Earthquakes occur when rocks near a fault break and the fault moves. The earthquakes that struck central Japan in early September were related to a fault located on the Kii Peninsula. A study by the Geological Survey Institute (based in Tsukuba) using GPS data has shown that following these earthquakes the Kii Peninsula has moved by 4 cm.
There are different ways of predicting earthquakes. One solution is to study the variations of the geology of an area to detect signs of a big earthquake before it occurs. Another solution is to analyse mathematically how often earthquakes strike an area to deduce probabilities that they will strike again during a given timeframe. Using this second approach, a panel appointed by the Japanese government has predicted that the probability of a big earthquake in the Tokyo area in the coming decade is only 30%, whereas there is a 90% probability that a big earthquake will strike the Tokyo area within the next 50 years. The last big earthquake to strike Tokyo occurred in 1923 and killed more than 140,000 people.
Radioactive materials are characterised by their half-life, which is the duration during which half of the material decays into another element. Researchers in Sendai have found how to manipulate the half-life of Beryllium-7 and make it live half a day less than usual. In order to decay, an atom of Beryllium-7 needs to grab one of its surrounding electrons to become an atom of Lithium-7. The researchers from Tohoku University have trapped Beryllium-7 atoms into "cages" of carbon. Trapped within these cages, the atoms were surrounded by a dense cloud of electrons, and thus it was easier for the Beryllium-7 to capture an electron and decay, with an half-life of only 52.5 days instead of 53 days.
Shortening the half-life of radioactive materials would help to solve the problem of the radioactive wastes produced by our society. The 1% effect measured in Sendai does not make a big difference, but it shows that under strong pressure at very high temperature, bigger effects could probably be achieved.
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