Weekly Pulse: Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Deepens

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

A second reactor unit at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan may have ruptured, authorities announced on Wednesday. This is on top of their earlier revelation that the containment vessel of a separate reactor unit had cracked.

As of Tuesday, four nuclear reactors in Japan seem to be in partial meltdown in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami, according to Christian Parenti of the Nation:

One of them, reactor No. 2, seems to have ruptured. The situation is spinning out of control as radiation levels spike. The US Navy has pulled back its aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, after seventeen of its crew were exposed to radiation while flying sixty miles off the Japanese coast.

But despite three major explosions—at reactor No. 1, then No. 3, then No. 2—the Fukushima containment vessels seem to be holding. (Chernobyl lacked that precaution, having only a flimsy cement containment shell that collapsed, allowing the massive release of radioactive material.)

So, the good news is that only one out of four of the reactors is teetering on the brink of a full meltdown, and engineers might still be able to stave off disaster. The bad news, Parenti explains, is that spent fuel rods on the reactor sites could pose grave health hazards even if the threat of meltdown is averted. Even so-called “spent” rods remain highly radioactive.

The big question is whether the facilities that house this waste survived the earthquake, the tsunami, and any subsequent massive explosions at the nearby reactor. Given the magnitude of the destruction, and the relatively flimsy facilities used to house the spent rods, it seems unlikely that all the containment pools emerged unscathed. Parenti explains:

Unlike the reactors, spent fuel pools are not—repeat not—housed in any sort of hardened or sealed containment structures. Rather, the fuel rods are packed tightly together in pools of water that are often several stories above ground.

A pond at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is overheating, but radiation levels were so high that the Japanese military has postponed a helicopter mission to douse the pond with water.

Journalist and environmental activist Harvey Wasserman tells the Real News Network that the housing the spent rods (a.k.a. nuclear waste) is a chronic problem for the global nuclear industry.

Wasserman told GRITtv that the west coast of the United States has reactors that could suffer a similar fate in the event of a sufficiently large earthquake.

“If I were in Japan, I would at least get the children away from the reactor, because their bodies are growing faster and their cells are more susceptible to radiation damage. I would go out to 50 kilometers and at least get the children away from those reactors,” nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen told DemocracyNow! on Tuesday. At the time he said this, 70,000 residents had already been forced to evacuate their homes, and another 140,000 were ordered to stay indoors.

Mainstreaming anti-contraception

Kirsten Powers, Fox News’ resident self-proclaimed liberal, took to the pages of the Daily Beast recently to make the bizarre case that Planned Parenthood should be de-funded because the 100-year-old organization doesn’t really prevent the half-million abortions that it claims to prevent by supplying millions of clients with reliable birth control. (Powers was forced to concede that a gross statistical error rendered her entire piece invalid.) At RH Reality Check, Amanda Marcotte describes how Powers attempted to repackage fringe anti-contraception arguments for a mainstream audience. At TAPPED, I explain why Planned Parenthood’s abortion-prevention claim is rock solid.

Diet quackery

Unscrupulous doctors are cashing in on the latest diet fad: hormone injections derived from the urine of pregnant women, Kristina Chew notes for Care2.com. Patients pay $1,000 for consultations, a supply human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), and a 500-calorie-a-day diet plan. There is no evidence that hCG increases weight loss more than a starvation diet alone. But paying $1,000 to inject yourself in the butt every day does evidently work up a hell of a placebo effect.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Oil rig sinks, as does Senate climate bill

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Two disasters flared up this week, one environmental, the other political. Off the coast of Louisiana, oil from a sunken rig is leaking as much as five times faster than scientists originally judged, and the spill reportedly reached land last night. And in Washington, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) jumped from his partnership with Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) just before the scheduled release of the draft of a new Senate climate bill.

The trio had worked for months on bipartisan legislation on climate change. After Graham’s defection, his partners promised to press on, but the bill’s chances of survival are dimmer.

The next Exxon Valdez?

As Grist puts it, the spill off the Louisiana coast is “worse than expected, and getting worser.” The oil rig sank on April 20, and since then, oil has been pouring out of the well and into the Gulf of Mexico.

British Petroleum (BP), which operates the rig, along with the Coast Guard and now the Department of Defense, has pushed to contain and clean up the spill. The problem is deep under water and difficult to measure, but by mid-week, experts estimated that it was gushing 5,000 barrels a day from three different leaks.

Interior department officials said the spill could continue for 90 days. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum looks at a couple of estimates for how much oil could end up in the Gulf and concludes, “An Exxon Valdez size spill might only be a few days away.”

The federal government has rallied to respond. Administration officials have traveled to Louisiana, and  both the executive branch and the legislative branch have announced investigations into the spill. But, as Care2 writes, the White House is saying that the explosion should not derail plans for future drilling.

“In all honesty I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last,” press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, according to Care2.

