Category Archives: Public health

London high-rise fire: tragedy of the commoners

A catastrophic fire June 14, 2017, at Grenfell Tower, a London high-rise public housing building–killing at least 80 occupants–has developed into a tragedy of the commoners. It is not being visited on British elites. In its aftermath, officials of the current, Tory government spared no effort–to offload blame. Suspicions pointed at building materials that quickly spread flames up the outside of the building.

Philip Hammond, the famously arrogant Chancellor of the Exchequer, tried to claim that materials used in a recent renovation of Grenfell Tower had been banned under the British building code. He was promptly refuted by reporter David D. Kirkpatrick, writing in the New York Times.

The officials patched together a national emergency action, ordering managers of public housing that had used similar building materials to submit samples for so-called “fire safety” testing–but not managers of private housing. Without waiting for results or advice, the Camden council, in north London, ordered evacuations of five high-rise public housing buildings that had been renovated using such materials.

A testing mystery: Building contractors and materials manufacturers had stated that their practices met standards of the British building code, which include standards for fire resistance. A few days after the catastrophe, however, Tory officials said some samples of materials they received had failed “fire safety” testing–tending to offload blame. At ten days after the catastrophe, the officials disclosed that all 60 samples from public housing tested to date had failed. How could that be?

Nothing from mainstream British news sites explored the obvious conflict. One story in the Guardian said recent tests “lack transparency,” but it stopped there. Absent gross fraud, the “fire safety” tests hastily arranged by officials of the Tory government somehow had to differ from tests claimed to have been performed by manufacturers and builders under the British building code.

The current building code allows two approaches. Individual materials can be tested for “fire spread,” using British Standard BS 476 procedures and regulations. Otherwise, a large sample of an assembled “cladding system” can be tested using British Standard BS 8414 procedures and classified under British Research Establishment BRE 135 regulations.

Manufacturers usually test for “fire spread” using BS 476, or a European equivalent, and builders usually seek materials so tested. The alternative via BS 8414 and BRE 135, or European equivalents, is much more costly to test. Moreover, that approach would limit application to a specific “cladding system” design and to its choices for multiple materials and fastenings.

Potentially flammable materials used on the exterior of Grenfell Tower were Celotex RS5000 insulation, 6 inches thick, and Reynobond PE rainshield, 1/8 inch thick–both manufactured in Europe. Both those materials burned in the catastrophe, but most news reports ignored the rigid polyisocyanurate foam insulation and focused only on the rainshield. It consists of a solid polyethylene core and two thin aluminum outer layers.

If Reynobond PE rainshield gets hot–only around 300 F–highly flammable polyethylene in the core will melt. Liquid might leak from an edge and ignite, or an entire metal layer might release, exposing polyethylene to fire. However, BS 476 test procedures do not create such conditions. They subject a patch in the middle of a rainshield panel to a small flame for a minute. The outer metal layer does not burn, and the brief heating does not melt the whole core and release the metal, so such a panel of rainshield material passes that test.

Mystery resolved: At some time on Monday, July 3, according to automatic logging by other sites, British Research Establishment (BRE) staff, who had been performing emergency “fire safety” testing for Tory government officials, added notes to one of their Web pages describing what they were doing. BRE staff admitted they had used rogue “screening tests” to measure “gross heat of combustion” of materials, not a standard test–such as International Standards Organization ISO 1716–and not a test for “fire spread” or for “combustibility.”

According to the BRE statement, “procedures set out in the [ISO] standard [for heat of combustion] have not been followed.” BRE staff did not test for “combustibility” either, as Tory officials have repeatedly claimed–that is, whether a material will catch fire, under some specified condition. Instead, BRE staff have been scraping out core fragments from samples of rainshield material and then measuring how much heat will be produced when the fragments are forced to burn in an artificial environment of pure oxygen.

Now it is clear why tests according to the British building code might pass but tests recently reported by Tory officials might fail. They are different tests. Rogue tests being carried out by the BRE staff do not measure whether materials will catch fire under controlled conditions. Instead they measure how much heat is produced when core fragments scraped from the materials are forced to burn.

The rogue tests, of course, have not been systematically validated against actual risks of building fires. Such a process would involve extended experiments, analysis, documentation and review. If compared, for example, against longstanding, carefully developed BS 8414 procedures and BRE 135 regulations, rogue tests might either overestimate or underestimate fire hazards from practical situations.

Other options: Little noticed by the public, some building materials apparently similar to those used at Grenfell Tower have passed the rogue test ordered by Tory government officials and conducted by BRE staff. The headline for an article on the BBC News site did not help, saying, “Three hospitals fail fire safety.” The text, however, claimed that “cladding at 11 sites passed the checks, while the other 19 sites which flagged up potential fire safety issues have been told they do not need to take further action.”

The Tory government still has not ordered testing of private housing or commercial buildings, but Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt started a national emergency action to test hospital buildings. When reported by BBC News, 30 had passed the rogue test or been exempted, and only three had failed. Apparently British hospital renovations were more cautious in some ways than those performed by public housing authorities.

Three main grades of metal-clad rainshield materials have been marketed in Europe for about 25 years. They are often designated “PE” (polyethylene core), “FR” (fire-retardant core) and “A2″ (limited combustibility core)–the last one a classification from the European Normative EN 13501 fire-resistance standard.

The Alucobond company of Switzerland introduced an “A2″ product in the early 1990s. Like most other such products, its core is nonflammable mineral wool plus a few percent by weight of polymer binder. At very high temperatures the polymer will char, but flames will not spread far. This type of product is more expensive and more difficult to install than other composite rainshield products. The distribution of results obtained by BRE staff suggest that “A2″ products may pass their rogue test, while “PE” and “FR” products may fail.

Lessons learned and unlearned: Some building renovation managers apparently took more cautious approaches than others. However, the Tory government’s attempt to shift blame for the Grenfell Tower catastrophe onto project designers and managers and onto materials manufacturers amounts to a scam.

The core of the problem has been grossly inadequate building code regulations–allowing an irresponsible alternative to carefully developed fire resistance standards. That is compounded by lack of fire suppression measures, particularly requiring fire sprinklers in high-rise buildings.

The British government had ample, local warning about the potential for a catastrophe. In 2009, the Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, similar in many respects, killed three women and three children. Nothing of much significance was ever done to prevent another such disaster.

The current, Tory government nominated Sir Ken Knight, who compiled a report on the Lakanal fire, to head a panel that is to examine “safety actions” in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe. Sir Ken Knight had advised against regulations requiring fire sprinklers in high-rise buildings.

Former Tory housing minister Gavin Barwell told the House of Commons in October, 2016, that the British Building Regulations for fire safety would be reviewed in response to the Lakanal House disaster, but he did nothing. His punishment, after being defeated for re-election, has been to serve as chief of staff to the prime minister, Theresa May.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 6, 2017


Three hospitals fail fire safety checks, BBC News (UK), July 4, 2017

Grenfell Tower fire: ACM cladding testing, British Research Establishment (BRE), July 3, 2017

Richard Hartley-Parkinson, Man overseeing Grenfell disaster previously advised against fitting sprinklers, London Metro, June 28, 2017

Robert Booth, Tower cladding tests after Grenfell fire lack transparency, say experts, Manchester Guardian (UK), June 26, 2017

Sylvia Hui, Associated Press, All samples from high-rise towers in UK fail fire safety tests, Chicago Tribune, June 25, 2017

Caroline Mortimer, Grenfell response: number of tower blocks failing fire tests rises to 60, London Independent, June 25, 2017

Shehab Khan, ‘Hundreds’ died in Grenfell Tower fire, says shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, London Independent, June 24, 2017

David D. Kirkpatrick, Danny Hakim and James Glanz, Why Grenfell Tower burned: regulators put cost before safety, New York Times, June 24, 2017

Danica Kirka, Associated Press, London council evacuates residents amid fire safety concerns, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 23, 2017

Lucy Pasha-Robinson, Tens of thousands of people could be living in lethal tower blocks, tests reveal, London Independent, June 22, 2017

Jack Simpson, Fire experts slam ‘outdated’ Building Regulations following Grenfell, Construction News (UK), June 21, 2017

David D. Kirkpatrick, UK officials said cladding on tower burned in London was banned, but it wasn’t, New York Times, June 19, 2017

Tom Peck, Grenfell Tower cladding is banned in UK, Philip Hammond says, London Independent, June 17, 2017

Dan Bilefsky, London fire death toll rises to 17, New York Times, June 15, 2017

Robert Booth, Ian Sample, David Pegg and Holly Watt, Experts warned government against cladding material used on Grenfell, Manchester Guardian (UK), June 15, 2017

Gregory Katz and Danica Kirka, Associated Press, Death toll rises to 12 in London apartment building inferno, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 14, 2017

ISO 1716:2010, Determination of the gross heat of combustion, International Standards Organization (Geneva, Switzerland), 2017

Resistance to fire: EN 13501, the European standard, Odenwald Faserplattenwerk (Amorbach, Germany), 2017

EN 13501-1: Fire test to building material, Ecosafene Safety and Testing World (Xiamen, China), 2017

BS 476-7: Fire test to building material, Ecosafene Safety and Testing World (Xiamen, China), 2017

Prashant Thakkar, 1992 market introduction of Alucobond A2, Glazing Shopee (Vadodara, India), 2017

Sara Colwell, Illustrated guide to British fire safety testing and standards, British Research Establishment (BRE), 2014

Fire safety: Approved Document B, The Building Regulations 2010, [British] National Archives (effective April, 2007, as amended through 2013)

Craig Bolon, High-rise fire in London: needless catastrophe, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2017

High-rise fire in London: needless catastrophe

Around 1 am local time Wednesday morning, June 14, a kitchen fire began in a London high-rise public housing building. It was reported promptly to 999, London emergency services. The Grenfell Tower structure in west London–built mainly with precast concrete, steel and glass–should easily have resisted a kitchen fire long enough for the London Fire Brigade to arrive and extinguish it, but instead the fire spread.

Fire escaped through a window on a lower floor of the building, ignited newly installed, flammable materials on the exterior and quickly spread upwards. By the time the London Fire Brigade arrived, only a few minutes after the emergency call, the fire had already climbed well up the building of 24 floors, and it was also spreading sideways.

London high-rise fire, June 14, 2017, about 2 am

GrenfellTowerFireLondon20170614
Source: London emergency services

Desperate efforts: The London Fire Brigade was able to extinguish the kitchen fire, but its efforts against the massive fire on the outside of the high-rise building proved futile. By the time water flowed from aerial pumpers, the fire had spread onto two or more sides of Grenfell Tower and had reached the upper floors. As shown in photos, water streams rose only about halfway up one side of the building and a third of the way up a second. Apparently the London Fire Brigade could not access other sides when it mattered most.

