Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Banning BPA

It’s what the county legislature in Suffolk County, New York is noted for—passing first-in-the-nation laws. It’s done that with laws banning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, the sale of drop-side cribs and the supplement ephedra, and many statutes prohibiting smoking in public places. The measures have often been replicated statewide and nationally.

And the panel did it again this month passing a measure that bans receipts coated with the chemical BPA. BPA, the acronym for Bisphenol-A, has been found to be a cause of cancer and other health maladies.

“Once again this institution is going to set the standard for other states to follow,” declared Legislator Steve Stern of Huntington after the passage of his bill December 4.

The top elected official of Suffolk County, which encompasses eastern Long Island, County Executive Steve Bellone plans to sign the measure into law next week.

BPA has become common. It is used widely to harden plastics and as a coating inside cans of beverages and food. Another use is coating the paper used for receipts enabling it to become “thermal paper” and react to heat to print numbers and words.

In 2009, the Suffolk County Legislature enacted a first-in-the-nation law—also authored by Stern—prohibiting the use of BPA in baby bottles and other beverage containers used by children under three. Stern was made aware of the health dangers of BPA by Karen Joy Miller, founder of Prevention is the Cure, an initiative of the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition. Prevention is the Cure emphasizes the elimination of the causes of cancer.

Ms. Miller testified at the legislative session at which the measure passed 16-to-1: “We’ve got to end this disease [cancer], and a bad-acting chemical like [BPA] is at the top of the list.” After the vote, she applauded “Legislator Stern and the Suffolk County Legislature for taking this important step to protect public health.”

Stern’s “Safer Sales Slip Act” was also backed by Dr. Philip Landrigan, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine and dean for Global Health with the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. It will protect “the health of the public by reducing exposures to BPA for all Suffolk County families and, most especially, pregnant or nursing women, and women of childbearing age…As leaders in pediatrics and preventive medicine, we strongly support this legislation.”

Meanwhile, claiming at the legislative session that BPA is safe was Stephen Rosario of the American Chemistry Council. Billions of tons of BPA are now manufactured annually and the American Chemistry Council has led in defending the substance.

The Stern bill declares that the Suffolk Legislature “finds and determines that BPA is a synthetic estrogen which disrupts healthy development and can lead to an altered immune system, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, reproductive health problems, increased risk of breast and prostate cancer, obesity and diabetes.”

It refers to his earlier “Toxin Free Toddlers and Babies Act” and notes that since the passage of “this groundbreaking ban,” a national counterpart of the measure was enacted—“finally, this summer”—by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Of receipts coated with BPA, the BPA on this “thermal paper can transfer onto anything it contacts, including skin” and through the skin “be absorbed…into the body,” says the bill.

This “dermal exposure to BPA poses a risk to public health and particularly to those whose employment requires distribution of such receipts.” Moreover, “the thermal paper containing BPA is also utilized in bank receipts and at Automated Teller Machines and gas pump receipts, creating multiple and ubiquitous points of exposure in daily life.”

Further, research has determined that “workers employed at retail and food service industries, where BPA-containing thermal paper is most commonly used, have an average of 30% more BPA in their bodies than adults employed in other professions.”

And, critically, as the measure notes, “there are several manufacturers that produce thermal paper that does not contain BPA.” That’s the way it is for toxic products and processes: there are safe alternatives for them. There are safe substitutes for virtually every deadly product and process. The problem: the vested interests that continue to push and defend them.

The Stern law carries penalties of $500 for the first violation and $1,000 “for each subsequent violation.”

It hopefully will be replicated far and wide. And, bans on BPA should be extended to the use of all plastics with BPA along with cans of beverages and food that have a coating of this poison inside.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Challenging the Gun Lobby and Changing the Culture of Violence in the U.S.

We’ll soon see whether the gun lobby can be successfully challenged and the culture of violence that has been growing in the United States changed.

President Barack Obama had it just right yesterday in declaring that the “discussion” that has “remerged” since the killings in Connecticut about “what we might do not only to deter mass shootings in the future, but to reduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every day” has “to continue. But this time, the words need to lead to action.” He was so accurate in stating, “We’re going to need to look more closely at a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence.” And important, too: “We’re going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun.”

Five days after the massacre in Newtown, he announced he was forming a panel, led by the vice president, and emphasized that he wants it to “come up with a set of concrete proposals no later than January­proposals that I then intend to push without delay.”

The killings have been called the 9/11 of U.S. mass murders and a tipping point­ -- a horrific event involving weapons about which words of condemnation, and then no action, can no longer suffice.

We’ll see. The National Rifle Association, the spearhead organization of the gun lobby, is enormously powerful and extreme. “It is opposed to virtually every form of gun control, including restrictions on owning assault weapons, background checks for gun owners and registration of firearms,” notes the Center for Responsive Politics. Based in Washington, this nonpartisan, independent research group tracks how money affects politics and public policy in the U.S. and has long investigated the millions of dollars the NRA pours each year into campaign contributions, lobbying and targeted campaigns for and against candidates.

Still, as U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation: “I think we could be at a tipping point…where we might actually get something done. First, this was not a single incident. It followed a series of others. In the last few months, we've had mass shootings in Oregon, in Wisconsin and Colorado. When the public sees these as isolated incidents, they're less upset than when they occur one after the other. And the public will not accept…as a ‘new normal’ one of these incidents every month, these mass shootings. Second, of course, it involved children. And it's so poignant to see those pictures. …What agony, what horror. So I think we can get something done.”

“One is to ban assault weapons, to try and reinstate the assault weapons ban. The second is to limit the size of clips to maybe no more than 10 bullets per clip. And the third would be to make it harder for mentally unstable people to get guns,” said Schumer.

The federal government’s ban on the manufacture for civilian use of assault weapons­firearms specifically designed to kill people, such as the AR-15 (a version of the military’s M-16) used in the Connecticut shootings ­was scandalously allowed to lapse eight years ago.

“When he was campaigning for office in 2008, Barack Obama vowed to reinstate the assault weapons ban that had expired in 2004,” noted the New York Times in an editorial in July, after the killings in Aurora, Colorado. “That would have prohibited the AR-15 rifle used in the Colorado theatre shooting…along with the large 100-round magazine attached to it. But as president, Mr. Obama has made no attempt to do so.” It added, “Mitt Romney banned assault weapons as governor of Massachusetts…but now he opposes all gun control measures.”

Another editorial three days later further criticizing both of them was entitled: “Candidates Cower on Gun ControNew York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said to Piers Morgan on CNN after the Aurora massacre: “Someday there will be a shooting which you would think would trigger in the American psyche this ‘I’m not going to take it any more’ attitude. Maybe if… you shot a president? But Ronald Reagan, when he got shot, didn’t trigger it. Maybe if you shot a congresswoman? No. Maybe if you shot a bunch of students on campus? No. Maybe if you shot a bunch of people in a movie theater? I don’t know what it is, we obviously haven’t gotten there yet, but we just­this cannot continue.”

Maybe the killing of 20 first-graders will result in an “I’m not going to take it any more” stance. Hopefully, it will­but it will have come at such a terrible cost.

As to U.S. culture glorifying guns and violence, one only has to sit through the 20 minutes of coming attractions now commonly inflicted upon movie-goers: one ultra-violent film after another. Film violence has increased radically in recent years. Director Peter Bogdanovich commented earlier this year that “violence on the screen has increased tenfold….There’s too much murder and killing….It numbs the audience into thinking it’s not so terrible.”

In college I wrote a novel reviewed by a professor who advised: “You’ve got to kill some people”­to up the “tension.” A cheap trick. Greek dramas and Shakespeare’s plays, yes, include violence, but not the extraneous, ridiculous violence out of Hollywood today to hype “tension.” Cheap tricks and dangerous.

And then there are the violent video games marketed to children.

In the wake of the Connecticut massacre, the Discovery Channel decided not to renew for a third season its TV show “American Guns,” about a family of gun makers. The Weinstein Company toned down the Los Angeles premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s ultra-violent “Django Unchained.” A spokesman for the company said: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the tragedy in Newtown, CT, and in this time of national mourning we have decided to forgo our scheduled event.”

Small adjustments, and how long will they last?

There have been reactions to the link between mental illness and the Connecticut shooter and so many other mass murderers. On Long Island this week, for example, a Nassau County legislator called for a restoration of millions of dollars cut from mental health programs in light of the Connecticut tragedy. “It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish,” said Judy Jacobs. “Obviously, anyone who could do what we saw in [Newtown] has to be mentally ill. But there are signs and there are signals. And it’s not something we should shirk from.”

Obama on Wednesday said, “The good news is there’s already a growing consensus for us to build from. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips. A majority of Americans support laws requiring background checks before gun purchases.”

He stressed, “I’m not going to be able to do it myself. Ultimately, if this effort is to succeed it’s going to require the help of the American people­it’s going to require all of us. If we’re going to change things, it’s going to take a wave of Americans­mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, pastors, law enforcement, mental health professionals­and, yes, gun owners­standing up and saying ‘enough’ on behalf of our kids.”

This will only be good news if, as the Connecticut horror fades from the media cycle, the pressure from public officials and all people continues leading to meaningful results.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Republican Fight Against Higher Taxes for the Rich

President Barack Obama’s demand that taxes of the rich be raised has become a key issue in the battle which, if not settled, could send the United States over a “fiscal cliff” at year’s end.

A series of extreme government spending cuts—including in defense and social programs among them Medicare—mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 would then kick in if no compromise is achieved, and, it is widely forecast, send the U.S. into recession.

