Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Tokyo (CNN) -- Spent fuel rods in Unit 4 of Japan's stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have been exposed, resulting in the emission of "extremely high" levels of radiation, the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Wednesday.
"What we believe at this time is that there has been a hydrogen explosion in this unit due to an uncovering of the fuel in the fuel pool," Gregory Jaczko told a House energy and commerce subcommittee hearing. "We believe that secondary containment has been destroyed and there is no water in the spent fuel pool, and we believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures."
The water served to both cool the uranium fuel and shield it. But once the uranium fuel was no longer covered by water, the zirconium cladding that encases the fuel rods heated, generating hydrogen, said Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and a former official with the Department of Energy.
That caught fire, resulting in a situation that is "very, very serious," he told CNN. He said the next step may involve nuclear plant workers taking heroic acts. Asked to be more specific, he said, "This is a situation where people may be called in to sacrifice their lives. ... It's very difficult for me to contemplate that but it's, it may have reached that point."
Posted by Steve Douglass at 6:22 PM
The U.S. military will send an unmanned Global Hawk high-altitude reconnaissance plane to take photos and infrared images of Japan's damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a Japanese government source told Kyodo News on Wednesday. The images could help workers figure out what's going on inside the radiation-contaminated buildings.
In related news:
3/16/2011 - JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- In response to the devastation caused by the March 11 earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan and the resulting tsunami, Pacific Air Forces is utilizing an RQ-4 Global Hawk from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, to assist the government of Japan in disaster relief and recovery efforts.
The Global Hawk, a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system, referred to as a remotely piloted aircraft, is being used to help assess damage to towns, industrial infrastructure, and other facilities affected during the earthquake and flood waters.
"The Global Hawk is an ideal ISR asset to aid in disaster relief," said Gen. Gary North, PACAF commander. "It directly complements ongoing efforts in the region and represents how advanced technology can provide crucial and timely support to senior leadership officials and search, recovery and disaster relief efforts."
The Global Hawk was also used for disaster relief efforts following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010. This will be the aircraft's first use in a humanitarian operation in the Pacific theater since it was permanently assigned at Andersen AFB in September 2010.
With approximately 30 hours of flight endurance, the Global Hawk provides a broad view of the situation on the ground. Its ability to survey large geographic areas also offers decision-makers and first responders near real-time information to assess damage and prioritize for local need. Its long airborne dwell capacity also assures continuous and long-lasting-support for whatever requirements the Government of Japan may require.
"The Global Hawk and the expertise offered by our Airmen further enhances the country's already robust capabilities as our Air force members work side by side with Japan's Self Defense force professionals," said General North.
Based at Guam, the aircraft allows the U.S. to effectively support contingencies throughout the region, demonstrating our commitment to partners throughout the Pacific, and is one part of a wide range of PACAF personnel and aircraft that are supporting the Japanese operations.
In conjunction with the Global Hawk, another reconnaissance aircraft, a U-2, also deployed from the region, is also being used to provide imagery of damage for the Japanese recovery operations.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 11:16 AM
Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- A CIA contractor who killed two Pakistani men was released from jail Wednesday after $1.4 million in compensation was paid to their families, according to a lawyer closely connected to the case .
Raymond Davis -- who has now left Pakistan, according to a U.S. official not authorized to speak for attribution -- had been in jail since January in a case that has strained the always tense relationship between the United States and Pakistan.
The families of two men he killed forgave him, a government official said Wednesday.
Davis' immediate destination after being released was unclear.
The U.S. official insisted that the release of Davis was a decision made by the Pakistanis, and that there was "no quid pro quo" between Washington and Islamabad. The official refused to comment on whether there was a exchange of so-called "blood money."
"The families of the victims ... have pardoned Raymond Davis," said Cameron Munter, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. "I am grateful for their generosity. I wish to express, once again, my regret for the incident and my sorrow at the suffering it caused."
Punjab province law minister Rana Sanaullah first told Pakistani media Wednesday that the victims' families did not want to press charges and added soon after that Davis was free to go.
The statement came just hours after the American was charged with murder in connection with the January shootings.
Davis appeared in court after the payment was made and was acquitted of the charges, in accordance with an Islamic practice known as diyat, or compensation, the lawyer said.
