Proprietor Boeing Co and wealthy homeowners oppose removing radioactive waste to background levels
Ever hear of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory? In the 1940s, the federal government chose a hilly site near, but not too near, the city of Los Angeles for testing dangerous rockets and nuclear reactors. The site is just south of Simi Valley, low-density cattle-grazing land in the 1940s, and north of Bell Canyon, likewise cattle-grazing land. In July 1959, something happened with an experimental nuclear reactor known as the Sodium Reactor Experiment. The reactor destabilized but was kept running for two weeks while fuel within 13 of the reactor’s 43 fuel rods melted and unleashed unknown quantities of radioactive materials into the land and atmosphere. As an experimental design, the reactor never had a containment dome.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
More than half-a-century after the event, clean up of the site, most of which is now owned by Boeing Co, might finally begin in earnest. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is taking public comments on a CEQA process thorough today, (February 10). Yet the question of just how deep a cleaning is required has become so politically polarizing that a group of people opposed to a full cleanup regularly insist that the partial nuclear meltdown didn't happen.
Back in 1959, too, the seriousness of the meltdown was downplayed. The Atomic Energy Commission put out a reassuring press release five weeks after the incident stating only that “a parted fuel element had been observed.” in 1979, UCLA students began asking questions, but it wasn’t until another decade had passed that the site started getting some serious media attention.
Apart from the 1959 accident, the lab site — which was home to 10 nuclear reactors, a plutonium fuel fabrication facility and a “hot lab” for disassembling irradiated nuclear fuel sent over from other parts of the country — had witnessed many mishaps, leaks, and spills. And it’s now known that during the heyday of the hot lab, hazardous chemicals were disposed of first by dumping into the Pacific Ocean, then into nearby parkland ravines and/or simply set afire in an open-air burn pit. The field laboratory grounds …more
Book Review: Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean
In 2006, actors Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey flew to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to film the Hollywood hit, Fool’s Gold. The movie was about scuba diving for sunken treasure, pleasure cruising, and rekindling romance. But when McConaughey’s stunt double got stung by the venomous Irukandji jellyfish and had to be airlifted to hospital, filming came to a grinding halt. Warner Brothers moved the set further south to the Whitsunday Islands, but when filming recommenced, another Irukandji stung a safety officer. Once again, filming was terminated and the shoot relocated.
photo by Loozrboy, on Flickr
This is just one among many stories of “jellyfish behaving badly” that marine biologist and ecologist Lisa-ann Gershwin describes in Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean. She also recounts how jellyfish once crippled the USS Ronald Reagan, one of the world’s largest aircraft carriers, when the engine sucked in thousands of these gelatinous creatures. Jellyfish have disabled nuclear power stations, clogged desalination plants, and decimated salmon farms. These creatures are, however, much more than a nuisance to humans; they are often the harbingers of an ailing ocean. “As seas become stressed,” Gershwin writes, “the jellyfish are there, like an eagle to an injured lamb or golden staph to a postoperative patient – more than just as symptom of weakness, more like the angel of death.”
Jellyfish swarms are not a new phenomenon. In central Wisconsin, jellyfish fossils in sandstone quarries tell us that these aquatic invertebrates have been around for at least 565 million years, and that jellyfish blooms have been frequent occurrences. However, Gershwin makes a strong and convincing argument that most present-day jellyfish swarms are caused by human activities such as overfishing, pollution, and marine habitat destruction. And when jellyfish take over an ecosystem, it is unlikely that it will ever recover to its original state.
Gershwin uses the Black Sea as a prime example of jellyfish invasion and ecosystem collapse. While much of the Black Sea is naturally anoxic and contains high amounts of hydrogen sulfide, anthropogenic changes have put incredible stress on the upper 13 percent of the sea, the shallow surface and shelf waters that can support …more
The US government has authorized limited re-exports of foreign crude to Europe for the first time in years
As political pressure mounts in the US to lift the country’s decades-old crude oil export ban, Reuters reported yesterday that the US government has recently authorized limited re-exports of foreign crude to Europe for the first time in years.
Photo by Dru Oja Jay, Dominion
According to data the news agency obtained via Freedom of Information requests, the Department of Commerce granted two licenses to export crude to the UK last year and another two to Italy.
The revelations immediately caused a stir, as they could be seen as the beginning of the end of the export ban. However US officials were quick to point out that they only covered re-export of foreign oil and not domestically produced shale oil.
