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Number 583 • February 23, 2012 | Past Issues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

1) No Nukes is Good Nukes? New U.S. Reactor Approval Sidesteps Issues of Safety

Earlier this month, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission cleared a path for two new nuclear reactors to be built in Georgia. There’s some question, however, about whether this is a road we should be headed down. Coming close to the 33-year anniversary of Three Mile Island and not even a year after the Fukushima disaster, the timing itself is enough to ask the question—are we ready for new nukes?

At least four members of the five-member commission seem to think so, not only giving the green light to Atlanta-based Southern Company to begin constructing two new reactors at its Vogtle plant near Waynesboro, but also issuing its first ever combined construction and operation license, which will allow the company to bring the reactors online more quickly.

Dissenting commissioner, Chairman Greg Jaczko, brought up the specter of the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant last March as explanation for his vote.

"I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima never happened," the Huffington Post quoted Jaczko as saying after the vote at the commission's headquarters.

In July, a Commission task force issued 12 recommendations to strengthen U.S. reactor resilience based on lessons learned when Fukushima lost electrical power following a massive earthquake and tsunami. Jaczko has been vocal in his determination to see those recommendations implemented in less than five years—a huge step up from the historically glacial NRC pace.

In the case of the proposed reactors, Jaczko wanted a binding commitment from Southern Company that those enhancements would be in effect before the facility opened, but the company refused, according to the Post. His insistence on regulation has earned him a hard-to-please reputation among industry leaders.

“Despite the newest technology being used, and despite substantial differences in location and risk when compared to the Fukushima plant, the chairman opposed action,” Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, told industry journal EnergyBiz. “Frankly, it leads us to wonder if any nuclear advancement will be good enough for the Chairman….”

The newest technology—a yet-to-be-built water pressurized design called the AP1000 that is smaller, cheaper, and said to be safer than reactors built decades ago—isn’t without its detractors, either.

Although touted for its ability to prevent overheating even during power loss, there were concerns about the reactor shield building's strength in the event of an earthquake, plane crash, or other disaster. That worry led the NRC to request reactor manufacturer Westinghouse to modify the design in 2010—a modification that was approved in late December without the usual 30-day waiting period, according to the New York Times. Possible problems caused by the shield building no longer offering an additional layer of containment in case of a containment vessel breach where not addressed.

Even for those satisfied that this new variety of reactor could withstand a Fukushima-scale event, there are plenty of other reasons opponents don’t want to see new reactors built.

“The potential is high for cost overruns, regulatory problems, outage issues, competing water needs in the state, drought situations, radioactive waste management issues and a range of ratepayer issues,” the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said in a filing with the Georgia Public Service Commission, according to the New York Times.

The Southern Alliance has joined forces with other groups to oppose the Vogtle plant license and worked to make sure that the lessons of Fukushima are incorporated in new and existing nuclear operations. The Alliance saw at least a little progress Wednesday, when the NRC announced that it would work on implementing the first three task force recommendations by 2016.

"Each of the orders is focused on enhancing defense in depth at nuclear power plants through increased capabilities to minimize the potential for core damage following a beyond design basis external event," Reuters quoted an NRC memo as stating.

Among the recommendations to be instituted are increased planning for disaster events and multiple reactor shutdowns, improvements in instruments that monitor spent fuel pools, and overhauls of vent systems similar to the ones that failed at Daiichi. The new Vogtle reactors, which could be completed as early as 2016, would be required to follow the recommendations as well, Reuters reported.

Although the execution of the recommendations will be a long time coming and the safety of the latest generation of reactors has yet to be evaluated in real life, it’s perhaps the most the United States can hope for if it’s committed to generating nuclear energy. Other options might be something like the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in the Philippines.

Unlike the United States, Philippine leaders hearken to the lessons of past nuclear disasters. In the wake of Chernobyl, they shut down the brand-new Bataan plant without ever generating a watt of energy, according to a New York Times story. Recently slated again to be put into service, the plant took another hit when Fukushima melted down. It’s now relegated as a tourist attraction, where former nuclear technicians give guided tours.

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2) All My E-mail Scandals: The Climate Change Soap Opera Continues 

It’s been a couple of years since we’ve had a good climate saga to moon over, but thanks to questionable ethics of one scientist and devious plots by the Heartland Institute, our drama coffers again runneth over.

