The Ed Show for Tuesday, March 15th, 2011
Read the transcript to the Tuesday show
Guests: Chris Jansing, Arjun Makhijani, Christian Parenti, Dennis Kucinich
ED SCHULTZ, HOST: Good evening, Americans. And welcome to THE ED SHOW tonight from New York.
Our lead story tonight: a live report coming up from Japan in just a moment, the unfolding disaster there.
And coming up the battleground that must not be ignored right here in the United States. If you thought Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin was bad, wait until you see what Governor John Kasich of Ohio was doing when it comes to picking up where Walker left off with a budget that would cut funds to schools. Now, here‘s a new one for you—and even children‘s hospitals. How nice of them. The second front of the war on the middle class is well under way.
Plus, the very latest from Wisconsin.
It‘s Wednesday morning in Japan and the brave souls of that country are trying to prevent the world‘s worst serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl from becoming even a bigger disaster.
At this hour, the numbers are staggering. The number of confirmed dead, well over 3,000, but at least 10,000 are feared missing. Almost 7,000 confirmed missing, but tens of thousands of believed to be unaccounted for.
The numbers are all over the map and it‘s just hard to gather the magnitude of this. Nearly a half million are now homeless; 850,000 homes are still without electricity as temperatures outside drop to near-freezing.
The country continues to face an invisible threat—radiation.
Levels spiked following near meltdown at Japan‘s Fukushima nuclear plant. Japanese officials tell the IAEA that radioactivity was being released, quote, “directly into the atmosphere.”
After enduring so much already, survivors are unsure if they are safe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Nuclear power is the most frightening thing, even more than a tsunami. The government, the ruling party, the administrators—nobody tells us the citizens what is really happening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHULTZ: Frustration growing, no doubt. The crisis is now officially considered a level six emergency, surpassing the disaster at Three Mile Island, a level five.
Four explosions have occurred at the plant since Friday. Just hours ago, another fire broke out at the number four reactor. Officials say the blaze erupted because the initial fire from yesterday had not been fully put out. They are now considering spraying water and acid into the reactors to prevent further radiation.
All but 50 workers at the plant have been ordered to leave. Two workers have been reported missing following an explosion Tuesday. Seventy thousand people have been evacuated from homes within a 12-mile radius of the nuke plant. Those living within a 20-mile radius have been ordered to stay in their homes. But many are not taking chances and are questioning the government‘s information.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROHIT KACHROO, ITV NEWS: This is the main road from Fukushima into Tokyo. It‘s the evening rush hour and the traffic should be going in that direction. Instead, thousands of people are trying to get out of the town and into the main city, and this is one of the very few shops on the way. It‘s extremely busy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHULTZ: And inside, the shelves are empty. Many have searched for food for hours. They are desperate. In Tokyo, some 150 miles south of the plant, radiation levels have spiked. Experts say it is not an immediate threat to human health, but the long-term effects are unknown. We are just beginning to understand the long-term economic effects of this.
Analysts say the economic loss is likely to be well over $170 billion for the most devastated areas.
But as Japanese stocks appear to be rebounding from losses yesterday, “Reuters” is reporting the disaster has forced many firms to suspend production. Global companies are facing disruption after vital infrastructure was damaged or destroyed.
Here in the United States, Subaru has suspended overtime at its plant in Lafayette, Indiana. And Toyota is suspending overtime in Saturday production at all of its North American plants.
Back in Japan, residents of the most devastated areas are still trying to grapple with what happened. This was the town of Otsuchi just five days ago. Here it is today. After tsunami waters receded, fire fueled by kerosene in cooking stoves simply burned the entire town and burned it to the ground. It has left nothing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: “I have no idea what‘s going to happen,” he told us. And then looking off into the distance, he said, “The whole town has gone. The town next door is gone. It‘s as if I‘m living in a dream.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHULTZ: Joining me now from Tokyo is NBC News correspondent and MSNBC anchor, Chris Jansing.
Chris, thanks for your time tonight. I know it‘s been long duty over there and must be very gut-wrenching for you as well to see the strife that the people are experiencing there. And I guess that‘s what I want to know first tonight. Your impression of the Japanese people—how are they holding up through all of this now that we‘re in day five?
CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC ANCHOR: You know, it‘s heartbreaking and I‘m sure that‘s not surprising for you to hear that. I have compared it, being here, to the feeling that I had in New York City post-9/11. It has been such a devastating blow to the psyche of this nation. If you‘ve ever spent any time here, you know that this is a very proud country. It‘s an island where almost 99 percent of the people are ethnic Japanese.
If you read about this country, some people will say—well, it‘s kind of like they divide the world into two—Japanese and non-Japanese. And the people here are very proud. It is the world‘s third largest economy. It is I think per capita the most successful, the richest Asian nation.
And they are generally a very united, very proud country. And this is truly tearing them apart. It is—it is heartbreaking to watch, Ed. It really is.
SCHULTZ: And they are down to the basics—food, water, searching. Searching for loved ones and looking for the basics right now. And we hear a number of sound bites in our news coverage that that the people aren‘t trusting the government. Do you hear that a lot on the ground?
JANSING: You know, you do. And I will say that in the people that I have talked to, both Japanese and expats here, some experts, you‘re not going to hear people say, “We think the government is lying.” What you will hear them say is that there is a sense of unease. Are they being told the whole story? And maybe even more frightening, do they really know the whole story?
And I think a good example is what you talked about in your setup, what‘s going on at reactor four. First, the official announcement was there‘s a fire. But it‘s been put out. And then it was that there is a second fire - and then, well, we now think this second fire was because the first fire never really was put out. It‘s those kinds of series of reports that really have people uncomfortable.
And then you have international companies who are withdrawing. Folks even from here in Tokyo 150 miles away, you have the French government telling their people to leave Tokyo. You have the Austrian government moving its embassy 200 miles away from here to Osaka. So, those are the kinds of things that certainly lead to questions.
And I think that the truth of the matter is, given the unprecedented nature of this, the fact that we are at a level six and some experts would argue potentially moving toward a Chernobyl-like number seven, are there really answers? Do they have the answers, Ed? And, clearly, so far, it‘s been no.
SCHULTZ: It must be. And I‘m just speculating here, and you help us out with this, it must be really hard to get good, confirmed information on the ground, because everything seems so chaotic and so much is in disarray and there‘s been such tremendous devastation. And, speak to that, Chris, that it is—it is hard to get a grip on what exactly is happening at the hour, isn‘t it?
JANSING: Yes, and let me put it to you in the most human terms that I possibly can, because I spent an hour or more standing outside of the U.S. embassy and I wanted to talk to Americans as they were coming out. Three families came out, Ed, all of them considering leaving the country. All of them had lived here for many years. They have homes here. They have jobs here.
I talked to a couple. They were there with their 3-year-old and 5-month-old twins. They were getting those twins passports because they were, indeed, thinking about moving back to the States.
And when I said, how will you make that decision? On what will you base that? And first of all, he expressed his unease with the type of information that was out there—the reliability of that information. But what he said that struck home that I think everyone can relate to is, he said, “My fear is that by the time it‘s clear to me that I need to get my family out of here, then it‘s too late. By the time it‘s absolutely obvious that even Tokyo is not a safe place for me and my wife and my three children, I‘ve waited too long.”
So those are the kinds of issues that people here are grappling with and, you know, I don‘t want to overstate it—particularly here in Tokyo, where even though the levels of radiation are—have been detected at 10 times normal levels—you know, this is not anywhere near a life-threatening situation but there is definitely a fear that it could become that and an unease about how will we know when that point has been reached, Ed.
SCHULTZ: Chris Jansing, reporting for us tonight from Tokyo—and a reminder to our listeners that Chris will be anchoring from Tokyo in the next hour right here on MSNBC.
Chris, thanks so much for joining us tonight on THE ED SHOW.
Here now to discuss the unfolding nuclear crisis is Arjun Makhijani.
He is the president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.
Welcome to the program tonight, Arjun.
Where do we stand at this hour? How are things the way you see it?
ARJUN MAKHIJANI, NUCLEAR EXPERT: Well, I think some things are not deteriorating and others new tragedies and difficulties seem to be unfolding every day. So, the initial reactor where the trouble started, number one, they had that hydrogen explosion. It blew the roof off.
