Chemical pesticide exposure happens… If you live nearby a farm you know what it feels like. Spraying happens. If it’s not aerosol spraying high up in the sky or wafts from crop dusting – it’s being sprayed while inside a locked, pressurized tube? Is there no escape? What is a chemical sensitive or asthmatic person to do? Have you ever felt sick after a flight but couldn’t pin it as a virus? Do you ever feel like a bug?
Updated | The wet, white noise of gushing water rises above a background track of twangy guitar. Water is tumbling out of a pipe into a holding pond that looks as though it has sat nearly empty for ages, its sandy sides the color of parched desert. It looks like the California of recent headlines: drought so bad the ground is blowing away. Except now, here, in this promotional video for Chevron, there is water. Lots of it.
“The sound of that water is music to my ears,” David Ansolabehere, the general manager of the Cawelo Water District in Kern County, says in the video, gazing out over the rapidly filling pond. “Chevron is being environmentally conscious, and this is a very beneficial program, and it’s helped a lot of our farmers, helped our district, tremendously.”
A Swedish scientist claims in a new theory that humanity has exceeded four of the nine limits for keeping the planet hospitable to modern life, while another professor told RT Earth may be seeing an impending human-made extinction of various species.
Environmental science professor Johan Rockstrom, the executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, argues that there are nine “planetary boundaries” in a new paper published in Science – and human beings have already crossed four of them. Continue reading
Oklahoma has suspected for years that fracking caused earthquakes, but they stayed quiet about the connection under pressure from the oil industry.
The Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) finally admitted a possible link more than a year ago between oil and gas extraction and the recent outbreak of earthquakes in the state – which last year experienced 1.6 quakes per day of magnitude 3 or greater.
That’s three times as many as California. Continue reading
Two pharmacists from Massachusetts were charged with second-degree murder in connection with a deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed at least 64 people and injured about 750, according to an indictment made public Wednesday. Continue reading
Water is one of our most precious and neglected natural resources. Without an abundant water supply life as we know would not exist. Everyday we take for granted the fact that we turn on the faucet and an unlimited supply of blue gold is delivered to our door step. Continue reading
(RT) Cancer is more common than flu in the Iraqi city of Najaf, about 160 km south of Baghdad, one local doctor told RT. After the start of the war rates of leukemia and birth defects “rose dramatically” due to use of depleted uranium by the US military. Continue reading
(WHJG) -For the second time in a week, a Drone has been destroyed at Tyndall Air Force Base.
The latest crash came Wednesday morning around 8:25 when the drone crashed alongside US 98 in the Silver Flag area on the east side of the base. Continue reading
A U.N. nuclear watchdog team said Japan may need longer than the projected 40 years to decommission the Fukushima power plant and urged Tepco to improve stability at the facility.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency team, Juan Carlos Lentijo, said Monday that damage at the nuclear plant is so complex that it is impossible to predict how long the cleanup may last.
“As for the duration of the decommissioning project, this is something that you can define in your plans. But in my view, it will be nearly impossible to ensure the time for decommissioning such a complex facility in less than 30 to 40 years as it is currently established in the road map,” Lentijo said.
The government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. have predicted the cleanup would take up to 40 years. They still have to develop technology and equipment that can operate under fatally high radiation levels to locate and remove melted fuel. The reactors must be kept cool and the plant must stay safe and stable, and those efforts to ensure safety could slow the process down.
The plant still runs on makeshift equipment and frequently suffers glitches.
Just over the past few weeks, the plant suffered nearly a dozen problems ranging from extensive power outages to leaks of highly radioactive water from underground water pools. On Monday, Tepco had to stop the cooling system for one of the fuel storage pools for safety checks after finding two dead rats inside a transformer box.
Earlier this month, a rat short-circuited a switchboard, causing an extensive outage and cooling loss for up to 30 hours.
Lentijo said water management is “probably the most challenging” task for the plant for now.
The problems have raised concerns about whether the plant, crippled by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, can stay intact throughout a decommissioning process. The problems have prompted officials to compile risk-reduction measures and review decommissioning plans.
Lentijo, an expert on nuclear fuel cycles and waste technology, warned of more problems to come.
“It is expectable in such a complex site, additional incidents will occur as it happened in the nuclear plants under normal operations,” Lentijo said. “It is important to have a very good capability to identify as promptly as possible failures and to establish compensatory measures.”
He said Tepco’s disclosures have been problematic and urged the utility to take extra steps to regain public trust.
The IAEA team urged the utility to “improve the reliability of essential systems to assess the structural integrity of site facilities, and to enhance protection against external hazards” and promptly replace temporary equipment with a reliable, permanent system.
Former Military Bio-Environmental Engineer Blows Whistle On Air Force Chemtrails
Written by Gary Franchi
ATLANTA – At the 2013 Atlanta Music Liberty Fest, Kristen Meghan, former Air Force Bio-Environmental Engineer gave a ground breaking presentation of what she had discovered about Chemtrails while serving her Country.
This brave young lady has put her livelihood / life on the line for U.S. Please take a minute to thank her and help U.S. by redistributing this Video and any other VALID information about Chemtrails to as many people as you can.
Geo-engineering is a GLOBAL issue, other countries must get this information as well. “They” are spraying the majority of the population… Why?
TOP SECRET Mission – Chemtrail Pilots Cause Near Face to Face Mid-air Collision
According to a study published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, a professional journal based in the southwestern German city of Heidelberg, there was a sevenfold increase in the number of birth defects in Basra between 1994 and 2003.According to the Heidelberg study, the concentration of lead in the milk teeth of sick children from Basra was almost three times as high as comparable values in areas where there was no fighting.In addition, never before has such a high rate of neural tube defects (“open back”) been recorded in babies as in Basra, and the rate continues to rise. According to the study, the number of hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”) cases among new-borns is six times as high in Basra as it is in the United States.
Official Iraqi government statistics show that, prior to the outbreak of the First Gulf War in 1991, the rate of cancer cases in Iraq was 40 out of 100,000 people. By 1995, it had increased to 800 out of 100,000 people, and, by 2005, it had doubled to at least 1,600 out of 100,000 people. Current estimates show the increasing trend continuing.
From Paul Krugman: The trajectory of Europe’s real GDP per capita today vs. its real GDP per capita back during The Great Depression. No commentary necessary.
Europe should be really happy that March is over. It was a disastrous month.
There were three main stories; all of them bad.
Italy can’t form a government. Italy’s parliamentary election took place at the end of February, and it was immediately clear that no single party won enough seats in both houses of Parliament to be able to form a government. Center-left candidate Pier Luigi Bersani had the best shot of establishing a coalition, but he was unable to come to any deals with Berlusconi’s party, and he was unable to pick away any support from Beppe Grillo’s Five-Star party, and bring them over to his side.
That all came to a head at the end of this past week. The ball has now been thrown into the court of Italian President Napolitano (a separate position than PM, who serves a seven-year term, and whose job it is to facilitate the establishment of a government). Another election this year looks very likely.
Since the February election, there have been polls in Italy showing strength for Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo, so if there were another election there’s a good shot that the winner would be someone who doesn’t have the same inclination to play nice with the rest of the Eurozone.
Cyprus. This was a fiasco on so many levels.
The EU/IMF raiding bank accounts in Cyprus to bail out the country’s financial system sets a dangerous precedent and investors should “run for the hills” said investor Jim Rogers, chairman of Rogers Holdings, on “Squawk on the Street”Thursday.
Rogers said that with Cyprus, politicians are saying that this is a special case and urging people not to worry, but that is exactly why investors should be concerned.
“What more do you need to know? Please, you better hurry, you better run for the hills. I’m doing it anyway,” Rogers said. “I want to make sure that I don’t get trapped. Think of all the poor souls that just thought they had a simple bank account. Now they find out that they are making a ‘contribution’ to the stability of Cyprus. The gall of these politicians.”
A key part of Lucke’s argument is that the euro must be sacrificed to save the greater European project (the European Union), as the status quo is tearing apart the continent.
This line from Lucke is critical:
We think that the euro currently splits the European Union into two parts – a segment of an economically unsuccessful southern part, and a more northern, or more central, European part, which currently seems to benefit from the misery of the southern European countries, because all of the capital flows back from southern Europe to Germany, and the Netherlands, and other stable countries, where it helps us to do cheap investment, but which is at the expense of those southern European countries, and which certainly is the cause for envious sentiment and angry sentiment in the southern European countries, so that the political tensions within the European Union actually rise.
Recall that Bankia is the large Spanish bank that was partially nationalized’ in 2012, and that received 18 billion euros in new equity funds at the end of 2012. At that time Bankia shares fell by 25% to 41 euro cents (41/100 of one euro). At that same time Bankia said it expected to report a 19 billion euro loss for 2012. See my January 3 commentary titled Spain: Bankia and its parent! where I said “My assumption with respect to Bankia and other large Spanish banks is that ‘we have yet to hear the worst of it”.
On Monday, following a ‘forced revaluation’ by Regulators to 1 euro cent (1/100th of one euro) announced after the financial markets closed on March 22, Bankia shares closed at just under 15 euro cents (15/100 of one euro), down over 40% on the day. That ‘forced revaluation’ is said to have been a ‘condition’ of Bankia receiving a further capital injection of 10.7 billion euros from European rescue funds in circumstances where in February Bankia reported a 19.2 billion euro loss (as had been expected) for 2012. Standard & Poor’s is reported as having lowered Bankia’s rating by one notch to BB-.
In February Bankia reported that it expected a quick return to profitability following a ‘clean-up’ of its balance sheet.
Bankia strikes me as needing to be on every trader and investors radar screen going forward, given its size and what I think has to be its possible impact (positive or negative) on Spain, the eurozone, and perhaps the banks and banking systems of both Spain and other countries – the latter pursuant to possible contagion issues.
In other Spanish bank news, yesterday afternoon Banco CEISS, BMN and Caja 3, three comparatively small Spanish banks reported 2.5 billion euros, 3.7 billion euros, and 1.0 billion euros losses respectively for their latest fiscal years. These losses were all driven by previously unrecognized real estate exposure losses, or in the case of BMN writedowns on property holdings.
The punishment regime imposed on Cyprus is a trick against everybody involved in this squalid saga, against the Cypriot people and the German people, against savers and creditors. All are being deceived.
It is not a bail-out. There is no debt relief for the state of Cyprus. The Diktat will push the island’s debt ratio to 120pc in short order, with a high risk of an economic death spiral, a la Grecque.
Capital controls have shattered the monetary unity of EMU. A Cypriot euro is no longer a core euro. We wait to hear the first stories of shops across Europe refusing to accept euro notes issued by Cyprus, with a G in the serial number.
The curbs are draconian. There will be a forced rollover of debt. Cheques may not be cashed. Basic cross-border trade is severely curtailed. Credit card use abroad will be limited to €5,000 (£4,200) a month. “We wonder how such capital controls could eventually be lifted with no obvious cure of the underlying problem,” said Credit Suisse….
(RT) Israel has boycotted the UN human rights forum over fears of scrutiny of its treatment of residents of the occupied territories. Israel is now the first state in history to win a deferment of the periodical review of its human rights record.
Tel Aviv has refused to send a delegation on Tuesday to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for the Universal Periodic Review procedure where UN member states have their human rights record evaluated every four years.
Israel’s cooperation with the council stopped last March after the UN set up a committee to inspect the effects of the Israeli settlements on Palestinians.
Israel which earlier accused the United Nations of anti-Israel bias reiterated its stance, recalling that the council has passed more resolutions against Israel than all other countries combined.
“After a series of votes and statements and incidents we have decided to suspend our working relations with that body,” Yigal Palmor, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, told the Financial Times. “I can confirm that there is no change in that policy.”
“There have been more resolutions condemning Israel than the rest of the world put together,” an Israeli government official said on Tuesday. “It’s not a fair game – it’s not even a game.”
Following the Israeli decision, the council has decided to postpone its review until no later than November.
The Council president has also called on the body to adopt a draft response to an unprecedented move by Israel.
Egypt’s representative meanwhile has warned that a “soft” approach would create a dangerous precedent and leave“a wide-open door for more cases of non-cooperation,” the AFP quoted.
Activist groups lash out against Israel’s disregard for international law.
“By not participating in its own review, Israel is setting a dangerous precedent,” Eilis Ni Chaithnia, an advocacy officer with al-Haq, a human rights organisation based in Ramallah has told the FT. “This is the first time any country has made a determined effort not to attend.”
Others thought that the council’s decision to delay gives Tel Aviv the opportunity to make amends. Eight Israeli human rights organizations issued a statement saying, “Israel now has a golden opportunity to reverse its decision not to participate,” adding “it is legitimate for Israel to express criticism of the work of the Council and its recommendations, but Israel should do so through engagement with the Universal Periodic Review, as it has done in previous sessions,”JTA quotes.
The investigation into Israel’s Human Rights record began in 2007, but last year the UN started to pay particular attention to Israel’s activities in the West Bank.
The probe at the time prompted an angry response from the country’s leader.
“This is a hypocritical council with an automatic majority against Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Senior Israeli officials announced last month that Israel does not intend to cancel plans to accelerate settlement construction.
Netanyahu himself said in an interview with Israeli Channel 2 last month that the disputed area “is not occupied territory” and that he “does not care” what the UN thinks about it.
Around 500,000 Israelis and 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, areas that, along with Gaza, the Palestinians want for a future state.
The United Nations regards all Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal. Tel Aviv last attended the human rights review in 2008. Israel is not a member of the Council, which is comprised of 47 UN member states.
The inquiry, which was started by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. last June, is examining leaks about a computer virus developed jointly by the United States and Israel that damaged nuclear centrifuges at Iran’s primary uranium enrichment plant. The U.S. code name for the operation was Olympic Games, but the wider world knew the mysterious computer worm as Stuxnet.
The FBI and prosecutors have interviewed several current and former senior government officials in connection with the disclosures, sometimes confronting them with evidence of contact with journalists, according to people familiar with the probe. Investigators, they said, have conducted extensive analysis of the e-mail accounts and phone records of current and former government officials in a search for links to journalists.
The people familiar with the investigation would speak only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The Justice Department declined to comment.
The Obama administration has prosecuted six officials for disclosing classified information, more than all previous administrations combined. But the Stuxnet investigation is arguably the highest-profile probe yet, and it could implicate senior-level officials. Knowledge of the virus was likely to have been highly compartmentalized and limited to a small set of Americans and Israelis.
