NRC chief to resign

The foreign press is warning of the potential for a major catastrophe for the northern hemisphere from the remaining fuel pools at Fukushima – but the American media is strangely silent. Their focus is on Reactor 4, which is open to the elements and at high risk of disaster in the event of another major earthquake:

More than a year after a devastating earthquake and tsunami triggered a massive nuclear disaster, experts are warning that Japan isn’t out of the woods yet and the worst nuclear storm the world has ever seen could be just one earthquake away from reality.

The troubled Reactor 4 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is at the centre of this potential catastrophe.

Reactor 4 — and to a lesser extent Reactor 3 — still hold large quantities of cooling waters surrounding spent nuclear fuel, all bound by a fragile concrete pool located 30 metres above the ground, and exposed to the elements.

A magnitude 7 or 7.5 earthquake would likely fracture that pool, and disaster would ensue, says Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with Fairewinds Energy Education who has visited the site.

The 1,535 spent fuel rods would become exposed to the air and would likely catch fire, with the most-recently added fuel rods igniting first.

The incredible heat generated from that blaze, Gundersen said, could then ignite the older fuel in the cooling pool, causing a massive oxygen-eating radiological fire that could not be extinguished with water.

“So the fear is the newest fuel could begin to burn and then we’d have a conflagration of the whole pool because it would become hotter and hotter. The health consequences of that are beyond where science has ever gone before,” Gundersen told in an interview from his home in Vermont.

There are a couple of possible outcomes, Gundersen said.

Highly radioactive cesium and strontium isotopes would likely go airborne and “volatilize” — turning into a vapour that could move with the wind, potentially travelling thousands of kilometres from the source.

The size of those particles would determine whether they remained in Japan, or made their way to the rest of Asia and other continents.

“And here’s where there’s no science because no one’s ever dared to attempt the experiment,” Gundersen said. “If it flies far enough it goes around the world, if the particles stay a little bigger, they settle in Japan. Either is awful.”

Essentially, he said, Japan is sitting on a ticking time bomb.

And this isn’t very reassuring, considering how many similarly flawed plants of the same kind are here in the U.S.:

Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, announced Monday he would resign from the five-member commission that oversees US nuclear power plant safety after a tenure in which he wrangled with other members of the commission over the direction of safety regulations.

Mr. Jaczko’s chairmanship, which began with tumult three years ago over the NRC’s controversial decision to cancel the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository – now concludes on the heels of a tumultuous year attempting to implement “lessons learned” from the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns. He announced his resignation amid an ongoing battle over his proposals to tighten safety regulations at US nuclear power plants in the wake of the Japanese disaster.

Shoulder to the wheel

So now I have rotator cuff problems on both sides – although it’s a lot worse on one side. Right now, I have it taped, which makes the pain more tolerable and stops that clicking noise. Fortunately, I have an appointment with the physiatrist next week and I can get some prolotherapy shots, which will help. Arghh.

Faculty members leaving Shorter University due to “Personal Lifestyle Statement”

Nestled in the Northwest Georgia Mountains in the city of Rome is Shorter University. Shorter University is a small Baptist Institution with a big problem.

Close to 60 of its faculty will not renew their contracts for new school year. The school has about 100 full time faculty members.

This is due to the requirement to sign a “Personal Lifestyle Statement.”

Here is part of the statement:

 I agree to adhere to and support the following principles (on or off the campus):

1. I will be loyal to the mission of Shorter University as a Christ-centered institution affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention.

2. I will not engage in the use, sale, possession, or production of illegal drugs.

3. I reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.

4. I will not use alcoholic beverages in the presence of students, and I will abstain from serving, from using, and from advocating the use of alcoholic beverages in public (e.g. in locations that are open to use by the general public, including as some examples restaurants, concert venues, stadiums, and sports facilities) and in settings in which students are present or are likely to be present. I will not attend any University sponsored event in which I have consumed alcohol within the last six hours. Neither will I promote or encourage the use of alcohol.

The University is practically decimated. Four out of seven deans will not be returning. The School of Professional Programs (remote learning for non traditional students) is the largest tuition draw, has lost a sizable portion of its students and 20% of its faculty. The College of Nursing has lost all but 2 inexperienced faculty members. The faculty that left is developing a new nursing program at nearby Berry College. Music and Theater has historically been a big draw to the undergraduate program at Shorter and they will lose 12 out of 20 faculty members. A tenured librarian of 14 years has also turned in his resignation.

Inside Higher Ed has an article giving some background:

In 2002, Shorter’s board of trustees voted to break away from the Georgia Baptist Convention after a dispute about who would appoint the college’s board. In the past, the state convention had chosen from a list of candidates approved by the college; beginning in 2001, it began to put its own board members forward.

The state convention fought the move, and the case went to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in 2005 which ruled the college did not have authority to sever ties with the church on its own……

Another Georgia Baptist college, Mercer University, provides a view of an alternate path, had Shorter won at the state supreme court.

When Shorter sought independence from the Baptist convention, it used Mercer as a model: at the time, the college’s charter limited the convention’s control over the board of trustees. In 2006, not long after Shorter lost its court case, the convention cut ties with Mercer entirely, the result of a dispute about both institutional control and the rights of gay student groups.

Unlike Shorter, that separation stuck. Thus, five years later, a few days after Shorter announced its new faith statements, Mercer announced an employment policy change of its own: the Baptist university is now extending health insurance and other benefits to employees’ same-sex partners.

I suppose the Georgia Baptist Convention can take the school in any direction they see fit. It is a private institution. But tearing down this university’s academic integrity will be no door to heaven.

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