Category Archives: Transportation

Battery Fires Reveal Risks of Storing Large Amounts of Energy

Battery Fires Reveal Risks of Storing Large Amounts of Energy: Scientific American.

STORAGE RISK: Storing large amounts of energy, in batteries or other devices, inherently poses risks — but also offers benefits. Image: Mariordo/Wikimedia Commons

People still need electricity when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, which is why renewable energy developers are increasingly investing in energy storage systems. They need to sop up excess juice and release it when needed.

However, storing large amounts of energy, whether it’s in big batteries for electric cars or water reservoirs for the electrical grid, is still a young field. It presents challenges, especially with safety.

The most recent challenge first appeared in May, three weeks after a safety crash test on the Chevrolet Volt, General Motors Co.’s plug-in hybrid. The wrecked vehicle caught fire on its own in a storage facility, raising questions about its lithium-ion battery.

Last week, after a series of additional side-impact crash tests on the Volt battery, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched what it called a “safety defect investigation” into the risk of fire in a Chevy Volt that has been involved in a serious accident.

Problems have also afflicted spinning flywheels, which allow power plants and other large energy users to store and release powerful surges of energy. In Stephentown, N.Y., Beacon Power’s 20-megawatt flywheel energy storage facility suffered two flywheel explosions, one on July 27 — just two weeks after it opened — and one on Oct. 13. The company declared bankruptcy earlier this month.

In Japan, sodium-sulfur batteries at Mitsubishi Materials Corp.’s Tsukuba plant in Ibaraki prefecture caught on fire on Sept. 21. It took firefighters more than eight hours to control the blaze, and authorities declared it extinguished on Oct. 5.

NGK Insulators Ltd., the company that manufactured the energy storage system, said it is still investigating the incident’s cause and has halted production of its sodium-sulfur cells, which are installed in 174 locations across six countries.

“Clearly, storing large amounts of energy is difficult from a physics standpoint; [the energy] would rather be somewhere else,” said Paul Denholm, a senior energy analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

He explained that energy naturally wants to spread out, so packing it into a small space like a battery or a fuel cell creates the risk of an uncontrolled energy release like a fire or explosion. Similar issues come up with mechanical storage, whether it’s water behind a dam, compressed air underground or spinning flywheels.

Some storage risks are ‘grandfathered’
However, these risks are not unique to storing electricity. Fossil fuels, which are technically forms of stored energy, pose plenty of problems in their extraction, refining, distribution and delivery.

“We basically have grandfathered these risk factors. Gasoline catches on fire all the time,” said Denholm. Electrical energy storage systems aren’t inherently riskier than petroleum or natural gas, according to Denholm, but their risks are different.

The NHTSA shares Denholm’s assessment when it comes to cars. “Let us be clear: NHTSA does not believe electric vehicles are at a greater risk of fire than other vehicles,” said the agency in a press release earlier this month responding to the Volt fire. “It is common sense that the different designs of electric vehicles will require different safety standards and precautions.”

For batteries, the main issue is how they control the heat they generate. “What you really want to avoid is cascading failure,” said Denholm. “A failure of any one of those batteries is not a huge event, but if you don’t have proper thermal management, a failure in one battery can cause failure in another.”

This condition, known as a thermal runaway, happens when a cell fails and releases its energy as heat. This heat can cause adjacent cells to fail and generate heat, as well, leading to melting materials and fires.

Controlling temperatures is relatively simple when the batteries are in a fixed location, say, next to a wind farm, but it becomes harder when they are placed in a car or bus.

“The biggest thing that people become concerned about [for batteries in cars] is the ability to be able to tolerate abuse,” said Joe Redfield, principal engineer at the Southwest Research Institute, a nonprofit engineering research and development group.

In a car, a battery is exposed to a wide range of humidities, temperatures and electrical loads. All of these factors influence the battery’s reliability, and if they get too extreme, they can cause a thermal runaway condition.

New problem for firefighters
The problem is compounded by the fact that newer lithium-ion batteries store more electricity than other electrochemical storage systems. “The lead-acid battery has been around a long time” and is a mature technology, said Redfield. “The energy levels of lithium-ion batteries are much, much, much greater than that of lead-acid storage.”

This becomes a major problem for firefighters and first responders in the event of an accident involving lithium-ion batteries. Water can’t always be used to extinguish an electrical fire, since water can conduct electricity.

In addition, in the case of a thermal runaway, it’s usually not the batteries that catch fire but their fumes, though lithium itself is flammable. Even after the fire is extinguished, the batteries can still generate tremendous amounts of heat and reignite fumes, hampering rescue efforts.

One solution is to separate batteries into modules, making it easier to isolate a failed battery from the rest. Another trick is to have a master kill switch, a mechanism that quickly disables the electrical system and discharges the batteries.

The Department of Energy and the National Fire Protection Association are working together to train firefighters and rescue workers to identify these switches in vehicles and grid storage systems as well as in how to respond to battery fires, according to the NHTSA.

Redfield said that the best way to prevent such incidents is with a battery management system that evenly distributes electrical loads and controls temperatures. “It’s not just for safety; it’s primarily there to provide performance and battery life,” he said.

Electrics get high marks in crash tests

“As the operating temperature increases, the lifetime diminishes dramatically. You want to ensure the longest battery life, and if you achieve that, then you’re clearly in the safety limits of the operating environment,” he added.

Overall, Redfield expects that energy storage systems will help increase renewable energy use and curb fossil fuel dependence in the United States. The bumps along the road are significant, but they do not result from an inherent flaw in the idea.

“Failures in new technology have almost always been the result of design shortcuts that were made in putting the new technology into progress. Every now and then, you have some uncharted territory — things we haven’t seen before — but typically, they are few and far between,” said Redfield.

“It really is going down the same path we’ve gone down many times before. We don’t need to make the same mistakes we’ve made with liquid fuels.” After the earlier testing, NHTSA gave the Volt a five-star crash test rating — the agency’s highest — and it did the same for Nissan’s all-electric Leaf.

Meanwhile, a second testing agency, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, has given the Chevrolet Volt a “G,” the highest safety score possible, after side crash tests on the front, side, rear and rollovers.

Research by an affiliate of the insurance group, the Highway Loss Data Institute, estimates that overall chances of being injured in a crash are 25 percent lower in hybrids because their large batteries make them heavier than similar gasoline-powered cars.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500

2011 Sea Ice Minimum at near-record level

2011 Sea Ice Minimum : Image of the Day.

2011 Sea Ice Minimum

acquired September 9, 2011
Color bar for 2011 Sea Ice Minimum
acquired September 1, 2010 – September 30, 2011 download animation (8 MB, QuickTime)

In September 2011, sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean declined to the second-lowest extent on record. Satellite data from NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) showed that the summertime ice cover narrowly avoided a new record low.

The image above was made from observations collected by the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. The map—which looks down on the North Pole—depicts sea ice extent on September 9, 2011, the date of minimum extent for the year. The animation (link below the image) shows the growth and decline of sea ice from September 2010 to September 2011.

Ice-covered areas range in color from white (highest concentration) to light blue (lowest concentration). Open water is dark blue, and land masses are gray. The yellow outline shows the median minimum ice extent for 1979–2000; that is, areas that were at least 15 percent ice-covered in at least half the years between 1979 and 2000.

