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Number 612 • August 22, 2013 | Past Issues













Yucca Mountain Is Dead. Long Live Yucca Mountain.

An all-but-abandoned plan to store nuclear waste underground at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain repository could soon be back on the table thanks to a federal appeals court ruling handed down last week. Although proponents of the project welcomed the new forward movement, it’s unclear if it will do much to solve nuclear waste disposal woes in the United States.

The ruling, which is the latest episode in the long and storied history of the facility, orders the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to complete a licensing review that’s been on hold since 2011. The initial license application, which would allow the U.S. Department of Energy to build a storage facility for spent nuclear fuel at the site about 80 miles from Las Vegas, stalled after opponents in Congress halted appropriations for the project.

The site, which was chosen over two others being considered, has been hotly contested by Nevadans since it was first identified in the 1980s. In 2002 George W. Bush signed a resolution that allowed the Department of Energy to move forward with construction if the NRC found it feasible. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) has used his clout to impede funding. Until the latest court ruling, Reid’s claims that the project is dead seemed to hold true. 

"The narrative had been, Yucca Mountain is dead,” Jack Spencer of the Heritage Foundation told the Wall Street Journal last week. “And the court said, no, Yucca is not dead."

Actually, the federal appeals court declared that licensing of Yucca Mountain isn’t dead. However, even if facility licensing is approved, there’s no guarantee Congress will sanction the funds necessary to complete the project. And meanwhile, Reid and other opponents promise they’ll continue to block Yucca Mountain.

Aside from the not-in-my-backyard political posturing, there are logical reasons not to continue the project, which has already cost the $15 billion. For one,  Yucca Mountain will be obsolete before it’s completed. It’s possible that the United States—assuming less than 2-percent growth in nuclear power production per year—would require nine nuclear waste repositories by 2100, according to a statement made by official at Argonne National Laboratory in 2008. Furthermore, many jurisdictions are also concerned about natural disasters and the dangers of transporting the waste, which is currently stored onsite at 80 locations nationwide.

Whatever fate Yucca Mountain meets, the United States still has an ethical obligation to address nuclear waste disposal, according to a 2012 report issued by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. That commission recommended Congress and the Obama Administration immediately create an agency to manage nuclear waste disposal, make money for the Nuclear Waste Fund available to address immediate storage needs, and begin planning to develop additional repositories.

In the meantime, the 30-plus years of Yucca Mountain dithering seems poised to continue. The NRC must now decide if it will dispute the federal court’s 2-1 ruling while Reid and others keep fighting it.

“[The court’s] opinion means nothing,” Reid recently told members of Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, according to the Las Vegas Sun. “Yucca Mountain is dead. It’s padlocked. There’s nothing going on there.”

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That (Manmade) Sinking Feeling

Nothing quite underscores the power of nature like watching a stand of trees, or a hotel, or an entire town get swallowed by mammoth sinkholes. Ironically, though, many recent examples of the phenomenon are not natural ones. They are manmade, and they can be every bit as devastating.

As far as manmade hazards go, sinkholes are fairly easy to create. Anything from a broken water pipe to injection mining can crack up the earth under the right conditions, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It only takes two ingredients—soluble earth and water—to carve out a big hole.

“Think about all the changes that occur when water-drainage patterns are altered and new systems are developed,” writes geologist Randall Orndorff in a USGS news feature. “And when industrial and runoff-storage ponds are created, the resulting substantial weight of the new material can trigger an underground collapse of supporting material.”

That’s the likely cause of a 60-foot wide sinkhole that devoured a Florida resort villa near Disneyland last week.

“Once you start paving those parking lots and roads, putting up houses,” Orndorff told the New York Times, “all that water runs off and is collected in ditches and storm drains, and it has to go underground in, basically, a torrent.”

Those torrents more easily cut through Florida’s underlying limestone, which is easily dissolved. The state’s naturally sinkhole-prone geography has been exacerbated by development, giving the state a reputation for killer sinkholes.

In other cases, however, it’s not what we build on top, but what we take from beneath that causes collapse. A vivid example is Jining, China, which is situated above a Swiss-cheese topography of coal mines. Nearly eight square miles of the city each year are swallowed by sinkholes. The Jining Land Resource Bureau estimates that 5 million people will be forced to relocate because of them by 2090, according to a CNN report.