Democrat Obama is arguing that higher taxes for the wealthy must be part of any package, and Republicans are fighting this.

Important in understanding the issue is how the tax rates for the richest Americans have fallen precipitously over the last several decades.

The “tax rates on the richest Americans fell from 91 percent in the 1950s and 1960s, and 70 percent in the 1970s, to the current low rate of 35 percent,” notes Dr. Richard D. Wolff, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, currently visiting professor at New School University in New York.

The “richest Americans won that spectacular tax cut,” says Dr. Wolff. “Middle- and low-income Americans won no such cuts.”

This has been paralleled by how “big business and conservatives have worked to undo the regulations and taxes imposed on them in the wake of the Great Depression of the 1930s.”

“Since the end of the Great Depression—and especially since the 1970s—the class warfare waged by business and its allies, most conservatives in both parties, was successful,” he says. He notes how, at the end of World War II, “for every $1 Washington raised in taxes on individuals, it raised $1.50 in taxes on business profits. In contrast, today, for every dollar Washington gets in taxes on individuals, it gets 25 cents in taxes on business. Business and its allies successfully shifted most of its federal tax burden onto individuals.”

“In plain English,” says Dr. Wolff, a Harvard graduate with a Ph.D. in economics from Yale, “the last 50 years saw a massive shift of the burden of federal taxation from business to individuals and from rich individuals to everyone else.”

Involved has been “class war policies” in a “war that victimized the vast majority of working Americans.” And “today, business and the rich are waging class war yet again to avoid even a small, modest reverse in the huge tax cuts they won in that war over the last half-century.”

Now, there are some that argue that even with steeply reduced tax rates, the rich pay more in taxes. Robert Frank of CNBC said earlier this year: “Despite the oft-repeated fact that tax rates for the wealthy are at an all-time low, which is true, it’s also true that the actual amount paid in taxes by the wealthy is higher than before the recession.”

He also stressed: “The One Percent paid an average effective tax rate of 28.9 percent on their income—far more than any other group, and more than twice the average effective rate of the middle class, who paid 11 percent on average.”

Then there are those who say the rich are being unjustly attacked. “I believe the president has vilified this so-called 2 percent,” Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, said last week. “Vilifying people and then punitively taxing them is un-American,” he declared.

The bottom line is that there has been a successful effort in the U.S. to alter the progressive income tax system that is based on individuals who earn more, paying higher taxes. The tax rates for the wealthy have been reduced drastically.

And Obama isn’t seeking a return to a 91 percent rate, or 70 percent or even close. During the campaign, he proposed raising the top rates for high-income people to 36 and 39.6 percent.  That would be a return to the top tax rates during the Clinton presidency.

Part of the battle between Obama and Congressional Republicans involves who should be considered high-income. The Obama administration has talked about a threshold of $200,000 in annual income for an individual, $250,000 for a family. The GOP complaint is this is too low.

This is a valid area of debate. But to reject a hike in tax rates, period, for the millionaires and billionaires who make up the top economic strata of this nation is not right.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lessons of Hurricane Sandy

What an ordeal the people of a good part of the United States have been through because of Hurricane Sandy—and many are still going through! As I write this on Sunday, November 11, electricity is still out to a huge number of homes and businesses on Long Island, in New York City and New Jersey as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

Long Island, where I live, has been especially hard-hit. And the Long Island Power Authority is being blasted. There were demonstrations yesterday of outraged Long Islanders protesting LIPA’s Sandy performance. At one, in Hicksville, a placard read: “Shame on LIPA. Shame on its Board of Directors. No Lights, No Heat, No End in Sight.” Another declared: “We Want Power Now!”

Steve Bellone, county executive of Suffolk which comprises the eastern 60 percent of Long Island, held a press conference yesterday to announce that Suffolk “has cut ties with LIPA headquarters and has begun directing local assets to expedite restoring power.” Bellone said that “people are desperate out there. After two weeks they need their power restored.”

Other public officials lambasting LIPA were calling for greatly expanded federal assistance in view of LIPA’s failure to restore power in view of LIPA’s failure to restore power to all of Long Island since the hurricane hit on October 29. Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said yesterday that LIPA “cannot continue under its present structure.” Earlier in the week, he proposed that the U.S. military and Department of Energy take over the “managerial structure” of LIPA during the restoration of power.

What, at this stage, might be considered some of the “lessons learned” from “Frankenstorm” Sandy—in addition to how Long Islanders can’t count on LIPA to get power back fully even more than 10 days after a major storm, a LIPA record?

Beyond everything else, Sandy has provided a big lesson on the awesome power of nature in its fury. In this regard, it has demonstrated the folly of spending billions of taxpayer dollars to dump sand along ocean beaches to supposedly “fortify” them, so-called “beach replenishment.” In one fell swoop, sand dumped on the affected coastline in these Army Corps of Engineers’ endeavors up and down the Mid-Atlantic has been washed away.

Yesterday, the Ponquogue Bridge in Hampton Bays in Suffolk was finally opened and I was able to look at some Sandy impacts along this barrier beach fronting Hampton Bays and extending toward Westhampton Beach. The highway that runs along the barrier beach, Dune Road, was still closed. Dune Road in many spots was washed over. But viewing what could be seen from the ocean beach just south of the Ponquogue Bridge, one could see the shoreline as far as the eye could see in either direction was now flat all th way to the water. Once it curved upward towards the line of grass-covered dunes. Not any longer. Now it’s low and flat.

Then there’s the important connection to climate change and global warming.

Bloomberg Businessweek in its cover story on Sandy ran a photo of the storm in its full wrath with the headline, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

Sandy brought climate change and global warming home violently.

Bellone was asked at a press conference three days after the hurricane struck whether, in view of global warming and the greater frequency of major storms, Suffolk County needs to change land-use policies. “I think what you say is correct. It’s something to think about when power is restored,” he responded to the reporter. It is, indeed, something to “think about”—and, more importantly, nations taking action to significantly reduce the burning of fossil fuels which is heating up this planet.

As Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of physics at City University of New York, commented on his blog: “Hurricane Sandy's the hurricane from hell. It broke all records…Is this related to global warming? First, there is no smoking gun, no conclusive evidence…However, the signs are not good. Second, global warming is heating up the…waters, and warm water is the basic energy source driving a hurricane….So global warming is actually the weather on steroids. This is consistent with the 100 year floods, 100 year forest fires, 100 year droughts that we seem to have every few years. So is this the new normal? We cannot say with certainty, but a case can be made that this wacky weather is, in part, driven by global warming.”

And, yes, land-use policies on the coast need to change—especially the use of tax dollars “encouraging people to live in harm’s way,” as the R Street Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, put it in a statement.

“The storm should heighten awareness about the dangers of federal policies that encourage development in risk-prone areas,” said R Street. “Key among these is the National Flood Insurance Program which is expected to pick up as much as half of the $20 billion in economic losses Sandy is projected to produce. The 44-year-old NFIP is the federal government’s second largest fiscal liability, behind only Social Security, with taxpayers on the hook for the program’s $1.25 trillion of coverage.”

Private insurance companies are reluctant to insure houses built on shifting sands in the teeth of the ocean, so the U.S. government—under enormous pressure of the beachfront homeowner lobby—has filled in with our tax dollars.

Then there’s the Army Corps of Engineers and beachfront homeowners forever pushing for sand-dumping or “beach replenishment.” As Eli Lehrer, R Street’s president, said in a media conference call in which I participated, “I would say the ideal federal percentage for ‘beach replenishment’ is zero.”

Barrier beaches need to move with nature—for reasons including protecting the mainland—and not be tailored to suit real estate interests. A pioneer in the science of beaches is Dr. Orrin Pilkey, long-time professor of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Duke University and founder and director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University.

As Pilkey and Wallace Kaufman wrote in their 1979 book, The Beaches Are Moving, The Drowning of America’s Shoreline, “The beach is land which has given itself up to wind and wave. Every day throughout the life of the earth, the wind and the waves have been at work shaping and reshaping the beach, pushing and pulling almost microscopic grains of sand and sometimes boulders larger than cars.....We ignore this when we built motels, pavilions, boardwalks, and even whole towns on the edge of the ocean….Beaches are not stable, but they are in dynamic equilibrium.”

And as Pilkey and Katharine L. Dixon wrote in their 1994 book, The Corps and the Shore, neither “hard stabilization” or “soft stabilization” of beaches make sense. “Armoring” a beach with stone “groins…destroys the beach. A “groin” will catch some sand and for a time protect a piece of beach, but it does that by blocking sand moving in the ocean’s littoral drift to another beach. As to “soft stabilization”—dumping sand or “beach replenishment”—it is “always expensive and always temporary.”

Then there’s undergrounding of electric lines.

In 1991, East Hampton Natural Resources Director Larry Penny called for putting underground the electric lines running along the eight-mile Napeague stretch between Amagansett and Montauk at the eastern tip of the South Fork of Long Island. Many of the poles holding them had gone down that year in Hurricane Bob and the “Perfect Storm.” The Long Island Lighting Company agreed to his request. Although the Napeague stretch was severely battered by Sandy, electricity in most of Montauk stayed on. “They say undergrounding is expensive,” said Penny. “But in the long run, you save a lot of money in tree-trimming, repairs after a storm and economic disruption—the power doesn’t go out.”

And most critically, Sandy underscored a lethal threat involving nuclear power plants on the coast. It impacted several including Oyster Creek in New Jersey where the storm surge from Sandy nearly overwhelmed critical cooling systems, including one maintaining its pool of thousands of hotly radioactive spent fuel rods. Oyster Creek is 70 miles south of New York City. Could a future “superstorm” set off an American Fukushima-like disaster?

