American Elephants

Sanctions, Strategic Pivots, Peace Processes: Nothing’s Working! by The Elephant's Child

From the front page of the New York Times:

TOKYO — President Obama encountered setbacks to two of his most cherished foreign-policy projects on Thursday, as he failed to achieve a trade deal that undergirds his strategic pivot to Asia and the Middle East peace process suffered a potentially irreparable breakdown.

Mr. Obama had hoped to use his visit here to announce an agreement under which Japan would open its markets in rice, beef, poultry and pork, a critical step toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed regional trade pact. …

In Jerusalem, Israel’s announcement that it was suspending stalemated peace negotiations with the Palestinians, after a reconciliation between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the militant group Hamas, posed yet another obstacle to restarting a troubled peace process in which Secretary of State John Kerry has been greatly invested.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. and the European Union imposed more sanctions on Russia Monday and both the ruble and Moscow stock index rallied, the latter up 1.5% The markets didn’t take this response to the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine seriously, and neither will Vladimir Putin.

The Journal added:

Sanctions only make sense if they cause enough economic pain to make Russians begin to question the wisdom of Kremlin imperialism. Otherwise they make the West look weak and disunited. This is exactly what Mr. Putin is counting on, and so far he’s been right.

It Begins… by American Elephant
August 14, 2012, 10:43 am
Filed under: Humor, Japan, News | Tags: , ,

Fukushima ’caused mutant butterflies’

Genetic mutations have been found in three generations of butterflies from near Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, scientists said Tuesday, raising fears radiation could affect other species.

Around 12 percent of pale grass blue butterflies that were exposed to nuclear fallout as larvae immediately after the tsunami-sparked disaster had abnormalities, including smaller wings and damaged eyes, researchers said. [more]

Just sayin’

Uncommon Knowledge and Historian Andrew Roberts on “The Storm of War” by The Elephant's Child

The Storm of War by British historian Andrew Roberts is a new history of the Second World War.  Host Peter Robinson, a Hoover Institute Research Fellow, is a wonderful interviewer, and Roberts is a fascinating subject.  He explores the incidents and events that led up to the war, how easily it all could have gone differently, and the huge mistakes that changed the course of the war.  It was a close-run thing.  Churchill and Britain bought time for the Allies to rearm, having been convinced that the First World War was indeed the war to end all wars, and military preparedness was unneeded.

Roberts has had access to a private collection of papers and diaries from the war that had not previously been available, and what he learned from those was the impetus for what might be questioned as why another history of the War when there have been so many? It is a new and fresh consideration of motives and events.  I have many books on the war, and I watched this interview absolutely enthralled.  Enjoy.

December 7, 1941. by The Elephant's Child

Here is the personal story of one 19 year-old survivor of the battleship Arizona on that peaceful December 7 morning in Pearl Harbor 70 years ago. He had just turned 19 in September.  Like many young men on that day, he got a brutal introduction to war, and his world changed irrevocably. He fought a war, went to school on the GI Bill, became an engineer at Boeing, had four children, and became a relative of mine.

The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association is disbanding at the end of this year.

Huge Deposits of Rare Earth Minerals Found in Pacific. by The Elephant's Child

Dysprosium, gadolinium, lutetium, terbium and dysprosium, neodymium, xenotime, cerium and lanthanum are the names of just some of the rare earth minerals that most of us have never heard of, yet are suddenly extremely important.  Rare earths are vital for making a range of high-technology electronics, magnets and batteries.  China accounts for 97 percent of global rare earth supplies and has been tightening the trade in strategic metals and causing an explosion in prices.

Introduction to economics—supply and demand.  When there’s lots of demand and one source controls the supply— they can charge whatever they want.  Conversely — high prices send others looking for more supply.

Unexpectedly — Vast deposits of rare earth minerals have been found on the floor of the Pacific Ocean and can be readily extracted, Japanese scientists said last week.

“The deposits have a heavy concentration of rare earths.  Just one square kilometer (o.4 square mile for Americans) of deposits will be able to provide one-fifth of the current global annual consumption,” said Yasuhiro Kato, an associate professor of earth science at the University of Tokyo.

