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Why are aftershocks from North Korea’s nuclear tests still happening?


Why North Korea’s nuclear test is still producing aftershocks, BBC, 11 December 2017  “…….

Why are aftershocks still happening?

According to the USGS, last weekend’s tremors were “relaxation events”. They measured a magnitude of 2.9 and 2.4.

“When you have a large nuclear test, it moves the earth’s crust around the area, and it takes a while for it to fully subside. We’ve had a few of them since the sixth nuclear test,” an official told Reuters.

The “movement of the earth’s crust” is akin to the very definition of an earthquake and scientists say it is only to be expected in the weeks and months after an explosion of that magnitude.

“These aftershocks for a 6.3 magnitude nuclear test are not very surprising,” Dr Jascha Polet, seismologist and professor of geophysics at California State Polytechnic University, told the BBC.

After any tremor of that size, aftershocks with declining magnitude are common, as the rock moves around and releases stress.

The area around the quake site “experiences deformation, and this creates areas of increased and decreased stress, which affects the distribution of aftershocks,” Ms Polet said.

“The fact that the source of the earthquake is an explosion doesn’t change how we expect the energy to redistribute,” geophysicist and disaster researcher Mika McKinnon, told the BBC.

But research on explosions of a similar magnitude as the North Korea nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site in the US where over decades nuclear tests were carried out, has found that the aftershocks of these events were fewer in number and lower in magnitude.

So each location is unique.

Can tremors destroy the test site?

One of the speculations after the September test was that it would damage the tunnel system North Korea has dug into the mountains at its test site.

“The more energy you put into an area, the more unstable it’s going to get,” Mika McKinnon explained.

“The more tests are happening, the more energy there is, the more redistribution of stress and the more rocks will be breaking.”

There have been some indications of individual tunnel collapses, she explained. “Seismic signals that look more like rock fall than anything else. That will happen more and more.”

But, she adds, there is no way of really knowing whether the entire tunnel system will collapse as this is an engineering problem far more than a scientific one.

It is unclear whether this process already has rendered the current test site unusable but North Korea has hinted its next nuclear test could be above ground…….http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42305161

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December 12, 2017 Posted by | environment, North Korea | Leave a comment

Aftershocks 14 weeks after North Korea’s biggest nuclear test

Aftershocks detected 14 weeks after North Korea nuclear test ‘moves Earth’s crust’ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/aftershocks-north-korea-nuclear-test-tremors-punggye-ri-usgs-hydrogen-bomb-mountain-a8101966.html

‘It takes a while for the crust movement to fully subside’, says USGS  Jon Sharman 10 Dec 17 Geologists have detected two tectonic tremors that they say are probably aftershocks from North Korean nuclear tests conducted over three months ago.

The artificial explosion created near a known nuclear testing site in North Korea had “moved the Earth’s crust” and subsequent seismic activity showed the region’s underlying geology settling back down, experts said.

The aftershocks, of magnitude 2.9 and 2.4, were detected at 6.13am and 6.40am GMT on Saturday respectively, said the US Geological Survey (USGS).
Lassina Zerbo, executive secreta

ry of the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation, said analysts had confirmed that the activity was “tectonic” in origin.

A USGS official said the tremors had occurred near the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where North Korea conducted its sixth and largest underground nuclear test on 3 September.

“They’re probably relaxation events from the sixth nuclear test,” the official said. “When you have a large nuclear test, it moves the earth’s crust around the area, and it takes a while for it to fully subside. We’ve had a few of them since the sixth nuclear test.”

Pyongyang claimed the September test was of a thermonuclear hydrogen bomb, and experts have estimated it was 10 times more powerful than the US atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

A series of quakes since then has prompted experts and observers to suspect the test might have damaged the mountainous location of its site in the northwest tip of North Korea, where all of the country’s nuclear tests have been conducted.

South Korea’s spy agency told the country’s lawmakers in October that North Korea might be readying two more tunnels at the site.

North Korea hinted its next nuclear test could be above ground after US President Donald Trump warned in September that the United States would “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatened America.

Another possible obstacle to North Korea’s use of Punggye-ri for tests is the nearby active volcano of Mount Paektu, which North Koreans consider a sacred site. Its last eruption was in 1903, and experts have debated whether nuclear testing could trigger another.

North Korea’s official media reported on Saturday that national leader Kim Jong-un had scaled Mount Paektu with senior military officials to “emphasise his military vision” after completion of the country’s nuclear force.

But pictures released by the official KCNA news agency showed him wearing smart black leather shoes and carrying no specialised equipment.

Mr Kim declared the nuclear force complete after the test of North Korea’s largest ever intercontinental ballistic missile last month, which experts said puts all of America within range.

South Korea said Pyongyang still needed to prove it has mastered critical missile technology, such as re-entry, terminal stage guidance and warhead activation, however.

December 11, 2017 Posted by | environment, North Korea, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Origin of the mysterious radioactive cloud remains obscure, as Russia now denies it came from Mayak

Russia’s Nuclear Industry Tries To Dispel Fears Over Mysterious Radioactive Cloud https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/12/08/569384745/russias-nuclear-industry-tries-to-dispel-fears-over-mysterious-radioactive-cloud, December 8, 2017 LUCIAN KIM

 More than two months after a mysterious radioactive cloud was detected over Europe, Russia’s nuclear industry went public Friday in an attempt to dispel fears that one of its facilities had released a plume of ruthenium-106.Russia’s

 state nuclear corporation, ROSATOM, released the findings of a special commission, which concluded that the Mayak nuclear reprocessing plant, near the border with Kazakhstan, could not have been the source of ruthenium-106, a radioactive isotope.

“There is no scientific basis for the hypothesis of some of our Western colleagues that there was a big release at Mayak,” Rafael Arutyunyan, deputy director of the Nuclear Safety Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a member of the commission, said at a news conference in Moscow. European monitoring stations first picked up traces of ruthenium in the air in late September. While concentrations were too low to pose a health risk in Europe, scientists have

 been puzzling over its origin. Wind patterns pointed to the south Urals, where the Mayak facility is located. The plant was the site of a 1957 explosion widely considered to be one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.

In November, Russia’s meteorological service said that on Sept. 26, ruthenium-106 levels in a town 20 miles from the Mayak plant, Argayash, had exceeded the previous month’s by 986 times.

The same day, Mayak flatly denied that the spike in ruthenium had anything to do with its activities.

The ROSATOM commission that inspected the Mayak facility afterward reached the same conclusion. The commission said it hadn’t detected abnormal levels of ruthenium at the facility, there had been no malfunction of monitoring systems and none of the 250 Mayak employees tested had shown any trace of the isotope.

