Initial approval of a temporary site to store spent nuclear waste at an Indian reservation in Utah is welcome news for eight electric utilities and cooperatives around the country – especially since approval of a permanent site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, has been delayed. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sandra Harris reports:
Initial approval of a temporary site to store spent nuclear waste at an Indian reservation in Utah is
welcome news for eight electric utilities and cooperatives around the country – especially since
approval of a permanent site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, has been delayed. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Sandra Harris reports:
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has recommended an operating license for a temporary
nuclear fuel storage site on the Skull Valley Indian Reservation in central Utah. Officials say if
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission grants the license, the earliest waste could be shipped would
John Parkyn is the CEO of Private Fuel Storage – the group hoping to build the site. He says
waste is currently stored at 72 sites around the country and poses a safety issue.
“We have a isolated site in the middle of the desert where the nearest person is 2 1/2 miles away,
so even the security issue, post 9-11, is greatly enhanced by storing it in one location.”
Opponents to the temporary site say they still hope the license won’t be granted. They fear the
temporary Skull Valley site will become permanent because of the delays occurring at Yucca
Trash and toxic waste cross the U.S.-Canada border every day, and untreated toxic waste often ends up at the Clean Harbors facility. Some are trying to restrict this practice and purge the idea that waste is a commodity.
There’s only one place in North America that still dumps
toxic waste straight into the ground without any kind of pre-treatment. A legislator from Ontario, Canada wants this landfill to clean up its act. But trade in toxic waste is big business. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Ann Colihan follows some trucks to learn more:
There’s only one place in North America that still dumps toxic waste straight into the ground without any kind of pre-treatment. A legislator from Ontario, Canada wants this landfill to clean up its act. But trade in toxic waste is a big business. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Ann Colihan follows some trucks to learn more:
(Sound of trucks)
6,000 trucks cross the Blue Water Bridge every day between Canada and the United States. Just under the bridge, Lake Huron funnels into the skinny St. Clair River on its way to south to Lake Erie. The Blue Water Bridge connects Port Huron, Michigan with Sarnia, Ontario. This is the second busiest truck crossing between the United States and Canada. With post 9/11 security, the border can get backed up for miles in both directions. A lot of these trucks are carrying garbage back and forth across the border. Canadian trash and toxic waste is going to the U.S. and American toxic waste is going to Canada.
During her first month in office, Ontario Member of Parliament for Sarnia-Lambton, Caroline Di Cocco, found out just how much toxic waste was coming into her district.
“In 1999 that year, it was over 450,000 tons. To put it in perspective, the Love Canal was 12,000 tons.”
Di Cocco went on a five year crusade to change the Ontario laws that govern the trade in toxic waste. She adopted the U.N. resolution known as the Basel Agreement, as her model.
“The notion from that Basel Agreement is that everybody should look after their own waste and it is not a commodity.”
Di Cocco is not alone in her fight to slow or stop the flow of garbage and toxic waste from crossing the border. Mike Bradley is the mayor of Sarnia, Ontario. He can see the backup on the Blue Water Bridge every day from his home.
“One of the ironies on this is that while Michigan is very much upset, and rightly so, with the importation of Toronto trash, there are tens of thousands of tons of untreated toxic waste coming in from Michigan crossing the Blue Water Bridge into the Clean Harbors site.”
The Clean Harbors facility is the only place in North America that does not pre-treat hazardous waste before it dumps it into its landfill. Frank Hickling is Director of Lambton County Operations for Clean Harbors. He says imports from nearby states in the U.S. accounts for about forty percent of its volume.
“It’s from the Great Lakes area. We do reach down and take waste that our facility is best able to handle. We’re right on the border.”
Rarely do lawmakers on both sides of the border agree on an environmental issue. But pre-treatment of hazardous waste is the law in all fifty states, Mexico and every other Canadian province and territory except Ontario. Pre-treatment reduces the amount of toxic waste or transforms it into a less hazardous substance. But Hickling says disposing hazardous waste in Clean Harbors is a better economic bet.
