Our Friend The Atom Turns On Us

Whether it was guilt over Hiroshima and Nagasaki or greed on the part of companies in on the ground floor at the dawn of the nuclear age, America’s rush to turn a horrible reality into a wonderful opportunity is now slapping us in the face. 

Our reckless embrace of the friendly atom and the export of it abroad via the “Atoms for Peace” program has always been divorced from the dangerous reality of what we are really dealing with. But since 1945 there has been an amazing and concerted propaganda campaign to deny the dangers and pursue the promise of nuclear power.

The pioneers of the nuclear age, Einstein and Bohr understood from the beginning that the sudden release of nuclear energy, the bomb, was a scientific obscenity, but they had no illusions about the difficulties associated with a controlled fission reaction, nuclear power. 

Controlled, it the operative word.  And the father of the nuclear submarine, whose reactor was scaled up to make the first civilian nuclear power reactor, Admiral Rickover, never wanted nuclear power in the hands of civilians who he considered lacked the military discipline to handle the monster. To this day nuclear powered naval vessels do not enter the ports of large American cities.

With thousands of Japanese sealed inside their homes as clouds of radiation drift outside, we have little knowledge of what is actually going on at the site of the unfolding nuclear disaster at the Fukushima I reactor, then 3, then 2 and now 4.  Given the radiation levels, are workers still in control of what is left of the controls? 

What we have learned so far is not reassuring.  Fallout from number 2 reactor, the latest to explode, was caused by a rapid drop in water levels that exposed the core and led to a massive leak of radiation.  The plant’s owners, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) admitted the nuclear fuel rods were partially exposed because an engine-powered pump ran out of fuel.  This suggests either confusion or a lack of manpower on site, which, due to the levels of radiation exposure, might explain the unbelievable.

Yesterday I spoke with a leading researcher into the environmental and security impacts of nuclear technologies, Gordon Thompson.  He laid most of the blame at the utilities companies for cutting corners in the design and construction of these costly plants.  Apparently they could be built with containment that prevents meltdowns and a lesser example, the Europeans have filters on their venting pipes that would prevent the release of radioactive steam during emergencies. 

He also said that this disaster shows how vulnerable these plants are to malevolent intent, meaning terrorist attacks.  It turns out that Fukushima reactor 4; that was shut down for maintenance, had a fire in the pool storing spent fuel rods because it had dried up for reasons that are hard to understand.  Spent fuel rods are very nasty in terms of the concentration of radioactive nuclei and the rods take a long time to cool. 

Spent fuel rods sit in adjacent swimming pools for years, behind thin concrete walls with pumped water continuing to circulate around them.  There are reports that the swimming pool wall at reactor 4 was breached, perhaps by earthquake damage, and that led to the fire and the cloud of deadly radioactive smoke. 

This latest accident in the compounding and cascading disaster in Japan is the scenario that has often been cited as a potentially deliberate plan on the part of terrorists.  Anyone better trained than the Times Square terrorist or the jockstrap bomber could easily punch a hole in the pool by the 405 Freeway at the San Onofre nuclear plant south of here.  As it happens, our plants are protected by rent-a-cop security and they routinely fail “Red Team” mock attacks.  And as demonstrated in japan, if a natural disaster can shut down the back-up systems, it would not take a genius to cut power and sabotage generators and batteries.

But this does not stop our pathetic mainstream Press from parroting happy talk upbeat reports on the ongoing meltdown of our nuclear dreams.  The radiation the Japanese are getting is less than a chest X-ray we are breathlessly told.  The ratio of nuclear industry-owned talking heads to critics is about five to one, and if you were to make that “informed” critics, as opposed to ranting activists, it’s about ten to one. 

Meanwhile the apologists in the Press are digging their own grave, along with the nuclear industry.  Facts are tenacious and reality, no matter how inconvenient, eventually prevails.  By then we can only hope the planet has not been poisoned too much and we can turn the lights on without turning off our future.

Tickling The Dragon

 

Lately I’m swearing a lot at the television. Especially at the vacuous blondes on local TV news, as they chirp out happy factoids from the talking points they must be getting from the nuclear industry.  But no amount of reassuring prattle can cover up the diabolical disaster underway in Japan as six reactors at two locations are in various stages of meltdown.

Another hydrogen explosion at the stricken Fukushima plant reactor-3 indicates the metal cladding around the fuel rods is melting, exposing the core in an escalating nightmare that makes it more deadly to keep people on site to monitor the deteriorating infrastructure.  As they desperately pump in seawater to cool the out-of-control core, the on-site monitoring systems rapidly deteriorate and it takes suicidal courage to stay there and do what is necessary to stop the unstoppable.

Just south of L.A. the San Onofre nuclear plant sits on the shoreline with an earthquake fault a half a mile away under the ocean.  But according to the plant manager featured on local TV news, we have nothing to worry about because the nuclear industry has built in redundant safety systems. 

