Earthquake News

I’ve been reading Al Jazeera’s live blog, the Guardian’s live blog and the Lede. Japanese news in English seems pretty lackluster, Nikkei, NHK and the Japan Times have less news than the foreign sources.

If anyone has better sources, please leave them in the comments, especially if they include decent analysis of the nuclear situation by an experienced engineer.

This is an open thread.

Update: This is the best analysis I’ve found so far, from one of the links Cranky Observer posted.

Update2: Halfway down this page is a before/after shot of the Fukushima plant — it’s been devastated by the tsunami.

84 replies
  1. 1
    henqiguai says:

    This is an open thread.

    Too late ! The previous thread has already been ‘jacked !

  2. 2
    Cranky Observer says:

    Power Magazine has finally woken itself and has an experienced reporter updating his blog:

    “I covered both TMI from 1979 through the 1980s and Chernobyl from 1986 on. Based on my personal experience, here are some guidelines when viewing reading about what has been transpiring in Japan.”

    And also some updates on their twitter feed:

    Union of Concerned Scientists has good technical information; you can accept or reject their techo-political viewpoint at your discretion:



  3. 3
    Cranky Observer says:

    I posted some links to technical information, but the comment is in moderation (probably due to the links).


  4. 4
    MikeJ says:

    We actually had a engineer posting here the other day. Strange over at rumproast used to work for a reactor maker and has pretty solid stuff.

  5. 5
    Donna says:

    This guy, Katz, is providing English information based on Japanese TV news & other sources:

  6. 6
    Cat Lady says:

    I think the technical term for the nuclear situation is fuXX0r3d.

  7. 7
    Starfish says:

    @Cranky Observer: I think that if you have more than three links, you end up in moderation. Referring to an earlier comment like I have done here counts as one of my links.

  8. 8
    mistermix says:

    Cranky/Donna – thanks, I un-modded/fixed your comments.

  9. 9
    MikeJ says:

    @Cranky Observer: I like what the guy from powermag says:

    First, don’t accept anything at face value, particularly information and opinion offered by government and industry officials. The immediate industry and government response at TMI was a tissue of misstatements, misunderstandings, and, in some cases, outright lies. As time passed, the NRC became a credible source of information, but not initially.

    That also goes for any talking head, not just industry or government. Everybody has an agenda to push, and even people who are trying to be honest don’t really have much solid information about what’s happening.

  10. 10
    kansi says:

    Sorry if this was answered in another thread. I read that the quake moved axis of the earth by 4 inches. IANAS, so is this a pretty big deal? What kind of effects might we experience?

  11. 11
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @MikeJ: Because of this, I don’t think it is a bad thing that Japanese officials have not been overly forthcoming. Better to not say too much than blow your credibility trying to give answers that you don’t really have to journalists who are trying to fill the 24 hour news channels’ airtime.

  12. 12
    Napoleon says:


    The BP leak was a great example of this.

  13. 13
    Nethead Jay says:

    Hopefully in before the panic-mongers in the thread below. Here’s some good links: New MetaFilter thread specifically about the nuclear side of the situation: A-crash-course-in-nuclear-wessels. As the post says, follow @arclight on Twitter. Just finished reading his latest link. It’s very long but good.

  14. 14
    Moonbatting Average says:

    @kansi: Google obliquity. The earth’s axial tilt is not constant, and changes on a timescale of ~41,000 years, IIRC. the multi-degree changes in axial tilt certainly have an effect on climate, but I doubt a 4-inch shift would have any effect at all.

  15. 15
    Reader of the Most Depressing Blog Evah, Formerly known as Chad N Freude says:

    Things are not getting better.

  16. 16
  17. 17
    henqiguai says:

    @kansi (#10):

    the quake moved axis of the earth by 4 inches. IANAS, so is this a pretty big deal? What kind of effects might we experience?

    Probably nothing consequential. Part of the ‘issue’ now is that we have the instrumentation to both notice and measure the effect. A comparable effect has been reported at least once before in the past couple of years.

  18. 18
    Nicola Weaver says:

    FYI, all the latest videos and a massive archive are here:

  19. 19
    Nethead Jay says:

    Also, there’s a monster thread on the SomethingAwful forums about the earthquake where the user Pander, who’s a nuclear engineer and in Korea, has been making some very good points. Here’s a search for his posts in the thread.

