AmeriScan: May 4, 2006

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Closed for Safety in 1985, Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant Relicensed Today

WASHINGTON, DC, May 4, 2006 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has renewed the operating licenses of the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, Units 1, 2 and 3, each for an additional 20 years.

The Browns Ferry plant is located on the north shore of Wheeler Reservoir in Limestone County, Alabama, approximately 10 miles northwest of Decatur.

The licensee, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), submitted its license renewal application December 31, 2003. With the renewal, the license for Unit 1 is extended until 2033; the license for Unit 2 is extended until 2034; and the license for Unit 3 is extended until 2036.

Unit 1 was shut down in 1985 due to concerns about a fire years earlier and the TVA’s inability to convince the Commission that the reactor could be operated safely. The plant was faulted for noncompliance with federal safety standards and poor economic performance. In an unprecedented move, the TVA voluntarily shuttered the reactor in 1985, placing the unit in a state of Administrative Hold.

The renewed licenses were signed today at the plant by James Dyer, director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. “The NRC is utilizing a fair, equitable and safety-driven process to review license renewal applications in a timely manner,” NRC Chairman Nils Diaz said at the signing ceremony.

All three units of the Browns Ferry plant were shut down in 1985 but retained NRC operating licenses. Unit 2 was restarted in 1991 and Unit 3 was restarted in 1995.

The TVA, a federal government agency, has been doing extensive work on Unit 1 and says it expects to have that unit ready to begin operating again by 2007.

Public Citizen, an advocacy group that opposes the Browns Ferry relicensing, says that at $1.8 billion, the estimated cost of restarting Browns Ferry Unit 1 exceeds by more than $100 million the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) highest cost estimate for building a new reactor.

The only way for such expensive power generation facilities to survive economically, according to the DOE’s analysis, is if the plant operator can convince state or regional regulators to saddle consumers with long-term power purchase agreements at "above market prices."

"There is no readily apparent rational explanation for the desire to restart the reactor," said Hugh Jackson, policy analyst with Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "But there may be an irrational one: the Bush administration’s obsession with new nuclear power plants."

Public Citizen says the Browns Ferry reactors are vulnerable to terrorist attack. In a 2004 submission to the NRC, the group said, "The Browns Ferry nuclear plant is a BWR-Mark I GE-4 design which has numerous inherent safety flaws: the spent-fuel pool is elevated above ground level and is vulnerable from above; the reactor itself is located above ground level; and it lacks a traditional 'containment dome' and instead has a thin steel shell."

“Because this reactor was never analyzed for attack by aircraft, it is just one more target for a terrorist to turn into a nuclear bomb,” said Mary Olson of another anti-nuclear group, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

"The challenges involved in making Browns Ferry absolutely secure against a terrorist attack from outside the plant perimeter would be enormous, both financially and logistically, and only further highlight the hopeless nature of attempting to provide complete safeguarding and security of this inherently dangerous technology," Public Citizen told the NRC.

In addition, the group pointed out that nuclear power plants require tremendous volumes of water in order to safely operate, and water policy issues in the southeast have reached contentious proportions as demonstrated by “water wars” that have occurred in nearby Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.

Browns Ferry withdraws water from the Tennessee River, a river system that has many large facilities relying on it, the advocacy group warns.

The NRC’s environmental review for this license renewal is described in a site-specific supplement to the NRC’s “Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Power Plants” (NUREG-1437, Supplement 21), issued in June.

The review concluded there were no environmental impacts that would preclude renewal of the licenses for environmental reasons. Public meetings to discuss the environmental review were held near the plant April 1, 2004, and January 25, 2005.

After reviewing the plant’s safety systems and specifications, the staff concluded that there were no safety concerns that would preclude license renewal, because the licensee had demonstrated "the capability to manage the effects of plant aging." In addition, NRC conducted inspections of the plant to verify information submitted by the licensee.

On March 23, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, an independent body of technical experts which advises the Commission, issued its recommendation that the operating licenses for Browns Ferry be renewed.

The “Safety Evaluation Report Related to the License Renewal of the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, Units 1, 2 and 3" (NUREG-1843) and a supplement were published in April.

