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An Idaho University Misses Small Amount of Plutonium, Fined $8,500

The school searched documents and found records from 2003 and 2004 saying the material was on campus and awaiting disposal.

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The last document mentioning the plutonium is dated Nov. 23, 2003. It said the Idaho National Laboratory didn’t want the plutonium and the school’s technical safety office had it “pending disposal of the next waste shipment.”
Idaho State University, wikimedia commons
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A small amount of radioactive, weapons-grade plutonium about the size of a U.S. quarter is missing from an Idaho university that was using it for research, leading federal officials on Friday to propose an $8,500 fine.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Idaho State University can’t account for about a 30th of an ounce (1 gram) of the material that’s used in nuclear reactors and to make nuclear bombs.

The amount is too small to make a nuclear bomb, agency spokesman Victor Dricks said, but could be used to make a dirty bomb to spread radioactive contamination.

“The NRC has very rigorous controls for the use and storage of radioactive materials as evidenced by this enforcement action,” he said of the proposed fine for failing to keep track of the material.

Dr. Cornelis Van der Schyf, vice president for research at the university, blamed partially completed paperwork from 15 years ago as the school tried to dispose of the plutonium.

“Unfortunately, because there was a lack of sufficient historical records to demonstrate the disposal pathway employed in 2003, the source in question had to be listed as missing,” he said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The radioactive source in question poses no direct health issue or risk to public safety.”

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Idaho State University can’t account for about a 30th of an ounce (1 gram) of the material that’s used in nuclear reactors and to make nuclear bombs.
Plutonium Representational Image, Pixabay

Idaho State University has a nuclear engineering program and works with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, considered the nation’s primary nuclear research lab and located about 65 miles (105 kilometers) northwest of the school.

The plutonium was being used to develop ways to ensure nuclear waste containers weren’t leaking and to find ways to detect radioactive material being illegally brought into the U.S. following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the school said in an email to the AP.

The university, which has 30 days to dispute the proposed fine, reported the plutonium missing on Oct. 13, according to documents released by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The agency said a school employee doing a routine inventory discovered the university could only account for 13 of its 14 plutonium sources, each weighing about the same small amount.

The school searched documents and found records from 2003 and 2004 saying the material was on campus and awaiting disposal. However, there were no documents saying the plutonium had been properly disposed.

The last document mentioning the plutonium is dated Nov. 23, 2003. It said the Idaho National Laboratory didn’t want the plutonium and the school’s technical safety office had it “pending disposal of the next waste shipment.”

The school also reviewed documents on waste barrels there and others transferred off campus since 2003, and opened and examined some of them. Finally, officials searched the campus but didn’t find the plutonium.

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The nuclear commission said senior university officials planned to return the school’s remaining plutonium to the Energy Department. It’s not clear if that has happened.

Energy Department officials didn’t return calls seeking comment Friday.

Dricks, the commission spokesman, said returning the plutonium was part of the school’s plan to reduce its inventory of radioactive material.

He said overall it has “a good record with the NRC.” (VOA)

 

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Hurricane: Development of Beachfront areas Not Safe in US

US Beach Building Persists Despite Nature’s Grip

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FILE - Homes severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy are seen along the beach in Mantoloking, N.J., April 25, 2013. Mantoloking and Ocean City, N.J., planned to go to court to seize control of narrow strips of beachfront land from property owners blocking a desperately needed protective dune system along New Jersey's 127-mile coast. (VOA)

When a hurricane comes ashore, few images are more iconic than a million-dollar beach house collapsing into the sea.

Undermined by the ferocity of water, shifting sands and sometimes bad construction, waterfront development takes a beating each time a powerful storm barrels into the Eastern Seaboard.

So why do people keep building on the beach?

“Development of beachfront areas is controversial,” writes Florence Duarte of Georgia State University in the report Responsible Beachfront Development. “On one side, a growing human population demands the use of such areas for recreation and work. On the other, environmentalists and biologists hope to preserve these habitats.”