  20. 20
  21. 21
    bk says:


  22. 22
    cathyx says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: It worked for me.

  23. 23
    foobear says:

    @kansi #10 : the effect of these changes in the earth’s distribution of mass is that the rotation rate changes slightly. the most obvious impact on people is that we may get a leap second. the sumatra earthquake in 2004 forced a leap second somewhat earlier than expected. of course, it can go the other way and delay a leap second, depending on how the moment of interia of the planet changes.

    this nature article is a bit too close to the 2004 event to have solid data, but i remember we got a leap second in 2006 that was partly attributed to sumatra:

    see also: (list of leap seconds)

  24. 24
    Skippy-san says:

    That worhtless asshole James O’Keefe is on CNN now and in typical form he is being thrown softballs instead of being called the worthless piece of scum that he is.

  25. 25


    The quake moving the earth’s axis.

    This strikes me as unlikely. The quake was totally superficial, limited to the surface of the earth. In order to move the axis, I would think that something would have to change in the inner, molten core of the planet.

    So sunrise tomorrow should happen at almost the same place it happened this morning.

  26. 26
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @cathyx: Yeah, it works now. I blame the shift in the earth’s axis for the earlier problem.

  27. 27
    cathyx says:

    In Japan plant, frantic efforts to avoid meltdown

  28. 28
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    I’m writing about the nuclear situation and retweeting material from reliable sources. I just posted on what “exposed to radiation” means and yesterday posted some links and other tweeps to follow.


  29. 29
    PeakVT says:

    @Chad N Freude: That volcano has been erupting off-and-on for months. It’s basically been an inconvenience, with no loss of life.

  30. 30
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Skippy-san: I just don’t watch those shows. It is virtually impossible to learn anything new from them. hell, it is more likely that, having watched an hour or so of Sunday news interview shows, one could be less informed that one was before watching. If I want to kill brain cells, I’ll drink.

  31. 31
    jehrler says:

    The BBC has a nice and frequently updated blog:

  32. 32
    sukabi says:

    The has some pretty good linkage in their ongoing coverage…. just open up the top story on the page and scroll down to the bottom… bunch of different sources with as detailed info as there probably is right now…

  33. 33
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    I’m going to be offline for a while, but will check back in later.

    I’m a chemist, and a large part of my career has had to do with nuclear energy.

  34. 34
    Kryptik says:


    Again, the fact that the guy not only is still treated with credulity, but somehow is considered the genius of all truth and good in journalism shows that we truly are institutionally fucked and doomed.

  35. 35
    Nethead Jay says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Followed and added to RSS reader. Nice post about radiation exposure. Personally, given the choice of living next to a large coal or nuclear plant, i’d take (most*) nuclear plants. *Excluding the old Eastern Bloc plants.

  36. 36
    Cranky Observer says:

    @Nethead Jay 11:32

    Well, except that he says things like this:

    > The RPV is surrounded by a containment facility
    > designed from the ground up to withstand everything
    > short of hydrogen bombs. Given the semi-spherical
    > distance from the RPV an explosion would have to
    > travel to break through the containment vessel, it
    > is fundamentally impossible (given the energy
    > density the RPV is capable of containing) for
    > there to be straight up “radioactive smoke” or such
    > getting outside of containment. The containment
    > building is constructed to prevent EXACTLY this
    > emergency.

    The problem being that the two units in question have the Mark I containment. Let’s just say that the Mark I was not considered the most successful engineering design in human history, even by the most ardent proponents of nuclear power and BWRs. The remaining Mark I plants have been substantially modified over the years to help prevent and mitigate loss-of-containment accidents; those modification are as of this moment getting a very serious proof test. And it is not clear in advance what the outcome of that test will be.


  37. 37
    Reader of the Most Depressing Blog Evah, Formerly known as Chad N Freude says:

    @PeakVT: True, but it certainly doesn’t help.

  38. 38
  39. 39
    kansi says:

    Thanks, everyone! I know this has been said before, the BJers are the best!

