AmeriScan: April 8, 2002

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Nevada Governor Vetoes Yucca Mountain

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, April 8, 2002 (ENS) - Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn has vetoed the Bush administration's recommendation to build a permanent repository for radioactive wastes at Yucca Mountain.

"Let me make one thing crystal clear - Yucca Mountain is not inevitable, and Yucca Mountain is no bargaining chip," Guinn said Monday morning in an address at the University of Nevada. "And, so long as I am governor, it will never become one."

"Yucca Mountain is not safe, it is not suitable," Guinn continued, "and we will expose the Department of Energy's dirty little secrets about Yucca Mountain."

Guinn traveled to Washington DC today to file his official Notice of Disapproval, also known as a Governor's Veto, with both houses of Congress. In 1982, Nevada was given the unequivocal right to veto the president's recommendation that Yucca Mountain become the nation's sole repository for high level nuclear wastes - the first time a state been given the power to veto a presidential decision.

Congress will have 90 legislative days to override Guinn's veto on a simple majority vote.

"This veto belongs to each and every one of you who have battled against a project that would be detrimental to the public health and safety of our citizens, our precious natural resources and our economy," Guinn said, "and to the other 43 states and hundreds of cities and towns in America through which this dangerous waste will be transported."

In 1987, Congress selected Yucca Mountain as the only site it would study for disposal of high level nuclear wastes, the most dangerous of radioactive wastes. Guinn argued that Yucca Mountain was selected because it is located in a section of Nevada with a population of less than one million, and just four legislative representatives.

But its isolation means that Yucca Mountain is thousands of miles away from 90 percent of the nation's 110 nuclear power plants, requiring the wastes to be transported across country, passing through populated areas along the way. The Department of Energy (DOE) plans to use Yucca Mountain for the disposal of 77,000 tons of high level radioactive waste and spent fuel from throughout the United States and 42 countries.

"The fact that the Yucca Mountain decision was made without any analysis of the transportation risks to the 123 million Americans in states through which this dangerous waste will travel is the dirty little secret," Guinn said.

Citing more than $100 million the nuclear power industry has spent to promote the project, Guinn asked all Nevadans to contribute at least $1 to the Nevada Protection Fund, which has now topped $6 million.

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Nuclear Agency Consolidates Safety Programs

WASHINGTON, DC, April 8, 2002 (ENS) - A new Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will consolidate many of the nuclear agency's safety responsibilities.

The new office will report to the NRC's deputy executive director for reactor programs, effective April 7.

The formation of the new office is one result of the NRC's ongoing top to bottom review of its safeguards and physical security program in the aftermath of last September's terrorist attacks.

Until now, the assignment of security responsibilities has been determined by the type of facility requiring protection. For example, the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards has been responsible for the security programs for protection of fuel cycle facilities, materials, transportation, disposal and certain waste storage facilities, along with other regulatory activities relating to those facilities.

Another organization, the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, has been responsible for nuclear power plants and non-power reactors, decommissioning facilities, and certain spent fuel storage facilities. The NRC has concluded that a centralized security organization is a more effective and efficient way of organizing security activities.

Among the intended benefits of the consolidation are improved communications and coordination both within the agency and with external entities, including federal and state agencies. The change will streamline communications and improve the timeliness of information.

The consolidation will also integrate the NRC's management of classified information, unclassified but sensitive information, and secure communications facilities within one organization.

The new office's responsibilities will include the current responsibilities of the NRC's incident response organization, which works with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in cases of radioactive emergencies.

Safeguards for nuclear reactor operations and decommissioning, spent fuel storage installations, non-power reactors, uranium fuel fabrication facilities, and mixed oxide fuel fabrication and processing facilities will also be covered by the new office.

The office will coordinate with the intelligence and law enforcement communities, and develop contingency plans for emergencies.

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Public Comment Welcome on U.S. Species Protection Policy

WASHINGTON, DC, April 8, 2002 (ENS) - Every 30 months, the countries that are Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) hold a meeting to decide which plants and animals need more protection from traders, and which can be more freely traded.

The United States is preparing its position for the next CITES meeting which takes place November 3 to 14 in Santiago, Chile. Public comments are welcome, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a public meeting on April 17 in Washington, DC to discuss proposed resolutions, decisions, and agenda items that the United States is considering submitting at the November meeting.

