Numlock News: April 27, 2021 • Uranium, Whales, Rhododendrons

By Walt Hickey


In the past several weeks, miners and investors have bought up 10.5 million pounds of uranium, a solid chunk of the spot market for the metal which usually moves around 60 million to 80 million pounds of uranium per year. The reason that uranium miners are loading up on the metal they ostensibly haul out of the ground anyway is that it’s generally cheap at this time, and many see the nuclear energy business — the eventual customer for most of the ore — as primed to pop amid a greener-energy push. The market for uranium fell considerably following the Fukushima reactor meltdowns in 2011, but is rebounding now that miners want to have some on hand to fulfill existing orders as they develop new mining projects. A pound of U3O8 goes for $29.20, down from $73 a decade ago.

Joe Wallace and Rhiannon Hoyle, The Wall Street Journal

Under The C

A 52-foot long, 8-foot wide submersible hauling 2,500 kilograms of cocaine was intercepted by U.S. authorities in the Caribbean about 150 miles north of South America. Since last October, the U.S. Caribbean Corridor Strike Force has seized a total of 17,000 kilograms of cocaine worth more than $510 million off the coast of Puerto Rico. Increased enforcement has pushed cartels to invest significant funds in transporting their wares under the sea, shipping drugs clever, down where it’s wetter, take it from me. Up on the shore they all restrict, out in the sun they interdict, so they send it floating, all of that cocaine, under the sea.

Jim Wyss, Bloomberg

Whale Friends

Whales hang out and have friends, according to a landmark new study of 12 years of whale observations. Across thousands of hours, over more than a decade, sociobiologists photographed 226 male sperm whales and eavesdropped on any conversations using hydrophones to discern which whales occasionally checked in with each other and said hey. Most whales spent a majority of time alone, but 10 percent of whales studied had at least one other whale they spent at least two years in close proximity with. A pair of male whale friends — NS-PM089 and NS-PM090 — were particularly close, appearing together in front of the researchers on at least 10 occasions over five years. Anyway, I’ll gift a free annual Numlock subscription to the first person who tracks down or personally creates NS-PM089 and NS-PM090 fanfiction.

Annie Roth, Hakai Magazine


Last year saw the mass grounding of commercial aircraft as airlines grappled with an utter collapse in demand for their services, and in the United States, those mothballed planes are getting ready to re-enter service. At American Airline’s Tulsa maintenance base, idled jets are getting revamped ahead of a summer when most of the carrier’s 1,400 jet fleet will re-enter the skies. Reactivating a single 737 takes 1,000 person-hours and costs about $39,340 in labor alone. That is, comparatively, cheap, at least stacked against the $10 million impairment charge taken for each of the 150 aircraft it retired last year.

Edward Russell, Skift


Sudden Oak Death is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin — it’s a pathogen responsible for the deaths of 48 million oaks on the West Coast since 1995. In 2002, it became a federally regulated plant disease, but has since been contained in the West Coast. Bad news, though, last year, a batch of infected rhododendrons in a shipment of 200,000 plants was shipped nationwide, with Indiana alone seeing infected plants appear in 70 Walmarts and 18 Rural King stores. What happened since has been the largest trace-forward investigation in the program in a decade, determining that two facilities sent infected plants to 28 states in the Midwest and Eastern United States, with positive samples found in 100 locations in 16 states. It’s a gigantic mess — 14 million plants were inspected in the Washington nursery where the plants originated, with thousands of plants destroyed. Anyway, if you did any topiary work over quarantine last year, you may want to check that out.

Ellie Shechet, The New Republic


Most commercial ships run on heavy oil fuel known as bunker. Liquefied natural gas is an attractive new source of fuel for vessels, which while hardly carbon-neutral is still cleaner, cutting emissions by 15 to 25 percent; right now, there are orders out for 139 LNG ships, with 27 new orders this year so far. In order to decarbonize the entire industry and transition to zero-emissions vessels, it’s going to cost something in the ballpark of $3 trillion. That’s based on $518 billion to upgrade container ships, $509 billion for bulk carriers, $395 billion for gas carriers and $357 billion for cruise ships. The analysis builds in $214 billion to upgrade oil tankers, which is something of a head scratcher, with the rest going to offshore vessels and smaller vessels.

Costas Paris, The Wall Street Journal


All the individual components in pretty much every consumer packaged food are getting much more expensive, a trend that will hit wallets pretty soon. The raw materials of a diet — corn, wheat, soybean, vegetable oil — are all increasing in price worldwide, causing not only problems for affluent consumers in rich countries but also for all humans, with millions being put at increased risk of hunger and deprivation in the coming months. In the past year, soybean prices are up 80 percent, wheat prices are up 30 percent, corn prices have doubled and global food prices have been increasing for the past 10 months, with those baseline ingredients also pushing the prices of meat up.

Megan Durisin and Deirdre Hipwell, Bloomberg

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