And although we have just seen these redundant systems fail in Japan due to a massive earthquake followed by a tsunami, if you actually listened to the San Onofre spokesman’s cheerful blandishments, he admits his plant is only built to withstand an earthquake that is hundreds of times weaker than what just struck Japan.  And the thirty-foot seawall that is supposed to keep the tsunami at bay only faces the ocean, so presumably a wall of water can swirl around it and swallow the plant. 

In addition to the potential for a core meltdown, nuclear power plants have adjacent swimming pools containing spent fuel rods, and if those thin walls are breeched (by a terrorist with an RPG for example) even more fallout is released into the environment as the rods melt down. 

Incidentally, the stricken reactor-3 that just exploded at Fukushima burns MOX (mixed oxide fuel) that contains plutonium, the most deadly substance on the planet, so it’s spewing fallout that is lethal for fifty thousand years.

But the powerful nuclear lobby, that has just managed to get $36 billion in proposed loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors into President Obama’s State of the Union Address, is a veritable Lazarus in terms of rising from the dead after terminal accidents.  I remember how their propagandists slammed the prescient film China syndrome, just before reality intervened at Three Mile Island. 

Can they pull off a third "Nuclear Renaissance" after TMI, Chernobyl and now Japan?  Will Wall Street, that almost killed them off in the 1980’s, still buy their socialist subsidized stocks propped up by gullible politicians and sanctified by shameful environmentalists who drank the Kool-Aid of nuclear power as the panacea for dealing with global warming? 

With the Nuclear Regulatory Commission now in the midst of deciding whether to extend the reactor lifetimes of our 1960’s designed light-water reactors, if the worst-case scenario does unfold in Japan, will we hear a chorus of calls to shutdown our light-water reactors?  All of which are aging beyond design specifications. 

A relic like Indian Point, near a major population center and plants in earthquake zones, should be immediately shut down.  Since we are already adding megawatts from wind power every day, and there has been no additional megawatts from nuclear generated for decades, the writing is on the wall.  That is for those willing to see past the short-term self-serving lies of an industry that would not even be alive but for the Price-Anderson Act that indemnifies utilities and puts the taxpayer on the hook for nuclear accidents   

Will Japan’s economy go into another nosedive with stagnation returning as the nuclear miracle of safe, clean energy is buried forever?  Or will the small crowded country on the world’s most active earthquakes zone, decide to live without the dragon of nuclear power and live with the dragon lurking beneath in “the ring of Fire” they are sitting on. 

Maybe Japan will borrow from their rival the Chinese and grasp the combined concept of crisis and opportunity and become a global powerhouse of renewable energy.  They have already borrowed the worst from General Electric, eagerly subsidized and exported by our government, while we remain stuck, still sucking on the shaky Saudi teat. 

Reeling from the latest in a series of oil shocks with prices at the pump peaking, we can only helplessly watch as the nuclear genie spews forth fallout from man-made cauldrons releasing a poison named after Pluto, the Roman God of hell.

Tickling The Dragon

 

 

Lately I’m swearing a lot at the television. Especially at the vacuous blondes on local TV news, as they chirp out happy factoids from the talking points they must be getting from the nuclear industry.  But no amount of reassuring prattle can cover up the diabolical disaster underway in Japan as six reactors at two locations are in various stages of meltdown.

 

Another hydrogen explosion at the stricken Fukushima plant reactor-3 indicates the metal cladding around the fuel rods is melting, exposing the core in an escalating nightmare that makes it more deadly to keep people on site to monitor the deteriorating infrastructure.  As they desperately pump in seawater to cool the out-of-control core, the on-site monitoring systems rapidly deteriorate and it takes suicidal courage to stay there and do what is necessary to stop the unstoppable.

 

Just south of L.A. the San Onofre nuclear plant sits on the shoreline with an earthquake fault a half a mile away under the ocean.  But according to the plant manager featured on local TV news, we have nothing to worry about because the nuclear industry has built in redundant safety systems. 

And although we have just seen these redundant systems fail in Japan due to a massive earthquake followed by a tsunami, if you actually listened to the San Onofre spokesman’s cheerful blandishments, he admits his plant is only built to withstand an earthquake that is hundreds of times weaker than what just struck Japan.  And the thirty-foot seawall that is supposed to keep the tsunami at bay only faces the ocean, so presumably a wall of water can swirl around it and swallow the plant. 

 

In addition to the potential for a core meltdown, nuclear power plants have adjacent swimming pools containing spent fuel rods, and if those thin walls are breeched (by a terrorist with an RPG for example) even more fallout is released into the environment as the rods melt down. 