The United States has made some decisions already, although the public is welcome to comment on them. The U.S. will not submit a resolution requiring adoption of a standardized DNA testing protocol for whale meat as recommended by the conservation group Earthtrust.

There will be no U.S. resolution addressing guidelines for handling and disposal of confiscated non-human primates with particular emphasis on risk of disease transmission to humans and directory of facilities able to accept confiscated non-human primates as requested by the International Primate Protection League and the International Wildlife Coalition (IWC).

Following the recommendation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. will submit resolutions asking for greater CITES protection for the Desert Valley fish hook cactus and a lower standard of protection for the Maguire's bitterroot plant and the orange-throated whiptail lizard.

The U.S. is still undecided on whether or not it will submit proposals to further protect three plants - the ironwood tree found in the U.S. and Mexico, lignum vitae, a tropical evergreen tree found in Mexico and Central America, and the yew tree found in Eurasia.

The U.S. is also undecided on submission of a strict protection proposal for the Black Sea bottlenose dolphin, and on the downlisting of the North American bobcat to a less protected status.

To see a complete list of U.S. proposals for the November CITES meeting, log on to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service International Affairs website at: http://international.fws.gov/index.html

The public meeting will be held April 17 at 1:30 pm at the Sidney Yates Auditorium, in the Department of the Interior at 18th and C Streets, N.W., Washington, DC.

The service will consider written information and comments concerning potential species proposals, proposed resolutions, proposed decisions, and agenda items that the United States is considering submitting for consideration at COP12, and other items relating to COP12, if they are received by May 17.

Comments pertaining to species proposals should be sent to the Division of Scientific Authority; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 North Fairfax Drive; Room 750; Arlington, VA 22203,or by email at: fw9 scientific authority@fws.gov, or by fax at: 703/358-2276.

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U.S., Japan to Cooperate on Climate Change

WASHINGTON, DC, April 8, 2002 (ENS) - The United States and Japan have agreed to cooperate to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

In a joint statement issued Friday, the countries said they would investigate market incentives and promising avenues for research to reduce climate warming emissions.

"The United States and Japan acknowledge the promise of science and technology, the need to spur technological innovation, the importance of encouraging voluntary initiatives in the private sector, and the importance of market based incentives," the statement reads.

The statement stressed the importance of participation by developing nations in efforts to combat climate change. Both nations, the statement noted, "recognize the importance of continuing assistance to developing countries through human resources development, technology transfer and financial cooperation in the context of climate change."

Among the priority research areas that the U.S. and Japan identified are improved computer climate models, expanded international data exchanges, research on natural sinks that absorb greenhouse gases, monitoring of polar regions, and development of renewable and alternative energy sources.

Last year, U.S. President George W. Bush and Japan Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called climate change a pressing global problem requiring a global approach, and agreed to initiate high level consultations regarding common actions the nations could take to combat climate change.

The statement was released after the second meeting of the U.S.-Japan High Level Consultations on Climate Change, in advance of the World Summit on Sustainable Development scheduled to take place later this year in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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Pesticides Harming Endangered Frog, Suit Charges

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 8, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) pesticide registration program is harming the California red legged frog, charges a lawsuit filed by a conservation group.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in federal district court against the EPA, charging the agency with harming the frogs and damaging their critical habitat.

Once abundant throughout California, the red legged frog is now extinct in 70 percent of its historic range. Its population has declined by at least 90 percent.

Recent studies link the decline of the red legged frogs with pesticide use. Exposure to such chemicals may cause deformities, abnormal immune system functions, diseases, injury and death in frogs and other amphibians.

Between 1991 and 1998, more than 1.5 billion pounds of pesticides were used in California alone, with almost 200 million pounds applied each year. In 1997, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation reported that some 150 pesticides or herbicides had been used within two square kilometers (one square mile) of known California red legged frog habitat.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the EPA is required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine how the EPA's pesticide registration program impacts endangered or threatened species. The Center's suit seeks to compel the EPA to comply with its mandates to protect wildlife and the public from the harmful impacts of pesticides.

"The EPA is asleep at the switch," said Brent Plater, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Ample evidence exists that pesticides are a contributing factor in the decline of the species, yet even the basic requirements of federal endangered species law have been ignored by the EPA."

Amphibians are declining across the globe, and some scientists believe that industrial chemicals and pesticides may be to blame.

"Pesticides have been linked to cancers, reproductive and developmental problems, and impairment of the nervous system," said Peter Galvin, conservation biologist with the Center. "The Environmental Protection Agency needs to take adequate measures to ensure that its pesticide review program protects the health and safety of humans and species such as the California red legged frog."

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Fish May be Adapting to River Pollution

ARLINGTON, Virginia, April 8, 2002 (ENS) - In a shallow, marshy area of Virginia's Elizabeth River, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is studying how a small fish can thrive amid chronic pollution.

The site is so polluted that when the riverbed is disturbed, oil bubbles up and forms a slick on the water's surface.

Yet the site supports a thriving population of a minnow like fish known as the mummichog. The mummichog, often used as bait to catch larger fish, is teaching scientists about something the Navy would like to know more about - the effects of environmental contaminants on ecosystem health, and how long term exposure to contaminants can affect populations of fish or other organisms.

"We need to understand this better before we even begin to think of how it might impact a cleanup," explained Dr. Linda Chrisey, ONR's program manager on the study.

Normal fish taken from clean sites nearby can not survive exposure in the laboratory to the polluted conditions, but the resident mummichog tolerates this environment. In contrast, the mummichog often dies when transferred to cleaner water.

The ONR believes the mummichog may be adapted to the chronic pollution.

For 300 years the Elizabeth River flowing into the Chesapeake Bay has been an industrialized area, the site of civilian and military shipbuilding, shoreside commerce, and associated manufacturing and processing.

At the research site, river sediments are contaminated by creosote, pentachlorophenol and other chemicals used by a wood treatment plant that operated nearby for most of the previous century. Creosote contains some of the same cancer causing chemicals found in cigarette smoke.

The cleanup of the region, designated as a Superfund site, is ongoing. Scientists want to know how the local mummichog has been able to adapt to the contamination.

"How do they do it?" asked Dr. Chrisey. "These fish have apparently become acclimated to the contaminants, perhaps through altered expression of certain genes, and their progeny apparently inherit the ability to tolerate these conditions, too. There's some very interesting science going on here."

Chrisey is supporting Richard Di Giulio at Duke University to determine which pollutants are causing which responses in the fish.

"Although the selective pressures on these fish is so great that their genomes are changed, and these changes are inheritable by their offspring, the trade-off may be the cancer we see in some of them as they age and the fact that they lose their ability to thrive in a clean environment," noted Dr. Di Giulio.

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Cleaner Fuels Created by Desulfurization

STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania, April 8, 2002 (ENS) - A process that removes organic sulfur from liquid fuels may help refiners provide fuels for fuel cells and meet new clean fuel requirements, say researchers at Pennsylvania State University.

"Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows 500 parts per million sulfur in diesel fuel and 350 parts per million in gasoline, but by 2006, the regulations will require only 15 parts per million sulfur in diesel and 30 parts per million in gasoline," said Dr. Chunsan Song, associate professor of fuel science and program coordinator for the Clean Fuels and Catalysis program at Penn State's Energy Institute. "Long before that, however, we will need ultra clean fuels for fuel cells."

Removing organic sulfur from hydrocarbon fuels is difficult because the sulfur is bound to compounds that fuel producers would like to remain in the fuel. Current methods of removing sulfur from liquid fuels use high temperatures and pressure and hydrogen gas.

The new Penn State process, called SARS for selective adsorption for removing sulfur, goes at low temperatures and pressure and does not use hydrogen or other reactive gases.

"We have developed a process that selectively adsorbs organic sulfur on to a metal species," Dr. Xiaoliang Ma, research associate, Penn State Energy Institute, told attendees today at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society. "This method will not adsorb the coexisting aromatic compounds like benzene and naphthalene."

The researchers hope that refineries can use the new process to remove sulfur and meet future ultra clean fuel requirements, and that companies providing fuel for fuel cells can use the process to produce ultra clean fuel.

"Fuel cells need essentially zero sulfur fuel to operate," said Song. "Small adsorption sulfur removal systems might be used at gas stations on special clean fuel pumps for fuel cell vehicles to ensure that all sulfur is removed from the fuel. This SARS concept can also be used for on board removal of sulfur from fuel for fuel cell system use."

The researchers would also like to create a sulfur removal system for refineries that can be regenerated.

