AmeriScan: June 8, 2007

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U.S. Speeds Up Nuclear Weapons Dismantlements

WASHINGTON, DC, June 8, 2007 (ENS) - Retired U.S. nuclear weapons are being dismantled at a rate 50 percent greater than last year, officials responsible for the nation's nuclear stockpile said Thursday.

National Nuclear Security Administration officials said the higher rate of dismantlement will continue for the rest of this year.

"NNSA is committed to carrying out the President's vision of the smallest stockpile consistent with national security needs," said Bill Ostendorff, NNSA's acting administrator.

In 2004, President George W. Bush directed that the size of the nuclear weapons stockpile be reduced nearly 50 percent by 2012 - making it the smallest since the 1950s.

"By dismantling nuclear weapons safely and efficiently, we are ensuring that the weapons can no longer be used again. This increased dismantlement work demonstrates that this country is serious about nonproliferation," Ostendorff said.

NNSA's entire nuclear weapons complex is involved in meeting the more rapid dismantlement goal.

This includes the three national nuclear weapons design laboratories - Los Alamos, in New Mexico; Lawrence Livermore in California; and Sandia in both New Mexico and California - the Kansas City Plant, the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, and the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas.

The dismantlement process begins at Pantex where the high explosives are separated from the nuclear material. The time required to dismantle a nuclear weapon ranges from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the type of weapon.

Y-12 further dismantles the radioactive uranium components of these weapons. Non-nuclear components are either processed at Pantex or are sent to Savannah River and Kansas City for final processing.

NNSA's Office of Secure Transportation moves the highly radioactive nuclear material and some parts between the sites.

Once the weapons are dismantled, the plutonium is placed in highly secure storage, until a facility is constructed and operating to turn the plutonium into a fuel to be burned in nuclear power reactors.

Such a facility to manufacture mixed plutonium and uranium oxide, MOX, fuel is in the testing and permitting stages.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing an application by Shaw Areva MOX Services to operate a MOX fuel fabrication facility at the Savannah River Site.

The MOX facility, which will be owned by the NNSA, is part of a U.S.-Russian agreement to convert a total of 68 metric tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium into more proliferation-resistant forms by blending it with uranium to make MOX fuel.

Meanwhile, the Pantex Plant has been designated as an interim storage site for the nuclear weapons triggers, known as plutonium pits.

After removal from nuclear weapons, pits are packaged in leak-tight stainless steel vessels and are then placed in steel storage overpack drums, a system in place since 1999. Pits packaged in older containers are being repacked.

The vessels are placed in guarded storage areas, inventoried, monitored and subjected to a routine surveillance program to ensure their physical integrity.

Interim storage at Pantex is intended to continue until final pit disposition can take place at the Savannah River Site, when the facility is completed. Pantex is authorized to store up to 20,000 plutonium pits. Currently, some 12,000 pits are in interim storage at Pantex.

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Defense Department Honors Environmental Accomplishments

WASHINGTON, DC, June 8, 2007 (ENS) - Environmental stewardship is not a separate Defense Department mission, but rather is "the fabric of the department," a top defense official said during the 2006 Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards here Thursday.

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Kenneth Krieg honored award-winning teams and individuals for their contributions in sustaining and protecting the roughly 30 million acres of land the department uses.

"Your efforts to integrate environmental sustainability into all aspects of mission planning, acquisition and the day-to-day defense operations of the department help the department exceed our goals for habitat restoration, pollution reduction and energy conservation," Krieg said.

The 2006 environmental award winners are:

Krieg said that in fiscal 2006 the Department of Defense, DOD, reduced energy consumption by 5.5 percent, exceeding its goal of three percent.

The DOD converted 9.5 percent of the military's overall energy demand to land, wave and ocean geothermal energy and integrated energy-fficient, sustainable design principles into Defense Department construction, Krieg said.

The DOD has reduced water consumption by 29 percent through conservation, recycling and other reclamation efforts and has diverted 3.7 million tons of solid waste and 132 million tons of hazardous waste from landfills.

The DOD committed $40 million in 2006 to protecting 319 endangered plant and animal species, Krieg said.

The secretary of defense has been recognizing installations, teams and individuals for outstanding achievement in environmental management each year since 1962.

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Maine Mammals Tested for Reactions to Military Sonar

WASHINGTON, DC, June 8, 2007 (ENS) - To learn how military active sonar systems affect whales and other marine mammals, scientists from NOAA Fisheries Service plan to expose animals in the Bahamas to the loud sonar sounds and monitor their behavior.

"Carefully controlled field studies in realistic conditions are essential and urgently needed for NOAA to fulfill its requirement to conserve and manage protected marine species," said William Hogarth, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries.

"These behavioral response studies on a highly-specialized acoustic range will provide some of the first detailed and direct measures of how deep-diving toothed whales react when they hear different natural and human sounds, like active sonar signals," he said.

There is evidence that whales, dolphins and porpoises can be harmed and killed, as a result of exposure to loud noise, including military sonars.

Whales in many parts of the world including the Bahamas have stranded themselves after military sonar was used in their vicinity. Cetaceans live in social units and use echolocation to find prey and one another - the sonar is believed to disrupt their echolocation systems.

NOAA Fisheries' Office of Science and Technology has applied for a scientific research permit under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and with Bahamian authorities to conduct these behavioral response studies with an international team of co-investigators.

Brandon Southall, head of NOAA's Ocean Acoustics Program, is the principal investigator for the study; co-investigators include experts from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Cornell University, University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization.

The experiments will be conducted with financial support from multiple sources, including the U.S. Navy.

Scientists plan to conduct the studies east of Andros Island, in the Tongue of the Ocean, a deep oceanic trench in the Bahamas.

They will use a sophisticated array of listening sensors on the seafloor at the U.S. Navy's Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center range to detect, track and monitor diving marine mammals, as well as sounds produced during the experiments.

They will attach specialized data tags to the animals with suction cups to record their movements and the sounds they produce and receive. Scientists will monitor animal behaviors before, during and after sound exposures.

"We believe these kinds of experiments can be conducted safely using well-established scientific procedures without harming individual animals, while providing critically needed data to help us better manage and ensure the conservation of marine mammals," said Southall.

Military active sonar emits loud sound waves that sweep across the ocean revealing objects such as enemy submarines in their path. Some mid-frequency sonar systems can emit 235 decibels, sound as loud as a rocket at launch.

A low-frequency array can generate 215 decibels of sound, comparable to a twin-engine fighter jet at takeoff. Even 100 miles from a low frequency sonar system, sound levels can approach 160 decibels, well beyond the Navy's own safety limits for humans.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups have sued the U.S. Navy to force implementation of safety zones and other safeguards for marine mammals, with mixed results. Other nations, such as the UK are also implementing military sonar.

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Terrorism Risk Assessment for Hawaii Food Irradiator

WASHINGTON, DC, June 8, 2007 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, is seeking public comment on an appendix to the draft environmental assessment for a proposed commercial food irradiator facility to be operated in Honolulu, Hawaii. The irradiator would be located near the Honolulu International Airport and would be used to irradiate mangoes and papayas to kill insects and micro-organisms.

In the appendix, the NRC concludes that no significant environmental impacts are likely from a potential terrorist attack on the facility.

The appendix bases its conclusion on an evaluation of the current threat environment, information from the intelligence community, and security enhancements imposed by the NRC on commercial irradiator facilities since the September. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The NRC staff conducted the terrorism assessment in response to the June 2, 2006, ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace v. NRC.

That ruling required NRC to conduct an environmental assessment of the potential impacts of a terrorist attack on a proposed spent nuclear fuel storage facility to be constructed at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California. That assessment was published May 29 for public comment.

In response to the Ninth Circuit ruling, the NRC decided it was appropriate to conduct a similar assessment for the proposed Pa'ina irradiator in Honolulu. Hawaii is in the Ninth Circuit.

When the draft environmental assessment, EA, was released in January, it was criticized for failing to discuss the potential for terrorist attack on the Pa'ina irradiator.

Gordon Thompson, executive director of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies, a nonprofit, research organization in Cambridge, Massachusetts says the Honolulu location "might be especially attractive to attackers because of the proximity of military and symbolic targets including Hickam Air Force Base and Pearl Harbor."

More information about the Pa'ina irradiator, as well as the appendix to the draft environmental assessment, is available on the NRC Web site at http://www.nrc.gov/materials.html by clicking on "Pa'ina irradiator" under Key Topics.

A Notice of Availability regarding the appendix was published today in the Federal Register. Comments will be accepted through July 9.

After evaluating the public comments, staff will make a determination on a final environmental assessment for the proposed facility.

Comments may be submitted to the Chief, Rules Review and Directives Branch, Mail Stop T6-D59, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001. Please note Docket No. 030-36974 when submitting comments. Comments will be accepted by email at NRCREP@nrc.gov or by fax to 301-415-5397, Attention: Matthew Blevins.

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EPA Loses Court Attempt to Weaken Clean Air Rule

WASHINGTON, DC, June 8, 2007 (ENS) - A federal appeals court today declined to reconsider its December 2006 ruling that struck down a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, rule that attempted to weaken protections against ground level ozone, a component of smog associated with respiratory illness.

Petitions by the EPA and industry groups to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia were denied.

The case arose from changes that have been made to the Clean Air Act since it was enacted in 1990.

The 1990 Clean Air Act required stronger anti-smog measures in cities violating ozone standards, including limits on pollution from new and expanded factories, requirements for annual cuts in smog-forming emissions, and caps on truck and car exhaust.

In 1997, the EPA found that the then-existing "1-hour" ozone health standard was not strong enough to protect health, and adopted a new "8-hour" standard to provide greater protection.

But in 2004, the EPA adopted rules that weakened pollution control requirements for areas violating both the old and the new standard.

