilton, who is the MBL’s chief academic and scientific officer and a senior scientist in the MBL Bay Paul Center.

Read Full Article Here

US, European nuclear and coal-fired electrical plants vulnerable to climate change: study

 

Warmer water and reduced river flows in the United States and Europe in recent years have led to reduced production, or temporary shutdown, of several thermoelectric power plants. For instance, the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama had to shut down more than once last summer because the Tennessee River’s water was too warm to use it for cooling.

A study by European and University of Washington scientists published today in Nature Climate Change projects that in the next 50 years warmer water and lower flows will lead to more such power disruptions. The authors predict that thermoelectric power generating capacity from 2031 to 2060 will decrease by between 4 and 16 percent in the U.S. and 6 to 19 percent in Europe due to lack of cooling water. The likelihood of extreme drops in power generation—complete or almost-total shutdowns—is projected to almost triple.

“This study suggests that our reliance on thermal cooling is something that we’re going to have to revisit,” said co-author Dennis Lettenmaier, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Thermoelectric plants, which use nuclear or fossil fuels to heat water into steam that turns a turbine, supply more than 90 percent of U.S. electricity and account for 40 percent of the nation’s freshwater usage. In Europe, these plants supply three-quarters of the electricity and account for about half of the freshwater use.

While much of this water is “recycled,” the power plants rely on consistent volumes of water, at a particular temperature, to prevent the turbines from overheating.

Reduced water availability and warmer water, caused by increasing air temperatures associated with climate change, mean higher electricity costs and less reliability.

While plants with cooling towers will be affected, results show older plants that rely on “once-through cooling” are the most vulnerable. These plants pump water directly from rivers or lakes to cool the turbines before returning the water to its source, and require high flow volumes.

The study projects the most significant U.S. effects at power plants situated inland on major rivers in the Southeast that use once-through cooling, such as the Browns Ferry plant in Alabama and the New Madrid coal-fired plant in southeastern Missouri.

“The worst-case scenarios in the Southeast come from heat waves where you need the power for air conditioning,” Lettenmaier said. “If you have really high power demand and the river temperature’s too high so you need to shut your power plant down, you have a problem.”
  Read Full Article Here

Greenland’s current loss of ice mass

by Staff Writers
Potsdam, Germany (SPX)


File image.

The Greenland ice sheet continues to lose mass and thus contributes at about 0.7 millimeters per year to the currently observed sea level change of about 3 mm per year. This trend increases each year by a further 0.07 millimeters per year. The pattern and temporal nature of loss is complex.

The mass loss is largest in southwest and northwest Greenland; the respective contributions of melting, iceberg calving and fluctuations in snow accumulation differing considerably. This result has been published by an international research group led by the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in the latest issue of Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 1 June 2012.

The result was made possible by a new comparison of three different types of satellite observations: measurements of the change in gravity by changes in ice mass with the satellite pair GRACE, height variation with the laser altimeter on the NASA satellite ICESat and determination of the difference between the accumulation of regional atmospheric models and the glacier discharge, as measured by satellite radar data.

For the first time and for each region, the researchers could determine with unprecedented precision which percentage melting, iceberg calving and fluctuations in rainfall have on the current mass loss.

“Such an increase in mass loss in the northwest after 2005 is partly due to heavy snowfall in the years before”, says GFZ scientist Ingo Sasgen, head of the study. “The previous mass gain was reduced in subsequent years. Similarly in eastern Greenland: In the years 2008 and 2009 there was even a mass increase”.

As the researchers were able to show, this was not due to decreased glacier velocities, but because of two winters with very heavy snowfall. Meanwhile, the loss of ice mass continues here. For all studied regions the melting and calving periods between 2002 and 2011 are extraordinarily high compared to those of the last five decades.

The work was created in the framework of the Helmholtz Climate Initiative REKLIMof the Helmholtz Association and the EU project ice2sea. Due to the study, the researchers can get a little closer to understanding the current developments of the Greenland ice sheet.

