Firm finds fracking chemicals in wells in northeastern Pennsylvania

From the Patriot News:

A private consulting firm says it found toxic chemicals in the drinking water of a Pennsylvania community already dealing with methane contamination from natural gas drilling.

Environmental engineer Daniel Farnham said Thursday that his tests, which were verified by three laboratories, found industrial solvents such as toluene and ethylbenzene in “virtually every sample” taken from water wells in Dimock Township, Susquehanna County.

Farnham, who has tested water for gas interests and for local residents, said it would be impossible to say that the chemicals he found were caused by gas drilling.

The contaminated Dimock wells are in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale, where a rush to tap the vast stores has set off intense debate over the environmental and public health impact of the drilling process.

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DEP Declares Statewide Drought Watches, Warnings

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Dept. of Environmental Protection

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

HARRISBURG -- The Department of Environmental Protection today issued a drought warning for 24 Pennsylvania counties and a drought watch for the remaining 43 counties as precipitation deficits continued to build statewide according to Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger.

“The hot, dry conditions over the summer months have led to steadily-declining ground and surface water levels, particularly in the southwest and east-central portions of the state,” Hanger said. “Pennsylvania’s Drought Task Force has concurred with DEP’s recommendation that drought watches and warnings be issued for all 67 counties to alert water suppliers, industry and the public of the need to begin conserving water.”

A drought watch declaration is the first level — and least severe — of the state’s three drought classifications. It calls for a voluntary 5 percent reduction in non-essential water use, and puts large water consumers on notice to begin planning for the possibility of reduced water supplies.

A drought warning asks residents to voluntarily reduce water use by 10-15 percent.

The 24 counties under a Drought Warning are: Allegheny, Beaver, Bedford, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Fayette, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Huntingdon, Lackawanna, Lawrence, Lehigh, Luzerne, Mercer, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Schuylkill, Somerset, and Washington.
 
The 43 counties under a Drought Watch are: Adams, Armstrong, Blair, Bradford, Butler, Cambria, Cameron, Centre, Chester, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Crawford, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Elk, Erie, Forest, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lycoming, McKean, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Venango, Warren, Wayne, Westmoreland, Wyoming and York.  

Precipitation deficits over the past 90-day period are currently as great as 5.6 inches below normal in Somerset County and 5.5 inches below normal in Bucks County.
DEP is sending letters to all water suppliers statewide, notifying them of the need to monitor their supplies and update their drought contingency plans as necessary.

DEP monitors a network of groundwater wells and stream gages across the state that provide comprehensive data to the state drought coordinator. In addition to precipitation, groundwater and streamflow levels, DEP monitors soil moisture and water supply storage, and shares this data with other state and federal agencies.

DEP offers the following tips for conserving water around the home:

  • In the bathroom:
  • Install low-flow plumbing fixtures and aerators on faucets;
  • Check for household leaks – a leaking toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water a day;
  • Take short showers instead of baths.
  • Kitchen/laundry areas:
  • Replace older appliances with high efficiency, front loading models that use about 30 percent less water and 40-50 percent less energy;
  • Run dishwashers and washing machines only with full loads;
  • Keep water in the refrigerator to avoid running water from a faucet until it is cold.

The department also offers water conservation recommendations for commercial and industrial users such as food processors, hotels and motels, schools and colleges, as well as water audit procedures for large water customers.

Water conservation tips and drought information can be found online at www.depweb.state.pa.us, keyword: drought.

Audit: South Carolina radioactive waste cleanup will cost $1.5 billion more than expected

From the Star Tribune:

A federal audit shows that the cost of cleaning up millions of gallons of radioactive waste at a South Carolina facility will cost almost $1.5 billion more than expected.

The report released Tuesday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office finds that the U.S. Department of Energy underestimated the true costs of cleaning up the Savannah River Site in its $3.2 billion bid.

The GAO says the department underestimated labor costs by up to 70 percent and did not account for numerous other expenses.

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German nuclear plants won't sustain attack with conventional weapons, Greenpeace says.

From DW-World.de:

Greenpeace specifically examined the outer shells of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants and found those of eight older reactors to be highly vulnerable to an attack.

The walls of containment buildings at, for example, the Unterweser, Kruemmel and Neckarwestheim nuclear power plants were about one meter thick, said Oda Becker, a physicist at Hanover University and author of the study.

That was too thin to protect even against a hit with "a conventional anti-tank missile using modern thermobaric warheads".

The Russian-built AT-14 was one of the most frequently used weapons of this kind, she said and added "just one of these missiles isn't enough, but fewer than ten shots could trigger a horrible scenario."

