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AmeriScan: July 1, 2005

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Emergency Declared at FitzPatrick Nuclear, Plant Shut Down

OSWEGO, New York, July 1, 2005 (ENS) - An emergency was declared last night at the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant eight miles northeast of Oswego, and the plant was manually shut down from full power.

During a scheduled inspection carried out only once every 15 years, inspectors discovered a "small through wall crack" below the waterline of the large tank surrounding the drywell that contains the reactor, and "a small puddle below leak."

After “further engineering analysis determined that operability of the primary containment was not assured,” the reactor was ordered shut down by the shift manager at 7:30 last night.

Normally the tank surrounding the drywell is half full of water. The crack challenged the structural integrity of the reactor's primary containment and forced the plant, operated by Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc., to be shut down. Entergy could not be reached for comment on the incident.

The FitzPatrick plant is located on the shore of Lake Ontario, about 50 miles northwest of the nearest large city Syracuse, New York.

FitzPatrick has a boiling water reactor manufactured by the General Electric Company. FitzPatrick is equipped with GE’s Mark I primary containment design, sometimes called a lightbulb in a donut because of its shape.

Nuclear engineer David Lochbaum with the Union of Concerned Scientists questions the scope and frequency of the inspection program at FitzPatrick.

On July 28, 2003, he recounts, Entergy asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for permission to perform integrated tests of containment integrity at FitzPatrick every 15 years instead of every 10 years.

In that request, Entergy described its inspection program for the primary containment saying, "These inspections [of the drywell] provide a high degree of assurance that any degradation of the containment will be detected and corrected before it may provide a containment leakage path. The inspections to date have not identified degradation that threatens the structural integrity of the containment."

The NRC approved Entergy’s request to reduce the frequency of the integrated containment integrity testing at FitzPatrick.

Lochbaum says the inspection program for the primary containment at FitzPatrick appears deficient because this event shows that it failed to assure “any degradation of the containment will be detected and corrected before it may provide a containment leakage path.”

"A small puddle on the floor beneath a through wall crack in the torus is rather compelling evidence the inspection program failed its mission. The inspection program is not supposed to find puddles," Lochbaum said. "It is supposed to prevent puddles."

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EPA Sets Emission Standards for Stationary Diesel Engines

WASHINGTON, DC, July 1, 2005 (ENS) - As part of a nationwide effort to control fine particle and ground level ozone pollution, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed emission standards for stationary diesel engines.

Stationary diesel internal combustion engines are used to generate electricity and operate compressors at facilities such as power and manufacturing plants. They are also used in emergencies to produce electricity and pump water for flood and fire control.

The proposed standards, known as New Source Performance Standards, will reduce harmful emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons from new, modified, and reconstructed stationary diesel internal combustion engines.

The standards will subject stationary diesel engines to the same levels required by EPA in the nonroad diesel engine rule.

As proposed, the rule will affect 81,500 new stationary diesel engines and result in total pollutant reductions of over 68,000 tons in 2015.

Emissions reductions will occur gradually from 2005 to 2015, reaching reductions of 90 percent or more from baseline levels in some cases. EPA estimates the total nationwide annual costs for the rule to be $57 million in the year 2015.

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, said the industry is "firmly committed to continuous progress and a cleaner environment."

"Diesel technology has been on a path of continuous improvement for over a decade," said Schaeffer.

"Since 1994, engines have been manufactured to operate smoke-free, and tailpipe emissions from trucks and buses sold today have been reduced by more than 80 percent compared to engines built in the late 1980s," he said.

"Beginning in 2007, these on-highway diesel engines will produce near-zero emissions thanks to clean fuels and advanced engine technologies that will result in a 99 percent reduction of particulate matter (PM) emissions and an 87 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides (NOx) from current levels," Schaeffer explained.

"Similarly, EPA rules issued last year for off-road machines and equipment like those used in construction, farming and mining will cut key emissions in that sector by more than 90 percent starting in 2008. It only makes sense that we continue diesel's environmental and technological progress with these stationary engines as well," he said.

EPA will accept comments on this proposed rule for 60 days following publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register.

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New Motorcycle Emissions Testing Will Meet International Standard

WASHINGTON, DC, July 1, 2005 (ENS) - Motorcycles manufactured in the United States will soon be subjected to the same emissions testing procedures following in other countries.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (ENS) announced Thursday that it plans to issue a proposed rulemaking in 2006 on "modernized emissions testing for new motorcycles to better reflect real-world conditions."

The new test procedures will reflect those recently adopted by the United Nation's World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations.

Public health and the environment will realize the emissions control benefits of better testing, the EPA said, while the motorcycle industry can gain greater efficiencies by using one test procedure worldwide.

This is the first time the forum has developed a global technical regulation focusing on the environment. The internationally recognized regulation is supported worldwide by the United States, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, and several other countries.

Through its standard regulatory process, EPA will propose to implement the new Forum-approved Worldwide-harmonized Motorcycle Test Cycle, which incorporates state-of-the-art emissions testing technologies and more accurately reflects current driving characteristics.

