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Msnbc Live at 6 p.m. ET, Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Read the transcript from the Tuesday 6 p.m. hour

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Guests: Anne Thompson, Daniel Sloan, Ken Bergeron, Linda Gunter, Henry Waxman

CENK UYGUR, HOST:  Good evening.  I‘m Cenk Uygur.

The race to avert a catastrophic nuclear disaster in Japan is in high gear right now.  Some scientists say the country is still at risk for a nuclear meltdown.  That meltdown could apparently be anywhere between Three Mile Island and Chernobyl in its severity. 

Now, that does not sound good.  We‘ll examine the potential fallout, straight ahead. 

But, of course, devastation is already widespread across Japan.  More than 10,000 people are dead or missing.  Hundreds of thousands are homeless, with 450,000 in temporary shelters. 

Massive domestic and international rescue and relief efforts are under way.  Fourteen international organizations and 102 countries, including Afghanistan and Cambodia, have offered aid.  Afghanistan, wow.  All right.

So, so far, Japan has accepted assistance from 15 of those countries, mainly in the form of search-and-rescue teams.  USAID is in charge of coordinating U.S. government assistance.  They‘ve dispatched 148 people and 12 rescue dogs. 

The U.S. military is also integral in their relief efforts.  The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is refueling Japanese helicopters, conducting search-and-rescue efforts, and American troops are also assisting with humanitarian air drops.  That‘s the use of the military that we all love, helping others all across the world.  That‘s a great thing. 

Now, relief teams have a huge job ahead of them given the magnitude of the devastation that you see, of course, every day on your screens of what‘s happening in Japan.  Now, let‘s compare some satellite images from before and after the earthquake and tsunami that shows you the extent of the disaster. 

Look at this image.  It shows you the Sendai airport, which is about 200 miles north of the earthquake‘s epicenter, but it was also flooded by the tsunami.  And you see the absolute devastation before and after. 

Now, another set of images shows a village near Sendai that used to be home to about 7,000 people, but was completely wiped out last Friday.  These pictures are stunning as you look at them. 

And finally, we have the Fukushima nuclear power plant before and after the one-two punch of the earthquake and tsunami unleashed a chain reaction that is still at risk of culminating in nuclear disaster, unfortunately. 

Now, three nuclear complexes declared emergencies immediately after the earthquake and tsunami, but it is the Fukushima Daiichi plant that is the focus of international concern.  About 50 workers remain at the plant, desperately scrambling to avert a full-fledged nuclear meltdown by cooling the rapidly overheating reactors. 

Now, early this morning, Japanese time, the plant‘s unit 2 reactor was rocked by the third explosion at the plant in four days.  Now, remember, we told you on last night‘s broadcast that reactor 2 was the most important.  And we were worried that there might be an explosion there, and that happened today.  So obviously that is of grave concern. 

Now, a fire also broke out in reactor 4, emitting radioactivity directly into the air before workers extinguished the flames.  Now, one or both of those developments caused the radioactivity outside the reactor to spike to levels more than eight times the recommended limit for what people should receive in a whole year.  Japanese officials say 185,000 people have been evacuated from towns within about a 12-mile radius of the plant. 

And one late development this afternoon.  The Japan Nuclear Safety Agency is saying the roof of the number 4 reactor of the plant is cracked.  Now, that number 4 reactor had spent fuel rods inside of it, and if those are exposed to the air, that could be big, big trouble.  And it‘s raising questions about the possibility of yet another devastating leak or explosion. 

Now, remember, we have got four different reactors that have had different problems.  We‘ve got fires, we‘ve got the cracked roof, we had the explosion in reactor number 2, and if all of them start having problems, we‘re going to have, unfortunately, a whole new level of problem in Japan.  That‘s what they‘re desperately trying to avoid now.

And later, we‘re also going to have the story of those 50 guys inside there who are trying to avoid that. 

Now joining me is Anne Thompson.  She‘s NBC‘s chief environmental correspondent. 

Anne, first, let‘s talk about what might have happened because of that cracked roof.  There are talks of a nuclear cloud. 

First, what is a nuclear cloud?  And how dangerous is that? 

ANNE THOMPSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF ENVIRONMENTAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Cenk, let me bring you up to date. 

They are actually talking about another fire at the Fukushima 1 plant. 

And there are reports that it‘s at reactor number 4.

