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April 12, 2013 archive
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This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
April 12 is the 102nd day of the year (103rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 263 days remaining until the end of the year.
On this day in 1961, aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin becomes the first human being to travel into space. During the flight, the 27-year-old test pilot and industrial technician also became the first man to orbit the planet, a feat accomplished by his space capsule in 89 minutes. Vostok 1 orbited Earth at a maximum altitude of 187 miles and was guided entirely by an automatic control system. The only statement attributed to Gagarin during his one hour and 48 minutes in space was, “Flight is proceeding normally; I am well.”
After his historic feat was announced, the attractive and unassuming Gagarin became an instant worldwide celebrity. He was awarded the Order of Lenin and given the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Monuments were raised to him across the Soviet Union and streets renamed in his honor.
The triumph of the Soviet space program in putting the first man into space was a great blow to the United States, which had scheduled its first space flight for May 1961. Moreover, Gagarin had orbited Earth, a feat that eluded the U.S. space program until February 1962, when astronaut John Glenn made three orbits in Friendship 7. By that time, the Soviet Union had already made another leap ahead in the “space race” with the August 1961 flight of cosmonaut Gherman Titov in Vostok 2. Titov made 17 orbits and spent more than 25 hours in space.
Today is the 50th Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s Flight into space.
Fifty years later, relive the world’s first space odyssey
‘Moon Shot’ recounts cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s history-making orbital trip in 1961.
MSNBC Science Editor Alan Boyle recaps Yuri Gagarin’s historic space mission, as shown in a Soviet documentary video.
So what’s happened at Fukushima in the month since the 2 year anniversary?
Well, the cooling system has broken down at least once-
Fukushima Blackout Hints at Plant’s Vulnerability
By MARTIN FACKLER, The New York Times
Published: March 19, 2013
This week’s partial blackout, which started Monday, halted crucial cooling systems for as long as about 30 hours at four pools where used fuel rods are stored.
The four pools affected by the latest blackout contain more than 8,800 highly radioactive fuel rods, Tepco said, enough to cause a release much larger than the original accident, which forced the evacuation of some 160,000 residents in northeastern Japan.
With the company as the only source of information, it was impossible this week to independently assess the conditions at the plant, which sits in a contaminated zone that is closed to the public. On Tuesday, the company was criticized for waiting three hours before revealing the power failure to the public.
Tepco said a faulty switchboard might have been to blame in the latest power failure. Though the company has backup generators at the site, it appeared to have been unprepared for a switchboard failure.
There was a conference-
Fukushima Two Years Later: Many Questions, One Clear Answer
By: Gregg Levine, Firedog Lake
Monday April 8, 2013 7:30 am
A distinguished list of epidemiologists, oncologists, nuclear engineers, former government officials, Fukushima survivors, anti-nuclear activists and public health advocates gathered at the invitation of The Helen Caldicott Foundation and Physicians for Social Responsibility to, if not answer all these question, at least make sure they got asked. Over two long days, it was clear there is much still to be learned, but it was equally clear that we already know that the downsides of nuclear power are real, and what’s more, the risks are unnecessary. Relying on this dirty, dangerous and expensive technology is not mandatory-it’s a choice. And when cleaner, safer, and more affordable options are available, the one answer we already have is that nuclear is a choice we should stop making and a risk we should stop taking.
The boiling water reactors (BWRs) that failed so catastrophically at Fukushima Daiichi were designed and sold by General Electric in the 1960s; the general contractor on the project was Ebasco, a US engineering company that, back then, was still tied to GE. General Electric had bet heavily on nuclear and worked hand-in-hand with the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC-the precursor to the NRC, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) to promote civilian nuclear plants at home and abroad. According to nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, GE told US regulators in 1965 that without quick approval of multiple BWR projects, the giant energy conglomerate would go out of business.
It was under the guidance of GE and Ebasco that the rocky bluffs where Daiichi would be built were actually trimmed by 10 meters to bring the power plant closer to the sea, the water source for the reactors’ cooling systems-but it was under Japanese government supervision that serious and repeated warnings about the environmental and technological threats to Fukushima were ignored for another generation.
Failures at Daiichi were completely predictable, observed David Lochbaum, the director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and numerous upgrades were recommended over the years by scientists and engineers. “The only surprising thing about Fukushima,” said Lochbaum, “is that no steps were taken.”
The surprise, it seems, should cross the Pacific. Twenty-two US plants mirror the design of Fukushima Daiichi, and many stand where they could be subject to earthquakes or tsunamis. Even without those seismic events, some US plants are still at risk of Fukushima-like catastrophic flooding. Prior to the start of the current Japanese crisis, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission learned that the Oconee Nuclear Plant in Seneca, South Carolina, was at risk of a major flood from a dam failure upstream. In the event of a dam breach-an event the NRC deems more likely than the odds that were given for the 2011 tsunami-the flood at Oconee would trigger failures at all four reactors. Beyond hiding its own report, the NRC has taken no action-not before Fukushima, not since.
If nuclear reactors were the only way to generate electricity, would 500 excess cancer deaths be acceptable? How about 5,000? How about 50,000? If nuclear’s projected mortality rate comes in under coal’s, does that make the deaths-or the high energy bills, for that matter-more palatable?
Well? Are they?
Nuclear Industry Withers in U.S. as Wind Pummels Prices
By Julie Johnsson & Naureen S. Malik, Bloomberg News
Mar 11, 2013 4:13 PM ET
“Right now, natural gas and wind power are more economic than nuclear power in the Midwestern electricity market,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based advocate of cleaner energy, said in a phone interview. “It’s a matter of economic competitiveness.”
