Sep 09

acrsnho travel down the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. is to journey through the dregs of the material world. Legions of beer cans and 7-11 Big Gulp cups line the banks, and shards of glass sparkle in the sun. Tires sporadically wash ashore.

The Anacostia begins inauspiciously at the confluence of several creeks in a working class area of suburban Maryland and flows past some of the poorest neighborhoods in the District of Columbia. just above and below the District line, access to the river is restricted by barbed wire fences near the sprawling Potomac Electric Power Company and Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission plants at the river’s banks. A huge scrap metal company straddles the river.

“This is where there’s the highest concentration of pollutants. And they just wash down stream. You can almost draw a racial line across this area of the river. White people live above it and black people live below it. Ifs that blatant,” says Joe Lane of the Anacostia chapter of Earth First! Lane has led what he calls “toxic tours” by bike of the Anacostia.

For Robert Boone, executive director of the Anacostia Watershed Society, the visual blight and misperceptions of the communities near the river are the first problems that need to be attacked. “People think of the Anacostia as a muddy ditch down in the District, just a place where all the murders are and where the pollution goes,” he says.

In the three years since he founded the society, brigades of volunteers from surrounding neighborhoods and the suburbs have hauled 60 tons of debris and 1,500 tires from the Anacostia and its tributaries. “Once you’ve removed some of the trash you say, |this looks so much better,’ and it expands your awareness to more possibilities for cleaning up the area. Ifs something that snowballs into building a political constituency.”

The group paddles flotillas of canoes down the river to scoop up trash. In addition, it sends bright orange vehicles that resemble mini-tanks out onto mud flats to retrieve tires. With the help of 275 youths from the D.C. Public Service Corps, the society has planted more than 4,000 trees near the Anacostia and in other inner-city neighborhoods.

The group is currently working with the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge mudflats at the Anacostia’s edges to turn them into wetlands. By planting such moisture-loving plants as pickerel weed and arrow root they will double the area of wetlands by the river from 30 to 60 acres.

The society is also embroiled in a battle over use of an island in the river called Children’s Island. Boone says he hopes the island will be developed as an environmental education center and field offices for his and other environmental groups to study the Anacostia. His plan also calls for a nature trail and wildlife sanctuary as well as a tree nursery for urban forestry training and a rest area for a proposed four-mile Anacostia Canoe Trail.

But the District of Columbia government is backing plans for a developer to turn the island into an “educational” theme park, a plan Boone calls “totally antithetical to the spirit of restoring the river.” Boone feels that any educational themes would soon be pushed to the wayside to make room for a for-profit amusement park pulling in large numbers of tourists who will harm rather than help the rivers fragile ecosystem.

Beyond the Anacostia River itself, the Anacostia Watershed Society takes a holistic of view the entire watershed – from all the waterways flowing into the Anacostia to the point it empties into the Potomac, the source of much of Washington’s drinking water. Because water from all areas of the watershed eventually flows together, piecemeal cleanup of isolated areas won’t work. The interconnections of rivers in urban areas is an area that is just beginning to be explored, Boone says.

“The underlying theme of all urban watersheds is that they’re being trashed by a throwaway society,” he says. “This is a profound insult to all of us and to the rivers. But I think that both in Washington and around the country if you mobilize enough people and empower them to clean up their own neighborhoods you can make a difference.”

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Sep 01

emThe question of what constitutes the environmental movement and its approach to the organization of society ought to be an area for fertile research and investigation. After all, the last two decades have seen the development of an elaborate environmental policy system and the emergence and recognition of large, national environmental groups as well as thousands of grass-roots groups. Yet the analysis of environmental movements and their ideas has remained relatively impoverished, often subject to narrow interpretation and argument.

Two recently published books, A Fierce Green Fire by former New York Times reporter Phillip Shabecoff and Green Delusions by Duke University professor Martin Lewis underline, each in their own ways, this problem of limited scholarship.

Lewis’ Green Delusions is a hard-edged, open-ended, angry polemic against what he calls “radical environmentalism.” Such radicals, according to Green Delusions, include assorted academic Marxists, ecofeminists, deep ecologists, social ecologists and eco-marauders.

Lewis’ mission is to thoroughly discredit eco-radicalism. At the same time, he also strives to demonstrate the superiority of a “Promethean” environmentalism capable of embracing capitalism and recognizing its unique abilities to develop a “technologically sophisticated, ecologically sustainable, global economy.” while Lewis acknowledges at times that certain aspects of this capitalism might well be in need of reform, he makes a point of lashing out at the radical alternative, seeking to bury what he sees as a dangerous and growing enemy by discrediting its ideas.

On the one hand, Lewis suggests that his grab bag of eco-radicals is really just a “marginal movement that presents little threat to the status quo,” yet Lewis warns that eco-radicalism also represents a major threat within his own academic turf, especially in such disciplines as sociology, anthropology, history, literature and geography. For Lewis, this marginal movement encompasses all the “radicalized intellectuals of the Vietnam generation” who converted to “eco-extremism” and subsequently became ensconced in university departments. There, Lewis frets, they have sought to undermine their opposition – defenders of free trade, promoters of western culture, or advocates of the market. That is, people like Lewis himself.

In this context, Green Delusions becomes less a discussion of social movements than a critique of certain eco-radical ideas, whether in relation to the role of multinational corporations (“the excoriation of multinational corporations is misguided and potentially dangerous”); exploitation of the Third World (while this exploitation might be “decidedly ambiguous,” it still provides jobs and economic benefits); the environmental hazards of technology (the anti-industrial eco-radicals are Luddites who want to return us to a more hazardous, pre-industrial era); or small is beautiful (“hierararchy is, in the final analysis, an inescapable principle of organization itself”).

