It’s springtime, and farmers throughout the Midwest and South are preparing to plant corn—and lots of it. The USDA projects this year’s corn crop will cover 94 million acres, the most in 68 years. (By comparison, the state of California occupies a land mass of about 101 million acres.) Nearly all of that immense stand of corn will be planted with seeds treated with neonicotinoid pesticides produced by the German chemical giant Bayer.

And that may be very bad news for honey bees, which remain in a dire state of health, riddled by large annual die-offs that have become known as “colony collapse disorder” (CCD).

Neonicotinoid, known as “neonics” for short, is a farm pesticide produced primarily by the German chemical giant Bayer, widely used in the U.S. to coat a massive 142 million acres of corn, wheat, soy and cotton seeds. They are also common ingredients in many home gardening products. However, three new studies* link neonics to declining bee populations nationwide - fully a third of commercial beehives, over a million colonies, have disappeared over the past year. The pesticide works as a nerve poison, infecting their insect victims and interfering with their homing ability, which in turn prevents them from making it back to their hives.

Germany and France have already banned pesticides known to cause the death of bees and there is still time to save bees in this country if you follow suit. We urge the EPA to protect nature’s hardest workers; please ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides from being used on crops and in household products.

When workplace safety expert Eric Esswein got a chance to see fracking in action not too long ago, what he noticed was all the dust.

It was coming off big machines used to haul around huge loads of sand. The sand is a critical part of the hydraulic fracturing method of oil and gas extraction. After workers drill down into rock, they create fractures in that rock by pumping in a mixture of water, chemicals and sand. The sand keeps the cracks propped open so that oil and gas are released.

But sand is basically silica — and breathing in silica is one of the oldest known workplace dangers. Inside the lungs, exposure to the tiny particles has been shown to sometimes lead to serious diseases like silicosis and cancer.

Environmentalists and beekeepers are calling on the government to ban some of the country’s most widely used insect-killing chemicals.

The pesticides, called neonicotinoids, became popular among farmers during the 1990s. They’re used to coat the seeds of many agricultural crops, including the biggest crop of all: corn. Neonics, as they’re called, protect those crops from insect pests.

But they may also be killing bees.

Of all the horrors of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, the radiation released from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was not the worst. Three reactors melted down, but better engineering and stronger containment meant that the resulting radiation levels were significantly less severe than those of Chernobyl.

That doesn’t mean the local wildlife—or, necessarily, the local humans—came through unscathed, though. Earlier this year, bluefin tuna turned up off the coast of California sporting elevated levels of cesium. Not a huge deal: Tuna already contain natural levels of radiation much larger than the amount they contracted from Japanese waters.

Now, somewhat more disturbingly, researchers have found “severe abnormalities” in butterflies collected from Fukushima last year. In a new paper published in Nature's online journal Scientific Reports, a Japanese research team reports that adult pale grass blue butterflies have shown mutations to their wings, legs, and antennae at rates far higher than those of the normal population.

What’s alarming—though not entirely unexpected—is that the relatively mild mutations found in the butterflies initially collected at the scene seem to be getting worse in their offspring. That’s true for offspring bred offsite as well as second-generation butterflies found at Fukushima, indicating that the radiation has caused lasting genetic damage to the species. 

How much the Fukushima radiation will affect human health remains unclear. No one died as a direct result of radiation at the site, and only about 100 workers have been identified as having incurred levels of radiation high enough to significantly increase their cancer risk. Still, the mutant butterflies aren’t a particularly encouraging sign.

Industrial food model and soy-based aquaculture a disaster for fish, environment

- Common Dreams staff

Agribusiness behemoths including Monsanto and Cargill are set to cash in big from industrial fish farming or “aquaculture” as the soy industry spreads its reign to the seas, a new report from environmental and consumer watchdogs shows.

The new report, “Factory-Fed Fish: How the Soy Industry is Expanding Into the Sea” from Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Europe, shows how the use of soy as feed in aquaculture — branded as “sustainable” — is an environmental disaster, harming fish both wild and farmed as it pollutes the oceans and brings unknown effects to consumers eating the soy-fed fish.

“Our seas are not Roundup ready,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, referring to the 93 to 94 percent of soybeans produced in the United States that are genetically modified by Monsanto to tolerate the application of its Roundup herbicide.

The growing of Monsanto’s soy has led to an increase in the use of herbicides, the report states, and its planting on large scales has led to massive deforestation, which exacerbates climate change and displaces indigenous communities.

