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Leak At Pennsylvania Nuclear Plant Contained
Shippingport Pennsylvania December 11, 2000 (AP) - A coolant system leak at a nuclear power plant prompted a low-level emergency Monday.

Authorities said the leak at the Beaver Valley Power Station was contained within the building and there was no indication of a threat to public health or safety.

Reports from the plant, which is about 25 miles west of Pittsburgh, indicated there had not been a radioactive release from the plant, said David Smith, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

The emergency was declared at the plant's No. 2 reactor unit at 5:36 a.m. The leak was called an "unusual event," the least serious of four classifications of power plant emergencies.

At one point, radioactive water was spilling onto the floor of the containment building at the rate of 12 to 20 gallons a minute, said Neil Sheehan, federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman. No workers were exposed.

The reactor was shut down and workers in protective suits were checking the leak, Sheehan said.

The other three classifications of emergencies are an alert, a site-area emergency and a general emergency. Only one general emergency has ever been declared at a U.S. nuclear plant, after the March 1979 accident at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg.

Nuclear Cleanup Workers Exposed to Radiation
Golden, Colorado December 7, 2000 (NY Times) — On windswept highlands 15 miles northwest of Denver, workers here are cleaning up some of the highest concentrations of nuclear waste in the country.

Their efforts are part of an 11- year, $7 billion project intended to turn what was once one of the nation's most important weapons development sites, a sprawling complex on 6,300 acres known as Rocky Flats, into a wildlife preserve. The cleanup is projected to be finished in 2006.

It is a tedious, painstaking process that depends on workers' using critical safety techniques. Yet every so often, the work produces a reminder of how life-threatening the toxic materials they are removing, like plutonium and beryllium, can be. And the latest emerged this week.

Plant officials disclosed that 10 workers cleaning one of the most contaminated of hundreds of buildings remaining, Building 771, tested positive for exposure to radiation. More medical screenings for the workers — nine men and one woman, half of whom had worked at the site for more than 20 years — were conducted last month, and results are expected within a month.

But the problem could be worse. With the cleanup in the building halted on Dec. 1, officials said today that they were still searching for the source of the radiation, a problem they rarely confront, they said, because alarm systems were in place throughout the complex to warn of elevated radiation readings. The medical tests on the workers were conducted after a routine inspection of the building in October, when a radiation detector was found to be operating improperly.

"This is very puzzling and troubling," Robert G. Card, president and chief executive of Kaiser-Hill, the company that won the cleanup contract in 1995, said. "We don't know yet where the exposure came from."

Nor, Mr. Card said, do plant officials know when the exposure occurred, which means as many as 200 other workers who were helping inside Building 771 could have been exposed. Nineteen have volunteered for medical tests, he said, and, if necessary, the company would urge others to submit.

Mr. Card and Paul Golan, deputy field manager for the Department of Energy, insisted the test results showed that even the elevated results fell within federal standards of 5,000 millirems a year for plant workers. But this was the first instance since the cleanup began in 1995, they said, that officials had been unable to gauge the magnitude of the problem.

"It is not lost on anyone here that this is one of the most dangerous things you can do," Mr. Card said. "But this is the first time we have had this much difficulty finding the source."

Rocky Flats was one of a series of weapons plants built after World War II for the cold war nuclear arms buildup. Now, it is one of 113 sites in 30 states that the Energy Department is cleaning and rehabilitating, an undertaking that includes treating huge amounts of contaminated ground water, weapons-grade plutonium and spent nuclear fuels. By some estimates, it will cost the federal government as much as $212 billion over the next seven decades.

The main activity at Rocky Flats, which opened in 1951 and closed 48 years later, was building plutonium detonators, or "pits," that were then shipped to Texas for assembly into nuclear weapons. It was a complex process to complete and, now, to dismantle, involving the stabilization and packaging of tons of leftover toxic metals as buildings were razed and areas were cleared. The materials are trucked to disposal sites in New Mexico and Georgia.

Over the years, several incidents have reflected the dangerous nature of the mission. Among hundreds of small fires that occurred through spontaneous combustion of toxic substances, three — in 1957, 1965 and 1969 — burned out of control, sending radioactive dust skyward. In 1966, officials found that 5,000 drums of radioactive material left outside of buildings had leaked in the previous 12 years, causing the largest plutonium contamination on the site.

More recently, Kaiser-Hill has been fined more than $700,000 for safety violations on the project.

