Buildings could soon be able to convert the sun's energy into electricity without the need for solar panels, thanks to innovative new technology. VOA's Faith Lapidus reports.
"Terzo Millennio", or Third Millennium, is a new brand name in auto design from Italian carmaker Lamborghini. Company representatives introduced the design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Evgeny Maslov reports from Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Facebook said on Wednesday that it was removing 99 percent of content related to militant groups Islamic State and al-Qaida before being told of it, as it prepared for a meeting with European authorities on tackling extremist content online. Eighty-three percent of "terror content" is removed within one hour of being uploaded, Monika Bickert, head of global policy management, and Brian Fishman, head of counterterrorism policy at Facebook, wrote in a blog post. The world's largest social media network, with 2.1 billion users, has faced pressure both in the United States and Europe to tackle extremist content on its platform more effectively. In June, Facebook said it had ramped up use of artificial intelligence, such as image matching and language understanding, to identify and remove content quickly. "It is still early, but the results are promising, and we are hopeful that AI (artificial intelligence) will become a more important tool in the arsenal of protection and safety on the internet and on Facebook," Bickert and Fishman wrote. "Today, 99 percent of the ISIS and al Qaeda-related terror content we remove from Facebook is content we detect before anyone in our community has flagged it to us, and in some cases, before it goes live on the site." ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State. The blog post comes a week before Facebook and other social media companies such as Alphabet's Google and Twitter meet with European Union governments and the EU executive to discuss how to remove extremist content and hate speech online. "Deploying AI for counterterrorism is not as simple as flipping a switch. ... A system designed to find content from one terrorist group may not work for another because of language and stylistic differences in their propaganda," Facebook said. The European Commission in September told social media firms to find ways to remove the content faster, including through automatic detection technologies, or face possible legislation forcing them to do so.
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, accused social media company Twitter of being politically biased Tuesday as he defended his plan to roll back rules intended to ensure a free and open internet. Pai, a Republican named by President Donald Trump to head up the FCC, unveiled plans last week to scrap the 2015 landmark net neutrality rules, moving to give broadband service providers sweeping power over what content consumers can access. "When it comes to an open internet, Twitter is part of the problem," Pai said. "The company has a viewpoint and uses that viewpoint to discriminate." He pointed to Twitter's refusal to let Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, advertise a campaign video with an anti-abortion message. "To say the least, the company appears to have a double standard when it comes to suspending or de-verifying conservative users' accounts as opposed to those of liberal users," Pai said. A spokesperson for Twitter said that at no time was Blackburn's video censored and that her followers would have been able to still see it. "Because advertisements are served to users who do not necessarily follow an account, we therefore have higher standards for their content," the Twitter spokesperson said. Twitter in October declined a campaign video advertisement by Blackburn, who announced she was running for the U.S. Senate, saying that a remark by Blackburn about opposing abortion was inflammatory. Twitter later reversed its decision. Internet-based firms' letter Pai's criticism came a day after Twitter and a number of other internet-based companies — including AirBnb, Reddit, Shutterstock, Tumblr and Etsy — sent a letter urging the FCC to maintain the net neutrality rules. Trump is a prolific user of Twitter, often posting his thoughts on the news of the day. He used Twitter throughout his presidential campaign to circumvent traditional media and talk directly to voters. Pai has also been a frequent user of the website — acknowledging during the speech, "I love Twitter" — to push his case in favor of the rule changes. On Tuesday afternoon, he even posted a link to his remarks critical of Twitter on his own Twitter account. Following Pai's remarks on Tuesday, at an event organized by the libertarian-leaning R Street Institute, two other FCC commissioners said they would support his proposal when they vote on December 14. Big internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications have favored a repeal of net neutrality. On the other side, websites such as Facebook and Alphabet's Google have favored the rules. The rules prohibit broadband providers from giving or selling access to speedy internet, essentially a "fast lane," to certain internet services over others. "So when you get past the wild accusations, fearmongering and hysteria, here's the boring bottom line," Pai said. "The plan to restore internet freedom would return us to the light touch, market-based approach under which the internet thrived."
