If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Government Concentrates

April 11, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 15

NAS warns of terrorist attack on spent nuclear fuel

Thermally hot and highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel stored on-site in pools at 103 U.S. nuclear power plants may be vulnerable to a terrorist attack, says a report by the National Academy of Sciences. In a unanimous report, an NAS committee urges the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to better analyze this risk and ensure that power-plant operators take steps to reduce the consequences of an attack. The committee says it was unable to obtain sufficient information from NRC to assess the counterterrorism measures already taken at the plants or to determine exactly which power plants were most at risk. Consequently, NAS calls on NRC to perform plant-specific vulnerability analyses and recommends the creation of an organization independent of NRC and industry to determine the effectiveness of counterterrorism measures. The report finds that an attack could drain water from a spent-fuel storage pool, leading to a fire and the release of large quantities of radioactivity. It recommends reconfiguring the fuel assemblies in the pools to better balance decay-heat loads and installing spray systems to cool the fuel. The commission found only a small risk, however, that a terrorist could obtain sufficient spent fuel to build a "dirty bomb." The report reveals deep divisions between NRC and NAS. Although completed in July 2004, the report was released only last week, withheld because of NRC's concerns about classified data in NAS's report. But in mid-March, NRC released its own unclassified report critical of the then-still-secret NAS report. NAS scientists said last week that the NRC report had mischaracterized several of their objections.

Intelligence report urges scientific input

The presidential commission on weapons of mass destruction intelligence concludes in its report that the U.S. intelligence community has left the U.S. woefully unprepared to detect or counter a potential biological weapons attack. Among the recommendations the commission makes to correct the situation is better cooperation between the intelligence community and biological scientists. The commission recommends that the director of national intelligence create a National Biodefense Initiative across the intelligence community. This initiative would include a Biological Science Advisory Group and a government service program for biologists and health professionals. Additionally, the initiative would include both a postdoctoral fellowship program in biodefense and intelligence and a scholarship program for graduate students in fields relevant to biological weapons. The need for such an initiative exists because the U.S. has not had a biological weapons program for 35 years, and thus intelligence analysts cannot draw on the expertise of bioweapons scientists.

GAO warns on funding conflicts

Formal policies to evaluate and manage potential conflicts of interest in private-public R&D collaborations should be developed and implemented, says a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO-05-191). The GAO report says such collaborative arrangements merit special scrutiny when the nongovernment partner represents the regulated community. The report looks at funds provided by the American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade association, to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and to EPA to solicit and fund research on effects of chemical exposures on human reproduction and development. ACC funding for the two agencies was around $1 million each. GAO notes that nothing in current law appears to prohibit either agency from entering into such research arrangements with nonprofit organizations such as ACC. But GAO urges both agencies to establish formal policies for evaluating potential conflicts of interest, especially if the research partner is part of a regulated industry. In a statement, ACC said it concurs with the report and noted that avoidance of conflicts of interest is essential to the credibility of research.

EPA nominee runs into a snag

A senator has threatened to hold up the confirmation of Stephen L. Johnson as EPA administrator if the agency does not cancel its controversial planned study on children's exposure to chemicals. EPA in November 2004 suspended the study, designed to determine how pesticides and common household chemicals get into children's blood, pending further scientific review (C&EN, Nov. 15, 2004, page 7). Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told Johnson at a hearing on April 6 that she would work to prevent his confirmation by the Senate unless he canceled, not just suspended, the project. "This is wrong, morally wrong," Boxer said of the planned study involving 60 children from birth to three years old. Some agency scientists have questioned the research because of ethical concerns, including the payment of up to $970 to families that participate in the study. They also worry whether the approximately $2 million that EPA accepted from the American Chemistry Council to help fund the project might compromise the agency's scientific independence.

CDC concerned about Army's VX disposal

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has raised concerns about the Army's plan to transport the product--called hydrolysate--of neutralization of the nerve gas VX from Indiana to New Jersey. As envisioned, the hydrolysate is to receive secondary treatment at DuPont's Secure Environmental Treatment Unit in Deepwater, N.J., and the end product is to be discharged into the Delaware River. But CDC is concerned that trace amounts of VX may remain in the hydrolysate and that its caustic and corrosive properties may also pose human health hazards. CDC concludes, however, that precautions in the transportation plan are sufficient to protect the public. About 50% of the VX stored at Newport, Ind., has been treated with stabilizers, and CDC is uncertain as to whether DuPont's secondary treatment process can adequately treat the hydrolysate of the stabilized VX. CDC did conclude that neutralization can effectively begin on the unstabilized VX, and the Army plans to do so this spring. Additionally, CDC concludes that more information is needed to determine the ecological risks associated with discharge of the product of secondary treatment. A contract will not be awarded to DuPont until CDC's concerns have been considered, the Army says.




This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.