Chernobyl's Last Reactor in Emergency Shutdown - by Michael Steen, Reuters
Mkiev, Ukraine December 6, 2000 - A steam leak at Chernobyl nuclear power station forced an emergency shutdown of its last functioning reactor Wednesday, just nine days before the world's most infamous power plant was due to be decommissioned.

The Chernobyl complex, 75 miles north of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, has suffered a series of accidents since reactor Number Four caught fire and exploded 14 years ago, sending a radioactive cloud across much of Europe.

The station said it had measured no increase in radioactivity after Wednesday's shutdown, but it came on the eve of a decision by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on lending $215 million for the completion of two more Soviet-designed reactors.

Ukraine says it cannot afford to switch off Chernobyl, which provides five percent of all its electricity, without Western loans for decommissioning the plant and completing the reactors.

"The reason for shutting down the unit was the discovery of steam in an unstaffed room, number 404," a statement from the station said. The room contains pipes from the primary cooling system, electricity distributors and other equipment, it said.

"Now we are cooling the energy block to find the exact point of the steam leak," it said.

The 1986 Chernobyl disaster immediately killed around 30 firemen, and radiation has since been blamed for the deaths of thousands and a sharp increase in thyroid cancer and other diseases affecting one in sixteen Ukrainians.

SECOND SHUTDOWN IN TWO WEEKS

The unexpected shutdown was the second in as many weeks after cold weather froze and snapped power lines last week, forcing the station to close down because it had nowhere to feed its power.

The last reactor, Number Three, was restarted Friday for its final weeks of operation.

The shutdown took place at 11:04 a.m. in accordance with accident prevention procedures, the station said. A spokesman for Ukraine's atomic energy regulator said technicians would have to inspect the reactor before deciding whether or not to restart it.

Environmentalists in Kiev made a last ditch effort on Thursday to persuade the EBRD not to fund the completion of reactors at Khmelnitsky and Rivne (known as K2R4), which are of a more modern design than those at Chernobyl but designed by Soviet engineers in the 1970s.

The EBRD is due to announce its decision Thursday and its president, Jean Lemierre, has said he backs the move.

A report to the Austrian government, leaked last week by the environmental group Greenpeace, described the K2R4 reactors as hazardous and listed 29 safety issues which were not adequately dealt with, including the safety of steam tubes, fire prevention and seismic activity.

Austria's EBRD representative was due to vote against the loan, and a Dutch EBRD spokesman said the Netherlands would also oppose it. But votes from France, Britain and the United States were expected to be in favor.

A few dozen Ukrainian environmentalists protested outside the EBRD's Kiev office, waving banners saying "No more Chernobyls."

"The EBRD knows it doesn't make economic sense and that it does not guarantee nuclear safety," said protester Yuri Urbanksky. "But it's blackmail from the Ukrainian side in return for shutting down Chernobyl."

Radiation Leak At Russian Plant Puzzles Experts
Moscow December 5, 2000 (Reuters) - Experts failed on Tuesday to find the source of abnormally high radiation levels near a nuclear power station in southern Russia, the Atomic Energy Ministry said. Officials were sent to the Novovoronezhskaya nuclear power station near the city of Voronezh, 450 km (280 miles) from Moscow, to check radiation levels close to the water outlet of two reactors which have been shut down for some time.

"It was established that at a few points the level of contamination exceeds that allowed in a protected zone,'' the ministry said in a statement.

"Measures have been taken to limit access to the area of the water outlet and to contaminated points. Work is going on to remove contaminated soil.''

But the source of the pollution was still unclear.

"It has been established that the cause of the contamination is not linked to the operations of the active three reactors at the station. Work is continuing to find the source of the contamination,'' the statement said.

It said there was no radioactivity in the water and fish of the nearby River Don, which flows into the Black Sea.

The ministry said the problem arose on November 30 and work began the next day to gauge the extent of the contamination..

Clinton Signs Order to Compensate Nuclear Workers
Washington, DC December 7, 2000 (Reuters)  - President Clinton on Thursday signed an order authorizing payments to thousands of U.S. nuclear workers who got sick after being exposed to radiation as the United States built up its atomic arsenal during the Cold War era.
The order helps implement a law passed by Congress in October to compensate workers exposed to radiation in the building and testing of nuclear weapons.

