Daily Archive: 04/11/2013

Apr 11 2013

Influential Women

5 x Five

Apr 11 2013

Fukushima: A Month Of Disasters

So what’s happened at Fukushima in the month since the 2 year anniversary?

Well, the cooling system has broken down at least once-

Fukushima Blackout Hints at Plant’s Vulnerability

By MARTIN FACKLER, The New York Times

Published: March 19, 2013

This week’s partial blackout, which started Monday, halted crucial cooling systems for as long as about 30 hours at four pools where used fuel rods are stored.



The four pools affected by the latest blackout contain more than 8,800 highly radioactive fuel rods, Tepco said, enough to cause a release much larger than the original accident, which forced the evacuation of some 160,000 residents in northeastern Japan.



With the company as the only source of information, it was impossible this week to independently assess the conditions at the plant, which sits in a contaminated zone that is closed to the public. On Tuesday, the company was criticized for waiting three hours before revealing the power failure to the public.

Tepco said a faulty switchboard might have been to blame in the latest power failure. Though the company has backup generators at the site, it appeared to have been unprepared for a switchboard failure.

There was a conference-

Fukushima Two Years Later: Many Questions, One Clear Answer

By: Gregg Levine, Firedog Lake

Monday April 8, 2013 7:30 am

A distinguished list of epidemiologists, oncologists, nuclear engineers, former government officials, Fukushima survivors, anti-nuclear activists and public health advocates gathered at the invitation of The Helen Caldicott Foundation and Physicians for Social Responsibility to, if not answer all these question, at least make sure they got asked. Over two long days, it was clear there is much still to be learned, but it was equally clear that we already know that the downsides of nuclear power are real, and what’s more, the risks are unnecessary. Relying on this dirty, dangerous and expensive technology is not mandatory-it’s a choice. And when cleaner, safer, and more affordable options are available, the one answer we already have is that nuclear is a choice we should stop making and a risk we should stop taking.



The boiling water reactors (BWRs) that failed so catastrophically at Fukushima Daiichi were designed and sold by General Electric in the 1960s; the general contractor on the project was Ebasco, a US engineering company that, back then, was still tied to GE. General Electric had bet heavily on nuclear and worked hand-in-hand with the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC-the precursor to the NRC, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) to promote civilian nuclear plants at home and abroad. According to nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, GE told US regulators in 1965 that without quick approval of multiple BWR projects, the giant energy conglomerate would go out of business.

It was under the guidance of GE and Ebasco that the rocky bluffs where Daiichi would be built were actually trimmed by 10 meters to bring the power plant closer to the sea, the water source for the reactors’ cooling systems-but it was under Japanese government supervision that serious and repeated warnings about the environmental and technological threats to Fukushima were ignored for another generation.

Failures at Daiichi were completely predictable, observed David Lochbaum, the director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and numerous upgrades were recommended over the years by scientists and engineers. “The only surprising thing about Fukushima,” said Lochbaum, “is that no steps were taken.”

The surprise, it seems, should cross the Pacific. Twenty-two US plants mirror the design of Fukushima Daiichi, and many stand where they could be subject to earthquakes or tsunamis. Even without those seismic events, some US plants are still at risk of Fukushima-like catastrophic flooding. Prior to the start of the current Japanese crisis, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission learned that the Oconee Nuclear Plant in Seneca, South Carolina, was at risk of a major flood from a dam failure upstream. In the event of a dam breach-an event the NRC deems more likely than the odds that were given for the 2011 tsunami-the flood at Oconee would trigger failures at all four reactors. Beyond hiding its own report, the NRC has taken no action-not before Fukushima, not since.



If nuclear reactors were the only way to generate electricity, would 500 excess cancer deaths be acceptable? How about 5,000? How about 50,000? If nuclear’s projected mortality rate comes in under coal’s, does that make the deaths-or the high energy bills, for that matter-more palatable?

Well?  Are they?

Nuclear Industry Withers in U.S. as Wind Pummels Prices

By Julie Johnsson & Naureen S. Malik, Bloomberg News

Mar 11, 2013 4:13 PM ET

“Right now, natural gas and wind power are more economic than nuclear power in the Midwestern electricity market,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based advocate of cleaner energy, said in a phone interview. “It’s a matter of economic competitiveness.”



