Tropical Storm Gabrielle batters BermudaView galleryThis NASA satellite image, released September 2013, shows Tropical Storm Gabrielle (Upper R) closing in on Bermuda. Forecasters said the storm, which was some 120 miles south of the island, was strengthening and approaching. (AFP Photo/)1 hour ago NatureTropical Storm Gabrielle was battering Bermuda with heavy rains and powerful winds, as US forecasters warned it was strengthening and moving closer to the popular vacation spot.Gabrielle, with maximum sustained winds near 60 miles (96 kilometers) per hour, was some 30 miles (45 kilometers) south of Bermuda, the National Hurricane Center said.”Tropical storm conditions occurring on Bermuda as Gabrielle approaches,” the forecasters said in a 0000 GMT advisory from the Miami-based center.Winds have already picked up on Bermuda as Gabrielle — which could strengthen further over the next 48 hours — slows and turns toward the island chain, they added.A tropical storm warning was in effect for the tourist haven, which could see up to six inches (15 centimeters) of rainfall and storm surges of two to three feet (0.6 to 0.9 meters) above normal.Meanwhile, fellow Tropical Storm Humberto, churning far off land in the Atlantic, appeared on the cusp of becoming a hurricane.Packing maximum sustained winds near 70 miles (110 kilometers) per hour, Humberto was about 245 miles (400 kilometers) west of the southernmost Cape Verde Islands, the NHC said.”Humberto (is) almost a hurricane,” it said in a separate 2100 GMT advisory, adding the storm could surge to hurricane force either later Tuesday or Wednesday.However, no coastal watches or warnings were in effect.
By Linda Sieg TOKYO (Reuters) – Fukushima nuclear plant operator Tepco Electric’s response to the world’s worst atomic disaster in a quarter century has been called ad hoc and more concerned with cost than safety, but 30 months later, the utility is still in charge.Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in the centerpiece of Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympics, said he would be personally responsible for a plan to cope with the legacy of the March 2011 disaster in which a massive earthquake and tsunami caused triple meltdowns, spewing radiation and forcing some 160,000 residents to flee their homes.A crisis over radiation-contaminated water at the plant has revived calls to put Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) into bankruptcy as a prelude to nationalizing the clean-up and shut-down of the reactors, but there is little political support for the idea given its potential fallout for financial markets, Tepco’s creditors and other nuclear utilities.With concerns over Tepco’s ability to cope, policymakers are pondering ways to take the Fukushima shut-down off the utility’s hands, perhaps through an agency along the lines of Britain’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Even that, though, faces hurdles, including the likely need for new legislation, clarity on the size of the bill for taxpayers and government liability, and working out the implications for Japan’s other utilities.That means, at least for now, the government may just end up pouring in more money, leaving Tepco in charge while stepping up official oversight.”They haven’t come up with any good idea yet,” said one former government official, although he said various options were being discussed. „Abe is not shy about providing government support, but I don’t think he’s thinking about any radical change of the structure of this company,” he said, referring to calls to put Tepco through bankruptcy procedures.ON LIFE SUPPORT-Abe’s government last week said it would spend nearly half a billion dollars to contain the leaks and decontaminate water at the facility. That’s on top of a 1 trillion yen ($10 billion) injection of public funds last year and a 5 trillion yen government credit line for compensating disaster victims.”Clearly the government is using state funds to extend Tepco’s life, so the only way forward is to legally bankrupt the firm and make clear who is responsible, including past directors, financial institutions and shareholders,” said Kazuyoshi Sato, an assembly member in Iwaki City just outside the 30 km (18.5 mile) exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant.Few in Tokyo support that view.”I don’t think it’s right to put in taxpayers’ money without Tepco going down,” said ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Taro Kono, who has long been at odds with his party over nuclear energy. But he added: „It seems I’m the only one, or one of just a few, being noisy about liquidation.”Tepco’s admission in July that contaminated water had flowed into the Pacific Ocean and news that highly contaminated water was leaking from a tank storing water used to cool the melted reactor cores prompted Abe’s pledge to take the lead and bolster government oversight.Several ruling party politicians, however, said Tepco’s bankruptcy – considered but rejected in the months after the disaster because authorities decided the utility was too big to fail – was not on the table now.”Tepco is, in reality, bankrupt,” said LDP lawmaker Taku Yamamoto, head of the party’s panel on natural resources and energy