April 30, 2013 1:00 pm
Whether burning coal, pulling kinetic energy from the wind, or harnessing the power of the atom, every fuel source has its resource, the thing it uses to make electricity and heat. In Oslo, Norway, the thing they use is garbage. The city runs a pair of huge incinerators which supply around 1.5 terawatt hours of power.
“A significant share of Oslo’s district heating comes from waste incineration, biofuel facilities and heat pumps that extract heat from sewage,” says the Hafslund Group, a Norwegian power company.
These are resources that would otherwise be lost or considered waste. Today’s investment in district heating saves Oslo from annual GHG emissions corresponding to more than 100,000 cars each driving 15,000 km. The goal is to replace all fossil fuels for peak loads by 2016. This will make a substantial contribution to Oslo’s environment and cut carbon emissions.
But Oslo has run into a bit of an issue, says the New York Times: the city’s running out of garbage. Waste incinerators are sort of common across Europe, and the competition is driving this odd problem.
“The fastidious population of Northern Europe produces only about 150 million tons of waste a year, he said, far too little to supply incinerating plants that can handle more than 700 million tons,” says the Times. To get around the shortage, they’re looking to import trash. They’re even considering shipping it in from the U.S.
“For some, it might seem bizarre that Oslo would resort to importing garbage to produce energy. Norway ranks among the world’s 10 largest exporters of oil and gas, and has abundant coal reserves and a network of more than 1,100 hydroelectric plants in its water-rich mountains. Yet Mr. Mikkelsen said garbage burning was “a game of renewable energy, to reduce the use of fossil fuels.”
The quandary, says the Times, is leading some to fret about an even weirder concern: that people might feel pressured to make more garbage to feed the waste-to-energy beast.
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April 29, 2013 1:57 pm
Margot Woelk, now 95, is the last surviving member of a team tasked with keeping Hitler alive as he hunkered down in the Wolf’s Lair in the final chapters of World War II. For nearly all her life, says the Associated Press, Woelk kept quiet about her wartime activities. But now, in her old age, she wants to talk, and her stories are filled with details of life in Hitler’s fortress and about living a life of “constant fear.”
Woelk was the sole survivor of the Nazi leader’s poison paranoia. In her mid-20s, she was swept away from her home in Ratensburg (now Ketrzyn, Poland), “drafted into civilian service” to join 14 other women in the dictator’s wartime bunker where she and the others were charged with taste-testing the leader’s meals.
As the war dragged on, food supplies in much of German-occupied territory suffered. Within the Wolf’s Lair, however, “the food was delicious, only the best vegetables, asparagus, bell peppers, everything you can imagine. And always with a side of rice or pasta,” said Woelk.
“He was a vegetarian. He never ate any meat during the entire time I was there,” Woelk said of the Nazi leader. “And Hitler was so paranoid that the British would poison him — that’s why he had 15 girls taste the food before he ate it himself.”
But each meal brought fear, says Woelk. “We knew of all those poisoning rumors and could never enjoy the food. Every day we feared it was going to be our last meal.”
Nearing the end of the war, after tensions mounted following an unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life from within the bunker, Woelk fled. When Soviet troops took the Wolf’s Lair a year later, the other taste testers were all shot. But the end of the war was not the end of Woelk’s ordeal, according to the AP. She suffered abuse at the hands of Russian troops long after the war ended, she says:
“For decades, I tried to shake off those memories,” she said. “But they always came back to haunt me at night.”
…Only now in the sunset of her life has she been willing to relate her experiences, which she had buried because of shame and the fear of prosecution for having worked with the Nazis, although she insists she was never a party member.
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April 26, 2013 9:15 am
California authorities are trying to crack down on smugglers shipping fish bladders across the border. That’s right, fish bladders are a thing that people smuggle.
In fact, they’re worth a ton of money. One bladder from the Totoaba macdonaldi fish can garner $5,000 in the United States and over $10,000 in Asia. The bladders are mainly used in Chinese food, like soups. Often the fish are simply stripped of their bladders and left on the beach, meat and all, since the traders don’t care about the meat, and being caught with it would be a liability.
Now, we’re not talking about the same kind of bladder that a human has. The prized organ on the totoaba isn’t full of urine. It’s the fish’s swim bladder, an organ that fills with gas to change the buoyancy of the fish, allowing it to ascend and descend in the water.
