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Fukushima: one year on

A year ago today I was angry. Angry because the Western media—and the Eastern media for that matter—were sensationalising only part of a story that cost 15,854 Japanese people their lives and left untold others heartbroken.

On March 11, 2011 a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan with devastating ferocity. And I was immediately connected with the events; having spent five extraordinary years in Tokyo, many of my good friends were documenting the story through social media feeds. The news was quick to follow, and footage of the monster tsunami ripping though Japan’s northeast coast is still etched in my mind.

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A year ago today I was angry. Angry because the Western media—and the Eastern media for that matter—were sensationalising only part of a story that cost 15,854 Japanese people their lives and left untold others heartbroken.

On March 11, 2011 a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan with devastating ferocity. And I was immediately connected with the events; having spent five extraordinary years in Tokyo, many of my good friends were documenting the story through social media feeds. The news was quick to follow, and footage of the monster tsunami ripping though Japan’s northeast coast is still etched in my mind.

But only a matter of hours later, global news coverage switched focus to a growing side story: the impending nuclear meltdown of reactors 1, 2 and 3 at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The fear that spread like wildfire around the globe was echoed by panic buying of iodine pills for unnecessary protection against an impending radioactive cloud several thousand miles away. And while some foreigners in Japan were fleeing for their lives, I truly wished I was back in Tokyo, comforting my two best friends who were expectant with the imminent arrival of their first child.

I wrote at the time for Pharmaceutical Technology magazine, “Many of my friends are based in Tokyo where they have been more directly harmed by sensationalist overseas reporting than actual events. Nevertheless, the threat of nuclear fallout has lifted its ugly head and made its impact felt all over the world […] How well are we prepared for the unexpected?

That the anniversary of March 11, 2011 for most brings forth memories of nuclear meltdown and not the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that claimed so many lives, tells us a lot about how people now perceive nuclear power safety.

Pre-Fukushima, nuclear power certainly had people ill at ease, but Chernobyl (1986), Three Mile Island (1979) and Windscale (1957) were far enough away in either distance or time to put to the back of one’s mind; “We’ve made progress since then, haven’t we?” And apart from the usual ‘not-in-my-backyard’ brigade, nuclear power was accepted by many as a somewhat precarious necessity; a solution to a looming global energy.

Post-Fukushima, Japan has shut down all but two of its 54 nuclear reactors and some are left asking “What now?The Economist walked us through a dream that failed beginning, “The enormous power tucked away in the atomic nucleus, the chemist Frederick Soddy rhapsodised in 1908, could ‘transform a desert continent, thaw the frozen poles, and make the whole world one smiling Garden of Eden’”. As a science fiction fan, I can empathise with such dreams. And as a scientist, I know we do have the ability to harness that which is around us. Make it work to our advantage. But reading reports six months after the meltdown detailing reactor cores that were still too hot to open and reading this week’s reports of the ongoing and extensive clean up operations at Fukushima, I am left dumbstruck. Are we in control?

Certainly in Japan, the anti-nuclear sentiment is strong. 45,000 people demonstrated against nuclear power in Tokyo on the anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, expressing growing concern at the government’s desire to restart reactors that have been shut down for safety checks. Perhaps The Mainichi Daily News said it best: “The illusion of nuclear power safety has been torn out by the root”.

But beyond the safety issues, the true cost of nuclear power, both financial and environmental, has been catapulted into the spotlight.

The ‘big six’ energy companies in the UK apparently have the answer to one of those issues: “build more gas-fired power stations than we actually need”. Yet, increasing our reliance on a limited resource and driving up the cost of an already expensive imported fuel doesn’t leave me enthused.

But didn’t I just say we had the ability to harness what is around us? Surely it is time to embrace a new sci-fi dream.

Marubeni, a Tokyo-based corporation founded in 1858, recently announced plans for an experimental floating wind farm with a consortium that includes the University of Tokyo, Mitsubishi and IHI Marine United. The offshore project is sponsored by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and consists of three floating wind turbines and one floating power sub-station off the coast of Fukushima.

A Marubeni press release stated: “Fukushima Prefecture expects this experimental project to spawn a new industry in renewable energy and create employment as part of recovery efforts in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Through this experimental project, Fukushima Prefecture hopes to develop a large wind farm industry”.

Yet, on our own windy but admittedly seismically inactive island the debate over nuclear power is far from over, with some commentators rearing up against a recent letter to Prime Minister David Cameron from Jonathon Porritt et al., which stated “The first anniversary of the nuclear accident at Fukushima has drawn attention to the current policy of facilitating a large programme of nuclear build in England and Wales. It is now clear that the impacts on Japan were far more serious, longer lasting and more expensive than initially presented”.

The letter went on to question the wisdom of the policy and offer advice on aspects that Cameron may not have been made aware of by Ministers, noting that other G8 countries are moving towards reduced reliance on nuclear power. George Monbiot, for one, does not agree.

Nevertheless, Japan aims to transform its own energy mix and by the end of March will proffer several options before drawing up a new master plan for the summer that will replace the previous nuclear-focused energy policy. The new strategy is expected to include drastically increased energy conservation and a faster shift to renewable energy usage.

For Japan at least, from the ashes rises the phoenix. I have no doubt in my mind that the Japanese people, if not the government, will force change and innovate to address the nation’s power needs through renewable and green energy generation. After all, the voice of a 127 million united citizens is very loud indeed.

Incidentally, my friend’s baby boy was born a year today—March 16, 2011—in Tokyo and weighed a very healthy 9 lbs 2 oz. Happy birthday, little man!

His name, by some happenstance, is Zachary.

“The dream was gone, yet I knew which way to go. As I walk I search the horizon for a trace of green. I am hopeful.”

Z for Zachariah, Robert C. O’Brien, 1973

Photo: Yuyu Tamai via Flickr

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Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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