Melt season in 2011 brought higher-than-average summer temperatures, but not the unusual weather conditions that contributed to the extreme melt of 2007, the record low. “Atmospheric and oceanic conditions were not as conducive to ice loss this year, but the melt still neared 2007 levels,” said Walt Meier of NSIDC. “This probably reflects loss of multi-year ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, as well as other factors that are making the ice more vulnerable.”

The low sea ice level in 2011 fits the pattern of decline over the past three decades, said Joey Comiso of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Since 1979, September Arctic sea ice extent has declined by 12 percent per decade.

“The sea ice is not only declining; the pace of the decline is becoming more drastic,” he noted. “The older, thicker ice is declining faster than the rest, making for a more vulnerable perennial ice cover.”

While the sea ice extent did not dip below the record, the area did drop slightly lower than 2007 levels for about ten days in early September 2011. Sea ice “area” differs from “extent” in that it equals the actual surface area covered by ice, while extent includes any area where ice covers at least 15 percent of the ocean.

Arctic sea ice extent on September 9, 2011, was 4.33 million square kilometers (1.67 million square miles). Averaged over the month of September, ice extent was 4.61 million square kilometers (1.78 million square miles). This places 2011 as the second lowest ice extent for both the daily minimum and the monthly average. Ice extent was 2.43 million square kilometers (938,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average.

Climate models have suggested that the Arctic could lose almost all of its summer ice cover by 2100, but in recent years, ice extent has declined faster than the models predicted.

  1. Further Reading

  2. NASA (2011, October 4) Arctic Sea Ice Continues Decline, Hits 2nd-Lowest Level. Accessed October 4, 2011.
  3. NASA Earth Observatory (n.d.) World of Change: Arctic Sea Ice.
  4. NOAA Climate Watch (2011, October 4) Old Ice Becoming Rare in Arctic. Accessed October 4, 2011.

NASA Earth Observatory images created by Jesse Allen, using AMSR-E sea ice concentration data provided courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Caption based on text from Patrick Lynch (NASA) and Katherine Leitzell (NSIDC), edited by Michael Carlowicz.

Aqua – AMSR-E

At least 75 Kenyans dead after pipeline explosion

At least 75 Kenyans dead after pipeline explosion – Yahoo! News.

NAIROBI, Kenya – A leaking gasoline pipeline in Kenya’s capital exploded on Monday, turning part of a slum into an inferno in which at least 75 people were killed and more than 100 hurt.

Flames leapt out from the pipeline in a radius of some 300 yards (meters), setting shacks ablaze and incinerating scores of people. Reporters later saw clusters of charred bodies and blackened bones at the site. Some burned bodies floated in a nearby river filled with sewage. Homes had been built right up to the pipeline, the residents said.

“I’ve lost count of the number of bodies,” said Wilfred Mbithi, the policeman in charge of operations in Nairobi as he stood at the scene. “Many had dived into the river trying to put out their flames.”

Red Cross official Pamela Indiaka said the Red Cross is providing body bags and has dealt with 75 bodies so far. The death toll from the blast may still rise.

Nearby, a young woman clawed through smoldering timbers, screaming in grief. Others wandered by the remains of the inferno, frantically dialing phone numbers that didn’t go through or staring around in disbelief.

Fires still smoldered among the twisted wreckage of corrugated iron sheets and scattered possessions. Visibility was poor because of rain and smoke.

Resident Joseph Mwangi, 34, said he was feeding his cow when people went running past him, calling out that there was a leak in the pipeline. He said others started drawing fuel and that he was going to go and get a bucket and get fuel too when he heard an explosion around 9 a.m. By then fuel had leaked into the river and parts of the river had also caught fire. People in flames were jumping into the fiery, stinking mess, he said.

Moments after speaking to the AP, Mwangi discovered two small charred bodies in the burnt wreckage of his home.

“Those were my children,” he said blankly, before collapsing on the ground sobbing.

Another man, Michael Muriuki, found the body of his 5-year-old daughter still smoldering. He ran to the river for water to put her out. He took a deep breath and struggled for control before speaking.

“Her name was Josephine Muriuki. She was five,” he said.

At the time of the explosion, the narrow, twisting alleyways would have been packed with people on their way to work or school who had stopped to try to scoop up fuel. The flimsy homes of corrugated iron sheets would have offered little resistance to the blast.

The Red Cross was conducting search and rescue operations and had set up two tents for first aid and counseling, said Bernard Magila, who was helping the operation. Bodybags and materials for temporary shelter were also being provided.

At least 112 burn victims have arrived so far at Kenyatta National Hospital and they urgently need blood donors and blankets, said Richard Lisiyampe, the head of the hospital. Many children were among the victims. Most had burns covering more than a third of their bodies, he said. Some were unrecognizable, said St. John’s Ambulance Service spokesman Fred Majiwa.

Inside the hospital, beds were crowded together and doctors and nurses rushed from victim to victim. Many had long strips of skin hanging from their heads and bodies. One man picked at his hands distractedly, peeling off skin like gloves. Relatives clustered outside operating rooms, waiting for news.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “sorrow and sympathy” to the families of the victims and the government and said “the United Nations stands in solidarity with the people of Kenya at this difficult moment,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

“This is a terrible accident,” said Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who visited the wounded in hospital. He said the government would cover medical expenses for the injured and pay compensation to those who lost loved ones. He also said he had visited the offices of the state-owned Kenya Pipeline Company, who operate the pipeline.

They had told Odinga that the explosion was caused by a leak from the pipeline into nearby sewage, he said. Workers who answered the phones at their offices declined to give a comment or their names.

“There will be a proper investigation,” Odinga said.

In 2009, at least 120 people were killed when they were trying to scoop fuel spilled from a crashed petrol tanker in Kenya and it exploded.


Associated Press writers Katharine Houreld and Malkhadir M. Muhumed contributed to this report.

2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident – encyclopedia article about 2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident.

2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident – encyclopedia article about 2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident..

2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident

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2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident

2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident
Minot B52 800p 070904.jpg
A B-52H bomber departs Minot Air Force Base
Date August 29–30, 2007
Location Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota and Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana
Result Six nuclear warheads mishandled and unaccounted for or improperly secured for approximately 36 hours

The 2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident occurred at Minot Air Force Base and Barksdale Air Force Base on August 29–30, 2007. Six AGM-129 ACM cruise missiles, each loaded with a W80-1 variable yield nuclear warhead, were reportedly mistakenly loaded on a United States Air Force (USAF) B-52H heavy bomber at Minot and transported to Barksdale. The nuclear warheads in the missiles were supposed to have been removed before taking the missiles from their storage bunker. The missiles with the nuclear warheads were not reported missing and remained mounted to the aircraft at both Minot and Barksdale for a period of 36 hours. During this period, the warheads were not protected by the various mandatory security precautions required for nuclear weapons.

The incident was reported to the top levels of the United States (U.S.) military and referred to by observers as a Bent Spear incident, which indicates a nuclear weapon incident that is of significant concern, but does not involve the immediate threat of nuclear war. The USAF, however, has yet to officially classify the incident.