The proliferation of e-mail and the advent of sophisticated software capable of sifting through huge volumes of it have significantly improved the ability of the FBI to find evidence. A trail of e-mail has eased the FBI’s search for a number of suspects recently, including John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer who was sentenced Friday to 30 months in prison for disclosing to a journalist the identity of a CIA officer who had spent 20 years under cover.
Holder appointed Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for Maryland, to lead the Stuxnet inquiry after a New York Times article about President Obama ordering cyberattacks against Iran using a computer virus developed in conjunction with Israel. Other publications, including The Washington Post, followed with similar reports about Stuxnet and a related virus called Flame.
At the same time, Holder named Ronald C. Machen Jr., the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, to head a criminal investigation into leaks concerning thedisruption of a bomb plot by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Holder’s action followed complaints from members of Congress, including the heads of the intelligence
Machen is examining a leak to the Associated Press that a double agent inside al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen allowed the United States and Saudi Arabia to disrupt the plot to bomb an airliner using explosives and a detonation system that could evade airport security checks.
“People are feeling less open to talking to reporters given this uptick,” said a person with knowledge of Machen’s inquiry. “There is a definite chilling effect in government due to these investigations.”
The Justice Department declined to provide statistics on how many leak investigations were launched during Obama’s first term. Between 2005 and 2009, according to an April 2010 Justice Department letter that was sent to a Senate committee, intelligence agencies notified the department 183 times about leaks. The FBI opened 26 investigations and identified 14 suspects.
Lisa Monaco, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division who was named Friday as the president’s new counterterrorism adviser, told the Senate in 2011 that there has been “a stepped-up effort, and indeed a priority placed on the prosecution of leak matters.” Monaco said that leaks “do tremendous damage” and that unauthorized disclosures should be “prosecuted and pursued, either by criminal means or the use of administrative sanctions.”
Former prosecutors said these investigations typically begin by compiling a list of people with access to the classified information. When government officials attend classified briefings or examine classified documents in secure facilities, they must sign a log, and these records can provide an initial road map for investigators.
Former prosecutors said investigators run sophisticated software to identify names, key words and phrases embedded in e-mails and other communications, including text messages, which could lead them to suspects.
The FBI also looks at officials’ phone records — who called whom, when, for how long. Once they have evidence of contact between officials and a particular journalist, investigators can seek a warrant to examine private e-mail accounts and phone records, including text messages, former prosecutors said.
Prosecutors and the FBI can examine government e-mail accounts and government-issued devices, including cellphones, without a warrant. They can also look at private e-mail accounts without a warrant if those accounts were accessed on government computers.
The investigation of Kiriakou grew out of an inquiry by the Justice Department into how high-value detainees at Guantanamo Bay came to have photographs of some intelligence officials in their cells. E-mails eventually led the FBI to exchanges between Kiriakou and a journalist that revealed the name of a covert officer. That name was passed to an investigator working for the American Civil Liberties Union and finally made its way into a classified filing by the ACLU.
In the case of Petraeus, the FBI started with five threatening, anonymous e-mails sent to a Florida woman. After several weeks of following the trail, the bureau found itself confronting explicit exchanges between Petraeus and his mistress. They also found what have been described as flirtatious e-mails between Gen. John Allen and the Florida woman. Petraeus was not charged with a crime, and Allen was cleared of wrongdoing last week.
(Business Insider) -At least 245 people died on Sunday when a fire tore through a nightclub packed with university students in the southern Brazilian city of Santa Maria, police said.
The death toll from the inferno stood initially at 70 but rapidly increased as firefighters searched the charred remains of the “Kiss” club, believed to have been packed with 300-400 revelers at the time of the blaze.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cut short a visit to Chile, where she was attending a European and Latin American summit, to head to Santa Maria and oversee the response to the tragedy, a Brazilian official said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, but media reports said the fire broke out after 2:00 am (0400 GMT) when the nightclub was hosting a university party featuring a rock band using pyrotechnics.
Santa Maria fire chief Guido de Melo said the fire caused widespread panic, and that many revelers were trampled or died from smoke inhalation.
“The main cause of death was asphyxiation,” de Melo was quoted as saying by Estadao newspaper.
Major Cleberson Bastianello, a military police commander in Santa Maria, confirmed that 245 people had been killed and told AFP another 48 had been taken to the hospital, an indication that the toll could climb further.
Pictures published by local media showed firefighters dousing the blackened shell of a red brick building with water to put out the flames.
“We have just gotten the fire under control,” Colonel Silvia Fuchs of the local fire department was quoted by the G1 website as saying. “Now we are removing the bodies.”
The bodies were taken to a sports stadium that was blocked off by police to keep grieving family members from streaming in. O Globo said a first truck carried 67 corpses followed by another with around 70.
Family members were gathering outside in the hope of getting news of their loved ones. The town is home to the Federal University of Santa Maria.
(Truth-Out.org) On December 2, 1942, a small group of physicists under the direction of Enrico Fermi gathered on an old squash court beneath Alonzo Stagg Stadium on the Campus of the University of Chicago to make and witness history. Uranium pellets and graphite blocks had been stacked around cadmium-coated rods as part of an experiment crucial to the Manhattan Project – the program tasked with building an atom bomb for the allied forces in World War II. The experiment was successful, and for 28 minutes, the scientists and dignitaries present witnessed the world’s first manmade, self-sustaining nuclear fission reaction. They called it an atomic pile – Chicago Pile 1 (CP-1), to be exact- but what Fermi and his team had actually done was build the world’s first nuclear reactor.
The Manhattan Project’s goal was a bomb, but soon after the end of the war, scientists, politicians, the military and private industry looked for ways to harness the power of the atom for civilian use, or, perhaps more to the point, for commercial profit. Fifteen years to the day after CP-1 achieved criticality, President Dwight Eisenhower threw a ceremonial switch to start the reactor at Shippingport, Pennsylvania, which was billed as the first full-scale nuclear power plant built expressly for civilian electrical generation.
Shippingport was, in reality, little more than a submarine engine on blocks, but the nuclear industry and its acolytes will say that it was the beginning of billions of kilowatts of power, promoted (without a hint of irony) as “clean, safe and too cheap to meter.” It was also, however, the beginning of what is now a weightier legacy: 72,000 tons of nuclear waste.
Atoms for Peace, Problems Forever
News of Fermi’s initial success was communicated by physicist Arthur Compton to the head of the National Defense Research Committee, James Conant, with artistically coded flair:
Compton: The Italian navigator has landed in the New World.
Conant: How were the natives?
Compton: Very friendly.
But soon after that initial success, CP-1 was disassembled and reassembled a short drive away, in Red Gate Woods. The optimism of the physicists notwithstanding, it was thought best to continue the experiments with better radiation shielding – and slightly removed from the center of a heavily populated campus. The move was perhaps the first necessitated by the uneasy relationship between fissile material and the health and safety of those around it, but if it was understood as a broader cautionary tale, no one let that get in the way of “progress.”
By the time the Shippingport reactor went critical, North America already had a nuclear waste problem. The detritus from manufacturing atomic weapons was poisoning surrounding communities at several sites around the continent (not that most civilians knew it at the time). Meltdowns at Chalk River in Canada and the Experimental Breeder Reactor in Idaho had required fevered cleanups, the former of which included the help of a young Navy officer named Jimmy Carter. And the dangers of errant radioisotopes were increasing with the acceleration of above-ground atomic weapons testing. But as President Eisenhower extolled “Atoms for Peace,” and the US Atomic Energy Commission promoted civilian nuclear power at home and abroad, a plan to deal with the spent fuel (as used nuclear fuel rods are termed) and other highly radioactive leftovers was not part of the program (beyond, of course, extracting some of the plutonium produced by the fission reaction for bomb production, and the promise that the waste generated by US-built reactors overseas could at some point be marked “return to sender” and repatriated to the United States for disposal).
Attempts at what was called reprocessing – the re-refining of used uranium into new reactor fuel – quickly proved expensive, inefficient and dangerous, and created as much radioactive waste as they hoped to reuse. Reprocessing also provided an obvious avenue for nuclear weapons proliferation because of the resulting production of plutonium. The threat of proliferation (made flesh by India’s test of an atomic bomb in 1976) led President Jimmy Carter to cancel the US reprocessing program in 1977. Attempts by the Department of Energy (DOE) to push mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication (combining uranium and plutonium) over the last dozen years has not produced any results, either, despite over $5 billion in government investments.
In fact, there was no official federal policy for the management of used but still highly radioactive nuclear fuel until passage of The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982(NWPA). And while that law acknowledged the problem of thousands of tons of spent fuel accumulating at US nuclear plants, it didn’t exactly solve it. Instead, the NWPA started a generation of political horse-trading, with goals and standards defined more by market exigencies than by science, that leaves America today with what amounts to over five dozen nominally temporary repositories for high-level radioactive waste – and no defined plan to change that situation anytime soon.
Lack of Permanent Spent Fuel Storage Looms Large
When a US Court of Appeals ruled in June that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) acted improperly when it failed to consider all the risks of storing spent radioactive fuel onsite at the nation’s nuclear power facilities, it made specific reference to the lack of any real answers to the generations-old question of waste storage:
[The Nuclear Regulatory Commission] apparently has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository…. If the government continues to fail in its quest to establish one, then SNF (spent nuclear fuel) will seemingly be stored on site at nuclear plants on a permanent basis. The Commission can and must assess the potential environmental effects of such a failure.
The court concluded the current situation – in which spent fuel is stored across the country in what were supposed to be temporary configurations-“poses a dangerous long-term health and environmental risk.”
The decision also harshly criticized regulators for evaluating plant relicensing with the assumption that spent nuclear fuel would be moved to a central long-term waste repository.
A Mountain of Risks
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act set in motion an elaborate process that was supposed to give the US a number of possible waste sites, but, in the end, the only option seriously explored was the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. After years of preliminary construction and tens of millions of dollars spent, Yucca was determined to be a bad choice for the waste. As I wrote in April of last year: “[Yucca Mountain’s] volcanic formation is more porous and less isolated than originally believed – there is evidence that water can seep in, there are seismic concerns, worries about the possibility of new volcanic activity, and a disturbing proximity to underground aquifers. In addition, Yucca mountain has deep spiritual significance for the Shoshone and Paiute peoples.”
Every major Nevada politician on both sides of the aisle has opposed the Yucca repository since its inception. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has worked most of his political life to block the facility. And with the previous NRC head, Gregory Jaczko, (and now his replacement, Allison Macfarlane, as well) recommending against it, the Obama administration’s DOE moved to end the project.
Even if it were an active option, Yucca Mountain would still be many years and maybe as much as $100 million away from completion. And yet, the nuclear industry (through recipients of its largesse in Congress) has challenged the administration to spend any remaining money in a desperate attempt to keep alive the fantasy of a solution to their waste crisis.
Such fevered dreams, however, do not qualify as an actual plan, according to the courts.
The judges also chastised the NRC for its generic assessment of spent fuel pools, currently packed well beyond their projected capacity at nuclear plants across the United States. Rather than examine each facility and the potential risks specific to its particular storage situation, the NRC had only evaluated the safety risks of onsite storage by looking at a composite of past events. The court ruled that the NRC must appraise each plant individually and account for potential future dangers. Those dangers include leaks, loss of coolant, and failures in the cooling systems, any of which might result in contamination of surrounding areas, overheating and melting of stored rods, and the potential of burning radioactive fuel – risks heightened by the large amounts of fuel now densely packed in the storage pools and underscored by the ongoing disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Indeed, plants were neither designed nor built to house nuclear waste long-term. The design life of most reactors in the United States was originally 40 years. Discussions of the spent fuel pools usually gave them a 60-year lifespan. That limit seemed to double almost magically as nuclear operators fought to postpone the expense of moving cooler fuel to dry casks and of the final decommissioning of retired reactors.
Everyone Out of the Pool
As disasters as far afield as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and last October’s Hurricane Sandy have demonstrated, the storage of spent nuclear fuel in pools requires steady supplies of power and cool water. Any problem that prevents the active circulation of liquid through the spent fuel pools – be it a loss of electricity, the failure of a back-up pump, the clogging of a valve or a leak in the system – means the temperature in the pools will start to rise. If the cooling circuit is out long enough, the water in the pools will start to boil. If the water level dips (due to boiling or a leak) enough to expose hot fuel rods to the air, the metal cladding on the rods will start to burn, in turn heating the fuel even more, resulting in plumes of smoke carrying radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere.
And because these spent fuel pools are so full – containing as much as five times more fuel than they were originally designed to hold, and at densities that come close to those in reactor cores – they both heat stagnant water more quickly and reach volatile temperatures faster when exposed to air.
After spent uranium has been in a pool for at least five years (considerably longer than most fuel is productive as an energy source inside the reactor), fuel rods are deemed cool enough to be moved to dry casks. Dry casks are sealed steel cylinders filled with spent fuel and inert gas, which are themselves encased in another layer of steel and concrete. These massive fuel “coffins” are then placed outside and spaced on concrete pads so that air can circulate and continue to disperse heat.
While the long-term safety of dry casks is still in question, the fact that they require no active cooling system gives them an advantage, in the eyes of many experts, over pool storage. As if to highlight that difference, spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi have posed some of the greatest challenges since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, whereas, to date, no quake or flood-related problems have been reported with any of Japan’s dry casks. The disparity was so obvious that the NRC’s own staff review actually added a proposal to the post-Fukushima taskforce report, recommending that US plants take more fuel out of spent fuel pools and move it to dry casks. (A year and a half later, however, there is still no regulation – or even a draft – requiring such a move.)
But current dry cask storage poses its own set of problems. Moving fuel rods from pools to casks is slow and costly – about $1.5 million per cask, or roughly $7 billion to move all of the nation’s spent fuel (a process, it is estimated, that would take no less than five to ten years). That is expensive enough to have many nuclear plant operators lobbying overtime to avoid doing it.
Further, though not as seemingly vulnerable as fuel pools, dry casks are not impervious to natural disaster. In 2011, a moderate earthquake centered about 20 miles from the North Anna, Virginia, nuclear plant caused most of its vertical dry casks – each weighing 115 tons – to shift, some by more than four inches. The facility’s horizontal casks didn’t move, but some showed what was termed “cosmetic damage.”