Arutyunyan rejected the suggestion that officials have been slow in informing thepublic, saying there had been no emergency situation that would have warranted an alarm. He called talk of a danger to health “nonsense.”
“Why should we come running to announce something? Mayak told us that all their systems were working absolutelynormally and routinely,” he said. “Why should they have jumped up and shouted? I think we spent the right amount of time to understand what happened.”

Environmental activists and government critics disagree.

After the findings of the commission were released, Greenpeace Russia started a petition drive addressed to the general prosecutor’s office, demanding an investigation by independent specialists and public figures into a possible release of ruthenium from Russian territory, as well as into the possible concealment of information by ROSATOM.

“The question is not only about the immediate danger, but the origin of this release,” Greenpeace energy campaigner Rashid Alimov said in a phone interview. “We think such incidents should be investigated and there must be an answer.”

Finding the source of the radioactive cloud was beyond the scope of the ROSATOM commission. But because the ruthenium-106 over Europe was found alone, that is, unaccompanied by other radioactive isotopes, the commission said nuclear power plants or spent nuclear fuel processing facilities like Mayak could be excluded as sources because they don’t produce “pure” ruthenium-106.

The commission said a satellite — or a fragment of one — re-entering the atmosphere cannot be completely ruled out as the source of the ruthenium.

According to French authorities,

the International Atomic Energy Agency found that no satellite containing ruthenium had fallen back to earth during the period in question.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident, when Soviet authorities lied for days about the scope of the disaster.

“What’s happening with the ruthenium cloud reminds me a lot of what went on with Chernobyl,”

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said in a recent video blog. “In no way do I want to prove there’s been a catastrophe of that scale. I just want to say that the pattern of behavior is exactly the same.”

Navalny went on to pillory the headline on state television that “safe ruthenium rain fell on Bashkiria” and the chief oncologist of Chelyabinsk region, who advised people worried about high ruthenium levels “to watch soccer and drink beer.”

ROSATOM insistsit is being as transparent as possible.”Russia’s nuclear industry is a lot more open than our peers’,” ROSATOM spokesman Andrei Ivanov said at the news conference.

On Friday, local journalists were let into Mayak on the first press tour since the facility was identified as a possible source of the ruthenium cloud.

Foreign correspondents will have to wait up to two months to get a security clearance.

December 11, 2017 Posted by | environment, Russia, secrets,lies and civil liberties | Leave a comment

Russian authorities deny that radioactive cloud came from its Mayak nuclear plant

Russia claims radioactivity spike not due to nuclear plant http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/russia-spike-radioactivity-unrelated-nuclear-plant-51665118, By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, ASSOCIATED PRESS, MOSCOW — Dec 8, 2017, Russian authorities denied Friday that a radioactivity spike in the air over Europe this fall resulted from a nuclear fuel processing plant leak in the Ural mountains, saying their probe has found no release of radioactivity there.

Vladimir Boltunov of Russia’s Rosatom state nuclear corporation said an inspection of the Mayak nuclear plant has proven that it wasn’t the source of Ruthenium-106, a radioactive isotope spotted in the air over Europe and Russia in late September and early October.

France’s nuclear safety agency said last month that increased levels of Ruthenium-106 were recorded over most of Europe but posed no health or environmental risks.

The Russian panel that involved experts from Rosatom and other agencies failed to identify where the isotope came from, but alleged it could have come from a satellite that came down from its orbit and disintegrated in the atmosphere.

Nuclear safety expert Rafael Arutyunian said while isotopes of plutonium, cesium or strontium are normally used as power sources for satellites, it can’t be excluded that Ruthenium-106 could have been used in some satellite equipment.

The assumption that the isotope came from a crashing satellite would explain its broad spread over Europe, he argued.

Arutyunian, deputy head of the Institute for Safe Nuclear Energy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that a broader panel will continue investigating the radioactivity.

Last month, the Russian state meteorological office reported high levels of Ruthenium-106 in late September in areas close to Mayak, but Arutyunian and other experts emphasized that they were still tens of thousand times less than the level that would pose health risks.

The environmental group Greenpeace alleged that Mayak could have been the source of a Ruthenium-106 leak, but the panel insisted the plant doesn’t extract the isotope or conduct any other operations that may lead to its release.

The commission said a thorough inspection of the plant had found no safety breaches and checks of its personnel also hadn’t detected any trace of the isotope.

Vyacheslav Usoltsev of Rosatom’s safety inspectorate said a sophisticated monitoring system at the plant would have spotted any release of radiation.

The panel also noted that while increased levels of Ruthenium-106 were spotted in the Urals and over Europe, they weren’t detected over a 2,000-kilometer (1,250-mile) swath of land between the Urals and Russia’s western border. It argued that if the source of the leak were on the ground, it would have spread the trace of Ruthenium-106 midway.

Mayak, in the Chelyabinsk region, saw one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents on Sept. 29, 1957, when a waste tank exploded. That contaminated 23,000 square kilometers (9,200 square miles) and prompted authorities to evacuate 10,000 residents from neighboring regions.

December 9, 2017 Posted by | environment, politics international, Russia | Leave a comment

Environmental dangers from North Korea’s nuclear bomb tests

WILL NORTH KOREA’S KIM JONG UN DESTROY THE ENVIRONMENT WITH HIS NUCLEAR BOMBS? http://www.newsweek.com/will-north-koreas-kim-jong-un-destroy-environment-his-nuclear-bombs-729609  BY JANISSA DELZO North Korea’s pursuit in successfully launching a long-range nuclear missile brings about a number of questions. Among them: How would the bombs affect the environment?

Although Kim Jong Un has yet to impact the United States’ physical environment, his nuclear tests have already caused extensive damage on his own soil. Testing at the country’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility has caused a majority of the trees—about 80 percent—in the area to die, according to defectors from the region. The defectors, who were interviewed by The Research Association of Vision of North Korea, also noted that the underground wells no longer had water, according to a report published in Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper.

Another notable concern is the bomb’s potential to contaminate the area with radioactive material. Although North Korean government radiation levels came back normal in September, there’s the still risk of future leaks, especially if more tests are conducted, Chinese scientists told the South China Morning Post.

The scientists warned that another nuclear test under Mount Mantap could cause it to collapse and suffer a radiation leak.

“We call it ‘taking the roof off’: If the mountain collapses and the hole is exposed, it will let out many bad things,” Wang Naiyan, former chairman of the China Nuclear Society and senior researcher on China’s nuclear weapons program, told the South China Morning Post.

Radiation also would impact other forms of life.

“In areas where humans are killed or injured by radiation, the same lethality for animals would be expected. If large herds of farm animals were affected, poor sanitation could become a significant problem,” authors of the book Effects of Nuclear Earth-Penetrator and Other Weapons wrote.

