Shelley Smithson

Shelley Smithson is a freelance writer in Farmington, N.M. Research for this story was conducted with financial support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Genetically modified animals could make it to your plate with minimal testing — and no public input

Last January, inspectors with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration paid a visit to the University of Illinois, where researchers have been studying the DNA of pigs. The pig project, based in Champaign-Urbana, is one of dozens of experiments being conducted across the country in which scientists are altering the genetic structure of animals in hopes of making them fatter, healthier, and more profitable. Pigging out. Photo: USDA. In the University of Illinois project, cow genes were inserted into sows to increase their milk production, and a synthetic gene was added to make milk digestion easier for the piglets, thereby …

Universities combat climate change

“Do it in the dark!” That’s the rallying cry at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., where an ambitious campaign is under way to cut greenhouse gases. Sure, climate change activism — conserving energy, using renewable fuels, and constructing eco-friendly buildings — isn’t as sexy as marching against Vietnam or burning bras. But in an increasingly warm world, working to reverse global climate change may be the next major social movement on American college campuses. While the U.S. government snubs the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, a small but growing number of colleges and universities are weaning themselves from carbon and …

Is the U.S. nuclear industry writing its own ticket on security?

Over the last 15 years, the nuclear power industry has lobbied the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Congress to weaken security requirements at atomic plants, even as the threat of terrorism has grown. But in reality, as Shelley Smithson shows in Part I of this series, nuclear energy security is already poor. In drills conducted by the NRC over the last decade, guards at nearly half the country’s nuclear plants failed to stop mock terrorists from simulating serious damage, and atomic facilities are not required to protect themselves from large truck bombs or aerial attacks. In Part II of this series, …

A look at the hiring practices at U.S. nuclear power plants

Could the Sept. 11 hijackers have gotten jobs at nuclear power plants? Under the current rules governing nuclear safety, at least some of them could have easily gone to work as janitors, carpenters, computer programmers, or other plant employees, according to Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer who works for the Union of Concerned Scientists. Safety Dance Part One Part Two Help Wanted, a sidebar Before last fall’s terrorist attacks, utilities submitted fingerprints of job applicants to the FBI for criminal background checks — but the FBI didn’t cross-reference the names with its list of known terrorists. Now, “everybody working …

How secure are U.S. nuclear power plants?

Roughly 40 miles from the rubble of the World Trade Center, U.S. Navy cutters patrol the chilly waters of the Hudson River. Military planes circle overhead. On the ground, members of the National Guard stand ready. The Indian Point nuclear power station, which churns out electricity to nearly 2 million homes around New York City, is defended by land, sea, and air. Safety Dance Part One Part Two Help Wanted, a sidebar Yet many people — and especially people in the small town of Buchanan, N.Y., where the power station is located — still worry that terrorists could turn Indian …

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