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NNadir

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Current location: New Jersey
Member since: 2002
Number of posts: 28,001

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Closest known relatives of virus behind COVID-19 found in Laos

This comes from a news item in Nature. It's probably open sourced: Closest known relatives of virus behind COVID-19 found in Laos (Smriti Mallapaty, Nature News September 24, 2021.)

Subtitle: Studies of bats in China and Laos show southeast Asia is a hotspot for potentially dangerous viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2.

Scientists have found three viruses in bats in Laos that are more similar to SARS-CoV-2 than any known viruses. Researchers say that parts of their genetic code bolster claims that the virus behind COVID-19 has a natural origin — but their discovery also raises fears that there are numerous coronaviruses with the potential to infect people.

David Robertson, a virologist at the University of Glasgow, UK, calls the find “fascinating, and quite terrifying”.


The paper is in preprint and has not been peer reviewed:

The results, which are not peer reviewed, have been posted on the preprint server Research Square1. Particularly concerning is that the new viruses contain receptor binding domains that are almost identical to that of SARS-CoV-2, and can therefore infect human cells. The receptor binding domain allows SARS-CoV-2 to attach to a receptor called ACE2 on the surface of human cells to enter them.

To make the discovery, Marc Eloit, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and his colleagues in France and Laos, took saliva, faeces and urine samples from 645 bats in caves in northern Laos. In three horseshoe (Rhinolophus) bat species, they found viruses that are each more than 95% identical to SARS-CoV-2, which they named BANAL-52, BANAL-103 and BANAL-236.

Natural origin

“When SARS-CoV-2 was first sequenced, the receptor binding domain didn’t really look like anything we’d seen before,” says Edward Holmes, a virologist at the University of Sydney in Australia. This caused some people to speculate that the virus had been created in a laboratory. But the Laos coronaviruses confirm these parts of SARS-CoV-2 exist in nature, he says...

...In an extra step in their study, Eloit and his team showed in the laboratory that the receptor binding domains of these viruses could attach to the ACE2 receptor on human cells as efficiently as some early variants of SARS-CoV-2. The researchers also cultured BANAL-236 in cells, which Eloit says they will now use to study how pathogenic the virus is in animal models.

Last year, researchers described another close relative of SARS-CoV-2, called RaTG13, which was found in bats in Yunnan5. It is 96.1% identical to SARS-CoV-2 overall and the two viruses probably shared a common ancestor 40–70 years ago6. BANAL-52 is 96.8% identical to SARS-CoV-2, says Eloit — and all three newly discovered viruses have individual sections that are more similar to sections of SARS CoV-2 than seen in any other viruses...

South Africa planning to start nuclear procurement

South Africa planning to start nuclear procurement

An excerpt:

South Africa plans to issue a Request for Proposal for 2500 MWe of new nuclear capacity at the end of March 2022 and complete the procurement process in 2024, Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Nobuhle Pamela Nkabane told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 65th General Conference. The country is also finalising its ratification of the amended Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.

"As we embark on the Just Energy Transition in South Africa, we recognise that nuclear plays a pivotal role as one of the clean energy sources that are needed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050," Nkabane told the conference, which is being held in Vienna.

"In June 2020, South Africa issued a Request for Information to test the market appetite for the 2500 MW of nuclear energy and received positive responses from 25 companies that showed an interest in this programme. The National Energy Regulator of South Africa has recently concurred with a ministerial … determination for the procurement of 2500 MW new generation capacity from nuclear energy. We plan to issue the Request for Proposal for 2500 MW nuclear programme at end of March 2022 and complete the procurement in 2024 to support the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan and ensure security of energy supply."

She thanked the IAEA for its continued support through peer-review Safety Aspects of Long-Term Operation missions at the Koeberg nuclear power plant, which is currently undergoing "technical and regulatory work" to extend its lifetime by 20 years.


Hurricane Ida shows the one-two punch of poverty and climate change

From Nature News: Hurricane Ida shows the one-two punch of poverty and climate change

Subtitle:

US President Joe Biden’s environmental-justice adviser says: tackle inequality and global warming together.


Nature World View September 21.

It's probably open sourced:

I spent the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina watching as the Weather Channel tracked Hurricane Ida. The two followed similar paths. As I write, the damage from Hurricane Ida is estimated at beyond US$95 billion. Many in Louisiana still lack power, and more than 70 people are dead across 8 states.

Some of the worst-hit communities had it hard enough already. I know this from my work on Waste (The New Press, 2020) — exposing water contamination and poor sanitation in rural parts of the United States — for which I won a MacArthur Fellowship last year, and from my position as founding director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. About two million people in the United States, including many around New Orleans, lack proper sewerage. Consequently, these regions have widespread hookworm infections, formerly thought to persist in only the poorest countries.