Researchers from Northwestern University and Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago are using advanced technology to unwrap the mysteries of an 1,800-year-old mummy. They say the high-energy X-ray beams from a synchrotron will provide molecular information about what is inside the mummy of the little girl. Argonne says it's the first time the beams have been used in this way. Researchers say the technology allows them to study what's inside the mummy while leaving the 5-year-old girl's remains and wrappings intact. Scientists examined the rare find on Monday in the hopes of learning more about how the girl died. And they say studying the wrapping materials may shed new light on ancient Egyptian culture. .
Indigenous groups in Paraguay, battling to protect their ancestral lands from expanding agriculture and cattle ranching, launched the first online map of their territory Tuesday. Paraguay's beef and soy export industries are the main drivers of deforestation in the fast-growing South American nation, often coming into conflict with some 120,000 indigenous people, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think tank. The online platform and map, Tierras Indigenas, was built by Paraguay's Federation for the Self-Determination of Indigenous Peoples (FAPI), and so far 13 of the country's 19 indigenous peoples have contributed to it, Washington-based WRI said. The communities, who largely rely on the water, food, medicine and shelter from forests to survive, hope the map will help businesses and government to work out whether their activities are on legally recognized indigenous lands. "Private companies and banks, for example, will now be able to use this tool to assess land ownership and rights prior to conducting business in these areas," said WRI, which provided technical support to create the map. A growing number of indigenous groups around the world are using data, drones and apps to formally map their lands, forests and water sources to better monitor and protect them. Tierras Indigenas allows users to see where an indigenous group has legally recognized land, its size, the number of families living there, and if a forest is in a protected area. WRI hopes the geographic data can help to avoid conflict over land rights and tenure, and reduce deforestation through monitoring and timely alerts. "[The map] makes it less likely these lands will be dispossessed and converted into export-oriented commodity agriculture," Ryan Sarsfield, an expert on supply chain risk in Latin America with WRI, told Reuters. "The next step is to ensure that these maps are visible and available publicly so they can be used in decision-making processes in which indigenous people have often been excluded."
Airbus, Siemens and Rolls-Royce are teaming up to develop a hybrid passenger plane that would use a single electric turbofan along with three conventional jet engines running on aviation fuel. The plane is an effort to develop and demonstrate technology that in the future could help limit emissions of carbon dioxide from aviation and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The three companies said Tuesday they aim to build a flying version of the E-Fan X technology demonstrator plane by 2020. The aircraft would be based on the existing BAe 146 four-engine regional jet. The hybrid version would generate electric power through a turbine within the plane. That power would be used to turn the fan blades of the single electric turbofan engine. If the system works, a second electric motor could be added, the companies said. The companies said European plane maker Airbus SE would be responsible for building the aircraft's systems into a working whole, control systems and flight controls. Britain-based Rolls-Royce plc would make the generator and the turbo-shaft engine, while German engineering company Siemens AG would deliver the two-megawatt electric motor to power the engine. Rolls-Royce the aircraft engine maker is distinct from the luxury car brand owned by BMW AG. The companies said they were looking ahead to the European Union's long-term goals of reducing CO2 emissions from aviation by 60 percent, as well as meeting noise and pollution limits that they said "cannot be achieved with technologies existing today." CO2 - carbon dioxide - is a greenhouse gas that scientists say contributes to global warming. Other projects for hybrid or electric planes are in the works. Kirkland, Washington-based Zunum Aero says it is working on a 12-seat hybrid-electric commuter jet. The company's website lists its partners as Boeing, jetBlue Technology Ventures, and the Department of Commerce Clean Energy Fund.
