The bitter battle over two stricken southern California reactors has taken a shocking seismic hit. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has ignored critical questions from two powerful members of Congress just as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has seriously questioned emergency planning at the San Onofre nuclear plant.
At a cost of some $770 million, Southern California Edison (SCE) and its partners installed faulty steam generators at San Onofre Units 2 and 3 that have failed and leaked.
Those reactors have been been shut since January, 2012 (similar defects doomed Unit 1 in 1992).
They've generated zero electricity, but SCE and its partners have billed ratepayers over a billion dollars for them.
SCE wants San Onofre reopened by June 1. The idea is to experiment with Unit 2 at 70 percent of full power for five months, despite widespread concerns that the defective generators will fail again.
That would require a license amendment, about which the NRC staff has asked Edison 32 key preliminary questions. But there’s been no official, adjudicated public hearing on Edison’s response.
On April 9, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) asked the NRC to keep Unit 2 shut until the safety issues can be fully vetted.
Boxer chairs the powerful Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, which oversees the NRC. Markey is ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and is the current front-runner to fill John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat.
Their letter to NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane says, San Onofre must not re-open without a "comprehensive investigation" and "full opportunity for public participation." Utility efforts to "shortcut the license amendment process,” they say, “would put public safety at risk."
SCE's backdoor dodge "was made despite evidence showing that there could be a significant hazard from the operation of the deficient steam generators." That, in turn, "would fall far short of the kind of consideration the 8 million people who live within 50 miles of San Onofre deserve."
Boxer and Markey asked the NRC to respond by 4 p.m. April 10. Instead, the Commission staff publicly issued a “no significant hazard” ruling that would speed the re-licensing process—a precise renunciation of the Boxer/Markey concerns.
Markey, in turn, said, the NRC "showed blatant disregard” for public safety.
Boxer said, the ruling was “dangerous and premature," especially since “the damaged plant is located in an area at risk of earthquake and tsunami.”
She added, "It makes absolutely no sense to even consider taking any steps to reopen San Onofre until these investigations look into every aspect of reopening the plant given the failure of tubes that carry radioactive water.”
The Commission has made some preliminary recommendations in response to Fukushima, including a call for new filters, which the industry has resisted. But it’s at least two years away from issuing new regulations based on lessons learned. Former NRC Chair Greg Jaszco has criticized the industry for failing to respond to Fukushima’s warnings. The Commission, he says, is “just rolling the dice” on public safety.
Jaszco’s concerns were mirrored in a report issued April 9 by the GAO warning that there were deep flaws in plans for evacuating southern California should San Onofre actually blow.
Mirroring widespread anger over soaring electric rates, Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik warned that ratepayers were tired of getting “the shaft” at San Onofre by being forced to pay Edison millions “for services not rendered.”
The escalated San Onofre uproar comes with the double-shorting of a critical Fukushima cooling system prompted by a hungry (now fried) rodent that ate through some cable insulation. The power outage threatened a Unit Four spent fuel pool laden with hundreds of tons of immeasurably dangerous rods.
The system crashed again when the owners botched the installation of a rodent protection system. They've further confirmed major radioactive leakage from at least three of five tanks holding Fukushima's millions of gallons of contaminated wastes.
Parallel leaks at the Hanford nuclear facility in Washington state now threaten the Columbia River.
A major equipment crash at Missouri's Calloway was preceded this week by an accident at Arkansas Nuclear One that killed at least one worker and injured at least seven others.
Once the atomic poster child, France is now exploring joining Germany in phasing out its expensive, decaying nuclear fleet for a massive new commitment to renewables.
Germany is turning coordinated large-scale natural systems into base load providers.
And the city of Los Angeles now offers green feed-in tariffs meant to power a Solartopian conversion.
Edison is fighting off installing wind or solar generators, hoping to keep the public paying for its failures at San Onofre.
But for SCE and the NRC to flat-out ignore Congressionals as powerful as Boxer and Markey may indicate how desperately they want San Onofre paid for by the public.
SCE warns of power shortages this summer, but San Onofre was off-line last summer without major impact. SCE wants the public to continue to pay for these nukes, faulty generators and all. But if they're down another summer, the odds against them ever reopening will jump.
Two other U.S. reactors—Kewaunee in Wisconsin and Florida's Crystal River—will soon shut forever. Public pressure on New York's Indian Point, Oyster Creek in New Jersey and Vermont Yankee could drive the number of U.S. reactors under 100 this year for the first time in decades.
Boxer (202-224-3553) and Markey (202-225-2836) are now being asked to hold those adjudicated public hearings in southern California, and to investigate the GAO'S findings on evacuation, before any new license is granted at San Onofre.
Rising anger over a dangerous restart and more billions flowing into utility pockets guarantees that this fight will continue to escalate. Edison and the NRC seem willing to ignore the public's demands and those of Sen. Boxer and Rep. Markey. But they now face an ever-angrier public upheaval.
The potential restart of San Onofre still hangs in the balance. But the magnitude of the confrontation has taken a significant leap.
Stay tuned! … or, better yet ... get involved!
Visit EcoWatch’s NUCLEAR POWER page for more related news on this topic.
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By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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