The authors noted that plants would get hit hard too, especially pine and spruce, which are among the species that are the most sensitive to radiation.

“It is conceivable that forests could be killed, which in turn could result in forest fires. The demise of the pine forest near the Chernobyl plant was one notable example of this effect,” the authors, who are part of the National Academies of Sciences, wrote.

Earth’s ozone layer would also take a large hit from nuclear blasts, according to a 2006 study. Climate scientists who conducted the research found that the extent of damage capable of nuclear weapons could impact the Earth for decades.

“Nuclear weapons are the greatest environmental danger to the planet from humans—not global warming or ozone depletion,” Alan Robock, a coauthor of the study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, told The Guardian.

December 7, 2017 Posted by | environment, North Korea | Leave a comment

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency to review radiation monitoring in Hawaii

Radiation concerns at Pohakuloa revisited: Feds to review issues raised by Kona resident, December 3, 2017 By TOM CALLIS Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Federal regulators will give parts of Pohakuloa Training Area’s radiation monitoring plan another look in response to a petition from a Hawaii Island resident.

A U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency review board agreed last month to review some of the concerns raised by retired geologist Michael Reimer, including frequency of sediment sampling, number of sediment sampling sites and data evaluation methods for depleted uranium.

Reimer, of Kailua-Kona, also asked for continued air monitoring and soil sampling, though they will not be part of the NRC’s review because those steps were previously considered……….

Reimer said depleted uranium is most dangerous when ingested or inhaled, which is why he thinks continued air sampling is needed……http://hawaiitribune-herald.com/news/local-news/radiation-concerns-pohakuloa-revisited-feds-review-issues-raised-kona-resident

December 4, 2017 Posted by | environment, USA | Leave a comment

Mushrooms contaminated with radioactive cesium 137 stopped by France, – shipment from Belarus

France stops large shipment of radioactive Belarus mushrooms, Geert De Clercq, PARIS (Reuters), 30 Nov 17 – France has stopped a large shipment of Belarus mushrooms contaminated with low-level radioactivity probably from Chernobyl and not linked to a radioactive cloud that appeared in southern Russia last month, officials said on Thursday.

Earlier, the head of French nuclear regulator ASN Pierre-Franck Chevet told the French senate that traces of cesium had been found on imported mushrooms from Russia and did not mention Belarus.

A spokesman for French nuclear safety institute IRSN said that a few days ago customs officials found that a 3.5 tonne shipment of Belarus mushrooms coming through Frankfurt, Germany was contaminated with cesium 137, a radioactive nuclide that is a waste product of nuclear reactors…….https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-nuclearpower-accidentedf/france-stops-large-shipment-of-radioactive-belarus-mushrooms-idUSKBN1DU1CW

December 1, 2017 Posted by | Belarus, environment | Leave a comment

Europe’s radiation cloud is not harmless, if you happen to be near the source

 

Radiation Cloud Over Europe, Not ‘Harmless’ to Those near Unknown Source, Nuclear Expert Says https://www.environews.tv/world-news/radiation-cloud-europe-not-harmless-near-unknown-source-nuclear-expert-says/, bureau EnviroNews World News ,by Emerson Urry , November 11, 2017    —An airborne plume of radioactive ruthenium 106 from a nuclear accident was detected “in the atmosphere of the majority of European countries,” from late September through mid-October, according to France’s Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety Institute (IRSN) — but the source is still unknown. As of November 10, 2017, the manmade element has been identified in at least 28 countries.

November 13, 2017 Posted by | environment, EUROPE | 3 Comments

release of radioactive material to atmosphere – French Institute says probably from Russia or Kazakhstan

French institute says pollution suggests release of nuclear material in Russia or Kazakhstan in September, Guardian, Ian Sample and Kim Willsher, 10 Nov 17, A cloud of radioactive pollution over Europe in recent weeks indicates that an accident happened in a nuclear facility in Russia or Kazakhstan in the last week of September, the French nuclear safety institute IRSN has said.

The IRSN on Thursday ruled out an accident in a nuclear reactor, saying it was likely to be in a nuclear fuel treatment site or centre for radioactive medicine. There has been no impact on human health or the environment in Europe, it said.

IRSN, the technical arm of French nuclear regulator ASN, said in a statement it could not pinpoint the location of the release of radioactive material but that based on weather patterns, the most plausible zone lay south of the Ural mountains, between the Urals and the Volga river.

This could indicate Russia or possibly Kazakhstan, an IRSN official said………

Peres said that in recent weeks IRSN and several other nuclear safety institutes in Europe had measured high levels of ruthenium-106, a radioactive nuclide that is the product of splitting atoms in a reactor and does not occur naturally.

IRSN estimates a significant quantity of ruthenium-106 was released, between 100 and 300 terabecquerels, and that if an accident of this magnitude had happened in France it would have required the evacuation or sheltering of people in a radius of several kilometres around the accident site.

The ruthenium-106 was probably released in a nuclear fuel treatment site or centre for radioactive medicine, Peres said. Because of its short half-life of about a year, ruthenium-106 is used in nuclear medicine – for example in cancer therapy for eye tumours – but can also be released when nuclear fuel is reprocessed.

Jean-Christophe Gariel, director for health at the IRSN, said the responsibility for identifying the source of the nuclear cloud was now with the Russians or Kazakhs. If they failed to identify where the contamination had come from, the matter could be referred to the United Nations, he said.

“The matter is closed as far as France is concerned. It’s not a problem for France, what is not satisfactory is that ruthenium-106 has been detected across Europe and that poses a question,” Gariel told the Guardian……..

The IRSN ruled out an accident in a nuclear reactor, as that would have led to contamination with other substances. It also ruled out the crash of a ruthenium-powered satellite as an investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency has concluded that no ruthenium-containing satellite has fallen back on Earth during this period.

Measurement from European stations showed relatively high levels ofruthenium-106 in the atmosphere of the majority of European countries at the beginning of October, with a steady decrease from 6 October onwards. The radioactive element has not been detected in France since 13 October…….. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/10/nuclear-accident-in-russia-or-kazakhstan-sends-radioactive-cloud-over-europe

November 11, 2017 Posted by | environment, EUROPE | Leave a comment

The role of women – oceans and climate change – an event at Bonn

Women’s voices for ocean and climate https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/womens-voices-ocean-and-climate 10 Nov 17, The crucial yet under-recognized role that the world’s women play as agents of change and healers of the ocean and climate was the focus of a side event at the 23rd UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) in Bonn, Germany on 6 November.

The event – hosted jointly by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), UN Environment and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme – aimed to draw attention to the value of inclusive ocean and climate management.

