A powerful new earthquake
ripped through northeastern Japan Monday, sparking widespread panic on the one-month anniversary of the March 11 tsunami that killed up to 25,000 people and triggered an ongoing nuclear crisis. Monday's quake led to warnings of another tsunami that didn't materialize, and there were no immediate reports of further damage or injuries, the AP reports — partly because there's so little left to destroy. Japan's meteorological agency measured the quake's intensity at magnitude 7.0, while the U.S. Geological Survey estimated it to be 6.6.
This was the second major aftershock to strike Japan in less than a week, following a magnitude-7.1 tremor
last Thursday. Both have served as harrowing reminders of the magnitude-9.0 quake that rocked Japan last month, and combined with an irregular stream of smaller aftershocks, have kept the country in a state of perpetual anxiety. The drawn-out crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant hasn't helped ease that tension, especially since the complex briefly lost power during Monday's aftershock. Injection of coolant water to two reactors stopped for about 50 minutes due to the power outage, but was later restored, the Kyodo News agency reports. While this delayed the ongoing removal of highly radioactive water from the plant, officials with Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency say no new safety concerns were raised by the quake. Workers were evacuated as a safety precaution, NISA says.
Even without Monday's new earthquake, however, the situation at Fukushima Daiichi remains far from stable, NISA officials acknowledge. The quake delayed efforts to remove some 700 tons of radioactive water from an underground trench, and while that project is now set to resume Tuesday, the race to stop all radiation leaks is "not yet a situation to be optimistic about," according to NISA spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama. "Now we are in a dilemma because we are seeing water which is pumped in to cool down the reactors showing up as pools of [contaminated] water in other places of the plant,'' he tells Kyodo News.
Two very different kinds of natural disasters are plaguing the northern and southern Great Plains this week — while heavy seasonal flooding inundates parts of the Dakotas and Minnesota, widespread wildfires have scorched nearly 256,000 acres of Texas. The flooding is due to the annual overflow of the Red River, which flows north into Canada between North Dakota and Minnesota and frequently washes into nearby cities. The Texas wildfires aren't quite as regular of an occurrence, but they aren't exactly a surprise, either, since the state is suffering through its worst drought in decades.
One of the faster-moving fires had enveloped more than 60,000 acres in West Texas by Sunday, the AP reports, destroying some 40 homes in Fort Davis before moving on to the north and east. Another 16,000-acre West Texas blaze burned down 34 homes in Midland County, while a stretch of 71,000 acres burned in the state's rural north. Firefighters from 25 states were battling more than a dozen different blazes on Sunday, the Austin American-Statesman reports, but so far no deaths or injuries have been reported. Strong winds were making the situation worse, though — gusts up to 80 mph in some places are not only causing damage on their own, but also whipping up flames and helping them spread, the Houston Chronicle reports.
Meanwhile, the Red River has crested at nearly 40 feet in Fargo, N.D., CNN reports, and is expected to remain flooded for several days. At least three people have died in Minnesota from the flooding, and the U.S. Coast Guard says one of its crews rescued five people Saturday, including one resident and four responders. The river normally floods every spring due to snowmelt and ice blockages, but has experienced especially heavy flooding in recent years — in 2009 it crested at a record 41 feet (pictured above). "This is a ferocious river," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., tells CNN. "We have to continue to be careful."
Bolivia is poised to pass one of the most sweeping environmental laws in history, extending the same legal rights enjoyed by humans to all of nature, the Guardian reports. Dubbed "the law of Mother Earth," the legislation is expected to usher in many new conservation and social measures, reducing pollution while keeping industrial growth in check.
On top of redefining Bolivia's mineral deposits as "blessings," the bill establishes several new rights for nature, including: the right to life and to exist, the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human interference, the right to clean water and air, the right to balance, the right not to be polluted, and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. Beyond that, the bill also establishes nature's right "to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities." As Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera explains, "It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all. It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration."
While the bill may sound impressive to conservationists, however, the Guardian points out that its vagueness may limit its impact. It incorporates an Andean spiritual worldview that's growing in popularity among indigenous Bolivians, and echoes a similar law recently passed in Ecuador, which grants natures "the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution." But those abstract rights haven't yielded new laws or done much to slow the march of oil companies through sensitive parts of the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Guardian reports, a pitfall that supporters of Bolivia's law nonetheless say they can overcome. "It will make industry more transparent," activist Undarico Pinto tells the Guardian. "It will allow people to regulate industry at national, regional and local levels."
A Texan who fought air pollution from oil refineries has won the 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize for North America, one of six grassroots environmentalists around the world to receive the annual award. Hilton Kelley will receive a $150,000 stipend along with his prize, a reward shared by five other eco-activists: a renewable-energy pioneer in Germany, a farmer fighting a gold-mining operation in El Salvador, a biologist trying to restore a polluted river in Indonesia, a Zimbabwean battling to save the black rhino from extinction, and a Russian who scrutinizes oil companies on an ecologically diverse island.
Kelley spent more than a decade trying to clean up the air in Port Arthur, Texas (pictured above), after the city's air pollution levels soared to among the country's highest and its cancer rates grew 23 percent higher than the state average. He had little knowledge of clean-air standards before taking up his fight in early 2000, but quickly educated himself on environmental policy, galvanized civic leaders and old friends in the black community, launched a group called the Community In-Power and Development Association, and began putting pressure on 70 local refineries and chemical plants. "It was just very dismal. It was mind-numbing," he tells the Washington Post. "The town needed to be awakened."
Over the following decade, Kelley "was able to expose the oil industry's lax protocols and made the companies accountable in a way they never were before," according to the Goldman Prize's organizers. While he was up against four other finalists in the North America category, Kelley won because "his community had almost been destroyed from the pollution, which was the reason people were moving out. It was the children's health. He did something that affected thousands of people." Since it was established in 1990, the Goldman Environmental Prize has awarded a total of $13.2 million to 139 recipients from 79 different countries, the Post reports.
Tornado outbreak razes U.S. Midwest, oil tanker sinks off the coast of Italy, and more
Photo (video still from Japanese news coverage of Monday's quake): ZUMA Press
Photo (Red River flooding in 2009): Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
Photo (Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia): Patricio Crooker/ZUMA Press
Photo (oil refineries in Port Arthur, Texas): ZUMA Press