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Peach Bottom: Acceptance of License Amendment Request Related to Liquid Nitrogen Storage

Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, Units 2 and 3: Acceptance of License Amendment Request Related to Liquid Nitrogen Storage

Download ML102310408 (PDF)

DEP to Showcase How Solar is Benefitting South-central PA Businesses

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Dept of Environmental Protection
For Immediate Release

HARRISBURG -- The sun’s ability to produce clean electricity, create jobs, and reduce costs for families and businesses will be on full display this week as the Department of Environmental Protection sets out to showcase solar-powered facilities in south-central Pennsylvania.

“This is an opportunity for Pennsylvania to illustrate the benefits of solar energy, and how the commonwealth is a leader in developing and using this emerging technology,” said DEP Secretary John Hanger. “The companies we’re visiting this week are taking advantage of this technology, which will benefit their operations, their customers, and the environment for the foreseeable future.”

Hanger will visit the Foxchase Golf Club at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 15. The club, located at 300 Stevens Road in Stevens, Lancaster County, installed a 303.6-kilowatt system that is expected to generate enough electricity to meet nearly 100 percent of the business’ electrical needs, saving nearly $37,000 each year. It will reduce carbon emissions by 7.2 million pounds per year, or the equivalent of removing more than 600 passenger vehicles from the roads.

At 11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16, acting DEP Small Business Ombudsman Robert Taylor will visit the Littlestown Veterinary Hospital in Adams County. The hospital installed a 24.6-kilowatt solar array, which will produce half of the facility’s electricity demands, saving it about $3,400 annually. The hospital is located at 5010 Baltimore Pike, Littlestown.

Representatives of the companies responsible for installing the two systems—Advanced Solar Industries LLC for the Lancaster County project and Astrum Solar for the Adams County veterinary hospital—will be on hand to discuss each system and its benefits.

Each stop in the south-central region is part of a statewide tour of facilities that generate energy on site using solar technology.

According to Hanger, these projects illustrate the economic potential of solar energy and how it can be used as a driving economic force in the state if used more fully. The secretary stressed the need for Pennsylvania to increase the solar share of its portfolio standards act.

“Six years ago, we saw the need for an aggressive portfolio standard and after we enacted one, we led the way toward a more sustainable future,” said Hanger. “Unfortunately, other states have passed us by since then, leaving us vulnerable to losing the jobs and companies this industry has created here in Pennsylvania. We have an opportunity to again position ourselves as a national green energy leader, but we must act now.”

Hanger said it is important for the General Assembly to consider legislation that would increase the commonwealth’s solar energy requirement to 1.5 percent—up from its current 0.5 percent target. Doing so, he explained, would create more demand for the solar industry and would make Pennsylvania competitive with neighboring states like New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, which have all enacted more ambitious standards.
Less than two years ago, Pennsylvania’s installed solar capacity was minimal, but more than 39 megawatts of capacity—or enough to power 5,900 homes—has been installed since then. The state is also home to more than 600 solar businesses.

For more information on clean, renewable energy, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us or call 717-783-8411.

Solar Projects Drive $1.4 Billion into PA’s Economy in 2009 Solar Share of Generation Market Increases 350 Percent

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Dept of Environmental Protection
For Immediate Release

HARRISBURG -- Sustained growth and declining costs are driving Pennsylvania's solar market to generate an ever-increasing amount of clean, renewable energy, which is saving consumers money, according to Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger.

The secretary said that in 2009, the share of solar energy generation among Pennsylvania's power pool increased by 350 percent, attracting $1.4 billion into state’s economy last year alone.
 
“The cost of solar power is plummeting, making solar power increasingly a sound alternative for businesses and families that seek to stabilize and control their electricity costs,” said Hanger. “Right now, thanks to sharply lower solar power prices, it is a great time to consider solar power for a home or business.”

The median installed costs for small business and residential photovoltaic (PV) projects in the state dropped from about $9 per watt in 2008 to as low as $6 per watt in August; the lowest-cost projects are as much as $1 per watt less than this most recent figure. Large solar projects of one megawatt or more now cost about $4.50 per watt.
 
The lower costs can be attributed in part to the PA Sunshine Solar Rebate Program, which reimburses up to 35 percent of the purchase and installation costs for residential and small business PV and solar hot water systems.

Since the program’s opening in May 2009, more than 2,000 projects have been installed, representing nearly 20 megawatts of new capacity. An additional 2,300 projects, representing 53 megawatts of capacity, have been applied for or are under construction.

“Since energy from the sun is free, lower equipment costs lead to lower electricity costs,” said Hanger. “The cost of electricity from the latest generation of projects in Pennsylvania is between 12 to 20 cents per kilowatt-hour, and that price is locked in for the 25-year life of the panels.

“Today the cost of electricity from a utility company to a small business or home ranges between 10 and 14 cents per kilowatt-hour. But how much will electricity cost two years from now? How about five, 10 or 25 years from now? For families and businesses using solar power, they know their electricity will not be more than what they are paying for solar today. For those businesses and families not using solar, most likely prices for electricity will go up and possibly by a substantial amount.”

Hanger also noted that solar power emits zero air pollution, which cuts soot, smog, mercury and heat-trapping pollution that can sicken and kill Pennsylvanians.
 
In addition, solar power helps to keep the power grid reliable by providing more power on the hottest days of the year when very high demand can cause brownouts and blackouts.

DEP Announces Start of Tritium Cleanup at Oyster Creek

State of New Jersey
Department of Environmental Protection
For Immediate Release

(10/P94) TRENTON - The first phase of a cleanup of radioactive tritium that leaked from the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant last year and into two aquifers below the facility will begin immediately, with a goal of pumping the tritium contaminated water out of the ground to avoid any potential contamination of potable water supplies, Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.

The Exelon Corp. has agreed to start pumping efforts this week on two monitoring wells which are in the Cape May and upper Cohansey aquifers, and also has agreed to expand that effort to a third contaminated location by early October.

"We have asked Exelon to expedite this effort, to clean up this radioactive material as quickly and efficiently as possible to ensure public health and the safety of our drinking water supplies,'' said Commissioner Martin. "Radioactivity has not been measured beyond the boundaries of the nuclear plant or anywhere near a potable water source. Our intention is to make sure that never happens.''

Commissioner Martin said he is encouraged by the Exelon's cooperation with the State in dealing with the tritium issue, especially their willingness to expedite the cleanup process and explore remediation alternatives. But he also pledged that the DEP will carefully monitor the work to make sure it is done properly.

In May, Commissioner Martin announced the launch of a State investigation into the 2009 leak of radioactive tritium into the aquifers below Oyster Creek, which is located in Ocean County. Toward that goal, the DEP issued a Spill Act directive to Exelon, requiring the plant owner to cooperate with the DEP's investigation and take action to prevent the radioactive substance from ever reaching the region's potable water supplies.

In June, Exelon documented levels of tritium in the monitoring wells located in the Cohansey aquifer that exceeded 1 million picuries per liter (pCi/L), as compared with an EPA health-based standard of 20,000 pCi/L. Those levels have since declined markedly, according to information provided Exelon, but are still above acceptable standards, including nearly 700,000 picuries at two locations in the Cohansey and Cape May aquifers.

At a meeting today in Trenton with Commissioner Martin, company officials outlined plans to immediately start pulling contaminated water from the ground below the nuclear generating station to control any further migration of the tritium plume which is currently flowing uncontrolled towards the plant's discharge canal.

That water will be pumped into drums and transferred to a large holding tank on site, eventually to be diluted into massive volumes of water used daily for cooling the power generating process. The mixing effort will bring the tritium levels below detectable standards. This will be confirmed with surface water monitoring in the discharge canal, with the results to be shared with the public.

The plan also calls for continued regular monitoring and analysis of the content of the water pulled from the ground, and careful observation of groundwater levels in the area near the nuclear plant. In addition, scientists are developing a backup plan, if needed, to supplement the work that is starting this week.

Preliminary results from groundwater monitoring wells so far indicate that tritium has not reached the clay bottom of the lower portion of the Cohansey aquifer and has not been detected in any of the wells in the even deeper Kirkwood aquifer. The tritium plume appears to be moving toward Oyster Creek's discharge canal, but no samples taken from the discharge canal have indicated the presence of tritium.

Tritium occurs as a by-product of nuclear power plant operations, and tritium leaks are not uncommon at nuclear power plants nationwide.

Exelon had taken some steps prior to the DEP's previous directive, including drilling additional monitoring wells to identify the extent of contamination. The company also committed to move all pipes containing radioactively contaminated water either above ground or into concrete vaults to avoid similar leaks by the end of 2010, and those upgrades are on track to be completed before the end of the year.

The Bomb Chroniclers

From the New York Times:

They risked their lives to capture on film hundreds of blinding flashes, rising fireballs and mushroom clouds.

The blast from one detonation hurled a man and his camera into a ditch. When he got up, a second wave knocked him down again.

Then there was radiation.

While many of the scientists who made atom bombs during the cold war became famous, the men who filmed what happened when those bombs were detonated made up a secret corps.

Their existence and the nature of their work has emerged from the shadows only since the federal government began a concerted effort to declassify their films about a dozen years ago. In all, the atomic moviemakers fashioned 6,500 secret films, according to federal officials.

Today, the result is a surge in fiery images on television and movie screens, as well as growing public knowledge about the atomic filmmakers.

The images are getting “seared into people’s imaginations,” said Robert S. Norris, author of “Racing for the Bomb” and an atomic historian. They bear witness, he added, “to extraordinary and terrifying power.”

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Time to End Nuclear Socialism, Says New Study

From Greentech Media:

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