Now, reactor number 4, you‘ll remember, is the one where the spent fuel pool caught on fire earlier today.  And I was on a call with some members of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and I asked them, “How does it catch on fire?”  And apparently what happens is the spent fuel pool is about 45 feet high, and there is—it‘s filled with water, and about the last 15 feet are the fuel rods. 

And what they think probably has happened is that the water has either evaporated, boiled or drained out of it.  And when those fuel rods are exposed, they melt and catch fire.  And that‘s what they think perhaps caught the fire. 

But one of the issues here, not just for nuclear experts who are watching this very carefully, but even for the International Atomic Energy Agency based in Vienna, which is the U.N.‘s watchdog on nuclear issues, is the lack of communication.  They‘re having real problems getting what they feel is solid information about exactly what is going on at that plant. 

UYGUR:  And I know this is all developing now, and there is what‘s already happened and there‘s the potential of what might happen.  So let‘s talk about that for one quick second. 

Could some of these reactors spill over to the other reactors?  If there‘s a significant explosion at one of them, could it lead to explosions in the others?  And then what would be the consequence of that? 

THOMPSON:  Well, I think what they‘re most concerned about at this point are the cores actually melting.  And if the cores melt, they form this—what‘s been described as a molten lava, and it gets to the—it goes to the bottom of the vessel and then eats away through the concrete vessel and gets out into the environment.  And that‘s what they‘re very concerned about. 

They‘re also worried about the radiation and how it moves.  You know, we heard today that in Tokyo, officials in that city said radiation levels were 10 times higher than normal.  However, even at 10 times higher than normal, they still weren‘t a threat to human health. 

But the experts I talked to today said Tokyo is probably going to have to get used to this, because if these reactors keep emitting radiation, radiation particles can travel several hundred miles downwind.  And as you know, Tokyo is just 150 miles south of this plant. 

UYGUR:  Anne, you know, look, I‘m very concerned about Tokyo.  Obviously, there‘s a huge number of people that live inside Tokyo and around Tokyo. 

Obviously, it dissipates to some degree as it gets there.  But when you talk about the surrounding areas, they‘re saying that people outside of that 12-mile perimeter simply need to shut their doors and make sure theirs houses are airtight and they need to stay inside. 

I don‘t know.  If I was them, I might not believe that.  That sounds pretty dangerous to me. 

Is that good enough? 

THOMPSON:  Well, no.  I think a lot of experts would tell you it‘s not good enough.  It‘s called the shelter in place strategy.  But basically, you have only two options in a situation like this.

Either you stay in your house and you shut all the windows, or you leave and get out of the way.  And the experts say the best advice is to get out of the way. 

They don‘t think—at least the members of the Union of Concerned Scientists that I spoke to today are not big advocates of this, you know, stay in your house and shut your windows.  What they say people should do is get out of the way of this. 

UYGUR:  Yes.  You know, I know governments want calm in situations like that for a very good reason.  But at the same time, in situations like this, this is sometimes when I‘m most skeptical of government.  And when they tell me Duct tape can stop radiation, I‘m not buying it. 

THOMPSON:  I think you‘re smart.

UYGUR:  OK.  Thank you.  I appreciate that.

So now, look, let‘s talk about getting even closer to the plant.  So, Tokyo‘s got issues, the people outside of the 12-mile perimeter have issues.  Within the 12-mile perimeter, they have already been evacuated.  But there are reports of about 50 to 70 people who stayed behind in that power plant to make sure we don‘t have a meltdown that affects the rest of the country. 

Boy, how much radiation are they suffering right now? 

THOMPSON:  You know, that‘s—we don‘t know exactly how much radiation they are suffering, and those are some extraordinarily brave people.  I think that‘s all you can say, because they‘re putting themselves at very grave risk as they try to deal with this situation, and it‘s a scary thing.  And you hate to thin, that somebody would give up their life to save other people, but that is what these men and women who are in that plant who agreed to stay behind, that‘s exactly what they‘re doing. 

UYGUR:  Anne, one last quick question for you. 

You know, of course people of course are concerned in the United States, Hawaii is the first line, and then you‘ve got the West Coast, et cetera.  Any chance that radiation or that cloud comes over here and affects us if you have a core meltdown?  Now, I know in this case right now it looks like no chance, but if you had a core meltdown, any chance it reaches us and does damage? 

THOMPSON:  From what I understand, no.  The people I have talked to said that we are, at least at this point, not at risk for any kind of—or the West Coast of the U.S. is not at risk for any kind of potential radiation contamination. 