Meanwhile, nuclear and coal plants must continue running even as this “negative pricing” dynamic forces them to pay grid operators to take the power they produce.
“We can’t find enough demand for the amount of energy created by Mother Nature,” said Doug Johnson, spokesman for the Bonneville Power Administration, which manages the grid in the Pacific Northwest. The transmission operator, based in Portland, Oregon, paid wind operators $2.7 million last year to stay off line so it could make room for the power from hydroelectric generators handling the runoff from melting mountain snows.
Now just this week we find out that the switchboard blackout was caused by a rat chewing through power lines and TEPCO’s ‘high tech’ response is to install anti-rat netting across all the holes they can.
I’ll bet those of you who’ve had rat problems can predict just how well that will work in an environment with thousands of shrapnel holes from the blasts and where even robots can’t work because the radiation fries their electronics.
Oh, and 3 of the 7 big radioactive water containment pools have been leaking.
Mishaps Underscore Weaknesses of Japanese Nuclear Plant
By HIROKO TABUCHI, The New York Times
Published: April 10, 2013
The biggest scare at the plant in recent days has been the discovery that at least three of seven underground storage pools are seeping thousands of gallons of radioactive water into the soil. On Wednesday, Tepco acknowledged that the lack of adequate storage space for contaminated water had become a “crisis,” and said it would begin emptying the pools. But the company said that the leaks will continue over the several weeks that it will likely take to transfer the water to other containers.
Tepco stores more than a quarter-million tons of radioactive water at the site and says the amount could double within three years.
But as outside experts have discovered with horror, the company had lined the pits for the underground pools with only two layers of plastic each 1.5 millimeters thick, and a third, clay-based layer just 6.5 millimeters thick. And because the pools require many sheets hemmed together, leaks could be springing at the seams, Tepco has said.
But Muneo Morokuzu, a nuclear safety expert at the Tokyo University Graduate School of Public Policy, said that the plant required a more permanent solution that would reduce the flood of contaminated water into the plant in the first place, and that Tepco was simply unable to manage the situation. “It’s become obvious that Tepco is not at all capable of leading the cleanup,” he said. “It just doesn’t have the expertise, and because Fukushima Daiichi is never going to generate electricity again, every yen it spends on the decommissioning is thrown away.”
President Obama formerly released his budget for 2014. As, expected it contained the cuts to Social Security and Medicare that have are an anathema to the left. As has been pointed out before on this site, these proposals for the sake a few dollars in revenue increases and a paltry $50 billion investment for infrastructure improvement. That is bad policy and even worse politics. If you don’t believe that, well here is a sample of the criticism from the right:
Americans for Tax Reform, the advocacy group that asks lawmakers to sign a formal “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” said Tuesday that chained CPI violates the pledge.
“Chained CPI as a stand-alone measure (that is, not paired with tax relief of equal or greater size) is a tax increase and a Taxpayer Protection Pledge violation,” the group said in a blog post.
Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, leader of the organization, criticized the policy via Twitter on Wednesday. “Chained CPI is a very large tax hike over time,” Norquist wrote. “Hence Democrat interest in same.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimates (pdf) that chained CPI would reduce Social Security spending by $127 billion and increase tax revenue by $123 billion over 10 years.
When asked Friday if chained CPI represents a tax hike on the middle class, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “I’m not disputing that.“
Can you hear the political ads attacking Democrats with this? So much for electoral victory in 2014, Obama just sold that prospect for what? Trying to make the point that Republicans are intransigent? American already know that. A few dollars of revenue from tax reforms that will be changed the first chance the Republicans get, like the debt ceiling hostage situation? We seen this scene played out how many times with Obama caving to Republican demands because some vague fear about the economy.
Predictably the left is outraged and there are threats from left wing organizations to primary any Democrat who votes for chained CPI.
Warren joins lawmakers in criticizing Obama budget
A coalition of prominent Democrats, including many from New England, slammed President Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget blueprint Wednesday for its proposed changes to the Social Security payment formula and Medicare, opening a widening rift between the president and members of his own party.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said she was shocked by Obama’s proposal to recalculate the cost of living adjustment for Social Security beneficiaries by linking it to a different version of the Consumer Price Index, known as the “chained CPI.” [..]
“In short, ‘chained CPI’ is just a fancy way to say ‘cut benefits for seniors, the permanently disabled, and orphans,'” Warren fired off in an e-mail to supporters. She related the experience of her brother, David Herring, a military veteran and former small business owner who lives on monthly Social Security checks of $1,100. “Our Social Security system is critical to protecting middle-class families,” she wrote, “and we cannot allow it to be dismantled inch by inch.” [..]
Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts called “chained CPI” an abbreviation for “Cutting People’s Income, a wrong-headed change that would go back on the promise we make to our senior citizens.”
“Tea Party Republicans may have pushed the president into many of these difficult decisions, but it still does not make this budget right nor fair, especially for those Americans who need help the most,” Markey said.
MSNBC’s All In host Chris Hayes discussed the chained CPI with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jonathan Alter, Heather McGhee, and Mattie Duppler, Americans for Tax Reform.
Transcript for this video can be read here
This a direct attack by a Democratic president on our earned benefits. Time to start calling and don’t stop until this deal is dead and buried.
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Our regular featured content-
And these featured articles-
- Say No to Cuts to Social Security by: TheMomCat
- Fukushima: A Month Of Disasters by: ek hornbeck
- Influential Women by: ek hornbeck
Write more and often. This is an Open Thread.