Inside Fukushima Two Years Later — Still One of the Most Contaminated Places on Earth

BBC News report by Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, March 11, 2013:

It would be reassuring to think that the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl is contained, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is in stable shut-down.

Unfortunately a look inside the Fukushima plant suggests otherwise.

I was part of a group taken in to the Fukushima plant last week, only the second time foreign TV journalists have been allowed in since the disaster two year ago. Very little that we saw in our brief two-hour tour was reassuring.

Our first stop was reactor building number four. This place was potentially the most worrying.

Inside the shattered building, more than 1,500 spent fuel rods were still sitting inside a cooling pool. They were still highly radioactive and the pool was outside the reactor’s steel and concrete containment vessel, perched high on the third floor.

A race is now on to get the fuel rods out. A huge steel structure is being erected around building four that will be used to raise the spent fuel out.

But that operation will not start until the end of this year, and will then take two more years to complete. If another large earthquake strikes during that time there is real concern the building could collapse.

Tepco, the company that runs the plant, told us the building was now strong enough to withstand another quake. But contractors who have worked inside building four have reported that the structure is still extremely fragile.

Reactor number four was only the tip of a radioactive iceberg. Two hundred meters away I could clearly see the twisted and rusting steel of reactor building number three.

Two years after the disaster it was still virtually untouched. The reason was simple. The radiation at reactor three was so high workers could not safely go near it.

Our bus rushed past without stopping. The Geiger counter reading was over 1,000 micro sieverts an hour. That is roughly the same as ten chest X-rays every hour, or a full CT scan every ten hours.

Like reactor four, reactor three had spent fuel rods sitting inside a cooling pool beneath the twisted steel and rubble. Remotely-operated cranes are being used to try and pull away the debris, but it is a painfully slow process.

Tepco’s other huge problem is contaminated water, tens of thousands of tonnes of it.

The 9.0 earthquake that struck two years ago appears to have severely damaged the foundations of the plant – creating large cracks in the underground walls that are supposed to keep the plant water tight.

Ground and seawater is now leaking through the cracks in to the basements around the reactors.

The water rapidly becomes highly contaminated and cannot be pumped out into the sea. Instead Tepco is building huge 1,000 tonne water tanks to store the contaminated water.

The Fukushima sight is now dotted with hundreds of them. But the water leakage is so severe that they are having to add a new tank every two to three days. Within two years they will have run out of room.

At the end of our tour we were given 10 minutes with the plant manager, Takeshi Takahashi. Mr Takahashi looked exhausted, dark rings around his eyes.

After a long apology for the “inconvenience” caused by the nuclear disaster, Mr Takahashi explained just how long and difficult the clean up would be.

“We need to remove the broken and damaged fuel and safely isolate it. This work will take 30 to 40 years. Even during the process we should never release any radioactive material into the surrounding environment.”

It would be easy for an outsider like me to criticise him: why were they not working faster? Why did they still not know what was going on inside the melted-down reactors?

But the truth is no-one would wish a job like Mr Takahashi’s on their worst enemy. No one has ever dealt with a situation like this before. He and his 3,000 staff are venturing in to completely uncharted territory.

And, according to most observers, they are, after a poor start, doing most things right.

But the scale of their task is daunting, and it will decades before anyone can truly say the Fukushima disaster is over, and the threat from the plant contained.

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Japan to Restart Nuclear Plants with Tougher Safety Guidelines

NY Times, February 28, 2013. Martin Frackler, Hiroko Tabuchi, and Matthew L. Wald.

EXCERPT:

All of Japan’s 50 operable nuclear reactors were shut down following the March 2011 triple meltdown, which spewed radiation across northern Japan after a huge earthquake and tsunami knocked out vital cooling systems. Two were later restarted as an emergency measure to avert power shortages in the heavily populated region that includes the cities of Osaka and Kyoto.

Leaders from the previous Democratic Party government had vowed to slowly phase out nuclear power by the 2030s in favor of cleaner alternatives like solar and wind power. But Mr. Abe, who took power after his Liberal Democratic Party won national elections in December on a platform of economic revitalization, said the phaseout would keep Japan from the cheap electricity it needs to compete economically.

FULL ARTICLE:

TOKYO — Japan will begin restarting its idled nuclear plants after new safety guidelines are in place later this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday, moving to ensure a stable energy supply despite public safety concerns after the Fukushima disaster.

In a speech to Parliament, Mr. Abe pledged to restart nuclear plants that pass the tougher guidelines, which are expected to be adopted by a new independent watchdog agency, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, as early as July. He did not specify when any of the reactors might resume operation, and news reports have suggested that it might take months or even years to make the expensive upgrades needed to meet the new safety standards.

