Monday Reads: Interesting (and scary) times

Good Morning! We sure do live in interesting times. There is so much happening in the news today that there is no way I could cover all of it. As I see it, the most disturbing news is that world events are spiraling out of control, while the U.S. President dithers and does as little as possible–fiddling while the world burns.


CRISES IN JAPAN

Japan is struggling with an overwhelming natural disaster and a massive humanitarian crisis, and at the same time they–and the rest of us–face a nuclear emergency. No one knows for sure yet how bad it is, but I can’t help but suspect that we are not getting the whole story.

From Reuters:

Officials confirmed on Sunday that three nuclear reactors north of Tokyo were at risk of overheating, raising fears of an uncontrolled radiation leak.

Engineers worked desperately to cool the fuel rods in the damaged reactors. If they fail, the containers that house the core could melt, or even explode, releasing radioactive material into the atmosphere.

How bad could it get? Here’s what nuclear experts told Scientific American:

“Reactor analysts like to categorize potential reactor accidents into groups,” said Bergeron, who did research on nuclear reactor accident simulation at Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico. “And the type of accident that is occurring in Japan is known as a station blackout. It means loss of offsite AC power—power lines are down—and then a subsequent failure of emergency power on site—the diesel generators. It is considered to be extremely unlikely, but the station blackout has been one of the great concerns for decades.

[….]

Bergeron explained the basics of overheating at a nuclear fission plant. “The fuel rods are long uranium rods clad in a [zirconium alloy casing]. They’re held in a cylindrical-shaped array. And the water covers all of that. If the water descends below the level of the fuel, then the temperature starts going up and the cladding bursts, releasing a lot of fission products. And eventually the core just starts slumping and melting. Quite a bit of this happened in TMI [Three Mile Island], but the pressure vessel did not fail.”

So what if the worst happens and there is a meltdown?

“They’re venting in order to keep the containment vessel from failing. But if a core melts, it will slump to the bottom of the reactor vessel, probably melt through the reactor vessel onto the containment floor. It’s likely to spread as a molten pool—like lava—to the edge of the steel shell, and melt through. That would result in a containment failure in a matter of less than a day. It’s good that it’s got a better containment system than Chernobyl, but it’s not as strong as most of the reactors in this country.”

Basically, we’re talking about The China Syndrome. Except if a Japanese nuclear plant melts down, the core won’t be headed for China.

By the way, Japanese authorities are already pretty sure that there have been at least partial meltdowns in at least two of the three problematic reactors.

The operators of the reactors, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), resorted to pumping seawater into the reactors, which to many in the industry sounds very much like a last-ditch, worrisome effort. Reuters reported that 140,000 people have been evacuated from the area as a safety precaution and iodine is being readied to distributed to people in the area to protect them from radioactive exposure. We’ll soon see if the disaster will get worse or better.

What we do know is that the incident could have far reaching repercussions on the nuclear policies of the governments of the U.S., European countries, China and India, and will likely do significant damage to public opinion in general of nuclear energy. As the Guardian put it succinctly: “When experts decide it is necessary to flood reactors in the world’s most technologically advanced nation with an improvised flow of marine muck, people will ask whether the industry’s contingency planning for disaster is really as good as we are always being promised.”

Another nuclear expert told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that the U.S. could be effected by the radiation released in Japan.

Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, told Fox News’ Chris Wallace Japan’s nuclear crisis is unprecedented.

“One reactor has had half the core exposed already,” he explained. “This is the one they’re flooding with sea water in a desperate effort to prevent it from a complete meltdown. They lost control of a second reactor next to it, a partial meltdown, and there is actually a third reactor at a related site 20-kilometers away they have also lost control over. We have never had a situation like this before.”

“The worst case scenario is that the fuel rods fuse together, the temperatures get so hot that they melt together in a radioactive molten mass that bursts through the containment mechmisms and is exposed to the outside. So they spew radioactivity in the ground, into the air, into the water. Some of the radioactivity could carry in the atmosphere to the West Coast of the United States.”