"Diyat," a part of Islamic law that is enshrined in Pakistan's penal code, allows victims to pardon a murderer with or without being paid "blood money," the former chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, Saeed U Zaman Saddiqi, told CNN.
On a second charge, illegal possession of a firearm, Davis was fined $250 and sentenced to time already served, the lawyer noted.
According to Davis, the January 27 shooting occurred after two men attacked him as he drove through a busy Lahore neighborhood, the U.S. Embassy has said. Munter said Wednesday the U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into the incident.
The United States had been seeking the release of Davis on the grounds that he has diplomatic immunity.
But a high court in Pakistan refused Monday to decide whether the CIA contractor has diplomatic immunity, sending the case back to a lower court, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
The lower court had already ruled that Davis does not enjoy protected diplomatic status because neither he nor the Pakistani government has provided documents proving that he does.
U.S. officials originally said Davis was a diplomat and later revealed that he is a CIA contractor, intensifying the already highly charged situation.
Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in efforts against al Qaeda and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan, and the shooting deaths outraged many Pakistanis.
CIA spokesman George Little said Wednesday the agency and its "Pakistani counterparts have had a strong relationship for years.
"When issues arise, it's our standing practice to work through them," Little said in a statement. "That's the sign of a healthy partnership -- one that's vital to both countries, especially as we face a common set of terrorist enemies."
CNN's Pam Benson and journalists Nick Paton Walsh and Nasir Habib contributed to this report.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 8:59 AM
KIAWAH ISLAND -- The first boom sounded like thunder. The second shook windows. The third shook an entire house. Then they quieted, mysteriously.
The series of booms were reported Monday afternoon by people on Kiawah and Johns islands and Isle of Palms. At least three booms, each more intense than the last, occurred within 15 minutes starting about 3:30 p.m.
"There's another one. The third one, just now. It's like thunder getting closer to us, only there's no rumble, just a blast. Have you ever been around dynamite? A pretty good charge when they're blowing up stumps, that's what it's like," said Dwight Ives, who was on Kiawah Island during the booms.
"We felt the house shake," said Art Morgenstern, an island resident.
Seismographs at the College of Charleston did not report any earthquakes, said Erin Beutel, S.C. Earthquake Education and Preparedness director. She suspected sonic booms, but a public affairs officer for the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort said no F-18s were flying in the area at that time. A public affairs officer for the Charleston Air Force Base said C-17s were operating, but not fast enough to cause sonic booms.
That likely leaves the strange phenomenon of the Seneca Guns, the unexplained booms that have been reported along coasts around the world almost as long as people have lived there. The sound is so close to the blast of a cannon that folk legend in the East says it's made by the guns of Seneca Indians, fired to get revenge on the settlers who displaced them.
The booms have been blamed on gases released from the sea floor, undersea landslides along the Continental Shelf, the echoed sound of distant thunder, lightning-like electrical discharges that don't cause lightning, even meteors crashing into the atmosphere at angles.
But so far, nobody has been able to say for sure what causes them.
READ ORIGINAL STORY HERE
Posted by Steve Douglass at 8:30 AM
By Bill Stevenson
Herald managing editor
MOSES LAKE - A loud boom was heard through Moses Lake Saturday night about 8:30 p.m.
Authorities do not know what caused the sound.
People described it in a variety of ways from a methane explosion to a sonic boom.
"I don't know what it was, but it was loud," said Moses Lake police Capt. Dave Ruffin. "It sounded like a transformer blowing (up) down the street."
The Multi Agency Communications Center (MACC) received several reports through 9-1-1 about the sound of an explosion and deputies were dispatched to determine the cause, said Kyle Foreman, Grant County Sheriff's Office public information officer.
"The sound came from the sand dunes, but we couldn't find anything," said Foreman.
Moses Lake firefighters did not receive any calls for fires or explosions, said Chief Tom Taylor.
The US Air Force did not have any jet fighters operating in Grant County this weekend, nor any other types of aircraft operating at supersonic speeds, according to Foreman.
Authorities would like to determine the cause, said Foreman.
If people have information about the source of the boom, they are asked to call 9-1-1.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 8:18 AM