Advocates often talk about social justice, political justice, environmental justice, climate justice and more as though they are separate issues. The fact is: inequalities overlap and amplify each other. Those bearing the brunt of climate change often have the fewest resources and the most constraints on their civil rights, and live in the most polluted places...


A note about the President:

...consider this: I am a Black woman from a rural community, one of the poorest regions of the United States, where concerns are more likely to be ignored than addressed. This year, I was invited to co-chair the first-ever White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, which Biden elevated from a little-known EPA committee. That is progress, and gives me hope for the future.

Language extinction triggers the loss of unique medicinal knowledge

The paper I'll discuss in this post is this one: Language extinction triggers the loss of unique medicinal knowledge (Rodrigo Cámara-Leret and Jordi Bascompte PNAS 2021 Vol. 118 No. 24 e2103683118)

I was directed to this interesting paper by this article in popular press: Extinction of Indigenous languages leads to loss of exclusive knowledge about medicinal plants (Mongabay by Sibélia Zanon on 20 September 2021 | Translated by Maya Johnson) , which in turn came in my email from my Nature Briefing subscription.

It was my privilege to work in various capacities on the development of several drugs that were discovered originally in plants, two of the taxanes for cancer, originally found in Oregon Yew Tree bark, and irinotecan, originally obtained from the bark of the Chinese "Happy Tree." I supported a group working on the total synthesis. (It was very exciting.) I'm working with a team developing one now, but I can't talk about it.

Although many drugs have been obtained from molecules in plants, or derived from them, we have only scratched the surface of drugs available.

The paper linked above gives an interesting perspective about which I had not thought.

From the introduction:

Indigenous people have accumulated a sophisticated knowledge about plants and their services—including knowledge that confers significant health benefits (1)—that is encoded in their languages (2). Indigenous knowledge, however, is increasingly threatened by language loss (3) and species extinctions (4, 5). On one hand, language disuse is strongly associated with decreases in indigenous knowledge about plants (6). On the other hand, global change will constrain the geographic ranges of many human-utilized endemic plants and crops (7, 8). Together, language extinction and reductions in useful plant species within the coming century may limit the full potential of nature’s contributions to people and the discovery of unanticipated uses. So far, however, our understanding of the degree to which the loss of indigenous languages may result in the loss of linguistically unique knowledge and how this risk compares to that posed by ecological extinction has been limited (Fig. 1)...


Figure 1:



The caption:

Medicinal plant knowledge and its association with indigenous languages. The figure illustrates a regional pharmacy with remedies (jars with plants) cited by languages (jar labels). In this paper, we assess to what degree the knowledge contained in this pharmacy would be eroded by the extinction of either indigenous languages or plants.


Another image, Figure 2:



The caption:

Fig. 2.
Most medicinal knowledge is unique to a single language. Histograms depict the number of indigenous languages that cite a medicinal service. (A) North America. (B) Northwest Amazonia. (C) New Guinea. Red bars show medicinal plant services only known to one language. Dots within the maps indicate the distribution of languages.



The caption:

Fig. 3.
Distribution of unique knowledge across languages. Trees represent language phylogenies of North America (n = 119 languages) (A); northwest Amazonia (n = 37 languages) (B); and New Guinea (n = 80 languages) (C). Illustrations represent indigenous groups whose languages have the highest number of unique medicinal services per region. These languages are indicated by their corresponding numbers in the linguistic trees: 1, Cherokee; 2, Huron–Wyandot; 3, Navajo; 4, Ticuna; 5, Barasana–Eduria; 6, Cubeo; 7, Biak; 8, Lower Grand Valley Dani; and 9, Molima. Language names at phylogeny tips are abbreviated following Glottolog codes. For the list of language names and Glottolog codes, see SI Appendix, Table S2.


Figure 4:



The caption:

Distribution of unique knowledge across medicinal floras. Trees represent medicinal plant phylogenies of North America (n = 2,475 species) (A); northwest Amazonia (n = 645 species) (B); and New Guinea (n = 477 species) (C). Illustrations and their corresponding numbers show the plant species with more unique medicinal services per region. 1, Liriodendron tulipifera; 2, Persea borbonia; 3, Pinus glabra; 4, Tachigali paniculata; 5, Fittonia albivenis; 6, Tetrapterys styloptera; 7, Inocarpus fagifer; 8, Flagellaria indica; and 9, Cordyline fruticosa. All illustrations from www.plantillustrations.org belong to the public domain.


From the conclusion the paper:

Only about 6% of higher plants have been screened for biological activity (21). Therefore, assessing to what degree linguistically unique medicinal services are truly effective in the Western sense is beyond the scope of this paper. In many instances, these plants have been proven medicinally effective (12, 22⇓⇓⇓⇓–27), albeit there are also exceptions (28, 29). Regardless of that, here, we treat this knowledge as what it is: part of the cultural heritage of indigenous people.

