NRC approves more nuke plants for Virginia

Photo of Lois Gibbs of Love Canal fame who spoke against the new nuke plants near Louisa, Virginia when she was in Charlottesville.
With over 200 miles of shoreline and some 13,000 surface acres of water, Lake Anna is a recreational centerpiece that maintains a rural charm. As Virginia's second largest lake, it has become a premier choice for water lovers. Here, you can enjoy water sports of your choice - power boating, sailing, water skiing, wake boarding, jet skiing and certainly swimming. One of the most common reasons water enthusiasts love Lake Anna is because of its clean water. If you're an angler, you'll find that Lake Anna is a proven year-round fishery. One of the best lakes to fish for lunker largemouth bass on the eastern seaboard, Lake Anna is also known for its hard charging stripers and fine eating crappies. Catfish, bream and walleyes are also on the lake's menu.
Sounds idyllic. Besides the marinas and restaurants, there are homes strung out along the shores of the lovely lake near Louisa, VA. What a great place to build two additional nuke plants. (There are already two.) But this is exactly what Dominion Energy applied for on September 25, 2003 .

I happened to be in Charlotesville in March 25, 2005 for the Virginia Festival of the Book when the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) brought down Lois Gibbs to explain why the North Anna application was a bad idea. Health hazards, adverse environmental impacts, nuclear waste uncertainties. She sure convinced me.

For details, read BREDL's report, issued in June of 2004. Read the August 2, 2007, BREDL comments filed with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, citing concerns about the water temperature of the discharge.

But, today, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ignored all this and authorized an Early Site Permit (ESP) to Dominion Nuclear North Anna, LLC for the site. The NRC staff has 10 business days to issue the permit, valid for up to 20 years. This is the third permit approved. The NRC granted one for the Clinton site in Illinois on March 15, and for the Grand Gulf site in Mississippi on April 5. A fourth ESP is being processed for the Vogtle site in Georgia.

The NRC published a final safety evaluation for the North Anna ESP in August 2006, a final environmental impact statement in December 2006, and then the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) conducted a hearing on June 29, 2007, ruling that the permit could be issued. See: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-licensing/esp/north-anna.html. Those in Louisa County can view the documents at the library, 881 Davis Highway in Mineral, VA.

Supposedly, safety and environmental issues have been resolved and the site is suitable for construction and operation of a nuclear plant. The company (or any other potential applicant interested in the site) still must seek NRC approval to build one or more nuclear plants on the site. But what are the chances of refusal?

Is any site suitable? Especially one this close to the Nation's and the State capitals. How can the Bush administration harp on the need for Homeland Security and at the same time go full speed ahead, building new nuclear plants? Wouldn't wind, solar, geothermal, etc. be a better idea? Think of the opportunity costs of continuing to shovel money at nukes, oil and coal, just because they are entrenched and have so much influence.


The Need for a New GI Bill

Photo from UCLA's web article on the GI Bill.

For some reason, my newsletter from Jim Webb (D-VA) (email) went to my spam folder. This is his Veteran's Day plea for a better GI Bill for Afghanistan and Iraq veterans. I'd add that I wouldn't be opposed to backdating this to include Vietnam vets, if any of them would like additional education. Heck, how about education for anyone willing to perform national service? As Webb says,

The United States has never gone wrong when it has made sustained new investments in higher education and job training.

It would be especially fitting to make such an investment, given the fact that the "All Volunteer Force," and for that matter, the draft before it, is hardly an equal opportunity employer.

The Department of Defense has published an annual report Population Representation in the Military Service starting in 1974. The 1998 report notes that,

Analysis of Vietnam era veterans indicated that individuals of high socioeconomic status comprised about half the proportion of draftees compared to their representation in the overall population.

Interestingly, the reports for 1997-2004 are available online. Thus the last information is for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2004. The 1997, 1998, and 1999 reports included a chapter examining socioeconomic status v.s the general population. This is no longer the case. The 2000 report did have a chapter about representation in the army.

Webb's measure S.22 received a hearing in the Senate Committee on Veteran's Affairs on July 31 with no action since then. Bobby Scott's companion bill, H.R. 2702, introduced June 13, has been referred to subcommittee and there the tale ends to date.


