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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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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