News Briefs: Nuclear Worries Continue | Is OSU’s Reactor Vulnerable | Particle Party | Nuke Power: Subsidized, Dangerous | Schools, Not War | Reaction to Invasives Questioned | Activist Alert | War Dead | Lighten Up |
Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Huge labor rally in Eugene calls for solidarity
From less than zero to long distance
Happening People: Richie Weinman
NUCLEAR WORRIES CONTINUE
Japans tragic earthquake and tsunami brought damaging high water to the Oregon Coast last week, but the disaster continues to hit close to home as Oregonians wonder if the aftereffects of the earthquake will also include nuclear contamination.
There is very little danger of radiation from the plants in Japan reaching the U.S. at harmful levels, according a White House update by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission March 14. But studies have shown that mercury and other toxic and particulate emissions from coal-fired power plants in China ride on winds to Oregon. So despite reassurances from the NRC, concerns remain that radiation will also be carried on winds to the U.S.
Local and national media are reporting on consumers buying up supplies of potassium iodide, a common salt that is believed to prevent thyroid cancer from radiation poisoning. Potassium iodide saturates the thyroid gland with non-radioactive iodine, reducing how much dangerous radioiodine the gland can absorb. There have also been increased sales of Geiger counters and emergency preparedness kits, according to amazon.com
Does the Northwests nuclear danger come from Japan or from the Hanford nuclear site on the Columbia River?
“The Japanese reactor crisis has important implications for the Northwest,” according to Gerry Pollet of Heart of American Northwest, a citizens advocacy group working on issues related to Hanford.
Fukushima nuclear plants reactor 3, one of the reactors that exploded, used controversial MOX, or mixed oxide fuel, usually made of uranium and plutonium reprocessed from spent uranium. That spent uranium is sometimes a result of the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium, and the rods are hotter, more volatile and more toxic than other nuclear fuels.
Pollet says documents recent unveiled by Freedom of Information Act requests have shown Energy Northwest has been “formally evaluating the potential use of MOX fuel” in the companys single nuclear reactor at Hanford, the Columbia Generating Station, (aka the WPPSS 2 reactor, pronounced “whoops 2”). Heart of America Northwest says, “Trucking weapons grade plutonium to Hanford Ä has very high security and accident risks.”
For those worried about contamination from Japan, Eugeneans with Geiger counters can post radiation updates to EW‘s Facebook page and Twitter. Detailed maps of surface and upper air current levels from Japan to the U.S. are available at http://wkly.ws/11m
For more information on Hanford, go to www.hoanw.org and for daily updates on the nuclear situation in Japan, go to www.iaea.org ã Camilla Mortensen
IS OSUS REACTOR VULNERABLE?
With nuclear reactors in Japan exploding and melting down after a massive earthquake and tsunami, could a similar nuclear disaster happen here?
The closest nuclear reactor to Eugene is OSUs very small research reactor in Corvallis. OSU officials claim the facility is totally safe. But nuclear officials in Japan said the same thing about their facilities before men in moon-suits began wanding Japanese toddlers with Geiger counters.
Judging by a Safety Analysis Report OSU filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2004 (with large sections blacked out), the chance of a nuclear emergency in Corvallis does appear to be extremely low, but not impossible.
“Failure of the reactor tank and loss of the coolant in the event of a very large earthquake have been considered … and the consequences found acceptable from the standpoint of public safety,” the OSU report states.
The report examined what it considered a worst case scenario: “In this scenario, the entire north wall of the reactor room instantly vanishes. No credible cause for this occurrence can be imagined.”
The OSU report calculated the maximum radiation exposure inside or nearby the campus building of such a scenario as about 500 mrem. The report said thats below federal safety limits.
But such limits may not represent an acceptable risk from the general publics perspective ã 500 mrem is equivalent to about 50 chest X-rays in a few minutes. Fear of cancer from such a release could cause widespread panic or evacuations and render billions of dollars of property at OSU and in Corvallis functionally unusable. The OSU report appears to make no effort to balance such public risk, however remote, against the likely public benefit of a research reactor located in a populated area.
The OSU report also appears to only consider smaller earthquakes than other disaster preparedness reports consider possible for the area. The report cites magnitude 6 earthquakes in the past 150 years in Oregon and cites data indicating a maximum earthquake acceleration of the Corvallis area of .38g.
By comparison, the Haiti earthquake that killed about 100,000 was a magnitude 7 quake with a .5g acceleration.
A Benton County Multi-Hazard Mitigation plan from 2006 found “earthquakes on the Cascadia Subduction Zone may have magnitudes of 8 or greater, with probable recurrence intervals of 500 to 800 years.”