Dry casks at Michigan’s Palisades plant sit on a pad atop a sand dune just 100 yards from Lake Michigan. An earthquake there could plunge the casks into the water. And the casks at Palisades are so poorly designed and maintained, submersion could result in water contacting the fuel, contaminating the lake and possibly triggering a nuclear chain reaction.
And though each cask contains far less fissile material than one spent fuel pool, casks are still considered possible targets for terrorism. A TOW anti-tank missile would breach even the best dry cask [PDF], and with 25 percent of the nation’s spent fuel now stored in hundreds of casks across the country, all above ground, it provides a rich target environment.
Two months after the Appeals Court found fault with the NRC’s imaginary waste mitigation scenario, the agency announced it would suspend the issuing of new reactor operating licenses, license renewals and construction licenses until the agency could craft a new plan for dealing with the nation’s growing spent nuclear fuel crisis. In drafting its new nuclear “Waste Confidence Decision” (NWCD) – the methodology used to assess the hazards of nuclear waste storage – the Commission said it would evaluate all possible options for resolving the issue.
At first, the NRC said this could include both generic and site-specific actions (remember, the court criticized the NRC’s generic appraisals of pool safety), but as the prescribed process now progresses, it appears any new rule will be designed to give the agency, and so, the industry, as much wiggle room as possible. At a public hearing in November 2012, and later at a pair of web conferences in early December, the regulator’s Waste Confidence Directorate (yes, that’s what it is called) outlined three scenarios [PDF] for any future rulemaking:
- Storage until a repository becomes available at the middle of the century
- Storage until a repository becomes available at the end of the century
- Continued storage in the event a repository is not available.
And while, given the current state of affairs, the first option seems optimistic, the fact that their best scenario now projects a repository to be ready by about 2050 is a story in itself.
When the NWPA was signed into law by President Reagan early in 1983, it was expected the process it set in motion would present at least one (and preferably another) long-term repository by the late 1990s. But by the time the “Screw Nevada Bill” (as it is affectionately known in the Silver State) locked in Yucca Mountain as the only option for permanent nuclear waste storage, the projected opening was pushed back to 2007.
But Yucca encountered problems from its earliest days, so a mid-90s revision of the timeline postponed the official start, this time to 2010. By 2006, the DOE was pegging Yucca’s opening at 2017. And, when the NWPA was again revised in 2010 – after Yucca was deemed a non-option – it conveniently avoided setting a date for the opening of a national long-term waste repository altogether.
It was that 2010 revision that was thrown out by the courts in June.
“Interim Storage” and “Likely Reactors”
So, the waste panel now has three scenarios – but what are the underlying assumptions for those scenarios? Not, obviously, any particular site for a centralized, permanent home for the nation’s nuclear garbage – no new site has been chosen, and it can’t even be said there is an active process at work that will choose one.
There are the recommendations of a Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) convened by the president after Yucca Mountain was off the table. Most notable there was arecommendation for interim waste storage, consolidated at a handful of locations across the country. But consolidated intermediate waste storage has its own difficulties, not the least of which is that no sites have yet been chosen for any such endeavor. (In fact, plans for the Skull Valley repository, thought to be the interim facility closest to approval, were abandoned by its sponsors just days before Christmas 2012.)
Just-retired Democratic senator from New Mexico Jeff Bingaman, the last chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, tried to turn the BRC recommendations into law. When he introduced his bill in August, however, he had to do so without any cosponsors. Hearings on the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2012 were held in September, but the gavel came down on the 112th Congress without any further action.
In spite of the underdeveloped state of intermediate storage, however, when the waste confidence panel was questioned on the possibility, interim waste repositories seemed to emerge, almost on the fly, as an integral part of any revised waste policy rule.
“Will any of your scenarios include interim centralized above-ground storage?” we asked during the last public session. Paul Michalak, who heads the environmental impact statement branch of the Waste Confidence Directorate, first said temporary sites would be considered in the second and third options. Then, after a short pause,Mr. Michalak added [PDF, p40], “First one, too. All right. Right. That’s right. So we’re considering an interim consolidated storage facility [in] all three scenarios.”
The lack of certainty on any site or sites is, however, not the only fuzzy part of the picture. As mentioned earlier, the amount of high-level radioactive waste currently on hand in the United States and in need of a final resting place is upwards of 70,000 tons – already at the amount that was set as the initial top limit for the Yucca Mountain repository. Given that there are still over 100 domestic commercial nuclear reactors more or less in operation, producing something like an additional 2,000 tons of spent fuel every year, what happens to the Waste Confidence Directorate’s scenarios as the years and waste pile up? How much waste were regulators projecting they would have to deal with? How much spent fuel would a waste confidence decision assume the system could confidently handle?
There was initial confusion on what amount of waste – and at what point in time – was informing the process. Pressed for clarification on the last day of hearings, NRC officials finally posited that it was assumed there would be 150,000 metric tons of spent fuel – all deriving from the commercial reactor fleet – by 2050. By the end of the century, the NRC expects to face a mountain of waste weighing 270,000 metric tons [PDF, pp38-41] (though this figure was perplexingly termed both a “conservative number” and an “overestimate”).
How did the panel arrive at these numbers? Were they assuming all 104 (soon to be 103 – Wisconsin’s Kewaunee Power Station will shut down by mid-2013 for reasons its owner, Dominion Resources, says are based “purely on economics”) commercial reactors nominally in operation would continue to function for that entire timeframe – even though many are nearing the end of their design life and none are licensed to continue operation beyond the 2030s? Were they counting reactors like those at San Onofre, which have been offline for almost a year and are not expected to restart anytime soon? Or the troubled reactors at Ft. Calhoun in Nebraska and Florida’s Crystal River? Neither facility has been functional in recent years, and both have many hurdles to overcome if they are ever to produce power again. Were they factoring in the projected AP1000 reactors in the early stages of construction in Georgia, or the ones slated for South Carolina? Did the NRC expect more or fewer reactors generating waste over the course of the next 88 years?
The response: waste estimates include all existing facilities, plus “likely reactors” – but the NRC cannot say exactly how many reactors that is [PDF, p. 41].
Jamming It Through
Answers like those from the Waste Confidence Directorate do not inspire (pardon the expression) confidence for a country looking at a mountain of eternally toxic waste. Just what would the waste confidence decision (and the environmental impact survey that should result from it) actually cover? What would it mandate, and what would change as a result?
In past relicensing hearings – where the public could comment on proposed license extensions on plants already reaching the end of their 40-year design life – objections based on the mounting waste problem and already packed spent fuel pools were waved off by the NRC, which referenced the waste confidence decision as the basis of its rationale. Yet, when discussing the parameters of the process for the latest, court-ordered revision to the NWCD, Dr. Keith McConnell, director of the Waste Confidence Directorate, asserted that waste confidence was not connected to the site-specific licensed life of operations [PDF, p. 42], but only to a period defined as “post-licensed life storage” (which appears, if a chart in the directorate’s presentation [PDF, p. 12] is to be taken literally, to extend from 60 years after the initial creation of waste, to 120 years – at which point a phase labeled “disposal” begins). Issues of spent fuel pool and dry cask safety are the concerns of a specific plant’s relicensing process, said regulators in the latest hearings.
“It’s like dealing with the Mad Hatter,” commented Kevin Kamps, a radioactive waste specialist for industry watchdog Beyond Nuclear. “Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today.”
The edict originated with the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, but it is all too appropriate – and no less maddening – when trying to motivate meaningful change at the NRC. The NRC has used the nuclear waste confidence decision in licensing inquiries, but in these latest scoping hearings, we are told the NWCD does not apply to on-site waste storage. The appeals court criticized the lack of site-specificity in the waste storage rules, but the directorate says they are now only working on a generic guideline. The court disapproved of the NRC’s continued relicensing of nuclear facilities based on the assumption of a long-term geologic repository that in reality did not exist – and the NRC said it was suspending licensing pending a new rule – but now regulators say they don’t anticipate the denial or even the delay of any reactor license application while they await the new waste confidence decision [PDF, pp. 49-50].
In fact, the NRC has continued the review process on pending applications, even though there is now no working NWCD – something deemed essential by the courts – against which to evaluate new licenses.
The period for public comment on the scope of the waste confidence decision ended January 2, and no more scoping hearings are planned. There will be other periods for civic involvement – during the environmental impact survey and rulemaking phases – but with each step, the areas open to input diminish. And the current schedule has the entire process greatly accelerated over previous revisions.
On January 3, a coalition of 24 grassroots environmental groups filed documents with the NRC [PDF] protesting “the ‘hurry up’ two-year timeframe” for this assessment, noting the time allotted for environmental review falls far short of the 2019 estimate set by the NRC’s own technical staff. The coalition observed that two years was also not enough time to integrate post-Fukushima recommendations, and that the NRC was narrowing the scope of the decision – ignoring specific instructions from the appeals court – in order to accelerate the drafting of a new waste-storage rule.
Speed might seem a valuable asset if the NRC were shepherding a Manhattan Project-style push for a solution to the ever-growing waste problem – the one that began with the original Manhattan Project – but that is not what is at work here. Instead, the NRC, under court order, is trying to set the rules for determining the risk of all that high-level radioactive waste if there is no new, feasible solution. The NRC is looking for a way to permit the continued operation of the US nuclear fleet – and so, the continued manufacture of nuclear waste – without an answer to the bigger, pressing question.
A Plan Called HOSS
While there is much to debate about what a true permanent solution to the nuclear waste problem might look like, there is little question that the status quo is unacceptable. Spent fuel pools were never intended to be used as they are now used – re-racked and densely packed with over a generation of fuel assemblies. Both the short- and long-term safety and security of the pools has now been questioned by the courts and laid bare by reality. Pools at numerous US facilities have leaked radioactive waste [PDF] into rivers, groundwater and soil. Sudden “drain downs” of water used for cooling have come perilously close to triggering major accidents in plants very near to major population centers. Recent hurricanes have knocked out power to cooling systems and flooded backup generators, and last fall’s superstorm came within inches of overwhelming the coolant intake structure at Oyster Creek in New Jersey.
The crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi facility was so dangerous, and remains dangerous to this day, in part because of the large amounts of spent fuel stored in pools next to the reactors but outside of containment – a design identical to 35 US nuclear reactors. A number of these GE Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactors – such as Oyster Creek and Vermont Yankee – have more spent fuel packed into their individual pools than all the waste in Fukushima Daiichi Units 1, 2, 3, and 4 combined.
Dry casks, the obvious next “less-bad” option for high-level radioactive waste, were also not supposed to be a permanent panacea. The design requirements and manufacturing regulations of casks – especially the earliest generations – do not guarantee their reliability anywhere near the 100 to 300 years now being casually tossed around by NRC officials. Some of the nation’s older dry casks (which in this case means 15 to 25 years) have already shown seal failures and structural wear [PDF]. Yet the government does not require direct monitoring of casks for excessive heat or radioactive leaks – only periodic “walkthroughs.”
Add in the reluctance of plant operators to spend money on dry cask transfer and the lack of any workable plan to quickly remove radioactive fuel from failed casks, and dry cask storage also appears to fail to attain any court-ordered level of confidence.
Interim plans, such as regional consolidated above-ground storage, remain just that – plans. There are no sites selected and no designs for such a facility up for public scrutiny. What is readily apparent, though, is that the frequent transport of nuclear waste increases the risk of nuclear accidents. There does not, as of now, exist a transfer container that is wholly leak proof, accident proof and impervious to terrorist attack. Moving high-level radioactive waste across the nation’s highways, rail lines and waterways has raised fears of “Mobile Chernobyls” and “Floating Fukushimas.”
More troubling still, if past (and present) is prologue, is the tendency of options designed as “interim” to morph into a default “permanent.” Can the nation afford to kick the can once more, spending tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars on a “solution” that will only add a collection of new challenges to the existing roster of problems? What will the interim facilities become beyond the next problem, the next site for costly mountains of poorly stored, dangerous waste?
If there is an interim option favored by many nuclear experts, engineers and environmentalists [PDF], it is something called HOSS – Hardened On-Site Storage [PDF]. HOSS is a version of dry cask storage that is designed and manufactured to last longer, is better protected against leaks and better shielded from potential attacks. Proposals [PDF] involve steel, concrete and earthen barriers incorporating proper ventilation and direct monitoring for heat and radiation.
But not all reactor sites are good candidates for HOSS. Some are too close to rivers that regularly flood, some are vulnerable to the rising seas and increasingly severe storms brought on by climate change, and others are close to active geologic fault zones. For facilities where hardened on-site storage would be an option, nuclear operators will no doubt fight the requirements because of the increased costs above and beyond the price of standard dry cask storage, which most plant owners already try to avoid or delay.
The First Rule of Holes
In a wooded park just outside Chicago sits a dirt mound, near a bike path, which contains parts of the still-highly-radioactive remains of CP-1, the world’s first atomic pile. Seven decades after that nuclear fuel was first buried, many health experts would not recommend that spot [PDF] for a long, languorous picnic, nor would they recommend drinking from nearby water fountains. To look at it in terms Arthur Compton might favor, when it comes to the products of nuclear chain reactions, the natives are restless … and will remain so for millennia to come.
One can perhaps forgive those working in the pressure cooker of the Manhattan Project and in the middle of a world war for ignoring the forest for the trees – for not considering waste disposal while pursuing a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Perhaps. But, as the burial mound in Red Gate Woods reminds us, ignoring a problem does not make it go away.
And if that small pile or the mountains of spent fuel precariously stored around the nation are not enough of a prompt, the roughly $960 million that the federal government has had to pay private nuclear operators should be. For every year that the DOE does not provide a permanent waste repository – or at least some option that takes the burden of storing spent nuclear fuel off the hands (and off the books) of power companies – the government is obligated to reimburse the industry for the costs of onsite waste storage. By 2020, it is estimated that $11 billion in public money will have been transferred into the pockets of private nuclear companies. By law, these payments cannot be drawn from the ratepayer-fed fund that is earmarked for a permanent geologic repository, and so, these liabilities must be paid out of the federal budget. Legal fees for defending the DOE against these claims will add another 20 to 30 percent to settlement costs.
The Federal appeals court, too, has sent a clear message that the buck needs to stop somewhere at some point – and that such a time and place should be both explicit and realistic. The nuclear waste confidence scoping process, however, is already giving the impression that the NRC’s next move will be generic and improbable.