Intentionally polemical and unabashedly employing ad hominem arguments for his task at hand, Lewis explains that he, too, once indulged in eco-radicalism. Thus, he writes in the manner of those anti-communist intellectuals of the 1950s who became so bitter from their experiences.. In this respect, Green Delusions also serves as an academic counterpart to the arguments broached by those like George Will and Charles Krauthammer, who warn that green movements are really red in disguise and are seeking nothing less than the dismantling of the market and the reconfiguration of advanced industrial capitalism. As an intellectual analysis, Lewis’ book is little more than a smorgasbord of anti-radical bashing; as a discussion of social movements, it fails to contribute to any understanding of environmentalism, even from Lewis’ own ideological terrain.

afgfLewis’ diatribe contrasts sharply with Shabecoffs ecumenical and celebratory conception of environmentalism. Shabecoff, who covered the environmental beat for The New York Times for 14 years, has written a book that is suggestive of his own reporting, much of which relied on mainstream environmental sources. A Fierce Green Fire is a book about and for the mainstream environmental movement. In part, the book is a traditional history, with all the familiar figures: Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold.

Shabecoff reiterates the common assumption about environmentalists roots: that the movement and its thinkers emerged in response to the need to protect and/or manage a natural environment subject to the exploitation of western civilization. This is a presentation of Nature set apart from Society. Shabecoffs discussion of the urban environment or the industrial environment – and the movements challenging their hazards – is incidental or nonexistent.

Even his discussion of such a complex and poorly understood figure as Bob Marshall reads like a press release from the Wilderness Society (which Marshall helped found and finance). The book completely omits any discussion of Marshall’s social and environmental radicalism such as his difficult – and not always successful – effort to link the liberation of the natural environment with the transformation of both resource policy and the conditions of urban and industrial life.

Shabecoffs discourse on the contemporary environmental movement, while more interesting and expansive than his historical treatment, still fails to interpret and analyze some of the core changes of the past two decades. There is no substantive analysis of the institutionalization and professionalization of the mainstream environmental organizations. For example, A Fierce Green Fire makes no mention of the origins and evolution of the Group of Ten, an association of the ten largest mainstream environmental groups that symbolized and gave prominence to these tendencies.

And while Shabecoff, unlike some other surveyors of contemporary environmentalism, gives recognition to the importance of a grassroots environmentalism embedded in ad hoc protest groups or community associations, he fails to root these groups and their issues within the larger dynamics of class, ethnicity and gender, which are crucial to understanding the movement.

He also suggests that environmentalism is hard to classify because it is a “kind of platypus among social movements.” Its ranks are open enough to include “radical Earth First! tree huggers and patrician big game hunters, militant community activists and cool intellectuals cloistering in think tanks, hard-nosed lobbyists and dreamy bird watchers.”

This analysis leads to a kind of ecumenical vision: Shabecoff projects an all-inclusive environmentalism capable of achieving real power, primarily through electoral means. This unity – defined essentially in mainstream environmental language and terms – can best be achieved, Shabecoff argues, by closing the gap between the big mainstream environmental organizations and the grassroots groups “whose members comprise an army of millions ready to be mobilized in the war for political power.”

What both these books have failed to explore – Shabecoff with his traditionalist recitation and celebration of mainstream environmentalism and Lewis with his argumentative exercise against eco-radicalism – is the complexity and diversity of environmental movements and ideas related to the changing complexion of American urban and industrial society.

Environmentalism, whether of the mainstream or radical variety, is fundamentally a movement responding to urban and industrial change and its impact on the natural environment as well as on people’s daily lives. The powerful new claims of these movements, such as the need for new forms of industrial decision making or the linkage of environmental and social justice, are central to understanding contemporary environmentalism. Its roots still need to be more fully explored and its complex, diverse and sometimes conflicting ideas, actions and organizations, require something more than just reiterative celebration or spurious attack.

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Aug 02

scupAt work, Stacy Platteter used to worry about everyone else’s needs. Even if she was upset, she’d focus on others before dealing with her own problems. “I was a real people pleaser,” admits Platteter, 41, a physical therapist in Highland Park, IL. Inevitably, she began to feel angry and frustrated, then helpless and depressed. Fortunately, Platteter got counseling and learned to be more assertive–and to look after herself. Now, for example, when her patients complain about their slow progress, she doesn’t try to make it all okay. Instead, she honestly tells them that the process of healing can be gradual, even maddeningly slow.

If you feel angry at work, too, you’ve got plenty of company. Last year a Gallup poll of 1,010 workers found that 60 percent experienced some degree of anger on the job, up sharply from 49 percent the previous year. For certain people, the changing nature of the workplace is partly to blame. “These days, more is expected of employees, but there is less job security to balance the greater demands,” says Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D., a Westport, CT, clinical psychologist and author of Anger Workout Book (William Morrow, $12) and Emotional Intelligence at Work (Jossey-Bass, $25). “The result is people who feel increasingly frustrated, anxious, and angry.”

Heightened anger can spell double trouble. First, it can make life on the job not much fun. Second, fury over work can make your home life tense–since few of us can completely separate our jobs from the rest of our lives. That’s why it’s essential to learn to manage your work anger before it harms you.

Thankfully, coping with feelings is taken more seriously in and out of the workplace today. Increasingly, employers are sending their managers to such classes as Managing Emotions in the Workplace. And hospitals and adult-education centers have begun offering anger-management classes to the public.