strategy. „But under the law … it cannot be put through bankruptcy. It must fulfill its role.”FOOTING THE BILL-Tepco, which has racked up net losses of $27.4 billion since the disaster, has cut its costs and raised its prices, but its long-term sustainability remains in doubt. It has yet to win local support to restart its Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant on Japan’s northwest coast, some 200 kms from Fukushima – which could save it about $1 billion a month in fuel costs.Under the scheme crafted to keep Tepco afloat after the 2011 disaster, the company is liable for compensation, decontamination of affected areas and decommissioning the reactors. It is supposed to use electricity revenues to pay for decommissioning, while, for compensation and decontamination, it can borrow up to 5 trillion yen from the state-backed Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Corporation.”Our company would like to fulfill our social responsibility by properly compensating those affected by the disaster and decommissioning the reactors,” Tepco said in response to Reuters queries for this article.”If the option of corporate bankruptcy or other court-led restructuring were chosen, there is concern that those affected by the nuclear incident would not be properly compensated and there might be a large impact on financial markets,” it said.With cost estimates for compensation and decontamination at least double the 5 trillion yen credit line, and projections of the cost of decommissioning starting at 1 trillion yen, critics have long said Japanese citizens would end up paying the bill.But putting Tepco into bankruptcy would make that inconvenient truth all too clear.”Who would take over the clean-up and paying the people of Fukushima?” said the LDP’s Yamamoto. „It would be the government. It would be tax money. And we don’t know how much that will cost.”„ECONOMIC INCENTIVE”Tepco’s bankruptcy could also trigger potential chaos in the corporate bond market, a key source of funds for power firms, though the utility’s short-dated bonds due this year trade near par for now, reflecting investor confidence they will be paid.”At the end of the day … the government has a social need to keep Tepco running,” said CV Ramachandran, head of Asian business for restructuring specialist AlixPartners. „If it wanted to wind-down and replace Tepco with another entity, that would have a major impact on Tepco bonds and potentially the Japanese bond markets. But this scenario is not likely.”Rating agencies, too, said the government was unlikely to risk market upheaval by pushing Tepco to the wall.”With over 4 trillion yen ($40.2 billion) in (Tepco) bonds outstanding, the Japanese bond market would suffer a negative impact if Tepco were to default on its payments; we believe the government has an economic incentive to avoid such a scenario,” said Standard & Poor’s analyst Hiroki Shibata.Tepco shares have more than doubled this year to 512 yen each, but are still just a quarter of what they were worth before the 2011 disaster.A Tepco bankruptcy would also require clarifying the future shape of Japan’s electricity sector, now controlled by 10 regional monopolies, but set to be liberalized under a law the government aims to pass this year. That would create a national power grid by 2015, and split the regional utilities into generation and transmission firms by 2020. Key details have yet to be worked out, making it hard to value Tepco’s good assets.The government is also re-doing its basic energy plan, setting out the role of nuclear and other energy sources even as it tries to restart some of Japan’s 50 reactors – which used to provide almost a third of the nation’s electricity but are nearly all now off-line – in the face of public safety concerns.”The government would immediately need to present an overall plan for Japan’s energy future, which would be almost as difficult to do today as it was in 2011,” said Martin Schulz, a senior research fellow at Fujitsu Research Institute.Still, the growing criticism of Tepco has bureaucrats and politicians searching for some solution. „We must avoid a situation in which Tepco fails, so ultimately the government will have to step in and take on the burden,” said Koichi Hagiuda, an LDP lawmaker close to Abe.Splitting off the Fukushima project without forcing the Japanese mega-banks that hold its bonds and have extended loans to take a hit, however, would be politically touchy.”No one will accept putting a huge chunk of money into Tepco just so bondholders and pensioners get a soft-landing,” said Jun Okumura, a former industry ministry official and now a senior adviser for Eurasia Group.All of which suggests the government may shy away from drastic change, and continue to drip-feed in more funds.”On the surface, the government says it will ‘take responsibility’, but this is just a temporary expedient of using tax money,” said Shigeaki Koga, a former trade and industry ministry official who proposed putting Tepco through bankruptcy in 2011. „They probably don’t really intend to take responsibility.”(Additional reporting by Mari Saito in TOKYO and Umesh Desai in HONG KONG; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)
