Nature & Environment Archive


Why I’m On A Hunger Strike — Diane Wilson

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Diane Wilson is a long time environmental activist, the author of Diary of an Eco-Outlaw, and An Unreasonable Woman, and an injured worker advocate in the Texas Gulf Coast. She is presently on a hunger strike to stop Valero from investing in the Canada tar sands. She forwarded us this letter last week…

Workers! Demand Valero divest from tar sands. The life you save may just be your own.

I’m a fourth generation fisherwoman from the Texas Gulf Coast. For forty years I have made a living on a shrimp boat plying the Gulf Coast waters, but for the past twenty-five years, I have fought a long and difficult battle with industry to preserve the health and wellbeing of our Texas bays and marine life for our children and our children’s children.

Today I am involved in one of my most difficult challenges. I am on the 35th day of a hunger strike that I began to convince Valero to divest from Canada’s tar sands.

Many stakeholders have been pulled into this fight that is so colossal and mind boggling that it can almost be called biblical and not be an exaggeration. The indigenous tribes of the First Nation in Canada, land owners, cities’ water supplies, communities surrounding the refineries, and the very planet that we call home are all being threatened by the extraction of tar sands and the XL pipeline that is snaking its way from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Workers in the refinery don’t get mentioned much and that’s pretty surprising given that workers are ground zero for exposure from the refining of tar sands.

When a refinery uses a bitumen blend from Canada’s tar sands, it is using a raw material that contains large quantities of sulfur. This means U.S. refineries using tar sands generally produce more intense sulfur dioxide air pollution that is, today, not adequately regulated. The result is heightened health risks not only to communities living near tar sands refineries, but also to the workers inside.

In fact, workers are the most direct line for sulfur dioxide poisoning.

A few statistics from publicly available sources indicate that, in general, tar sands refineries spew more sulfur dioxide pollution per barrel produced than refineries that do not use tar sands. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), short- term exposure to elevated sulfur dioxide levels is associated with reduced lung function, chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, respiratory illness, deterioration of the lung’s defense systems, and the aggravation of cardiovascular systems.

In addition, a refinery’s processing of tar sands leaves a toxic cocktail of 20 by-products (often at 1,000 times above the safe limit) that include the cancer-causing chemicals benzene, toluene, and hydrogen sulfide.

Now I know what some workers are going to say when they read this. I know because I’ve asked them and they say, “Smells like money to me!” or “Not me! I’m healthy! ” Or “That’s why I have two life insurance policies.”

Then stuff happens.

The experts say 870,000 workers get sick and 55,000-60,000 die each year in the United States from an occupational disease. Then the experts add the caveat that these numbers are undoubtedly underestimates. How much of an underestimate? Well, as much as 69 percent of illnesses and injuries never make it to the Bureau of Labor statistics. And the vast majority of workers with an occupational illness never receive any benefits from workers compensation.

Ask any injured worker who’s developed an illness brought on by exposure to a chemical and he can recite a litany of reasons why help never comes.

Work related illnesses are difficult to identify, especially those with long periods between exposure and illness. Part of the problem is simply an absence of data on the health effects of hazardous exposures. Absolutely nothing is known about potential toxicity for more than 85percent of chemicals in use in industry. In addition, routine training on known hazards and their effects is lacking. The average doctor receives 4 hours or less of training in occupational medicine in a 4 year medical school curriculum.

But the major reason is Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) reliance on employers self-reporting. Employers have strong incentives for underreporting illnesses or not at all. Businesses with few illnesses on the job are least likely to receive inspections from OSHA, they have lower worker compensation insurance premiums, and they have a better chance of winning government contracts.

There are other reasons. Employers and Worker compensations Insurers have major incentives to deny a connection between a workplace exposure and disease. Every occupational disease that is not recognized saves them money by socializing the cost on to someone else, mostly injured workers, their families, and taxpayers.