And as I‘ve been saying, the place to worry about, number one, and also number three, is the central pools which store the highly radioactive waste which are just as vulnerable to meltdown and fires and dispersal of radioactivity as the reactor, in some ways more vulnerable because they‘re more exposed.
And the other thing that happened today is the central pool in reactor four had a fire and a hydrogen explosion and poked a hole in the reactor building, and that seems to be venting radioactivity. Some of the outside radioactivity levels at one point on Tuesday morning here Eastern were quite high, about 4 million times natural background levels. Workers would get an annual dose in a few minutes.
The workers who are working there are working in a very, very difficult environment. It‘s very difficult to say how this is going to evolve. I don‘t believe this is at the level of Chernobyl yet. But I would agree that it certainly has the potential to go there.
SCHULTZ: Take us through this process, Arjun. Officials are considering spraying water and acid into the reactors to prevent further radiation. This is somewhat unchartered waters for everybody on the globe right now dealing with this over a five-day period. Take us through that process.
Is that something that would be successful do you think?
MAKHIJANI: Well, this is the—this is an—this is rewriting the playbook for accidents in a way, or the textbook for accidents because four reactors at the same time. Yes, normally, you do try to inject boric acid and mixed in water, and the boron is to control and prevent a chain reaction from occurring and causing further structural damage and heat.
The water is to keep the spent fuel or in the reactors, the fuel cooled because the radioactivity generates an enormous amount of heat. It‘s like a pressure cooker. And in a pressure cooker, if you don‘t vent it, it will blow up on you.
So the valves have to work and in this case the heat is inside the pressure cooker, so you can‘t switch it off. So, you‘ve got to keep pouring more water and venting the heat and the steam, and the steam is radioactive. And so, that‘s why the radioactivity levels keep going up and down but when you get a pulse like a fire, then the outside radioactivity levels can get pretty high and they‘ve been measured somewhat elevated as far away as Tokyo.
SCHULTZ: You can only imagine the pressure that these human beings are under trying to control this.
MAKHIJANI: Oh, yes.
SCHULTZ: I mean, it must be just unbelievable working in this environment, just frantically trying to do the right thing and it‘s hard to know exactly where you are, isn‘t it?
MAKHIJANI: Yes. I think that in some ways, you know, these folks are not only heroic and self-sacrificing. Some things they do seem to be keeping under control like reactor one and maybe the reactor three, the reactor, itself, the pressure cooker. But I have been worried from the beginning about the spent fuel pools. The big swimming pools near the roof of the reactor where all the highly radioactive waste is stored.
Now, the amount of waste in one, two, and three is significant but not huge. I don‘t know how much waste there is in number four. And I suspect more because it caught fire.
Now, it‘s very difficult to put water in a damaged pool and that I think is the situation they may be fighting for some element of surmise on my part, but since the explosions took place near the top of the reactor and certainly in reactor four, it seems to be associated with the pool, it would be quite hard—it‘s like pouring water into a bucket that‘s leaking.
SCHULTZ: Yes. Arjun Makhijani, thank you so much for joining us tonight here on THE ED SHOW.
For the rest of the hour, this is what‘s on the table tonight:
From the beginning, the images from Japan have been pouring in unlike any other moment in history in our time. The story and the video that you haven‘t seen—we‘ll show it to you tonight.
Could the latest crisis there happen here? With nuclear plants in this country that are situated in earthquake zones?
And the despicable talk that must be addressed when the likes of Beck and Limbaugh actually mock victims. That‘s in “The Take Down.”
Plus, the very latest from Ohio and Wisconsin. We‘ve not forgotten the middle class in this country.
Stay with us. We‘re right back for THE ED SHOW.
SCHULTZ: Be sure to check out our new blog at Ed.MSNBC.com. There you‘re going to find links to WeGotEd.com, Twitter and Facebook. Join up with us.
Coming up: despite the nuclear crisis in Japan, the push for more nuclear power in the United States—well, it is not slowing down. What you need to know about nuclear safety in America. That‘s next.
You‘re watching THE ED SHOW on MSNBC. Stay with us.
SCHULTZ: Welcome back to THE ED SHOW and thanks for watching tonight.
