Fukushima Seafood is Safe to Eat Again after Nuclear Accident Following 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2012

Week in Review

The March 11, 2011 earthquake did not hurt the nuclear reactors at Fukushima.  And that quake was so violent that it moved the earth on its axis.  But it didn’t damage those reactors.  It was the tsunami it threw up that did.  Flooding the electrical switchgear that powered the cooling pumps.  As well as the backup generators.  It was one of those failures that was so remote that the engineers never conceived of it.  And when it happened it caused the greatest nuclear power accident since the Chernobyl meltdown.  The fallout from this rare accident shut down the nuclear power industry in Japan.  And other parts of the world.  People trembled as they awaited the nuclear apocalypse.  But it wasn’t as bad as some feared (see Fukushima seafood on the market by AP, The West Australian, posted 6/26/2012 on Yahoo! News).

The first catch of seafood from Japan’s Fukushima coast since last year’s nuclear disaster is being sold after passing radiation tests.

The Fukushima Prefectural (state) fishing co-operative said only octopus and a marine snail known as whelk were going on sale Monday…

The association said the amount of radioactive cesium was so low it was not detectable.

Octopus and whelk were chosen for the first test shipment because they measured low in radiation. Flounder, sea bass and other fish from Fukushima cannot be sold yet because of radiation contamination.

Not bad for the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.  And as the hot summer approaches they’re starting up some of their reactors to meet the electrical demand.  This doesn’t mean that Fukushima is not without problems.  But life goes on.  Even after the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

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The NHS provides a Glimpse into Obamacare with a Hospital Ward closing due to a Staff Shortage

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2012

Week in Review

After the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare was Constitutional people have been wondering how that will affect their health care.  Well, thanks to the British National Health Service (NHS) we can look into the future to see what awaits us under Obamacare (see St John’s Hospital children’s ward closed for three weeks posted 6/27/2012 on BBC News Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland).

A West Lothian hospital has said it will not admit patients to its children’s ward for three weeks during the summer because of a staff shortage…

Trainee paediatric doctors were removed from the hospital in April, reducing doctors available for out-of-hours cover…

The health board said it was not possible to secure enough staff for the three-week period…

Former consultant at St John’s, and Scottish Labour’s health spokesman, Richard Simpson said: “This is not the fault of hard working staff. The SNP is creating an environment in the health service that risks these practices becoming more likely by imposing deep cuts to staffing levels, resulting in staffing levels on the ground being thin…”

The RCN’s Theresa Fyffe said: “Decisions like this indicate how the NHS workforce is stretched to breaking point, which is bad news for families and children in West Lothian, as well as our members, many of whom are already worried about the future of the children’s ward.”

Staffing shortage?  Stretched to the breaking point?  Will this happen here?  Well, considering that the US has about five times the population of the UK, yes.  Doctors who are already fighting the government for Medicare reimbursements that are already below their costs have indicated that they will just stop seeing Medicare patients.  And the doctors who can are thinking about retiring.  Because they spend more of their time being bureaucrats than doctors.  And it’s only going to get worse under Obamacare.  For that bill was 2,000+ pages long.  And the law will only be bigger.

Fewer doctors to see more patients?  Can you say staffing shortage?  Stretched to the breaking point?

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Congress keeping Student Loans Cheap for the Youth Vote while Increasing the Cost of Tuition

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2012

Week in Review

It’s an election year.  And both the Republicans and the Democrats are trying to garner the youth vote.  By making it easy for them to accumulate a massive student loan debt for what may prove to be a worthless degree in today’s economy.  Because of the highest unemployment since the Great Depression.  If you compare the U-6 unemployment rates.  Which is currently still north of 14%.  So it’s hard for new college graduates to find a job.  Especially for those with degrees in the liberal arts and the social sciences.  Which just aren’t in high demand in a high-tech economy.  But cheap student loans translate into happy students.  Later they’ll be disgruntled college graduates.  But the politicians don’t care about that.  Because at the time of the election they’ll be happy and grateful students looking to thank someone with their vote (see How Cheap Federal Loans May Harm Students by Rick Newman posted 6/25/2012 on US News).

The cost of a college education has been rising by about 9 percent per year over the last decade, more than three times the overall rate of inflation…For many families, education inflation is more onerous than the skyrocketing cost of healthcare, since you can’t buy insurance that pays for college.

Several factors are pushing tuition costs up, including cutbacks in state funding and an increasing number of students competing for university spots. But another pernicious cause may be a sharp increase in financial aid available to students, especially federally subsidized grants and loans…

That’s a huge commitment to college education, and a seemingly smart way for Washington to prioritize spending. Yet many experts say that all that aid artificially increases demand for a college education and the money available to pay for it, which pushes prices up. There was a disturbing parallel in the housing market a few years ago, when interest rates kept artificially low by the Federal Reserve, along with lax lending standards, generated a flood of money available for mortgages. That helped push home values far above healthy levels, creating the housing bubble that began to burst in 2006, triggering a brutal recession.

Employment at colleges and universities, meanwhile, has increased consistently over the last decade, in sharp contrast to the cutbacks that have occurred throughout the private sector and in state and local government. That suggests that there’s little cost pressure forcing universities to become more efficient, as many companies have been forced to do.

