Skip navigation

Msnbc Live at 6 p.m. ET, Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

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

  Most Popular
Most viewed

Guests: Anne Thompson, Ken Bergeron, Ed Markey, Barry McCaffrey, Dr. Nagy Elsayyad, Earl


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

It‘s literally a race against time to prevent a catastrophic nuclear event in Japan today.  It‘s a very, very critical time right now. 

At this hour, there are reports that four of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant are in danger of melting down.  Perhaps most worrisome is the spent fuel rods in reactor number 4. 

This afternoon, a top U.S. official warned that those rods are now exposed, a claim that Japanese officials later denied. 


GREGORY JACZKO, NUCLEAR REGULATOR COMMISSION:  In addition to the three reactors that were operating at the time of the incident, a fourth reactor is also right now under concern.  What we believe at this time is that there has been a hydrogen explosion in this unit due to an uncovering of the fuel in the fuel pool.  We believe that secondary containment has been destroyed and there is no water in the spent fuel pool, and we believe that radiation levels are extremely high. 


UYGUR:  That does not sound good at all.  The Japanese government has been trying to cool all the reactors, pumping water into the plant, and even trying to drop water from helicopters.  But that had to be abandoned because of rough winds and the radiation threat.  There are reports now that some workers are already getting sick from radiation exposure, which is not surprising. 

And right now experts are working frantically to restore power to the plant, which would restore the cooling system.  But will it work?  And what options are left if it doesn‘t? 

Those are really important questions. 

The U.S. military has pulled its ships back 50 miles from the Japanese shore.  It appears that they no longer believe the Japanese government‘s declarations about how safe it is at closer distances. 

That growing skepticism was echoed today in Washington.  Here‘s Energy Secretary Steven Chu. 


STEVEN CHU, ENERGY SECRETARY:  I think the events unfolding in the Japan incidents actually appear to be more serious than Three Mile Island.  To what extent, we don‘t really know now.  And so, as they are unfolding very rapidly, on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis, and there are conflicting reports --  


UYGUR:  Another potential sign of mistrust, the Japanese media is reporting that the U.S. military flew an unmanned spy plane over the Fukushima plant today, obviously trying to gauge how bad it is for themselves. 

Now, Australia‘s advising its nationals to leave Japan.  France is telling its citizens to leave or head for southern Japan immediately.  The British Foreign Office just advised its citizens to leave Tokyo.  That‘s interesting, because that‘s Tokyo.  That is over a hundred miles away from the plant. 

Now, Emperor Akihito gave a speech today saying, “It is important that each of us shares the difficult days that lie ahead.  I pray that we will all take care of each other.”

Now, that also sounds really ominous.  Why?  What are they expecting? 

Are they now beginning to worry about full-scale panic?  Now, why would they do that?  Why is there such grave concern? 

Well, reactors 5 and 6 are also now in trouble.  And Reuters reports that there is plutonium in reactor 3.  And we‘ll have to see if that makes a big difference or not. 

Radiation got so bad, that they pulled out their final 50 workers for some period of time earlier.  Now, they have already been exposed to significant radiation and, still, the new levels warranted their exit.  They are back now, but I want you to think about this—what happens if there is no one to man the plant? 

They can‘t run those plants without the workers on the ground.  What happens if there is a meltdown at one or more of the plants and then the radiation levels get too high and you can‘t have the workers there?  And if the workers aren‘t there, how do you stop it? 

Now, luckily, the Tokyo Electric Power Company says they are close to finishing a power line that can restore electricity to the plant.  Now, that might be the answer, but will they be able to do it quick enough before one of those plants melts down?  That‘s a real question and what‘s got everybody concerned today. 

Joining me now is Anne Thompson.  She‘s NBC News‘ chief environmental correspondent.

Anne, look, as I read through all this, I got more and more scared throughout the day.  The idea that this reactor number 4 now has fuel rods that are exposed, how important is that?  How bad is that? 

ANNE THOMPSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF ENVIRONMENTAL CORRESPONDENT:  Oh, it‘s very bad.  When you have fuel rods that are exposed, even when they‘re spent fuel rods, which is basically fuel rods that have been used to make energy, and then they are put in this pool, when they are exposed they can melt down and then release the radioactive particles that are inside.  And that‘s what they are trying to avoid.  The news from the head of the NRC that the spent fuel pool in reactor number 4 has no water is very, very bad news. 

Now, today, the Japanese government was going to try to send in military helicopters to dump water over some of these spent fuel pools.  They tried to do that on Wednesday.  They couldn‘t do it because of high levels of radiation.  So that was one concern. 