Still, it’s mostly up to you to manage anger properly at work. After talking with psychologists, management consultants, and other experts, we’ve come up with ten key rules for helping you keep your cool.

1. Admit it when you’re angry. “Often women cry or get depressed when they’re just plain old mad,” says Sheila Peck, a clinical social worker in Island Park, NY, who runs anger-management groups for women. And that’s not helpful. If you don’t tune in to your anger, you could end up stressing yourself out–to the point where you get sick or leave a job prematurely. Weisinger’s mantra: “Anger is useful. It’s a cue that something is wrong”

So if you tend to camouflage your frustration by forcing a smile or sinking into sorrow, ask yourself: “Am I angry about something, but afraid to face it?” Avoiding your true feelings won’t make them go away–they’ll just go underground.

2. Remember, it’s not always about you. “Women frequently take criticism as a reflection of their own worth, when they shouldn’t,” says Mitchell Messer, director of the Anger Clinic, a counseling service in Chicago. When Durene Cupp, 46, was hired two years ago as a manager for ITT Night Vision, a tube manufacturer in Roanoke, VA, many of her new coworkers seemed unfriendly and treated her suspiciously. “Hardly anyone even said hello,” recalls Cupp. “I would go home crying every night.” Then Cupp wised up. She began talking to people individually, asking how they were coping with the company’s restructuring. Cupp soon learned that her colleagues were angry and scared, viewing newcomers as potential threats to their jobs. “It really had nothing to do with me,” she says.

3. Let molehills be molehills. Sometimes we make matters worse by getting angrier than necessary. Karen Nienhauser, 37, a freelance publicist in Hartsdale, NY, once sent out a press release with a typo and couldn’t sleep for a week. “I was so mad at myself for screwing up. I just couldn’t accept that people make mistakes.” Of course it’s important to do your best, but don’t beat yourself up for minor gaffes. If you’re not sure whether you’ve made a major faux pas or not, ask a colleague for a reality check. “I’m glad that I take my work seriously,” says Nienhauser. “But sometimes I just lose perspective.”

hbatdp4. Figure out your boss’s hot buttons and then don’t press them! “View people as they are, rather than as they should be,” advises Deborah Bright, Ph.D., author of On the Edge and In Control (McGraw-Hill, $17.95). If your supervisor, for example, is often crabby in the afternoon, try to schedule meetings or ask for assignments early in the morning.

5. Act smart when you’re mad. Anger, like pain, is a great motivator. So when you get mad on the job, turn the situation into an opportunity to make a positive change. Say you’ve had to work late every night on a last-minute project. Rather than sound off to your spouse, be direct with your manager. Simply say, for instance, “I want to help you out, but I’m frustrated because I feel I’ve been working more than my share.” Your boss then has the chance to improve matters. Scary as this may seem at first, most astute managers want feedback. Dalia Vernikovsky, 45, who manages a staff of 16 at a manufacturing company in San Jose, CA, says, “I would much rather have someone tell me that she’s angry than have her grumble to a colleague. If I hear it, I can deal with it.”

ANOTHER TIP: Deal with anger at work on the spot, or at least on that same day. In general, little tempests are always better than big storms. Theodore Isaac Rubin, M.D., in his best-seller The Angry Book (Touchstone, $11), observes: “People often wait and wait to get things off their chest–and then finally approach the time of the big blowup with trepidation. Small blowups are more straightforward, less traumatic, and more thorough in their house-cleaning effects.”

6. Stay cool. About to lose control? Count to ten and take a few deep breaths, or, if you’re really agitated, excuse yourself for a minute and get a glass of water. As they say on Ally McBeal, “take a moment.” Then, once you’ve calmed down, Bright suggests asking yourself, “What do I want to get out of this situation?” so you can figure out what will help you get past the anger. You might want an apology or perhaps just an opportunity to vent. The key is staying focused on the problem rather than launching into a screaming match that could make matters worse. “See yourself and the situation from the outside in,” Bright says.

7. Pick your battles. Some work woes are not worth fighting over. Weisinger’s rule of thumb: “Ask yourself, is this something that won’t go away over time?” If you think the problem will fester and make you angrier, deal with it now. But if you realize this too shall pass, let it go. You don’t want to be seen as the office complainer. Also, determine how important the issue is to your job satisfaction. If your boss is making unwanted sexual innuendos, certainly speak up. But if it’s simply the bad office coffee, save your breath for more critical matters.

8. Vent to a confidant–or to yourself. Inevitably, you’ll face situations beyond your control–your company may be downsizing, your boss may be crumbling under a personal crisis, or you may have to work on a project that is impossibly stressful. In such cases, your best move is venting to an outsider. “If I’m having a difficult time, I often call a friend with good business sense,” says Nienhauser.

If you’re about to explode, consider writing a furious letter about the situation–and then putting it away. Platteter frequently takes time out during the week to rage on paper: “It gets the feelings out of my head and helps me to stop obsessing. It’s very liberating.” Warning. Don’t send a nasty e-mail or note to someone at work-including a neutral pal-as a way of blowing off steam. You never know where it’ll land.

9. Work it out–literally. Sometimes, anger can be hazardous to your health, turning into headaches, insomnia, and even heart trouble. When work tension escalates, hop on the StairMaster, take a kickboxing or karate class, fit in a tennis game, or treat yourself to a long walk.

10. Don’t be a martyr. If, after all your smart tactics, you’re still stuck with a mean boss or a rotten set of clients, and your temperature is rising, look for an out. Asserting yourself is often seen as a sign of strength. You’re saying that you can’t do your best work under high-stress conditions. If you believe your supervisor will not be sympathetic, consider going to human resources with your grievance. If you still aren’t getting anywhere, you might need to find a new job.