Although the Government refused to say where the oil came from, the most obvious place is Canada.
This throws up the obvious question: will the tar sands soon be on their way to Europe, via the US?
Firstly, it is worth pointing out that although a license has been given it does not necessarily mean that any oil has been exported. But it may mean that, although the Obama administration does not lift the blanket ban, it could basically allow more and more export licenses, especially of the tar sands. And the Keystone XL remains central to Canadian hopes of exporting the tar sands.
As Reuters outlines, the export licenses “could also fuel critics of Canada’s oil patch and the Keystone XL pipeline, which some fear may allow for the United States to be a conduit for growing oil sands production.”
Allowing tar sands into Europe would be largely dependent on what happens to the landmark climate legislation, the Fuel Quality Directive, which currently discriminates against the dirty tar sands. Over in Europe the increasingly heated debate about the FQD continues. Environmental groups are now considering taking legal action against the European Commission if they renege on a commitment to label the tar sands as more polluting than conventional crude oil.
As we have repeatedly pointed out the EU has been the subject of an unprecedented lobbying campaign for a number of years from the Canadians, and latterly the Americans.
Nusa Urbancic, from …more
First Nations and conservation groups sue administration claiming violation of land treaty
The Peel River Watershed is a vast and undisturbed wilderness area in the northern Yukon Territory of Canada spread over a whopping 26,000 square miles — larger than the state of West Virginia. It is the northern tip of a major wildlife corridor stretching from Yellowstone to Yukon and is home to several rare and threatened species such as the grizzly bear, wolverine, and woodland caribou. This pristine, largely unroaded region, that includes some of Canada’s largest glaciers, boreal forests, wetlands, and wide expanses of tundra, is now under threat.
Photo by Juri Peepre/Protect Peel
In January, the government of Yukon unilaterally decided to open up 71 percent of the land to mining claims, ignoring the recommendations of a massive seven-year land use planning study by the the Peel Planning Commission.
In response, the First Nations of Nacho Nyak Dun and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, whose lives are intricately tied to these wildlands, as well as the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Yukon Chapter (CPAWS Yukon) and the Yukon Conservation Society, have filed a lawsuit against the ruling Yukon Party government. The suit claims that the government move violates the provisions of a land claims treaty it had signed with First Nations that requires the 80 percent of the watershed are be kept wild.
“This is a lawsuit that nobody wanted to bring,” says Thomas Berger, Officer of the Order of Canada, Queens Counsel, in a press release. “But the Yukon Government has forced these plaintiffs to go to court not only in defense of First Nations and environmental values in Yukon, but also to uphold principles entrenched in the Constitution.”
The Yukon is governed differently than in other Canadian provinces and is subject to something called the “Umbrella Final Agreement” between the Canadian government, the Yukon administration, and the Council of Yukon First Nations. It isn't quite as easy to toss aside an extensive and encompassing land-use planning process.
“Since 1993, when the Yukon First Nations, Canada, and Yukon signed the Umbrella Final Land Claims Agreement, its provisions have formed the basis of land use planning in the Yukon. Those provisions are entrenched in the Constitution; they protect the rights of First Nations and all Yukoners,” says Berger. “Yukon Government’s plan discards the …more
Activists have lost track of two captive killer whales slated to perform at the winter games’ opening ceremony
No one seems to know whereabouts of the two orcas, a female named Narnia and an unnamed juvenile male, that were reportedly going to perform at the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
News that the two killer whales were scheduled to turn tricks at a dolphinarium in Sochi set off a furor among animal lovers and conservationists across the world last month. An online petition demanding that White Sphere, the Russian company organizing the orca transfer, not display the whales had 453,441 signatures at last count.
photo by Miles Ritter on Flickr
Narnia and her companion were among eight orcas that animal rights activists believe were captured off the Russian coast in the Sea of Okhotsk. The pair were last confirmed as being held in a seapen in Vladivostok, according to the Russian Orcas, a website curated by Eric Hoyt a senior researcher with Whale and Dolphin Conservation. The website reports that Narnia was kept in the facility for a year before being joined by the young male.