Inspired by the folding technique of origami, U.S. researchers said Monday they have crafted cheap, artificial muscles for robots that give them the power to lift up to 1,000 times their own weight. The advance offers a leap forward in the field of soft robotics, which is fast replacing an older generation of robots that were jerky and rigid in their movements, researchers say. "It's like giving these robots superpowers," said senior author Daniela Rus, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The muscles, known as actuators, are built on a framework of metal coils or plastic sheets, and each muscle costs around $1 to make, said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed U.S. journal. Their origami inspiration derives from a zig-zag structure that some of the muscles employ, allowing them to contract and expand as commanded, using vacuum-powered air or water pressure. "The skeleton can be a spring, an origami-like folded structure, or any solid structure with hinged or elastic voids," said the report. Possible uses include expandable space habitats on Mars, miniature surgical devices, wearable robotic exoskeletons, deep-sea exploration devices or even transformable architecture. "Artificial muscle-like actuators are one of the most important grand challenges in all of engineering," said co-author Rob Wood, professor of engineering and applied sciences at Harvard University. "Now that we have created actuators with properties similar to natural muscle, we can imagine building almost any robot for almost any task." Researchers built dozens of muscles, using metal springs, packing foam or plastic in a range of shapes and sizes. They created "muscles that can contract down to 10 percent of their original size, lift a delicate flower off the ground, and twist into a coil, all simply by sucking the air out of them," said the report. The artificial muscles "can generate about six times more force per unit area than mammalian skeletal muscle can, and are also incredibly lightweight," it added. A .09-ounce (2.6-gram) muscle can lift an object weighing 6.6 pounds (three kilograms) "which is the equivalent of a mallard duck lifting a car." According to co-author Daniel Vogt, research engineer at the Wyss Institute, the vacuum-based muscles "have a lower risk of rupture, failure, and damage, and they don't expand when they're operating, so you can integrate them into closer-fitting robots on the human body." The research was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Science Foundation and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
Startup founders, investors and tech leaders from around the world are heading to Hyderabad, India for the 8th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, co-hosted by the U.S. and Indian governments. Ivanka Trump, adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump and his daughter, will join host Prime Minister Narendra Modi in kicking off the three-day event, which will focus on women in business. More than 1,500 participants from 150 countries are expected at the event, which runs from November 28 through 30. It had not been clear whether the Trump administration would continue the annual summit that was launched at the White House by the Obama administration in 2010. Trump has focused on domestic growth and U.S. job creation with an “America first” message. But in June, Prime Minister Modi, while visiting the White House, announced that the two countries would co-host the summit. America first, global partners The gathering comes as the U.S. and India appear to be working to strengthen ties. Having an "America first" economic policy is “not exclusive of collaboration, partnership and strong economic security and social relationships around the world,” said a senior administration official, speaking anonymously. The summit is “a testament to the strong friendship between our two people and the growing economic and security partnership between our two nations,” said Ivanka Trump during a news conference this week. Participants at this year’s summit will represent four industry sectors — energy and infrastructure, health care and life sciences, financial technology and digital economy, and media and entertainment. Women in majority In a first for the event, women will represent 52 percent of the attendees. Ten countries, including Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, are sending all female delegations. In advance of the summit, the Indian state of Telangana, where Hyderabad is located, has been working to clean up the city, and there have been reports of beggars being relocated. “We know that the Indian government is really firmly committed to raising individuals out of poverty and to create economic opportunity for its large and diverse population and we think they are making great progress,” said another U.S. official.