The intense fire warped or melted new, thin aluminum window frames, and window panes fell out, allowing the fire inside. The building never had sprinklers. Contents of nearly all dwellings above the eighth floor and some below eventually ignited, further spreading fire from window to window. Interior fires became mostly air-limited and very smoky. Photos show interior fires burning at least 12 hours, until there were no more dwelling contents left to burn.

Inside Grenfell Tower, survivors say chaos reigned. In some areas, fire alarms did not sound or could not be heard. Emergency lighting was dim. Residents had been warned to stay inside dwellings in case of fire, but many ran through smoky corridors and down the single, narrow stairway, colliding with firefighters rushing upward. Most Grenfell Tower residents survived, but many who followed instructions became trapped.

While the lowest floors of Grenfell Tower suffered water damage, photos show at least three-quarters of the building incinerated. Five days after the fire began, London police stated that at least 79 people had perished. News reports speculated that final numbers could be much higher. Parts of the structure had been found unstable, so that dogs had been sent in to search for remains.

Causes of the catastrophe: The Grenfell Tower fire of 2017 did not compare to property damage from the Great London Fire of 1666, but the death toll may have been higher. The British prime minister has ordered a public inquiry directed by a judge. While that is likely to take at least months, contributing factors are already known.

It was clear from the outset that materials installed in a recent renovation of Grenfell Tower spread fire outside the building. High-rise structures were traditionally built with fireproof materials: typically concrete, steel, brick and glass. The renovation clad the building in a thick layer of insulation and a thin layer of rainshield. Both the added layers contained flammable materials, and both apparently burned.

Early news reports mentioned several different materials used in renovating Grenfell Tower, including highly flammable polystyrene and polyurethane. Discovery of specifications narrowed the list to Celotex RS5000 insulation, 6 inches thick, and Reynobond PE rainshield, 1/8 inch thick–both manufactured in Europe. The Celotex product is rigid polyisocyanurate foam, fire resistant but not fireproof. The Reynobond PE product has a solid polyethylene core, easily melted and readily flammable.

For a short time, Philip Hammond, the famously arrogant Chancellor of the Exchequer since July, 2016, muddied waters with a claim that Grenfell Tower renovation materials were banned under British building codes. If so, that might shift liability away from the UK government and toward renovation contractors. Writing in the New York Times, reporter David D. Kirkpatrick soon showed Hammond misinformed or lying.

In recent years, flammable materials have been allowed on the exteriors of high-rise buildings in several places, including France, Britain, Dubai, Singapore, South Korea and Victoria, Australia. That has resulted in a series of so-called “cladding fires” on the outsides of high-rise buildings. Until the Grenfell Tower catastrophe, the most widely publicized of those fires occurred in Dubai.

The worst of at least five recent high-rise cladding fires in Dubai heavily damaged the Address hotel on New Year’s Eve, 2015, the Sulafa tower on July 20, 2016, and the ironically named Torch Tower on April 2, 2017. The disasters resulted in several injuries but no deaths. In response, Dubai reportedly tightened building requirements, with some previously installed building materials needing to be replaced.

Avoiding another catastrophe: A cladding fire in Melbourne, Australia on November 25, 2014, showed how multiple fire-safety measures can avoid catastrophes. Lacrosse Docklands is a 23-story apartment building similar to Grenfell Tower. The exterior had been clad with similar flammable materials. A cigarette left in a plastic dish on a balcony ignited the dish and the wood table under it, starting a fire.

The burning wood table ignited an adjacent area of rainshield material, starting the cladding fire. The rainshield on this building was known by the trade name Alucobest. Like the Reynobond PE product, the standard Alucobest product has a readily flammable solid polyethylene core. As with the Grenfell Tower fire, the Lacrosse Docklands fire warped and melted aluminum window frames, and window panes fell out, allowing the fire to enter dwellings.

That is where similarities end and differences begin. Unlike Grenfell Tower, the insulation behind the rainshield at Lacrosse Docklands in Melbourne was non-combustible, not merely fire resistant: glass wool instead of polyisocyanurate foam. That probably slowed the speed of fire spreading, and it fed less fuel to the fire. The design of Lacrosse Docklands features bays of dwellings separated by protruding fins. The fire in Melbourne rose rapidly up one bay but did not jump to adjacent bays.

Unlike Grenfell Tower in London, Lacrosse Docklands in Melbourne had sprinklers–likely the most important difference. They worked as intended and kept fire from spreading inside dwellings, even though fire had been able to enter through damaged and open windows. The intensity of the fire did not increase through igniting dwelling contents, and fire did not spread inside the Melbourne building.

Unlike the London Fire Brigade performance, water flows from aerial pumpers in Melbourne reached to the top of the Lacrosse Docklands building and extinguished the cladding fire. There was substantial property damage in Melbourne, but there were no deaths or major injuries. Multiple safety measures combined to prevent a disaster from becoming a catastrophe.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 21, 2017


A visual guide to what happened at Grenfell Tower, BBC News, June 20, 2017

Danica Kirka and Frank Griffiths, Associated Press, 79 now believed to have died in London high-rise fire, ABC News, June 19, 2017

David D. Kirkpatrick, UK officials said cladding on tower burned in London was banned, but it wasn’t, New York Times, June 19, 2017

Justin Pritchrd, Associated Press, Insulating skin on high-rises has fueled fires before London, ABC News, June 18, 2017

Tom Peck, Grenfell Tower cladding is banned in UK, Philip Hammond says, London Independent, June 17, 2017

Danica Kirka, Associated Press, Anger erupts over possible flaws at burned London tower, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 16, 2017

Aaron Morby, Twenty London high-rises with Grenfell cladding system, Construction Enquirer (UK), June 16, 2017

Tom Bergin, Maker of panels at London tower cautioned on high-rise fire risk, Reuters (UK), June 16, 2017

Hayley Dixon, Sarah Knapton, Steven Swinford, Leon Watson and Danny Boyle, Grief gives way to anger as Grenfell Tower residents demand answers over string of failures, London Telegraph, June 15, 2017

Dan Bilefsky, London fire death toll rises to 17, New York Times, June 15, 2017

Hannah Lucinda Smith, The Grenfell Tower blaze was a disaster waiting to happen, The Spectator (UK), June 15, 2017

Benedict Brook and Rose Brennan, Melbourne skyscraper fire, caused by cladding, may have been a warning for London, News Corp Australia, June 15, 2017

Calla Wahlquist, Cladding in London high-rise fire also blamed for 2014 Melbourne blaze, Manchester Guardian (UK), June 15, 2017

Henry Bodkin, Fire safety expert had warned government advisors ‘entirely avoidable’ deaths would occur at structures like Grenfell Tower, London Telegraph, June 14, 2017

Jon Gambrell, Fire hits Dubai high-rise complex near world’s tallest tower, Associated Press, April 2, 2017

Unattributed, AFP, Dubai toughens fire rules after tower blazes, Business Times, January 22, 2017

Unattributed, Dubai fire: blaze engulfs more than 30 floors of Sulafa Tower, BBC News, July 20, 2016

Lacrosse Docklands fire: post-incident analysis report, Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board, Victoria, Australia, April 27, 2015 (5 MB)

Andrew Moseman, Huge fire engulfs Dubai skyscraper full of apartments, Popular Mechanics, February 20, 2015

Power-plant toxics: no longer a political trinket

By appointing Scott Pruitt, former Oklahoma attorney general, as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the cockroach President signaled another warp in the long struggle against emissions from U.S. power-plants. During his former service, Pruitt garnered large political contributions from managers in poultry industries, who wanted to scuttle rules for waste disposal at chicken farms. Pandering to their causes against public interests, Pruitt became Chief Chicken Shit of the Southwest.

If the cockroach were to fall to a heart attack tomorrow, the environment could become even more threatened. Vice President Pence was a promoter of Pruitt. Writing in the Huffington Post, John Halstead described Pence as an environmental racist. While Indiana governor, Pence responded quickly to lead found in the water supply for Greentown, a community that is 97 percent white. He ignored problems in East Chicago, where a majority-black neighborhood suffers from the worst soil concentration of lead ever reported in the U.S.

Industrial waste: At an auto-industry event on March 15, 2017, the cockroach promised, “My administration will work tirelessly to eliminate…industry-killing regulations.” The context was fuel efficiency. The cockroach promoted lower efficiency: that is, more fuel waste, more emissions and a retreat from U.S. energy independence. Some applause came from locals but not from the Detroit Free Press, whose business reporter said the push would undermine “innovation we need to see more of in the Michigan economy.”

On March 28, the cockroach President staged a fantasy act with coal miners in the Oval Office, signing Executive Order 19, an unhinged and antisocial maneuver. It directs that federal “agencies immediately review…regulations that potentially burden…use of domestically produced energy…[where] ‘burden’ means significant costs [for]…utilization…of energy resources.” Climate issues got nearly all the media attention then, but regulations on toxic power-plant emissions also loomed as likely targets.

Pruitt was Oklahoma’s supervising counsel for White Stallion Energy v. EPA, the DC Appeals Court case on toxic power-plant emissions that led to Michigan v. EPA, decided in 2015 by the Supreme Court. That proved to be the last attack on the public interest from clever, antisocial former Justice Scalia, who had managed to bend the ear of Justice Kennedy. Against precedent, Scalia’s opinion said the EPA had to consider costs when regulating toxic power-plant emissions.

According to Coral Davenport, writing in the New York Times, “Pruitt, [then] attorney general of Oklahoma…sued the EPA at least 14 times [in only six years], often in concert with the nation’s largest fossil-fuel companies, to block major environmental regulations.” Fortunately for the environment, he was rarely as successful as he was in Michigan v. EPA, and fortunately that case will have little direct impact.

Contrasts: Residents of the Boston area for more than 50 years will likely remember days when smoke darkened the sky. Before the 1960s there were few air quality rules. Power-plants, factories, offices and homes belched smoke from coal, oil and wastes. “Efficient” cars meant ones getting more than about 12 miles to the gallon. Cities, towns, institutions and businesses burned trash in open incinerators.

Smoke-blackened Washington Street, Boston, 1915

SmokeBlackenedWashingtonStreet1915
Source: Boston Public Library Archives

In November, 2013, a survey of large U.S. cities found that “Boston tops the list as the city with the cleanest air and boasts the lowest Air Quality Index score possible. Boston’s accessible public transportation system…the Air Pollution Control Commission…[and] annual precipitation…are good indicators that Bostonians are breathing easy.” Quite a change from the grimy Boston environment between about 50 and 150 years earlier.