But you know what, Cenk?  What all of these developments tonight really point to is there has been a big problem with getting really solid information out of Japan all the way along in this crisis.  And I think that when you see the U.S. government advising citizens to stay away from the Fukushima 1 plant, within a 50-mile radius, then tonight you have the British Foreign Office advising its nonessential personnel to leave Tokyo and to leave the northern part of Japan, the notice from the British Foreign Office says it‘s not necessarily because of Fukushima, but just because of all the uncertainty around Fukushima and the fact that you also, on top of you have this nuclear crisis, then you have a country that is reeling from an earthquake and a tsunami. 

And so they are advising all their citizens that don‘t absolutely have to be in Tokyo or the north of Japan to leave.  And I think it boils down to the fact that nobody is really quite sure what exactly is going on in that power plant. 

UYGUR:  Anne, talk to me about the radiation.  If the radiation from reactor number 4 gets bad enough, does that mean that they have to absolutely pull the workers out from trying to fix all the plants?  And if that‘s the case, God, what do they do then if there are no workers on the ground? 

THOMPSON:  That‘s a really good question, Cenk, that I don‘t have an answer for.  But those workers who have stayed in there through this crisis, they really are doing heroic work. 

We can only theorize, but everyone suspects that they are being exposed to very high levels of radiation.  And in some cases, I mean, if you were exposed to a high enough dose of radiation, it can be lethal.  And it can be lethal within weeks, within months.  You can get burns. 

I mean, there are all kinds of things, to say nothing of the long-term impact of cancer, if you are exposed to radiation.  So what those workers are doing is truly extraordinary.  And if they have to pull them all out, God only knows what will happen.  We are really in uncharted territory here. 

UYGUR:  Yes.  And the head of our nuclear commission says, “We believe radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures.”  So that goes to the point of, well, if you pull out the employees, then we don‘t know what to do next. 

So let‘s talk about possible rescues.  Can the power line come to the rescue here?  If they get the power line to the plant, could they get the electricity working again and then rescue the situation? 

THOMPSON:  You know, that‘s—if there is one piece of good news in this just unfolding drama, it is that they are close to hooking up a power line to restart those pumps to pour water not only into the reactor cores, but into those spent fuel pools.  But, again, we don‘t know how close they are to doing that. 

It‘s something that Tokyo Electric Power Company is not revealing at this hour.  If they are 12 hours away, if they‘re three days away, we don‘t know.  But certainly that is one solution, and it would be a very good solution. 

You know, whether you can really use these helicopters to pour water into these fuel pools, nobody is quite sure of that, whether they can actually make that happen.  It just sounds like all of these are absolute “Hail Mary” passes to stop the worst from happening. 

UYGUR:  All right. 

NBC‘s Anne Thompson.

Thank you so much for your time tonight. 

THOMPSON:  Take care, Cenk. 

UYGUR:  All right.  You, too, Anne. 

Joining me now is nuclear reactor specialist Ken Bergeron.  He did research on nuclear reactor accident simulation for Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, which is of course particularly relevant on a night like this. 

So, first, let‘s talk about reactor number 4 again.  If it turns out that we have a situation as described by our officials and that‘s—would that mean, the fact that we have run out of coolant for reactor 4, does that mean we‘re going to a meltdown?  And do you have any idea how much time they would have before it melts down? 

KEN BERGERON, NUCLEAR REACTOR SPECIALIST:  Well, the danger for the spent fuel pool in reactor 4 is not of a meltdown.  The danger is better described as a zirconium fire. 

These fuel rods are suspended in water.  And as long as they are in water, they can be kept cool.  But they do have a decay heat level just as any spent fuel has. 

And if they are exposed to air and also to steam, then there is a chemical reaction of steam ad zirconium that creates hydrogen, and that also weakens the zirconium clad.  That process allows all the fission products, which are the nasty stuff, to escape from the fuel rods into the atmosphere, which get then lofted up into the air in this smoky fire.  And that plume is incredibly radioactive. 

UYGUR:  Could it spread to the other reactors?  Is there a situation in which there would be more heat, more radiation or whatever it might be that if they had to pull the workers out, that it would then spread to the other reactors? 

BERGERON:  No.  Each one of these spent fuel pools is operating independently.  But the main impact of a big fire at number 4 would be creating an environment where no workers could be present. 

UYGUR:  All right.  And if there are no workers present, then what would happen at the other reactors? 

BERGERON:  Oh, we have got to think about the three operating reactors that need to have that coolant supplied at a steady rate over a period of more days and more weeks.  And I am sure that that‘s going to require on-site personnel. 

