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?