The new test procedure was developed by experts from eight nations and the European Commission, with input from the motorcycle and emission control technology manufacturing industries, as well as from motorcycle drivers.

Once EPA finalizes the new test cycle regulations, they will be used to certify that new on-highway motorcycles meet U.S. emissions standards.

This regulation will not affect motorcycles that are currently on the road or those certified for sale in the United States prior to final adoption of the new test procedure regulations.

For more information, visit: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/roadbike.htm

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Senate Approves $375 Million for Conservation on Private Land

WASHINGTON, DC, July 1, 2005 (ENS) - Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is celebrating this week. His Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act (S. 260) gained unanimous Senate approval on Monday.

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program is the primary program within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delivering habitat improvement projects on private land through voluntary agreements with private landowners.

Inhofe’s bill authorizes the program for the next five years - 2006 to 2011 - providing $75 million each year for increased funding for the conservation program.

Inhofe said, “The Partners program has proven results in Oklahoma habitat conservation and today we have added stability to this effective program’s future."

Projects in the program are financed primarily by the landowner, not the federal government, he said. "All conservation programs should create positive incentives to protect species and, above all, should hold the rights of private landowners sacred."

Inhofe, who is not a friend of the Endangered Species Act, said, "These on-the-ground initiatives are the programs that actually succeed in protecting and recovering species, as opposed to the endless and expensive litigation that has become the hallmark of the Endangered Species Act."

Since 1987, through 35,039 agreements with private landowners, the Partners Program has accomplished the restoration of 722,500 acres of wetlands, 1,573,700 acres of prairie and native grasslands, and nearly 5,900 miles of riparian and in-stream habitat to date, Inhofe said.

In Oklahoma alone, he said, the Partners Program has accomplished the restoration and conservation 24,285 acres of habitat through 700 individual voluntary agreements with private landowners.

Senator Inhofe’s bill will now go to the House for consideration where Congressman John Sullivan, another Oklahoma Republican, has introduced companion legislation, HR 2018.

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Conservationists Will Sue to Force Protection of Miami Blue Butterfly

TUCSON, Arizona, July 1, 2005 (ENS) - The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit environmental organization, Thursday filed notice of intent to sue the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to take emergency action to protect the extremely endangered Miami blue butterfly, Hemiargus thomasi bethunebakeri, under the Endangered Species Act.

The Miami blue butterfly is one of the rarest insects in North America, with only one viable population remaining in the wild in the lower Florida Keys. The Service invoked a controversial loophole in the Endangered Species Act, making a determination in May 2005 that the Miami blue butterfly warrants listing as an endangered species, but that formal protection is “precluded” by higher priorities.

The Miami blue is a coastal butterfly that inhabits sunny areas at the edges of tropical hardwood forests in southern Florida. The species warrants immediate emergency listing because the population and habitat of this unique butterfly is disappearing at an alarmingly fast pace.

Although the Miami blue butterfly could once be found as far north along the Florida coasts to about St. Petersburg and Daytona, it is now restricted to one isolated population at Bahia Honda Key State Park, estimated to be only 45-50 adults. Two major threats to the species are habitat loss and fragmentation of habitat. Much of the butterfly’s habitat range is the heavily urbanized south Florida coast. Other threats include pesticide application for mosquito control and the potential for unethical butterfly collection.

CBD Policy Director Kieran Suckling called the Service's decision “callous and illegal,” noting that the butterfly could go extinct while awaiting federal protective regulations.

Suckling characterized the warranted but precluded designation as a “regulatory purgatory” for endangered species, noting the average length of time a species remains on the list before receiving Endangered Species Act protection is about 17 years.

The Service received a petition to list the Miami blue butterfly under the Endangered Species Act on June 15, 2000 and made a 90 day finding that “listing this species may be warranted.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, the Service was required to issue a listing determination by June 15, 2001, but failed to meet this deadline. The Service proposed emergency listing of the species several times between November 2000 and December 2004, in recognition of significant population decline and increasing harm from known threats.

However, senior officials of the Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington declined to issue an emergency listing because of an existing captive bred Miami blue butterfly population, despite the fact that the inclusion of a captive-bred butterflies could result in inaccurate population numbers and the loss of the species in the wild.

The Service recently acknowledged that reintroductions from captive breeding has not been successful, since Miami blue butterflies have not become established at any release sites. The state of Florida emergency listed the Miami blue butterfly as a state endangered species in December of 2002.

The Service instead listed the Miami blue butterfly as a federal candidate species in May 2005, stating that Endangered Species Act listing was “warranted but precluded.”

Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that the Service has illegally placed gravely imperiled species on the warranted but precluded list as a delay tactic to avoid Endangered Species Act protection, and has overturned such determinations for the Canada lynx and bull trout.

Find out more about the butterfly at: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/species/miamiblue/index.html

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Purdue Researchers Find Clues to Defeat Rice Blast Fungus

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana, July 1, 2005 (ENS) - Efforts to halt a fungus that deprives about 60 million people a year of food have led Purdue University scientists to discover the molecular machinery that enables the pathogen to blast its way into rice plants.

