AmeriScan: May 27, 2005

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Emergency Sirens Have No Backup at 28 U.S. Reactor Sites

WASHINGTON, DC, May 27, 2005 (ENS) - In the event of a simultaneous accident where a nuclear power station melts down at the same time the main power lines fail, the emergency siren system for the entire emergency planning zone would lose power and not be operable to alert people to an approaching radioactive cloud at 28 reactor sites across the country.

In response to a petition filed by Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and 16 other organizations and local governments, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has revealed that 28 reactor emergency plan zone siren systems are entirely reliant upon electricity from their regional grid.

Another 18 sites have only partial emergency power backup available to siren systems.

Only 17 reactor sites have siren systems that are fully backed up with emergency power systems so that they would remain operable independent of the failure of main power lines.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been engaged in revising public notification systems since the August 14, 2003 northeast electricity blackout, but no date for completion is available.

This information was contained in a NRC denial, issued May 20, 2005, of an emergency enforcement petition submitted on February 23, 2005 requesting that emergency back up power supplies consisting of rechargeable batteries, preferably on photovoltaic solar panels be back fitted to all public alert systems around the nation's nuclear power stations.

The NRC released a list Wednesday specifying reactors sites without power back up, partial back up and full back up.

"These siren systems would not have worked from day one if the grid failed the same time these reactors melted down," said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Watchdog Project for the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS).

"NRC is saying that public safety can wait on bureaucratic foot dragging that can leave communities not only in the dark but without emergency notification if there is a nuclear melt down," he said. "The 17 sites that have emergency power for all their sirens is enough to demonstrate that it can and should be done for all of the reactor sites, today," Gunter said.

The petition documents that grid failures as the result of lightning, hurricanes, ice storms, earthquakes as well as mechanical failures in the electricity distribution system routinely cause a loss of power to community alerting systems around nuclear power stations. The loss of offsite power significantly increases the risk of a core melt accident because of reduced safety systems.

Typically, NRC mock terrorist attack tests at reactor sites begin with the assumption that the main power lines are down.

In its denial NRC argued that it is inappropriate for affected communities to take up the request for back up power for sirens under the agency's emergency enforcement petition process.

Instead, NRC determined that a request for back fitting the nuclear industry with emergency power for its siren systems should go through NRC's petition for rule making, a bureaucratic process typically involving two years of deliberations.

NRC claims it does not want to duplicate efforts of the DHS/FEMA to revise guidance on outdoor warning and mass notification systems as directed by the House Committee on Appropriations following the August 14, 2003 blackout.

NRC does not dispute the fact that many siren systems around nuclear power stations will fail in the event of a radiological release coinciding with a power blackout. The NRC and nuclear industry's current fall back position is to rely upon "local route notifications" where first responders such as police and fire departments, get into emergency vehicles and communicate instructions through bull horns while traveling through neighborhoods within the 10 mile emergency planning zone.

"It's absurd to suggest that with an approaching radioactive cloud an already overburdened police or fire department driving around neighborhoods with bull horns or along roads, some possibly impassible, can adequately compensate for deliberately leaving these sirens inoperable," said Gunter.

"NRC has sole jurisdiction to require reactor operators to back fit the emergency notification system for the emergency planning zone," said Gunter. "It is the responsibility of reactor operator to demonstrate and maintain its emergency notification system to work," Gunter said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports:

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Bull Trout Habitat Slashed by 90 Percent: Public Comment Sought

WASHINGTON, DC, May 27, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hear a second round of public comments on its proposed and final critical habitat designations for threatened bull trout in the Columbia and Klamath river basins.

Comments, scientific and economic data and all other relevant information will be accepted until June 24, 2005. The public may comment simultaneously on the Service?s November 29, 2002, critical habitat proposal and on its October 6, 2004, final critical habitat designation.

The Service intends to use the information in a re-evaluation of critical habitat for the Columbia River Basin and Klamath River Basin populations of bull trout, which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Service proposed to designate a total of 18,471 miles of streams and 532,721 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana as critical habitat for bull trout on November 29, 2002.

