Russian Nuclear Material in U.S. Power Plants?

  • The treaty signed by Presidents Obama and Medvedev might bring more business to companies like USEC, which will have recycled the equivelent of 20-thousand warheads by 2013.(Photo courtesy of The White House)

The START treaty signed last week means hundreds of nuclear warheads will be dismantled. Lester Graham reports, that nuclear material could end up as fuel for nuclear power plants in the U.S.

Transcript

The START treaty signed last week means hundreds of nuclear warheads will be dismantled. Lester Graham reports, that nuclear material could end up as fuel for nuclear power plants in the U.S.

There is a historic precedent for this. Not many people know, but half of the nuclear fuel used in U.S. power plants today comes from Soviet era nuclear warheads. In an agreement signed in 1994, the U.S. and Russia entered a program called Megatons to Megawatts. Russia dismantles warheads, processes highly enriched uranium down to low enriched uranium. An American company called USEC buys it, ships it to Kentucky and then sells it to power companies. Jeff Donald is a spokesman for USEC.

“By the time the program is finished in 2013, we will have recycled 500metric tons of high enriched uranium, which is the equivalent of 20-thousand warheads.”

The START treaty signed last week covers a lot fewer warheads, but USEC is prepared to continue the program if asked.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

Coast Guard Scraps Live Fire Plan

The U.S. Coast Guard has abandoned its plan to conduct “live fire” weapons training on the Great Lakes. Steve Carmody has more:

Transcript

The U.S. Coast Guard has abandoned its plan to conduct “live fire” weapons training on the Great Lakes. Steve Carmody has more:


The Coast Guard had wanted to establish 34 “live fire” zones across the Great Lakes. The proposal ran into opposition partly involving concerns over the potential environmental impact.


Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak says thousands of rounds of spent ammunition would have been dumped onto the bottom of the Great Lakes.

“We’re not going to let the Coast Guard dump 7,000 pounds of lead in the Great Lakes. No other industry could do it, so they certainly were not going to be allowed to do it. And, they still really haven’t answered the real basic question, ‘why is it necessary to do it now?'”


In a written statement, the Coast Guard said it would reconsider its “live fire” proposal, including the location of water training areas and the use of “environmentally friendly alternatives to the lead ammunition” currently used.

Congressman Stupak says it will probably be several years before the Coast Guard tries to put forward a new “live fire” proposal.


For the Environment Report, I’m Steve Carmody.

Defense Department Re-Opens Cold War Barrel Mystery

  • The Department of Defense is working on cleaning up barrels dumped into Lake Superior. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior)

The Department of Defense will re-open the case of 14-hundred mystery barrels secretly dumped into Lake Superior during the Cold War. The barrels were dumped in an area where the Red Cliff Band of Chippewa Indians have territorial rights. The DOD now has an agreement with the Red Cliff Tribe to investigate the weapons dump site. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson has this report:

Transcript

The Department of Defense will re-open the case of 1400 mystery barrels secretly dumped into Lake Superior during the Cold War. The barrels were dumped in an area where the Red Cliff Band of Chippewa Indians have territorial rights. The DoD now has an agreement with the Red Cliff Tribe to investigate the weapons dump site. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson has this report:


Documents show barrels of weapons scraps manufactured by Honeywell from 1958 to 1962 were secretly dumped by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers a few miles east of the Duluth-Superior harbor.


Red Cliff Environmental Consultant Dave Anderson believes there is an imminent danger to Duluth’s water supply. The barrels are rusting away 100 to 300 feet deep near the city’s water intake. He says he’s found evidence of PCB’s and unidentified ash.


“Right now we know that there is more to these barrels than what has been disclosed in the past. That the barrels are not just scrap steel grenade parts. There are other wastes that are hazardous that are contained in the barrels and we now know that the barrels are leaking some of those substances.”


The DoD has awarded the Red Cliff Tribe a 105-thousand dollar grant to assess and further investigate this 20 mile square site and report the findings in October for possible clean-up.


For the GLRC, I’m Mike Simonson.

Homeland Security to Remove Hazmat Placards?