The United Nations declared 2022–2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages to raise awareness about their importance for sustainable development and their endangerment across the world. Our study suggests that each indigenous language brings unique insights that may be complementary to other societies that seek potentially useful medicinal remedies. Therefore, the predicted extinction of up to 30% of indigenous languages by the end of the 21st century (3) would substantially compromise humanity’s capacity for medicinal discovery.


I'm not sure if the PNAS paper is open sourced, but the Mongabay article probably is.

Interesting I think.

Analysis: Expensive winter ahead as Europe's power prices surge

It seems that despite all this "green" so called "renewable energy" taking over Germany - we hear time and time and time again that it's "cheap" - and that offshore oil and gas drilling hellhole, Denmark, electricity prices in Europe are surging.

It seems there is a shortage of the dangerous fossil fuel dangerous natural gas to burn followed by unrestricted dumping of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide directly into the atmosphere.

Analysis: Expensive winter ahead as Europe's power prices surge

Short article, but here's a few excerpts:

FRANKFURT/LONDON/PARIS Sept 10 (Reuters) - A record run in energy prices that pushed European electricity costs to multi-year highs is unlikely to ease off before year-end, pointing to an expensive winter heating season for consumers.

The key benchmark EU and French power contracts have both doubled so far this year due to a confluence of factors ranging from Asia's economic recovery - which sent related coal and gas prices soaring - to political will to drive up European carbon emission permits, higher oil prices and low local renewable output.

The benchmark EU power contract, German Cal 2022 baseload power , on Friday set a new contract record of 97.25 euros ($115.09) a megawatt hour (MWh), while its French equivalent was just off a record 100.4 euros/MWh...

"As soon as the market realises there is a real flow going through it, the gas market will go down," said Slavov.

...Gas demand from power stations has been high due to lower than average wind speeds in Europe, curbing power generation from wind farms.

Analysts ICIS Energy said wind generation in Germany over the next two weeks is expected to average only 5 gigawatts (GW) a day compared to an average of over 10 GW for the three previous Septembers...

...European steam coal prices for power generation are at 12-year highs, and at 13-year peaks in Asia.

At least one factor, nuclear availability in major power exporter France, should bring peace of mind as engineers have worked hard to improve the fleet - though Europe-wide, the picture for nuclear is mixed, as power stations in big markets like Britain and Germany close.

Current French daily nuclear availability is seen at between 45 GW and 47 GW for September, which is about 73-75% of the installed total and between 6 and 7 GW above the five-year average, according to ICIS and data from grid company RTE.

November and December availability should be near 90%.


The reason for this is clear despite all the hoopla we hear about how "cheap" wind and solar are, but almost always escapes attention.

The reason can be made obvious by asking the following question: How expensive is wind energy when the wind isn't blowing?

So one of the books I'm reading is "Robert E. Lee and Me, A Southerners Reckoning with the Lost...

...Cause Myth."

A Southerner's Reckoning with the Lost Cause Myth, Robert E. Lee and Me.

It's by Gen. Ty Seidule (Ret.) Emeritus History Professor at West Point. He received his bachelor's degree at Washington and Lee University, which includes a chapel dedicated to, um, Robert E. Lee.

In it, General Seidule confronts the racism of his youth, growing up White in Virginia in the 1960's and 1970's, speaking about he was raised to racism and how now, as a man, a soldier, a historian, a scholar and an officer how he needs to confront it, hold it up in the light, and understand how tragically ugly it is.

I grew up in New York, and was raised to praise some distant ancestor who fought for the "Union." General Seidel perceptively announces in the early pages that there was no such thing as a "Union Army." It was the United States Army fighting armed traitors who were killing US Soldiers in order to retain a right to enslave, rape, and torture other human beings on what General Seidule insists should not be called "plantations" but rather what they were, "Enslaved Labor Farms."

But reading of General Seidule's youth, I see, with more than minor squeamishness, striking parallels to my own. After all, I watched the same Disney Movies he decries and read the same Disney books, loving, as he loved it Uncle Remus.. Perhaps I did not read the children's history books on the "Noble" Robert E. Lee, but it took me a long time to really see Lee entirely clearly for what he was, a cruel, vicious slaveholder, who betrayed an oath he took before his God, to kill his fellow Americans to preserve and perpetuate human slavery.

Any white man of my age who wants to face who he is, would do well to read this book. This is not a book for Southern White Men. It is a book for American White Men who came of age in the mid 20th century.

Yesterday my sons took my wife and me to a Meadery.

I thought he and his brother were joking with me (a lactovegetarian) by saying they were going to a "meatery."

Wrong.

A meadery is a place where they serve mead, an alcoholic beverage made from honey. They had a "flight of meads" where you got to sample 5 meads for 10 bucks.

It was very interesting I have to say. Some very interesting tastes, exotic in a playful way.

We had a wonderful time.

Inside MIT's Nuclear Reactor.