Workers themselves may not want to suggest their health problem is work related, fearing they might lose their job or suffer retribution from an employer angered by a Workers Compensation claim. Workers report widespread harassment and intimidation when they report an injury or illness. Reports, testimonies, and new accounts show that many employers fire or discipline workers who report injuries or illnesses or complain about a safety problem. Other employers add demerits to a workers record for reportable illnesses or injuries or absenteeism that resulted from an alleged safety violation.

This is all just to say: Workers! Demand Valero divest from tar sands. The life you save may just be your own.

In This State: Tim Matson is Vermont’s Supreme Ponderer of Ponds

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Tim Matson, author of Landscaping Earth Ponds, is Vermont’s resident expert on small-scale, man-made bodies of water. His work as a pond consultant, as well as his book and DVD, have been leading people to water for years, and this week Matson was profiled on VTDigger’s series In This State.

Article by Dick Van Susteren.

Like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, Tim Matson travels the countryside bringing value to landscape – only he plants ponds not fruit trees. By his reckoning, in 25 years he has helped design or revitalize some 500 ponds in Vermont.

Matson has found an income stream with ponds, and why not? John Chapman (Appleseed), was known to pick up a free lunch here and there during his meanderings with seed bags across the Midwest.

Pond consulting augments freelancing for this writer-photographer from Strafford. If Vermont decides it ever needs an official pond guru, as it has a state flower and bird, Matson would be a top candidate.

Tim Matson pond

Pond consultant and author Tim Matson offered consultation on this Orange County pond, a little gem that cost less than $2,000 to build. (Photo furnished by Tim Matson)

It all began in 1971 when Matson, then 28, joined thousands of other counter-culture types in immigrating to Vermont, where farmland was cheap and native residents were generally tolerant of newcomers, even those with long hair.

Matson had done a stint in the military, where he had the good luck, in his mind, to avoid Vietnam by being accepted at Army photography school. After his service he wangled a job in book publishing in New York, where his father had been a noted literary agent.

He wound up at divisions of Simon & Schuster, pulling a decent salary as a jack-of-all-trades, copy editing, buying reprint rights, writing book jacket copy, sometimes even taking photos. Matson, now gray-haired, dates himself by mentioning he had a role in helping to bring Yippie Abbie Hoffman’s book, “Revolution for the Hell of It,” to paperback.

On a cold December day in a field in central Vermont, where he is scoping out possible pond sites for a landowner, he mentions with a laugh that it was his photo of author Joe McGinniss that graced the back cover another political classic of the times: “The Selling of the President, 1968,” the story of hucksterism in Richard Nixon’s campaign.

As befits the historic stereotype, Matson arrived in Vermont in a VW bug, a red one at that. He had grown “absolutely and totally sick of the city,” and unhappy with the political system, he says, he was moved by the “back-to-the-land movement” of the period.

His first brush with ponds was the waterhole at a farmhouse that he and a girlfriend had rented in Thetford. It turned out to be a perfect place for hippie parties, skinny-dipping and other wild affairs. He tasted the pond bait and was hooked.

Three years later, with help of a $7,500 advance on his second book (“Pilobolus,” a photo essay of the famous Dartmouth College dance group), Matson bought 45 woodland acres in Strafford and pitched a tent he called home and began building a cabin, with among other tools, a chainsaw. He got along without electricity, put in vegetable gardens, cleared a spot in the alders for his second pond, and then hired a guy with a backhoe.

“I grew up in Connecticut on the Sound, and found that I missed the water, and I wondered where it all was in Vermont,” he says. He couldn’t find enough of it close by, “so I had this pond dug.”

Marriage and two daughters (now grown) followed, and the pond became the focus of family life: Swimming in summer, ice-skating in winter, and, always it seemed, opportunities for social life and observing wildlife.

A snapshot taken years ago of pond designer Tim Matson’s daughters as they enjoy the water on a summer day at the family home in Strafford. (Photo furnished by Tim Matson)

Matson embraced rural life, and, as a freelance writer began writing essays and how-to’s about back-40 ponds for the likes of Harrowsmith, Mother Earth News, Country Journal and Yankee Magazine.