If the question is: can America produce safe, nuclear energy to prevent the kind of crisis we‘re seeing in Japan? Well, then the answer is not so comforting this evening. There are 104 nuclear plants in the United States, and like Japan, some of those plants are highly vulnerable to earthquakes. The two Diablo Canyon plants are built on fault lines outside Santa Barbara. Another plant sits on a fault line outside San Clemente.
Despite this, the American Medical Association released a study in January that said, “The nation remains poorly prepared to respond adequately to a major radiation emergency incident. For some measures, as many as 85 percent of responding states reported insufficient capability to respond to a radiation incident.” That‘s not good.
But the nuclear power industry is still lobbying to relicense these old reactors. Twenty-five percent of them are leaking or have leaked radioactive waste. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave more than half of these reactors new, brand new, 25-year licenses.
And if you‘re wondering where the bipartisanship in Washington is, look no further than nukes. House Republican Leader Eric Cantor reaffirmed a commitment to nuclear power this week. President Obama outlined a nuclear energy strategy in his State of the Union address and in his budget proposal. And not long ago he said, we should model our nuclear safety measures on Japan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no reason why technologically we can‘t employ nuclear energy in a safe and effective way. Japan does it and France does it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHULTZ: But nobody expects an earthquake.
Joining us tonight is Christian Parenti. He is contributing editor of “The Nation” magazine and author of the forthcoming book, “Tropic of Chaos:
Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.”
Christian, good to have you on tonight.
CHRISTIAN PARENTI, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, “THE NATION”: Thanks for having me.
SCHULTZ: I think Americans, myself, wondering about the integrity of the structures that are out there in this country. Your thoughts on that. They are old.
PARENTI: They‘re old and they‘re rickety and radiation embrittles metal and most of the crucial components in nuke plants are made of metal. One of the clone plants, there are 23 basically clone reactors similar to the ones that we have melting down or have melting down in Japan now. One of the 23 that we have that are exactly the same as Vermont Yankee, another one is Oyster Creek outside New York City where we are tonight. Both of those are leaking basically due to the embrittlement of metal pipes.
The managers of those plants are unable to find where those leaks are, yet both of them are up for renewal. I‘m not sure if Oyster may have been renewed already, but Vermont Yankee has been approved for renewal.
Yes, the management and regulation of our atomic fleet is, I think, totally inadequate. They overlook all of the obvious problems. Most of these plants are essentially 40 years old. The NRC is not only relicensing them to run for another 20 years, beyond the 40 years that they were designed to operate, but many of them have been given what are called power uprates so are now allowed to run at 120 percent of their designed and intended capacity.
You wouldn‘t do that to a car or anything else, but they‘re doing it to atomic power plants.
SCHULTZ: And, Mr. Parenti, how would we upgrade these facilities? How big a lift would this be for our country? How big of an investment and the logistics of it? Engineering-wise, can it be done? Or would we have to start over?
PARENTI: Well, I don‘t—I mean, you could definitely manage these
plants more efficiently and more rigorously than they are currently handled
and that would be a matter of the NRC essentially pressuring the industry
to do what it should do, which is, you know, do routine maintenance and
replace parts that have broken and all that. But if you tried to build one
of these plants now, you wouldn‘t have the right to do it. I mean, because
they‘re like completely outdated. It would be like trying to bring
PARENTI: -- a 1972 Toyota online today, just like you would not sell that car. But they want to extend these things for another 20 years and run them at 120 percent intended capacity.
SCHULTZ: Now, the president has been advocating new nuclear plants.
Is that a proper solution to all of this?
PARENTI: The new nuke thing is a canard. It‘s a pie in the sky.
The fact of the matter is, until the U.S. government is going to socialize the costs of nuke plants 100 percent, private capital is not going to really get involved. So all the stuff you hear from Lamar Alexander and from Nunes from California about how they want 100 or 200 new plants, that‘s all just like smoke and mirrors, because Wall Street does not like nuclear power plants because they always go over cost. They‘re dangerous. They‘re really expensive.
But underneath that discourse about new nukes, what‘s really going on is this push to relicense this fleet of 103 existing reactors -- 104 existing reactors. And that‘s what is going on in the deal, is pushing these things out way beyond their intended life span and way beyond their intended capacity.
SCHULTZ: And looking at our map there, there‘s a half dozen of them on the West Coast that could be very susceptible to earthquakes.