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Sandbags surround homes on North Topsail Beach, N.C., Sept. 12, 2018, as Hurricane Florence threatens the coast. (VOA)

A balance

The balance between the human desire to work and play on the water — and developing the waterfront responsibly — often is tested during hurricane and storm season. Despite increased intensity and frequency of storms, rising sea levels and other weather catastrophes, the beach remains the most desirable of destinations: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that more than half the U.S. population lives along a coast, and 180 million people visit each year.

Housing and rental prices along East Coast beaches in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York’s Long Island and Cape Cod in Massachusetts exceed the national average because of the views, fresh air and access to water activities. The point of sitting for hours in traffic on a hot, summer Friday is to get away from developed, urban, asphalt centers for the weekend.

Development tapped out

But many resort destinations are reaching maximum development.

In Ocean City, Maryland, a 14-kilometer-long barrier island that is home to about 7,000 permanent residents in the off-season, swells to more than 300,000 vacationers in the summer and on holidays.

“The development has pretty much tapped out,” said J.D. Wells, a Realtor and lifelong Ocean City resident. “The oceanfront is completely developed. Any new construction being done is replacing a tear-down that was already there.”

Properties that sit along the waterfront or have a view of the ocean can fetch more than double equivalent properties inland, Wells said.

Building
FILE – People walk along a beach near damaged beachfront homes, March 11, 2018, in Marshfield, Mass. The Northeast is bracing for its third nor’easter in fewer than two weeks. (VOA)

Views and taxes

Towns and cities collect substantial tax revenue from those waterfront and water-view properties, sometimes charging homeowners tens of thousands of dollars more in taxes for the luxury of owning beachfront property. In many areas that have seasonal ebbs and flows, tax revenue from those properties can fill municipal coffers that benefit permanent residents, many of whom cannot afford the waterfront prices of seasonal residents.

“Over the past few decades, society’s wealth, attitude and desires have shifted and floodplains are now being developed in more upscale ways,” said Andy Coburn, associate director for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

“We can’t overlook the demand for coastal land, no matter how vulnerable or risky,” he added.

To protect beachfront properties, some towns have pushed back on nature by replacing sand stolen by storms. And while beach replenishment is expensive — Virginia Beach, Virginia, set aside $10 million for six years of sand replenishment — it is not permanent. The ocean is supposed to pound away at the beach, dragging it back out to sea.

In New Jersey, the state earmarked $1.2 billion for projects that reduce hurricane and storm damage, manage coastal storm risk and replenish the beaches that generate nearly half of the state’s $45.4 billion in annual tourism dollars.

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FILE – The remnants of a home leveled by Hurricane Matthew sit along the beachfront as Chief of Police George Brothers talks on the radio after Hurricane Matthew hit Edisto Beach, S.C., Oct. 8, 2016. (VOA)

Building codes for new construction require windows and doors that can withstand high winds and hold back flooding. Wells explained that seawalls and sand dunes are erected as barriers. But nature is mighty.

Powerful even on a normal day, the Atlantic Ocean, when combined with the energy of an extreme storm, can cut through solid land. Residents of Ocean City, Maryland, wandered out after a storm in 1933 to find that a 15-meter wide, 2.5-meter-deep inlet had been sliced into the south end of their barrier island, opening a convenient channel for fishing and pleasure craft between the ocean and the bay.

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Likewise, the ocean created an inlet in Chatham, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, while snatching vintage, brown-shingled cottages into the sea in 2009, according to the Boston Globe newspaper.

“A compromise needs to be found that is responsible to both demands. Rational, sustainable usage of these areas is possible if people are willing to spend time and money in planning,” Duarte wrote.

“Bounded by water, coastal and waterfront communities are challenged to make the best use of limited land while protecting critical natural resources from the potentially damaging effects of growth,” says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in its SmartGrowth report. “These communities must consider a common set of overarching issues when managing growth and development.” (VOA)