With any luck, that won’t be necessary. Once you start dealing with anger directly, chances are you’ll wind up more relaxed—and more productive–at work.

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Jul 25

wneeThis year marks two decades since the Arizona Public Service Company placed its order for Palo Verde, the last nuclear reactor to be ordered and put into operation in the United States. The nuclear industry’s epitaph should have been written by expensive construction problems, safety mishaps, unreliable operations, reluctant regulators and investors, public opposition and the unsolved radioactive waste problem.

But with virtually unequaled economic and political power the nuclear industry is forging a comeback. “Today, the nuclear power industry, well-schooled by [its] experience, with a realistic sense of its strengths and weaknesses, stands at the threshold of maturity, ready for a new generation of plants,” asserts Richard Myers, a vice-president of the nuclear industry trade association, the U.S. Council on Energy Awareness (USCEA), in a recent issue of the association’s magazine.

In large part, Myers owes his optimism to the federal largess that has coddled the nuclear industry since its infancy four decades ago and continues today. “The nuclear industry would absolutely not have gotten off the ground without federal support,” says Steve Cohn, an economics professor at Knox College in Illinois who has researched the industry extensively. “The government has bent over backwards to do everything it could whenever there was a problem.”

Besides costing taxpayers huge sums for a wide array of government subsidies, this process has made nuclear energy appear more competitive compared with cleaner energy sources like conservation and renewables and has diverted research and development funding away from alternative energy sources. “Without all this federal money going to nuclear power, we would have had much greater implementation of efficiency and renewable energy technologies,” says Peter Grinspoon, director of Greenpeace’s nuclear energy program. “I believe we would have a much cleaner environment.”

The federal government’s ideological commitment to and promotion of nuclear power remains one of the most valuable subsidies to business. “The ideological promotion of the technology allowed it to capture [many] benefits, and by extension denied those benefits to solar power and other alternatives,” says Cohn. “That ideological support really is responsible for lower costs.” Lower credit costs, a faster learning curve and lack of attention to nuclear hazards and safety requirements “are all indirect advantages nuclear technology had because it was a promoted technology,” he says.

The nuclear industry’s quantifiable drain on the public treasury is also enormous. Fiscal Fission: The Economic Failure of Nuclear Power,” a report released by Greenpeace last December, conservatively estimates that federal outlays from 1950 to 1990 for nuclear power totaled $97 billion (in 1990 dollars). Not until 1973 did private industry actually pay more for nuclear power than the federal government, the report says.

Both the ideological and more visible federal appropriations originated in the early 1950s, when Congress passed a law allowing private ownership of nuclear materials for the first time. But companies wanting to enter the nuclear energy business were unable to obtain commercial insurance, due to the high risks to the public of a major accident. In 1957 Congress eliminated this first major financial roadblock to the adoption of nuclear power. Responding to the demands of companies like General Electric, Congress passed the Price-Anderson Indemnity Act, which limited the liability of the nuclear industry to the public in the event of a major nuclear accident.

Under the most recent amendments to Price-Anderson, nuclear utilities are required to maintain jointly only $200 million worth of insurance to cover public liability for a nuclear accident; for claims over that amount, each nuclear utility can be required to contribute up to $63 million per reactor. This leaves a maximum of approximately $8 billion of insurance that would be available for public compensation; damages higher than $8 billion would not be covered unless Congress intervened, obligating taxpayers to make up the difference.

The funds made available by nuclear utilities for public damages fall far short of the human health and property damages such an accident would bring. Estimates of the costs of a major nuclear accident vary from the General Accounting Office’s (GAO) estimate in 1987 that under average weather conditions losses from a major nuclear accident could be as high as $15 billion to a 1982 analysis by Sandia National Laboratory for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which found that under a worst-case scenario financial losses (not including on-site damages) could range from $56 billion to $314 billion, with 100,000 early deaths. The NRC estimates the chance of a major “core melt” nuclear accident within the next 20 years is 45 percent.

“Without Price-Anderson the nuclear industry would have gotten nowhere,” says Cora Roelofs of Komanoff Energy Associates, a consulting firm that authored the Greenpeace report. “There was an essential barrier to the marketplace because nuclear power was too risky for any person to want to invest.”

Without Price-Anderson, the cost of commercial insurance to nuclear utilities – if they could find willing insurers – would substantially raise the cost of nuclear energy. A 1987 report by Public Citizen “conservatively” estimated that in the absence of Price-Anderson utilities would pay annually at least $1 billion and possibly over $5 billion for commercial insurance.

Price-Anderson also indemnifies suppliers and venders of commercial nuclear facilities, which substantially boosts its total value as a government subsidy to big business. The law excuses companies like General Electric, Westinghouse, Rockwell, and General Atomics from responsibility for public compensation even if their negligence or willful misconduct cause a nuclear accident.

Although the government doesn’t transfer taxpayer dollars directly into the nuclear industry’s coffers, “Price-Anderson is an important benefit because all of a sudden the industry has a predictable price put on something that it previously didn’t know how to handle,” says Doug Koplow, an energy consultant and the author of an upcoming report on energy subsidies for the Alliance to Save Energy.

“Alternative forms of energy don’t have those uncertain risks. A free-market would place a premium on avoiding these types of risks, which would make fission power certainly more difficult to compete.”