Meanwhile, nuclear and coal plants must continue running even as this “negative pricing” dynamic forces them to pay grid operators to take the power they produce.



“We can’t find enough demand for the amount of energy created by Mother Nature,” said Doug Johnson, spokesman for the Bonneville Power Administration, which manages the grid in the Pacific Northwest. The transmission operator, based in Portland, Oregon, paid wind operators $2.7 million last year to stay off line so it could make room for the power from hydroelectric generators handling the runoff from melting mountain snows.

Now just this week we find out that the switchboard blackout was caused by a rat chewing through power lines and TEPCO’s ‘high tech’ response is to install anti-rat netting across all the holes they can.

I’ll bet those of you who’ve had rat problems can predict just how well that will work in an environment with thousands of shrapnel holes from the blasts and where even robots can’t work because the radiation fries their electronics.

Oh, and 3 of the 7 big radioactive water containment pools have been leaking.

Mishaps Underscore Weaknesses of Japanese Nuclear Plant

By HIROKO TABUCHI, The New York Times

Published: April 10, 2013

The biggest scare at the plant in recent days has been the discovery that at least three of seven underground storage pools are seeping thousands of gallons of radioactive water into the soil. On Wednesday, Tepco acknowledged that the lack of adequate storage space for contaminated water had become a “crisis,” and said it would begin emptying the pools. But the company said that the leaks will continue over the several weeks that it will likely take to transfer the water to other containers.



Tepco stores more than a quarter-million tons of radioactive water at the site and says the amount could double within three years.

But as outside experts have discovered with horror, the company had lined the pits for the underground pools with only two layers of plastic each 1.5 millimeters thick, and a third, clay-based layer just 6.5 millimeters thick. And because the pools require many sheets hemmed together, leaks could be springing at the seams, Tepco has said.



But Muneo Morokuzu, a nuclear safety expert at the Tokyo University Graduate School of Public Policy, said that the plant required a more permanent solution that would reduce the flood of contaminated water into the plant in the first place, and that Tepco was simply unable to manage the situation. “It’s become obvious that Tepco is not at all capable of leading the cleanup,” he said. “It just doesn’t have the expertise, and because Fukushima Daiichi is never going to generate electricity again, every yen it spends on the decommissioning is thrown away.”

Apr 11 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

New York Times Editorial Board: The President’s Budget

President Obama knew full well that many Democrats and liberals would be sharply critical of his decision to propose reducing the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment, one of the centerpieces of his 2014 budget, which was released on Wednesday. In fact, he was counting on it. He wanted to show that he was willing to antagonize his supporters to get a budget compromise, putting Republicans on the spot to do the same. [..]

But, on Wednesday, when the president actually did so, Mr. McConnell dismissed the budget as unserious. Not a single Congressional Republican could be found to consider a budget that combines twice as much in spending cuts as it raises in tax revenues.

The Social Security proposal remains a bad idea, and, as this page has explained, it could hurt vulnerable retirees and stymie better ideas to improve the system, like raising the wage cap subject to the payroll tax. But it seems unlikely to happen if Mr. Obama holds to his demand for more revenues in exchange, given the Republican intransigence. For now, it has served its purpose – no one will be able to accuse Mr. Obama of refusing to touch entitlements, and no one can credit Republicans for being at all serious about a deficit-reduction compromise.

Robert Reich: Bi-Partisanship We Don’t Need: The President Offers to Cut Social Security and Republicans Agree

John Boehner, Speaker of the House, revealed why it’s politically naive for the president to offer up cuts in Social Security in the hope of getting Republicans to close some tax loopholes for the rich. “If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes,” Boehner said in a statement released Friday. [..]

The president is scheduled to dine with a dozen Senate Republicans Wednesday night. Among those attending will be John Boozman of Arkansas, who has already praised Obama for “starting to throw things on the table,” like the Social Security cuts.

That’s exactly the problem. The president throws things on the table before the Republicans have even sat down for dinner.