  40. 40
    Reader of the Most Depressing Blog Evah, Formerly known as Chad N Freude says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: It looks like a DNS problem. It worked for me when I put it up (I always check), but it’s not working now. Time Warner has been having DNS problems since March 2. Service was seriously unreliable until about March 7. Time Warner is my service provider, not the worst in the world, but they keep trying to be.

  41. 41
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Reader of the Most Depressing Blog Evah, Formerly known as Chad N Freude: I did get it to open after cathyx said it worked for her, so I did get to read it. TW could be fighting Charter for that bottom spot as a service provider; I have had technicians out to my place about once a month trying to solve a recurring issue with intermittent service. Yesterday, it appeared that they had a breakthrough in identifying the problem; now, let’s see if they can have a breakthrough in solving it.

  42. 42
    Nethead Jay says:

    @Cranky Observer: Interesting, I’ll ask him about that. I know there’s been lots of battles regarding different reactor designs, but I’m not knowledgeable enough to judge the accuracy here.

  43. 43
    Maude says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:
    Please post about what they find causing the intermittent service. There’s a place that has had problems with that for several months.

  44. 44
    La Caterina says:


    After reading some of the science available at Cranky’s links, I feel better. Go Tarheels!

  45. 45
    henqiguai says:

    @Omnes Omnibus (#39):

    TW could be fighting Charter for that bottom spot as a service provider; I have had technicians out to my place about once a month trying to solve a recurring issue with intermittent service.

    Got Comcast here in Massachusetts. In my section of the tiny little village in which I live we had/have the same type issue. Spent two years b!tching about it. Finally got a couple of technicians who finally admitted what I had been telling them – was hardware intermittents upstream of our service area (was notably related to seasonal, and therefore temperature, changes and some weather conditions). New management finally started cleaning it up (after everybody who could started bouncing to satellite TV; the rest of us are surrounded by towering maples).

  46. 46
    Reader of the Most Depressing Blog Evah, Formerly known as Chad N Freude says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: I just spent a significant fraction of my life changing my DNS settings to Google Public DNS, and not only did it work, but it the links I tested loaded faster than usual, presumably faster DNS resolution. If you want to try this

    Alert!!! Alert!!! Alert!!!
    Danger, Will Robinson

    the instructions for Mac OS X are out of date, and YOU REALLY HAVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING if you want to make the change. I don’t know if the instructions for Windows et al are better, but DON’T TRY IT IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING!

  47. 47
  48. 48
    geg6 says:

    OT, but PJ Crowley is leaving State. And the DoS flunky on Candy Crowley’s show says he was planning to leave anyway, doncha know. That said, to her credit she did accurately portray what Crowley said in regard to Manning. I’m too cynical for words these days.

  49. 49
    Dave C says:

    Has anybody read anything regarding the potential economic consequences of this disaster? Certainly, Japan is in for some seriously rough days ahead, but is there any danger of another global recession as a result of this?

  50. 50
    Reader of the Most Depressing Blog Evah, Formerly known as Chad N Freude says:

    I think we need some comic relief, and Michelle Bachmann is the go-to gal.

    ETA: You have to read it all the way to the bottom. (Yeah, it’s probably a typo, but with Bachmann, who knows?)

  51. 51
    Reader of the Most Depressing Blog Evah, Formerly known as Chad N Freude says:

    @geg6: Some of us are both cynical and wordy.

  52. 52
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @henqiguai:Upstream hardware issues is what they are saying.

  53. 53
    Tokyokie says:

    Having spent time in Japan, I know what a slipshod operation Japan Times is and wouldn’t rely on its website. Nikkei is mostly financial news and is less than optimal for other types of news. NHK tends to infrequently update its video posts (limited, probably to some extent, by the dearth of bilingual news readers). Kyodo ( will have all the official statements and bulletins in quick order, but you need to keep refreshing the page to get the latest. And, as somebody else pointed out, Japanese officials are reticent to say anything of substance for fear of speaking without proper authority.

  54. 54
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Reader of the Most Depressing Blog Evah, Formerly known as Chad N Freude: I do not know what i am doing, so I will stay well clear.

  55. 55
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Redundant post, but, at some level, aren’t they all?.

