Ike Swamps Native Communities in Louisiana Bayous

Ike Swamps Native Communities in Louisiana Bayous


Within four hours Friday, what had been dry land in front of the Methodist church in Dulac, La., became a small lake.Courtesy Photo by Jamie Billiot

Ike Swamps Native Communities in Louisiana Bayous

RACELAND, La.—In their first stormy taste of Hurricane Ike, bayou communities along the southern coast of Louisiana were battered by rising floodwaters, turbulent winds and the beginnings of a storm surge that is expected to worsen as Ike churns toward land.

Thousands had already fled the region as mandatory evacuations were ordered for low-lying portions of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, and those fleeing the storm included members of the United Houma Nation, the Pointe-au-Chien tribe, the Isle de Jean Charles Band and the Lafourche Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation.

Many of the Native Americans were among those living in some of the most vulnerable communities of the bayou including Pointe-aux-Chenes, Montague, Dulac and the Isle de Jean Charles, an island connected by a narrow access road that was quickly covered by water and made impassable as Ike drew closer.

The dozens of families who call “The Island” their home had already suffered some of the worst damage in the state when Hurricane Gustav plowed through the region 12 days ago. A number of homes were destroyed. Other houses lost their roofs and walls while still homes were knocked off their foundation. One house even ended up on a levee more than a hundred yards away after being ripped from its foundation.

Chris Brunet was one of those island residents who left as Ike drew near. And by the time he departed Thursday afternoon, water had already spilled into the roadway linking the island to the rest of Terrebonne Parish and threatened to close off the one exit road.

“All we can do is hope and pray that when we go back home, there is something left,” said Brunet, a councilman on the island for the Biloxi-Chitimacha.

Price Billiot, a Houma who lives in the Lafourche Parish side of Pointe-Aux-Chenes, also has adopted a wait-and-see attitude. He said that when he left his home Thursday the water was already rising. By today he learned it had reached the six-foot level along the road, which came as no surprise to Billiot who said there is no protection for him and his neighbors.

“It’s real bad,” he said, worrying about the small shrimp factory he owns in the area. “I’m right in the water’s path. There are no floodgates and no levee. … The water has to come right through us.”

For many in the area who are still reeling from Gustav, they also still remember the twin punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita three years ago. While Katrina brought the violent winds that tore off rooftops and shattered homes, it was Rita that propelled such a strong storm surge that many houses — including a number of Native communities — suffered massive water damage while fishing boats lie wrecked in the bayou.

“This is beginning to look a lot like what happened with Hurricane Rita,” said Brenda Dardar Robichaux, principal chief of the United Houma Nation. “That left many of our people hurting, and some are still trying to recover.”

Rita flooded an estimated 10,000 homes and businesses in Terrebonne Parish alone and caused extensive damage although it made landfall far away at the Texas-Louisiana border. Hurricane Ike, a Category 2 storm, is expected to make landfall near Galveston, Texas.

Windell Curole, interim regional levee director for Terrebonne and Lafourche, told the Houma Courier that despite his community’s distance from the hurricane’s path, the impact of Ike may match Rita.

“The water is very high in some areas, much like Rita, and a height in some areas that we’ve never seen before,” he told the paper.

In Dulac where she is director of the local community center, Jamie Billiot remembers Rita’s impact three years ago and Gustav’s calling card less than two weeks ago.

She had barely finished cleaning all the mud and water from the community building when the water began rising again on Thursday, as the first signs of Hurricane Ike.

Water began seeping in from the nearby Bayou Grand Calliou and, within four hours, what had been dry land around the center and in front of the nearby Methodist church had become a small lake. The winds also picked up, and by the time Billiot evacuated Dulac, she found that fallen power lines had blocked one road and water filled the other roadway which she forded to safety.

“It was like a scary movie,” she said of the menacing elements.

As people evacuated their homes, some discovered they could not make it out on their own with the rising floodwaters and punishing winds making their trip even more difficult.