 

Incidentally, the stricken reactor-3 that just exploded at Fukushima burns MOX (mixed oxide fuel) that contains plutonium, the most deadly substance on the planet, so it’s spewing fallout that is lethal for fifty thousand years.

 

But the powerful nuclear lobby, that has just managed to get $36 billion in proposed loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors into President Obama’s State of the Union Address, is a veritable Lazarus in terms of rising from the dead after terminal accidents.  I remember how their propagandists slammed the prescient film China syndrome, just before reality intervened at Three Mile Island. 

 

Can they pull off a third "Nuclear Renaissance" after TMI, Chernobyl and now Japan?  Will Wall Street, that almost killed them off in the 1980’s, still buy their socialist subsidized stocks propped up by gullible politicians and sanctified by shameful environmentalists who drank the Kool-Aid of nuclear power as the panacea for dealing with global warming?

 

 With the Nuclear Regulatory Commission now in the midst of deciding whether to extend the reactor lifetimes of our 1960’s designed light-water reactors, if the worst-case scenario does unfold in Japan, will we hear a chorus of calls to shutdown our light-water reactors?  All of which are aging beyond design specifications. 

 

A relic like Indian Point, near a major population center and plants in earthquake zones, should be immediately shut down.  Since we are already adding megawatts from wind power every day, and there has been no additional megawatts from nuclear generated for decades, the writing is on the wall.  That is for those willing to see past the short-term self-serving lies of an industry that would not even be alive but for the Price-Anderson Act that indemnifies utilities and puts the taxpayer on the hook for nuclear accidents   

 

Will Japan’s economy go into another nosedive with stagnation returning as the nuclear miracle of safe, clean energy is buried forever?  Or will the small crowded country on the world’s most active earthquakes zone, decide to live without the dragon of nuclear power and live with the dragon lurking beneath in “the ring of Fire” they are sitting on. 

 

Maybe Japan will borrow from their rival the Chinese and grasp the combined concept of crisis and opportunity and become a global powerhouse of renewable energy.  They have already borrowed the worst from General Electric, eagerly subsidized and exported by our government, while we remain stuck, still sucking on the shaky Saudi teat. 

 

Reeling from the latest in a series of oil shocks with prices at the pump peaking, we can only helplessly watch as the nuclear genie spews forth fallout from man-made cauldrons releasing a poison named after Pluto, the Roman God of hell.

What If Qaddafi Wins?

 

Yesterday the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, an unimaginative “securicrat” from oxymoronland (The Defense Intelligence Agency), spoke some accidental truth when he opined that Qaddafi “will prevail” against his own people. 

Already Qaddafi is callously unleashing his Air Force on the freedom fighters, mislabeled as rebels, who are being slaughtered in what is a preview of the carnage to come.  Libya’s freedom fighters, students, engineers, artists, have no military experience and sometimes there is only one rusty Kalashnikov to share among them.  They tend to group around the one guy with military training and that makes them an easy target for the bombs Qaddafi is using on civilian targets with gruesome collateral damage.

A terrible line is being crossed in international indifference to unprecedented depravity, and just like with Rwanda, it looks like too little will be done about it, and too late.  The United Nations will not step up and stop a tyrant from unleashing a modern military killing machine on his own defenseless people. 

Russia and China will veto any Security Council no-fly resolution because they are afraid of losing their sovereign ability to repress Chechens or Tibetans.  But even they do not resort to such naked barbarism, and once this threshold has been crossed, every thug clinging to power will be able to wage modern warfare on defenseless civilians. 

Until now they’ve used secret police first, then internal security forces, or have imposed martial law to intimidate their restive populace.  But sending in the Air Force to bomb your own cities and industries and ordering artillery barrages to soften up suburbs before an assault by tanks and armor, is a new low for even the often feckless World Body to tolerate.

So far Qaddafi’s only friends are Venezuela’s Chavez and Nicaragua’s Ortega, and while that might pry open the eyes of some of their deluded supporters, that is not the company that we and the rest of the world should find ourselves in.  After Qaddafi has murdered 10,000, 20,000 or 50,000 more of his people, will we simply raise the threshold for genocide and say it is not as bad as Rwanda?  How will we get along with the pariah who we condemned but now forgive, because Europe needs his oil?

Clearly Obama is being rolled by his military as they drag their heels with an understandable reluctance to get bogged down in another war in the desert sands.  But he might also be being set up by the Republicans who, in the poisonous partisan climate of the capitol, can’t wait to run against a president who let a tyrannical terrorist escape justice and thumb his nose at the world.

After almost a decade of misrule by an arrogant and ignorant cowboy shooting from the hip, some caution in foreign policy and military action is welcome.  But dawdling in the face of monstrous international criminality, and appeasing a demented despot, might prove more damaging in the long run for a new world order and a second presidential term.   