“Soy is being promoted as a better alternative to feed made from wild fish, but this model will not help the environment, and it will transfer massive industrial farming models into our oceans and further exacerbate the havoc wreaked by the soy industry on land—including massive amounts of dangerous herbicide use and massive deforestation,” stated Hauter.

Once grown, the soy feed continues its adverse effects. Not being the natural food for fish, the farmed fish excrete more waste, which pollutes the open waters.  In addition, some of these soy-fed fish will escape and breed with wild fish, affecting natural populations.  Excess feed will escape as well, causing unknown damage to wild populations.

Despite these risks, soy has been touted as a more ecologically-sound alternative to feed in aquaculture, notably by the American Soy Association.

According to the report, “the rising use of soy in fish farming industries will mean that notorious agribusinesses like Monsanto, which has sponsored feed trials with genetically modified soy and salmon, and Cargill, which has an aquaculture feed division, will play a hand in seafood production.” The report notes that half of the seafood consumed globally is through aquaculture, creating a potential gold mine in profits for these companies.

Mr. Koide Hiroaki is a “Samurai” in the nuclear world. He has been struggling with gigantic nuclear conglomerate, for 40 years. Because of his anti nuclear activities, he has been ignored by government, scholars of nuclear, and industries. But after Fukushima, he became a symbol of Japanese conscience.
I attached English subtitles for announcing this to whole world. Miki Shunji / Chief executive of MCRC

The report released Thursday describes a post-tsunami breakdown in communication and cooperation between those who operated the Fukushima plant and those who handled Japan’s nuclear safety.

The prime minister’s office waited too long to declare a state of emergency. Tepco’s disaster response manuals were out of date and missing key diagrams. The company was too slow in relaying information to the government.

Then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan traveled to the plant mid-meltdown and “diverted the attention and time of the on-site operational staff and confused the line of command.”

“Had the head office of Tepco actively communicated the on-site situation from the start, and explained the severity of the situation to the other parties,” the report said, “there is a possibility that the distrust — and the confusion in the chain of command that followed — could have been prevented.”

The 10-member commission compiled its report based on more than 1,000 interviews and 900 hours of hearings.

I first came across Rokkasho in a book by Ellen Schattschneider titled Immortal Wishes: Labor and Transcendence on a Japanese Sacred Mountain (pages 12-13).

The soon-to-be-abolished Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency gave the OK on June 26 for work to continue on the construction of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, which had already been under way.

Critics say the approval was rushed by the agency in order for the project to reach completion, despite a growing public outcry against nuclear power generation.

The government is discussing the nuclear fuel cycle, including a review of the program.

The plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel reprocessing plant would constitute the core of the nuclear fuel cycle. New nuclear fuel would be produced from plutonium extracted from spent fuel at nuclear plants.

NISA approved the construction of facilities to solidify powdery MOX fuel and other related operations. The approval means contractors can proceed with the design and building of facilities to process, check and store nuclear fuel.

Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., which filed for the approval, is planning to complete the MOX fuel plant in March 2016.

“We will proceed with the work according to schedule,” it said.

The policy of the nuclear fuel cycle will be discussed by the government’s Energy and Environment Council, comprising Cabinet ministers with relevant portfolios, this summer. The discussions will include the continuation or abolition of the program. The council could conclude that there will be no need for the MOX plant.

On June 20, it was decided that the NISA will be abolished as legislation has been passed to establish a new nuclear regulatory commission. But NISA gave permission for the construction of facilities associated with the nuclear fuel cycle in February and March before the latest approval by the lame duck agency.

“The last-minute approval is intolerable amid discussions for reviewing the program,” said Hideyuki Ban, a member of the New Nuclear Policy Planning Council of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission and co-director of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center.

NISA denied that it rushed the decision.

“It’s not true that we issued the permission with the schedule (of NISA’s abolition) in mind,” said an official at NISA’s nuclear fuel cycle regulation division. “We confirmed compliance with standards from a technological standpoint. There is no problem because we strictly examined the application.”

Meanwhile, the president of Electric Power Development Co. on June 26 showed a willingness to proceed with the construction of the nuclear plant in the northeastern town of Oma, in the same prefecture.

“We hope to proceed with the construction in light of new nuclear-safety understandings to prevent accidents from occurring,” Masayoshi Kitamura said at his company’s general shareholders’ meeting in Tokyo.

The Oma plant had been under construction, but work was halted after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011.

Momentum for an early resumption is increasing in local municipalities due to expectations for economic effects.

Many residents of Hakodate, Hokkaido, located on the other side of the Tsugaru Strait, want the construction freeze to continue.

But Kitamura said that is unlikely.

“We have never discussed a withdrawal as an option (at board meetings and on other occasions),” he said.