And, in fact, today, when Energy Secretary Steven Chu testified before Congress, afterwards he met with reporters and he was asked, you know, there are these reports of runs on iodine tablets on Amazon.com, and eBay is selling out of Geiger counters.  And people are taking all these precautions.

And he said, look, there‘s no reason to do any of this.  It‘s a free country, and people can do what they want.  But given what they know today, there is no reason to think that the U.S. is any danger. 

But it gets back to what you were talking about.  People—there is a great distrust of authority and government.  And when the people decide, I‘m going to help myself, I‘m going to protect myself—and that‘s exactly what you‘re seeing with these runs on iodine pills and Geiger counters. 

UYGUR:  Right.  All right.  Anne Thompson, thank you so much for joining us this evening.  Really appreciate it. 

THOMPSON:  Take care. 

UYGUR:  All right.

(WEATHER REPORT)

UYGUR:  Now, Japan‘s nuclear crisis turns out to be a 6 out of 7 on the severity scale.  So how does that compare to other nuclear catastrophes?  What does it mean to be somewhere between Three Mile Island and Chernobyl?  That‘s a very interesting question, and we‘re going to try to answer that, next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  We‘re now watching a fire at reactor number 4 that is happening now, and we want to keep you up to date on that, and we will throughout the show.  So tune in for more news on that. 

Also, the United States has 104 nuclear power plants.  And it turns out, of course, right now they‘re all under the microscope.  We‘ll tell you about what some are calling the most dangerous nuclear power plant in America. 

That‘s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  The nuclear emergency at the Fukushima plant in Japan could be approaching historic proportions.  The French Authority of Nuclear Safety set off warning bells around the world when it declared the Fukushima disaster to be the second worst nuclear accident of all time. 

The Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union was at a level of 7 out of 7.  That‘s pretty bad.  Three Mile Island, the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history, was a level 5 out of 7. 

ASN experts say, in their opinion, Fukushima is now at a level of 6 out of 7, worse than Three Mile Island.  But what exactly does that mean? 

You‘ve probably heard of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, but do you remember exactly what happened?  It was a long time ago, so I think it helps to refresh the facts here.  And these are the facts. 

Three Mile Island is a nuclear plant Middletown, Pennsylvania, about 10 miles from Harrisburg.  In March of 1979, the cooling system malfunctioned.  The plant suffered a severe core meltdown, but it did not breach the containment structure.  Some irradiated gas was vented from the plant, and pregnant women and children within a five-mile radius were told to evacuate. 

On the fourth day, there were new false fears that a hydrogen bubble had formed, and that it could cause the plant to explode, which caused widespread panic, understandably so.  But experts quickly determined that an explosion wasn‘t scientifically possible.  The size of the bubble was reduced and the crisis ended.  No one was hurt or sickened.  The Pennsylvania Department of Health kept a register of 30,000 potentially affected people, but luckily found no evidence of long-term health effects. 

Now, Chernobyl was totally different.  Chernobyl was a nuclear facility in the Ukraine, part of the former Soviet Union, about 430 miles from Moscow.

In April of 1986, a reactor exploded.  The reactor had no emergency containment structure, which is insanity. 

As a result, it released more than 400 times more radioactive fallout than an atomic bomb.  If you think about that, that is unbelievable.

The explosion itself killed two workers.  Twenty-eight emergency workers died within just three months, and that was mostly from acute radiation sickness.

In the end 200,000 people were evacuated and relocated entirely.  More than one million people in three countries are on a national register as potentially affected by radiation.  In fact, about 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer have been diagnosed in people who were exposed as children.

Resettlement to the outermost containment areas began last year, almost a quarter century after the accident happened. 

So what will be the fallout of Fukushima?  What will that be like?  Obviously, there‘s a wide gulf between the severity of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.  So what are the long-term threats of radiation and contamination in this case? 

Well, my next guest can help answer those questions. 

Joining me now is nuclear reactor specialist Ken Bergeron.  He did research on nuclear reactor accident assimilation for Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. 

Well, let‘s start talking about where this lies between Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.  I mean, they say 5 out of 7, 7 out of 7 is somewhere in between, but there‘s a huge gulf in between.  Where are we at this juncture right now?

KEN BERGERON, NUCLEAR REACTOR SPECIALIST:  Well, the accident hasn‘t progressed to the point that the reactor core has been released from the pressure vessel, and that makes it far less bad than Chernobyl.  And—but on the other hand, it‘s a lot worse than Three Mile Island because, for one thing, there‘s three reactors involved.  For another, since the containments at these reactors are a lot smaller and less capable than the Three Mile Island containment, they have had to vent a considerable amount of reactivity in the process of depressurizing the containment.  So there‘s been a great deal more release. 