Another incentive that boosts nuclear power’s competitiveness is a subsidy for enriched uranium, the fuel that powers every nuclear reactor in the United States. While companies supplying other forms of energy have to worry about getting their own fuel, the federal government took on that chore for the nuclear industry beginning in the early 1950s. The federal government’s uranium enrichment operation, which operates as a program of the Department of Energy (DOE), sells its uranium at a taxpayer-subsidized cost. According to a 1989 GAO study, DOE has failed to collect over $11 billion in past costs accumulated largely by underselling its enriched uranium – despite a law requiring DOE to set the price of enriched uranium “on the basis of recovery of the government’s costs.” Since DOE sells approximately one-third of its uranium to foreign companies, taxpayer dollars also subsidize foreign nuclear programs.

“Taxpayer losses are real and mounting daily,” concluded a 1990 study on the enrichment program by the National Taxpayers Union, Stopping a Budget Meltdown. Charles Montange, the author of the study, says taxpayer losses from the program increased dramatically after 1984 when Reagan’s DOE overhauled the program, guaranteeing a subsidized price for enriched uranium. “Reagan cut prices nuclear utilities were paying with no cost recovery,” says Montange.

Taxpayers assumed additional burdens as a result of Reagan’s changes in the enrichment program. As part of the program overhaul, DOE permanently closed its enrichment facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and curtailed operations at its two other plants in Paducah, Kentucky and Portsmouth, Ohio (both are operated by Martin Marietta). But, according to Jim Bird, a DOE official at Oak Ridge, last year taxpayers paid $160 million to the Tennessee Valley Authority for electricity the enrichment program never used. The payment was part of a $1.8 billion settlement with TVA to fulfill electricity contracts developed after nuclear utilities lobbied for greater enrichment capacity, based on elusive hopes of having 1,000 reactors in operation by the year 2000. (There are now 109 reactors in operation.) DOE also began selling uranium services out of its inventory and booking the sales as “savings,” which it passes to its customers, the nuclear utilities.

DOE has also failed to charge utilities for the future costs of decommissioning, or dismantling, the three enrichment facilities – costs DOE contractor estimated at $16 to $36 billion. “It’s the worst environmental disaster in Kentucky,” says Coreen Whitehead of the Coalition for Health Concerns, a grassroots organization fighting to hold the government accountable for public health problems. “There are drums of radioactive waste covering acres around the plant.”

Congress eliminated the possibility that taxpayers might recover the enrichment plants’ future decommissioning costs in last fall’s energy bill. “The net effect of the uranium enrichment provisions in the energy bill was similar to Chapter 11 bankruptcy,” says Montange. “Taxpayers will bear essentially all unrecovered, decommissioning and cleanup costs.” (The new law requires utilities to pay only $2.25 billion of the total decommissioning costs.) Montange attributes the taxpayer “bail-out” of the industry’s uranium enrichment costs to the influence of nuclear utilities over key legislators.

In addition to subsidizing the price of nuclear fuel, taxpayers are given responsibility for fission’s end product – radioactive waste. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 nuclear utilities are required to pay only 0.1 cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh) of nuclear-generated electricity into a federal fund that will be used to find a permanent resting place for the highly radioactive waste. DOE proposes to store the waste for tens of thousands of years at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, despite numerous environmental problems and deep public opposition.

The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) repeatedly has urged DOE to raise its waste disposal assessment fee. The agency estimates that unless the fee is raised, DOE will spend $4.1 billion (1988 dollars) more than it collects to dispose of high-level waste. GAO also warns that the financial condition of 11 of the 17 utilities that owe one-time fees of $2 billion to the fund for waste generated prior to 1983 “cast serious doubt on their ability to pay.”

The waste-disposal subsidy could worsen if DOE and the nuclear industry fail in their aggressive fight to win approval of the proposed Yucca Mountain repository. “DOE continues to disagree with our recommendation that it estimate the cost of additional scenarios, such as program delays or a potential finding resulting from DOEs site investigation that Yucca Mountain, Nevada, would not be suitable for a repository,” a 1992 GAO report warns. Even if Yucca Mountain actually opens, it will only hold 70,000 metric tons of waste, although plants currently in operation are expected to generate 87,000 metric tons of waste.

For years the nuclear industry has lobbied Congress to provide fast relief from the waste disposal problem, a major obstacle to the development of new nuclear plants. “It is not reasonable to assume that responsible business people will risk billions of dollars of customers’ money to invest in new nuclear plants when there is no place to store spent fuel,” Hazel O’Leary, vice-president for Northern States Power Company, one of the nation’s major nuclear utilities, told Congress in March 1992. O’Leary, who is now the secretary of energy under President Clinton, added, “Together we must assure that a permanent facility or [a temporary facility] is developed.”

The nuclear industry’s efforts to overcome the waste problem culminated last fall in the energy bill. One of the chief obstacles to DOE’s Yucca Mountain plans was the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency over waste disposal standards. Congress usurped EPA’s authority to set radiation standards, giving that authority to the National Academy of Sciences, long seen as an ally to the nuclear industry.

In January this year, DOE and a consortium of 16 utilities selected General Electric Co. and Westinghouse Electric Corp. to develop the “next generation” of standardized nuclear power plants. DOE intends to pay the companies $100 million while utilities will contribute $50 million in services, equipment and cash. These taxpayer dollars appropriated to GE and Westinghouse follow four decades of continuous funding, in spite of nuclear energy’s poor financial history. As it was in the early 1950s, the current goal of the pact between GE/Westinghouse and DOE is to ensure a viable nuclear energy industry.