For children and the young at heart, he says, ponds are part zoo, playground, museum and amusement park.

“Kids love to hang out at them, make mud pies, fool around with salamanders, and watch dragonflies,” he says.

“I think too many kids today suffer from what a friend of mine calls ‘nature-deficit disorder’. … They are too much into phones and computers; they live in a screen world.”

Matson is bullish on family ponds of all sizes and shapes, but he’s quick to warn that a once-promising body of water can easily become a costly headache if poorly designed. They can turn to algae-infested quagmires They can even disappear due to drought or leakage.

A pond can also cost a lot, anywhere from $5,000 to more than $50,000, he explains.

Walking across the brown-gray landscape and looking for potential pond sites, and carefully choosing verbs that sidestep certitude, Matson says, “That could be a spot.”

Keep reading over at VTDigger

When Technology Fails: The Compact Survival Kit

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

When the poop hits the fan, you don’t want to be caught with your pants down—so to speak. You’ll want to have your compact emergency survival kit packed and at the ready—and as small and light as possible. That means packing only the essentials.

For more tips and advice from Stein, check out his recent appearance on FireDogLake’s Book Salon, here. Author Barry Eisler hosted the online event, and Stein answered reader questions about topics such as water storage and purification.

Being prepared for the worst doesn’t involve a one-shot prescription for everyone. As Mat said in response to a reader, “If you have little money, focus on skills and knowledge. If you are old and infirm, focus on friends and relationships. No one person can know, do, and have it all. Focus on that which is within your physical and financial means.”

In the excerpt below, Mat Stein tells you exactly what you need in your compact survival kit.

The following is an excerpt from When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency, Revised and Expanded by Matthew Stein. It has been adapted for the Web.

Be prepared. The following basic survival kit is small enough to slip into the top pocket of a knapsack or a coat pocket. It fits into a 2-ounce tobacco tin or other small case, and its weight is hardly noticeable. Polish the inside of the case to a mirror finish for signaling. Check the contents of the case regularly, to replace items that have exceeded their shelf lives. Tape the box seams with duct tape to waterproof the container.

  • Matches. Fire can be started by other means, but matches are the easiest. Waterproof matches are useful, but bulkier than ordinary stick matches. You can waterproof ordinary matches by dipping them in molten candle wax. Break large kitchen matches in half to save room for more matches. Include a striker torn from a book of paper matches.
  • Candle. Great for helping to start a fire with damp wood, as well as for a light and heat source. Shave it square to save space in your kit.
  • Flint with steel striker. Flint will last long after your matches are used up. You must find very dry, fine tinder to start a fire with sparks from a flint. Solid magnesium fire-starter kits are an excellent improvement on the traditional flint with steel. Using a knife to scrape magnesium shavings from the magnesium bar, you light the shavings with a spark from the flint, and they burn hotly to easily ignite the tinder.
  • Magnifying glass. Useful for starting a fire with direct sunlight or for finding splinters.
  • Needle and thread. Choose several needles, including at least one with a very large eye, which can handle yarn, sinew, or heavy thread. Wrap with several feet of extra-strong thread.
  • Fishhooks and line. A selection of different hooks in a small tin or packet. Include several small, split-lead sinkers and as much fishing line as possible.
  • Compass. A small, luminous-dial compass (for night reading). Make sure that you know how to read it and that the needle swings freely. A string is handy for hanging it around your neck for regular reference.
  • Micro-flashlight. A keychain LED-type (light emitting diode) lamp, such as the Photon Microlight II. It is useful for reading a map at night or following a trail when there is no moon.
  • Brass wire. Three to five feet of lightweight brass wire. Wire is useful for making snares and repairing things.
  • Flexible saw. These come with large rings for handles that can be removed to allow it to fit into your kit. While using the saw, insert sticks through the end loops for more useful and comfortable handles. Coat the saw with a film of grease or oil to protect it from rust.