  56. 56
    eemom says:

    @Dave C:

    actually, there have been some — imo rather hideously offensive to human decency — prognostications of a boon to Japan’s economy as a result of all this. At McClatchy among other places, which is disappointing.

  57. 57
    lllphd says:

    thanks for the bravenewclimate link; excellent – if almost too much – info.

    not sure if anyone else has noted this, but the fact that the japanese media is not issuing more than “lackluster” reports would seem pretty understandable, don’t you think? i mean, sure, it’s a journalist’s job to get stuff out at times like these, but i mean really, they’ve just been hit by not one, not two, but THREE major catastrophes within the course of 24 hours, essentially. i do hope we’re forgiving their media for less than stellar reporting while they tend to those spinning plates loaded with vipers and crocodiles, eh?

  58. 58
    Reader of the Most Depressing Blog Evah, Formerly known as Chad N Freude says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: That never stops me.

  59. 59
    eemom says:

    As if the disaster in Japan weren’t enough, this weekend there have also been
    (1) a hideous, multiple-grotesque-fatality bus accident on the highway in NYC not far from where I grew up, and (2) the stabbing murder of several young children and their parents in the West Bank and celebration of same in Gaza.

    Nevertheless, there was also that little glimmer of good news re Gabrielle Giffords that mm posted about on the last thread — which was promptly overtaken by a hysterical anti-nuke fanatic seeking to exploit the situation in Japan.

    Just a little moment of Anti-Zen.

  60. 60
    Yutsano says:


    I’m too cynical for words these days.

    I don’t think that’s possible. Especially since I’m losing my optimism that the US can hold it together.

  61. 61
    New Yorker says:

    Nuclear power is far from perfect, but it’s far preferable to more coal and oil-based power, both of which poison the air, earth, and water through normal operations. Anyone grounded in reality who wants to curb global warming is going to have to accept nuclear energy as an alternative until the date sometime in the future when renewables become technologically advanced enough to cover most of the planet’s energy needs.

    I just hope all the hysteria about the situation in Japan doesn’t spell the end of nuclear power.

  62. 62
    Comrade Mary says:

    The new Metafilter thread on the nuclear plants has been marred by some bickering, but there’s still some good discussion there. One of the more knowledgable and sensible commenters is awake and has just posted. An excerpt:

    6) Why am I not panicking? I don’t automatically trust the news. It’s been repeatedly filters, and when I have a Japanese Government Official Who Is Not A Nuclear Engineer talking to a Japanese report, WINANE, being translated by someone who either doesn’t speak English or Japanese natively, and WINANE, then being reported by some US or UK news site by someone WINANE, then being liveblogged or tweeted by someone WINANE, and all of them get paid or renown for putting the most dramatic headlines possible on this, you should realize that all is not as it seems.
    And, really, people. Worst case is a triple core compromise. Kindly go look up “atmospheric nuclear testing” for just how much radioactive material was pumped into the air. If everything goes wrong, all three reactors meltdown and escape containment it will be a mess — but it won’t even be a Chernobyl like mess, because you won’t get the combination of steam explosion and graphite fire that you had there, and you have vastly better physical containment.

  63. 63
    Nethead Jay says:

    Interesting article in the Atlantic by Cristine Russell, veteran science writer who covered Three Mile Island, comparing the Japanese situation to back then.

  64. 64
    Omnes Omnibus says:


    which was promptly overtaken by a hysterical anti-nuke fanatic seeking to exploit the situation in Japan.

    That was lovely, wasn’t it?

  65. 65
    Reader of the Most Depressing Blog Evah, Formerly known as Chad N Freude says:

    @eemom: I don’t know what the fanatic reference is. Link?

  66. 66
    polyorchnid octopunch says:

    The reason the CANDU reactor design is considered so safe is because the coolant is the moderator. This means that losing the coolant automatically stops the reaction. There are some problems though, esp. from a Corp perspective. They are extremely expensive to build and th coolant is pure heavy water, which is water with tritium instead of plain hydrogen, which is also extremely expensive. It is very widely considered the ne plus ultra in safety in uranium reactor designs; having the coolant be the moderator is a trick that just can’t be beat.