To abandon this site at that point would be to allow an even worse situation to occur.  I think they‘re going to have to rotate people in and get them exposed, and pull them back out, and bring in some more.  That‘s the kind of operation that might be in the offing. 

UYGUR:  You know, based on the information we have now, I know we‘re at a distance here and it‘s very hard to tell, but do you have a sense based on what our officials are saying and the reports coming in how close we are to a worse-case scenario? 

BERGERON:  Well, you know, with regard to the spent fuel pool, it‘s already there.  If you have combustion occurring in a dry spent fuel pool, that story would be your top story regardless of anything else if it weren‘t for these other three reactors.  So it‘s already very bad. 

With regard to the three reactors, the worse case is that the reactor vessel would melt through and that core material would come out.  That‘s even worse than the fuel fire. 

UYGUR:  All right.  So if that happens—and we hope, of course, that it doesn‘t happen.  We hope they fix the power line, et cetera, et cetera.  But if it does happen, then what‘s the situation? 

Could that spread all the way to Tokyo?  Are people right to be concerned that some are leaving Tokyo now, or would it not get that far? 

BERGERON:  It depends on the wind.  It would be a very dangerous, lethal radioactive cloud that would float up into the atmosphere in the vicinity of the plant. 

If the winds continue to blow from the west, great.  No harm done except at the site itself.  If the winds blew steadily from the north, and then worst case you get precipitation—rain or snow—that pulls it out of the sky and drops it on to the ground, you have a situation where the health consequences would be worse than Chernobyl. 

UYGUR:  Wow.  Worse than Chernobyl. 

And then at Fukushima, how long would the radiation stay there in that surrounding area? 

BERGERON:  A lot of that radioactive material will last for hundreds of years.  I don‘t know how much contamination there is on the ground and whether decontamination would be possible.  Some of these radioisotopes have extremely long half lives. 

UYGUR:  Ken, one last thing.  If you were in Tokyo right now, what would you do? 

BERGERON:  I wouldn‘t be in Tokyo. 

UYGUR:  So is that why the Japanese government, do you think, is so concerned, because people are going to start to think, I wouldn‘t be in Tokyo? 

BERGERON:  Yes, that is why they are concerned.  And, you know, it‘s a city of 20 million people.  You can‘t evacuate a city that big on any reasonable time frame. 

So I wouldn‘t be in Tokyo because I don‘t live there.  I guess that‘s not a very good answer.  If I lived there I would be extremely worried. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Ken Bergeron, thank you for your time tonight. 

Look, we hope that they fix it.  We hope they don‘t go to the worse-case scenario.  It‘s a serious situation. 

You have to be prepared, right?  At the same time, panic isn‘t going to help anybody.  So let‘s hope that they get on top of the situation. 

And again, I can‘t tell you how brave those 50 guys inside that plant are.  It‘s an amazing story. 

Now, some of the 104 nuclear plants in the U.S. are also near fault lines prone to earthquakes.  But as the potential nuclear disaster unfolds in Japan, guess what?  The Republicans here are downplaying it, and President Obama is staying with his nuclear plan.  At this point, is that crazy? 

Congressman Ed Markey is not happy about it, and he‘s going to tell us why, next.


UYGUR:  The potential nuclear disaster in Japan should have our nation‘s leaders at least thinking about the wisdom of pursuing nuclear power in America.  President Obama‘s current budget proposal includes the requested triple amount currently spent on loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants in the U.S.

And today, energy secretary Steven Chu largely stood by the policy. 


STEVEN CHU, ENERGY SECRETARY:  We‘re going to look at what went wrong in terms of that double-barreled whammy of this huge, huge earthquake and huge tsunami, and look to our reactors again and learn as much as we can, so we can, if needed, improve the safety. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Does the president support new nuclear power plant construction in the United States? 

CHU:  The present budget is what it is.  And we are asking for loan guarantees.  The present budget is also calling for small modular reactors.  That position has not been changed. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So that‘s a yes? 

CHU:  That‘s a yes. 


UYGUR:  Now, of course, the Obama administration is still more cautious than the Republicans, who are working overtime to downplay the risks of nuclear power. 

Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe said, “I don‘t think we have a nuclear problem just because of what happened in Japan.  Once in 300 years a disaster occurs and they‘re all waiting for it, and the Japanese are calm and collected, and only the politicians over here are hysterical.” 

Except, of course, it doesn‘t happen just once in 300 years.  It happened three times in the last 32 years.  And one was catastrophic and another one, unfortunately, looks like it‘s maybe headed in that direction. 