Figure 4-1. Compact survival kit.

  • Survival knife. For overnight backcountry travel or as part of your car kit, I would also carry a stout knife with about a 6-inch blade. If the knife has a folding blade, it should have a heavy-duty blade lock. It should be strong enough to use as a pry and to split branches and cut hardwoods without damage. You may need a knife to fabricate crude tools, such as a bow and drill for starting a fire without matches. A variety of “survival” knives are available; they are capable of cutting various materials, including thin sheet metal, and will do nicely. If the knife has a fixed blade, it should be covered in a sheath that it can’t easily cut through. Some knives come with a small sharpening stone in the sheath, which is a nice feature.
  • Condom. When placed in a sock or other cloth for protection and support, this makes a good emergency water bottle.
  • Compact medical kit. Vary the contents depending on your skill and needs. Pack medicines in airtight containers with cotton balls to prevent powdering and rattling. The following list, which is a rough guide, will cover most needs.
    • Mild pain reliever. Pack at least ten of your favorite aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol, or other pain reliever.
    • Diarrhea medicine. Immodium is usually favored. Take two capsules initially, and then one each time a loose stool is passed.
    • Antibiotic. For general infections. People who are sensitive to penicillin can use tetracycline. Carry enough for a full course of 5 to 7 days. Use Echinacea or grapefruit seed extract from the health food store, if prescription antibiotics are not available.
    • Antihistamine. For allergies, insect bites, and stings, use Benadryl or equivalent.
    • Water purification tablets. Much lighter and more compact than a filter. For use when you can’t boil your water.
    • Potassium permanganate. Has several uses. Add to water and mix until water becomes bright pink to sterilize it, a deeper pink to make a topical antiseptic, and a full red to treat fungal diseases, such as athlete’s foot.
    • Salt tablets. Salt depletion can lead to muscle cramps and loss of energy. Carry 5 to 10 salt tablets.
    • Surgical blades. At least two scalpel blades of different sizes. A handle can be made of wood, if required.
    • Butterfly sutures. To hold edges of wounds together.
    • Band-Aids. Assorted sizes, preferably waterproof, for covering minor wounds and keeping them clean. Can be cut to make butterfly sutures (adapted from Wiseman 1996, 16).

If the World Ends Friday, Will you be Prepared?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Okay, so we don’t think the world is really going to end Friday. The end of the Mayan calendar is confusing, sure. Ominous? You bet. But we’ve made it through Y2K together, and Snowpocalypse, and Carmageddon, and countless other would-be apocalypses (apocali?).

Apocalyptic thinking can distract us from the very real problems that people and the planet are facing every day. From climate change to social justice issues, pollution, violence, heck, even the seemingly miniscule fact that your coworker is in a bad mood today are all more pressing than a distant daydream of disaster.

And imagining an apocalypse can push you into a mood of despair, which makes it hard to take practical measures to ensure you’ll be okay if something bad does happen. Don’t waste time being fearful that the end is nigh — take some time to get prepared so you can feel safe no matter what happens.

With the books below, you’ll be able to do just that. Prepare to make the best of it no matter what.

There’s never been a better time to “be prepared.” When Technology Fails is Matthew Stein’s comprehensive primer on sustainable living skills—from food and water to shelter and energy to first-aid and crisis-management skills.

The book prepares you to embark on the path toward sustainability. But unlike any other book, Stein not only shows you how to live “green” in seemingly stable times, but to live in the face of potential disasters, lasting days or years, coming in the form of social upheaval, economic meltdown, or environmental catastrophe.

In Matthew Stein’s newest book, When Disaster Strikes, he breaks down how to be prepared for specific disastrous events and the particular challenges they pose. Stein instructs you on the smartest responses to natural disasters—such as fires, earthquakes, hurricanes and floods—how to keep warm during winter storms, even how to protect yourself from attack or other dangerous situations. With this comprehensive guide in hand, you can be sure to respond quickly, correctly, and confidently when a crisis threatens.