New drilling, no regulations

Just a few weeks ago, President Barack Obama announced that the government would open up areas off the East Coast for offshore oil and gas drilling. The proposal already had some opponents, and the spill makes the politics of new drilling that much trickier. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports that White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner acknowledged the issue, along with energy experts around Washington.

“This reopens the issue: Is the risk worth the reward?” Lincoln Pratson, a professor of energy and environment at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, told Sheppard.

And even though BP is relying on the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense for help managing this spill, the company is pushing back on efforts to minimize those risks, Lindsay Beyerstein reports for Working In These Times.

The company “continues to oppose a proposed rule by the Minerals Management Service (the agency that oversees oil leases on federal lands) that would require lessees and operators to develop and audit their own Safety and Emergency Management Plans (SEMP),” Beyerstein writes. “BP and other oil companies insist that voluntary compliance will suffice to keep workers and the environment safe.”

Climate bill catastrophe

The country might also have to rely on companies’ “voluntary compliance” with measures to combat global warming: Congress doesn’t seem likely to pass a bill regulating carbon any time soon. Sen. Kerry and friends were supposed to release their version of climate legislation Monday, but over the weekend, Sen. Graham backed out. His reason? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had floated the idea of prioritizing immigration reform, which Graham argued would undermine work on energy legislation.

“It seems like the senator…has a bit of an attitude problem,” wrote The American Prospect’s Gabriel Arana. “He storms out of climate talks because Democrats have dared consider working on two things at once? The degree to which movement in the Senate hinges on this single, mercurial senator, seemingly the only one whose agenda includes something more than stymieing Democrats, is remarkable.”

Call the clean up crew

After Graham’s announcement (Arana called it a “hissy fit”), congressional democrats scrambled to prove that the climate bill was not knocked entirely off course. On Monday, Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman met with their wayward colleague; by Wednesday, Sen. Reid had promised that he would “move forward on energy first;” and by Thursday, Kerry and Lieberman had asked the EPA to start evaluating the bill’s environmental and economic impacts.

Although a draft of the bill was supposed to come out on Monday, no one has seen it. At Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard reports that even the EPA, which is supposed to analyze the bill, hasn’t received the full draft.

“According to the EPA, the senators submitted a “description of their draft bill” for economic modeling,” she writes. “The agency confirmed in a statement to Mother Jones the senators “have not sent EPA any actual legislative text.” The agency is determining whether it has enough information about the bill to produce an analysis of its economic and environmental impacts.”

Despite assurances from the Senate leadership, it’s not clear if climate legislation will come to the floor this year or, if it does, that it will pass.

Not a disaster

There was one bright spot of news for environmentalists this week: the United States will build its first off-shore wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod. The project, called Cape Wind, has a host of opponents, but Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar decided to approve it. The scale will be smaller than originally planned—130 rather than 170 turbines, the Washington Independent reports—which could mollify critics who worried about its visual impact.

Cape Wind is a prime example of how clean energy projects can still cause harm or anger the people who live in their shadow. The Texas Observer recaps opposition to clean energy projects: A working-class neighborhood fought against efforts to build a biomass plant in their town, and won.

“Despite some activists touting these projects as solutions to global warming, and politicians promoting them as the key to economic prosperity, renewable energy projects tend to have their own sets of problems for local residents,” reports Rusty Middleton.

Biomass is one thing: burning materials like waste wood might produce fewer greenhouse gasses, but a biomass plant still dirties the air around it. But if the choice is between an off-shore wind farm that could mar a pleasant vista or an off-shore drilling operation that could spill gallons of oil onto your coast, it seems clear which is the better option.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

First Lawsuits Against Massey Energy Filed

The widow of William Griffith, a miner lost in the awful tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine, has filed the first lawsuit against Massey Energy in lieu of the disaster.

Marlene Griffith, the widow of William I. Griffith, filed a suit alleging that "reckless and negligent conduct" by Massey resulted in Mr. Griffith's death. The eight-page complaint seeking damages under West Virginia's wrongful death statute was filed in Raleigh County Circuit Court Thursday and names Massey as well as its subsidiaries Performance Coal and Massey Coal Services as defendants.

Source: WSJ

Griffith is the first of no doubt several men and women who will be pushing lawsuits against the Massey Energy Company and Don Blankenship himself.

The lawsuit brought by Ms. Griffith says that William Griffith began working as a coal miner in 1974, shortly after graduating from high school, and that he began working for Performance Coal in 1992 at the Upper Big Branch mine.Mark Moreland, a Charleston, West Va., attorney representing Mr. Griffith's estate, said in an interview that Mr. Griffith's family wanted to have representation during ongoing investigations of the accident. "Massey will have a representative at all those investigations, and our client felt that they deserved representation," he said.The complaint includes inspection-related material previously released by MSHA. "We looked at the history of this mine through the MSHA Web site and it's clear that Massey and Performance were operating in a reckless manner," Mr. Moreland said.