Still, by making the promise in front of the Diet, Mr. Abe indicated in the strongest way yet that he planned to move ahead with a campaign pledge to reverse his predecessor’s hopes that Japan would begin weaning itself off nuclear energy.

The speech came as the World Health Organization published a comprehensive, two-year analysis on the health risks associated with the 2011 disaster suggesting that the chance of getting certain types of cancers had increased slightly among children exposed to the highest doses of radioactivity. But the report said that there would most likely be no observable increase in cancer rates in the wider Japanese population.

The study’s authors warned, however, that their assessment was based on limited scientific knowledge; much of the data on health effects from radiation is based on acute exposures like those that followed the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and not chronic, low-level exposure. Near the Fukushima plant, some densely populated areas are expected to remain contaminated with relatively low levels of radioactive materials for decades.

The government’s initial reaction to the report — saying it overestimated the risks by failing to fully take into account government evacuations of citizens — suggested that officials did not see it as a help for Mr. Abe’s plans. Antinuclear sentiments in Japan are now strong, and the results could feed fears of any increased risks.

The question of when, and whether, to restart the plants has dogged the country for two years, as politicians and ordinary Japanese try to balance their fears of a moribund economy when oil and gas costs have already hurt the balance of trade and worries over another environmental crisis, especially if the industry is not well regulated.

Lax regulation and a cozy relationship between the nuclear industry and the government helped make Japan vulnerable to the Fukushima accident, the world’s second-worst nuclear plant disaster.

All of Japan’s 50 operable nuclear reactors were shut down following the March 2011 triple meltdown, which spewed radiation across northern Japan after a huge earthquake and tsunami knocked out vital cooling systems. Two were later restarted as an emergency measure to avert power shortages in the heavily populated region that includes the cities of Osaka and Kyoto.

Leaders from the previous Democratic Party government had vowed to slowly phase out nuclear power by the 2030s in favor of cleaner alternatives like solar and wind power. But Mr. Abe, who took power after his Liberal Democratic Party won national elections in December on a platform of economic revitalization, said the phaseout would keep Japan from the cheap electricity it needs to compete economically.

On Thursday, Mr. Abe said that Japan had learned the need for tougher safety standards, and he said the new standards would be enforced “without compromise.”

Mr. Abe also said Japan would continue seeking energy alternatives to reduce its dependence on nuclear power.

In January, the new nuclear agency released a list of its proposed safety regulations, which include higher walls to protect against tsunamis, additional backup power sources for the cooling systems and construction of specially hardened earthquake-proof command centers. The rules surprised many for their toughness, though skeptics worry that industry supporters in the government will manage to get around the regulations.

According to a report by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun, none of Japan’s 16 undamaged commercial nuclear plants would pass the new standards. The agency has said the new guidelines will be finalized and put in place by July 18.

The W.H.O. study focused on cancer incidence, not deaths, and some of the cancers listed are serious but have good rates of survival.

According to the study, girls exposed as infants to radioactivity in the most contaminated regions of Fukushima Prefecture faced a 70 percent higher risk of developing thyroid cancer than would be expected normally. The report pointed out, however, that the normal risk of thyroid cancer was just 0.75 percent, and that the additional lifetime risk would raise that to 1.25 percent.

Girls exposed to radioactivity as infants in the most heavily contaminated areas also had a 6 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer, and a 4 percent higher risk of developing cancers that cause tumors. Meanwhile, boys exposed as infants had a 7 percent higher chance of developing leukemia.

The study also said that about a third of the emergency workers who remained to try to stabilize the Fukushima Daiichi plant were estimated to have a slightly increased risk of developing leukemia, thyroid cancer and other types of cancer.

The analysis was based on data available as of September 2011, and takes into account airborne contamination as well as contaminated food, water and other sources of contamination, the WH.O. said.

Some local government officials in Fukushima criticized the report for identifying specific areas and their associated exposure estimates. Radiation exposure is a sensitive topic in Japan, where victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings often experienced discrimination in marriage, for example, because of feared health effects.

“I feel extreme anger over this excessive analysis, which will plunge more residents into fear,” Mayor Norio Kanno of Iitate Village, told N.H.K. Iitate was one of the areas identified in the W.H.O. report as heavily contaminated. Villagers there are among tens of thousands of evacuees who have not been able to return home.

Posted in Energy, Fukushima, Global Fallout, Issues, Monitoring, News, Newspaper, Nuclear, Other Power Plants, Power, Safety, Utilities | Leave a comment

‘Fukushima 50’ Face Public Ire

BBC article by Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, January 3, 2013.