Webb writes,

In terms of providing true opportunity and creating a level playing field among Americans of all walks of life, the original World War II G.I. Bill was perhaps the most important piece of legislation in our history. Designed to help veterans readjust to civilian life, this landmark legislation helped 7.8 million World War II veterans pursue a college education. The program cost about $14.5 billion (in 1940s dollars), and for every dollar invested, the government estimates that seven dollars were generated.

From political figures to Nobel Prize winners, the effectiveness of the G.I. Bill has been demonstrated by the broad success of those who benefited from it. As former Senator Bob Dole, himself a recipient of that G.I. Bill's benefits, mentioned recently during a hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, "It made a big difference. I think it's the single most important piece of legislation when it comes to education. It changed America more than anything I can think of."

We have an opportunity to enact equally important legislation today for those who have served post-9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan. On my first day in office, I introduced the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 in order to provide our returning troops benefits that mirror those provided to our veterans after World War II.

In the current debate about how to properly support our newest generation of veterans, history has taught us that we must not overlook the great transformative power of education. This Veterans Day, I believe it is time that we commit to a more robust educational assistance program and that we provide a first-class education for the men and women who have served us honorably in Iraq and Afghanistan.

First as an infantry combat Marine in Vietnam and later as a full Committee Counsel on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, I saw first-hand the inequities of the Vietnam-era G.I. Bill and the difficulties that so many veterans of that era encountered as they re-entered the civilian world.

Under the current Montgomery G.I. Bill, designed primarily for peacetime not wartime service, a service member must pay $100 a month for the first year of his or her enlistment, in order to receive up to $1,075 a month toward an education up to a total of $38,700. The average amount a veteran receives these days is $666.67 a month.

This amount is insufficient for readjustment to civilian life after serving two, three, or four tours of duty, as many of our post-9/11 servicemembers have. This compensation is hardly enough to allow a veteran to attend many community colleges, let alone a traditional four year institution.

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, himself a Vietnam combat veteran, has since joined me in leading the charge in the Senate, in addition to 23 Senate colleagues who have signed on as co-sponsors to my legislation. Congressman Bobby Scott introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives, which enjoys the support of 75 co-sponsors, including Congressman Jim Moran.

The United States has never gone wrong when it has made sustained new investments in higher education and job training. Enacting a more robust G.I. bill akin to that of the World War II era is not only the right thing to do, but its the smart thing to do, in terms of investing in the economic health of our country. As someone who hails from the soldier-citizen tradition, I hold immense personal pride in those who answer our nation's call to duty.

Now as a U.S. Senator, I hope to put into place the mechanisms that will allow future generations of Presidents, Senators and Nobel laureates to rise through the ranks on a sturdy educational foundation provided by the G.I. bill.


Uranium Mining for Virginia

Cartoon from the November 3, 2007 Roanoke Times by Chris OBrion (email, website), used with permission from Mr. OBrion, who moved back to Virginia from Olympia, WA in 2002. Previously, he had worked at the Fredericksburg, Virginia Freelance Star. OBrion has stuff for sale at Cafe Press.


Chatham is home to a sort of literary aristocracy including poet Ellen Voigt and Pulitzer Prize winner Claudia Emerson and WaPo book editor Jonathan Yardley. And Walter Coles is hardly Jed Clampitt of the the 60's sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies, whose proposed reinvention as reality series stirred public uproar in Appalachia about negative stereotyping .

Coles Hill in Charham, Virginia in Pittsylvania County, has been in Walter Coles's family since 1785, according to Tim Davis, the editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune, in his October 3 story, "Local company hopes to mine uranium." The house Coles resides in dates back to 1810 and the farm, which originally included 5,500 acres, was used to raise tobacco, wheat, and cattle. Coles attended Fork Union Military Academy and the The Citadel, in Charleston, S.C. After serving in Vietnam, he join the U.S. Agency for International Development, an arm of the State Department, in 1969. He has lived and worked in Asia, Jordan, Egypt, and Jamaica. After retiring from the foreign service in 1999, he spent five years as an international consultant on land reform and privatization, his last job being in Afghanistan. His wife, Alice Clement Coles, who still works with the State Department, is the sister of former delegate and Virginia transportation secretary Whitt Clement.

Otherwise, OBrion has drawn an interesting comparison between oil and uranium. And as he wrote in an email to me,

Two factors that almost led me to ditch the cartoon: I remembered the
outcry over the Beverley Hillbillies reality show, and I knew that
Coles wasn't in any way poor.

But it's just such a catchy tune.

