Tuesday Briefing

Crippled Japanese nuclear reactor still has fatally high radiation levels and hardly any water for cooling. An internal assessment, disclosed today, found that damage at the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s No. 2 reactor is so severe that special technology will need to be developed to decommission the operation, a process expected to last decades. The disclosure is renewing doubts about the plant’s stability following last year’s meltdowns. Meanwhile, public distrust of nuclear safety is making it difficult for the government to start up reactors even after regular safety checks. All but one of Japan’s 54 reactors are now offline, with the last one scheduled to stop in early May. The Associated Press

Scientists and other critics question agriculture’s increasing reliance on chemicals. Critics say they fear the push to increase global crop production is translating into mounting health and environmental dangers from pesticides and fertilizers. Agricultural chemical residues have turned up in water supplies of U.S. farming communities. The rising concern was highlighted by a lawsuit filed last month against the Environmental Protection Agency by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The suit accuses the agency of inadequately addressing the health threats of 2,4-D, a chemical  increasingly being used to help fight “super weeds.” Reuters

Obama administration to propose the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. The move could end the construction of conventional coal-fired generating operations in the U.S.  The proposed rule, approved by the White House after months of review, would bar any new power plant from emitting more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of electricity produced. But the proposal, expected today, provides an exception for coal plants that already have permits and are due to begin construction within a year. The proposal follows tough new requirements that the Obama administration imposed on mercury emissions and cross-state pollution from utilities. The Washington Post, Politico

Scientist warns that the world is approaching a tipping point that could make it irreversibly hotter. Will Steffen, executive director of Australian National University’s climate change institute, told the “Planet Under Pressure” conference in London that “this is the critical decade” for reversing the trend. He warned that unless significant action is taken, the world will “cross the threshold beyond which the system shifts to a much hotter state.” Reuters

Canadian government moving to declare toothpaste ingredient as toxic to the environment. The anticipated action, due to move ahead with a formal proposal on Friday, could lead to a ban or restrictions on triclosan, a bacteria killer also used in some mouthwashes and soaps. The government ‘s draft risk assessment says triclosan is toxic to the environment but that it is unclear if it is hazardous to human health.  In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration has said existing data raise “valid concerns” about the possible health effects of extensive exposure to triclosan. The agency is expected to unveil its own risk assessment next winter. Postmedia News

U.S. Supreme Court turns away appeal of a $28.3 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. The justices refused to hear Reynolds’ appeal of a Florida case in which it was ordered to pay compensatory and punitive damages to a woman whose husband died of lung cancer after decades of smoking the company’s cigarettes. Reynolds argued that its due process rights had been violated and that the issue could affect thousands of pending tobacco cases stemming from the Florida Supreme Court’s “Engle decision” in 2006. “The Florida state courts are engaged in serial due-process violations that threaten the defendants with literally billions of dollars of liability,” Reynolds said in a legal brief. Reuters, Bloomberg

Safety regulators propose $121,660 in penalties against Wisconsin roofing contractor. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Neenah, Wis.,-based GTO Contractors for six violations, including two willful offenses, the agency’s most serious charges.  OSHA said its inspectors found that GTO workers were exposed to fall hazards at commercial roofing work sites in Janesville, Wis., and Middleton, Wis. In addition, OSHA said it found similar violations at GTO work sites in five previous inspections since 2007. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, OSHA

Federal authorities launch investigation of Motor Coach Industries buses for potentially faulty drive shafts. The problem being examined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been blamed by authorities for two crashes that killed two people and injured 50 others. The probe covers an estimated 4,000 MCI D-Series buses made from 1992 until this year. It was triggered by a complaint filed by FirstGroup America, parent of Greyhound bus lines. The company said several drive shafts failed on MCI buses it operated in the last two years. The Associated Press

Recalls: BMW 5 Series and 6 Series vehicles, 2012 Chevrolet Express, Suburban, GMC Savana and Yukon XL vehicles, Thoratec HeartMate II, Argatroban blood thinner, Great American Opportunities arena lamps, Feels Real Baby Dolls, Eckrich Smoked Sausage

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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