Ingo Sasgen: “We now know very well how calving glaciers and melting contribute to the current mass balance, and when regional trends are largely caused by rainfall variations. And we also know where our measurements must be improved.”

One such area is north-western Greenland, where the comparison of data indicates an abrupt increase in the calving rate, which was detected by the radar data inadequately.

The REKLIM/ice2sea scientists want to find out what causes this increase and if it has a continuous or episodic character.

A necessary prerequisite is a sufficiently long time series of measurements that is to be created by the continued precise gravity measurements in the context of the new satellite mission GRACE-FO (Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment – Follow On).

Ingo Sasgen et al., “Timing and Origin of Recent Regional Ice-Mass Loss in Greenland”, Earth and Planetary Science Letters (EPSL), doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2012.03.033, Volumes 333-334, 1 June 2012, Pages 293-303

Related Links
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Beyond the Ice Age

Brazil farmers in legal feud with Monsanto over GM soy

by Staff Writers
Campo Novo De Parecis, Brazil (AFP)

Illegally smuggled into Brazil 14 years ago, transgenic soy has proved a boon to domestic farmers and now accounts for 85 percent of total production.

But five million Brazilian farmers are now locked in a legal feud with US biotech giant Monsanto, the GM soy seed manufacturer, and are refusing to pay crop royalties.

In the mid-1990s Monsanto began commercializing its genetically modified soy in the United States.

Monsanto’s soy seeds are spliced with a bacterium’s gene that makes the plants immune to the company’s popular herbicide Roundup, which farmers can then use to kill weeds while the soy plants flourish.

The first transgenic soy seeds were illegally smuggled into Brazil from neighboring Argentina in 1998 and their use was banned and subject to prosecution until the last decade, according to the state-owned Brazilian Enterprise for Agricultural Research (EMBRAPA).

The ban has since been lifted and now 85 percent of the country’s soybean crop (25 million hectares or 62 million acres) is genetically modified, according to Alexandre Cattelan, an EMBRAPA researcher.

Last year, Brazil was the world’s second producer and exporter of soybean, behind the United States.

Sales of GM soy — which is used for animal feed, soybean oil or biofuel — reached a whopping $24.1 billion and made up 26 percent of Brazil’s farm exports last year. China is the main customer of Brazilian soy.

But four years ago, five million big and small Brazilian producers filed a lawsuit against Monsanto, accusing the US chemical giant of unduly collecting two percent of sales of their annual harvest.

Since 2003-2004, Monsanto has demanded that producers of transgenic soy pay it two percent of their sales as crop royalties, Neri Perin, a representative of big producers, told AFP.

Lawyers for the producers say this means that their clients end up paying twice for the seed.

“Monsanto gets paid when it sell the seeds. The law gives producers the right to multiply the seeds they buy and nowhere in the world is there a requirement to pay (again). Producers are in effect paying a private tax on production,” said lawyer Jane Berwanger.

In April, a judge in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, Giovanni Conti, ruled in favor of the producers and ordered Monsanto to return royalties paid since 2004 or a minimum of $2 billion.

Monsanto appealed and a federal court is to rule on the case by 2014.

In the meantime, the US company said it was still being paid crop royalties.

At the same time, transgenic soy cultivation is spreading like wildfire across Brazil, despite protests from environmentalists who say it leads to increased deforestation and from experts who say it results in less farm jobs.

“Transgenic soy occupies 44 percent of land under grain cultivation but represents only 5.5 percent of farm jobs,” said Sergio Schlesinger, a researcher who slammed the advance of soybean monoculture in his book “the grain that grew too much.”

He said this highly mechanized monoculture requires little labor and leads to the expulsion of thousands of farm workers.

After its initial ban on GM soy, the Brazilian government is now investing in research to develop this type of technology.

Transgenic soy is now grown in 17 of the country’s 26 states, with the largest production in Mato Grosso, Parana and Rio Grande do Sul.