Here at Chelsea Green, we’re not afraid to look at the dark side. Just in case it becomes abundantly clear that the world as we know it IS going to end, we hope you’ll have at least a few hours to prepare. Why not contemplate your demise with the help of a great book? Here are a couple we recommend.

Open the book one way, and read Tyler Volk’s essay on DEATH: What is shared by spawning Pacific salmon, towering trees, and suicidal bacteria? In his lucid and concise exploration of how and why things die, Tyler Volk explains the intriguing ways creatures—including ourselves—use death to actually enhance life.

. . . then flip the book over to read Dorion Sagan’s essay on SEX: In Sex, Dorion Sagan takes a delightful, irreverent, and informative romp through the science, philosophy, and literature of humanity’s most obsessive subject. A brief, wonderfully entertaining, highly literate foray into the origins and evolution of sex.

Join renowned essayist Edward Hoagland as he ponders the meaning of life, aging, and sex in his book, .

Called the best essayist of his time by luminaries like Philip Roth, John Updike, and Edward Abbey, Edward Hoagland brings readers his ultimate collection. In Sex and the River Styx, the author’s sharp eye and intense curiosity shine through in essays that span his childhood exploring the woods in his rural Connecticut, his days as a circus worker, and his travels the world over in his later years.

Don’t forget: during our Holiday Sale you can save 35% on every purchase. Just use the discount code CGFL12 when you check out!

Image credit Matthew Stevenson

Save on Nature and Simple Living Books this Holiday Season

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

It’s as likely as anything that the sun will rise on December 22 on a planet still facing all the same problems we face now: climate change, political division, corporate exploitation of people and the planet, environmental degradation. With an everyday reality like this, who needs a Mayan-inspired apocalypse?!

Whether the world ends on December 21, or the day passes just like any other, you’ll be set with plenty of inspiring and useful reading material as this week we’re featuring all our Nature & Environment and Simple Living books as part of our end-of-year sale.

If you’re prepping for the worst, take a look at Matthew Stein’s classic survival guide When Technology Fails for suggestions on how to survive in the post-apocalypse world—or, how to live in a post-peak-oil world. Pair that with Stein’s latest book, When Disaster Strikes, which details how to survive six specific disaster scenarios—fire, hurricanes, earthquakes, solar flares, and even nuclear fallout. Or perhaps, Dreaming the Future, a good choice for everyone who wants to build a better future by exploring the changes needed to chart a sustainable path forward.

Happy Apocalypse, er, Holidays from the Employee Owners at Chelsea Green Publishing!

P.S. Don’t forget to use the code CGFL12 to save 35% when you checkout at chelseagreen.com. Plus, get free shipping on orders over $100.

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Simple Living, Nature & Environment: 

Please keep in mind that discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books already on sale

for example. Free shipping of orders $100 or more applies after discount code.  Phone orders please call 800-639-4099.

Diane Wilson Released from Jail!

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

This just in from Tar Sands Blockade, Diane Wilson, author of Diary of an Eco-Outlaw and An Unreasonable Woman has been released from jail!:

After being held for nearly a week under the torturous and inhumane conditions of the Harris County Jail, Diane Wilson has been bailed out!

Diane is a 4th generation shrimper and a lifelong Texan. She is the Executive Director for the San Antonio Bay Waterkeeper’s, and a founding member of the following organizations: Code Pink-Women for Peace, the Texas Jail Project, Texas Injured Workers, and Injured Workers National Network. While in jail Diane was denied water for over 78 hours and will soon be giving a first person account of her experience.

On Thursday, November 29th, Diane locked her neck to an industrial tanker that was hooked up to a pumping station outside the Valero refinery in the Manchester neighborhood of Houston. She is also on the 7th day of a sustained hunger strike, demanding that Valero divest from the Keystone XL Pipeline and vacate the community that they have been poisoning for decades.