Entering the exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant is an unnerving experience.

It is, strictly speaking, also illegal. It is an old cliché to say that radiation is invisible. But without a Geiger counter, it would be easy to forget that this is now one of the most contaminated places on Earth.

The small village of Tatsuno lies in a valley 15km (9.3 miles) from the plant. In the sunlight, the trees on the hillsides are a riot of yellow and gold. But then I realise the fields were once neat rice paddies. Now the grass and weeds tower over me.

On the village main street, the silence is deafening – not a person, car, bike or dog. At one house, washing still flaps in the breeze. And all around me, invisible, in the soil, on the trees, the radiation lingers.

But on top of a hill behind the village is a farm – and here there is noise. Two long metal sheds are crowded with cows, nearly 400 of them. Sitting next to a wood stove sipping a cup of coffee is 58-year-old Masami Yoshizawa.

He shouldn’t be here. Nor should his cows. He should be gone and they should be dead. But Mr Yoshizawa is refusing to leave or slaughter his cows.

“I will never be able to grow rice again on this land,” he says. “No vegetables, no fruit. We can’t even eat the mushrooms that grow in the woods; they are too contaminated. But I will not kill my cows. They are a symbol of the nuclear disaster that happened here.”

From Mr Yoshizawa’s front porch, you can clearly see the tall white chimneys of the nuclear plant. Standing here, it’s easy to understand the anger and hatred people like him feel towards the Tokyo Electric Power Corporation (Tepco).

A Japanese parliamentary report published in July makes it clear that the Fukushima reactor meltdowns were not the unavoidable result of an extraordinary natural disaster. They were a man-made catastrophe, the report says.

But it is also clear the disaster would have been much worse were it not for the actions of hundreds of employees of the same Tepco.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the foreign media, including the BBC, hailed the men as the “Fukushima 50”.

In fact there were never 50 of them. Hundreds of workers stayed at the plant, braving high levels of radiation to bring the reactors under control. Many are still there today.

And yet almost nothing has been heard from them. No awards, no newspaper articles or TV interviews. We don’t even know their names.

It took us weeks to track one man down and persuade him to talk to us. Even then, he insisted we could not photograph him or use his name.

We meet on a rainy day at a Tokyo park, far away from any crowds. The young man describes how he and a group of other nuclear workers were sent back in to the plant after the first reactor explosion.

“The person who sent us back didn’t give us any explanation,” he says. “It felt like we were being sent on a death mission.”

I put it to him that what he and his colleagues did was heroic, that they should feel proud. He shakes his head, a slightly anguished look on his face.

“Ever since the disaster, I haven’t had a day when I felt good about myself,” he says.

“Even when I’m out with friends, it’s impossible to feel happy. When people talk about Fukushima, I feel that I am responsible.”

For an outsider, such a reaction is quite hard to fathom. For help, I turn to psychiatrist Dr Jun Shigemura at Japan’s national defense university. He is one of two doctors who have studied the Fukushima workers.

His research suggests that half of those who fought the reactor meltdowns are suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms.

“The workers have been through multiple stresses,” Dr Shigemura says.

“They experienced the plant explosions, the tsunami and perhaps radiation exposure. They are also victims of the disaster because they live in the area and have lost homes and family members. And the last thing is the discrimination.”

Yes, discrimination. Not only are the workers not being celebrated, they are facing active hostility from some members of the public.

“The workers have tried to rent apartments,” says Dr Shigemura. “But landlords turn them down, some have had plastic bottles thrown at them, some have had papers pinned on their apartment door saying ‘Get out Tepco’.”

Back in the 1960s and 70s, getting rural Japanese communities to accept nuclear power plants was hard.

They were promised new roads and sports facilities. They were promised high paying jobs in the plant. And most of all, they were promised that nuclear power was completely safe.

Now that the lie has been so tragically exposed, the feeling of betrayal is huge.

Before the meltdowns, Seiko Takahashi never thought of activism. Now the middle-aged mother from Fukushima City is a passionate anti-nuclear campaigner. And she admits there is little sympathy for the Fukushima workers.

“They are not heroes for us,” she says. “I feel sorry for them, but I don’t see them as heroes. We see them as one block, they work for Tepco, they earned high salaries. The company made a lot of money from nuclear power, and that’s what paid for their nice lives.”

And that is the final point. Japan is a country where people identify very closely with the company they work for. People here will often introduce themselves with their company name first, and their own only second.

