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Cuomo May Propose Gas Drilling in Southern Tier


According to the New York Times (June 13, 2012), Governor Cuomo will propose hydraulic fracturing for natural gas (fracking) in the Southern Tier. The counties targeted are Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga. “Drilling would be permitted only in towns that agree to it,” according to the Times. The plan will be rolled out after the Department of Environmental Conservation gives its final approval, later this summer. This decision will be made despite the fact that the gas industry has no plans for how to handle radioactively-contaminated waste water, drill pipes and radon entering homes through kitchen stoves. The report by Radioactive Waste Management Associates discusses the radioactivity issues associated with Marcellus shale gas exploration and production.
Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey and gamma logs of drillers show radium concentrations up to 32 times background concentrations in the Marcellus shale formation. Brought to the surface in rock cuttings, drilling fluids, flowback water and brine, radium can enter the environment in several forms. A fraction will be reinserted into deep disposal wells, or go to water treatment plants. Because of its high salinity, a portion could be spread on highways in the winter. The rock cuttings will go to solid waste landfills. Over the production cycle, a portion of Marcellus radium plates out on pipes. And an inert radioactive gas, radon, will enter homes when natural gas is used for heating and cooking.
The RWMA paper examines the fate and transport of radionuclides brought to the surface, and the environmental impact in the environment. Regulators have the difficult task of developing regulations that protect the health and safety of New York State residents. The water treatment industry must develop processes for separating radium from large volumes of waste waters (flowback water and brine) so that surface streams meet regulatory limits. The gas industry must develop plans for handling contaminated pipes and radon gas. This paper explores these different waste streams and potential resolutions of these differing problems.

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Homeland Security Around a Nuclear Waste Dump?

Holy cannoli!  What gives with  Homeland Security guarding a nuclear waste dump in Apollo, Pennsylvania?  Is it the body of Jimmy Hoffa?  Not exactly.  It is highly enriched uranium that can be made into 10 to 15 nuclear bombs.

According to the Pittsburg Tribune-Review, Sunday, June 16, 2012, “heavily armed guards from the Department of Homeland Security are patrolling a former nuclear waste dump in Parks Township.”  “The elevated security measures were put in place at the request of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” according to a spokesman for Homeland Security.  The situation was described as “complex.”  The cleanup contractor, Cabrera Services, described it as “sensitive” material.  Let us clean up the information mystery while the Army Corps hopefully cleans up the Apollo, Pennsylavia waste dump.

In the 1960’s, Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation, also known as NUMEC, operated a nuclear fuel plant in Apollo, Pennsylvania.  In 1965, an inspection by the Atomic Energy Commission determined that NUMEC was unable to account for a large amount of uranium that NUMEC was supposed to turn into fuel for Navy reactors and a space rocket, which never flew (NY Times, 11/6/77).  Approximately 382 pounds of enriched uranium was lost – some in NUMEC’s machinery and ultimately into the burial grounds and the remainder elsewhere.  Since 10 pounds of enriched uranium could be made into a nuclear weapon, this was a serious breach of security.

The FBI and CIA investigated the matter.  Other than stating that an examination of 32 foreign shipments by NUMEC had found that in 26 of them the records were “incomplete, inaccurate or missing,” no finger pointed to a specific destination country.  Circumstantial evidence implied Israel may have been the beneficiary, since the company president and some engineers and visitors to NUMEC had strong Israeli links.

Flash forward now to September 2011.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission site manager, Yolande Norman, in a trip report, states Trench No. 2 had 10% enriched uranium, but rather than U-235, Cabrera was finding U-233 greater than 10% enriched.  U-233, like U-235, can be used to make a nuclear bomb.  As a result of this “complex situation,” the price tag for cleanup of the waste dump, originally set at $170 million, has now ballooned to $250 million up to $500 million.  Several NRC emails were redacted.

The bottom line is that NUMEC was handling enriched uranium that could be used to make nuclear weapons.  Some of this enriched uranium was “lost,’ and possibly ended up in Israel.  Some of this enriched uranium landed in NUMEC’s waste dump, and is now being guarded by Homeland Security, until it is shipped to a Department of Energy facility.

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Sister Rosalie Bertell, epidemiologist, researcher

It is a sad day to report that Sister Rosalie Bertell, internationally recognized epidemiologist and environmental activist, passed away June 14, 2012.  She will be sorely missed by her friends, co-workers and environmental activists throughout the world.  Despite her failing health, she was always in good spirits and active in causes of justice till the end.    Dr. Bertell received her Ph.D. degree in Biometrics with minors in Biology and Biochemistry from the Catholic University of America, in 1966. Since that time she has worked as a biometrician and environmental epidemiologist.  

She is the recipient of five honourary degrees. Among her many awards: the Alternative Nobel Prize, Right Livelihood Award; World Federalist Peace Award; Ontario Premier's Council on Health, Health Innovator Award; the United Nations Environment Programme Global 500 award and the Sean MacBride International Peace Prize. She has recently been selected to be one of the 1000 Peace Women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, 2005.  Sr. Rosalie has published numerous articles, reviewed articles for professional journals and was editor of the journal, "International Perspectives in Public Health". Her books, "No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactice Earth" and "Planet Earth: The Latest Weapon of War" can be obtained from the International Institute of Concern for Public Health (IICPH), which she co-founded.  The "Handbook For Estimating Health Effects From Exposure To Ionizing Radiation" intended for health professionals, which she edited, is also obtainable from IICPH.

Dr. Bertell was an associate professor of mathematics at D’Youville in Buffalo from 1969 to 1973 and served for eight years as a senior cancer research scientist at Roswell Park from 1970 to 1978. She also was an assistant research professor at the University at Buffalo for four years, and director of research and Biostatistical/Radiation Health Consultant at the Ministry of Concern for Public Health, before leaving the Buffalo area for Toronto in the early 1980s. 

I met Sister Rosalie in Buffalo in the mid ‘70’s when the Sierra Club first became involved in fighting the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, Nuclear Fuel Services in West Valley, New York.  She was helpful to us, as she was to so many citizens and activists in her 40 years of active research.  Over the years she and I would pass our research work and papers for comment and criticism.    My wife Katra and I visited her at the Motherhouse in Yardley, Pennsylvania two years ago.  The Grey Nun sisters were kind enough to give her a small office to work out of.  Katra went to church with her and we went out for lunch after.

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Staff Comings and Goings

RWMA recently welcomed Melissa Belcher as a Research Associate. Melissa completed her M.S. in Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in September 2011 and joined the RWMA staff in May 2012. She received a B.S. from the University of Vermont. From January 2010 to the present she served as a Research Assistant with the USGS Fish Research Lab in Turners Falls, Massachusetts, and recently completed a manual on fish passage design for the federal National Marine Fisheries Service.


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