The Benton County report noted that dams in the Willamette river basin were not designed to withstand such big earthquakes and their failure could cause massive flooding. The report said the probability of such a failure is “less than once in 1,000 years and perhaps substantially less. However, the consequences of failure are so high that careful evaluation is certainly warranted.”
But the OSU reactor safety report does not appear to consider the risk of dam failure cited in the Benton County report. OSU states: “There are no lakes or dams near the OSTR and, therefore, seismically induced flooding due to dam failure or seiches is not a risk.”
The OSU reactor is about 40 years old, but it is only a 1-megawatt facility compared to the 500 mw reactors in Japan.
The Benton County report judged the risk of an operational nuclear accident at the Corvallis reactor “negligible, due to the passive safety design” that is less vulnerable to power failures.
Terrorism, not earthquakes, could be the worst threat to the facility. The Benton County report stated: “The possibility, however remote, of deliberate terrorist actions cannot be disregarded for this facility and appropriate security measures and emergency planning are recommended.” ã Alan Pittman
When you’re a physicist in town for a linear collider conference, what do you do for fun? You hold a physics slam, DUH! At least thats what members of the American Linear Collider Physics Group decided to do.
Next Tuesday, six physicists will have 12 minutes each to clearly explain a topic in particle physics ã with panache. After the presentations, audience members will vote for the most clear and entertaining presenter.
Leah Hesla of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory thinks that some of the audience members will develop a newfound appreciation for physics because of the straightforward style of the talks. “The reason I think that many people are turned off by physics is that they dont understand it in the first place,” she says. “With understanding comes enjoyment.”
The physicists, or “slammers” as Hesla calls them, are attending the conference from around the U.S., Germany, Japan, Switzerland and the U.K. They will throw down at 7 pm Tuesday, March 22, in Columbia 150 at UO.
Because the audience members grade the scientists, this could also be therapeutic for Eugeneans still reeling from high school physics class. Hesla says, “They should kick back and for once let the scientists be at the audiences mercy rather than the other way around.”ã Shannon Finnell
NUKE POWER: SUBSIDIZED, DANGEROUS
There is no energy source more controversial or heavily subsidized in this country than nuclear power. What was once viewed as the wave of the future has devolved into a corrupt, bloated, dangerous and expensive way of producing electricity, according to panelists speaking March 5 on “Nuclear Power: An Ineffective, Expensive, and Dangerous Response to Climate Change” at the Public Interest in Environmental Law Conference (PIELC).
The panel discussion preceded the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters in Japan by less than a week.
In 1954, Lewis Strauss, chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, described nuclear power as “electrical energy too cheap to meter.” Today, the most favorable statistics for nuclear power put it at 15 cents per kilowatt-hour of energy produced, almost twice that of wind power. Added on to the higher price of the energy produced is the staggering price of maintaining and building nuclear power plants, the panelists said. It costs up to $12 billion to construct a nuclear reactor, and, as Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear pointed out during the panel discussion, the government has spent tens of billions of dollars dismantling older reactors. Absent the support of private investors, the federal government and American taxpayers have had to pick up the exorbitant bill for this power, he said.
The U.S. nuclear program “collapsed fundamentally when Wall Street soured on it,” said Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.
Nuclear power makes up over half of the federal budget for research and development. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 provided $20.5 billion in new nuclear loan guarantees. The risk of loan default on a nuclear loan is above 50 percent. And as stipulated in the Price-Anderson Act, a nuclear plant would only pay $10 billion in the event of a “catastrophic event”; taxpayers would pay for the rest of the damages, he said.
“The •nuclear freight train gets its engines going through federal subsidies,” said Diane Curran, an environmental lawyer.
Radioactive waste is another contentious issue, the panelists said. The 24,000-year half-life of plutonium renders the element dangerously radioactive for a longer time-span than humans have been on this earth. There is still no permanent storage facility for nuclear waste.
“You cant just stop using nuclear power,” Makhijani said. “It needs to be phased out.” ã John Locanthi
SCHOOLS, NOT WAR
More than 20 Lane County peace and justice groups are collaborating on an event recognizing the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. ThePeace Feast & Walk begins with welcoming remarks by Mayor Kitty Piercy at 11:30 am Saturday, March 19, at First Christian Church, 1166 Oak St., followed by a walk through downtown led by Samba Ja that starts and ends at the church. The event ends with speakers, music and a chili feast hosted by Church Women United.
“Lane County taxpayers have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” says Michael Carrigan of CALC. “Saturday, well be asking people to contact the White House and Congress and request that our federal taxes fund schools and job creation and not endless war.”
