AmeriScan: March 16, 2004

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First U.S. MOX Fuel Begins Journey to South Carolina

PARIS, France, March 16, 2005 (ENS) - A cargo of 140 kilograms (308 pounds) of U.S. weapons-grade plutonium in the form of nuclear fuel, mixed uranium-plutonium (MOX) has completed the first leg of its journey from France to the United States.

The armed convoy left the Areva plutonium fuel factory at Marcoule, north of Avignon, between early Tuesday morning. It travelled around 1,000 kilometer (620 miles) over land to Areva's la Hague plutonium complex in Normandy and arrived Tuesday night.

The nuclear cargo will be repackaged and taken in the coming days to Cherbourg for sea transport to the U.S. port of Charleston, South Carolina.

The MOX fuel was approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission earlier this month for use in Duke Energy's Catawba Nuclear Power Station near York, South Carolina. It is part of the U.S.-Russian program to convert weapons-grade nuclear materials to civilian use.

Greenpeace activists tracked the transport as it neared la Hague, to alert the public and local authorities to the safety and security risk it presents and to voice opposition to the proliferation threat posed by such trade in nuclear weapons materials.

"This whole plutonium program is about the survival of the nuclear industry in France, the U.S. and Russia," said Yannick Rousselet of Greenpeace France. "Instead of proliferating more plutonium around the planet, governments need to take action to shut down this industry before catastrophe strike."

Greenpeace rejects the transport and use of all nuclear weapons materials and is calling for an international treaty that bans the further production and use of weapons-usable fissile materials such as plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

Greenpeace says the convoy travelled over major French highways "without adequate protection and packaging, and will also present a risk when at sea."

The security of plutonium transports will also be discussed at an IAEA nuclear security conference in London this week see for further details.

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Caustic Spilled at Arizona Nuclear Power Plant

PHOENIX, Arizona, March 16, 2005 (ENS) - A caustic spill was reported Tuesday afternoon at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, the largest nuclear electric generating site in the United States, located 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix in Maricopa County.

"A commercial tanker truck was transferring caustic sodium hydroxide at Unit 1 when a drip was observed from the transfer hose at approximately 16:54 MST, Palo Verde staff reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"The spill was limited to approximately one quart outside of the spill containment berm," the staff wrote, before the truck was driven out of the protected area to return to Phoenix.

A drip trail was discovered about an hour later along the path of the truck out of the protected area, including a puddle of about three gallons at the access point.

The spill quantity on-site is not estimated to have approached a reportable quantity - 1,000 pounds - but due to the evidence that the truck was leaking while in transit to Phoenix, the Palo Verde Hazardous Materials Emergency Coordinator elected to notify the government agencies.

The National Response Center, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the Arizona State Police were notified in addition to the trucking company.

When the company located the truck in its company yard, no leak existed, "suggesting the leakage was limited to the caustic that remained in the truck's discharge pipe after the transfer was stopped," Palo Verde staff wrote.

Sodium hydroxide is very corrosive, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. When dissolved in water or neutralized with acid it liberates substantial heat, which may be sufficient to ignite combustible materials, the agency says.

The Palo Verde spill did not result in a fire, however. "There was no impact to control room habitability and no safety systems, including essential ventilation, were actuated or required," the staff wrote. "The spill did not hamper site personnel in the performance of duties necessary for the safe operation of the nuclear power plant.

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More Oregon Arrests Over Post-Fire Logging of Old-Growth

EUGENE, Oregon, March 16, 2005 (ENS) - At least 45 people have been arrested over the past week for demonstrating against the first logging of old-growth trees in an old-growth reserve. The logging in southwestern Oregon is part of the U.S. Forest Service's plan to manage the Siskiyou National Forest after the Biscuit wildfire of 2002.

During the latest action at dawn on Monday, a group of 30 local women including elders, church members and conservationists, sat down on the a bridge over the Wild and Scenic Illinois River to block logging trucks. Offering themselves up for certain arrest, they locked themselves down in protest.

Those arrested include four women in their 70s. Before her arrest, artist Dot Fisher Smith, 76, said, "We are united in a historic confrontation and we are wearing black today in solidarity with the blackened trees; to give voice to the voiceless. These grandmother trees must not be violently ripped from the Earth. Those trees want to fulfill their birthright by providing shade, shelter and retaining moisture for the newly regenerating forest, as has occurred naturally for countless thousands of years."

The conservationists say that fire is a natural part of these forests, and the reserves that burned in the 2002 have begun rejuvenating naturally, but the ecosystem needs the old-growth trees to protect soils and provide wildlife habitat. They argue that logging "increases the risk of erosion, and puts the region's fragile salmon and steelhead runs in danger."