The president’s predilection for negotiating with himself is not new. But his willingness to do it with Social Security, the government’s most popular program — which Democrats have protected from Republican assaults for almost eighty years — doesn’t bode well.

Robert Borosage: The President’s Budget: A Misguided Mission Statement

Today, the president releases his budget for fiscal year 2014, the year that begins this October. Commentators and advocates will pour over its disparate parts,  although the White House has already leaked its major contours.

This document is less a budget for government than a purpose statement of the administration.  In this divided government, it is already “dead on arrival.”  That’s particularly true this year since the Senate and House have each passed its own budget outline.  For all of its volumes and detail, the president’s budget is at best a statement of his priorities.  And there it is distinctively disappointing.

The president’s major purpose is not to address mass unemployment, not to build a new foundation for the economy, not to revive the middle class or redress Gilded Age inequality.  The president’s overriding priority is to cut a deal – and a deal that continues to impose austerity on an already faltering recovery.

Robert Naiman: Cut Social Security & Veterans’ Benefits? Cut the Pentagon Instead

The boss organizes the workers, union organizers like to say.

Say what you want about President Obama’s proposal to cut Social Security and veterans’ benefits with the “chained CPI.” He did accomplish one thing for liberals that they often have a hard time doing on their own.

He united them — in opposition to his proposal. [..]

But that’s not all we have to celebrate. If, like most Americans, you prefer to cut what Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has called the “bloated” Pentagon budget instead of cutting Social Security and veterans’ benefits, you have even more reason to rejoice.

Because at this political juncture, everyone in America who says “no cuts to Social Security or veterans’ benefits” is effectively saying “cut the bloated Pentagon budget,” whether they do so explicitly or not. If the “grand bargain” is killed and Social Security and veterans’ benefits are spared — apparently these are all the same political event — then the Pentagon budget will be cut instead.

Richard Reeves: Permanent Unemployment for Everyone, Brought to You by Vulture Capitalism

When ATMs, the cash machines, began to appear on the outside walls of banks in the 1970s, I refused to go near them. My mother was a teller at the Trust Company of New Jersey on Journal Square in Jersey City, and I knew the machines were designed to eliminate her job.

When I was at The New York Times, I went one day to what we called the “morgue,” the library of old clippings. The guy behind the counter, whom I remember as “Bob,” kept pointing down until I lifted myself up and peeked under the counter. There was a man under there with a clipboard and a stopwatch, an efficiency expert from one of the new consultant firms, McKinsey and Co. or Booz Allen Hamilton. I can’t remember which. They were after Bob’s job-and maybe mine in the future.

Apr 11 2013

On This Day In History April 11

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

April 11 is the 101st day of the year (102nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 264 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1814, the Treaty of Fontainebleau ends the War of the Sixth Coalition against Napoleon Bonaparte, and forces him to abdicate unconditionally for the first time.

War of the Sixth Coalition

There was a lull in fighting over the winter of 1812-13 while both the Russians and the French rebuilt their forces; Napoleon was then able to field 350,000 troops. Heartened by France’s loss in Russia, Prussia joined with Austria, Sweden, Russia, Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal in a new coalition. Napoleon assumed command in Germany and inflicted a series of defeats on the Coalition culminating in the Battle of Dresden in August 1813. Despite these successes, the numbers continued to mount against Napoleon, and the French army was pinned down by a force twice its size and lost at the Battle of Leipzig. This was by far the largest battle of the Napoleonic Wars and cost more than 90,000 casualties in total.

Napoleon withdrew back into France, his army reduced to 70,000 soldiers and 40,000 stragglers, against more than three times as many Allied troops. The French were surrounded: British armies pressed from the south, and other Coalition forces positioned to attack from the German states. Napoleon won a series of victories in the Six Days Campaign, though these were not significant enough to turn the tide; Paris was captured by the Coalition in March 1814.

When Napoleon proposed the army march on the capital, his marshals decided to mutiny. On 4 April, led by Ney, they confronted Napoleon. Napoleon asserted the army would follow him, and Ney replied the army would follow its generals. Napoleon had no choice but to abdicate. He did so in favour of his son; however, the Allies refused to accept this, and Napoleon was forced to abdicate unconditionally on 11 April.