I've been spending part of the day at MIT's Nuclear Engineering Department where I came across this cool video:

MIT's TEPCO Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering

My son, a Materials Science Engineer, has expressed a strong interest, after finishing a two semester Masters under a scholarship award, in pursuing his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering.

As he is very busy in the lab, his course work, and the need to write a thesis on his metallurgical work, I have offered, and he has honored me by accepting, my help in reviewing the faculties of the remaining American Nuclear Engineering Schools to give advice and a survey of my thinking of what faculty members are doing to help save the world. This consists simply of a spreadsheet with the institution, the web address of the faculty members, and a brief discussion, one to ten sentences, in what the faculty laboratory is engaged, and my personal views on the technical details of a putative sustainable nuclear future to provide the energy necessary to clean up the mess we've made of the entire planet.

The idea is to give a quick survey into which he can drill for greater depth as he considers his personal future and target schools.

So I came across this guy, who on the surface level seems like he'd be an excellent advisor from whom one could learn an enormous amount of important information: Jacopo Buongiorno

His description on his web page above:

Jacopo Buongiorno is the TEPCO Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the Director of Science and Technology of the MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory. He teaches a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses in thermo-fluids engineering and nuclear reactor engineering. Jacopo has published 90 journal articles in the areas of reactor safety and design, two-phase flow and heat transfer, and nanofluid technology. For his research work and his teaching at MIT he won several awards, among which the ANS Outstanding Teacher Award (2019), the MIT MacVicar Faculty Fellowship (2014), the ANS Landis Young Member Engineering Achievement Award (2011), the ASME Heat Transfer Best Paper Award (2008), and the ANS Mark Mills Award (2001) Jacopo is the Director of the Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems (CANES). In 2016–2018 he led the MIT study on the Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World. Jacopo is a consultant for the nuclear industry in the area of reactor thermal-hydraulics, and a member of the Accrediting Board of the National Academy of Nuclear Training. He is also a member of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Space Working Group, a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society (including service on its Special Committee on Fukushima in 2011–2012), a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, past member of the Naval Studies Board (2017–2019), and a participant in the Defense Science Study Group (2014–2015).


I highlighted with bold two points of interest, one being an area in which I hope my son will develop, two phase flows, and of course, heat transfer, since I am very fond of heat networks to obtain high energy efficiency, a key to addressing, safely, world poverty.

The second is reference to TEPCO, the Japanese power company that built and operated the the now infamous Fukushima reactors. TEPCO is a much maligned company because the reactors failed to withstand a 9.0 earthquake because the back up diesel generators failed.

I used to write quite a bit over at Daily Kos, which is a website devoted to our end of the political spectrum, although as far as energy and the environment is concerned, is overtly antinuclear, embracing the popular, but absurd idea that if nuclear energy is "too dangerous," it follows that climate change is not "too dangerous." Antinuclear rhetoric is, in my long held opinion, our equivalent of the right's creationism, and, even more graphically and explicitly, the right's recent anti-vax, and anti-mask rhetoric. Taking a vaccine can and does involve risks, however the risks are vanishingly small when compared to the risk of dying or being permanently disabled because one has not taken, or worse, refused a vaccine.

The reactionary "renewable energy will save us" fantasy - reactionary because the world abandoned an existing total reliance on "renewable energy" in the 19th century for a reason - has played out. It did not save us, it is not saving us, and it won't save us. Nuclear energy is not risk free, nor does it need to be, to be preferred to all other options when it comes to saving lives that might otherwise be lost to producing energy, any more than vaccines need to be risk free to save lives.

For a time, I was tolerated at Daily Kos, possibly because the polls I wrote, which often involved references to King Kong and lutefisk, were amusing, but ultimately I was banned, as I like to say, "for telling the truth."

I was writing there at Daily Kos when the Fukushima "accident" - it was no accident, it was an unprecedented natural disaster involving the flow of seawater - took place, and in a post I wrote there (they're called "diaries" over there) I offered my impression of the TEPCO engineers addressing the disaster. I did so in response to a correspondent there named George, who, if I have this right and memory serves me well, actually held a Ph.D in geology, but abandoned the field to take up surfing in Hawaii.

This is no surprise to me. I've known quite a number, probably numbering in the hundreds, of holders of Ph.D degrees who are quite useless. Hopefully my son, should he get a Ph.D. will reflect well on that degree and will do something more important than surfing.

By the way, I was nowhere near as well educated about energy and the environment in 2011 as I am now, and actually included a few statements that were wrong. For instance I wrote in 2011 the following:

The World Health Organization reports that 2 million people die prematurely each year from air pollution, which is about one person every 15 seconds, with almost all of this pollution resulting from dangerous fossil fuel and "renewable" biomass burning.