UYGUR:  Well, Chernobyl was, as I said, insanity, because they didn‘t even have a containment structure.  Obviously, the Japanese have containment structures here, and they have held so far.  But what happens if there is a meltdown?  Then would it approach anything near Chernobyl?  Or, still, that wouldn‘t be the case?

BERGERON:  Well, in terms of spectacular energetic events, it will never be anything like—none of these reactors will be anything lying Chernobyl.  They don‘t have the mechanism for that neutronic excursion, that atomic bomb-like explosion that occurred there.  But in terms of health effects, I‘m sorry to say it could be worse. 

UYGUR:  Really?  Why is that? 

BERGERON:  Having the release at ground level, as opposed to this incredible blast, followed by a hot fire at Chernobyl, will mean that the radioactive material is much more where people live, at ground level.  It would depend a lot on the weather, the wind directions.  But it was actually fortunate for the Chernobyl event, that so much of that radioactive got launched very, very high into the atmosphere, into the stratosphere, in fact. 

UYGUR:  That‘s really interesting.  I had not heard that before. 

So what does it mean to be at the ground level?  Does that mean it could spread more, or it goes in deeper, and then you can‘t—you have to relocate the people because they can‘t settle there?  What exactly is the implication of that? 

BERGERON:  Well, the biggest fear is that it will be—the radioactive cloud will be lofted high enough that it can be transported to various population centers, and then settle either by gravity or through precipitation, rain or snow.  And, therefore, end up having a very large dose right where people—very large deposition right where people live.  And, you know, we‘re talking about this before the reactor vessel has even failed, so it‘s real speculation, but it could be very, very bad. 

UYGUR:  Obviously, especially if it goes towards Tokyo, where there‘s such an enormous number of people. 

Now, at this point there‘s apparently a fire at reactor number 4.  How does that affect all of this? 

BERGERON:  Right.  Well, you know, that fire and the events that occurring in the spent fuel pool in reactor number 4 would be an important worldwide, newsworthy event all by itself.  And the amount of radioactivity in these fuel rods is almost as much as are in the fuel rods that are in the reactors.  So, having a fire as a result of draining down of that pool is a horrifically dangerous event. 

UYGUR:  So tell me about what your current assessment is.  I mean, given all these fires, given we were so worried about what was going to happen in reactor number 2, and it turns out something terrible did happen this morning—now reactor 4, which we didn‘t even expect, is on fire and the roof is cracked.  At this point, what is the likelihood that we hit the worst-case scenario? 

BERGERON:  Well, in terms of the three reactors that were operational and that have had problems being kept cool, we have to hope that the operators continue to be successful in getting water into those pressure vessels, water over the core, and continue to do so for many days.  That‘s what‘s going to be necessary to keep that core damage progression from continuing.  If they are unsuccessful, if they don‘t get enough water in any one of these reactors, and the core material slumps to the bottom of the vessel, that‘s called an uncoolable configuration, and that decay heat in that fuel could cause the fuel to melt and eventually penetrate the reactor vessel of steel. 

UYGUR:  So is that still—would you call that possible?  Would you call it likely? 

I know we‘re far away, and it‘s hard to determine from here, but I think a lot of people are wondering, how bad can this get?  So where do you think it stands right now? 

BERGERON:  Well, I mean, I shouldn‘t say that it‘s likely.  It‘s very hard to tell. 

We don‘t know where the water level is.  It is possibility.  It‘s a lot more possible than I thought it was going to be two days ago. 

UYGUR:  Wow.  That‘s interesting.  It‘s getting worse in a lot of ways. 

So, Ken, how about the 50 to 70 people there right now trying to put out those fires and putting the water on, et cetera?  How much trouble are they in with being exposed to that much radiation? 

BERGERON:  Well, recently there was a contingent of 800 workers at the facility.  And Tokyo Electric made the decision to pull most of those people once the radiation levels got to some of the levels that have been seen. 

Leaving 50 behind, no doubt volunteers who knew that they were putting their lives on the line, and I have little doubt that many of those will die.  And that‘s a sacrifice that they probably knew they were making.

UYGUR:  You know, that‘s an amazing story.  We‘re going to come back to that story, because those people are beyond brave. 

