FUKUSHIMA WATER RELEASE REIGNITES CONCERNS
A dozen years after the catastrophic Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant incident, northeastern Japan’s residents had begun to recover from the trauma of the magnitude-9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. However, the recent Japanese government’s decision to release 1.25 million tons of treated radioactive water from the plant into the Pacific Ocean has raised new fears and thrust Fukushima back into global headlines.
Tadaki Sawada, of the Fukushima Fisheries Federation, highlights the uncertainty fishermen now face, with 1,200 members unsure of the future. Following the water release announcement, China banned all seafood imports from Japan, affecting major export markets like Hong Kong and Macau. South Korea remains on the fence but could impose similar bans depending on water radiation tests.
Tetsu Nozaki, chairman of the Fukushima fishermen’s association, emphasized the need for fishing without public mistrust. The government has pledged support to the affected fishermen. Yusuke Kimura, of the Fukushima Prefectural Government’s tourism division, also raised concerns about the fallout on tourism, especially from Asia.
The recent focus on the 2011 disaster has reawakened traumatic memories for many, emphasizing the lasting impact of such catastrophes. (DW)
U.S. AQUIFERS IN PERIL.
U.S. aquifers face unprecedented depletion, endangering drinking water, agriculture, and ecosystems, recent data reveals. Since 1940, more wells report dwindling water levels, yet federal and state responses lag. States like Kansas witness declining crop yields, as aquifers can’t support consistent irrigation. Vital water wells, particularly in rural areas and regions like California, Texas, and Arizona, are depleting fast.
Compounding the issue, receding aquifers lead to land subsidence, causing infrastructure damage, and jeopardize water quality via saltwater intrusion and arsenic risks. Climate change exacerbates the situation by diminishing precipitation essential for recharge, coupled with increasing water demands.
This data underscores the need for swift federal, state, and local collaboration. Only stringent groundwater regulation can preserve this critical shared resource. (New York Times)
SPINAL CORD STIMULATOR GETS GREEN LIGHT.
Medtronic’s latest spinal cord stimulator, the Inceptiv device, promises to enhance the comfort of those suffering from chronic pain by auto-adjusting to their movements. Traditional spinal cord stimulators, which are implanted beneath the skin in the lower back, can create discomfort as their leads shift during everyday activities, necessitating patients to alter the device’s settings. Inceptiv, a closed-loop system, self-adjusts by gauging the body’s neural reaction to stimulation therapy 50 times every second. Consequently, if the system senses any deviation due to movements like sneezing, it promptly adjusts its output to avert excessive nerve stimulation. In a clinical trial, 90% of users preferred Inceptiv over standard devices. Boasting the thinnest profile at six millimeters and being rechargeable in about an hour, Inceptiv also ensures MRI safety, a pivotal feature given that many users will require an MRI scan within five years post-implantation. The device has obtained CE mark approval in the EU but awaits FDA approval in the US. (Fierce Biotech)
LONDON EXPANDS POLLUTER-PAY ZONES.
London has expanded its Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to cover all 32 local boroughs, affecting roughly nine million residents. High-emission vehicles must now pay £12.50 (~$20) daily to enter or traverse the zone. However, this has sparked intense opposition, including vandalism against ULEZ cameras and infrastructure. Opponents, like anti-ULEZ activist Nicholas Arlett, argue the scheme is a tax burden and is based on exaggerated claims of pollution. Contrarily, the World Health Organization and numerous scientific studies show high pollution levels in UK cities and their detrimental health effects. London’s earlier introduction of congestion and polluter-pay zones led to a 21% reduction in pollution. Transport for London’s study suggests 85% of cars in the expanded zone already meet emission criteria and won’t be charged. Some business owners expressed concerns over the economic impacts, especially given the UK’s high inflation rate. Political implications have also emerged, with the ULEZ policy influencing recent elections and expected to play a significant role in the upcoming general election. (CBC)
WANTED: BRIDES 25 OR YOUNGER.
Changshan county in eastern China is offering couples a reward of 1,000 yuan ($137) if the bride is 25 or younger, aiming to encourage young people to marry due to worries about a decreasing birth rate. The initiative also offers childcare, fertility, and education subsidies to those who have children. The move comes as China experiences its first population decline in 60 years and faces an ageing populace. To combat this, authorities are introducing measures to increase birth rates, including financial incentives and better childcare facilities. Even though the legal age for marriage in China is 22 for males and 20 for females, marriage rates reached a low in 2022 with 800,000 fewer marriages than in 2021. Factors like high childcare costs, career interruptions, gender discrimination, and economic concerns have made many young Chinese reluctant to marry and have children. (Reuters)
FLIGHT CHAOS TO CONTINUE.