While this may be what the World Health Organization was saying at the time - which makes my statement directly true but indirectly false - the understanding of air pollution mortality has advanced considerably. The current understanding of the mortality associated with air pollution is, according to the most recent Lancet Survey of global mortality and risks, is around 7 million per year (6.8 million being the most probable amount) meaning one death every 5 seconds, not 15 seconds, from air pollution.

I've made an enormous effort to further educate myself in the last ten years, picking up my pace.

"George" the Surfer wrote a post saying the nuclear engineers at TEPCO, were incompetent, because they built nuclear plants near a fault line. In my post, indirectly addressed to George the Surfer, I asked if this meant that people who built cities near fault lines were incompetent.

I began this line of reasoning thusly:

If a single structure is rebuilt in the path of the 2011 tsunami, even one structure of any kind, say a solar PV plant containing oodles of chemicals known to be toxic (in some cases highly toxic), will the builder of said structure be declared "incompetent?"

In 1923, the city of Tokyo was struck by an earthquake which killed roughly between 100,000 and 150,000 people in a matter of about 10 minutes. Almost all of these people were killed as a result of falling buildings - no nuclear power plants were involved since, um, the world class scientists who first built nuclear plants, men like Nobel Laureates Wigner, Seaborg, Fermi, Bethe, etc, were very early in their careers and were, in some cases, um, children. Incredibly, the 1923 Tokyo earthquake produced no internet fetishes about banning, um, buildings. In fact, Tokyo was rebuilt, only to be completely destroyed by dangerous fossil fuels diverted to weapons purposes some 22 years later.

Even more incredibly, the city was rebuilt again and even more incredibly, there were no calls among the Japanese (or anyone else) for phasing out dangerous fossil fuels because they not only could be used to destroy entire cities, but are used to destroy entire cities as the observed destruction of scores of cities in the last 70 years or so has repeatedly demonstrated.

Yet because two cities were destroyed in a period of less than a week more than 5 decades ago by nuclear weapons, everyone wants to talk about the possibility of nuclear war to the exclusion of the day-to-day reality of dangerous fossil fuel war, even though nuclear wars are no longer observed and dangerous fossil fuel wars powered by dangerous fossil fuel weapons are almost continuously observed.

Huh?

Wasn't it just a few years back that one of cities in one of the oldest civilizations on earth was mostly destroyed - including artifacts almost 5,000 years old - in a dangerous fossil fuel war using dangerous fossil fuel weapons to effect such destruction?


By the way, the overwhelming number of deaths in the Earthquake/Tsunami at Tohoku involved buildings and seawater.

Consider this publication, published about a year after the Tohoku Earthquake which is often described by anti-nukes, who I personally, again, regard as the precise equivalents of anti-vax types, refer to as "Fukushima" as if the reactors, and only the reactors were worthy of consideration in the event:

Nobuhito Mori, Tomoyuki Takahashi & THE 2011 TOHOKU EARTHQUAKE TSUNAMI JOINT SURVEY GROUP (2012) Nationwide Post Event Survey and Analysis of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake Tsunami, Coastal Engineering Journal, 54:1, 1250001-1-1250001-27

It contains the following text:

The Tohoku region comprises several prefectures ranging from north to south: Aomori Prefecture, lwate Prefecture, Miyagi Prefecture, and Fukushima Prefecture, which border the Pacific Ocean. Sendai is the largest city in the region. The southern part of Tohoku is relatively fiat, especially the Sendai Plain, but the coastal geomorphology of northern Tohoku features ria coasts, which are steep, narrow bays. The northeastern part of Tohoku is known as the Sanriku region. The tsunami inundated over 400 km2 of land. As of January 13 in 2012, official fatalities were 15,844 with an additional 3,394 missing. The major cause of death was the tsunami, and most fatalities occurred in Tohoku: 58% in Miyagi Prefecture, 33% in Iwate Prefecture and 9% in Fukushima Prefecture, respectively. The number of totally and partially damaged houses, buildings, and bridges were 128,530, 230,332, and 78, respectively.

Before this event, the risk of an earthquake and tsunami off the Tohoku coast was believed to be high. The Japanese government reported that a magnitude 7.4 earthquake along a 200 km fault offshore of Sendai was expected to occur with 99% probability within 30 years. The 1896 Meiji Sanriku earthquake (Mw 8.2-8.5) and tsunami caused 21,915 deaths, the 1933 Showa Sanriku earthquake (Mw 8.1) and tsunami caused 3,064 deaths, and smaller tsunamis have occurred roughly every 1{}--50 years. Thus, earthquake and tsunami disaster countermeasures, such as offshore and onshore tsunami barriers, planted trees as a natural tsunami barrier, vertical evacuation buildings, and periodic evacuation training were implemented and practiced in these areas. Therefore, we emphasize that Tohoku was an area highly prepared for a tsunami. Nevertheless, the tsunami disaster countermeasures were insufficient against the 2011 event. Tsunami barriers were severely damaged, some reinforced concrete buildings were totally destroyed, and the extent of inundation was underestimated in several areas.