As for the Long Island Power Authority, it was created in 1985 to replace LILCO as a democratically-based public power entity. LILCO also failed miserably to restore electricity after Hurricane Bob of that year. Moreover, it was moving to build between seven to 11 nuclear power plants on Long Island with Shoreham, virtually completed at that point, the first. LIPA was seen as a way to stop the push by LILCO and the federal government for this nuclear program by utilizing state power to eliminate the utility if it persisted in its program of trying to turn Long Island into a “nuclear park.”

The members of the LIPA board were to be elected and this, it was seen, would provide for accountability, with Long Islanders determining, democratically, how their utility functioned, and would provide, too, for Long Island’s energy future to be planned democratically.

Instead, then New York Governor Mario Cuomo, after LIPA was established, postponed elections to its board and his successor, Governor George Pataki, formally eliminated having LIPA elections.

LIPA board members ended up being selected by New York State government’s heralded “three-men-in-a-room”—the governor, State Assembly speaker and State Senate leader. (The three-men-in-a-room appellation relates how many decisions are made by New York State government.) LIPA’s current chairman and most of its members have no background in energy issues.

Sandy and the way LIPA has handled it cry out for LIPA returning to its original democratic vision—so it can truly be the peoples’ utility. “Shame on LIPA. Shame on its Board of Directors. No Lights, No Heat. No End in Sight,” said the placard yesterday. Through a democratic process, far more could be done than simply declaring, “Shame on LIPA. Shame on its Board of Directors”—although this must now be said. If, as originally envisioned, the trustee positions at LIPA were subject to a vote by Long Islanders, people could take decisive action and make changes so clearly necessary at LIPA in the wake of Sandy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Radioactivity and Fracking

Fracking for gas not only uses toxic chemicals that can contaminate drinking and groundwater—it also releases substantial quantities of radioactive poison from the ground that will remain hot and deadly for thousands of years.

Issuing a report yesterday exposing major radioactive impacts of hydraulic fracturing—known as fracking—was Grassroots Environmental Education, an organization in New York, where extensive fracking is proposed.

The Marcellus Shale region which covers much of upstate New York is seen as loaded with gas that can be released through the fracking process. It involves injecting fluid and chemicals under high pressure to fracture shale formations and release the gas captured in them.

But also released, notes the report, is radioactive material in the shale—including Radium-226 with a half-life of 1,600 years. A half-life is how long it takes for a radioactive substance to lose half its radiation. It is multiplied by between 10 and 20 to determine the “hazardous lifetime” of a radioactive material, how long it takes for it to lose its radioactivity. Thus Radium-226 remains radioactive for between 16,000 and 32,000 years.

“Horizontal hydrofracking for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region of New York State has the potential to result in the production of large amounts of waste materials containing Radium-226 and Radium-228 in both solid and liquid mediums,” states the report by E. Ivan White. For 30 years he was a staff scientist for the Congressionally-chartered National Council on Radiation Protection.

“Importantly, the type of radioactive material found in the Marcellus Shale and brought to the surface by horizontal hydrofracking is the type that is particularly long-lived, and could easily bio-accumulate over time and deliver a dangerous radiation dose to potentially millions of people long after the drilling is over,” the report goes on.

“Radioactivity in the environment, especially the presence of the known carcinogen radium, poses a potentially significant threat to human health,” it says. “Therefore, any activity that has the potential to increase that exposure must be carefully analyzed prior to its commencement so that the risks can be fully understood.”

The report lays out “potential pathways of the radiation” through the air, water and soil. Through soil it would get into crops and animals eaten by people.

Examined in the report are a 1999 study done by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation “assisted by representatives from 16 oil and gas companies” on hydrofracking and radioactivity and a 2011 Environmental Impact Statement the agency did on the issue. It says both present a “cavalier attitude toward human exposure to radioactive material.”

Radium causes cancer in people largely because it is treated as calcium by the body and becomes deposited in bones. It can mutate bones cells causing cancer and also impact on bone marrow. It can cause aplastic anemia—an inability of bone marrow to produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells. Marie Curie, who discovered radium in 1893 and felt comfortable physically handling it, died of aplastic anemia.

Once radium was used in self-luminous paint for watch dials and even as an additive in products such as toothpaste and hair creams for purported “curative powers.”

There are “no specific treatments for radium poisoning,” advises the Delaware Health and Social Services Division of Public Health in its information sheet on radium. When first discovered, “no one knew that it was dangerous,” it mentions.

White’s report, entitled “Consideration of Radiation in Hazardous Waste Produced from Horizontal Hydrofracking,” notes that “radioactive materials and chemical wastes do not just go away when they are released into the environment. They remain active and potentially lethal, and can show up years later in unexpected places. They bio-accumulate in the food chain, eventually reaching humans.”

Under the fracking plan for New York State, “there are insufficient precautions for monitoring potential pathways or to even know what is being released into the environment,” it states.

The Department of Environmental Conservation “has not proposed sufficient regulations for tracking radioactive waste from horizontal hydrofracking,” it says. “Neither New York State nor the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would permit a nuclear power plant to handle radioactive material in this manner.”

Doug Wood, associate director of Grassroots Environmental Education, which is based in Port Washington, New York, and also editor of the report, commented as it was issued: “Once radioactive material comes out of the ground along with the gas, the problem is what to do with it. The radioactivity lasts for thousands of years, and it is virtually impossible to eliminate or mitigate. Sooner or later, it’s going to end up in our environment and eventually our food chain. It’s a problem with no good solution—and the DEC is unequipped to handle it.”

As for “various disposal methods…contemplated” by the agency “for the thousands of tons of radioactive waste expected to be produced by fracking,” Wood said that “none…adequately protect New Yorkers from eventual exposure to this radioactive material. Spread it on the ground and it will become airborne with dust or wash off into surface waters; dilute it before discharge into rivers and it will raise radiation levels in those rivers for everyone downstream; bury it underground and it will eventually find its way into someone’s drinking water. No matter how hard you try, you can’t put the radioactive genie back into the bottle.”

Furthermore, said Wood in an interview, in releasing radioactive radium from the ground, “a terrible burden would be placed on everybody that comes after us. As a moral issue, we must not burden future generations with this. We must say no to fracking—and implement the use of sustainable forms of energy that don’t kill.”

The prospects of unleashing, through fracking, radium, a silvery-white metal, has a parallel in the mining of uranium on the Navajo Nation.

The mining began on the Navajo Nation, which encompasses parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, during World War II as the Manhattan Project, the American crash program to build atomic weapons, sought uranium to fuel them. The Navajos weren’t told that mining the uranium, yellow in color, could lead to lung cancer. And lung cancer became epidemic among the miners and then spread across the Navajo Nation from piles of contaminated uranium tailings and other remnants of the mining.

The Navajos gave the uranium a name: Leetso or yellow monster.

Left in the ground, it would do no harm. But taken from the earth, it has caused disease. That is why the Navajo Nation outlawed uranium mining in 2005. “This legislation just chopped the legs off the uranium monster,” said Norman Brown, a Navajo leader.

Similarly, radium, a silvery-white monster, must be left in the earth, not unleashed, with fracking, to inflict disease on people today and many, many generations into the future.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

George McGovern: Prescient About America

George McGovern, who died today, was prescient about America. When he ran for president 40 years ago, he well-understood what the federal government of the United States had become, among other national dysfunctions.

It’s a shame he wasn’t given an opportunity to, as president, change things.

In June 1972, I conducted a half-hour interview with then Senator McGovern as he campaigned for president on Long Island, New York, where I was a reporter for the Long Island Press.

“This administration,” he said of the Richard Nixon’s presidency, “is dominated by big business and big oil and big utilities. It’s really a big business operation. They give them anything they want: tax concessions, wage-price controls that have no restraints on big business.”

The Nixon administration had just quashed a Department of Justice anti-trust action against International Telephone & Telegraph, ITT, emerging then under its CEO Harold Geneen as the model of a modern monopoly extending its reach by gobbling up companies. The Nixon administration “let ITT buy their way out of” this anti-trust action, McGovern charged. ITT provided Nixon with major campaign contributions.

As to the situation if Nixon were re-elected president, “I really have a grim view of another four years of this kind of trickery and manipulation and credibility problems and secret deals and power politics and special interest politics. Letting the ITTs of the country run the government instead of the other way around,” said McGovern. “I really believe this present administration is dominated by the greediest interests in the country.”

The Vietnam War was still raging, and McGovern said: “The Vietnam War has virtually destroyed the unity of the nation, destroyed the unity of the Democratic Party. But I think a new coalition of peace and change priorities here at home is now forming around my candidacy. I believe I now stand in the mainstream of the American people.”

As to the difference if he became president instead of Nixon, “First of all there wouldn’t be any war. Secondly, I’d remove wage and price controls. I don’t think that it would be necessary to keep them if the war was over. Thirdly, there’d be a very substantial shift of resources away from war spending to building up the country, in terms of better facilities of all kinds: housing, transportation, health care, education and so forth.”

At the time, the oil industry was pushing to drill in Atlantic offshore waters—as it is again—and McGovern took a stand against it declaring that “the technology is not sufficiently advanced to protect us against oil spills.” He described offshore drilling in the Atlantic as “a threat to the beaches, the fishing interests, to the purity of the water.” Of nuclear power, he said “we have to delay further nuclear plant construction” because of the thermal impacts of nuclear plants on water bodies. He said “to operate those nuclear plants you have that hot water being dumped into nearby streams. That eventually destroys the stream, or the lake, or whatever it is into which the spill-off occurs.” As to sources of energy, he emphasized “solar power and other cleaner sources of energy.”

