Sunday, January 29, 2012

In the Cool Dunes

Gifts of the west wind and the glaciers
cool dunes rise above the windy beach.
For thousands of years the dunes
grew tall and then the sand began to sing.
The sand sang of quartz from Wisconsin
and of ice mountains grinding
through, of Lake Michigan currents
and November winds that blew.
Quartz and hematite granules sang
as young girls wove garlands of wildflowers
from the wooded dunes:
bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, hepatica,
trillium, violets and Pitcher’s thistle.
They played in dappled shadows under
sassafras, witch hazel and choke cherry trees.
Bewitched, young boys carved their names
beside names of the girls they loved
in the smooth gray bark of beech trees
while silent deer and young wood ducks watched
in the cool dunes.

--Barbara Spring

Excerpted from Sophia's Lost and Found: Poems of Above and Below

Available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon and many fine independent bookstores.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ice on Lake Michigan: An Eagle Flew Over

On the beach this morning the sun was shining and an eagle flew overhead. It flew low enough to scout for any dead fish that the lake may have tossed on shore or fish that might be seen in the water. I took this photo this morning as the eagle flew overhead.
Usually ice begins to form along Lake Michigan's eastern shore by Thanksgiving.  The Ice was late this year due to and unseasonably warm December.  But now in January the ice is forming ridges on the sandy beach.  The ice feet are building up with each splashing wave and we see ice balls that the waves have tossed on the shore and we see ice balls bobbing in the water.  The hard rim of ice will prevent the beach sand from eroding.  The sun on the new fallen snow was sparkling and the waves splashed over the ice ridges so they will continue to build up. 
 Read more about this phenomenon and about the environmental victory that allowed the American bald eagle to return to the shores of the Great Lakes in my book the Dynamic Great Lakes available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and many independent bookstores.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Great Lakes Areas of Concern: Map by Great Lakes Commission

Great Lakes Areas of Concern

Areas of Concern Map (updated June 2010)

About the Areas of Concern

The Areas of Concern are watersheds along the Great Lakes suffering from degraded environmental conditions stemming from historic and ongoing pollution. They were designated under the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement based on the presence of beneficial use impairments, such as restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption, beach closures, drinking water restrictions, loss of fish and wildlife habitat, etc.

A total of 43 AOCs have been identified in the U.S. and Canada: 26 located entirely within the U.S.; 12 located wholly within Canada; and five that are shared by both countries. Since the inception of the AOC program, two Canadian AOCs and one U.S. AOC have been delisted. Federal, state, provincial and local partners are working to delist the other AOCs.

Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) have been developed and and are being implemented for all designated AOCs in the Great Lakes basin. RAPs were developed for each AOC to address impairments to any one of 14 beneficial uses (e.g., restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption, dredging activities, or drinking water consumption) associated with them. RAPs use an ecosystem-based, multi-media approach for assessing and remediating impaired uses. The RAP process is a model of grassroots environmental democracy, stressing empowerment of the affected public within AOCs. Successful RAPs are community driven, with active federal, state and local involvement.

Area of Concern Contacts

This Area of Concern Contact List includes RAP advisory council chairs, state contacts, federal contacts, local coordinators and other contacts for each U.S. Area of Concern.

U.S. AOC Program Annual Meeting

The U.S. AOC Program Meeting is held annually to review recent developments affecting the program; discuss approaches for implementing delisting targets; build capacity to implement on-the-ground restoration actions; identify opportunities to address AOC restoration priorities; improve linkages between the AOCs, Lakewide Management Plans (LaMPs) and other programs; and consider actions that will strengthen the regional U.S. AOC program.

Statewide Public Advisory Council for Michigan’s AOCs

Of the 42 current Great Lakes AOCs, 14 are located in Michigan. They include rivers, lakes and bays located across the state. Michigan's AOC program is administered by Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (formerly the Department of Environmental Quality) in collaboration with other state and federal agencies and local stakeholders.

The Statewide Public Advisory Council (SPAC) was formed in 1991 to facilitate public participation in decisions affecting Michigan's AOC program, heighten public awareness of and participation in the RAPs being developed in the AOCs, and generate public support for implementation of restoration and protection measures in the AOCs.

Virtual Library of Remedial Action Plan Resources

The Virtual Library of Remedial Action Plan Resources is a web page maintained by the Great Lakes Commission that provides a variety of information on the Great Lakes Areas of Concern program and associated Remedial Action Plans. Information contained on the page is updated frequently and expanded as needed to reflect new information as the RAP program evolves.