SCHULTZ: How dangerous is that?
PARENTI: It‘s pretty dangerous. I mean, it‘s very dangerous. I mean
and from the beginning, people were complaining about that. You‘ll recall the movie “China Syndrome” is set in California, right? And 12 days after that movie came out, which is just some corny, you know, Hollywood thing, Three Mile Island went off.
So, yes. I mean, from the beginning, people were saying, wait a minute, why are you building atomic power plants on the San Andreas Fault line and associated fault lines? Those fault lines are still active. I mean, there‘s no reason to think that there couldn‘t be a similar earthquake in California.
SCHULTZ: And those are old structures.
PARENTI: Yes. They‘re old structures.
PARENTI: Radiation makes metal brittle and those are—those are embrittled and it‘s very dangerous.
SCHULTZ: Christian Parenti—thanks for your time tonight.
PARENTI: Thank you.
SCHULTZ: Very insightful. Appreciate it very much.
The story that can best be told with pictures at the end of this hour tonight.
But next, the jabbermouths who continue to mock the victims. Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, right up their alley. They‘re in “The Take Down.”
Stay with us.
SCHULTZ: Welcome back to THE ED SHOW. We have breaking news at this moment out of Japan. A spokesman for the Japanese News Agency is saying that workers at the number four reactor at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant, due to high levels of radiation, are being evacuated. And they are unable to continue to work.
This is a major turning point. We want to go now to Arjun Makhijani. Arjun, what does this mean? The people that we were talking about just moments ago on this program in there working frantically to control the reactor are now being evacuated due to radiation.
What can you deduct from all of that?
MAKHIJANI: Well, you know, you need workers to keep—for some of these reactors, they are talking about using fire hoses to spray water into the spent fuel pools. They have to operate these pumps. Some of these things might operate for a little bit of time on their own.
But with four reactors down and the need to pump cooling water, even the things that seem to be sort of under control, like the reactor vessel in number one, risk getting out of control.
As I was explaining, these are pressure cookers and if you don‘t vent
the steam, periodically, then the pressure cookers will explode. Buildings
external buildings—reactor buildings are already gone.
So it‘s a pretty grave situation. I don‘t—I‘m not aware of how—whether they can operate these valves automatically and whether the control settings are good enough for them to do that. But from what—the way the accident has unfolded—it‘s very confusing, of course, for everyone. But it doesn‘t seem that controlled, to the extent that it exists, could last for very long if it is abandoned.
SCHULTZ: If it‘s abandoned and it is out of control, what kind of explosion would we be looking at?
MAKHIJANI: Well, as I said, the reactors themselves are like pressure cookers and the steam will build up. It‘s got a lot of heat. And the reactors would explode. And you‘d have a massive release of radioactivity because they would lose containment.
The buildings are already gone with the hydrogen explosion. There‘s additional radioactivity in the spent fuel pools. And that could also be released. And in the worst case, you know, there would be so much fallout that the evacuated areas and somewhat beyond could become uninhabitable for quite a bit of time.
You have to remember—so this is sort of a Chernobyl type of scenario. And in Chernobyl about 400 square miles remain uninhabitable 25 years later. And food had to be dumped hundreds and hundreds of miles away, not for a long time. But in Germany and Scandinavia, they had to collect the radioactive food.
There was significant fallout, enough to affect food, not enough to make people physically sick that far away. But enough for contamination to affect the lives of people hundreds of miles away.
SCHULTZ: Arjun Makhijani with us tonight, nuclear expert, here on THE ED SHOW tonight. This developing at this hour. Japanese News Agency reporting that workers at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant are being evacuated because they are unable to work, due to the radiation levels and the risks they are put at.
This would, as I understand, leave the facility unmanned. And as you mentioned, Arjun, possibly some remote capability to keep it under control, but there have been numerous explosions. We don‘t know the capability of the plant. This could take the story to a whole new level. It could bring radiation levels, as you said, the word “massive.” What does that mean?
MAKHIJANI: Well, I don‘t understand why they‘re not rotating workers. I mean, maybe the radiation levels are such as to make workers sick in the short term, because at certain radiation levels, it‘s not a long term cancer risk. It‘s skin burns. And the radiation sort of burns the water off your cells and your skin starts peeling. And you have a very, very terrible vomiting and sickness.
