AmeriScan: December 12, 2000


SHIPPINGPORT, Pennsylvania, December 12, 2000 (ENS) - A coolant system leak at the Beaver Valley Power Station in Shippingport forced the shutdown of the station's Number 2 reactor. The leak was discovered and an emergency declared early Monday morning. At the height of the emergency, radioactive water was spilling from the coolant system at a rate of 12 to 20 gallons per minute. The water, which appeared to be leaking from a line that drains water from the reactor's coolant system, flowed onto the floor of the reactor containment building. Plant personnel began gradually shutting down the plant as soon as automated alarms alerted them to the leak. By late afternoon, the leak had been reduced to five gallons per minute. Workers in protective gear attempted to reach a valve to shut down the water flow, but were forced to wait until the reactor cooled.

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) director David Smith said there was not a radioactive release to the environment as a result of the incident. He noted that the system established to respond to such emergencies worked as it was designed. "When the plant notified us about a contained leak in the Unit No. 2 primary coolant system, appropriate state and federal personnel contacted the control room to assess the problem and monitor conditions," Smith said. "As part of our system of checks and balances, staff from the state's Bureau of Radiation Protection arrived on site shortly after they were notified, to independently confirm the facts of this situation." The accident was classified as an Unusual Event, a federal designation that is the lowest or least serious of four step emergency classifications.

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SEATTLE, Washington, December 12, 2000 (ENS) - A federal district court has ruled that the U.S. government violated the law by approving Northwest Forest Plan timber sales that could harm endangered salmon species. As a result, the court has enjoined about 170 federal timber sales in Washington, Oregon and northern California. "This ruling gives Northwest salmon a reprieve from federal logging practices that are harming fish habitat," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. "The federal government must make sure that logging heeds the mandates in the Northwest Forest Plan to protect salmon habitat."

In the case, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA) v. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Judge Barbara Rothstein, a federal judge in Seattle, ruled that in approving the timber sales, the federal government failed to comply with Northwest Forest Plan mandates to ensure logging will not destroy salmon habitat. Rothstein concluded that "There is a discrete and immediate harm posed to listed species by logging and timber activities ... that fail to properly assess the potential environmental harm associated with such forestry action." Some of the timber sales have been partially or fully logged before the injunction was issued. The same court has issued two similar rulings in previous cases. Complete cancellation of the sales is unlikely, the plaintiffs said. In most cases, sales can just be modified according to recommendations already made by federal fish biologists in the timber sale planning process. "We are seeking a solution that allows for some careful federal timber management, but in a way that protects endangered runs of salmon," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "If the Northwest Forest Plan is properly followed, we can have timber management while protecting salmon."

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 12, 2000 (ENS) - President Bill Clinton has officially launched the historic restoration of the Florida Everglades, aimed at reviving millions of acres of sawgrass prairies, mangrove and cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks and coral reefs. The president signed the Everglades Restoration Act on Monday, beginning a 30 year, $7.8 billion effort to restore the nation's largest wetlands area. "Thanks to an historic partnership among federal, state, tribal and local leaders, we can begin in earnest an over 30 year journey to complete the largest and most ambitious ecosystem restoration project in the world," Clinton said.

The Act passed as part of the larger Water Resources Development Act of 2000, which also funds the Army Corps of Engineers. "I am pleased that the Congress has adopted my proposals to strengthen the authority of the Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate comprehensively the water resources needs of watersheds throughout the nation and to enhance its ability to work with native American tribes and Alaska native communities to study proposed water resources projects," Clinton said. "I also endorse the authorization for a National Academy of Sciences study on suggestions for an independent review of Army Corps of Engineers projects." However, Clinton said he was disappointed that the bill includes about $5 billion in new spending for the Corps - far more than the $1 billion requested by the president. Conservation group American Rivers praised the bill's funding for river restoration projects like the Columbia River Estuary program, the Ohio River Ecosystem Restoration program, a sediment and nutrient study for the Upper Mississippi River Basin, and resource assessment on the Lower Mississippi River for future habitat restoration. But the group criticized other funded projects, including the Upper Mississippi-Illinois Waterway Navigation Study, which independent reviewers have shown to have little economic justification.