Progress and mischief: Before 1970, most efforts to reduce air pollution were state initiatives. The federal 1970 Clean Air Act amendments [Public Law 88-206] became a watershed, aiming at uniform requirements that states would refine and enforce rather than initiate. The 1970 law authorized national “air quality” standards and regional “performance” standards for pollution emitters.

Coal has long been the most harmful fuel. In recent years, activists became concerned that it produces the most carbon dioxide. However, there are longstanding concerns over emissions of sulfur dioxide, mercury, arsenic and particles of toxic metals from burning coal. The U.S. EPA moved extremely slowly to regulate sulfur dioxide, finally spurred by 1990 Clear Air Act amendments [Public Law 91-604] requiring actions to combat acid rain. Until the Obama era, the agency failed to restrict other toxic components of coal smoke.

The Walker Bush administration tried to gut regulation of power-plant emissions through its proposed Clean Air Mercury Rule and Delisting Rule. The music stopped when the DC Appeals Court denounced those two shabby attempts in its decision for New Jersey v. EPA. [517 F.3d 574, 2008] A dramatic sequence of seven federal court rulings overturned much of the environmental mischief oozing from the Walker Bush administration.

*** New York v. Environmental Protection Agency (2005) vacated the New Source Review Rule.
*** New York v. Environmental Protection Agency (2006) vacated the Equipment Replacement Provision Rule.
*** Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (2007) vacated the refusal to regulate carbon dioxide.
*** Environmental Defense, v. Duke Energy (2007) affirmed the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Rule.
*** New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated the Clean Air Mercury Rule.
*** North Carolina v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated the Clean Air Interstate Rule.
*** Sierra Club v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated 2006 Clean Air Act emission limits.

Obama-era progress: The Obama administrations issued two major air-quality regulations: the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) in 2011 and the Clean Power Plan in 2015. When reporting about lawsuits attacking them, news media sometimes failed to distinguish the two regulations clearly. MATS is directed toward the toxic pollutants that have been longstanding concerns of the U.S. EPA. The Clean Power Plan is a climate initiative, intended to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions.

The cockroach President was able to suspend the Clean Power Plan, but the great majority of fossil-fueled power is now produced by plants that comply with MATS. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that as of April, 2016, nearly all coal-fired plants had installed equipment. According to Paul Ciampoli, writing in Power Plant Daily, plants representing about 2 GW out of about 276 GW total–less than a percent of industry capacity–were still operating on MATS waivers. The cockroach mashed by feet on the ground.

Good news for the U.S. is that economics blocked obscene politics. When power-plant emissions are filtered enough to bring down ordinary chemical pollution, costs of coal-fired power rise too high for new plants and are shuttering many old ones. Brayton Point in Somerset, MA–once among the filthiest in New England–was outfitted with pollution controls. Recently it has operated less than a quarter of the time, and it is scheduled to close permanently in May, 2017–no longer competitive.

Power from natural gas-fired plants, not government policy, has been the main agent evicting coal-fired power. In plains areas of the Middle West and in giant river valleys of the Pacific Northwest, wind turbines also provide advantages along with very low emissions. There, where winds tend to be stronger and steadier than in other places and where installation costs tend to be lower, one major form of renewable energy no longer needs new subsidies to prosper. Again, the cockroach mashed by feet on the ground.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 16, 2017


Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, Court freezes Clean Power Plan lawsuit, signaling likely end to Obama’s signature climate policy, Washington Post, April 28, 2017

Sonal Patel, Trump’s EPA signals changes for power-plant mercury rule, Power Magazine, April 20, 2017

Jonathan Mattise, Associated Press, Federal utility CEO: coal plants not reopening under Trump, WTOP (Washington, DC), April 18, 2017

Michael Biesecker and Sam Hananel, Associated Press, EPA seeks to derail cleanup of coal power-plant pollution, WTOP (Washington, DC), April 18, 2017

Eric Lipton, Ben Protess and Andrew W. Lehren, With Trump appointees, a raft of potential conflicts and no transparency, New York Times, April 15, 2017

Coral Davenport, Coal is on the way out at electric utilities, no matter what Trump says, New York Times, April 5, 2017

Emily Hammond, President Trump’s executive order on “energy independence,” Vox Media (Washington, DC), March 29, 2017

On promoting energy independence and economic growth, Executive order 19, White House, March 28, 2017

Matthew Daly and Jill Colvin, Associated Press, Trump takes aim at Obama’s efforts to curb global warming, Boston Globe, March 27, 2017

Jill Colvin, Associated Press, Trump announces challenge to Obama-era fuel standards, Boston Globe, March 15, 2017

John Gallagher, Why Trump’s rollback of tailpipe emissions rules is a bad idea, Detroit Free Press, March 15, 2017

John Flesher, Matthew Daly and Catherine Lucey, Associated Press, Climate and other programs get deep cuts in EPA budget proposal, WTOP (Washington, DC), March 3, 2017

Coral Davenport, EPA workers try to block Pruitt in show of defiance, New York Times, February 16, 2017

Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner, Scott Pruitt, EPA designee, expresses doubts on climate, defends oil industry funding, Reuters (UK), January 18, 2017

Alex Formuzis, EPA pick Pruitt stymied cleanup of scenic river fouled by factory chicken-farm waste, Environmental Working Group (Washington, DC), January 14, 2017

John Halstead, Mike Pence’s environmental racism, Huffington Post (Washington, DC), January 14, 2017

Eric Lipton and Coral Davenport, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA pick, backed industry donors over regulators, New York Times, January 14, 2017

Inside the Clean Air Act, US Legal (Jackson, MS), 2017

Edward Wong, Trump calls climate change a Chinese hoax, New York Times, November 19, 2016

Ryan H. Wiser and Mark Bolinger, Wind technologies market report, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, August, 2016

EIA electricity generator data show power industry response to EPA mercury limits, U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 7, 2016

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Consideration of cost in the “appropriate and necessary” finding for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants, 81 FR 24420-24452, April 25, 2016

Keith Goldberg, High court won’t halt EPA mercury rule, Law360 (New York, NY), March 3, 2016

Laura Barron-Lopez, Supreme Court stays Obama’s carbon emissions plan, Huffington Post, February 9, 2016

Elena Craft, Graham McCahan and Mandy Warner, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, Environmental Defense Fund (New York, NY), 2016

Rachel Cleetus, Steve Clemmer, Jeff Deyette, Brenda Ekwurzel, Julie McNamara, Jeremy Richardson and John Rogers, The Clean Power Plan: a climate game-changer, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2016

Michael B. Gerrard, Supreme Court ruling on mercury shows little deference to EPA, New York Law Journal 254(49), September 10, 2015

Michigan v. EPA, case no. 2014-46, U.S. Supreme Court, 576 U.S. (2015) June 29, 2015

Samuel Worth, Why EPA should have prohibited cost considerations in White Stallion, Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 42(2):593-606, April 10, 2015

White Stallion Energy v. Environmental Protection Agency, case no. 2012-1100, U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, 748 F.3d 1222, April 15, 2014

Erin Ailworth, Owner reaffirms 2017 closing of Brayton Point plant, Boston Globe, January 27, 2014

Tracey Jones, Ten cities with the best air quality, CreditDonkey (Pasadena, CA), 2013

Nicholas Morales, New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency, Harvard Environmental Law Review 33(1):263-282, 2009

New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency, case no. 2005-1097, U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, 517 F.3d 574, February 8, 2008

George A. Gonzales, The Politics of Air Pollution, State University of New York Press, 2005

James J. MacKenzie. Boston’s sufferance of sulfur dioxide, Science 172(3985):792-793, 1971

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Fall town meeting: pipe dreams, Brookline Beacon, December 4, 2014

Craig Bolon, Coal-fired and oil-fired electricity in New England, Energy and Environment, October 17, 2013

Craig Bolon, Tangle of air pollution regulations affecting energy, Energy and Environment, 2008

Bermuda explosion: medical racketeering

On February 14 of this year, Bermuda filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for Massachusetts, seeking damages and legal costs from the Lahey medical organization of Burlington, MA. Bermuda claims that Lahey, aided by Dr. Ewart Brown, former prime minister of Bermuda, cost the country millions of dollars by engaging in a “pattern of racketeering activity.”

Bermuda v. Lahey is likely to prove complex. It seeks to apply the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970 to a civil dispute. Congress aimed RICO at “organized crime.” RICO helped reduce the New England Mob from subverters of mainstream business through violence and threats to exploiters of some peep shows and massage parlors. However, little known to most people, RICO also includes a section authorizing civil lawsuits.

When a “pattern of racketeering activity” by an “interstate enterprise” has been proven in court, triple damages plus legal costs can be awarded in a civil RICO lawsuit. As an early example, civil RICO was used successfully against anti-abortion activists who harassed and trashed a Philadelphia clinic during 1984, resulting in awards of about $45,000 for damages and $90,000 for legal costs.

Bermuda’s claims: According to the recent lawsuit, Lahey “accept[ed] fees for medically unnecessary…services…using those fees to pay Brown increasing bribes…to promote its interests in Bermuda.” [Bermuda v. Lahey complaint, paragraph 121] The “actions have caused [Bermuda] to…increase the rate at which it pays for certain health benefits, and to pay for overseas services in the United States….” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 132]

That is the essence of Bermuda’s arguments that it is owed damages under the RICO Act, in 18 USC 96.1962(a). Bermuda has also made claims under RICO Sections 1962(b), 1962(c) and 1962(d), using similar arguments. Its complaint says that fraud continued over more than ten years, that fraud cost Bermuda millions of dollars and that “bribes” and “kickbacks” were key elements in the “racketeering activity.”

“Lahey and Brown concocted a scheme built upon bribery and greed and carried out with complete disregard for Brown’s position of public trust or for the physiological and psychological impact on patients–who were subjected to excessive, medically unnecessary and frankly dangerous scans so that Brown and Lahey could obtain greater reimbursements….” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 3]

“Between 2006 and 2016, Bermudian public healthcare insurers paid Lahey over $40 million for services…To induce patient referrals for diagnostic scanning at the Brown clinics, Brown…offered and paid kickbacks, which he dubbed and disguised as ‘commissions.’…” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 92]

Dr. Brown is a bystander to Bermuda v. Lahey, not a defendant. If damages and legal costs were awarded under the lawsuit as filed, Lahey would have to pay. However, Dr. Brown’s activities would be key elements in showing a “pattern of racketeering activity” by an “interstate enterprise.”

