March 10, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

Of Nukes and Wild Hogs

Japanese foodies love wild boar meat.

Unfortunately, they can’t dine on the hundreds of boars roaming the environs of Fukushima, the town where an earthquake and tsunami caused its namesake nuclear power plant to melt down six years ago Saturday.

The hogs are toxic, exhibiting levels of radioactivity 300 times higher than what’s considered safe, the New York Times reported Thursday.

The hogs are some of the wildlife that has thrived in the wake of humans fleeing the area. Rats, foxes and dogs now roam the abandoned town, too, in the same way Chernobyl in Ukraine has become a wildlife refuge since Soviet officials shuttered the area in 1986.

Still, the animals are a sign of a greater failure at Fukushima, the Guardian asserted.

Scientists with the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) have yet to confirm they’ve found the melted radioactive material somewhere in the bowels of the wrecked plant. Radiation keeps ruining the robots they send into the place.

Of course, finding the melted material is only the beginning of the cleanup. Tepco has yet to figure out how to remove and store the stuff, too.

Experts are studying whether they should flood the reactor but that comes with big risks, according to the Japan Times. The water would block some of the radiation. But moving pieces of nuclear fuel around in water could also trigger a new nuclear reaction.

Japanese officials estimate it will take them as long as 40 years and almost $190 billion to clean up the mess. That means 160,000 people displaced in the disaster are likely never to return to see the critters that have made homes in their houses.

Life on the edge of the 12-mile evacuation zone has not yet to returned to normal. Officials are preparing to end the evacuation order in some towns within the zone. On nearby ski slopes where tourism took a heavy hit after the disaster, folks are welcome but officials are constantly monitoring radiation levels, the BBC said.

Japan shut down its nuclear reactors after the disaster. Now, Japanese leaders want them restarted, a process that requires safety checks and the approval of local governments, Nikkei Asian Review reported. But many officials and Japanese voters are looking at nukes with skepticism.

Japanese advocates of nuclear energy used to say it was a cheap and clean way to satisfy the island’s needs. These days, only wild hogs might wholeheartedly agree.

WANT TO KNOW

Chaos Looming

South Korea’s Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye and removed her from office on Friday as the result of an influence-peddling scandal involving her close adviser and some of the country’s largest conglomerates.

Protests broke out in the capital against the ruling, killing at least two.

Park is the first South Korean president to be removed from office, Reuters reported. Her ouster triggers a new presidential election, to be held within 60 days, according to the constitution.

She was accused of colluding with her friend and adviser Choi Soon-sil to pressure businesses to make donations to two foundations set up to back up her policy initiatives. Park was also accused of soliciting bribes from the head of Samsung Group, Jay Y. Lee, whose trial for bribery and embezzlement began on Thursday.

Park’s removal from office strips her of the immunity from prosecution she enjoyed as president, so she, too, could now face criminal charges. The turmoil comes in the midst of saber rattling from North Korea and the implementation of a US missile defense system that has complicated its relations with China. But South Korea’s stock market rose after the ruling, which investors saw as ending uncertainty and allowing the country to move forward.

Readying For Battle

With both the US and Moscow versions of peace talks failing to make much headway in ending the conflict in Syria, the US is sending 400 more soldiers to prepare for the battle for Raqqa – the capital of the caliphate declared by the Islamic State.

The increase effectively doubles the number of US troops on the ground in Syria, the New York Times reported, though the US military refused to confirm the total.

As in the ongoing battle for Mosul in Iraq, the plan for the assault on Raqqa is that Syrian forces will do most of the ground fighting but that Americans will assist them with advisers and air strikes and rocket and artillery fire.

The fight could prove to be complicated, and not only because of an entrenched enemy. The US hopes to take Raqqa with a joint force of Syrian Arabs and Kurdish militia. But Turkey objects to arming the Kurds – who are elsewhere fighting for an independent Kurdistan and whom Turkey has branded as terrorists.

Away Field Advantage

The European Union confirmed former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk for a second term as European Council president, despite opposition from his home country.

The 27 other EU leaders defied the objections of Poland’s nationalist government, which prompted Poland to refuse to approve the summit texts, the Washington Post reported. With negotiations looming over Brexit and a host of other challenges, the move raised questions about EU unity – as it marked the first time that the selection of the president was not unanimous.

Nevertheless, the paper quoted Tusk as saying he still felt he had enough support to carry out his duties effectively – chairing summits, coordinating the work of member countries and ensuring the 28 nations speak with one voice on the international stage. At the same time, some leaders pointed out that decision set an important precedent.

“Unity is important, but we are perhaps no longer willing to accept anything, even the ridiculous, for the sake of unity,” said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.

DISCOVERIES

Man and His Rainforest

Most people consider the Amazon rainforest a pristine piece of nature undisturbed by mankind.

But it turns out those visions of untainted tropical jungles might be inaccurate.

A new study in the journal Science found that indigenous settler groups may have played a large role thousands of years ago in cultivating the types of trees that make up the Amazon rainforest.

Analyzing data from more than 1,000 forest surveys, researchers found that domesticated trees were five times more prevalent than non-domesticated trees on pre-Columbian archeological sites.

Domesticated plants were also found more often around the remains of settlements where people lived before Christopher Columbus arrived in the 1400s, suggesting a strong interplay between man and forest.

“That’s even the case for some really remote, mature forests that we’d typically assumed to be pristine and undisturbed,” study coauthor Nigel Pitman said in a statement.

As a result, quintessentially Amazonian trees like cacao and açaí aren’t there by coincidence – they were probably planted by people living there long before Europeans arrived, said Pitman.