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MIAMI, Florida, December 12, 2000 (ENS) - In the largest settlement ever under the Park System Resources Protection Act, Biscayne National Park will receive $1 million to cover costs associated with the November 1996 grounding of the vessel M/T Igloo Moon. The tanker, loaded with butadiene, a chemical used in processing rubber, injured almost 500 square meters of reef habitat, including live corals and other organisms. The $1 million will be used to restore the area where the injury occurred, and to compensate for lost productivity in the area. Restoration site is expected to begin in about a year, when the restoration plan is finalized and an experienced contractor is hired.


Tugs move the M/T Igloo Moon to deeper water after lightening its load (Photo by Karen Battle, courtesy National Park Service)

The vessel, with a draft of almost 30 feet, crushed and scraped parts of the reef that are covered by less than 20 feet of water at low tide. Severe weather and numerous technical difficulties made the investigation and vessel removal dangerous. To refloat and remove the ship, park staff, the National Park Service Environmental Response Planning and Assessment division and the U.S. Coast Guard developed innovative procedures to protect park resources. These procedures are now part of the standard response for grounding incidents involving similar vessels. The Department of the Interior Solicitor's Office and the Department of Justice played crucial roles reaching the settlement announced Monday. The Park System Resources Protection Act authorizes recovery of costs associated with injuries to National Park Service resources. It has been used in other national parks to recover damages in cases ranging from trees injured by motor vehicles to aesthetic losses from a helicopter crash.

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 12, 2000 (ENS) - Citing alarming findings about the world's coral reefs, Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta has announced new actions the U.S. is taking to counter the crisis. Referring to findings released in October by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, Mineta said, "We can no longer take our coral reefs for granted. We cannot continue to count on coral reefs to support billion dollar economies based on recreation and tourism while at the same time permitting unprecedented degradation of our reefs." The findings are reported in "Status of Coral Reefs of the World 2000," a report by Dr. Clive Wilkinson, global coordinator of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network. Data from around the globe indicates that, by 1992, 10 percent of the world's coral reefs had been lost. The new report estimates that today 27 percent are gone. At this rate, 70 percent of the world's coral reefs may be lost by 2050.

To address the coral reef crisis, Mineta announced four major initiatives:

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RICHLAND, Washington, December 12, 2000 (ENS) - Bechtel-Washington has been selected to design, construct and commission a new waste treatment and immobilization plant to remediate radioactive and chemical wastes stored at the Department of Energy's Hanford site. "This is a major step towards meeting our commitment to the people of the state of Washington to treat waste now stored in underground tanks at Hanford," said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. "By selecting a new contractor more than one month ahead of schedule, the department has maintained momentum on this critical project." The ten year contract is valued at about $4 billion.

More than 53 million gallons of radioactive tank waste are stored in 177 aging underground tanks at the Hanford Site in southeastern Washington. The tank waste, a byproduct of plutonium production for World War II and Cold War defense purposes, will be vitrified, or turned to glass. Bechtel-Washington will locate its project team in Richland, Washington. Bechtel National Inc. teamed with Washington Group International, Inc. to win the contract. The Washington Group International, Inc., includes the former companies of Westinghouse Government and Environmental Services Company, Morrison Knudsen, and Raytheon Engineers and Constructors. "Our Washington Group business units have safely converted more high level defense waste into stable glass than the rest of the world combined," said Dennis Washington, chairman and chief executive officer of Washington Group. "The Bechtel-Washington team brings together world class design, construction and operation companies with proven track records in successfully building and operating vitrification plants in the United States. Partnerships are an important part of our business and we are proud to be working with Bechtel on a project of this importance."

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SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands, December 12, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gathered land crabs in Tanapag Village on Saipan last weekend to determine if the shellfish are contaminated with PCBs. The EPA sampled eight crabs in May 2000, gathered near a cemetery where PCB contaminated dirt has been dumped, and found that five of the crabs studied showed some PCB contamination. The Department of Public Health issued an advisory against eating land crabs pending further investigation. More than 50 crabs were collected from four locations in Tanapag Village and a control location in San Jose Village. "We were concerned when five of the crabs showed some PCB contamination," said Enrique Manzanilla, director of EPA's cross media division. "We decided we needed to conduct a more thorough scientific assessment to be sure eating Tanapag land crabs doesn't pose a risk."