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Critical Habitat Proposed for Kauai Cave Animals

HONOLULU, Hawaii, April 8, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed critical habitat areas for Kauai's cave wolf spider and amphipod -blind animals found only in cave habitats in the southern part of Kauai.

The proposal was prompted by a federal court order requiring the agency to designate critical habitat for a variety of species.

"We are publicly identifying these habitat areas with some bit of trepidation," said Anne Badgley, the USFWS Pacific regional director. "Suitable habitat for these species is very limited, and these species are particularly sensitive to human disturbance. We appeal to cave explorers to help us protect the Kauai cave wolf spider and amphipod by staying out of these caves."

The USFWS proposal identifies 4,193 acres in three units in the Koloa region of Kauai as potential critical habitat. The Koloa area consists of younger lava flows compared to the rest of the island. Most lava tubes elsewhere on the island have collapsed or filled with sediments.

Almost all of the proposed critical habitat is on private land, though 311 acres are on state lands and county lands. The proposed areas include those now occupied by the Kauai cave wolf spider and Kauai cave amphipod, and areas in the same region that contain similar geologic and soil conditions to those occupied by the species.

Biologists have found evidence of increased entry and vandalism in known cave habitats. The USFWS is concerned that critical habitat designation and publication of maps showing cave locations may lead to increased human use of the caves and negative impacts on the species.

"Both of these animals are 'troglobites,' which mean they require cave environments to survive," explained Paul Henson, field supervisor of the USFWS Pacific Islands office. "They are very sensitive to changes in humidity, temperature and light. Although we understand that caves can be great fun to explore, we need to educate people that their presence in these habitats can mean the extinction of these species."

Henson pointed to the example of the effects of cigarette smoke on cave inhabitants, explaining that nicotine is a potent insecticide.

"Even with the poor air circulation found in cave systems, smoke permeates not only the caves but the cracks and crevices associated with them," Henson said. "Add to that the danger of trampling these creatures, the fact that garbage left behind attracts competitors and predators such as cockroaches, and the urban development that may be occurring on the surface, and it's easy to understand why we're concerned about these Kauai cave species."

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Paper Sailboard Wins Energy Challenge

FLOWERY BRANCH, Georgia, April 8, 2002 (ENS) - A sailboard made of paper won a $15,000 prize for a team of chemical engineering students from the Georgia Institute of Technology at Energy Challenge 2002.

Georgia Tech placed first among seven university teams at the national, college level event held Saturday at Lake Lanier in Georgia. The race was the final test for the sailboards that were crafted by the teams during the past eight months.

Georgia Tech's champions included Gonzalo Stabile, Philip Timm and Yianni Eillis.

sailboard

Georgia Tech's winning sailboard, made entirely from paper products. (Photo courtesy Energy Challenge)
"Our emphasis was to design a sailboard that was 100 percent recyclable and make it as environmentally sound as we could," Stabile said. "We went for simplicity and tried to minimize the use of energy in production. At first we thought our sailboard might struggle when we saw what other teams had done, but we were glad it sailed just fine."

The Energy Challenge competition, now in its fourth year, is aimed at promoting energy efficiency in the forest products industry, which is one of the most energy intensive industries in the United States, and generates more than two billion tons of waste every year. The contest is sponsored by the Department of Energy, the Institute of Paper Science and Technology, Hercules, Inc. and WindSense.

Participants work with energy efficiency and waste reduction ideas that could have applications in the pulp and paper industry. The contest is intended to encourage innovation, increase interest in science and engineering and promote awareness of energy efficiency, manufacturing design, recycling, waste minimization and industrial processes.

In previous years, students have been challenged to build sails, kayaks, and containers to protect fragile objects - all from paper. Next year, contest participants will build paper hang gliders in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, site of the Wright brothers' historic first powered flight.

Energy Challenge 2002 teams designed the sailboards using only paper products, including corrugated paperboard or linerboard. Common paper chemicals were allowed in the finishing and bonding of the board.

Each of the schools received a $2,000 start up grant to assist with the funding of their project. From there, it was up to them to fashion the sailboard.

Scoring for the event was based on best paper sailboard performance during a timed race, written reports, gross weight, material composition, tensile energy absorption, stiffness and novelty of design. Miami University (Ohio) took second and a $10,000 prize, and the University of Maine finished third and collected $5,000.

More information about the contest is available on the Energy Challenge Web site at: http://www.ipst.edu/energy_challenge