Evacuating a nuclear disaster areas is (usually) a waste of time and money, says study

Image credit: Sakucae, Flickr

Over 110,000 people were moved from their homes following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March 2011. Another 50,000 left of their own will, and 85,000 had still not returned four-and-a-half years later.

While this might seem like an obvious way of keeping people safe, my colleagues and I have just completed research that shows this kind of mass evacuation is unnecessary, and can even do more harm than good. We calculated that the Fukushima evacuation extended the population’s average life expectancy by less than three months.

To do this, we had to estimate how such a nuclear meltdown could affect the average remaining life expectancy of a population from the date of the event. The radiation would cause some people to get cancer and so die younger than they otherwise would have (other health effects are very unlikely because the radiation exposure is so limited). This brings down the average life expectancy of the whole group.

But the average radiation cancer victim will still live into their 60s or 70s. The loss of life expectancy from a radiation cancer will always be less than from an immediately fatal accident such as a train or car crash. These victims have their lives cut short by an average of 40 years, double the 20 years that the average sufferer of cancer caused by radiation exposure. So if you could choose your way of dying from the two, radiation exposure and cancer would on average leave you with a much longer lifespan. Continue reading

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How to turn a volcano into a power station – with a little help from satellites

File 20171031 18735 1gapo0c.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Erta Ale in eastern Ethiopia. mbrand85

Ethiopia tends to conjure images of sprawling dusty deserts, bustling streets in Addis Ababa or the precipitous cliffs of the Simien Mountains – possibly with a distance runner bounding along in the background. Yet the country is also one of the most volcanically active on Earth, thanks to Africa’s Great Rift Valley, which runs right through its heart.

Rifting is the geological process that rips tectonic plates apart, roughly at the speed your fingernails grow. In Ethiopia this has enabled magma to force its way to the surface, and there are over 60 known volcanoes. Many have undergone colossal eruptions in the past, leaving behind immense craters that pepper the rift floor. Some volcanoes are still active today. Visit them and you find bubbling mud ponds, hot springs and scores of steaming vents. Continue reading

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Global Health: Antibiotics and Superbugs

In 1928 Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, thus bringing one of the greatest medical advances of our time: antibiotics.

Innocuous infections, operations and injuries were no longer a death sentence.

Since then, antibiotics have been developed to treat an array of diseases but this slowed, and then stopped in the 1980s. Although our arsenal of development ceased, the bacteria, viruses and fungi did not stop evolving.

This asymmetric development has resulted in an antimicrobial resistance problem: bacteria causing common infections and illnesses are now increasingly resistant to the drugs used to treat them.

By 2050, the death toll could be a staggering one person every three seconds if AMR is not tackled now. Infographic from the AMR review

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License. Attribution notice: ‘Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.’ From the O’Neill Report in 2016.

Solving this issue is not straightforward.

It involves a complex landscape of policy makers, clinicians, vets, law makers, and many others.

As part of Bristol Doctoral College’s Research without Borders Festival 2017, a public discussion was held exploring the problem of superbugs and antibiotic resistance, in both the context of research happening at the university of Bristol, and from a wider perspective.

Discussions revolved around patent law, and how it may affect development of new drugs and solutions, the role of agriculture, in particular dairy farming, in reducing antimicrobial resistance, and what we can do as individuals to help address this problem.

Below is a brief snapshot of the research relating to antimicrobial resistance being undertaken across the University of Bristol by the postgraduate researchers who took part in the RWB discussion panel. Continue reading

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Environments without Borders

Research Without Borders 8-12 May A week long series of events showcasing the work of postgraduate students. Free tickets: bristol.ac.uk/research-without-borders

Blog authors (and panel members): Laura De Vito is a postgraduate researcher in the School of Geographical Sciences.  Carlos Gracida Juarez is a postgraduate researcher in the School of Biological Sciences.  Alice Venn is a postgraduate researcher in the School of Social Sciences and Law.  Erik Mackie is a postgraduate researcher in the School of Geographical Sciences, working together with the British Antarctic Survey, and kept up a blog during his recent fieldwork in Antarctica.