Charles Billiot, 52, found himself with his sister, brother-in-law and mother ready to evacuate Dulac. A small boat had arrived to take them up the bayou to safety, but with the winds swirling and the water level getting dangerously higher, his 92-year-old mother, Vivian, balked at climbing aboard.

“She didn’t want to go into the small boat. She was afraid it would tip over,” said Charles Billiot. “And I was worried for her, too.”

Instead, the group waited three hours for a larger rescue boat to arrive. They were taken to Houma to ride out Hurricane Ike. And in the end, son and mother and the rest of the family were relieved at the outcome.

“That was enough adventure for one day,” Billiot said.

Victor Merina is reznet’s senior correspondent and special projects editor. A former Los Angeles Times investigative reporter and finalist for the Pulitizer Prize, he also is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Institute for Justice and Journalism. Merina is a visiting faculty member at The Poynter Institute, where he leads seminars on cross-cultural reporting and writing about race.


Nuclear Ring Was More Advanced Than Thought, U.N. Says

The ring led by Abdul Qadeer Khan had advanced weapons designs and electronic distribution.

The ring led by Abdul Qadeer Khan had advanced weapons designs and electronic distribution. (Associated Press)

Enlarge Photo

The nuclear smuggling ring headed by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan possessed a broader range of secret nuclear designs than was previously known and shared them electronically among members of the network, a U.N. watchdog group said yesterday.

A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency also acknowledged large gaps in investigators’ understanding of the smuggling ring, raising concerns that Khan’s nuclear black market may have had additional customers whose identities remain unknown.

“Much of the sensitive information coming from the network existed in electronic form, enabling easier use and dissemination,” the Vienna-based agency stated in an internal report, copies of which were obtained by several news outlets and nonprofit groups. Among the key documents, the report said, were instructions for making enriched uranium, and “more disturbingly, information related to nuclear weapons design.” U.S. and U.N. officials have previously confirmed that blueprints for at least two types of nuclear weapons were found on computers owned by Swiss businessmen associated with Khan.

Yesterday’s report summarized the IAEA’s five-year investigation into Libya’s former weapons program, which the country’s leader officially renounced in 2003. Libya acknowledged being a longtime customer of Khan’s, and it voluntarily turned over evidence, including hundreds of documents, that described the country’s business dealings with the Pakistani scientist.

U.S. and IAEA officials say Khan and his partners sold nuclear technology to Libya, North Korea and Iran over nearly 20 years. Libya is believed to have been the biggest customer, having purchased or ordered parts for thousands of centrifuges used to make enriched uranium, as well as bomb designs.

The IAEA report officially gave Libya a clean bill of health, saying that its renunciation of nuclear weapons technology appeared genuine. But it said the process of documenting Libya’s nuclear history had turned up troubling new findings about the sophistication of Khan’s black-market empire.

The IAEA discovered, for example, that the smuggling ring possessed multiple designs covering nearly every aspect of nuclear weapons development, from uranium processing to “casting and machining and the testing of nuclear weapons components,” the agency’s report said. Some of the blueprints reflected modern designs that were more advanced than similar drawings Khan is known to shared with Iran, the report stated.

Because many of the documents were digitized, they could be easily distributed. “A substantial amount of sensitive information related to the fabrication of nuclear weapons was available to members of the network,” the report said.

The IAEA said it was unable to determine the origin of some of the nuclear material found in Libya. The acknowledgment underscored concerns, long held among nuclear weapons experts, that parts of the network may continue to operate undetected.

“It is naive to think that somehow these guys aren’t still doing business,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative at the New America Foundation. “These networks lay around like a loaded gun for anyone to use.”

Khan apologized for his role in the nuclear smuggling ring in 2004, in a statement broadcast on Pakistani television. He has remained under house arrest since then but has not been charged with crimes or made available to U.S. or U.N. officials for questioning.


Brazil plans to build 50 more nuclear power plants

Brazil plans to build 50 more nuclear power plants

RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) — Mines and Energy Minister Edison Lobao announced Friday Brazil plans to build 50 to 60 nuclear power plants in half a century, with each having capacity of 1,000 megawatts.