No one ever talks about the education bubble.  But after the subprime mortgage crisis we had a Congressional investigation and passed new regulations (Dodd-Frank).  And to address the high cost of health care we’ve attacked doctors, hospitals, private health insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies.  Even passed Obamacare (by saying the tax wasn’t a tax).  Yet educational costs are rising higher than even health care (at least from a parent’s perspective) and there’s no Congressional inquiry to find out why.  There are no administrators called before Congress to explain their excessive spending or the exploding costs of tuition that pays for that spending.  Or why they are even hiring more people while the private sector gets by with fewer people.  No.  Higher education gets a pass.  Why?

Because our colleges and universities teach our young students the most important thing in life.  To vote Democrat.  That’s why higher education gets a pass.  The Democrats always do well with the young and the college educated.  Especially those in the liberal arts and the social sciences.  Those courses without a lot of math.  Leaving the students a lot of time to have the time of their lives.  And to participate in the political activities of their leftist professors.  Those professors in the liberal arts and social sciences.

Still, the Republicans hope by making this a bipartisan action that they will deny some of these student voters from the Democrat column come election day.  Showing they can pander just as well as the Democrats.

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The Lack of Aviation Accidents is making it Difficult to make Extremely Safe Flying any Safer

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2012

Week in Review

Flying has never been safer.  Or more automated.  There have been so few accidents in the last decade that it’s getting harder to make safety improvements.  Because through much of the history of flying safety improvements followed the accidents (see Airline Crash Deaths Too Few to Make New Safety Rules Pay by Andrew Zajac posted 6/25/2012 on Bloomberg).

More than a decade has passed since the last major-airline accident on U.S. soil. That’s great news for aviation companies and their passengers — and a complication for rule makers trying to improve flight safety.

The benefits of aviation rules are calculated primarily on how many deaths they may prevent, so the safest decade in modern airline history is making it harder to justify the cost of new requirements.

“If anyone wants to advance safety through regulation, it can’t be done without further loss of life,” said William Voss, chief executive officer of the Alexandria, Virginia-based Flight Safety Foundation.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has made flying safer.  By combing through airplane accidents to find out what went wrong.  Sadly, it took loss of life to advance safety.  Because a plane that didn’t have an accident was safe.  And didn’t need any safety advancements.

A cost-benefit analysis is at the heart of a dispute between the FAA and unions representing pilots of cargo carriers such as FedEx Corp. (FDX) and United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) over the scope of the new regulations, which take effect in January 2014.

The rules will limit the hours pilots fly, taking into account the time of day they work as well as the number of takeoffs and landings. First proposed by the FAA for both passenger and cargo pilots, the rules were trimmed to exempt freight carriers following review by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs…

Regulators concluded that the benefit of improving pilot safety at freight airlines wasn’t worth the expense. Because costs of crashes are based primarily on the value of lost lives and freight airlines don’t carry passengers, losses are inherently smaller in cargo accidents under the formula…

Freight carriers object to the new fatigue rules because the costs are at least 10 times the benefits based on FAA data, according to Stephen Alterman, president of the Washington-based Cargo Airline Association. Cargo-airline pilots fly an average of 30 hours a month, compared with 50 hours a month for passenger-airline pilots, he said.

Passenger airline pilots fly more because passenger aircraft fly more.  A commuter route may make 3-4 round-trips in one day.  The freight aircraft (such as FedEx and UPS) typically fly overnight.  Trucks make their deliveries to the airports at the end of the day.  The planes fly through the night so trucks at the destination city can deliver those packages the following morning.

Automatic flight controls have made flying safer.  But they have also contributed to pilot fatigue.  As being a pilot is more about monitoring systems than manually flying a plane.  Which gets boring.  There was a recent incident where both pilots nodded off for a few minutes and overflew their destination.  There was another incident where the pilots were getting conflicting warnings (an over-speed warning and a stall warning at the same time due to a plugged airspeed sensor) causing great confusion.  They focused their attention on the automatic flight systems a little too long and stalled the aircraft.  These are good pilots.  Highly skilled.  But sitting still and monitoring flight systems without having to do any flying can dull the reflexes.  Not much.  But enough.

These incidents are the exception to the rule.  The rule being that flying has never been safer.  And there is no other form of transportation as safe as flying.

The risk of a fatal accident in commercial aviation has been reduced to 1 out of 49 million flights over the past five years, from 1 in 1.7 million flights from 1975 to 1989, according to NTSB records. That’s a 96 percent decrease in risk…

Safety has improved since the late 1990s as the airline industry and regulators learned to analyze massive quantities of data for anomalies and voluntarily made changes to head off potential problems, according to Thomas Hendricks, Airlines for America’s senior vice president for operations and safety.

“We go out and proactively address an issue prior to waiting for an incident to occur,” Hendricks said in an interview. “The information technology revolution has made this possible.”