As to how the nation could adjust to a termination of the Vietnam War, McGovern said: “After World War II we dismantled a military machine that was consuming 40 percent of our gross national product. We did it without any recession. People went into other jobs because the priorities were set in such a way that there was employment. I can think of various things: the building of public transit facilities, construction of environmental protection devices…any number of things that are needed where that talent and labor can be utilized.”

Of the then infamous and huge generation gap, he said: “My candidacy could bridge the gap because there’s certain interests that young people and older people share in common…Everybody would welcome a return to trust and confidence in a president.”

He stressed his consistency on issues. “I’ve not gone back on my word. I’ve consistently followed through. I’ve not switched around. I’ve stuck to my principles.”

And, indeed, he was a man of principle.

Sadly, McGovern lost the 1972 election to the unprincipled Nixon.

Forty years later, we have suffered through much that could have been avoided if George McGovern had become president back then.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The "Under 1 Percent" and Their Helicopters to the Hamptons Blanket Long Islanders with Noise

It is the “under 1 percent” who come to the vaunted Hamptons by helicopter from Manhattan—and in the process blanket Long Islanders below with raucous noise.

The racket of helicopters heading to and returning from what has become the main aerial gateway of the Hamptons and Long Island’s biggest noisemaker—East Hampton Airport—has been intense this summer.

Involved, said planner and author Peter M. Wolf at a recent East Hampton Informational Forum on Aircraft Noise, is a “small minority…under 1 percent” imposing severe noise pollution on the population of Long Island.

The well-heeled pay a high price to use choppers to come to and return from the Hamptons, a little over 100 miles from Manhattan. A full-page newspaper ad for Talon Air that is currently running declares: “Work To Weekend In 30 Minutes. Fly NYC to the Hamptons in our Sikorsky Helicopter…” A Talon Air reservations agent said the round-trip charge for the trip is $5,800 but, it was explained, the chopper would be flying right back to the city from East Hampton, so the return flight a day or more later would cost another $5,800, bringing the total to near $12,000. Thus, for six people, the helicopter ride from Manhattan to East Hampton and for the return would be almost $2,000 for each passenger.

It’s a highly expensive way for the “under 1 percent” to avoid the often traffic-clogged Long Island Expressway to get to and from the Hamptons and it comes at an even a bigger cost for Long Islanders below—deprivation of their peace and quiet.

“It’s constant,” said Richard Ficara of Noyac, a hamlet west of Sag Harbor, of the noise from the East Hampton Airport chopper traffic. He was speaking at an “Emergency Planning Meeting” this week. “Save Our Neighborhoods From Loud Noise & Pollutants from Helicopters & Airplanes,” the flier for the meeting, sponsored by the Noyac Civil Council “and Concerned Citizens,” was headed. Ficara and others at the gathering told of choppers flying low and loud every several minutes over their homes.

An overflow crowd of Noyac residents—and people from elsewhere on Long Island impacted by the East Hampton helicopter din—were at the meeting Wednesday evening.

Although Noyac has been especially hard-hit, the East Hampton helicopter racket has become widespread on Long Island, said Janice LoRusso at the meeting. She spoke of a helicopter last weekend flying over her home in Jamesport on the North Fork of Long Island that was “so low you could reach out and tickle its belly.” She said that also being affected is “my boyfriend in Rocky Point,” and people through the Towns of Riverhead and Southold.

Discussed at the gathering was taking legal and political action and mounting protest demonstrations at East Hampton Airport. It followed the August 9th meeting in East Hampton meeting on aircraft noise sponsored by the Village Preservation Society of East Hampton.

Wolf, a member of the panel there, said the noise of aircraft going to and leaving from East Hampton Airport “keeps getting talked about but nothing is done.” Wolf, a consultant to the Village of East Hampton, said there’s “a problem of courage in government.”

Wolf said the noise from the aircraft going to and from East Hampton Airport is a “nuisance” in the “same way leaf blowers…and wild parties” are nuisances. The aircraft noise “just affects many more people.” He said “this is not so hard” to confront—it must be “limited like any other nuisance.” There should be “hours in which flights can occur” and “strict enforcement” of this and other regulations.

East Hampton Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley at this meeting acknowledged that “people come here for the peace and tranquility” and aircraft noise “interferes with that tranquility.” But, she added, so do “cars and busses.” Wolf criticized the comparison because the aircraft traffic to and from town-owned East Hampton Airport involves a tiny minority making use of a transportation mode unaffordable by most and victimizing the Long Island populace with noise in the process.

A “terribly small percentage” of people use the airport to commute between Manhattan and the Hamptons but, meanwhile, a “terribly large percentage” of people on the ground are being impacted. He said the situation was ripe for a class action lawsuit.

And Barry Holden, who organized the subsequent Noyac meeting, opened it by suggesting “a class action suit against the airport and helicopter owners” be brought. “We have to do something!” declared Holden.

LoRusso said the least bothersome route for choppers flying between Manhattan and the East Hampton Airport, would be over the ocean off the south shore of Long Island which would only require a short hop overland to the airport over a strip which includes Georgica Pond. However, said LoRusso, the choppers aren’t routed that way because of the wealth of the people who live in this, among the toniest of East Hampton areas. “They contribute to politicians’ campaigns. We’re fighting against rich people!”

Larry Tullio agreed: “The simple solution is going over the ocean,” he said. But the “people who have the most money” live in Georgica “and they evidently know somebody on the East Hampton Town Board.”

Ed Jablonsky of Noyac added that “most of the people who use the helicopters are down there…We have been sort of dumped on here.”

John LaSala, a leader on Shelter Island in battling East Hampton Airport chopper noise, told the meeting that in efforts to press for this southern route “we were told it would upset the people in Georgica.” He said it was important that “everybody get together” for this route.

Indeed, a “Master Plan Report” for the East Hampton Airport done for the town in 2008 by the consulting firm of Savik & Murray of Ronkonkoma pointed to the route as the best way to diminish chopper noise—but raised concern about the wealth of those then affected.

In a section in the report devoted to “Noise Abatement,” the report acknowledged that helicopters “are a disproportionate source of annoyance.” And it stated: “One approach and departure corridor was found to be substantially better than the existing routes” in terms of noise abatement. This “approach/departure path” would “branch off” from over the ocean and “on approach helicopters would over-fly Georgica Pond and thence over the currently undeveloped land adjacent to the Runway 34 threshold and then land in the terminal area. This is the minimum sound track, avoids overflight areas in Southampton, and adds little if any flying distance and flight time.”

But, the report went on: “It would, however, expose residents in this area of high value real estate to much greater noise levels than currently exist.”

At the meeting in Noyac, Chip Duyck said “we have to put fire under” public officials and send them the message that “you won’t be elected if you don’t solve the problem.” People should make it clear: “I’m angry and I vote.” Of East Hampton town officials, Duyck, of Noyac, said that “people who are pro-airport basically got elected.”

John Kirrane, also of Noyac, called for protest demonstrations to be held regularly at East Hampton Airport. He spoke of protesters carrying placards declaring “Stop the Helicopter Noise” and “embarrassing the hell out of the 300 who use” helicopter service to and from the Hamptons.

At the Noyac meeting, too, Councilwoman Quigley said the East Hampton Town Board was “trying to figure out things to do to stop the noise complaints.” Only recently, she said, the board learned that “we have the ability to control helicopters” through curfews and other restrictions.

A leading group fighting the noise connected with East Hampton Airport is the Quiet Skies Coalition. It declares on its website— —“We are committed to regaining control of what was once a small, rural airport supporting local recreational pilots. The increased number of flights to East Hampton Airport, particularly those of helicopters, sea planes and jets, disrupts and disturbs the peaceful enjoyment of our homes, properties and recreational areas and damages our protected natural habitats.”

But it has been an uphill fight considering the clout of the “under 1 percent.”

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Deadly Danger Plutonium-Fueled Mars Rover Has Posed

The first Mars rover fueled with plutonium landed on the red planet Monday—and there was much cheerleading by mainstream media but no mention of the huge danger the device, which NASA calls Curiosity, has posed to people and other life on Earth before getting to Mars.

Indeed, NASA in its Environmental Impact Statement for Curiosity, said that the chances had been but one-in-220 of deadly plutonium being released “overall” on the mission. If the rocket that had lofted it from Florida last year blew up on launch—and one in 100 rockets destruct on launch—that could have sent plutonium 62 miles away, as far as Orlando, said the EIS. If the rocket failed to break out of Earth’s gravity and take Curiosity on to Mars but, instead, fell back into the Earth’s atmosphere and, with Curiosity, disintegrated as it fell, a broad area of the Earth could have been impacted by plutonium.

Meanwhile, nuclear promoters have been heralding the Curiosity mission saying it points to more use of nuclear power in space. World Nuclear News, the information arm of the World Nuclear Association which seeks to boost the use of atomic energy, last month said:

“A new era of space exploration is dawning through the application of nuclear energy for rovers on Mars and the Moon, power generation at future bases on the surfaces of both and soon for rockets that enable interplanetary travel.” The article was headed: “Nuclear ‘a stepping stone’ to space exploration.”

In fact, in space as on Earth there are safe, clean alternatives to nuclear power. Before Curiosity, Mars rovers were solar-powered. A NASA space probe energized by solar energy is right now on its way to Jupiter, a mission which for years NASA claimed could not be accomplished without nuclear power providing onboard electricity. Solar propulsion of spacecraft has begun. And also, scientists, including those at NASA, have been working on using solar energy and other safe power sources for human colonies on Mars and the Moon.