The latest episode of climate skullduggery comes once again in the form of purloined e-mails—this time from the Heartland Institute. The institute, well-known for its denial of human-caused global warming, found itself in hot water last week after sending several documents to someone staff members believed to be a board member.

The documents, which were sent anonymously to media sources, included details about personnel, operations, fundraising, and donors, according to the New York Times. Details about anti-climate-science schemes—including one to infiltrate schools with a curriculum that disputes current climate science—were also included. As the Times notes, the document paints a picture of the extent to which the global warming debate is being manipulated for interests other than science.

The Heartland Institute acknowledged in a statement that documents had been “stolen from Heartland” and that “at least one is a fake,” but didn’t confirm the authenticity of the rest (although the Associated Press has independently verified much of the information). The group is now referring to the incident, a bit theatrically, as Fakegate—a nod to the 2009 Climategate, in which climate scientists had their e-mails hacked and published online.

Meanwhile, in a fit of conscience, the anonymous contributor of the documents revealed himself to be Peter Gleick, a well-known scientist who studies water and climate change, as well as president of the Pacific Institute and former chairman of the American Geophysical Union’s ethics committee.

What could turn a good scientist so bad? According to Gleick’s confession, the devils (at Heartland) made him do it.

Gleick writes that after receiving an anonymous document—the one Heartland later said was fake—allegedly outlining Heartland’s strategy for creating climate confusion, he was moved to try to verify the evidence.

“My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts—often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated—to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved,” he wrote. “Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case.”

Apologies might not be enough. While it's unclear what legal repercussions might result from Gleick’s actions, it’s certain that he tarnished his reputation and his job could be on the line. Perhaps even more troubling is that this episode could create an even greater climate of confusion.

“For those people who don't believe climate change is real or think that it's part of some U.N. conspiracy to control their lives, this will reinforce that view,” Kert Davies, director of research for Greenpeace USA, told the Los Angeles Times. “Those…who think there is a massive conspiracy by corporate and conservative interests to muddy the science, on that side Peter Gleick is a hero for his temerity to do this. Somewhere in the middle, it could confuse people and confuse the climate debate for some time to come.”

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3) Update: Flu Data to Flow Free

Fear of terrorism or a mass outbreak won’t keep controversial flu data out of the hands of scientists, an international panel has decided. The group of 22 flu and public health experts, organized by the World Health Organization, met over two days last week to determine whether data on an aerially transmissible strain of H5N1 should be published whole or in a redacted version.

“The group consensus was that it was much more important to get this information to scientists in an easy way to allow them to work on the problem for the good of public health,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci told the New York Times. “It was not unanimous, but a very strong consensus.”

The United States was not part of that consensus, according to the Times. As we reported in DR581, the controversy was initially sparked when the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommended the results of that research not be published in their entirety. The board, which has no authority to enforce its recommendation, was concerned the full work might provide bioterrorists the instructions for creating a deadly pandemic.

The subject was polarizing for the scientific community, with some scientists championing the need for pandemic research and others saying such work isn’t useful enough to risk the possible dangers.

Although the group has made its decision, a voluntary moratorium on H5N1 work will still continue for a few months to allay public fears stirred by the dissension, Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general of health security and environment, said in a statement.

“There is a preference from a public health perspective for full disclosure of the information in these two studies,” he stated. “However there are significant public concern surrounding this research that should first be addressed.”

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4) Hazards and Disasters Student Paper Competition Now Open

Your research paper could net you $100 and free entry into this summer’s Natural Hazards Workshop if chosen as one of the two winners of our annual Hazards and Disasters Student Paper Competition.

Papers may present current research, literature reviews, theoretical arguments, or case studies on social or behavioral aspects of hazards or disasters. The competition is open to graduate or undergraduate students enrolled for at least one term of the 2011-2012 academic year.

Papers must be submitted by April 30, 2012. For more information and application instructions, visit the competition page on the Natural Hazards Center Web site.