There is, of course, very little consideration ten years later of the 19,278 (if the missing remained missing) deaths from seawater, presumably including deaths in the 128,530 totally or partially damaged houses. They don't matter in the minds of anti-nukes; anti-nukes would much rather discuss the possibility that someone, perhaps multiple people might die from (gasp) radiation. The text suggests that only 9% of the deaths recorded took place in the Fukushima Prefecture, and that they were from seawater. If this 9%, which works out to 1735 human beings had all died from radiation instead of seawater - they didn't - this would amount, in units of time, the number of people who will be killed by air pollution in the next two hours and 20 minutes roughly.

In my Daily Kos Diary, I wrote in defense of the outstanding job done by TEPCO engineers under these extraordinary places.

To wit:

...The Fukushima nuclear plants were designed and built beginning in the 1960's and came on line in the 1970's, and operated for decades largely without incident. Dumb people like to lay around day after day after day pretending that wind and solar toys and junk were a realistic alternative to these plants, but when doing this, they're completely full of shit, and were especially full of shit in the 1960's and 1970's, not that they're much less full of shit now.

Suppose the supposedly "incompetant" engineers had built coal plants instead of nuclear plants instead?

The result would have been many tens of thousands of premature deaths, although there would be no fetishists burning lots and lots and lots of electricity to caterwaul about this point...


The figures for the number of lives saved by nuclear energy in Japan are, I think, higher than what I wrote in 2011 when I wrote, "tens of thousands."

I continued a consideration of the TEPCO engineers the surfer called "incompetent."

Now we have people running around saying that the response of the TEPCO engineers and workers after the tsunami struck was incompetent.

Really?

Compared to what?

Contained within the confines of the Fukushima plant were operating reactors. Also there were reactors in which all of the used fuel, maybe decades worth of such fuel, although Japan correctly has reprocessed at least some of its fuel. TEPCO engineers addressed a situation in which much - if not most, if not all - of its equipment was destroyed. As was the case with everything else in the country, they had to manage a situation in the presence of a completely destroyed infrastructure. Moreover some of the reactors were built using technology developed nearly half a century ago.

As was the case with every single other bit of infrastructure in the path of the earthquake and tsunami, the events exceeded the design parameters.

Now, the TEPCO engineers did not succeed in making the impact of the extreme damage to their plant zero. Neither in fact did any other industry. Refineries exploded, after all, bridges collapsed or were swept away, semi-conductor plants were destroyed. It is very unlikely that any industry in the highly industrialized nation of Japan was able to prevent injury or the risk of injury to the public from their plants to be zero in an earthquake and tsunami.

Nevertheless the TEPCO engineers were able, within a matter of weeks, to address a situation never before encountered anywhere, easily exceeding any rational design parameters, assess the situation and stabilize it so that the ultimate loss to either the environment, or to human life measures as not even a blip compared to a single day's normal operations of dangerous fossil fuel facilities around the world.

In the last four months, these engineers have built one of the world's largest ion exchange systems, built robots to investigate facilities remotely, moved huge pumps and equipment through a ravaged landscape - destroyed by a, um, natural disaster, dealt with a stupid and hostile media consisting largely of people who have never opened a science book in their pathetic lives. They stabilized the so called "waste" products that represented billions of person years out energy output. The plant has a capacity for water treatment and cesium removal of 1200 m3 (317,000 gallons) per day. The recovered water is reused for cooling the damaged cores. The total volume of water available for such reuse is around 110,000 cubic meters. Thus the engineers at TEPCO, working under difficult circumstances were able to construct a closed system that effectively will extract and concentrate the extracted leachates into easily managed small containers. (If so desired, the properties of these resins allow the collection of pure radiocesium.)

Now, as it happens, I have been around lots of projects involve industrial scale use of functionalized resins - not nuclear applications unhappily - that are similar to the ion exchange resins used at Fukushima - and rapidly scaling them, as been done there, is hardly simple, although it must be said that these resins are now commercially available on relatively large scales. For instance, one can buy 250 gallon drums of a product called "SuperLig® 644" which is a proprietary resin that has high selectivity for the absorption of cesium from aqueous solutions in the presence of potassium and sodium, a situation that is observed in waste tanks at the Hanford nuclear weapons processing facility near Richland Washington.

(cf. Adu-Wusu et al, Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, Vol. 267, No.2 (2006) 381–388)

In actuality TEPCO is using two technologies, the American technology, as well as a technology utilized by France at its reprocessing plants for decontaminating cesium from water.

Even though these types of products are commercially available, it is no small feat to build a plant to utilize them on a large scale, to build connections, pumps, columns, filters, supports, etc on such a scale as to be able to process thousands of cubic meters of water, especially in an area that is largely inaccessible.