“Really?” a surprised Wallace asked. “I mean, thousands of miles across the Pacific?”

“Oh, abosolutely. Chernobyl, which happened about 25 years ago, the radioactivity spread around the entire northern hemisphere. It depends how many of these cores melt down and how successful they are on containing it once this disaster happens,” Cirincione replied.

The Washington Post has more terrifying details.

The detection of the highly radioactive elements cesium-137 and iodine-131 outside the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant heralds the beginning of an ecological and human tragedy. The open question is whether it will be limited, serious or catastrophic.

The two radioactive isotopes can mean only one thing: One or more of the reactor cores is badly damaged and at least partially melted down.

In the best case, operators will pump enough seawater and other coolants into the stricken reactor cores to squelch overheating. Such a success would prevent further releases of radiation beyond the unknown amount spewed into the air by controlled venting and the explosion of a reactor containment building Saturday.

In such a hoped-for scenario, the only casualties would probably be the handful of plant workers reported Sunday to be suffering from acute radiation sickness. But there’s also the immense anxiety triggered by the incident and the toll of the subsequent evacuation on nearby residents.

The consequences of the most dire scenarios are much harder to estimate. They include the loss of the facility, an expensive local cleanup – a foregone conclusion – and a wide-scale disaster that renders the countryside around the plant uninhabitable for decades.

The WaPo also reports that radioactive releases from the plants could continue for months.

Finally, here’s a 60 Minutes report on Chernobyl to give you an idea of how bad it can get.

As I reported late last night, there has been a second explosion at the damaged nuclear power plant in Japan. The news is breaking so fast, I can’t keep up with it.


LIBYAN REVOLUTION

I’ll just say this. I think President Obama wants Gaddafi to stay in power. And yes, I am serious. That is the only explanation I can come up with to explain his non-action in the face of the terrible slaughter that is going on. I will try to write more about this later today, but for now here are the latest events in Libya as of late last night.

Gaddafi’s forces have driven the rebels out of city after city, leaving them with few options except to prepare for a futile last stand in Bengazi.

Rebels flee Brega as Gaddafi advances

A fierce attack by troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi forced poorly armed rebels to flee the eastern town of Brega Sunday, as the Arab League pushed the United Nations to support a no-fly zone over the country.

Gaddafi troops used rocket launchers and artillery to force the rebels to flee the key oil town, which has been a source of fuel for their vehicles, the Guardian reports.

“They shot 40 to 60 rockets at the same time,” Suliman Refadi, a doctor fleeing Brega hospital, told the Guardian. “The sky was raining with rockets, with shrapnel. There was heavy artillery. Then they advanced.”

Gaddafi’s army will kill half a million, warn Libyan rebels

Muammar Gaddafi’s army won control of a strategic rebel-held Libyan town and laid siege to another as the revolutionary administration in Benghazi again appealed for foreign military help to prevent what it said would be the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people if the insurgents were to lose.

The rebels admitted retreating from the oil town of Ras Lanuf – captured a week ago – after two days of intense fighting and that the nearby town of Brega was now threatened.

The revolutionary army, in large part made up of inexperienced young volunteers, has been forced back by a sustained artillery, tank and air bombardment about 20 miles along the road to the rebel capital of Benghazi.

The head of Libya’s revolutionary council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, claimed that if Gaddafi’s forces were to reach the country’s second-largest city it would result in “the death of half a million” people.

Patrick Cockburn: Arab League call for a no-fly zone may be too little, too late

For the first time, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is beginning to look as if he may survive and even crush the rebellion against him that seemed close to victory two weeks ago. A no-fly zone, even if was imposed, would be unlikely at this stage to stop his counter-attacks, which depend more on tanks and artillery than airpower.

Such a no-fly zone is, in any case, far from being inevitable since the US may not support such a resolution at the Security Council. When the idea was first mooted, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said setting up such a zone would in practice be the opening act of a war because the US would have to attack Libyan air defences. To turn the tide in the fighting, the US and its allies would probably have to do a lot more, such as using its planes to prevent the pro-Gaddafi units advancing on Benghazi.