"These individuals, many of whom were neither protected from nor informed of the hazards to which they were exposed, developed occupational illnesses as a result of their exposure to radiation and other hazards unique to nuclear weapons production and testing,'' the president said in a statement.

"While the nation can never fully repay these workers or their families, they deserve fair compensation for their sacrifices. I am pleased to take the next critical step in ensuring that these courageous individuals receive the compensation and recognition they have long deserved.''

The order directs three federal agencies -- the departments of energy, labor and health and human services -- to implement the compensation program.

The White House gave no exact estimate of the cost of the compensation program, but the administration last year estimated the cost to U.S. taxpayers would be about $13 million a year for the next decade.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson last year apologized to former and current nuclear workers suffering from chronic beryllium disease, various radiation-linked cancers and other occupational illnesses, reversing a decades-old U.S. policy of resisting injury lawsuits from workers who were once employed by private companies contracted to build nuclear weapons.

Since the Manhattan Project developed the first nuclear bombs in the mid-1940s, U.S. workers have been exposed to beryllium, a rigid, lightweight silver-gray metallic element used to make precise nuclear weapons components.

PROGRAM WILL AFFECT THOUSANDS

"We've come a long way since I apologized on behalf of the government last year. This is one of the most meaningful new federal programs in decades, impacting the lives of thousands of Americans,'' Richardson said in a statement.

He said the executive order would ensure that all weapons plant workers -- past, present and future -- would be compensated for illnesses linked to their work, even after the sites where they once worked has shut down.

Chronic beryllium disease is a treatable but incurable disease that destroys the lungs and eventually suffocates the victim. It takes between 10 and 15 years from the inhalation of beryllium to the onset of the terminal illness.

Radiation exposure is also linked to various kinds of cancer.

A report released in September concluded that U.S. nuclear weapons workers may have been exposed to as much potentially deadly radiation as their Soviet counterparts in the early Cold War, and without knowing the risks they ran.

Some of the U.S. workers were exposed to far higher levels of radioactivity in the 1940s and 1950s than prevailing standards prescribed -- comparable to tens of thousands of times the radiation from a dental X-ray -- and rather than being warned of the risk, were deceived about it, said the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, an environmental watchdog group.

That exposure meant an increased risk of potentially lethal cancer and kidney damage, the institute said in its report.

Under the order, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will provide the scientific analysis and information needed for the Labor Department to appropriately adjudicate claims.

HHS will develop guidelines to determine whether a cancer is likely to be related to a worker's occupational exposure to radiation, establish methods to estimate worker exposure, and develop estimates for those who have applied for compensation.

The White House said a presidential advisory board will be set up to oversee the scientific validity and quality of this work. The order also creates an interagency working group, and directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to publish a preliminary list of facilities where workers may be eligible for benefits, including private contractors.

DOE officials have said 26,330 workers were exposed to beryllium at the 20 nuclear production sites it administers.

Most of the 120 cases of chronic beryllium disease were discovered among current and former workers who worked at DOE plants in Rocky Flats, Colorado; Hazelton, Pennsylvania; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Tiny Indian Tribe Turns To Nuclear Waste
Skull Valley Indian Reservation, Utah, December 4, 2000 (AP) - Leon Bear knows the boundaries of his tribe’s land by heart. From the reservoir that provides water to his tiny village, Bear sweeps his arm across the parched valley, pointing out fences and smokestacks that ring the last remnant of his tribe’s traditional lands.

To the north, a magnesium plant sits on the shore of the Great Salt Lake; to the south, the Army tests equipment for exposure to nerve gas on a stretch of desert as large as Rhode Island. A bombing range and hazardous waste incinerator lie over the Cedar Mountains to the west; a stockpile of chemical weapons and the incinerator that destroys them sit to the east.

Now the tiny Skull Valley Band of Goshutes has agreed to turn its reservation into one of the country’s largest nuclear waste dumps. Opponents, including other tribe members, say the plan could endanger people, the wildlife of the West Desert and the region’s economy. But that hasn’t stopped Bear from pressing forward with the project, which he says could be the only salvation for his dying tribe.

"They made that an industrial waste zone out there," said Bear, the Goshutes’ tribal chairman and the project’s main supporter. "Nobody asked the Goshutes, ’Do you mind if we do this out here on your traditional territory?’ Nobody said, ’Hey, it could be dangerous for you guys to be out here.’"

