Fukushima nuclear power plant to release contaminated water into ocean

April 14, 2021 by  
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Ten years after an earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant , Japan has announced plans to release contaminated water from the plant into the ocean. China, South Korea and the local fishing industry are opposed to this move. Workers used more than 1 million metric tons of water to cool the three reactors that melted down in 2011. They use a filtration process to remove radioactive elements from the water, but tritium and other potentially harmful elements remain. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator, has kept the water in huge tanks. But with those tanks expected to fill up by next year, the company is looking for somewhere else for the water to go. Related: Companies in Japan launch edible single-use bags to save Nara deer After treatment and dilution, the radiation levels will be below standards set for drinking water. The U.S. is backing Japan , saying the country is acting in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards. The International Atomic Energy Agency agrees. “Releasing into the ocean is done elsewhere. It’s not something new. There is no scandal here,” said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, as reported by BBC . But South Korea’s foreign minister expressed “serious regret” about the decision. Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, has questioned whether Japan is acting in a responsible manner. “To safeguard international public interests and Chinese people’s health and safety, China has expressed grave concern to the Japanese side through the diplomatic channel,” Lijian said. Whether consumers will fear three-eyed fish is another matter. According to scientists, elements like tritium are only harmful in large doses. But fishing industry groups worry that the fish will eat the tritium, and then people will eat the fish. Even if the fish are technically safe to eat, public perception of radiated fish could drive different culinary choices. Via BBC Image via TEPCO / IAEA

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UK citizens get the right to repair

March 11, 2021 by  
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Consumers have become accustomed to the idea of planned obsolescence — that the things we buy will deliberately fail sooner rather than later, requiring us to buy more. But the  U.K.  has announced that it will implement EU rules for increasing the lifespan of certain consumer goods. The new measures go into effect this summer and apply to appliances like dishwashers, TVs, refrigerators and washing machines. For the first time, manufacturers will be legally required to make spare parts available so that consumers can make repairs at home; hence, the nickname “right to repair law.” As MP Philip Dunne stated, “There should be no contest: consumers should have every right to fix items they own. Making spare parts available is the first step in creating a circular economy where we use,  reuse  and recycle products.” Related: How to mend and repair your clothes Goods will also be better made and more energy efficient. This month, new energy labels were introduced with an A-G grading scale. Few products meet the high standards required for the A grade. “Simplifying the way energy efficiency is displayed on labels will help consumers to make more informed choices to reduce their  energy  consumption and bills,” said Emilie Carmichael, head of the Energy Saving Trust. The new rules could extend products’ lifespan by up to 10 years. Buying products with higher energy standards may also save consumers a significant amount of money over the lifespan of their purchases. The regulations reflect agreements made two years ago by U.K. and EU member states and will apply to Great Britain. Northern Ireland will continue to apply  EU  laws. “Our upcoming energy efficiency framework will push electrical products to use even less energy and material resources, saving people money on their bills and reducing carbon  emissions ,” said Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, as reported by The Guardian. Via BBC , The Guardian Lead image via Pixabay

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UK citizens get the right to repair

Glowing sharks found near New Zealand

March 5, 2021 by  
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Scientists have found three glow-in-the-dark sharks off the coast of New Zealand. The kitefin shark , blackbelly lanternshark and southern lanternshark weren’t unknown to science. However, scientists had never seen them glow until recently. It’s the first time this phenomenon has been observed in larger sharks. Researchers found the glowing sharks at the Chatham Rise, a 1,000-meter deep area of ocean floor east of New Zealand , last January, according to a study published last week in Frontiers of Marine Science. Researchers from Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand observed a blue glow on the three sharks’ ventral surface when they were in a fully dark environment. A fainter blue glow came from their dorsal fins as well as the lateral and dorsal areas. Related: 10 fun and fascinating facts about sharks Many marine animals emit bioluminescence, a distinct glow due to a chemical reaction in the body. An animal needs a molecule called luciferin, which produces light when it reacts with oxygen, to really shine. The reaction is even more impressive if the organism also produces the catalyst luciferase. Bioluminescent animals can regulate their brain processes and chemistry to control when they light up. This could be for mating or hunting purposes or to scare off predators. What does a shark gain from gleaming? Scientists are speculating. While you might think that lighting up would make you stand out, the sharks’ bioluminescence can actually serve as camouflage. Say you’re swimming below the shark on a sunny day. If the shark lights up its belly, and the sun is shining above, you’d only see a shadow. These three New Zealand species cruise the mesopelagic zone, between 200 and 1,000 meters in depth. Sunlight can reach a maximum of 1,000 meters, so this area is also called the twilight zone. There’s nowhere to hide in the twilight zone, so bioluminescent camo comes in handy. The study’s authors concluded, “Bioluminescence has often been seen as a spectacular yet uncommon event at sea but considering the vastness of the deep sea and the occurrence of luminous organisms in this zone, it is now more and more obvious that producing light at depth must play an important role structuring the biggest ecosystem on our planet.” + Frontiers of Marine Science Via The Guardian , Smithsonian and BBC Image via Frontiers of Marine Science

