Newscast for Wednesday, March 16, 2011

  • The urgent humanitarian needs of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami survivors
  • Japan struggles with nuclear disaster as foreign residents decide whether to stay or go
  • Calls in the US for a seismic shift in nuclear reactor safety
  • US lawmakers reintroduce a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act
  • Bahraini security forces attack protesters with tear gas and water cannon

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New EPA rules crack down on emissions
The EPA announced new regulations today on air pollutants including mercury and arsenic. The agency says the new standard will improve health and create jobs. FSRN’s Zoe Sullivan has the story.

The new EPA air quality proposal targets emission from coal-fired power plants.  It’s the first significant update to the Clean Air Act since 1990.  The new standards aim to regulate mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gasses.

The EPA says that coal-burning power plants account for half of the nation’s mercury emissions.  To combat this, the regulations call for installing pollution-control technologies in power plants.  The EPA says that these measures are particularly important for children’s health and should prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma annually.  The agency also estimates the proposal will create several thousand construction and utility jobs.

The proposal will now be opened up to public comment, and is sure to meet staunch opposition from the coal industry and many Republican opponents of the EPA’s regulatory power. Under a court order, a new rule must be in place by November. Zoe Sullivan, FSRN.

EPA to increase West Coast radiation monitoring
The EPA also says it is deploying more radiation monitoring equipment to the West Coast of the United States, in light of the nuclear emergency in Japan.  Officials say they do not expect harmful levels of radiation to travel via wind currents to the US.  The EPA has several air monitoring stations along the California, Oregon and Washington coast, which members of the public can monitor online at

House Committee votes to block Net Neutrality
A US House committee has advanced a measure to block FCC Net Neutrality rules from taking effect. The vote was largely partisan with Democrats supporting a ban on allowing internet service providers from favoring some content over others. Republicans have indicated they will bring the measure to the full House for vote by mid-April.

Miami-Dade Mayor falls in recall election
With the massive recall campaign building in Wisconsin, public outcry over state budget deficits, government corruption, and incompetence has now led to one of the first major recalls of elected officials in the country.  From Florida, FSRN’s Joshua Holton reports.

By 88%, Southern Florida residents voted Tuesday to recall Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, as well as County Commissioner Natacsha Seijas. Norman Braman, a wealthy business owner, was the main backer of the recall campaign.

Alvarez drew criticism for cutting public worker salaries by 5% while raising the salaries of his personal staff.  Political activist Millie Herrera says that many of the county staff were well overpaid.

“The County Manager, who by the way resigned today, was making $450,000 a year. He couldn’t cut his salary in half?  They want to blame the hard working people, they want to blame the unions. They’re the ones who make the bad decisions. They’re the ones who wasted money. They’re the ones who are taking advantage and make these outrageous salaries and perks, when there are people going hungry in the streets, literally, in Miami-Dade County.”

Herrera and others have demanded a recall of Governor Rick Scott, who many say is out of touch with the interests of his constituents. Joshua Holton, FSRN, Florida.

US contractor released following payment of “blood money”
A high court in Lahore, Pakistan this morning formally charged US contractor Raymond Davis with murder.  Davis, who has connections to the military contractor Xe, formally Blackwater, shot and killed two Pakistani men during what he claimed was a robbery. But just a few hours later, news broke that the families of the two men has been paid “blood money” and went before the court to officially forgive Davis.  Media reports vary, but possibly more than $2 million was paid to the families. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied today the money was paid by the US government. The US Embassy in Pakistan announced the pardon in a statement today, saying the Justice Department has opened an investigation into the shootings.  Davis is no longer in the country.

Thousands protest in Bucharest against new Romanian labor laws
More than 8,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Romanian Parliament today, protesting new labor laws passed last week.  Union representatives say the laws are anti-worker. From Bucharest, FSRN’s Dana Lepadat reports.

Under the new labor laws, employers will have vastly expanded powers.  At any time, they can change salaries or the number of work hours required.  Protesters are still angry about the death of Raluca Stroescu, the young woman who died of exhaustion two years ago, after working 16 to 18 hour days.

Unionists worry that the new laws will allow Romanian citizens to be fired in favor of cheaper immigrant labor.  They also say collective bargaining rights will disappear.

Today’s protest concurred with a “no-confidence” vote in the Parliament. The ruling government has become widely unpopular since implementing harsh austerity measures in order to get a large IMF loan. Dana Lepadat, FSRN, Romania.