In response to the incident, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and USAF conducted an investigation, the results of which were released on October 19, 2007. The investigation concluded that nuclear weapons handling standards and procedures had not been followed by numerous USAF personnel involved in the incident. As a result, four USAF commanders were relieved of their commands, numerous other USAF personnel were disciplined and/or decertified to perform certain types of sensitive duties, and further cruise missile transport missions from and nuclear weapons operations at Minot Air Force Base were suspended. In addition, the USAF issued new nuclear weapons handling instructions and procedures.

Separate investigations by the U.S. Defense Science Board and a USAF “Blue Ribbon” panel reported that concerns existed on the procedures and processes for handling nuclear weapons within the U.S. DoD but did not find any failures with the security of U.S. nuclear weapons. Based on this and other incidents, on June 5, 2008, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff of the Air Force General T. Michael Moseley, were fired. In response to recommendations by a review committee, in October 2008 the USAF announced the creation of Air Force Global Strike Command to control all USAF nuclear bombers, missiles, and personnel.


As of August 2007, Minot Air Force Base was the home of the 5th Bomb Wing and Barksdale Air Force Base the home of 2nd Bomb Wing, both of which fell under the 8th Air Force, also based at Barksdale. The 8th was part of Air Combat Command (ACC) in the USAF. In August 2007 the 5th Bomb Wing was commanded by Colonel Bruce Emig, the 2nd Bomb Wing by Colonel Robert Wheeler, the 8th Air Force by Lieutenant General Robert Elder Jr., and ACC by General Ronald Keys.[1] The 5th Bomb Wing, according to the USAF’s statement on the wing’s mission, served with its B-52 bombers as part of the USAF’s conventional and strategic combat force.[2] The “strategic” portion of the 5th’s mission included the ability to deliver nuclear weapons against potential targets worldwide. Thus, Minot Air Force Base stored and maintained a ready arsenal of nuclear bombs, nuclear warheads, and associated delivery systems, including, as of August 2007, the AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile.[3]

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An AGM-129 cruise missile in flight

The AGM-129 was fielded in 1987 as a stealthy cruise missile platform to deliver the W80-1 variable yield nuclear warhead. Although originally designed to equip the B-1 bomber, it was later decided that the AGM-129 would only be carried by the B-52, mounted on external pylons on the wings, or internally in the bomb bay.[4]

In March 2007, the USAF decided to retire its AGM-129 complement in order to help comply with international arms-control treaties and to replace them with AGM-86 missiles.[5] In order to do so, the USAF began to transport its AGM-129s stored at Minot by B-52s to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana for ultimate disposal. By August 29, 2007 according to the Washington Post, more than 200 AGM-129s had been shipped from Minot to Barksdale in this manner.[6]


Between 08:00 and 09:00 (local time) on August 29, 2007, a group of USAF airmen, called the breakout crew, entered one of the weapons storage bunkers at Minot to prepare AGM-129 missiles for transport to Barksdale. That day’s missile transport, the sixth of 12 scheduled ferry missions, was to have consisted of 12 AGM-129s, installed with training warheads, with six missiles per pylon and one pylon mounted under each wing of a Barksdale-assigned, 2nd Bomb Wing B-52 aircraft. When the airmen entered the bunker, six actual warheads were still installed on their missiles, as opposed to having been replaced with the dummy training warheads. A later investigation found that the reason for the error was that the formal electronic scheduling system for tracking the missiles “had been subverted in favor of an informal process that did not identify this pylon as prepared for the flight.”[7] The airmen assigned to handle the missiles used an outdated paper schedule that contained incorrect information on the status of the missiles. The missiles originally scheduled for movement had been replaced by missiles closer to expiration dates for limited life components. The change in missiles had been reflected on the movement plan but not in the documents used for internal work coordination processes in the bunker.[8]

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An AGM-129 pylon is loaded onto the wing of a B-52 at Minot

Although the breakout crew in the weapons storage began to inspect the missiles, an early-arriving transport crew hooked-up the pylons and towed them away without inspecting or ensuring that the missiles had been inspected or cleared for removal. The munitions control center failed to verify that the pylon had received proper clearance and inspection and approved the pylon for loading on the B-52 aircraft at 09:25. After taking eight hours to attach the pylons to the aircraft, the aircraft with the missiles loaded then remained parked overnight at Minot for 15 hours without special guard as required for nuclear weapons.[9]

On the morning of August 30, one of the transport aircraft’s flight officers, a Barksdale-assigned B-52 instructor radar navigator (name unknown), closely inspected the six missiles on the right wing only, which were all properly uploaded with training warheads, before signing the manifest listing the cargo as a dozen unarmed AGM-129 missiles. The B-52 command pilot did not do a final verification check before preparing to depart Minot.[10]

The B-52 departed Minot at 08:40 and landed at Barksdale at 11:23 (local times) on August 30. The aircraft remained parked and without special guard until 20:30, when a munitions team arrived to remove the missiles. After a member of the munitions crew noticed something unusual about some of the missiles, at 22:00 a “skeptical” supervisor determined that nuclear warheads were present and ordered them secured and the incident reported, 36 hours after the missiles were removed from the bunker at Minot.[11]

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General T. Michael Moseley, USAF chief of staff at the time of the incident

The incident was reported to the National Military Command Center as a Bent Spear incident, which indicates a nuclear weapon incident that is of significant concern, but does not involve the immediate threat of nuclear war (Pinnacle – Nucflash) or the accidental detonation of or severe damage to a nuclear weapon (Pinnacle – Broken Arrow). Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General T. Michael Moseley quickly called the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, on August 31 to inform him about the incident. Gates requested daily updates regarding the investigation and informed President Bush about the incident. The USAF has yet to officially designate what type of incident actually occurred, Bent Spear or otherwise.[12] The incident was the first of its kind in 40 years in the United States and was later described by the media as “one of the worst breaches in U.S. nuclear weapons security in decades”.[13]

Response by the U.S. government

The USAF and DoD at first decided to conceal the incident, in part because of the USAF policy not to comment on the storage or movement of nuclear weapons and an apparent belief that the incident would not generate much public concern. In fact, the DoD incident report contained the statement, “No press interest anticipated.” Details of the incident, however, were leaked by unknown DoD officials to the Military Times newspaper, which published a small article about the incident on September 5, 2007.[14]

In response, in a September 5 news briefing in the Pentagon by Press Secretary Geoff Morrell, it was stated that at no time was the public in any danger and that military personnel had custody of the weapons at all times. The USAF announced that within days of the incident, the USAF relieved the Minot munitions squadron commander and eventually disciplined 25 airmen. USAF Major General Doug Raaberg was assigned by General Keys to lead an investigation into the incident. The USAF inventory of nuclear warheads was checked to ensure that all warheads were accounted for. In addition, the DoD announced that a Pentagon-appointed scientific advisory panel, called the Defense Science Board, would study the mishap as part of a larger review of procedures for handling nuclear weapons. On September 28, the USAF announced that General Keys was retiring and would be replaced as ACC commander by General John Corley, effective October 2.[15]

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USAF Secretary Michael Wynne and Major General Richard Newton brief the results of the USAF investigation into the incident at the Pentagon on October 19, 2007

