Environment & Science

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The owners of the Palisades nuclear power plant promised last night to improve their “culture of safety."   

But dozens of people at the public meeting doubted that promise.   Catherine Sugas spoke for many people who attended the meeting when she questioned why the problem plagued nuclear power plant is still operating.

“If you can’t shut down a plant that’s dangerous…what are you?    How can you keep a plant going that’s obviously dangerous,” Sugas asked a panel from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Many biologists, politicians, and other say the threat of Asian carp getting into the Great Lakes is cause for concern. The silver carp are especially a nuisance. Those are the ones that can jump as high as 10-feet out of the water. They flop onto boats, and can cause injuries to fishermen.

The Environment Report has been taking a closer look at the effects these fish could have on our rivers and lakes, in the series -- Asian Carp & the Great Lakes.

Rebecca Williams and I took a trip to Eagle Marsh, Indiana. The wetland preserve is located on the southwest border of Fort Wayne. There, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources built what is nearly a 1,200 foot long, 8 foot high chain link fence, designed to block potential advancement of Asian carp toward the Great Lakes.

Here's a video of our trip, plus footage of Asian carp in action, and interviews with experts.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The safety of west Michigan’s Palisades nuclear power plant will be the topic of a public meeting tonight in South Haven.

Palisades has one of the worst safety ratings in the country.

Maintenance mistakes and other problems led to four unscheduled reactor shutdowns at Palisades in 2011.  And there have been more problems this year.

The redder the higher the difference from average temperature, June-August 2012
NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center reported today that the summer of 2012 "was the third hottest summer on record for the contiguous United States since recordkeeping began in 1895."

They looked at records from June through August of 2012 (summer is technically over on the morning of September 22).

...the average temperature for the contiguous United States between June and August was over 74° Fahrenheit, which is more than 2° F above the twentieth-century average. Only the summers of 2011 and 1936 have had higher summer temperatures for the Lower 48.

The online weather service, the Weather Underground, has compiled data that allows users to look at how their local climate has changed over the years.

It also allows users to see how local the climate is expected to change in the coming years using two different IPCC greenhouse gas emissions models.

Great blue heron covered in oil from the 2010 Enbridge oil spill near Marshall, Michigan.
Michigan's oil response Flickr page / State of Michigan

The U.S. Department of Transportation has closed its pollution case against the owner of a pipeline that ruptured in 2010, spewing oil into the Kalamazoo River.

Federal regulators say Enbridge paid a $3.7 million fine to the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) last month.

The company is responsible for the largest inland, freshwater oil spill in U.S. history.

user vaxomatic / flickr

The campaigns for and against Proposal 3 on the November ballot are arguing the economic merits of renewable fuels versus coal and gas.

Proposal 3 would require 25 percent of the state’s electricity be generated using wind, the sun, or bio-fuels by 2025.

Ken Sikkema conducted a study for the campaign against Proposal 3.

He compared the costs of renewable generation to the costs of using coal or natural gas.

He found renewable energy will be more expensive. Sikkema says businesses, in particular, need flexibility in planning for their energy needs.

"We don’t know what the cost of fuel’s going to be – for example, natural gas prices are on a downward spiral," says Sikkema. "That could be a factor in, if you need new generation, what do you use? Do you use wind? Do you use natural gas, or coal?"

The campaign for Proposal 3 says the ballot question would help stabilize energy costs, because the cost of wind and solar energy is not as volatile as fossil fuels.

The campaign also says the 25 percent target would help make renewable energy more affordable.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A federal program that tries to get homeowners to invest in energy efficient home improvement projects is nearly over.

The program provides a detailed home energy audit for a super low price. Homeowners who want to make improvements based on the audit can take out a low interest loan.

Great Lakes Commission

by Adam Allington for the Environment Report

Earlier this spring, the Obama administration ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up a five-year study of options to block invasive Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.  Many biologists say the best solution would be complete separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River watershed.  But basin separation comes with its own multi-billion dollar price tag... and it would require re-plumbing the entire City of Chicago.

This story begins with a nice round number, and that number is 1900… the year the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was complete. 

Back then, the canal’s opening was touted as one of the biggest civil engineering feats of the industrial age—significant, for completely reversing the flow of the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan and taking all the sewage from the city of Chicago with it.

Over 100 years later, that canal is still doing the same job.

“On any given day, depending on the time of year, approximately 60-80 percent of the volume of the Chicago River is treated municipal wastewater.”

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Dozens of people crowded around several small tables at conference center in South Haven, six miles north of the Palisades nuclear plant.

Each table features a different area of concern or interest at the plan; the reactor vessel’s embrittlement factor, a water tank leak, a coupling failure, replacement of a cooling tower, how spent fuel is stored, community projects Entergy supports.

Engineers and project managers point to pictures and diagrams to help answer questions. There are little freebies and even a raffle for a new Ipad.

The plant has one of the worst safety ratings in the country after a series of problems in 2011.