Widespread disruptions affected flights in and out of the UK due to a technical issue with air traffic control systems. As a result, air traffic controllers resorted to manual operations. British Transport Minister Mark Harper stated that it might take several days to mitigate the disruptions and clarified that the problem was not due to a cyberattack. Harper empathized with the inconvenienced passengers and stressed the airlines’ responsibility to accommodate affected individuals. According to the aviation analytics company, Cirium, 232 departing and 271 incoming flights at UK airports were canceled by Monday afternoon. Many travelers expressed their frustrations on social media platforms, such as Twitter. Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, had to cancel dozens of flights on both Monday and Tuesday. Although the technical issue was addressed, NATS Operations Director Juliet Kennedy noted that it would take time to normalize flight schedules. Airlines were adjusting flight timetables to manage the situation effectively. (Al-Jazeera)
In an astonishing medical case at Canberra Hospital, Australia, neurosurgeon Hari Priya Bandi extracted a live, wriggling worm from a 64-year-old woman’s brain. During a biopsy, Bandi discovered and removed the 8 cm (3-inch) parasite. The worm was identified as the larva of the Ophidascaris robertsi, a native Australian roundworm typically found in carpet pythons but not known to infest humans before this incident. The woman, who had shown signs of forgetfulness and increasing depression, was initially suspected to have a tumor or abscess. A year prior, she had been treated for mysterious symptoms, including abdominal pain and night sweats. After the worm’s removal, the woman’s neuropsychiatric conditions showed improvement. She was discharged with antiparasitic medication and has since not required hospitalization. Dr. Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases physician and co-author of the related journal article, mentioned that the patient lives near a carpet python habitat and collects warrigal greens, a native plant. It’s hypothesized she might have consumed worm eggs from the vegetation or through contact with contaminated hands, even though she had no direct interaction with snakes. (Associated Press)
10,000 PENGUINS DIE IN SINGLE INCIDENT.
In a devastating event in late 2022, approximately 10,000 emperor penguin chicks died in the Antarctic. The sea-ice beneath them disintegrated before they could develop waterproof feathers essential for swimming, causing them to likely drown or freeze. This event, captured by satellites, occurred in the Bellingshausen Sea region. Dr. Peter Fretwell of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) stated that this is a sign of looming crises, with over 90% of emperor penguin colonies predicted to be nearly extinct by century’s end due to diminishing sea-ice in a warming climate. Emperor penguins rely on sea-ice for breeding, and its instability threatens their survival. The scientists utilized the EU’s Sentinel-2 satellites to monitor penguin activities from the guano stains visible on the ice. The research revealed premature fragmentation of sea-ice beneath penguin rookeries, preventing many chicks from developing swimming feathers. Four colonies experienced complete breeding failure. Antarctic sea-ice has drastically reduced since 2016, impacting approximately a third of the 60+ known emperor penguin colonies between 2018 and 2022. While the Arctic has seen steady sea-ice decline, Antarctic ice was previously more resilient. Experts attribute the sudden decline to warmer ocean water and specific wind patterns. Emperor penguins are currently labeled “Near Threatened”, but there’s a push to reclassify them as “Vulnerable” due to the climate change threat.https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-66492767
OBSERVING DEEP SPACE X-RAYS.
Astronomers are eagerly awaiting the launch of the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center. A collaboration between JAXA, NASA, and the ESA, XRISM aims to observe deep space X-rays with unparalleled precision. Its standout feature, an X-ray calorimeter, can detect minute temperature shifts caused by electromagnetic radiation. This technology allows for identifying X-ray photon energies, essential in deciphering the universe’s history. Unlike other tools, XRISM can also capture extended objects like intergalactic gas. This is Japan’s fourth attempt to send an X-ray calorimeter to space after previous setbacks. XRISM’s predecessor, Hitomi, briefly revealed the potential of such technology by mapping the Perseus Cluster, yielding data that reshaped atomic transition understandings. (Nature)
END TO HORSESHOE CRAB BLOOD COLLECTING?
The U.S. Pharmacopoeia (USP), a key non-governmental organization in setting pharmaceutical testing standards, has released draft guidelines advocating the use of synthetic alternatives to horseshoe crab blood, historically utilized to test drug safety. The protein in horseshoe crab blood coagulates when exposed to dangerous bacterial endotoxins, making it a vital component for endotoxin testing in products ranging from medical devices to vaccines. However, extracting this blood, a practice which sees up to 30% of the captured crabs die, has not only threatened the crab populations but also the migratory birds that rely on their eggs for sustenance. While synthetic alternatives like recombinant factor C (rFC) exist and are approved in Europe, they haven’t gained traction in much of the pharmaceutical world due to the lack of USP endorsement. Past proposals to replace the horseshoe crab-derived protein with alternatives were rejected by the USP, citing insufficient data. However, with growing evidence supporting synthetic alternatives, the new proposal seems more promising. Although some industry figures remain skeptical about completely phasing out horseshoe crab protein, the move is largely seen as progressive and essential for conservation. (Science)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: 資源エネルギー庁.