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Science News: November 2003

Author: Nicolas Delerue, Issue: November 2003, Topic: Science News, Science

Is Mount Fuji going to blow up soon?
Mount Fuji is easily seen from Tsukuba and Tokyo on a clear day. In total, more than 120 million people live near its base. Its last eruption was almost 3 centuries ago, in 1707, but since 781 it has erupted 16 times, more than once a century. Thus the meaning of this 300 years nap might be that either the volcano is getting calmer or that it is preparing a really big blast.

Of course such big threat for the Tokyo metropolis is not being left unattended, and there is a whole network of scientific equipment recording data on Fuji's slope. Since October 2000, this network has recorded a sharp rise in the number of low intensity earthquakes. To better understand the implications of these quakes, a series of explosions have been detonated this summer below mount Fuji. The mini-earthquakes triggered by these explosions were recorded and scientists are now analysing them. They hope to have a better understanding of the inner structure of the volcano and to see if lava is getting closer to the surface.

Despite these concerns, Mount Fuji remains a top attraction for climbers in Japan. This year more than 156 000 people climbed its slope, including a group from the Tsukuba Walking and Moutaineering Club (TWMC).

More details can be found at:
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nn20031003b7.htm You can learn about TWMC activities and future walks at http://eve.bk.tsukuba.ac.jp/twmc

Magnetic monopoles observed in Tsukuba?
Magnets usually come with 2 poles, a South pole and a North pole, and it is not possible to see a "North" pole alone without a "South" pole. This fact is very puzzling because magnetism shares many of its properties with electricity and the observation of single electric charges is a common fact for physicists. A team of researchers from Tsukuba (AIST), with collaborators from China and Switzerland, claims that it has observed the first ever indirect fingerprints of magnetic monopoles in solid crystals. "The existence of Magnetic Monopoles would have a strong incidence in particle physics and cosmology," says Dr. J-S. Ricol, a Magnetic Monopoles expert working in Sendai, "so this very interesting result needs to be confirmed and reinforce the interest in search for direct evidences of Magnetic Monopoles done with large Neutrino detectors such as Amanda in the Antartic, Antares in France or SuperKamiokande in Japan." More details can be found at http://physicsweb.org/article/news/7/10/2

The smallest thermometer in the world is in Tsukuba!
Researcher from NIMS in Tsukuba have discovered that it is possible to make very small thermometers by using a nanotube of graphite (Carbon) with liquid gallium inside. When the temperature changes, the height of the column of gallium will change and thus the device will work exactly like a normal thermometer (except that common thermometers use mercury instead of gallium). More details at: http://physicsweb.org/article/news/7/10/7

Tokai-mura nuclear fuel reprocessing plan was approved by Jimmy Carter
The Tokai-mura nuclear fuel reprocessing plan in Ibaraki made the worldwide headlines in 1999 when a worker poured 16 kg of Uranium in a solution that could normally not contain more than 2.4 kg for safety reasons. A chain reaction occurred, killing 2 workers and irradiating 40 others.

Declassified documents show that the construction of the plan in 1977 had worried the United States, as the Plutonium extracted might be used to build nuclear weapons (as illustrated by the world's concerns over a similar plant recently built in Iran). The U.S. wanted to ask Japan not to operate the Tokai-mura plan, as this might encourage other countries to build similar plans and thus possess extracted Plutonium. But Mike Mansfield, U.S. Ambassador in Japan, asked President Jimmy Carter not to do so, as it might have a bad impact on U.S.-Japan relations at a time, where Japan was becoming a key U.S. Ally in southern Asia. Carter finally agreed with his ambassador's position and the plant went into operation. More details at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nn20030924a3.htm

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