The World Nuclear Association describes itself as “representing the people and organizations of the global nuclear profession.” World Nuclear News says it “is supported administratively and with technical advice by the World Nuclear Association and is based within its London Secretariat.” Its July 27th dispatch noted that the Curiosity rover that landed on August 6th, is “powered by a large radioisotope thermal generator instead of solar cells” as previous NASA Mars rovers had been. Curiosity is fueled with 10.6 pounds of plutonium.

“Next year,” said World Nuclear News, “China is to launch a rover for the Moon” that also will be “powered by a nuclear battery.” And “most significant of all” in terms of nuclear power in space, continued World Nuclear News, “could be the Russian project for a ‘megawatt-class’ nuclear-powered rocket.” It cites Anatoly Koroteev, chief of Russia’s Keldysh Research Centre, as saying the system being developed could provide “thrust…20 times that of current chemical rockets, enabling heavier craft with greater capabilities to travel further and faster than ever before.” There would be a “launch in 2018.”

The problem—a huge one and left untouched by World Nuclear News—involves accidents with space nuclear power systems releasing radioactivity impacting on people and other life on Earth. That has already happened. With more space nuclear operations, more atomic mishaps would be ahead.

NASA, before last November’s launch of Curiosity, acknowledged that if the rocket lofting it exploded at launch from Cape Kennedy, plutonium could be released affecting an area up to 62 miles away and, if the rocket didn’t break out of the Earth’s gravitational field and it and Curiosity fell back into the atmosphere and broke up, plutonium could be released over a massive area of Earth “between approximately 28-degrees north latitude and 28-degrees south latitude.” That includes Central America and much of South America, Asia, Africa and Australia.

The EIS said the costs of decontamination of plutonium would be $267 million for each square mile of farmland, $478 million for each square mile of forests and $1.5 billion for each square mile of “mixed-use urban areas.” The Curiosity mission itself, because of $900 million in cost overruns, now has a price of $2.5 billion.

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space (, for more than 20 years the leading opposition group to space nuclear missions, declared that “NASA sadly appears committed to maintaining its dangerous alliance with the nuclear industry. Both entities view space as a new market for the deadly plutonium fuel…Have we not learned anything from Chernobyl and Fukushima? We don’t need to be launching nukes into space. It’s not a gamble we can afford to take.”

Plutonium has long been described as the most lethal radioactive substance. And the plutonium isotope used in the space nuclear program, and on the Curiosity rover, is significantly more radioactive than the type of plutonium used as fuel in nuclear weapons or built up as a waste product in nuclear power plants. It is Plutonium-238 as distinct from Plutonium-239. Plutonium-238 has a far shorter half-life–87.8 years compared to Plutonium-239 with a half-life of 24,500 years. An isotope’s half-life is the period in which half of its radioactivity is expended.

Dr. Arjun Makhijani, a nuclear physicist and president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, explains that Plutonium-238 “is about 270 times more radioactive than Plutonium-239 per unit of weight.” Thus in radioactivity, the 10.6 pounds of Plutonium-238 being used on Curiosity is the equivalent of 2,862 pounds of Plutonium-239. The atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki used 15 pounds of Plutonium-239.

The far shorter half-life of Plutonium-238 compared to Plutonium-239 results in it being extremely hot. This heat is translated in a radioisotope thermoelectric generator into electricity.

The pathway of greatest health concern for plutonium is breathing in a particle leading to lung cancer. A millionth of a gram of plutonium can be a fatal dose. The EIS for Curiosity speaks of particles that would be “transported to and remain in the trachea, bronchi, or deep lung regions.” The particles “would continuously irradiate lung tissue.”

There hasn’t been an accident on the Curiosity mission. But the EIS acknowledged that there have been mishaps previously—in this spaceborne game of nuclear Russian roulette. Of the 26 earlier U.S. space missions that have used plutonium listed in the EIS, three underwent accidents, it admitted. The worst occurred in 1964 and involved, it noted, the SNAP-9A plutonium system aboard a satellite that failed to achieve orbit and dropped to Earth, disintegrating as it fell. The 2.1 pounds of Plutonium-238 fuel onboard dispersed widely over the Earth. Dr. John Gofman, professor of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, long linked this accident to an increase in global lung cancer. With the SNAP-9A accident, NASA switched to solar energy on satellites. Now all satellites and the International Space Station are solar powered.

The worst accident of several involving a Soviet or Russian nuclear space systems was the fall from orbit in 1978 of the Cosmos 954 satellite powered by a nuclear reactor. It also broke up in the atmosphere as it fell, spreading radioactive debris over 77,000 square miles of the Northwest Territories of Canada.

In 1996, the Russian Mars 96 space probe, energized with a half-pound of Plutonium-238 fuel, failed to break out of the Earth’s gravity and came down—as a fireball—over northern Chile. There was fall-out in Chile and neighboring Bolivia.

Initiatives in recent years to power spacecraft safely and cleanly include the launch by NASA last August 8th of a solar-powered space probe it calls Juno to Jupiter. NASA’s Juno website currently reports: “The spacecraft is in excellent health and is operating nominally.” It is flying at 35,200 miles per hour and is to reach Jupiter in 2016. Even at Jupiter, “nearly 500 million miles from the Sun,” notes NASA, its solar panels will be providing electricity. Waves

Solar power has also begun to be utilized to propel spacecraft through the friction-less vacuum of space. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in 2010 launched what it termed a “space yacht” called Ikaros which got propulsion from the pressure on its large sails from ionizing particles emitted by the Sun. The sails also feature “thin-film solar cells to generate electricity and creating,” said Yuichi Tsuda of the agency, “a hybrid technology of electricity and pressure."

As to power for colonies on Mars and the Moon, on Mars, not only the sun is considered as a power source but also energy from the Martian winds. And, on the Moon, as The Daily Galaxy has reported: “NASA is eying the Moon's south polar region as a possible site for future outposts. The location has many advantages; for one thing, there is evidence of water frozen in deep dark south polar craters. Water can be split into oxygen to breathe and hydrogen to burn as rocket fuel—or astronauts could simply drink it. NASA's lunar architects are also looking for what they call ‘peaks of eternal light’—polar mountains where the sun never sets, which might be a perfect settings for a solar power station.”

Still, the pressure by promoters of nuclear energy on NASA and space agencies around the world to use atomic energy in space is intense—as is the drive of nuclear promoters on governments and the public for atomic energy on Earth.

Critically, nuclear power systems for space use must be fabricated on Earth—with all the dangers that involves, and launched from Earth—with all the dangers that involves, and are subject to falling back to Earth and raining deadly radioactivity on human beings and other life on this planet.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Poverty and the 1% on Long Island

Poverty and extreme wealth on Long Island, where I live, have been in the national spotlight in recent days. HBO this month broadcast a powerful documentary “Hard Times: Lost on Long Island.” Filmmaker Marc Levin followed four Long Island families who suddenly became poor.

They’re not rarities. A commission established by the Suffolk County Legislature has been holding hearings about how 6.1% of the county’s 1.4 million residents now live below what the U.S. government considers the poverty line ($22,113 a year for a family of four). The hearings’ title: “Struggling in Suburbia: Meeting the Challenges of Poverty in Suffolk County.”

There have “long been pockets of poverty, created by race and income segregation” on Long Island, editorialized the New York Times on July 7. “But it is not just pockets of poverty anymore. These days the struggle has metastasized: foreclosed homes are just as empty in the better-off subdivisions, with the same weed-choked yards, plywood windows and mold-streaked clapboard siding…Long Island’s two counties, Nassau and Suffolk, have the second-and third-highest foreclosure rates in New York State.”

The four Long Island families presented in “Hard Times: Lost on Long Island,” as Verne Gay wrote in his Newsday review, “aren’t whiners or slackers, but desperate and afraid.”

All had extensive educations and well-paying jobs, and then in the Great Recession were tossed into poverty. Perhaps the most poignant of these stories was that of teacher Heather Hartstein and her husband, David, a chiropractor, of Montauk. He dies at the end of the documentary, which is dedicated to him. Look for a repeat of the excellent work on HBO.

Meanwhile, hyper-expensive fundraisers were held on July 8 in Suffolk for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney—and there were demonstrations protesting them.

There was a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser at the Southampton residence of David and Julia Koch. He’s the oil industry billionaire who with his brother, Charles, has been directing huge amounts of money into far right-wing political efforts, and now the Romney campaign.

There are some GOPers who charge that President Obama’s re-election campaign is seeking to gain political advantage by stirring up a “class-conflict” in the U.S. When the charge for a fundraiser is $50,000-a-plate, that‘s not about “class conflict.” Most upper-class people can’t afford a $50,000 lunch tab. It’s related to the Occupy Wall Street movement’s charge about the ultra-rich—1% of the population—owning nearly all the assets of this country.

“Romney has a Koch Problem,” read a banner towed by an airplane flying near the Koch estate on Meadow Lane. This was repeated on banners carried by many of the 200 protesters on the ground. “We’re here because of David Koch and his vow to purchase a president,” Anthony Zenkus of Occupy Wall Street told CNN. “It doesn’t sound like democracy to me.” It sure doesn’t.

Another Romney fundraiser was at the East Hampton mansion of billionaire Revlon chairman Ron Perelman. Here the charge was $25,000 to have a photo taken with Mr. Romney. Lunch itself was $5,000 a person, $7,500 a couple (almost a lunch two-for-one).

