Tuesday Briefing

Fukushima nuclear accident exposes vulnerability of Japanese nuclear reactors to potential terrorist attacks. A report released today by an independent panel on last year’s nuclear accident, which was triggered by an earthquake and tsunami, highlighted lax security. At one point, security personnel responsible for checking people entering the plant had themselves evacuated, leaving their posts unmanned. The report also includes never-reported details about response efforts, including how botched efforts to evacuate patients from area hospitals led to a number of deaths. In the darkest moments, Japanese leaders secretly considered evacuating Tokyo. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times

TransCanada says it will move ahead with a leg of the Keystone XL project. The Canadian company behind the controversial pipeline said that it will proceed immediately with a section of the project from Cushing, Okla., to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, TransCanada continues to seek a permit for the segment of the pipeline that would run from Alberta, Canada to Oklahoma. The Obama administration denied such a permit in January, but the White House Monday signaled its interest in striking a balance between environmental concerns and economic issues raised by the project. Los Angeles Times

Reports mount of dead or stranded dolphins, whales and sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. The tally since Jan. 1 includes 87 dead sea turtles and 48 marine mammals, mostly dolphins, that were either killed or stranded. Researchers say the high numbers of dead animals, especially the dolphins and whales, may be linked to health problems either caused or exacerbated by toxic chemicals left behind by the 2010 BP oil spill  but they remain unsure of how much of the problem is the result of the environmental disaster in the gulf. The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

Suit filed to overturn federal ban on new uranium mining near Arizona’s Grand Canyon. The Nuclear Energy Institute and the National Mining Association filed the suit to reverse a federal ban announced last month. The nuclear power group said in a statement that the mining prohibition was unnecessary because “today’s environmental laws ensure that ore extraction and production at uranium mines have minimal environmental impact on the surrounding land, water and wildlife.” U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said when he signed the 20-year ban that it was intended to safeguard the tourism-related jobs stemming from the $3.5 billion spent by visitors to the national park annually. Bloomberg

Federal Aviation Administration proposes boosting experience threshold for airline co-pilots. The proposal would increase the minimum number of flight hours required to fly for a commercial air carrier to 1,500 for all pilots. Captains already have to meet that threshold, but co-pilots currently need only 250 hours to fly for an airline. It would be the first such increase in required flight experience for co-pilots since 1973. The proposal stems from an aviation safety law enacted after the crash of a regional airliner near Buffalo, N.Y., three years ago that killed 50 people. The Associated Press

Report raises fresh questions about safety of airport X-ray body scanners. A new assessment by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security says that inspectors have found inconsistencies in how the machines are calibrated to ensure radiation safety and image quality. Also, the Transportation Security Administration made more than 3,500 maintenance calls in the first year the scanners were deployed, meaning that, on average, each machine needed service more than once a month. Still, the report concluded that the amount of radiation emitted by the airport body scanners, known as backscatters, is “negligible.” The machines have come into widespread use over the last two years. ProPublica

Drug industry trade group gave millions to five politically active nonprofit groups. Records show that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America contributed $9.4 million in 2010 to the five 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit groups. The largest such gift was a $4.5 million contribution to the American Action Network, a conservative 501(c)(4) that spent big money in 2010 on a half-dozen high-profile U.S. Senate races and more than two dozen U.S. House races. Unlike the  “super PACs” that are having a major impact on the 2012 presidential contest, the nonprofits are not required to reveal their donors. The Center for Public Integrity

Federal authorities don’t plan to require smaller polluters to get greenhouse gas permits. Instead, the Environmental Protection Agency will continue to focus its permit program on major industrial polluters such as power plants and refineries. The disclosure could help insulate the agency from political attacks by critics who say that regulating greenhouse gases will create major economic burdens. The news also comes as a federal appeals court is hearing challenges to EPA’s authority to regulate heat-trapping emissions. The Hill, Reuters

Recalls: Greenlee folding pocket utility knivesMilano’s Country Breakfast Sausage

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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