And so I can only surmise that people are abandoning or asked to abandon their position because they can no longer work. Normally they should be able to rotate workers. But if it is that radioactive, they may not be able to bring new workers in for them to be able to do anything.
SCHULTZ: So that would be the next question, would it not? When would they bring workers back in to the facility to try to contain this or is this it? Is it on its own, correct?
MAKHIJANI: Well, the short lived radioactivity that would make it intensely radioactive could last for days. And at that time, it may be possible for properly suited workers to go back in. But what there would be to manage at that stage is very difficult to say.
There may be just pieces and very radioactive pieces. That was—you know, the Chernobyl reactor, I should say, was very different. The mechanisms of explosion and the fire were very different. But the end results, in terms of the highly radioactive materials that were dispersed, could be quite similar, although the chemicals would be different and so on.
When you have that kind of a radioactive environment, very, very difficult for workers to tolerate the radiation.
SCHULTZ: What risk now is posed to the people of Japan on a grander scale and the people of the world, for that matter?
MAKHIJANI: Well, I think the people of Japan are—a lot will depend on the immediate meteorology and how long these releases last. If we take Chernobyl as our point of reference, one of the big difficulties of that accident was that the fire lasted for ten days. And so the release of the radioactivity lasted for ten days.
Now, the winds shift a lot over a ten-day period. So it was dispersed in a lot of different directions. There were predominant directions toward the west, but it did disperse fairly widely across the 360 degrees. Now, if these releases are short, and it doesn‘t look like it‘s headed in that direction, then maybe they would blow out to the ocean.
But otherwise, the winds do shift. And quite a lot of people in Japan would be affected. It‘s very densely populated. And as I was saying earlier, some elevated radiation levels can reach for hundreds of miles. And in Chernobyl, there was some global fallout. Although it didn‘t affect us very much here in this country, I have to say.
SCHULTZ: Aquatic life obviously would be affected as well, if it goes out to sea. That‘s not good either way it goes.
But developments at this hour—new developments, Japanese officials are saying that workers are unable to continue to work at the Fukushima Nuclear Facility. And they have been evacuated. And so because of the radiation—due to the radiation, the risk that is there. We don‘t know if they‘re going to be going back in or another crew going back in.
But this is a big development this hour. Arjun Makhijani, thank you so much for joining us tonight on this again. Appreciate it.
MAKHIJANI: Well, I‘m sorry to have participated in this very horrible news, but I‘m happy to have been able to help.
SCHULTZ: Thank you. We rely on your expertise.
Nothing captures this Japan disaster more accurately and urgently than the images that we‘ve been seeing day after day. That‘s at the end of this hour.
But an urgent battle in this country cannot be ignored either. Governor John Kasich of Ohio versus the middle class wage earners. That is next. Stay with us.
SCHULTZ: Breaking news at this hour here on THE ED SHOW tonight. We are getting word from Japan that workers at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant have been evacuated. This is a very ominous development. The workers that were trying to control the radiation, but due to the radiation risks they have been evacuated. And there is no word as to whether more workers are going to be going back into that facility to try to control things.
We were going to talk about Ohio, the budget, and the things that middle class workers are facing, but we‘re going to shift now to Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich who was going to join us on that issue tonight.
But, congressman, because of the situation in Japan, and also the story that we ran earlier tonight documenting that the nuclear facilities in this country, not only old, but structurally they have some integrity issues. And yet the permitting and licensing just continues.
You are the ranking Democrat on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Congress I believe, are you not, congressman?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO: That‘s right, Ed. It‘s the oversight subcommittee --
KUCINICH: -- of government reform and oversight. And it has jurisdiction over the NRC, our subcommittee.
SCHULTZ: Congressman, where are we at this hour, in your opinion, as we re-evaluate as a country where we are, not so much where we‘re going, but the facilities that we have right now and the licensing that‘s taking place. Are you concerned about it?
KUCINICH: I am. Because of that, Ed—you know, you‘re going to hear it first here on THE ED SHOW. I‘ll be sending a letter tomorrow in my capacity as ranking Democrat on the Oversight Subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the NRC, a letter to the NRC asking them to come to Capitol Hill and give us a full briefing on the full scope of these issues that are being raised in Japan, as it relates to nuclear reactors in the United States.
