NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE
The proposed nuclear waste repository in Nevada's Yucca Mountain has generated a great deal of competing scientific conclusions, and both sides of the debate likely will double their output now that President Bush has endorsed the proposal.
The brouhaha has been brewing ever since 1982, when Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. That law codified scientific opinions that the best way to store nuclear waste -- which remains dangerously radioactive for thousands of years -- would be to bury it deep underground, away from aquifers and other groundwater sources. In theory, the action would pose a public health risk no greater than an unmined area of uranium ore.
The NWPA directed the Department of Energy to consider several possible storage sites around the nation. A 1987 amendment focused all DOE attention on the 1,200-foot high, flat-topped volcanic ridge that lies about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Last month, the department concluded the site could support a repository and last week formally recommended it to Bush. The president's endorsement sent the plan to the Nevada state government. But Gov. Kenny Guinn has promised to disapprove the proposal, which would send it to Congress, where a simple majority of both houses can override the state's objections.
Proponents say Nevada's dry climate and 1,000 feet of volcanic rock cover would prevent rainfall from seeping into the repository. Combining those factors with the area's very deep water table -- estimated to be 800 feet below the storage level -- would make an extremely safe storage site, they say.
But Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects notes the mountain was formed by volcanic action and sits in an earthquake zone. Several faults cross the potential site, the agency said. The faults and other fractures in the rock formation might transport groundwater to and from the site, contaminating the environment if waste leaks occurred.
Opponents also say the DOE's considerations have ignored the issue of how the waste would travel to Yucca Mountain. Close to 100,000 truck and rail shipments would cross almost every state during the repository's expected 30-year lifespan, presenting a radiation threat to a large percentage of the American public.
Currently, the nation's nuclear reactors store spent fuel in special cooling pools on the plants' premises. But the pools and other on-site storage are running out of room.
FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH?
Two dietary supplements appear to restore some youthful, peppy energy in aging rats but do not seem to guarantee a longer life.
That's according to a trio of studies conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and at Oregon State University in Corvallis testing the effects of acetyl L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid on old rats. These two compounds are easily accessible and sold in a variety of health food stores.
The test rats were about 24 to 28 months old, the equivalent of a human around age 75. The scientists say feeding the rodents acetyl L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic for a month made them more energetic and significantly improved their memory.
While these two supplements are not the fountain of youth, researchers said, they do offer some promise in restoring nutrients the body needs to remain energetic. However, there is nothing to suggest the compound can extend lifespan, co-researcher Dr. Tory Hagen, an assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics at Oregon State, explained. They only appear to improve overall well-being.
Clinical trials involving elderly people are now underway, Hagen said, though currently there are only 15 healthy subjects and researchers are not testing yet to see whether these supplements combat serious, chronic age-related diseases.
The findings are published in the Feb. 19 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The work was funded by the National Institute on Aging and other private and university foundations.
(Thanks to UPI's Katrina Woznicki in Washington)
THE CHURCH AND AIDS
Billy Graham's son is chiding the Christian church for its slow response to the global AIDS/HIV pandemic.
At Monday's opening of a five-day International Christian Conference on HIV/AIDS in Washington, Franklin Graham accused the church of "either not being involved or being of little help," and urged it to provide leadership in what Sen. Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., called "the most devastating crisis the world has ever seen."
The conference, named Prescription for Hope, has attracted 830 participants from 87 countries to the Washington Hilton, a much higher turnout than Graham had expected.
"If Jesus Christ were here, we would find him in the forefront of this issue," said Graham, whose Samaritan's Purse organization convened the meeting. He pledged to make the HIV/AIDS pandemic his priority in the months and years to come.
In an interview with UPI, the Rev. Angelo D'Agostino painted the grim prospect of 25 million African orphans roaming the streets, robbing and killing because their parents had lost their lives to the epidemic.
D'Agostino, a 76-year old Jesuit and psychiatrist from Rhode Island, runs an orphanage for 100 AIDS-infected children in Kenya. He stressed that this was not something that might happen sometime in the distant future. "I am talking about a development we can expect within the next five or six years. What are you going to do with these out-of-control kids? Shoot them? Lock them up?"
70 percent of the world's AIDS/HIV cases are in Africa. In Kenya alone, 17 percent of the population is HIV-infected, D'Agostino said.
Graham suggested the church might have been hesitant in assuming this role because of the stigma attached to AIDS. "We should be leading, not following or watching this fight," he said. "Let's stop waiting for the government or the medical and scientific industry to solve this problem. Let's put this issue at the top of our agendas as individuals, churches, denominations, and Christian organizations."
(Thanks to UPI Religion Correspondent Uwe Siemon-Netto)
TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER
A University of Colorado biologist said extra-terrestrial life is more likely on planets around other stars than it is in our solar system.
Norman Pace, an expert on life in extreme environments, told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston Monday said it's unlikely there is life in the rocks of Mars or under the ice of Europa, the fourth largest moon of Jupiter.
"If we look at Earth from space," Pace said, "life literally screams at us. Life has changed the surface of the Earth dramatically." But the same is not true of other planets in the solar system, and that probably is a sign that there is no life there, he said.
But renowned Harvard University biologist Edward O. Wilson disagreed, saying Earth life exists in very difficult environments, including trapped in basalt rock and at the bottom of the sea. "Just to find the surface of a planet has no evidence of life does not mean life is not there," he said.
University of Arizona astronomer Roger Angel said the odds of finding life look better outside the solar system. "In our solar system, we occupy the prime real estate," he said. "We may have to look elsewhere for equivalent real estate."
Angel and other astronomers at the conference said they soon will be looking at extra-solar planets for the tell-tale signs of life -- gases such as oxygen, ozone, and methane and chemical compounds such as chlorophyll.
(Thanks to UPI Science News Writer Michael Smith)