Diane is pictured here with a member of Tar Sands Blockade; they are wearing masks as a display of solidarity with all those who do not have the privilege of having their identity exposed. In the neighborhood of Manchester many people have differing levels of “legal” status. Let us make their struggle our struggle as well. ¡Compañer@s en la rebeldía!

To learn more about the inhumane conditions of the Harris County Jail please visit: www.texasjailproject.org

For photos and information about last Thursdays action: http://tarsandsblockade.org/13th-action/

NO REFINERIES! NO PIPELINES! NO COMPROMISE!

Now Available: Nuclear Roulette

Monday, November 19th, 2012

“Since the first toss of the atomic dice at a desert test site in Alamogordo, New Mexico, incalculable harm has been done to our planet—its air, its water, its land, and its peoples. Tragically, much of this damage will remain as an invisible legacy that will shadow the lives of our children for generations. But if we continue to marshal our outrage, energy, and intelligence in the cause of principled and progressive change, there is still time to start turning our poisoned planet away from the deadly atom and toward a future where the sun shines far brighter than the lethal core of a reactor. We must demand a new paradigm for planetary survival, and a large part of that transformation will require a new conservation ethic and renewable renaissance.” — From the Introduction to Nuclear Roulette

Nuclear energy has entranced the industrialized world since it first emerged as a (supposedly) safe and benign use of the horrific power unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Praised as pollution-free, and “too cheap to meter,” atomic power seemed almost too good to be true. And it was.

Gar Smith’s new book, Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth, is now available in our bookstore, and it explains with crystalline clarity the reasons why this magical energy source is too dangerous to use. From the insolvable problems of storing radioactive waste products, to weapons proliferation, to the surprising fact that if you look at the total life cycle of a plant nuclear power isn’t even efficient, the book lays out a strong case against this power source.

Also featured in the book are the five worst reactors in the country. Including the infamous Entergy plant Vermont Yankee.

Below is the Foreword by the late Ernest Callenbach and Jerry Mander, as well as Gar Smith’s introduction to the book.

Nuclear Roulette: Foreword and Introduction

Playing Nuclear Roulette in Vermont

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Vermont’s lone nuclear reactor — Entergy-owned Vermont Yankee — has been named one of the five worst reactors in the United States, according to the new book Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth, published by Chelsea Green Publishing.

For much of the past Vermont Yankee has been the focus of ongoing state and federal regulatory investigations, legislative battles, and ongoing courtroom drama. It started running in 1972, and was recently given a 20-year operating extension by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

This coming weekend, and into next week, activists will renew their attention to the aging reactor in hopes they can finish the work of the Vermont Senate a few years ago — close down Vermont Yankee permanently.

In this new work — which we’re offering on sale this week — investigative journalist Gar Smith lists five nuclear facilities as the “worst reactors” in the United States. They were chosen because they are representative of the poor regulatory oversight that has endangered the public, and poisoned the environment. Many other nuclear power sites around the country have equally disturbing records of poor performance, emergency shutdowns, and close calls, which Smith details in ample supply in Nuclear Roulette.

“The consequences of poor regulatory oversight can be seen in the operating histories of the country’s nuclear reactors,” writes Smith in  Nuclear Roulette.

The other four reactors are: Entergy-owned Indian Point in New York; Davis-Besse in Ohio, and Diablo Canyon and San Onofre in California.

Here is the section devoted to Vermont Yankee, which also exemplifies what happens when the industry and its lapdog regulators team up against the wishes of a state’s citizens and elected officials:

Vermont Yankee: The Green Mountain State vs. the NRC

On March 10, 2011, the NRC unanimously approved a 20-year license extension for the troubled Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Within hours of the decision, three similar General Electric Mark 1 reactors were knocked off-line by an earthquake in Japan—and all three overheated and exploded. Despite the devastation in Fukushima Prefecture, the NRC stood by its decision to allow the 40-year-old Vermont Yankee plant to continue operating through 2031. Given Vermont Yankee’s history of breakdowns and cover-ups—and the fact that a reactor accident here could put more than a million Americans at risk—the watchdog group Beyond Nuclear excoriated the NRC’s decision as both “audacious” and “reckless.”

