In the News

In the News, August 2015

Diplomacy vs Military Might

The big story du jour is whether the U.S. should join other countries that are signing an international agreement designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. On Aug. 7, I attended an Aspen Institute forum on how the U.S. should respond to the ISIS crisis. A stellar group of speakers included senior pentagon brass, a former CIA director, former Secretary of State, former top advisors to the President, and top scholars of Islam. It went on for hours. An informal buzz word analysis revealed an alarming tendency to discuss military “solutions” far more frequently than diplomatic actions. The panel was divided on what to do. Four star general David Petraeus could not make up his mind (although more recently he announced that he would support the agreement). After all the failed military interventions in the Middle East it seemed like déjà vu all over again: some of the best and brightest still think that there are military solutions to the world’s social and political problems. They still haven’t learned that military interventions cause problems rather than solve problems. In Washington, our elected members of Congress are voting on what is best for their careers, not what is best for the country. Not a single Republican Senator will support diplomacy. If you want to see what might happen if we don’t sign on, read this thoughtful Op-Ed in the LATimes by Joseph Cirincione, head of Ploughshares.

Reflecting on President Jimmy Carter

A few days after announcing that he now has brain cancer, Pres. Carter taught his regular Sunday school lesson at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. It is sad how many political pundits have caricatured his presidency, portrayed him as an inept clown, and overlooked his accomplishments. Unlike some other recent presidents who really were clowns, Carter is likely to go down in history as a great president. Here’s why. 

Oliver Sach’s Parting Words

Another distinguished person suffering from cancer is in the news.  Oliver Sachs, best-selling author, neuroscientist, and authority on the nature of conscious experience died today, August 30. Maybe you read (along with millions) The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. A month ago, he wrote about his own periodic table and the grander scheme of life on Earth.

Why Do Teachers Quit?

We hear that there is a big teacher shortage, perhaps explained by the fact that so many quit. Statistics show that about 17% leave the profession after the first five years. The rate is much higher in urban schools. Is it long hours and low pay? Or is it because of bad administrators who force them to slavishly follow formulas produced by politicians? Read all about it in the LAT.

Are There Health Benefits to Drinking Lots of Water?

Do you walk around with water bottles? Did your mother tell you to drink 8 glasses of water every day? Are you resistant to facts? Read what a medical doctor has to say regarding myths about hydration.

American Exceptionalism.

It comes as no surprise that the US spends more on the military than the rest of the world combined. We can also brag that we have more guns per capita than any other country. Yea! USA #1. Of course we lag in education, health care, infant mortality, stuff like that. But now we have a new crown: the mass shooting capital of the world. We have only 5% of the world population but we have 31% of the world’s mass shooting deaths. No one else is even close! Read all about it here. 

Land of Opportunity or Land of Limitations?

Researchers are now reporting that there is less economic mobility in the United States than there is in Canada or much of Europe. Contrary to the popular myth, young people now have less mobility than previous generations. Stanford professor Sean Reardon notes that rich kids make a lot of bad choices but they don’t suffer the same consequences compared to poor kids. So let’s just drop the social Darwinism, says Nicholas Kristof. Success is not a sign of virtue and hard work. It’s mostly a sign that your grandparents did well.

New Controversy over Cholesterol Drugs.

What? Controversy in medicine???  Big time.  It is no secret that heart disease is the number one killer, and now some doctors advise everyone over 65 to take statin drugs. Other doctors worry about the 25% of statin-intolerant people who suffer from muscle deterioration, diabetes, sleep disorders, and memory loss.  Thousands of lawsuits are piling up against drug makers over this, yet Big Phama rakes in over $100 billion a year selling statin drugs.  Now comes a new class of cholesterol lowering drugs called PCSK9 inhibitors which are much more effective in reducing LDL and apparently have few side effects.  The FDA just approved Praluent and Repatha.  Slight problem:  they cost $14,000/year.  Front page story in the NYT Aug. 30.

Congressman Issa Uninformed about San Onofre Issues

Information taken from the April 6th Edition of the San Clemente Patch and can be seen here.

Darrell Issa speaks (and misspeaks) at Town Hall about his own nuclear waste dump

By ROGER JOHNSON April 6, 2015

 

Congressman Darrell Issa has been strangely silent during all the turmoil over the San Onofre nuclear power plant. If you go to his website and type in San Onofre, what pops back is “No Results.” Last summer I went to his office to ask whether he is concerned that his own District 49 has become a nuclear waste dump for the indefinite future. Same answer: his staff admitted that they knew nothing about it and could not remember him making any statements or taking any action to oppose it. I was told that his office in Washington would get right back to me but they never did. Senator Harry Reid fought furiously to prevent his state from becoming a nuclear waste dump but Darrell Issa has given up without lifting a finger.

So I was surprised about dinnertime on April Fool’s Day when I got a robo call from his office asking if I wanted to join a Darrell Issa Town Hall meeting in progress. I pushed star 3 to join the meeting and instantly the congressman was on the phone almost as if we were having a conversation. A few minutes later a staff member interrupted to screen me and asked who I was and what was my question. Then I was returned to the “meeting” and listened (you are not allowed to talk, only listen) for 30 minutes until my name was called.

