AmeriScan: August 30, 2001

HIDDEN CRACKS COULD PLAGUE NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS

WASHINGTON, DC, August 30, 2001 (ENS) - The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) warns that many U.S. nuclear reactors could be susceptible to the cracking found in a South Carolina nuclear power plant this spring.

For 10 years the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ignored a deterioration problem that affects the reactor vessels of two thirds of the nation's nuclear power plants, the UCS charges. While France and Japan moved to correct the problem in their plants soon after it first surfaced in 1991, the NRC has rejected efforts to replace the equipment in U.S. plants, even though the problem emerged this spring at a nuclear plant in South Carolina.

"The federal agency entrusted to ensure that our nuclear reactors run safely should not turn a blind eye to a serious safety problem," said David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer at the UCS. "We're lucky an accident hasn't occurred."

The deterioriation problem, found in the nation's pressurized water reactors, is in the joints between the reactor vessel and the tubes that house control rods. These joints, or nozzles, are subject to severe stress from heating and are susceptible to cracking - as was found in a French plant in 1991.

If these cracks were to grow large enough, they could lead to an ejection of the control rod, leakage of reactor cooling water, and failure of emergency systems, which could lead to a reactor meltdown, UCS said.

"Instead of a Band Aid fix, the NRC needs to follow the lead other countries have taken in protecting public safety by replacing the cracked reactor vessel heads." said Lochbaum. "Anything short of replacing this broken equipment needlessly endangers the public."

Cracks discovered this spring at Oconee Unit 3 in South Carolina extended almost 45 percent of the way around two nozzles. With a crack this large, the pressure in the reactor could result in a catastrophic rupture, UCS charges.

In 1994, the NRC wrote a report on this type of cracking, based on an inspection of a single U.S. nuclear plant, and claimed that cracks as large as the one at Oconee were not likely. In contrast, similar plants in Europe and Japan underwent aggressive safety precautions when the problem was discovered.

"Waiting a decade until an expected problem crops up is bad enough," Lochbaum said. "Waiting until an accident occurs is worse."

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DOE SEEKS COOPERATION FROM SOUTH CAROLINA OVER PLUTONIUM

WASHINGTON, DC, August 30, 2001 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) has promised to delay plutonium shipments to South Carolina until the agency can address the state's safety and long term storage concerns.

Earlier this month, South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges sent a memo to the state highway patrol ordering the agency to develop plans for blocking state roads to federal shipments of plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons.

Hodges expressed concern that the plutonium would be left in South Carolina after it was converted into fuel for power plants or encased in glass at the Energy Department's Savannah River Site near Aiken.

Energy Department officials met with Governor Hodges and Representative Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, on Wednesday to address South Carolina's concerns regarding the disposition of the plutonium.

The DOE said there is "every opportunity" to reach agreement with the state of South Carolina before mid-October, when shipments are expected to begin. The agency said it has a "clear strategy" to dispose of plutonium materials now stored at the Savannah River Site, as well as other plutonium expected to be treated at Savannah River.

The DOE added that it will continue to meet with any South Carolina elected official concerned about the plutonium disposition program.

In a veiled warning, the agency said it also hopes to avoid any financial impact to South Carolina and the rest of the DOE complex resulting from the continued storage of plutonium at Rocky Flats, and to develop a strategy that helps ensure the "continued viability and mission" of the Savannah River Site.

The DOE's ongoing work at the site provides significant economic benefits for the state of South Carolina.

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SHORTAGES CAUSE GAS PRICES TO RISE

CHICAGO, Illinois, August 30, 2001 (ENS) - Gasoline prices are rising again in the Midwest, due to short supplies and a recent refinery fire, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says.

Prices at some gas stations in the Chicago metropolitan area have jumped to as much as $2.10 per gallon, up about 50 cents a gallon since the July Fourth holiday weekend. Prices in the region have climbed each summer since the EPA began requiring the region to use a cleaner burning gasoline in the summer months to combat smog and other air pollution problems.

The EPA has now agreed to relax the environmental standards for volatile organic compounds in gasoline produced by CITGO, the refining company whose Lemont, Illinois refinery caught fire on August 14. The fire at the refinery's crude oil unit has caused a temporary shortage in supplies of cleaner burning reformulated gasoline (RFG), contributing to higher gasoline prices.

RFG is supplemented with an oxygenate like ethanol or MTBE to make it burn more completely, and therefore more cleanly.

Hoping to ensure a reliable supply of gasoline for consumers in the Chicago Milwaukee area, the EPA has agreed to let CITGO's gasoline exceed federal limits for productions of VOCs, while retaining the other clean air benefits provided by RFG.

"The impact to the environment will be minimal since air toxics and nitrogen oxides benefits will be preserved," EPA stated. The agreement is effective from August 28 to September 15.