But on October 6, 2004, the Service issued a final critical habitat designation of 1,748 miles of streams and 61,235 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Oregon, Washington and Idaho - a reduction of more than 90 percent.

The Service gave economic reasons for cutting the bull trout's critical habitat back so much. The cuts were made after the Service considered a 2004 economic analysis estimating economic losses resulting if the larger area of critical habitat first proposed were to be adopted would range from $200 million to $260 million over 10 years.

On December 14, 2004, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed a legal challenge to the adequacy of the final designation and the exclusions that were made.

During its re-evaluation of critical habitat for bull trout in the Columbia and Klamath river basins, the Service will not conduct another economic analysis, but the agency is seeking information on whether the 2004 economic analysis identified all state and local economic costs and economic benefits attributable to the critical habitat designation.

The Service also is seeking specific information on the amount and distribution of bull trout habitat and why those particular amounts and distributions are essential to the conservation of the species; the benefits of including areas that were excluded; the benefits of excluding areas that were included; any previously unidentified impacts of the critical habitat designation; whether military lands with resource protection plans that benefit bull trout should be excluded; and "whether our approach to designating critical habitat could be improved or modified to provide for greater public participation and understanding."

The outcome of the case may set national precedent for how critical habitat for threatened and endangered species is proposed and designated.

"Rather than doing their job and following the law, the Bush Administration is turning over management of our forests, fish and water to the timber industry," said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Montana based Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

"Everyone knows that threatened fish and wildlife need habitat to survive and recover, but by pretending that critical habitat is meaningless, they hope to open large areas of bull trout habitat to logging," Garrity said. "Failing to protect the bull trout will jeopardize clean water supplies throughout the Northwest."

"The agency's final action is based on an extra-legal theory which has no basis in the Endangered Species Act or its implementing regulations," said Missoula attorney Jack Tuholske, lead attorney on the case. "It's a direct attempt to nullify one of the most essential elements of the Endangered Species Act."

For the next 30 days, comments may be mailed to John Young, Bull Trout Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, 911 NE 11th Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97232, or faxed to 503-231-6243, or emailed to R1BullTroutCH@fws.gov.

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$14 Million Goes Into Developing Fuel Efficient Vehicles

WASHINGTON, DC, May 27, 2005 (ENS) - "Our children and grandchildren will call the cars we drive today antiques," Energy Secretary Sanuel Bodman said Thursday while announcing a public-private partnership between the Department of Energy (DOE), industry and academia aimed at improving the efficiency of cars and trucks through advances in technology.

The partnership consists of six projects with a value, including cost share, of over $14 million and a adopts a coordinated approach involving government agencies, private companies and researchers.

The projects support the DOE’s stated five year goal of improving the efficiency of internal combustion engines from 30 percent to 45 percent by 2010 for passenger cars and SUVs.

The DOE aims to improve the efficiency of heavy duty vehicles from 40 to 55 percent by 2013, eight years from today.

The projects were selected in three technology areas as part of the DOE’s FreedomCAR and Vehicle Technologies Program which seeks to develop more energy efficient and environmentally friendly technologies for cars and trucks that will use less oil.

Many of these advanced power technologies also serve as the foundation of tomorrow's hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Bodman said these technologies could reduce fuel use for all highway vehicles by 10 percent, saving over one million barrels of oil per day by 2025.

In 2004, the United States used about 11 million barrels of crude oil per day for passenger vehicles and trucks. Over half of that oil is imported from foreign countries.

Current projections show imports to comprise 68 percent of domestic oil needs by the year 2025. Increasing the energy efficiency of the nation’s passenger vehicles and trucks is an effective way to reduce dependence on imported oil, while also reducing environmental emissions.

Most of the projects will cost roughly $1 million to complete with costs split between industry and government.

Advanced combustion engine technologies include a novel low-pressure direct injection fuel system from Michigan State, and an exhaust gas recirculation control system in diesel engines by Honeywell.

One project was selected to overcome the barriers preventing the widespread use of idle reduction technologies in heavy-duty trucks including initial cost, driver education and receptiveness, and system reliability and maintenance.