The team led by Kato and researchers from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology found minerals in sea mud extracted from depths of 3,500 to 6,000 meters (11,500-20,000 feet) below the ocean surface at 78 locations.  One-third of the sites yielded rich contents of rare earths and the metal yttrium. The deposits are in international waters in an area stretching east and west of Hawaii, as well as east of Tahiti in French Polynesia.

Kato estimated rare earths contained in the deposits amounted to 80 to 100 billion tonnes, compared to global reserves currently confirmed by the US Geological survey of just 110 million tonnes that have been found mainly in China,Russia and other former Soviet countries and the United States.

Japan accounts for a third of global demand, and  has been looking to diversify their supply sources, particularly of heavy rare earths such as dysprosium used in magnets. “Sea mud can be pumped up from the ocean floor to ships and we can extract rare earths right there using simple acid leaching, and the process is fast,” Kato said.

The sea mud is especially rich in gadolinium, lutetium, terbium and dysprosium which are used to manufacture flat-screen TVs, LED valves, and hybrid cars.   Here is a visual guide to some rare earth elements that shows how they are used, and what they look like.

I know only slightly more than I did before I heard of these elements, but if I hear someone in conversation mentioning gadolinium, I can smile brightly and say,”Oh yes, rare earths. Used in my flat-screen TV,” That will impress them.

Friday Morning Links: by The Elephant's Child

Michael Barone explains the weakest part of our political system—the presidential nomination process.  It’s not coincidental that it’s the part of the federal system that finds least guidance in the Constitution.

Investors Business Daily says the Democrats are simply not serious about the high price of gas. They have reverted to their worst and silliest ideas and claim them to be  a fresh new set of policies

The Japanese were remarkably well-prepared for a devastating earthquake. Many said that although Tokyo got a good shaking, there was little damage.  It was the tsunami that caused the devastation. The last “Big One” was the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. The Atlantic has a photo gallery of that 7.9 earthquake, and the damage is unbelievable.

Christine Russell is an award-winning science writer, and president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. She offers a clear explanation of the unfolding situation at Japan’s nuclear plants in “10 Critical Questions About Japan’s Nuclear Crisis.”

—A moving story of the Wisconsin Assembly’s Bold Leap and legislators doing the right thing under very difficult circumstances, and why they did it, in spite of the hundreds of protesters screaming outside.

Eight more states are following Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker’s lead, and reforming the relationship between the government and public-sector unions with new laws protecting workers from union control and fund-raising.


Worried About Radiation? by The Elephant's Child

“A banana-equivalent dose is a concept used occasionally by nuclear power proponents to clarify the dangers of radiation by comparing exposure to radiation to the radiation generated by the common banana.

Many foods are naturally radioactive, and bananas are particularly so, due to the radioactive potassium -40 they contain.  The banana equivalent dose is the radiation exposure received by eating a single banana.”

Anthony Watts of Watts Up With That, one of the best science blogs ever, explains cosmic rays and radiation and worries over a “plume of radiation from Japan.”  Put your mind at ease, and understand all the radiation talk, and the excesses of the media.  Worth your time.

If This was a Novel, You Would Reject It as Preposterous. by The Elephant's Child
March 15, 2011, 3:00 pm
Filed under: Japan, News | Tags: , ,

Many still pictures of the aftermath of the tsunami from Britain’s Daily Mail.  Makes you understand why they said their most dire need was heavy lifting equipment.  Unbelievable devastation, with ships on top of houses, rescue workers dwarfed by the piles of rubble. From the maps, it appears that there are 11 cities worst hit by the tsunami.

Aftershocks continue, there have been more than 100 since last Friday, the latest a 6.2 shock.  Officials say 430,000 people are living in emergency shelters or with relatives.  The government has sent 120,000 blankets, 120,000 bottles of water, but snow is expected.  The maps accompanying the story are well done.

Lots of straightforward  information on the nuclear plants is available here. The media continues to dramatize, causing runs on potassium iodide tablets here.  Apparently people are unfamiliar with the location of Japan.

The Japanese continue to react with stoical resignation and dignity in the face of overwhelming chaos.

Some Nuclear Facts to Keep in Mind: by The Elephant's Child

It is natural for the media to try to dramatize their stories to provoke public interest.  Sometimes that tendency is a negative. Many people are frightened by nuclear energy, and media gasps of “meltdown,” are not helpful.