“Women are leaders in resource management and agents for building resilient communities, and their valuable work bridges across climate action, sustainable development, and nature protection,” said Ms. Raumanu Pranjivan-Sharma, a senior legal officer for the Government of Fiji who is serving as a liaison officer for the COP23 presidency. “I want to reiterate the COP23 presidency’s commitment to the work on gender and climate change.”

The event, “The Role of Women as Healers of the Ocean at the Frontlines of the Climate-Resilient Development–Nature Nexus”, showcased the varied and valuable roles of women amidst the rising tide of challenges brought on by climate change and other human-induced changes.

“We also know that when women are well represented in decision-making processes, their ability to share skills and knowledge strengthens our collective effort to face the challenge of climate change,” said Ms. Pranjivan-Sharma.

The speakers, ranging from government officials and academics to women from coastal communities whose livelihoods depend on the ocean, shed light on how women continue to punch above their weight in trying to maintain their way of life amid the challenges facing our ocean and climate-dependent livelihoods.

The discussion highlighted the value of empowering women in engaging in ocean governance and climate adaptation and mitigation, using locally appropriate methods.

The different social and cultural differences must be recognized. We cannot come in blazing about being inclusive,” said Ms. Monifa Fiu, coordinator of the Laje.Rotuma Initiative, Vice President of the Fiji voyaging Uto Ni Yalo Trust, and Climate Adaptation Planner and Adviser with the Rotary Pacific Water Foundation. “Understanding that local scenario is key.”

Mobilizing women to be part of decision-making processes at all levels will help to ensure that women’s voices, needs and concerns are taken into consideration in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating climate actions.

Other speakers included Ms. Ingrid-Gabriela Hoven, Director-General, Global Issues-Sector Policies and Programmes at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Germany; Professor Elisabeth Holland, Director of the Pacific Center for Environment and Sustainable Development, University of the South Pacific; and Ms. Penina Moce, WWF Community Climate Witness, Fiji. The side event was moderated by Ms. Carol Phua from the MPA Action Agenda (WWF Netherlands).

The COP23 event builds on a multi-agency initiative to showcase experiences of women in the Asia-Pacific region in ocean management. The event premiered an Ocean Witness film of Roziah Jahalid from Semporna, Malaysia. Ocean Witness is a collection of stories told by people fully dedicated to the preservation of the ocean. Through the Ocean Witness platform, WWF and partners highlight tangible problems and solutions that are relevant to policymakers and the public.

Learn more about UN Environment’s work on gender and climate change.

For more information:

Tiffany Straza: unep.pacific@unep.org Tui Marseu, Communications Manager WWF-Pacific:

tmarseu@wwfpacific.org

November 10, 2017 Posted by | climate change, oceans, Women | Leave a comment

Conditions for Residents of Post-3.11 Radiation-Affected Areas Japan

Informal Labour, Local Citizens and the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Crisis: Responses to Neoliberal Disaster Management. ANU, Adam Broinowski, 7 Nov 17, “…..Conditions for Residents of Post-3.11 Radiation-Affected Areas

For roughly 30 years, the exclusion zone around Chernobyl has been set at 30 kilometres. Between 1 and 5 mSv/y is the assisted evacuation level and mandatory evacuation is 5 mSv/y and above. Unlike the approach adopted for Chernobyl, which was to achieve containment (a sarcophagus was built in eight months) and permanent resettlement of 350,000 people, the government and TEPCO have adopted a ‘dilution’ approach—to widely disperse and redistribute (‘share’) radioactive materials and waste and decontaminate residential areas. To date, this has permitted the permanent release through venting, dumping and incinerating of radioactive materials into the air, land, water and sea, and circulation in the food chain and recycled materials on a daily basis since March 2011.

Over the first few days at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, severity (International Nuclear Event Scale) levels were steadily raised from level 3 to level 5 to level 7, and the mandatory evacuation zone was gradually expanded from 10 to 30 kilometres. On 16 March 2011, readings in Aizu-Wakamatsu Middle School (100 kilometres from FDNPS) in Fukushima Prefecture returned 2.57 microSv/h (microsieverts per hour),27 and Kōriyama (60 kilometres) recordings returned 3.6–3.9 microSv/h. Inside people’s homes in Kōriyama, levels were between 1.5 and 2.0 microSv/h and 8.2 microSv/h in the downpipes.28 This data was made public only three months later. On 6 April, schools in Fukushima Prefecture were reopened. As the boundaries, legal limits and information were gradually altered, populations were urged to return to work. At the same time the legal safety level for mandatory evacuation for the public (radiation safety level 1972) was raised from 1 to 20 mSv/y,29 based on a cumulative 100 mSv dose averaged over five years, suddenly shifting the parameters for ‘low-level’ radiation and designating the general public with the level previously designated to nuclear workers.

The US Government advised a mandatory evacuation zone of 50 miles (80 kilometres). Several nations’ embassies in Tokyo evacuated their staff. Of roughly 2 million in Fukushima Prefecture, about 80,000 people from 11 municipalities were ordered to evacuate while another 80,000 evacuated voluntarily. By late 2015, about 118,862 remained evacuated.30 Sixty thousand of these people live in temporary housing and many lacked basic needs. There were many evacuees who sought public housing who have been turned away.31 There are additional evacuees affected by the earthquakes and tsunami who come from other prefectures (including parts of Miyagi and Ibaraki), some of whom were also affected by radiation exposure.

The situation in many villages within contaminated areas signifies how government policies have further exposed a wide range of people—farmers, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, factory workers, mothers (as reproductive workers), school students, local public servants—to conditions informal workers have long had to endure. In several cases (i.e. Iitate, Minami Soma, Namie), the notification of residents of radiation danger was delayed and potassium iodide pills were not distributed. Similarly, data on weather patterns and distribution gathered by the SPEEDI monitoring system32 was suppressed. These populations were not adequately informed of what the dose readings meant in terms of health risk. When people did seek measurement and treatment for their likely exposures, hospitals and other institutions with the requisite measuring technologies refused to measure them, as it was deemed ‘there was no reason for internal contamination and so there was no reason to measure’.33 These people unwittingly became hibakusha (被曝者), broadly defined as victims of radiation exposure.

Even though the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster has caused near-permanent pollution, the conflation of the radiation problem with tsunami and earthquake destruction to be managed as a single large-scale ‘clean-up’, reconstruction and revitalisation operation as instituted by the National Resilience Council 2013 has occluded the materiality of radiation.