Although still the largest exporting country, the United States has lost the dominant position it once had in the global soy trade. Brazil, Argentina, China and India have all become major players as the world’s demand for soy as food, vegetable oil, and animal feed has continued to increase.

Given the amount of available arable land and water resources in Brazil, experts expect this South American giant to eventually become the number one soybean-producing nation.

Related Links
Farming Today – Suppliers and Technology

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Cyber Space

Microsoft Just Made the Internet a Little More Private for Everyone

Internet Explorer 10 will ship with Do Not Track settings turned on by default. That’s good news for you and me; not so good for the online ad industry.

By Dan Tynan, ITworld

Break out the champagne and put on your party hats: A software heavyweight just struck a major blow for the concept of Privacy by Design.

Microsoft has elected to release Internet Explorer 10.0 with Do Not Track as the default setting. Microsoft Chief Privacy Officer Brendon Lynch blogged about the decision here. He said, in part:

We believe that consumers should have more control over how information about their online behavior is tracked, shared and used. Online advertising is an important part of the economy supporting publishers and content owners and helping businesses of all shapes and sizes to go to market. There is also value for consumers in personalized experiences and receiving advertising that is relevant to them.

Of course, we hope that many consumers will see this value and make a conscious choice to share information in order to receive more personalized ad content. For us, that is the key distinction. Consumers should be empowered to make an informed choice and, for these reasons, we believe that for IE10 in Windows 8, a privacy-by-default state for online behavioral advertising is the right approach.

While both Chrome and Firefox have Do Not Track capabilities built in, they’re turned off by default. Microsoft is making its mark by turning that setting on. Safari also blocks tracking cookies by default, but who outside of the Mac universe uses Safari?

The online advertising industry reacted about the way you’d expect — by implying that if we don’t all let advertisers follow us around the Web jotting down every site we visit and what we do there, the “free” Internet will shrivel up and die.

The Digital Advertising Alliance, a consortium of online ad networks and data gatherers that has been pushing for self-regulation of Web tracking for the past several years (and was apparently blindsided by Microsoft’s announcement), issued a vigorous response. Here’s the money quote:

The DAA is very concerned that this unilateral decision by one browser maker – made without consultation within the self-regulatory process – may ultimately narrow the scope of consumer choices, undercut thriving business models, and reduce the availability and diversity of the Internet products and services that millions of American consumers currently enjoy at no charge.

DAA spokeshuman Stu Ingis went on to tell the Wall Street Journal’s Julia Angwin that online advertisers support “consumer choice, not a choice made by one browser or technology vendor.” Essentially he’s saying that by making IE 10 private by default Microsoft is taking the choice out of users’ hands.

Which is, of course, utter horse manure. Microsoft is in fact giving users a choice – a choice to use a browser where privacy is the default setting. It’s the advertising industry that’s make the decision for consumers about whether they will be tracked by making that the default setting for the vast majority of Web surfers.

But before I get any further into this, let’s get a few things straight, shall we?

1, When advertising groups say they support Do Not Track (DNT), what they really mean is they support “Do Not Target Me With Ads But Continue To Hoover Up All My Anonymous Web Behavior” (or DNTMWABCTHUAMAWB for short). They’re still collecting data on users, they’re just not delivering ads to you based on that data. In other words, they remove the key benefit of tracking (more relevant ads) while keeping the primary threat (creating a profile of your online habits).

Some members of Congress are calling on the FTC to draw up rules that explicitly block data collection as well as ad targeting, something the tracking companies are resisting.

2. The DAA does represent most of the major US companies in the whole Web tracking ecosystem. But they represent less than a quarter of the companies listed in Evidon’s database of some 800 Web trackers. So even in the best case scenario, many of the smaller no-name companies that are tracking me are wholly unaffected by the DAA’s voluntary program.