“The general idea is to build one plant per year,” he said during a visit to the construction site of Brazil’s third nuclear power plant, Angra 3.

The ambitious plan, a priority for the administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has yet to be approved by Brazil’s National Council of Energy Policy, he added.

The construction of Angra 3 started in 1984, but was halted for21 years. The decision to resume the project and expand the nuclear program was welcomed by Brazil’s industrial sector as a way to prevent an energy crisis in future decades, but environmentalists warned of the problem of the residues storage.

Angra 1 and Angra 2, both located in the southeastern state of Rio De Janeiro, currently have a combined installed capacity of 2,000 megawatts.

Besides the three plants, four others, two in northeastern Brazil and two in the southeastern part, are due to start operation by 2020.

It is said Brazil’s environment ministry will not allow Angra 3to start operation until the residues problem is resolved.

According to Lobao, the construction of Angra 3 is due to be resumed in April 2009 and will take almost five years to complete, at a cost of 7 billion reais (3.7 billion U.S. dollars).


High nuclear costs

High nuclear costs

Many people seem to be holding up nuclear power as the answer to our current energy crisis. I don’t believe nuclear power is the answer for several reasons, with its high cost being the main reason.

Nuclear power construction costs are huge. The costs and economic failure of nuclear power construction in the 1970s and 1980s were described by Forbes magazine as “the largest managerial disaster in U.S. business history, involving $100 billion in wasted investments and cost overruns, exceeded in magnitude only by the Vietnam War and the savings and loan crisis.” These high costs are not just a thing of the past. Currently, Finland is constructing the Olkiluoto-3 reactor, which is at least 24 months behind schedule after 28 months, and at least 50 percent over budget. Maybe that is why, in 2007, new nuclear received no investment from private capital, whereas decentralized renewables worldwide received $71 billion.

Renewables, radical energy efficiency and decentralized power production, with its faster, more efficient operations, are becoming powerful alternatives to nuclear. In addition, nuclear power’s inherent slowness of deployment restricts it as a potential climate solution. New nuclear power costs far more than its distributed competitors, so it buys far less coal displacement per dollar than the competing investment it stymies.

I believe it is possible to move toward renewable forms of energy, distributed energy generation and radical energy efficiency, which can save our country billions of dollars and create thousands of new jobs.

Randie Trestrail

Feds OK reopening uranium mines

Feds OK reopening uranium mines

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Posted: 9:24 PM- Federal officials have approved the reopening and combining of two reclaimed underground uranium mines on the Utah-Colorado line.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Moab and Grand Junction, Colo., announced late Friday afternoon that Lakewood, Colo.-based Energy Fuels Resources would combine the Urantah Decline and Packrat Mine into an operation called the Whirlwind Mine.
Earlier the agency released an environmental assessment that showed the mine would have no significant impact.
The Energy Fuels plan allows for up to 200 tons per day of uranium production, which would yield a quarter ton annually of U308 to be processed to yellow cake in southeastern Utah’s Blanding, home to the nation’s only conventional uranium mill.
Energy Fuels is a Toronto-based uranium and vanadium mineral-development company actively rehabilitating and developing formerly producing mines. The company claims more than 40,000 acres of highly prospective uranium and vanadium property located in Utah, Colorado and Arizona.
Uranium prices on the spot market currently are about $65 per pound, down from about $90 in December, when it peaked before a steady drop that only started to reverse in mid-June.

Gang of 20 bill: Biggest nuke giveaway ever; Natl Call-in Day Sept 17

Subject: Gang of 20 bill: Biggest nuke giveaway ever; Natl Call-in Day Sept 17
Date: Fri, 12 Sep 2008 16:52:04 -0400
“Michael Mariotte” <nirsnet@nirs.org>

ALERT                          ALERT                          ALERT


This is it. In the mainstream media, the Gang of 10 (actually, now it’s the Gang of 20) energy bill is all about offshore oil drilling. And, to be sure, there’s lots of that in the bill, which is expected to come up in the Senate late next week. But the bill would also be the biggest giveaway to the nuclear power industry ever.