The Browns Ferry renewals bring the total number of renewals by the NRC to 42 reactor units. A complete listing of renewal applications can be found on the NRC website at: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/renewal.asp.

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USDA Fails to Find Origin Herd of Third U.S. Mad Cow

WASHINGTON, DC, May 4, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been unable to discover the herd of origin of an Alabama beef cow found in March to have contracted mad cow disease.

USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford said Tuesday that this third U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was a red crossbreed without brands,tattoos or tags, making its origin difficult to determine.

In March the animal was found unable to walk and was examined by a local, private veterinarian. The veterinarian returned to the farm the following day, euthanized the animal, collected a sample, and submitted it for BSE testing. Clifford said the animal was buried on the farm at that time and did not enter the animal or human food chain, in accordance with protocols established by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

“APHIS and Alabama officials excavated the index animal’s carcass and through dentition, an examination of its teeth, determined the animal to be more than 10 years old. It was born prior to the implementation of FDA’s 1997 feed ban that minimizes the risk that a cow might consume feed contaminated with the agent thought to cause BSE," Clifford said.

That agent is believed to be infectious misfolded proteins known as prions that originate as regular components of neurological tissues in animals; they are not cellular organisms or viruses.

The USDA examined animals in nearby herds but failed to find a DNA match for the infected cow. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) examined area feed mills that handle specified risk materials prohibited from cattle feed and reported that all were in compliance with feed-ban rules.

As part of APHIS’ BSE enhanced surveillance program, more than 700,000 samples have been tested since June 2004. To date, only two of these highest risk animals has tested positive for the disease as part of the surveillance program, for a total of three cases of BSE in the United States.

But the enhanced surveillance program is ending shortly. Late last week, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said the USDA is scaling back the number of cattle tested for BSE by almost 90 percent after data collected from its surveillance program indicated that only four to seven U.S. cattle are likely carriers of the disease.

Two different prevalence testing methods used by the USDA have independently concluded that the prevalence of mad cow disease in the United States is less than one case per million adult cattle, based on an adult U.S. cattle population of 42 million animals, Johanns said.

USDA will use the prevalence analysis, once it is peer-reviewed, and international standards set by the World Animal Health Organization, to design an ongoing BSE surveillance program for the United States, said the secretary.

Japanese Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa told Johanns Tuesday that reducing the number of U.S. cattle tested for BSE will not be well received in Japan, which stopped importing U.S. beef after the first mad cow case was discovered. After meeting with Nakagawa in Geneva, Switzerland, Johanns reiterated that the likelihood of BSE occurrence in the U.S. herd is almost nonexistent.

USDA's enhanced BSE surveillance program followed the first detection of BSE in December 2003. The target population of cattle tested included those animals where the disease is most likely to be found if it is present - nonambulatory cattle, cattle exhibiting signs of central nervous disorders or any other signs that may be associated with BSE, including emaciation or injury and dead cattle.

Samples were drawn from more than 5,000 slaughter plants, renderers, farms, public health laboratories, veterinary diagnostic laboratories and salvage slaughter facilities.

The enhanced BSE surveillance program is not part of U.S. food safety protections, Johanns said. The most important safeguards are the removal of specified risk materials such as brain and spinal cord tissue from the food supply, along with the FDA's 1997 ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban. Scientists say that the longer the feed ban is in place, the lower the prevalence of BSE will be.

The analysis, along with a summary report on the BSE enhanced surveillance program, are available at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/hot_issues/bse.shtml

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New Jersey Panel Recommends Offshore Wind Test Project

TRENTON, New Jersey, May 4, 2006 (ENS) - New Jersey should consider launching a limited and carefully monitored offshore wind-turbine test project to gather more data about the technology’s costs and benefits, the state’s Blue Ribbon Panel on the Development of Wind Turbine Facilities in Coastal Waters recommended in its final report released Tuesday.

No offshore wind power project has yet been built in U.S. waters, although one is proposed for Massachusetts' Nantucket Sound.

After a 15 month examination of whether offshore wind would be an appropriate alternative energy source for New Jersey, the panel proposed that scientific baseline studies be conducted to further assess potential impacts to natural resources and the economy before wind turbine facilities are constructed in coastal waters.