That decision triggered the court challenge leading to that rule being struck down in December 2006, and the EPA-industry appeals being rebuffed today.

The court characterized the industry's desired readings of the law as a "glaring loophole" that nothing suggests Congress intended.

Recognizing the harm from EPA's delay, laxity and lawlessness, the court "urged" EPA to "act promptly in promulgating a revised rule that effectuates the statutory mandate by implementing the eight-hour [ozone] standard, which was deemed necessary to protect the public health a decade ago."

Earthjustice successfully represented a group of public health and environmental organizations - the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club - that challenged the EPA rule, and later defended the court's December decision that overturned the rule.

Also challenging the EPA rules were the Louisiana Environmental Network, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Clean Air Task Force, on behalf of the Conservation Law Foundation and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and a coalition of states including Massachusetts, Delaware, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia.

"Today's decision reaffirms that EPA must follow the Clean Air Act and limit this harmful pollution," said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. "Health experts agree that we need stronger protections, not weaker limits on smog pollution."

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Hexavalent Chromium in Drinking Water Causes Cancer

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, North Carolina, June 8, 2007 (ENS) - There is strong evidence a chemical called hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6, causes cancer in laboratory animals when it is consumed in drinking water, government researchers have found.

The two-year study conducted by the National Toxicology Program, NTP, shows that animals given hexavalent chromium developed malignant tumors.

"Previous studies have shown that hexavalent chromium causes lung cancer in humans in certain occupational settings as a result of inhalation exposure," said Michelle Hooth, Ph.D., NTP study scientist for the technical report.

"We now know that it can also cause cancer in animals when administered orally," she said.

The study findings were announced at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences after the NTP Board of Scientific Counselors Technical Reports Review Subcommittee completed its independent peer review of the research report.

Hexavalent chromium compounds are often used in electroplating, leather tanning, and textile manufacturing and have been found in some drinking water sources.

Male and female rats and mice were given four different doses of the chemical in their drinking water for two years.

The lowest doses given to the animals in the study were 10 times higher than what humans could consume from the most highly contaminated water sources identified in California, the researchers said.

They reported finding significant increases in tumors at sites where tumors are rarely seen in laboratory animals - in the oral cavity and in the small intestine, which increased with dose in both males and females.

"We found that hexavalent chromium is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract," said Hooth. "After it is orally administered, it is taken up by the cells in many tissues and organs."

Hexavalent chromium was featured as the chemical of concern in the movie "Erin Brockovich." After that film appeared in 2000, eleven members from the California Congressional Delegation sent a letter to the NTP director requesting that the NTP conduct the studies.

Requests for studying this compound also came from the California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Health Services.

The NTP began work on this compound after gaining input from the public and a panel of scientific experts about the study design.

The two-year study is one of several studies that NTP has completed on this chemical. A series of three-month toxicity tests in rats and different mouse strains was published in January 2007 in the "NTP Toxicity Report Series" at http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/go/29184.

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Some Yellowstone Bison to Be Killed After All

HELENA, Montana, June 8, 2007 (ENS) - State and federal officials tomorrow morning plan to capture up to about 50 bison outside the western boundary of Yellowstone National Park and transport the cows and calves to the Park's northern border, the Montana Department of Livestock announced today.

The bison will be released into the Park's permanent corrals on Stephens Creek near Gardiner, from which they will be allowed to migrate back into Yellowstone once they have settled from the move.

"Because the Stephens Creek facility can't handle bull bison, bulls among the captured bison might be shipped to slaughter, and their meat donated to native American tribes that have requested it," explained Christian Mackay, executive director of the Montana Department of Livestock.

Buffalo conservationists of the Buffalo Field Campaign, BFC, say this decision means the state of Montana lied when it said last Friday that no buffalo left in Montana would be killed.

Intent to slaughter bull bison was confirmed to the BFC by officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

"They claim the bison trap cannot handle bulls," said the BFC, "which is another lie because, as you know, they've captured and sent to slaughter hundreds of bull bison over the years."

But on Monday, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park Suzanne Lewis reached an agreement that no bison cows and calves would be sent to slaughter. The agreement does not cover bison bulls.

The Department of Livestock is especially concerned that cattle might catch the abortive disease brucellosis, because seven cows in other locations tested positive for the disease in May.

"Bison are unpredictable. Every year brings something new, and Montana is in an unprecedented situation right now," said Governor Schweitzer. "This will keep bison off of private land and at the same time prevents us from having to destroy calves."

The Buffalo Field Campaign says it is impossible for bull bison to transmit the dreaded disease. "Bull bison pose no risk of brucellosis transmission. With calving season over, none of the buffalo pose any risk of brucellosis transmission to cattle, the BFC said today. "There are no cattle on the public lands that wild bison are migrating to. There has never been a confirmed case of wild bison transmitting brucellosis to cattle."

The group is asking members of the public to plead for the lives of the bull bison, members of the last wild herd of the animals that once covered the Great Plains by the millions.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.