Archive for March, 2011

RT@sciam Europe Fails to Reach Deal on Cloned Meat

March 29, 2011

Europe Fails to Reach Deal on Cloned Meat

EU bodies at odds over the labelling and sale of products from clones and their descendants.

From Nature magazine


Negotiations over the sale of products from cloned animals in the European Union have broken down and run out of time.

The stalemate means that existing regulations, dating from 1997, remain in place. These state that although authorization is required to market food from clones, the use of their progeny as well as nanomaterials in foods will remain unregulated — meaning that meat from the offspring of cloned animals can go on sale unlabelled.


The European Parliament had sought a ban on meat and derivative products from the descendants of cloned animals as well as from clones. The European Union (EU) Council, which represents EU member states, and the European Commission insisted on limiting the ban to the clones themselves.


Read full story at Scientific American


Generation IV nuclear energy systems are future, next-generation technologies

March 29, 2011

Story: Michael Anissimov


The world-changing thorium reactor I am envisioning qualifies as a Generation IV reactor. A Generation IV reactor will pay for itself even more quickly than a Generation III reactor, and will replace every other source of electrical power in terms of cost-effectiveness. Generation IV reactors will be the fission reactors to end all fission reactors.

The Generation IV International Forum’s definition:

Generation IV nuclear energy systems are future, next-generation technologies that will compete in all markets with the most cost-effective technologies expected to be available over the next three decades.

Comparative advantages include reduced capital cost, enhanced nuclear safety, minimal generation of nuclear waste, and further reduction of the risk of weapons materials proliferation. Generation IV systems are intended to be responsive to the needs of a broad range of nations and users.

Currently, it is thought that Generation IV reactors will not come online before 2030, at least according to the Generation IV International Forum’s Technology Roadmap. A substantial amount of R&D must be done to develop the molten salt reactor idea into a viable construction plan. However, I am more optimistic on timescales. Improvements in materials science and high-quality manufacturing will relax design requirements, decreasing research time from 20 years to 10 years and building time from 3-5 years to one year. That is why I can imagine thorium reactors by 2020.

Thorium reactors will be cheap. The primary cost in nuclear reactors traditionally is the huge safety requirements. Regarding meltdown in a thorium reactor, Rubbia writes, “Both the EA and MF can be effectively protected against military diversions and exhibit an extreme robustness against any conceivable accident, always with benign consequences. In particular the [beta]-decay heat is comparable in both cases and such that it can be passively dissipated in the environment, thus eliminating the risks of “melt-down”. Thorium reactors can breed uranium-233, which can theoretically be used for nuclear weapons. However, denaturing thorium with its isotope, ionium, eliminates the proliferation threat.

Like any nuclear reactor, thorium reactors will be hot and radioactive, necessitating shielding. The amount of radioactivity scales with the size of the plant. It so happens that thorium itself is an excellent radiation shield, but lead and depleted uranium are also suitable. Smaller plants (100 megawatts), such as the Department of Energy’s small, sealed, transportable, autonomous reactor (SSTAR) will be 15 meters tall, 3 meters wide and weigh 500 tonnes, using only a few cm of shielding. From the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory page on SSTAR:

SSTAR is designed to be a self-contained reactor in a tamper-resistant container. The goal is to provide reliable and cost-effective electricity, heat, and freshwater. The design could also be adapted to produce hydrogen for use as an alternative fuel for passenger cars.


Read Full Story

CD40 immunotherapy shows efficacy in treating pancreatic cancer in mice, humans

March 29, 2011

RT@sciencemagazine CD40 immunotherapy shows efficacy in treating pancreatic cancer in mice, humans 


Immunosuppressive tumor microenvironments can restrain antitumor immunity, particularly in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA). Because CD40 activation can reverse immune suppression and drive antitumor T cell responses, we tested the combination of an agonist CD40 antibody with gemcitabine chemotherapy in a small cohort of patients with surgically incurable PDA and observed tumor regressions in some patients. We reproduced this treatment effect in a genetically engineered mouse model of PDA and found unexpectedly that tumor regression required macrophages but not T cells or gemcitabine. CD40-activated macrophages rapidly infiltrated tumors, became tumoricidal, and facilitated the depletion of tumor stroma. Thus, cancer immune surveillance does not necessarily depend on therapy-induced T cells; rather, our findings demonstrate a CD40-dependent mechanism for targeting tumor stroma in the treatment of cancer.


Read full story at Science Magazine

MESSENGER delivers its first image from Mercury

March 29, 2011


MESSENGER delivers its first image from Mercury

Mar. 29, 2011 | 14:03 PDT | 21:03 UTC

This is MESSENGER’s very first photo from Mercury orbit, a wide-angle view that reaches right to Mercury’s south pole, exposing a very tiny sliver of territory not previously seen by spacecraft. It was taken at 09:20 UTC today, March 29, 2011, the first in a set of 363 that formed MESSENGER’s first downlink of orbital images, the first downlink of very many. This particular image is not necessarily any more important than any other image; its importance lies in the fact that it was taken and downlinked right on schedule, indicating the spacecraft is performing exactly as planned. There’ll be a press briefing tomorrow with more images released, which I’ll be listening in on.