“Obviously, if you don’t have to pre-treat it, it is cheaper there’s no doubt about that. But what isn’t obvious is the security of the site. Pre-treating waste doesn’t help immobilize the material forever.”
Clean Harbors’ company officials say their landfill won’t leak for 10,000 years. They say that the U.S. pre-treats hazardous waste because they expect their landfills to leak in hundreds of years or less. Hickling says the blue clay of Lambton County that lines Clean Harbors landfill gives them a competitive edge as a toxic dump.
“The facility is in a 140-foot clay plain and we go down about 60 feet. So there’s 80 feet below.”
But Clean Harbors has had big environmental problems. When volume was at its peak in 1999 the Clean Harbors landfill leaked methane gas and contaminated water. Remedial pumping of the landfill is ongoing.
Caroline Di Cocco found other ways to deal with toxic waste rather than simply dumping it in her district.
“First of all, there has to be a reduction of the amount of generation of this hazardous material. The more expensive you make it for industry to dispose of it, the more they are going to find creative ways to reduce it. Then there are what they call on-site treatments and closed-loop systems. You see technology is there but it’s expensive and again we go to the cost of doing business. And so a lot of the hazardous waste can be treated on site in a very safe way. And then what can’t be, well then you have to have facilities to dispose of it. But I believe that the days of the mega dumps have to end.”
Meanwhile, Clean Harbors looks at what the new Ontario regulations for pre-treatment will cost them.
“Certainly when you’re making the investment in pre-treatment and you’re adding all that cost for no additional environmental benefit we’re going to have to be getting larger volumes to ensure its profitability.”
Until we see a reduction in the loads of toxic waste that need to be dumped in Clean Harbors, it’s likely the trucks will roll on down the highway.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mary Ann Colihan.
Many Americans don’t see a connection between the war in Iraq and the price of gas at the pump, but a leading environmentalist says they should. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
Many Americans don’t see a connection between the war in Iraq and the price of gas at the pump, but a leading environmentalist says they should. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
Soon after George W. Bush took office, David Orr was asked to join a presidential committee aimed at improving environmental policies. They wanted the Oberlin environmental studies professor because he was considered a quote “sane environmentalist.” The group’s recommendations were supposed to be presented to Administration officials in September 2001, but after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, committee members felt their report was shelved.
“And the essential message of it was that this really is one world and what goes around comes around. And things are connected in pretty strange, ironic, and paradoxical ways and the long-term future isn’t that far off. So you really cannot make separations of things that you take to be climate, from economy, ecology, fairness, equity, justice, and ultimately security.”
But Orr says the Bush Administration and much of the nation weren’t ready for that message. People felt the need to retaliate against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Many political analysts also agreed with President Bush, that the United States had an important role to play in ousting Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But Orr believes the U.S. invasion of Iraq was less about terrorism than it was about America’s need for Middle East oil.
“If you remove the fact that Iraq has 10-percent of the oil reserves in the world and Saudi Arabia has about 25-percent, that’s about a third of the recoverable oil resource on the planet, take the oil out, would we be there? And that’s a major issue. We’re there, in large part, because we have not pursued energy efficiency.”
Orr says reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil would make the nation more secure than spending billions of dollars in military costs to fight for those oil reserves.
Some lawmakers say reducing dependence on Middle East oil is one reason to drill for oil at home, in places such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But Orr says political leaders and citizens should instead find ways to use less oil and reduce the need for it. He says the federal energy bill should force automakers to build cars that get better gas mileage.
“If we bumped our energy efficiency up from 22 miles per gallon to 35 or 40, which is easily achievable, that’s not difficult. The technology already exists to do that. We wouldn’t have to fight wars for oil, we wouldn’t be tied to the politics of an unstable region.”
“But the car makers aren’t being forced to…”
“No – the CAFEs? no. If we had a decent energy policy, it would be a strategy not of fighting oil wars, but using in America what is our long suit: our ability with technology to begin to move us toward fuel efficiency, and that process is actually well under way. It just doesn’t get the support of the federal government.”