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Resources

In 2010, the U.S. EPA was provided $475 million for the first year of a new, interagency Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) targeting significant problems in the region, including invasive aquatic species, non-point source pollution, and contaminated sediment. The GLRI uses outcome-oriented performance goals and measures to target these problems and track progress in addressing them. U.S. EPA, in concert with its federal partners and other stakeholders, is leading the development and implementation of the GLRI and will administer the funding. The Great Lakes Commission maintains a list of web links for the GLRI that may be useful to Great Lakes stakeholders who are interested in the GLRI or involved in developing funding proposals. The links on this page will be updated continuously.


A variety of recent and past publications and documents related to Great Lakes Areas of Concern are available on the Publications page.

Workshop and Meeting Proceedings

The Great Lakes Commissiom maintains summaries and proceedings of a variety of workshops and meetings related to Great Lakes Areas of Concern. Brief descriptions and links to those summaries are available on the Workshop & Meeting Proceedings page.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Free Press
Tina Lam

Palisades Nuclear power plant, which sits on the shores of Lake Michigan, could soon be downgraded by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to a status making it among the nation's five worst-performing nuclear plants after a year of accidents, unexpected shutdowns and safety violations.
The regional head of the NRC said last week that if performance does not improve, the agency would not hesitate to shut down the plant. Palisades is one of the nation's 10 oldest nuclear plants, and after hitting its 40-year life-span in 2011, its license was extended until 2031.
"Quite frankly, we find your performance troubling, and it declined in 2011," regional administration Cynthia Pederson said in a rare public rebuke of the plant owned by Entergy Nuclear Operations.
Entergy acknowledged mistakes. One accident in September led to a loss of electricity at the plant that tripped its reactor and caused equipment to malfunction.
The accident "could have killed somebody," the plant's manager said last week in a shaken voice.
That was one of at least five unexpected shutdowns of the plant in the past year after valves malfunctioned, seals leaked or pumps failed. The NRC spent 1,000 extra hours last year inspecting the plant.
Antinuclear activists and watchdogs say there are even deeper problems the NRC has not addressed, including Entergy not having replaced major components that former owner Consumers Energy said needed to be replaced when it sold the plant in 2006. Although their age makes those components vulnerable, the NRC says the components still meet safety standards.
"If all these failings and accidents line up in just the right way, we could have a very bad day at Palisades," said Kevin Kamps, a Kalamazoo native and staff member at Beyond Nuclear near Washington, D.C.

Palisades nuclear plant accident investigated

It began with a light bulb.
Trying to fix a burned-out light bulb on an indicator button led to a serious incident that left the Palisades nuclear plant on Lake Michigan without half its electrical power on Sept. 25, 2011. A piece of equipment slipped while a worker was troubleshooting on a live electrical panel, causing an arc of electricity and a loss of half the indicators in the room that controls the reactor. Signals went haywire for a while. The plant shut down.
A plant spokesman notified local newspapers of the shutdown as required, but assured the public there were no safety risks.
Behind the scenes, the reaction was not so mild.
"This was an avoidable event," plant manager David Hamilton said last week at a daylong Nuclear Regulatory Commission public meeting on the incident, where Palisades managers were questioned at length about what happened.
In taking his share of the blame, Hamilton said, "I apologize if I get emotional, but I could have killed somebody that weekend."
Anthony Vitale, vice president of operations for Entergy at Palisades, said he was thankful that operators were properly trained and had been able to respond to prevent the accident from getting any worse. "I saw the look on the shift manager's face," he said. "I can tell you, I will never let that happen again."
In the meeting last week in Chicago, regulators said it wasn't even so much what did happen, as what could have.
The NRC has preliminarily flagged the incident as "yellow," one that has substantial safety significance.
Though they took the blame and promised fixes, Entergy officials said the problems stemmed in part from employees' failures to follow Entergy procedures used at its other plants. Entergy bought the plant in 2007 from Consumers Energy, which had operated it for decades.
"You've run it for four years," said Cynthia Pederson, the NRC administrator for Region III, which oversees nuclear plants in the Midwest. "Frankly, we're tired of that excuse."
Vitale and Hamilton admitted that the company's safety culture was lax, meaning some people were not as risk-conscious as they should be.
"We understand we need improvements in our people and our plant," Vitale said. The company has brought in a consultant to help it ramp up safety.
The incident was one of five unexpected reactor trips, three serious incidents and a violation in the last year that have landed the plant in hot water.
"We're concerned with the accidents and violations we've identified," Pederson told the Free Press on Thursday.
She listed Palisades' problems: organizational failures, a plan for change that came only after performance had declined steeply, poor instructions for work that needed to be done, failing to follow procedures, poor supervision and oversight, poor maintenance and multiple events caused by human errors or equipment failures. "The list could go on," she said.
"What we want to see is a change in performance," Pederson said. The plant already had more than 1,000 hours of extra NRC inspections last year and will undergo more this year, she said. A plant that is performing well gets about 2,500 hours yearly. The NRC wants to make sure the company finds and fixes the root causes of each problem.