MESSENGER's first image from Mercury orbit


Read Full story at Planetary Society

Benjamin Monreal, UCSB, How Bad is the Reactor Meltdown in Japan?

March 24, 2011

Benjamin Monreal, UCSB, How Bad is the Reactor Meltdown in Japan?

Germany set to abandon nuclear power for good

March 23, 2011

JUERGEN BAETZ, Associated Press 

 (AP) — Germany is determined to show the world how abandoning nuclear energy can be done.

The world’s fourth-largest economy stands alone among leading industrialized nations in its decision to stop using nuclear energy because of its inherent risks. It is betting billions on expanding the use of renewable energy to meet power demands instead.

The transition was supposed to happen slowly over the next 25 years, but is now being accelerated in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster, which Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a “catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions.”

Berlin’s decision to take seven of its 17 reactors offline for three months for new safety checks has provided a glimpse into how Germany might wean itself from getting nearly a quarter of its power from atomic energy to none.

And experts say Germany’s phase-out provides a good map that countries such as the United States, which use a similar amount of nuclear power, could follow. The German model would not work, however, in countries like France, which relies on nuclear energy for more than 70 percent of its power and has no intention of shifting.

“If we had the winds of Texas or the sun of California, the task here would be even easier,” said Felix Matthes of Germany’s renowned Institute for Applied Ecology. “Given the great potential in the U.S., it would be feasible there in the long run too, even though it would necessitate huge infrastructure investments.”

Nuclear power has been very unpopular in Germany ever since radioactivity from the 1986 renewable energy drifted across the country. A center-left government a decade ago penned a plan to abandon the technology for good by 2021, but Merkel’s government last year amended it to extend the plants’ lifetime by an average of 12 years. That plan was put on hold after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami compromised nuclear power plants in Japan, and is being re-evaluated as the safety of all of Germany’s nuclear reactors is being rechecked.


Read full story at Associated Press 

Japanese Nuclear Emergency: Radiation Monitoring: Honolulu, Hawaii

March 22, 2011

Japanese Nuclear Emergency: Radiation Monitoring


Last night preliminary monitor results in Hawaii detected minuscule levels of an isotope that is also consistent with the Japanese nuclear incident. This detection varies from background and historical data in Hawaii.

This isotope was detected at our fixed monitor in Hawaii, and it is far below any level of concern for human health.

The sampling filter from this monitor is being sent to our national radiation lab for further analysis. 

Gross beta counts are temporarily unavailable due to mechanical issues. See gamma counts below.

The gamma data measures radiation from all radionuclides that emit gamma rays and splits them into ranges of energy.

The word gross, or total, indicates that the measurement is from all gamma emitting radionuclides.

Not all gamma rays have the same amount of energy. Breaking the data into discrete energy ranges helps scientists to determine which radionuclides may be present.

Notes on the Data

  • Brief gaps in RadNet data represent instrument error.
  • Larger gaps (>1 day) occasionally appear when RadNet monitors are taken offline for servicing.
  • A notice is posted when monitors are off-line for servicing. A blank graph indicates that one part of a meter on the monitor is not working.
  • Electrical interference can cause spikes, shown on graphs as one point significantly higher than the rest of the data.
  • As you view data, be aware that there are often large differences in normal background radiation among the monitoring locations because background radiation levels depend on altitude and the amount of naturally occurring radioactive elements in the local soil. What is natural in one location is different from what is natural in another.


Read story at EPA Honolulu

World Water Day. Water for cities: responding to the urban challenge

March 22, 2011

 World Water Day 2011Water for Cities: Responding to Urban Challenge

This is the first time in human history that most of the world’s population live in cities: 3.3 billion people …and the urban landscape continues to grow.

38% of the growth is represented by expanding slums, while the city populations are increasing faster than city infrastructure can adapt.

The objective of World Water Day 2011 is to focus international attention on the impact of rapid urban population growth, industrialization and uncertainties caused by climate change, conflicts and natural disasters on urban water systems. 


Read Story at




China launching thorium-based molten salt reactor system

March 21, 2011

China’s Academy of Sciences said it had chosen a “thorium-based molten salt reactor system”. The liquid fuel idea was pioneered by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Lab in the 1960s, but the US has long since dropped the ball. Further evidence of Barack `Obama’s “Sputnik moment”, you could say.

Chinese scientists claim that hazardous waste will be a thousand times less than with uranium. The system is inherently less prone to disaster.

“The reactor has an amazing safety feature,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA engineer at Teledyne Brown and a thorium expert.


Read the Story at The Telegraph

'Happy Feet' penguins found covered in oil after shipwreck on UK island RT @Earth_News

March 21, 2011

Endangered penguins have been rescued from an oil spill that is threatening to cause an environmental disaster on one of Britain?s remote South Atlantic islands.

RT @Earth_News A wrecked ship has grounded on Nightingale Island, part of the Tristan da Cunha UK overseas territory in the South Atlantic, causing an oil slick around the island which is home to nearly half the world’s population of northern rockhopper penguins.

The shipwreck could also lead to any rats on-board colonising the island and posing a huge risk to the native seabird populations – whose chicks and eggs could be eaten by the invasive rodents


There are more than 200,000 northern rockhopper penguins on the island.

Richard Cuthbert, RSPB research biologist, said the population could be wiped out.


Read complete story on The Telegraph