Rickey pushes himself up slowly, grabs the leash tethered to the side of his walker and takes a few steps. His dog, a terrier named Madman, perks his ears up and follows him. Rickey pauses and looks across the street at a rundown building. "That was a Blues Club," he says. "The police station was a jazz club. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, we had all them," says the 69-year-old. But the far-off look in his eyes isn't reality. The nightlife that once electrified the Tenderloin District of San Francisco is no more. Illicit drugs are dealt openly on the streets of the Tenderloin, a neighborhood in San Francisco, California. The Tenderloin has become a corrupt, high-crime neighborhood with homeless people lining the sidewalks. High crime rates The Tenderloin Housing Clinic and San Francisco police statistics show violent crime in just one block of the Tenderloin "is 35 times higher than the rest of the city." In addition, one aggravated assault occurs every day and robbery statistics are even higher. But several years ago, trendy businesses priced out of an adjacent area, brought property in Tenderloin. The gentrification of the area is starting, but it's created another problem. More homeless filter onto the streets as real estate gets more expensive. "Oh, hey, there you are." A guy wearing black-rimmed glasses and a deep purple T-shirt and purple vest greets Rickey. Jacob Savage is a community activist who founded the group Concrn. Savage, who describes himself as a “privileged white guy,” found common ground with Rickey -- and other Tenderloin residents -- by playing a trumpet. He’s never without the instrument. The two men -- who couldn’t look more different -- harmonize together in a duet. Rickey’s fingers snap to the beat of Savage's horn, then he starts belting out, "Stand by Me," a popular ballad by Ben E. King. It's a calm, fun moment in Savage's otherwise serious day. Building trust As a 15-year-old growing up in wealthy, tech-savvy Palo Alto, California, Savage became a police cadet, and spent six years riding along on calls. But he says the criminal arrests and prison sentences didn’t satisfy his passion to help others. A few years ago, Savage brought Concrn to the Tenderloin, through a mobile app and a team of responders. Through the app, witnesses report incidents of mental crises with descriptions of the person, location and other notes. “When you submit that,” says Savage, “it goes into our dispatching platform” where responders are assigned to the incident. They arrive on the scene and offer mental health or drug abuse assistance before police arrive to make arrests. Often that first meeting includes only a conversation if the Tenderloin resident refuses treatment. Savage is fine with that. "It’s building trust and having a trusting relationship so when they are actually ready to get better, we’re there," he says. Each Concrn responder completes 20 hours of classroom instruction and 80 hours on the street. Fifty people have completed the training. In the past few years, they’ve responded to 2,000 crises. The ultimate goal is to train residents as responders, so the community is self-sufficient and doesn’t need Concrn. But that intention is years away. Carrying a trumpet Savage gets a call for a crisis several blocks away and he walks there with his trumpet at his side. When he arrives, police are still there, but no disturbance. He approaches some men and mentions Concrn."What kind of music do you play?"they ask. He starts a jazz number and they smile. Then a police officer taps Savage on his shoulder. There’s a guy police can’t handle right now – could he see what he can do? Savage walks over to a thin young man dressed in black wearing a magenta scarf around his head. He’s bopping and weaving and talking to no one in particular. Jacob interrupts the constant gibberish."Hey brother, what’s your name buddy?" "Eddie" is the only word Jacob can understand in the restless man’s ongoing monologue. Savage thinks he’s on crystal meth and asks if him if he would like to go to a clinic. Eddie keeps blabbering but doesn't answer. Savage sees the cigarette lighter he’s holding and asks if he would like a cigarette. Savage contacts another Concrn responder and starts playing his trumpet as a beacon. Savage explains, "Cigarettes are a last resort to use when people are going so fast we can’t understand them or they are panicking." David, the other responder, finds their location from the trumpet blast and hands Eddie the cigarette, which he half eats. Savage and David spend several hours with Eddie. They learn he’s a composer. Eddie offers to sell Savage his black leather outfit. They part, hoping to meet on the street again. Maybe by then Eddie will be ready to accept Concrn’s intervention.
In Rwanda, the number of schoolgirls studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM fields, is climbing steadily. It’s part of an ambitious government agenda to transform the economy. In the past decade, several STEM schools for girls have opened in Rwanda amid the rising demand. Chika Oduah reports for VOA from Kigali.
2.3 billion people around the world have no access to flush toilets and use pit latrines or other rudimentary measures to dispose of their waste. Researchers at the University of Bath are using fake fecal sludge to determine a better way to safely dispose of raw sewage. Faith Lapidus reports.
More than 18 percent of American adults experience mental illness in a given year. It is among the top three causes of homelessness in the US as about 25 percent of America's homeless suffers from mental illness. In San Francisco, one man is trying to make a difference using technology and a trumpet. VOA's Carolyn Presutti has his story.