Look, if you‘re not worried about that, there‘s something wrong with you. 

And House Speaker John Boehner wants nuclear power so badly, he‘s all of a sudden become a huge fan of France. 


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER:  Eighty-two percent of the electricity produced in France comes from nuclear sources, and have done so successfully for decades.  Only 20 percent of electric in the United States comes from nuclear sources. 

So I think, let‘s learn the lessons.  Let‘s understand what safeguards, if any additional safeguards, need to be put in place.  But let‘s not just say like we have for the last 30 years we‘re not even going to look at it because we‘re afraid of it. 


UYGUR:  So he wants to plow straight ahead.  He says if safeguards are needed. 

Republican Senator from Tennessee Lamar Alexander is apparently also a huge fan of French policies all of a sudden.  He said, “The Japanese and the French have surged into the lead in terms of nuclear power.” 

Yes, Japan is now in the lead for nuclear power.  How‘s that working out? 

Are these guys blind?  Are they not seeing the same things we are seeing? 

Japan is in a little bit of trouble here.  We should all be concerned about that for their sake, but also for the sake of all nuclear energy. 

Yesterday, I said I wasn‘t sure about nuclear power.  I‘m a little bit more sure today.  We‘ve got to at least stop and look into it. 

You know that even China has suspended approvals for their proposed nuclear power plants?  And they are making a comprehensive safety check to make sure that everything is OK in their existing ones. 

Boehner doesn‘t even want us to do that.  The Chinese are concerned, and our politicians say, straight ahead. 

But look, these politicians aren‘t coming to these conclusions on their own.  Nuclear industry lobbyists have been working over politicians in Washington big time. 

Last year, the Nuclear Energy Institute spent $1.69 million on lobbying and their PAC spent more than $322,000 on political campaigns.  Exelon Corporation, the biggest U.S. operator of nuclear reactors, has even deeper pockets.  They spent over $3.7 million on lobbying in 2010 and more than $514,000 in campaign donations, and they are not backing off.  Executives and lobbyists for both groups are in Washington this week briefing lawmakers. 

Now, not all members of Congress are buying into the nuclear industry‘s lobbyists.  Several members have sent a letter to the leaders of the House Energy Committee requesting “—an evaluation of the risks posed by nuclear reactors in the United States and the preparedness of industry and regulators to respond to those risks.” 

Joining me now is one of the members who signed that letter, Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts. 

Congressman Markey, what do you want to happen next?  Are you saying let‘s stop the new projects?  Are you saying let‘s look into the old projects?  What is it that you think should be done now? 

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  Number one, I am saying that the new Westinghouse AP1000 reactor which has been questioned by one of the senior scientists at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who calls it a nuclear power plant that is so fragile, that it could just shatter like a glass cup in an earthquake, should be re-evaluated so that it‘s not built on an earthquake fault, an earthquake-prone zone in our country, which the plans are to have it constructed there.  I don‘t think that any longer we should have the Obama administration, following on with the Bush administration, failing to implement my law from 2002 where potassium iodide is distributed out to a 20-mile radius around nuclear power plants in our country because that‘s the greatest threat, thyroid cancer. 

Thousands of them occurred around Chernobyl.  We have to protect our own citizens. 

And I also believe that we have to begin to question this loan guarantee program.  The secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, is actually the banker in chief for the nuclear industry.  They are all saying they will not construct any nuclear power plants in the United States unless there is a federal loan guarantee program backed up by the federal taxpayer. 

So, to that extent, we‘re like China.  We‘re like a communist country which has the taxpayers, the government, that guarantees a private sector endeavor. 

Well, we‘re a capitalist country.  That is what separates us from France.  That is what separates us from China.  We are capitalists. 

And Wall Street has walked away from nuclear power because it‘s a bad investment.  They‘ve moved towards wind and solar and natural gas, other technologies, but they‘ve walked away for 36 years.

Now the Republicans are saying, let‘s use taxpayer money, kind of like what happened with General Motors, what happened with the TARP and the financial industry.  Let‘s use the taxpayers as a way of propping up an industry that Wall Street has been walking away from.  And I just don‘t think it makes any sense to not step back and do an evaluation and make sure we understand that the economics of this industry now work after Fukushima. 

UYGUR:  Now, Congressman Markey, the Republicans say that they are in favor of free markets, yet they are for these massive subsidies.  I get that point. 

But you are also criticizing the Obama administration here, because they are saying, let‘s push forward.  As usual, before they even got into negotiations or anything, they immediately agreed with the Republicans to push forward on nuclear energy. 

