Nuke Agency Still Believes
in Geologic Repository

     WASHINGTON (CN) - Operators of nuclear reactors will be allowed to store spent fuel rods and other radioactive waste on-site for 60 years beyond the operating life of the facility because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is "reasonably assured" that sufficient mined geologic repository capacity will be available "when necessary" to absorb the waste.
     The NRC makes this finding despite the Obama administration's decision to shut down the only such repository, at Yucca Mountain, outside Los Vegas, Nev., before it was even finished and the agency's own belief that, regardless of pending appeals, the facility will never be built.
     The finding was essential, however, because it has been NRC policy since 1977 that it "would not continue to license reactors if it did not have reasonable confidence that the wastes can and will in due course be disposed of safely."
As the nation's first generation of nuclear reactors have either had their licenses renewed or been taken offline, some of the on-site waste was reaching the previously determined 30 year deadline for removal to a permanent disposal site.
     In 1984, the NRC's first Waste Confidence Decision found, with "reasonable assurance" that a geologic repository was technically feasible, that one or more such repositories would be available by 2009, and that sufficient capacity would exist to take all of the waste generated by licensed facilities within 30 years of expiration of all operational reactors.
     In 1990, the NRC amended its findings to say that it was "reasonably assured" that at least one mined geologic repository would be available within the first quarter of the twenty-first century" and that by this it meant the original 30 years after an original license expired plus an additional 10 years if a license was renewed.
      In the current revision to its Waste Confidence Decision, the NRC says that it finds "reasonable assurance" that a suitable repository will be available "when necessary," which had previously meant within the 30 year time span the agency used to believe it was safe to store radioactive material in temporary on-site holding areas.
     With the revision, the plausible date for the availability of a repository would be 2037.
     Environmental groups and the Attorneys General of several states object that the NRC's findings violate the National Environmental Policy Act and that a generic determination that radioactive waste can be safely stored for another 30 years beyond its previous determination is a major change in regulation and therefore requires a major reevaluation of the environmental impact of on-site storage.
     The National Resources Defense Council said, in public comments on the proposed revision, that the two findings taken together are "in effect, generic licensing decisions that allow for the production of additional spent reactor fuel and other radioactive wastes associated with the uranium fuel cycle--essentially in perpetuity."
     Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of New York, in written comments, called upon the NRC to "perform a site-specific evaluation of environmental impacts of spent fuel storage at each reactor location, taking into account environmental factors including surrounding population density, water resources, seismicity, subsurface geology, and topography."
     The NRC argues that the revisions are minor and that site specific reviews are unnecessary because the NRC already took into account all of the on-site storage facilities in operation when it reached its generic conclusion that they are safe for 60, rather than just 30 years.
     Offering a note of reassurance, the NRC did say that "if it becomes clear that a repository will not be available by the expiration of the 60-year post licensed life period, the NRC will revisit the Waste Confidence Decision and Rule early enough to ensure that it continues to have reasonable assurance of the safe storage without significant environmental impacts" of radioactive waste.

USDA: Pure Meat Must
Carry Nutrition Label

     WASHINGTON (CN) - All major cuts of single-ingredient, raw meat and poultry products sold to consumers must have a nutritional label showing the number of calories and the grams of total fat and saturated fat the product contains, according to the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
     The labeling requirement also applies to chopped meat and poultry products either with or without added seasonings, such as sausage and pre-marinated products.
     Ground meats currently may carry a "low fat" label if the total fat content of the product is below a threshold determined by the agency, and the new rule would allow products that do not meet this threshold to be labeled with a percentage statement of the fat content of the product in the same lettering and size as the "low fat" label.
     The label either may be attached to the meat's packaging or be posted on signage at the point of purchase.Click the document icon for this regulation and others.

Coal Mine Operators May
Have to Fix Hazards

     WASHINGTON (CN) - Operators of coal mines would have to correct hazardous conditions and violations of mandatory health and safety standards on a weekly basis under new rules proposed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
     Mine operators are already required to perform routine safety examinations before and during shifts and record and mark any hazardous conditions they discover, but there is not a universal deadline for correcting adverse conditions that discovered.
     In addition, the new rules would require mine operators to review with their mine safety examiners all citations and orders issued by the agency on a quarterly basis and to make sure their mines are in compliance with those citations and orders.
     Following a recent series of mining disasters around the world, the agency conducted a review of every order and citation issued in the last five years in the U.S. and found that mines repeatedly discovered and noted hazardous conditions and were often cited by regulatory agencies for violations, but did little to fix the conditions reported.
     Noting that "conditions in underground coal mines change rapidly--roof that appears adequately supported can quickly deteriorate and fall; stoppings can crush out and short-circuit air currents; conveyor belts can become misaligned or belt roller bearings can fail, resulting in an ignition source; and methane can accumulate in areas where it may not have been detected," the agency emphasizes that while small violations may not lead to catastrophe, the accumulation of small violations may, when added together, result in disaster.
     Under current regulations, mine operators are required to report hazardous conditions but are not required to note what corrective actions, if any, were taken.
     A methane gas explosion in the Upper Big Branch Mine near Montcoal, W.Va. killed 29 people in April. According to the agency, the mine, owned my Massey Energy, was cited 515 times for hazardous conditions. including 54 orders to evacuate the mine because of immediate threats to the health and safety of miners.
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IRS Issues Rule on
Debt Value Decline

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The decline in the value of debt between the date it is issued and the date it is modified due to deterioration of the issuer's financial condition will not be considered for tax purposes, according to new Internal Revenue Service regulations.
     For tax purposes, only the change in value after the date of the modification will be considered.
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Obama Eliminates U.S.
Joint Forces Command

     WASHINGTON (CN) - President Obama authorized Defense Secretary Robert Gates to dissolve the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which has coordinated all joint training, doctrine and operations for the U.S. armed forces.
Secretary Gates recommended the elimination of the Norfolk, Va. command in August as part of a package of efficiency measures meant to eliminate organizations that he had determined "perform duplicative functions and/or [have] outlived their original purpose."
     In recommending closure, Gates said that over time it had "created an unneeded extra layer and step in the force management process."

Forest Service May Match
Funds to Buy Green Space

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Forest Service plans to provide 50-50 matching funds to non-profit organizations, and local, state and tribal governments to establish community forests through land purchases as part of its Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program.
     The agency plans to make awards on a competitive basis based on the economic value, the environmental benefit and the usefulness of the land to provide forest-based educational programs and recreational opportunities to local communities.
     The local government would retain ownership of the forest land or open space, but if it sold the land or allowed it to be used for commercial purposes it would have to pay the Forest Service the current purchase price or appraised value of the land.
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Financial Criminals
May Still Work at S&Ls

     WASHINGTON (CN) - People who have been convicted of, or placed in pretrial diversion for, criminal offenses involving dishonesty, breach of trust or money laundering may remain in certain jobs at savings and loan holding companies until Dec. 31, 2012, according to the Thrift Supervision Office.
     The agency's action extends a temporary exemption to Section 19 of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act that prohibits such people from working in the industry.
     The prohibition was adopted in 2006 but the exemption was immediately granted to allow people already working in the industry to remain in their positions. That exemption has been extended annually ever since.
     The exemption only applies to people who held positions in the industry as of Oct. 13, 2006.
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