International Truck and Engine Corporation in Warrenville, Illinois will facilitate idle reduction in Class 8 trucks by making idle reduction equipment available on new trucks as an option orderable from the factory. Trucks in Class 8 trucks are less than five-axle tractor/single trailer, medium-haul delivery vehicles.

Fuel use of Class 8 trucks, at 18 billion gallons per year, far exceeds that of commercial trucks in any other weight class.

Both "Cold Climate" and "Hot and Cold Climate" systems will be developed and released for controlling cab temperature and comfort during rest periods in Class 8 trucks so that they need not idle at truck stops.

One project will cost $9 million with the cost split evenly between government and industry.

The costly project focuses on the testing and evaluation of commercially available and pre-production light, medium, and heavy duty advanced technology vehicles.

These vehicles will use advanced energy storage technologies such as batteries, ultra-capacitors, and high pressure, high volume hydrogen storage tanks.

The project will test internal combustion engines burning advanced fuels such as 100 percent hydrogen and hydrogen enriched natural gas blended fuels; advanced climate control, power electronic, and other ancillary systems; and combinations of advanced onboard engine technologies - hybrids.

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Firefighting Air Tankers Pulled From Service Now Back on the Job

WASHINGTON, DC, May 27, 2005 (ENS) - Federal firefighting agency leaders said Thursday they have "a sufficient mix of aerial resources" to meet this fire season. The announcement follows the results of a study on old Navy P2V air tankers taken out of service last season over airworthiness concerns, which showed that they could be used in the upcoming fire season.

The preliminary outlook for the 2005 fire season shows normal fire potential in the southern and eastern states. Significant fire activity in the southwest is expected to occur mostly in the southern parts of Arizona and New Mexico at lower elevations.

Recent rainfall in the west has delayed an early onset of the fire season in the northwest and northern rockies; activity in these areas should begin in early July.

Alaska is not expected to have another severe fire season like that of last year. Currently, the main threat for high fire potential is in the western Kenai Peninsula due to large areas of bug-killed spruce.

In May 2004, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management terminated the contracts for 33 heavy airtankers due to the National Transportation Safety Board concerns about the airworthiness of the aircraft. In July 2004, the agencies determined the airworthiness of eight P3s and returned these planes to service.

In February, the Forest Service initiated an engineering study to determine the life limit of nine P2Vs. The operational service life is expressed in how many hours an aircraft can be safely flown. It takes into account the stresses imposed on the airframe during different flight missions.

The P2V was operated as a land-based patrol bomber in the 1950s and 1960s by the U.S. Navy and was the predecessor to the P3. The original manufacturer is Lockheed Martin who produced the aircraft until 1963.

Since the P2Vs were in service before the U.S. Navy's development of structural analysis and fatigue life limit programs, the development of this information required additional engineering work. In a typical fire season, a P2V aircraft flies between 200 and 300 hours.

Preliminary results of the study found that some P2V aircraft may be safely returned to service. Once additional inspections are completed on the P2V aircraft, two of the aircraft currently on limited service will be returned to full service and seven additional aircraft may be awarded contracts for work beginning in July.

Firefighters will have at their disposal this season:

The Forest Service and the Department of Interior, together with interagency partners, continue to work on a long-term plan for aviation resources.

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U.S. Energy, Agriculture Heads Sign Biomass to Hydrogen Pact

WASHINGTON, DC, May 27, 2005 (ENS) - The top officials of federal agencies that oversee energy and agriculture have signed an agreement to develop hydrogen technologies, particularly the more cost-effective production of hydrogen from biomass, which is plant material, vegetation or agricultural waste used as an energy source.

Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns signed a memorandum of understanding Wednesday between the Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) that commits officials of the two departments to work together to develop cost effect technologies to convert biomass to hydrogen.

"Biomass technologies hold great promise for our rural communities and are a promising route to renewable hydrogen production," Bodman said.

Biomass sources that could be used for hydrogen production include ethanol, crop and forest residues, and dedicated energy crops such as switchgrass or willow.

"This partnership will hasten the day when hydrogen and fuel cell technologies are providing affordable domestic energy throughout our rural communities and the agriculture and forestry industries," said Johanns.