They‘re now thinking of bringing in reinforcements, and they‘re looking at retired people to come in.  And you see the clear implication of that.  Partly because they‘re experts, partly because they‘re volunteering at that stage. 

It‘s an amazing story of heroism. 

And Ken Bergeron, we really appreciate your expertise tonight.  Thank you for coming on and talking to us. 

BERGERON:  You‘re welcome.

UYGUR:  All right.

Now, one programming note.  Tomorrow, on “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS,” an interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  That should be very interesting.  It airs tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC. 

Now, as we watch the emergency unfold in Japan, many are saying now is the time to rethink our nuclear energy policy here in America.  We‘re going to look into whether that makes sense or not.  It looks like President Obama wants to push forward, but Congressman Henry Waxman is calling for safety hearings, and he‘s going to join me ahead. 

And we‘ll tell you about what some call the most dangerous nuclear power plant in America.

And we will get back to those 50 guys inside that plant.  It is an unbelievable story. 

We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

UYGUR:  As there have been heroes in the midst of this enormous tragedy in Japan, there have also been some goats.  Comedian Gilbert Gottfried has been fired as the voice of the Aflac Duck for some inappropriate jokes about Japan he sent out on his Twitter account.  People have to stop tweeting this nonsense.  50 Cent also got himself into trouble with some of these ridiculous tweets about tsunamis.  But it‘s not just entertainers, some people in the political realm have also been incredibly insensitive in regards to Japan. 

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour‘s Press Secretary Dan Turner has resigned after it was revealed that he sent an inappropriate e-mail making light of the situation in Japan.  On Friday, Turner sent out an e-mail which joked that on that day in 1968, quote, “Otis Redding posthumously received a gold report for his single ‘(Sitting on) the Dock of the Bay‘,” and then he added, “not a big hit in Japan right now.”  Come on, look, as you see bodies washed up on the shore in Japan, that‘s obviously not exactly the kind of humor that‘s appreciated right now.  I‘m amazed that he didn‘t know any better.  Haley Barbour of course might be running for president, so Turner is gone now.  But there‘s one guy that can‘t seem to get fired no matter what he says, Glenn Beck.  I guess at this point, you‘re not going to be surprised to find out he‘s said something horribly inappropriate about this tragedy as well.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  I‘m not saying God is, you know, causing earthquakes—well, I‘m not saying—I‘m not, not saying that, either.  What God does is God‘s business, I have no idea.  But I‘ll tell you this, whether you call it Gaia, or whether you call it Jesus, there‘s a message being sent, and that is hey, you know the stuff we‘re doing?  Not really working out real well, maybe we should stop doing some of it.  I‘m just saying. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  What does that even mean?  What did the people of Japan do to deserve this?  Is that what he‘s saying?  That God is punishing them or all of us?  What an absurd or sick thing to say.  Is that the kind of thing that Beck‘s God does, kill tens of thousands of people including men, women, and children because they‘ve angered them?  At least according to Beck.  And how would the define will causes its cosmic graph?  Wait, let me guess, Glenn Beck will tell us what God is thinking.  Hucksters and frauds have been doing this for centuries.  We‘ve just got Glenn Beck here who is just a sadder more pathetic form of that right now.  Just for once have some decency.  We‘ll be back.           

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  In Japan, it‘s a race to prevent a nuclear meltdown.  Here at home, it may be time to urgently rethink our nuclear power.  Just go back to what this country‘s politicians were saying before the disaster.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, KENTUCKY:  Nuclear power is one of the cleanest, most efficient sources of energy.  The president should commit to expanding it.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  And, of course, President Obama as usual was willing to comply.  Listen to what he said at the State of the Union just a couple of months ago.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES:  Some folks want wind and solar.  Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas.  To meet this goal, we will need them all.  And I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  And Obama has in fact taken action.  Last year he announced over $8 billion in loan guarantees to build America‘s first nuclear plants in almost 30 years.  His 2012 budget also proposes $36 billion in loan guarantees for more nuclear power plants.  That money could go towards the construction of up to 20 nuclear plants.  Well, here‘s the thing.  Now that we have seen high levels of radiation in Japan, force evacuations of 185,000 people, are we still so sure that nuclear energy is a wonderful idea?  Let‘s look at the facts. 

