As Japan continues to struggle with the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami that has crippled four nuclear reactors, today is the 25th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station #4 in north central Ukraine. In the 25 years since the Chernobyl accident the damaged reactor has been at the center of a large human exclusion zone because of radiation released in the accident. It is estimated that the inside of the damaged reactor, which is surrounded by a crumbling cement sarcophagus, will be dangerously radioactive for the next 300 years. Funds are being raised to encase the facility in a new steel containment structure. Radiation in the exclusion zone has declined to the point where small groups of tourists may make brief tours to a monument outside of the damaged reactor to the nearby ghost town of Pripyat, whose 55,000 inhabitants had to be evacuated due to the accident. I visited Chernobyl on one of these tours in March 2009 (see blog post of March 22, 2009. A gallery of photos from this visit is available online at: http://gallery.me.com/rperci#100427.
The effect of the Japanese accident in dampening a revival of the nuclear power industry was apparent last week when NRG Energy Inc. announced that it was withdrawing from a project to build new new nuclear power reactors in Texas. The reactors were to be furnished by Toshiba and financed in large part by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the financially crippled owner of the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power complex where accident response is still ongoing.Rebecca SMith, NRG Drops Plan for Texas Reactors, Wall St. J., April 20, 2011, at B1. Meanwhile Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson predicted that nuclear power's share of global energy production would be unchanged thirty years from now despite the Japanese disaster. David Blair & Sylvia Pfeifer, Exxon Sees Nuclear Holding Its Own, Financial Times, April 21, 2011, at 18.
Wednesday April 20 was the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, BP CEO Bob Dudley expressed regret for the accident and reiterated that BP would pay all legitimate claims. Bob Dudley, The Lessons of Deepwater Horizon, Wall St. J., April 20, 2011, at A15. BP reached a settlement with the Justice Department last week in which BP agreed to provide $1 billion as a down payment on what it will owe for damages to natural resources. The money will be used for coastal restoration projects. In addition BP and other responsible parties are likely to owe the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund large penalties under the Clean Water Act that could range from $5 to $21 billion on top of the compensation it is paying through its $20 billion compensation fund. Consideration is being given to legislation that would allocate 80% of these penalties to Gulf Coast restoration, as recommended by the President's Commission on the spill, rather than using it to replenish the Trust Fund to a level of $2.7 billion with the rest going to the U.S. Treasury as current law provides. Campbell Robertson, Beyond the Oil SPill, the Tragedy of an Ailing Gulf, N.Y. Times, April 21, 2011, at A16.
Last week BP filed lawsuits in federal district court in New Orleans against Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and Cameron International, the manufacturer of the blowout preventer that failed in the accident. BP alleges in the lawsuits that negligence by Transocean and Cameron caused the blowout. Transocean and Cameron filed cross claims against each other and BP. BP's case against Transocean may be bolstered by a Coast Guard report released on Friday April 22, which faulty the company for improper maintenance and poorly designed safety systems, though the report focused largely on the fire and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon platform, and not the initial cause of the blowout, because of the Coast Guard's jurisdiction over the rig, which is treated like a ship subject to Coast Guard regulation. Russell Gold & Angel Gonzalez, Spill Report Faults Transocean Rig, Wall St. J., April 23-24, 2011, at A3.
Plans to build a $3.5 billion dam on the Mekong River temporarily were placed on hold last week when Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand objected to Laos's plan to proceed with the 1,20 megawatt Xayaburi dam. At a meeting sponsored by the Mekong River Commission, the three objecting countries argued that insufficient consideration had been given to the environmental impact of the project. The Commission itself had released a study late last year that found that the dam would "fundamentally undermine the abundance, productivity, and diversity of Mekong fish resources." The project is one of ten or more dam projects being considered in the region. Pursuant to a 1995 regional agreement, the countries are committed to consult with one another before proceeding with such dam projects, but no country has veto power. Thus, Laos ultimately may decide to go ahead with the project despite the objections of the other countries. Patrick Batra, Asian Nations Defer Decision on Dam, Wall st. J., April 20, 2011, at A9.
A week after the oral argument in the Supreme Court in the climate change case (American Electric Power v. Connecticut), a consensus seems to be emerging in the blogosphere that the plaintiff states suing electric utilities with large, coal-fired powerplants are likely to lose, though the grounds for such a decision are uncertain. Most believe the Court will hold that EPA's efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act will be held to displace the federal common law of nuisance.
Yesterday it was announced that the University of Maryland School of Law has received a $30 million donation from the W.P. Carey Foundation. Tamar Lewin, Maryland Renames Law School After Gift, N.Y. Times, April 25, 2011, at A14.The law school will now be named the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, in honor of Francis Carey who graduated from the law school in 1880. The funds are unrestricted and will be a great boost to all of our school's programs, including our environmental law program. The gift, which is one of the ten largest gifts in the history of legal education, is a tribute to the generosity of the Careys and the great work of Phoebe Haddon, our dean. A celebration involving Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings, both alums of our law school, as well as other leading figures in Maryland's bench and bar was held at the law school yesterday.