Companies like GE, Westinghouse, General Atomics and Rockwell are the direct beneficiaries of the DOE’s emphasis on nuclear research and development. These companies have seen huge profits from nuclear energy in the past, and now “they have a greater interest [than utilities] in nuclear energy,” says Michael Mariotte, director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS). The deal announced in January “shows how interested DOE and the contractors are in rebuilding the nuclear industry,” Mariotte says. “At this point, all the DOE is doing is keeping the [nuclear] divisions of those companies alive.” Interestingly, only 16 utilities are participating in the consortium mentioned above; most utilities have now recognized that nuclear power is a financial boondoggle.

As early 1953, Democrats and labor interests sounded warnings of subsidizing the development of nuclear power. “The people of the United States have already invested over $12 billion in the course of acquiring the technical and scientific knowledge concerning the production of atomic energy,” warned Benjamin Sigal of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Speaking in opposition to pro-nuclear legislation, Sigal added, “If the proposed amendments are adopted, … the know-how will be placed at the disposal of a few fortunate companies.”

According to a 1991 analysis by Fred Sissine of the Congressional Research Service, nuclear energy absorbed 65 percent of energy research and development spending from fiscal years 1948 to 1990 – almost $33 billion in 1982 dollars.

Some of the research and development dollars for nuclear power have been wasted on debacles that were never completed. For example, about $1.5 billion was spent on the Clinch River Breeder Reactor, a reactor that proponents hoped would “breed’ more fuel than it would consume. DOE planned to build the reactor in Tennessee, but the nuclear industry’s hopes were dashed when the Senate canceled its funding in 1983 at the urging of a number of environmental groups, including Environmental Action.

Even today, despite years of problems, DOE’s R&D funds are skewed toward nuclear energy. A July 1992 internal DOE memorandum marked “not for attribution or distribution” clearly proves the GAO’s conclusion in 1987 that DOE’s support for nuclear energy has “insulated [nuclear technologies] from major reductions.” The memo was prepared by DOE’s policy office in an effort “to develop, on its merits, program planning priorities” for R&D, according to a cover letter to the memo by Bush administration energy undersecretary Linda Stuntz. [emphasis in original]. “Political sensitivities can be applied later, but you need to know, first, what seems to be right based on the merits,” the memo continues.

Not surprisingly, each of the policy office’s top recommendations are for programs within DOE’s Office of Conservation and Renewables; the memo also concludes that all of DOE’s nuclear power programs should be “deemphasized.” However, when Bush Energy Secretary James Watkins released his DOE budget request, the tables were turned and emphasis and appropriations overwhelmingly went to nuclear energy. “This internal analysis demonstrates that an energy R&D program’s funding level is inversely proportional to its ability to contribute to the nation’s energy needs,” says former Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-MI), a critic of Bush’s energy policy.

While the Greenpeace report conservatively documents $97 billion in federal subsidies from 1950 to 1990, it explains that this estimate excludes huge categories of federal support for nuclear power, which the report says could reasonably be estimated at $376 billion.” These difficult-to-quantify categories range from the government’s ideological support of nuclear power and Price-Anderson to uranium exploration programs and nuclear power’s environmental costs.

“Many of the subsidies for the nuclear industry are not in the tax code, making them hard to quantify despite their tremendous value,” says Dawn Ehrlenson, who directs a tax project for Friends of the Earth. Briefly, a few of the other subsidies and benefits bestowed on the nuclear industry by the government include:

NucIear plant decommissioning.
Nuclear utilities are required to set aside funds for dismantling reactors after ceasing operation. Public Citizen reported in 1990 that utilities on average had operated reactors about one-third of their expected life, but had only collected 14 percent of decommissioning funds.

Moreover, true decommissioning costs have been drastically underestimated. Last summer, for example, the owners of the Yankee Rowe nuclear reactor raised the estimated cost of dismantling the reactor to three times what had been placed in its decommissioning trust fund. Even Yankee Rowe’s new figure is a “dubious estimate because no one knows what it will cost in two or five years to get rid of high-level nuclear waste,” says NIRS’ Jeff Sosland. Skyrocketing decommissioning costs could be paid by ratepayers, shareholders, or taxpayers.

Regulatory Costs. Although it often blurs the line between regulation and promotion of nuclear power, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is charged with protecting the public from nuclear technologies. But its regulatory costs have been borne by taxpayers. From 1950 to 1990, government regulation of commercial nuclear power facilities has cost taxpayers $9.2 billion in 1990 dollars, an estimate that excludes what the industry has paid through licensing and other fees, according to Greenpeace’s report. Recognizing regulatory costs as a major subsidy to nuclear utilities, Congress passed a law in 1990 requiring the NRC to recover 100 percent of its budget from its licensees.

State expenditures. Taxpayers also have paid for nuclear energy through their state taxes. For example, in New York and North Carolina state agencies have appropriated money to evaluate how to address public opposition to low-level nuclear waste disposal sites. The New York Low-Level Radioactive Waste Siting Commission budgeted $900,000 for a public-relations campaign “to convince New York State residents that low-level nuclear waste facilities are not harmful,” according to a PR industry trade newsletter.

Despite the billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies of the last four decades, the nuclear industry is in trouble. “Nukes face a new crisis: competitive markets,” concludes a headline to a recent article in Public Utilities Fortnightly, a trade publication. According to Greenpeace’s report, ratepayers and shareholders spent $396 billion between 1950 and 1990 (outside of taxpayer expenditures) to develop and maintain nuclear power, a number that far exceeds the value of the energy supplied. In addition, regulatory changes resulting from last fall’s energy bill may dampen further the nuclear industry’s efforts. “Greater access to the transmission system for independent power producers, including renewables, will promote greater competition and deal another blow to the nuclear industry,” says EA Legislative Director Leon Lowery, who played a key role in winning the regulatory changes.