The fact is, some people – even diehard privacy types — will choose tracking over not tracking in some instances. For example, I installed Abine’s Do Not Track Plus several months ago in my primary browser, and I’ve probably shut it off for individual sites more often than I’ve kept it on. Why? Because DNT+ prevented me from sharing that page on Facebook or Twitter, or kept me from being able to log in to leave Comments, or inconvenienced me in some other way. That’s because Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Disqus, and all the others are also Web trackers that can capture big chunks of your Web surfing history. A better option in this instance is probably Ghostery, which offers more fine grained blocking of advertisers, trackers, and widgets.

Bottom line: If tracking really is so essential to the “free Internet,” as the ad industry claims, then what’s the problem? Won’t people naturally choose to be tracked in order to get access to all those relevant ads and free content? I think we all know the answer to that, which is why the DAA is so spooked by Microsoft’s decision.

Facebook May Welcome Preteen Members

By Sharon Gaudin, Computerworld

Speculation is flying that Facebook executives may be developing technology that would enable kids under the age of 13 to join the site with parental supervision.

Intetrest by Facebook in lowering the minimum age to under 13 years old to join the world’s most popular social network was first reported in the Wall Street Journal. The network is reportedly testing ways to link a child’s Facebook page to his or her parents’, along with tools that would enable parents to decide who their children can “friend” and what apps they can use.

A Facebook spokesman told Computerworld that the company is investigating this complicated issue, but has not made any decisions.

“Many recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to enforce age restrictions on the Internet, especially when parents want their children to access online content and services,” said the spokesman. “We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment.”

“That would certainly drive up subscribers,” said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research. “But I don’t know how valuable they would be, since kids under 13 don’t have much purchasing power.”

However, Kerravala noted that many kids now lie about their age to join the social network and this might curb that problem to some extent. And it also would draw kids in and get them connected earlier so they’re loyal users when they get old enough to have more money to spend, increasing the power of Facebook’s ads.

“The problem for Facebook is the under-13 set might find something else to use when they hit 13,” he added. “The idea may be to get them connected now.”

Any such move would mean that Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had a change of mind.

In May 2011, Zuckerberg, speaking to the world’s top Internet leaders during the closing keynote at the e-G8 Internet forum in Paris, said he wasn’t interested in working to get younger users on the site.

“We’re not trying to work on the ability for people under the age of 13 to sign up,” Zuckerberg said. “That’s just not on the list of things for us to figure out right now.” However, he did say that he’d like to look more deeply into the issue at some point in the future.

If Facebook is working to include younger users, it may be because of competition from Google+, which in January widened its potential user base by lowering its age requirement from 18 to 13 years old.

Google+ executives did not mention moving to add users under the age of 13.

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Survival / Sustainability

EatTheWeeds: Episode 06: Peppergrass, Lepidium Virginicum

Uploaded by on Feb 11, 2008

http://www.eattheweeds.com/peppergrass-potent-pipsqueak/

Learn how to recognize and use the wild food peppergrass, Lepidium virginicum springtime salad ingredient, pot herb, and spice from http://www.eattheweeds.com

 

EatTheWeeds: Episode 07: Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana

Uploaded by on Feb 11, 2008

http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2/

Learn with Green Deane how to recognize and prepare pokeweed, a controversial spring green and wild food from http://www.eattheweeds.com


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Articles of Interest

U.S. N.R.C. Considering Giving 80-year Operating Licenses to Nuclear Power Plants

By Karl Grossman

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be holding a meeting this week to consider having nuclear power plants run 80 years—although they were never seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling metal parts and otherwise causing safety problems.

“The idea of keeping these reactors going for 80 years is crazy!” declares Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and former senior policy advisor at the U.S, Department of Energy and a U.S. Senate senior investigator. He is also an author of the book Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation. “To double the design life of these plants—which operate under high-pressure, high heat conditions and are subject to radiation fatigue—is an example of out-of-control hubris, of believing your own lies.”

“In a post-Fukushima world, the NRC has no case to renew life-spans of old, danger-prone nuke plants. Rather, they must be shut down,” says Priscilla Star, director of the Coalition Against Nukes.