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5) Call Outs: Calls for Papers, Abstracts, Proposals, and More

Call for Applications
Technical Assistance Grant
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
Deadline: March 9, 2012
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is accepting applications for technical assistance grants to help communities and nonprofits analyze local natural gas and hazardous liquid pipeline safety. Funding can also be used promote public participation in pipeline safety.

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Call for Applications
FEMA National Advisory Council
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Deadline: March 9, 2012
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is accepting applications for members of its National Advisory Council. Open positions include representatives from emergency management, emergency response, cybersecurity, inpatient medical providers, and state and local elected officials. Advisory council members are not paid but do receive compensation for travel. For more information, visit the FEMA Web site.

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Call for Applications
STEM Career Development Grants
Department of Homeland Security
Deadline: March 22, 2012
The Department of Homeland Security is accepting applications from accredited four-year colleges and universities to support career development in science, technology, engineering and math. Grants will support scholarships for students pursuing homeland security-specific studies in existing programs. For full details, visit the HS-STEM grant page at grants.gov.

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6) Some New Web Resources

[Below are some new or updated Internet resources we have discovered. For an extensive list of useful Web sites dealing with hazards, see www.colorado.edu/hazards/resources/.]

The State of FEMA 2012
After wrapping up a record year for disaster response, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has released The State of FEMA 2012, which takes a look at where the agency is heading—but not without a look at where it’s been. There are case studies, descriptions of recent FEMA accomplishments and planning efforts, a budget review, and more on the agency’s strategic priorities, programs, and missions.

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Disaster Risk Reduction Knowledge Shop
A wide range of disaster risk management and reduction training modules and information is now available from the African Centre for the Study of Disasters. Sponsored by USAID, the Knowledge Shop has collected a variety of tools to be used by teachers, practitioners, and public officials working to reduce risk at any level.

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Japanese Tsunami Debris FAQ
Recent news reports that debris from the March 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami will wash up on the U.S. West Coast in a couple of years has everyone talking trash. A quick trip to this National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris page will let you amaze your friends with true facts and debunk the tsunami trash myths. Learn how much debris might really be out there, if they're radioactive, and a slew of other floating garbage trivia.

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Guidelines for Developing Emergency Simulations and Drills
This recent guide from the Pan-American Health Organization will help organizations craft emergency drills that test disaster readiness, identify problems in execution, and better evaluate plans. Included are instructions and objectives for planning drills and simulations, resources for staying organized, and forms to help manage everything from budgets to evaluations.

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Towards a Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction
The UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction has just released Towards a Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which takes a look at disaster resilience efforts in the final three years of the Hyogo Framework for Action. The paper contains a background of the Framework, discussion of what type of framework will be needed after 2015, and a timeline of events for the remaining two years.

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7) Conferences, Training, and Events

[Below are some recent announcements received by the Natural Hazards Center. For a comprehensive list of upcoming hazards-related meetings, visit our Web site at www.colorado.edu/hazards/resources/conferences.html.]

March 9, 2012
The First Australian Conference on Natural Disasters and Family Violence
Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse
Melbourne, Australia
Cost and Registration: $267, closes March 2
This conference will look at relationship violence, child abuse, and domestic violence incidents following natural disasters in Australia. Topics include natural disaster impacts on family relationships, strategies for managing increased local government services during and after a natural disaster, and international trends in domestic violence following disasters.

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March 20, 2012
Water and Environment
Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management
London, England
Cost and Registration: $297, open until filled
This conference will present innovations in sustainable water infrastructure around the world. Topics include global water security, flood management schemes, the economic value of regional water trading, and strategies for urban ecosystems.

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March 25-29, 2012
Wildland Urban Interface
International Association of Fire Chiefs
Reno, Nevada
Cost and Registration: $425, open until filled
This conference will discuss solutions to wildland-urban interface suppression, prevention, and mitigation challenges. Topics include assessing wildfire hazards, preventing accidental or intentional wildfires, and reducing wildfire risk while protecting environmental interests.

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April 9-11, 2012
Hydrologic Engineering Center River Analysis System Workshop
Floodplain Management Association
San Diego, California
Cost and Registration: $695, open until filled
This workshop teaches water resource professionals how to use the Hydrologic Engineering Center River Analysis System (HEC-RAS). Participants will learn to conduct water surface profiles, model bridge and culvert hydraulics, and study floodplain using HEC-RAS.