There‘s 104 nuclear power plants in the U.S., two are in California right along the San Andreas Fault.  There‘s been a lot of focus this week on whether those plants could withstand a powerful earthquake.  But there are other plant that could also be cause for concern, like this one, the Vermont Yankee which is the same design as the Fukushima plant in Japan and whose leaks have contaminated nearby groundwater with radioactive tritium, but does not sound good.  Or concern of the Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey, it‘s all this nuclear plant in the U.S., has got the same design as the Fukushima plant.  And like the Vermont Yankee, it has a record of leaking radioactive tritium.  It‘s cooling technology has been under fire from activists for killing marine life in a nearby bay.  And, it made a deal to the state to avoid retrofitting that technology.

In exchange for closing in 2019, that would be ten years earlier than planned.  Look, when you look at all this stuff, I‘m not saying that nuclear energy is an easy issue, I don‘t think it is.  And I‘ll say something very rare for cable host, I‘m not sure where I stand on it.  I need more information, but the dangers are apparent.  You see it obviously on your TV screens here, we talked about it for days now.  So, I‘ll say one other shocking thing here, I agree with Joe Lieberman.  I didn‘t think that was going to happen.  Look, we‘ve got to put the brakes on nuclear expansion until we learn some lessons from what happened in Japan.  That‘s what Lieberman said as well.  So, let‘s try to learn some of those lessons together with some the experts here. 

With me now is Linda Gunter, she‘s an international specialist for the nuclear industry, watchdog group Beyond Nuclear.  So, first on Oyster Creek plant.  Now, what is the scenario under which we could have problems here?  Because right now, we don‘t have any problems, nothing obviously like Japan, not even close, it‘s fine, it appears to be fine.  Obviously there was a leak, that was an issue, but what could cause a significant problem.  

LINDA GUNTER, BEYOND NUCLEAR:  Well, the problem with the Oyster Creek is there‘s significant corrosion to the containment structure.  I think you showed your design earlier of what the boiling water reactor looks like inside.  And the containment is the last line of defense.  That‘s the carbon steel reinforcement over the reactor vessel.  There‘s a lot of corrosion there, this was something that actually that our organization uncovered several years ago.  So it‘s vulnerable to collapse.  But what we have to remember is that the problems that were caused in Japan were not caused directly by the earthquake or the tsunami, they were caused by loss of power. 

They lost electricity to those reactors, and everything started to heat up, and the cause of a loss of electricity for the grid to go down can come from a number of different causes.  It doesn‘t have to be, you know, a tsunami.  It could be an ice storm, as happened in the northeast, when one tree fell down, if you remember, and the whole of the northeast went out.  So there is huge concern when you‘ve got an already vulnerable design that‘s severely corroded, a very old plant that‘s been bombarded for year.  It‘s 40 years old, and then you get loss of power, you‘re in trouble very quickly.  

UYGUR:  Can human error also cause this level of problems, because I know that‘s what happened in Chernobyl, but do we have enough safeguards here in the U.S. where human error wouldn‘t be an issue?

GUNTER:  You know, there is nothing that you can invent to counteract the possibility of human error.  That‘s always on the cards.  There can be a mechanical failure, a human error, there was a human error at Three Mile Island as well, there was a human error at Chernobyl, coupled with the fact that there wasn‘t that secondary containment.  So once the first containment was gone, they blew up.  You know, that‘s always an issue.  So, that‘s why we feel, especially with the mark 1s, you mentioned Vermont Yankee, Oyster Creek, there are others 23 in total around this country of that same Fukushima design, those reactors need to be closed now.  We don‘t need to put the brakes on, we need to put the coffin lid on. 

UYGUR:  Well, if there isn‘t a catastrophic problem, is it still dangerous in your opinion?

GUNTER:  All reactors are inherently dangerous because they all release radioactivity as a routine part of daily operation.  Albeit not on the scale that were seeing when there‘s an accident, but since as you know, there‘s no safe dose of radiation, we‘re all exposed to natural backgrounds, so there‘s absolutely no argument to say we should have additional doses from sources like nuclear power plants, which we don‘t need to have, since we have other alternatives, renewable energy and efficiency, but that‘s unacceptable, but the risk factor at Vermont Yankee, and Oyster Creek and these other BWRs is so high, because the cost of failure is so high, that that risk I feel is unacceptable one to take, and that we should close these 23 reactors right away.  

UYGUR:  All right.  Linda Gunter from Beyond Nuclear, your position on it of course is clear.  Thank you for joining us.  We appreciate it.  Of course, the nuclear industry says they are safe and the administration says, they‘re safe.  You take everyone at their word. 