Informal workers on ‘decontamination projects’ washed down public buildings and homes and scraped up and replaced soil and sludge contaminated at levels found for example at between 84,000–446,000 Becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg) in Kōriyama (60 km from Fukushima Daiichi).34 They also collected waste that included radioactive debris, uniforms and tools. The organic waste is stored on government-purchased land in black industrial bags piled in large walls and mounds to create a sort of buffer zone on town margins and in areas determined as long-term irradiated zones.35 Other contaminated waste is burned in newly constructed incinerators in towns nearest the plant (such as Futaba, Okuma, Naraha, Tamura, Tomioka, with more planned) in addition to the incineration already underway in major cities since 3.11, even while evacuees are being compelled to return to some of them (Tamura, Kawauchi, Naraha) where evacuation orders have been lifted. In addition, in June 2016 the Ministry of the Environment approved radioactive soil of up to 8,000 Bq/kg to be reused in national public works. Although stipulated to be used for roads and barriers (such as sea walls) under a layer of non-contaminated materials, there is concern that these will corrode over time leading to recirculation in the environment.

As compensation schemes are contingent upon where evacuees come from (whether these are areas where there are plans to lift evacuation orders, areas pending decontamination in the shorter term, or those deemed difficult to return to), those mandatory evacuees without property have received on average 100,000 yen per month while voluntary evacuees have received 60,000 yen per month, even if radiation levels in their residential areas were high.

The return to towns that received over 50 mSv/y (Futaba, Namie, Okuma) remains unlikely for decades, but if evacuees do return to other villages, they risk lifetime re-exposures of up to 20 mSv/y. In late 2015, Iitate village, for example, was divided into Areas 1 and 2, which are being prepared for repopulation (54,000 people), and Area 3, which so far remains out of bounds. Although the topsoil contaminated with Caesium was stripped and replaced (i.e. returning 0.6 microSv/h) and its houses and roads were washed down, 96 per cent of Iitate remained at 1 microSv/h. As Iitate is 75 per cent forest, which trapped a large stock of contamination, the land re-concentrates through radiation circulation (hence, quickly returned to 2.6 microSv/h).36 If the majority in Iitate, who are primarily agricultural workers, can no longer harvest vegetables, rice, wild mushrooms and vegetables (sansai 山菜) or burn wood for heat, and their houses are re-irradiated, then only the semi-autonomous elderly are likely to return. By August 2015, less than 10 per cent of roughly 14,000 eligible had applied for temporary return.37

So-called ‘decontamination’ and ‘remediation’ has been deployed to justify redefining evacuation boundaries and lifting evacuation orders so as to cut compensation payments. Following the 37th National Emergency Response Headquarters meeting held at the Prime Minister’s Office in June 2015 in which the Prime Minister decreed that ‘evacuees must return to their hometowns as quickly as possible and start new lives’,38 in late August 2015 evacuees were told if they chose to return home they would receive a one-off payment of 100,000 yen per household. If they did not, once evacuation orders had been lifted, ‘free rent’ (yachin hojo 家賃補助) for voluntary evacuees would be cut by March 2017 at the very latest.39 Further, the government announced its intention to partially lift the restriction on the ‘difficult-to-return zone’ by 2022 so as to counteract the negative image of the area and its produce.40 Without alternative income, and with a significant housing shortage due to the restriction of new public housing, many have been and will be forced to return to contaminated areas, to endure radiation exposure without compensation. If only the elderly return, there will be few prospects for young families in such towns where there is little local business and infrastructure, and public facilities and housing are in disrepair.

In Naraha, between May and August 2015, ambient readings in populated areas officially determined as ‘low or moderate’ returned 0.3–0.7 microSv/h and soil samples returned 26,480–52,500 Bq/kg of Caesium 137 and 134 combined (and 18,700 Bq/kg in the town’s water reservoir).41 While the majority of former residents are more likely to either pull down their houses and sell the land or maintain their homes as vacationers, there is additional private and state pressure to industrialise these former idylls as ‘reconstruction hubs’. As part of the ‘Innovation Coast’ plan, for example, 1,000 irregular workers have resided on the town’s outskirts as they built a giant research facility (estimated cost: 85 billion yen) to train hundreds of workers in reactor simulations and use of specialised robots. As industry colonises and transforms such towns, the pressing concern of unmitigated radiation levels in soil, forests and water, whether from distribution or recirculation, remains due to the long-lived decay and harmful effects of these radionuclides.

Similarly, in the effort to stimulate business, highways (Route 6) and train lines (Jōban line) passing directly through the (former) evacuation zone were reopened in 2015, although traffic must still travel with closed windows at the time of writing. Regular users of these corridors such as railway and transport workers and irregular nuclear workers accumulate higher doses from regular exposure while radioactive particles attached to vehicles are dispersed beyond contaminated areas. Clearly, a containment and permanent resettlement approach has been deemed untenable in the belief it would disrupt economic productivity levels. As one high school student insightfully observed, ‘Sensei … If they [really wanted to turn] Fukushima into an evacuation zone they’d have to block the Route 4 highway, Tōhoku expressway and Shinkansen’.42 Nevertheless, in lieu of overall reconstruction costs less conservatively estimated at half a trillion dollars, it may have been cheaper in the longer term to adopt permanent resettlement, education, health treatment and work creation strategies……http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/n2335/html/ch06.xhtml?referer=2335&page=11

November 10, 2017 Posted by | environment, Fukushima continuing, Reference | Leave a comment

Health, environmental, disaster at North Korea’s nuclear test site

Kim Jong Un’s Nuke Test Site Appears Dangerously Contaminated  http://dailycaller.com/2017/11/06/kim-jong-uns-nuke-test-site-appears-dangerously-contaminated/ RYAN PICKRELL, China/Asia Pacific Reporter  North Korea’s nuclear testing appears to have spread devastation for miles, according to testimony from former residents.

The Punggye-ri nuclear test site in Kilju County, North Hamgyong Province, where North Korea has conducted a total of six nuclear tests, and the surrounding area have become a wasteland. The most recent test, during which the North detonated a suspected staged thermonuclear bomb with an explosive yield several orders of magnitude larger than anything the regime has previously tested, has reportedly exacerbated the environmental degradation.

The Research Association of Vision of North Korea interviewed 21 North Korean defectors who recently lived in Kilju. The defectors revealed that trees have stopped growing in certain areas, wells have dried up, and babies are born with abnormal birth defects, according to the Chosun Iblo, a South Korean media outlet.

“I heard from a relative in Kilju that deformed babies were born in hospitals there,” one defector revealed. “I spoke on the phone with family members I left behind there, and they told me that all of the underground wells dried up after the sixth nuclear test,” another said. “If you plant trees in the mountains there, 80 percent of them die,” a former forestry worker explained.