Unlimited loan guarantees for construction of new atomic reactors. That’s right, unlimited. As much money­hundreds of billions of dollars–as everyone in the nuclear industry wants, when it wants, for as long as it wants.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how that would absolutely destroy our ability to effectively address the climate crisis and what a disaster that would be for our economy, for our nation, for our planet.

How do these Senators think they can get away with this? Because they’re not hearing from enough of us, often enough. They think this is a popular stand. We all need to stand up now and be counted.

That’s why NIRS, Physicians for Social Responsibility and other national groups are putting out the word for a National Call-In Day to the Senate on Wednesday, September 17. We need at least 10,000 phone calls to the Senate on Wednesday. We need the phones there to be ringing non-stop from dawn to dusk. Will you help?

Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121

*Please call both of your Senators that day with a very simple message: Take taxpayer loan guarantees for nuclear power out of the Gang of 20 energy bill. (note: the bill does not yet have a number. It’s called the New Energy Reform Act of 2008, but everyone will know what you are talking about if you just say “Gang of 20 energy bill.”)

*Please forward this Alert to any and all of your mailing lists.

*Please print this Alert and take it to any public meetings and gather places you go to between now and Wednesday. Post it at food co-ops and other central locations.

*Please talk to your friends and colleagues, congregations this Sunday, PTAs next week. Spread the word.

*If you want to e-mail your Senators, please do (you can do so from this link; NIRS’ new e-mail-from-our-Alerts set-up still has some bugs, so we can’t quite offer that yet). But also call! It is important to keep those phones ringing all day long!

*Call even if you think your Senator(s) are hopeless. Everyone walking in the halls of the Senate should hear phones ringing everywhere, all day long.

We can’t let the nuclear industry get away with this. All that can stop it now are your actions. If we all just sit back and wait for someone else to take action, we will lose. If we all make those two calls­one to each Senator, and ask each of our friends and colleagues to make those two calls, we can show the Senate what the American people really think. And we can win.

It is up to each of us. It’s that simple, and that stark.

Please take five minutes to make two phone calls Wednesday. And please drop us an e-mail and let us know you called (we’ll be looking for 10,000 e-mails in our inbox by Thursday morning!).

Thank you for all that you do.

Michael Mariotte
Executive Director
Nuclear Information and Resource Service
nirsnet@nirs.org, www.nirs.org
September 12, 2008

P.S. For those who want more information:

You can read a Physicians for Social Responsibility analysis of the nuclear provisions in the Gang of 20 energy bill here. The bill includes not just loan guarantees, but also more “risk insurance” for new nukes, construction of a reprocessing plant, and much more.

You can read a longer article on the issue I wrote for DailyKos here.

– – –


Subject: Act Now to stop new nuke subsidies
Date: Mon, 25 Aug 2008 16:40:00 -0400
From: “Michael Mariotte” <nirsnet@nirs.org>

ALERT                                  ALERT                            ALERT



Dear Sustainable Energy Advocates:

When Congressmembers return to Washington after Labor Day, we expect fast action in both the Senate and House on new energy legislation. Exactly what that new energy legislation will be is not clear at this point, but behind-the-scenes, nuclear industry advocates are gearing up for a new push for billions of dollars in new taxpayer subsidies for new reactor construction and other industry wish list items.

It is important to contact both of your senators, and your representative now, before they return to Washington and things begin moving quickly. Most Congressmembers are back in their home districts so it is worth contacting both their Washington offices and local offices. It is also a good idea to meet them on the campaign trail and bring up nuclear subsidies at campaign events.

The Capitol Switchboard is 202-224-3121. You can also look up your House member’s direct contact information here: http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW_by_State.shtml#va and your Senators’ information here: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

The message to your Congressmembers is simple: No More Nuclear Subsidies! Do Not Include ANY Nuclear Subsidies in any energy bills.

