Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Nuclear Waste Troubles Linger

The articles that I read discussed the major problems of the cleanup of former nuclear weapon sites that are causing enormous budget increases and delaying deadlines. State officials where these sites are located are frustrated and want more action to be taken by the Department of Energy, who is responsible for overseeing the clean-ups. Since the radioactive waste projects started there have been many issues that have come up but the first and foremost is funding. The shortage of funding for each of the several nuclear weapon sites has led to delays, which has caused budget increases by the billions. The cleanup sites have been faltering and need further investment to ensure safety. One article compared it to replacing the roof on a house that is going to be torn down, but the waste needs to be cleaned up before it leaks into the nearby water tables. Employees are saying that the DOE and its contractors are punishing them for “raising technical and safety concerns”. In addition, the contractor from the Hanford site in Oregon has been cited for making 34 technical decisions that were unverified by the DOE. The Savannah River Site in South Carolina has been successful in creating the world’s largest liquid bomb stabilizing plant, which mixes the waste with molten glass in stainless steel canisters where it will last for millenniums. Despite this success, there is now a need for a place to store the waste canisters especially since the Yucca Mountain proposal was cancelled.
            This is a very serious matter, as seen in the Fukushima disaster, where they are still trying to recover. It will be complicated process finding enough funding for each site, but keeping strict regulation on the DOE-chosen contractors could prevent future budget increases and deadline extensions. How to distribute funding is always tricky but slowing funding to sites where contractors have caused problems would cease current accusations that the contractors are just being “rewarded for bad behavior”. Next to the urgency to complete these projects, the problem of where to store the stabilized waste has yet to be determined. Perhaps following in the steps of other countries like France, where they have found methods to recycle radioactive waste would reduce the amount that needs to be stored while also finding a beneficial use. As the completion dates get pushed decades away and budgets continue to climb it is clear why frustrated state officials want the DOE funding to go their state’s cleanup site. It is also clear that because of budget cuts by Congress contractors and the DOE have discredited workers who bring up safety issues in order to prevent additional costs. Although there are inevitable complications due to the magnitude of these projects, concern for radioactive waste contaminating the country’s water should be a top priority. Experts are in agreement that these sites completion dates cannot continue being push farther away. The leakages will happen sooner or later, it is just the matter of how soon. 
--Gianna Rosati

Monday, December 2, 2013

Dead Zones

    Algae blooms are typically green, red, or brown, and are slimy and smelly. Gigantic blooms have become an increasing problem all around the world. The blooms deprive the water and other organisms of vital nutrients and water before the die and rot. When this occurs, fish cannot survive the hypoxic and nutrient deprived conditions. This creates “dead zones.”  A large cause of the algal blooms is because of agriculture. Algae can multiply quickly in water where nitrogen and phosphorus are abundant, and these are the two prime nutrients we focus on when talking about agriculture runoff from fertilizers.
     Not only do algae blooms kill huge numbers of fish, but they also can cause a severe loss in tourist revenue if beaches have a reputation of being full of green slime. Real estate prices in areas with significant algae blooms have seen an extreme drop. Not only that, but every facet of the economy in summer residency areas feels the effects, from car washes to supermarkets. A conservative estimate of the yearly impact of algal blooms in the United States is $100 million, and that number only includes the ocean side of things, not freshwater, which are in the billions.
     A 10-year study of the Chesapeake Bay concluded this summer and found that algal blooms have been dramatically affecting the bottom feeding fish in the bay, causing wide-spread dead zones. These fish include croaker, white perch, spot, striper, and flounder. All of these fish are a key part of the bay’s ecosystem and a huge support of the commercial and recreational fisheries. The algae kill the bottom-dwelling invertebrates that these fish eat.
     While agriculture is an extremely important part of Pennsylvania’s and Maryland’s economy and history, these states have to find a way to get farming and fishing to work together. Both industries need to develop more sustainable strategies, so that the long run outcome is more desirable. Agriculture dumps a huge amount of fertilizers on the soil to meet the demands of the food industry, and the nutrients from these fertilizers ends up in places like the bay, causing the algae blooms. While meeting food demand is crucial, I do not believe sacrificing the entire bay’s ecosystem is worth it. Many people rely on the fisheries as their way of life, and the bay is a huge tourist and recreational attraction, as well a historical and important part of everyone in the watersheds life. Heavier control on fertilizer use and more regulations on having buffer zones on farms are necessary. Enforcement of policies is huge, because I do not believe most policies are properly enforced. For the fishing industry, over-harvesting needs to be addressed immediately. If the pollution of the bay and overfishing continue, soon there will be no fish left to harvest. If the problem of algae blooms, as well as the numerous other problems with pollution and water quality throughout the Chesapeake Bay, is not properly addressed, the fishing industry on the bay will eventually collapse completely.
--Rachel McCloskey