But those close ties between the Fukushima nuclear workers and Tepco are exacting a terrible psychological toll on the men who saved Japan from a much worse nuclear disaster.

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Tribe to get hearing on Prairie Island nuclear waste concerns

From Star Tribune, December 27, 2012:

Minneapolis-based Xcel, the state’s largest utility, stores spent fuel rods in 29 casks next to its power plant. Up to 64 casks ultimately may be needed. The casks likely will remain in Minnesota for decades because the federal government hasn’t built a permanent storage site.

The ruling by the licensing panel is a partial victory for the tribe, which has 200 members living near the power plant. The panel said the tribe can raise several concerns about long-term waste storage at a future hearing, though no date was set for it.

Those concerns include whether Xcel adequately studied the cumulative effects of additional casks; the low-level radiation they emit skyward; the long-term effects of a newer “high-burn” fuel on the casks; and possible disturbance of historic and archeological resources.

Mahowald said the tribe wants the waste moved, either to a permanent facility or to long-term temporary storage elsewhere. The tribe has pursued those goals not only in the Prairie Island relicensing case, but as a participant in the federal lawsuit that forced a review of U.S. storage rules.

“At the end of the day we would like the federal government to fulfill its obligation to remove the waste from Prairie Island, and that is a viewpoint we share with Xcel,” Mahowald said.

Xcel didn’t comment directly on the ruling and hasn’t objected to the tribe’s participation in the relicensing process, but it had opposed the tribe’s contentions. In an e-mail Wednesday, Xcel said that “we have many common interests and concerns, particularly the interest in holding the federal government accountable for removing used nuclear fuel from the plant site.”

The panel sided with Xcel on some matters, rejecting the tribe’s concerns about testing of casks and leak risks. Both the tribe and Xcel have the right to appeal the procedural findings.

The two reactors at Prairie Island supply about 20 percent of the electricity to Xcel’s customers in the Minnesota region. The reactors are licensed to operate until 2033 and 2034.

Posted in Get Involved, Issues, Minnesota, Monitoring, News, Nuclear, Other Power Plants, Performance Evaluation, Power, Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant, Radioactive, Safety, US Nuclear Power Plants | Leave a comment

Barry Commoner–Scientist and Planet Earth’s Lifeguard–Dies at 95.

From the New York Times, October 1, 2012, article by Daniel Lewis.

Barry Commoner, a founder of modern ecology and one of its most provocative thinkers and mobilizers in making environmentalism a people’s political cause, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 95 and lived in Brooklyn Heights.

His wife, Lisa Feiner, confirmed his death.

Dr. Commoner was a leader among a generation of scientist-activists who recognized the toxic consequences of America’s post-World War II technology boom, and one of the first to stir the national debate over the public’s right to comprehend the risks and make decisions about them.

Raised in Brooklyn during the Depression and trained as a biologist at Columbia and Harvard, he came armed with a combination of scientific expertise and leftist zeal. His work on the global effects of radioactive fallout, which included documenting concentrations of strontium 90 in the baby teeth of thousands of children, contributed materially to the adoption of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

From there it was a natural progression to a range of environmental and social issues that kept him happily in the limelight as a speaker and an author through the 1960s and ’70s, and led to a wobbly run for president in 1980.

In 1970, the year of the first Earth Day, Time magazine put Dr. Commoner on its cover and called him the Paul Revere of Ecology. He was by no means the only one sounding alarms; the movement was well under way by then, building on the impact of Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” in 1962 and the work of many others. But he was arguably the most peripatetic in his efforts to draw public attention to environmental dangers.

(The same issue of Time noted that President Richard M. Nixon had already signed on. In his State of the Union address that January, he said, “The great question of the ’70s is, shall we surrender to our surroundings, or shall we make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, to our land and to our water?” And he followed through: Among other steps, the Environmental Protection Agency was established in December 1970.)

Dr. Commoner was an imposing professorial figure, with a strong face, heavy eyeglasses, black eyebrows and a thick head of hair that gradually turned pure white. He was much in demand as a speaker and a debater, especially on college campuses, where he helped supply a generation of activists with a framework that made the science of ecology accessible.

His four informal rules of ecology were catchy enough to print on a T-shirt and take to the street: Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere. Nature knows best. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Although the rules were plain enough, the thinking behind them required leaps of faith. Dr. Commoner’s overarching concern was not ecology as such but rather a radical ideal of social justice in which everything was indeed connected to everything else. Like some other left-leaning dissenters of his time, he believed that environmental pollution, war, and racial and sexual inequality needed to be addressed as related issues of a central problem.