The EPA and the Saipan Department of Environmental Quality have been monitoring the Army Corps of Engineers' cleanup of PCB contamination in Tanapag Village. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) leaked into the ground in the village from U.S. military electrical transformers shipped to Saipan from other parts of the Pacific in the 1960s. PCBs are potential carcinogens, and have been linked to skin, liver, immune system, reproductive system and learning problems. While the electrical transformers have been removed from the village, the soil is still contaminated. Two large piles of contaminated dirt remain in the village cemetery, covered by a tarpaulin. An EPA hazardous waste order was sent to the Corps in September, requiring the Corps to adhere to its published cleanup schedule, use scientific methods for minimizing and eliminating the PCB waste, and transport waste out of Saipan if it cannot be eliminated.

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ALBANY, New York, December 12, 2000 (ENS) - Conservation groups are calling on members of the Clean Air Markets Group (CAMG) to reveal their identity. The CAMG is suing New York state over a law that bars New York utilities from selling pollution credits, earned through voluntary reductions of sulfur dioxide emissions, to owners of coal burning power plants in 14 midwestern and southeastern states. Attorneys for the group have refused to reveal the names of their clients. The environmental groups are offering to retire one sulfur dioxide allowance in the name of the first person to identify the members of CAMG. "All we know from the court papers is that these are people who make their living buying, selling and creating pollution," said Timothy Burke, executive director of the Adirondack Council. "Their lawyers won't say who they are. The court papers claim they are pollution credit traders and power plant owners who want to retain the privilege of selling federal pollution credits not needed in New York to Midwestern polluters."

"These pollution credit sales to Midwestern polluters contribute to acid rain in the Adirondacks, Catskills, Hudson Highlands, and Long Island," said Neil Woodworth, counsel to the Adirondack Mountain Club. "That's why the Legislature passed a law this year to discourage the sales of leftover New York allowances to Midwest companies. And that is the law these unnamed corporations want to overturn." In a few weeks, New York is expected to release new draft regulations to reduce emissions from New York power plants. "When their emissions are reduced by the new state program, every power plant in New York will have more federal pollution allowances than they can use," said David Miller, executive director of the National Audubon Society in New York State. "The state acid rain law prevents those pollution rights from being used upwind of our sensitive areas in New York."

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ELLENDALE, North Dakota, December 12, 2000 (ENS) - An innovative process for making paper from straw has won an award for Jordan Sand, a high school senior from North Dakota. The Lemelson-MIT Program has awarded Sand its third annual high school invention apprenticeship award, a custom tailored learning experience designed around the winning student's interests. Sand was selected for his dedication to preserving the environment through his inventions. During the 1997-1998 school year, Jordan researched alternative uses for American crops. His studies proved that various types of grain straw - including flax, wheat and corn - and cattails can be used to make paper. Using these raw materials, which are annual plants that need no reseeding, herbicides or pesticides, to manufacture paper or other new products would provide additional income to farmers from crops that would not ordinarily be income producing.

In order to further his research, Jordan contacted Ulrike Tschirner, associate professor of wood and paper science at the University of Minnesota, who offered Jordan the opportunity to spend several days at the university, a six hour drive from his home. Jordan spent six days there, using chemicals that were unavailable at his school's laboratory, to pulp, bleach and make paper from non-traditional raw materials such as corn stalks, cattails and cereal straws. "The experience of working in a college laboratory was awesome," said Sand. "The equipment available was unlike anything I knew existed." In seventh grade, Sand invented a solar distillation device to purify water outdoors during the cold North Dakota winters. Another Sand invention is a solar heated birdbath that keeps the birds' water thawed during icy winters. Both projects were selected to advance to the state science fair. Sand intends to pursue a career in plant science, concentrating on the genetic engineering of seeds.