I said good evening to the congressman and told him that residents in his district are concerned that as of last August we have been designated by the NRC to become a nuclear waste dump for the indefinite future. That is nearly 2,000 tons of uranium and plutonium stored above ground in temporary canisters in a tsunami and earthquake fault zone in the middle of two major metropolitan areas. Anticipating that he would brush it off as the fault of Nevada Senator Harry Reid, I pointed out that Yucca Mt. is no longer an option not because of Sen. Reid but because scientists concluded that there is no known technology to protect the canisters from underground water penetration which would cause radioactive releases. Moreover, the Dept. of Energy says that Yucca Mt. is far too small to hold the massive amounts of highly-radioactive waste produced by the nation’s nuclear power plants. I asked why he is not concerned about this and why he has not done anything to oppose the plan to make his home district a nuclear waste dump.

Click. Suddenly I was cut off and the congressman took over. The way it works is that no dialogue or conversation is permitted, and once you are cut out of the “meeting” you are not allowed to speak again. Mr. Issa admitted that all the towns in his District 49 (stretching from Ladera Ranch to La Jolla) were indeed now near the nuclear waste dump. But he trivialized the danger by insisting that San Onofre was not located in either an earthquake fault or tsunami zone. This contradicts all the known facts about its location in Camp Pendleton at few hundred feet from I-5 on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other (technically it is located in San Clemente Zip Code 92672).

It is almost incomprehensible that a Congressman could be so completely uninformed about his own district. How could he not know that San Onofre is located in a large earthquake fault zone? How could he not know that it is also in a tsunami inundation zone? Tsunamis are unlikely events, but they can be triggered by undersea earthquakes which could inundate the plant. This is what happened at Fukushima: First a large earthquake which knocked out the power and damaged the plant, then a tsunami an hour later which caused even more damage. Of course the official Edison line is that San Onofre is protected by a 30 ft sea wall. They don’t tell you that this 30 ft. “seawall” exists only if an earthquake cooperates and strikes at mean low tide (they count the beach as part of the sea wall). If you walk over to the “wall” with a tape measure it is only 14 ft. high.

Note to Congressman Issa: Please spend less time in Washington and become more familiar with your home district. Here is tsunami inundation map which includes your District 49. For a close up showing San Onofre click here.  If you want to see the Fukushima tsunami, check out this video. If you want to see what it did to Santa Cruz 14 hours later, watch this.

Speaking of ocean dangers, radionuclides from Japan are now less than 100 miles off the California coast.They have traveled all the way across the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima where radionuclides were washed into the sea. Dr. Ken Buesseler, Senior Scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has been studying this for years.On March 9 he gave a presentation which I attended at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Troubled Fukushima now has 158 million gallons of contaminated water stored in tanks and it is now considering dumping it all into the ocean.Dr. Buesseler has focused only on two of the radionuclides, Cesium 134 and 137.The radioactivity off our beaches is measurable, but he assures us that it is not a public health hazard.

As for earthquake fault zones, here are some California fault zone and fault activity maps. Zoom in to see the locations of all the faults.  You can also checkout SoCalHiker.net which tells you how to follow the Cristianitos Fault line right to San Onofre where you can find the Survey Marker (see photo) of the US Army Corps of Engineers. Another big fault danger is the Newport-Englewood-Rose Canyon Fault which runs down the coast just off shore from San Onofre. The LA Times called this fault among the most hazardous in the country . This fault is estimated to be capable of a 7.5 to 8.0 quake, far more powerful than San Onofre was designed to withstand. The plant was designed to withstand only a 6.5 quake and was later retrofitted for 7.0 quakes. Remember that the Richter Earthquake Scale is a logarithmic rather than linear scale. A 5.0 earthquake, for example, has a shaking amplitude 10 times a 4.0 quake and the energy release would be 31.6 times greater.

Issa then went on to dismiss the dangers of dry cask storage. He stated (mistakenly) that Edison has been relying on cask storage for many decades with no problems so therefore they are completely safe. His reasoning is that if they haven’t failed by now they will be completely safe in the future. First of all, no one knows if they are damaged or cracked because there is no way to test this (and Edison has never tried). Second, Edison started dry cask storage only in the fall of 2003, just 12 years ago. The casks are licensed for only 20 years and the NRC says they hope casks will last more than 30. Will they last another 50 years? Probably not. It takes only one rupture to trigger mass evacuations in Southern California. The current NRC plan calls for keeping the highly radioactive waste on site for 60 years and two centuries after that if necessary. The NRC conveniently defines 60 years as “short term” which means that for any adult reading this, the waste will be with us for the rest of your lifetime.

If you are impressed with government and industry promises about nuclear safety, consider what happened at WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, NM), the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository. It was highly touted as the nation’s showcase on how to deal with nuclear waste. They said it would last 10,000 years but guess what? It failed in only 15 years. It suffered fires, explosions, and radiation leaks and is now closed. Billions of tax payer money is now being spent in an effort to reopen it someday. Even if it reopens, the facility is only for military waste and will not solve any problems of nuclear power plant waste. Anyone who wishes to know more about the dangers of nuclear waste inventories or storage risks should visit SanOnofreSafety.org and if you want to know about nuclear waste incidents and accidents that the industry does not want you to know about, click here.