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Design unveiled for a sustainable wooden tower in Switzerland

March 5, 2021 by  
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Architecture firms  3XN  and  IttenBrechbühl  have won an international competition with their design for the Tilia Tower©, an 85-meter-tall timber high-rise that will serve as a beacon for sustainability and an anchor for the up-and-coming district of Prilly-Malley. In addition to an ambitious wooden building, the pair of architecture firms will also oversee the energy-efficient renovation of two existing buildings for the real estate company Insula SA. The project will target Minergie-P, a Swiss certification for buildings with very low energy consumption. Proposed for the western suburbs of  Lausanne , the project will inject new life into the rapidly developing district of Prilly-Malley with a mixed program that includes residences, retail, co-working spaces, restaurants, public spaces and a hotel. The tower will be built primarily of timber, a material chosen for its low carbon footprint, and open up to a new public square landscaped with biodiverse plants and microorganisms. To highlight the tower’s importance to the district as well as its diverse functions, the architects have created a rhythmic and sculptural facade made up of deep window niches and terraces that are also designed to optimize daylight and shading. “We have worked with the philosophy of making a building that respects the human scale by emphasizing the connection to nature and by ensuring good daylight, which we know is important for human well-being,” said Jan Ammundsen, architect and responsible senior partner for the Tilia Tower©, at 3XN. “ Wood  is a consistent material in the project which adds a natural, warm, and robust look. Wood is a fantastic building material, and it will add a fine tactile expression to the building. The Tilia Tower will be a bright, friendly, humane, and sustainable building.” Related: 3XN’s green-roofed offices to sport an elevated cycling path in Stockholm The new high-rise will be connected to the pair of existing buildings — an office and a badminton hall — that will undergo an energy-efficient  renovation  and feature new facades to match the appearance of the Tilia Tower©.  + 3XN Images via 3XN

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Facebook Marketplace fuels illegal sales of land in the Amazon rainforest

March 1, 2021 by  
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Large parcels of land in the Amazon rainforest are being sold illegally on Facebook. According to a recent investigation carried out by the BBC, Facebook Marketplace ads are being used to sell land in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon Rainforest to global buyers. Facebook has distanced itself from the illegal trade, saying, “We are ready to work with local authorities.” The company also added, “Our commerce policies require buyers and sellers to comply with laws and regulations.” Related: Amazon deforestation reaches a 12-year record Ivaneide Bandeira, head of environmental NGO Kanindé, said that those selling the land “feel very empowered to the point that they are not ashamed of going on Facebook to make illegal land deals.” Many of the people selling the land have admitted they don’t possess the land titles, which are the official documents that prove land ownership in Brazil . “There’s no risk of an inspection by state agents here,” said Fabricio Guimarães, one land seller, told BBC. Some of the land being advertised for sale belongs to Indigenous communities. One community leader, Bitaté Uru Eu Wau Wau, has condemned the Facebook Marketplace ads, urging the company to take action. “This is a lack of respect,” he said. “I don’t know these people. I think their objective is to deforest the Indigenous land, to deforest what is standing. To deforest our lives, you could say.” While local authorities are slow to act, Facebook has the capacity to take action. All ads go through an approval process before going live. Interestingly, some of the classifieds posted also include coordinates. But the company says the task of deciding which sales are illegal would be too much for it to handle and that authorities need to step in. In recent years, the Brazilian government has said that it does not support deforestation , but its actions say otherwise. “President Jair Bolsonaro’s government has always made it clear that his is a zero-tolerance government for any crime, including environmental ones.” Brazil’s Minister of the Environment Ricardo Salles said. While the government says it is taking action, the budgetary allocation to Ibama, the body mandated with inspection of the rainforest, has been cut by 40%. + BBC Image via Mario Dimas N Silva

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Bitcoin uses more energy than all of Argentina