Vermonters received another jolt when it was revealed that the NRC had voted to extend Vermont Yankee’s license even though its inspectors had discovered that critical electric cables powering the plant’s safety systems had been “submerged under water for extended periods of time.”

It was not the only maintenance failure of Entergy Corp., which had acquired the plant in 2002. The company has a reputation for “buying reactors cheap and running them into the ground.” In 2004, a poorly maintained electrical system set off a large fire in the plant’s turbine building that forced an emergency shutdown. In 2007, Vermont Yankee experienced a series of maintenance problems that included the dramatic collapse of a cooling tower. A waterfall of high-pressure water burst from a ruptured cooling pipe and tore a gaping hole in the plant’s wall. Entergy was able to hide the damage—but only until a concerned employee leaked a photo of the wreckage to the press. The huge gap in the side of the building was reminiscent of the hole in the side of the Pentagon following the 9/11 attacks.

Tritium + Entergy = Perjury

During state hearings in 2009, Entergy executives were asked if radioactive tritium detected in the soil and groundwater near the reactor could have leaked from the plant. Company officials repeatedly swore under oath that this was impossible since there were no underground pipes at the plant. It was not until January 2010, after a leak of radioactive tritium was traced to a series of subsurface pipes, that Entergy changed its story. While the plant didn’t have “underground pipes,” Entergy now explained, it did have “buried pipes.”

Attorney general William Sorrell began a 17-month investigation during which Entergy’s former executive vice president Curtis Hebert admitted that the company’s statements about the pipes “could have been more accurate.” The state ordered Entergy to remove more than 300,000 gallons of radioactive water fron the soil and ground water at the reactor site, and Vermont governor Peter Shumlin demanded the plant’s closure.

There’s another waste problem at the plant: a large and potentially lethal stockpile of used fuel rods. While Fukushima’s six reactors had between 360 and 500 tons of slowly dying fuel rods on-site, the nuclear graveyard at Vermont Yankee is filled with 690 tons of dangerously radioactive waste. And the storage pools for this spent fuel lack both backup cooling systems and backup generators.

Beyond Nuclear’s “Freeze Our Fukushimas” campaign, which aims to close all 23 Mark 1 reactors in the United States, hoped to score its first victory when Vermont Yankee’s 40-year operating license expired on March 21, 2012. The odds were improved by the fact that Vermont is the only state that gives lawmakers the authority to veto a nuclear power plant. In February 2010, a month after Entergy’s tritium scandal was exposed, the Vermont Senate voted 26–4 against issuing a new “certificate of public good” that would allow Vermont Yankee to continue operating.

Entergy Sues Vermont

In April 2011, Entergy’s lawyers responded by suing the governor and the state, claiming, “We have a right to continue operation.” On January 19, 2012, federal judge Garvan Murtha ruled that only the NRC could close a nuclear plant, and therefore Entergy was entitled to its new 20-year operating license. Murtha also made it clear that the Green Mountain State was not entitled to raise any questions regarding plant safety or the prices charged for nuclear power—under federal law, only the NRC could raise such matters.

The decision alarmed Beyond Nuclear and other critics who feared the nuclear industry and the federal government were working in concert “to pre-empt a state’s right to self determination for an energy future in the public good.” Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) quickly weighed in. “If Vermont wants to move to energy efficiency and sustainable energy,” Sanders told the Burlington Free Press, “no corporation should have the right to force our state to stay tethered to an aging, problem-ridden nuclear plant.”

Eight days after the judge’s decision, Entergy refused the state’s second request to investigate the source of a tritium leak that had poisoned a drinking well on the plant’s property. On July 25, 2011, Entergy further demonstrated its disregard for due process by announcing a $60 million refueling project—an investment that would pay off only if the power plant won its extension.

