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Archive for March 21st, 2011

Japan, nuclear industry and risk communication: where is the TEPCO chief?

Daily Kos

by DemFromCT for Daily Kos

Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 09:45 AM EDT

Yesterday, I wrote a Sunday essay entitled Japan, nuclear industry and risk communication: unfinished business, which was about the risk communication issues Japan is falling short on.

Now, Reuters is asking:

Where is Japan’s nuclear power CEO? The head of the Japanese power company at the center of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters has all but vanished from the public eye.

And many Japanese, on a knife edge waiting to see if the nuclear power plant and radiation leaks can be brought under control, are beginning to ask where he is and questioning how much he is in control of the crisis.

Masataka Shimizu, chief executive of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), has not made a public appearance in a week.

There’s a lot he’s responsible for, including overseeing the nuclear accident and taking care of the heroic workers trying to prevent a meltdown.

Reuters has some choice quotes:

“He’s making the low-ranking people do all the hard work,” said Satomi Aihara, a 46-year-old Tokyo resident. “I wonder where he’s hiding — it makes me mad.”Taro Kono, a prominent member of parliament with the Liberal Democratic Party and an opponent of nuclear power, was more blunt about TEPCO officials: “They don’t tell the truth … It’s in their DNA.”

Even Prime Minister Naoto Kan has been unable to hide his frustration. “What the hell is going on?” he was overheard telling TEPCO executives on Tuesday.

TEPCO officials say their boss is, understandably, busy.

I can’t help but think there’s a lot of people in Japan besides the news media that have even choicer quotes, including local farmers whose milk and vegetables are now contamined.

From the WSJ:

The search is being hampered by a shortage of equipment and facilities necessary for accurately measuring radioactivity in food. Also slowing the process is the absence of a central authority that can oversee the wide-reaching investigation and decide what steps should be taken.The samples are too low to have a health impact, Japanese officials said. But they represent another blow to another part of Japan’s economy resulting from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the resulting crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant

They also represent another blow to official credibility, one that cannot be ignored. The technical and health aspects of this are one thing. But this is no time for the head of the responsible company to be MIA or to cease explaining to the public where things stand. And I shudder to think what “absence of a central authority that can oversee” and make decisions means.

From National Journal’s Michael Hirsh, the distrust is clear:

Tokyo is almost certainly not telling us the full truth, which has been getting more and more embarrassing. And despite the outside sources of monitoring available, the truth may be far worse than we are being told, if history is any measure.It was especially noteworthy when, at a State Department briefing on Wednesday night, spokesman Mark Toner admitted that Washington was no longer following the guidance of its close East Asian ally. The U.S. government is now telling American citizens who live within 80 kilometers of the badly damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to evacuate the area—the Japanese government is only asking people within 20 kilometers to leave. Previously, the United States had aligned itself with the Japanese recommendations. What led to that change? Toner was asked. “Well, I mean, obviously, it’s a very fluid situation,” he said.

Hirsh talks a bit about cultural differences between Japan and the west (shame v guilt), but arguably the big cultural divide is between the nuclear power officials’ lack of transparency and the journalists. So, the situation may be fluid, and we just don’t know about the final outcome, but we do know about TEPCO’s track record (see headline graphic prepared from Japan Times online archives—the red circle is today’s front page.)

From the WSJ:

MORE HERE

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Obama’s Libya Policy Makes Strange Bedfellows Of Congressional Critics

Huff Post- Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel

First Posted: 03/21/11 03:48 AM Updated: 03/21/11 08:43 AM

WASHINGTON — As the United States expands its military imprint on the international intervention into Libyan airspace, members of Congress have begun sounding the alarm over the lack of regard being paid by the president to the legal and advisory roles of the legislative branch.

On Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered his endorsement for a no fly zone over Libya. Conspicuous in his statement, however, was the threat to disrupt future operations should the president not consult Congress first.

“Before any further military commitments are made,” Boehner said, “the Administration must do a better job of communicating to the American people and to Congress about our mission.”

A top GOP leadership aide clarified that Boehner wasn’t insisting that Obama needed congressional authorization for the use of military force in Libya. “The focus,” said the aide, “is on Congressional consultation.” At an off-camera briefing hours later, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon called such a request “fair” while arguing that it had been met by the president.

But Boehner’s remarks still underscore the domestic political limits Obama faces as he executes, what aides insist will be, a limited, internationally-led military intervention in Libya; which, this weekend, included cruise missile attacks and air strikes. While the majority of lawmakers who have spoken publicly say they support America’s involvement in the U.N.-backed mission (some Republicans wishing it had come sooner), several influential voices have argued — as Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Chair of the House Armed Services Committee did — that the President “has an obligation to explain” operational objectives to Congress.

Lower on the leadership ranks, a strange-bedfellows coalition of progressive-minded pols and Tea Party members has emerged, not only raising doubts about the underlying strategy but the legality of it as well.

“I think [the president] has a duty and an obligation to come to Congress,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah.) told The Huffington Post. “I see no clear and present danger to the United States of America. I just don’t. We’re in a bit of the fog at the moment as to what the president is trying to ultimately do.”

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Libya Military Intervention Could Last ‘Awhile,’ Top French Official Says

AP/The Huffington Post By RYAN LUCAS and HADEEL AL-SHALCHI  Posted: 03/21/11 08:46 AM

ZEITOUNIYA, Libya — The international military intervention in Libya is likely to last “awhile,” a top French official said Monday, echoing Moammar Gadhafi’s warning of a long war ahead as rebels said they were fighting to reclaim a city under the Libyan leader’s control.

(SCROLL DOWN FOR LATEST UPDATES)

Burned-out tanks and personnel carriers littered one of the main desert roads leading from the Libyan capital. A power station hit by a shell on Thursday was still burning, its blackened fuel tank crumpled, with flames and black smoke pouring out.

Oil prices held above $102 a barrel after the second night of allied strikes in the OPEC nation raised fears of prolonged fighting that has already slowed Libyan oil production to a trickle.

Henri Guaino, a top adviser to the French president, said two nights of bombing runs and missile attacks had hobbled Libya’s air defenses, stalled Gadhafi’s troops and all but ended attacks on civilians. A cruise missile late Sunday blasted Gadhafi’s residential compound near his iconic tent, and fighter jets destroyed a line of tanks moving on the rebel capital.

It was not known where Gadhafi was when the missile hit Sunday, but it seemed to show that he is not safe.

Guaino, asked how long the allied efforts would continue, replied simply: “Awhile yet.”

MORE HERE

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Glenn Beck’s Little F-Bomb “Mistake”

Crooks and Liars-  By: karoli
March 20, 2011 11:00 AM

Glenn Beck summarizes the terrible news that Socialists are now demonstrating in Chicago, the camera pans to a sign calling for the US to open their f*&king borders at about 8 seconds in. Accidental or on purpose?

Of course, he behaves as though it’s a complete accident, facepalming and saying “Oops, don’t show that to my audience!” In my opinion, it was entirely intentional to drive home his theory to his fearful doddering audience that Socialists are crude, profane, anti-American idiots.

I included the rest of the clip here, because the next part is just bizarre. Evidently in Beck’s world, electric power and heat are privileges. His reasoning for this seems to be related to the fact that there was no electric power or heat in the United States when it was formed. Um…ok.

I use Beck as a bellwether for the next wave of conservative lunacy, and more is coming. As usual, the targets are those least able to defend themselves — the poor. Beck kicks off the meme with this:

Not good. They’re ready for revolution, and they’re ready for revolution now.

It’s not good. In Detroit, the Committee Against Utility Shutoffs has staged a protest. The Committee is a branch of the Socialist Equality Party and they are saying now utilities are also a social right. I’m not sure exactly how that works because — [stutters] — except for the last 150 years we didn’t have any power at all, so how is that a universal right?

I guess Glenn wants us to go back to huntin’ bear and dressing in bearskin, eh?

As utility companies are increasingly privatized and/or run by private concerns, rates go up. As rates go up, those least able to afford them are shut off. Programs like LIHEAP are stretched beyond their capacity as it is, and speculators continue to drive prices up, shutting more and more people out of their ability to pay.

Watch for it to become the next big target. First they come for the jobs. Then they hit the pensions, home equity and savings. Finally, they shut off the lights. And Glenn Beck laughs.

WATCH VIDEO HERE

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Japan Death Toll Estimate Rises Over 18,000, Rebuilding May Cost $235 Billion

ERIC TALMADGE and MARI YAMAGUCHI   03/20/11 11:54 PM   AP

FUKUSHIMA, Japan — The toll of Japan’s triple disaster came into clearer focus Monday after police estimates showed more than 18,000 people died, the World Bank said rebuilding may cost $235 billion and more cases of radiation-tainted vegetables and tap water turned up.

Japanese officials reported progress over the weekend in their battle to gain control over a nuclear complex that began leaking radiation after suffering quake and tsunami damage, though the crisis was far from over, with a dangerous new surge in pressure reported in one of the plant’s six reactors.

The announcement by Japan’s Health Ministry late Sunday that tests had detected excess amounts of radioactive elements on canola and chrysanthemum greens marked a low moment in a day that had been peppered with bits of positive news: First, a teenager and his grandmother were found alive nine days after being trapped in their earthquake-shattered home. Then, the operator of the overheated nuclear plant said two of the six reactor units were safely cooled down.

“We consider that now we have come to a situation where we are very close to getting the situation under control,” Deputy Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said.

Still, serious problems remained at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex. Pressure unexpectedly rose in a third unit’s reactor, meaning plant operators may need to deliberately release radioactive steam. That has only added to public anxiety over radiation that began leaking from the plant after a monstrous earthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan on March 11 and left the plant unstable. As day broke Monday, Japan’s military resumed dousing of the complex’s troubled Unit 4.

The World Bank said in report Monday that Japan may need five years to rebuild from the catastrophic disasters, which caused up to $235 billion in damage, saying the cost to private insurers will be up to $33 billion and that the government will spend $12 billion on reconstruction in the current national budget and much more later.

The safety of food and water was of particular concern. The government halted shipments of spinach from one area and raw milk from another near the nuclear plant after tests found iodine exceeded safety limits. Tokyo’s tap water, where iodine turned up Friday, now has cesium. Rain and dust are also tainted.

MORE HERE

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Poll: Public already losing patience with new Congress

By David Lightman | McClatchy Newspapers

Posted on Sunday, March 20, 2011

WASHINGTON — Once again, the public is getting increasingly disgusted with Washington.

It sees a failure to adopt remedies for even the most basic, pressing issues of the day, as Congress struggles to craft a federal budget. And incumbents are getting worried about the political implications.

“It’s hurting some of us,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who’s up for re-election next year. “They blame everybody.”

A new Pew Research Center poll shows that about half of Americans think the debate over spending and deficits has been “generally rude and disrespectful.”

Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/03/20/110751/poll-public-already-losing-patience.html#ixzz1HExbAT49

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Anti-government protestors gather by the bodies of the demonstrators who were killed on Friday's clashes with Yemeni security forces, during their funeral procession in Sanaa,Yemen, Sunday, March 20, 2011. (AP Photo)

Yemen Army Commanders, Top General Defect, Join Anti-Government Protesters

AHMED AL-HAJ   03/21/11 08:43 AM   AP

SANAA, Yemen — Rival tanks deployed in the streets of Yemen’s capital Monday after three senior army commanders defected to a movement calling for the ouster of the U.S.-backed president, leaving him with virtually no support among the country’s most powerful institutions.

Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the army’s powerful 1st Armored Division, was the most senior of the three commanders to join the opposition. He announced his defection in a message delivered by a close aide to protest leaders at the Sanaa square that has become the epicenter of their movement.

Some of the tanks and armored vehicles deployed in the Sanaa square where protesters have been camping out to call for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose forces opened fire from rooftops and killed more 40 demonstrators on Friday. Others were deployed at state TV, the Central Bank and the Defense Ministry.

Saleh, who has cooperated closely with a U.S.-backed offensive against his nation’s branch of al-Qaida, looked to be far closer to what analysts increasingly have called inevitable: a choice between stepping down after 32 years in power or waging a dramatically more violent campaign against his opponents.

A senior opposition leader said contacts were underway with the president over a peaceful way out of the ongoing crisis. One option under discussion, he said, was for Saleh to step down and a military council takes over from him to run the country till presidential and legislative elections are held.

The leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the contacts, declined to say how much progress the talks have made, but gave 48 hours as the likely timeframe for a breakthrough.

Also Monday, Saleh sent his foreign minister to Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s powerful neighbor and the on-and-off backer of the Yemeni leader, with a message to King Abdullah. The contents of the message were not known.

At least a dozen tanks and armored personnel carriers belonging to the Republican Guards, an elite force led by Saleh’s son and one-time heir apparent, Ahmed, were deployed outside the presidential palace on Sanaa’s southern outskirts, according to witnesses.

The deployment appeared designed to counter the presence of elements of the 1st Armored Division elsewhere in the city.

MORE HERE

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