Rare 6-Million-Year-Old Skull of Juvenile Ape DiscoveredBy By Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience Contributor | LiveScience.com – 7 hours agoView PhotoAn extremely rare juvenile skull of an extinct ape that lived some 6 million years …View PhotoThe Shuitangba site in China, where an extremely rare juvenile skull of an extinct …An extremely rare juvenile skull of an extinct ape has now been revealed from China, findings that suggest a very diverse group of apes once lived in Southeast Asia, researchers say.Apes, which include gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans, are the closest living relatives of humanity. They once inhabited most of the Old World, including large portions of Europe and Asia, and a much larger swath of Africa than they do at present.A critical time in the evolution of humans and their ape relatives was the late Miocene Epoch about 5 million to 11 million years ago. Near the end of the Miocene, apes had become extinct in most of Eurasia. [In Photos: A Game-Changing Primate Discovery]”Climate and environments were changing rapidly throughout the world at the end of the Miocene, and these changes are reflected in the changing faunas, particularly in the Old World, where animals adapted to living in more equable forest habitats gave way in most places to those capable of living in more open habitats and drier, more seasonal conditions,” said researcher Jay Kelley, a paleoanthropologist at the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University in Tempe.Cool cranium discovery -To explore ape evolution during the late Miocene, scientists investigated a site in the Yunnan province in southern China called Shuitangba, which is a mine for lignite, a form of low-grade coal. Southern China was less affected by the deteriorating climate during the late Miocene that drove extinct many ape species throughout the rest of Eurasia.Miners have recovered fossils at Shuitangba since at least the 1950s. The investigators began excavating at the site in 2007. „The workers keep a lignite fire going all the time to roast potatoes, which is smoky and smells awful, and your hair and clothes become permeated with the lignite smell,” Kelley said.The researchers now reveal the 6-million-year-old cranium of the extinct ape Lufengpithecus, a skull about 3 inches (8 centimeters) wide. [Wipe Out! History’s 7 Most Mysterious Extinctions]”It’s from a young juvenile — it would have been perhaps about 5 years old if its growth was like that of chimpanzees,” Kelley told LiveScience. „I suspect adults of this species would have been in the body size range of large chimpanzees, the larger males perhaps somewhat larger. We know from the developing canine teeth that our juvenile was a male.”Back when these apes were alive, the area was fairly swampy — „warm or hot and wet for much of the year, even if there was some seasonality,” Kelley said. „We have also found a diverse array of birds associated with wetter environments, and mammals associated with wet environments such as beavers and otters. We have also uncovered the trunks of very large trees, so it was heavily forested.”Learning about ape evolution Skulls of fossil apes and other close relatives of humanity are extremely rare, especially those of infants and young juveniles. This find is only the second relatively complete cranium of a young juvenile from the Old World during the entire Miocene, an epoch stretching from 5 million to 23 million years ago.”The preservation of the new cranium is excellent,” Kelley said in a statement. „This is important because all previously discovered adult crania of the species to which it is assigned, Lufengpithecus lufengensis, were badly crushed and distorted during the fossilization process.”In living species of apes, skulls at the same stage of development as the new fossil already closely resemble those of adults. „Therefore, the new cranium, despite being from a juvenile, gives researchers the best look at the cranial anatomy of Lufengpithecus lufengensis,” Kelley said.Due to where and when Lufengpithecus lived, scientists had thought it was related to the modern orangutan, which is now limited to Southeast Asia, but once also dwelled in southern China. However, the new skull bears little resemblance to living orangutans.”More similarity to orangutans would have been expected,” Kelley said.As such, the researchers now suggest Lufengpithecus represents a late-surviving lineage of Eurasian apes without clear links to living groups of apes.”It increasingly appears that there was a very diverse radiation of apes surviving in southeastern Asia long after apes had become extinct in most of the rest of Eurasia,” Kelley said.The researchers hope further excavations will unearth remains of adult specimens to better uncover the relationships between this lineage and other fossil and living apes.”There is a natural tendency among paleoanthropologists to want one’s discovery to be relevant to human evolution, but I don’t think that’s the case here,” Kelley said. „The evolution of apes is equally fascinating and to that our new cranium can make a valuable contribution.”The scientists will detail their findings in print in November in the journal Chinese Science Bulletin.Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.