“This is an absurdity and shows the extent to which the NRC is captured,” says Jim Riccio, nuclear policy analyst at Greenpeace. “Nuclear regulators know that embrittlement of the reactor vessels limits nuclear plant life but are willing to expose the public to greater risks from decrepit, old and leaking reactors. As we learned from Fukushima, the nuclear industry is willing to expose the public to catastrophic risks.”

Nevertheless, on Thursday at its headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, the NRC is to hold a meeting with the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute, which does studies for the nuclear industry, “to discuss and coordinate long-term operability research programs,” says the NRC, which could lead to it letting nuclear plants run for 80 years.

For more than a decade, the NRC has been extending the operating licenses of nuclear plants from 40 years to 60 years. And just as the NRC has never denied a construction or operating license for a nuclear plant anywhere, anytime in the U.S., it has rubber-stamped every application that has come before it for a 20-year extension of the plant’s original 40-year license. It has now approved 60-year operating licenses for 73 of the 104 nuclear power plants in the U.S.

When the NRC in 2009 OK’d extending the operating license to 60 years of the oldest nuclear plant in the U.S., Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Jeff Titel, president of the New Jersey Sierra Club, declared: “This decision is radioactive. To keep open the nation’s oldest nuclear power plant for another 20 years is just going to lead to a disaster. We could easily replace the plant with 200 windmills that will not pose a danger.” With the same General Electric design as the six Fukushima nuclear power plants, the plant is 60 miles south of New York City.

The first nuclear plants given permission by the NRC to operate for 60 years were the two Calvert Cliffs plants located on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay near Lusby, Maryland, 45 miles southeast of Washington, D.C. That came in 1999. The NRC license extension program is “blind to how these machines are breaking apart at the molecular level…they embrittle, crack and corrode,” said Paul Gunter, then with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and now director of the Reactor Oversight Project of the organization Beyond Nuclear. The NRC in its “rigged game” is driving the nation toward a nuclear disaster, said Gunter. “The term ‘nuclear safety’ is an oxymoron. It’s an inherently dangerous process and an inherently dangerous industry that has been aging.”

Read Full Article Here

Mother Nature Doesn’t Quit

By Jim Hightower

Rather than find ways to cooperate with the natural world, America’s agribusiness giants reach for the next quick fix in a futile effort to overpower nature. Their attitude is that if brute force isn’t working, they’re probably not using enough of it.

Monsanto, for example, has banked a fortune by selling a corn seed that it genetically manipulated to produce corn plants that won’t die when sprayed with the Roundup toxic weedkiller. Not coincidentally, Monsanto also happens to manufacture Roundup. It profits from the seed and from the huge jump in Roundup sales that the seed generates. Slick.

But Mother Nature, darn it, has rebelled. So much of Monsanto’s poison was spread in the past decade that weeds naturally began to resist it. As a Dow Chemical agronomist explained, “The real need here is to diversify our weed management systems.”

Exactly right! We need non-chemical, sustainable systems that work with nature and without genetically altered crops.

But, no, the Dow man didn’t mean that at all. He was calling for more brute force in the form of Dow’s new genetically altered corn seed that can absorb Dow’s super-potent 2,4-D weedkiller, which it markets under the “Enlist” brand name. Use this stuff, he says, and nature will be defeated.

Wrong. Nature doesn’t quit. The weeds will keep evolving and will adapt to Dow’s high-tech fix, too. By pushing the same old thing relentlessly, says an independent crop scientist, agribusiness interests “ratchet up [America’s] dependence on the use of herbicides, which is very much a treadmill.”

It’s time to start listening to the weeds — and cooperating with Mother Nature. To advance this common sense approach, a national coalition is backing a California “Right to Know” initiative requiring the labeling of genetically altered foods. To help, go to the Organic Consumers Association at http://www.OrganicConsumers.org.

This article was published at NationofChange at: http://www.nationofchange.org/mother-nature-doesn-t-quit-1338824786. All rights are reserved.

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