A key issue for Bermuda will be proving that Lahey knew services in which it participated were “medically unnecessary.” If they were medically necessary or if Lahey did not know otherwise, then Lahey would not likely be seen as a party to fraud. According to the complaint in the lawsuit, patients were often referred to the Brown clinics in Bermuda, who would perform scans and send images to Lahey in the U.S. for interpretation. In such a sequence, Lahey acted as a third-party provider.

Conflicts: According to Bermuda’s complaint, “By 2001, Brown…was…serving as Bermuda’s minster of transport. At this time, [Lahey] entered into the first of many consulting agreements…whereby Lahey agreed to pay Brown and [his company Bermuda Healthcare Services] substantial sums of money in exchange [for] their promotion of Lahey’s interests on the island. [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 28]

The complaint continues, saying “agreements called for Lahey’s payment of ‘consulting fees’ to Brown…in exchange, Brown…would ‘promote healthcare opportunities (for Lahey) in Bermuda and elsewhere in the West Indies.’…Brown’s use and exploitation of his role as a government minister to promote Lahey’s interests in Bermuda [was] a clear conflict of interest….” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 31]

According to the complaint, what looks to have been a problem developed into a threat: “Increasing the rate of Lahey’s payments was important to Brown because he was reliant on the payments to fund his clinics, which had to operate at capacity each month for him to stay…solvent.” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 38]

Bermuda’s complaint says Lahey had helped Brown make arrangements to buy a CT scanner for his clinics and later buy an MRI scanner–very costly and risky moves for an individual physician. In addition to paying off debt for equipment, he was also paying Lahey directly for interpreting scans, rather than their trying to bill Bermuda’s national health program, and he tended to fall behind on payments.

Bermuda’s complaint continues by saying that “Brown routinely used his role as premier…to ensure that Lahey got the access for which it paid him…on February 5, 2007, [the chief operating officer at Lahey] mailed Brown to thank him ‘for offering Lahey the opportunity to meet with your minister of health…to participate in the development of a future urgent care center’…Brown responded, ‘You didn’t know you were in the in-crowd? (Smile)’.” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 50]

As of 2007, an outside survey found that Bermuda did not require a government certificate of need to operate CT and MRI scanners. Its national health-care program did not require preauthorizations for scans. In Massachusetts, certificates of need for scanners began in 1976, and most health-care insurance plans required preauthorizations for scans in the 1980s. In its complaint, Bermuda notes that Dr. Ewart Brown successfully opposed a preauthorization requirement proposed in 2013. [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 99]

Prospects: Clearly set out in Bermuda’s complaint initiating the recent lawsuit are issues that might have been obvious to Lahey executives: conflicts of interest between Dr. Brown’s efforts in Bermuda for Lahey and Dr. Brown’s duties in government, plus financial pressures created by Dr. Brown’s debt payments for medical equipment and Dr. Brown’s payments for medical services provided by Lahey.

Bermuda’s complaint has benefited from unexplained disclosures, such as messages cited between Dr. Brown and an executive at Lahey. However, Bermuda probably has more to learn about Lahey’s activities. Unless the case is dismissed on preliminary motions, it will enter discovery, providing Bermuda with opportunities to obtain information.

Bermuda’s complaint says that “no one was better positioned than Lahey, which read all scans conducted at the Brown clinics, to detect medically unnecessary scans.” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 81] However, Lahey did not necessarily know what medical indications had prompted scans, since it was reportedly Dr. Brown’s clinics that performed them. Whether scans were or were not “medically necessary” and how much Lahey knew about that are issues likely to develop at a trial.

Bermuda has accused Lahey of paying Dr. Brown for favors and accused Dr. Brown of paying other physicians to refer patients to his clinics. It will surely try to obtain documents and testimony strengthening those claims. If successful in the efforts, Bermuda might be able to prove at a federal trial what it now alleges–that the cooperation between Lahey and Dr. Brown comprised a “fraudulent enterprise,” subject to sanctions under the RICO Act. [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 70]

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 15, 2017


Complaint, Bermuda v. Lahey, case 1:17-cv-10242, U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, February 14, 2017

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, Lahey fights back against Bermuda bribery allegations, Boston Globe, April 14, 2017

Unattributed, Brown braced for chance of arrest, Royal Gazette (Bermuda), February 24, 2017

Shelley Murphy and Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, Former Bermuda premier defends his ties to Lahey, Boston Globe, February 22, 2017

Shelley Murphy and Danny McDonald, Bermuda’s ex-premier calls claims Lahey bribed him a litany of lies, Boston Globe, February 16, 2017

Sam Strangeways, Lawsuit slams Brown and Lahey, Royal Gazette (Bermuda), February 16, 2017

Janelle Lawrence, Bermuda files lawsuit accusing a U.S. hospital group of costly, unnecessary medical-imaging tests, Bloomberg News, February 15, 2017

Mark Arsenault, Former Bermuda leader with ties to Lahey was educated in US, Boston Globe, February 15, 2017

Jo Anne Pool, Northeast Women’s Center v. McMonagle: a message to poltical activists, Akron Law Review 23(2):251-267, 2015

John J. Hamill, Brian H. Rowe, Kaija K. Hupila and Emily Burke Buckley, A guide to civil RICO litigation, Jenner & Block, 2014

Bermuda Hospitals Board: Estate Master Plan review, Johns Hopkins, 2007

Surfing a vortex: energy and climate

Among the few benefits a Trump administration might have brought was review of energy policies. Only three months after the 2016 elections, however, hostile actions and childish tantrums had cashiered the chance. After that opening, any proposals would be greeted as tainted goods and attacked in federal lawsuits.

Stephen Bannon–latter-day Rasputin–had coaxed his proxy, Donald Trump, to rail against climate change as a “hoax.” Props for the accusation came from clannish behavior of scientists starting in the 1990s, trying to manage access to historical data they had carefully combed. Those tactics produced a so-called “Climategate” incident and risked both scientific and political mischief.

Limits of knowledge: Climate change and measures proposed to cope with it remain clouded by knowledge issues. Some key factors are intrinsic to the physics of weather. Working at MIT in 1963, the late Edward N. Lorenz, a meteorologist, found, while trying to compute results from apparently straightforward equations representing circulation in the atmosphere, that they would not provide stable solutions. Instead, results would diverge by greatly varying amounts.

Comparable behaviors are well known for turbulent fluid flow, and they had been suspected as early as the 1880s for orbits of moons and planets. Lorentz found development of weather patterns similarly lacked predictability. Small eddies could grow into large disturbances. Such effects greatly complicate analysis of climate, which indicates long-term weather.

Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius first estimated the effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide on the Earth surface temperature in 1896. He predicted that a doubling of concentration would lead to a temperature rise of around four degrees Celsius (deg. C). As late as the 1970s, a way to increase the Earth temperature was sometimes welcomed for help in staving off “global cooling” and perhaps another ice age.

Early predictions did not consider time dynamics or the many interacting influences–including changes in plant growth, solar output and Earth orbit, clouds, dust, aerosols, surface variations, water-vapor cycles, human activities, methane and other gases. “Greenhouse factors” relating gas concentrations to temperatures remain uncertain to a fair degree. While few laboratory scientists doubt that there are linkages, measuring the factors became a great challenge–complicated by intrinsic unpredictability of weather, by dynamics of exchanges between the atmosphere, oceans and Earth surfaces and by issues of reliable measurements.

Historical data before the last few decades proved erratic. A 1956 survey of carbon dioxide measurements from the atmosphere found values published during the 1820s through the 1950s ranging from about 200 to 550 parts per million (ppm) by volume. Its authors proposed to “select” some lower values as representative, but they lacked an approach validated through primary evidence.

Improving knowledge: The late Charles D. Keeling, while a geochemistry fellow at Caltech in 1956, began the first systematic survey of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He calibrated newly developed infrared absorption spectroscopy against a primary standard from gas manometry, providing much more reliable measurements than previously available. He soon found regular daily and seasonal variations.

Keeling series, carbon dioxide in ppm, monthly

KeelingSeries1958Thru2016
Source: Scripps and U.S. Department of Energy

The Keeling series, measured since 1958 at Mauna Loa, shows atmospheric carbon dioxide already at a steep rate of increase when it began and therefore at an elevated level–a 1958 average of about 313 ppm. During 2016, the average high-altitude concentration in the northern hemisphere rose above 400 ppm. The residual level from the 1600s, after Columbus and before intensive coal mining, was around 280 ppm.

Measuring solar output and global average Earth temperature is more difficult than measuring atmospheric gas concentrations. Direct temperature sampling is concentrated within industrialized countries. Every populated location has sources of bias. Solar measurements from the Earth are skewed by effects from the atmosphere. More progress was achieved after the deployment of polar-orbit weather satellites by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, starting with Nimbus-7 in late 1978.

GISS series, Earth temperature

GissSeries1979Thru2016
Source: NASA Goddard Institute of Space Science

Satellites do not measure Earth surface temperatures directly. They measure infrared emissions from the sun and from the atmosphere. There is no signal to separate low-altitude from high-altitude emissions, so that numerical interpretations are needed to estimate surface temperatures. Those are among many adjustments applied to satellite data. The adjustments have often changed as measurement issues have been discovered.

The two series shown indicate strong association between carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere and Earth surface temperature, as estimated from satellite data. For 1979 through 2014, carbon dioxide increased from about 313 to 398 ppm, a base-2 logarithm of 0.35, while estimated Earth surface temperature rose from about 14.2 to 14.7 deg. C, an increase of 0.5 deg. C. Those amounts lead to a “greenhouse factor” of about 1.4 deg. C for a doubled carbon dioxide concentration–when about 4 deg. C was predicted by Arrhenius.

Controversies: Substantial controversies remain over “greenhouse effect” measurements and their interpretations. The relatively short time spans of reliable measurements–around 35 years–may not be enough to allow mixing between the atmosphere and the oceans. That should produce positive feedback, when warmer temperatures cause carbon dioxide to be released. However, warming effects from greenhouse gases also tend to be offset by cooling effects from human-generated aerosols.

The main source of information about atmospheric changes over much longer time spans has come from analysis of ice cores, starting in the 1970s. The longest cores extracted so far trapped air over around a million years of snowfalls. The 1985 Vostok core from Antarctica was the first to span a glacial cycle, providing a look at transitions between low and high temperatures and gas concentrations over geologic times. That inspired mathematical modeling efforts, trying to reconcile factors contributing to observations.