Now, with me is Congressman Henry Waxman, he‘s a democrat from California, I‘m very interested in his word, Congressman Waxman and other Democrats on the House and Energy Commerce Committee are  calling for hearings and safety of U.S. nuclear plants.  Congressman Waxman, thank you for joining us.  And tell me about that.  Why do you want hearings right now about these plants?

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA:  Well, Japan is an advanced industrial country, sensitive to the possibility of earthquakes.  They build in the redundancy and all the safety considerations, and yet they‘re facing this horrible, horrible situation.  I think it‘s important that we learn why those systems failed, and whether the U.S. nuclear industry is able to handle things.  They say everything is fine, bud I don‘t want to take anybody‘s word for it.  We need to understand all the things that can happen and all the built-in fail-safes to stop those things from happening like what‘s going on in Japan.  So we‘ve called on the republican chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee to convene hearings and an investigation so we learn exactly what we need to know if we‘re going to continue down the path of nuclear energy in the United States.  We want to know how secure we can be with that, how safe we can feel with it, and are they building in all the safety considerations, or do we turn elsewhere.  

UYGUR:  You know, earlier I said, you take people out their word, I mean, you take everybody‘s word with a grand of salt.  Don‘t get me wrong.  I mean, a nuclear industry obviously has a lot of money on the line and different activists have their concerns as well.  So on that point, Congressman, you‘ll going to be running up against a lot of money, and they‘re not going to want to shut down plants, they‘re not going to want investigations, they‘re going to want to keep that churning.  How do you fight against that?

WAXMAN:  Well, I don‘t think that they can stand in the way of an investigation.  And I‘m not out to close down plants.  I want to get more information before I reach that conclusion.  One of the things that I hope will happen is that, while Japan has reached out to our nuclear experts to help them, our people here will learn from the experience in Japan to make sure that we‘re doing everything to deal with any potential safety threat, such as earthquake, a tsunami or whatever the case may be.  It could be a terrorist attack heading into a nuclear facility.  I think they have tried to factor in those considerations, but so did Japan. 

So, I think it‘s important for us to get the facts and then make a clear-headed decision.  Look, we have a need, as the president said, to turn to clean energy sources.  We are now so heavily dependent on coal and oil, it‘s a national security threat, and it‘s a global climate change threat because of those emissions.  The president would like to see these new ways of our meeting the cleaner energy strategies.  We have to see if nuclear can fit into it.  If it can, that‘s all to the good.  If it can‘t, we ought to know about it before we go further down this road. 

UYGUR:  But that‘s the last issue, that‘s the one that‘s really important Congressman because, look, I think maybe, I don‘t know.  I‘m open to the idea that nuclear might be the right way to go after you investigate, right?  But your argument seem pretty indisputable, whoa, let‘s check out what happened in Japan, make sure our stuff is safe, right?  But the administration at this point does not agree, so how do you address that with the administration when they don‘t agree? 

WAXMAN:  Well, whether they agree or not, Congress has as independent responsibility to do this kind of investigation before we say that we‘re comfortable with nuclear power.  And it‘s in the interest of the industry.  They may not like the people that don‘t want nuclear power, but they certainly have a vested interest in wanting the American people feel secure, that if we‘re going to go the direction of  more nuclear power or even existing nuclear power, that it‘s being done without a threat to the safety of the American people.  

UYGUR:  I agree with that.  Thank you, Congressman Waxman, we appreciate you joining us tonight. 

WAXMAN:  Thank you, pleased to be with you. 

UYGUR:  Now, in the middle of all this tragedy, there‘s some incredible story of survival as well.  The human spirit is an amazing thing.  Wait until you hear some of these stories.  That‘s next.  They‘re amazing.  Stay right here.        

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  At this moment 70 brave souls are still working at the stricken Fukushima plant in Japan.  They are trying to prevent a nuclear meltdown, and apparently suffering great radiation.  They are risking their lives to avoid this meltdown that could be historic and terrible for the whole country.  Their heroic story, ahead.    

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Amidst the horror of the devastating pair of natural disasters in Japan, incredible stories of endurance and survival have emerged.  We‘ve got 70-year-old grandmother‘s being rescued after days, we‘ve got a man who is rescued after 96 hours, we‘ve got a baby, we‘re going to talk about all that.  Daniel Sloan is the senior correspondent for Reuters.  He joins me live from right outside of Tokyo, east of Tokyo, I should say.  Tell me about that.  I understand there was a person rescued from a rooftop.  What‘s that story?

