Archive for March, 2011

Second containment vessel in Japanese reactors may be ruptured

“TOKYO — Japan’s nuclear crisis intensified dramatically on Wednesday after the authorities announced that a second reactor unit at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeastern Japan may have ruptured and appeared to be releasing radioactive steam.

Such were the radiation levels above the plant, moreover, that the Defense Force put off a highly unusual plan to dump water from military helicopters to lower temperatures in an overheating pool containing spent fuel rods, news reports said.

The development showed the seriousness of the challenges facing the authorities. The vessel that possibly ruptured had been seen as the last fully intact line of defense against large-scale releases of radioactive material from one of the stricken reactors, but it was not clear how serious the possible breach might be. The implications of overheating in the fuel rod pool at the plant’s No. 3 reactor unit also seemed perilous.”

The Mark I reactors in question were built back in …

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Petraeus testifies to progress in Afghanistan; U.S. voters dubious

President Obama met at the White House yesterday with Gen. David Petraeus to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. This morning, Petraeus went to Congress to testify about NATO’s progress and what the future holds.

“The momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas,” Petraeus told the Senate Armed Forces Committee. “However, while the security progress achieved over the past year is significant, it is also fragile and reversible.”

In military terms, Petraeus is no doubt correct. The larger and more important question is whether NATO’s military success over the past year or so has been matched by a growing capability by the Afghan government to administer and defend the country. Without such gains, military successes against the Taliban are temporary and even deceptive, creating a false optimism about what we are accomplishing there.

Petraeus also endorsed Obama’s plan to …

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More bad news out of Japan; nuke crisis deepens

The first thing I did upon waking this morning was check to see what was happening in Japan. The news is not encouraging. An earlier explosion may have damaged the containment vessel in one of the overheating reactors, which is ominous. Yet another explosion and fire, this one apparently in a spent-fuel storage pool, has pumped dangerous levels of radioactivity into the air. I’ve toured a few nuclear plants, and the pools are essentially what they sound like: large, very-well-built, open-air swimming pools in which highly radioactive waste is submerged in water to keep it cool.

From The New York Times:

TOKYO — Japan’s nuclear crisis verged toward catastrophe on Tuesday after an explosion damaged the vessel containing the nuclear core at one reactor and a fire at another spewed large amounts of radioactive material into the air, according to statements from Japanese government and industry officials.

In a brief morning address to the nation Tokyo time, Prime Minister Naoto …

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How to turn a $10 drug into a $1,500 drug

For decades, special pharmacies have been making and selling a synthetic form of progesterone, a female hormone, to help prevent premature childbirths. However, because of the informal nature of the drug, different pharmacies sometimes made it in differing strengths.

So the Food and Drug Administration, attempting to standardize production and use of the compound, classified the compound as an orphan drug and granted KV Pharmaceutical the exclusive right to produce and market it for the next seven years. The compound went on sale today under the brand name Makena.

However, the FDA is empowered to monitor only the safety and effectiveness of drugs; it does not have the power to control how much KV Pharmaceutical charges for the compound. And KV Pharmaceutical has now announced that a drug compound that has typically cost $10 to $20 an injection will now cost $1,500 an injection. Over the course of a pregnancy, treatment that once cost as much as $400 will now cost $30,000.

As …

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Potential meltdown in Japan a reminder of the nuclear bargain

The scenes of chaos and tragedy coming out of Japan are heart-rending and more than a little frightening. The casualty toll is expected to rise to at least 10,000, and perhaps well beyond, in a nation that thought it had prepared well against natural disaster.

But the worst may not have come yet. The crisis at several Japanese nuclear power plants crippled by last week’s earthquake continues to escalate, with strong evidence that a much-feared meltdown is already underway in at least two reactors. The ramifications of such an event in Japan, a small, densely populated island nation that already bears nuclear scars, are potentially enormous in terms of human health and environmental impact.

If that worst-case scenario plays out as feared, it would inevitably force another reconsideration of the nuclear industry, which only recently recovered its credibility after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and the 1986 tragedy in Chernobyl. That reconsideration could in turn have …

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Classic Travelin’ Music, courtesy of the great Elvin Bishop

Back in the day, I wore out the grooves on the LP containing this classic Elvin Bishop song. Some of the lyrics — “gonna take my baseball bat and tenderize her head” — aren’t exactly PC these days, but the jamming guitar and keyboard work will never go out of date.

I had forgotten how hard this piece rocks, and now I’m gonna have to download it and add it to my playlist.

But first….

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House GOP threatens utilities for not toeing climate-change line

From Politico:

“GOP lawmakers and industry lobbyists are talking about legislation aimed at reining in power companies after some utilities were seen as being less than friendly to their efforts to block Obama administration climate change rules.

Several House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans and industry lobbyists are pushing for a “Ratepayer Protection Act,” a measure that would limit utilities’ ability to pass along costs to consumers, according to lobbyists close to the committee.

The discussions come after POLITICO last week reported that several top utility CEOs weren’t thrilled with a draft bill from Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to preempt the EPA on climate change.

CEOs from American Electric Power, NextEra Energy, Southern Co. and Dominion Resources said to varying degrees that they support allowing the EPA to proceed on a “reasonable” time frame on greenhouse gas rules for power plants, petroleum refiners and other …

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Potential Lanier ruling may break negotiating logjam

From Bill Rankin of the AJC:

“A panel of judges on Wednesday appeared disinclined to let stand a ruling in the tri-state water dispute that, should it come to pass, could have catastrophic consequences for the metro region.

The judges for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals indicated they wanted to send the case back and order the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates Buford Dam, to make a final determination of how much water from Lake Lanier can be used to meet metro Atlanta’s needs….

Judge Stanley Marcus of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday said he believed that the imposition of (a July 2012) deadline constitutes an injunction. If that were the case, Magnuson should have weighed the potential harms and equities of such a result, Marcus said….

The two other judges on the panel, R. Lanier Anderson III of Macon and visiting Judge Richard Mills of Springfield, Ill., also seemed ready to send the case back to the corps.

If that interpretation proves …

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Gingrich: Patriotism made me unfaithful to my wives

From an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, discussing his serial adultery:

“There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.”

And while we’re on the topic, here’s the best argument I’ve seen for why Gingrich will never be elected president of the United States and won’t win the GOP nomination:

“In the end, the presidency is different than any other job.  You’re looking for somebody who is going to lead the nation.  You’re looking for somebody who should be, ideally, the unifier of the nation.  And, you’re looking to somebody to whom you’re going to loan enormous power for four years. You want to be able to look into them and understand, do they share my values?  Do they know what I’m frightened of?  Do they have answers that are real?  Are they stable; are they capable of doing something? It’s one …

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There’s no handy villain in oil price surge

With oil prices rising, conservatives have fingered a convenient culprit: President Obama.

As Rory Cooper of the Heritage Foundation writes:

“Gas prices are dangerously close to doubling since President Barack Obama was inaugurated. As American drivers and small-business owners feel the pain at the pump, he should reverse course and stop punishing consumers to promote a “green” agenda.

Yes, the events in Egypt and Libya have affected global oil prices. But we suffered the highest gas prices for the month of December in our nation’s history in 2010 — before uprisings in the Middle East even began. Unilateral administration action is the first step toward providing economic relief during a fragile recovery.”

That’s baloney.

Obama’s “green agenda” and “disastrous energy policies” — as Cooper describes them — have had no effect whatsoever on the price of oil or gasoline. Yes, offshore oil production in the United States is down 13 percent in the wake of the monstrous oil spill in …

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