North Korean people drink the water that runs down from Mt. Mantap, under which North Korea conducts its nuclear tests. There are reportedly complaints in the area of a “phantom disease” that appeared after North Korea began conducting regular nuclear tests. Defectors have revealed that residents suffer from unexplained fatigue, headaches, weight loss. Some others have reported an unusually high mortality rate and and nervous system disorders, such as the loss of certain senses, including smell and taste.

Defectors revealed that North Korean citizens living nearby are not notified prior to the detonation of a nuclear device, making it impossible for them to prepare for the tests, the most recent of which caused earthquakes and landslides.

Since North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, defectors have testified about the dangers to the local civilian population. Now that North Korea is testing more powerful weaponry, the risks of irradiation and contamination may be much higher. South Korea is now carrying out radiation screening for former residents of Kilju County. Around 30 North Korean defectors will be checked for radiation exposure this year.

North Korea appears to be worried about contamination as well. After the most recent nuclear test, local residents were barred from visiting Pyongyang. Additionally, North Korea has reportedly established a hospital to treat irradiated soldiers working at the nuclear test site. It is unclear if the North provides such treatment for prisoners brought in to clean up after a nuclear test without proper equipment and protection, but North Korea’s human rights record suggests that such services are not available for these individuals.

If reports from in country are accurate, it appears that the North Korean people in the area are paying a high price for the regime’s nuclear ambitions.

 

November 8, 2017 Posted by | environment, North Korea | Leave a comment

Jordan’s water crisis – a sign of climate change troubles to come

Climate change: Jordan water crisis ‘to get worse’  http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/climate-change-jordan-water-crisis-worse-171107093731580.html  Water shortages in Jordan are likely to get far worse over the coming years, according to a recent study by Stanford University.

The researchers said that, in the absence of international climate policy action, the country could receive 30 percent less rainfall by 2100 and annual temperatures could increase by 4.5 Celsius.

This would double the number and duration of droughts when compared with the 1981-2010 period, raising concerns in a country already dealing with water shortages.

The study reinforces a warning issued by the World Bank in August when it named Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco and Syria as the countries in the Middle East and North Africa that will experience significantly increased water stress driven by climate change.

In its report, the World Bank described the region as the global hotspot of unsustainable water use.

Currently, the reservoirs in Jordan are at a record low – only one-fifth full – and the vital winter rains are becoming increasingly erratic.

There seems little respite for the country, which draws 160 percent more water from the ground than is replenished by nature.

But despite its importance, there is little incentive to conserve the precious resource. The use of water irrigation remains heavily subsidised, and wastage is a major issue. More than half of Jordan’s water is used for agriculture, which produces only a small share of the local food supply. It is estimated that almost 50 percent of the water supply is lost due to misuse or theft.

The subsidy also means that some farmers grow water-intensive crops such as bananas and tomatoes.

The government is cracking down on illegal water use and has announced a slight increase in price, but Ali Subah, assistant secretary-general in the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, says the country views desalination as the answer to its water issues.

The trouble is that solutions often depend on cross-border cooperation. Jordan’s flagship Red Sea desalination project, for example, has faced repeated delays, most recently because of a regional diplomatic crisis that led to a scaling back of cross-border contacts since the summer.

Until a solution is found, the fear is that the water crisis in Jordan will only get worse.

November 8, 2017 Posted by | climate change, Jordan, water | Leave a comment

Australium uranium company Paladin going bust, leaving Malawi with a horrible environmental mess

Paladin has ignored our requests to provide its estimate of the cost of rehabilitating Kayelekera, but we can safely say that the figure will be multiples of the US$10 million bond. Just keeping Kayelekera in care-and-maintenance costs US$1012 million annually.

As things stand, if Paladin goes bankrupt and fails to rehabilitate Kayelekera, either rehabilitation will be coordinated and funded by the Malawian government (with a small fraction of the cost coming from Paladin’s bond) or the mine-site will not be rehabilitated at all.

It does Australian companies investing in mining ventures abroad no good whatsoever to leave Kayelekera unrehabilitated, a permanent reminder of the untrustworthiness and unfulfilled promises of an Australian miner and the indifference of the Australian government.

The company’s environmental and social record has also been the source of ongoing controversy and the subject of countless critical reports.

Julie Bishop, the WA government, Paladin and its administrators from KPMG need to liaise with the Malawian government and Malawian civil society to sort the rehabilitation of Kayelekera. An obvious starting point would be to prioritise the rehabilitation of Kayelekera if and when Paladin goes bankrupt and its carcass is being divided up. (picture below shows uranium sludge going to river)

Australian uranium miner goes bust ‒ so who cleans up its mess in Africa? By Morgan Somerville and Jim Green, Online Opinion, 8 November 2017http://onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=19394&page=0

Perth-based uranium mining company Paladin Energy was put into administration in July and the company is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Critics of the uranium industry won’t miss the company if it disappears. Other uranium mining companies won’t miss Paladin; in an overcrowded market, they will be pleased to have less competition.

But the looming bankruptcy does pose one major problem. Paladin’s Kayelekera uranium mine in Malawi, the ‘warm heart of Africa’, needs to be rehabilitated and Paladin hasn’t set aside nearly enough money for the job.

Under the leadership of founder and CEO John Borshoff, described as the grandfather of Australian uranium, Paladin has operated two uranium mines over the past decade. The Langer Heinrich mine in Namibia was opened in 2007, and Kayelekera in 2009.

They were heady days ‒ there was an endless talk about a nuclear power ‘renaissance’ and the uranium price tripled between June 2006 and June 2007. The Australian Financial Review reflected on Paladin’s glory days: “John Borshoff was once one of Western Australia’s wealthiest businessmen. The founder of Perth-based Paladin Energy developed an enviable portfolio of African uranium mines supposed to satiate booming global demand for yellowcake. When the company’s Langer Heinrich mine began shipments in March 2007, as the spot price for uranium eclipsed $US100 per pound, Paladin was worth more than $4 billion.”

Paladin was once the best-­performed stock in the world according to The Australian newspaper. The company’s share price went from one cent in 2003 to A$10.80 in 2007. Borshoff made his debut on the Business Review Weekly’s ‘Rich 200’ list in 2007 with estimated wealth of A$205 million.

But the good times didn’t last. The uranium bubble burst in mid-2007, and the Fukushima disaster in 2011 ensured that there would be no nuclear power renaissance and that the uranium industry would remain depressed for years to come. Borshoff left Paladin in 2015, and in 2016 Paladin’s new CEO Alexander Molyneux said that “it has never been a worse time for uranium miners”.

The loss-making Kayelekera mine in Malawi was put into care-and-maintenance in July 2014, leaving Paladin with the modest Langer Heinrich mine plus a number of projects the company describes as ‘nonproducing assets’ (such as uranium projects in jurisdictions that ban uranium mining).