The fungus, Magnaporthe grisea, known as rice blast fungus, is the most deadly of the pathogens that attack rice, reducing yields by as much as 75 percent in infected areas.

Learning how the fungus tricks rice's natural defenses against pathogens to penetrate the plant is an important part of controlling the disease, said Jin-Rong Xu, a Purdue molecular biologist.

Xu and his team in Purdue's Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, found that an enzyme is a key player in coordinating the fungus' attack. The enzyme, called a pathogenicity mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase, flips the switch that starts the cellular communication necessary to launch the fungal invasion that kills rice plants or causes loss of grain.

"We found that this MAP kinase controls the penetration process, which is the beginning of a signal transduction pathway," said Xu.

This pathway is the communications highway that passes information and instructions from one molecule to another to cause biochemical changes.

The fungus spreads when its spores are blown to rice plants and stick on the leaves. Once on the plant, the spore forms a structure called an appressorium. This bubble-like structure grows until it has so much pressure inside that it blasts through the plant's surface.

The pathway holds enormous potential of being used to produce new fungicides or new resistant rice plants to hold this pathogen at bay.

But rice blast fungus is able to quickly evolve new tricks to tackle rice plants, experts say because the fungus and the grain developed side by side over centuries. To overcome the fungus, researchers need to know more than just the one pathway.

"We want to know how the plant and the fungus talk," Xu said. "We need to know the signal, or ligand, the rice plant gives to the receptor on the fungus that allows the penetration process to proceed. We need to understand the whole communication among all the genes in the rice blast penetration pathway before we can design a rice plant that resists this fungus."

Once the fungus enters the rice leaf cells, the infected cells attempt to defend the plant by dying. This means death for young plants, while in older plants, rice grain is lost.

The biggest rice blast problem is in Asia and Latin America where rice is an important food staple. About two-thirds of the people in the world rely on the grain, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service.

Rice supplies 23 percent of the total calories that the world's population consumes, according to the International Rice Research Institute.

The fungus is found in the United States, especially in Arkansas, Louisiana and California, where rice blast recently evolved in order to foil a rice blast resistance gene, according to the USDA. Resistance in rice plants varies in different regions due to climate variation and in strains of the pathogen.

Xu said that an important area of his future research will be to learn the interaction among several signaling pathways in rice blast fungus that allows the pathogen to communicate with the plant.

Grants from the USDA Agriculture National Research Initiative and the National Science Foundation supported this study, which was published in the May issue of "Plant Cell."

Xu was also a member of an international research team that published the rice blast fungus genome in the April 21 issue of "Nature."

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Carbon Monoxide From Wildfires Matches Human Emissions

BOULDER, Colorado, July 1, 2005 (ENS) - Wildfires in Alaska and Canada in 2004 emitted as much carbon monoxide as did human activities in the continental United States during the same time period, according to new research by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

To determine the extent to which wildfires contribute to atmospheric pollution, the researchers used a novel combination of observing instruments, computer models, and numerical techniques that allowed them for the first time to distinguish between carbon monoxide coming from the wildfires and from other sources.

The team concluded that the Alaskan and Canadian wildfires emitted about 30 teragrams of carbon monoxide from June through August of last year.

Because of the wildfires, ground-level concentrations of ozone increased by 25 percent or more in parts of the northern continental United States and by 10 percent as far away as Europe.

“It is important to see how the influence of these fires can reach large parts of the atmosphere, perhaps even over the entire Northern Hemisphere,” says NCAR scientist Gabriele Pfister, the study’s lead author. “This has significant implications as societies take steps to improve air quality.”

Carbon monoxide, a toxic gas that can affect human health even at low levels, is emitted by wildfires as well as by motor vehicles, industrial facilities, and other sources that do not completely burn carbon based fuels.

Ground-level ozone, which affects human health in addition to damaging plants and influencing climate, is formed from reactions involving atmospheric pollutants, including carbon monoxide, in the presence of sunlight. Both pollutants are monitored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Wildfires in Alaska and western Canada were particularly intense in the summer of 2004, due to unusually warm and dry weather.

To quantify carbon monoxide emissions from the fires, the research team used a remote sensing instrument known as MOPITT, or Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere,that is operated by NCAR and the University of Toronto and flown on NASA’s Terra satellite.

The scientists simulated the transport of the pollutants emitted by the fires and the resulting production of ozone with an NCAR computer model called MOZART, or Model for Ozone and Related Chemical Tracers.

The team confirmed its results by using numerical techniques to compare simulated concentrations of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere with measurements taken by MOPITT. The researchers were able to get further confirmation by analyzing data from aircraft-mounted instruments that were taking part in a field project over North America and Europe.

Pfister says the team is continuing to look at data taken last year at observing stations as far away as the Azores in order to track the movement of carbon monoxide and ozone from the wildfires.

As a follow-up, she and other scientists plan to use a similar combination of observations, modeling, and numerical techniques to look at both natural and human emissions of carbon monoxide in South America.

The research was funded by a NASA grant in partnership with the National Science Foundation, which is the primary sponsor of NCAR.

The NCAR study was published this month in the journal "Geophysical Research Letters."

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