In particular, I say in the letter to the NRC that any plant operator that has had any difficulty because of, let‘s say, dishonesty in their handling of a plant, that they should not have their license renewed. They should actually be shut down. We cannot put the public at risk anywhere in America.
And I cite in particular a plant in Ohio, the Davis Bessie (ph) Nuclear Power Plant, which you may remember in 2002 was discovered to have a hole in the head of the reactor. It was covered up by First Energy. And it presented a—the possibility of a catastrophe that could have been close to a level of Three Mile Island.
So we have to make sure that all the bad actors in the industry are sorted out very quickly. And all these other plants that are up for relicensing, there‘s going to have to be a very close inspection and examination that is probably unprecedented in the history of the industry.
SCHULTZ: Congressman, is it easy to get these facilities relicensed? Are you satisfied with the oversight when it comes to the relicensing of this—of these facilities in America, where there are documented leaks, consistent leaking? What do you think?
KUCINICH: Well, generally, relicensing is a perfunctory thing. You have so many—as Dr. Makhijani pointed out, there are so many of these nuclear facilities that are past the stage—they are operating past the stage at which they‘re intended to operate.
SCHULTZ: Life expectancy, yes.
KUCINICH: Right. And as has been pointed out, the longer these machines—these plants are operating, they‘re more prone to break down. Except when you‘re talking about breakdowns with respect to nuclear power plants, the consequences are quite severe.
So the plants were not meant, Ed, to last more than 40 years. And so the nuclear industry trying to wring every last dime of profit out of these plants—you can understand from their perspective, but from a public policy perspective, there are safety issues that have to be raised. And that‘s why I‘m asking the NRC to come to Capitol Hill and to give Congress a full briefing, so that members will have the opportunity to ask the NRC detailed questions on plants across this country.
And also in my letter, I talk about the Mark One reactors, which are GE designed. And there are some questions that have been raised about Mark One with respect to the events in Tokyo—or rather in Japan.
SCHULTZ: Congressman Kucinich with us here on THE ED SHOW tonight. Congressman, would you advocate, based on what you know, shutting down any of these facilities in America?
KUCINICH: Well, I‘ve consistently advocated shutting down the Davis Bessie Nuclear Power plant in Ohio.
KUCINICH: It is no secret that the Perry Nuclear Plant is built—was built in an earthquake area. They had a 5.0 earthquake a couple decades ago there.
SCHULTZ: Has the NRC been honest brokers in all of this?
KUCINICH: I think the NRC is going to have to step up right now. It‘s a whole new—what happened in Japan changes everything. And it‘s going to require the NRC to look at nuclear safety through the prism of what happened in Japan.
Now some people will say, well, they had an earthquake and a tsunami. Look, we have two nuclear power plants in Ohio on Lake Erie, which is part of a chain of lakes that is the largest supplier of fresh water in the world. Could you imagine if we had an event there that would cause a compromise of any of those reactor vessels?
We have to be concerned now with public safety. We have to look at what happened in Japan as a cautionary tale. And so that‘s why I‘m asking the NRC to come forward.
KUCINICH: And it‘s time that they laid out all the cards on the table for Congress and answered all of our questions. It is a whole new day. And we have to be very concerned about the people in Japan. My heart goes out to them. This is a—what a difficult, difficult series of circumstances.
SCHULTZ: It is very difficult. And this country is facing some difficult situations as well. But, congressman, I want to ask you one more thing. Former Governor Bill Richardson said on MSNBC earlier today that this country is not prepared. The states aren‘t prepared. And the federal government may not be prepared.
And with budget cuts taking place, how concerned are you, if something like this were to happen in America, that we don‘t have a readiness?
KUCINICH: Well, Bill Richardson would be in a position to know. I think that we have to be concerned about readiness. This is going to cause a reappraisal of things like evacuation plans in states where they have nuclear reactors in very populated areas.
SCHULTZ: So the budget cuts is what I‘m focusing on. The budget cuts really are—should be a priority list. We should not be cutting the preparedness if we could be facing something like that.