Paladin was put into administration in July this year, unable to pay its debts. Even if Paladin sold its 75% stake in Langer Heinrich, its only revenue-raising project, it couldn’t repay all its debts.

Administrators from KPMG are attempting to sort out the mess and bondholders are reportedly being asked to fund a recapitalisation of Paladin. Bankruptcy would seem a much more likely option given the weakness of the company and the weakness of the global uranium market.

Paladin has said that a uranium price of about US$75 per pound would be required for Kayelekera to become economically viable ‒  almost four times the current uranium spot price, and well over twice the current long-term contract price. Even if the uranium price did rebound, Kayelekera would operate for only around four years; it isn’t a large deposit.

The likelihood of uranium prices reaching US$75 in the foreseeable future is near-zero. John Borshoff said in 2013 that the uranium industry “is definitely in crisis … and is showing all the symptoms of a mid-term paralysis”. Former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd said in May 2014 that the industry is set for “a long period of relatively low prices, in which uranium producers will find it hard to make a living”. Nick Carter from Ux Consulting said in April 2016 that he did not anticipate a uranium supply deficit until the late 2020s. Other industry insiders and market analysts have made similar comments about the bleak future for uranium ‒ and the bondholders being asked to recapitalise Paladin would surely know that their money would be better invested in a long-shot at Flemington.

Who cleans up Kayelekera?

Assuming Paladin goes bankrupt, who cleans up the Kayelekera open-pit uranium mine? The company was required to lodge a US$10 million Environmental Performance Bond with Malawian banks, and presumably that money can be tapped to rehabilitate Kayelekera. But US$10 million won’t scratch the surface. According to a Malawian NGO, the rehabilitation cost is estimated at US$100 million ‒ ten times the amount set aside by Paladin. The cost of rehabilitating the Ranger uranium in the Northern Territory ‒ also an open-pit uranium mine, albeit larger than Kayelekera ‒ is estimated at just under US$500 million.

Paladin has ignored our requests to provide its estimate of the cost of rehabilitating Kayelekera, but we can safely say that the figure will be multiples of the US$10 million bond. Just keeping Kayelekera in care-and-maintenance costs US$1012 million annually.

As things stand, if Paladin goes bankrupt and fails to rehabilitate Kayelekera, either rehabilitation will be coordinated and funded by the Malawian government (with a small fraction of the cost coming from Paladin’s bond) or the mine-site will not be rehabilitated at all.

Is it reasonable for Australia, a relatively wealthy country, to leave it to the overstretched, under-resourced government of an impoverished African nation to clean up the mess left behind by an Australian mining company? If the Malawian government cleans up Paladin’s mess, that will necessarily come at the expense of other priorities. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. According to a 2013 U.N. report, more than half the population live below the poverty line, and about half of all children under the age of five show signs of chronic malnutrition.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop should intervene to sort out the situation at Kayelekera and to prevent a repetition of this fiasco. We imagine that the Minister’s eyes might glaze over in response to a moral argument about the importance of Australia being a good global citizen. But there is also a hard-headed commercial argument for intervention to clean up Kayelekera.

It does Australian companies investing in mining ventures abroad no good whatsoever to leave Kayelekera unrehabilitated, a permanent reminder of the untrustworthiness and unfulfilled promises of an Australian miner and the indifference of the Australian government. Australia is set to become the biggest international miner on the African continent, perhaps as early as this year, according to the Australia-Africa Minerals & Energy Group. But Australian companies can’t expect to be welcomed if travesties such as Kayelekera remain resolved.

‘Overly sophisticated’

Back in 2006, John Borshoff told ABC television that Australia and Canada have become “overly sophisticated” with their thinking about environmental and social issues associated with the mining industry. Hence Paladin’s focus on projects in Africa.

One advantage ‒ if that’s the word ‒ of mining in Africa is that Paladin hasn’t had to set aside sufficient funds to rehabilitate Kayelekera. The company’s environmental and social record has also been the source of ongoing controversy and the subject of countless critical reports.

Paladin has lost money on Kayelekera, and the economic benefits for Malawi have been pitiful. Paladin has exploited the country’s poverty to secure numerous reductions and exemptions from payments normally required by foreign investors. United Nations’ Special Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter noted in a 2013 report that “revenue losses from special incentives given to Australian mining company Paladin Energy, which manages the Kayelekera uranium mine, are estimated to amount to at least US$205 million (MWK 67 billion), and could be up to US$281 million (MWK 92 billion) over the 13 year lifespan of the mine.”

The official line from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is that “mining offers African countries an unparalleled opportunity to stimulate growth and reduce poverty. If well managed, the extractives sector can drive innovation, generate revenue to fund critical social services and upgrade productive physical infrastructure, and directly and indirectly create jobs.”

The reality at Kayelekera is starkly different from the picture painted by the bureaucrats in Canberra.

Two years ago, then WA Premier Colin Barnett told a mining conference in South Africa that Australian mining companies have “brought both expertise and ethical standards. It is a matter of pride for many companies that the standards applied in Australia are also applied in Africa.”

But standards at Kayelekera fall a long way short of Australian standards. Moreover, Barnett’s claims sit uncomfortably with the highly critical findings arising from a detailed investigation by the International Consortium of Independent Journalists. The Consortium noted in its 2015 report that since 2004, more than 380 people have died in mining accidents or in off-site skirmishes connected to Australian mining companies in Africa (there have been six deaths at Kayelekera). The reportfurther stated: “Multiple Australian mining companies are accused of negligence, unfair dismissal, violence and environmental law-breaking across Africa, according to legal filings and community petitions gathered from South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Ghana.”

Not even Collin Barnett would argue that Paladin is a source of pride for Australia. Quite the opposite. Likewise, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop surely didn’t have Paladin’s open-cut mine in mind when she told the Africa Down Under mining conference in Perth in September that many Australian mining projects in Africa are outposts of good governance and that the “Australian Government encourages the people of Africa to see us as an open-cut mine for lessons-learned, for skills, for innovation and, I would like to think, inspiration.”

Julie Bishop, the WA government, Paladin and its administrators from KPMG need to liaise with the Malawian government and Malawian civil society to sort the rehabilitation of Kayelekera. An obvious starting point would be to prioritise the rehabilitation of Kayelekera if and when Paladin goes bankrupt and its carcass is being divided up. Surely Kayelekera should take precedence over debtors such as French state-owned utility EDF, which is owed US$277 million by Paladin ‒ all the more so since the French state has its own sordid history of uranium mining in Africa.