A Critic of Capitalism

Having been grounded, as an undergraduate, in Marxist theory, he saw his main target as capitalist “systems of production” in industry, agriculture, energy and transportation that emphasized profits and technological progress with little regard for consequences: greenhouse gases, nonbiodegradable materials, and synthetic fertilizers and toxic wastes that leached into the water supply.

He insisted that the planet’s future depended on industry’s learning not to make messes in the first place, rather than on trying to clean them up. It followed, by his logic, that scientists in the service of industry could not merely invent some new process or product and then wash their hands of moral responsibility for the side effects. He was a lasting opponent of nuclear power because of its radioactive waste; he scorned the idea of pollution credit swaps because, after all, he said, an industry would have to be fouling the environment in the first place to be rewarded by such a program.

In a “Last Word” interview with The New York Times in 2006, videotaped to accompany this obituary online, Dr. Commoner elaborated on his holistic views and lamented the inability of society to connect the dots among its multitude of challenges, calling it “an unfortunate feature of political development in this country.”

Noting the success of movements that had promoted civil rights, sexual equality, organized labor, environmentalism and an end to the war in Vietnam, he said one might think that “if they would only get together, they could remake the country.” But, he added, that has not happened.

Then he said: “I don’t believe in environmentalism as the solution to anything. What I believe is that environmentalism illuminates the things that need to be done to solve all of the problems together. For example, if you’re going to revise the productive system to make cars or anything else in such a way as to suit the environmental necessities, at the same time why not see to it that women earn as much as men for the same work?”

Dr. Commoner’s diagnoses and prescriptions sometimes put him at odds with other environmental leaders. He is rightly remembered as an important figure inthe first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, a nationwide teach-in conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, and he himself regarded the observance as historically important. But Earth Day also illustrated the growing factionalization of a movement in which “environmentalism” comprised a number of agendas, all competing for attention and money, and could mean anything from ending the Vietnam War to growing one’s own cabbages.

That was the context for the rift between Dr. Commoner and advocates of population control, who saw environmental degradation as a byproduct of overpopulation. They had become a force on the strength of Paul R. Ehrlich’s huge best seller “The Population Bomb.” Conservationist groups like the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation were strong supporters of Dr. Ehrlich’s views.

Dr. Commoner took aim at the “neo-Malthusians,” as he called those who, like the English scholar Thomas Malthus, foresaw perils in population growth. In a panel discussion with Dr. Ehrlich in 1970, he said it was “a cop-out of the worst kind” to say that “none of our pollution problems can be solved without getting at population first.”

He elaborated in his best-known book, “The Closing Circle,” published the next year. Reducing population, Dr. Commoner wrote, was “equivalent to attempting to save a leaking ship by lightening the load and forcing passengers overboard.”

“One is constrained to ask if there isn’t something radically wrong with the ship.”

In the science establishment, Dr. Commoner’s standing was ambiguous. Along with eminent figures of the postwar years like the chemist Linus Pauling and the anthropologist Margaret Mead, he was concerned that the integrity of American science had been compromised — first by the government’s emphasis on supporting physics at the expense of other fields during the development of nuclear weapons, and second by the growing privatization of research, in which pure science took a back seat to projects that held short-range promise of marketable technologies.

It was a concern remarkably similar to that of the distinctly unradical Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned of the dangerous power of “the military-industrial complex” as he was leaving the presidency. But although Dr. Commoner had a record of achievement as a cellular biologist and founding director of the government-financed Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, he was seen primarily as the advocate for a politics that relatively few considered practicable or even desirable. Among other positions, he advocated forgiveness of all third world debt, which he said would decrease poverty and despair and thus act as a natural curb on population growth.

His platform did not get him very far in the 1980 presidential race, which he entered as the head of his own Citizens’ Party. He won only about 234,000 votes as Ronald Reagan swept to victory. Dr. Commoner himself conceded that he would not have made a very good president. Still, he was angry that the questions he had raised had generated so little interest.

His own favorite moment of the campaign, he recalled many years later, was when a reporter in Albuquerque asked, “Dr. Commoner, are you a serious candidate, or are you just running on the issues?”

Barry Commoner was born on May 28, 1917, in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. His parents, the former Goldie Yarmolinsky and Isidore Commoner, were Jewish immigrants from Russia, his father a tailor until he went blind. (The original family name, Comenar, was Anglicized at the suggestion of an uncle of Barry’s, Avrahm Yarmolinsky, chief of the Slavonic department at the New York Public Library.)

Young Barry grew up at a time when it was possible to be both a tough street kid and a studious sort. He spent hours in Prospect Park collecting bits of nature, which he took home to inspect under a microscope that Uncle Avrahm had given him.

He was so shy at James Madison High School that he was referred to a speech correction class, and after graduation he set out on the track of a quiet academic career. With money earned from odd jobs, he put himself through Columbia, earning honors in his major, zoology; election to Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi; and a B.A. degree in 1937, at 20. He went on to do graduate work at Harvard, where he got a Ph.D. in cellular biology. He taught for two years at Queens College and served in the Naval Air Corps in World War II, rising to lieutenant. In 1947 he joined the faculty of Washington University in St. Louis.

Role in Nuclear Test Ban

Parallel to his life as a public figure, Dr. Commoner had a reputation as a brilliant teacher and a painstaking researcher into viruses, cell metabolism and the effects of radiation on living tissue. A research team he led was the first to show that abnormal free radicals — groups of molecules with unpaired electrons — might be the earliest indicator of cancer in laboratory rats.

He found his political voice when he encountered the indifference of government authorities to the high levels of strontium 90 in the atmosphere from atomic tests. Quite simply, he said in an interview with The Chicago Tribune in 1993, “The Atomic Energy Commission turned me into an environmentalist.”

He helped organize the St. Louis Committee for Nuclear Information in 1958, and was eventually its president. Dr. Commoner told Scientific American years later that the committee’s task “was to explain to the public — first in St. Louis and then nationally — how splitting a few pounds of atoms could turn something as mild as milk into a devastating global poison.”

“At about that time,” he continued, “several of us met with Linus Pauling in St. Louis and together drafted the petition, eventually signed by thousands of scientists worldwide.” The petition was part of the scientific underpinning for President John F. Kennedy’s proposal of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 — “the first of continuing international actions to fully cage the nuclear beast,” Dr. Commoner said.

As the founding director of the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems in St. Louis, he led a staff drawn from many disciplines in investigating, among other things, lead poisoning in slums, the ecology of ghetto rats, the economics of conventional versus organic farming, and the pollution of rivers by fertilizer leaching.

Dr. Commoner moved the center from St. Louis to Queens College in 1981. He remained in the thick of things, helping to set up New York City’s trash recycling program and defending it against critics like Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had declared the recycling law irresponsible.

In 2000, at 82, Dr. Commoner gave up the center’s directorship to concentrate on new research projects, including work on the effects of genetically altering organisms.

Waning Influence

By then he was no longer getting anything like the attention he had enjoyed in earlier times. Some experts had begun to think that his view of the planet, as a place harmoniously balanced by the trial and error of long evolution, left out too much complexity and too much potential for the unexpected.

Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, reviewing Dr. Commoner’s book “Making Peace With the Planet” for The Times in 1990, said that it “suffers the commonest of unkind fates: to be so self-evidently true and just that we pass it by as a twice-told tale.”

“Although he has been branded by many as a maverick,” Dr. Gould added, “I regard him as right and compassionate on nearly every major issue.”

Dr. Commoner married Ms. Feiner in 1980. He is also survived by two children, Lucy Commoner and Frederic, by his first wife, the former Gloria Gordon; and one granddaughter.

Dr. Commoner practiced what he preached. In his personal habits he was as frugal as a Yankee farmer, and as common-sensical. He drove or took taxis if the route by public transit took him far out of his way. On the other hand, he saw no need to waste electricity by ironing his shirts.

And when a Times writer once asked his Queens College office to mail some material, it arrived in an old brown envelope with the crossed-out return address of the botany department at Washington University — where he had last worked 19 years earlier.

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Russell E. Train, Helped Found the E.P.A., Dies at 92

From the New York Times, 17 September 2012. Article by Keith Schneider.

Russell E. Train, a renowned conservationist who played a central role in the creation of groundbreaking laws and effective enforcement in response to rising concerns about environmental protection in America, died on Monday at his farm in Bozman, Md. He was 92.

His death was announced by Carter Roberts, the president of the World Wildlife Fund, which Mr. Train helped transform into a global force for conservation.

From 1969 to 1977, as Richard M. Nixon’s first chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and then as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under Gerald R. Ford, Mr. Train was among a select group of senior administration officials and Congressional leaders who shaped the world’s first comprehensive program for scrubbing the skies and waters of pollution, ensuring the survival of ecologically significant plants and animals, and safeguarding citizens from exposure to toxic chemicals.

Mr. Train was widely considered the father of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the cornerstone of all modern federal environmental legislation. Its signature provision was the look-before-you-leap requirement for federal agencies to prepare environmental impact statements before proceeding with any major project.