The urgent humanitarian needs of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami survivors
In Japan, authorities are struggling with the humanitarian crisis caused by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.  More than 4300 are dead, and more than 8600 missing, according to Japanese media. Hundreds of thousands of people are without shelter or food and their situation is now more desperate as temperatures in some parts of the country dropped to freezing.  Mat Morgan is a spokesperson for the Red Cross in the United States which is assisting with relief efforts in Japan.


Japan struggles with nuclear disaster as foreign residents decide whether to stay or go
Japanese authorities have ordered the evacuation of thousands of people living near the Fukushima Nuclear Plant. The levels of radiation have spiked since an explosion Tuesday not only in the Fukushima region, but also more than 150 miles south in the Kanto and Kanagawa regions, the location of Japan’s most populous cities: Tokyo and Yokohama. Fears of radiation exposure have prompted many people to stay indoors, while others have chosen to flee. Dolores M. Bernal is in Tokyo, she spoke with foreigners who are wrestling with the decision to leave or stay amid the nuclear crisis.


Calls in the US for a seismic shift in nuclear reactor safety
Technicians at the Fukushima nuclear plant continue their dangerous struggle to control the temperature of the reactors’ spent fuel pools, which some experts describe as the most pressing problem.  Dr Edwin Lyman is a physicist and expert on nuclear plant design with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“For the time being the greatest concerns are the spent fuel pools because there is a clear pathway for the release of radio nuclides from the spent fuel pools to the environment and there is a desperate attempt now to restore water levels and as far as I can tell those attempts have been deterred largely due to the very high radiation levels that are being experienced because the water level has dropped below the top of the fuel. This was one of our serious concerns that there could be manual refilling of spent fuel pools given the radiation environment and that seems to be born out today.”

Dr Lyman said if temperatures in the fuel pools increase the spent fuel in the pool can experience a condition similar to a reactor meltdown. He said there are designs for nuclear facilities – like a French EPR reactor model – that are better equipped to deal with catastrophic accidents that create cooling problems, but doubted if any new design would be able to deal with the disaster in Japan. Lyman also said nuclear regulations in the US are not strong enough to prevent a disaster like the one Japan.

“Across the board whether it’s protection against earthquakes or anything else, the NRC has not set standards at a high enough level to protect the public from accidents which I think we now see are maybe more credible and plausible that previously considered. So I see seismic risk as just another component of the whole spectrum of risk that will have to be evaluated.”

Some US lawmakers agree, including Congressmember Ed Markey who spoke at a budget hearing today with Energy Secretary Steven Chu:

“The effects of this disaster have already rippled through the world, China, Venezuela, Germany, Switzerland and other countries are shutting down older plants and scrapping plans for new ones.  We too need a seismic shift in our approach to nuclear reactor safety. I fear that we are not moving fast enough to take these important steps.”

Chu repeated that nuclear power is an important part of the Administration’s renewable energy portfolio, and said the Obama administration wants $36 billion in loan guarantees for the nuclear industry. But, following this disaster, he said they will be reviewing the safety of all existing and proposed reactors:

“We don’t believe that there is any imminent danger but in any instance like this when there are truly unfortunate events like what we are seeing in Japan what we do is we look and we learn from that, this is true of all the technologies, transportation technologies, energy technologies, you name it.  And so we will be looking at it very carefully and gathering any lessons that can be learned from that double disaster of the fourth largest earthquake in recorded history and a huge tsunami.”

Tomorrow the Union of Concerned Scientists is releasing a report on last year’s safety record of the nuclear industry in the US.


US lawmakers reintroduce a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act
A group of Democratic lawmakers reintroduced a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act – or DOMA – that prohibits same sex couples from receiving federal marriage benefits. Matt Laslo reports that the bill has more support than ever, though its chances of passing remain slim.


Bahraini security forces attack protesters with tear gas and water canon
In Bahrain’s capital Manama security forces violently evicted hundreds of protesters from Pearl Square.  Supported by tanks and helicopters, the attackers used tear gas and water cannons to clear the area where demonstrators had been camped for weeks. This follows days of violence, including a mass shooting yesterday in which 200 people were hit with buckshot.  A medical worker in a Manama hospital, hiding in the building with colleagues, described to the BBC the moment when the army was taking over the building:

“The Bahrain defense force they took the hospital, they surrounded the hospital and we are under their control right now.  They’ve emptied the first floor we are hiding right now in small groups in all the corridors, you know, hidden rooms and we are locking the doors. We are looking at, you know, there are snipers who are directing their guns to the windows, and there are lots of, you know, big buses of commandos that are now climbing from the sixth floor and getting downstairs.”

For more on the unrest in Bahrain, the Real News Network’s Paul Jay spoke to McClatchy reporter Shashank Bengali. He started by describing some of the events that have happened this week, including the arrival of international troops.


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