Community Demands Transparency upon NRC Visit to Troubled Reactors
The ongoing crisis at the troubled San Onofre nuclear reactors entered a new phase on April 4 as Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chair Gregory Jaczko announced he will visit the plant this Friday, April 6. Concerned organizations and community members reacted by demanding Jaczko announce a new policy of openness and require a full determination of what went wrong.
The two nuclear reactors at San Onofre, operated by Southern California Edison, have been shut down for more than two months following a radiation leak and the discovery of severely damaged equipment. Tubes in all four, new steam generators at both San Onofre reactors showed significant deterioration, which could lead to a serious release of radioactivity in the event of rupture.
"Chairman Jaczko needs to know that the citizens of Southern California are watching," said Gary Headrick with San Clemente Green. "We deserve answers, and we better get them before they even think about turning these reactors back on. If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission wants any credibility in this town, they need to know they can't sweep shoddy equipment and radiation leaks under the rug."
Jaczko confirmed his plans in a letter to local organizations working to address the serious threats the reactors pose to the health and safety of southern Californians. He has agreed to meet with concerned, local organizations in San Clemente, a city near the reactor site, at 4:45 p.m.—at the end of his visit Friday. The NRC chair will hold a press conference at 3 p.m. Local groups will be holding a press conference on Friday morning at 10 a.m. at the entrance to the reactor site to explain their opposition to the San Onofre nuclear reactors and their concerns over the current problems and investigations.
A report last week by one of the nation's leading independent nuclear engineers revealed that serious unresolved safety problems at San Onofre could lead to significant radiation releases if the plant is allowed to restart. The paper also documented that Edison misled the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission about changes made to the reactors, which have led to unforeseen and undiagnosed safety problems. The report is online here.
The NRC and Edison are conducting an investigation into the malfunctions at San Onofre's reactors, yet it appears that the investigation does not include a thorough "root cause" analysis into what caused the problems—which the report concludes is essential. Without knowing what caused the damage, it's impossible to assess the true extent of the problems, or what can be done to stop them from happening again.
"Chairman Jaczko's visit to San Onofre underscores the severity of the crisis, but you don't get points just for showing up," said Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth. "We got here because of Edison's culture of secrecy at San Onofre and that has to change. Edison has made its agenda clear—they want to restart these reactors as soon as possible, which would mean profits but not public safety. The public is looking to the NRC to get to the bottom of this crisis. Given the magnitude of the safety problems at the plant, band-aid solutions and empty assurances from Edison will not be good enough."
Friends of the Earth and a variety of local citizens' groups released a new ad campaign this week targeting Southern California Edison. The ad calls on citizens to let the utility know that their families come first—and that it must not restart the troubled San Onofre nuclear reactors currently facing serious questions about safety and secrecy. The citizens' groups include Citizens Oversight Projects, Committee to Bridge the Gap, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, Residents Organized for a Safe Environment (ROSE), San Clemente Green, SanOnofreSafety.org and the Peace Resource Center of San Diego. Click here to view the San Onofre ad online.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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