Friday, March 03, 2006

Japan News: Shinkansen, A-Bombs, and MOX

Several tidbits from yesterday's Daily Yomiuri and Japan Times:

JR East has tested a new shinkansen (bullet train), which they call "Fastech", at 366 km/h (229mph) in northern Japan. This isn't major news; the train has already run 398 km/h in previous tests, and has run 30,000km. But this might have been the first time the press was on board, and the first time it was tested on the tracks where it will run in service. It's scheduled to go into service in 2011. Currently, the fastest trains in operation are the TGV and the Sanyo shinkansen at 300km/h, so this one should claim the title.

45% of hibakusha (A-bomb survivors) have developed some form of thyroid disease, according to a JAMA study. Most had only chronic inflammation; only 2% had cancer. The younger you were and the greater your exposure to the blast, the higher your chances of disease.

A pluthermal nuclear power plant that will burn plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel cleared another hurdle on Wednesday. It's down in Shikoku, and there have been several stories about the plant in recent months as various agencies issue their opinions. I think the 890 megawatt plant is already in operation; this would just be a change in fuel. They want to use MOX as up to 25% of their fuel. I don't know much about atomic power, but I think this will burn some waste from other plants. I'm not sure what it does overall to concerns about proliferation or the environment. The government has claimed it wants to have 16-18 pluthermal plants by 2010, but according to the article the others have "hit snags".

Finally, the central government is considering implementing what it calls the doshu system, doing away with the 47 prefectures (states, more or less) and creating 9-13 administrative blocs instead. Can you imagine someone seriously proposing eliminating U.S. states? I doubt very much that this proposal will be adopted, it hits too many power bases of people who will scream. The central government claims it will decentralize power and promote efficiency.

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