Mr. Train developed the idea of establishing the Council on Environmental Quality, a policy office within the White House. He also helped persuade the Nixon administration to create the Environmental Protection Agency, empowered to execute and regulate the nation’s new program of safeguarding natural resources and protecting public health.

“I felt strongly that environmental issues needed a sharp, cutting edge in government, one that had high visibility to the public,” Mr. Train recalled in his 2003 memoir, “Politics, Pollution, and Pandas.” And, he wrote, “this view finally prevailed.”

In 1978, after leaving government, Mr. Train joined the World Wildlife Fund’s affiliate in the United States, first as president, then as chairman and chairman emeritus. He helped transform a small and effective conservation group into a $100 million-a-year global network of researchers and technical specialists, famed for its panda bear trademark.

Mr. Train’s emergence as a central player in environmental policy, regulation and advocacy was made possible by a convergence of national need, personal passion and astute career management.

Mr. Train, a moderate Republican lawyer raised in a prominent Washington family, was 45 when he resigned midway through a successful term as a United States Tax Court judge in 1965 to become president of the Conservation Foundation. His goal was to fashion a professional career out of a decade-old desire to shelter African wildlife and natural habitat, an idea prompted by safaris he took to East Africa in 1956 and 1958.

The move coincided with the rise of the environmental movement, which was pushing to turn the ecological and public health consequences of industrialization — pollution, exposure to toxic chemicals, clear cutting and loss of native species — into national priorities.

Mr. Train had already gotten a taste of the rewards and the rigors of his new job. In 1961 he founded the African Wildlife Leadership Foundation, an international organization to train Africans in wildlife, habitat and national park management. He had run it out of his judicial office when he was not on the bench. That year he also became a founding board member of the World Wildlife Fund’s United States affiliate.

Mr. Train had an entrepreneur’s instinct for nonprofit success. For the Conservation Foundation, he recruited prominent board members, hired talented staff, built programs around novel ideas, raised money and attracted attention. His message was that the nation needed a new approach to economic growth — that environmental values needed to be incorporated into public and private decisions about what to build and where to build it.

In one effort he joined with Ian McHarg, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, to produce “Design With Nature,” the seminal 1969 book on incorporating the principles of ecology into landscape construction. Mr. Train also financed the work of Lynton Keith Caldwell, a professor of political science at Indiana University, which led to the development of the federal environmental impact statement.

His Republican credentials proved crucial to Mr. Train’s success. In 1968, he was chairman of a bipartisan task force on environmental issues for President-elect Nixon’s transition team. In January 1969, just before the inauguration, Mr. Train sat next to Mr. Nixon at a dinner at the Pierre Hotel in New York, where the two talked about the power of environmental issues to galvanize voters.

“I emphasized that concern for the environment cut across geographic boundaries and across economic groups,” Mr. Train wrote, “and suggested that an environmental agenda could be a unifying political force.”

Mr. Train joined the administration as under secretary of the interior. In that post he tested the environmental impact statement process by coordinating the government’s work in setting rigorous engineering and environmental protection standards for the design and construction of the 789-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline. He led the opposition to building a new Miami airport within the boundaries of Everglades National Park, and helped develop the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, which encourages states to preserve and restore wetlands, estuaries, beaches and coral reefs as well as the fish and wildlife living there.

Mr. Train was the administration’s spokesman in 1969 during Congressional hearings on the proposed National Environmental Policy Act, which called for establishing the White House policy council. In 1970, after signing the law, President Nixon appointed him the council’s chairman.

Mr. Train also pursued international programs that put the United States at the forefront of a global effort to protect the planet. In 1972 he led the American delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, the first large gathering of world leaders to consider environmental degradation.

A year later, at the height of the Watergate scandal, Mr. Train became administrator of the three-year-old Environmental Protection Agency, replacing William Ruckelshaus, who had been named interim director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Under Mr. Train, the E.P.A. banned four particularly toxic farm chemicals (aldrin, dieldrin, heptachlor and chlordane) and instituted auto emission limits. He recruited economists to forecast the costs of environmental rules. And he established the agency’s scientific capacity to evaluate the health consequences of exposure to toxic compounds, the basis of the E.P.A.’s process for assessing the risks and benefits of its actions.

In 1991, President George Bush gave Mr. Train the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

Russell Errol Train was born in Jamestown, R.I., on June 4, 1920, and raised in Washington, the youngest of three boys of Rear Adm. Charles Russell Train and the former Errol Cuthbert. His paternal great-grandfather had been a congressman during the Civil War. An ancestor, John Trayne, had emigrated from Scotland to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635.