More information about the RFG program is found at: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/rfg.htm

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WILDFIRES FORCE EVACUATIONS, BURN HOMES

WASHINGTON, DC, August 30, 2001 (ENS) - Wildfires forced evacuations in several western locations yesterday, as flames devoured at least a dozen homes and other buildings.

High winds, sometimes gusting to 33 miles per hour, swept into the former mining town of Weaverville, California. The towns 3,500 residents were evacuated as the fire destroyed nine homes and three other buildings, though most residents were allowed to return home today.

fire

The Rough Diamond fire in Idaho makes a run for Silver City (Photo by air attack officer Steve Banks, courtesy Boise Interagency Dispatch Center)
In Idaho, a blaze called the Rough Diamonds fire has burned 10,577 acres just three miles northeast of Silver City. With the fire just 50 percent contained, Silver City remains threatened, the main access road to Silver City is closed, and Owyhee County is in a state of emergency.

The National Weather Service (NWS) on Wednesday declared a high alert in eastern Nevada and Utah for the possibility of new lightning induced fires. Scott Birch, the NWS Western Region's fire weather program manager, analyzed the satellite imagery for Wednesday and saw an air mass that looked dry for several days.

"The high pressure will continue to dominate the weather patterns over the western United States into the weekend," Birch said. "Looking at the current weather forecasts and the long range computer models, we will continue to be sunny, hot and dry in many locations.

He added, "I am concerned about the weather pattern I see right now. When you have relative humidities running in the low teens or single digits and there hasn't been much change in these conditions for several days, I continue to worry a lot."

Elizabeth Morse, meteorologist in charge of the NWS Sacramento Weather Forecast Office, said, "Northern California is getting a brief reprieve because of cooling temperatures and higher humidities for the next few days. This is good weather news for the fire fighting community." But, Morse warned, "As we get into the long Labor Day weekend, we will begin to warm up again and have dry conditions over the area."

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YELLOWSTONE BUSINESS OWNERS PROTEST PLANNED DRILLING

JACKSON, Wyoming, August 30, 2001 (ENS) - More than 50 local business leaders in Wyoming and Idaho are urging President George W. Bush to stop plans to expand oil and gas drilling in three specific areas near Yellowstone National Park.

The coalition delivered a letter to the president on Wednesday urging him to protect the local economy by opposing new drilling in all three areas: the Bridger-Teton National Forest, the Upper Green River Basin, and the Red Desert.

"Because many of us make our living from the substantial tourism that is generated by the natural beauty of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, we as business and community leaders are threatened as well," the letter reads. "Our way of life is severely endangered by the prospect of oil and gas drilling, which will industrialize this national gem."

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Wyoming Outdoor Council have been working with local business leaders to protect the region's environment and economy.

"The Greater Yellowstone region is one of our nation's greatest natural treasures," said Charles Clusen, senior policy analyst for NRDC. "It is incredibly short sighted for President Bush to destroy these natural areas."

"Visitors come to Wyoming by the millions every year to relax and explore this beautiful country," added Adrian Doty, vice president of Diamond D Ranch in Moran, Wyoming. "That translates into millions of dollars and thousands of local jobs. If we don't protect our environment, we stand to lose more than trees and elk. We stand to lose our jobs as well."

President Bush and Interior Secretary Gale Norton both emphasized the need to solicit input from local residents. As a result, local business leaders are asking the president and Interior Secretary Norton to live up to their word and help protect the Greater Yellowstone environment and the businesses that depend on it for their livelihood.

"If these wild lands are drilled, the impacts of mineral and gas extraction will alter the quality of these areas for many lifetimes" said Charlie Wilson, Lander outfitter and owner of Wind River Pack Goats. "Long after fossil fuels have been used up or made obsolete, the degradation of these lands will live on as a lasting legacy to future generations of Wyoming children. Do we really want that?

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WISCONSIN PROMOTES FISH PASSAGEWAYS ON DAMS

MADISON, Wisconsin, August 30, 2001 (ENS) - Wisconsin fisheries biologists and dam safety engineers have developed proposed rules that would restore state authority to require dam owners to install passages to allow fish, freshwater mussels and other species to travel along the state's rivers.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) once had the authority to require fish passages, but a 1999 law required the agency to develop rules that identify the circumstances under which the DNR could require evaluation of a fish passageway. The 1999 law also required that dam owners receive grants to help share the cost before fish passageways - also called fishways - could be required.

"We are actively pursuing river restoration around the state, and fish passages, where appropriate, are a good tool for achieving this goal," said Mike Staggs, director of the DNR Bureau of Fisheries Management and Habitat Protection. "There are a lot of situations where fish are unable to reach their preferred spawning grounds and young fish are unable to reach their nursery grounds because of dams. Having a fish passage allows a river to reach its full potential."