Over longer times–from dozens of years to a few hundred years–data from ice cores suggest that the carbon-dioxide increase already incurred from human activity, since the 1600s, can produce temperature increases two or more times more those already measured. The Keeling series shows that about half the total increase in carbon dioxide has happened since 1980. Research continues at an active pace, still dotted with controversies.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 12, 2017


David Cohen, Albright on Trump: Bannon pulling the strings, Politico, February 5, 2017

Atmospheric carbon dioxide data, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and U.S. Department of Energy, January, 2017

Atmospheric carbon dioxide, monthly, Scripps Institution, January, 2017

Surface temperature analysis, Goddard Institute for Space Science, U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, January, 2017

Land-ocean temperature index, monthly, Goddard Institute, January, 2017

Spencer R. Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming, American Institute of Physics, January, 2017

Edward Wong, Trump calls climate change a Chinese hoax, New York Times, November 18, 2016

Robert Monroe, The Keeling curve: carbon dioxide measurements at Mauna Loa, American Chemical Society, 2015

Adilson E. Motter and David K. Campbell, Chaos at fifty, Physics Today 66(5):27-33, 2013

Andrew Freedman, Satellite climate data at 33 years, Washington Post, December 20, 2011

R.J. Nevle, D.K. Bird, W.F. Ruddiman and R.A. Dull, Neotropical human–landscape interactions, fire and atmospheric CO2 during European conquest, The Holocene 21(5):853-864, 2011

Patrik Jonsson, Climate scientists exonerated in Climategate but public trust damaged, Christian Science Monitor, July 7, 2010

Christopher Booker, Climate change: worst scientific scandal of our generation, London Telegraph, November 28, 2009

Kenneth Chang, Edward N. Lorenz, meteorologist and a father of chaos theory, dies at 90, New York Times, April 17, 2008

C. Lorius, J. Jouzel, D. Raynaud, J. Hansen and H. Le Treut, The ice-core record: climate sensitivity and future greenhouse warming, Nature 347(6289):139-145, 1999

J.M. Barnola, D. Raynaud, Y.S. Korotkevich and C. Lorius, Vostok ice core provides 160,000-year record of atmospheric CO2, Nature 329(6138):408-414, 1987

Walter Sullivan, International team of specialists finds no end in sight to 30-year cooling trend in northern hemisphere, New York Times, January 6, 1978

Stig Fronselius, Folke Koroleff and Karl-Eric Wärme, Carbon dioxide variations in the atmosphere, Tellus A 8(2):176-183, 1956

Svante Arrhenius, On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground, Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science (Fifth Series) 4(251):237-276, 1896

After a disaster: confining Chernobyl

In the spring of 1986, toward the end of the Soviet empire, disaster erupted at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, Ukraine, located along a river bank a few miles from the southern border of the Soviet Republic of Byelorussia (now the Republic of Belarus). Soviet managers had continued to build potentially unstable graphite-moderated RBMK reactors, long after the U.S. and other advanced countries abandoned the technologies. Compounding their mismanagement, Soviet agencies approved building large power reactors without secure, heavy enclosures.

The positive void-coefficient of the RBMK design is prone to runaway power surges, and the graphite components readily burn in air. The main advantage of the technologies, which mattered for early programs to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, had been that they could operate with natural, unenriched uranium.

The Chernobyl disaster resulted from rogue testing of an accident-recovery procedure, aiming to measure responses to system failures. Plans for testing, using Unit 4 at the Chernobyl plant, had been proposed by plant engineers but never submitted to Soviet regulators. Because the plans called for deliberately disabling safety systems, regulators would probably have intervened had they known.

Disaster strikes: The testing was performed during the midnight shift early on April 26, 1986, by young, inexperienced reactor operators, after most plant engineers went home. Erratic maneuvers by the operators put the reactor into a highly unstable condition.

An enormous power spike overwhelmed the partly disabled safety systems, causing the reactor’s water coolant to flash into steam and explode. The two-million-pound cover of the steel reactor vessel blew into the lightly built roof of the reactor building, shattering walls and exposing fuel rods and graphite components to the atmosphere.

Chernobyl Unit 4 shattered, May, 1986

chernobylunit4remains1986may
Source: Ministry of Nuclear Energy, USSR

That led to a swift temperature surge. Reactor core materials caught fire, burning out-of-control for hours. Multiple explosions occurred, fed by steam and hydrogen. After burial in millions of pounds of sand and chemicals dropped from helicopters over a few days, remains of the reactor core smoldered for about a month.

Two technicians directly exposed to the initial explosion died at the scene of the disaster. Aleksandr Akimov and Anatoly Baranov, a senior operator and senior engineer on duty at the time, died several days later from radiation exposure. Thousands of rescue workers and salvage workers called “liquidators” who were exposed to intense radiation suffered, and many died from radiation effects over the following years, although few were tracked. More than 300,000 residents of the area were relocated.

Soviet officials tried to ignore the severity of the incident, finally outlining a disaster almost two days after the initial explosion. They and some of their successors after the end of the Soviet empire have never acknowledged the heavy burden of delayed sickness and death. Outside the Soviet empire, concealment failed. Less than 24 hours after the initial explosion, nuclear researchers working in Denmark described a reactor meltdown. A day later, U.S. satellite photos showed massive destruction at the site.

Winds quickly carried fumes and particles into eastern Europe, Scandinavia and then western Europe. Strong, airborne radioactivity appeared within a week in Albania, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and Yugoslavia. Within a month, radioactivity from the disaster had been detected worldwide. Testing and mitigation efforts are likely to continue in Europe for generations.

Covering up a disaster scene: In a half year after the disaster, Soviet workers buried the Chernobyl disaster site in a makeshift of steel beams, concrete and metal panels. The unstable, so-called “sarcophagus,” loosely assembled from about four million pounds of materials, was not expected to last more than 30 years.

Following over 15 years of negotiation, planning, design and construction, this fall a large, so-called New Safe Confinement structure, costing about $1.5 billion, has been mounted over the Chernobyl “sarcophagus” assembled in 1986. After the disintegration of the Soviet empire, there was no coherent government left to salvage Chernobyl. Most of the burdens of the confinement project are borne by countries of the European Union, who remain at high risk from further site degradation and spread of radioactivity.

Despite its name, there is nothing entirely “safe” about the newly installed confinement. Experience at the Fukushima nuclear-disaster site in Japan shows that the intense levels of radioactivity inside it can degrade electrical mechanisms and robotic systems the confinement houses and polymers used to protect structural steel against rust. The confinement structure is rated to withstand an F1 tornado, but a stronger one could warp and might collapse it.

The mechanisms and robotics were intended to allow recovery and permanent disposal of the Chernobyl Unit 4 ruins. However, so far no detailed plans have been published for such a project, which would probably take decades, and no funds are available to carry it out. There is no known safe repository for the debris, some of which will remain strongly radioactive for at least hundreds of years and hazardous to health for up to a million years.

A substantial fraction of the reactor’s final inventory of radioactivity remains in soils and water bodies of the surrounding Chernobyl “exclusion zone”–about 1,000 square miles. No substantial remediation has been performed; none is currently planned. Trees and other plants have been allowed to grow unmanaged, absorbing radioactivity from soils. A wildfire could spread another Chernobyl radiation disaster throughout Europe.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 30, 2016


John Wendle, Chernobyl’s radioactive ruins get a new tomb, National Geographic, 2016

New Safe Confinement, Chernobyl Shelter Fund, European Bank, 2016 (technical description, 2 MB)

Chernobyl accident 1986, World Nuclear Association, 2016 (brief summary)

A. Artmann, G. Pretzsch and V. Krasnov, Radioecological problems in connection with the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement (Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reaktorsicherheit, Germany), Eurosafe Forum, 2016

Madhi Rageb, Chernobyl accident, University of Illinois (Urbana), 2015

Inside the sargophagus, Chernobyl Gallery (UK), 2015 (recent photos)

Gerd Ludwig, The long shadow of Chernobyl, Gerd Ludwig Photography (Los Angeles, CA), 2014

Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2013 (brief summary)

Dirk Bannink and Henk van der Keur, Chronology of the Chernobyl disaster, Nuclear Information & Resource Service (Netherlands), 2011

W. Robert Johnston, Chernobyl reactor accident 1986, L-3 Comunications Systems, 2006

Alexey Yablokov, et al., The Chernobyl catastrophe: consequences for human health, Greenpeace (Netherlands), 2006

Bill Keller, Chernobyl plant being mismanaged Pravda charges, New York Times, April 25, 1988

Report on the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, NUREG-1250, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 1987 (poor quality reproduction)

Robert Gillette, Evidence mounts of high-level Soviet lapse in Chernobyl alert, Los Angeles Times, June 20, 1986

Soviets admit nuclear accident, British Broadcasting Corporation (UK), April 28, 1986

Serge Schemann, Soviet announces nuclear accident at electric plant, New York Times, April 26, 1986

Craig Bolon, Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants, Brookline Beacon, September 27, 2015

Obama’s legacy: tracking hate crimes

Electing an African-American as U.S. President in 2008 capped centuries of bigotry and began a legacy of inclusion. An image of Obama taking the oath of office became a picture worth a billion words. Despite all the flapping from Europe and Asia about peace and tolerance, so far nothing comparable happened there. For example, there has been no Franco-Arab president of France–not even someone mentioned or on the horizon.

A quiet message, the obverse of promoting inclusion, was delegitimizing racial and ethnic hate. From growing up with bigotry, signs are easily remembered–serving as sly handshakes through words and acts that signal shared outlooks: “one of the gang.” Electing a black President, then re-electing him to another term said, “No, that’s not OK any more. That’s not us.”

Lynching and race riots grew in the aftermath of the Civil War and continued into the 1940s. The way of inclusion became an official outlook through the Great Depression, the era of World War II and the landmark Brown v. Board decision from the Supreme Court in 1954. That did not make it the common way of life. Hate crimes against African-Americans surged during civil rights struggles of the 1950s through the 1970s.

Tracking hate crimes: The U.S. Department of Justice finally began to record hate crimes in 1992, as required by the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 and the Arson Prevention Act of 1996. [Public Laws 101-275 and 104-155] About 17,000 law enforcement agencies now contribute to annual reports. Records since 1996 are available online as part of Uniform Crime Reports compiled by FBI central offices. However, the Justice Department does not publish trends and has not tried to provide consistent reporting.