   The Allied Powers having declared that Emperor Napoleon was the sole obstacle to the restoration of peace in Europe, Emperor Napoleon, faithful to his oath, declares that he renounces, for himself and his heirs, the thrones of France and Italy, and that there is no personal sacrifice, even that of his life, which he is not ready to do in the interests of France.

   Done in the palace of Fontainebleau, 11 April 1814.

   -Act of abdication of Napoleon

In the Treaty of Fontainebleau, the victors exiled him to Elba, an island of 12,000 inhabitants in the Mediterranean, 20 km off the Tuscan coast. They gave him sovereignty over the island and allowed him to retain his title of emperor. Napoleon attempted suicide with a pill he had carried since a near-capture by Russians on the retreat from Moscow. Its potency had weakened with age, and he survived to be exiled while his wife and son took refuge in Austria. In the first few months on Elba he created a small navy and army, developed the iron mines, and issued decrees on modern agricultural methods.

Apr 11 2013

Say No to Cuts to Social Security

President Obama formerly released his budget for 2014. As, expected it contained the cuts to Social Security and Medicare that have are an anathema to the left. As has been pointed out before on this site, these proposals for the sake a few dollars in revenue increases and a paltry $50 billion investment for infrastructure improvement. That is bad policy and even worse politics. If you don’t believe that, well here is a sample of the criticism from the right:

Americans for Tax Reform, the advocacy group that asks lawmakers to sign a formal “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” said Tuesday that chained CPI violates the pledge.

“Chained CPI as a stand-alone measure (that is, not paired with tax relief of equal or greater size) is a tax increase and a Taxpayer Protection Pledge violation,” the group said in a blog post.

Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, leader of the organization, criticized the policy via Twitter on Wednesday. “Chained CPI is a very large tax hike over time,” Norquist wrote. “Hence Democrat interest in same.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates (pdf) that chained CPI would reduce Social Security spending by $127 billion and increase tax revenue by $123 billion over 10 years.

When asked Friday if chained CPI represents a tax hike on the middle class, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “I’m not disputing that.

Can you hear the political ads attacking Democrats with this? So much for electoral victory in 2014, Obama just sold that prospect for what? Trying to make the point that Republicans are intransigent? American already know that. A few dollars of revenue from tax reforms that will be changed the first chance the Republicans get, like the debt ceiling hostage situation? We seen this scene played out how many times with Obama caving to Republican demands because some vague fear about the economy.

Predictably the left is outraged and there are threats from left wing organizations to primary any Democrat who votes for chained CPI.

A party rift on Obama budget

Warren joins lawmakers in criticizing Obama budget

A coalition of prominent Democrats, including many from New England, slammed President Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget blueprint Wednesday for its proposed changes to the Social Security payment formula and Medicare, opening a widening rift between the president and members of his own party.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said she was shocked by Obama’s proposal to recalculate the cost of living adjustment for Social Security beneficiaries by linking it to a different version of the Consumer Price Index, known as the “chained CPI.” [..]

“In short, ‘chained CPI’ is just a fancy way to say ‘cut benefits for seniors, the permanently disabled, and orphans,'” Warren fired off in an e-mail to supporters. She related the experience of her brother, David Herring, a military veteran and former small business owner who lives on monthly Social Security checks of $1,100. “Our Social Security system is critical to protecting middle-class families,” she wrote, “and we cannot allow it to be dismantled inch by inch.” [..]

Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts called “chained CPI” an abbreviation for “Cutting People’s Income, a wrong-headed change that would go back on the promise we make to our senior citizens.”

“Tea Party Republicans may have pushed the president into many of these difficult decisions, but it still does not make this budget right nor fair, especially for those Americans who need help the most,” Markey said.

MSNBC’s All In host Chris Hayes discussed the chained CPI with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jonathan Alter, Heather McGhee, and Mattie Duppler, Americans for Tax Reform.

Transcript for this video can be read here

This a direct attack by a Democratic president on our earned benefits. Time to start calling and don’t stop until this deal is dead and buried.

The White House switchboard is 202-456-1414.

The comments line is 202-456-1111.

Numbers for the Senate are here.

Numbers for the House are here.

h/t Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars