Friday Briefing

Emerging economic powers keep building nuclear plants, but tide is turning against construction of new reactors. Since last year’s Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan, even India, which has been expanding its nuclear capacity, is seeing increasing resistance to atomic power. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, 63 nuclear power plants currently are being built, but a number of these are projects with no end in sight, such as the dozen plants that have been on the organization’s list for more than 20 years. While China continues to build more plants, the trend is running in the other direction, with Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Belgium deciding to turn away from nuclear power. Spiegel Online International

Japan’s nuclear power industry nears shutdown. One year after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, the last of Japan’s 54 commercial reactors soon will halt operations, at least temporarily. The nation has avoided power shortages as it assesses nuclear safety, thanks partly to  conservation, but Japan also is increasingly relying heavily on more expensive fossil fuels. Meanwhile, the nation’s standoff over nuclear power underscores how much the Fukushima accident has changed attitudes in Japan, long one of the world’s most committed promoters of civilian atomic energy. The New York Times

Regulators consider making more prescription drugs available over the counter. The ideas under review by Food and Drug Administration officials could expand access to medicines for treating common chronic diseases, such as high cholesterol and diabetes. FDA officials, who will hold a meeting on the topic this month, said that certain over-the-counter drugs might be made available without a prescription if patients work closely with pharmacists to ensure that the medications are used correctly. One possible example: blood-pressure drugs for patients who need the medicines to manage their condition but who don’t have acutely high blood pressure. The Wall Street Journal, Reuters

Despite road safety improvements, speeding deaths keep rising. Speeding has been a key area where road safety advocates have failed to achieve any improvement in recent years. A new study by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that, over the past decade, fatalities related to non-use of seat belts dropped 23 percent since 2000 and drunken-driving deaths fell 3 percent, but speed-related deaths rose 7 percent. The latest figures, for 2010, show that speed-related crashes killed 10,530 people, about one-third of all traffic deaths. Yet in the last seven years, seven states have increased speed limits while only two have increased speeding fines. USA Today, Consumer Reports

Bigger role sought for International Atomic Energy Agency. Pierre Gadonneix, chairman of the 94-country advisory body the World Energy Council, said there is a global realization that nuclear safety rules “must be revisited.” He said last year’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan “could be an accelerator for development of common safety rules and standards.” Yet officials such as Akira Omoto, a commissioner at the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, countered that nuclear safety is “ultimately the responsibility of a national authority,” although he added that he would favor “an enhanced IAEA role in design standards.” Bloomberg

Medical schools improve conflict-of-interest policies. The American Medical Student Association’s latest PharmFree Scorecard — which takes into account 11 areas of potential conflict, including medical faculty receiving gifts, samples and consulting deals – gave 67 percent of schools A or B grades. That was an improvement from a year earlier, when 52 percent of schools had A or B grades. Still, more than one-third of the medical schools reported having “no significant policy restricting the distribution and use” of free pharmaceutical samples. The association seeks to curb industry influence in medical education and advocates making faculty business relationships transparent. The Wall Street Journal

Study finds that some elderly women with early-stage breast cancer may be getting unnecessary radiation treatment. Researchers found that about three-quarters of women 70 and older with stage I breast cancer were treated with radiation in addition to standard breast-conserving surgery. Yet current guidelines say it’s generally fine for those patients to skip radiation because it hasn’t been shown to help them live longer. “One of the main issues with radiation is not that it has a really high complication rate. The question is, are the benefits really there?” said Dr. Cary Gross of the Yale School of Medicine, who worked on the study. Reuters 

Recalls: Gerber Good Start Gentle baby formula

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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