On October 19, 2007, U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne and USAF Major General Richard Newton, deputy chief of staff for operations, plans, and requirements, announced the investigation report findings, stating that, “there has been an erosion of adherence to weapons-handling standards at Minot Air Force Base and at Barksdale Air Force Base” and that “… a limited number of airmen at both locations failed to follow procedures.”[16] Colonel Emig, the commander of the 5th Bomb Wing, Colonel Cynthia Lundell, the commander of the 5th Maintenance Group at Minot, and Colonel Todd Westhauser, the commander of Barksdale’s 2nd Operations Group, and four senior non-commissioned officers from the 5th Munitions Squadron “received administrative action” and were relieved of their commands or positions and reassigned. All of the 5th Bomb Wing personnel were stripped of their certifications to handle nuclear and other sensitive weaponry and to conduct “specific missions”. Sixty-five airmen of varying ranks lost their personnel reliability program certifications.[17] Tactical ferry operations were suspended. The inspector general offices of all USAF major commands that handle nuclear weapons were directed to conduct immediate “Limited Nuclear Surety Inspections (LNSIs) at every nuclear-capable unit” with oversight provided by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.[18]

The new ACC commander, General Corley, referred the matter to USAF Lieutenant General Norman Seip, commander of the 12th Air Force, as a court-martial convening authority to determine if additional charges or actions would be taken against any of the personnel involved in the incident. Seip later closed the investigation without recommending criminal charges against anyone involved.[19]

Retired USAF General Larry Welch was asked by Gates, who had reportedly raised concerns with USAF officials that the original investigation may have unfairly limited blame to midlevel officers, to lead the Defense Science Board advisory panel that would study the mishap as part of a larger review of procedures and policies for handling nuclear weapons. In addition, the USAF chartered a “Blue Ribbon Review” chaired by USAF Major General Polly Peyer and consisting of 30 members to “make recommendations as to how we can improve the Air Force’s capability to safely and securely perform our nuclear weapons responsibility”.[20] Furthermore, the U.S. Congress requested that the DoD and U.S. Department of Energy conduct a bottom-up review of nuclear procedures.[21]


USAF actions

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Colonel Joel Westa became the new commander of the 5th Bomb Wing in the wake of the incident

On October 24, 2007, Secretary of the Air Force Wynne told the House Armed Services Committee that he believed that the 5th Bomb Wing could be recertified and could resume ferrying the AGM-129 cruise missiles to Barksdale for retirement. He did not provide a timeline for that recertification process. On November 1, 2007 Colonel Joel Westa took command of the 5th Bomb Wing.[22] That same day, General Keys retired from the Air Force.[23]

Personnel from Barksdale’s 2nd Bomb Wing temporarily took over maintenance duties of Minot’s nuclear stockpile until the 5th Bomb Wing could be recertified. A nuclear surety inspection (NSI), required for recertification, originally scheduled for the 5th Bomb Wing for January 23, 2008 was postponed after the wing failed an initial NSI that took place on December 16, 2007.[24] Another initial NSI was completed on March 29 and Corley recertified the wing on March 31, 2008. A full NSI was scheduled for May 2008. The wing needed to regain its certification in order to hold the full NSI, said Major Elizabeth Ortiz, a Minot spokeswoman. Units handling nuclear weapons must pass NSIs every 18 months in order to retain their certifications.[25]

The USAF issued a new policy directive regarding the handling of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, which prohibits the storing of nuclear armed and nonnuclear armed weapons in the same storage facility. The directive further instructs that all nonnuclear munitions and missiles must be labeled with placards clearly stating that they are not armed with nuclear warheads. Wing commanders are now charged with approving any movement of nuclear weapons from weapons storage areas and must appoint a single individual as a munitions accountability system officer and weapons custodian. All units that handle nuclear weapons must develop a coordinated visual inspection checklist. The policy further directs that airmen charged with handling or maintaining nuclear weapons cannot be on duty for longer than 12 hours, unless during an emergency, when their duty period can be extended to a maximum of 16 hours.[26] The USAF has since instituted a program of surprise inspections at nuclear-armed bases.[27]

Review reports

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Larry Welch (in 1984)

Welch and Peyer briefed the results of their reviews before the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services on February 12, 2008. In addition to Welch and Peyer, Lieutenant General Daniel Darnell, USAF deputy chief of staff for air, space and information operations and Major General Raaberg testified and answered questions from the senate committee’s members. During the hearing, Welch stated that, “The military units responsible for handling the bombs are not properly inspected and, as a result, may not be ready to perform their missions.” He added, “If you look at all the areas and all the ways that we have to store and handle these weapons in order to perform the mission, it just requires, we believe, more resources and more attention than they’re getting.”[28] Welch’s report concluded that the combining of DoD nuclear forces with nonnuclear organizations has led to “markedly reduced levels of leadership whose daily focus is the nuclear enterprise and a general devaluation of the nuclear mission and those who perform the mission.” Nevertheless, neither Welch’s nor Peyer’s reports found any failures with the security of U.S. nuclear weapons.[29]

Responding to Welch’s and Peyer’s reports, USAF officials stated that they were already implementing many of the recommendations contained in the reports but added that existing regulations governing nuclear procedures were satisfactory. During his testimony before the senate committee, Darnell stated, “The Air Force portion of the nuclear deterrent is sound, and we will take every measure necessary to provide safe, secure, reliable nuclear surety to the American public.”[30]

Inspections, resignations, and further discipline

Minot’s full NSI took place beginning on May 17, 2008, and was conducted by inspectors from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and the AF’s Air Combat Command (ACC). On May 25, the DTRA issued the 5th Bomb Wing an “unsatisfactory” rating, the lowest rating possible, from the inspection. The 5th passed the inspection in nine of ten areas, but failed in the area of nuclear security. Following the inspection, Westa stated, “Overall their assessment painted a picture of some things we need to work on in the areas of training and discipline”.[31] The 5th Bomb Wing Security Forces Squadron Commander, Lieutenant Colonel John Worley, was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Weaver on June 16, 2008.[32] In spite of failing the NSI, the wing kept its nuclear certification. Said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists about the 5th’s failure in the inspection, “It makes you wonder what’s going on elsewhere, like the nuclear weapons stationed at bases overseas, and at Barksdale Air Force Base and Whiteman Air Force Base.”[33] Minot passed the follow-up inspection on August 15, 2008.[32]

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Robert Gates

On June 5, 2008, Robert Gates announced the results of an investigation into the misshipment of four MK-12 forward-section reentry vehicle assemblies to Taiwan. The investigation, conducted by Admiral Kirkland H. Donald, director of US Naval Propulsion, found that the Taiwan missile incident was, in Gates’ words, “A degradation of the authority, standards of excellence and technical competence within the nation’s ICBM force. Similar to the bomber-specific August 2007 Minot-Barksdale nuclear weapons transfer incident, this incident took place within the larger environment of declining Air Force nuclear mission focus and performance” and that “the investigation identified commonalities between the August 2007 Minot incident and this [the Taiwan] event.” In his investigation report, Donald stated that the issues identified by his investigation were, “Indicative of an overall decline in Air Force nuclear weapons stewardship, a problem that has been identified but not effectively addressed for over a decade. Both the Minot-Barksdale nuclear weapons transfer incident and the Taiwan misshipment, while different in specifics, have a common origin: the gradual erosion of nuclear standards and a lack of effective oversight by Air Force leadership”[34]