Anti-African-American hate crimes

usantiblackhatecrimes2009thru2015
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

Data from the U.S. Department of Justice show that the most numerous reported hate crimes target African-Americans, Jews and Muslims. For 2015, recent hate crime data show about 1,750 incidents targeting African-Americans, about 660 targeting Jews and about 260 targeting Muslims.

Anti-Jewish hate crimes

usantijewishhatecrimes2009thru2015
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

The most recent U.S. population survey for race and ethnicity estimates 43 million African-Americans. The most recent survey for religion estimates about 6 million Jews and 3 million Muslims. Proportionately, the 2015 rates of hate crimes per million residents were about 40 targeting African-Americans, 110 targeting Jews and 90 targeting Muslims.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes

usantimuslimhatecrimes2009thru2015
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

Crime trends: Hate crime statistics reflect crime motives as reported by law enforcement agencies–not as determined by courts or as found by other third parties. They are affected by reporting bias. If, for example, law-enforcement training increased likelihoods that incidents were flagged as hate crimes, then rates of reported hate crimes would rise, but such increases would reflect training rather than changes in crime rates.

The falling rates of reported hate crimes targeting African-Americans, down about 20 percent for the five years from 2010 to 2015, signal apparent progress during core years of the Obama administration. There was similar apparent progress in lower rates of reported hate crimes targeting Jews, falling about 25 percent over that five-year span.

However, reported hate crimes targeting Muslims increased significantly, about 60 percent over those years. All of that increase occurred during the final year, 2015. Not shown in the foregoing charts, a sustained and even greater increase occurred in reported hate crimes targeting Native Americans. They tripled between 2010 and 2013, then remained nearly steady at the increased rate.

Situations of Native Americans might be so different from those of other groups for reported rates to be largely fictions. On the basis of hundreds of interviews, Barbara Perry, a professor of criminology at the Ontario Institute of Technology, estimated in 2008 that hate crimes targeting Native Americans had been drastically under-reported. A sharp rise in reported rates between 2010 and 2013 could stem from reporting improvements during the Obama administration. Ken Salazar, Interior secretary during those years, promoted policies of inclusion toward Native Americans. So far no systematic survey has addressed the issues.

Causes and consequences: Filth spread by Donald J. Trump’s campaign for President acted to relegitimize and encourage racist behavior, starting in 2015. Trump did not need to “be” a racist or an anti-Semite but just to become a fellow traveler. His race-baiting dog whistles drew poisonous support from Nazi, Klan and other white supremacist groups. He circulated some of their propaganda. There is an obvious precedent. Former President Wilson also drew support from racist groups. The first Southerner elected since Taylor in 1848, he resegregated parts of the federal workforce, notably the Post Office.

Just as Wilson’s attitude and behavior encouraged lynching and growth of the Ku Klux Klan, vile propaganda emerging around the Trump campaign probably encouraged recent hate crimes–notably against Muslims, whom Trump savaged. People with antisocial outlooks and violent bents are apt to find signs of acceptance and perhaps approval. Unless Donald J. Trump were somehow to reverse his ways and become a beacon of tolerance, we can expect a parade of moral cretins and their crimes to surge in future years.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 18, 2016


Errin Haines Whack, Associated Press, Trump’s staff picks alarm minorities: ‘injustice to America’, U.S. News, November 18, 2016

Hate crime statistics for 2015, U.S. Department of Justice, November 11, 2016

Adrian Walker, The politics of hatred and resentment seem headed for defeat, Boston Globe, November 7, 2016

Dana Milbank, Anti-Semitism is no longer an undertone of Trump’s campaign. It’s the melody, Washington Post, November 7, 2016

Trump closes his campaign as he opened it: preaching xenophobia and hate, Daily Kos (UK), November 7, 2016

Michael Finnegan, Trump stokes terrorism fears, citing refugee ‘disaster’ in Minnesota, Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2016

Sarah Posner and David Neiwert, How Trump took hate groups mainstream, Mother Jones, October 14, 2016

Stephanie McCrummen, Finally: someone who thinks like me, Washington Post, October 1, 2016

Daniel Marans, Meet members of Donald Trump’s white supremacist fan club, Huffington Post, August 25, 2015

Martin Pengelly, American Nazi Party leader sees ‘a real opportunity’ with a Trump Presidency, Manchester Guardian (UK), August 7, 2016

Emily Flitter, Reuters, Trump tweet that blasts Clinton as corrupt includes the Star of David, Washington Post, July 2, 2016

Tom Shoop, When Woodrow Wilson segregated the federal workforce, Government Executive (Washington, DC), November 20, 2015

William Keylor, The long-forgotten racial attitudes and policies of Woodrow Wilson, Boston University Office of Public Relations, March 4, 2013

Population statistics, Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce, 2016

Gregory Smith, et al., America’s changing religious landscape, Pew Research Center, 2015

Barbara Perry, Silent Victims: Hate Crimes Against Native Americans, University of Arizona Press, 2008

Brown v. Board of Education, Leadership Conference (Washington, DC), 2004

Robert A. Gibson, The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, 1979

Craig Bolon, Election aftermath: recovery starting, work pending, Brookline Beacon, November 9, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump disease: political virus, Brookline Beacon, October 2, 2016

Chump disease: political virus

This fall finds more cases of “Chump disease”–a political virus in the same genus as those from the late Father Charles Coughlin, Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R, WI) and Gov. George Wallace (D, AL). Species of the disease organisms can be classed by their targets–for those species: Jews, Communists and African-Americans. Traces of a recent outbreak of a related disease can be found in remains of the Pea Potty.

Chump disease has been multivalent, provoking attacks on women, African-Americans, Mexicans, Muslims and Jews. Acute onset tends to be accompanied by bloviating from which a few words tumble, including “fat,” “ugly,” “crooked,” “lyin’,” “crazy” and “little.” Disease carriers are urged against the targets. Writing in the Washington Post October 1, Stephanie McCrummen profiled the behaviors of a disease carrier: “Someone who thinks like me.”

Origins of Chump disease extend far back into the Years of Slavery. Former Presidential diseases in this genus included those from Jackson, who treated the federal government like his private farm, and from Polk, who bought and sold slaves at his desk in the Oval Office–both virulent racists hailing from Tennessee.

Michael Finnegan and Evan Halper wrote warnings this August in the Los Angeles Times: “Trump says ’2nd Amendment people’ can keep Clinton from naming justices” and “Virus spreads to Presidential politics.” Mr. Halper was writing about a biological virus–one that sometimes causes lasting nerve damage–but it suggests a metaphor for Nazis. The Chump was reported to keep a copy of Hitler’s speeches in his bedroom.

The Chump’s emotional awareness looks to have frozen at around age four, before he might have learned to share. His language seems to have stalled a few years later–leaving him barely able to produce a full sentence, let alone a paragraph. “I guess, right? Right? I guess. Right?” Now he’s a freak: a frightened child hiding inside an aging person.

Recently the Chump has been getting more of the treatment he deserves from mainstream media: ignoring his tantrums as circus sideshows. Zombies still wave and clap for him, but they are due a surprise, once they look around. At a fork in a road, many of their neighbors went another way.

When the Chump verged from freak show to center ring, he was badly exposed. He had neither training nor experience. In the newer environment, he is wildly outclassed. Exiting the first Presidential debate of 2016, he seemed flustered yet unaware of how thoroughly and skillfully he had been skewered. Soon he was venting over a former beauty queen, whom he helped to crown two decades earlier.

The next evening, as wounds from his thrashing began to burn, he dropped “Secretary Clinton” and relapsed into “Crooked Hillary.” As though on cue, his claque of would-be brown-shirts screamed, “Lock her up! Lock her up!” A few weeks from now, he’ll rest in a memory heap–somewhere far beneath Jennings Bryan, the Cross of Gold candidate from 1896 who, at age 36, could indeed produce complete sentences.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 2, 2016


Jenna Johnson, Trump urges supporters to monitor polling places in ‘certain areas’, Washington Post, October 1, 2016

Stephanie McCrummen, Finally: someone who thinks like me, Washington Post, October 1, 2016

James Hohmann and Breanne Deppisch, Trump stumbles into Clinton’s trap by feuding with Latina beauty queen, Washington Post, September 28, 2016

Jenna Johnson, At Florida rally, Trump resumes attacking ‘crooked Hillary Clinton’, Washington Post, September 27, 2016

Paul H, Jossey, How we killed the Tea Party, Politico, August 18, 2016

Michael Finnegan, Donald Trump says ’2nd Amendment people’ can prevent Hillary Clinton from choosing judges, Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2016

Evan Halper, Zika virus spreads to Presidential politics, Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2016

Martin Pengelly, American Nazi Party leader sees ‘a real opportunity’ with a Trump Presidency, Manchester Guardian (UK), August 7, 2016

Thomas Beaumont, Associated Press, Charting a road to 270, Clinton sets out most efficient path, WTOP (Washington, DC), August 6, 2016

Jill Colvin and Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press, Fact check: Trump’s Iranian propaganda video a concoction, WTOP (Washington, DC), August 4, 2016

Jonathan Mahler and Matt Flegenheimer, What Donald Trump learned from Joseph McCarthy’s right-hand man, New York Times, June 21, 2016

Holocaust Encyclopedia, Charles E. Coughlin, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, June, 2016

Ibram X. Kendi, The eleven most racist U.S. Presidents, Huffington Post, May, 2016

Debbie Elliot, Is Donald Trump a modern-day George Wallace?, (U.S.) National Public Radio, April, 2016

Joyce Oh and Amanda Latham, Senator Joseph McCarthy, McCarthyism and the Witch Hunt, Cold War Museum, 2008

Marie Brenner, After the Gold Rush, Vanity Fair, 1990

Richard Kreitner, William Jennings Bryan delivers Cross of Gold speech, The Nation, 2015 and 1896

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 2 returns as anti-Semite, Brookline Beacon, July 3, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 3, plain vanilla creep, Brookline Beacon, June 16, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 3 sounds like No. 2, Brookline Beacon, June 11, 2016

How soon will Zika disease spread to New England?

Zika disease, at epidemic levels in Brazil for more than a year, has come to Miami, FL. Although often described as a “tropical disease,” it has escaped the tropics, and people are keeping a greater distance. This month, the Miami Herald quoted the operator of a Florida travel business, saying, “I had to cancel eight out of my 12 weekly summer season tours.” In recent days, several locally transmitted Zika cases were reported in Miami Beach, and the danger zone was expanded from 1-1/2 square miles to most of the community.