Yet the TEPCO engineers have done precisely this and the ion exchange plant is operating. Moreover they did in in four months in a destroyed area, parts of which were radioactive.

I note that American engineers at Hanford are still only operating pilot plants doing this sort of thing, although they have had decades to address this problem in an area with intact infrastructure. (In fairness to the Americans, their research in this area is largely responsible for the commercial availability of such resins.)

Similarly, TEPCO engineers were able to quickly coat the ground surrounding the failed plants with a polymer that prevents the volatilization of dust. This also was a remarkable accomplishment, although probably less remarkable than the building of the ion exchange plant.

Finally, several engineers and workers risked their lives by entering the plant at various times, nine of them receiving very high doses of radiation. Of course, except for the fact that nuclear is spelled with an "N" and building is spelled with a "B" these people are not qualitatively different than the many thousands of Japanese who risked their lives to enter collapsed buildings, even if the duimbells at the New York Times have yet to announce the events associated with the Sendai earthquake as the "death of the construction industry."

While accomplishing these difficult unprecedented acts - some, as the numbers above suggest involved great personal danger - these TEPCO engineers had to endure the oppressive catcalls, insults, vituperation, suspicion, and fear of a largely illiterate and unhelpful international community, some of whom seemed to take a kind of twisted schadenfreud motivated not by concern for humanity, but rather to engage in a resounding chorus that was a paen to fear, ignorance, and superstition...


It seems that my son has a reasonable shot at getting into MIT's Nuclear Engineering Department. From my review of the faculty and research staff, I would consider doing so would be something like dying and going to Heaven, if in fact there were such a thing as Heaven. No one should consider acceptance to that august institution a "slam-dunk" but it's reasonable to assume he might be admitted on strong credentials. If he did, would I advise him to take a serious look at working with Dr. Buongiorno's group, run by the TEPCO Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering?

Damn straight I would, although again, the department is filled with outstanding engineer/scientists working to save the world from itself.

I think the TEPCO guys did a very good job containing and limiting the damage, despite the contempt, fear and ignorance with which they were addressed.

The DailyKos post I wrote in 2011 is here: Were the Japanese Engineers Who Built Fukushima Incompetent?

It's interesting to see that this document contains a paraphrase of the true statement, the repetition of which ultimately got me banned at Daily Kos later on, where nuclear energy is "too dangerous" and climate change isn't:

The decision to close nuclear plants around the world - mostly in bourgeois countries - is, and there's no polite way to put this, is murder, since people will be killed by the use of replacement dangerous fossil fuel plants and irrevocable and irreversible damage will be done to the planetary ecosystem.


I stand by that statement.

I trust you're having a nice afternoon.

Addressing Color and the Ongoing Failure of PET Plastic Recycling.

The paper I'll discuss in this post is this one: Simple But Tricky: Investigations of Terephthalic Acid Purity Obtained from Mixed PET Waste (Lelia Cosimbescu, Daniel R. Merkel, Jens Darsell, and Gayaneh Petrossian, Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research 2021 60 (35), 12792-12797). The scientists who authored this paper all work at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, just outside of the Hanford Nuclear Complex. (Much of the work at PNNL is directed at handling and treating radioactive materials from the nuclear weapons manufacturing industry that operated in the 20th century. This industry left many of these radioactive materials in poorly contained conditions. This paper is not about radioactivity though; it's about a much worse problem, as it is on a much more massive scale, and more widely distributed, plastic contamination.)

Although this is fine scientific work, I can't say I endorse the scheme I'll briefly discuss related to this paper. My preferred technology for dealing with plastic pollution, including but no limited to microplastics and plastic waste allegedly recycled is steam or supercritical water reforming or dry reforming in a reverse Allam cycle. Thus, my chief interest in posting reference to this paper is with the statistics therein and the elucidation of an issue about which I've not thought much, if at all, the issue of color as a problem in the widely held belief that we can, and even worse, do recycle plastics.

I will bold the sections of the introduction to the paper, which follows, to highlight the interesting statistics and information.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a thermoplastic polyester mainly used in textiles and single-use packaging due to its physicochemical properties such as good thermal and chemical resistance, mechanical properties, durability, and lightweight. The majority of the world’s PET is utilized for synthetic fiber production (over 60%), while bottle production accounts for about 30% of global demand.(1) Mechanical recycling of PET is cost-efficient and already implemented in plants with capacities of 5000–20,000 tons/year. However, chemical contaminants and degradation products generated during first processing and usage represent the main source of quality depreciation and rise of impurities in the recycling stream. Recycled materials are increasingly introduced into manufacturing processes, but require efficient sorting, separation, and cleaning processes for production of high-quality recycled polyester. As a result, recycling rates for colored bottles and films are significantly lower due to the broad range of colors, additives, multilayer structure, labels, and adhesives.(2) Just 2% of plastic packaging, which is largely composed of PET, is recycled annually into products of similar quality.(3) Fiber-grade PET, often called “polyester”, for textile material production has a molecular weight of 15–20 kg mol–1 and intrinsic viscosity between 0.4 and 0.75 dL/g, while bottle-grade PET has a higher molecular weight (>20 kg/mol) with an intrinsic viscosity above 0.95 dL/g. The different grades of PET cannot be blended because their properties are incompatible in the respective processing methods and/or give poor properties in the recycled product.(4) Therefore, often, the bottle-grade PET which cannot undergo mechanical processing for recycling due to color or mixed media PET is mainly disposed in landfills or incinerated. Mechanical recycling of PET in the United States converts only about two-thirds of the collected bottles to clean flake with the remaining one-third (531 million lbs) being landfilled.(5) Chemical recycling of PET circumvents this barrier and provides pathways to not only monomers but feedstock for other chemical products and high-performance polymers such as polyaramids.(6)


The added italics are also mine.

We all dutifully put our plastics into the recycling bins at home, at work, and in many commercial establishments, without thinking what happens to them afterwards. Much of the plastic nonetheless, ends up in landfills, and some certainly escapes into bodies of water, into land, and as is increasingly clear, into the flesh of living things including, but hardly limited to, humans.

The authors of this paper have proposed a method of plastic recycling by heating colored waste plastics in solvents, investigating ethanol and ethylene glycol - generally made from dangerous fossil fuels - for the process both in the presence of strong base, sodium hydroxide.

The conditions utilized are shown in this table from the text:



Some pictures from the text:



The caption:

Figure 1. Hydrolysis of mixed PET waste to obtain pure TPA in ethylene glycol/water: (a) mixed PET starting material; (b) reaction after 30 min; (c) reaction after 6 h; (d) water added to the clearing point to dissolve TPA salt; (e) filtration products of non-PET waste and unreacted PET; (f) basic mother liquor of TPA sodium salt after filtration; (g) solid TPA in aqueous solution at pH 4; and (h) isolated TPA via vacuum filtration. This example illustrates TPA3.





The caption:

Figure 2. Hydrolysis of mixed PET waste to obtain pure TPA in ethanol/water: (a) reaction after 2 h; (b) waste impurities and PET removed from mother liquor; (c) mother liquor during acidification with HCl; and (d) solid obtained by filtration. This example illustrates TPA4.




The caption:

Figure 3. DSC of TPA2 (a), TPA3 (b), TPA4 (c), and a commercial TPA denoted as TPA std (d) at a 5 °C heating/cooling rate.


DSC is differential scanning calorimetry, a method relying on the how flow, absorption, or release of heat takes place as a material is heated.



The caption:

Figure 4. Powder XRD pattern for TPA2, TPA3, TPA4, and TPA std (commercial material). Also shown are expected peak locations (as + signs) for the TPA tetragonal phase from the XRD reference file (ICDD PDF card 00-031-1916).


XRD is X-Ray Diffraction of the samples as compared to files in a database comprising standards.

From the conclusion:

Both ethylene glycol and ethanol solvents in an aqueous base are efficient at depolymerizing mixed PET. The concentration of NaOH in water does not appear to affect the reaction if it is at least 20% (compare entries 4 and 5 in Table 1). While the ethylene glycol system appears to be less efficient in terms of temperature (110 °C vs 80 °C) and the time required to achieve the same conversion as the ethanol system (6 h vs 2 h), it provides an advantage in the recovery of the organic solvent if desired. Ethylene glycol can be easily separated from the mixture via distillation of water, whereas ethanol will azeotrope with water and hinder such separation. Ethylene glycol when used with mixed PET appeared to generate a nearly white solid, probably less prone to dissolve pigments in the by-waste, while ethanol produced a much more pink colored product. For reasons not yet understood, the ethylene glycol products appear to display a melting point transition above 280 °C versus the ethanol product, which did not...


Again, this is not in my opinion, the ideal approach to dealing with this problem. To my thinking, the entire petrochemical industry, including polymers but clearly not limited to them, should begin and end with carbon monoxide/dioxide and hydrogen as starting materials. I have convinced myself this is feasible, not easy, perhaps not really popular, but feasible.

The Hanford site, outside the PNNL site where this work was conducted, was constructed and operated under paranoid conditions of perceived emergency beginning in the Second World War and proceeding through the "cold war," to isolate nearly isotopically pure (Pu-239) plutonium. The conditions were primitive and sloppy, but need not be so any longer if we want - and we should want - useful plutonium. Much of the plutonium isolated in the 20th century at Hanford remains in nuclear weapons which should, in the mind of sane people, remain useless. It is available however, in a sane world, for use to generate heat, heat being the key intermediate for producing carbon monoxide/dioxide and hydrogen.

Have a pleasant Sunday.
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