  67. 67
  68. 68
    polyorchnid octopunch says:

    @Reader of the Most Depressing Blog Evah, Formerly known as Chad N Freude: How hard can it be to edit /etc/resolv.conf?

  69. 69
    PeakVT says:

    @polyorchnid octopunch: Deuterium, not tritium.

  70. 70
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @polyorchnid octopunch:Very, if you don’t know what you are doing.

  71. 71
    Reader of the Most Depressing Blog Evah, Formerly known as Chad N Freude says:

    @polyorchnid octopunch: It’s not hard if you know what you’re doing. And as Old School as I am, I prefer not to screw things up via Terminal if I can avoid it. It’s easier to do it through the OS X System Preferences, which is the method Google provides. The problem is that they apparently have not updated their instructions for Snow Leopard.

    ETA: It’s simple enough, the problem is that the tabs and buttons have changed or disappeared between Google’s instructions and the current UI (User Interface for the techspeak impaired).

  72. 72
    polyorchnid octopunch says:

    @PeakVT: Argh you’re right of course.

  73. 73
    polyorchnid octopunch says:

    @Reader of the Most Depressing Blog Evah, Formerly known as Chad N Freude: for me I much prefer it. I know it will work when I change resolv.conf, and the UI gets its info for filling in the fields from those files anyway, so the GUI will atmagically update with the new info anyway. That said I’m a professional Unix geek, and it’s true that you can spectacularly Charlie Foxtrot yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing.

  74. 74
    Cranky Observer says:

    > @polyorchnid octopunch – 1:37 pm
    > The reason the CANDU reactor design is
    > considered so safe is because the coolant is
    > the moderator. This means that losing the coolant
    > automatically stops the reaction. There are some
    > problems though, esp. from a Corp perspective. They
    > are extremely expensive to build and th coolant
    > is pure heavy water, which is water with tritium
    > instead of plain hydrogen, which is also extremely
    > expensive.

    Just a note: heavy water has a deuterium atom, not a tritium atom, in place of the elemental hydrogen. Very different atomic behavior.


  75. 75
    4jkb4ia says:

    I think the Tar Heels ran out of gas. Of course there is still 18 minutes left, but Duke is not Miami.

  76. 76
    Jay C says:

    @Dave C:

    There will probably (well, naturally) be some economic fallout/negative effects from the earthquake/tsunami/powerplant-outage – NO country can have to face making a massive, involuntary investment in disaster relief and/or rebuilding on this sort of scale without it being at least some strain on the budget.

    That said, though, I would imagine that if any country was easily able to allocate resources to rebuilding efforts with minimal stress, it would be Japan. IIRC, Japanese governments(s) have spent billions upon billions over the last two decades – to ease the effects of their own “bubble” crisis of the ’90s – on enormous “infrastructure” projects (massive viaducts to carry four-lane expressways into remote mountain villages; that sort of thing); in large part, I think, to keep their politically-influential construction industry employed. I would imagine that it would be less of a strain for Japan to rebuild the affected areas than it would elsewhere.

  77. 77
    Bill Murray says:

    @Jay C: Larry Kudlow said that thankfully, the economic toll wasn’t as bad as the human toll.

  78. 78
    Cermet says:

    I see no one has shot down my concerns – the links provided were not exactly useful since they really don’t have many facts or linked information – (damn, I was hoping they would – I’d rather be wrong about the worse case situation)- also, the situation in Japan is as bad as feared and getting worse. I’m still not sure that the reactor is a fast breeder (some sources say it isn’t, some it is – that is strange – this is too simple a point to have primary sources disagree.) Maybe some more no-nothing experts here can use their skills at snark to sweep this all under the rug and make it all go away.

  79. 79
    Cermet says:

    Your link is not very reliable – I read his exhaustive step-by-step what happened; huh, it will be years before they know what happen but this guy knows already – no, he is making educated guess’s but acting like this is fact. And you people shot me down? What a joke.
    So far, he has ignored the other reactors and claims that
    “And this started to happen. The cooling could not be restored before there was some (very limited, but still) damage to the casing of some of the fuel. The nuclear material itself was still intact, but the surrounding Zircaloy shell had started melting. ”

    Huh, how is that possible to know if the building has undergone a major hydrogen explosion (lost wall and part of the roof) and is venting radioactive gases? Is he saying they have operating camera’s in the reactor (yes, I know that is impossible for CCD due to the radiation and neutron flux – but maybe they have a trained monkey and he is … .)
    More bullshit. This is getting old, I guess only years from now will we learn the truth.
    I wish this joke of an expert would address the other reactors and if one is a breeder or not – strange silence on those points.