February 12, 2021 by  
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Bitcoin is a huge energy hog. And  Tesla’s  recent announcement that it had bought $1.5 billion bitcoin — and will soon accept the cryptocurrency as payment for its cars — will only encourage more energy usage. Inhabitat reported on Bitcoin’s out-of-control energy use in 2018. Back then, we noted that  Bitcoin  was on track to use as much energy as Austria by the end of the year. In 2021, Bitcoin has already surpassed Argentina’s energy use, according to a Cambridge University study. To put this growth into perspective, the population of Austria is about 9 million, while Argentina has approximately 45 million residents. Related: Bitcoin is expected to consume enough energy to power Austria by the end of 2018 Since the Tesla announcement, Bitcoin has hit a record high in value. More value means more high-powered computers sucking up energy to power the Bitcoin machine. “It is really by design that Bitcoin consumes that much  electricity ,” Michel Rauchs, a researcher at The Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, said in BBC’s Tech Tent podcast. “This is not something that will change in the future unless the Bitcoin price is going to significantly go down.”  Rauchs co-created the online tool that estimates Bitcoin’s energy use. At 121.36 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year, the tool showed that Bitcoin has surpassed the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Argentina, in energy use and may soon edge out Norway. To contextualize this, the Cambridge study noted that this is enough energy to power every kettle in the U.K. for 27 years. “Elon Musk has thrown away a lot of Tesla’s good work promoting energy transition,” said David Gerard, author of “Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain,” as reported by BBC. “This is very bad… I don’t know how he can walk this back effectively.” Gerard suggested that a carbon tax on cryptocurrencies could perhaps balance out some of the impact of the giant  computers  that work 24/7 solving puzzles to verifying transactions. Via BBC Image via Pexels

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Subway commuters are exposed to dangerous amounts of air pollution

February 12, 2021 by  
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Millions of commuters who use underground subway systems in the U.S. are exposed to dangerous rates of air pollution , according to a recent study. The study, which sampled air quality in 71 underground stations across the U.S., has revealed air pollution during the morning and evening rush is nothing short of disastrous. The cities that are most affected include New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C. The researchers focused on measuring the level of PM2.5 within these underground transit systems. The recommended safe level of PM2.5 in the air is 35 micrograms per cubic meter. In the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) system, the researchers recorded 251 micrograms per cubic meter. The Washington, D.C. system was another highly contaminated train service, recording 145 micrograms per cubic meter. Related: Air pollution caused by fossil fuels kills millions The worst-case scenario was recorded at Christopher Street station in Manhattan. The station helps connect New York and New Jersey with its rapid trains. But, unfortunately, at a rate of 1,499 micrograms per cubic meter, the station’s pollution was found to be 77 times that of the air outside. According to Terry Gordon, professor at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine and a co-author of the study, the amount of pollution in New York is the most alarming. “It was the worst pollution ever measured in a subway station, higher than some of the worst days in Beijing or Delhi,” Gordon said of Christopher Street station. “New Yorkers, in particular, should be concerned about the toxins they are inhaling.” The study’s researchers said that a person commuting daily on these systems is exposed to a higher risk of certain health conditions. They noted that a daily commuter at Christopher Street has a 10% higher risk of cardiovascular disease. After analyzing the collected samples, researchers realized that the particles contain iron and organic carbon . The carbon is mainly produced from the breakdown of fossil fuels and is linked to respiratory conditions when inhaled. “This is an important contribution, especially to our understanding of the disproportionate burden of air pollution faced by low-income communities and communities of color,” said Gretchen Goldman, research director of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “As the scientific community works to better understand exposure and potential health effects of air pollution in the urban environment, I hope local decision makers use this valuable work to inform the best ways to address the known racial and socioeconomic inequities in air pollution exposure in U.S. cities.” Via The Guardian Image via Wes Hicks

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Hostel highlights local Japanese cedar along an ancient road

February 12, 2021 by  
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Kumano Kodo, the historic network of pilgrimage trails found throughout the Kansai region of Japan , just gained a unique new option for accommodations. Completed in April 2020, Sen. Retreat Takahara is an inclusive hostel converted from a former home in Wakayama by KURU and Coil Kazuteru Matumura Architects. The project features three separate buildings designed to promote interaction between guests, and all of the structures are wrapped in local Japanese cedar wood. One of the more extraordinary world heritage sites protected by UNESCO, the ancient network of trails making up Kumano Kodo is surrounded by nature and is often used for spiritually enlightening journeys. The hostel design does its part to blend into these important surroundings through building materials, especially by its use of local Kishu cedar. The architects were careful to avoid giving the buildings an “old fashioned log cabin” look by keeping structural details sharp. Related: Tiny mobile dwelling celebrates local Shinshu larch in Japan While the local wood appears bright and new at the time of completion, the boards will weather naturally over time, giving the structure a chance to match its rustic, forested environment. To make the project more sustainable, the architects chose to use what materials they could from the old, existing home in parts of the exterior. The hostel is anchored by a large, main building that acts as common area and a reception for guest check-ins, while the second and third buildings house shared bathroom facilities and guest rooms. Guest rooms contain a private bathroom and sink and are designed in authentic Japanese style, which promotes minimalism and simplicity. Gravel paths help connect the structures to each other and lead guests to other parts of the property. The common space opens up to an outdoor terrace with access to a bonfire pit and barbecue facilities. Just next to the exterior patio, you’ll find a communal garden , where guests can participate in tending and harvesting. + KURU + Coil Kazuteru Matumura Architects Photography by Keishiro Yamada YFT via Coil Kazuteru Matumura Architects