Color-coded dangers

Each year, most of the nation's 104 reactors have minor problems that are considered of very low safety significance. Those plants are in the "green" category, which allows baseline inspections by resident NRC inspectors, who are on-site daily. Michigan's two other nuclear plants -- Fermi 2 and D.C. Cook -- are in the green category.
When more serious problems are discovered, the NRC puts plants into downgraded categories, starting with white, then yellow and then red, depending on seriousness. Without improvement, a red plant is shut down until problems are fixed.
The further the plant is downgraded, the more inspections it requires.
Earlier this month, the NRC determined that a pump failure at Palisades last May was a white finding, of low to moderate significance, and moved the plant from the green category to white. A dozen other U.S. plants are in that same category. That problem was caused by workers who didn't follow the right maintenance procedures, the NRC said.
Last week's hearing covered two other preliminary findings, one white and one yellow. If one or both are upheld, the plant could be downgraded to yellow.
Only two other plants nationwide are in that category now. A third plant is in the red, or worst, category, and a fourth is completely shut down after flood damage last year.
The second white finding, still preliminary, was that one of three critical water pumps used to cool the plant failed in May 2011 because of corrosion of a coupling; the same thing had happened in 2009 but the company had not determined the correct cause. The preliminary yellow finding was the electrical failure.
The NRC also issued a legal violation against Palisades earlier this month, separate from its performance reviews, after a supervisor walked off in anger from his job in the plant's control room in October 2010, without seeking permission to leave or asking anyone to take over his duties. The control room is the most sensitive area of the plant, overseeing the reactor's operation. Pederson said the company has promised corrective action and could yet be fined in that case.
Palisades already spent part of 2008 and most of 2009 in the white category because of problems at the plant.
David Lochbaum, director of nuclear safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists and a nuclear engineer, said the NRC's system of colored findings and increased inspections when plants are downgraded is a vast improvement over the way the agency used to do business.
The NRC used to assess performance every 18 months to two years. "Problems had to grow to epidemic proportions before the old system flagged them," he said, and the agency had no means to compel fixes. Since 2000, when the system changed to assessing 25 performance criteria every three months, it's quicker to detect and solve issues.
"It doesn't rely on words, promises or excuses," he said. As plants are downgraded, more NRC inspectors show up. If a plant has deeper problems, the inspectors will find them. A plant can't be upgraded until the NRC does a major inspection that finds no major problems.
"It's about objective evidence," Lochbaum said.

Equipment issues

Besides human failures, the plant has underlying equipment issues, some of them because of its age, antinuclear activists say. Cables break, aging pipes burst, reactor vessels deteriorate and corrosion hits equipment.
Palisades was completed in 1967 but didn't open until 1971. It's among the nation's 10 oldest plants. Its life-span was planned as 40 years, like other reactors. The NRC granted it a 20-year extension to 2031 four years ago. About 70 other plants have won similar extensions.
A 2011 Associated Press investigation found that the NRC often worked closely with plant operators to keep aging reactors within safety standards by weakening the standards.
Kevin Kamps, a watchdog with Beyond Nuclear, a Maryland nonprofit that opposes nuclear plants, said that has happened with some components at Palisades. In 2006, when Consumers Energy was seeking permission to sell Palisades to Entergy, it did a presentation to the Michigan Public Service Commission showing what fixes needed to be made and arguing that Entergy would be in a good position to afford them.
Many of those fixes still haven't been made. The reactor vessel at Palisades is possibly the most brittle in the country, meaning radiation bombarding the vessel has weakened the metal, according to NRC studies done on the problem at plants around the country to try to determine fixes for it, Lochbaum said.
Pederson acknowledged that problem Thursday but said that the vessel still meets acceptable safety standards.
Another problem, a corroded reactor lid that Consumers said in 2006 needed replacing, also falls within acceptable safety standards for now, she said.
Kamps said opponents of the plant wanted it shut down instead of winning a 20-year extension. "It's an accident waiting to happen," he said.
Pederson disagreed and said the plant is not dangerous to its neighbors.
"If it were, I'd shut it down immediately," she said.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wolves and Moose on Isle Royale Lake Superior.

Years ago my husband and I hiked Isle Royale and heard moose but we never heard wolves.  We saw a moose in our path and we saw moose wading in the waters.  The wolves are evasive so we never saw one.  We heard loons at night and many song birds during the day. We picked tasty thimbleberries No cars or paved roads spoil the wild beauty of Isle Royale.  It is a National Park where people can hike and camp.

The balance between wolves and moose on Isle Royale has been studied for years.

Read more about Isle Royale and the redfin lake trout in my book, The Dynamic Great Lakes.  Available on Kindle

Also available in paperback here:

or Barnes & Noble and Amazon and many independent bookstores.