Even more unhelpful are the reactions of some of the more excitable members of Congress such as Edward Markey(D-MA) , a longtime opponent of nuclear energy, who compared the current situation to Chernobyl, but then he’s usually even more fearful about the potential global warming catastrophe that might raise global temperatures by a degree or two.  There are some frightening headlines like “Radioactive Releases in Japan Could Last Months.”

The Japanese have good reason to be worried about the safety of nuclear energy, and they have skilled engineers and trained experts dealing with the events in Japanese nuclear plants.  Here are some cold hard facts to keep in mind as you listen to media coverage:

  • The low levels of radiation currently being released will likely have no biological or environmental impact. Humans are constantly exposed to background radiation that likely exceeds that being released.
  • The Chernobyl disaster was caused by an inherent design problem and communist operator error that is not present at any of the nuclear plants in Japan.
  • There were no health impacts from any of the radiation exposure at Three Mile Island .
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not need to regulate more in response to this. It already regulates enough.
  • The plant in trouble in Japan is over 40 years old. Today’s designs are far more advanced.
  • No one has ever been injured, much less killed, as a result of commercial nuclear power in the U.S.

William Tucker, author of Terrestrial Energy explained in the Wall Street Journal:

Early speculation was that in a case like this the fuel might continue melting right through the steel and perhaps even through the concrete containment structure—the so-called China syndrome, where the fuel would melt all the way to China. But Three Mile Island proved this doesn’t happen. The melted fuel rods simply aren’t hot enough to melt steel or concrete.

The decay heat must still be absorbed, however, and as a last-ditch effort the emergency core cooling system can be activated to flood the entire containment structure with water. This will do considerable damage to the reactor but will prevent any further steam releases. The Japanese have now reportedly done this using seawater in at least two of the troubled reactors. These reactors will never be restarted.

None of this amounts to “another Chernobyl.” The Chernobyl reactor had two crucial design flaws. First, it used graphite (carbon) instead of water to “moderate” the neutrons, which makes possible the nuclear reaction. The graphite caught fire in April 1986 and burned for four days. Water does not catch fire.

Second, Chernobyl had no containment structure. When the graphite caught fire, it spouted a plume of radioactive smoke that spread across the globe. A containment structure would have both smothered the fire and contained the radioactivity.

So far the danger to the population in Japan from the damages nuclear reactors seems to be minimal.  People are all exposed to radiation in modern society with little consequence.  Recognize media dramatization for what it is, and search for information from responsible sources.  And you might remember that the USS Ronald Reagan, aiding in the rescue effort in Japan along with her strike force, is a nuclear aircraft carrier.

Update from a Devastated Japan: by The Elephant's Child

The 4,689 ft. Japanese volcano Shinmoedake erupted today, sending ash and rocks into the air in a plume two and a half miles high.  It erupted in January in its first major eruption in 52 years.  Access to the entire mountain has been restricted.

A survivor of the tsunami has been found ten miles out to sea, riding on the remains of his roof.  Hiromitsu Shinkawa, 65, was spotted among the debris and wreckage on the ocean.  As the tsunami approached, he made the decision to return to his home  in Minami Soma in Fukushima prefecture  to collect belongings.  He had been at sea for two days.  His wife, with whom he returned home, is still missing.

Nearly 300,000 people, left homeless, were bedded down in makeshift emergency shelters. Temperatures dropped to near-freezing and with no electricity, survivors were struggling without heat, food and in some cases clean water. In Tokyo, some say that there is little sign of damage. The international rescue effort in arriving with search and rescue teams,  and trained sniffer dogs. 10 US naval ships neared the affected region. Our aircraft carriers have enormous ability to help.

Authorities said that another massive aftershock may be expected. The death toll has reached 100,000 and rising. There is probably no country in the world that is so well prepared for a major earthquake, yet the “big one”  with a 30 foot tsunami is simply beyond understanding.

It looks to me as if their preparations for earthquake prevented much damage, and it was the tsunami that was responsible for the devastation. And it could happen here. The exact scenario that we saw in Japan has already occurred here in the Pacific Northwest, and the coastlines are vulnerable.   I’ve been through a couple of fairly big quakes in California, and the Nisqually quake here. The quake here was very different feeling, deeper.  Are we well prepared?  I don’t know.


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