Since Jining depends on the coal industry, its residents have resigned themselves to making the most of the situation; they turn the holes, which often flood, into wetlands, recreational lakes, and water parks.

“We are nothing without the coal company,” coal company employee Meng Lingjun told CNN. “All we can do is keep mining and fixing the sinkholes.”

Bayou Corne, a Louisiana community with a similar problem, isn’t as sanguine about the 24-acre, 750-foot deep sinkhole that began engulfing the region last year and hasn’t stopped since. The gargantuan hole, which is thought to have been caused by the collapse of a brine cavern created by salt mining, has forced  the ongoing evacuation of most the residents—about 350 people.

“The God of my understanding says, ‘As you sow, so shall you reap,’” Kenny Simoneaux, a Bayou Corne resident, told Mother Jones. “I'm so goddamn mad I could kill somebody.”

Although the ingestion of an entire town seems like the kind of defining event that might make people sit up and take notice, Bayou Corne has stayed largely under the radar. Even in Louisiana, a slew of regulation-heavy legislationspawned by the disaster did little to produce any kind of real protection and dearth of responsiveness from mining companies has raised the call for federal intervention.

“Our governor in the state of Louisiana wants to be perceived as business friendly,” Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who supports residents, told the Times-Picayune last month. “That is good, but you still have to obey the rules as set forth by the EPA in the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act because when you don't, accidents like this are going to happen.”
In the meantime, other communities across the nation face similar combinations of invasive industries and fragile geology—meaning the likelihood of manmade sinkholes is bound to rise as natural gas exploration, injection mining, and development increases.

“When you keep drilling over and over and over again, whether it's into bedrock or into salt caverns, at some point you have fractured the integrity of this underground structure enough that something is in danger of collapsing," Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist, told Mother Jones.  “It's an inherently dangerous situation.”

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Disaster News Redux: Bangladeshi Building Collapse

As It Stood: A building collapse in a suburb of Dhaka on April 24 killed more than 1,000 people and shined a spotlight on the deplorable working conditions in the Bangladeshi apparel industry. The failure came just a day after an engineer inspecting cracks told the owner of Rana Plaza it should be closed immediately, according to the New York Times.

The country has seen unprecedented growth in the garment business in recent years—the demand for cheap labor and maximized profits has grown into an $18 billion industry that accounts for more than 80 percent of the country’s exports and 10 percent of its gross domestic product, according to Bloomberg News. As companies scrambled to capitalize on those new opportunities, buildings like Rana Plaza were expanded hastily and without much oversight, creating safety issues.

The incident not only created brought the transgressions of Bangladeshi factory owners, it also created negative press for the global companies making profits, including those in Europe, Canada, and the United States

Falling Down (Again): Four months later, those injured and the families of those killed are still waiting for compensation promised by the government and factory owners, according to a New York Times editorial last week. Workers were supposed to get $1,250 and up to $19,000 in savings certificates, according to the Times. The families of those killed were slated to receive $1,250 each.

Many of those payments hadn’t been made earlier this month. About 700 of the dead workers' families hadn’t received any payout, according to the Daily Star. Only 777 of the many injured workers had been paid, but none fully, according to the Times, and there was no proof Bangladesh’s garment manufacturers’ group had raised the money it had vowed either.

Crawling Toward Restitution: Of the global retailers who get their products from Bangledesh only one—Britain’s Primark—has offered any compensation to the victims of the collapse. Still there’s a glimmer of hope that international companies will work to improve the situation.

A meeting to determine compensation for the victims is scheduled for September, according to Bloomberg News. Additionally, more than 80 companies have signed a building safety pact put forward by labor groups. Still, little has been done that is legally enforceable and time will tell if the initiative to establish safety standards and inspections is more than just saving face, according to the Times.

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Are You Getting DR and the Observer in Your Mailbox?

While many of you are reading DR from the comfort of your inbox right now, we’re worried that some of our subscriber signups were shot down by a system with a glitchy trigger finger. Unfortunately, we recently discovered a problem with our signup system that might have resulted in some subscribers receiving a successful signup message, even while the diabolical system was callously throwing their information into a virtual abyss.