Origin of the threat: Zika is not a new threat. It was first found almost 70 years ago as a disease of rhesus monkeys in the Ziika Forest–for which the disease was named–located near Lake Victoria in Uganda. The cause is a flavivirus (“yellow virus”). That virus family and genus includes the agents of yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya and West Nile fever. The diseases have mostly been transmitted by aggressive species of mosquitos common in the tropics. Some of the diseases have migrated to temperate regions, and some infect wild and domesticated animals–including goats, sheep and mice–as well as humans.

The flaviviruses are single-strand RNA viruses, like the virus that causes AIDS. Lacking stabilizing effects of DNA-based genetics, they mutate relatively often, sometimes producing new, persistent strains. Research shows that happened in recent years with Zika. The original strain found in Africa caused mostly mild, brief illness in humans. The common symptoms were low fever, sometimes with skin rash or joint pain, that lasted up to a week.

The disease spread from Africa into south and southeast Asia. A 2007 outbreak on Yap and nearby islands of Micronesia drew attention because it seemed very widespread, even though it caused no deaths or long-term health problems. A survey using immunology tests suggested that about three-quarters of the population had been infected. Those tests encounter cross-reactions among the flaviviruses. A previous infection by dengue or chikungunya may produce a positive result. Since dengue is often present where Zika strikes, estimates of infections using immunology tests can be clouded by errors.

Growth of the threat: Starting in 2013, another flavivirus epidemic occurred in Tahiti and nearby islands of French Polynesia. This time health centers had genetics tests available when live virus could be sampled. They distinguish more clearly among viruses, and Zika was soon identified as a main cause of the epidemic. However, the virus had mutated, producing new strains. Some victims had more severe symptoms than previously reported for Zika disease. A small fraction of the victims developed long-term problems including profound muscle weakness, known as Guillain-Barré syndrome.

After the epidemic in French Polynesia, unusual problems began to be found in newborns: smaller heads than normal, called microcephaly. While such symptoms occur without Zika, they occurred more often in births from pregnancies during the epidemic. Other severe problems began to be found, including defects in the brain, eyes and spinal cord. Immunology tests associated a high proportion of newborn victims with Zika exposure.

During 2014, newer strains of Zika spread eastward, appearing in other Pacific islands and then in South America. During 2015, the disease spread through most of Brazil, then appeared in neighboring countries and Central America, including the Caribbean. Windblown mosquitos helped spread the disease, but epidemiologists also attribute the spread to infected people traveling to places where aggressive species of mosquitos are common. Cabo Verde, near the west coast of Africa, recently reported cases involving newer strains of Zika.

As of 2012, only five strains of Zika had been reported. By early spring, 2016, about 60 Zika strains had been identified by gene sequencing. Comparisons found two main groups: one common in Africa, the other common in south and southeast Asia. Strains responsible for the 2013 outbreak in French Polynesia and the recent outbreaks in South and Central America had developed from previous Asian strains. As with older strains, many people apparently infected by newer strains did not seek care for relatively mild symptoms, while the virus was infecting cells and multiplying.

During the past year, publications surged. By mid-September, 2016, gene sequences for almost 100 strains had been reported. Compared with other diseases, however, research on Zika immunology and therapeutics remains poorly developed. According to a recent review of the science, researchers “currently lack major basic tools for [Zika vaccine] development, including reliable animal models, reference reagents and assays.” In Congress, for months Republicans driven by reactionary agendas failed to act on President Obama’s request of February, 2016, seeking $1.9 billion in emergency funds for applied research on Zika.

Dangers and precautions: Soon after an infection has taken hold, Zika has been found in many body tissues and fluids. It may persist for months after symptoms of an infection–if there were any–have gone away. Laboratory measurements found that newer Zika strains are highly infectious; just a few copies of the virus may be needed to transmit the disease. Although apparently not contagious, the disease is transmitted by intimate contact, including sex. Since current genetics tests cannot insure that levels of Zika virus are below an infectious threshold, major health organizations have been recommending long delays between potential Zika exposure and pregnancy.

It is not yet known whether antibodies produced during infection by one Zika strain can prevent infection by other strains. A pattern from the closely related dengue virus is troubling. A previous infection involving one class of dengue virus does not prevent infection by strains belonging to another class and may worsen health hazards. Early indications, still controversial, suggest Zika infections might behave similarly.

There is no approved vaccine against Zika. One candidate vaccine recently began the first of three stages in clinical trials: testing for safety. The first vaccine approved against dengue began marketing just this year, after over 80 years of experiments, and already it has been clouded with safety issues–potentially worsening health hazards, including those from Zika.

Spreading disease: Mosquitos, notably those in the Aedes genus, have been the main vectors for Zika and other flaviviruses. The Aedes aegypti species is adapted to humans and their habitats. Other Aedes species are also frequent carriers, helping to infect wild and domesticated animals as well as humans. Although often called “tropical,” Aedes mosquitos live throughout the southern half of the United States. They are also key vectors for yellow fever virus, which became a scourge of East Coast and Mississippi River cities during the late 1600s through the late 1800s. New England is already visited by dengue fever, the flavivirus most closely related to Zika.

New England dengue fever cases

denguefevercasesnewengland2009
Source: Natural Resources Defense Council, 2009

The Aedes aegypti mosquito range extends into New England, including at least the western seacoasts of Connecticut. However, laboratory experiments show that mosquitos in the Culex genus can also carry Zika. They are common back-yard and house mosquitos throughout New England, with ranges extending well into Canada. During the last few decades, they have become vectors in the region for West Nile virus, and they may be vectors for dengue virus. Although the region is not likely to see Zika epidemics as widespread as those in the tropics, New England remains under threat.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 20, 2016


Roni Caryn Rabin, Zika test not easy to obtain, New York Times, September 20, 2016

Brendan O’Brien, Florida expands Zika zone in Miami Beach after five new cases, Reuters (UK), September 17, 2016

Lizette Alvarez, Pregnant women anxious as Florida’s Zika test results take weeks, New York Times, September 13, 2016

Chabeli Herrera, Nancy Dahlberg and Nicholas Nehamas, Zika takes bite out of Miami-Dade economy, Miami Herald, September 9, 2016

Maggie Fox, Zika funding fails again in Congress, NBC News, September 6, 2016

WHO expands Zika sexual transmission advice, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, September 6, 2016

Wanwisa Dejnirattisai, et al., Dengue virus sero-cross-reactivity drives antibody-dependent enhancement of infection with Zika virus, Nature Immunology 17(9):1102-1108, September, 2016

Raj K. Singh, et al., Zika virus: emergence, evolution, pathology, diagnosis and control, Veterinary Quarterly 36(3):150-175, September, 2016

Rafael A. Larocca, et al., Vaccine protection against Zika virus from Brazil, Nature 536(7617):474–478, August 25, 2016

Luisa Barzon, et al., Infection dynamics in a traveler with persistent shedding of Zika virus, Eurosurveillance 21(32) online, August 11, 2016

Paulo Prada, Brazilian scientists find Zika traces in Culex mosquitoes in wild, Reuters (UK), July 21, 2016

Jesse J. Waggoner, et al., Single-reaction multiplex reverse transcription PCR for detection of Zika, chikungunya and dengue viruses, Emerging Infectious Diseases 22(7):1295-1297, July, 2016

Didier Mussoa and Duane J. Gublerb, Zika virus, Clinical Microbiology Reviews 29(3):487-524, July, 2016

Contrary dengue vaccine response hints at possible problems with Zika, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, July, 2016

Amanda B. Keener, Zika and dengue immunity: a complex relationship, The Scientist (Canada), June 28, 2016

Ingrid B. Rabe, et al., Guidance for interpretation of Zika virus antibody test results, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 3, 2016

Charlotte J. Haug, et al., The Zika challenge, New England Journal of Medicine 374(19):1801-1803, May 12, 2016

Van-Mai Cao-Lormeau, et al., Guillain-Barré syndrome outbreak associated with Zika virus infection in French Polynesia, Lancet 387(10027):1531-1548, April 9, 2016

Estimated U.S. ranges of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 1, 2016

Lauren M. Paul, et al., Dengue virus antibodies enhance Zika virus infection, Florida Gulf Coast University (not yet published), April, 2016

New CDC laboratory test for Zika virus authorized for emergency use by FDA, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 26, 2016

Jason Beaubien, Zika in French Polynesia, (U.S.) National Public Radio, February 9, 2016

Jon Cohen, Zika’s long, strange trip into the limelight, Science (online edition), February 8, 2016

Andrew D. Haddow, et al., Genetic characterization of Zika virus strains, Neglected Tropical Diseases 6(2) online, Public Library of Science, February, 2012

Mark R. Duffy, et al., Zika virus outbreak on Yap island, New England Journal of Medicine 360(24):2536-2543, June 11, 2009

Kim Knowlton, Gina Solomon and Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, Mosquito-borne dengue fever, Natural Resources Defense Council, 2009

Andrea Ryan and Melissa Lee Smith, Major American epidemics of yellow fever 1793-1905, (U.S.) Public Broadcasting Service, 2006

Laura B. Goddard, et al., Vector competence of California mosquitos for West Nile virus, Emerging Infectious Diseases 8(12):1385-1391, December, 2002

China’s influence on nuclear power

Over the next several years, China is likely to influence “third generation” nuclear power more than any other country. That is partly because China already is and will likely continue to be the largest market. It is also because China has the most active efforts at nuclear design, manufacturing and construction.

China’s nuclear fleet: Before 1994, no nuclear power operated in China. China never built “first generation” nuclear-power plants or any power plants with “boiling water” reactors. During 2016, 34 “second generation” nuclear-power units are or will be in full, normal operations at 11 power plants in China. Organizations primarily responsible for construction have been China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) of Beijing–5 plants and 15 units–and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) of Shenzhen–6 plants and 19 units.

Nuclear-power units operating in China during 2016

Click Here for a table of China’s nuclear power-plant units in full operation during 2016: plant and province, unit number, rated net MW, equipment type and source, year and month in full operation, builder organization.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency, 2016

CNNC worked with several types and sources of equipment designs. CGN concentrated on a single type, first sourced from France. After building four units, CGN localized the type to China, with increased output, as the CPR-1000 design. That became the major nuclear-power design in China, built by CNNC as well as by CGN and representing 19 of the 34 units operating in 2016. The first CPR-1000 unit at Ling Ao in Guangdong province took 6-1/2 years to build. More recent CPR-1000 units have been completed in a little over 4 years, with about 90 percent of the value sourced from China.

