Fukushima upgraded to Level 7 nuclear event—what’s that mean?

The nuclear reactor crisis at Fukushima Daiichi has been upgraded to a 7 on the International Nuclear Events Scale. That’s the same rating as Chernobyl. It’s interesting to me, though, how these two events can share the same rating, but still be quite different in several important ways.

For instance, Chernobyl released a lot more radioactive material (Fukushima has still only released 1/10th of Chernobyl’s radioactive output) in a much shorter period of time. The slower pace of Fukushima, combined with the Japanese government’s significantly more open and responsive approach, means there have been fewer significant health impacts caused by Fukushima so far.

But the differences don’t all work in Fukushima’s favor. It’s likely to take longer to get this crisis under control, and Fukushima cleanup crews will have to deal with a lot of contaminated water that wasn’t present at Chernobyl. Because of that, there’s a possibility that these two disasters could look more similar over the long-term view than they do right now.

Nature “The Great Beyond” blog: How Fukushima is and isn’t like Chernobyl
NPR: Fukushima vs. Chernobyl — still not equal

Robots inspired by nature: the “DelFly” bionic robot (photo)


Engineering school students look at the DelFly bionic robot during a demonstration at the International Workshop on Bio-Inspired Robots in Nantes April 7, 2011. Some 200 bio-robot technicians from 17 countries participate in the three-day event to show the latest developments in robots inspired from the animal world. (REUTERS/Stephane Mahe)

The DelFly micro is only 10 centimeters from wing to wing, and weighs just a little over 3 grams. Its developers call it “the smallest flying ornithopter carrying a camera in the world.” Below, more photos of the little guy in action, including the 0.4 gram camera it carries.

(courtesy delfly.nl)

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Dark ’70s animation of Japanese fairy tale on tsunamis and death: “The Guiding Jizo”

Matt Alt points ot to a beautiful clip from the 1970s animated show Manga Nippon Mukashibanashi (Animated Japanese Fairy Tales). The legend upon which this particular clip is based is hundreds of years old. Matt writes:

In it, a young mother and child from the island of Kessenuma Oshima happen across a statue called the michibiki jizo — the guiding bodhisattva. According to local legend, the soul of a person that is about to die appears before this particular jizo the day before they pass away. The mother and child are shocked to see a whole parade of spirits appear before the statue — male and female, old and young. 

When they return home, the father laughs it off as a figment of their imaginations. But the very next day, when the family is fishing at the seashore, the tide pulls out and doesn't come back in. Minutes later, a massive tsunami wipes out the entire town as the mother, son, and father watch escape to a hilltop. They are the only survivors. 

Given the fact that Kessenuma is in the headlines today for the very same reason, there is no doubt that this "fairy tale" is based on a true story. It's particularly haunting in light of the ancient stone markers that dot the Japanese coastline warning of tsunami from times of old, a literal message to future generations from ancestors long since shuffled off this mortal coil.

[Video Link, 10:42] and Matt Alt’s blog.

India: corruption scandal sparks “Tahrir-like” citizen movement

Boing Boing reader lokayukta says, “India is going through its ‘Egypt moment,’ and for our version of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, we have the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, where a 72 year old social acitivist named Anna Hazare is fasting ’til death’ to force the government to pass a comprehensive anti-corruption legislation, the Jan Lokpal Bill. The movement has already caught fire in hundreds of cities around India.”

Evacuation of war-wounded in Libya: first-person account by MSF nurse

[Video Link]

Editor’s note: Alison Criado-Perez, a nurse with Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) shares this first-person account of evacuating war-wounded people out of Misrata. Ali is a nurse working for MSF in Libya and Tunisia. She has previously worked in Nigeria, Colombia, Uganda and Central African Republic. The video embedded in this blog post shows Ali actually treating a patient on the boat described in the account shared below.


It’s 11.30 on Sunday morning, and we are sitting in international waters, 20 miles off the Libyan coast, trying to make a vital contact to give us the all clear to enter the port of Misrata. The tension is rising, as we only have enough fuel to wait for another half hour or so. We’ve been here on stand-by for several hours – where has our contact disappeared to? Earlier this morning, in a briefing, we’re told of precautions to take in a war zone……. Am I really doing this? It’s all rather surreal.