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April 14-17, 2012
National Planning Conference
American Planning Association
Los Angeles, California
Cost and Registration: $995 before February 16, open until filled
This conference offers sessions and workshops addressing issues in urban and environmental planning, regional planning, natural hazard risk reduction, and others. Topics include urban forestry, climate change, the cost of sea level rise, urban agriculture, Los Angeles River water quality, hazard mitigation, fire management and ecological restoration, and disaster risk reduction.

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April 17-19, 2012
Hazardous Materials Transportation Conference
Coastal Region Hazardous Materials Response Organization
Richmond, California
Cost and Registration: $225 before March 15, open until filled
This conference will teach participants how to operate in a unified command system, enhance communications between public and private agencies, and build trusting work relationships. Topics include pipeline safety and security, the use of vacuum trucks at hazardous sites, maritime transportation incidents, and facts and fallacies about hazardous chemicals.

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May 7-9, 2012
Sustainable City 2012
Wessex Institute of Technology
Ancona, Italy
Cost and Registration: $1,855, open until filled
This conference addresses environmental challenges facing cities. Topics include natural resources consumption, the generation of waste and pollution, social and economic imbalances, sustainable urban tourism, natural hazards planning, urbanization of rural areas, and sustainable energy resources.

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8) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

[The following job postings provided an overview of some selected openings in hazards-related fields. For more information on a particular job, please follow the links provided.]

Office of Federal Disaster Coordination Director, GS-15
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Washington, DC
Salary: $119,554 to $179,700
Closing Date: March 8, 2012
This position administers the Office of Federal Disaster Coordination, including representing FEMA in high-level committees and meetings, overseeing the budget, and coordinating the activities of 45 field operation workers during disasters. Experience equivalent to GS-15 and the ability to lead program evaluations, formulate policy, and allocate resources are required.

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Professor of Risk and Disaster Reduction
University College London Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction
London, England
Salary: $81,714
Closing Date: March 15, 2012
This position will lead research efforts and manage postdoctoral research assistants. Responsibilities include publishing research in high-profile journals, communicating research to policy makers and practitioners, and teaching classes in geological disasters, hydrometeorological disasters, or disaster risk reduction. A PhD in a relevant field and an outstanding record of academic research and publication are required.

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Corporate Citizenship and Affairs Disaster Response Professional
IBM
Location open
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position manages IBM corporate citizenship and corporate affairs staff that serve communities affected by disasters. Responsibilities include working with the Sahana Software Foundation on its disaster management application, posting volunteer opportunities and updates related to particular disasters, and assisting with IBM postdisaster assistance efforts. A bachelor’s degree and at least five years experience in disaster operations are required.

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District Emergency Management Coordinator
Northern Virginia Community College
Annandale, Virginia
Salary: $55,424 to $68,000
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position oversees all phases of emergency management on two campuses. Responsibilities include coordinating emergency planning, preparedness training, recovery, and response activities; training emergency management staff; maintaining relationships with campus leadership; and serving as the alternate liaison to national, state, and regional emergency management agencies. A bachelor’s degree and significant experience in emergency management are required. A master’s degree and emergency management certification are preferred.

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Outreach and Communications Specialist
I.M. Systems Group Marine Debris Program
Silver Spring, Maryland
Salary: $50,000 to $69,000
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will coordinate and promote the Marine Debris Program, including developing and distributing outreach material, assisting with natural disaster communication, developing Web site content, and presenting information at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Division meetings. A bachelor’s degree and several years of experience in outreach and communications are required.

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Restoration and Disaster Project Manager
Sequence Staffing
Denver, Colorado
Salary: $50,000 to $85,000
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position manages multi-family, commercial, and government capital expenditure projects for restoration, reconstruction, or disaster recovery. Responsibilities include cultivating sales relationships, estimating project costs and timelines, and overseeing construction. An associate’s degree in business or construction management and experience in Microsoft Office, Timberline, and Xactimate are required.

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Contributions of jobs, conferences, and other content to this newsletter can be sent to jolie.breeden@colorado.edu. Please include “for Disaster Research” in the subject line.

To subscribe, visit http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/dr/ or e-mail jolie.breeden@colorado.edu.
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