Illinois Public Media News
As Japanese officials scramble to stabilize nuclear reactors following last week's earthquake and tsunami, the focus has also shifted on the safety of nuclear power plants in the United States.
James Stubbins, head of nuclear engineering at the U of I, said of Illinois' 11 reactors, six are boiling water reactors similar to ones affected by the devastation in Japan. One is about 40 miles away from Urbana in Clinton. Stubbins said there is no reason to be concerned about the stability of these reactors because it is unlikely they will be faced with a tsunami, like the one in Japan.
"When we understand better what happened in Japan," Stubbins said. "We'll assess what really led to the problems and upgrade systems where necessary or upgrade methodologies where necessary to ensure that similar kinds of things can't happen here."
Stubbins said because the Clinton reactor is younger than those affected by the tsunami, it has a more up to date safety system in place.
In a recent New York Times editorial, David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists writes that the primary challenge for the Japanese reactors was losing their normal and back-up power supplies.
"The reactors were designed to cope with this situation for only eight hours, assuming that normal or back-up power would be restored within that time," Lochbaum said. "But the accident failed to follow that script, leading to serious problems cooling the reactor cores."
Lochbaum said "the one-two punch" from an earthquake and tsunami disabled numerous emergency systems.
According to Lochbaum, most reactors in the U.S. are designed to cope with power outages lasting only four hours. He said following the situation in Japan, measures should be taken to increase the chances of restoring power within the "assumed time period or providing better cooling options when that time runs out."
He noted that the incident in Japan is a reminder of the need to revisit emergency plans to make sure people are protected when a disaster hits.
A team of researchers from the University of Illinois will be going to Japan next week to survey the devastation caused by Friday's magnitude 8.9 earthquake and tsunami.
Doctoral candidate Hussam Mahmoud with the U of I's Mid-America Earthquake Center said one thing to learn from the world's 5th largest earthquake since 1900 will be how to better retrofit buildings. He said damage to newer structures will reveal flaws in design codes. But Mahmoud said Japan had already improved from prior designs, learning from the 1995 magnitude 7.2 quake near the city of Kobe that claimed more than 6,000 lives.
"Then we can see exactly what are the weak points we have in all design codes," Mahmoud said. "And the design really are no different in any countries of the world. What they have in Japan for design and the codes that we also have here, there's a lot of dissemation of information, there might be slight differences, but we're pretty much doing the same thing."
But Mahmoud said the tsunami and many fires associated with this earthquake make it very hard to assess the total loss of life, damage, and economic impact.
He said the information coming from his team's research in Japan will be distributed to thousands of agencies worldwide studying seismic activity.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
The decision to pick Morgan County over three competing sites to host an underground carbon dioxide storage facility was a close one, according to FutureGen Alliance CEO Ken Humphreys.
The site --- announced by the FutureGen Alliance on Monday --- will store carbon dioxide produced at FutureGen's power plant in Meredosia, retrofitted with experimental low-emissions coal burning technology.
Humphreys said Morgan County's geology, and its proximity to the power plant made it a front-runner over competing sites in Christian, Douglas and Fayette counties.
"Any one of these four sites could be, would be amenable to storing the 39 million tons of CO2 from Meredosia," Humphreys said. "If one were to look at possibly expanding the storage site, there might be more differences."
But Humphreys said at this point it is premature to look at expanding the pipeline, adding that major construction should begin within a couple of years.
The site will be located about 30 miles away from the power plant North of Interstate 72 and west of Interstate Highway 123 on the eastern edge of Morgan County. FutureGen officials say this is not a pin pointed spot for the site, additional evaluations will have to be completed. The FutureGen project is expected to bring in 1,000 jobs to downstate Illinois and another thousand jobs for suppliers across the state.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said plans by FutureGen to store carbon dioxide in Morgan County should give the area an economic boost.
"Bringing together all the components of FutureGen 2.0 will be a boost for Morgan County and result in thousands of good-paying jobs," Durbin said. "As host of the storage site, Morgan County will be on the map as a leader in clean coal research and technology attracting visitors from around the world."
While politicians and the business community cheer FutureGen's selection of Morgan County as the storage site, not everyone in the county is pleased with the decision. Andy Davenport owns farmland near FutureGen's selected area. When talks first started on where to put the leftover carbon dioxide he circulated a petition and got more than 300 people to sign. He said for a sparsely populated area, those numbers show people closest to the site do not want it.