Morgan Somerville is an International Relations student at La Trobe University. Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

November 8, 2017 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, environment, Malawi, Uranium | Leave a comment

Costly task to clean up New York’s highly radioactive thorium contaminated site

Trump’s E.P.A. Pledges to Clean Up NYC’s ‘Most Radioactive Site’ – But Funding Is in Question WNYC News, Nov 6, 2017, By Sarah Stein Kerr and Annie Nova

The Trump administration is taking on its first Superfund cleanup in New York City – that is, assuming it has the money.

Last month, a $40 million plan to remediate a radioactive site in Queens where highly toxic materials were once poured into city sewers was unveiled by local officials of the Environmental Protection Agency. Known as Wolff-Alport for the chemical firm that was once located there, the site sits on an industrial stretch in the Ridgewood neighborhood of Queens. About three-quarters of an acre in size, the site currently houses a deli, an auto-shop and four other businesses. The E.P.A. counts a public school, a bar and some 300 residences within the site’s immediate vicinity.

Wolff-Alport, the newest of the city’s three designated Superfunds, was added to the E.P.A.’s Superfund priority list in 2014. The move came after surveys identified radioactivity throughout the property, including below public sidewalks and streets and in nearby sewers.

Going after such sites has been declared a priority for new E.P.A. administrator Scott Pruitt, a former attorney general of Oklahoma whose views on the environment make him one of the President’s most controversial appointees. Before assuming the post, Pruitt sued the agency repeatedly and still maintains that climate change is not the result of human activity.

But if he’s a climate change doubter, Pruitt has proclaimed himself a Superfund believer. In a memo this summer, Pruitt wrote: “My goal as Administrator is to restore the Superfund program to its rightful place at the center of the agency’s core mission.”

Judith Enck, former regional E.P.A. administrator for New York who pushed to get Wolff-Alport on the Superfund list, said she remains skeptical of Pruitt’s public declarations in support of cleaning up these hazardous waste sites.

“You can’t be the E.P.A. administrator and not stand for anything,” Enck said. “So he’s latched on to Superfunds. But at the same time, he’s cutting the budget, so it kind of rings hollow.”

President Donald J. Trump has proposed cutting $327 million – or around a third – of the nation’s annual Superfund budget. At the same time, Pruitt is also seeking to end the E.P.A.’s financial support to the Department of Justice, which holds the polluters of these hazardous waste sites accountable.

Regardless, spokeswoman for the E.P.A Tayler Covington, said that the agency is committed to cleaning up Wolff-Alport.

“There are no plans to change any of the cleanups for the three New York City Superfund sites,” said Covington. “We are in the budgetary process and final funding levels will not be settled until Congress acts.”

But experts on the Superfund program contend that even the current funding levels are still well below what is needed to clean up the nation’s many contaminated sites.

The E.P.A. announced the cleanup plan for Wolff-Alport in late September. The site’s remediation calls for all tenants to be permanently relocated, all buildings to be demolished and sewers to be replaced. The contaminated soil will be transported to a waste landfill.

All told, the cleanup will cost $39.9 million. But exactly where those funds will come from remains a question.

The E.P.A. maintains an account for each Superfund site in which money allocated for the cleanup is held. The Wolff-Alport-designated bank account currently holds just a little over $650,000, Thomas Mongelli, E.P.A. project manager of the site, told WNYC.

Usually, it’s the original polluters who are responsible for picking up the tab for cleanups. At Newtown Creek, a heavily polluted waterway that borders Brooklyn and Queens, six potentially responsible polluters have been identified. The Gowanus Canal in southern Brooklyn has more than 30 known polluters. Wolff-Alport, on the other hand, is considered in E.P.A. terminology an “orphan,” which means that the original polluter is defunct and can’t be relied upon for payment.

“There is a good chance that most of this money is going to need to come from the federal Superfund program and federal Superfund is running on fumes,” Enck said.

Beginning in the 1980s, a tax on Superfund polluters amassed funds for cleanup in a trust account. But that provision expired around 1995, and the account has since languished. Although there are no official estimates of the cost to clean up all of the country’s polluted sites, Kate Probst, author of a report to Congress, “Superfund’s Future: What Will It Cost?,” said the $280 million account balance is woefully insufficient.

Although annual congressional appropriations for Superfunds were meant to compensate for the trust account’s decline, these appropriations have also steadily dwindled. Federal contributions for Superfund cleanup have fallen from $2.1 billion in 1999, to an annual budget of $1.2 billion by 2013, according to the Office of Government Accountability.

This shortfall has stunted the cleanup work at the nation’s most contaminated sites,   Probst said. “If they had more money, they probably would have cleaned up more sites, or gotten construction completed on more sites. We know the number of cleanups are slowing,” she said, adding that she expects there will be more disruptions due to the funding shortages. “That is the tip of the iceberg,” Probst said.

City officials are also worried that the feds may be low-balling the costs of cleaning up Wolff-Alport. In an August letter to the E.P.A., Haley Stein, a lawyer with the  city’s law department, stated that the city “believes that E.P.A. significantly underestimates the cost and feasibility of implementing its preferred alternative.”

City officials declined to detail the reasons for their skepticism.

At an E.P.A. meeting about the site in Queens this summer, a handful of residents also expressed concerns about the Trump administration’s plan to cut the Superfund budget and how that would affect Wolff-Alport’s cleanup.

Walter Mugdan, acting deputy regional administrator for E.P.A. region 2, was frank in his response.

“Do I know how this site will rank against others? I don’t,” Mugdan told residents, according to a transcript of the meeting. “But I do know radioactive materials are [a] serious concern and what we do know is that people are actually being exposed.”

Indeed, The New Yorker, citing government findings, dubbed Wolff-Alport, “The most radioactive place in New York City,” in a 2014 video storywhich recounts the site’s fascinating history.

In the 1920s,  business partners Harry Wolff and Max Alport founded the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company. At the factory, workers processed monazite sand to extract rare earth metals – a highly toxic procedure. By the 1940s, the Atomic Energy Commission, the successor of the Manhattan Project, started buying radioactive thorium from the site. In the 1950s, the factory shuttered.

Norman Kleiman, director of the Eye Radiation and Environmental Research Laboratory at Columbia University, said the E.P.A. had an obligation to clean up the site. Radiation there is “well above the average terrestrial exposure even in New York City,” Kleinman told WNYC.

“People are especially concerned about exposure,” Kleinman added, “and from a public policy and public health point of view, it’s important to allay fear.”

He said risks to passersby and casual visitors to the site are likely minimal, however. “We get radiation from the sun, from the stars, so we live and are bathed in a radioactive world,”Kleinman said.

But for those who labor at the site everyday, the risks associated with Wolff-Alport’s radiation are higher…….http://www.wnyc.org/story/trumps-ep-pledges-clean-nycs-most-radioactive-site-funding-question/

November 8, 2017 Posted by | environment, thorium, USA | Leave a comment