New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Las Vegas are among scores of police departments across the country quietly using a highly secretive technology developed for the military that can track the whereabouts of suspects by using the signals constantly emitted by their cellphones. Civil liberties and privacy groups are increasingly raising objections to the suitcase-sized devices known as StingRays or cell site simulators that can sweep up cellphone data from an entire neighborhood by mimicking cell towers. Police can determine the location of a phone without the user even making a call or sending a text message. Some versions of the technology can even intercept texts and calls, or pull information stored on the phones. Part of the problem, privacy experts say, is the devices can also collect data from anyone within a small radius of the person being tracked. And law enforcement goes to great lengths to conceal usage, in some cases, offering plea deals rather than divulging details on the StingRay. "We can't even tell how frequently they're being used," said attorney Jerome Greco, of the Legal Aid Society, which recently succeeded in blocking evidence collected with the device in a New York City murder case. "It makes it very difficult." At least 72 state and local law enforcement departments in 24 states plus 13 federal agencies use the devices, but further details are hard to come by because the departments that use them must take the unusual step of signing nondisclosure agreements overseen by the FBI. An FBI spokeswoman said the agreements, which often involve the Harris Corporation, a defense contractor that makes the devices, are intended to prevent the release of sensitive law enforcement information to the general public. But the agreements don't prevent an officer from telling prosecutors the technology was used in a case. In New York, use of the technology was virtually unknown to the public until last year when the New York Civil Liberties Union forced the disclosure of records showing the NYPD used the devices more than 1,000 times since 2008. That included cases in which the technology helped catch suspects in kidnappings, rapes, robberies, assaults and murders. It has even helped find missing people. But privacy experts say such gains come at too high a cost. "We have a Fourth Amendment to the Constitution," said Jennifer Lynch, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, referring to the protection against unreasonable search and seizure. "Our Founding Fathers decided when they wrote the Bill of Rights there had to be limits placed on government." Lawmakers in several states have introduced proposals ranging from warrant requirements to an outright ban on the technology; about a dozen states already have laws requiring warrants. Federal law enforcement said last year that it would be routinely required to get a search warrant before using the technology - a first effort to create a uniform legal standard for federal authorities. And case law is slowly building. Two months ago, a Washington, D.C., appeals court overturned a conviction on a sex assault after judges ruled a violation of the Fourth Amendment because of evidence improperly collected from the simulator without a proper warrant. In the New York murder case argued by the Legal Aid Society, a judge in Brooklyn last month ruled that the NYPD must have an eavesdropping warrant signed by a judge to use the device, a much higher bar than the "reasonable suspicion" standard that had previously been required. "By its very nature, then, the use of a cell site simulator intrudes upon an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, acting as an instrument of eavesdropping and requires a separate warrant supported by probable cause," wrote state Supreme Court Judge Martin Murphy. New York City police officials disagreed with the ruling and disputed that a StingRay was even used in the case, even though there had been a court order to do so. Police officials also said they have since started requiring a higher stander of probable cause when applying for the devices. Legal Aid Society's Greco said he hoped the ruling will push the nation's largest department into meeting the higher standard, and help judges better understand the intricacies of more cutting-edge surveillance. "We're hoping we can use this decision among other decisions being made across the country to show that this logic is right," Greco said. "Part of an issue we're facing with technology, the judges don't understand it. It makes it easier if another judge has sat down and really thought about it."