Now that we’ve tamed the recalcitrant beast, we’re hoping to undo its data-eating rampage. If you’ve ever signed up for any of our mailing lists online—DR, Observer (electronic or print editions), or the Quick Response mailing list—and aren’t receiving notices in your inbox, would you please consider trying again via our new, more acquiescent signup form? We apologize in advance for the inconvenience, but we’ll make it up to you by delivering great disaster news and resources to your digital front door.

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

Call for Applications
Post Graduate Internship Program
Earthquake Engineering Research Institute
Deadline: August 30, 2013
The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute is accepting applications for participants in its Post Graduate Internship program. Post-graduate interns will gain experience in earthquake engineering, policy, and planning and contribute to EERI initiatives such as the World Housing Encyclopedia and the Learning from Earthquakes Program. Interns receive a $1,200 monthly stipend. For more information on the program and how to apply, visit the EERI Web site.


Call for Presentations
2014 NFPA Conference and Expo
National Fire Protection Association
Deadline: September 16, 2013

The National Fire Protection Association is accepting proposals for presentation at its 2014 Conference and Expo to be held June 9-12 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Proposals on topics such as fire protection engineering, fire and emergency services, fire services, and emergency preparedness are welcome.  Selections will be made based on quality, relevance, focus, practical application, and presenter credentials. For more information and to apply online, visit the presentation portal on the NFPA Web site.


Call for Applications
Knight Public Health News Challenge
The Knight Foundation
Deadline: September 17, 2013
The Knight Foundation is accepting applications for its annual news challenge, which this year will focus on solutions for harnessing health information datasets to be used by consumers and policymakers in making healthcare decisions. Up to $2 million is available for multiple grants. For more information about the challenge, to apply online, and view or vote on current submissions, visit the Knight News Challenge site.

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Some New Web Resources

Airbnb Diaster Response
Being displaced by disaster is difficult enough without being relegated to cot in a makeshift shelter. Now the same service that helps you find low-cost lodging while on vacation can help offer disaster victims the comforts of a home during emergencies. The initiative, which was born during Hurricane Sandy, works the same way as the regular Airbnb service, but for free. Those looking to share their space can list it on the site, and disaster victims will be matched with possible hosts. What a truly great way to be of service during a disaster.


Socioeconomics and Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region
Every region should be so lucky to have an interactive atlas detailing how climate change might affect their economy, infrastructure, and vulnerable populations. Perhaps this project, created by the University of Michigan and the Great Lakes Adaptation Assessments for Cities, will serve as a guide. The map includes a variety of data on more than 225 counties in the Great Lake regions and can help public officials, policymakers, and others determine how their corner of the region might fare based on historic climate data.


The First Sue Nami
Meet Sue Nami, a force of nature kind enough to take a moment from creating huge earthquake-generated waves to explain what to do when you encounter her work on the beach. The U.S. Geological Survey, which created Sue, was hoping to promote tsunami awareness among 18-34 year olds with this quirky public service announcement. The short video explains tsunami signs, causes, and what to do to avoid catching the waves (but not why Sue changes her clothes so often). Check out the video and get behind-the-scenes insight at the link above.


There’s an app for almost everything these days, and now reuniting children and their parents during disaster is no different. RapidFTR (for Rapid Family Tracing and Reunification) was created to help overcome the ponderous, paper-driven processes that waste precious hours in connecting lost children with their caregivers in disasters and humanitarian emergencies. Using just a mobile phone, the app can collect a child’s information and picture and share it with other app users to get children what they need—medical care, protection, and a hug from mom and dad.


A National Framework for Ground-Water Monitoring in the United States
With a large portion of the United States in the throes of continuing drought, the time is right to create a nationwide system to measure the quantity and quality of ground water in the nation’s aquifers. So says this recently released report that from the Advisory Committee on Water Information. The report provides information on the current state of U.S. groundwater and recommends creating a national groundwater Monitoring Network that would collect and distribute data to water planners and others who work to keep water flowing.