Airlines cannot get people to fly their planes if they have a reputation for being unsafe.  That’s why airlines are analyzing data and voluntarily making changes if it will make them safer.  For having a reputation that your planes don’t fall out of the sky is a good thing.  Making new regulations almost moot.  Except, perhaps, in one area.  Letting pilots fly again.  They want to.  They can fly extremely well.  And should.  For the best way of bringing an aircraft in trouble safely back down is having a highly skilled pilot at the flight controls.  Which we have.  But we’re just not letting them fly much these days.

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The NLRB nay not allow Boeing to build a plant in the Nonunion South but Airbus Can

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2012

Week in Review

Airbus is opening an assembly plant in the U.S.  Why?  Because they can make planes cheaper in America than they can in Europe (see Reports: Airbus to open plant in Alabama by Nancy Trejos posted 6/28/2012 on USA Today).

In taking the plunge into the United States, Airbus is betting that American airlines, many of which have large fleets of aging jets, will be enticed to consider an A320 that was “made in America” over Boeing’s competing 737. By assembling the planes with nonunion American workers, and in using dollars, Airbus also stands to reduce production costs.

It’s the high wages and benefits of European unions.  The high taxes that fund their social democracies.  And the depreciated dollar.  Add them all up and what you get is an economic advantage building airplanes in the nonunion south.

Boeing wanted to build a plant in the south to manufacture their new Dreamliner.  But the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) told Boeing they couldn’t.  They said they had to build those planes with union labor.  Lucky for Airbus that they have the freedom to build in the nonunion south.  Where they will build planes cheaper than Boeing can. 

Pity Boeing didn’t have that same freedom in this country.     

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Texas turns to Gas-Fired Power Plants to meet Peak Electric Demand their Wind Power cannot Meet

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2012

Week in Review

Texas has more wind-generated electricity than any other state in the country.  According to the American Wind Energy Association’s U.S. Wind Industry Fourth Quarter 2011 Market Report Texas has a total installed nameplate capacity of 10,377 Mega Watts (MW).  Meaning these wind turbines can produce 10, 377 MW under ideal wind conditions.  But as wind conditions are rarely ideal these Texas wind farms will struggle to produce half of that nameplate capacity.

Wind power has a capacity factor of about 20-40%.  Wind turbines will only produce electricity for a range of winds.  They have to spin fast enough to produce electric power at 60 cycles per second so they can connect this power to the electric grid.  But not so fast that they could damage the turbines.  For that range of winds variable pitch blades on the ‘propeller’ adjust their angle of attack to produce 60 cycles per second in that wind range.  The ‘propellers’ won’t spin that fast.  But a gear box will gear up that constant rotational motion to spin an electric generator (or alternator) at 60 cycles per second.  Thus creating electric power that we can connect to the grid.

So, of that 10,377 Mega Watts Texas nameplate capacity it will provide at most 4,151 MW (40% capacity factor) of power to add to the electric grid.  Which explains why the state with the greatest amount of wind-generated electric power is turning to coal and natural gas to meet peak electric loads (see Texas prepares for soaring power demand, urges conservation by Eileen O’Grady and Scott DiSavino posted 6/25/2012 on Reuters).

Power demand reached 65,047 megawatts in the hour between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. CDT (2200 GMT), surpassing the June record of 63,102 MW set last year, according to preliminary grid data…

ERCOT [Electric Reliability Council of Texas] said demand may top 66,000 MW on Tuesday. The state’s all-time peak use of 68,379 MW was set in August of last summer during a protracted heat wave and drought…

ERCOT warned that rolling outages could occur this summer given the state’s limited amount of surplus generation…

Several idled power plants have been returned to service to bolster the summer supply after a new coal-fired plant expected to be operational was delayed.

NRG Energy (NRG.N), the state’s second-largest power company, has more generation available this summer than last, after restarting a half dozen older, natural gas-fired units totaling 1,100 MW that were previously in mothball status.

The one thing conspicuous by its absence in the entire Reuter’s article is the mention of all that wind power in Texas.

Texas is the number one wind-power state.  Still, the useable power from all those windmills (about 4,000 turbines in total) is only 6.38% of that peak demand.  Some 4,000 wind turbines to produce about 4,151 MW.  The same amount of electric power some 23 older, moth-balled, gas-fired power plants can produce.  Which is probably why they’re talking about rolling outages.  Because they’ve been building wind farms instead of useful power generation plants.  Fueled by natural gas.  And coal. 

Incidentally the capacity factor for a coal-fired plant is about 90%.  Where the only thing limiting its output is maintenance or low demand.  A nuclear power plant can have a capacity factor exceeding 100%.  For these reasons coal and nuclear power provide a large percentage of reliable power.  During peak demands natural gas-fired ‘peaker plants’ come on line quickly to provide for the extra demand when people come home from work and turn up their air conditioners.  While wind and sun add into the mix as more a novelty than a reliable power source.  With the capacity factor of solar power coming in on average around 12-15%.  In the south they may attain as high a capacity factor as 20%.  Like wind.  Making both of these a poor choice to provide additional power during peak demand.  Which is why Texas is firing up gas-fired ‘peaker plants’ to meet that peak demand.  Because they can.  While they have no way to make the wind blow or the sun shine on demand.

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