Public opinion polls continue to show that nuclear power is just about the least popular energy option, while renewable energy sources continue to be the most supported by the public. For example, a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released August 20 found that 72% believe developing “alternative” (i.e. renewable) energy sources could “accomplish a great deal.” Only about 40% said that of new nuclear power. Similarly, an August 9 ABC News poll found only 44% support new reactor construction. Congress shouldn’t fall for the nuclear industry’s self-serving pronouncements about the need or public support for new nuclear power.

Please contact your Congressmembers today.

Thanks for all you do.

Michael Mariotte
Executive Director
Nuclear Information and Resource Service
nirsnet@nirs.org; www.nirs.org; 301-270-6477

Background information

In early August, 10 senators­five Democrats and five Republicans­released a “compromise” energy plan to allow for some offshore oil drilling. The group has been dubbed the Gang of 10. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated he is likely to allow a vote on an energy bill in September. However, the Gang of 10 have not yet put their compromise into legislative form, so there is no bill number or exact language. While the Gang of 10’s plan has been widely reported on, few have noticed that their plan includes $80+ to $160+ Billion in new subsidies for the nuclear power industry.

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated she too is likely to allow a vote on some sort of energy bill in September. Again, no specific bill language has yet been announced. However, a group of predominately Republican House members have introduced what they call the “All of the Above” energy bill (HR 6384) which would include about $120 billion in new nuclear subsidies.

While neither the Gang of 10’s nor the All of the Above proposals are likely to be voted on as is, the threat that massive new nuclear subsidies will be added to an energy package is very real. That’s why it’s so important to contact your Members now, before a final energy bill is introduced.

Michele Boyd of Physicians for Social Responsibility has provided the following list of items that currently are in the two main proposals so far:

Billions of Dollars of Nuclear Subsidies Hidden in Proposed Offshore Drilling Bills
New Energy Reform Act of 2008 (Not in legislative form yet; bill number not available)

TOTAL subsidies for nuclear power: $87.8 billion – $166.7 billion

·         Increases Number of Nuclear Regulatory Commission Staff: Increases NRC staff to process applications for new reactors and to further streamline the licensing process.  In FY08, NRC has budgeted $216.9 million for 587 full-time-equivalent (FTE) staff to review 12 new reactor applications.  This is an increase of $124.3 million for 283 additional FTE staff compared to FY07.  The cost to taxpayers will be $12.4 million in FY08. As many as 8 additional applications are expected in FY09.

·         Funds Nuclear Workers Training Program: Authorizes $100 million over 5 years for the Department of Labor to implement training programs for nuclear workers.

·         Creates Working Group to Promote US Nuclear Manufacturing: Creates interagency working group to promote a domestic manufacturing base for nuclear components and equipment.

·         Builds Reprocessing Facility: Authorizes funding and directs DOE to begin construction on a reprocessing R&D facility within one year. According to DOE in March 2006, such a facility would cost $1.5 billion.

·         Authorizes DOE to Enter Into Risk Insurance Contracts: Allows DOE to enter into contracts for “standby support” (i.e. “risk insurance” to pay the industry for delays in obtaining NRC approval to turn on a constructed reactor). EPACT 2005 authorized $2 billion for this subsidy to cover 6 new reactors.

·         Authorizes Unlimited Loan Guarantees (estimated cost: $84.2 billion to $163.1 billion*):

o   Expands the definition of “project costs” to include startup and financing costs, which puts billions more taxpayer dollars at risk.

o   Provides for a combination of appropriations and project sponsor funding to pay for the administrative and subsidy costs (currently this funding is to come only from the project sponsor).

o   Exempts the loan guarantee program from Sec. 504(b) of FCRA. Under this section of FCRA, DOE is required to obtain congressional budget authority before committing to loan guarantees.  This provision would eliminate this requirement, thereby allowing DOE to give out unlimited guarantees without congressional authorization.

o   Clarifies that the loan guarantees can cover 80% of 100% of the project costs (unclear from summary whether it actually requires this, but likely).