Palisades reactor from ouside
Mark Savage / Entergy Nuclear Operations

One of the biggest environmental stories in our state this year comes from the West Side of Michigan near South Haven, on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.
Entergy Corporation

The Palisades nuclear power plant is hosting an open house tonight in South Haven. It’s a rare opportunity for people to ask detailed questions about the plant.

It’s impractical to host the open house at the plant because of security reasons. Instead, it’ll take place at the same conference center where the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has held a number of public hearings this year about the plant’s poor safety rating. In fact, the NRC will host a public meeting next week at the same place to discuss those safety concerns in detail.

Palisades spokesman Mark Savage says the open house tonight will be informal… kind of like a science fair.

Mark Savage / Entergy

New documents show a team of nuclear regulators will begin a major inspection of the Palisades nuclear power plant this month. The inspection is a direct result of the plant’s downgraded safety rating that was issued earlier this year.

A chart showing historic water levels on the Great Lakes.
GLERL / NOAA

Just about a half a meter less, and the record will be beat.

That's how much the water level in Lake Michigan would have to drop to reach the record low level set in March of 1964.

In that month, the Lake Michigan water level was measured at 175.58 meters above sea level.

This past July, it was measured at 176.04 meters above sea level.

You can explore historic Great Lakes water level data on this NOAA website.

One consultant says Holland should convert its coal plant to natural gas.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

People and interest groups are expected to weigh in on the City of Holland’s long term energy plan at two public hearings tonight and Wednesday.

Angela Badran, with Holland’s Board of Public Works, says the city is trying to figure out the best way to supply residents and industry with baseload energy for the next few decades.

"It’s very complex sort of situation that we’re looking at in, how can we best fit the needs of Holland for the next 25 years," says Badran.

The biggest decision facing the city-owned utility is what to do with its aging coal plant.

An independent consultant says the city would get the best return on investment if it converts the coal plant to burn natural gas instead.

Holland is taking input on several proposed plans at this week's public hearings.

It's estimated that as many as 3,000 wild pigs are on the loose in Michigan. Nationwide, they cause more than $1.8 billion in damage to farms each year. So recently, the state's Department of Natural Resources put Russian boar on the state's invasive species list.

emmetcounty.org

by Peter Payette for The Environment Report

For decades, communities in Michigan have been preserving land with help from the Natural Resources Trust Fund.  The Mackinac Headlands, Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area and William Milliken State Park in Detroit were all purchased with the help of these grants.  But now some state senators want to change the way the system works.  Some of the groups that use the trust fund say the changes are radical. 

Logan Chadde / Michigan Radio

Some Livingston County residents who live near a pipeline project say they don't understand why off-duty sheriff's deputies have been hired to provide security.

Enbridge Energy says its contractor hired the Livingston County Sheriff's Department to ensure public safety while the pipeline is replaced.

A few weeks ago, a resident said Enbridge clear-cut trees on her property without permission.  A judge has ordered work to stop until a property rights issue can be sorted out.

user earl53 / MorgueFile.com

There will be a "blue moon" tomorrow night, a fitting wink to Neil Armstrong by the cosmic calendar.

That's the day of a private service for Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, who died last Saturday in Ohio at age 82.

A blue moon occurs when there's a second full moon in one calendar month. The lunar cycle is 29.5 days long, so a blue moon is rare.

This will be your last chance to spot the phenomenon until July of 2015.

WordPress.com

Update 2:00 p.m. Aug. 30

State wildlife officials say more deer have died across the state, reaching almost 2,000 casualties, reports the Associated Press.

More from the AP:

More than 1,700 white-tailed deer have been killed this summer by a disease affecting several counties in the southern half of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources say the outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, has been worst in Ionia County, where more than 1,100 deer have died.

DNR officials say 225 deer have been killed in Branch County, followed by 153 in Clinton County and 101 in Calhoun County.

12:20 p.m. Aug. 16

The AP reports that the disease has turned up in eight Michigan counties and killed hundreds of deer.

More from the AP:

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources said Thursday that deer infected with epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, have been found in Barry, Calhoun, Cass, Clinton, Eaton and Montcalm counties. Experts previously confirmed the disease had killed deer in Ionia and Branch counties.

EHD outbreaks have happened in isolated sections of Michigan repeatedly since 2006. The number of cases is rising nationwide because of hot, dry weather.

Wildlife biologist Tom Cooley says there are reports of more than 900 dead deer across the eight counties. But he said the die-off probably will be confined to local areas and won't affect the wider deer population.

2:30 p.m. August 5, 2012

State wildlife officials are trying to get a handle on the scope of a disease outbreak that's killing deer in large numbers in southern Michigan.

Mark Savage / Entergy

This post has been modified to correct language from the NRC.

The Palisades nuclear power plant is returning to service. It was shut down earlier this month to repair a water leak in the building where the actual reactor is located.  

Workers found water was leaking through several cracks in a device that sits atop the nuclear reactor. Palisades Spokesman Mark Savage says they completely replaced that control rod device.

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