As a result of the investigation, Gates announced that, “A substantial number of Air Force general officers and colonels have been identified as potentially subject to disciplinary measures, ranging from removal from command to letters of reprimand,” and that he had accepted the resignations of USAF Secretary Michael Wynne and USAF Chief of Staff Michael Moseley. Gates added that he had asked James R. Schlesinger to lead a senior-level task force to recommend improvements in the stewardship and operation of nuclear weapons, delivery vehicles and sensitive components by the US DoD. Members of the task force came from the Defense Policy Board and the Defense Science Board.[35]

On September 13, 2008, Gates announced Schlesinger’s task force’s recommendations by calling on the USAF to place all nuclear weapons under a single command. The task force suggested that the new command be called Air Force Strategic Command, which would replace the current Air Force Space Command, and make it accountable for the nuclear mission. It also called for all USAF bombers to be placed under a single command. The task force also recommended that the USAF move an additional 1,500 to 2,000 airmen into nuclear-related jobs. Gates announced that acting Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and Chief of Staff General Norton A. Schwartz were “reviewing the recommendations” for disciplinary action against USAF officers previously involved in the nuclear mission.[36] The task force found an, “an unambiguous, dramatic and unacceptable decline in the Air Force’s commitment to perform the nuclear mission and, until very recently, little has been done to reverse it.”[37]

On September 25, 2008, the United States Department of Defense announced that six Air Force and two Army generals and nine colonels had received letters of reprimand, admonishment, or concern. Two Air Force major generals were asked to stay in their current position; the others either retired, planned to retire, or were removed from their position. Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz met with each officer personally before issuing the letters. He noted they committed no offense under the UCMJ, but “did not do enough to carry out their leadership responsibilities for nuclear oversight. “For that they must be held accountable.” The Air Force stated that the discipline was in response to the mistaken shipment of nuclear fuzes to Taiwan, not for the Minot nuclear weapons incident.[38]

In November 2008, the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base failed its nuclear surety inspection. The 90th Missile Wing at F. E. Warren Air Force Base, failed its nuclear surety inspection one month later.[39] In November 2009 at Kirtland Air Force Base the 377th Air Base Wing, commanded by Colonel Michael S. Duvall, and 498th Nuclear Systems Wing, commanded by Colonel Richard M. Stuckey, failed their nuclear surety inspections.[40]

On October 30, 2009 Westa was relieved as commander of the 5th Bomb Wing by Major General Floyd L. Carpenter, commander of 8th Air Force. Carpenter stated that Westa was relived due to his “inability to foster a culture of excellence, a lack of focus on the strategic mission … and substandard performance during several nuclear surety inspections, including the newly activated 69th Bomb Squadron.”[41]

On January 8, 2009 Schlesinger’s task force released its report regarding the overall DoD’s management of the country’s nuclear weapons mission. The report criticized the DoD for a lack of focus and oversight on its nuclear weapons programs and recommended that the DoD create a new assistant secretary position to oversee its nuclear management. The task force found that within the DoD only the United States Navy was effectively managing its nuclear arsenal.[42] The panel stated that it found, “a distressing degree of inattention to the role of nuclear weapons in deterrence among many senior DoD military and civilian leaders.”[43]

New command

Enlarge picture

USAF Secretary Michael Donley discusses the creation of the Global Strike Command with media representatives at the Pentagon on October 24, 2008.

On October 24, 2008 new USAF Secretary Michael Donley announced the creation of Air Force Global Strike Command. The new command became operational on August 7, 2009. The USAF’s intercontinental nuclear missile force was moved from Air Force Space Command to the new command. Barksdale was selected as the location of the new command’s headquarters.[44][45] The new major command is led by a three-star general and controls all USAF nuclear-capable bombers, missiles and personnel.[46]

See also


  1. ^ Ricks, “Tough Punishment Expected for Warhead Errors”, Baker, “Air Force Relieves Commanders Involved in Nuclear Weapons Incident,” Air Force Link, “General Ronald E. Keys”.
  2. ^ USAF, Minot Air Force Base 5th Bomb Wing Mission
  3. ^ Warrick, Missteps in the Bunker.
  4. ^ Parsch, Andreas, AGM-129
  5. ^ , Pincus, “4 Colonels Lose Their Air Force Commands,” USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”
  6. ^ Parsch, Andreas, AGM-129, Warrick, Missteps in the Bunker.
  7. ^ USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Hoffman
  8. ^ Warrick, “Missteps in the Bunker”, USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Hoffman, “Wing decertified, COs sacked for nuke mistake”, Pincus, “4 Colonels Lose Their Air Force Commands”, Defense Science Board, “Report on Unauthorized Movement of Nuclear Weapons”.
  9. ^ Pincus, “4 Colonels Lose Their Air Force Commands”, Hoffman, “Wing decertified, COs sacked for nuke mistake”, Warrick, “Missteps in the Bunker”, USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Defense Science Board, “Report on Unauthorized Movement of Nuclear Weapons”.
  10. ^ Warrick, “Missteps in the Bunker”, Hoffman, “Wing decertified, COs sacked for nuke mistake”, USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Pincus, “4 Colonels Lose Their Air Force Commands”.
  11. ^ Warrick, “Missteps in the Bunker”, USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Hoffman, “Wing decertified, COs sacked for nuke mistake”.
  12. ^ Gilmore, ” Air Force Investigates Alleged Nuke Transfer, Pentagon Spokesman Says”.
  13. ^ Ricks, “Tough Punishment Expected for Warhead Errors”, Warrick, “Missteps in the Bunker”
  14. ^ Warrick, “Missteps in the Bunker”
  15. ^ Dorfner, “After four decades, General Keys calls it a career”, Gilmore, “Air Force Investigates Alleged Nuke Transfer, Pentagon Spokesman Says,” Randolph, “Air Force releases B-52 munitions transfer investigation results”, Warrick, “Missteps in the Bunker”, USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, USAF, “General Corley takes command of ACC”, Hoffman, “Generals grilled on Minot nuclear mishap”.
  16. ^ USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”.
  17. ^ Holmes, “Minot bomb wing gets new commander Thursday”, Hoffman, Michael, “Minot Nuke Handlers Still Not Ready For Inspection”, Military Times, January 14, 2008.
  18. ^ Randolph, “Air Force releases B-52 munitions transfer investigation results”, Hoffman, “Wing decertified, COs sacked for nuke mistake”, “Baker, “Air Force Relieves Commanders Involved in Nuclear Weapons Incident,” USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Pincus, “4 Colonels Lose Their Air Force Commands”, Randolph, “Air Force releases B-52 munitions transfer investigation results”.
  19. ^ Starr, “Air Force officers relieved of duty over loose nukes”, USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton, Hoffman, Michael, “Minot Nuke Handlers Still Not Ready For Inspection”, Military Times, January 14, 2008.
  20. ^ USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Hoffman, “237 nuke handling deficiencies cited since 2001”.
  21. ^ Pincus, “4 Colonels Lose Their Air Force Commands”, USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Baker, “Air Force Relieves Commanders Involved in Nuclear Weapons Incident”, Hoffman, “Wing decertified, COs sacked for nuke mistake”, Hoffman, “Generals grilled on Minot nuclear mishap”, Spiegel, “U.S. Nuclear Focus Has Dimmed, Studies Find”.
  22. ^ Holmes, “Minot bomb wing gets new commander Thursday”
  23. ^ Air Force Link, “General Ronald E. Keys”.
  24. ^ Hoffman, Michael, “Minot Nuke Handlers Still Not Ready For Inspection”, Military Times, January 14, 2008, MacPherson, “Minot chief sets bar high after nuke gaffe”.
  25. ^ Hoffman, Michael, “Minot bomb wing recertified for nukes”, Military Times, April 4, 2008; Los Angeles Times, “Bomb Wing Recertified”, April 4, 2008.
  26. ^ Pincus, “Air Force Alters Rules for Handling of Nuclear Arms”, Hoffman, “New nuke-handling procedures issued”.
  27. ^ Barnes, Julian E., “Better Oversight Of Nuclear Arms Urged”, Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2008, p. 8.
  28. ^ Spiegel, “U.S. Nuclear Focus Has Dimmed, Studies Find”.
  29. ^ Spiegel, “U.S. Nuclear Focus Has Dimmed, Studies Find”, Hoffman, “Generals grilled on Minot nuclear mishap”, Defense Science Board, “Report on Unauthorized Movement of Nuclear Weapons”.
  30. ^ Spiegel, “U.S. Nuclear Focus Has Dimmed, Studies Find”, Defense Science Board, “Report on Unauthorized Movement of Nuclear Weapons”.
  31. ^ Hoffman, “Minot’s 5th Bomb Wing flunks nuclear inspection”
  32. ^ a b Hoffman, “Minot nuke handlers pass re-inspection”
  33. ^ Associated Press, “Air Force wing in nuclear goof has more trouble”, Hoffman, “Minot’s 5th Bomb Wing flunks nuclear inspection”
  34. ^ US DoD, “DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates from the Pentagon”, Military Times, “Moseley and Wynne forced out”, Shanker, “2 Leaders Ousted From Air Force in Atomic Errors”.
  35. ^ US DoD, “DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates from the Pentagon”, June 5, 2008, Military Times, “Moseley and Wynne forced out”, Shanker, “2 Leaders Ousted From Air Force in Atomic Errors”.
  36. ^ “Unified Nuclear Command Urged”. The Washington Post. September 13, 2008.
  37. ^ “Panel Urges Air Force to Unify Nuclear Command”. The New York Times. September 13, 2008.
  38. ^ The Associated Press. “Military cites poor oversight in mistaken shipment of warheads to Taiwan”. MSNBC, Thurs., Sept. 25, 2008,; accessed 2008-09-26.
  39. ^ Shane, Leo III, “Report: Wyo. Unit Fails Nuke Security Inspection”, Stars and Stripes, December 17, 2008; Gertz, Bill, “Air Force Fails New Nuclear Reviews”, Washington Times, February 4, 2009.
  40. ^ Hoffman, Michael, “Two wings get F on nuclear inspection“, Air Force Times November 27, 2009.
  41. ^ Rolfsen, Bruce, “5th Bomb Wing CO relieved of command“, Military Times, November 1, 2009.
  42. ^ Baldor, Lolita C., (Associated Press) “Report Slams Pentagon Nuke Oversight”, Washington Post, January 7, 2009.
  43. ^ AFP-JiJi, “Faith in U.S. nuclear deterrent shaken”, Japan Times, January 10, 2009.
  44. ^ Wall Street Journal, “US Air Force To Reorganize Nuclear Commands After Incidents”, October 24, 2008.
  45. ^ Garamone, Jim, “Global Strike Command Will Stress Nuclear Mission“, DefenseLink, August 7, 2009.
  46. ^ Associated Press, “New Unit To Manage AF Nuclear Arsenal”, reported in Arizona Daily Star, October 25, 2008.


Further reading

Coordinates: 48°25?05?N 101°20?43?W / 48.41814°N -101.34533°E

DARPA at Phase 3 on solar powered surveillance strato-ship

DARPA at Phase 3 on solar powered surveillance strato-ship • The Register.

This technology has HUGE non-military potential, from portable self-powered comm towers to situation monitoring and aerial recon, to portable power generation;

The famed Pentagon Q-branch boffinry hothouse, DARPA, has unveiled another ambitious plan to further US military-technical dominance. It has given $400m to American weapons globocorp Lockheed to develop a solar-powered robot radar airship, able to lurk in the stratosphere for a year at a time, potentially tracking individual people walking about on the ground across areas 1200km wide.

DARPA concept of the ISIS radar airshipThe government spooks didn’t need numberplate tracking any more.

Yesterday’s contract announcement was for Phase 3 of DARPA’s Integrated Sensor Is Structure (ISIS) project, in which a flying sub-scale demonstrator will be built to prove that the concept can work as planned. Phases 1 and 2 consisted mostly of design studies and materials work.

The idea of ISIS is to hugely improve on what a normal airship can do, by using the ship itself as a radar antenna rather than carrying a separate piece of machinery – hence the name. DARPA believe this will hugely increase the size of radar antenna a stratospheric airship can carry, which in turn means the radar would deliver much better sensor resolution for much less power.

The lowered power requirements of the ISIS radar-ship, DARPA believes, will mean it can run on solar power. Excess energy generated during the day will be stored by cracking water into hydrogen: at night, this will be burned in fuel cells to keep the ship flying and its radar shining even in darkness.

DARPA calculate that the ship should be able to cruise at 60 knots or sprint at 100, which will let it deploy from the US to a global troublespot in 10 days. It will then be able to hold station easily in the stratospheric “wind bucket” found at 65,000 to 70,000 feet, scanning the ground beneath it with its all-seeing radar mega-eye.

The performance of the massive scanner, according to DARPA, should be such that it can track unobscured “dismounts [people walking] across the entire line of sight” – in other words out to the horizon, which at operational height will be 600km away.

That said, the contract announcement suggests a slight bit of neck-winding, referring to an ability to track “all ground targets” to 300km. Closer in, the Pentagon boffins think, it will be capable of tracking such small objects even through overhanging foliage. Performance against easier airborne targets – planes, missiles etc. – would definitely be right out to the horizon at 600km.

If the ISIS can do all that DARPA suggest, it will handily trump most of the other aerial scanners in use by the US forces, including AWACS sky-scanner planes, the smaller E-2 Hawkeye AWACS that flies from US carriers, Joint STARS ground-sweeping tank sniffers, and the JLENS moored-balloon radar plan. The potential would be there perhaps to do without all these things, simply assigning a single ISIS ship in place of the several AWACS or whatever you formerly needed so as to keep one up on patrol.

An ISIS airship would potentially be vulnerable to enemy action, but at 70,000 feet only quite serious enemies – the sort who could also threaten AWACS or JSTARS aircraft – would have any chance of hitting it. And those planes carry large crews, whereas the ISIS is unmanned.

So this is potentially big news for the US military, the more so in that ISIS has now made it to Phase 3 – we’re no longer talking just about design studies here. The privacy/surveillance issues – the chance that ISIS spy-ships might lurk one day above US or allied territory, tracking every vehicle or even every person walking about – could be even more significant. Forget about numberplate cameras or face tracking; you’d have to live underground to avoid this sort of thing.

For those who’d like to know more, there’s a pdf on ISIS from DARPA here. ®

The afterlife of our electronic waste

CultureLab: The afterlife of our electronic waste.

Is it real or wilful ignorance that permits us to foul our own planet with Styrofoam cups and rusted batteries? Would we curb our wasteful activities if only we knew the error of our ways? Technophiles from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology think so, and to equip the public with the knowledge we need to change our behaviour they’ve tagged our technological trash with GPS chips and tracked it across the globe. “Some trash is recycled, some is thrown away, some ends up where it shouldn’t end up,” says Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

(In the past, New Scientist teamed up with the Senseable City Lab for a trash-tracking project and competition in which readers followed the trail of their own rubbish.)

The lab’s video project, Backtalk (as in trash that talks back) is currently on display at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art as part of a group show about our communication with technology. In the video, batteries, cell phones and other discarded electronic devices begin as dots in Seattle, which scatter across a map of the US, leaving a web of fluorescent trails in their wake. “In one case we saw printer cartridges go from Seattle, to the east coast, to southern California,” says Assaf Biderman, associate director at the Senseable lab. “To me, that poses a question on the benefit of recycling versus the cost of travel.”


Backtalk also includes photos taken from laptops that had been sent to developing countries by laptop-donation programmes in the US. New users of the “discarded” laptops consented to have their photo taken. These tracked devices reveal a life that extends far beyond the original owner’s sight. “If you can get feedback about how the end of life looks for an object, it can help you become more aware so you can rethink your actions, ” Biderman says.

The MIT lab isn’t the first to point out inefficiencies in how the US handles electronic waste, of course. Debates on how to best recycle electronics have been waged since the first televisions broke – and as they continue into the present day, these disagreements expose how complex solutions are. About 53 million tons of electronic waste was generated in 2009, according to the technology market research firm, ABI Research. With a dearth of electronic waste recycling plants in the US, many companies export their toxic products to harvesting and smelting operations in Africa and Asia. And what isn’t recycled ends up in landfills, where it poses significant health risks because of leaching lead and other metals. Watchdog groups have sought to improve electronic waste recycling for years, but companies need economic or regulatory incentives to alter their current modes of operation. In Backtalk, Biderman and Ratti reiterate how inefficient the electronic waste recycling system is, and hope their new display of data will encourage people to pause before tossing out a printer cartridge – or better yet, work to fix the system.

“A moral argument is a hard one to make,” says Adam Williams, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who is studying recycling markets in China. “Successful recycling systems in China and Brazil happen when people realise they can profit off of trash,” he explains. “‘Save Mother Earth’ fails in terms of creating a system of global responsibility. Recycling needs to put money into someone’s pockets in order to work effectively.”

Yet Biderman maintains people can also be reached by driving home the concept of our interconnectedness. “After the Civil War, people realised there was a benefit to pooling their money to contribute to the common good, so they created the income tax,” he explains. “If we could create an environment where people were aware of the impact of waste or the impact of traffic, by sharing data obtained through sensors, there would be an incentive to participate in order to improve communal spaces.” Backtalk is a proof of concept that a technologically driven bottom-up approach can engage the public, he says. But if getting the message across to the broader public is anything like trying to get through to the to the over-stimulated visitors milling through the MoMA’s buzzing exhibit on communicative technologies, I’m afraid the message may be lost in digital noise.

China train crash blamed on signal design flaw

BBC News – China train crash: Signal design flaw blamed.

Serious flaws in a signalling system caused a fatal collision on China’s high-speed rail network, officials say.

Thirty-nine people died when a train ran into the back of another which had stalled on a viaduct near Wenzhou after lightning cut its power supply.

The system “failed to turn the green light into red”, said An Lusheng, head of the Shanghai Railway Bureau.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who has been visiting the crash site, vowed to “severely punish” those responsible.

Wen Jiabao held the news conference under the viaduct where six of these carriages came off during Saturday’s collision. He stressed that safety would be the absolute priority as China built its huge high-speed network. It is already the second-largest in the world and is set to be expanded.

Wen Jiabao, often referred to as “Granpa Wen”, is the soft face of the party. When there is a crisis or an accident like this, Premier Wen is the man with the common touch who deals with the public.

There was pressure on him to visit the scene. When asked why it took him so long to get to Wenzhou, he said he had been ill and his doctors had not wanted him to travel but he felt it was very important.

But still there is public anger here about the crash, which has raised safety questions about the whole of China’s high-speed network.

“The country’s development is for the people, so the most important thing is people’s lives,” Mr Wen told reporters at the scene.

“No matter if it was a mechanical fault, a management problem, or a manufacturing problem, we must get to the bottom of this.

“If corruption was found behind this, we must handle it according to law and will not be soft.”

Mr Wen earlier promised to take steps to improve safety on the high-speed rail network – one of the government’s flagship projects which it hopes highlights China’s development.

Six carriages derailed and four fell between 20m to 30m (65ft to 100ft) from the viaduct after Saturday night’s crash, which injured nearly 200 people.

The accident came just four years after the country’s first high-speed trains began operating.

Rail experts had warned against the rush to build the world’s longest and fastest high-speed rail network in record time amid safety concerns.

There are allegations that corners were cut during construction because of corruption, raising questions about infrastructure across the country.

This photo taken on July 24, 2011 shows workers clearing wreckage of mangled carriages after a Chinese high-speed train derailed Four carriages plunged from the viaduct

The BBC’s Martin Patience in Wenzhou says it is difficult to get to the truth because of a lack of transparency and accountability.

There is a real sense that things are perhaps being built too quickly and that safety is being jeopardised in the process, our correspondent says.

‘Public relations disaster’

Mr Wen’s visit to the crash scene comes amid growing public outrage at the accident.

Internet users and relatives of the victims have been angered by the government’s apparent unwillingness to answer questions about the crash.

This has led to accusations of government “arrogance”, amid suspicions of a cover-up.

The authorities have moved quickly to stem media coverage, urging reporters to focus on “extremely moving” stories, saying the overall theme should be “great love in the face of great disaster”.


Chinese media have been ordered not to question the official line on the accident, but several newspapers have published editorials criticising the railway ministry.

In an unusually scathing editorial published in both its English and Chinese versions, the state-run Global Times on Wednesday said the government’s handling of the accident aftermath was a “public relations disaster”.

“The relationship between the government and the public is like that of a ship and water. Water can keep the ship afloat or sink it,” it said.

Some relatives of victims, who include two Americans and an Italian, have reportedly refused compensation and instead demanded to be given answers.

The accident is seen as a blow to China’s hopes of selling trains abroad in a bid to become a high-tech exporter.

Shares in Chinese rail and train builders have fallen sharply since the crash.

Is free global trade too great a threat to food supplies, natural heritage and health?

Is free global trade too great a threat to food supplies, natural heritage and health?.

ScienceDaily (June 9, 2011) — Researchers from the UK Research Councils’ Rural Economy and Land Use Programme say that we face a future of uncertainty, and possible new threats to our food supplies, natural heritage, and even human health, from animal and plant pathogens. Human behaviour, travel and trade exacerbates the problem and we may need to reconsider our approach to free trade.

We face a future of uncertainty, and possible new threats to our food supplies, natural heritage, and even human health, from animal and plant pathogens, according to researchers from the UK Research Councils’ Rural Economy and Land Use Programme.

In a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, the academics take a fresh look at infectious diseases of animals and plants, from an interdisciplinary perspective.

They conclude that increasing global trade may put us at greater risk from pathogens in the future, as more exotic diseases enter the country. This process is already happening, particularly in plant disease. Climate change is driving shifts in cropping patterns across the world and they may take pests and diseases with them. We are also seeing completely new pathogens evolve, while existing ones develop the ability to infect new hosts. During the 20th century the number of new fungal, bacterial and viral diseases in plants appearing in Europe rose from less than five per decade to over 20.

But these problems are exacerbated by human behaviour, and understanding this could be key to helping policymakers deal with risk and uncertainty.

In many cases the spread of disease is caused by increased trade, transport and travel. Trends in the international horticultural industry have been towards fewer, larger producers, supplying vast numbers of retailers. Thus, disease which begins in one location may be spread far and wide.

Changes in the livestock trade have similar effects at national level. Reduction in income per animal, and the introduction of mechanisation, means that fewer farmers manage more animals per farm, and animals are moved around more frequently. They may be born in one location but sold on and reared elsewhere. Government policy and the classification of diseases may even increase the risks. Farmers restocking to combat one disease may, unwittingly, introduce another.

Understanding the biological dimensions of animal and plant disease is important, but it is equally important to understand the role played by human beings in spreading disease. Whether the threat is from a tree disease such as Sudden Oak Death that could devastate familiar landscapes, or from zoonotic diseases such as E coli or Lyme disease that affect human health, it can only be addressed effectively if an understanding of human behaviour is part of the strategy, and people are given the information they need to reduce risks.

Director of the Relu Programme, Professor Philip Lowe said: “We live in a global economy: we have seen in the recent E. coli outbreak in Germany, how the complexity of the food chain can increase risk and uncertainty.

“Ultimately we may have to take a more precautionary approach to the movement of animal and plants, and recognise that free trade could, in some cases, pose unacceptable risks.”

Cruise ship sinks in Russia with 182 aboard

Cruise ship sinks in Russia with 182 aboard –

Moscow (CNN) — A cruise ship carrying 182 people sank in Russia’s Volga River on Sunday, leaving at least one person dead and large numbers missing, emergency officials said.

The ship, the Bulgaria, sank with about 2 p.m. (6 a.m. ET) with 125 passengers and a crew of 57 aboard, Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry reported. A total of 84 people had been rescued Sunday evening, the ministry said.

The state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported that police have opened a criminal investigation into allegations of safety violations aboard the vessel. One woman was confirmed dead and 88 remained missing, RIA Novosti said.

The agency said double-deck cruise ship went down near the village of Syukeyevo, in the Russian republic of Tatarstan. Russian officials said two ships and two helicopters responded to the incident, about 50 miles south of the city of Kazan — about 450 miles east of Moscow.

In all, 22 rescue units including 80 people were involved in the operation, RIA Novosti reported.

Many missing as Russian boat Bulgaria sinks on Volga

More than 110 people are missing after a tourist boat sank on the Volga River in Russia, officials say.

They say one person was confirmed dead and dozens were rescued after the boat sank in the republic of Tatarstan, about 750km (450 miles) east of Moscow.

More than 180 passengers and crew were believed to be on the Bulgaria, which was sailing from the town of Bulgar to the regional capital, Kazan.

The cause of the accident is not clear. A rescue operation is continuing.

The search and rescue effort will continue throughout the night, but hopes of finding survivors are fading, says the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg in Moscow.

Miles from shore

The Bulgaria – a 55-five year old vessel which is believed to be owned by a local tourism company – was on a two-day cruise when it came into difficulty at about 1400 on Sunday, sinking within minutes, says our correspondent.


It sank several kilometres from the shore near the village of Sukeyevo, about 80km south of Kazan.

While dozens of people were rescued by another pleasure boat that was passing nearby, more than 110 are still missing.

Relatives of those on board have gathered at a port in Kazan waiting for news of their loved ones.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an investigation into the incident.

The Volga, a wide river, is popular with cruise boats at this time of the year, says our correspondent.


Driver who hit train should have had ample warning

Driver who hit train should have had ample warning.


Firefighters check a burned out Amtrak passenger car near U.S. 95 north of Fallon, Nev. Amtrak is trying to determine how many passengers were aboard.

Sparks, Nev. — The big-rig driver who slammed into an Amtrak train in Nevada, killing himself and at least five people aboard the train, should have been able to see and hear warning signals that started about 25 seconds earlier, when he was roughly a half-mile away, federal officials said Sunday.

The high desert landscape is barren, and the weather was clear. Why the truck driver – identified only as a 43-year-old man from Winnemucca – began applying his brakes only moments before impact Friday is the prime focus of investigators combing through wreckage near the remote rail crossing on U.S. Highway 95, about 70 miles east of Reno.

“There’s no obstructions,” National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said at a press briefing in Sparks. With its cantilevers and arms that lower to block the two-lane roadway, the modern rail crossing, he said, “should have been visible for well over a mile.”

As the smell of smoke still hung thick at the crash scene, the good news on Sunday was that Amtrak accounted for nearly all of the 210 people aboard the California Zephyr, which was traveling from Chicago to Emeryville when it was struck shortly before 11:30 a.m.

Conductor killed

A spokesman said one crew member, conductor Laurette Lee, had died and that five passengers were missing. The Washoe County Medical Examiner said it had six bodies, including that of the truck driver, suggesting that just one person remains unaccounted for. The agency is handling the autopsies for smaller Churchill County.

More than 80 people were treated at hospitals for injuries, including the assistant conductor, 49-year-old Richard d’Allesandro of Sacramento.

A colleague of d’Alessandro, who requested anonymity because Amtrak has forbidden employees from talking to the press, said d’Allesandro had been a hero. Though his arm was mangled in the collision, the co-worker said, d’Allesandro climbed under at least one of the two double-decker passenger cars that were crippled to close necessary valves – and to uncouple it to prevent the fire from spreading toward the engine.

D’Allesandro then walked the train, making sure people were off before accepting help, his colleague said.

One of d’Alessandro’s fingers was nearly torn off, said his niece, Michelle Childs of Elk Grove (Sacramento County). She said doctors were able to save the finger, and her uncle had surgery on his arm on Saturday. He is expected to be released from the hospital in Reno and on his way home today.

“He was right in the same area where the conductor was that got killed. He’s absolutely, totally lucky,” Childs said. “He’s going to make it, but it’s going to be a long recovery.”

Authorities described the crash scene in horrific terms. The rig that was destroyed was pulling two empty gravel trailers on a highway with a 70 mph speed limit.

“There’s nothing that represents a tractor-trailer inside that train anymore – except for an engine block, some gears from the transmission and the frame of the tractor,” said Trooper Chuck Allen, a spokesman for the Nevada Highway Patrol.

Similar accident

Though federal investigators said the rig driver should have seen flashing lights and heard warning bells, a similar accident occurred at the same rail crossing in September, when a truck driver narrowly missed ramming an Amtrak train while traveling in the opposite direction.

That driver, 56-year-old David Fyfe of Shelley, Idaho, told The Chronicle in an interview Sunday that the intersection was dangerous. He said he was blinded by the early-morning sun and didn’t see the train approaching. He noted that the highway and tracks are not perpendicular, but instead meet at an unusual, 45-degree angle.

Fyfe swerved his rig, carrying a load of plastic pipe, into a guard rail and the railroad signal tower, sending debris into train cars. The Nevada Highway Patrol cited him for failing to use due care on the highway.

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