The panel identified major gaps in data about New Jersey’s offshore natural resources, including migratory birds and mammals, and how offshore wind turbines might affect them.

“Through the efforts of this panel, New Jersey became the first state to conduct a public and thorough investigation of the costs and benefits of developing offshore wind turbine facilities,” said Edward J. McKenna Jr., mayor of Red Bank, chairman of the panel, and member of the State Planning Commission.

“The panel did an excellent job of balancing the need to address our state’s serious energy constraints while ensuring protection of our precious offshore natural resources and our local economies,” he said.

Established by executive order in December 2004, the panel was directed to assess the environmental and economic issues associated with offshore wind turbines, including costs and benefits as compared to other renewable energy sources, impacts on birds and marine mammals, commercial and recreational fishing, tourism and property values.

The executive order also imposed a moratorium on the funding and permitting of offshore wind turbine facilities.

“I will closely review the panel’s findings and recommendations and consider them while working to shape New Jersey’s energy and coastal policies,” said Governor Jon Corzine said.

In its final report, the panel outlines New Jersey’s growing energy supply crisis, which has resulted in high electricity costs, particularly along the state’s coast.

Acknowledging that no single strategy will solve all of New Jersey’s energy problems, the report urges state agencies to promote an aggressive, multifaceted solution that includes energy efficiency standards and various renewable energy technologies.

For a copy of the panel’s final report, visit: www.njwindpanel.org.

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Rhode Island Offers $700,000 for Riparian Buffer Restoration

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, May 4, 2006 (ENS) - Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri and the Department of Environmental Management announce the availability of $700,000 in state bond funds for riparian buffer restoration activities benefiting Narragansett Bay and the state watersheds.

Grants are available for projects proposed by governmental and nongovernmental agencies and individuals for construction, re-establishment of native species or other improvement projects that will establish or restore riparian habitats, or enhance the overall quality of riparian buffers for water quality improvement or protection.

A riparian buffer is an area of land adjacent to rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and coastal waters that is maintained in a natural condition and is integral to the ecology of aquatic systems.

The grants will pay up to 50 percent of the cost of eligible projects. The funds come from the $70 million Open Space, Recreation, Bay and Watershed Protection Bond, first proposed by Governor Carcieri, that was approved by voters in 2004.

"These grants are an opportunity for organizations throughout the state to preserve, improve and restore riparian habitats, which are so important to maintaining the fragile ecological balance of our watersheds," the governor said. "I encourage organizations to take advantage of these grants."

The deadline for submitting grant applications is Monday, June 12. A review team will rank the projects based on the value of the resources to be protected or restored, public benefits and technical merits of the project, consistency with plans such as community comprehensive plans or watershed action plans, and readiness to proceed. DEM expects to announce selected projects and begin issuing grant agreements by late June.

Funding for the grants is provided through the Narragansett Bay and Watershed Restoration Bond Fund, which is the $8.5 million portion of the state's 2004 Open Space, Recreation, Bay and Watershed Protection Bond allotted for anti-pollution projects and restoration activities benefiting Narragansett Bay and state watersheds.

Funds from the environmental bond have enabled the state and local communities to improve point source and nonpoint source pollution abatement projects and preserve open space.

Governor Carcieri has proposed a $25 million water bond to be placed on the November 2006 ballot. Funds from that bond would be used to provide loans for water quality projects to improve wastewater treatment plants and repair and expand sewer systems. The bond would also provide matching grants to state and local agencies, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to reduce water pollution.

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Hope Accompanies 200th Hatching of Rare Hawaiian Bird

SAN DIEGO, California, May 4, 2006 (ENS) - The 200th hatching of a puaiohi (pu-ai-O-he), at the San Diego Zoo's Hawaiian bird breeding center, is a milestone that renews optimism for the fate of this critically endangered bird species native to the island of Kauai, scientists say.

The birds, representing a species that is believed to number fewer than 500, have been part of a breeding program since 1996 when the first captive hatching of a wild egg took place.

The breeding and release program is part of a collaborative effort undertaken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the U.S. Geological Survey and the San Diego Zoo to build a sustainable population of these birds in the wild.

"Reaching this milestone is significant on many levels, but most importantly, it is a clear demonstration of how a propagation program can help forestall extinction and can hopefully help to recover endangered species," said Alan Lieberman, director of the zoo's propagation efforts in Hawaii.