Indeed , the "Ballad of Jed Clampitt" hit number one on the country charts in 1966. The composer Earl Scruggs and his bandmate Lester Flatt appeared as themselves in six episodes of the show. Their other foray into popular culture, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" ended up in the movie Bonnie and Clyde. But , fiving lie to rural rube stereotypes, Earl Scruggs has recorded with the likes of Sting, Elton John and the Byrds.


Cole's ancestral home sits on one of the largest uranium deposits in the United States. There is also uranium in Orange County, which raised questions recently when a shale company prosed a quarry there. Rising uranium prices and the resurgence of the nuclear power industry after federal underwriting in the 2005 energy bill, have led Cole , along with friends, family and Canadian investors in Virginia Uranium, Inc. to lobby the Virginia Assembly to study lifting the moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia. The company's president is Norm Reynolds, former head of Marline Corp, which bought up uranium rights in both Orange and Pittsylvania Counties, the last time the state was considering the mining of the ore.

Cole, with the help of his brother-in-law, persuaded Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, to amend Virginia's 2006 energy bill to include a study of possible uranium mining in Pittsylvania. Cale Jaffe, a lobbyist for Charlottesville's Sourthern Environmental Law Center told the Richmond Times Dispatch, the final bill had no direct mention of uranium mining, but the study resurfaced in drafts of the 2007 Virginia Energy Plan. Sure enough, you can read them, starting on page 50 , in the plan Governor Tim Kaine released September 12.

The Law Center says on its site,

There is no precedent for large-scale uranium mining in eastern states such as Virginia, where the population density puts more people at risk and where a wetter climate increases the chance of radiation contaminating streams and groundwater. Virginia has no experience with regulating uranium mining.

The studies from the 1980s raised serious questions that were never answered. Many questions remain today, including where the uranium would be processed, how the mine waste or “tailings” would be disposed of, what safeguards would be in place to protect the environment and public health, how would the facility be secured from earthquakes and floods, and many more.


Security, Privacy & Government Accountability

To review this post on Newstrust, go here.

Chart tallying calls to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding their position on telecom immunity.

Changes to that law must be considered carefully and openly – not eviscerated in secret Administration interpretations or compromised through fear or intimidation

Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman


As the Senate Judiciary Committee takes up its consideration of the currently proposed changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) laws, advocates for the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution have advocated that the Committee strip of provisions for telecom immunity and blanket warrants from S.2248, the Senate Intelligence Committee's proposed replacement for the Protect America Act. Chris Dodd's presidential campaign sites is maintaining a "citizen-generated whip count" which encourages calls to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asking them to oppose telecom immunity. It also asks callers to report back and post the reactions they receive. The American Civil Liberties Union's current letter writing campaign asks that the Senate require individual warrants.

Back on October 2, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to examine the implications of the PAA."Preserving the Rule of Law in the Fight Against Terrorism" featured testimony from Committee Chairman Leahy and from Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Office of Special Council , who had, along with his boss John Ashcroft, resisted the Administration's warrantless surveillance program. Goldman, now at Harvard Law School, based his testimony on his book, The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration (W.W. Norton, 2007).

Yesterday's hearing, "How to Protect Americans’ Security and Privacy and Preserve the Rule of Law and Government Accountability" looked at the S. 2248. (FDL's Marcy Wheeler live blogged a transcript is here.) Representing the Administration's position was Kenneth L. Wainstein (complete testimony), Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department's National Security Division. He decried FISA's outdated provision that

substantially impeded the Intelligence Community’s ability to collect effectively the foreign intelligence information necessary to protect the Nation

and outlined a defense of telecom immunity and criticism for the increased reporting requirements and sunset clause of the current bill. Supporting his testimony was that of Patrick F. Philbin (complete testimony) , a partner in the DC law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, who had served as Deputy Attorney General in the Office of Special Counsel from 2001 to 2005.

Leahy (complete testimony) opened his statement by criticizing the PAA's granting of "sweeping powers" for warrentless surveillance without meaningful privacy or civil liberty protection. After having received some of the documents requested from the administration, Leahy still expressed reservations about telecom immunity included in S.2248 :

The Congress should be careful not to provide an incentive for future unlawful corporate activity by giving the impression that if corporations violate the law and disregard the rights of Americans, they will be given an after-the-fact free pass. If Americans’ privacy is to mean anything, and if the rule of law is to be respected, that would be the wrong result.