Mr. Train went to the Potomac School and then St. Albans (learning to hunt on family vacations in the Adirondacks). He graduated from Princeton in 1941 and Columbia University Law School in 1948.

A man of exquisite manners, he was trained in the ways of Washington from an early age. His father had an office at the White House, where he served as President Herbert Hoover’s Naval aide. In 1932, Mrs. Hoover invited Mr. Train and his older brothers, Cuthbert and Middleton, to spend the night at the White House, where they slept in the Andrew Jackson bedroom and breakfasted with the president and Mrs. Hoover on the portico overlooking the Ellipse and the Washington Monument.

“I think what made the greatest impression on me,” he wrote years later, “were the tall glasses of fresh California orange juice. I had never seen anything like those large glassfuls before.”

Mr. Train is survived by his wife of 58 years, Aileen; three daughters, Nancy Smith, Emily Rowan and Errol Giordano; a son, Charles Bowdoin Train; and 12 grandchildren.

Mr. Roberts, the World Wildlife Fund’s president, said Mr. Train became chairman emeritus of the group 12 years ago.

“He came into our headquarters every week,” Mr. Roberts said in an e-mail. “He prowled the hallways in a pinstripe or a seersucker suit, always with a handkerchief jutting out of the pocket, and poking our staff to get more done quickly. You could always rely on Russ to be practical and unconventional at the same time. Even in the last five years, he was always a voice as an ex-E.P.A. administrator in defending the role of the E.P.A.”

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Mutant butterflies a result of Fukushima nuclear disaster

From CNN, August 14, 2012:

In the first sign that the Fukushima nuclear disaster may be changing life around it, scientists say they’ve found mutant butterflies.

Some of the butterflies had abnormalities in their legs, antennae, and abdomens, and dents in their eyes, according to the study published in Scientific Reports, an online journal from the team behind Nature. Researchers also found that some affected butterflies had broken or wrinkled wings, changes in wing size, color pattern changes, and spots disappearing or increasing on the butterflies.

The study began two months after an earthquake and tsunami devastated swaths of northeastern Japan in March 2011, triggering a nuclear disaster. The Fukushima Daiichi plant spewed radiation and displaced tens of thousands of residents from the surrounding area in the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine.

In May 2011, researchers collected more than 100 pale grass blue butterflies in and around the Fukushima prefecture and found that 12% of them had abnormalities or mutations. When those butterflies mated, the rate of mutations in the offspring rose to 18%, according to the study, which added that some died before reaching adulthood. When the offspring mated with healthy butterflies that weren’t affected by the nuclear crisis, the abnormality rate rose to 34%, indicating that the mutations were being passed on through genes to offspring at high rates even when one of the parent butterflies was healthy.

The scientists wanted to find out how things stood after a longer amount of time and again collected more than 200 butterflies last September. Twenty-eight percent of the butterflies showed abnormalities, but the rate of mutated offspring jumped to 52%, according to researchers. The study indicated that second-generation butterflies, the ones collected in September, likely saw higher numbers of mutations because they were exposed to the radiation either as larvae or earlier than adult butterflies first collected.

To make sure that the nuclear disaster was in fact the cause of the mutations, researchers collected butterflies that had not been affected by radiation and gave them low-dose exposures of radiation and found similar results.

“We conclude that artificial radionuclides from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant caused physiological and genetic damage to this species,” the study said.

The results of the study bring up concerns about the larger impact of the Fukushima disaster and the impact it will have on the ecosystem in Japan and nearby areas, as well as what we can learn for future nuclear disasters.

“Our results are consistent with the previous field studies that showed that butterfly populations are highly sensitive to artificial radionuclide contamination in Chernobyl and Fukushima,” the study said. “Together, the present study indicates that the pale grass blue butterfly is probably one of the best indicator species for radionuclide contamination in Japan.”

One of the researchers, Joji Otaki, an associate professor at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, told reporters that while butterflies may be the best indicator, the study should also lead to more research on what else may be affected by the radiation.

“Sensitivity (to irradiation) varies between species, so research should be conducted on other animals,” Otaki told the Japan Times.

Otaki said while there is still plenty of research to be done on radiation, there shouldn’t be large-scale concern about this kind of mutation in humans.

“Humans are totally different from butterflies and they should be far more resistant” to radiation, he told the newspaper.

Posted in Fukushima, Global Fallout, Issues, Monitoring, Mutations, Nuclear, Other Power Plants, Photos, Radiation Information, Radioactive, Safety, Sampling | Leave a comment