The late, great Texas journalist Molly Ivins once remarked, “The first rule of holes” is, “when you’re in one, stop digging.” For high-level radioactive waste, that hole is now a mountain, over 70 years in the making and over 70,000 tons high. If the history of the atomic age is not evidence enough, the implications of the waste confidence decision process put the current crisis in stark relief. There is, right now, no good option for dealing with the nuclear detritus currently on hand, and there is not even a plan to develop a good option in the near future. Without a way to safely store the mountain of waste already created, under what rationale can a responsible government permit the manufacture of so much more?
The federal government spends billions to perpetuate and protect the nuclear industry – and plans to spend billions more to expand the number of commercial reactors. Dozens of facilities are already past, or are fast approaching, the end of their design lives, but the NRC has yet to reject any request for an operating license extension – and it is poised to approve many more, nuclear waste confidence decision notwithstanding. Plant operators continue to balk at any additional regulations that would require better waste management.
The lesson of the first 70 years of fission is that we cannot endure more of the same. The government – from the DOE to the NRC – should reorient its priorities from creating more nuclear waste to safely and securely containing what is now here. Money slated for subsidizing current reactors and building new ones would be better spent on shuttering aging plants, designing better storage options for their waste, modernizing the electrical grid and developing sustainable energy alternatives. (And reducing demand through conservation programs should always be part of the conversation.)
Enrico Fermi might not have foreseen (or cared about) the mountain of waste that began with his first atomic pile, but current scientists, regulators and elected officials have the benefit of hindsight. If the first rule of holes says stop digging, then the dictum here should be that when you’re trying to summit a mountain, you don’t keep shoveling more garbage on top.
After Barack Obama joined the rest of us in mourning the slaughter of innocent children in Newtown, Conn., Sanford Berman, a Minnesota civil liberties activist, wrote me: “Obama’s tears for the dead Connecticut kids made me sick. What about weeping over the 400 or more children he killed with drone strikes?”
Indeed, our president has shown no palpable concern over those deaths, but a number of U.S. personnel — not only the CIA agents engaged in drone killings — are deeply troubled.
Peggy Noonan reports that David E. Sanger, in his book “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power,” discovered that “some of those who operate the unmanned bombers are getting upset. They track victims for days. They watch them play with their children.” Then what happens: “‘It freaks you out’” (“Who Benefits From the ‘Avalanche of Leaks’?” Wall Street Journal, June 15).
For another example, I introduce you to Conor Friedersdorf and his account of “The Guilty Conscience of a Drone Pilot Who Killed a Child” (theatlantic.com, Dec. 19).
The subtitle: “May his story remind us that U.S. strikes have reportedly killed many times more kids than died in Newtown — and that we can do better.”
The story Friedersdorf highlights in the Atlantic first appeared in Germany’s Der Spiegel about an Air Force officer (not CIA) who “lamented the fact that he sometimes had to kill ‘good daddies’” … (and) “even attended their funerals” from far away.
And dig this, President Obama: “as a consequence of the job, he collapsed with stress-induced exhaustion and developed PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).” Yet these drones, “Hellfire missiles,” are President Obama’s favorite extra-judicial weapons against suspected terrorists.
Getting back to the Air Force officer, Brandon Bryant, with the guilty conscience. Friedersdorf’s story quotes extensively from Der Spiegel’s article, which recalls that, when Bryant got the order to fire, “he pressed a button with his left hand and marked the roof (of a shed) with a laser. The pilot sitting next to him pressed the trigger on a joystick, causing the drone to launch a Hellfire missile. There were 16 seconds left until impact …
“With seven seconds left to go, there was no one to be seen on the ground. Bryant could still have diverted the missile at that point. Then it was down to three seconds …
“Suddenly a child walked around the corner, he says. Second zero was the moment in which Bryant’s digital world collided with the real one in a village between Baghlan and Mazar-e-Sharif. Bryant saw a flash on the screen: the explosion. Parts of the building collapsed. The child had disappeared.
“Bryant had a sick feeling in his stomach.
“‘Did we just kill a kid?’ he asked the man sitting next to him.
“‘Yeah. I guess that was a kid,’ the pilot replied.
“‘Was that a kid?’ they wrote into a chat window on the monitor.
“Then someone they didn’t know answered, someone sitting in a military command center somewhere in the world who had observed their attack. ‘No. That was a dog,’ the person wrote.
“They reviewed the scene on video. A dog on two legs?”
Friedersdorf adds: “The United States kills a lot of ‘dogs on two legs.’ The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported last August that in Pakistan’s tribal areas alone, there are at least 168 credible reports of children being killed in drone strikes.” As for those in other countries, he adds, that’s “officially secret.”
He writes: “Presidents Bush and Obama have actively prevented human-rights observers from accessing full casualty data from programs that remain officially secret, so there is no way to know the total number of children American strikes have killed in the numerous countries in which they’ve been conducted, but if we arbitrarily presume that ‘just’ 84 children have died — half the bureau’s estimate from one country — the death toll would still be more than quadruple the number of children killed in Newtown, Conn.”
Are you proud, as an American, to know this?
After reading about Obama’s silence in “The Guilty Conscience of a Drone Pilot Who Killed a Child,” does the conscience of those of us who re-elected Obama ache?
As Friedersdorf writes, Obama has never spoken of these deaths as he did about the ones in Newtown, when he said: “If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent … then surely we have an obligation to try. … Are we really prepared to say that dead children are the price of our freedom?”
Do you mean, Mr. President, only the dead children of Newtown?
These targeted killings continue in our name, under the ultimate authority of our president — as the huge majority of We The People stays mute.
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.
(ZeroHedge) -It was only a matter of time before Japan’s criminal lying about the radioactive exposure in the aftermath of the Fukushima catastrophe caught up with it. What is surprising is that those holding Japan accountable are not its citizens but eight US sailors who have just filed a suit against semi-nationalized energy operator TEPCO – the company which repeatedly ignored internal warnings about the ability of the Fukushima NPP to withstand an earthquake/tsunami – seeking $110 million in damages.
As Kyodo reports:
“Eight U.S. sailors have filed a damages suit against Tokyo Electric Power Co., claiming they were exposed to radiation and face health threats as the utility did not provide appropriate information about the Fukushima nuclear disaster while they engaged in rescue operations on board an aircraft carrier, U.S. media reported.
The plaintiffs who filed the suit at the U.S. federal court in San Diego — seeking a total of $110 million, or 9.4 billion yen, in damages — were aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan when it was involved in “Operation Tomodachi,” a disaster relief effort shortly after a big earthquake and tsunami triggered the worst nuclear accident in decades, the reports said.”
What is sad is that while everyone in the alternative media was repeatedly warning about the radiation exposure being misrepresented by both TEPCO and various Japanese ministries, it was the mainstream media that was constantly complicit in disseminating official and unofficial lies that there is nothing to fear. Which begs the question: shouldn’t the lawsuit stretch to everyone who – without inquiring deeper and merely serving as a mouthpiece to a lying government and utility – gave the “all clear” even as radiation levels were approaching, and in many occasions, passing critical levels?
But hey: they were merely following orders, and were worried about keeping their jobs if they stepped out of line and questioned the line of propaganda command. Luckily, this will be the first time in world history this excuse will have been used.
(RT) -Nuclear engineers have warned the Senate of the threats facing two US nuclear power facilities, which could result in enormous explosions or a Fukushima-like meltdown if natural phenomena or weather conditions cause the facilities to fail.
Senator Joe Lieberman is the current chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Government Affairs, but will retire in 2013. Two nuclear engineers have asked him to spend his last days in Congress investigating the threats posed by two nuclear power facilities.
Paul Blanch, a retired nuclear engineer who used to work at the Indian Point nuclear facility in Buchanan, N.Y., and Lawrence Criscione, a risk engineer at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) headquarters, sent a letter to the senator, warning that a Fukushima-like meltdown is in America’s future if no action is taken to improve the facilities at Indian Point and Oconee.
The engineers claim that the gas lines leading to the facilities, as well as nearby dams, are vulnerable to sabotage. Engineering failures or natural phenomena like earthquakes or floods can also cause a meltdown.
“The potential energy released in a gas line rupture at Indian Point is equivalent to that from a massive conventional bomb; the 2010 explosion and fire in San Bruno, Calif., is an example of the destructive force, which a pipeline rupture can unless,” the letter states.
“The flooding resulting from a failure of Jocassee Dam at Oconee would be similar to that experienced at Fukushima following the tsunami,” it describes.
While the facilities themselves are well-guarded, their support systems meant to prevent meltdowns can be easily damaged. A meltdown of their reactors could result in “severe radiological and economic consequences to areas surrounding these plants,” the engineers wrote. Areas within and possibly beyond 50 miles of the facilities “could be rendered uninhabitable for generations,” which would include New York City if the Indian Point facility’s gas pipeline explodes, Blanch and Criscione warned.
Although the conditions are dire, the issues have been ignored for years. Two nuclear whistleblowers publicly accused the NRC of taking steps to cover up the dangerous shortcomings of America’s power plants. Earlier this month, Richard H. Perkins and Criscione compromised their jobs by speaking out about their concerns to the Huffington Post. The men claimed that the NRC repeatedly refused to acknowledge that there was any sort of risk involved in keeping the plants open and tried to keep the flaws secret.
The NRC has “allowed a very dangerous scenario to continue unaddressed for years,” Perkins said. Nuclear power plants are required by US law to able to withstand all types of weather conditions that could occur in the region they are located, but many of their flood walls are inadequate and don’t consider the floodwaters that could result from nearby dams.
The Oconee Nuclear Station in South Caroline is protected by a 5-foot wall, but is located near a dam that could result in floodwaters as high as 16.8 feet and cause a meltdown that resembled what happened in Fukushima.
Blanch has been petitioning the NRC about gas line issues since 2010, and Criscione has raised the issue with Congress, the media, and high-ranking officials at the NRC.
Regardless of the efforts of both engineers and employees of the NRC, the commission has repeatedly claimed that no problems exist.
“The NRC has reviewed and evaluated the gas pipeline issue. Our review of the petition found the plant continues to comply with NRC requirements,” Burnell described the NRC response to a complaint he made about Indian Point.
In yet another effort to bring attention to the dangers facing Americans living near these power plants, Blanch and Criscione are lobbying the Senate for support.
“We respectfully request that your staff review the enclosures and determine if the nuclear reactor plants involved are adequately secure from attack,” they wrote in the letter, asking the Senate to request that the NRC temporarily shut down the plants if they are not secure.
(Ralph Nader) -Say what you will about Yoko Ono’s art, there is no denying that she is unique. Who else will put several $100,000 full-page notices in The New York Times displaying only the word “Peace” or “Imagine Peace” in small type with the rest of the page blank? No elaboration, no examples of the ravages of war or mention of people “waging peace” around the country and world. Inscrutable, yes. Effective, who knows, except maybe Yoko Ono?
(Click for full image)
Well, in the December 10th issue of the Times there appeared a most un-Yoko type message. And this one wasted no space with the headline “Governor Cuomo: Imagine there’s no fracking.” The ad, commissioned by her and her son Sean Lennon, contained a graphic case against fracking designed to get New Yorkers to urge the governor to ban fracking and make permanent the moratorium first established by former N.Y. Governor David Paterson. The moratorium was in place pending further scientific studies regarding the environmental and health impact of drilling deep into the Marcellus Shale deposits underneath a large portion of the state.
The gas companies are putting heavy pressure on Gov. Cuomo to join Pennsylvania, which is already suffering the ravages of fracking. Landowners in Pennsylvania and in other permitted states now realize that their water was contaminated by chemicals used in the fracking process and leaked natural gas from fractured shale deposits.
There also exists a formidable coalition of government officials, physicians, scientists at Cornell, civic groups, farmers and other diverse opponents fighting against this hydrofracking. The relentlessly-factual Walter Hang, President of Toxics Targeting in Ithaca, New York, is one of the most effective environmentalists opposing fracking.
Of course, on the other side are the oil and gas industries pursuing profits, landowners seeking royalties (though the fine print contracts may rise up to bite them), and upstate laborers hoping for employment. The gas industry publicists, who exaggerate the benefits to the local economies, ignore the short-term nature of most of the jobs and the costly toxic air, water and land destruction fracking leaves behind.
The fight against fracking in New York is like the recurrent struggle put on by the taxpayer-subsidized fossil fuel and nuclear industries that want to dominate energy policies in government and push the safer alternatives out of the way because energy efficiency and renewable energy don’t make profits for them. As Yoko and Sean point out, through their new group Artists Against Fracking, by insulating buildings, for example, they could “save far more energy and create far more jobs than fracking can produce, plus save consumers money forever.”
Industry engineering manuals portray the immense complexity of fracturing technology, the huge amount of water used per well, the pipelines and compressor stations, the congested truck traffic, the dozens of chemicals needed in the water to draw out the gas vertically and horizontally under the surface of the land. These materials leave out the emerging, grim reality which is memorably portrayed in the documentary “Gasland” by Josh Fox.
Hydrofracking, whose side effects haven’t been fully vetted, is a new industrial way of obtaining natural gas. Instead of seeking these deposits, alternative energy sources should be pursued. Think of solar energy, dutifully, naturally providing most of the energy needed, from absolute zero, to make the Earth habitable. The rest is up to Homo sapiens – a species that must be giving Mother Sun the fits over not adapting its energy for efficient, safe daily uses.
We need to remember Ben Franklin, our frugal forebear who coined the phrase “a penny saved is a penny earned.” Today he would say “a trillion BTUs saved is a trillion BTUs earned.” The problem is that reducing waste – and despite progress, we are far less energy efficient than Western Europe or Japan – is not encouraged by present perverse market and regulatory incentives.
Germany is way ahead of us in both energy conservation and renewable energy. There, nuclear power is being phased out. And, price is used to discourage use of fossil fuels. There is also growing support for a carbon tax in this country including some leading corporate chieftains, but the message hasn’t reached the lawmakers in Congress. Too many of them are marinated in oil.
Your tax dollars helped develop fracturing technology which, if not stopped, will unleash its furies all over the world. There are hydrocarbons everywhere. Methane, among other gases, will be released in excess, which is many times worse a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The regulators are not keeping up.