DANIEL SLOAN, REUTERS SENIOR CORRESPONDENT:  Well, basically in the immediate day or two days after the earthquake and tsunami, there was a gentleman out in Fukushima prefecture near the town of Soma.  The earthquake struck, he and his wife were trying to get to higher ground, his name is Hiromitsu Shinkawa and then the tsunami came, and it completely washed his home and everything else out to sea.  He had the presence of mind to grab onto the roof which continued to drift out to sea.  It was extremely cold over the next two days, but eventually he was spotted by a Japanese destroyer off the coast. 

Eventually a boat rescued him.  This had been two days of full exposure to the elements, very cold water, but he eventually has survived.  His wife was not rescued, and this is pretty much true for a lot of these stories that we‘re seeing subsequent to individuals who have been trapped in rubble.  You mentioned the 70-year-old grandmother.  She was in a town called Otsuchi that has essentially been wipe off the map.  More than half of the population—and most of those are presumed dead.  We‘ve had people trapped in rubble, but still 96 hours after the fact are being pulled out alive.  

UYGUR:  And look, that‘s why hope matters.  And you got to have hope, and you got to have those rescue teams and those search teams.  Just one more story here, the story, the four-month-old baby is amazing.  Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

SLOAN:  Well, we‘ve had different stories.  You know, obviously in

crisis situations, you know, everyone‘s circumstances going into it vary,

but we‘ve had babies being born.  We‘ve had, you know, situations where

pregnant women have been evacuated, had their child, and then the family is

reunited.  A story that really struck me, my colleague Rand Kim is in

Otsuchi right now, and we had families that are searching for relatives

amid this devastation, but just happened to look on television at that time

and found another side—the mother and father were at a separate rescue

station and just happened to be in a broadcast.  So, a lot of the process

right now as families reunite and find out, because so many people are

missing in Japan, the numbers are expected—casualties to exceed 10,000,

and still so many thousands more are missing.  This process is going to

take days and weeks.  We‘re still getting survivors, obviously that the 91

international rescue teams are on the ground to help, but it‘s been a real

a real work in process.  And hopefully, more will be found.  

UYGUR:  All right.  Daniel Sloan, from Reuters, thank you for joining us tonight.  And as I said before, look, that‘s why you‘ve got to have hope.  And it makes all the difference sometimes.  In this case, it‘s a matter of life and death.  And God bless to those people who are working hard to try to find those people under terrible circumstances.  Sometimes it makes a huge difference. 

Now, the eyes of the world are also watching Fukushima, but do you know about the 70 heroes inside the plant?  That amazing story is next.  And by the way, if you‘d like to donate to the relief effort, I want to show you how.  Here‘s some ways to do it.  Take a look at this and we‘ll be right back.           

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  So we‘ve been telling you all night about the explosions at Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.  They‘re desperately trying to make sure that they do not have core meltdowns in the four reactors out there.  But did you think about who‘s doing that?  The actual people involved.  Remember, we‘ve also been telling you about the dangerous level of radiation in a 12-mile perimeter of the plant, but who‘s in the middle of the plant where there is the strongest level of radiation?  Well, it turns out, it is the 70 heroes of Fukushima.  There are originally 800 workers at the plant, 21 were injured, and the rest were evacuated, 70 braves souls stayed behind to make sure that the rest of the country did not have to deal with the fallout from a nuclear meltdown.  Of course, they‘re almost all certainly wearing full body suits and air packs.  But some radiation will get through any type of gear.  They‘re operating in places that have been contaminated by radioactive isotopes, from all four reactors that have had trouble, the longer they stay, the more dangerous it is for them. 

According to the U.S. and Japanese standards, this morning those workers were exposed to radiation levels 30 times higher than its permitted even in emergency situations.  They‘ve been using fire equipment to pump seawater into the three failing reactors.  They‘ve been fighting numerous fires at the plant.  So far they have weathered the storm through an earthquake, a tsunami, three separate explosions at the plant, a steady stream of fires, and God knows how much radiation, and they‘re still there.  Look, our generations hear story about how tough the Japanese were in World War II.  How they dug in and fought for the last man. 

Now, you see, this is what this toughness means.  I can‘t imagine a better representative of the bravery of the Japanese people.  Some of these people must have kids at home, but they stood their ground and they manned their post.  They are the best of us.  So, tonight, if you pray, pray for them, and I know that as a person who doesn‘t, at least it leads me to believe the decency of humanity and these are the heroes of Fukushima, and they‘re making believers out of all of us. 

Thanks for watching, “HARDBALL” starts right now.   

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