Don Blankenship and Massey have had too much disregard for safety regulations and violations, and have shown incredibly negligence with their business operations.  Don Blankenship is seeing his first allegations against him as well.

Separately, a Massey shareholder filed a complaint in Kanawha County Circuit Court against CEO Don Blankenship and Massey's board of directors, alleging that they failed to ensure the company complied with worker safety laws and ignored "red flags" in the months leading up to the accident.The complaint, filed Thursday, alleges that Mr. Blankenship and other board members "have caused and will continue to cause severe injury" to Massey by "consciously ignoring" the company's legal obligations and exposing the company to "a substantial threat of monetary liability." The suit seeks unspecified damages as well as reimbursement for the costs of bringing the complaint.

I would hope that the Obama Administration, and members of Congress stay on top of this situation before it is allowed to wither away.  A mining disaster of this caliber should not be allowed to have corporate entities going unpunished.

First Lawsuits Against Massey Energy Filed

The widow of William Griffith, a miner lost in the awful tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine, has filed the first lawsuit against Massey Energy in lieu of the disaster.

Marlene Griffith, the widow of William I. Griffith, filed a suit alleging that "reckless and negligent conduct" by Massey resulted in Mr. Griffith's death. The eight-page complaint seeking damages under West Virginia's wrongful death statute was filed in Raleigh County Circuit Court Thursday and names Massey as well as its subsidiaries Performance Coal and Massey Coal Services as defendants.

Source: WSJ

Griffith is the first of no doubt several men and women who will be pushing lawsuits against the Massey Energy Company and Don Blankenship himself.

The lawsuit brought by Ms. Griffith says that William Griffith began working as a coal miner in 1974, shortly after graduating from high school, and that he began working for Performance Coal in 1992 at the Upper Big Branch mine.Mark Moreland, a Charleston, West Va., attorney representing Mr. Griffith's estate, said in an interview that Mr. Griffith's family wanted to have representation during ongoing investigations of the accident. "Massey will have a representative at all those investigations, and our client felt that they deserved representation," he said.The complaint includes inspection-related material previously released by MSHA. "We looked at the history of this mine through the MSHA Web site and it's clear that Massey and Performance were operating in a reckless manner," Mr. Moreland said.

Don Blankenship and Massey have had too much disregard for safety regulations and violations, and have shown incredibly negligence with their business operations.  Don Blankenship is seeing his first allegations against him as well.

Separately, a Massey shareholder filed a complaint in Kanawha County Circuit Court against CEO Don Blankenship and Massey's board of directors, alleging that they failed to ensure the company complied with worker safety laws and ignored "red flags" in the months leading up to the accident.The complaint, filed Thursday, alleges that Mr. Blankenship and other board members "have caused and will continue to cause severe injury" to Massey by "consciously ignoring" the company's legal obligations and exposing the company to "a substantial threat of monetary liability." The suit seeks unspecified damages as well as reimbursement for the costs of bringing the complaint.

I would hope that the Obama Administration, and members of Congress stay on top of this situation before it is allowed to wither away.  A mining disaster of this caliber should not be allowed to have corporate entities going unpunished.

What Can an Equitable Recovery Look Like?

Recovery from a natural disaster should be able to make survivors “whole.” However, when the starting point is life in one of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the Western hemisphere, getting back to normal becomes a trickier proposition.  Haiti has the highest rates of infant, under-five and maternal mortality in the Western hemisphere.  In 2003, 80% of the population was estimated to live under the international poverty line.  As demonstrated by the extended recovery process from Hurricane Katrina, economic condition has a determinative effect on the ability to recover from a natural disaster, with the worst impact and least independent ability to recover suffered by the poorest residents.

Although this paints a bleak picture, and there’s no denying that the reality is grim, the only possibility for hope or optimism lies in a new roadmap for recovery.  Any attempt to rebuild Haiti must be developed with an eye to erasing past inequities.  It cannot be enough to rebuild the Haiti of January 11, 2010.  Most Haitians lived by subsistence farming.  With a lack of arable land, continuing deforestation, and destruction of much of the country’s infrastructure, Haiti’s economy must be rebuilt on a new basis.  If the country must begin anew, the opportunity to develop something entirely new exists.

The lingering effects of colonialism, racism, and poverty must be eliminated as the country begins to map out its future.  Internal and external factors that have perpetuated, and actually increased, the disintegration of Haiti – its infrastructure, its agriculture, and its people – must be left out of the country’s future.  The color line of Haiti’s elites must go.  An economy based on unsustainable agriculture must go.  Governmental instability and corruption must go.  Unacceptable mortality rates for infants, children under five, and women giving birth must go.  All of which leaves room for a new, more equitable, more self-determined Haiti – with the help of all of us.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda website.

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