From the outside, the Totoaba macdonaldi isn’t a particularly striking fish. They’re big, weighing up to 220 pounds and getting up to 6.5 feet long. The species is endangered throughout its range, which spans the California coast, says NOAA, mostly because of fishing for this prized bladder. And the Chinese species of the same fish was eaten to extinction, which is why suppliers are turning to the U.S. population.
Scientific American reports that trade in U.S. totoaba bladders is heating up:
In the latest case that led to criminal charges, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer inspecting a car at the Calexico-Mexicali port of entry, about 130 miles east of San Diego, found 27 totoaba bladders hidden under floor mats in the back seat of a car, U.S. prosecutors said in a statement.
Jason Xie, 49, of Sacramento was accused of taking delivery of 169 bladders on March 30 in a hotel parking lot in Calexico, about 120 miles east of San Diego. Xie told investigators he was paid $1,500 to $1,800 for each of 100 bladders in February.
Anthony Sanchez Bueno, 34, of Imperial was charged with the same crime after authorities said he drove the 169 bladders across the downtown Calexico border crossing in three coolers. He told investigators he was to be paid $700.
Song Zhen, 73, was accused of storing 214 dried totoaba bladders in his Calexico home.
“These were rooms that didn’t have furnishings,” U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said. “In every room, fish bladders were dried out over cardboard and papers.”
The bladders found in Zhen’s house could be worth over $3.6 million on the black market.
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April 23, 2013 11:14 am
Animal rights activists may have good intentions, but on Saturday in Italy, a protest at a scientific lab ruined research on autism, schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. The activists entered labs at the University of Milan, where they released, stole and mixed up labels on mouse and rabbit cages. The scientists say it will take years to recover their work, Nature News reports.
The activist group, called Stop Green Hill (in reference to a questionable dog-breeding facility), had staged a 12-hour demonstration at the university. Then five of them snuck into pharmacology labs:
The lack of signs of a break-in suggests that the activists may have used an illegally acquired electronic card, says pharmacologist Francesca Guidobono-Cavalchini, who works there. They prised open the reinforced doors of the facility on the fourth floor, and two of them chained themselves by the neck to the main double doors such that any attempt to open the doors could have endangered their lives.
Around 800 animals, most of which are genetically modified to serve as model organisms for testing new drugs, live in the lab. The activists brought along food, water and sleeping bags, Nature reports, and said they would not leave until they could collect all of the facility’s animals. In the end, they left with one hundred of the rodents, most of which will likely die shortly after leaving the lab since they are bred to have extremely weak immune systems.
So far, no arrests have been made, but the university will likely press charges. Meanwhile, Nature adds, around 60 scientists organized their own protest against the “bullying tactics” of groups like Stop Green Hill. Here’s the argument for animal testing, from The Society of Toxicology:
Research involving laboratory animals is important to people and to our quality of life. In the past century, most inhabitants of this planet have experienced an unprecedented rise in living standards, life expectancy and personal opportunity, in large part due to the many ways chemicals have been put to work for us.
In the absence of human data, research with experimental animals is the most reliable means of detecting important toxic properties of chemical substances and for estimating risks to human and environmental health.
While animal testing is not ideal, it more often than not is the only way to determine whether a new treatment is safe and effective for use in humans.
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April 11, 2013 1:35 pm
A construction project in London turned into an archaeological dig when crews discovered the relics of ancient Rome entombed in the mud. Bloomberg News, whose new headquarters is set to go up atop the site, says that “some 10,000 well-preserved objects” have so far been found:
Museum of London archeologists have discovered good-luck charms, coins, drains and even leather shoes — dating from the mid-40’s A.D. (when the Romans founded London) to 410 A.D. The objects are in good condition because a now-lost river, the Walbrook, kept the ground wet and prevented their decay.
“What we’ve found is essentially a slice through the entire history of Roman London,” said Sophie Jackson, project manager for the Bloomberg Place excavation. “We’ve got, in one corner of this site, the whole sequence: every year of Roman occupation, represented by buildings and yards and alleyways — places where people lived and worked for 350 years, one layer above another.”
“We’re calling this site the Pompeii of the north,” said Jackson.
On top of the charms and coins, says CNN, the dig also turned up fragments from Roman writing tablets—a rare find even in the formerly-Roman and permanently-under-construction city.
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