Could it be that Darrell Issa and his staff get their information from his campaign contributors seeking special favors? A quick search of Maplight.Org (a website devoted to exposing the influence of money on politics) reveals 141 contributions to Issa from the energy sector alone in the last two years (including numerous contributions from Edison, Koch Industries, and many oil, gas, and nuclear industries). It is not surprising that Edison gives a lot of money to Issa because Edison has a long history of buying influence with local governments, chambers of commerce, and any civic group willing to support Edison. At the Congressional level, Edison has contributed $1.3 million to members of Congress. Pay to play as they say in New Jersey.

It is no secret that Issa is now the richest member of Congress. Many wonder if he says nothing and does nothing about San Onofre because he is more interested in pleasing his industry donors than he is in protecting the health and safety of his constituents. It is revealing that many of his biggest supporters come from major environmental polluters. Although the nuclear industry likes to call itself “clean,” everyone knows that the radioactivity regularly discharged into the atmosphere and ocean is environmentally dirty. Have the radioactive discharges from San Onofre over that last third of a century led to excessive cases of cancer in this area? No one knows for sure because you cannot trace the origins of cell DNA mutations. We all await the results of the large epidemiological study now being done by the National Academy of Sciences to investigate cancer streaks. Particular emphasis will be placed on studying the health records of mothers and children who lived within 30 miles of San Onofre during pregnancy, early infancy, or childhood.

While the nuclear industry has convinced Issa that storing highly radioactive waste in stainless steel canisters is perfectly safe, here are just a few of the problems his staff should read up about. The thin 1/2 to 5/8 inch canisters are known to suffer from stress and corrosion cracking probably due to the intense radiation on the inside and the salty marine environment on the outside. There is no known technology to inspect the cracks either from the inside or from the outside (the plan is to wait until radiation leaks and then figure out what to do next). There is also the annoying problem that there is no known technology to repair cracks when they do appear. There is also no current technology to replace failing canisters. Handling damaged canisters would be dangerous, and opening them would have to be done only under water in deep pools but they are not even sure how to do that. And then there is the inconvenient problem that the pools are scheduled to be demolished. That means moving defective canisters long distances (the nearest nuclear power plant is in Arizona) which would be extremely dangerous. It is far better to move the canisters now than wait until they are fragile.

Another big issue is Edison’s determination to put all the waste in the thin Holtec canisters rather than the safer and more robust (and more expensive) ones made by Siempelkamp. Profits first, public safety last, same old story.

Finally, Congressman Issa ignored my comments about Yucca Mt. He continues to claim that Yucca Mt. is completely safe, thus revealing how out of touch he is. He then turned it into partisan politics and predictably insisted that Harry Reid is to blame for everything. This seemed to follow a pattern for all questions. The Congressman addresses the politics of a question rather than the substance of a question. No matter what the issue, it was quickly turned into a partisan ideologue attack on Pres. Obama and the Democrats.

Eyebrows were raised on all kinds of wild claims that Issa made on other issues during his “meeting.” When talking about the importance of avoiding agreements with Iran, Issa stressed that Israel might be defenseless because it may not have any nuclear weapons at all. Really? Why does he say this? He explains that because Israel never admitted having nuclear weapons we should assume they really don’t have them. Most experts call this the policy of “ nuclear ambiguity,” also known as “nuclear opacity.” The whole world (except for Congressman Issa) knows that Israel started testing nuclear weapons in the 1960s and now has hundreds at its disposal (read all about it starting with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapons_and_Israel).

According to a recent piece in the LA Times, Issa’s divisive and confrontational style is now waning, even in his own party ( http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/la-na-darrell-issa-20150321-story.html#page=1). When his term on the House Oversight Committee expired, his portraits were quickly removed and placed in an antechamber next to a coat rack. Some of his committee members remember his term in office as filled with acrimony, partisanship and vulgar displays which were a stain on the committee’s integrity and an embarrassment to the House of Representatives. Anyone who wants to read more about Issa’s political history can find it chronicled in several investigative reports. Click here or here .

It is no wonder that a poll in his district overwhelmingly favored naming the waste dump after Congressman Issa. A full 92% voted to name it The Darrell Issa Nuclear Waste Dump. See the survey here.What is sad is that the Congressman is in a good position to demand the removal of radioactive waste from his district to another “temporary” storage location such as an isolated, unpopulated, and secure military base. The Congressman does not seem to know that the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future strongly recommends that no nuclear waste be stored without local citizen consent. The residents of Nevada fiercely objected to having nuclear waste stored there, especially since they did not create any of it. The citizens of Orange and San Diego Counties also strongly oppose turning Southern California into a nuclear waste dump. Congressman Issa could make a big difference in demanding the removal of the waste. So far, he is one of the few in Southern California who is completely content to allow his home to become a nuclear waste dump. Why is he so silent and unresponsive to the most important issue in his home district?

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