But the sun is everywhere in many forms – solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, passive solar architecture, wind power, wave power, non-corn biomass that doesn’t compete with food supplies and raise food prices. As I said years ago, “If Exxon owned the sun, we’d have solar energy very quickly.”
Therein is the rub. What is best for a planet with a decentralized, job-producing, safe, efficient, inexhaustible form of energy (at least for 3 billion more years) does not yet have the political muscle to go to the top of the U.S.’s energy priority ladder. The concentrated profits and the limited energy infrastructure are in the grip of the Chevrons and the Peabody Coals.
But history is not on their side. Countries with minimal fossils fuels are leading the way with renewables. Post the Fukushima disaster, Japan is upping the ante on conservation and renewables. Climate changes and natural disasters will wake up the rest of the world. Let’s act to make it sooner rather than later.
The latest bulletin (toxicstargeting.com/Marcellus_Shale) from the indefatigable Walter Hang alerts people to protest that the State Department of Health review is now “being conducted in total secrecy without any public participation.” He believes Mr. Cuomo will make his decision within three months and urges you to call the Governor’s office at 518.474.8390 or 212.681.4580.
(CNET) -Isn’t it about time the White House had a distraction from the fiscal cliff (whatever that is)? How about the feasibility of building a real-world Death Star?
As of today, a petition calling for the government of the United States to begin construction on a Death Star by 2016 has more than 25,000 signatures on the administration’s official public suggestion page, surpassing the threshold that triggers a required response from the White House.
The petition hit the mark today, just a day before reaching its 30-day expiration date. Conveniently, petition creator “John D.” of Longmont, Colo., even provided some politician-friendly talking points to promote the idea:
By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense.
Indeed, and since it would take 800,000 years to produce the amount of steel needed for a Death Star, we won’t have to worry about unemployment rates for the next several epochs.
But despite all the common sense arguments in favor of building a moon-size mega-weapon, the petition is about as likely to gain political traction as some of the other popular suggestions on the White House site, which include allowing Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina to secede; impeaching the president; and deporting “everyone who signed a petition to withdraw their state from the United States of America.”
Wow, one of those might actually be even more awesome than the Death Star petition.
(TheIntelHubs) – The Santa Susana Field Laboratory is a complex of industrial research and development facilities located on a 2,668-acre (1,080 ha) portion of the Southern California Simi Hills in Simi Valley, California, used mainly for the testing and development of liquid-propellant rocket engines for the United States space program from 1949 to 2006, nuclear reactors from 1953 to 1980 and the operation of a U.S. government-sponsored liquid metals research center from 1966 to 1998.
The site is located approximately 7 miles (11 km) northwest from the community of Canoga Park and approximately 30 miles (48 km) northwest of Downtown Los Angeles. Sage Ranch Park is adjacent on part of the northern boundary and the community of Bell Canyon along the entire southern boundary. — Wikipedia
By Shepard Ambellas
In 2009, the Department of Energy and governmental stimulus funds brought $41.5 million dollars to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct an investigation into claims that the Santa Susana Field Laboratory and surrounding area is contaminated with radiation.
As a result of that investigation, the EPA has now deemed that the land toxic and contaminated with high levels of radiation.
Teresa Rochester writes;
The survey, which includes test results of samples of groundwater, sediment and subsurface soil in the Northern Buffer Zone and Area IV, which was once home to 10 small nuclear reactors, found about 10 percent of them exceeded background levels established by two laboratories.
Those background levels were going to be used to plot the cleanup of radiological contamination at the site, which will be overseen by California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control….
…. Radionuclides such as strontium-90, cesium-137 and tritium were found in some samples that exceeded EPA’s background limits.
EPA officials collected 3,735 soil and sediment samples and 215 groundwater and surface samples from the site. Of the 34 surface water samples collected, two instances of maximum contamination levels being exceeded, while four areas had high levels of contamination in sediment. There were nearly 300 instances of Cesium-137 in soil samples exceeding maximum levels, while 153 samples had levels of Strontium-90 that far exceeded the background level.
Local residents and nuclear watchdog activists just want to see the site cleaned as promised.
Radiation levels have recently been a major topic of concern after the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster that took place in Japan causing the spread of harmful radiation throughout the atmosphere.
Still yet, as of 2012, many former nuclear testing sites like the Santa Susana Field Laboratory remain contaminated.
Diabolic individuals and governments seem to want to continue the use of nuclear technology despite major breakthroughs in clean, green, efficient energy technologies.
In fact, in most cases, nuclear power companies have suppressed clean energy technology in order to continue to line their pockets at the possible health expense of the American people.
(The Intel Hub) -Verizon has entered a new realm of technology that can almost make your skin crawl.
The powerful communications giant has now invented and intends to market a cable box that knows exactly what is going on in the living room, or any room for that matter. In fact it knows if you are cuddling with your partner, or even aroused as it can tailor advertisements to the consumer in a realtime environment.
For instance, if the consumer or viewer(s) are watching a sexy scene in the latest R rated Hollywood blockbuster movie, a “condom” commercial could pop-up.
The technology incorporates motion sensors, thermal cameras, and microphones to spy on mindless or unaware participants.
Other corporations venture into this realm as well.
Damien Gayle reports, “Microsoft recently registered a patent for technology to allow its Kinect motion sensor to figure out how many people are in front of it then stop playback if it detected more people than the copyright terms allowed. Google TV proposed a similar patent that would use video and audio recording devices to do the same…. And Comcast in 2008 patented a monitoring technology that would recommend content to users based on people it recognised in the room.”
This technology is scary to say the least and offers an extension to internet marketing and ads that target the consumers interests online bringing them directly into your room.
Some would say this is a major invasion of privacy, while others view the technology as a convenience.
These systems will eventually work in conjunction with a massive DHS control grid, along with TSA scanners at airports and checkpoints throughout the country in what looks to be a massive incremental plan to institute a police state in America.
Have you heard of the massive sinkholes popping up around the nation? Flammable craters spanning acres wide and leaking radiation, monster sinkholes described as ‘apocalyptic’ have forced residents out of homes, expelled radiation into the environment, and are now ushering in concerns about serious Earth changes in the near future. If you’ve heard of these sinkholes, chances are it has been from the alternative media.
It’s a hot issue on forums, some social networking sectors, and certain alternative talk radio programs. Sure, it has come up in some mainstream reports here and there, but there are virtually no in-depth pieces tying everything together. And they often fail to mention the scale of these sinkholes, behemoth anomalies that can swallow up 100 foot trees, houses, with the latest Ohio sinkhole devouring 4 football fields of land. Events that are sending residents scrambling.
Fracking, Drilling, Mining Responsible for Sinkhole Changing Earth Events?
A more serious issue, even beyond the dangers posed by these radiation-leaking sinkholes, is how man-made processes like fracking and excessive drilling are changing the planet on a larger scale. Bloomberg reports that fracking is a likely cause for a dramatic rise (sixfold) in earthquake activity from 2000 to 2011. Not to mention contamination of the water and food supply.
Extreme mining practices by Texas Brine and others are also responsible for triggering the sinkholes.
So are these actions ‘waking up’ the New Madrid fault line? In case you’re not familiar, the New Madrid fault line was responsible for the legendary 1811-1812 earthquakes dubbed the ‘New Madrid’ earthquakes. Extremely powerful and devastating earthquakes that are the most significant earthquakes to hit the United States in all of recorded history. As Investment Watch explains, the research indicating fracking and excessive mining in the expansion of earthquakes along the Madrid line reveals a concerning and plausible reality.
It is important to note that the New Madrid fault line includes areas within Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. In the event of a large (8.0 or higher) earthquake along the fault line, however, a much greater area would likely be affected.
Outside of the repercussions of the sinkholes, such as the radiation issue and major possibility of implosion or massive disruption in the area, what are the larger consequences of invasive fracking? Could a massive disaster be the result of greedy corporations endangering the entire nation? Furthermore, why is the mainstream media shying away from the issue completely?
(TruthOut) -On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a surprise announcement stating that, effective immediately, the oil behemoth and more than a dozen of its subsidiary companies will be “ineligible” to “receive any federal contract or approved subcontract” as a result of BP’s agreement to plead guilty two weeks ago to a wide range of crimes directly related to the deadly April 2010 disaster in the Gulf.
“EPA is taking this action due to BP’s lack of business integrity as demonstrated by the company’s conduct with regard to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill and response as reflected by the filing [by the Justice Department] of a criminal information,” the EPA said in its statement.
The notice of suspension, sent to BP PLC chief executive Robert Dudley, states that on November 23 the EPA’s suspension and debarment division recommended that BP immediately be suspended from government contract work. The notice of suspension typically is preceded by a complaint document that lays out all of the reasons suspension and debarment is sought. The EPA did not provide Truthout with a copy of the complaint.
In a news release BP issued after it settled criminal charges related to the Gulf disaster, BP said the company “has not been advised of the intention of any federal agency to suspend or debar the company in connection with this plea agreement.”
The EPA’s announcement, which does not apply to BP’s existing federal contracts, was made the same day the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management opened up for sale to oil companies more than 20 million acres in the Western Gulf of Mexico for oil and natural gas exploration and development. Also, on Wednesday, two BP supervisors who were aboard the Deepwater Horizon when it exploded were arraigned on manslaughter charges, and a former BP vice president was arraigned on false statements and obstruction of Congress. All three pleaded not guilty.
A BP spokeswoman said the company already had decided before the decision by the EPA to sit out Wednesday’s lease sale. But the EPA’s suspension would also have covered new drilling leases and so the timing of the agency’s announcement does not appear to be coincidental. BP was the high bidder in June for 43 leases to drill in the Central Gulf of Mexico, not far from the site of where the Macondo well ruptured and spewed millions of barrels of oil into the waters. BP is the largest deepwater leaseholder in the Gulf.
But after the EPA announced BP’s suspension, BP quickly issued a statement, downplaying the EPA’s action and attempting to reassure its shareholders, saying that the corporation “has been in regular dialogue with the EPA” and is already negotiating with federal regulators to lift the ban.
“The EPA has informed BP that it is preparing a proposed administrative agreement that, if agreed upon, would effectively resolve and lift this temporary suspension,” BP’s statement says. “The EPA notified BP that such a draft agreement would be available soon.”
BP noted that it has already provided “both a present responsibility statement of more than 100 pages and supplemental answers to the EPA’s questions based on that submission.”
“Moreover, in support of BP’s efforts to establish present responsibility, the US Department of Justice agreed, in the plea agreement, that it will advise any appropriate suspension or debarment authority that in the Department’s view, BP has accepted criminal responsibility for its conduct relating to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill and response,” BP’s statement said.
However, in a statement issued to Truthout, the EPA said that while the agency cannot specifically comment on BP’s claims about negotiations to lift the contracting ban, the plea agreement the company entered into “includes a remedial order that, if accepted by the court at sentencing, will specifically provide for BP to submit to the government a plan for addressing the conditions which gave rise to the statutory violations within 60 days.
“This plan must be approved by the government, at which time it becomes a condition of BP’s criminal probation,” the EPA statement said. “In addition, there are pending civil proceedings. The suspension could therefore continue until those proceedings are completed.”
Those civil proceedings could continue for at least another year.
Still, Scott Amey, general counsel with the watchdog organization Project on Government Oversight (POGO), which applauded the temporary suspension, said he is not surprised that “BP is doing its due diligence to convince the government that is a responsible company.
“However, the EPA should be watchful of promises, especially this late in the game,” Amey added. “A company’s culture can’t change overnight or over the course of a few days.”
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer cited the company’s corporate culture, in which it puts profits ahead of the safety and integrity of its operations, during a news conference in New Orleans two weeks ago, where the Justice Department announced that it had reached a settlement with BP over crimes related to the Gulf disaster.
“The explosion of the [Deepwater Horizon] was a disaster that resulted from BP’s culture of privileging profit over prudence,” Breuer said.
BP’s corporate culture has resulted in more than $10 billion in civil and criminal penalties against the oil giant over the past 17 years, evidenced most significantly by more than 700 infractions and/or violations identified by federal regulators in 2010 at its refineries, and alleged neglect at its other drilling rig in the Gulf called Atlantis.
It was BP’s negligence at the company’s Texas City refinery and its pipelines in Alaska, along with its manipulation of the Midwest propane market, to cite just a few examples, that originally led former EPA debarment counsel Jeanne Pascal to recommend in 2010 that the company be stripped of receiving additional federal contracts.
Pascal made that recommendation just a couple of months before the Gulf disaster and her retirement from the agency. She said she had prepared a “suspension and debarment complaint” against BP, “with about 60 exhibits, but “the debarment action went nowhere, not even after the well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Pascal told Truthout the EPA should not be engaging in any settlement discussions with BP over their federal contracts. She said BP’s statement tells her that the EPA gave the company a “heads-up” about the suspension.
“BP is a serious serial corporate environmental criminal and a corporate serial killer,” Pascal said. “They killed eleven people in the Gulf and fifteen people in Texas City – 26 people in the span of five years. BP always settles its cases with the government and promises to change its culture but it continues to do the same thing over and over again. They need to be held to the same standard that other [suspension and debarment] respondents are held to.”
A passionate environmentalist, Pascal said she believes there are certain companies whose “egregious violations” don’t warrant settlement, and BP is one of them.
“BP has killed millions of fish and marine mammals; they have ruined the fisheries in the Gulf as well as the tourist industry. The paltry $4 billion settlement [BP entered into with the government earlier this month] is not nearly enough to rectify the damage BP has done to the Gulf and its people. It’s not in the public interest to settle with BP at this time,” she said. “The government should insist on a period of years in which BP proves its corrupt corporate culture has changed, and that is has stopped putting profit over American lives and the safety of the environment.”
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) agreed that BP’s conduct warranted suspension.
“After pleading guilty to such reckless behavior that killed men and constituted a crime against the environment, suspending BP’s access to contracts with our government is the right thing to do,” said Markey, the ranking member o f the Natural Resources Committee. “When someone recklessly crashes a car, their license and keys are taken away. The wreckage of BP’s recklessness is still sitting at the bottom of the ocean and this kind of time out is an appropriate element of the suite of criminal, civil and economic punishments that BP should pay for their disaster.”
Rena Steinzor, the president of the Center for Progressive Reform and a professor a the University of Maryland School of Law, made the case for permanently debarring BP from receiving federal contracts because of its poor safety record.
But Amey, the POGO attorney, said, “suspension of large contractors doesn’t last that long. In past cases, it has lasted mere days.”
Pascal said suspension and debarment is an action taken “because of an immediate need for the government to protect itself.”
“I can guarantee you the EPA coordinated this action with the Department of Interior and the Department of Defense,” Pascal said. “EPA normally suspends or debars a company guilty of environmental crimes in the wake of a criminal action because conduct rising to criminal conduct is not presently responsible. This suspension is clearly designed to prevent BP from bidding on leases. That was, in part, the immediate need that needed action.”
BP’s contracting work has been a financial boon for the corporation.
In September, while BP was engaged in settlement discussions with the government over its role in the Gulf disaster, the company was awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in new Pentagon fuel contracts.
BP PLC is one of the Pentagon’s main fuel suppliers and one of the government’s top 100 contractors, with $1.47 billion worth in Fiscal Year 2011, which represents 179 government contracts, according to the web site USASpending.gov. This year alone, BP has won $1.1 billion in federal contracts. In just two years, BP has earned from the government more than half the money it is obligated to pay in fines related to the Gulf disaster.
At the same time, according to POGO, BP has racked up more instances of misconduct – 61 since 1995 -than any of the other top 100 corporations that receive government contracts and has paid $10 billion in civil and criminal penalties.
In an interview in 2010, Pascal said she had to proceed with caution when she considered debarring the oil company from receiving government contracts because of its relationship with the Pentagon.
“If I had debarred BP while they were supplying 80 percent of the fuel to US forces it would have been almost certain that the Defense Department would have been forced to get an exception,” Pascal said.
She noted at the time that the 80 percent figure was provided by her “contact,” an attorney, who works at the Defense Energy Support Center, part of the Defense Logistics Agency, which is responsible for purchasing all of the fuel for the military.
A Defense Logistics Agency spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
Because the Pentagon is so heavily reliant on BP for fuel, top Pentagon officials can still seek to lift the ban for BP if they write a justification letter to Congress requesting permission to use the suspended contractor.
Pascal pointed to an executive order issued by Ronald Reagan in 1986 authorizing the federal government to use suspended, debarred or excluded contractors, in certain circumstances:
An agency may grant an exception permitting a debarred, suspended, or excluded party to participate in a particular transaction upon a written determination by the agency head or authorized designee stating the reason(s) for deviating from this Presidential policy. However, I intend that exceptions to this policy should be granted only infrequently.
BP has to convince the federal government that it’s now a responsible corporation in order to win back the government’s business. But Pascal rattled off a list of major violations dating back to 1999 that she said proves BP’s “promises and assurances” should not be “trusted as truth.”
“BP needs to prove they have changed,” she said. “The Deepwater Horizon disaster was too extensive to trust BP…. Promises from this company should be disregarded.”
(MotherJones) -In an attempt to deal with the 206 million gallons of light crude oil erupting from the Deepwater Horizon blowout in 2010 BP unleashed about 2.6 million gallons of Corexit dispersants (Corexit 9500A and Corexit EC9527) in surface waters and at the wellhead on the seafloor. From the beginning the wisdom of that decision was questioned. I wrote extensively about those concerns in BP’s Deep Secrets.
In the short term the dispersed oil made BP’s catastrophe look like less of a catastrophe since less oil made it to shore. But what about the long term?
In a new paper in PLOS ONE researchers took a closer look. They examined the effects of oil dispersed mechanically (sonication), oil dispersed by Corexit 9500A, and just plain seawater (the control). They used laboratory-column experiments to simulate the movement of dispersed and nondispersed oil through sandy beach sediments.
Clean seawater, crude oil dispersed by sonication, or crude oil dispersed by Corexit and sonication were flushed through the sand columns by gravity. The effluent of the columns was collected as a time series in 4 vials each. PLOS ONE doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050549.g001
Their findings: Corexit 9500A allows crude oil components to penetrate faster and deeper into permeable saturated sands where the absence of oxygen may slow degradation and extend the lifespan of potentially harmful polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), aka organic pollutants—aka persistently abominable hork—in the marine environment.
Furthermore, the authors warn, dispersants used in nearshore oil spills might penetrate deeply enough into saturated sands to threaten groundwater supplies. (Did anyone look at this in the BP settlement?)
How does dispersant change oil’s behavior in a beach? The authors write:
The causes of the reduced PAH retention after dispersant application has several reasons: 1) the dispersant transforms the oil containing the PAHs into small micelles that can penetrate through the interstitial space of the sand. 2) the coating of the oil particles produced by the dispersant reduces the sorption to the sand grains, 3) saline conditions enhance the adsorption of dispersant to sand surfaces, thereby reducing the sorption of oil to the grains.
In other words, repeated flushing by waves washing up a contaminated beach may pump PAHs deep into the sediment when dispersant is present. Natural dispersants—those produced by oil-degrading bacteria—may support this effect when oil is present in the sand for longer time periods.
Furthermore the continuous flushing by waves on an oil-contaminated beach may result in the release of PAHs from the sand back to the water. And after PAHs are released from the sediment UV-light can increase their degradation but also increase their toxicity to marine life by up to eightfold.
As for what effects those long-lived PAHs have released back into the water, the authors cite recent research findings:
- Increased mortality in planktonic copepods exposed to dispersants with stronger effects on small-sized species.
- In early life stages of Atlantic herring dispersed oil dramatically impaired fertilization success.
- Grey mullet exposed to chemically dispersed oil showed both a higher bioconcentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and a higher mortality than fish exposed to either the water-soluble fraction of oil or the mechanically dispersed oil.
(Guardian) –BP has been blocked from seeking new contracts with the US government because of the oil company’s “lack of business integrity” during the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.
The temporary order bans BP from competing for new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico – such as the auction of 20m acres taking place on Wednesday – or from bidding on new contracts to supply the Pentagon or other government agencies with fuel.
While the ban does not affect existing business, it raises wider questions about the company’s future in a crucial market.
The type of suspension imposed by the EPA typically does not last more than 18 months. But an official said that in this case the ban could be extended because of the ongoing legal proceedings. That could mean BP, the largest oil producer in the Gulf of Mexico, would remain under an extended moratorium until all criminal charges and law suits are resolved.
BP was clearly taken by surprise and struggled to explain the impact on its business. Its shares fell nearly 2% in London as investors reacted with dismay to the news which puts a major dent in the company’s already battered reputation.
The finance director of the London-based oil group warned investors at a recent presentation that any outright ban could “affect BP’s investment thesis in the US”.
The order was handed down just two weeks after BP agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter and other charges arising from the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, as well as pay a record $4.5bn in fines.
The oil company, in announcing its plea deal with the Justice Department earlier this month, had specifically said it did not expect to be barred from future business dealings. “Under US law, companies convicted of certain criminal acts can be debarred from contracting with the federal government,” the company said in its statement at the time. “BP has not been advised of the intention of any federal agency to suspend or debar the company in connection with this plea agreement.”
The EPA said the suspension was based on BP’s conduct at the time of the blow-out as well as the 87 days it took to contain the well. Some 4.9m barrels of crude gushed into the Gulf of Mexico before it was finally capped.
“EPA is taking this action due to BP’s lack of business integrity as demonstrated by the company’s conduct with regard to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill, and response, as reflected by the filing of a criminal information,” the announcement said.
The announcement went on to describe the oil spill as the “largest environmental disaster in US history”.
It said BP would remain under suspension, and barred from new federal government contracts and transactions, until the company can demonstrate that it meets federal business standards.
“Federal executive branch agencies take these actions to ensure the integrity of federal programmes by conducting business only with responsible individuals or companies. Suspensions are a standard practice when a responsibility question is raised by action in a criminal case,” the EPA announcement said.
The agency gave no further details about the duration of the suspension, and the potential costs to BP were not immediately clear.
In its response, BP said the ban would not affect existing business. “The temporary suspension does not affect any existing contracts the company has with the US government, including those related to current and ongoing drilling and production operations in the Gulf of Mexico,” BP said.
The company said it was working with EPA and the US Justice Department to lift the suspension. “The EPA has informed BP that it is preparing a proposed administrative agreement that, if agreed upon, would effectively resolve and lift this temporary suspension. The EPA notified BP that such a draft agreement would be available soon,” the statement said.
The press release also noted that BP had been granted more than 50 new leases in the Gulf of Mexico since the oil disaster.
Peter Hutton, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said the EPA action had “real significance”, especially as it came days after Lamar McKay, the head of BP in America, was promoted to head of global exploration and production.
“The critical question is whether this is a shot across BP’s bows to get a settlement, or a more sustained stance, in which case the importance of the context is underlined by comments from BP’s chief financial officer, Brian Gilvary, in a recent conference call that such actions could ‘affect BP’s investment thesis in US’.”
But Joe Lampel, professor of strategy at the Cass Business School in London, said while the ban was a blow to BP the damage should be relatively limited.
“This suspension should be seen as an additional penalty rather than a pressure tactic that the US government often uses when it wants to force firms to concede liability. We do not know how long the ban will last, but I suspect that it will be lifted after a sufficient grace period has passed.”
In its attempt to consign Deepwater to the past, BP has agreed to pay $7.8bn to settle private claims stemming from the spill, and with the plea deal reached earlier this month, had hoped to limit its criminal liability. It is still on the hook for up to $21bn for environmental damage to the Gulf. Wednesday’s move by the EPA presents an additional complication.
Meanwhile, two BP rig supervisors appeared in a New Orleans court on Wednesday to be formally charged with manslaughter in the deaths of 11 workers aboard the rig. The supervisors, Donald Vidrine and Robert Kaluza, are accused of ignoring abnormal pressure readings seen as a red flag of a well blow-out.
Kaluza told reporters just before his hearing that he was innocent of the charges. “I think about the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon every day. But I did not cause the tragedy,” he told reporters at the court. “I am innocent and I put my trust, reputation and future in the hands of the judge and jury.”
A former BP executive David Rainey was charged separately for allegedly lying to Congress about the amount of oil that was gushing from the well. All three men were expected to plead not guilty.
The EPA action was positively received by a number of key players, including former senator Bob Graham, who had chaired the White House oil spill commission. “I can’t put a dollar figure on what that would mean but I would assume that access to one of the larger reserves of petroleum in the world – which the Gulf of Mexico is – would have some economic consequences. And the longer the prohibition, the greater the consequences,” Graham told the Guardian.
He went on to praise the Obama administration for holding the oil company to account.
“I think sending a very strong signal that the federal government is going to be a much better steward of public property and that those who are permitted to explore and then potentially exploit those public properties are going to have to conduct themselves by world-class standards,” Graham said.
Campaign groups also applauded the move by the EPA. But the Oceana conservation group said the tough line from the Obama administration was undercut by its decision to go ahead with new lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday.
“We are pleased that BP is being penalised for the irresponsible actions,” said Matt Dundas, the campaign director. But he went on: “Overall, President Obama is missing the lesson of the Deepwater Horizon disaster which is that offshore drilling is inherently dirty and dangerous and needs to be phased out.”
(Truthout) -NGOs slammed Walmart over a fire that killed at least 112 workers at a Bangladesh factory that supplied apparel for the retail giant. While Walmart says it has not confirmed that it has any relationship to the factory, photos provided to The Nation show piles of clothes made for one of its exclusive brands.
In a statement e-mailed Sunday night, Walmart expressed sympathy for the victims’ families, and said that it was “trying to determine if the factory has a current relationship with Walmart or one of our suppliers…” The company called fire safety “a critically important area of Walmart’s factory audit program,” and said that it has been “working across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh.” Walmart added that it has “partnered with several independent organizations to develop and roll out fire safety training tools for factory management and workers.”
But in a Monday interview, Workers Rights Consortium Executive Director Scott Nova said Walmart’s “culpability is enormous. First of all they are the largest buyer from Bangladesh” and so “they make the market.” Nova said Bangladesh has become the world’s second largest apparel supplier “because they’ve given Walmart and its competitors what they want, which is the cheapest possible labor costs.”
“So Walmart is supporting, is incentivizing, an industry strategy in Bangladesh: extreme low wages, non-existent regulation, brutal suppression of any attempt by workers to act collectively to improve wages and conditions,” Nova told The Nation. “This factory is a product of that strategy that Walmart invites, supports, and perpetuates.” The WRC is a labor monitoring group whose board is composed of students, labor organizations, and university administrators.
The fire started Saturday night in a ground floor warehouse. According to media reports, the factory’s emergency exits were insufficient in number and unsafe in design, routing through the inside, rather than the outside, of the building. Some workers survived on the factory’s roof; several jumped out of the building. A lack of safe fire exits contributed to the death toll in New York’s notorious 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.
A document on the website of the factory’s owner, Tuba Group, showed that the factory had received an “orange” rating from Walmart in May 2011, due to “violations and/or conditions that were deemed to be high risk.” The same document said that three such ratings within two years would result in a year-long suspension by Walmart.
“Obviously, they didn’t do anything about it,” said Nova. He called Walmart’s internal monitoring system “a joke” that was “set up to enable Walmart to claim that it’s policing, without in any way, shape or form inconveniencing its production process.”
A Walmart spokesperson told the New York Times that the retail giant had been “unable to confirm” the veracity of Tuba Group document, or whether Tazreen Fashions, the Tuba Group subsidiary running the factory, was supplying any Walmart goods.
But photos taken after the fire taken the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, provided to The Nation by the International Labor Rights Forum, show clothing with Walmart’s exclusive Faded Glory label (photos below). Nova accused Walmart of intentionally dragging its feet on admitting its connection to the factory, in hopes that by the time the connection is confirmed, the media will have lost interest.
WRC’s Nova said that Bangladesh’s deadly labor conditions are a direct consequence of Walmart’s business model. If a factory “really followed the law,” said Nova, “if they allowed workers to organize and bargained a contract, if they invested in necessary health and safety equipment, if they restructured the building to make it safe, put in place sprinklers and outside fire escapes, their costs would rise, they would have to charge more for their product, and they would immediately lose Walmart and their other customers.”
According to ILRF, Saturday’s fire had the highest death toll of any Bangladesh factory accident to date. Had it happened earlier in the day, it could have been much higher. Another Bangladesh factory fire Monday morning resulted in at least eight injuries; that factory is also a Walmart supplier, according to the WRC.
Nova said that worse death tolls are ahead if the status quo persists. “You do not need to be a fire safety expert to realize that a factory like this is dangerous…” said Nova. “And yet there is no evidence that Walmart has taken any meaningful action to improve their safety practices in the supply chain in Bangladesh.”
The fire comes eight months after the body of Bangladeshi labor activist Aminul Islam was found dead and apparently tortured. Islam was working to organize the Bangladeshi garment factory’s workers and to expose their conditions in international media. “It’s virtually certain that somebody acting at the behest of the government or industry killed him,” said Nova. In an interview following his death, Islam’s co-worker Kalpona Akter told The Nation that “workers do not have their voice in the workplace,” that major companies’ monitoring “is so poor,” and that the brands “should really take some responsibility.”
The WRC’s criticisms were echoed by other non-profits, including the Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign, which charged in a Sunday statement that major brands’ “failure to take action amounts to criminal negligence.”
Walmart has come under repeated scrutiny for the labor conditions at its suppliers. In June, guest workers at C.J.’s Seafood went on strike over alleged forced labor conditions; after initially saying it had investigated and couldn’t substantiate the accusations, Walmart eventually suspended the supplier. In September, Human Rights Watch releases a report finding widespread debt bondage at the Phatthana shrimp company in Thailand, and accusing Walmart of offering shifting and contradictory explanations of its relationship to the company.
“The only way factories in Bangladesh can survive, given the prices that the western brands are willing to pay, is to operate unsafely,” said Nova. “And that’s why you get fires. And for all of their rhetoric about corporate social responsibility and all of these monitoring programs and audits, brands and retailers will not pay one penny more for factories.”
Update (7 PM Monday, November 26): In a new statement released Monday evening, Walmart said that at the time of the fire, the factory “was no longer authorized to produce merchandise for Walmart” and said that a supplier had “subcontracted work to this factory without authorization and in direct violation of our policies.”
Walmart said that it had terminated the rogue supplier today, and added, “The fact that this occurred is extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh.” In response to an inquiry from The Nation regarding the identity of the supplier, when the factory ceased to be authorized, and whether Walmart continued to pay for work performed there after the authorization ended, a Walmart official said the company is not commenting beyond the new statement.
Interviewed following that statement, Liana Foxvog, the Director of Organizing for the International Labor Rights Forum, said she did not have the information “to evaluate whether or not Walmart is telling the truth,” but that if the company’s claim is accurate, it reflects poorly on its oversight of supplier compliance with local safety and labor laws, and with its own Code of Conduct.
Foxvog added that the remedy to dire safety issues should not have been “to keep the results of its inspections hidden and to walk away from workers who are working in a death trap factory.” Instead, said Foxvog, Walmart should “pay sufficient prices” and “require the factories to come into compliance.” She said Bangladesh factories “often feel like they have to cut corners in order to make products at the low prices” expected by top brands.
Asked Monday evening about Walmart’s latest statement, Nova e-mailed, “Walmart is a company whose foundational corporate principle is precise control of supply chain logistics and information. Now, after equivocating for 48 hours, they tell the world that they are shocked to discover that their goods were being made at the Tazreen factory.” Nova noted Walmart’s refusal to identify “the supplier responsible for this supposed unauthorized subcontracting, or any other details about how Walmart goods miraculously found their way to Tazreen.” “Whatever Walmart now claims,” added Nova, “what we know for sure is that Walmart goods were being produced at this factory and that Walmart is responsible for protecting the rights and safety of workers who make Walmart clothes.”
WASHINGTON (AP) — Authorities say three maintenance workers were seriously injured after a fire broke out at the State Department headquarters in Washington.
D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman Lon Walls said the fire broke out at around 11 a.m. Saturday in the ductwork on the 7th floor. Workers were able to put out the fire before firefighters arrived, but three people suffered burns.
Walls said one person suffered life-threatening injuries and two others had serious but non-life-threatening injuries. All three were taken to Washington Hospital Center.
State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the fire broke out during routine maintenance to a mechanical area of the building. She said the building was briefly evacuated and then reopened.
(Daily Tech)- Humanitarian group predicts war crimes and worse if robot AIs are trained to target and kill humans
Thus far, no nation has produced a fully autonomous robotic soldier.
I. Human Rights Watch Warns of Robotic War Crimes
However, many observers fear we are creeping towards an era in which automated killing machines are a staple of the battlefield. The U.S. and other nations have been actively developing land, air, and sea unmanned vehicles. Most of these machines are imbued with some degree of artificial intelligence and operate in a semi-autonomous fashion. However, they currently have a human operator in the loop, (mostly) in control.
But experts fear that within 20 to 30 years artificial intelligence and military automation will have advanced to the point where nations consider deploying fully automated war robots to kill their enemies.
International humanitarian group and war-crimes watchdog Human Rights Watch has published a 50-page report entitled “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots“, which calls on world governments to install a global ban on autonomous killing robots, similar to current prohibitions on the use of chemical warfare agents.
Current generation war robots, like the MAARS robot, have a human operator in the loop.
[Image Source: Wired]
Comments Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch, “Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far. Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimizing civilian deaths and injuries. It is essential to stop the development of killer robots before they show up in national arsenal. As countries become more invested in this technology, it will become harder to persuade them to give it up.”
II. Ban the ‘Bots
The groups address the counter-argument — that robotic warfare saves the lives of soldiers — arguing that it makes war too convenient. They argue that an “autocrat” could turn cold, compassionless robots on killing their own civilian population. It would be much harder to convince humans to do that.
And of course science fiction fans will recognize the final concern — that their could be legitimate bugs in the AI which cause the robots to either not properly calculate a proportional response to violence, to not distinguish between civilian or soldier, or — worst of all “go Terminator” and turn on their fleshy masters.
Comments Mr. Goose, “Action is needed now, before killer robots cross the line from science fiction to feasibility.”
(Independent) – Officials in the Gulf of Mexico are investigating an explosion and a fire that broke out aboard an offshore oil platform near Grand Isle, Louisiana.
At least four people were hospitalized following the accident, according to Coast Guard officials.
A local hospital spokesman later told CNN that all four were in critical condition, adding that doctors were working to stabilize them so that they could be transferred to a specialist burns unit.
The Coast Guard meanwhile said two people were missing, while a CBS News affiliate in Houston reported that two people had been killed in the explosion. The fire was reported to have been extinguished.
Although early details were sketchy, multiple outlets reported that the platform, which is owned by Black Elk Energy, was a shallow water production platform, differing from BP’s Deepwater Horizon deepwater rig which exploded in the Gulf in April 2010 and led to the worst offshore oil spill in US history.
There were no reports of a spill following the incident.
John Hoffman, the chief executive of Black Elk told the Houston Business Journal that the explosion and fire while a construction crew was finishing work on a water skimmer, which is used to separate water from oil.
A Coast Guard official, meanwhile, told a local TV station that 28 people were believed to have been aboard the Black Elk rig. Captain Peter Gautier added that a major environmental disaster was not expected, as the right was not actively producing oil.
The Coast Guard has set up a command center to investigate the incident.
A spokesman for Black Elk Energy could not be reached for comment.
The explosion occurred just a day after BP agreed to pay the biggest criminal penalty in US legal history after reaching a $4.53 bn settlement with US authorities over the Deepwater Horizon incident, which led to the death of 11 workers and spillage of nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf.
The company agreed to plead guilt to 14 counts of criminal misconduct to resolve all federal criminal charges stemming from the 2010 incident and claims by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the US market regulator.
(The Hill) BP has reached a $4.5 billion settlement with the U.S. government to resolve criminal and securities claims over the 2010 well blowout and explosion that claimed 11 lives and touched off what became the biggest spill in U.S. history.
The British oil giant will pay $4 billion in fines and other payments, the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history, to resolve claims with the Justice Department over the accident that badly harmed Gulf ecosystems and reshaped U.S. offshore drilling policy. The Justice Department’s civil case against BP over the spill, however, remains ongoing.
The company will pay $525 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission to resolve separate claims.
BP also agreed to plead guilty to 11 counts of felony manslaughter and several other charges, the Justice Department announced.
“There can be no question that this historic announcement represents a critical step forward and underscores the Justice Department’s determination to stand with Gulf Coast communities,” said Attorney General Eric Holder, noting that the deal includes $2.4 billion for Gulf Coast environmental restoration and conservation efforts.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said that he hopes BP’s guilty plea to the manslaughter charges “brings some measure of justice to the family members of the people who died onboard the rig.”
Beyond BP’s criminal plea, the Justice Department announced that it is charging the two highest-ranking BP supervisors on the Deepwater Horizon rig with multiple counts of manslaughter.
BP chief executive Bob Dudley said the company accepts responsibility for its actions. “All of us at BP deeply regret the tragic loss of life caused by the Deepwater Horizon accident as well as the impact of the spill on the Gulf coast region,” he said in a statement.
The April 2010 blowout of the Deepwater Horizon rig altered the politics and regulation of offshore drilling in the U.S.
The White House, after the spill, backed off plans to allow oil-and-gas leasing off the Atlantic Coast, where formal bans expired in 2008.
It also led to a temporary freeze on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico that faced strong GOP and industry criticism.
The Interior Department also overhauled its long-troubled offshore drilling branch after the spill and toughened safety regulations.
In addition to the plea on manslaughter charges, BP is also pleading guilty to a felony charge of obstruction of Congress over what BP told lawmakers about how much oil was gushing from the blown-out Macondo well, which took 87 days to bring under control.
Other pleas include one misdemeanor count each under the Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Rep. Edward Markey (Mass.), a senior Democrat who during the spill expressed concern that the company was low-balling the amount of oil coming from the blown-out well, called the fines and penalties “appropriate.”
“People died, BP lied to Congress, and millions of barrels of oil poured into the Gulf. This steep cost to BP will provide the Gulf Coast some of the funds needed to restore the region, and will hopefully deliver some comfort and closure to the families and businesses affected by the spill,” Markey said.
The Justice Department on Thursday also announced the indictment of a former BP executive, David Rainey, for allegedly obstructing a congressional investigation and making false statements to law enforcement officials.
“The indictment alleges that Rainey, on behalf of BP, intentionally underestimated the amount of oil flowing from the Macondo well,” Breuer said.
The destroyed Macondo well ultimately spewed an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil.
The $4 billion criminal settlement includes a nearly $1.3 billion fine, $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and further steps to boost the safety of its Gulf of Mexico drilling operations, among other provisions.
The $4 billion will be paid out over five years, while the SEC payments will unspool over three years, BP said.
But the criminal settlement won’t be the end of the legal road for BP over the months-long spill.
It won’t cover federal civil claims, including Clean Water Act claims, federal and state Natural Resource Damages claims, state economic loss claims or private civil claims outside the broad, multibillion-dollar settlement agreement with private plaintiffs announced in March, BP said Thursday.
Holder emphasized that the Obama administration’s actions against BP are “far from over.”
He noted BP could face billions of dollars in additional fines from an ongoing civil case in which the government is seeking to show that BP was “grossly negligent” in causing the spill.
“In that lawsuit, we are seeking civil penalties and a judgment that BP and others are liable for removal costs and natural resource damages – exposure that could amount to billions of dollars,” Holder said during a press conference announcing the criminal settlement in New Orleans.
But BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said Thursday that BP will “vigorously defend the company against the remaining civil claims.”
Multiple probes of the disaster have shed light on a number of missteps by BP, Deepwater Horizon rig owner Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton, the oilfield services company that handled the cementing of BP’s ill-fated Macondo well.
“Better management by BP, Halliburton and Transocean would almost certainly have prevented the blowout by improving the ability of individuals involved to identify the risks they faced, and to properly evaluate, communicate and address them,” an outside commission established by the White House said in an early 2011 report.
A separate joint probe by the Interior Department and U.S. Coast Guard faulted also all three companies in a 2011 report. It included tough words for BP, noting “cost or time saving decisions without considering contingencies and mitigation were contributing causes of the Macondo blowout.”
BP, in announcing the settlement Thursday, also sought to ensure blame is shared with other companies involved in the accident.
“Today’s agreement is consistent with BP’s position in ongoing civil litigation that this was an accident resulting from multiple causes, involving multiple parties, as found by other official investigations,” the company said
(jpost) Iran launched large-scale air defense drills in the country’s eastern half on Monday, Iranian media reported, amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington over a military incident in the Gulf reported last week..
The “Velayat-4″ maneuvers being held this week will span 850,000 square kilometres in Iran’s northeast, east, and southeast regions, or about half its total land mass. The maneuvers will include about 8,000 troops, drawn both from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and as its regular military, Iranian media reported.
“Various kinds of fixed, mobile, and tactical long-range radars, and fixed, tactical and airborne electronic surveillance systems will participate in this exercise,” said Farzad Esmaili, who heads Iran’s air defense headquarters, according to state news agency IRNA.
The exercise will also test Iran’s bombers, refueling planes, and unmanned aircraft, Esmaili said.
The Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) said on Monday that F-4, F-5, F-7, and F-14 fighter will participate in the exercise.
Missile and artillery systems will also be tested, Shahrokh Shahram, spokesman for the drills, told IRNA on Sunday, and the drills will also focus on improving coordination between Iran’s military and the IRGC, a powerful domestic and international actor separate from the regular military.
Last week, the US Pentagon said Iranian warplanes opened fire on an unarmed US drone over international waters on November 1.
Iran said it had repelled an aircraft violating its airspace.
The incident underlined the risk of escalation in tensions between the United States and Iran in an ongoing dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Although the Iranian air drills come just days after the Pentagon’s announcement, the exercises appear to have been planned well in advance. In September, Esmaili told ISNA that Iran was planning a large-scale air defense drill in the coming months.
On Sunday, Revolutionary Guards commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh said Iran believed the US drone was gathering intelligence on oil tankers off its shores, according to the Mehr news agency.
Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Guards, said his forces had acted well in repelling the drone.
“Iran’s air defense systems and IRGC fighter jets did their job and forced the aircraft out of Iran’s skies,” Jafari said on Sunday, according to Iran’s English-language Press TV. “If such intrusions take place in the future, we will protect our airspace.”
Washington, the EU and other bodies have imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil trade to press it to halt nuclear research the West fears is aimed at developing the capability to build a nuclear bomb.