"When a neighbor does that to you, you don’t want to be like them," he added. "So we gave our neighbor, the state of Utah, an opportunity to be a part of this, and the first reaction was ’Over my dead body."’

If Bear gets his way, about a square mile of the reservation will be fenced off for nuclear waste, and 450 acres will be covered with concrete pads. On top will sit 16-foot tall, concrete-and-steel casks filled with radioactive rods — as many as 4,000 of them holding 40,000 metric tons of used-up nuclear reactor fuel. The fuel will come from Private Fuel Storage, a consortium of eight power companies from California, New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Florida and Alabama. Neither the consortium or the Goshutes will say what the deal costs.

The consortium has promised to build a cultural center on the reservation to revive the tribe’s fading language and crafts, Bear says, and has pledged to give Goshutes and other tribes the first shot at about 40 jobs at the site. The money is sorely needed. Most of the estimated 150 Goshutes have fled the 17,000-acre reservation. Fewer than 30 remain, most living in a tiny cluster of run-down trailers. Jobs are virtually nonexistent.

It’s not that the tribe hasn’t tried. At the village entrance, the last examples of one failed project — portable toilets and showers built for the military — sit unused. Only two real options remained: nuclear waste and gambling, an industry Mormon-dominated Utah considers nearly as toxic.

"How can you blame Leon?" said Chip Ward, author of an environmental history of the West Desert and a project opponent. "What’s he going to do? Grow food? No one’s going to buy a tomato off this land."

But other Goshutes say the plan is tearing apart the tribe: "We believe in our reservation as Mother Earth, and we’re allowing our Mother Earth to be contaminated if we bring this waste onto our reservation."

Environmentalists say that the spent fuel should be left at nuclear plants and they should be shut when they run out of storage space. Despite the protests, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already approved safety measures for the project, and Bear says it’s time for outsiders to admit they can’t stop it.

"They want us to be self-determined and they want us to be self-governed, and yet when we make these judgments, they don’t like it," Bear said.

From the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes, ( http://www.skullvalleygoshutes.org ):

"The Goshutes have inhabited the Southwestern part of the United States for thousands of years. They were here before the Mormons, the Mexicans, and even the Spaniards. At their peak the Goshutes numbered about 20,000. Today there are less than 500 Goshutes, of which 124 belong to the Skull Valley Band...

"In view of the current hazardous waste facilities and nerve gas incinerators surrounding the Skull Valley Reservation, the Band has carefully considered a variety of economic ventures, including the storage of spent nuclear fuel. After careful consideration, the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes have leased land to a private group of electrical utilities for the temporary storage of 40,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel. This web site examines these deliberations, tours of nuclear facilities, consultation with renowned scientists, and corporate and government officials worldwide.".
Utah Escalates Nuclear Waste Fight
Salt Lake City, December 8, 2000 (AP) - Gov. Mike Leavitt created a special state office Thursday to try to block a proposal to bring 44,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste to Utah's desert.

“I WILL DEPLOY every tool I can,” Leavitt said. “We don't produce this waste. We shouldn't store it.”

Private Fuel Storage, a consortium of eight electric utilities, is seeking federal approval to store spent nuclear fuel rods in containers at the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation, 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

Leavitt used an executive order and $50,000 in emergency funds to create the Office of High Level Nuclear Waste Opposition. Leavitt will ask the Legislature for $1 million per year to pay at least five attorneys to combat the storage plan in court.

Sue Martin, a spokeswoman for Private Fuel Storage, said the consortium is following an established process for licensing the facility and that the state is a participant. She said the facility will be operated safely.

“What the governor seems to want to do is short-circuit the process and try to replace the established process with politics and legal action,” Martin said.

While details of the lease between the Skull Valley Goshutes and PFS have not been released, the tribe is expected to make a hefty profit.

Leavitt said he is considering new taxes, regulations and possibly even criminal measures to regulate the transportation and storage of nuclear waste under state law.

Opponents worry the Skull Valley site could become a permanent storage site if a proposed site in Yucca Mountain, Nev., is blocked by that state's political leaders.

Critics fear that storage casks could fail, water and air could be contaminated, property values could drop and cruise missiles or jets tested in the area could crash into the site.

However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission declared the site safe and the casks sturdy. The military said the chances a jet would crash into the casks are extremely low.

The NRC's final decision on the site isn't expected until sometime in 2002. Three other federal agencies must then approve the proposal.


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