Entergy’s lawyers publicly confirmed their understanding that the company still needs the permission of Vermont’s Public Service Board (a quasi-official board that oversees Vermont’s utilities) if it is to continue operating its reactors. In a responding press release, however, the state’s Department of Public Service (which represents the interests of utility customers in cases brought before the Public Service Board) cautioned, “Past experience shows Entergy cannot be taken at its word.”

In a daunting struggle that pits 600,000 Vermonters against the US government, the nuclear industry, and the NRC, the state attorney general vowed to appeal Judge Murtha’s decision—all the way to the US Supreme Court, if necessary.

“People don’t trust the NRC,” Bob Audette, a reporter for the Brattleboro Reformer told a film crew from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). “They think it’s the lapdog of the industry. They think it’s there basically to affirm everything the industry does. It’s too cozy with the industry.”

In another interview with the CIR, Anthony Roisman, a legal consultant for New York and Vermont, expressed his concerns with the NRC: “This regulatory agency does not regulate effectively. And until it does, there is no way that the public can have any confidence that plants, whether they are licensed or re-licensed, won’t have some catastrophic event. No one will benefit from a post-catastrophic-event hand-wringing that says, ‘Oh we should have done this and we’ll do better next time.’ The consequences are unimaginable.”

Coming Soon: Nuclear Roulette

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Energy is one of the biggest problems facing the industrialized human race. In recent years the world has seen a growth in the use of renewable power sources such as wind and solar, but it’s not enough to outpace the rising demand for electricity.

This conundrum has encouraged many to look to nuclear energy. Its proponents say it’s safe, clean, and creates no greenhouse gases — but Nuclear Roulette, a new book by the editor emeritus of Earth Island Journal, Gar Smith, says these claims are nonsense. The subtitle says it all, “The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth.”

Nuclear Roulette is available for 25% off this week.

Booklist calls Nuclear Roulette a “thorough, insightful dissection of nuclear power’s weaknesses,” and Kirkus Reviews praises Smith for “lay[ing] out an impressively researched narrative, drawing on facts from a wide range of sources, and mak[ing] a strong case that will be hard for even nuclear-power advocates to dismiss out of hand.”

Nuclear Roulette is a great introduction to the failures of atomic energy, but don’t take our word for it! Listen to author Gar Smith make the argument himself, in a conversation with David Swanson here, and one with natural health advocate Gary Null here.

“Frankenstorm” Sandy is Coming, Are You Prepared?

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Only a little more than a year has passed since Tropical Storm Irene slammed into the Eastern Seaboard. Authorities in New York City mobilized to prepare, and people laughed when she passed over the Big Apple without event.

But people in the Hudson Valley and Vermont were not laughing, and given the storm’s original trajectory were largely unprepared for what Irene would unleash. The storm dropped huge amounts of rain, and catastrophic flooding hit the narrow river valleys of New England, collapsing roads, washing away houses and stranding entire communities for days on end.

We were lucky. Our office, and the homes of our staff were spared the worst of the damage. Vermont has rallied to repair the washed out roads, and even the wrecked covered bridges are being rebuilt.

But here comes Hurricane Sandy at more than 500 miles wide and no signs of slowing down as she barrels to make landfall Monday night.

Conditions in the Atlantic where the storm is projected to pass are “unprecedented,” with warm water temperatures and a cold front sweeping in from the west. This storm has even typically sober national weather services sounding the alarm. Sandy has been labeled a “Frankenstorm,” and, once again, the East Coast is bracing for the worst.

Which brings us to the real subject of this post: Are you prepared?

Mat Stein’s latest book, When Disaster Strikes, outlines what to gather and what to expect from a few different types of natural disaster — including hurricanes. The excerpt below, in combination with his guidelines for putting together a 72-hour grab-and-go survival kit, will help you weather the storm.

Hurricanes and Floods – An Excerpt from When Disaster Strikes


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