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AmeriScan: April 13, 2005

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First Shipment of MOX Fuel for U.S. Reactor Arrives

CHARLESTON, South Carolina, April 13, 2005 (ENS) - A ship containing the first U.S. cargo of mixed oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel arrived in the United States from France on Tuesday. Composed of the mixed oxides of uranium and plutonium, this batch of MOX fuel was made in France from U.S. weapons-grade plutonium by the French state company Areva.

It will be tested in a U.S. reactor operated by Duke Energy, a member of a consortium that aims to build the first U.S. MOX fuel factory at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

The plutonium is from weapons-grade nuclear material that the federal government is attempting to convert to peaceful use as MOX fuel for nuclear reactors. The DOE's program covers the disposal of surplus weapons grade plutonium in both the U.S. and Russia.

But the environmental group Greenpeace says the MOX fuel shipment flies in the face of global efforts to curb the nuclear threat.

"While the U.S. warns the world about the risks of proliferation of weapons material, here it is engaged in the very act it condemns. It is pure hypocrisy," said Tom Clements of Greenpeace International. "All transport and use of plutonium must end if we are to halt the spread of nuclear weapons."

Activists working with Greenpeace monitored the arrival of the UK-flagged Pacific Pintail, which was escorted into Charleston by U.S. Coast Guard and local police vessels. Six casks containing nuclear fuel will be off-loaded at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station.

Part of the of the nuclear load will be transported 1,500 miles to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico for storage.

The remainder will become part of a three year nuclear fuel experiment at Duke Energy's Catawba nuclear reactor near Rock Hill, South Carolina. Activists concerned about the possible escape of radiation into the environment should there be a truck accident or other incident will monitor the MOX transport along the 211 mile route to the Catawba reactor.

On March 3, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a license to authorize Duke’s use of four MOX fuel assemblies at the Catawba power station. Before MOX fuel can be used in significant quantities, the assemblies must be irradiated in a reactor to confirm they will perform predictably. Irradiation of assemblies is a step towards permanent licensing for use of MOX fuel in the United States.

On March 30, the NRC authorized the consortium of Duke, Cogema, Stone & Webster to construct a facility at the Savannah River Site to manufacture MOX fuel for eventual use in commercial nuclear power plants.

The NRC says its staff "performed environmental and safety reviews to ensure that the facility’s design will have minimal environmental impacts and will protect the public health and safety."

The facility, which will be owned by the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, is part of a bilateral effort between the United States and Russia to make supplies of surplus weapons-grade plutonium into more proliferation-resistant forms. Converting the plutonium into MOX fuel will enable it to be used in commercial reactors to generate electricity.

Energy Secretary Sanual Bodman said April 1, “We look forward to proceeding with this nonproliferation program that will ultimately eliminate enough plutonium for thousands of nuclear weapons in both countries.”

The United States and Russia are scheduled to begin site preparation activities for MOX fuel factories both countries this spring, with full construction of both facilities planned to begin in fiscal year 2006.

More than 30 nuclear reactors currently use MOX fuel in France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland, but no U.S. reactors have ever used the fuel.

Greenpeace recommends that all plutonium to be treated as nuclear waste not as potential reactor fuel. "This approach would be cheaper, faster, safer, and more secure," says the group, which also urges a ban on the production of all weapons-usable fissile materials. Groups working with Greenpeace include Georgians Against Nuclear Energy, Charleston Peace, and the Carolina Peace Resource Centre.

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Wal-Mart to Conserve Habitat Equal to Footprint of All Stores

WASHINGTON, DC, April 13, 2005 (ENS) - Wal-Mart has pledged to conserve at least 138,000 acres of habitat, equal to the footprint of all its stores and facilities in the United States.

Working with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the giant retailer has developed the new Acres for America conservation partnership under which the company will contribute $35 million over the next 10 years to conserve and protect wildlife habitat across the country.

The amount of habitat actually conserved will be higher, as the Foundation already has reached an agreement to acquire more than 6,000 acres to be added to Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana and a permanent conservation easement on more than 312,000 acres of forests, rivers and wetlands in Maine.

Acres for America demonstrates the power of cooperative conservation and partnership," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton at a ceremony at the National Geographic Society in Washington on Tuesday to introduce the program.