   

The DNA of Dirty Tricks

 

Now that James O’Keefe has struck again, this time stinging another bogeyman of the right wing, NPR, we are left to wonder what is left on the Left to bring down. 

This 26 year old Republican activist, who was mentored by another manipulator of the media, Andrew Breitbart, has already brought down ACORN, targeted the Census, a Democratic senator and a reporter from that bastion of the “liberal media” CNN.

Clearly what these targets have in common, is that ACORN, the Census, NPR and the “liberal media” are long-standing symbols of a mythical power that inflames the right-wing’s delusion that they are an oppressed underclass of beleaguered white men, fighting against a vast left wing conspiracy. 

Having worked at Pacifica radio for years I know better than anyone what a lie that is.  Unlike the well-heeled Right, who really do dominate the media, Pacifica is facing bankruptcy. 

Like the proverbial circular firing squad, “radio powered by the people” is dying from self-inflicted wounds.  Having burdened the only alternative network with an expensive Soviet governance structure designed to create a racist and sexist-free perfect world at a radio network.  They are dying from a crippling competition of identity politics as airtime is allocated by ossified leftist ideologues.  Instead of inspiring their audience to action, as Limbaugh and others in the full spectrum of right wing shout shows do, Pacifica punishes their audience in the name of the revolution.

Meanwhile non-profits like O’Keefe, Breitbart and company can tap into a vast well of tax-deductable funding from movement billionaires who may or may not share the fervent belief system of the far right faithful.  And there is no doubt that the rank and file truly believe America is being led astray by “the liberal media”.  But there is no question that the Koch’s, Murdoch’s, Scaifes, Olin’s and Coors etc. get amazing value for their money, and so does the Republican Party. 

ACORN registered mostly minority voters who are likely to vote Democrat.  Now they are gone, out of business thanks to O’Keefe and a pimp’s costume.  Another target was that bogeyman of the Right the Census, which also enfranchises minorities.  And the only alternative to Limbaugh and right wing radio, NPR, is now facing a financial blow from a sting that struck them just as the Senate was about to vote on a House bill to eliminate the Corporation For Public Broadcasting.

Although they consider themselves journalists, or even investigative reporters, O’Keefe, Breitbart and David Bossie are really hacks, not in the good sense but in terms of how they hack the truth and selectively edit tape to distort and manufacture a story. 

Bossie is famous for “Hillary The Movie” that was the basis for the revolutionary Supreme Court “Citizen’s United” decision that now enable the rich and powerful to buy our elections wholesale.  But Bossie earned his chops on Congressman Dan Burton’s witch hunting committee that was searching for sin in Arkansas to bring down the Clintons.  He edited the prison tapes of hapless Web Hubble to incriminate him in such a flagrant and manipulative way, that Burton was forced to fire him. 

And more recently, O’Keefe manipulated the ACORN  hidden-camera footage, and Breitbart did the same thing with a hit he did on an official with the Agriculture Department who was fired in a panic then apologetically reinstated. 

No such luck for the Schiller’s at NPR who, just like the ACORN employees, seem breathtakingly gullible when it comes to preposterous imposters posing as pimps or terrorists offering millions in phony money from fictitious fronts with flimsy paperwork.

Brietbart claims the Left started this with Abbie Hoffman and Paul Krassner, but one is dead and the other has retired to the desert.  True the garrellous governor of Wisconsin got punked by a prankster but there is no network of dirty tricksters working for the Democrats like the one that works with the Republicans, in perfect sync with their legislative agenda.

And if you look into the DNA of the Republican Party’s stable of dirty tricksters, you see a lineage from Nixon through Bush Senior to Junior and now to the Tea Party and the proliferating network of Astroturf and front groups emboldened and empowered by Bossie’s “Citizen’s United” ruling. 

From the dark recesses of Nixon’s crippled persona his White House drew in a coterie of college Republicans under Chuck Colson.  Colson went to prison but Roger Alies moved on to head up Fox News and David Bossie helped change our politics profoundly and possibly permanently for the betterment of the plutocrats.

These same dirty tricksters later coalesced around Lee Atwater during daddy Bush where Junior, Ailes and Karl Rove honed their skills.  Their scandal-mongering machine went into overdrive when the interloper Clinton got elected, with help from Perot.  And with relentless muckraking they diminished Clinton’s ability to govern, culminating with his impeachment for a private transgression that was demagogued into a political crime and a public humiliation.

Then they managed to get their boy elected with fewer votes than the Democrat, then slimed and defamed the next Democrat who ran against him.  Now they are aiming their arsenal of acrimony at Barack Obama, a decent man who sincerely believes in bi-partisan cooperation, but is routinely demonized as an un-American terrorist Muslim imposter with a fake birth certificate. 

As Edmund Burke warned us, “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.  But in America, we are told that nice guys finish last.  And while the nasty ones might be winning the political wars at the moment, we will all lose in the end.