The third was back on Meadow Lane in Southampton at the estate of Clifford Sobel, who, after chairing fundraising in New Jersey for President George W. Bush’s first campaign, was rewarded with ambassadorships to the Netherlands and Brazil. Diplomat Sobel’s background: making a fortune selling store fixtures.

The demonstrators came from many organizations in addition to Occupy Wall Street including Occupy The East End, Greenpeace, Long Island Jobs with Justice, Long Island Progressive Coalition, and NY Communities for Change.

The New York Times summarized the situation by declaring that “what was billed as a day of elegant campaign events at the homes of the ultrarich turned out to be an afternoon of curious and clashing tableaus: protesters with their bandanas and Occupy Wall Street-inspired chants (‘We got sold out, banks got bailed out!’) standing amid multimillion-dollar mansions, where live bands played ‘Margaritaville’ and donors dined on prosciutto-wrapped melon balls.”

Meanwhile, there’s news that home foreclosures on Long Island grew in the last three months. Poverty increases—and the 1% pay big to dominate the governmental system.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Nuclear Foxes Guarding the Nuclear Hen Houses -- A Global Pattern

The conclusion of a report of a Japanese parliamentary panel that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster was rooted in government-industry “collusion” and thus was “man-made” is mirrored throughout the world. The “regulatory capture” cited by the panel is the pattern among nuclear agencies right up to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco [Tokyo Electric Power Company, the owner of the six Fukushima plants] and the lack of governance by said parties,” said the 641-page report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission released on July 5. “They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly ‘man-made,’” said the report of the panel established by the National Diet or parliament of Japan.

“We believe the root causes were the organizational and regulatory system that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions,” it went on. “Across the board, the commission found ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organization that deals with nuclear power.” It said nuclear regulators in Japan and Tepco “all failed to correctly develop the most basic safety requirements.”

The chairman of the 10-member panel, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a medical doctor, declared in the report’s introduction: “It was a profoundly man-made disaster—that could and should have been foreseen and prevented.” He also placed blame on cultural traits in Japan. “What must be admitted—very painfully,” wrote Dr. Kurokawa, “is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture; our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; our groupism; and our insularity.”

In fact, the nuclear regulatory situation in Japan is the rule globally. In the United States, for example, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, never denied a construction or operating license for a nuclear power plant anywhere, anytime. The NRC has been busy in recent times not only giving the go-ahead to new nuclear power plant construction in the U.S., despite the Fukushima disaster, but extending the operating licenses of most of the 104 existing plants from 40 to 60 years—although they were only designed to run for 40 years. That’s because radioactivity embrittles their metal components and degrades other parts after 40 years making the plants unsafe to operate.

And the NRC is now considering extending their licenses for 80 years. Moreover, the NRC’s chairman, Gregory Jaczko, recently resigned in the face of an assault on him by the nuclear industry and his four fellow NRC members led by William D. Magwood, IV. Magwood is typical of most NRC and AEC commissioners through the decades—a zealous promoter of nuclear power. He came to the NRC after running Advanced Energy Strategies through which he served as a consultant to various companies involved with nuclear power including many in Japan—among them Tepco. Before that, Magwood served as director of nuclear energy for the U.S. Department of Energy. He “led the creation,” according to his NRC biography, of DOE programs pushing nuclear power, “Nuclear Power 2010” and “Generation IV.” Prior to that, he worked for the Edison Electric Institute and Westinghouse, a major nuclear power plant manufacturer.

Jaczko, although a supporter of nuclear power, with a Ph.D. in physics, repeatedly called for the NRC to apply “lessons learned” from the Fukushima disaster to its rules and actions—upsetting the industry and the other four NRC commissioners. As Jaczko declared in February as the other four NRC commissioners first approved the construction of new nuclear plants since Fukushima, giving the go-ahead to two plants in Georgia: “I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened.”

The NRC was set up to be an independent regulator of nuclear power to replace the AEC which was established by Congress under the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. The AEC was given the dual missions of promoting and regulating nuclear power—a conflict of interest, Congress realized in 1974, so it eliminated the AEC and created the NRC as regulator and, later, the Department of Energy as promoter of nuclear power. But both the NRC and DOE have ended up pushing nuclear power with revolving doors between them and the government’s national nuclear laboratories—and the nuclear industry.

The International Atomic Energy Agency was established as an international version of the AEC by the United Nations after a speech made at it by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953 in which he espoused “Atoms for Peace.” Its dual missions are serving as a monitor of nuclear technology globally while also seeking “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.”

Its first director general was Sterling Cole who as a U.S. congressman was a big booster of nuclear power. Later came Hans Blix after he led a move in his native Sweden against an effort to close nuclear plants there. Blix was outspoken in seeking to spread nuclear power internationally calling for “resolute response by government, acting individually or together as in the [IAE] Agency.”

Blix’s long-time IAEA second-in command was Morris Rosen—formerly of the AEC and before that the nuclear division of General Electric (which manufactured the Fukushima plants)—who said after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster: “There is very little doubt that nuclear power is a rather benign industrial enterprise and we may have to expect catastrophic accidents from time to time.”

Mohamed ElBaradei of Egypt followed Blix, and as he told an “International Conference on Nuclear Power for the 21st Century” organized by the IAEA in 2005: “There is clearly a sense of rising expectations for nuclear power.” The current IAEA director general is Yukiya Amano of Japan. In Vienna at the heaquarters of the IAEA, marking the first anniversary of the Fukushima disaster in March, Amano said: “Nuclear power is now safer than it was a year ago.”


Shuya Nomura, a member of the Japanese investigation commission and a professor at the Chuo Law School, was quoted in the New York Times as saying that the panel’s report tried to “shed light on Japan’s wider structural problems, on the pus that pervades Japanese society.” And, noted the Times, he added, “This report contains hints on how Japanese society needs to change.” Those “wider structural problems” are far wider than Japan—they are global. The “regulatory capture” cited in the Japanese panel’s report has occurred all over the world—with the nuclear industry and those promoting nuclear power in governments making sure that the nuclear foxes are in charge of the nuclear hen houses.

The “pus that pervades Japanese society” is international. With some very important exceptions, people have not adequately taken on the nuclear authorities. And we all must. The nuclear promoters have set up a corrupt system to enable them to get their way with their deadly technology. They have lied, they have connived, they have distorted governments. The nuclear industry is thus allowed to do whatever it wants. The nuclear pushers must be firmly challenged and they and nuclear power must be stopped.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Inviting Atomic Catastrophe

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be holding a meeting this week to consider having nuclear power plants run 80 years—although they were never seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling metal parts and otherwise causing safety problems.

“The idea of keeping these reactors going for 80 years is crazy!” declares Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and former senior policy advisor at the U.S, Department of Energy and a U.S. Senate senior investigator. He is also an author of the book Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation. “To double the design life of these plants—which operate under high-pressure, high heat conditions and are subject to radiation fatigue—is an example of out-of-control hubris, of believing your own lies.”

"In a post-Fukushima world, the NRC has no case to renew life-spans of old, danger-prone nuke plants. Rather, they must be shut down,” says Priscilla Star, director of the Coalition Against Nukes. “This is an absurdity and shows the extent to which the NRC is captured,” says Jim Riccio, nuclear policy analyst at Greenpeace.

“Nuclear regulators know that embrittlement of the reactor vessels limits nuclear plant life but are willing to expose the public to greater risks from decrepit, old and leaking reactors. As we learned from Fukushima, the nuclear industry is willing to expose the public to catastrophic risks.”

Nevertheless, on Thursday at its headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, the NRC is to hold a meeting with the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute, which does studies for the nuclear industry, “to discuss and coordinate long-term operability research programs,” says the NRC, which could lead to it letting nuclear plants run for 80 years. For more than a decade, the NRC has been extending the operating licenses of nuclear plants from 40 years to 60 years.

And just as the NRC has never denied a construction or operating license for a nuclear plant anywhere, anytime in the U.S., it has rubber-stamped every application that has come before it for a 20-year extension of the plant’s original 40-year license. It has now approved 60-year operating licenses for 73 of the 104 nuclear power plants in the U.S.

When the NRC in 2009 OK’d extending the operating license to 60 years of the oldest nuclear plant in the U.S., Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Jeff Titel, president of the New Jersey Sierra Club, declared: “This decision is radioactive. To keep open the nation’s oldest nuclear power plant for another 20 years is just going to lead to a disaster. We could easily replace the plant with 200 windmills that will not pose a danger.”

With the same General Electric design as the six Fukushima nuclear power plants, the plant is 60 miles south of New York City. The first nuclear plants given permission by the NRC to operate for 60 years were the two Calvert Cliffs plants located on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay near Lusby, Maryland, 45 miles southeast of Washington, D.C. That came in 1999. The NRC license extension program is “blind to how these machines are breaking apart at the molecular level…they embrittle, crack and corrode,” said Paul Gunter, then with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and now director of the Reactor Oversight Project of the organization Beyond Nuclear. The NRC in its “rigged game” is driving the nation toward a nuclear disaster, said Gunter. “The term ‘nuclear safety’ is an oxymoron. It’s an inherently dangerous process and an inherently dangerous industry that has been aging.”

The Associated Press conducted “a yearlong investigation of aging issues at the nation’s nuclear power plants” and, in a report in June 2011 by Jeff Donn, declared: “Regulators now contend that the 40-year limit was chosen for economic reasons and to satisfy safety concerns, not for safety issues. They contend that a nuclear plant has no technical limit on its life. But an AP review of historical records, along with interviews with engineers who helped develop nuclear power, shows just the opposite: Reactors were made to last only 40 years. Period.”

Moreover, “the AP found that the relicensing process often lacks fully independent safety reviews. Records show that paperwork of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission sometimes matches word-for-word the language used in a plant operator’s application.” Also, under the NRC’s “relicensing rules, tight standards are not required to compensate for decades of wear and tear.” Getting operating license extensions “is a lucrative deal for operators,” said the AP.

With operating license extensions, operators of nuclear power plants can wring out as much profits as they can. And not only do they want their plants to operate beyond their 40-year design basis, but they have been asking—and getting approval from the NRC—to have their plants generate more electricity than they were designed to provide, to run hotter and harder.

The NRC calls this “uprating”—and has obliged the industry on this, too, simultaneous with extending the operating licenses of nuclear plants. Alvarez commented last week: “Would you want to drive around in an 80-year-old automobile souped-up to go twice as fast as it was supposed to?” “They are pushing these machines at levels and for time periods for which they were not envisioned operating,” said Alvarez.

Much of “this 80-year business,” he added, involves a concern by the nuclear industry that “they’re not going to build any new reactors anytime soon”—thus the push to keep existing plants running. And, a “root cause” is that those behind nuclear power “operate in isolation, secrecy and privilege and only talk to themselves. They form an echo chamber. They cast out those who do not agree. These are the prime ingredients of corruption of science and safety.”

By extending the operating licenses of nuclear plants, the NRC is inviting catastrophe. It’s asking for it. The gargantuan problem is that the “it” is atomic catastrophe which, as the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster and last year’s Fukushima catastrophe have demonstrated, impacts on huge numbers of people and other forms of life. It’s high time the NRC be abolished along with the toxic technology it promotes: nuclear power. And we fully embrace and implement safe, clean renewable energy technologies here today, led by solar and wind energy, rendering deadly dangerous nuclear power totally unnecessary.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

David Brower

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of David Brower, founder and chair of Earth Island Institute, founder and chair of Friends of the Earth and long-time executive director of the Sierra Club, EnviroVideo has re-issued a 1996 Enviro Close-Up interview I did with Mr. Brower. It is being aired nationally this month on Free Speech TV. And it can be viewed online at -- Among other things, he tells of how his opposition to nuclear power led to losing his position at the Sierra Club.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nuclear Rubberstamp Commission

The resignation last week of the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is another demonstration of the bankrupt basis of the NRC. Gregory Jaczko repeatedly called for the NRC to apply "lessons learned" from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster in Japan. And, for that, the nuclear industry—quite successfully—went after him fiercely.

The New York Times in an editorial over the weekend said that President Obama’s choice to replace Jaczko, Allison Macfarlane, “will need to be as independent and aggressive as Dr. Jaczko.”

That misses the institutional point. The NRC was created in 1974 when Congress abolished the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission after deciding that the AEC’s dual missions of promoting and at the same time regulating nuclear power were deemed a conflict of interest.

The AEC was replaced by the NRC which was to regulate nuclear power, and a Department of Energy was later formed to advocate for it. However, the same extreme pro-nuclear culture of the AEC continued on at the NRC. It has partnered with the DOE in promoting nuclear power. Indeed, neither the AEC, in its more than 25 years, nor the NRC, in its nearly 30 years, ever denied an application for a construction or operating license for a nuclear power plant anywhere, anytime in the United States. The NRC is a rubberstamp for the nuclear industry.

“NRC stands for Nuclear Rubberstamp Commission,” says Kevin Kamps of the organization Beyond Nuclear.

And it isn’t that Jaczko opposed nuclear power. “Greg is not anti-nuclear, but he’s pro-nuclear in a smart and considered way,” says Christopher Paine, director of the nuclear program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Since the Fukushima accident began last March 11, Jaczko, who has a Ph.D. in physics, has called on the NRC to recognize and incorporate in its rules and actions, the gravity of that catastrophe. As he declared as his four fellow NRC members approved the construction of two nuclear plants in Georgia in February—the first OK for new nuclear plants in the U.S. in years: "I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened.”

“Greg has led a Sisyphean fight against some of the nuclear industry’s opponents of strong, lasting regulations, often serving as the lone vote,” commented Congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts after the Jaczko resignation.

The nuclear industry and promoters of nuclear power in government would have us believe that Fukushima means nothing. As the American Nuclear Society asserts on its website: “No public ill effects are expected from the Fukushima incident.”

In reality, the consequences—in Japan and all over the world—are expected to be enormous. They’ll be worse than the impacts of the Chernobyl disaster, says Dr. Alexey Yablokov, a biologist and lead scientist of the book published by the New York Academy of Science in 2009, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for the People and the Environment. It reported that now available medical data shows that that 985,000 people died worldwide between 1986, the year of the Chernobyl accident, and 2004 from the radioactivity released.

“The Fukushima disaster will be worse than Chernobyl,” agrees Dr. Janette Sherman, a toxicologist and the book’s editor. That’s because Fukushima involves, she notes, not one but six nuclear plants along with spent fuel pools, in a “far more populated” area than the Chernobyl plant, and the radioactive discharges from Fukushima have continued for months.

Importantly, a new report by a noted European science institute has determined that Chernobyl and Fukushima were not isolated occurrences. “Severe Nuclear Reactor Accidents Likely Every 10 to 20 Years,” was the headline of the article last week on the report in Science Daily. “Catastrophic nuclear accidents such as the core meltdowns in Chernobyl and Fukushima are more likely to happen than previously assumed,” said Science Daily, about the report by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany. Based on “the number of nuclear meltdowns that have occurred,” they “calculated that such events may occur once every 10 to 20 years.”

And impacts would be global—like Chernobyl and Fukushima.Their computer analyses, said Science Daily, found for the leading radioactive poison discharged in a nuclear plant accident, Cesium-137, some 8% can be expected to fall within 50 kilometers of the accident site, 50% beyond 1,000 kilometers and 25% beyond 2,000 kilometers. “These results underscore that reactor accidents are likely to cause radioactive contamination well beyond national borders,” said Science Daily.

Science Daily, like Jaczko, can’t be decried as “anti-nuclear.” But for the nuclear industry and nuclear promoters within government, including the NRC, denial is the watchword. At the NRC in recent months a move has begun to negate what has been its benchmark analysis on the impacts of nuclear plant accidents. “Calculation Reactor Accident Consequences 2,” referred to as the CRAC-2 report. Issued in 1982, it projects the impacts from a meltdown with a breach of containment at every nuclear plant in the U.S. It divides the consequences into “Peak Early Fatalities,” “Peak Early Injuries,” “Peak Cancer Deaths” and “Scaled Costs” for property damage—and the numbers are chilling. For the Indian Point 3 nuclear plant 28 miles north of New York City, for instance, it projects “Peak Early Fatalities” at 50,000, “Peak Early Injuries” at 167,000, “Peak Cancer Deaths” at 14,000 and “Scaled Costs” at $314 billion (in 1980 dollars).

The NRC in January issued a report it seeks to have replace CRAC-2, “State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequences Analyses” or SOARCA. SOARCA finds, according to the NRC, that the “risks of public health consequences from severe accidents” at a nuclear plant “are very small.”

The “long-term risk” of a person dying from cancer from a nuclear plant accident is less than one-in-a billion. This is because “successful implementation of existing mitigation measures can prevent reactor core damage or delay or reduce offsite releases of radioactive material.” Tell that to the people impacted by Chernobyl and Fukushima. Meanwhile, the NRC has been busy extending the operating licenses of existing plants although nuclear plants were never seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling the metal parts and otherwise causing problems affecting safety.

Nevertheless, the NRC has now extended the licenses of 73 of the 104 nuclear plants in the U.S. to 60 years. And next Thursday, June 7, at its headquarters, the NRC is holding a meeting with DOE and the industry’s Electric Power Research Institute on extending licenses to 80 years. Consider the reliability of an 80-year old car.

A “Petition for Rulemaking to Improve Emergency Planning Regulations” was brought to the NRC in February by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and 37 safe-energy and environmental groups. It declared that “the real-world experience of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters…were more severe and affected a much larger geographical area than provided for in NRC regulations” and asked, among other things, for the NRC to expand its current 10-mile evacuation planning zone around nuclear plants.

“Waiting to see how bad an emergency gets before expanding evacuation…is not a plan of action, it is a recipe for disaster and an abdication of responsibility.” The likely NRC response? No. On that issue, the nuclear industry was extremely upset that Jaczko, after the Fukushima accident began, advised U.S. citizens within 50 miles of the exploding nuclear complex to evacuate. It sought to continue the myth that 10 miles were fine.

As for the proposed new chair of the NRC, Allison Macfarlane, if she seeks to push safety, as the New York Times thinks she can, she would be crucified—just like Jaczko. The solution? Abolish the Nuclear Rubberstamp Commission—and shut down every nuclear power plant in the U.S. They provide just 20% of our electricity and this could be substituted for with electricity generated by safe, clean, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind—without the loss of lives.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Murdoch's Mission In Media -- Politics

With the finding this week by a committee of the British Parliament that Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company,” the Federal Communications Commission should move to prohibit Murdoch from owning television stations in the United States.

The licensing system for TV and radio stations in the U.S. requires that their owners be of good character. It also mandates that only U.S. citizens hold a major interest in a station —the reason why Murdoch became a U.S. citizen in 1985 as he moved to create a U.S.-based media empire. His Australian citizenship went, but as for his questionable character, that remained.

