These high-resolution aerial photographs of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were taken on March 20 and 24, 2011 by a small unmanned drone operated by Air Photo Service, a company based in Niigata prefecture. Click [Enlarge] under each image for the full version.
[Enlarge] Unit 3 (left) and Unit 4 (right) - March 24
[Enlarge] Left to right: Unit 4, Unit 3, Unit 2 and Unit 1 - March 20
In the early 1990s, Japan's Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (PNC) -- a nuclear energy research organization which is now part of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) -- created a pro-nuclear PR cartoon entitled "Pluto-kun, Our Reliable Friend." The aim of the animated film, which features the company mascot Pluto-kun, is to dispel some of the fears surrounding plutonium. Scroll down for a rough summary.
[~1:30] The video begins with Pluto-kun disguised as a ghost. He explains that much of the fear surrounding plutonium is due to misconceptions. He says that it is very unfortunate that plutonium is used in nuclear weapons [like the one dropped on Nagasaki]. But he hates war! He loves to work for peace. He aspires to be like dynamite, whose power has been used for the benefit of mankind.
[1:30] Pluto-kun provides some basic information about plutonium. He explains that plutonium is created from uranium in nuclear reactors. He also says it was discovered by the US scientist Glenn T. Seaborg in 1940, and that it was named after the dwarf planet Pluto. (See Wikipedia for more.)
[2:30] Misconception #1 -- Pluto-kun addresses the fear that criminals could obtain plutonium and build a nuclear weapon. He explains two reasons why this would be virtually impossible. First, weapons require plutonium with a purity of at least 93%, but plutonium from reactors is only about 70% pure. A high level of technology would be required to produce weapons from this plutonium. Second, a high level of security is maintained around plutonium in Japan, making it all but impossible to steal.
[4:00] Misconception #2 -- Pluto-kun addresses the fear that plutonium is deadly and causes cancer. Plutonium's danger to the human body stems from the alpha radiation it emits. Because alpha radiation is relatively weak, it does not penetrate the skin, and plutonium is not absorbed into the body if it comes into contact with skin. He explains that you would not die instantly if you were to drink plutonium. If swallowed, the vast majority simply passes through the digestive tract without being absorbed. If it enters the blood stream (through a cut, for example) it cannot be removed easily from the body. It accumulates in the lymph nodes before ending up in the bones or liver, where it continues emitting alpha radiation. Plutonium can also get into the liver or bones if it is inhaled into the lungs. It is important not to breathe it in or allow it to enter the blood stream.
[6:00] No human is ever known to have died because of inhaling or ingesting plutonium.
[7:00] Pluto-kun explains what would happen if criminals dumped plutonium into a reservoir that provides our drinking water. Plutonium is heavy and it does not dissolve easily in water, so most of it would sink to the bottom. Even if you were to drink plutonium-laced water everyday, the vast majority of it would simply pass through the digestive system without being absorbed by the body.
[7:30] Pluto-kun suggests that the dangers of plutonium are often overemphasized, making it seem scarier than it actually is. He explains that most people associate plutonium with deadly radiation and nuclear weapons, but he likens this to a fear of non-existent ghosts.
[9:40] Pluto-kun explains that he is not a monster, and he asks you to understand who he truly is. As long as people use him peacefully and with care, there will never be any danger or anything to fear. He will provide an endless source of energy for a long time to come. He will be a reliable friend.
SWITL -- an impressive "robot hand" tool developed by factory equipment manufacturer Furukawa Kikou -- seems to defy the laws of nature by picking up deposits of gels, sauces and other soft semi-liquids without smearing them or altering their shape. This demo video shows how well the tool handles mayonnaise and ketchup.
Details about the technology are not available on Furukawa Kikou's website (perhaps because the patent is pending), but the tool appears to incorporate a conveyor belt design. According to the company, the magic goop scoop was originally developed for use in bakery production lines, but its unique ability to cleanly handle semi-liquids makes it suitable for a wide range of applications.
Robotics researchers from Osaka University have teamed up with NTT Docomo and Qualcomm to develop a handheld humanoid phone that brings a new dimension to mobile communications. A prototype of the device -- called "Elfoid P1" -- was unveiled at a presentation in Tokyo on March 3.
The Elfoid phone is a miniature version of the Telenoid R1 robot developed last year by a research team led by Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro. The current prototype measures 20 centimeters (8 in) long, is covered in a soft fleshy urethane skin, and has the same genderless and ageless appearance as the Telenoid. The control buttons are embedded in the chest, which glows green when the Elfoid is in use.
Dr. Ishiguro with Telenoid and Elfoid [Photo by: eSeL.at]
Like the full-sized Telenoid robot, the Elfoid handset is designed to add an element of realism to long-distance communication by recreating the physical presence of a remote user.
Equipped with a camera and motion-capture system, the Elfoid phone will be able to watch the user's face and transmit motion data to another Elfoid phone, which can then reproduce the face and head movements in real-time.
The current prototype is unable to move, but future versions will incorporate tiny motors and parts made from shape-memory alloys, allowing the Elfoid to move its eyes, mouth, neck and arms. Other features will include a temperature sensor, accelerometer, and an easy-to-use voice and gesture based interface.
Yesterday's dramatic simulation involved a Siberian tiger that escaped its pen following an earthquake. The mock animal wandered freely through the park, attacking zoo workers and visitors before it was surrounded with nets, shot with a tranquilizer dart, and transported back to its cage.
Theatrical exercises involving people in animal costumes are conducted each year in Tokyo at either Tama Zoo or Ueno Zoo. In addition to providing hands-on experience with capturing escaped animals, the drills force zookeepers to administer first aid, usher visitors to safety, and coordinate with local emergency services. Here are a few videos of past exercises.
Ghostly trees covered in snow and rime ice -- known as "snow monsters" or juhyou (frost-covered trees) in Japanese -- are a celebrated feature of the winter landscape in mountainous areas of northern Japan. Here are a few photos.
Shinmoe peak (Shinmoe-dake), part of the Kirishima volcano group in southern Kyushu, began erupting yesterday (Jan 26) in dramatic fashion. The eruption, thought to be the largest at Kirishima since 1959, sent a plume of ash 1,500 meters into the air, prompting the Japan Meteorological Agency to issue a Level 3 volcano warning for the surrounding area. This spectacular footage of the eruption was captured by an observer in the area.
Last night's action was also captured on a webcam at Kirishima [click "霧島山 猪子石(新燃岳)" in the menu on the right to display the latest image], and the still images were pieced together into a time-lapse video.
This video presented by the Enoshima Aquarium shows the bioluminescent mantle of a flame scallop (Ctenoides ales, a.k.a. noble file clam or electric eye scallop), a bivalve mollusk found around reefs in shallow tropical waters. The purpose of the flashing lips remains a mystery.