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security are considering removing hazardous material placards from freight trains. They say doing so will help protect people from terrorists. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:

Transcript

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security are considering removing
hazardous material placards from freight trains. They say doing so would help
protect people from terrorists. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:


Because of the September 11th terrorist attacks, officials see the potential for a
lot of things to be used as weapons. One of their latest fears is that shipments of
hazardous materials could be used by terrorists. In order to protect people from this
threat, the Department of Homeland Security says it might require the removal of the
diamond shaped placards from rail cars. Emergency workers use the placards to quickly
identify a hazard after an accident.


Richard Powell is the Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs.
He says while the Department of Homeland Security is well-intentioned, removal of the
placards would put more people at risk:


“We need to protect our citizens. We need to keep that system in place. If we don’t know something is there, our people could not evacuate perhaps, as quick as we normally would.”


Homeland Security officials say they’ll consider other options that would help disguise the rail cars, but would still allow emergency workers to know what’s inside.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

The Foibles of Suburban Lawn Care

  • Although a well-manicured lawn offers certain benefits... not everyone thinks it's worth the effort. (Photo by Ed Herrmann)

One of the great rituals in suburban America is mowing the lawn. A manicured lawn seems to say that the house is well cared for, that it belongs to the neighborhood. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Ed Herrmann wonders whether this obsession for the perfect lawn is worth the effort:

Transcript

One of the great rituals in suburban America is mowing the lawn. A
manicured lawn seems to say that the house is well cared for, that it belongs
to the neighborhood. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Ed
Herrmann wonders whether this obsession with the perfect lawn is worth the
effort:


(sound of evening insects)


It’s a late summer evening and at last I can go outside and enjoy the
sounds of the neighborhood. There’s a little breeze, the air is cooler. The
chorus of insects is soothing, gentle but insistent, an ancient throbbing
resonance. Much better than during the day…


(roar of lawn machines)


Summer days in the suburbs are the time of assault, when people attack their
lawns with powerful weapons from the chemical and manufacturing
industries. Anyone who uses the words “quiet” and “suburbs” in the same
sentence has never been to a suburb, at least not in summer.


It takes a lot of noise to maintain a lawn. Besides the mower, you’ve got edgers, trimmers,
leaf blowers, weed whackers, core aerators, little tractors, big tractors, slitting
machines. I don’t know whatever happened to rakes and hand clippers. One
thing’s for sure. This quest for lawn perfection wouldn’t be possible without
the industrial revolution.


(machines stop)


So where did we get the idea that a house should be surrounded by a field of
uniform grass kept at the same height?


Well, with apologies to the Queen, I’m afraid we must blame the British. It
seems that, along with our language, our imperial ambitions and our
ambivalent morals, America also gets its notion of what a lawn should look
like from the English. Of course, the estates of the English aristocracy were
tended by a staff of gardeners. England also has a milder climate, and the
grass that looks so nice there doesn’t do as well in North America. In the
1930’s the USDA came up with a blend of imported grasses that would
tolerate our climate. Since these grasses are not native, they need help, and
that calls for fertilizers, pesticides and lots of extra water. Since normal
people can’t afford gardeners who trim by hand, that means lawn machines.
American industry to the rescue.


(mower starts up, fades under next sentence)


A quick Google tells me that today we have 40 million lawn mowers in use.
Each emits 11 times the pollution of a new car, and lawn mowers contribute
five percent of the nation’s air pollution. Plus more than 70 million pounds of
pesticides are used each year and over half of our residential water is used
for landscaping. Don’t you love those automatic sprinklers that come on in the
rain? Add to that all the time that people spend mowing and edging. Of
course the two billion dollar lawn care industry is thrilled about all this
enthusiasm, but I gotta ask, “Is it worth it?”


Call me old fashioned, but I actually prefer the looks of a meadow with mixed
wildflowers and grasses to the lawn that looks like a pool table. My own lawn
is somewhere between. It’s mowed, but it’s what you might call multicultural.


There are at least five different kinds of grass with different colors and
thicknesses, plus clover, dandelions, mushrooms, a few pinecones, and a
rabbit hole or two. There’s also some kind of nasty weed with thorns, but even
that has nice purple flowers if it gets big enough.