Further, the Clinton-Gore administration is likely to place much less emphasis on nuclear power. In their campaign book, Putting People First, Clinton and Gore declared their opposition to ‘increased reliance on nuclear power.” They write, “There is good reason to believe that we can meet future energy needs – with conservation and the use of alternative fuels – without having to face the staggering costs, delays and uncertainties of nuclear waste disposal.”

But the nuclear industry would like the new administration, policymakers and the public to forget the high costs and environmental problems of the last four decades. Through massive public relations campaigns, the USCEA is attempting to sway its most formidable foe – the public – by comparing itself to renewable energy sources. “Renewable energy and nuclear power have much in common,” the USCEA’s Myers contends. “[They] both have passed through similar developmental cycles.”

And while environmental and public interest groups have attempted to eliminate nuclear subsidies and divert government spending toward clean energy sources, their efforts have been hampered by the nuclear industry and its political action committees” (PACs) hold on Congress. The people who benefit from government support invest at least a portion of that support to ensure the support continues,” says Koplow, the author of the Alliance to Save Energy report..

npaAccording to “License to Spend,” a 1992 report by NIRS and U.S. Public Interest Research Group on nuclear industry campaign contributions, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and a key player in the bill’s uranium enrichment title, received $104,000 from nuclear industry political action committees since 1985. “Rostenkowski did most of the dirty work,” says the National Taxpayer Union’s Montange, referring to the bill’s uranium enrichment provision. But Rostenkowski wasn’t even among the top recipients of nuke PACs. The report, based on Federal Election Commission figures, shows that only three members of the Senate and seven members of the House took no money from nuclear industry PACs.

Moreover, deep-rooted institutional forces like those that support nuclear energy are slow to change. Despite the down-playing of nukes in Putting People First, even Vice President Gore, a champion for many environmental causes, appears to advocate continued R&D funding for nuclear power in his book, Earth in the Balance. “The research and development of alternative approaches [to present nuclear technologies] should focus on discovering, first, how to build a passively safe design … that eliminates the many risks of current reactors…”

The imperative for advocates of the environment, public interest and taxpayer is to maintain the struggle for a sustainable energy policy that avoids another nuclear boondoggle. Just as important must be the effort to gain the necessary tools to hold government accountable both to taxpayers and the public interest. As Montange points out, “Taxpayers lack the legal standing to force the government to vindicate their interests. Ifs sort of like dealing with a robber who has the guns and who’s coopted the police. You have to cooperate – take the keys to my house and take what you want as many times as you want.”

Construction Tax Credits: A Bonanza for the Nuclear industry

Tax breaks for nuclear power plant construction weigh in as one of the most substantial subsidies to the nuclear industry – utimated by Greenpeace to be worth $26.1 billion from 1958-1990 in 1988 dollars. “Investment tax credits and accelerated depreciation were two subsidies in which the government actually paid the cost of a new power plant,” explains Rick Morgan, who headed EA’s research on energy issues for over a decade and now works in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Global Warming Division.

In 1984, Morgan, EA researcher and writer Scott Ridley and Richard Heede of the Rocky Mountain Institute helped document the construction write-offs of the nuclear industry in “The Hidden Costs of Energy: How Taxpayers Subsidize Energy Development.” The report says the “bulk of federal support for electricity, about $15 billion, is in the form of tax breaks for plant construction.” Morgan says these tax breaks have been especially beneficial to the nuclear industry, which is particularly capital intensive.

“The Hidden Costs of Energy” concluded that of $28 billion in federal subsidies to the electric industry in 1984, $15.56 billion benefitted the nuclear industry. Environmental Action lobbyied to eliminate some of these breaks in the early 1980s, helping pass the Tax Reform Act of 1986.

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Jun 22

cyswsThink fast–if you had to give up one of your five senses, which would you choose? Eyesight and hearing are nonnegotiable. Live without taste, and you deny yourself an array of culinary pleasures, from chocolate and cheese to the tang of a vine-ripened summer tomato. So that leaves touch and smell. Of course, no touch means no sex. Okay, so that leaves smell.

Of all the senses, smell is the runt of the litter, the ability most of us probably appreciate the least. Aromatherapists and other fragrance advocates would like to change that. Scent, they say, is more than just a luxury for Saturday night. Flip open any aromatherapy book and you are sure to find claims that lavender relaxes, peppermint invigorates, and rose combats depression. Can scent play physiological tricks on the brain? Could a single whiff get you to work harder, feel healthier, be happier?

In the past, such notions were supported by weak anecdotal reports, says Avery Gilbert, Ph.D., scent expert and president of Synesthetites, a sensory consulting firm in Montclair, NJ. But today, he notes, research is being done, using standard scientific tests. “It’s time to sweep away a lot of the fairy dust in this field,” he says.

What We Know

The nose works hard, especially when it comes to food. Sure, taste buds know the basics (sweet, sour, salty, bitter) but it is the nose’s olfactory nerve cells, capable of distinguishing up to 10,000 odors, that allow us to appreciate the nuances of food. Hold your nose while eating chocolate, and it is flavorless; gumdrops are like pebbles. Smell also answers questions–Is there something burning? Did you leave the gas on? Has this hologna gone bad?–that can literally mean the difference between life and death.

We rarely think about such benefits, unless our noses betray us. Just ask Darlene Herrick, a retired Iowa schoolteacher who slipped on her icy driveway several winters ago and smacked her head. From that day on, nothing has smelled or tasted to her like it did before.