"The true test for any recovery program however, will be the integration of these captive birds into a comprehensive recovery effort in the native habitat," Lieberman said. "This will require that all the recovery partners reach their respective milestones."

The puaiohi, also known as the Kauai thrush, is a small songbird that has been reduced to a single relict population in the wet forest of the Alakai Wilderness Preserve.

Habitat degradation caused by feral ungulates and invasive alien plants, and the joint threats from introduced predators and diseases are thought to be contributing factors in the decline of this species.

More than half of Hawaii's surviving songbirds are listed as endangered by the state and federal governments.

Puaiohi are released into the wild of the Alakai Swamp after they are flown to the city of Lihue, Kauai then transported to the release site.

At the release site they are placed in an aviary where they spend seven to 10 days adjusting to the environment. More than 110 puaiohi have been released into the wild since the program started in 1996.

The Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program is a part of the San Diego Zoo's department of Conservation and Research for Endangered Species (CRES).

CRES, operated by the nonprofit Zoological Society of San Diego, is working to establish field stations in five key ecological areas internationally and participates in conservation and research work around the globe.

The Zoological Society also manages the 100 acre San Diego Zoo and the 1,800 acre San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park, more than half of which has been set aside as protected native species habitat.

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Birds Benefit From First Charity U.S. Postage Stamps

WASHINGTON, DC, May 4, 2006 (ENS) - The American Bird Conservancy is offering the first U.S. charity postage stamps to support wildlife conservation. The new stamps feature images of the cerulean warbler, a declining songbird, and the recently rediscovered ivory-billed woodpecker.

Each stamp carries a face value of 39 cents and can be used for regular U.S. postage.

The stamps are available through the American Bird Conservancy web site at www.abcbirds.org, and are being distributed by Zazzle.com - home of the largest online collection of customizable digital images and unmatched personalization tools - in association with Pitney Bowes.

"The concept of individualized postage stamps is a new one, and ABC is delighted to partner with Zazzle in issuing the first charity postage stamps to support wildlife conservation" said George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy.

"Not only will these stamps contribute much-needed funds to priority bird conservation projects," said Fenwick, "they will also help raise awareness of the need to conserve America’s birds."

The stamps are intended to halt species extinctions, and to restore American songbird populations.

Twenty-seven percent of the net proceeds from all stamp sales ordered through ABC’s website will contribute directly to bird and habitat conservation programs.

ABC is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. It is recognized as a top-rated charity by the independent group Charity Navigator.

The ivory-billed woodpecker stamp illustration was painted by Washington based artist Todd Telander www.toddtelander.com.

The cerulean warbler image was adapted by ABC graphic designer Gemma Radko from a photograph by bird bander Robert Mulvihill. The original photograph was taken at Powdermill Nature Reserve in Pennsylvania www.powdermill.org, where researchers have been banding migratory birds to track their movements since 1961.

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Today is Respect for Chickens Day

MACHIPONGO, Virginia, May 4, 2006 (ENS) - Today is the second annual International Respect for Chickens Day for the nonprofit group United Poultry Concerns. The group says the purpose of Respect for Chickens Day is to celebrate the dignity, beauty and life of chickens and to protest against the bleakness of their lives in farming operations.

For International Respect for Chickens Day, educators, students, office workers and activists are encouraged to do an action for chickens. The group suggests a variety of activities from showing the movie "Chicken Run" to setting up a school library display to leafleting on a busy street corner.

A farmed animal sanctuary outside Washington, DC celebrates Respect for Chickens Day by having visiting students discuss the topic What Wings Are For, inspired by UPC's poster showing a mother hen with her chick tucked under her wing.

A Minneapolis group is holding a Most Beautiful Chicken Photo contest with prizes for the winners.

Activists in Vancouver, British Columbia are doing radio interviews and street demonstrations with their huge hen Henny to show the suffering of egg-laying chickens and to ask people to boycott eggs laid by hens in cages.

UPC President Karen Davis told the Los Angeles Times, "I believe these chickens should have a voice that cares, speaking out for them and wanting to change how people perceive and treat them," she said. "I believe we should be there for these birds."

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