Clover, by the way, used to be added to grass seed because it adds nitrogen to
the soil. Now we just buy a bag of nitrogen fertilizer, so who needs clover?
And what’s wrong with
dandelions? You can eat them, some people even make wine out of them,
they have happy yellow flowers; yet to most people they indicate your yard is
out of control. So I’m down on my hands and knees pulling dandelions. I’m
not sure why, but I hope it keeps the neighbors happy.


One thing I won’t give in to, though, is the chemical spraying trucks, painted
green of course, that roll through the neighborhood.


I can only hold my breath. (sound of trucks and mowers) Try not to listen. And
wait for the evening. (evening insects)


(air conditioner starts up)


Although, with all these air conditioners, even the night’s not too quiet.


But that’s another story.


Host tag: “Ed Herrmann is an outdoor enthusiast living in the
suburbs of Detroit.”

Related Links

Plutonium Shipment Outrages Activists

Activists in Canada and the U-S are trying to stop plutonium from
dismantled warheads from being shipped to Canadian nuclear power
plants. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports… the
first shipment was recently slipped into Canada and another is coming
this spring:

Transcript

Activists in Canada and the U.S. are trying to stop plutonium from dismantled warheads

from being shipped to Canadian nuclear power plants. The Great Lakes Radio

Consortium’s Lester Graham reports the first shipment was recently slipped into Canada

and another is coming this spring:


The Canadian government plans to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium from dismantled

nuclear warheads from Russia. Canada suggested it could mix the weapons-grade

plutonium with uranium and use it for fuel in its nuclear power plants.


Protestors in the U.S. and Canada vowed they’d stop the shipments. During public

hearings in Michigan, some environmentalists and politicians said they’d lie down in

the road to stop trucks. So, when the U.S. Department of Energy planned a shipment of

sample material, the DOE made the shipment classified. Nobody was told when or where

the plutonium would be shipped. This month, the secret shipment left Los Alamos and

entered Canada at Sault Sainte Marie.


Verna Lawrence is the mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. She’s outraged her town was

not notified the shipment was coming.


“We’d have barricaded I-75. I had people that would go with me. How dare they do that

to us in our area with the Great Lakes Basin. It’s crazy!”


Mayor Lawrence says the federal government is shipping the plutonium against the

wishes of the people.


“See, the Canadian government and the United States government are in cahoots. They

don’t give a damn about anybody else. And let me tell you another thing: the governors

are not protecting their citizens. If I was the governor and I had the National Guard

and the State Police, they would not set foot on the state of Michigan.”


Just on the other side of the border, the mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario also was

not notified.


Once in Canada, the shipment was put on a helicopter and flown to the Chalk River

Nuclear Power Plant where the fuel is being tested. Protestors say it was flown to

avoid blockades by activists and native people. The only road from Sault Ste. Marie to

the Chalk River Nuclear Plant runs through the Garden River Reservation. Cathy

Brosemer is with a coalition of environmental groups in Ontario called “Northwatch.”

She says the shipment was kept secret and the helicopter was used to avoid angry

peopole along the route.


“What we’ve been dealing with right now is the utter contempt the government holds its

citizens in. The government decided to ignore the public’s views on this issue and

literally fly over our heads.”


Canada’s nuclear industry says that’s not the case. Larry Shewchuck is a spokesperson

for Atomic Energy of Canada, Limited (AECL). AECL operates Canada’s nuclear power

plants. He says avoiding protestors was not the reason AECL used the helicopter.


“Quite frankly, AECL was just as happy to leave the shipment on the road. It was the

government of Canada that asked us to put it in the air because that’s what Canadians

were asking for. So, in the end, we did what the politicians wanted.”


Shewchuck says at public information stops this past fall, many people suggested if

the shipments were as safe as AECL and the Canadian government said they were, they

ought to fly them to the nuclear plant.


Protestors question whether a last minute switch from ground transportation to air was

a regulatory shell game to trick opponents of the plutonium shipments. Shewchuck says

the change was proper and followed the rules.


“The regulations in Canada did not have to be changed to accommodate air transport.

Air transport was made under existing Canadian regulations. Everything was done by the

book and nothing had to be changed.”


Environmental activists in the area don’t believe it. Cathy Brosemer says that flight

might have violated regulations and might be key in an effort to get an injunction.


“We believe that there have been some breaches in the way that this was handled and we

are going to try to get something to stop the test of the substance at the CANDU

reactors in Canton/Chalk River.”