At home in Phnom Penh, the five techies knew of each other by reputation but had never met. After three weeks touring the United States, they’ve returned to Cambodia fired up about collaborating on a fintech startup. “Before, when I thought about a million-dollar business, it was only a dream,” Sopheakmonkol Sok, 29, a co-founder and CEO of Codingate, a web and mobile developer, told VOA Khmer. Langda Chea, founder and CEO of BookMeBus, a booking app for Cambodian bus, ferry and taxi travel, met Sopheakmonkol Sok while under the auspices of a U.S. State Department program called the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), which includes work on democracy, human rights, security, environment, international crime, economic growth and development. Learned from other companies’ successes The tech intensive “Accelerating Tech Entrepreneurship and SME Development” focused on small- and medium-sized enterprise growth in the tech sector. The Cambodians engaged with tech leaders in Washington, D.C.; Cleveland, Ohio; Raleigh, North Carolina; San Francisco and San Jose, California. In Silicon Valley, they met with “a lot of successful companies, big and small,” Sok said. “So we saw how they operate and manage their businesses, and we learned from their success.” Nicholas Geisinger, the IVLP program officer who oversaw the tech trip, said the program works when it encourages the cross-pollination of ideas among the exchange visitors and Americans. “We [told] them about the development in our country,” Chea said, listing positives such as a fast, inexpensive internet infrastructure, an improving business environment, and the growth of an educated workforce “that show potential because it’s an advantage for us if they invest in Cambodia.” “Ideas were originated with the U.S. embassy … and furthering economic development in Cambodia was one of their objectives. … That’s why we did a program on this topic,” Geisinger said. It’s a bonus when the visitors learn “and have new ideas by talking with each other in this new environment,” Geisinger said. “That’s a huge win for the program, a win for the people of Cambodia and I can’t wait to see what they will do next.” Chankiriroth Sim, founder and CEO of BanhJi, a fintech startup, told VOA Khmer that while the participants learned more about the U.S. tech scene on their tour, the “important thing is that we got to know each other better.” Or as Rithy Thul, the founder of Smallworld, a collaborative co-working space, told VOA Khmer, the five learned “we can work together when we are back” in Cambodia. Or can they? Each one has a tech business, so who will run their fintech collaboration, the details of which they’re not disclosing, other than to say it is in the payment space. That remains under discussion. “The advantage is that, when we succeed, it can help Cambodia, it helps the next generation,” BookMeBus founder Chea said. “But I’m worried that if there are too many smart people in one group, it could be a disadvantage.” Opportunity and support After three weeks, Chea said he was impressed with how various levels of government in the U.S. — local, state and federal — support startups. “The opportunities I see, including the cooperation between the government, the enterprises, and the incubation, which helps small business to understand its own business, to make it standardized in order to raise fund(s) or find investors,” Chea said. For example, the Cambodians and local tech types discussed how local firms and city government can support each other at the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation (MOCI). It is the only operation of its kind in the U.S., said Siobhan Oat-Judge, a Pearson fellow in the department that “connects government agencies with startups to develop technology products that address civic challenges,” according to the MOCI website. Helping startups to grow isn’t a one-way street, “the community as a whole gains from helping them since they bring solutions to problem. … It’s mutually beneficial,” Oat-Judge said. “We are supporting startups, but we are also gaining from them because they are bringing in solutions for problems,” she added. “They are bringing new ideas, new technology that are helping us to improve the way we are doing things.” Funding issues It’s more difficult to obtain funding in Cambodia than it is in the U.S., said Visal In, co-founder of KhmerLoad, the first Cambodian tech startup backed by Silicon Valley investors. For starters, there’s more U.S. money seeking potentially profitable ideas, something that In found when 500 Startups, a global venture capital based in San Francisco, invested $200,000 in his site. “Some companies outside Cambodia totally depend on getting grants, and in Cambodia it would be difficult if we did that,” In said. For other companies outside Cambodia, “they can sustain themselves without profit, but because they have a good idea, they can be seeking outside funding for five or six years, the time it takes to become profitable. In Cambodia, that’s impossible.” Kounila Keo, one of two female IVLP participants, said she would like to see the Cambodian government step up its support for startups. Keo, a managing director at RedHill Asia and who was spotlighted by Forbes 30 under 30 Asia in 2017, said, “What I want to have in Cambodia in the future is a better and closer cooperation between the government and private companies in order to enhance the tech startup and tech entrepreneurship initiatives.”