So are you saying that they have to step back from that and they are going down the wrong path? 

MARKEY:  Look, I believe that the Obama administration has to step back, figure out what the risk premium is now that has to be built in to any proposition that is going to lead to new construction of power plants, nuclear power plants in our country, because the taxpayer is going to be on the hook.  We are the ones, the taxpayers, who are going to be paying the money if any one of these nuclear power plants fail.  That‘s our system.   We want to adopt a system like France or China. 

Well, look, if you‘re going to go down that path after Fukushima, we better make sure that the risk is not so great that the American taxpayer is going to wind up holding the bag like they were with subprime loans, like TARP, or like any of these other bailouts of industries that just didn‘t know what they were doing. 

UYGUR:  Let alone dealing with health consequences.  And by the way, China has even stopped their nuclear program now to pause and to find out, hey, is this safe given what‘s happened in Japan?  That‘s got to be the right answer. 

But last question for you, Congressman.

Look, before the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama preemptively agreed with the Republicans that we should do more drilling.  And then, boom, the disaster happens and he‘s left holding the bag.  Before this disaster happened he preemptively agreed with the Republicans and said we should do more nuclear power, and now he‘s left holding the bag. 

Is this a bad political strategy, let alone bad policy? 

MARKEY:  Look, after Fukushima, it‘s important to step back.  The Republicans, do you know what they did in the House of Representatives just three weeks ago?  They continued all of the loan guarantees for the nuclear industry in the bill they passed, the budget they passed, and cut out all of the loan guarantees for wind and solar and all the renewables. 

Now, what kind of upside-down policy is that that the Republicans just passed out of the House of Representatives just three weeks ago?  In fact, after Fukushima, it should just be the opposite, because there might be a nuclear power plant that kind of stumbles across the finish line in 10 or 12 years, but by then, we‘ll have 100,000 to 125,000 new megawatts of wind and solar.  We‘ve got 40,000 now.

And I just think this is going to accelerate the trend, along with natural gas, which emits only half the pollution off coal-fired plants.  I just think that nuclear power has now met its maker in the marketplace.  It‘s not protesters, it‘s investors that are now going to render their verdict on this technology. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

Thanks for your time tonight.  We appreciate it.

MARKEY:  Glad to be here.

UYGUR:  And from my perspective, both the Republicans and the Obama administration need to step back a little bit here.  We have got to at least look at what went wrong in Japan before we build new nuclear plants.  To me, that‘s the most obvious thing in the world. 

Now, ahead, U.S. forces in Japan are not allowed within 50 miles of the plant.  So how is our military planning for the worst-case scenario?  General Barry McCaffrey on that plan, next. 


UYGUR:  As we watch the efforts to stop the nuclear crisis in Japan, there are people in our military, in our government who are thinking about and planning for the worst case scenario there.  Imagine being in the White House situation room and the question asked is, what happens if this plant completely melts down?  And what happens if there is a panic in Japan?  That‘s scary stuff, but someone‘s got to prepare for it. 

Joining me now is retired U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey and NBC military analyst right now as well now.  First, general, I want to talk about the USS Reagan.  They have gone now 50 miles out from shore.  If the radiation gets bad enough, are we going to have a situation where we are reluctant to send in some of our troops on these search and rescue missions?

BARRY MCCAFFREY, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, I think we are already reluctant.  Remember we got 15 ships offshore in the U.S. navy seventh fleet.  Nobody in the world knows more about nuclear power reactors than the U.S. navy.  They‘ve also got a massive capability with the marines included in providing humanitarian assistance which they are now doing along with lots of U.S. air lift, the district U.S. army engineers are hard at work trying to clear airfields, et cetera.  So, we are not directly involved on site.  I would also tell you that the U.S. navy is anal retentive about protecting themselves from radioactive material.  So far, no real danger to our troops, but this is a horrendously dangerous site.  And we are going to have to work in compliance with safeguarding our own forces.  

UYGUR:  General, is there a plan for if the radiation spreads?  Because we‘ve got bases in Japan.  Is there a plan for getting our troops out of those bases or does that not exist?

MCCAFFREY:  Yes.  Well, we‘ve got 50,000 U.S. military forces in Japan.  And a lot of family members, too, and a home ported carrier battle group operating there which was also detecting radiation in port yesterday.  So, I‘m sure right now we are walking through the system.  By the way, we spent better part of 50 years actually conducting planning and training to conduct military operations on nuclear environment.  So, it‘s a huge body of knowledge there.  But I would just caution us, look, it‘s premature to say if this thing goes badly wrong, if it contaminates the main island of Honshu with a serious level of radioactivity, a threat to human health, there is going to be little we can do about it in the short run. 