Fish passages around dams can also extend the range of native mussels that are listed as endangered species. Larval stages of freshwater mussels need to attach to a vertebrate host, often a fish, for several weeks until they reach a juvenile stage and drop off.

Mussel surveys have found endangered mussels living downstream of dams that were not found upstream, and found twice as many bass per mile downstream of the dam as upstream.

Karl Scheidegger, a DNR river fisheries biologist, said improved engineering and knowledge of fish biology and migration will help biologists build passageways that are more successful than the ones built in the early decades of the 1900s. Territorial lawmakers in the 1840s required a structure allowing for the passage of rafts and fish on the Jefferson dam.

However, many early fish passages were too steep for fish to swim up them. Research in the intervening years found that fish need a gentler slope to climb up fish passages, and they need a good flow of water through the fishway both to attract the fish to the passage and to help them pass up the structure.

Public hearings on the proposed rule will be held: September 14 in Madison; September 18 in Green Bay; September 20 in Eau Claire; and September 25 in Park Falls.

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NEW TECHNOLOGY TREATS DAIRY WASTES, ODORS

OUTLOOK, Washington, August 30, 2001 (ENS) - A new technology developed by researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) helps reduce odors and other environmental problems from dairy farm waste lagoons.

The George DeRuyter Dairy in Outlook has been outfitted since January with InStreem™, a technology that enhances natural biological activity to clean waste lagoons. Henry Pate of Battelle's Florida Marine Research Laboratory developed InStreem™. Battelle also operates PNNL for the Department of Energy.

Lagoons are used to store manure and liquid wastes from dairy herds. Wastes stored over the winter months are pumped onto fields in the spring where crops utilize the manure's nutrients.

However, more nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, may be applied to crops than the plants can absorb.

instreem

The InStreem technology, shown here at a Washington state dairy, cleans waste lagoons by enhancing naturally occurring biological activity (Photo courtesy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)
"InStreem™ is designed to use a dairy's existing infrastructure to convert lagoons from waste storage facilities to facilities that solve waste problems," said John Jaksch, PNNL program manager for the project in the Pacific Northwest. "In doing so, this technology addresses one of the dairy industry's most pressing issues."

Unlike conventional treatment methods, InStreem™ converts existing lagoons into extended aeration systems, establishing the conditions needed for the degradation of wastes. The process removes excess nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients.

InStreem™ keeps the lagoons in a low oxygen condition, while still allowing nutrient reduction to take place and bacteria to work on reducing the manure sediments. One InStreem™ unit treats a lagoon from one to 1 1/2 acres in size.

The demonstration is exceeding Jaksch's expectations.

"In three months, the depth of solids dropped from six feet to six inches, and that was during the coldest part of the year," Jaksch said. "And since InStreem™ uses a small, five horsepower engine to circulate the entire lagoon, it's energy efficient."

InStreem™ has also been successful tackling a problem common to all dairies - odor.

"Within two weeks of operation we noticed a huge reduction in odor," said George DeRuyter, owner of the dairy. "Odors on the lagoon banks now are barely detectable."

The technology works for other farms as well. InStreem™ was first tested at a hog farm and a polluted bay in North Carolina.

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SAGGY TIRES REDUCE FUEL EFFICIENCY

WASHINGTON, DC, August 30, 2001 (ENS) - Want to cut your travel costs this holiday weekend? Make sure the tires on your car or truck are inflated to the proper pressure.

A new Department of Transportation study shows that many tires on passenger vehicles in the U.S. are under inflated. Tires that are not inflated to the right pressure reduce vehicle efficiency, causing the engine to burn more fuel.

The study is based on measurements of the inflation pressure of tires on 11,530 passenger vehicles collected during a 14 day period in February 2001.

At least 27 percent of passenger cars on U.S. roadways are driven with one or more under inflated tires, shows the survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Moreover, 32 percent of light trucks (including sport utility vehicles, vans and pickup trucks) are driven with one or more under inflated tires. The study is the first of its kind to be conducted by the government in two decades.

On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta urged motorists to check their tire pressure and inflate them properly before setting out on trips for the Labor Day weekend.

"It is vitally important to safety to carefully monitor tire pressure on a regular basis, and I urge motorists to check their tires before setting out on Labor Day trips," Mineta said. "Driving with substantially under inflated tires can lead to crashes and tragedy, in addition to reducing fuel efficiency and shortening tire life."

Tires should be inflated in accord with the vehicle manufacturer's recommendations, found in the owner's manual or on a placard located on the driver's door jamb. Motorists should not rely on visual tire inspections to determine whether a tire is properly inflated but should use a tire pressure gauge.

Tire pressure should be checked at least once a month and before a long trip, the DOT recommends.

The NHTSA statistics are available at: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/ncsa