The AECL plans to go ahead with tests of the plutonium mix fuel. Brosemer says the

environmentalists will also seek an injunction to stop future shipments. This spring,

Russian plutonium is scheduled to be shipped through the St. Lawrence Seaway, on

through the Great Lakes and finally to the Chalk River plant in Ontario.


The U.S. Department of Energy says there won’t be any more shipments from the States.

And official with the DOE spoke on the condition his name not be used. He says while

the United States is helping to pay for the disposal of plutonium from dismantled

Russian nuclear warheads, the U.S. has decided to use its plutonium in American

nuclear power plants.


The mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Verna Lawrence, doesn’t believe the Energy

Department. She says she and other people opposing the shipments have to be more

vigilant.


“We got to get somebody on the inside, I think. You know, that’s the only way we’re

going to – If you can’t lick ’em, trick ’em, you know. But we’ll figure out a way

because that’s just the first shipment. There’ll be many, many, many more.”


Officials in Canada and the U.S. say it’s ironic that the shipments are causing so

much controversy among some of the same people who opposed the nuclear arms race.

Canadian officials say the nuclear material as fuel is a safe and efficient way to

dispose of weapons-grade plutonium. If the mixed fuel works well in Canada’s nuclear

plants, regular shipments of plutonium from Russia’s dismantled warheads will travel

through the Great Lakes region for at least the next ten years.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Commentary – The Public’s Right to Say No

Earlier this month, the U-S completed a controversial shipment of
weapons grade plutonium to Canada. Despite considerable protest
before the event, the material was shipped without any public
knowledge.
As Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne Elston points
out, this sets a dangerous precedent:

Transcript

Earlier this month, the U.S. completed a controversial shipment of weapons-grade

plutonium to Canada. Despite considerable protest before the event, the material was

shipped without public knowledge. This sets a dangerous precedent, as Great Lakes

Radio Consortium’s commentator Suzanne Elston points out:


Proponents of the plan think it’s a good idea. Take plutonium from dismantled nuclear

weapons, mix it with uranium and use it for fuel in nuclear reactors. The process

doesn’t destroy the plutonium, but what it does do is make it very difficult to use.

Supporters hope that this will prevent the plutonium from falling into the wrong

hands.


The plan had been in the works for several years. The problem was getting the stuff

from Los Alamos, New Mexico to an experimental nuclear facility in Chalk River,

Ontario. As soon as the public got wind of the trucking routes there were howls of

protest, particularly from a group of activists in Michigan. They were concerned about

the risks of an accident when the plutonium was shipped through their community. They

were desperately trying to get a court injunction to stop the plutonium from being

shipped when it was discovered that the stuff had already been sent.


There was no public input, no warning – nothing. Even the mayors of Sault Ste. Marie,

the towns where the plutonium crossed the border into Canada weren’t notified until

after the event. And because the whole thing went off without any problems, officials

were rather pleased with themselves. They duped the public, nobody got hurt – mission

accomplished.


I find this really scary. Whether the shipment was safe or not isn’t the issue here.

Not only does the public have a right to know what was going on, they also have the

right to stop it, if that’s the will of the people. But that right was taken away by

the boys at the Department of Energy and Atomic Energy Canada who seemed to think they

know better somehow.


Well guess what? That’s not what the democratic process is all about. Public input –

regardless of how inconvenient – has got to be considered. Just because a plan is

proposed, doesn’t mean that it should go ahead. Debate is the cornerstone of

democratic process. One of the possible outcomes of that debate is that the public

will exercise its right to say no.


But that wasn’t allowed to happen here. We the people are supposed to decide. That’s

called democracy.


Suzanne Elston is a syndicated columnist living in Courtice, Ontario. She comes to us

by way of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.

Weapons of Mass Destruction – Part 1

After the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Congress approved funding to help cities prepare to defend against acts of terrorism. The Nunn-Lugar-Domenici legislation (also known as The Weapons of Mass Destruction Act of 1996) brings together various federal agencies, such as the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services, the FBI, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Over the last year, they’ve been visiting the most populated cities to train local emergency responders in dealing with nuclear, biological, and chemical terrorism. In part one of a two part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant Cooper reports: