Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Friday, April 15, 2011
The future for nuclear energy in the U.S. appeared to be at a rebirth, but the damage at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan following the tsunami and earthquake has the rest of the world, including the U.S., debating the safety of nuclear power.
What happened in Japan is likely to "lead to increased oversight and scrutiny of similarly designed plants in the U.S., as well as lead to more public skepticism on the safety of nuclear plants,” said Howard A. Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.
Prior to the incident in Japan, new projects in progress in the U.S. after a drought of about three decades and numerous applications currently under review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) gave the appearance that nuclear power might be gaining in popularity.
Moves by some Midwest legislatures made future nuclear projects more attractive in this region, as well.
Illinois last year lifted a ban on construction of new nuclear plants while Minnesota legislators recently voted to do the same
In Indiana, the State Senate recently passed a bill that contains incentives for clean energy, including nuclear energy. The Hoosier state currently has no nuclear power plants.
Last year, Iowa passed a measure encouraging utilities to conduct studies into the possible expansion of nuclear energy in the state. MidAmerican Energy Co. has been exploring possible sites, according to Dean Crist, vice president of regulation for the utility, and likely will proceed with Small Modular Reactors because of the lower cost and the ability to add capacity as needed.
Looking ahead, Crist said preliminary plans for a site would likely be filed with the Iowa Utilities Board in the fall or winter. If the board approves those, the next step is the NRC’s licensing procedure and the first unit could be online by 2020, Crist said.
Currently, the Iowa legislature is considering another measure that would allow regulated utilities to begin charging customers for the cost of nuclear power facilities while they are still under construction.
In Ohio, Duke Energy works with its Southern Ohio Clean Energy Park Alliance to see if a Piketon, Ohio site is viable for a new nuclear plant. Company spokesman Tom Williams said the old brownfield site is still being explored.
While MidAmerican and Duke Energy consider new projects, other companies currently operating nuclear reactors in the region have no immediate plans for new building projects.
Chicago-based Exelon, which has the largest nuclear portfolio in the U.S. has no plans to build new plants, said Marshall Murphy, director of nuclear communications. The company is, however, focusing on continued upgrades for six Illinois nuclear stations
American Electric Power, which operates the Cook Nuclear Plant in Michigan, has no immediate plans for additional nuclear plants, said company spokeswoman Tammy Ridout.
“We would look at options going forward and know we will need a mix to meet future demand, but have no current plans for a new nuclear plant,” Ridout said. “Our Cook plant is a great asset to us with the zero emissions it creates, and it’s positive for our fleet.”
And Xcel Energy, which operates two nuclear power plants in Minnesota has not plans for new plants at this time.
In the midst of the debate, some groups have called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to suspend nuclear plant relicensing. That has not happened.
Efforts were already under way to streamline the licensing process for new nuclear reactors. The NRC’s new Combined Operating License handles both the construction and operating licenses at the same time, instead of licensing a plant for construction and later licensing it for operation. The new process will allow for a quicker turn
“This allows for a single NRC review that means less uncertainty and better efficiency,” said Scott Burnell, public affairs officer for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The application sets out tests, analysis and a list of items that must be completed to show the reactor was constructed according to NRC requirements with verifiable proof.
The process allows an owner to achieve a much higher level of regulatory certainty for potential projects, according to Brian Johnson, vice president domestic markets, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.
“The NRC has structured the licensing process so that an owner will have a fully approved design for construction and operation before construction actually begins,” Johnson explained. “This is critical to reducing any financial risk to building new nuclear plants.”
The commission is conducting reviews of its first applicants under this process.
A new plant near Waynesboro, Ga., is undergoing the COL process, but received an early site permit to do basic site prep. It also is a recipient of a loan guarantee for construction from the Department of Energy.
The COL process is estimated to take 3.5 to 5 years, and the 5-year mark is close to what is being seen, Burnell said.
The NRC process will eventually certify nuclear plant designs ahead of time, so companies could choose which design would work best for each project and time would be spent on site approval and operating licensure, instead of including design review as is currently the case.
Small Modular Reactors, like the ones MidAmerican Energy is considering, also will likely impact the industry. Although the NRC does not yet license the small units, they are gaining attention. These may be 1/10 of the size of a standard nuclear reactor and produce 100 MW or less of power, rather than the 1,000 MW large reactors produce, said William Martin, professor in the department of nuclear energy and radiological sciences at the University of Michigan.
The smaller size allows for smaller companies to consider nuclear energy because the cost would be reduced, Martin explained. In addition, SMRs are built in factories and delivered to a site, cutting construction time and offering more quality control, he said.
The NRC expects to see the first license applications for SMRs next year. Learner said the incident in Japan could also lead to more attention on SMRs.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Stories told by friends and family talk of the young, funny teenager; a friend to everyone, boisterous, everyone knew when he was around. And then, one day, the word spread quickly, he was dead. And the death was preventable – the death was suicide.
Friends and family many times say the same thing; I didn’t know. She always seemed happy or he was the life of the party. But inside, the life was lonely, depressed, scared, or even possibly drowning pain with drugs or alcohol. The signs were there, but who would believe it? This loved and loving person couldn’t really mean it when she said she was going to kill herself. But she did mean it, and so do all those who attempt suicide and tell someone before they take that final plunge.
The problem isn’t always that others ignore it. Many times the suicidal talk is veiled in terms that only others from the same culture would recognize, according to Paul Quinnett, Ph.D., president and CEO of The QPR Institute Inc. in Spokane, Wash. And for those who do survive a suicide attempt, the one thing they tell others is once they started, they realized that they did not want to die.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among those ages 15-24. Among those who commit suicide, about 90 percent have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and most predominantly are suffering from depression, according to Quinnett. In addition, many are using alcohol and drugs.
But choosing life isn’t as simple as turning back the hands of time. Communication and a better understanding of mental health issues by society is key.
Quinnett, who has worked in the mental health field and suicide prevention for many years, has seen improvements, but not enough when so many lives are still being lost each day.
“The reality is that we are spending insufficient funds in this area,” he said. “There are people out there doing good, but the amount of money spent on research and service delivery to youth is underfunded.”
For example, he added, in his state of Washington, two people a week commit suicide and less than $350,000 is spent for suicide prevention in his state each year. That’s 100 suicides a year and from a public health perspective, the funding ranks near the bottom. And that is true in most states, Quinnett said.
According to information from QPR, 14 percent of American youths 12-17 experienced at least one episode of major depressive disorder, and more than 7 percent thought about killing themselves. An estimated 712,000 youths tried to kill themselves during their worst or most recent major depressive episode.
“We need to get these youths at the first thought of suicide,” Quinnett said. “We need to reach out to all of them who have these thoughts and voice them, because we don’t know which ones will take the journey to act upon the suicide.”
The suicidal youth goes from an idea to planning out the suicide and are motivated by stopping the pain, Quinnett explained.
The best way to combat suicide is to get help for the suicidal person. But because of the stigma that is connected to mental health issues that often puts the suicidal person out of touch with those who could help him.
“The missing piece is research,” Quinnett said. “We have the evidence that we can save lives, but we need a greater educational program. These are preventable deaths.”
Educating the public is key to suicide prevention. Understanding the signs and following the right procedures can help a suicidal teen to the help he needs and prevent a death. For Quinnett’s organization, QPR – Question, Persuade and Refer – that means teaching lay persons and professionals to recognize and respond positively to someone exhibiting suicide warning signs and behaviors.
It’s estimated that 60-70 percent of suicides could be prevented with any education, along with intervention from the mental health and medical community, according to Quinnett.
Active Minds Inc. in Washington D.C. is working in a similar method on college and some high school campuses, as well as community organizations.
“Our goal is to change the conversation on mental health,” said Alison Malmon, executive director of Active Minds. “We need to break the silence and educate and enlighten everyone on mental health issues.”
The organization works to increase students’ awareness of mental health issues and provide resources, as well as serve as a liaison between students and the mental health community.
Malmon founded Active Minds in 2001 when she was a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, a year after the suicide of her brother, Brian, who was receiving treatment for schizoaffective disorder. Malmon wants to end the stigma of mental illness and believes that is done by talking about it and not staying silent. Active Minds works with students to empower them to tell their stories and reach out to friends, so they know they are not alone.
“People need to know where help is,” she said. “We need to change the culture around mental health so people will seek the help they need. The stigma exists because of silence.”
Active Minds members tell stories and share experiences as the organizations goes across the country, but also encourages mental health issues to be included in pop culture, movies and conversations.
“It’s not just psychiatrists who can help, but all of us can,” she said. “While we may not be able to be the one to ‘save’ a friend, we can get that friend to the help he or she needs.”
For example, if a friend tells you he is going to kill himself, take him seriously. Then take him to a counseling center or call one. For anyone seeking help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a call away, 800-273-TALK (8255), and that number directs the caller to the center in her area where she can talk live with someone who can help.
However, Malmon said, if you’re extremely worried about a friend, take him directly to the hospital. “It’s better to err on the side of caution.”
She also warns that it’s not your job as a friend or family member to make the suicidal person feel better; it’s your job to assist them to seek professional help.
Even though we may not want to believe our loved one would kill himself, it happens and it happens, in many cases, with warning. Know the signs and intervene, the experts say.
According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, warning signs include:
· Observable signs of serious depression – unrelenting low mood, pessimism, hopelessness, desperation, anxiety, psychic pain and inner tension, withdrawal and sleep problems.
· Increased use of alcohol and/or drugs
· Recent impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risks
· Threatening suicide or expressing a wish to die
· Making a plan – giving away prized possessions, sudden or impulsive purchase of a firearm, obtaining other means of killing oneself, such as poisons or medications
· Unexpected rage or anger
The majority of those who do kill themselves have told others of their plan. If someone is talking about or making plans to commit suicide, the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention warns not to leave that person alone and to remove him from the vicinity of anything he could use for suicide. Find professional help, whether at a clinic or hospital, or call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Being a part of the solution to suicide prevention is something the faith communities have also been working on. A 2009 report, “The Role of Faith Communities in Preventing Suicide,” looks at the issue to find faith communities’ role in prevention.
Developing and disseminating accurate information and collaborating with mental health clinicians are two things churches, synagogues and other worship centers can do. Many times, clergy are brought in after the fact, but being keyed into the community resources can make them a valuable tool in suicide prevention.
For the Rev. Glenn Meyer of Mount Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Ind., connecting to community resources is a necessity. As a pastor who recently arrived at his new church home, keying into those resources is a priority.
“It’s a moral responsibility by us to make connections to community and youth,” he said.
Bringing youth together with adults they can trust and talk with is also a key, he added. “Kids don’t only need peers, but they need to interact with others, as well.”
That’s echoed by the non-profit organization, To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA). “It’s OK to go to an adult to help a friend,” said Chloe Grabanski, communications and benefit coordinator for the organization that is “dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. “
TWLOHA battles the stigma of mental health issues, adding to the conversation through its Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as meeting people where they are – at college campuses, communities and through music that is a large part of life.
With deep roots in music and collaborating with artists wearing its T-shirts that help to raise funds for the organization and programs it supports, TWLOHA has given $750,000 to treatment and recovery programs.
It also has begun its I Am Alive partnership with Hope Line to begin an online crisis counseling program to offer help through instant messages.
“Just be there. Show them love, care and listen,” Chloe suggested when reaching out to someone in crisis.
TWLOHA began in 2006 telling a story to help a friend by selling T-shirts to help pay for that friend’s treatment, using a MySpace page. From there grew the organization that has taken the conversation on the road, speaking its message of hope and help at concerts, universities, festivals and churches.
Some have started the conversation and are making information about mental health a part of every day life. More funding for research and implementation continues to be something organizations work toward by keeping the conversation going and growing. Increasing awareness, fighting for accessible mental health programs and combating the stigma of the issue continues – all to save a life from ending too soon.
Monday, July 19, 2010
The impact of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on wildlife may not be known for years, but work is ongoing to assist the wildlife that is impacted now. Veterinarian Joe Smith of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Fort Wayne, Ind., is the information liaison between all the Association of Zoos and Aquariums member zoos and aquariums, government agencies and contracted organizations in the coordinated effort to work with and assist wildlife.
The zoos and aquariums are helping find permanent homes for animals that can’t be released because they have been oiled too severely or have injuries that won’t allow the release, Smith says. Those animals are going to zoos and aquariums as ambassadors of their species, he says.
The Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans is coordinating the Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program for that state and the Jackson Zoo in Jackson, Miss., is coordinating bird redistribution to other zoos, Smith says.
With a system in place, Smith says, the unknown is still the oil spill’s impact on wildlife overall. This spill is anything but typical of what has been seen in the past when oil spills have been experienced in the oceans and seas.
“This spill is different than the typical oil spill because most of the time there is a confined area that is usually near shore and isn’t continuously spewing oil,” Smith says. “Helpers can get the wildlife all in one area and deal with the situation. But this spill is offshore with an ongoing oil leak, and it’s a much greater area.”
That means that wildlife workers have not seen the mass casualties as in the past, as in the Exxon Valdez oil spill. But instead, it’s been a slow and steady trickle of wildlife, Smith explains. “A lot of this depends on the waves, the winds and the weather, where we will see the wildlife impacted,” he says.
Work with sea turtles is happening out to sea as much as possible, where the turtles are treated from boats before they hit the shore because many times that is too late, Smith says.
While external oiling where the wildlife is covered in oil, impacts individual animals, bogging them down, there is also internal oiling and that impact may not be known for quite some time. This happens when the birds, turtles and other ocean wildlife breathe in the oil or preen themselves and ingest the oil in various quantities. This can cause liver and kidney failure and immunization issues long-term, Smith says.
And other impacts are not yet known. “The biggest impact is on the eco-system,” he says. “The impact isn’t yet known for fish and micro-organisms because when they die, they sink to the bottom (of the Gulf).”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is studying fish and other oceanic life, Smith says. NOAA scientists have been capturing fish and assessing their environment, as well as monitoring the time they spend in oiled and unoiled water.
NOAA scientists also have collected tissue samples from sperm whales and other marine mammals, as well as measuring plankton, fish and squid, the primary food for whales, according to releases from NOAA. All of these efforts will help measure the possible effects of the oil on them. “We have assembled an exceptional partnership with world-class academic scientists who will work with us to evaluate the potential for effects from the spill on marine mammals throughout the Gulf,” said Lance Garrison, Ph.D., of NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center and the principal investigator for NOAA.
NOAA and partners are also conducting aerial and boat-based surveys to document potential changes in dolphin populations.
While NOAA is heading these efforts, Smith is coordinating veterinarians and vet techs working in the Gulf. His ties to the Louisiana Gulf – his hometown is Baton Rouge, La. – made him interested and qualified to organize the efforts, he says.
“When the spill first started, I sought out information and found that I had more than what I could find, and it just sort of snowballed,” Smith says.