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Donald Trump’s Plan To Reclassify Radioactive Waste Alarms Environmentalists

At the request of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, the agency extended the public comment period on the proposal to Jan. 9.

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Radioactive Waste
- In this July 11, 2016 file photo, a sign warns of radioactive material stored underground on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Washington. VOA

The Trump administration wants to reclassify some radioactive waste left from the production of nuclear weapons to lower its threat level and make disposal cheaper and easier.

The proposal by the U.S. Department of Energy would lower the status of some high-level radioactive waste in several places around the nation, including the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state — the most contaminated nuclear site in the country.

Reclassifying the material to low-level could save the agency billions of dollars and decades of work by essentially leaving the material in the ground, critics say.

The proposal joins a long list of Trump administration efforts to loosen environmental protections. Just last week, the Environmental Protection Agency acted to ease rules on the sagging U.S. coal industry.

Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge, a nuclear watchdog group, said it wants a thorough cleanup of the Washington state nuclear site, which is half the size of Rhode Island. That includes building a national repository somewhere else to bury the waste once it has been stabilized.

Radioactive Waste
In this March 6, 2013 file photo, workers are shown at the ‘C’ Tank Farm at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, near Richland, Washington. VOA

The cleanup of the site is really at stake,” Carpenter said about the proposed change.

He noted that Hanford is located in an environmentally sensitive site adjacent to the Columbia River and susceptible to earthquakes, volcanoes and flooding.

Hanford was established by the Manhattan Project in World War Two to make plutonium, a key ingredient in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The plant went on to produce most of the plutonium for the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

As a result, the site also contains the nation’s largest collection of nuclear waste. The most dangerous is stored in 177 aging underground tanks, some of which have leaked. The tanks hold some 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical wastes waiting to be treated for permanent disposal.

Cleanup efforts at Hanford have been underway since the late 1980s and cost about $2 billion a year.

Current law defines high-level radioactive waste as resulting from processing irradiated nuclear fuel that is highly radioactive. The Energy Department wants to reclassify some of the waste that meets highly technical conditions.

Radioactive Waste
In this July 9, 2014 file photo, a sign warns of high levels of radiation near a valve at the “C” tank farm during a media tour of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Washington. VOA

The agency says the change could save the federal government $40 billion in cleanup costs across the nation’s entire nuclear weapons complex, which includes the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina and Idaho National Laboratory

Environmental groups and the state of Washington, which has a legal commitment with the Energy Department to oversee the Hanford cleanup, said the proposal is a concern.

“They see it as a way to get cleanup done faster and less expensively,” said Alex Smith of the Washington state Department of Ecology.

Carpenter said there “is not much point in doing much else if they don’t clean up the high-level waste.”

Also Read: North Korea Open To Nuclear Site Inspection: Report

At the request of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, the agency extended the public comment period on the proposal to Jan. 9. The agency can make the change without the approval of Congress.

“No one disputes the difficulty of retrieving and treating high-level waste from Hanford’s aging storage tanks,” Wyden wrote to the DOE. “However, lowering the bar for level of protection of future generations and the environment by changing the definition of what has always been considered high-level waste requiring permanent disposal is a significant change.”(VOA)

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World Leaders Prepare for G7 Summit Even As Fears Over Global Economy Increases

The economic fears are rooted in the trade war between the United States and China

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G7 Summit
Security concerns will also be high on the agenda. North Korea has resumed its ballistic missile tests. Pixabay

The G-7 host, Emmanuel Macron,  has made fighting inequality the theme for the annual meeting of the seven industrialized nations, which opens Saturday in the French seaside resort of Biarritz with the leaders of the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada in attendance.

The French president has invited leaders from several other countries, including six African nations, to take part in the annual discussion of major global challenges. But analysts say any grand ambitions for the summit will likely be stymied by pressing economic concerns.

Most worrisome are recent indicators from both sides of the Atlantic of slowing economic growth and a possible global recession.

Earlier this month, government bond yields in both the United States and Germany were briefly higher for two-year than 10-year bonds, a sign that investors see significant risks ahead, says economist Jasper Lawler of the London Capital Group.

“Particularly in the U.S., it’s actually been a very reliable signal to point towards a recession.”

Adding the investors’ fears, the usual fiscal tools to tackle a recession might not be available.

“We don’t have that usual fallback from central banks of cutting interest rates because they already have, and they are already at rock bottom levels,” says Lawler.

G7 Summit
Summit host France is determined to not let economics overshadow its own agenda. Pixabay

The economic fears are rooted in the trade war between the United States and China, which has resulted in both countries imposing tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of imports. Europe is suffering additional headwinds, says economist Lawler.

“The trade war, but also just the auto sector, the transition from using diesel cars to electronic vehicles. It’s a period of uncertainty that’s unduly affecting Europe.”

Summit host France is determined to not let economics overshadow its own agenda — and top of the list is climate change, says John Kirton of the G-7 Research Group at the University of Toronto.

“It’s driven by the scary science which is unfolding every day, but more importantly by the historic heat waves that have afflicted Europe, including France.”

U.S. President Donald Trump left last year’s G-7 summit in Canada early, before the leaders had discussed climate change, and later disavowed the final communiqué. This year France is determined to keep the United States on board, says Kirton.

“President Macron I think has structured his agenda to allow Donald Trump to be at his best. Gender equality — the president has been very good at that, it’s at the top of the French list. Education — yes, and also health. It’s the president of the United States that’s been pushing the G-7 to try to get it to deal with the opioid crisis.”

G7 Summit
U.S. President Donald Trump left last year’s G-7 summit in Canada early, before the leaders had discussed climate change, and later disavowed the final communiqué. Pixabay

Security concerns will also be high on the agenda. North Korea has resumed its ballistic missile tests.

Meanwhile the standoff between Iran and the West has escalated over the seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, which followed the detention of an Iranian vessel in Gibraltar.

Burgeoning anti-government protests in Russia and Hong Kong also pose questions for the G-7, says Kirton.

Also Read: Purchase Rights for Huawei Extended By US

“Have we seen the tide [change], where authoritarian leaders in various degrees are no longer in control? It may not be the way of the future. In fact, if that’s the case, then how can the G-7 activate its distinctive foundational issue: to promote democracy?” Kirton asked.

Meanwhile British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet Trump at the G-7 for the first time in his new role. Both leaders are hoping for a rapid trade deal amid signs of a steep economic downturn in Britain as it edges closer to crashing out of the European Union with no deal at the end of October. (VOA)