Blog Archives: July 2005

Indian Point Sirens Get Fixed

Entergy Corp., owner of the Indian Point nuclear plant about 30 miles north of New York City, finally relented today and agreed to install backup power sources for all 156 emergency alert sirens around the nuclear plant. The news comes not after such a common-sense idea was proposed by Public Citizen, NIRS, local governments, and others back in a February petition to the NRC, and not after threats by Sen. Clinton to legislate such a plan, but after the sirens in question failed due to power outages twice in less than two weeks. (Also check out our blog posting from July 20.)

This is good news; unfortunately, it doesn't look like the logic will be applied to Entergy's other nuclear plants or any of the rest of the nuclear plants that don't have backup power to all their sirens (see the list here).

Apparently, Sen. Clinton actually did include a provision in the energy bill that (sob) passed today (74-26), but it only applied to nuclear plants with more than 15 million people living within 50 miles - in other words, only Indian Point. Way to stand up for the principle!

--Posted July 29, 2005 at 3:36 pm EDT

Now would be a good time to fix things
A couple of years ago would have been better

Just one month and three days after the first domestic case of mad cow disease (or BSE) was confirmed in the United States, a domestic cow that was at least 12 years old has been identified today as another possible case. A sample of this cow’s brain was preserved for testing by a private veterinarian after experiencing complications during the calving process in April. However, the vet forgot to send the sample in for testing until just recently, after which the USDA identified the cow as a likely case. The USDA is now sending the sample to other laboratories for confirmatory testing; we anticipate that if mad cow disease is confirmed, the agency will announce their finding next Friday at 5 pm.

Meanwhile, there are still many loopholes in the FDA’s feed ban rules, including allowing poultry litter and cattle blood to be fed to cattle. Additionally, rendered cattle can be fed to pigs and poultry, and their waste can in turn be fed back to cattle. (Hungry yet?) These loopholes create potential for the transmission of mad cow disease, a deadly brain-wasting disease.

--Posted July 27, 2005 at 4:05 pm EDT

Nevada: Not Yet Scandalous Enough, Apparently

The soap opera that is the Yucca Mountain project seems never to run out of plot twists.  The U.S. Department of Energy has done its part to up the scandal factor in the city of Las Vegas and its environs, most recently stonewalling members of Congress investigating possible falsification of data used to support the project.

When emails surfaced recently that indicated workers preparing the repository's application for a license had--to paraphrase only slightly--made stuff up, Rep. John Porter of Nevada understandably asked for more documents from DOE to help determine just how far the problem went and whether it threatend the already shaky scientific ground the project rests on.  DOE said no way, why should we give you more incriminating documents if you'll just make them public again?  Sounds almost like an admission that there's more monkey business to be exposed.

Sick of it all, Porter was able to convince Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia to issue a subpoena yesterday for the documents, to be delivered by Friday.  Stay tuned; there are sure to be more bizarre revelations on the way.

--Posted July 21, 2005 at 12:55 pm EDT

Are They Kidding Us with This?

Show Dorr the Door!

Thomas Dorr has been nominated for the third time by President Bush to the position of USDA Undersecretary of Rural Affairs. His nomination was last voted on by the Senate body in 2003, but they were not able to secure enough votes to ensure that he would be confirmed. Why the hostility towards Dorr in this position? For starters, he has spoke positively of 250,000-acre megafarms run by computers. He has also suggested that certain farming counties are successful because they are majority white. In the Des Moines Register, Dorr stated that some Iowa counties had done well because: "They're very diverse in their economic growth, but they're very focused, uh, have been very non-diverse in their ethnic background and their religious background, and there's something there that has enabled them to succeed and to succeed very well." Finally, he was accused of providing false information about his farm to the USDA to get around subsidy caps. He denied the charges, but nevertheless refunded the USDA over $30,000 that he had received.

--Posted July 20, 2005 at 6:23 pm EDT

Emergency Sirens: Don't Count on Them (We Told You So)

Early yesterday morning, according to an event notification report posted on the NRC's website, all 156 emergency notification sirens surrounding the Indian Point nuclear plant (in densely populated downstate New York, about 30 miles north of New York City) were inoperable for about six hours. Those sirens are supposed to wail in case of a problem at the plant, alerting everyone to turn on the TV and find out what to do, yet that obviously can't happen if those sirens don't have any power, such as occurred yesterday.

Perhaps the worst part is that Entergy, the plant's owner, didn't even know for about five hours that the sirens were broken. According to an article in the Guardian, a plant spokesman claims that "if an emergency had occurred the failure of the sirens would have been noticed and a battery would have been brought in to activate them." Right, but exactly how long would that take? The other plan is for police to drive around neighborhoods with bullhorns, yelling for people to get out (seriously).

Perhaps a better course of action would be to have backup power, like solar panels, to each one of those sirens so they will never be without power. In fact, a coalition of groups including Public Citizen as well as the Westchester County government actually submitted a formal petition to that effect to the NRC this past winter. It was rejected, as was an appeal. The agency insists that the issue is not pressing and we should instead follow a different procedure that can take years.

Sen. Clinton is already moving ahead with legislation that would require backup power for the sirens. To see if your neighborhood nuke has backup power already (most don't), click here.

--Posted July 20, 2005 at 11:32 am EDT

Hog Hell

On July 13, 2005, a court in western Poland sentenced 8 farmers to three months in jail, which is suspended for 2 years, and ordered them to pay a fine for their action against their neighbor, who wanted to raise hogs for American-owned Smithfield - the biggest hog corporation in the world.