UYGUR:  Little we can do about it in regards to our troops or in regards to the population in Japan?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, no, I think the population of Japan is who we are concerned about.  Our military forces can take care of themselves.  We‘ll get the families out if it actually turns bad.  There‘s going to be a lot of reluctance to pull the trigger on an evacuation.  French, and Brits and Australians are moving in that direction now.  But I think the real concern is the people of Japan.  One of the earlier comments essentially said you can‘t evacuate 20 million Japanese out of Tokyo.  So, again, the real focus is going to be in the short run, how do they  contain, particularly cooking off of the plume on those radioactive tubes that are in storage and secondly, how to prevent potentially three Chernobyls from happening in the reactors that are inadequately cooled right now.  

UYGUR:  And General McCaffrey, real quick, you know, if we do have a situation where people are trying to get out of Tokyo or get out of Japan and gets down, we hope it doesn‘t get there and we hope they can fix the power line, et cetera, but if that happens, does the U.S. have a plan for that, helping Japan, and somehow I don‘t even know how that would happen?  Do we have a plan for that?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I don‘t think there is any plan to evacuate the majority of the population in Japan.  I mean, that‘s simply not feasible.  And at this point, there still isn‘t—what we probably ought to be thinking in terms of is possibly there being a 20-mile radioactive zone around those nuclear power plants.  Hard to imagine that there would be major contamination as far south as Tokyo, but, again, this is the worst thing we have encountered in nuclear power in the history.  They are in uncharted territory.  The U.S. has tremendous expertise in this area which right now we‘ve got nuclear regulatory agency and others in country trying to support the Japanese.  This is a very worrisome complex situation and there are no good answers so far.  

UYGUR:  All right.  General Barry McCaffrey, thank you for your time tonight.  

MCCAFFREY:  Good to be with you.  

UYGUR:  All right.  Now, ahead, as the people in Japan battle to control the radiation, some workers in inside the plant are already getting sick.  But how far does the travel and could it travel to the United States?  A radiation expert tells us how bad this can get.                                               


UYGUR:  New and even more alarming scene today from Japan on the growing threat posed by radioactive material.  The chairman of the U.S.  nuclear regulatory commission says radiation levels are on the Fukushima nuclear plant are now, quote, “extremely high.”  And the U.S. embassy is now advising Americans in Japan within 50 miles in the plant to evacuate the area or stay indoors.  Now, that‘s a greater distance than Japanese authorities have been advising.  They forced evacuations for residents within 12 miles of the plant and advice those within 19 miles to stay indoors. 

Look, I have to be honest with you.  Staying indoors isn‘t going to do it.  If your house is really airtight, you would eventually run out of oxygen.  Otherwise radiation gets in anyway.  It‘s entirely possible that the Japanese government doesn‘t know what to do with all those extra people that would have to be evacuated as the General McCaffrey somewhat alluded to in the last segment.  And that is why they are telling people to stay inside.  We are also getting a dramatic firsthand look today at the perils of radiation from some of our own NBC News correspondents who have now pulled out of the evacuation zone.  In Tokyo, NBC‘s Lester Holt was screened for radiation and they did found trace amounts on his shoes. 



UNIDENTIFIED MAN:  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN:  That‘s a bad thing. 


UYGUR:  Now, amid all this, Japan is raising the maximum radiation dose a lot for nuclear workers siding their urgent need to prevent the crisis from getting worse. 

With me now is Dr. Nagy Elsayyad, assistant professor, a radiation oncology at the University Of Miami School Of Medicine.  Doctor, you know, we‘ve already seen that five have died at the plant, 22 were injured, there was concern about what happened to two people during another explosion today.  But let‘s talk about the radiation levels inside the plant.  At this point, from what we know how much trouble are the guys in?  What kind of danger could they be facing?

DR. NAGY ELSAYYAD, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE:  Well, I don‘t know what the exact levels.  I had in front of me a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, and of course all the data provided from the Japanese Nuclear Safety Energy Agency.  And there was a report earlier yesterday that the rates were about 11.9 millisieverts per hour.  That‘s about one hour, two-and-a-half times the annual—the upper dose limit for annual exposure for a member of the general population.  

UYGUR:  So, what are the consequences of that?  Could it mean that they develop cancer?  What could possibly happen?

ELSAYYAD:  Well, there are two kinds.  There are two groups of consequences, if you will.  One of them is the acute consequences that occurs immediately or shortly thereafter.  And the other which on a population level would be more concerning are the long-term effects.  If Chernobyl is a good lesson for us to learn from, then it was the long-term effects that on a population scale mattered the most.  The acute effects of radiation could be—could result from either external exposure meaning you just got exposed to photons or to radioactive particles that get in the clothes, for example.  Or internally deposited which means ingested or inhaled.  Typically, the inhalation and ingestion may be responsible for the longstanding or chronic effects especially if they get into the soil. 

One of the most common byproducts of fission in a nuclear reactor is Iodine 131.  And just happens to be that wave, according to the physical properties, the atomic wave and so forth of Iodine.  And because this is a substance that is metabolize by not just humans, but by all living things, plants, animals and so forth.  It gets into the food chain.  And when that happens, you get very long-term problems. 

UYGUR:  Right.

ELSAYYAD:  In Chernobyl, for example, the main—the silver jubilee, the silver anniversary, 25 years later, the main health effect was that of thyroid cancer.  And not other cancers, interestingly.  And these cancers were increased mainly in Belarus, the neighboring country because of the winds that were directed towards Belarus at the time.  

UYGUR:  Right.  And that‘s particularly scary for Tokyo and for other neighboring areas.  Because sometimes, the wind can carry it further and actually causes more problems in that area than around the planet as we saw in Chernobyl.  It is a great point and it is of course, a great point of concern as well.  Dr. Elsayyad, thank you so much for joining us.  We really appreciate it.  

ELSAYYAD:  You‘re more than welcome.  You‘re more than welcome.  

UYGUR:  All right.  We‘ll be right back.           


UYGUR:  Among all these serious issues in Japan, Rush Limbaugh has still found a way to not only joke about the situation, but to make fun of the Japanese people.  This guy has no decency whatsoever.  We‘ll tell you about his atrocious comments when we come back. 


UYGUR:  It took Rush Limbaugh five days to laugh about the disaster in Japan that‘s left 4,000 people dead, 9,000 missing and over 450,000 homeless.  But since Beck was wildly offensive on the same topic yesterday, he probably didn‘t want to be outdone.  So, he says, it‘s ironic because Japan has traditionally been environmentally friendly but yet the planet is now striking back at Japan anyway. 


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  The Japanese have done so much to save the planet.  He‘s right.  They have given us the Prius.  Even now, refugees are still recycling their garbage and yet Gaia levels them, just wipes them out.  Wipes out their nuclear plants, all kinds of radiation.  What kind of payback is this?


UYGUR:  I mean, he‘s laughing.  He‘s literally laughing.  You saw it

there.  He thinks this is funny.  All right.  Do we have to explain it to

him?  We‘ll do it just in case because he‘s kind of thick-headed, he

doesn‘t understand.  Tectonic plate movements have nothing to do with

whether you recycle or not.  That helps to save the planet in other ways,

Rush.  No one made the claim that recycling would stop earthquakes.  And

they weren‘t recycling to please environmental Gods who in Rush‘s mind were

angered anyway.  They were doing it to be responsible human beings.  I just

I can‘t believe he‘s joking about this.  And if it‘s a joke, does it make it any better?  Is it the right time to be mocking the Japanese people?  This guy has a rare ability to be painfully stupid and painfully offensive at the same time.  Unbelievable. 


All right.  Now right wing hit job artist James O‘Keefe brand NPR with some shady and misleading editing.  And today, Republicans took a step closer to defunding NPR.  Next, we‘ll going to show you how doctored those tapes really worked.  And Congressman Earl Blumenauer thinks O‘Keefe used deception and he‘s fighting back, next.


UYGUR:  Republicans are keeping up their track record of doing absolutely nothing about job creation.  What they were ostensibly elected to do.  But they‘re doubling down on another really important problem facing the country.  National public radio.  The house rules committee called a, quote, “emergency meeting” this afternoon to consider a bill that would cut government funding for NPR.  The house will debate the bill tomorrow.  And the really sick thing is that the fraud James O‘Keefe committed with yet another one of his doctored videos in his so-called expose of NPR created the momentum for this bill. 

As routine in these cases, NPR didn‘t fight back.  Instead they fired their top people and it was left up to Glenn Beck‘s Web site of all places, to point out just how out of context of his videos really were.  One of the reasons why NPR executive Ron Schiller lost his job was because he was caught on tape describing Tea Party members as quote, “xenophobic seriously racist people.”  But it turns out, when Schiller said that, he was not giving his own opinion of the Tea Party, he was actually recounting views expressed to him by two Republicans.  Now, take a look at the uncut version and look at how it starts.  