* The nuclear industry is proposing 34 new reactors. Current estimates per reactor (without cost overruns) range from $6.2 billion to $12 billion per reactor.  Unlimited loan guarantees that cover 80% of the 34 projects would guarantee $168.6 billion to $326.4 billion. The nuclear industry expects to pay $100 million in fees. Assuming these reactors have the 50% default rate as projected by the Congressional Budget Office, the taxpayer cost would be $84.2 billion to $163.1 billion.

Americans for American Energy Act of 2008 (HR 6384)

TOTAL subsidies for nuclear power: > $120 billion

·         Subsidizes Reprocessing of Spent Fuel (Sec. 501): Authorizes the use of the Nuclear Waste Fund to make grants to or enter into contracts with companies for reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel (Sec. 501). There is currently about $20 billion in the Nuclear Waste Fund, far less than would be needed to reprocess spent fuel in the U.S.  According to the National Academy of Sciences, reprocessing only the spent fuel that we have today would cost at least $100 billion.

·         Fast-Tracks and Subsidizes Rulemaking for Reprocessing Facilities (Sec. 502): Requires the NRC to complete a rulemaking for reprocessing facilities within 2 years and authorizes Nuclear Waste Fund money to cover NRC’s costs.  This is extremely premature because DOE does not know the full complement of necessary technologies will be or if they would ever work.

·         Takes the Nuclear Waste Fund “Off-Budget” ­ Takes the Nuclear Waste Fund “off-budget” so that expenditures from the Fund are not counted as part of Congress’ spending or the national deficit (Sec. 503).  Currently, Congress must approve expenditures from the Nuclear Waste Fund annually in an appropriation bill and these expenditures are counted as part of the federal deficit.  This change would allow $20 billion of nuclear ratepayers’ money to flow unchecked into the troubled Yucca Mountain Project to develop a nuclear waste repository in Nevada and into restarting the failed nuclear waste reprocessing effort of the 1970s.

·         Codifies Waste Confidence (Sec. 504) ­ Prevents the NRC from being able to deny a license or permit application on the grounds that there is nowhere for nuclear waste to go. The NRC’s “waste confidence rule,” states that there will be a repository for spent fuel “in a timely manner” and therefore the agency does not need to consider the problem of waste piling up at nuclear reactor sites as part of its review of license extensions or new license applications.  This provision would codify this rule by forbidding the NRC from denying an application on the grounds that there is not sufficient capacity. Given that the only proposed site for a permanent geologic repository has not yet begun the NRC’s licensing process and that the site is more than 20 years from accepting waste even if it is licensed, it is unlikely that waste will be moving from reactor sites “in a timely manner.” This measure would bypass what should be a scientific and technical determination and sets up the federal government for additional lawsuits by the nuclear industry for failing to meet its commitment to dispose of spent nuclear fuel.

·         Gives Tax Break for Nuclear Components Certification (Sec. 505) ­ Gives a 15% tax credit to companies for ASME nuclear component certification or for increasing capacity to construct, assemble, or install nuclear components from 2008 to the end of 2019. A large number of parts used to build a nuclear reactor must be certified by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), which costs between $25,000 and $35,000 per certification.  This tax break, valid until 2019, would cost taxpayers as much as $5,250 per certification.

·         Authorizes Nuclear Science and Engineering Scholarships (Sec 1109): Requires that the Department of Energy award at least 65 grants of 400,000 over 4 years to undergraduate institutions to provide scholarships to students studying nuclear science and engineering. This program would cost taxpayers at least $26 million.

·         Requires Recommendations on Nuclear Workforce Development (Sec. 1110) ­ Requires that within 120 days the Department of Energy provide Congress with recommendations for developing the nuclear workforce in the U.S.

Gives Away Cash Prize for Technologies to Store Spent Fuel (Sec. 1203) ­ Requires the Department of Energy to award undetermined amounts of cash prizes to advance innovative energy technologies and new energy sources, including awards for storing spent nuclear fuel.


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