David Hazen, another organizer of the event, says “The culture of peace being created right here in Eugene/Springfield, is a model of the collaboration that we would like to see in the rest of the world.”
Congress has appropriated more than $1 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. The cost to Eugene taxpayers alone has been $106.9 million for the Afghanistan War and $219.8 million for the Iraq War and occupation, according to nationalpriorities.org
For more information, contact Hazen at 343-2109, or Carrigan at 485-1755, or email email@example.com
REACTION TO INVASIVES QUESTIONED
Feeling murderous about that Scotch broom? Want to whack those dead mans fingers? The push for native species (and against invasive species) is nearly ubiquitous in environmental and conservation-oriented communities.
Panelists at the “Environmentalism Gone Awry” panel at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference March 5 suggested that “native” is a relative descriptor: When restoration is the aim, people often think of the way an area looked during their own childhood, and want the species of that time to return and flourish.
We should take another look at that philosophy, panelists suggested. Sydney Ross Singer, a medical anthropologist and biologist in Hawaii, told the story of the coqu’, a frog precious in Puerto Rico. The coqu’ arrived in Hawaii and reproduced. It was then the subject of a vicious anti-invasive campaign, which encouraged people to kill the frogs and even began a chemical regime.
The problem with this anti- coqu’ campaign? The frogs hadnt done any damage.
“Hawaii didnt have a frog problem; it had an attitude problem,” Singer said. He says the plan to eradicate the coqu’ was pointless, cruel and dangerous, because of proposals to use biocontrols to eradicate them.
Invasive species could be problematic and even destructive, James Morris, a biologist at the University of South Carolina said, but the response to their presence was becoming more reactionary than responsible. “I think it is good policy to prevent invasions,” James Miller said, and added, “Its good policy to weigh costs of control against benefits of control.”
Boyce Thorne Miller, science policy coordinator at Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, said that people get “sucked in” to the idea that any change in environment is necessarily dangerous, and corrective action should only be taken based on facts, not feelings. She said, “Very often its fear that leads us to these conclusions that we need to get rid of these things.” ã Shannon Finnell
« Project Homeless Connect is preparing for its fifth annual event March 17 at the Fairgrounds. Organizers are collecting coats, hats, gloves, scarves, socks, sleeping bags and backpacks, along with personal hygiene products. Donations may be dropped off at any St. Vincent de Paul store. Checks can also be sent to United Way of Lane County, 3171 Gateway Loop, Springfield 97477.
« Oregons U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley will hold town halls in Polk, Lane and Douglas Counties next week. His local meeting will be at 2 pm Saturday, March 19, at Maple Elementary School, 2109 J St.
« The invasion of Iraq March 19, 2003 will be remembered by a demonstration and procession of coffins at noon Saturday, March 19, at Central Park on Monroe Street in Corvallis. Participants are encouraged to wear black.
« 1,489 U.S. troops killed* (1,484)
« 10,543 U.S. troops wounded
in action (10,468)
« 709 U.S. contractors killed (709)
« $386.2 billion cost of war
« $109.8 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($109.2 million)
« 4,421 U.S. troops killed (4,421)
« 31,938 U.S. troops wounded
in action (31,938)
« 185 U.S. military suicides
« 1,521 U.S. contractors killed (1,521)
« 109,230 to 1.2 million
civilians killed* (109,145)
« $779.2 billion cost of war ($778.0 billion)
« $221.6 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($221.2 million)
Through March. 14,, 2011;sources: icasualties.org; defense.gov, U.S. Dept. of Labor
* highest estimate; source: iraqbodycount.org; based on confirmed media reports; other groups calculate Iraqi civilian deaths as high as 655,000 (Lancet survey, 2006) to 1.2 million (Opinion Research Business survey, 2008)
If the thrice-married Newt Gingrich becomes president will his current wife be called the Third Lady? ã Rafael Aldave, Eugene
« Kudos to the Eugene City Council and Mayor Kitty Piercy for voting to proceed with the west Eugene EmX. But this vote for public transportation shouldnt have been so close. We expected conservatives on the council to vote against the EmX, but we were surprised to see continued opposition to greener, cheaper and more equitable transportation from two councilors on the left. Their arguments make no sense. Lots of bus drivers with little buses stuck in traffic everywhere will cost much more than EmX, and EmX will do far more to help businesses by reducing traffic snarl than it will do to hurt them. Perhaps these south Eugene councilors will redeem themselves and support the future of mass transit in the next EmX vote.