Responses to disaster: After the Japanese nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in March, 2011, the government of China briefly halted nuclear plant and unit authorizations and began a review of China’s nuclear-power programs. A so-called “white paper” from October, 2012–officially a statement of “energy policy”–provided the following:

“Since the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster in 2011, China has launched comprehensive safety inspections at all nuclear-power plants. The inspection results show that nuclear security is guaranteed in China…China’s installed capacity of nuclear power is expected to reach 40 GW by 2015.” [Information Office of the State Council, China’s Energy Policy 2012, as released in English October 24, 2012, pp. 12-13 of 25]

The capacity goal was silently ignored. China’s net rated nuclear generation capacity at the start of 2015 totaled only 20 GW–half the claimed goal. No clear public statement came from China’s government reflecting the nuclear safety review. There was little chance of a candid assessment amid a command economy and regimes long arrogant toward the people of China. Because disclosing information outside official channels is harshly punished, China’s regulation of its nuclear industry is far less effective than even United States regulation in 1974, before dissolving the former Atomic Energy Commission and starting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Some changes began with retirement of Hu Jintao as general secretary in the fall of 2012 and succession of Xi Jinping. During the Hu regime, China promoted pell-mell industrial growth at the expense of infrastructure and environment. Energy production gorged on China’s coal and led to large coal imports. Motor vehicle traffic grew apace, combining exhaust fumes with coal smoke to produce intense storms of air pollution–sometimes worse than Pittsburgh in the 1940s but enormously larger.

Regime change: Near the start of the Xi regime, the Chinese government lifted the moratorium on nuclear authorizations and quickly moved to consolidate and spur activities of nuclear organizations. Owing to needs for large sources of capital, these are all effectively arms of government–regardless of charters. A modest growth in nuclear-power capacity became a surge. More than half the nuclear generation capacity at the end of 2016 will have begun normal operations within the latest three years.

Nuclear generation capacity in China by years

chinanuclearpower2003to2016
Source: International Atomic Energy Agency, 2016

A practical effect in China of the nuclear catastrophe in Japan was to accelerate “third generation” nuclear-power technology, in hopes it would deliver on claims of safety yet to be proven through operating experience. Plans for “second generation” units were cut back and new plans for “third generation” units pushed forward. China had already contracted to build four AP-1000 units at Sanmen and Haiyang, mostly designed at Westinghouse in the United States, and two EPR units at Taishan, mostly designed at Areva in France. China had licensed Rev. 15 of AP-1000 designs from Toshiba of Japan–omitting aircraft impact resistance and rejected for U.S. plants, which use Rev. 19 of AP-1000 designs. Chinese organizations apparently saw EPR technology as less promising and had not licensed it from Areva of France.

In a reversal of usual behaviors, typically more proactive CGN had taken responsibility for EPR technology, while CNNC took responsibility for AP-1000 technology. Nevertheless, CGN moved rapidly toward a Chinese localization of “third generation” nuclear-power technology using AP-1000 rather than EPR as a model. The overall approach appears to wrap protective AP-1000 “third generation” elements around CPR-1000 “second generation” designs–the latter adapted and promoted by CGN but also utilized by CNNC.

For a time, CNNC and CGN elaborated separate, competitive approaches to integrating AP-1000 “third generation” nuclear technologies into Chinese “second generation” designs. Both organizations had built locally sourced “second generation” nuclear units at multiple power plants. In early 2014, China’s government directed the two organizations to produce a single design. They soon began to refer to the object of the joint effort as the 华龙 Hualong (grand China dragon) design.

Disputes over still separate elements of plans were resolved by reviewers assembled by Hualong International Nuclear Power Technology Company, a 50-50 joint venture of CNNC and CGN begun in March, 2016. Bloomberg News reported in early August, 2016, that CNNC elements were chosen over those from CGN. The organization will seek overseas business. Its 1.09 GW nuclear-power design has been designated HPR-1000. Geographic regions were separated for CNNC versus CGN activity. CGN, now focused on Guangxi, Guangdong and parts of Fujian provinces, will pursue opportunities in Europe. CNNC will seek overseas business in South America.

CNNC asserts that the HPR-1000 “design concept and technologies…have been verified” by “natural science.” That sounds like an appeal to magic. By comparison with the United States and the European Union, regulatory review in China has been, at best, extremely hasty. News sourced from China shows foundations being built for the first HPR-1000 unit in May, 2015, before organizing joint management and more than a year before resolving design issues. In telling contrast, U.S. regulatory review for the AP-1000 design took from March, 2002–when the first complete design was submitted–through December, 2011. No construction occurred during that interval.

Developing technology: The HPR-1000 design is not a knockoff of the AP-1000 design, although it uses similar approaches and has nearly the same external ratings. Obvious differences include these five. (1) AP-1000 has a water reservoir for passive cooling on the roof of its containment building; HPR-1000 has a water reservoir inside its building. (2) AP-1000 has two “loops”–steam generators; HPR-1000 has three. (3) AP-1000 has four coolant pumps moving reactor water through its steam generators; HPR-1000 has three. (4) AP-1000 has a core with 157 fuel assemblies, each 264 rods that are 15.0 ft long; HPR-1000 has a core with 177 fuel assemblies, each 264 rods that are 12.7 ft long. (5) AP-1000 has a vessel with 13.3 ft diameter around the core; HPR-1000 has a vessel with 14.4 ft diameter around the core.

Nuclear “third generation” designs in China

Characteristic AP-1000 HPR-1000
rated net MWe 1110 1090
heat transfer 2-loop 3-loop
coolant pumps 4 3
fuel assemblies 157 177
rods per assembly 264 264
fuel rod length 15.0 ft 12.7 ft
vessel diameter 13.3 ft 14.4 ft
water reservoir on roof inside
passive survival 72 hr 72 hr
ground acceleration 0.3 g 0.3 g
seamless vessel on core yes yes
bottom cap solid solid
double containment yes yes
load following yes yes
refueling cycle 18 mo 18 mo
design life 60 yr 60 yr

Source: China National Nuclear Corporation, 2016

The HPR-1000 design leverages China’s infrastructure built around the CPR-1000 design, by far its most widely applied nuclear-power technologies. Chinese type AFA3G fuel assemblies have become its high-volume nuclear fuel, required by the CPR-1000 units. Type CF3 fuel rods for HPR-1000 assemblies are slightly (15.9 mm) shorter than type AFA3G rods for CPR-1000 assemblies and use a double-welding process. Dimensions of reactor vessels and steam generators nearly match, assuring that current manufacturers will be able to build them.

China’s nuclear industries remain plagued by lack of consistent standards for dimensioning, measuring, testing, inspection and qualification. Instead of adopting or developing a comprehensive set of standards, China continues to apply multiple standards copied from the countries that have been sources for equipment. Those include France, Russia, Canada, the United States, Japan and Spain. A document from China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration suggests that the French RCC-M code (Règles de Conception et de Construction des Matériels Mécaniques) may be the most common standard, because it was used for the CPR-1000 design. When foreign standards are revised–a frequent occurence–it is unlikely that the forest of Chinese copies can be kept synchronized. Over time, that can become a potential source of equipment failures.

According to CNNC in 2015, longstanding Chinese official policy of a “closed nuclear fuel cycle” remains unchanged. A presentation at a meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil stated, “China has been adopting the closed nuclear fuel cycle, i.e., the spent fuel shall be reprocessed to recycled uranium, plutonium and other elements to enhance the fuel utilization.” [text in English, figure legends in Chinese] However, locations in the general area of a reprocessing facility proposed near Jiayuguan in Gansu, near a military outpost since the 1950s, currently provide only storage, despite a claim by CNNC about plans for “big commercial reprocessing.”

Energy context: During 2015, China’s nuclear-power fleet produced about three percent of China’s net electricity. So far, growth in nuclear electricity is far outpaced by growth in coal-fired electricity. Between 2014 and 2015, a rated 6 GW of nuclear capacity was added, while a rated 72 GW in coal-fired capacity was added. At recent rates of change, China might never achieve the current world average of about 11 percent nuclear electricity.

Quoting from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, Energy Post–produced in the Netherlands–finds that renewable electricity has been growing faster. Between 2014 and 2015, China reported adding about 33 GW, peak in wind capacity and adding about 18 GW, peak in solar capacity. Discounted by typical capacity factors of 90 percent for nuclear, 25 percent for wind and 12 percent for solar, China reported adding about 5.4 GW in average nuclear capacity and about 10.3 GW in average renewable capacity. There has been no information on China’s internal energy development costs that is generally regarded as reliable.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 9, 2016


Nuclear power-plants in China, International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna), September, 2016

Nuclear power in China, World Nuclear Association (London), August, 2016

Tom Holland, Why Britain’s Hinkley nuclear reactor is a horror show, South China Morning Post, August 29, 2016

Edward Wong, Coal burning causes the most air pollution deaths in China, New York Times, August 18, 2016

Chris Buckley, Chinese city backs down on proposed nuclear fuel plant after protests, New York Times, August 11, 2016

Aibing Guo, CNNC says its plan to merge ‘Hualong One’ reactor designs favored, Bloomberg News, August 3, 2016

David Dalton, China nuclear companies form joint venture to export ‘Hualong One’ reactor, NucNet Newsletter (Brussels), March 17, 2016

‘Hualong One’ joint venture officially launched by China, World Nuclear News (UK), March 17, 2016

China’s electricity mix, Energy Post (Netherlands), March 1, 2016

China to build more ‘Hualong One’ reactors, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), February 25, 2016

Nuclear fuel industry in China, China National Nuclear Corporation (Beijing, in English), October, 2015

Chinese reprocessing plant to start up in 2030, World Nuclear News (UK), September 24, 2015

Haiyang Wang, China’s nuclear power development and ‘Hualong One’ (HPR-1000) pressurized water reactor technology, China National Nuclear Corporation (Beijing, in English), September, 2015

Emma Graham-Harrison, China warned over plans for new nuclear power plants, Manchester Guardian (UK), May 25, 2015

Fuqing-5 foundation in place, World Nuclear News (UK), May 12, 2015

Tang Bo, Use of mechanical code and standard in Chinese nuclear-power plants, National Nuclear Safety Administration (Beijing, in English), c. 2015

Ian Hore-Lacy, China’s new nuclear baby, World Nuclear News (UK), September 2, 2014

Caroline Peachey, Chinese reactor design evolution, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), May 22, 2014

Jane Nakano, The United States and China: making nuclear energy safer, Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution (Washington, DC), February 6, 2014

Matthew L. Wald, Approval of reactor design clears path for new plants, New York Times, December 23, 2011

Craig Bolon, Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress, Brookline Beacon, September 6, 2016

Craig Bolon, Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2016

Craig Bolon, Will New England revive nuclear power?, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2016