"It's just very frustrating to be to have the people's voices ignored that own the land and live on the land out here," Davenport said. "We're going to be the ones that take the risk on this project, not the people in Jacksonville."
Davenport said the farmland he has owned for more than 30 years could be overtaken if the storage facility expands. He also said he is concerned about any environmental impact if the carbon dioxide leaks.
Meanwhile, this is strike two for Douglas County, which earlier lost out on its bid to host the original version of FutureGen.
But Brian Moody of Tuscola Economic Development in Douglas County says the work they did on their site proposal will help them compete for similar sequestration projects expected to come in the future.
"We've got a couple of those that look like they're going to be underway in Illinois," Moody said. "There's a project at ADM already. So we'll kind of wait and see what companies continue to look at the area. And again, I think we have a lot of the information that will spare them a lot of work in their site selection processes."
The U.S. Energy Department is committed to paying most of the cost of the $1.3 billion FutureGen project. The next step for FutureGen is an Energy Department environmental review, including comments from the public.
Some bumblebee populations in the United States are dropping at an alarming rate, and University of Illinois researchers are investigating the potential causes.
There are 50 species of bumblebees in North America. Researchers examined eight of them, and discovered that in the last 20 years, half of the species declined in relative abundance by as much as 96 percent and experienced a reduction in geographic range by as much as 87 percent.
The researchers compared historical data from 73,000 museum records dating back to the late 1800s with recent U.S. national surveys of more than 16,000 specimens from about 400 sites.
U of I entomologist Sydney Cameron, the lead author of the three-year study, said the rate of decline marks an important finding because bumble bees play important roles in the country's food production.
"That certainly could impact the efficiency of our food production for many crops, such as cranberries, blueberries, tomatoes," Cameron said. "Bumble bees are especially good pollinators of these types of crops."
Cameron said the bumblebees with significant population declines have a lower genetic diversity than bumblebees with healthier populations. She also said it has been hypothesized that North American queen bees may have brought a parasite, known as Nosema bombi, back to the United States from Europe after being raised in the rearing facilities of native bumble bees. However, she said it is unknown if these factors contributed to some species dying out.
"No one's pointing a finger at anyone," she said. "We're just trying to figure out where the Nosema that we're finding in our North American bees came from."
Scientists last year looked at another phenomenon affecting honeybees called "colony collapse" in which large numbers of a hive's worker bees disappear. Research suggests a fungus and virus may be to blame.
The reason for the population decline among the honeybees is still being determined. It may have something to do with climate change, disease, or even low genetic diversity, according to some researchers. But Cameron noted that it is too early to jump to any conclusions.
The report was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
(Photo courtesy of Johanna James-Heinz)
An Indiana University faculty member says he has learned to accept that earthquakes can take place in unexpected places.
But Geological Sciences Professor Michael Hamburger said there is a little known 10-mile area in Central Indiana called the Sharpsville fault, and believes that is where Thursday morning's magnitude 3.8 quake originated. The tremor located just north of Indianapolis was felt in four other states, including Illinois, but there were no injuries and very little damage was reported. Hamburger said pinpointing a source for the quake will take some time.
"One of the distinct problems is that earthquakes tend to happen fairly deep in the earth's crust, and the fractures that we see at the surface are quite superficial," Hamburger said. "They're mostly in sedimentary layers and we really need to do some imaging of the deeper architecture of the earth's crust in order to figure our what are the structures that are causing these earthquakes."
Hamburger said earthquakes in isolated places are not that unusual, and they are felt over a large area, citing the magnitude 5.2 Wabash Valley quake from April of 2008, when Illinois and at least 16 other states felt the impact. The majority of heavy activity comes from the Wabash Valley and New Madrid Seismic Zones.
Hamburger said he has heard only minor damage reports coming out of Indiana, including some of cracked pavement, but no structural damage. Despite the lack of earthquakes in Indiana, Hamburger said there are quake-resistant design codes for all of the state's public buildings.
Type 2 diabetes - the kind related to obesity and an unhealthy diet - gets a lot of attention these days. But there's another, less common, form of the disease - type 1 - that can also lead to life-threatening complications. Reporter Véronique LaCapra went behind the scenes at a St. Louis hospital, for the transplant operation that got one woman off dialysis, and made her diabetes-free.