Far Northern California fire destroys 30 homesView gallery 2 hours ago NatureNorthern CaliforniaFirefighter REDDING, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters gained the upper hand Tuesday on a wildfire in Northern California that destroyed 30 homes and forced about 600 people out of their homes, fire officials said.The Clover Fire broke out Monday near the rural community of Happy Valley in Shasta County and was quickly fanned by gusty winds, growing to more than 11 square miles. However, lighter winds on Tuesday allowed firefighters to focus on corralling the blaze.”The fire is not doing much and that is what we call very good news,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Mike Witesman said.Officials said that at its peak, the flames spread at 500 acres an hour.Some residents were given just minutes to evacuate as the fire jumped roads and engulfed residences, the Record Searchlight of Redding reported (http://bit.ly/1ecnuvu ).View gallery.”Capt. Jed Matcham, left, and firefighter Richard Netro, of the Benicia Fire Department monitor the M …Ty Romero, who lost his home, told the newspaper that he and his uncle quickly loaded a truck and fled as flames approached. They took two dogs but a third was missing.”It wasn’t even 10 minutes,” he said. „I know a lot of the houses in the area burned.”Along with the homes, 50 outbuildings were destroyed and another 30 structures, mostly homes, were damaged, Witesman said. About 300 homes remained threatened.More than 1,100 firefighters were battling the blaze about 150 miles north of Sacramento. Three of them suffered minor injuries, and a resident was treated for smoke inhalation.The fire was 40 percent contained. The cause was under investigation.View gallery.”Dave Johnson watches a wildfire burn on Mount Diablo State Park from a view in Clayton, Calif. on Mo …Gov. Jerry Brown secured a federal grant to help agencies pay for the cost of the Clover Fire.Elsewhere, more than 3,000 firefighters were still battling the Rim Fire that has burned across nearly 400 square miles in and around Yosemite National Park. The cost of the effort has reportedly reached $100 million since it erupted on Aug. 17.Authorities said the blaze was 80 percent contained after being caused by a hunter’s campfire. It has destroyed nearly a dozen homes and almost 100 outbuildings.Meanwhile, a fire burning in a San Francisco Bay Area wilderness park appeared to be under control.Crews made progress overnight against the fire in Mount Diablo State Park in Contra Costa County, more than doubling containment and reducing the number of threatened homes to 75.View gallery.”Heather Seeno loads equipment onto a truck at Ranch North Peak as a wildfire approaches on Monday, S …The fire was 45 percent contained, up from 20 percent the previous night, and had burned a little more than 5 square miles. That number was lowered from the previous day because of better mapping.State fire spokesman Steve Kaufmann said the fire isn’t showing much active behavior.
Tropical storms Gabrielle, Humberto swirl in AtlanticJane Sutton 2 hours ago NatureTropical cycloneView galleryTropical storm Humberto (lower R) and the remnants of tropical storm Gabrielle near the Bahamas are shown …By Jane SuttonMIAMI (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Gabrielle regenerated and bore down on Bermuda on Tuesday while Tropical Storm Humberto strengthened to the verge of becoming the season’s first Atlantic hurricane, forecasters said.The burst of activity came right on schedule as the Atlantic-Caribbean storm season hit its traditional peak.Gabrielle was about 30 miles south-southwest of Bermuda and forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center said it was expected to pass over the mid-Atlantic island later Tuesday.Its top winds had jumped to 60 mph, up from 40 mph earlier, and a slight further increase in strength seemed likely, the forecasters said.They said Bermuda was already being lashed by rough seas, heavy wind gusts and rain and several flights to the island had been canceled in anticipation of the storm.The affluent British territory has strict building codes and tends to withstand tropical storms without major damage.Gabrielle first formed last week in the northeastern Caribbean, soaking Puerto Rico as it crossed into the Atlantic. It fizzled quickly, but regrouped during the weekend and became a tropical storm again on Tuesday.On its current track, after dusting Bermuda, Gabrielle should curve north toward Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, the hurricane center said. It was expected to remain a tropical storm until it approached Newfoundland on Saturday.Tropical Storm Humberto formed on Monday in the eastern Atlantic near the African coast and brushed by the southern Cape Verde Islands. It was about 245 miles west of Cape Verde on Tuesday afternoon, headed northwest over open waters and posing no threat to land.Humberto had top winds of 70 mph and was expected to cross the 74 mph threshold to become a hurricane later Tuesday or early Wednesday.It is the eighth tropical storm of the Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30 and historically peaks on September 10. But it would be the first this year to reach hurricane strength.The first hurricane of the season usually forms by August 10. Since the dawn of the satellite era in the mid-1960s, the latest date for the first hurricane to arrive was set in 2002 when Hurricane Gustav made its debut on September 11.If Humberto reaches hurricane status after 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT) on Wednesday, it will replace Gustav as the modern-day record holder, the forecasters in Miami said.(Reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Tom Brown and Eric Walsh)