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Shark populations have decreased by 71% in the last 50 years

January 29, 2021 by  
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A recent study published in the journal Nature has revealed that the number of sharks in the oceans has reduced by 71% since the 1970s. Ray populations are also plummeting. Because of these alarming findings, researchers are now calling on governments to take drastic measures to reverse the trend. The study authors blamed most of the losses on overfishing. Sharks and rays are often fished for food but are also victims of sportfishing in many parts of the world. More disheartening is the fact that these animals are already at risk of extinction , according to Nicholas Dulvy, professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. Related: Preparing COVID-19 vaccine could kill half a million sharks “Overfishing of oceanic sharks and rays jeopardizes the health of entire ocean ecosystems as well as food security for some of the world’s poorest countries,” Dulvy said. In the study, 31 species of sharks and rays found in the open oceans were analyzed. Of these species, 24 are already classified as threatened by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Further, three shark species — the oceanic whitetip shark, the scalloped hammerhead shark and the great hammerhead shark — are currently listed as critically endangered . For these wildlife populations to recover, scientific data must be taken into account. According to Sonja Fordham, president of Shark Advocates International, great white sharks are now recovering thanks to scientific data that influenced fishing limits. “Relatively simple safeguards can help to save sharks and rays, but time is running out,” Fordham said. “We urgently need conservation action across the globe to prevent myriad negative consequences and secure a brighter future for these extraordinary, irreplaceable animals.” + Nature Via BBC Image via Jonas Allert

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Shark populations have decreased by 71% in the last 50 years

UK plans to reduce grey squirrel population via contraceptives

January 28, 2021 by  
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There’s not much cuter than a baby squirrel — until they grow up to be invasive acorn hoarders that interfere with tree planting and, by extension, efforts to slow  climate change . So, U.K. environment minister Lord Goldsmith has announced it’s time to put these squirrels on the pill. And what a delicious oral contraceptive it will be. The plan is that grey squirrels will follow their noses into special squirrel-only feeding boxes containing contraceptive-spiked hazelnut spread. Even the most reckless breeders are likely to succumb to  family  planning when it tastes this good. Related: Could contraception for pigeons be a humane option for population control? “We hope advances in science can safely help our nature to thrive, including through the humane control of  invasive species ,” the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told BBC News on Tuesday. An estimated three million grey squirrels, along with their fellow invasive species, damage U.K. woodlands to the tune of £1.8 billion a year. Grey squirrels came to the  U.K.  from North America in the late 1800s. Since then, they’ve gone on a bark-stripping rampage. Their favorite targets are younger trees between 10 and 50 years old, especially ecologically important broad-leafed types such as oak. Grey squirrels also displaced native red squirrels. Only about 140,000 red squirrels remain in the U.K., according to  The Wildlife Trusts . Simon Lloyd, chief executive of the Royal Forestry Society, has accused grey squirrels of undermining efforts to combat global warming. New  trees  must be protected in order to “deliver the carbon capture or biodiversity objectives if grey squirrels cannot be controlled,” Lloyd told the Daily Telegraph. The Royal Forestry Society is one of 37 conservation and land management organizations that make up the UK Squirrel Accord ( UKSA ), which proposed the contraceptive strategy. The plan has the royal okay. Prince Charles, a patron of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, wrote of  Britain’s  few surviving red squirrels, “These charming and intelligent creatures never fail to delight.” But grey squirrels? Not so charming. UKSA has been investigating delivery methods for more than three years. In an East Yorkshire test last year,  researchers  added dye to the hazelnut bait that would cause squirrel hair to fluoresce in UV light. They were able to conclude that 90% of their test subjects visited the traps. UKSA is hoping to drastically reduce grey squirrel numbers without having to resort to shotguns or other lethal measures. Via BBC Lead image via Pexels

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