The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action against Iran, if diplomacy fails to resolve the row.
Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear work is purely for peaceful purposes. Iranian officials have threatened to strike US military bases in the region and target Israel if its nuclear sites are attacked.
Iran has carried out a number of military simulations this year, including the “Great Prophet 7″ missile exercises in July.
In August, Iran announced that it had tested a short-range missile with a new guidance system capable of striking land and sea targets.
(APP)As he lights up a Marlboro and takes a slow drag before exhaling, Brian Sotelo is a man who has finally reached his breaking point.
Anger drips from every word as he peers out at the tops of the white tents rising over the trees in the distance. The depth of despair in his eyes is difficult to fathom.
And he makes it clear he’s was not going down without a fight.
We stood and talked in the cool morning air a short distance up the road after security at the front gate threatened to have our cars removed outside the entrance to what Sotelo’s identification tag calls “Camp Freedom,” even though it more closely resembles a prison camp.
A Seaside Heights resident who was at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River with his wife and three kids a half-hour before the shelter opened as superstorm Sandy approached last week, Sotelo was part of a contingent shifted on Wednesday to this makeshift tent city in the parking lot across Oceanport Avenue from Monmouth Park.
“Sitting there last night you could see your breath,” said Sotelo. “At (Pine Belt) the Red Cross made an announcement that they were sending us to permanent structures up here that had just been redone, that had washing machines and hot showers and steady electric, and they sent us to tent city. We got (expletive).
“The elections are over and here we are. There were Blackhawk helicopters flying over all day and night. They have heavy equipment moving past the tents all night.”
Welcome to the part of the disaster where people start falling through the cracks.
No media is allowed inside the fenced complex, which houses operations for JCP&L’s army of workers from out of the area. The FEMA website indicated on Monday that there had been a shelter for first responders, utility and construction workers to take a break, although the compound now contains a full-time shelter operated by the state Department of Human Services.
Sotelo scrolls through the photos he took inside the facility as his wife, Renee, huddles for warmth inside a late-model Toyota Corolla stuffed with possessions, having to drive out through the snow and slush to tell their story. The images on the small screen include lines of outdoor portable toilets, of snow and ice breaching the bottom of the tent and an elderly woman sitting up, huddled in blankets.
All the while, a black car with tinted windows crests the hill and cruises by, as if to check on the proceedings.
As Sotelo tells it, when it became clear that the residents were less than enamored with their new accommodations Wednesday night and were letting the outside world know about it, officials tried to stop them from taking pictures, turned off the WiFi and said they couldn’t charge their smart phones because there wasn’t enough power.
“My 6-year-old daughter Angie was a premie and has a problem regulating her body temperature,” Sotelo noted. “Until 11 (Wednesday) night they had no medical personnel at all here, not even a nurse. After everyone started complaining and they found out we were contacting the press, they brought people in. Every time we plugged in an iPhone or something, the cops would come and unplug them. Yet when they moved us in they laid out cable on the table and the electricians told us they were setting up charging stations. But suddenly there wasn’t enough power.”
All of this is merely the last straw for a 46-year-old on disability, with two rods and 22 staples in his back.
“The staff at the micro-city are providing for the needs of all the evacuees,” said Nicole Brossoie, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services. “Each day there is transportation to the pharmacy for prescription medications, if needed. There are ADA (handicapped-accessible) toilets and showers on site.
“There were concerns with the heat when evacuees first arrived. Those issues were resolved within a couple of hours by adding more heaters.”
Sotelo’s seen the home he rents on Kearney Avenue even though residents have yet to be allowed back, having been enlisted as a driver for the Red Cross.
He was on the barrier islands the day after the storm, as a matter of fact. There had been a foot of water in his place. That’s it. And now he’s left to wonder why he’s still not allowed back.
Even without gas or electric, he figures it has to be better than this place.
“Everybody is angry over here. It’s like being prison,” said Sotelo, who grew up in Wayne. “I’ve been working since I was 10. I’ve been on my own since I was 16. And for things to be so bad that it’s pissing me off, that tells you something.”
After a night of restless sleep in which his cot actually broke at one point, landing him on the floor, what Sotelo wants are answers and action. He wants to go home, and until that happens he wants a little respect.
Finally, he tosses his cigarette butt aside and sidles back into the driver’s seat of his car, ready to head back through the gates of the encampment, as confused and frustrated as ever about his future.
Severe weather cripples the Northeastern US in what some say was a geoengineered super storm.
By Shepard Ambellas
November 8, 2012
Parts of the Northeastern US were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in the last week, causing widespread damage and knocking power out for upwards of 10 days.
Now, residents are battling a new storm front that has brought record early snowfall, extreme winds, and temperatures.
As many as 200,000 homes reportedly lost power Thursday morning as a result of the storm.
Residents along the coastline of New York and New Jersey were evacuated. No one knows for sure how many more will be displaced.
This is a massive Nor’ Easter storm that has struck before the usual season, differing from the normal weather patterns that we usually see.
NBC reported record snowfall totals that were recorded across the area:
- New York’s Central Park received 4.4 inches of snow on Wednesday — a record for a Nov. 7 and the earliest 4-inch total in the park’s history, NBCNewYork.com reported. By Thursday morning the total had reached 4.7 inches.
- A record snowfall of 2 inches was set at Newark, N.J., breaking the old record of a trace amount set in 1981.
- Bridgeport, Conn., received 3.5 inches of snow, beating the Nov. 7 record of 2 inches set in 1953.
Some areas inland got 12 to 13 inches of snow.
In New York, the situation remains tense, with FEMA Centers actually closed due to the bad weather.
The WSJ reported. “The Long Island Power Authority was reporting that nearly 40,000 of its customers had lost power in the new storm. At least another 11,000 Con Edison customers had been knocked out in the new round of bad weather, with the worst damage in Westchester County.”
These are very tough times for citizens all across the Northeast and the fact that FEMA is so incompetent that they can’t keep their centers open during a storm is furthering the suffering of citizens throughout the storm ravaged area.
Because the FEMA centers were located with food distribution and warming services, some residents who arrived there were confused by the closed centers.
The city’s food distribution centers, a lifeline for the thousands left without power, heat and water for more than a week, would only be operating until noon Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced.
And the National Guard, which was handing out food and water in Coney Island also shut down at 1:30 p.m. because of the weather, but continued handing out water to the line of approximately 30 people.
A spokemsan for the New York National Guard, Eric Durr, said that he could not comment on that specific instance but “we instructed our troops to pay attention to the weather and don’t take unecessary risks.”
Still, he said the guard would continue to provide relief as long as was needed.
In Staten Island, a printed paper sign taped to the front door of on the center at 6581 Hylan Blvd. at 10:30 a.m. read “FEMA Center Closed Due to Weather.”
The front doors of the disaster recovery center, which is housed inside the Mount Lorretto Catholic Youth Organization, were unlocked, but there was no staff anywhere in sight for at least a half an hour.
And a set of buses which served as a pair of warming centers at the site for the past several days were missing, according to non-FEMA volunteers who continued to hand out supplies from a nearby building despite the storm.
Still as of Thursday morning many FEMA Centers remain closed.
(Lew Rockwell) Vast social revolutions and wars are often preceded by periods of giving up on reforms, despairing withdrawal from public life by the best and brightest, and even peacefulness which seems to have become the normal condition in spite of deep conflicts and growing crises beneath the surfaces of public life. Often, earlier periods of intense conflicts and crises have been overcome and resolved, so it comes to look like that is the normal in life. This lulls most people into assuming their worse fears cannot happen, but this leads them to lowering their guards against growing conflicts and crises, so small ones can more easily cascade down into massive ones. If people expected they could become vast wars or revolutions or implosions, they would take more precautions to prevent that. But when lulled in expecting the worst cannot happen, the worst than they could ever imagine often explodes suddenly.
The cataclysmic French Revolution came after many decades of attempted reforms and conflicts which people had come to think of as unending. It started with new attempts at reforms, then incidents that did not seem so important, then all of it a sudden it exploded. WWI came after so many decades of peace in Europe, in spite of imperial conflicts around the world and an arms race, that most people thought a major war was impossible. Then a single murder in the far away Balkans set in motion an explosive cascade of events that led to a cataclysmic war. The Russian Revolution was preceded by such a long “lull” encouraged by European peace and reforms by the tsar that even Lenin was near despair and was living abroad. After several years of WWI and growing poverty at home, the Russian front imploded and a small event at home triggered a revolution that started small and democratic and then exploded into one of the vastest social revolutions in history. The beginning of WWII on the crucial German-French front was so quiet for so many months after France and Britain had declared war on Germany after it invaded Poland that it was called the “Sitzen Krieg” in Germany, the sit-down war, then it exploded as Germany invaded through the Ardennes. This was repeated near the end of the war as Germany built up its forces secretly for attacking through the Ardennes again.
The American Revolution looked very unlikely until that fateful British march to Concord and Lexington to enforce gun control laws. Then it exploded. The conflicts between the North and South had been so intense for so many decades, off and on, and then resolved again and again by major compromises that the Ante-Bellum period of the 1850’s seemed another replay of that scenario. Then all of a sudden there was a small incident near Charleston, moves to secession, calling up the Northern troops and an explosion of war vastly more ghastly than Americans imagined possible. War between Japan and Germany and the U.S. had been put off so many times and so long that Pearl Harbor came as quite a shock to most Americans. The 9/11 attacks on the U.S. were just as shocking all over again.
In the early years of this new century, the U.S. had used soaring paper money and paper-asset inflation to fuel a great Bubble and apparent “prosperity” over twenty years and repeated crises [1980, 1987, 1990, 2000] were ended by pumping out more paper money and inflating assets [both paper and houses after the Nasdaq Crash in 2000] that the Fed and almost all economists and Bankers and speculators declared we had entered an Age of The Great Moderation in which financial crises were impossible, as Bernanke declared with gusto. Then housing and stocks started slowly cascading down, then did so more rapidly, then one Big Bank was hit by a sudden crisis and had to be “saved” from implosion, then others followed, then suddenly one weekend Lehman imploded and the the whole top of the U.S. financial system imploded and had to be taken over by the U.S. to save it from what looked like total implosion. The Great Moderation was suddenly replaced by The Greatest Global Financial Crisis in history. Europe and the rest of the world soon followed the U.S. into growing crisis.
By pouting out vast and soaring trillions and using vast distortions of the System [such as Quantitative Easing by the Fed] to hold the System up, they managed in the past several years to stop the accelerating cascade down and have kept it bumping along the bottom in official statistics like the GDP and unemployment, while the debts and distortions and all the real crises keep growing. The apparent bump up in the official stats on GDP are an illusion, below the real rate of inflation for GDP, while real unemployment and all the other real economic crises keep growing.
But nations, like individuals and groups and companies, cannot simply drift downward faster and faster into worse and worse crises they patch up but cannot escape or reverse. We’ve been doing that now for decades, as France and Russia did before their vast social Revolutions, as the nations did during long decades of peaceful imperial conflicts before the utterly immense conflicts of the American Civil War, WWI and WWII. There comes a time finally when the accelerating crises and sufferings and rages become too much to bear and something, often a seemingly small event like a murder of a young man in the Balkans, or an attack by “hotheads” on a small fort near Charleston, sets off an explosive cascade of events that quickly leads to a vast social explosion.We’re now in a lull before a vast, revolutionary storm. The U.S. is sinking faster and faster in all the ways vital to the future of our society, from the The Great Global Economic-Financial Crisis which the U.S. produced with insane Big Bank speculations and corruption to educational decline and bureaucratic strangulation to losing imperial wars around the world to political deadlock. I’m sure any intelligent American who is honest with himself can quickly write down a long list of the crucial ways in which the U.S. is declining now. Maybe half of Americans are too ignorant about the world or lack the intelligence to see all of this Big Picture of Crisis and Decline. They are confused and mad and despairing and see no way out, but assume the Republicrat System will go on and on and are trying merely to fit in and keep or get a job with a livable wage for them and their families. Even some knowledgeable and intelligent people see what is happening but see no exit and despair and simply withdraw and hide from it all, implicitly or explicitly assuming The System will just keep getting worse and worse and never end.
The U.S. is now rushing downward along all vital dimensions of social life. If this continues much longer, the U.S. will simply implode and that will lead to vast social revolution or revolutions. But maybe the vast social revolution will come before implosion.
The one thing we can be sure of is that we have sunk so far so long and are now accelerating down so fast that this cannot continue long without producing an implosion or a vast social revolution.
November 7, 2012
Jack D. Douglas [send him mail] is a retired professor of sociology from the University of California at San Diego. He has published widely on all major aspects of human beings, most notably The Myth of the Welfare State.
(refreshingnews99) America reasserted its trust in President Barack Obama after he won a second straight tenure in the White House. In line with projections, the incumbent Democrat President had a close fight with his Republican challenger Mitt Romney. However, Obama managed to squeeze out a narrow victory by going past the 270 electoral votes mark ahead of Romney even as results from some key swing states are still awaited.
As of per the latest projections, Obama is expected to win 281 votes as against 201 by Romney.
As soon as it became clear that he will win over be re-elected, Obama tweeted: “We are all in this together. That’s how we campaigned, that’s who we are. Thank You.”
Seconds later he tweeted again with a picture of him hugging Michelle. The tweet read: “Four more years.”
The battle was close by all standards but Obama maintained a slender lead right from the beginning and built up omit by winning important swing states Michigan and Pennsylvania. Obama has also won Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Illinois, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Washington DC.
Although the results from Ohio and Florida are yet to come in but given the huge lead Obama has over Republican Romney, the incumbent President will continue doing the most powerful job in the world. In both states, Obama and Romney are engaged in a neck-to-neck fight with the difference between the two as little as 1.5 to 2% in Obama’s favour.
As per CNN projection, Obama will also win Wisconsin, North Carolina, Iowa, Oregon and New Mexico.
Challenger Mitt Romney gave him a tough fight after he wrested Indiana and may even also win Virginia but that may not be enough. He made inroads and won Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Wyoming Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.
At least 120 million people have voted to decide between the Democratic incumbent and Romney after a long, expensive and bitter presidential campaign centered around how to repair the ailing US economy.
Obama has a tough job in hand, the most important being to bring the economy back on track. He has pledged to raise taxes on the wealthy if he were to be re-elected, it remains to be seen whether he will be a bale to walk the talk.