RON SCHILLER, FORMER NPR EXECUTIVE:  I won‘t break a confidence, but a person who was an ambassador, so a very highly placed client, another person who was one of the top donors to the Republican Party.  They both told me they voted for Obama, which they never believed they could never do in their lives, that they could ever vote for a democrat ever.  And they did because they believe that the current Republican Party is not really the Republican Party.  It‘s been hijacked by this group that is radical (INAUDIBLE) exactly.  I mean, basically they are white, Middle American, gun-toting.  It‘s scary.  They‘re seriously.


UYGUR:  Now O‘Keefe never explained that Schiller was talking about Republicans he knows saying that.  He left the impression that was all show his opinion.  That is because O‘Keefe is not a journalist.  He‘s a political hatchet man.  He‘s part of a republican machine that in the end produced bills to kill off what they view as their political enemies.  There were at least seven instances of questionable editing including on the important issue of funding.  Let me show you one more.  O‘Keefe edits the video to show Schiller happy and upbeat about the fake organization seeking to spread Sharia law across the world.  Pay attention to the way that it was edited. 


ANNOUNCER:  On the MEAC Web site, IT said. the organization sought to quote spread acceptance of Sharia across  the world. 

UNIDENTIFIED MAN:  Really, that‘s what they said. 


UYGUR:  Now, it seems like they were talking about Sharia law.  Take a look at the uncut tape. 


UNIDENTIFIED MAN:  They initially directed us to a big room where I guess there is a party also under the name.  Really, that‘s what they said. 


UYGUR:  You see that, it had nothing to do with Sharia law.  They were joking around about the reservation.  Look, you got to understand this, it‘s a free country.  O‘Keefe can do all the tapes he wants but the rest of the media should not take it seriously.  And certainly Congress shouldn‘t take it seriously when they go to defund NPR based on this clownishness.  Bounds of reason.

Now, my next guest is trying to reason with his colleagues and Congress, imploring them not to defund NPR especially when the rationale is a deceptively edit the video put together by a guy who specializes in those political hit jobs.  Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon joins me now.  Congressman, what‘s the current status now?  How likely is this to pass the House?

REP. EARL BLUMENAUER (D), OREGON:  Well, based on what we saw previously with the continuing resolution, it‘s very likely.  It‘s doubtful that the republican leadership would have rushed this to the floor, violating their own rules for 72 hours‘ notice with an emergency meeting of the rules committee unless they were fairly confident that it would in fact pass.  

UYGUR:  Congressman, do you think this part of a coordinated campaign

you think, you know, they know that O‘Keefe is going to do these videos. 

O‘Keefe knows what their agenda is.  And then they gets repeated on place like FOX News, but you have to give credit Beck‘s Web site here, the blaze, which debunk this.  And let me tell you something, it‘s amazing that—it‘s so bad that even Beck‘s Web site is like, no, that‘s totally edited.  But do you think its part of the machinery of going after places like NPR?

BLUMENAUER:  Well, no question about it.  People are, they have an agenda.  It‘s aggressive and, in fact, the proposal that we are voting on tomorrow goes beyond just defunding NPR.  It would cripple public broadcasting stations around the country, particularly in rural or small town America and prohibit them from purchasing content from any source like “Prairie Home Companion,” “Wait, Wait, Don‘t Tell Me,” or programming from other public broadcasting stations.  It‘s just really unbelievable that they would do this to try to shut the system down.  

UYGUR:  All right.  And I want to be clear, the blaze is not part of FOX News.  I just want to clarify that based on what said earlier.


UYGUR:  Congressman, real quick, last question for you.  Do you think the Senate or the White House will eventually stop this or is there a chance that NPR gets defunded?

BLUMENAUER:  I think there is very likely to be a strong pushback.  The overwhelming majority of the American public support keeping the funding as is or even increasing it.  In fact, two-thirds of Republicans support keeping funding or increasing it.  I think that they may have bitten off more than they can chew.  I certainly hope the Senate and the White House pushes back.  The American public deserves it.  And I think this is a case where these people have just reached too far. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Congressman Earl Blumenauer, thanks for your time tonight.  We appreciate it.  And everybody, that‘s our show tonight.  And I came up with an interesting word there in the middle of that segment, I said, defunt.  It‘s actually debunk, of course.  But thank you for watching, “HARDBALL” starts now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                            


<Copy: Content and programming copyright 2011 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. 

Transcription Copyright 2011 ASC LLC ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is

granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not

reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or

internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall

user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may

infringe upon MSNBC and ASC LLC‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or

interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of


Sponsored links

Resource guide