Nigeria palm wine tappers face tough climb to successView gallery Ben Simon 8 hours ago Nigeria The pay is low and the work involves scaling a 50-foot tree multiple times a day with no safety net, so it is not surprising that Nigerian palm wine tappers are struggling to find fresh recruits.”No newcomers,” said Anthony Ozioko, a slight 63-year-old, visibly drained after a mid-morning climb up a palm tree in the southeastern town of Nsukka.Nigerians have been drinking the sap from raffia trees, a species of palm, since long before the country existed.Palm wine was once the region’s main social drink, an almost mandatory offer at events like weddings and concerts, although the proliferation of beer and foreign liquor has in part curbed the demand for the more traditional drink.Consumed straight from the tree, palm wine is a non-alcoholic drink and said by some to have medicinal qualities, especially for the digestive system.When fermented and distilled, palm sap produces a drink that recalls a bottle of Sprite, but with much less sugar and about as boozy as a standard bottle of beer.Experts say the consumer demand for palm wine is strong, but production is struggling amid a decades long agriculture sector decline in Nigeria, where the oil industry, Africa’s largest, has become excessively dominant.View gallery.”Palm wine tapper Anthony Ozioko climbs a palm tree in Eha-Alumona, southeastern Nigeria on August 8, …Attempts to develop the palm wine sector have mostly floundered and the business largely remains as rudimentary as ever: tappers climb the tree, process the sap and deliver it directly to a customer, typically someone who lives nearby.For young Nigerians the work seems to have little appeal.”I don’t want (my son) to be a tapper. I want him to be a pilot,” said Sabimus Nwudo as his neighbour Ozioko described the gruelling work and marginal profits.When a tree is ready to be harvested, the first task is „to make the road” by using a machete to cut divots up the trunk, which serve as slots for both feet and a locally made climbing aid that resembles a harness, Ozioko explained.His climb looked daunting but he moved quickly, wedging his harness and feet in the pre-cut divots, eventually securing himself at the top of the trunk, where he collected the sap that had dripped overnight into a bottle attached to the trunk.Ozioko’s expert movements made the work look deceptively safe but serious injuries and some deaths have occurred, locals said.Put simply, „if you don’t know how to climb it, you’ll fall,” said the tapper, resting on a chair after removing a few bees from his latest haul and gulping down a cup.View gallery.”Palm wine tapper Anthony Ozioko drinks palm wine in Eha-Alumona town, southeastern Nigeria on August …The industry is still „in its cradle” and has so far failed to attract any meaningful investment, said Isona Gold of the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR).Gold said he sees huge opportunities for growth but his vision for better organisation and higher profits for tappers has stalled.The plan calls for the formation of clusters of 10 tappers, each harvesting 150 litres of palm wine per day, with a series of local processing plants selling a bottled product — alcoholic or not — to vendors.The NIFOR plan estimates each tapper earning 120,000 naira ($750, 570 euros) per month. If successful, „the young generation may want to go in,” Gold said.The key is private sector involvement, he added, but so far investors „have not indicated much interest.”As a niche product, and one that arguably involves an acquired taste, palm wine’s appeal to prospective investors is limited.But the lack of infrastructure speaks of a larger problem that has plagued Nigeria’s entire agricultural sector, which analysts say has suffered from a woeful lack of investment, both private and public, despite being the country’s top employment sector.View gallery.”Palm wine tapper Anthony Ozioko climbs a palm tree in Eha-Alumona, southeastern Nigeria on August 8, …Nigeria, with its estimated 167 million people, was the world’s largest rice importer in 2012, according to the US Department of Agriculture, bringing in 3.4 million tonnes despite having the climate and land suitable to large-scale rice production.Economists have pointed to massive rice imports to highlight the decay of Nigeria’s agriculture sector.While NIFOR and the government’s Institute for Industrial Research are currently running pilot projects that seek to make the palm wine industry more profitable, Ozioko’s business remains a one-man shop.He aims to sell about 3.7 litres to a local market each day, earning about $9.30.That income is still well above the national average in a country where most live on less that $2 per day.Ozioko also sets aside some of his harvest for personal use.When asked, he said he drinks palm wine every day and offered a simple justification.Because „I’m a tapper,” he said.