A retroactive grant of immunity or preemption of state regulators does more than let the carriers off the hook. Immunity is designed to shield this Administration from any accountability for conducting surveillance outside the law. It could make it impossible for Americans whose privacy has been violated illegally to seek meaningful redress.

The lawsuits that would be dismissed as a result of such a grant of immunity are perhaps the only avenue that exists for an outside review of the government’s program and honest assessment of its legal arguments. That kind of assessment is critical if our government is to be held accountable. One of my chief inquiries before deciding to support any legislation on this subject is whether it will foster government accountability. Anyone who proposes letting the telecommunications carriers off the hook or preempting state authorities has a responsibility to propose a manner to test the legality of the government’s program and to determine whether it did harm to the rights of Americans.

... The FISA was enacted in the wake of earlier scandals, when the rights and privacy of Americans were trampled while no one was watching. We in the Senate, and on this Committee, have a solemn responsibility to hundreds of millions of our fellow citizens. Because the American people’s rights, freedom and privacy are easily lost; but once lost, they are difficult to win back.

Ranking member Arlen Spector (R-PA) said in his opening statement,

With respect to the request for retroactive release of liability, I have great reluctance. Part of that stems from the secrecy that the government has interposed. When we were seeking subpoenas last year for the telephone companies, we were thwarted by action of the vice president in contacting Republican members without notifying the chairman.

And as I see the situation, I think the telephone companies do have a strong, equitable case, but my inclination is that they ought to get indemnification; that the courts ought not to be closed.

I doubt very much the cases will be proved, but if plaintiffs can prove them, I think they ought to have their day in court. And it is costly, but that's part of the cost of the war on terrorism.

Russ Feingold, (D-WI) (complete testimony) ,expressed his belief that the Intelligence Committee, on which he also sits, would have benefited from a public hearing such as the current one, with input

not just of the Administration, but also of outside experts who may have brought a different point of view to consideration of the legislation.

One "outside expert" testifying , Morton H. Halperin (complete testimony), Director of U.S. Advocacy, Open Society Institute and a member of the Board of Directors of the Constitution Project and its Liberty and Security Committee, posed two interesting questions. Regarding the first,

  • What electronic communications should the government be able to acquire using procedures different from those mandated for criminal investigations;

Halperin noted that there was an ongoing debate about whether the change was "necessary and constitutional" and proposed to "leave that discussion to others." Instead, he chose to focus on his second question of

  • what procedures should be put in place so that all concerned groups can know clearly what the rules are and have confidence that the rules are being followed?

He outlined four major failures he found in the Intelligence Committee bill:

  • Section 701's statement that “Nothing in the definition of electronic surveillance under section 101 (f) shall be construed to encompass surveillance that is targeted in accordance with this title at a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.”
  • the lack of required, advance court orders for surveillance ;
  • the lack of effective procedures and oversight to insure the law was not used to acquire the communications of a "U.S. person or a person in the United States"
  • lack of proclaiming that FISA procedures were the sole means to conduct electronic surveillance for intelligence purposes and that private companies must cooperate only if they receive a court order or a certification specifically authorized by this statute .

The other "outside expert, "Edward Black (complete testimony) , President and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, had this to say,

We should all want protection both from terrorists and from illegal spying, search and seizure by our own government. In crafting our efforts to combat terrorism, we should not forfeit our privacy or weaken our First or Fourth Amendment rights. As a nation, we should not countenance the sort of autocratic surveillance of ordinary citizens which we find so abhorrent in repressive foreign regimes.

According to the Dodd site, to date only Jon Kyl supports telecom immunity, but it appears john Cornyn (TX) is learning that way. The three in addition to Feingold on record as opposing immunity are Joe Biden (DE), Ted Kennedy MA), and Ben Cardin (MD). The ACLU reported on October 31,

American Civil Liberties Union, Move On.org, People For the American Way and bloggers from Open Left, Salon, Fire Dog Lake and others delivered petitions to Senate and House offices signed by over 250,000 Americans who oppose granting amnesty to the telecom companies that violated the Fourth Amendment and their privacy.

So, it remains to be seen whether, once again, Congress will give the Administration what it desires when the issue is fighting terrorism or whether it will stand up for the Constitution. Things look more hopeful than they did last week, I have to remember that in December 2005, that Republican Senators' dismay with NSA revelations made me wonder whether we had reached a tipping point with regard to renewal of the Patriot Act.