The Libyan government has also had some luck in that the Japanese earthquake has shifted international media attention away from Libya for the first time in three weeks. Political pressure against Gaddafi and in favour of the rebels is likely to subside once it is no longer in the spotlight. If, however, his forces engage in well-publicised massacres in recaptured towns, then he might, once again, risk international intervention.


WISCONSIN PROTESTS

There have been huge crowds of protesters in Madison, Wisconsin over the weekend, but very little press coverage of these events. Raw Story has this: Wisconsin protests larger than any Tea Party rally

Police estimated that more than 100,000 people flooded the streets around the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison Saturday, making the turnout larger than any of the fledgling Tea Party’s rallies. The largest turnout for a Tea Party rally is the estimated crowd of 60,000 to 70,000 people who marked in Washington, D.C. during the group’s September 12, 2009 demonstration.

The 2009 Tea Party rally’s crowd size is also notable for the controversy that surrounded it. ABC News published a piece claiming conservative activists had told them that 1 million to 1.5 million people turned out at the rally, when the corrected number was only a fraction of that size.

Farmers join Wisconsin protests (Video)

After weekend of huge protests, Wisconsin looks to polls

Clogging the Wisconsin Capitol grounds and screaming angry chants, tens of thousands of undaunted pro-labor protesters descended on Madison again Saturday and vowed to focus on future elections now that contentious cuts to public worker union rights have become law.

Protests have rocked the Capitol almost every day since Gov. Scott Walker proposed taking nearly all collective bargaining rights away from public workers, but the largest came a day after the governor signed the measure into law. Madison Police estimated the crowd at 85,000 to 100,000 people — along with 50 tractors and one donkey — by late afternoon. No one was arrested.

Speakers delivered angry diatribes while the crowd carried signs comparing Walker to dictators and yelled thunderous chants of “this is what democracy looks like.”

“This is so not the end,” said protester Judy Gump, a 45-year-old English teacher at Madison Memorial High School. “This is what makes people more determined and makes them dig in.”

That’s it for me. What are you reading and blogging about today. Please share!


20 Comments on “Monday Reads: Interesting (and scary) times”

  1. Pat Johnson says:

    This is an example of “what going too far” looks like.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/20-week-abortion-ban-nebraska-oklahoma-fetus-feel/story?id=13116214

    Unbelievable.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Oh God, now the fetus has to suffer agonizing pain in order to force women to carry dangerous, damaging pregnancies to term and then watch their babies suffer and die after birth.

    • Peggy Sue says:

      I read this story last week. I find it amazing that the same people who claim they want little to no government interference have no problem climbing into a pregnant woman’s womb. This case, presumably to avoid pain to the fetus, ended up doing just the opposite. Unless, of course, you believe that inducing labor would be more painful tham having the fetus suffocated and crushed and leaving the mother wide open for infection.

      This is what happens when radical ideology rules the day–you end up with nightmarish results.

      On the Wisconsin end, I understand the Firemen’s union started withdrawing their savings from the bank that supported Walker. Something like $600,000 withdrawn in one day. Good for them! Starve the beast.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      I found this today:

      U.S. falling behind on women’s rights | NewsChief.com

      Compared with other countries upon which we used to look down, we’re now inhaling their exhaust fumes.

      Take, for example, that the United States has never had a female president or vice president. According to an article published last year in the scholarly journal, “International Political Science Review,” Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Lithuania, New Zealand and 10 other countries have had two (women presidents or prime ministers) or more.

      Our percentage of women in Congress is pathetic when compared with that of other nations. Rwanda, where many of the men were killed off during prolonged war, elected women to 56.3 of its seats in Parliament in 2008. The Review cites data showing that as of 2009, more than 20 countries sported national legislatures with more than 30 percent of seats filled by women. The current percentage of women in our Congress is a mere 17 percent.