The effects of climate change vary hugely across political borders, and have wide-ranging impacts on different communities and environments. Climate policy responses must recognize this global interconnectedness, and integrate international cooperation with effective local action. This is why global treaties such as the Paris Agreement are so important in the fight against climate change, but individual nations must also do their bit to achieve the objectives set out in the agreement. In Environments without Borders (part of Research Without Borders), a panel debate hosted by Bristol Doctoral College and the Cabot Institute on Wednesday 10th May, we will discuss some of these issues, using examples from our research on particular challenges facing our global ocean and water environments.

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Why cities are crucibles for sustainable development efforts (but so hard to get right)

Figure 1. Rural and urban population trends, 1950-2050,  Adapted from Fox, S. & Goodfellow, T. (2016) Cities and Development, Second Edition. Routledge.

Dr Sean Fox, Lecturer in Urban Geography and Global Development, University of Bristol

Sustainable Development Goal 11 outlines a global ambition to ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. It is arguably one of the most important of the 17 recently agreed Goals, but we’re unlikely to reach it in most parts of the world by 2030.

The importance of Goal 11 stems from global demographic trends. As Figure 1 illustrates, over 50% of the world’s population already lives in towns and cities, and that percentage is set to rise to 66% by 2050. In fact, nearly all projected population growth between now and 2050 is expected to be absorbed in towns and cities, and the vast majority of this growth will happen in Africa and Asia (see Figure 2).

These trends mean that when it comes to eliminating poverty and hunger, improving health and education services, ensuring universal access to clean water and adequate sanitation, promoting economic growth with decent employment opportunities, and creating ‘responsible consumption and production patterns’ (and achieving many other goals) urban centres are on the front line by default. Continue reading

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“A food dystopia: Is Britain sleepwalking into a crisis?”

Back to the future?

Terry Marsden is Director of the Sustainable Places Research Institute, and Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning, Cardiff University.

Kevin Morgan is Professor of Government and Development, Cardiff University

The historical ability for the UK state to periodically create self-inflicted harm upon its own food system seems to be raising its head again as the country triggers Article 50 to remove itself from the European Union. We should remember that the repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1840s, opening up the UK to cheap food imports (based indeed on subsidised imperial preferences to its colonies), in exchange for colonial penetration of its financial and manufacturing interests and sectors, created the conditions for a long- running agricultural and rural depression in the UK, lasting well into the 1930s. That Imperial regime of ‘free trade’ created much harm to the British food system, its rural areas, and indeed shaped a dependent food diet based upon imports from colonies and other European nations (like Danish Bacon and Dutch eggs and pork). What is ironically labelled as the ‘full English’ breakfast up and down the land derives from the successful import penetration of its component parts from overseas. The decline in our food-based infrastructure was so bad that, by the onset of the 1st World War, Lloyd George had to go ‘cap in hand’ to the likes of Henry Ford to plead concessions on building his tractors on these shores in order to resolve food and rural labour shortages. Even by 1941 the national farm survey found the agricultural situation in a parlous state, even before the U-boat campaign further disrupted food supplies and led to a period of prolonged public food rationing until 1954. Continue reading

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Energy Access

Dr Sam Williamson, Lecturer, Faculty of Engineering, Bristol University

We are energy consumers. Every day we devour energy, and most of the time we don’t even realise it. Before we wake up, our boiler has heated up our water for a hot shower, and at this time of year our homes are warmed. We unplug our mobile phones, switch on the bedroom lights, and boil a kettle to make our morning tea or coffee, before we travel into work, university or school, often by car or bus, consuming energy as we go. And that’s before we think about any of the embodied energy in everything we use. We have direct access to energy through the infrastructure made available to us.

A fire and tuki (kerosene lamp) in a kitchen, Terai, southern Nepal. Photo credit:
Sam Williamson

However this isn’t the same all over the world. The International Energy Agency report in their World Energy Outlook 2016 that 35% of the world’s population still cooks on traditional biomass, with 18% having no access to electricity, and with over 80% of these people living in rural areas. Those that are connected often suffer from frequent power cuts, and have to revert back to traditional methods for lighting and power. 4.3 million people each year die from illnesses attributed to indoor air pollution using traditional fuels for cooking, heating and lighting (World Health Organisation, 2016). Along with the health implications, exposed flames can cause fires in basic housing, and burning of fuel wood and charcoal leads to extensive deforestation causing soil erosion and land degradation. Continue reading

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After 2016; how to achieve more inclusive food policy?

Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license
Photographer: Ed Gregory

Dr Elizabeth Fortin, PolicyBristol Coordinator for Social Sciences, Law, Arts and Humanities,
E.Fortin@bristol.ac.uk

Having spent my British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship researching forms of governance that aspire to achieve that nebulous concept of ‘sustainability’ in relation to certain parts of the global agro-food/fuel system, it seemed fitting that the last event I attend in this capacity should be City University’s annual Food Symposium.

This year’s Symposium enabled Prof. Tim Lang, who is passing the baton of running City’s influential Food Centre to Prof. Corinna Hawkes, and a number of his colleagues, to reflect on the past 25 years of food policy. But it also provided an unprecedented opportunity to 40 audience members from both academia and civil society to imagine a more utopian future – not difficult in our troubled present – to table their vision of ‘How to do food policy better‘. We heard from a headteacher, a producer, a proud ‘Colombian peasant’, a farmer’s daughter, a student, the BBC chef of the year, a former advertiser, a community food network coordinator.  We then went on to hear from a panel of those who have been working to enable such diverse voices to be heard both in relation to the research they have been undertaking or the programmes they have been endeavouring to implement. Continue reading

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Brexit: can research light the way?

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Cressida Auckland, a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) Fellow

Cressida Auckland, a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) Fellow

Chandy Nath, acting Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)

Chandy Nath, acting Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)

What could Brexit mean for UK science? What impact will it have on UK fisheries? Could Brexit be bad news for emissions reductions? These were just some questions discussed at a Parliamentary conference last week, organised by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), the Commons Library and Parliament’s Universities Outreach team.

MPs researchers, Parliamentary staff and academic researchers from across the country came together to consider some of the key policy areas affected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

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What does Trump mean for the environment?

Ed Atkins, PhD student in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies

Ed Atkins, PhD student in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol

Several weeks ago, I was walking along Avenida Paulista in São Paulo. Through the noise of the traffic, the familiar shout of one man’s name could be heard. ‘Trump, Trump, Trump’ echoed across the street.  Somehow I had stumbled upon a ‘Brazilians for Trump’ rally. A group of 40 people stood on the pavement, clutching signs that read ‘Women for Trump’, ‘Jews for Trump’, ‘Gays for Trump’. This struck me; such demographics holding such signage represented for me a similar message to ‘trees for deforestation’.

Yet, the votes are in. The electoral tally has been made and one fact is obvious: Donald Trump’s popularity transcended demography. As, House Speaker, Paul Ryan has said, Trump “heard a voice out in this country that no one else heard. He connected in ways with people that no one else did. He turned politics on its head.”

By Map by Robert Simmon, based on data from Woods Hole Research Center. (http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=76697) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

2011 map of the United States above-ground woody biomass with 66 ecoregions delineated, showing tons of trees and their forests by hectare. Based on the map and palette created by NASA’s Earth Observatory employee Robert Simmon. Credit – Robert Simmon NASA/Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Key here is not only Trump’s victory, but also how the Republican Party has been able to ride his coattails to majorities across both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In doing so, the Grand Old Party (GOP), working with Trump, will likely have the freedom to pursue their political agenda. As a result, the Republican platform, published at the 2016 National Convention, provides a number of clues of what we can expect from this new administration. Continue reading

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