(Photo by Véronique LaCapra)
A misconception about African elephants can be put to rest.
Researchers from the University of Illinois, Harvard University, and the University of York discovered that there are actually two species of African elephants, rather than one. The DNA of African elephants was compared with the extinct American mastodon and wooly mammoth.
"Experimentally, we had a major challenge to extract DNA sequences from two fossils - mammoths and mastodons - and line them up with DNA from modern elephants over hundreds of sections of the genome," said research scientist Nadin Rohland of the Department of Genetics at the Harvard Medical School.
African forest elephants are smaller, but have a greater genetic diversity compared to African savanna elephants, according to University of Illinois animal sciences professor Alfred Roca. Roca said the African forest elephants make up about one tenth of the country's elephant population. He said these mammals could face extinction unless there is more of a concentration dedicated to preserving their existence.
"In the forest of Central Africa and certainly in the forest of West Africa, the protection is limited in some countries, and in many cases you have a lot of organized gangs of poachers that are coming in," Roca said. "Really the focus has to be on protecting the forest elephant."
Roca said the evolutionary differences between the mammals are about as old as the split between humans and chimpanzees. He added that it is likely climate change in Africa five million years ago led to their creation.
This research was funded by the Max Planck Society and by a Burroughs Wellcome Career Development Award in Biomedical Science.
(Photo courtesy of Mark Turner/flickr)
The National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency have awarded $2 million to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The grant will be used to create a new research center to study how exposure to common chemicals may affect childhood development.
Center director neurotoxicologist Susan Schantz said studies will focus on bisphenol A (BPA), which is widely used in plastics, and phthalates, which are components of many scented personal care products, like lotions and shampoos.
"We know from laboratory animal studies that both of these chemicals are endocrine disrupters," Schantz said, "so they can mess with certain hormonal systems in the body."
One study will involve pregnant women volunteers from local health clinics. "We're going to follow their health and take urine samples during their pregnancy so we can assess their exposure to the two chemicals, and then from the time their babies are born we're going to follow them developmentally," Schantz explained.
A related study at Harvard University will examine how exposure to BPA and phthalates relates to cognitive development in adolescents.
Once a year for the last 20 years, a park in Champaign becomes a kind of launching pad.
This year, the Great Annual Rocket Launch takes on the theme of 'The Year We Make Contact' - since it is 2010. Awards will include best Science Fiction or Fantasy Rocket and Best Flying Saucer Flight.
Jonathan Sivier with the group Central Illinois Aerospace says there's no telling how complex some of the amateur spacecraft will be. But he says there could be a wide variety of designs this year. "Some things that look like something from a movie or TV show or something like that." said Sivier. "We have a secondary theme of flying saucers, and then every year we have - 'what's the most impressive flight of the day?' 'what's best the best looking rocket of the day?'... it's all very arbitrary." Sivier says the projects vary, but adds he's amazed what some can do compared to when the group started in the early 90's. "There are some little bitty video cameras that are very tiny, but get really good results from their rockets," said Sivier. "And the variety of motors that are available for rockets these days is quite wide."
Sivier and some friends started Central Illinois Aerospace when they were students at Mahomet-Seymour High School. It now has more than 40 regular members, but he says many more come out for the annual rocket launch. It's from 10 to 4 Saturday in Dodds Park, and includes a potluck dinner.
A former administrator and researcher at Carle Foundation Hospital has settled her lawsuit against the Urbana firm.
Suzanne Stratton was Carle's vice president for research and had worked on breast cancer at the hospital's Cancer Center before she was fired in November of 2008.
Stratton charged that Carle had violated federal whistleblower laws by retaliating against her. Stratton had brought up allegations that Carle violated laws protecting human research subjects in its cancer studies.
Last week a federal judge approved both sides' agreement to settle the lawsuit with prejudice - that means Stratton won't be able to file another case on the same claim.
Carle spokeswoman Jennifer Hendricks Kauffman would not disclose any other terms of the agreement - in the suit, Stratton had sought to be reinstated and receive financial damages. Neither Stratton nor her attorney could be reached for comment.
Page 12 of 14 pages ‹ First < 10 11 12 13 14 >