      I know many strong Republican and conservative women who are a credit to their party and political ideology. But I still believe the resurgence of religious conservatism and the Republican takeover of the U.S. House in last November’s elections has done and will do more to set back women’s advancement in the United States than voters foresaw.

      Yes, job creation is the number one issue right now in American politics. But unfortunately, fiscal and social conservatism go hand in hand among our politicians.

      So if voters support fiscal conservatism, they are also forced to vote for religious revivalism. The two should not be linked. There should be a third alternative in our political system, so we might rid ourselves of the federal deficit and allow women to advance at the same time.

      Unfortunately there is none, as the Tea Party has more than revealed its biblical tethers. As long those issues are tied together, women will continue to lose ground.

  2. Beata says:

    Good round-up, BB. Scary stuff in Japan. I would rather live in uninteresting times, thank you very much.

    According to Wiki, Japan has 53 nuclear reactors:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_Japan

  3. bostonboomer says:

    Ezra Klein finally figures out that Congress is destroying the economy, both short- and long-term.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    It looks like the Number 2 unit at the Fukushima nuclear power plant is melting down now. There could be a third explosion.

  5. Laurie says:

    Was just glancing thru BBC News to find out about the nuclear reactors, and found two articles on the recent visit to the US by the new Australian (female) Prime Minister.

    I can never get over how some journalists are still vaunting the “Obama effect”-

    It is not the first time that Barack has helped Julia, although the previous occasion was wholly inadvertent. For I’ve long held the theory that were it not for President Obama’s scheduling difficulties mid-way through last year, Julia Gillard would not have become prime minister so early in her career.

    In one of those strange accidents of history, Obama was due to visit Australia last June on the weekend before Kevin Rudd was ousted as prime minister, but cancelled at the last minute to deal with the oil spill off Louisiana and Alabama. Had Obama come to Australia and lavished praise on Kevin Rudd that weekend, as he no doubt would have done, could the powerbrokers have moved on the prime minister with quite the same speed and ruthlessness? Such is the deference towards Washington that I suspect not.

    But I digress. Obama publicly identified Kevin Rudd as the global leader with whom he felt most closely aligned, intellectually and philosophically, but in the end it did not do much domestic good for the former prime minister. At a time when she is reeling in the polls, will the “Obama effect” help Julia Gillard?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/nickbryant/2011/03/barack_and_julia.html

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      And yet, over here in the US, Dem candidates did not want the One to go near their campaigns.

      I am so sick of Obama and any media about him just makes me even more angry…at what could have been.

  6. madaha says:

    Go Wisconsin!

  7. Boo Radly says:

    In the real world ‘Obama Effect’ = kiss of death covered with chocolate & pop rocks by the Obots. Just like 59% of voters polled now state if the media is for a candidate – they aren’t going to vote for them. We here knew this (bdt – never).

    Thanks for carrying on here – so many insightful posts. I suffer from overwhelming doses of hate, death, stupidity, greed, sloth and the every day struggles shared with my fellow 98%. Starting with the campaign visit of the O’s to AZ – seeing real tragedy used for political gain only in the wake of such slaughter – get your T shirt here…eleven seamless years of blatant subterfuge has taken a toll on me. All the global de-regulation(every safety agency is now basically defunct) is coming to roost upon the world population. The alacrity of it all is gut wretching.

    We need fresh horses daily to deal with the fresh hell of the day. The strength of a few can carry us through – the indomitable spirit of the righteous will make a difference.Hopefully the backlash will increase steadily.

    Get better soon Dak.

  8. Boo Radly says:

    Special note for MM – Anonymous is releasing documents on BofA – regarding fraudulent and over priced forced HO insurance on mortgage loans. It was a short burb, I rarely watch any MSM news these days – hope it is the start of a gusher of expose’ on them. Will try to find links.

  9. foxyladi14 says:

    those amazing Japanese ..no looting.
    get well Dak.hugs.:(