Instead of trying to encourage fuel efficiency, Orr says Congress is thinking about short-term answers. With the price of gas at the pump more than two dollars a gallon, the Senate recently approved a tax break package to encourage further domestic oil and gas production.
Orr wants consumers to push for energy alternatives, rather than finding more places to drill, but Americans like their big SUVs, and Orr says few politicians would risk asking them to forgo the comfort, luxury, and perceived safety of big trucks as a way to preserve energy for future generations.
“Everybody knows gas prices have to go up, everybody knows that. The question is whether we have somebody who is say a combination of Ross Perot and Franklin Roosevelt who would sit down and level with the American public. We have got to pay more.”
Orr says even if you don’t mind paying the price at the gas station, there are higher costs we’re paying for oil consumption.
“You pay for energy whatever form you get it, but you pay for efficiency whether you get it or not. You pay by fighting oil wars. You pay with dirty air and you pay at the doctor’s office or the hospital or the morgue, but you’re gonna pay one way or the other, and the lie is that somehow you don’t have to pay. And sometimes you don’t have to if you’re willing to offload the costs on your grandchildren or on other people’s lives, but somebody is gonna pay.”
And Orr says that payment is going to be either in blood, money, or public health. He outlines his thoughts on the motivations for the war in Iraq in his new book “The Last Refuge: Patriotism, Politics, and the Environment in an Age of Terror.”
For the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium, I’m Julie Grant.
The General Accounting Office has released a report saying that there’s no way to know how secure the nation’s chemical plants are from terrorist attacks. The Congressional Research Agency says that no federal department has looked into the problem yet. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Poorman reports:
The General Accounting Office has released a report saying that there’s
no way to know how secure the nation’s chemical plants are from
terrorist attacks. The Congressional Research Agency says that no
federal department has looked into the problem yet. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Bill Poorman reports:
The GAO released the study last week. It says that there are 123
chemical plants in the U.S. that are in areas where more than a million
people would be effected by a toxic release. But the GAO says the
government has failed to take a comprehensive approach to addressing
chemical plant security. Kate McGloon is spokesperson for the American
Chemistry Council, an industry trade group. She says many
chemical-makers have already taken steps voluntarily to increase
security since 9/11. But they don’t want to reveal what those
“Homeland Security has stressed to us that one of the best ways to keep
potential terrorists from knowing what they’re doing is to be
unpredictable and random and not tell people what you’re doing.”
McGloon says many chemical companies would welcome federal legislation
putting the government in charge of assessing and enforcing chemical
plant security. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Bill Poorman.
It’s been almost a year since terrorists attacked the United States. But the repercussions of that morning continue to ripple across the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann Murray looks at how security concerns are impacting the country’s 50,000 small drinking water systems. These utilities now find themselves scrambling for money, security training and equipment to keep their facilities and water supplies safe:
It’s been almost a year since terrorists attacked the United States. But the repercussions of that morning continue to ripple across the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann Murray looks at how security concerns are impacting the country’s 50,000 small drinking water systems. These utilities now find themselves scrambling
for money, security training and equipment to keep their facilities and
water supplies safe:
The federal government started thinking seriously about domestic
security well before last September. Four years ago, the Clinton
administration examined the country’s infrastructure. And the results were
sobering. Water and wastewater systems were found to be vulnerable to
physical damage, computer hacking, chemical spills and radiological
Recent CIA reports place large metropolitan water systems on alert as
potential targets for terrorist attacks. But some small system operators
think their plants are vulnerable, too.
(sound of water plant)
“I feel that they could make an example out of a small system that says,
‘Look here, we could do that to a small one. We could do it to a larger
Barry Clemmer has run public water systems in western Pennsylvania for the
past 25 years. Before September 11th, he says his main concern was
vandalism – still the most likely scenario for a security breach. He walks
the fenced perimeter of his facility and points out new security devices.
“We have a camera on the side of one of our buildings that focuses
on the entrance gate. We monitor 24 hours a day. It’s hard to keep someone
out but it’s a deterrent and might slow them down from getting in.”