The agreement calls for experts from both departments to meet regularly to share information on technologies and activities related to reducing the cost of chemically converting biomass to hydrogen.

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Sportsmen Join Fight to Keep Oil Drilling Off Otero Mesa

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, May 27, 2005 (ENS) - Sportsmen and conservation groups filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal district court in Albuquerque seeking to save New Mexico's Otero Mesa from oil and gas development.

The groups claim that the federal government failed to disclose the true effects of the oil and gas development on water resources, wildlife and archaeological sites, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. The suit also contends that the development plan fails to protect wildlife and plants in the most environmentally sensitive areas.

The conservation groups' lawsuit supports a similar legal challenge to the oil and gas development plans filed in April by the state of New Mexico.

On April 22, New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid filed suit on behalf of New Mexico against the federal Bureau of Land Management in federal district court in Santa Fe.

New Mexico governor Bill Richardson has repeatedly asked the federal government to consider state interests and scale back the oil and gas development plans at Otero Mesa. The New Mexico lawsuit says that Bureau of Land Management violated federal laws by refusing to consider state interests when it adopted its aggressive oil and gas development scheme.

The federal Bureau of Land Management is authorizing the opening of more than 90 percent of public lands under its jurisdiction in the area between El Paso, Texas and Carlsbad, New Mexico to oil and gas drilling. The area contains vast stretches of Chihuahuan desert grasslands, one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world.

"The Bush administration ignored us and ignored the law in their rush to give away Otero Mesa to energy executives," said Oscar Simpson, president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.

"So along with the state of New Mexico, we are going to court and we are going to win, Simpson said. We will not sacrifice our water or wildlife resources in order to line the pockets of a few energy executives. Sportsmen don't understand why the Bush administration won't promote energy development that protects our freshwater aquifers and has minimal impact on big game and other wildlife that hunters cherish and depend on."

The New Mexico Wildlife Federation is a sportsmen's conservation organization that was founded in 1914 in Silver City by Aldo Leopold and several other prominent sportsmen-conservationists.

"The oil and gas development planned for Otero Mesa will likely destroy the underground water supply across southern New Mexico," said attorney Mike Harris of Earthjustice, the non-profit, law firm representing the conservation and sportsmen's groups. "In this part of the world, water is the very life blood of the local people."

The groups filing the suit include the National Wildlife Federation, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Southwest Environmental Center, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Forest Guardians.

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Heading for a National Park? Watch Out for Potholes

WASHINGTON, DC, May 27, 2005 (ENS) - Visitors heading out to the national parks this summer can expect unsafe roads and traffic jams, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) cautions going into the first big warm weather weekend of the year.

NPCA's new report, "Faded Glory: Top 10 Reasons to Reinvest in America's National Park Heritage," shows that 65 percent of the more than 5,000 miles of paved roads in the national parks are in poor to fair condition. The estimated cost to address transportation needs in the national parks exceeds $3 billion.

Today, the NPCA named the parks with the worst roads in the National Park System.

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in Pennsylvania and New Jersey tops the list of parks with roads in need of repair.

Bad roads are found in Utah's Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, in California's Death Valley National Park, in Nevada's Lake Mead National Recreation Area, in Texas' Big Bend National Park, and across the Joshua Tree National Park in California.

"In some stretches, roads in these parks are bad enough to be a hazard," the NPCA said.

The 50-mile Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park is under repair, but has long been recognized as one of the worst roads in the park system. The multi-year construction project is estimated to cost between $140 million and $170 million.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate approved a version of the transportation bill, providing $1.64 billion to repair roads and bridges in national parks over the next five years. "These funds will help to alleviate traffic jams, restore crumbling, unsafe park roads, and provide better experiences for visitors," the NPCA said. The bill is expected to pass this summer.

"The Senate's request for annual funding for park roads is right on the money, but there are still major differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill," said Laura Loomis, NPCA senior director. "In order to improve road conditions in the national parks, it will be critical that the level of funding in the Senate bill is maintained during the upcoming conference."

The assessment of the worst roads is based upon a formula that factors the condition of an individual park road against its capital replacement value.

Faded Glory is available online at: http://www.npca.org/report/investinparks.asp

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