Meanwhile, in federal court in Eugene on Tuesday, Judge Michael Hogan denied the motion of conservationist groups for a temporary restraining order to halt the logging until their appeal of a lower court decision can be heard March 22 in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The judge denied their motion on grounds of economic hardship to the logging companies.

The plaintiff groups, Cascadia Wildland, Klamath Forest Alliance, Native Forest Network, and the National Forest Protection Alliance, say they will file for an emergency restraining order before the 9th Circuit "immediately."

Judge Hogan's order states that the "plaintiffs' have raised some serious questions on several claims."

Hogan cites a 2004 case in which the 9th Circuit Court ruled that that the Forest Service may not have employed an acceptable methodology to ensure compliance with Siskiyou National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan soil quality guidelines of continued viability of populations of management indicator species.

"These examples represent only a portion of plaintiffs’ claims, but they suffice to demonstrate that plaintiffs have raised serious questions," Hogan wrote.

In addition, the judge wrote, "Plaintiffs produced several declarations in support of their claims that the challenged timber sales will irreparably harm Port Orford Cedar trees through the spread of Phytophera lateralis (cedar root rot, or PL), and fish, aquatic habitat, soils and Wild and Scenic Rivers by erosion and sedimentation."

Judge Hogan noted that in previous rulings the court has "observed that the public interest in salvage logging in the LSRs [Late Successional Reserves, or old-growth reserves] and the Biscuit Project as a whole appears fractured," but that the logging "for the most part appears to comply with duly enacted laws that reflect the public interest."

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Detroit Hazwaste Executive Sentenced to 27 Months

DETROIT, Michigan, March 16, 2005 (ENS) - Gazi George, former vice president of the City Environmental facility in Detroit, was sentenced today to 27 months imprisonment and a fine of $60,000, after pleading guilty to felony violations of the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

During the period from September 1998 until August 1999, George and a convicted co-conspirator allowed millions of gallons of untreated waste to flow into the sewers of Detroit, and from there to the Detroit River. In addition, thousands of tons of hazardous waste were sent to a landfill that was not designed to handle hazardous waste.

George's guilty plea was entered on September 24, 2004, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

A federal indictment filed August 21, 2003 charged George and facility operations manager Donald Roeser with violating the Clean Water Act by bypassing treatment and tampering with a monitoring device, and violating the RCRA by causing the transportation of hazardous waste to unpermitted facilities and making false statements. The two men were also charged with conspiracy to violate those laws.

In December, 2004, Roeser was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and a fine of $60,000.

City Environmental was a waste treatment facility on Frederick Street in Detroit, Michigan. It was in the business of receiving, treating, hauling and disposing of liquid and solid hazardous and non-hazardous waste.

City Environmental was authorized to introduce pollutants to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) system pursuant to a permit that the DWSD issued to the facility. City Environmental's permit set forth limits on the types and concentrations of pollutants that the company could discharge.

The permit also required that City Environmental regularly take samples of its effluent to determine whether the facility was in compliance with permit requirements. In order to comply with permit discharge requirements, City Environmental was required to treat much of the wastewater before discharging it into the sanitary sewer. But treatment did not take place.

"The sentence imposed on Gazi George sends a strong message that intentional violation of environmental laws enacted to protect public health and the environment will not be tolerated," said Thomas Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division

"Dr. George's sentence serves as a reminder that those who intentionally violate our environmental laws do so at their peril. We will continue to do what we can to deter individuals and businesses from committing this type of crime," added U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Murphy, III.

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Soaring Gas Prices Turn Buyers to Fuel Efficient Cars

IRVINE, California, March 16, 2005 (ENS) - U.S. gas prices are climbing again with the national average already more than $2.00 a gallon. Experts in the industry are now forecasting that gas prices will reach the $3.00 mark by summer.

Agbeli Ameko, a managing partner at energy-forecasting firm Enercast Inc. of Denver, predicted the new high in an interview with the "Rocky Mountain News" March 5. "Last summer, we were a little over $2 a gallon. This summer, we may very well see $3 a gallon if crude keeps going up," he said.

A new study from Harris Interactive and Kelley Blue Book Marketing Research showed that 41 percent of car buyers have either changed their minds or are thinking strongly about vehicles they normally wouldn't consider due to high gas prices.

In February, 30 percent of car buyers indicated that if gas prices rose a 25 cents over the then national average of $1.99 per gallon for regular unleaded, they would seriously consider a more fuel efficient vehicle.

"Over the last five months we have seen a slow and steady decline in large SUV consideration. Additionally, shoppers have been telling us that even small increases in gas prices will lead them to consider more fuel efficient models," said Rick Wainschel, vice president of marketing research for Kelley Blue Book.