What was the crime? The crime was that the farmers did not want Smithfield to run out small pig farmers or cause environmental damage to the area - which Smithfield has been known to do. In the spring of 2004, farmers blocked access to their neighbor's property - which was in the town center - to prevent the delivery of a large number of hogs into the village. The neighbor had just signed a contract with Prima corporation, which is owned by American meat giant Smithfield Foods.

The area of Poland is known for numerous small pig farms. Faced with having Smithfield hogs on their home turf, small scale pig farmers are afraid they will be bought out by the American meat giant, which said they want to transform Poland into the pig capitol of Europe. Smithfield has forced other small pig farmers in Poland and the U.S. out of business. The farmers also worry about environmental pollution, as Smithfield has been found guilty of violating environmental regulations in the U.S. The eight protesting farmers, including the head of the village Malgorzata Nawracala, were accused of disturbing their neighbor's peace and subsequently sentenced. The fairness of the court verdict is dubious.

--Posted July 19, 2005 at 10:58 am EDT

Next Generation Solar Cells Making Progress

An article in today's San Francisco Chronicle highlights the amazing progress being made in the world of solar PV, the kind that turns sunshine into electricity. Using nanotechnology, several research firms are finding ways to print tiny solar cells onto flexible sheets of plastic, resulting in tremendous cost savings as well as a wide range of new applications, such as custom coatings for laptop computers so they can run off sunlight or, on a larger scale, rooftops covered by the cells that provide an enormous chunk of our electricity needs.

Perhaps the best news of all is that commercialization of this technology is thought to be only about five years away. Factor in a few more to let the technology spread like wildfire, and it means that right around the time the first conceivable new nuclear plant could open, it will instantly become hopelessly outdated. Unfortunately, that won't stop whichever company might be the not-so-proud owner to run it for 60 years anyway. How do we prevent such a colossal waste? Make sure they're not built in the first place.

Now let's work on getting those solar cells printed onto something that isn't traditional petroleum-based plastic...

--Posted July 13, 2005 at 12:37 pm EDT

FitzPatrick Getting FitzOlder

Not one but two cracks in various cooling systems were found at the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear plant in western New York in the past two weeks. The first, initially identified on June 30, was found in a component called a torus, which is essentially a large donut that serves as part of the reactor cooling system. It's also part of the primary containment system, and the crack threatened the ability of the plant to adequately contain the radioactive broth inside.

Ironically (or perhaps predictably), Entergy--the company that owns FitzPatrick--requested permission in 2003 to test such components less frequently, because the inspections to date "provide a high degree of assurance that any degradation of the containment will be detected and corrected before it may provide a containment leakage path."

Oops. Here we are, not yet two years later, finding degradation of the containment that provided a leakage path. [Thanks to Dave Lochbaum at the Union of Concerned Scientists for making that connection.]

Then, to celebrate the 4th of July, Entergy found a second crack in a shutdown cooling line. As the NRC understated, "The danger with a crack like this is that it could complicate a shutdown of the reactor."

FitzPatrick is 30 years old. At present time its operating license will expire in another decade, but there's a pretty good chance it will soon join 33 of its siblings with a 20-year extension on that license. In other words, this degrading reactor is only halfway through its life.

--Posted July 12, 2005 at 4:59 pm EDT

Mommy, is my milk from Bessie or Bessie 2?

Or Bessie 3 or 4? At a recent biotechnology conference, officials from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated that they would soon be declaring meat and milk from cloned animals and clone offspring safe for human consumption. The few studies done comparing meat and milk from clones and non-clones have only found a few differences between the products. However, these studies are few and far between and much is not known about the health effects of consuming products from clones or “half-clones,” the offspring of clones. What is known is that clones have serious health problems: the success rate of live, healthy animals through the cloning process is less than 5%, cloning can lead to complicated and harmful births for the surrogate animal, and clones can have a variety of other health problems.

Moreover, a Gallup poll found that 64% of American consumers believed cloning animals is "morally wrong" and an industry poll found that 62% of consumers said they would be "very unlikely" or "somewhat unlikely" to buy meat or milk products from clones. The “yuck factor” for the consumer is so high that the International Dairy Foods Association has spoken out against FDA approval for milk from clones, fearing a consumer backlash. Currently, the FDA has a voluntary ban on allowing meat and milk from clones or half-clones into the marketplace. However, semen from clones has been sold all over the country, and it is possible that meat or milk from these half-clones have made it into grocery stores. And how would you know if you were purchasing it? Meat and milk from clones doesn’t have to be labeled and it sure doesn’t look any different.

--Posted July 11, 2005 at 5:51 pm EDT

Radiation: Still Bad for You

The largest study ever conducted on the health of nuclear workers has concluded that they run a higher risk for dying from cancer, according to a report yesterday in Nuclear Engineering International. The study was published last week in the British Medical Journal, and found that approximately 1-2% of deaths from cancer among nuclear workers could statistically be linked with routine low doses of ionizing radiation.

On the heels of the NAS finding that the linear no-threshold model for radiation exposure still holds (see previous post), this helps confirm that there is no safe dose of radiation. Of particular interest is that the results are actually slightly higher than estimates used to formulate current radiation protection standards, which should prove to be fierce ammunition against critics like Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) who argue that current regulations are overly conservative.

--Posted July 6, 2005 at 6:07 pm EDT

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