Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Records Show 56 Safety Violations at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants in Past 4 Years - Among the litany of violations at U.S. nuclear power plants are missing or mishandled nuclear material, inadequate emergency plans, faulty backup power generators, corroded cooling pipes and even marijuana use inside a nuclear plant. And perhaps most troubling of all, critics say, the commission has failed to correct the violations in a timely fashion.
"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has very good safety regulations but they have very bad enforcement of those regulations." There are 104 U.S. nuclear power plants. Scientists found 14 "near misses" at nuclear plants in 2010. And there were 56 serious violations at nuclear power plants from 2007 to 2011.
At the Dresden Nuclear Power Plant in Illinois, for instance, which is located within 50 miles of the 7 million people who live in and around Chicago, nuclear material went missing in 2007. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined the operator - Exelon Corp. - after discovering the facility had failed to "keep complete records showing the inventory [and] disposal of all special nuclear material in its possession." As a result, two fuel pellets and equipment with nuclear material could not be accounted for. Two years later, federal regulators cited Dresden for allowing unlicensed operators to work with radioactive control rods. The workers allowed three control rods to be moved out of the core. When alarms went off, workers initially ignored them. At the Indian Point nuclear plant just outside New York City, the NRC found that an earthquake safety device has been leaking for 18 years. In the event of an earthquake, the faulty safety device would not help prevent water from leaking out of the reactor. A lack of water to cool the fuel rods has been the most critical problem at the Fukushima plant in Japan after the recent earthquake and tsunami. "The NRC has known it's been leaking since 1993, "but they've done nothing to fix it."
In June 2009, at the Southern Nuclear Operating Co. Inc. in Birmingham, Alabama, the emergency diesel generator - which would be used in the event of a disaster - was deemed inoperable, after years of neglect. "Cracks in the glands of the emergency diesel generator couplings had been observed since 1988, but the licensee did not recognize the cracking was an indication of coupling deterioratio.". On April 19, 2010, the NRC cited the Tennessee Valley Authority Browns Ferry nuclear plant near Decatur for failing to provide "fire protection features capable of limiting fire damage."
NRC safety records show that inadequate emergency planning was a recurring problem in the industry from 2007 to 2011. Violations included unapproved emergency plans and plan changes, inadequate fire planning and precautions, falsified "fire watch" certification sheets," inadequate flooding precautions, an insufficient tone alert radio system to notify the populace in a potential emergency and faulty assessment of containment barrier thresholds. Corroded water pipes and cooling problems were also recurring issues.
Nuclear fears spark rush for detectors - A scare over irradiated food from Japan has sparked a global rush to buy radiation detectors, with most US dealers reporting they have no more stock to sell.

**One should die proudly
when it is no longer possible to live proudly.**
Friedrich Nietzsche

This morning -

Yesterday -
3/29/11 -

CANADA - 3.5-magnitude quake near Ontario nuclear facility. No damage was reported after a minor tremor Tuesday near the Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. nuclear laboratories in Chalk River, Ontario. The 3.5-magnitude quake happened about 70 km northeast of Chalk River, around 12:04 p.m. Tuesday. Chalk River is about 200 km northwest of Ottawa. The Chalk River nuclear reactor is run by AECL, which produces medical isotopes at the site.
“Western Quebec gets anywhere from 100 to 150 earthquakes about this size each year. This was one of the larger events this year, but we expect several of its size. Because this is a very isolated area, with little of the population in its vicinity, we haven't received any reports of any damage or injury or calls of feeling the earthquake.” The Chalk River reactor was shut down in May 2009 when a heavy water leak was discovered. Before that, the reactor produced one-third of the world's supply of medical isotopes. “We have assembled a team of specialists to study and assess our current situation. We are focusing on the lessons learned from Japan, that's for sure.”

Swiss Re Expects Quakes To Become Deadlier, Costlier - Earthquakes are becoming deadlier and costlier even if no long-term trend of increasing global earthquake activity has emerged, Swiss Re said Tuesday. "Population growth, the higher number of people living in urban areas as well as rising wealth and rapidly increasing exposures," is behind the increase. Many of these rapidly growing areas are located in seismically active areas. In 2010, earthquakes accounted for almost a third of the losses, with the February earthquake in Chile and the September quake in New Zealand the two costliest events last year. Losses caused by earthquakes will also be above average this year.

OREGON - 3/28/11 - Rumble and Noise Alarms Central Oregon Coast Residents Monday. A small rumbling was felt on the central Oregon coast Monday, along with loud booming noise, lighting up Twitter and Facebook accounts all around the state as people in the region asked each other: Did you feel it? The question now is: was it a quake, a sonic boom or thunder?
Earlier in the day, the USGS office in Seattle said a magnitude 2 earthquake did indeed shake the region at 11:02 a.m. The tiny tremor was 10.5 miles deep, and happened between Tillamook and Newport, somewhere right along the shoreline. Instruments seem to put it about four kilometers outside of Hebo. The two events seem to be unconnected, however. Geographically it matched up, but people in Lincoln City said what they heard and felt occurred around 1 p.m., while the quake was around 11 a.m. Further updates during the day on Monday from instruments on the central coast indicate there was no quake around 1 p.m. The noise and rumble does fit the profile of military exercises off the Oregon coast, which sometimes create sonic booms. A resident did snap a photograph of what appeared to be a thunderhead cloud near Lincoln City just before the noise. The mystery boom and rumble could have been thunder as well. Many people on the central coast have been talking about feeling it via social networks, especially in the Lincoln City and Otis areas. The USGS wants to hear from those who felt it so they can learn more from the event.


NEW ZEALAND - Auckland scientists are currently putting technology in place to monitor the way the earth moves in the city of Auckland, famous for its volcanoes. The Christchurch earthquakes are deadly reminders of the earth's raw power but a different menace lurks below New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland. The city is dotted with volcanoes and no-one knows when a new one could blow. "We hope that we would get some warning, but we could get a new volcano appearing anytime." One of the first signs is smaller earthquakes, which could be pushing magma up to the surface.
About 400 metres down the south stand at Eden Park is a very important borehole - it is one of five boreholes that are listening to the earth move. "There's one of these [boreholes] at 400 metres, and one of these at 26 metres, and it just measures the movements of the earth." The data is then presented and studied as an interactive 3D model, as a joint project between the Institute of Earth and Science Engineering and Nextspace. "It also helps you to map out what's unknown below the surface that might cause a problem - the Canterbury fault lines for instance, were sort of known that they existed but not exactly where they are." Scientists now plan to drill two more holes at least a kilometre deep to keep an eye underground."So that we can pick up more smaller earthquakes, find out where the fault structure is and potentially get an earlier warning of any volcanic activity." Negotiations are now underway with the Auckland Council to cover the $2 million needed.


Tsunami returns island life to a bygone age - Six tsunamis swept onto Oshima Island off Japan's devastated northeast coast after the powerful offshore earthquake on March 11. The disaster severed water supplies and electricity from the mainland, and it may be months before they are restored. Survivors from this community of 3,500 are banding together and resurrecting bygone practices to get by. "I go to the river two or three times a day to get water." Televisions, blow dryers, space heaters lay jumbled amid the splintered wreckage, the appliances all quiet now without power.
An old wood-burning stove, dragged into a small clearing with a view of the ocean below, has become the meeting place for this part of the island, known as Isokusa. Residents, many now living on the upper floors of a nearby hotel, sit on logs and feed scraps of their ruined homes into the stove to stay warm. "The thing I miss most is electricity." Residents subsisted for a couple of weeks on bread and canned food, but now rice and other staples have begun to arrive by small boat.
Two yellow tractors tried to pull a two-story home out of the sea with thick ropes threaded through holes in the roof. "The third tsunami carried my house away." Many families relied on the ocean for their income, raising seaweed, scallops and oysters. This year's crop has been ruined, along with most of the boats and equipment. The streets are littered with smashed oysters, and nets and buoys hang from trees along the shore. "My house and my boat were insured. But you can't insure boiling pots and other equipment." The timing of the disaster was especially painful, as it came a week before they were to harvest this year's crop of "wakame," a seaweed widely used in Japanese salads and soups. One man, whose family has lived on the island for more than 200 years, estimates he has lost 100 million yen ($1.2 million) in product and supplies. Most fishermen have some gear left and, by mixing and matching, they may be able to assemble enough to raise a small crop jointly. "We're going to combine what we have and work together for a year or two. It's impossible to do it alone."

No current tropical cyclones.

Cyclone watch has been declared on the Tiwi Islands with a "broad" tropical low set to bring more monsoonal conditions to the mainland. The low, developing north of Croker Island 80km from Darwin, is moving slowly but is expected to gain momentum as it moves south-west over the Timor Sea tomorrow. The cyclone is expected to develop on Friday with the entire Top End of Australia to cop the effects. Tiwi residents have been warned to clear yards and balconies and commence home shelter and emergency kit preparations.


AUSTRALIA - A RARE plant that flowers underwater and HASN'T BEEN SEEN FOR 20 YEARS has been discovered after drought-breaking rain in Victoria. Eriocaulon Australasicum, otherwise known as Austral Pipewort, was spotted in February by at a wetland in the Wimmera region after disappearing in the mid-1990s. A second population of pipewort was later detected in the Southern Grampians and are now being monitored by staff from the environment department. The biology of the water-loving plant remains a mystery but it is thought to appear after prolonged immersion in warming swamp waters. "The plants can reach a maximum of nine centimetres and start to produce flower shoots under water." Austral Pipewort was first discovered in 1853 but a second specimen was not collected until 1975.


Massive robotic clouds will float above Qatar to shade their World Cup stadiums. Organizers have taken heat over the potentially dangerous summer temperatures in Qatar. But the Arab emirate has come up with a futuristic solution, and as usual, cost is not an issue. Summertime temps in Qatar can reach 122°F (50°C). Players and spectators alike face serious health risks in such sweltering heat, even leading the FIFA president to (albeit unsuccessfully) lobby for playing the World Cup in the winter months.
So it was back to the drawing board for the desert nation, and scientists have hatched a plan to hover giant robotic clouds over the venues to keep out the sun. The clouds are essentially massive blimps, filled with helium, and will be floated above stadiums. Four onboard solar-powered engines will allow the clouds to be controlled from the ground, shifting along with the sun's zenith, serving as a huge umbrella in the sky to shade spectators and athletes. The clouds come at a cost of $500,000 each, pocket change for the Middle Eastern nation.

UN report: Cities ignore climate change at their peril - Urban areas are set to become the battleground in the global effort to curb climate change, the UN has warned. The assessment by UN-Habitat said that the world's cities were responsible for about 70% of emissions, yet only occupied 2% of the planet's land cover. While cities were energy intensive, the study also said that effective urban planning could deliver huge savings. The authors warned of a "deadly collision between climate change and urbanisation" if no action was taken. "We are seeing how urbanisation is growing - we have passed the threshold of 50% (of the world's population living in urban areas). There are no signs that we are going to diminish this path of growth, and we know that with urbanisation, energy consumption is higher."
According to UN data, an estimated 59% of the world's population will be living in urban areas by 2030. Every year, the number of people who live in cities and town grows by 67 million each year - 91% of this figure is being added to urban populations in developing countries. The main reasons why urban areas were energy intensive was a result of increased transport use, heating and cooling homes and offices, as well as economic activity to generate income. The report added that as well as cities' contribution to climate change, towns and cities around the globe were also vulnerable to the potential consequences, such as: Increase in the frequency of warm spells/heat waves over most land areas, Greater number of heavy downpours, Growing number of areas affected by drought, Increase in the incidence of extremely high sea levels in some parts of the world.
As well as the physical risks posed by future climate change, some urban areas will face difficulties providing basic services. "These changes will affect water supply, physical infrastructure, transport, ecosystem goods and services, energy provision and industrial production. Local economies will be disrupted and populations will be stripped of their assets and livelihoods."
A recent assessment highlighted a number of regions where urban areas were at risk from climate-related hazards, such as droughts, landslides, cyclones and flooding. These included sub-Saharan Africa, South and South East Asia, southern Europe, the east coast of South America and the west coast of the US.


NEW ZEALAND - 3/29/11 - 'Desk-sized' meteor streaks across New Zealand's night sky. It wasn't a bird a plane or a UFO, but authorities say a meteor spotted last night in New Zealand skies could have been the size of a desk. Reports of the bright flashing light were received from Auckland and as far south as Wellington about 11pm local time, while some Kiwis reported hearing a sonic boom. Eyewitness reports have described a very bright blue light which lit up the sky like daylight. Police say they received about a dozen calls from people concerned the light was an emergency flare.


Potential H1N1 "Swine Flu" VĂ­rus Outbreak Concern On US-Mexico Border - At least three people have died while infected with the H1N1 flu virus, also known as Swine Flu in El Paso, USA and Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. An epidemiologist for El Paso Department of Health stressed there is no reason for alarm, while at the same time assuring people that the authorities are taking this investigation seriously. Health officials in Cuidad Juarez informed that two of its citizens have died, while others have become infected with flu-like symptoms in what they suspect is H1N1. Chihuahua officials stressed that all of their cases consist of individuals who have been over to the US side of the border, or people who had been in contact with people on the US side of the border. Cuidad Juarez is in the state of Chihuahua. A number of police officers in Cuidad Juarez have come down with flu-like illnesses.
Of the 357 confirmed cases of seasonal flu in El Paso in January this year, three were ill with H1N1, compared to 302 flu cases in February of which 26 had the H1N1 virus. So far in March there have been 126 confirmed cases of flu. There are currently 25 suspected cases of H1N1 infection on the Mexican side of the border. Thirteen of them are not confined to a hospital, they are being seen as outpatients. Cases around the country are much less aggressive. The Ciudad Juarez cases may be linked to a high flu rate in Texas, from which Mexicans travel back (and forth) all the time.