Last November, a couple of tweets by a media relations official at the Vnukovo Airport near Moscow and a press release from yet another airport indicated that the pair had been transported to a newly constructed “oceanarium” in Moscow for training, and that they would later be sent to Sochi to perform at the opening ceremonies of this year’s Olympics. However, there seem to be no Russian press reports about two orcas arriving at the center, nor have there been any reports of orcas arriving in Sochi. The Russian Fisheries Agency too, has been mum on the matter.
Now rumors are surfacing that at least two of the eight captured orcas may have already been shipped to China, to be displayed at a giant new Chinese theme park called Ocean Kingdom.
"We have information from within Russia that two of them were shipped to China," said Hoyt, told Public Radio International last week. "We have confirmation that two of them have gone to Moscow. However, none of these four [other] orcas are anywhere on display."
If the rumors about the sale of orcas to China turn …more
The US has grown a vast and complex regulatory and financial support system for cheap, dirty energy. This isn't over
Authorities in West Virginia declared the water of 300,000 residents affected by last month's chemical spill safe to drink on 14 January, just five days after the incident. Since then, a few things have happened. Stop me if you've heard them before (but I doubt you have).
Photo courtesy West Virginia National Guard Public Affairs
1. On 15 January, the Centers for Disease Control and the state issued a statement advising pregnant women to ignore the state's OK.
2. On 17 January, Freedom Industries, the owner of the plant involved, filed for bankruptcy, a move calculated to protect them from the financial consequences of the spill.
3. On 21 January, Freedom Industries admitted the presence of a second toxic chemical in the spill, a proprietary mixture of polyglycol ethers known as PPH.
4. On 29 January, a member of the state's water quality board told a panel that he could "guarantee" residents are still breathing fumes from that formaldehyde.
5. On 30 January, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, asked the company in charge of that region's water supply for another 20 truckloads of bottled water – on top of the 13 truckloads they already donated.
This may prove prescient. On 31 January, Freedom Industries reported a second spill. But not to worry, they assured the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), "None of the stuff got into the river." DEP itself was less-than-clear on what happened, one official telling the Charleston Gazette:
“It's kind of like a lot of the piping up there … It's got some groundwater in it. We don't know where it is coming from.”
On a related note: 1 February brought the news that the DEP never reviewed Freedom Industries' pollution prevention plans in the first place.
This seems like juicy stuff to me. Yet the story, as the national media sees it, is over. On Friday, MSNBC killed a segment with activist Erin Brockovich on the topic in order to devote more airtime to Chris Christie's traffic problems.
To anyone that follows environmental news, this arc is familiar: A human-interest story with an environmental pollution angle breaks through the media chatter. …more
“The President has all the information he needs to reject this pipeline,” Keystone opponents say
A general rule in Washington, DC says that if news is breaking on a Friday afternoon, it’s usually bad news. Officials in the capital know that if they want to avoid negative attention on a decision or announcement, then the eve of the weekend is the best time to drop it.
Photo by Tarsandsaction
It would seem, then, that the State Department’s release of its final environmental impact statement on the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would at 3 p.m. (Eastern Time) on a Friday would be discouraging for environmentalists opposed to the project. And, indeed, the initial reports appeared to confirm greens’ fears that the State Department analysis would offer the rosiest of scenarios. According to The Washington Post, the State Department review concluded that Keystone “would not significantly alter global greenhouse gas emissions.”
But in a flurry of press releases and statements put out this afternoon, environmental groups pointed out that a careful reading of the report — especially the various scenarios it forecasts — shows that the greenhouse gas emissions will increase if the pipeline is built. As the report states, “[t]he total direct and indirect emissions associated with the proposed Project would contribute to cumulative global GHG emissions.”
In a tele-press conference held late Friday afternoon, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, the NRDC’s Keystone XL campaigner, said: “The range of incremental greenhouse gas emissions for crude oil that would be transported by Keystone XL is estimated to be 1.3 to 27.4 million metric tons of CO2 annually. When it comes to climate change pollution, this tar sands pipeline would be like putting up to 5.7 million extra cars on the road each year.”
That’s a huge range — between 1.3 and 27.4 million metric tons — and the difference explains why you’re likely to read all sorts of contradictory analyses about the State Department report in the next couple of days. The State Department’s analysis relies on the assumption that we’ll continue business as usual, keep guzzling fuel for years into the future, and do whatever it takes to keep the oil flowing. Environmentalists, of course, are committed to changing business as usual and spurring Americans and their elected officials to finally get serious …more