"With its generous contribution, Wal-Mart is empowering the foundation to protect and restore important areas of wildlife habitat that otherwise might never be conserved. The company is setting a standard of corporate stewardship that I hope other companies will emulate."

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), established by Congress in 1984 as a private, non-profit conservation organization, will raise $35 million from other partners to match Wal-Mart's contribution, boosting the overall total to $70 million.

"We are very excited to partner with Wal-Mart to build a premier land stewardship model for the next generation," said NFWF Executive Director John Berry.

The NFWF Board of Directors has identified five initial projects to be funded under the new program.

Acquisition of more than 6,000 acres of newly planted forests and wetlands that will be added to Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, expanding the refuge by 40 percent. The refuge is an important migration stop for waterfowl and other birds. Partners include the Conservation Fund and American Electric Power.

A conservation easement to protect 312,000 acres of forests and other habitat in Downeast Maine along the Canadian border. This will protect 60 lakes,1,500 miles of rivers and streams and 54,000 acres of wetlands from development pressures. Partners include The Conservation Fund, New England Forestry Foundation, the state of Maine, The Nature Conservancy and the Downeast Lakes Land Trust.

Acquisition of two ranches and their associated 850,000 acres of grazing permits on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Ranching and grazing will continue on the land under a new management plan that will address conservation issues. Other partners include The Conservation Fund and The Grand Canyon Trust.

Acquisition of 1,226 acres of habitat in Arkansas used by the endangered Indiana bat for winter hibernation. Partners include The Nature Conservancy's Arkansas chapter, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, and private landowners.

A 1,120 acre conservation easement on a ranch along Squaw Creek, a tributary of the Deschutes River in Oregon. The tract provides upland and riparian habitat for mule deer and will help in the restoration of steelhead runs on the river. The Deschutes Basin Land Trust is the lead partner for this project.

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Energy Department to Upgrade Refrigerator Efficiency Standard

WASHINGTON, DC, April 13, 2005 (ENS) - The process has begun to set a new, more energy efficient standard for home refrigerators. In a letter released Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) granted a petition for the new standard submitted by a coalition that includes state governments, utility companies, consumer and low-income advocacy groups, and environmental and energy efficiency organizations.

"We are very pleased DOE has granted our petition," said Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). "DOE's action recognizes the enormous energy and dollar savings at stake in making home refrigerators more efficient."

The petition cited a recent DOE analysis that estimates that new refrigerator standards could save 5.78 quadrillion Btus of energy over the 2010 to 2035 period, which is enough to meet the total electricity needs of four out of 10 U.S. homes for one year.

According to the petition, a 30 percent improvement in the standard could net consumers about $10 billion in savings.

"It is encouraging that DOE has granted our petition," said Mel Hall-Crawford, energy projects director for Consumer Federal of America. "We look forward to a process that clearly looks at establishing strong, cost effective energy efficiency standards for residential refrigerators that will benefit consumers."

The DOE must now initiate a public rulemaking to determine the appropriate level for the new standard. By law, the agency must set national standards at the most energy efficient level that is cost effective for consumers.

"DOE has taken an important step in the right direction," said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. "We hope they'll now advance the process for determining this standard with all due speed."

DOE has ongoing rulemakings for several other product standards, all of which are years behind schedule. "DOE's got a full plate," said deLaski. "For energy efficiency to be the first line of defense for our nation's energy security, for making our power systems more reliable, and for improving environmental quality, we need the DOE to meet all of its obligations to update energy saving standards."

The other petitioners include the California Energy Commission; the Natural Resources Defense Council; the National Consumer Law Center; National Grid, USA; Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships; Northwest Power and Conservation Council; Pacific Gas and Electric Company; and Vermont Energy Investment Corporation.

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Listeria Forces Turkey, Pork, Sausage, Salmon Recall

WASHINGTON, DC, April 13, 2005 (ENS) - Nearly 25 tons of turkey, pork and sausage products are being recalled by two manufacturers this week because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes cause fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such a high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

L.S.K. Smoked Turkey Products based in Bronx, New York, is recalling approximately 39,000 pounds of smoked turkey and pork products. The meats were produced on April 4, and were shipped to distribution centers in Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Florida for institutional use.