  80. 80
    Arclite says:

    My wife has been watching the Japanese nuclear accident coverage. NHK is useless, they are much too focused on protecting the government. She’s been watching TBS. Most useful she found this ustream feed has interviews with the actual Japanese nuclear engineers that designed the plant and formerly worked there discussing what has ACTUALLY likely happened as opposed to the demure answers of the government.

  81. 81
    Resident Firebagger says:

    You know, I want to side with the smart people who really understand the workings of nuclear power, rather than just rely on my own uninformed perceptions. I really do. But when Japan evacuates 180,000 people in the midst of a huge disaster, I have to think that the meltdown problem is a bit more serious than what Brave New Climate seems to believe.

  82. 82
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @polyorchnid octopunch:
    From the initial reports all the reactors SCRAMmed as they are set up to do when an earthquake is detected and the control rods stopped the fission reactions as they are designed to do. The problem is that the fuel rods are very hot and when the coolant stopped being pumped through the vessel then they got hotter since the coolant wasn’t taking the thermal energy away any more. There’s also a known characteristic of all fission reactors, CANDUs included of daughter isotope decay — basically fission products (the daughter isotopes) in the fuel rods are also often radioactive and decay, mostly into other radioactive elements. These short half-life daughters keep the fuel rods hot for a period of time even though the neutron flux causing fission of the uranium has been almost totally abated by the control rods. That’s why all reactors need active cooling for a few days after being shut down otherwise the fuel rods overheat and the zirconium cladding can fail even though the reactor is “switched off”.

    The hydrogen gas which caused the explosion in one of the reactor building is due to overheated fuel rods producing very high temperature steam from the moisture still in the reactor vessel. This is hot enough to disassociate into a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen gas. If that is vented off to relieve the pressure in the reactor vessel and accumulates in the outer building structure then it can explode quite violently. It’s one reason the roofs are quite lightly built, like fireworks factories so that if there is such an explosion the energy is dissipated outwards rather than being mostly expended against the top of the containment vessel surrounding the reactor.

    None of these reactors are breeders, they are all quite old boiling-water reactors — I think at least two of them were due to be shut down and decommissioned a few weeks from now after about forty years in-service.

    As for the public press reports, it is a legal requirement in Japanese law for any nuclear incidents like this are to be made public as expeditiously as possible by senior officials after a number of other incidents in the past.

  83. 83
    cthulhu says:

    I thought the analysis at bravenewclimate was mostly reassuring but it just dawned on me a troubling aspect of that analysis. Indeed, even if most of what he says is true regarding the public safety aspects of the problems at the plant, his analysis largely ignores the financial cost of the accident. I suspect this damage will be far more significant in cost to repair/decommission compared to other types of energy generation. And it seems the ratepayers/taxpayers are on the hook for this.

    My issues with nuclear power are less about public safety and more about the cost efficacy, especially in the US.

  84. 84
    robert green says:

    bravenewclimate is just a pro-nuke propaganda mill.

    left this comment there but i’m sure it will not be posted:


    the point of this post, and the point of this thread, and indeed the point of this website, is to misinform a priori.

    the human factor that never changes is called greed. mr. brooks shares that weakness as much as, say, a nuclear regulator in a japanese bureaucracy, or a nuclear engineer feeling pressure from his or her boss, or from a politician who needs more energy for his or her population.

    as i come from a long line of honest academics, the kind who NEVER shilled for an industry but rather went where rationality and informed decisionmaking took them, i therefore find this type of behavior by someone like mr. brooks all the more execrable. his science is shabby and is in the thrall not of an ideal of information to help but rather focused on controlling a post-disaster narrative that will directly inflate mr. brooks’ and his patrons’ pocketbooks.

    to do this at a time when the world is rightly terrified of what has been wrought by the nuclear industry is deeply evil.

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