KUCINICH: Of course we shouldn‘t be cutting preparedness, Ed. You know what those budget cuts are about? It‘s not because of the deficit. They‘re cutting the budget in some areas so they can give tax dollars to their friends in other areas. That‘s another calamity.
SCHULTZ: Congressman, thanks for joining us tonight. I appreciate your time. Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.
The breaking news with Japan‘s nuclear power plants, that continues right here on THE ED SHOW. Stay with us.
SCHULTZ: Breaking news at this hour. Japan has suspended operations to prevent a nuclear power plant from melting down after a surge in radiation made it too dangerous for workers to remain at the facility. Workers are unable to continue their efforts at the nuclear facility. Nuclear expert Arjun Makhijani will join us next to tell us what this means as the crisis heightens.
SCHULTZ: Breaking news here tonight on MSNBC. At the Fukushima Nuclear Plant, all of the workers have been evacuated within the last hour due to high levels of radiation. This is a rather ominous development. And it certainly changes the dynamic of the story. And a reminder to our viewers, coming up after this program MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing will be anchoring from Tokyo, and will have the very on-the-ground, latest details on this.
Again, the workers at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant have been evacuated within the last hour due to radiation levels too high and conditions too severe for them to work in. What this means, we really don‘t know.
For more on all of that, let‘s bring back Arjun Makhijani. He is the president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. On the surface, Arjun, when you hear this report, what does it mean, that they have evacuated when they have been frantically attempting all day long to cool the rods and control the situation?
MAKHIJANI: Well, the fact that they‘re not sending in a second crew doesn‘t mean—means that it‘s not just that the crew is exhausted or there is a level of radiation that they received over a long period of time and they can send in another crew.
It appears to be that the level of the radiation must be so intolerable that even work for a brief time has become very dangerous. So, you know, for a brief while, this kind of emergency may operate automatically in terms of injecting water and so on. The pumps can be left on. But it can‘t last for very long.
A lot of the equipment in this plant is damaged. And, you know, this is a really fog of a giant nuclear accident. And it‘s very hard for me to tell what‘s going on. But it would appear to be headed in a direction of a very major radiological catastrophe.
SCHULTZ: Japanese officials are not saying whether more workers are going to be going into that environment in the near future, or ever for that matter. That announcement was not made. But if there—if it is unmanned and something were to happen at a higher level, you told us earlier that there could be a massive release of radiation, which could affect possibly—how much of an area do you think?
MAKHIJANI: Well, you know, at this stage, we‘re moving past the
levels of the accident and toward the worst case accident for which the
reference point so far has been Chernobyl. I mean, we don‘t know the exact
inventories of radioactivity in these reactors. But together, these four reactors have much more electrical generating capacity than Chernobyl.
Plus, we‘ve got the spent fuel pools with the highly radioactive waste. So the inventories of radioactivity are larger than Chernobyl. Chernobyl, of course, was a very different fire, where the fire was inside the reactor and was propagating a huge amount of radioactivity. And that radioactivity went—caused food to be dumped hundreds and hundreds of miles away, as far away as Poland, Germany, and Scandinavia.
And Chernobyl, of course, is in the Ukraine, you know, deep in eastern Europe, or in the former Soviet Union. And so what I think this appears to be headed to a similar type of catastrophe if no cooling—even a minimal amount of cooling and venting of the steam cannot be maintained. It would be a different mechanism of accident, but the release potential appears to be very grave.
SCHULTZ: And quickly, finally, Arjun, the weather plays a big role here if there is a release, does it not?
MAKHIJANI: That‘s right. So the weather is—if the release is quick and it blows over the ocean, the Japanese people will be very lucky. If the release lasts for a long period of time, then the widespread contamination over populated areas becomes more probable.
SCHULTZ: Finally, is there a chance that maybe some automatic mechanism was not damaged, and they left and they are still in the process of cooling it automatically through some kind of computer mechanism?
MAKHIJANI: Well, one would hope so. But, you know, I have no information --
MAKHIJANI: -- on the state of those systems.
SCHULTZ: All right. So that is the latest at this hour. That is THE ED SHOW for this Tuesday night. For more on this, stay tuned. Our Chris Jansing will be reporting live from Tokyo. Chris Jansing on the ground in Tokyo here on MSNBC. We‘ll see you back here tomorrow night. Thanks for joining us.
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