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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]

September 9-10, 2013
Living in Low-income Urban Settlements in an Era of Climate Change
University of Manchester
Fallowfield, UK
Cost and Registration: $148, open until filled
This Workshop will examine factors that shape responses to climate change among poor households in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and contribute to policy guidance to for local government that effectively address the poor and climate change. Topics include the climate adaptations being made by low-income settlements, innovative adaptation practices, and emerging forms of urban governance.


September 16-20, 2013
Virginia Hazardous Materials Conference and Expo
Virginia Association of Hazardous Materials Response Specialists and Virginia Department of Emergency Management
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Cost and Registration: $200 before September 15, open until filled
This conference offers more than sixty workshops that teach participants about new products and technology for the hazardous materials industry. Topics include radiation detection, highway cargo emergencies, CBRNE detection, and “street smart” chemistry and hazardous materials.


October 15-17, 2013
10th Symposium on Fire and Forest Meteorology
American Meteorological Society
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Cost and Registration:  $505 before September 2, open until filled
This conference will examine meteorological aspects of fire and atmosphere interactions. Topics include smoke modeling and emission predictions, fire and fuel systems, wildland fire management, impacts of climate and weather on wildfire, alternative burn strategies and air quality, and fire behavior systems.


November 20-22, 2013
FLASH Annual Conference
Federal Alliance for Safe Homes
Buena Vista, Florida
Cost and Registration: $265 before September 20, open until filled
This conference will explore best practices and lessons learned in building mitigation techniques. A $20,000 academic competition to find ways to address catastrophic wind events will also be held. Topics include design and construction innovation, stopping the cycle of cascading disasters, mitigation-friendly building codes, and building better homes. 


December 9-11, 2013
Ninth International Conference on Geoinformation for Disaster Management
Vietnam Institute of Geography, the Asian Association on Remote Sensing, and others
Hanoi, Vietnam
Cost and Registration: $150 before September 1, open until filled

This conference will focus on earth observation for disaster management. Topics include small satellite programs, landslide monitoring, search and rescue during disasters, flood and drought monitoring, earthquakes and geohazards, coastal and ocean pollution, and desertification.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Program Planning Specialist, GS13
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Salary: $87,292 to $113,478

Closing Date: September 3, 2013
This position is a member of the incident management assessment team and will assist with operations and development of the agency’s response division. Duties include integrating regional “Steady State” operations, evaluating operational activites, serving as section chief for assessment team deployments, and creating regular status reports and deployment summaries. Knowledge of the Incident Command System, NIMS, and one year of experience equivalent to GS-13 are required.


Healthcare Coordinator
Georgia Department of Public Health
Atlanta, Georgia
Salary: $39,000 to $59,700

Closing Date: September 16, 2013
This position coordinates public health emergency planning initiatives for vulnerable populations. Duties include performing public outreach, support emergency planning policy development and coordinate with community-based organizations on issues of population impacts during public health emergencies. A master’s degree in public health, public administration, or healthcare administration and two years experience in program planning and evaluation are required.


Assistant Professor of Environmental Planning and Disaster Risk Reduction
University of Hawaii
Manoa, Hawaii
Salary: Not Posted

Closing Date: November 15, 2013
This position will teach graduate courses in the planning and Disaster Management Humanitarian Assistance programs. Duties included conducting urban planning and disaster risk reduction research, seeking extramural funding, supervising and advising graduate students, and developing partnerships with scholars and practitioners. A PhD in urban planning or a related field and knowledge of hazard mitigation, disaster recovery, coastal management, or climate change adaptation is required.


Public Information Officer
Association of State Floodplain Managers
Madison, Wisconsin
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will provide write and produce ASPFM newsletters, develop social media strategy, copy edit publications, and increase Association visibility and membership communication. Two years experience in journalism or technical writing, web and new media writing skills, and a bachelor’s degree in a related field are required. Knowledge of or certification in floodplain management is preferred.


National Resource Allocation Manager
New Zealand Fire Service
Wellington, New Zealand
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: September 1, 2013
This position will review and develop the current risk-based allocation model, analyze fire call and demand forecasting, perform capacity planning and benefit analysis, and improve service performance and resource management. Project and workforce management experience, business and data analytics skill, and experience in a similar roll are required.

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

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