Newscast for Thursday, March 17, 2011

  • Growing numbers of foreign nationals leave Japan as technicians continue efforts to cool reactors
  • As assessment of the impact of nuclear radiation on civilians
  • Japan’s disaster raises concerns about US nuclear facilities and evacuation procedures
  • US lawmakers’ growing unease with war in Afghanistan
  • National Freedom of Information Day

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Government forces occupy hospital in Bahrain capital

Today in Bahrain, government forces arrested several opposition leaders, continuing a harsh crackdown on protesters. Ravina Shamdasani is from the UN office for Human Rights.

“We have been receiving dozens of calls and emails since yesterday from desperate individuals from the ground in Bahrain informing us about arbitrary arrests, about beating of protesters and most worrying is about the take over of the main Hospital in Manama as well as other medical centers by security forces.”

The UN Human Rights office says this is a blatant violation of international law.

“They have taken over the bottom floors of the hospital and the patients and medical personnel staff are having to hurdle in the top floor and these are armed men, so the medical staff are worried what their intentions are.  So what’s happening now is that injured protesters are being treated in mosques and in private homes.”

The UN also say power to the hospital has been cut off.

Libyan rebels continue to lose ground
In Libya, another difficult day for rebel forces as pro-Gadhafi soldiers attacked one of the last rebel strongholds – Benghazi.  Rebels claim to have shot down two attacking aircraft.  Libyan state television announced today government forces have taken control of Misurata.  Rebels continue to look to the international community for support.  The United Nations Security Council is considering the issue today.

New Orleans Police Department engaged in pattern of “unconstitutional conduct”
The Justice Department announced the results of a year-long civil rights investigation into the New Orleans Police Department, concluding it “engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct.”  FSRN’s Zoe Sullivan attended the announcement in New Orleans.

New Orleans has come to national attention in recent years because of egregious police brutality and corruption issues.  Thomas Perez of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division said, over the last year and a half, NOPD has used lethal force 27 times.  In each of those cases, the force was used against an African-American.  Perez said this is just one statistic that indicates the department’s discriminatory practices.

“We found regular harassment of LGBT individuals.  We found not only violations of commission that I have outlined, but violations of omission, that is the systematic failure to provide adequate policing services, for example, to residents of New Orleans who are limited English proficient.”

The investigation points to bad policies, complete lack of officer training, and poor leaderships as root causes.  Zoe Sullivan, FSRN, New Orleans.

US House votes to defund NPR
Today the US House of Representatives passed legislation forbidding local public radio stations from using Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds to pay for NPR programming.  Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn.

“I rise in strong support of HR1076, a bill to get the federal government and federal tax payers out of the business of buying radio programming they do not agree with.”

This follows a swell of anti-NPR sentiment, stemming from the recent firing of conservative commentator Juan Williams and comments made by a top NPR official about the need for federal funding.  California Democrat Henry Waxman.

“For those who complain that they don’t want content to be one way or another on the political spectrum, but to be honest and fair… the rightwing Republicans are trying to impose their view of what NPR should be saying in the content of their programming.”

Waxman said the legislation would hurt rural stations most. It will now travel to the Senate, where support will likely be more difficult to wrangle.

Michigan bill, now law, allows state to remove elected officials
Michigan’s Governor has signed legislation allowing him wide-reaching power to replace local elected officials in financial emergencies. Under the bill State Treasurer-appointed financial managers could dissolve union contracts and other municipal contracts as well. Thousands protested the bill at the Michigan capital Wednesday.

258 arrested in police brutality protest in Montreal
Police in Montreal have now released all 258 activists and journalists arrested at an International Day Against Police Brutality demonstration on Tuesday.  FSRN’s Aaron Lakoff reports.

More than 500 people assembled in Montreal Tuesday evening, demanding an end to racial and political profiling at the hands of city police.  Protesters also called for more accountability for officers accused of abusing their powers.  According to protest organizers, at least 65 people have been killed by the Montreal police since 1987.

The protest ended with riot police arresting 258 people, the majority for road-safety violations, according to the Montreal Gazette newspaper.  Montreal resident Meagan Wohlberg was among the protesters:

“Of course we couldn’t disperse because the cops had immediately kettled us in without any warning into this one block, and so there was no way out – no way out for media, no way out for protesters, no way out even for people who were just on the street, maybe shopping in one of the stores on the block.”

Most of those arrested were issued traffic tickets. This annual protest in Montreal often attracts large crowds and results in multiple arrests. This year the arrest rate was among the highest. Aaron Lakoff, FSRN, Montreal.


Growing numbers of foreign nationals leave Japan as technicians continue efforts to cool reactors
The death toll from Japan’s earthquake-tsunami continues to go up.  According to the national police its now about 5,500 with up to 10,000 still missing. Hundreds of thousands are finding temporary shelter in schools and gymnasiums as humanitarian workers struggle to reach tens of thousands of others who are running short of food and medical supplies.

In Japan today authorities renewed increasingly desperate efforts to cool down leaking reactors at the Fukushima nuclear facility. Water cannon and Chinook military helicopters have been spraying tons of sea water onto reactors to try and add water to the fuel pools. For an update on the situation there, we go to Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Maryland.

As assessment of the impact of nuclear radiation on civilians
The Japanese government relocated residents living within a 12 mile radius of the Fukushima nuclear facility but US officials think that’s not enough. The US State Department is urging American citizens with 50 miles to leave the area or stay indoors, and is offering to arrange travel to “safehavens” in Asia for any US citizen in the country. Some multinational corporations are also facilitating departures from the Northeast and the country for their employees. Many are worried about radiation exposure. Japanese officials have asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to help measure any impact of radiation on human health. UN Radio’s Radmilla Suleymanova has more on what radiation exposure would mean.

Japan’s disaster raises concerns about US nuclear facilities and evacuation procedures
The nuclear emergency is Japan is raising questions about safety in the US, both the state of US reactors and emergency response policies. Dr Edwin Lyman, a nuclear plant design expert with the Union of Concern Scientists (UCS) says the current 10 mile evacuation radius is insufficient:

“Back here in the United States the regulations still require only protective actions to be planned for a 10 mile zone.  If, let’s say we had an accident of this magnitude in the United States there would be no plans in place for evacuating beyond a 10 miles zone and depending on the plant, the idea of a spontaneous, unplanned evacuation of a region of up to 50 miles around some nuclear plants, like the Indian Point plant which is only 25 miles from New York city, it’s utterly unrealistic to expect that there would be any kind of effective evacuation in that 50 mile zone. So the NRC should not be using different standards for Americans abroad and Americans at home.”

Lyman made those comments today as his organization released a report on the safety at U-S Nuclear Plants. The report looks at the nuclear regulatory commission’s oversight of plants, and identifies 14 “near misses”. The term “near miss” is what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) calls safety issues at nuclear plants that it thought were serious enough to investigate with a special inspection team. The UCS says some of the incidents were a result of simple mistakes and many a direct consequence of a lack of action from plant management. It concludes that none of these events would have occurred if warning signs had been heeded. David Wright, director of the UCS Nuclear Safety Program, described one event at the Wolf Creek Nuclear Plant in Kansas that was directly linked to problems with its cooling system:

“In 2007 workers completed a study showing that the piping in a vital cooling system was prone to damage caused by rust that would result in leaks. Management did nothing.  That very piping developed leaks as had been predicted, management only patched the leaks doing very little about the rusting that was causing the problems.  In 2009 the piping developed more leaks, this time workers failed to notice the puddling on the floor until it was noticed by an NRC inspector found it 7 hours later. When you predict a safety problem and then have that prediction validated the following year, you have little excuse for continuing to ignore it, yet this owner ignored it.”

The NRC only audits about 5% of activities at nuclear reactors each year.  On that basis, UCS researchers say there were probably nearly 20 more safety violations occurring for each one actually identified.   There were also serious cases where the NRC would find problems after they’d supposedly been fixed – for example at a plant in Alabama.  UCS scientists had praise for the performance of NRC inspectors, but also cited examples where the NRC had taken no action and not asked enough questions.

Lyman from the UCS, also said cooling systems for spent fuel pools – like the ones at the troubled plant in Fukushima – are an urgent issue in the US:

“To deal with the acute crisis in spent fuel storage here which is namely that most our spent fuel pools are filled to really beyond capacity where cooling can be assured in the case of a rapid loss or release of coolant from those pools.  That can be mitigated on site through procurement of dry casks and simply thinning out the pools, that would just depend on the expense, which is not that great, of spent fuel dry cask procurement.”

Lyman says dry casks are designed to hold less waste fuel than fuel pools increasing safety. The Union of Concerned Scientists is recommending urgent reform of the NRC’s inspection procedures.

US lawmakers’ growing unease with the war in Afghanistan
US drone strikes killed several dozen people in Pakistan’s tribal areas today. Calling the attack a “complete violation of human rights,” Pakistan Army General Ashfaq Kayani said the US unmanned aerial attack targeted a gathering of peaceful citizens, including elders. This is the deadliest drone attack in months and will likely fuel more anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. In the US, anti-war lawmakers forced debate on the Afghan war. Although the effort to pass a bill to bring a quick end to the war in Afghanistan failed today, a growing number of conservatives say they’re uneasy with the lingering war effort. Matt Laslo has more from Washington.

National Freedom of Information Day
Public advocates are marking National Freedom of Information Day this week, which raises awareness about the public’s right to oversee its government through open communication. About 50 people came together on the University of South Florida campus yesterday evening to hear members of the public, journalists and attorneys discuss the struggle to access public records and attend public meetings. Zack Baddorf reports.

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