In its extensive and scathing report on the hacking and bribery scandal in the U.K. involving Murdoch’s News Corporation, the Parliamentary committee declared that Murdoch “turned a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications. This culture, we consider, permeated from the top.”

The “claim that phone-hacking could be dismissed as the work of a single ‘rogue reporter’…was a false one,” said the committee about the assertion of Murdoch and his son James in earlier testimony before it.

“As a result of our own investigation, but also of civil cases currently before the courts, Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry and investigative journalism, there has been a steady flow of evidence which, taken together, comprehensively discredits that assertion. This is beyond dispute.”

“Rupert Murdoch is certainly not, as part of his evidence would have us believe, a ‘hands-off proprietor,’” the panel stated.

Indeed, last week, Murdoch finally acknowledged to the committee that there was a “cover-up” of the scandal in which he took part. The report, said the BBC, “directly questioned the integrity and honesty of Rupert Murdoch” and could lead to a determination in the U.K. that Murdoch’s company “is not fit and proper to hold a broadcasting license.”

When the Federal Communications Act—the regulatory structure for radio and later also TV in the U.S.—was initially enacted in 1934, a similar standard requiring station owners to be “stewards” of the public airwaves became law in America.

Broadcast media, it was reasoned, were using a limited resource—the airwaves—and thus standards were needed to be set for who could own a station. Unlike newspapers, there could not be a virtually unlimited number of stations—frequencies were finite and use of them should only be granted to those of good character committed to serving the public interest. That also applies when a station undergoes a periodic process of relicensing.

If the owners are found guilty of a felony, an anti-trust violation, a fraudulent statement to a governmental entity, discrimination, among other things, they can lose their license to operate the station. This is what should now happen to Murdoch in the U.S.

A problem is that the Federal Communications Commission, which enforces the Federal Communications Act, has—like so many U.S. regulatory agencies—been a lapdog to rather than a watchdog of industry. Dark Genius by Kerwin Swint, a book about Roger Ailes who with Murdoch put together the hard right-wing Fox News Channel, notes that Murdoch “has always gotten what he wanted out of the FCC.”

This included, in 1993, the FCC waiving “its cross-ownership rule—barring a company from owning a newspaper and/or a radio or TV station in the same market.” Murdoch’s mission in media is politics. “At Murdoch’s media companies,” writes Swint, “his operations are often used for expressly political purposes.”

For example, the “New York Post is not profitable in a financial sense for Murdoch, but it has been invaluable to him as a battering ram for political causes and vendettas….He has skillfully used his media properties to advance political agendas , and conversely, has used those political assets to advance his media properties.”

There have been outrageous media barons through the years. Citizen Kane, often considered America’s finest movie, is about the meglomania of William Randolph Hearst. But Murdoch has operated—in the U.K., in the U.S., indeed all over the world—as what William Shawcross in Murdoch, his biography of Murdoch, describes as "an international Citizen Kane, with influence beyond imagining."

His cynicism—such as the Fox News Channel proclaiming to be exactly what it’s not, “fair and balanced”—is profound. The quantity of his media holdings is vast. And some are extremely important. He now owns 150 newspapers in Australia including The Australian, the nation's biggest paper. In the U.K., he bought what had been the most distinguished newspaper in the English-speaking world, The Times of London, the quality of which has been downgraded under Murdoch.

His other U.K. holdings include Sky Television. In the U.S. his holdings, in addition to the New York Post, include The Wall Street Journal which he has been using to take on The New York Times to become the leading American newspaper. His News Corporation also owns the giant book-publishing company, HarperCollins; 20th Century Fox movie studio; 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Broadcasting Company.

His U.S. cable TV assets in addition to Fox News Channel include Fox Movie Channel and Fox Business Network. Murdoch’s holdings also extend to Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. All in all, his News Corporation owns more than 800 media companies in more than 50 countries.

According to Forbes magazine, Murdoch’s net worth is now $8.3 billion making him, says Forbes, the 106th richest person in the world, the 38th richest in the U.S.

“With News Corp undoubtedly facing increased regulatory scrutiny in the U.S. as the phone-hacking scandal expands in the U.K., the company is acting to correct a breach of FCC laws regarding foreign ownership,” the website Studio Briefing reported last month. “The media conglomerate will likely suspend half the voting rights of foreign shareholders to bring it into compliance with FCC rules limiting foreign ownership of broadcasting stations to 25 percent.” The largest foreign shareholder, it said, is Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud who “owns 7 percent of News Corp’s voting stock.” Now what about the man at the top—Rupert Murdoch—and the requirement of integrity?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Atomic Titanics

On the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, The Japan Times yesterday ran an editorial titled “The Titanic and the Nuclear Fiasco” which stated: “Presenting technology as completely safe, trustworthy or miraculous may seem to be a thing of the past, but the parallels between the Titanic and Japan's nuclear power industry could not be clearer.”

“Japan's nuclear power plants were, like the Titanic, advertised as marvels of modern science that were completely safe. Certain technologies, whether they promise to float a luxury liner or provide clean energy, can never be made entirely safe,” it said.

It quoted from a piece by Joseph Conrad written after the Titanic sank in which he noted the "chastening influence it should have on the self-confidence of mankind." The Japan Times urged: “That lesson should be applied to all ‘unsinkable’ undertakings that might profit a few by imperiling the majority of others.”

Yes, the same kind of baloney behind the claim that the Titanic was unsinkable is behind the puffery that nuclear power plants are safe. The nuclear power promoters are still saying that despite the sinking of atomic Titanics: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plants.

In fact, underneath the PR offensive are government documents admitting that nuclear power plants are deadly dangerous.

The first analysis of the consequences of a nuclear plant accident was done in 1957 by Brookhaven National Laboratory, established a decade before by the since disbanded U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to develop civilian uses of nuclear technology. Its “WASH-740” report said a major nuclear plant accident could result in “3,400 killed and about 43,000 injured” and property damage “could be about 7 billion dollars.” However, this analysis was based on nuclear power plants a fifth to a tenth of the size of those being constructed in the 1960s.

So Brookhaven National Laboratory conducted a second study in the mid-60s, “WASH-740-update.” It stated repeatedly that for a major nuclear plant accident, “the possible size of such a disaster might be equal to that of the State of Pennsylvania.” It increased the number of deaths to 45,000, injuries to 100,000 and property damage up to $280 billion.

Then, in 1982, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories did a study they titled “Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences” that analyzed the accident consequences for every nuclear plant in the U.S. It projected, for example, for a meltdown with a breach of containment at the Indian Point 2 plant just north of New York City: 50,000 “peak early fatalities; 167,000 “peak early injuries;” 14,000 “peak cancer deaths;” and $314 billion in “scaled costs” of property damage in, it noted, “1980 dollars.”

As to likelihood, in 1985 there was a formal written exchange between U.S. Congressman Edward Markey’s House Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations and the NRC in which the panel asked: “What does the commission and NRC staff believe the likelihood of a severe core melt accident to be in the next twenty years for those reactors now operating and those expected to operate during that time?”

The NRC response: “In a population of 100 reactors operating over a period of 20 years, the crude cumulative probability of such an accident would be 45%.” But then it went on that this might be off by “a factor of about 10 above and below.” Thus, the chances of a meltdown during a 20-year period among 100 U.S. nuclear plant plants (there are 104 today) would be about 50-50.

These are not good odds for disaster.

Steven Starr, a board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, speaks further of the “fatal and deadly flaw” of nuclear power “that cannot be remedied by any technological fix or redesign. Nuclear power plants manufacture poisons thousands and millions of times more deadly to life than any other industrial process, and some of these poisons last for hundreds of millennia, and thus have great potential to become ubiquitous in the global environment.” And the “clear evidence” is that it is “beyond the means of the nuclear industry to keep these poisons contained during even the average lifespan of a nuclear reactor. It is beyond belief that anyone can promise that we can contain them for tens or hundreds of thousands of years.”

The current issue of Popular Mechanics features an article “Why Titanic Still Matters” by Jim Meigs, the magazine’s editor and chief, which states: “In one respect, little has changed. As the recent loss of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia demonstrates, bad decision making can overcome even robust engineering. Virtually all man-made disasters—including the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the space shuttle Challenger explosion, and the BP oil spill—can be traced to the same human failings that doomed Titanic. After 100 years, we must still remember—and, too often, relearn—the grim lessons of that night.”

Indeed, human error is a big part of what can go wrong at a nuclear power plant. However, even without human error, nuclear power is fraught with the potential for immense catastrophe. A mechanical malfunction simple or complex, an earthquake, a tornado, a tsunami, a hurricane, a flood, a terrorist attack, these and other threats can result in catastrophe. Nuclear power plants and the process of atomic fission in them are inherently dangerous—at a scale of technological disaster that is unparalleled.

Some 1,500 souls were lost with the Titanic. For a nuclear plant accident, it is anticipated that tens of thousands could die—and the most recent estimates by independent scientists is that a million have died as a result of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. It is expected that even more will perish as a result of the six-nuclear plant Fukushima catastrophe.

And it’s not a ship sinking to the bottom of the sea but a part of the Earth rendered uninhabitable for millennia—as a huge area around Chernobyl has been, and now a large area around Fukushima will be. They become “sacrifice zones.”

And what for? In 1912 there was no other way to cross an ocean than on a ship—there were no airplanes flying passengers from continent to continent. But now there are numerous and truly safe, clean energy technologies available that render nuclear power totally unnecessary. Thus, we can avoid sinking with the atomic Titanics which the nuclear power promoters insist we board.