Herrick is one of 2.8 million Americans with a smell and taste disorder. Lack of smell, or anosmia, may result from a host of ills, from viruses to polyps to diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. A bump on the head can jostle the brain, sever nerves, and, in many cases, also cause phantom smells. “Suddenly, every time I inhaled, the air had a nauseating odor, like a dank, musty basement,” Herrick recalls.

An amateur cook who had made the Pillsbury Bake-Off finals twice, she was especially devastated by the condition. Most of the time, she couldn’t taste anything. Some foods–including chocolate, coffee, and peanut butter–developed such a horrible flavor in her mouth that she had to give them up entirely.

Aromatherapists make the case that people like Herrick lose something else: the opportunity to enhance or change their moods with scent.

Spritzing Away Stress

According to recent research, fragrance can affect moods. And a good mood, scientists say, helps people deal more effectively with stressful situations.

A few examples: Patients exposed to a light vanilla scent while undergoing magnetic resonance imaging scans at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City reported less anxiety than those exposed to unscented, moistened air; subjects in a mall exposed to the smell of fresh-baked cookies became happier, more polite, and more willing to do a favor; in driving alertness tests, men and women exposed to fragrance steered better than unexposed drivers; and subjects in an ongoing study involving the scent of cinnamon buns appear to be more adept at problem-solving.

“Happy feelings promote creative thinking,” states Alice M. Isen, Ph.D., a Cornell University researcher working on the cinnamon-bun aroma study. How the brain makes the leap from vanilla to relaxation, or from “Mmm, cinnamon buns” to better test scores, is where things get fuzzy.

“Maybe one day we will know why this is,” writes Patricia Davis in her book Aromatherapy: An A-Z, “but for the understanding of aromatherapy, it is enough to know that these reactions do happen.”

It’s that kind of attitude that drives mainstream scientists bonkers–and up the nose, in search of answers.

ofsWith each sniff, odor molecules float to the tipper reaches of the nose, where millions of olfactory nerve cells, protected by mucus, sit clumped together. While touch or vision receptors (like those you’re using to read this magazine) use a complex system to get impulses to the brain, olfactory cells function more simply. They catch odor molecules in their fingerlike tendrils and toss impulses directly back to the limbic system, a nearby area of the brain where emotions and memory are also processed.

That is probably why smells not only can make us feel good but also have the unique ability to trigger memories: A whiff of roses may make you remember a first date; a snatch of L’Air du Temps may instantly bring you back to those days of playing dress-up in your mom’s closet, gent can also evoke darker sentiments if, say, that date turned into a colossal disaster or you have always despised your mother.

And that raises a major question about the science of fragrance: Odors may get us to react, but if the sense of smell is so individual and predicated on experience, how can aromatherapists generalize about those reactions?

“There are constants tied to the physical properties of an odor molecule,” says Edwin Morris, an aromatherapist and author who lectures on the healing properties of herbs and oils at The New York Botanical Garden in Bronx, NY. “Generally, weightier molecules–such as those that make up sandalwood–produce calming effects.”

Gilbert also believes that most people perceive certain scents the same way. “We do smell tests using little unmarked bottles, and panelists often describe the contents using the same words, like energized or romantic.”

Still, not all parties agree.

“Nothing is really hardwired, in my opinion,” says Pam Dalton, Ph.D., a research scientist at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, who recalls the time she tested a noxious raw-sewage-like odor. “We were shocked when a grad student from Beijing took a whiff and didn’t recoil like the rest of us.” To him, the brew was akin to a fermented cabbage dish served in China. “Variables like culture can produce vastly different effects.”

What Gets You Going

Vanilla, fresh-baked cookies, cinnamon buns–such are the aromas that have produced favorable results. St), should we trade in Chanel No. 5 for Eau de Dunkin’ Donuts?

Don’t make the switch. Robert A. Baron, Ph.D., of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, has found that-like cookies–the aromas of fresh-roasted coffee and just-baked bread induce politeness. And, for boosting driving alertness, citrus scents do the trick.

Several other factors may affect the “emotional” success of a fragrance:

Potency: For optimal effect, you need to inhale the scent of essential oils, the highly aromatic liquids extracted from plants. A rose-scented soap is no match for rose oil. Lotions and other products that contain diluted concentrations of the oils may have varying degrees of success–or none at all.

Personal preference: What you like plays a big role, adds Morris. If you can’t stand a certain odor, it won’t make you, feel relaxed, despite its chemical makeup.

Power of suggestion: On the flip side, if you buy into the concept of aromatherapy, you might get the effect you want regardless of what’s in the bottle. At Monell, testers have found that if a person is told she is being exposed to a “natural” extract, she later describes it in positive ways; if the odor is introduced in negative terms (“this is an industrial solvent”), the person complains that the air quality was unpleasant–no matter what scent is really used.

“I’ve had people sit in a chamber for thirty minutes with nail polish remover, and they come out refreshed, saying, `That was really wonderful,'” says Dalton. Ultimately, she concludes, much of the benefit of aromatherapy may be due to people’s faith that it works and “the time you take to sit and relax.”

You can live happily–and stress-free–without a sense of smell. Five years after her fall, Herrick’s phantom fumes have dissipated. And, thanks to the Connecticut Chemosensory Clinical Research Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington–one of several clinical research centers for smell and taste studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health–she no longer feels helpless. She takes precautions: maintaining smoke detectors, dating food left in the fridge, and relying on her husband to be the taster now that she’s cooking, and competing, again.

“I’m not going to let this stop me,” Herrick insists. True to form, she made the Pillsbury Bake-Off finals this year.

 

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