More than six years after a tsunami overwhelmed the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan has yet to reach consensus on what to do with a million tons of radioactive water, stored on site in around 900 large and densely packed tanks that could spill should another major earthquake or tsunami strike. The stalemate is rooted in a fundamental conflict between science and human nature. Experts advising the government have urged a gradual release into the Pacific Ocean. Treatment has removed all the radioactive elements except tritium, which they say is safe in small amounts. Conversely, if the tanks break, their contents could slosh out in an uncontrolled way. Fishermen protest Local fishermen are balking. The water, no matter how clean, has a dirty image for consumers, they say. Despite repeated tests showing most types of fish caught off Fukushima are safe to eat, diners remain hesitant. The fishermen fear any release would sound the death knell for their nascent and still fragile recovery. “People would shun Fukushima fish again as soon as the water is released,” said Fumio Haga, a drag-net fisherman from Iwaki, a city about 50 kilometers (30 miles) down the coast from the nuclear plant. And so the tanks remain. March 11, 2011 Fall is high season for saury and flounder, among Fukushima’s signature fish. It was once a busy time of year when coastal fishermen were out every morning. Then came March 11, 2011. A 9 magnitude offshore earthquake triggered a tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people along Japan’s northeast coast. The quake and massive flooding knocked out power for the cooling systems at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Three of the six reactors had partial meltdowns. Radiation spewed into the air, and highly contaminated water ran into the Pacific. Today, only about half of the region’s 1,000 fishermen go out, and just twice a week because of reduced demand. They participate in a fish-testing program. Lab technicians mince fish samples at Onahama port in Iwaki, pack them in a cup for inspection and record details such as who caught the fish and where. Packaged fish sold at supermarkets carry official “safe” stickers. Only three kinds of fish passed the test when the experiment began in mid-2012, 15 months after the tsunami. Over time, that number has increased to about 100. The fish meet what is believed to be the world’s most stringent requirement: less than half the radioactive cesium level allowed under Japan’s national standard and one-twelfth of the U.S. or EU limit, said Yoshiharu Nemoto, a senior researcher at the Onahama testing station. That message isn’t reaching consumers. A survey by Japan’s Consumer Agency in October found that nearly half of Japanese weren’t aware of the tests, and that consumers are more likely to focus on alarming information about possible health impacts in extreme cases, rather than facts about radiation and safety standards. Fewer Japanese consumers shun fish and other foods from Fukushima than before, but 1 in 5 still do, according to the survey. The coastal catch of 2,000 tons last year was 8 percent of pre-disaster levels. The deep-sea catch was half of what it used to be, though scientists say there is no contamination risk that far out. Not yet psychologically ready Naoya Sekiya, a University of Tokyo expert on disaster information and social psychology, said that the water from the nuclear plant shouldn’t be released until people are well-informed about the basic facts and psychologically ready. “A release only based on scientific safety, without addressing the public’s concerns, cannot be tolerated in a democratic society,” he said. “A release when people are unprepared would only make things worse.” He and consumer advocacy group representative Kikuko Tatsumi sit on a government expert panel that has been wrestling with the social impact of a release and what to do with the water for more than a year, with no sign of resolution. More radioactive water The amount of radioactive water at Fukushima is growing, by 150 tons a day. The reactors are damaged beyond repair, but cooling water must be constantly pumped in to keep them from overheating. That water picks up radioactivity before leaking out of the damaged containment chambers and collecting in the basements. There, the volume of contaminated water grows, because it mixes with groundwater that has seeped in through cracks in the reactor buildings. After treatment, 210 tons is reused as cooling water, and the remaining 150 tons is sent to tank storage. During heavy rains, the groundwater inflow increases significantly, adding to the volume. Another government panel recommended last year that the utility, known as TEPCO, dilute the water up to about 50 times and release about 400 tons daily to the sea — a process that would take almost a decade to complete. Experts note that the release of radioactive tritium water is allowed at other nuclear plants. Tritium water from the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the United States was evaporated, but the amount was much smaller, and still required 10 years of preparation and three more years to complete. A new chairman at TEPCO, Takashi Kawamura, caused an uproar in the fishing community in April when he expressed support for moving ahead with the release of the water. The company quickly backpedaled, and now says it has no plans for an immediate release and can keep storing water through 2020. TEPCO says the decision should be made by the government, because the public doesn’t trust the utility. “Our recovery effort up until now would immediately collapse to zero if the water is released,” Iwaki abalone farmer Yuichi Manome said. Some experts have proposed moving the tanks to an intermediate storage area, or delaying the release until at least 2023, when half the tritium that was present at the time of the disaster will have disappeared naturally.