(sound of key in lock)
Although the front of the plant is now more secure, Clemmer continues
to worry about the intake system. That’s where raw river water is piped
into the treatment plant.
Clemmer: “Excuse me, I’ll open the gate.”
The river flows about 30 feet below the gated back of the facility. Clemmer walks down a wooden stairway to the unguarded riverbank. He shakes his head and says that terrorists could attack his plant from here.
“They could come up the river on a boat and hop out and go right
there and drop something in. It’d only take five minutes and our water
could be contaminated.”
Plans are in the works to secure the area where raw water is
taken into the plant. But Clemmer says that he still needs a security camera to
keep a close eye on the river. That will require additional grant dollars
because there isn’t money in the budget for security equipment and the
local community says it can’t afford the extra expense.
John Mori is director of the National Environmental Services Center, a federally funded technical assistance group. He says budget constraints are nothing new to small communities. It’s just that financial limitations have taken on an added dimension in this past year.
“Small systems historically have never gotten a share… an appropriate
share of federal dollars under the various loan programs. The point is there
are hundreds of thousands of Americans in small communities, medium size
communities and they need equal assurance that their water is safe and protected.”
Unlike metropolitan areas, Mori says smaller communities just don’t
have a big pool of qualified water personnel. So already overburdened
operators must now take on the responsibility of keeping their facilities
safe from terrorism.
“These are hardworking men and women who may have two or three or four
jobs in a community trying to do everything at once and make sure their
customers get good, safe water. So I think they’re determined about this. I
just think they need some help.”
Since September 11th, most help – in the form of new federal dollars
and security training – has gone to large water utilities. Metropolitan
water plants serve about 80 percent of the U.S. population. But Andy
Bielanski, with EPA’s newly formed Water Protection Task Force, says that the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving slowly but deliberately to also
help small water systems.
“What we’re doing is taking input and feedback from states, other
technical assistance organizations and agencies, on how best to approach
this problem. And we’ve been taking this all into consideration in trying
to provide security assistance to small systems.”
EPA and other agencies now face the daunting task of reaching more than
50,000 small water utilities. These utilities vary in size, customer base
and technical sophistication.
This past May, Congress mandated water utilities with more than 3,300
customers to conduct vulnerability assessments. Operators must then create
emergency response plans to address not only terrorism but vandalism or
natural disasters. Before September 11th, many small systems didn’t have
workable emergency plans in place.
(sound of conference)
At a pilot seminar for small system security, Tom Sherman with Michigan’s
Rural Community Assistance Program says Michigan’s systems are just like
many other small water utilities: they’re beginning from scratch.
“It’s kind of like ground zero. We’re just starting out. It’s something we knew we
had to address and you just need the input to know you’re going in the right direction.”
To make sure that small water operations are heading in the right direction, the federal government is trying to improve its outreach to small and medium size communities. Some funds have already been distributed to help these communities evaluate the safety of their water systems and upgrade their security. More than $70 million additional dollars await the approval of Congress and the President.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Ann Murray.
The Coast Guard and local agencies have declared 22 security zones on the Great Lakes… areas which are now off-limits to boaters under penalty of up to a $10,000 fine. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson reports:
The Coast Guard and local agencies have declared 22 security zones on the Great Lakes…areas which are now off-limits to boaters under penalty of up to a $10,000 fine. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson reports:
Guard Petty Officer Paul Roszkowski says this is a reaction to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. He says not all of the zones are marked yet, but eventually will be with yellow buoys. He says the first time violators will be warned.
“Right now there are several security zones throughout the Great Lakes around nuclear power plants, around water filtration areas that boaters are going to have to keep an eye out for this boating season.”
Roszkowski says the Coast Guard is also organizing what they call “Eyes on the Water” programs in local ports. These get boaters to call in anything out of the ordinary.
“Especially people hunting and fishing in locations that are not typically used for those activities…Unattended vessels, any aggressive activities, any unusual filming, vessels operating in areas vessels don’t normally operate.”
Roszkowski says this is part of our changed world since 9-11.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mike Simonson.