Each box bears the establishment code "P-19064" or "Est. 19064" inside the USDA mark of inspection, along with a case code of "D-J-D." The problem was discovered during regulatory sampling by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

In addition, Roger Wood Foods in Savannah, Georgia is recalling approximately 10,700 pounds of sausage products for listeria contamination.

The sausage was produced on March 10 and was distributed to retail stores in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Each of the products bears one of the following establishment codes, "EST. 8025" or "P-8025," inside the USDA mark of inspection. Each label also reads "Sell By 5/13/2005." The problem was discovered through regulatory sampling conducted by the state of Georgia.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service says that no reports of illnesses have been associated with consumption of these products.

In addition, a third manufacturer, SeaSpecialties of Miami, Florida is recalling "Mama's Sliced Smoked Nova Salmon" packed in 4oz. package and "Mama's Smoked Salmon Nova Snacks" packed in a 8oz. package because they are contaminated with listeria.

Both products were distributed on the east coast of the United States, and both have a Sell By date of August 10, 2005 printed on the front of the packages.

No illnesses have been reported as a result of this problem. The contamination was noted after routine testing by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in 4oz. packages of Mama's Sliced Smoked Nova Salmon with a sell by date of August 10, 2005.

Consumers who have purchased the recalled salmon packages are urged to return to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact the Recall Coordinator at (305) 621-7600 ext. 211.

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Pollution Prevented as Sunken Fishing Vessel Raised

SEATTLE, Washington, April 13, 2005 (ENS) - Salvage crews raised a submerged fishing vessel Tuesday evening from the spot in Shilshole Bay where it sank on Saturday. Divers confirmed over the weekend that vent openings on the tanks were closed, which prevented a major fuel spill, but crews placed oil containment boom around the Semidi during the recovery as a precaution.

Under the watchful eyes of the U.S. Coast Guard and Washington Department of Ecology crews removed 1,300 gallons of oily water from the vessel.

The Semidi’s owner Jim Hicks, the U.S. Coast Guard and officials from the Washington Department of Ecology determined the 90 year old vessel to be a pollution threat to the environment, so the Army Corps of Engineers will dispose of it.

Hicks was rescued on Thursday afternoon by the Coast Guard after falling overboard while working to repair leaks on the Semidi. A Coast Guard small boat rescued Hicks who was hypothermic. He was transferred to waiting emergency medical technicians at Shilshole Bay Marina who took him to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

The 59 foot, wooden vessel was left unmanned and sank Saturday while moored to an Army Corps of Engineers buoy. The Coast Guard was not made aware the vessel’s unstable condition before it sank.

The vessel has been towed to an U.S. Army Corps of Engineers debris collection area north of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.

The Coast Guard opened the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to pay an estimated $150,000, for removal of the oil and other pollutants from the fishing vessel. The fund is used when there is no known responsible party or when the responsible party can not afford to pay for a response or clean-up of a spill. The Coast Guard may seek compensation from the responsible party.

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Genetically Engineered Crop Trials Double Since 2003

WASHINGTON, DC, April 13, 2005 (ENS) - Biotechnology firms filed more than twice as many applications to the federal government for open air experiments on crops engineered to produce drugs and industrial chemicals in 2004 than in the previous year, a study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group has found.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) is the national lobbying office for the state Public Interest Research Groups. State PIRGs are non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organizations.

The report, "Raising Risk: Field Testing of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S.," highlights potential health and environmental risks associated with the release of genetically engineered plants.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has yet to amend its regulations after being criticized by the National Academy of Sciences for inadequate expertise, still, PIRG’s analysis shows that the agency "continues to rubberstamp applications and fails to collect adequate data on environmental impacts."

U.S. PIRG's study found that as of January 2005, the 14 states and territories that have hosted the greatest number of field test sites are: Hawaii (5,413), Illinois (5,092), Iowa (4,659), Puerto Rico (3,483), California (1,964), Nebraska (1,960), Pennsylvania (1,707), Minnesota (1,701), Texas (1,494), Indiana (1,489), Idaho (1,272), Wisconsin (1,246),Georgia (1,051), and Mississippi (1,008).

Since 1991, USDA has received 240 requests for 418 field releases of crops engineered to produce pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, or other so-called biopharmaceuticals; the number of requested field releases of “biopharm” crops increased from 22 in 2003 to 55 in 2004.

The 10 crops authorized for the most field releases are corn, soybean, cotton, potato, tomato, wheat, creeping bentgrass, alfalfa, beet, and rice.

USDA authorized field tests on several crops for the first time in 2003 and 2004, including American chestnut, American elm, avocado, banana, eucalyptus, marigold, safflower, sorghum, and sugarbeet.

Nearly 70 percent of all field tests conducted in the last year now contain secret genes classified as “Confidential Business Information,” which means that the public has no access to information about experiments conducted in their communities.

These experimental genetically engineered crops are growing in the open environment primarily to determine whether or not an engineered seed successfully grows and expresses the desired trait.

U.S. PIRG charged that field testing genetically engineered crops in such a widespread way poses serious threats to the environment, public health, and neighboring farmers.

“Our environment has become a laboratory for widespread experimentation on genetically engineered crops with profound risks that, once released, can never be recalled,” said U.S. PIRG environmental advocate Richard Caplan. “Until proper safeguards are in place, this unchecked experiment should stop.”

“Evidence continues to mount that the regulatory system in place in this country is based on the principle of ‘don’t look, don’t find,’” said Caplan. “Poorly designed field tests take large risks with no benefits.”

Another goal of the field tests is to obtain information about potential ecological risks associated with genetically engineered organisms. However, independent reviews of the data collected by the USDA demonstrate that very little data has been collected. Despite the large number of field experiments that have occurred, fundamental questions about their impact remain unanswered, including long-term impacts on the soil and non-target species.

U.S. PIRG renewed its call for a moratorium on genetically engineered foods unless independent testing demonstrates safety; labeling for any products commercialized honors consumers’ right to know, and the biotechnology corporations are held accountable for any harm resulting from their products.

“Genetically engineered foods have no place on our dinner tables or in our environment until proper safeguards are in place,” said Caplan. “This rush to market without regard for human health and the environment could be disastrous.”

The USDA holds the general policy that genetically engineered crops are not different enough from traditional crops to consider them unsafe.

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Popular Sea Turtle License Plates Fund Florida Research

GAINESVILLE, Florida, April 13, 2005 (ENS) - Chemicals running off of agricultural lands may be sickening green sea turtles in Florida waters, and this year Dr. John Fauth of the University of Central Florida intends to find out whether or not that is the case. His research is being supported by Florida drivers who purchased a specialty sea turtle license plate.

Dr. Deborah Fauquier of the Mote Marine Laboratory will be using funds generated by sales of the license plates to conduct research into whether a particular toxin is causing sea turtle deaths in central west Florida.

Paul Davis with the Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management will be using turtle license plate funding to conduct a population assessment of sea turtles in Lake Worth Lagoon.

These projects are just three of the 23 grants totaling $258,451 awarded this week by the non-profit Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), which originated the idea of the specialized license plates to provide a permanent funding source for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Marine Turtle Program and to promote the conservation and protection of Florida's sea turtles.

"Over 90 percent of all the sea turtle nesting in the United States takes place in Florida," said CCC Executive Director David Godfrey. "We established the tag to provide a permanent funding source for turtle research and protection programs being conducted by state biologists and the many independent turtle protection groups working in Florida."

The Sea Turtle License Plate was first offered for sale in February 1998 and has become one of the most popular specialty plates in Florida, raising over $1 million annually. At $17.50 per tag, the turtle plate is one of the least expensive specialty plates in Florida.

All of the funding generated by the tag is required by law to support sea turtle protection in Florida. "By purchasing an official Sea Turtle Specialty License Plate, citizens can directly support sea turtle conservation," Godfrey said.

Seventy percent of the funding goes to Florida's Marine Turtle Program to support research and management activities related to sea turtles.

The remaining 30 percent of license plate revenue is distributed by CCC through the Sea Turtle Grants Program, which has awarded over $1.15 million in grants for research, education and rehabilitation projects across Florida since 2001.

At their biological field station in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, CCC scientists place satellite transmitters on the shells of migrating marine turtles to track their movements. Membership in the organization comes with the privilege of naming one of these turtles.

Membership supports CCC's sea turtle research and conservation projects in Florida, Bermuda, Panama, and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Find out more online at: www.cccturtle.org.

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