Safety

Japan restarts nuclear reactor using plutonium-mixed fuel

TOKYO (AP) — Japan on Friday restarted a nuclear reactor that uses riskier plutonium-based MOX fuel, the first of that type to resume operations under stricter safety rules introduced after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Japan's large stockpile of plutonium has raised international nuclear security concerns, and the government has come up with the idea of burning it in reactors to reduce the amount.

The No. 3 reactor at Takahama nuclear plant in western Japan, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co., went back online Friday. Dozens of people protested outside the plant in Fukui prefecture, where preparations for a restart of another reactor, No. 4, are also underway.

West report OK'd, stricter ammonium nitrate standards urged

WACO, Texas (AP) — Federal regulators approved a report Thursday that found inadequate emergency response coordination and training and careless storage of potentially explosive materials contributed to a catastrophic 2013 blast at a Texas fertilizer plant.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board's unanimous vote also adopted recommendations that federal regulators set higher standards for safe handling and storage of fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate. It came at the end of a three-hour public meeting in Waco, at which investigators presented the findings of their examination of the West Fertilizer Co. plant explosion. The blast in the Central Texas town of West killed 15 people, including volunteer firefighters trying to extinguish the blaze that led to the explosion. It injured about 200 others and leveled part of the town.

According to the report, dozens of similar plants are still operating in Texas near schools, hospitals and residential neighborhoods.

AP sources: Panel proposes ban on air shipments of batteries

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.N. panel recommended Wednesday that cargo shipments of rechargeable lithium batteries be banned from passenger airliners because the batteries can create fires capable of destroying planes, according to aviation officials familiar with the decision.

The International Civilian Aviation Organization's air navigation commission, the agency's highest technical body, also proposed that the ban be lifted if new packaging can be developed that provides an acceptable level of safety.

Final approval from the ICAO top-level council is still needed. The council is scheduled to take up the matter in late February.

Dozens of dangerous Texas plants operate near public centers

DALLAS (AP) — Dozens of Texas plants similar to a fertilizer facility that exploded in the town of West in 2013, one of Texas' worst industrial accidents, are still operating near schools, hospitals and residential neighborhoods, federal regulators say.

In a report released ahead of a public meeting Thursday, the Chemical Safety Board says there are 80 plants in Texas that store more than 5 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used in fertilizer. About half of them are fertilizer plants similar to the West Fertilizer Co., north of Waco, where a fire led to a devastating explosion that registered as an earthquake of magnitude 2.1. It killed 15, injured hundreds and leveled part of the town.

"The risk to the public from a catastrophic incident exists throughout the state of Texas," the report said.

Air regulators sue SoCal Gas over months-long well leak

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Regional air regulators sued the Southern California Gas Co. on Tuesday, seeking penalties that could surpass $25 million for a monthslong natural gas leak that is blamed for sickening neighbors and has prompted a mass evacuation of a San Fernando Valley neighborhood.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District sued the utility for creating a public nuisance. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, further contends that "as a result of their negligence, people were injured," said Kurt Wiese, the agency's general counsel.

The gas company does not comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Kristine Lloyd said.

Oil

Libya lost $68B from attacks on oil, industry chief says

LONDON (AP) — Libya will fall further into chaos if its factions don't quickly form a unity government, the head of the state oil company warned Monday, noting the country has already lost some $68 billion in oil sales amid political infighting.

Mustafa Sanalla, who is in London to attend a conference and get support from investors, made his comments just after the internationally recognized parliament in the divided country rejected a plan to move toward a unified government. The vote underscored the turmoil that continues to wrack Libya.

Sanalla argued that without a single government, there will be "neither security nor stability."

Nuclear mishap withheld by Air Force from review team

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the spring of 2014, as a team of experts was examining what ailed the U.S. nuclear force, the Air Force withheld from them the fact that it was simultaneously investigating damage to a nuclear-armed missile in its launch silo caused by three airmen.

The Air Force on Friday gave The Associated Press the first substantive description of the accident after being questioned about it by the AP for more than a year.

The accident happened May 17, 2014, at an underground launch silo containing a Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. The silo, designated Juliet-07, is situated among wheat fields and wind turbines about 9 miles west of Peetz, Colorado. It is controlled by launch officers of the 320th Missile Squadron and administered by the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base at Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Leaking Los Angeles gas well ordered shut down

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Southern California Gas Co. has been ordered to permanently close and seal a storage well that's poured natural gas into the air over a Los Angeles neighborhood for months and driven thousands from their homes.

A hearing board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District on Saturday also ordered the utility to fund an independent health study for residents of the Porter Ranch neighborhood and inspect all 115 wells at the Aliso Canyon storage facility to help prevent future leaks.

"As a result of this order, SoCalGas must take immediate steps to minimize air pollution and odors from its leaking well and stop the leak as quickly as possible," said Barry Wallerstein, SCAQMD's executive officer.

Lost amid the US-Iran news, $1.7B deal now raising questions

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration's $1.7 billion payment to Iran to settle an arcane, decades-old financial dispute is prompting questions among Republican lawmakers trying to piece together the full scope of last weekend's dramatic U.S.-Iranian prisoner swap and the lifting of many American sanctions on Tehran.

The announcement's timing, just after confirmation that three Americans left Iranian airspace, is leading to calls for investigations and shedding light on a little-known fund that the president can dip into when he wants to resolve international financial disputes. Legislative efforts are already afoot to curtail that ability.

U.S. officials deny claims that the payment was a bribe to ensure the release of a total of five Americans traded for the freedom of seven people in legal trouble in the U.S. over business deals with Iran.

Deadly snowstorm hitting millions of Americans this weekend

WASHINGTON (AP) — One in seven Americans will get at least half a foot of snow outside their homes when this weekend's big storm has finished delivering blizzards, gale-force winds, whiteout conditions and flooding to much of the eastern United States.

The first flakes of what could become two feet or more of wet, driving snow began falling in Washington Friday afternoon, sloshing in from the Ohio River Valley looking just like the forecasts promised.

Conditions quickly became treacherous along the path of the storm. Arkansas and Tennessee got eight inches; Kentucky got more than a foot, and states across the Deep South grappled with icy, snow-covered roads and power outages. In Mississippi, the storm spawned two tornadoes.

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