We are a team of 13, a mixture of international MSF expats and Tunisian volunteer medics, who have opted to come on this mission to rescue war-wounded from Misrata and transport them to the safety and medical care of Sfax in Tunisia. The trip has been discussed and planned for a couple of weeks, following a plea from overwhelmed medical staff in the hospital of Misrata for assistance, but the final green light only came a day or so ago. We left early yesterday evening, aboard the 216-seater San Pawl ferry, converted to carry about 60 patients on mattresses, and 30 walking wounded. We don’t know what the exact patient list will be, especially as Misrata was shelled last night, but the potential list of 90 includes a couple on ventilators, many open fractures and amputations, those with multiple organ injuries, head injuries, post-gunshot chest injuries. It’s all very daunting.

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7.4 quake hits Japan, tsunami warnings issued, nuclear plants lose power (updated)


The Japan Meteorological agency reports a 7.4 quake in Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, which hit at 11:32pm local time. USGS reports the same, about 60 miles (96km) from Sendai, Japan, and about 25 miles (40km) below the sea-bed. Tsunami warnings, the first since the catastrophic March 11 quake and tsunami, are being issued throughout the region. This quake is considered to be an aftershock of the March 11 seismic event.

NHK TV is reporting that the nuclear safety agency says the nuclear power plants in the region have been shut down, but that workers at Fukushima Daiichi are being (or have been) evacuated just now. TEPCO, the operator of the stricken nuclear plant, tweeted just now that they are evaluating whether this quake has caused any further damage but that there are no reports of injuries and no new information suggesting new damage.

The area where this quake struck is the same region most affected by the March 11 disaster, so the earth there is generally unstable, and populations in the area are already vulnerable.

Police report that the number of people confirmed dead in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is now 12,608, with an additional 15,073 listed as missing.

Update: No reports of tsunami damage, sounds like the wave weakened before hitting land. The tsunami warning has been lifted.

Update: At Tohoku Electric‘s Onagawa nuclear power plant, in Miyagi, 2 of the three external power grids have lost power. The three reactors at this site have been in cold shutdown since March 11. No change has been observed in radiation levels today.

Continue reading “7.4 quake hits Japan, tsunami warnings issued, nuclear plants lose power (updated)”

Iman Al-Obeidi: “Every Day I Am Beaten” (NPR audio)

Iman al-Obeidi burst into the Rixos hotel in Tripoli, Libya on March 26 to tell foreign journalists that she had been detained for two days after being arrested at a checkpoint, then raped by up to 15 men while in custody. A violent scene erupted at the hotel, authorities threw a blanket over her head and whisked her away, and requests by reporters to interview her or confirm her whereabouts have since been denied. But NPR has now reached al-Obeidi by phone. The story she tells is alarming. She says a doctor has confirmed that she “was raped violently,” that the men who allegedly raped her have not been arrested, and that she cannot leave her home because every time she does, she is beaten by strangers.

Iman al-Obeidi, who last month told reporters in Tripoli that she had been beaten and raped by men loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, tells NPR she is no longer in custody.

But, she says, “every day I am beaten.”

And she fears for her life: “They threaten us with murder,” she said by telephone from Libya to our colleague Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson‘s translator in Cairo. Her sister, Obeidi said, is also in danger.

Obeidi burst into a Tripoli hotel on March 26. As she tried to tell reporters about what she says had been done to her, she was dragged away by authorities in a dramatic scene played out in front of dozens of cameras.

“They took me to a prison” for 72 hours after that, she told NPR today. When she was allowed to go home, “they stopped me again and they stopped me three times, the last time was yesterday” — when, she says, she was “beaten very hard [so] that I can’t even leave my bed today.”

NPR cannot at this time independently verify her accounts. The Gadhafi government has threatened to press criminal charges against her for allegedly making false accusations. Audio and transcript here (NPR.org, thanks Andy Carvin)

Obeidi also spoke with CNN today, which says it will broadcast an interview with her tonight at 10 p.m. ET on AC360.

Southwest’s “peeled plane” incident, and the true cost of cheap airline maintenance

RTR2KQSU.jpg TODAY I LEARNED: “metal fatigue” isn’t what happens when you listen to your favorite Slayer album one too many times. (milesobrien.com)

Related: Two PBS Frontline documentaries, “Flying Cheap,” and “Flying Cheaper.

(Photo: Southwest mechanics work on a Boeing 737 inside a hanger at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. REUTERS/Rick Scuteri)

Yemen conflict: “Can you hear me now? Good!” (photo)


Supporters of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh stand on pillars during a rally to show their support, in Sanaa April 1, 2011. Embattled Saleh told a huge rally of supporters on Friday that he would sacrifice everything for his country, suggesting he has no plans to step down yet. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)