« The Japanese nuclear meltdowns should put an abrupt halt to calls for more nuke plants in the U.S., but it wont. Like peace advocates, those with nuclear concerns in this country have no political party. Both Obama and the Republican right wing are gung ho for war and nukes. Scores of billions of dollars in subsidies for a nuclear industry that makes no economic sense are Obamas and the Republicans primary response to global warming. Theres hardly any talk of conservation anymore. Germany uses about half the electricity per person as the U.S. and has an efficient economy thats roaring through the recession.
Coincidentally, the UO just hosted a panel discussion on the dangers and high costs of our aging U.S. nuclear power infrastructure at the recent Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (see News Briefs). Adding to the coincidence was the “Nuke Info Night” event March 7 at Harris Hall calling for a transition from nuclear to solar and other safe energy sources.
But our immediate focus should be on helping the people of Japan recover from this catastrophe. To contribute to relief efforts in Japan, contact Save the Children at http://wkly.ws/11j or the International Medical Corp at http://wkly.ws/11k or text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross from your cell phone bill account. We also see at KMTR.com that UO students associated with the Japanese Student Organization have put up a website SendaiEarthquakeRelief.org to coordinate information sharing, education and fundraising efforts locally. Regionally, the Portland Japanese Garden now has a memorial and information center set up on its grounds.
« Worried about radiation drifting to Oregon from Japan? You dont need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but you might need a surfer. Check out the surfers wind pattern website at http://wkly.ws/11l Meanwhile, Oregon radiation levels are being monitored carefully by our scientific community, including people here at UO. Right now we have more to worry about from all the toxic crap that unregulated Chinese industries have been pumping into our atmosphere for years. Were downwind.
« One of our local so-called neo-Nazis, Jimmy Marr, and his friends are getting attention on the Portland Independent Media Center website. Marr, known for his bizarre behavior at Pacifica Forum events last year, has reportedly been hanging out around the Whitaker neighborhood, raising Nazi salutes in his Scottish kilt as he did at Pacifica Forum, giving the old tartan a bad name.
Its irritating to see Eugene once again branded as a vortex that sucks in crackpots and extremists, but perhaps we need regular reminders that destructive ideologies are lurking all around us, looking for fertile ground in which to grow. Whether you are an offended Scot or not, you can join the lively discussion at http://wkly.ws/11i and the site lists an email contact for the Eugene chapter of the Anti-Racist Network: firstname.lastname@example.org Comments can also be posted on our Facebook page.
« Death isnt cheap. The state of Oregon will spend millions and millions of dollars prosecuting and defending and judging Angela McAnulty to death. Its tempting to say McAnulty deserves the costly ultimate penalty for the heinous torture and murder of her daughter. An execution gives the public the satisfaction of revenge, ambitious prosecutors a boost of publicity and tabloid media bleeding headlines. But beyond that, a better memorial for the slain child would be to let McAnulty rot in jail for life and spend the millions on preventing child abuse. With funding for such programs now threatened, choosing to spend heavily on death for the guilty rather than saving the lives of the innocent is criminal.
« Need a little fun in the midst of all this gloomy news? Check out Molly Templetons reports from the South By Southwest music convention on our blog this week at http://blogs.eugeneweekly.com Our intrepid longtime film critic and former music editor is now living in New York City, but she continues to write for us every week. Shes been in Austin for SXSW for several days now and writes, “Its debauchery and inspiration in nearly equal parts, with a side order of aggravation. And I love it.”
SLANT includes short opinion pieces, observations and rumor-chasing notes compiled by the EW staff. Heard any good rumors lately? Contact Ted Taylor at 484-0519, editor at eugeneweekly dot com
RICHIE WEINMAN (revisited)
December 1998: Eugene Housing and Neighborhood Development manager Richie Weinman shows off Woodleaf Village, the new crown jewel of the citys low-income housing program. Thirty duplex homes, built by a nonprofit developer, line a loop on the flank of Spencer Butte. “Its the first subsidized family housing in south Eugene,” he says. “I went to a lot of neighborhood meetings.” In 1974, when he first arrived in Eugene with an education degree from Ohio State, Weinman worked as a substitute teacher and sold Richies Tropic Coolers at the Saturday Market. In seven years with county government and 14 with the city, he has specialized in poverty and housing issues. This year he worked with the City Council on regulations allowing people to camp with permission in church parking lots. “Now people can help each other legally,” he says. “Homeless people dont have to worry about being in violation of the law.”
2011 update: For four years prior to his retirement last June, Weinman co-chaired Project Homeless Connect for Lane County, a one-day event that puts homeless people in contact with service providers. He returns as temporary staff to coordinate this years PHC from 9 am to 3 pm Thursday, March 17, at the Fairgrounds.