"We have never hit the $3.00 a gallon mark," said Wainschel. "If we hit that mark, it could be an interesting sales season. We will continue track purchase intentions and vehicle sales as fuel prices climb."

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The Great 2005 New York City Street Tree Census

NEW YORK, New York, March 16, 2005 (ENS) - This spring, the New York City Parks & Recreation Department is launching the largest street tree inventory in the nation. Volunteers and community groups along with Parks staff will count and record information on every one of the city’s half million street trees.

The 2005 Tree Count is the second time New York's trees have been counted.

Ten years ago, Parks & Recreation conducted the first New York tree census from July 1995 to July 1996.

Over 700 volunteers, as well as Parks employees, accounted for the species, size, and condition of 498,470 trees in all five boroughs.

The new census cover all these types of information and in addition will identify urban forest trends and changes. It will be used to calculate a dollar value of the trees’ environmental and economic benefits.

The first census showed that New York City's urban forest contains only a few species.

When only a few species dominate, the entire urban forest is susceptible to being destroyed by a particular insect or disease. For example, at the turn of the century, Dutch Elm disease wiped out the urban forests of many American cities that were heavily planted with susceptible elm species. Diversity ensures the overall survival of the urban forest, since it's likely only a few species would succumb to a particular infestation.

In New York, Norway maples and London plane trees together make up over 40 percent of the city's total tree population.

Norway maples are one of the favorite host species for the Asian longhorned beetle, and are among the trees threatened by this invasive pest, the Parks Department says. Most of New York City's London plane trees are affected by anthracnose, a chronic fungus, which weakens the trees significantly and reduces their ability to withstand heat and drought.

Parks is working to diversify the trees of New York City. The agency no longer plants Norway maples, rarely plants London plane trees, and instead is planting a wider variety of species than ever before.

Parks says the tree census will "inspire a new generation of citizens to protect and care for the city’s trees."

Beginning in May and continuing through the summer, training sessions will be offered in every borough on evenings and weekends. Volunteers - as individuals or in groups - are asked to attend a training session and commit to at least one census zone - approximately 300 trees and an estimated 40 hour commitment over four months.

Find out more about the 2005 New York Street Tree Census here.

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New York State Designates Two Bird Conservation Areas

ALBANY, New York, March 16, 2005 (ENS) - New York Governor George Pataki has announced the designation of two new Bird Conservation Areas at state parks, one at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve on Staten Island and the other at Joseph Davis State Park in Lewiston, Niagara County.

The two designations are the first of 20 new Bird Conservation Areas (BCAs) the governor pledged to create in his 2005 State of the State address to mark Audubon New York's 100th anniversary.

The state's Bird Conservation Area Program, modeled after the National Audubon Society's Important Bird Areas Program, was signed into law by the governor in 1997.

Designation as a Bird Conservation Area provides for the protection of birds and bird habitat, and expands opportunities for New Yorkers and visitors to enjoy birdwatching.

"Whether in New York City or along the Niagara River in Western New York, by safeguarding and enhancing these critical areas, we are securing habitat for resident and migratory birds and wildlife, while focusing needed attention on protection of our bird populations," Pataki said.

David Miller, executive director of Audubon New York commended Governor Pataki his bird conservation leadership. "Clay Pit Ponds State Park is a haven for birds located on Staten Island and critical for migratory species, while Joseph Davis State Park provides grassland bird habitat on the Niagara Frontier which is the fasting diminishing habitat for New York State bird populations in the state," Miller said.

The Clay Pit Ponds BCA consists of 260 acres on Staten Island and is the first State Parks BCA to be designated among the five boroughs in New York City. Clay Pit Ponds Preserve habitats include wetlands, ponds, sand barrens and forests.

There are 180 species of birds that have been identified within the BCA including 57 species of Neotropical migratory songbirds. Forest dwelling Neotropical migrants include broad-winged hawk, yellow-billed and black-billed cuckoos, great crested and olive-sided flycatchers, red-eyed vireo, blue-gray gnatcatcher, wood thrush, veery and Swainson's thrush.

Near Niagara Falls, the Joseph Davis BCA at the State park includes 1,400 feet of frontage on the Niagara River and 31 acres of underwater land. The forests and shrubs along the shoreline support an exceptional diversity of migratory songbirds during spring and fall migrations.

Two-thirds of the BCA is successional shrubland which provides a food source for migratory birds as well as breeding habitat in the summer. The fields host northern harrier, horned lark, savannah sparrow, bobolink and Eastern meadowlark.

Species at risk observed at Joseph Davis include the state-threatened pied-billed grebe, bald eagle, northern harrier and common tern and species of special concern osprey, sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawk, common nighthawk, whip-poor-will, horned lark and yellow-breasted chat.

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