Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Public's Right to Know

As a journalist all my working life, I am completely committed to the public’s right to know.

Thus I was outraged recently hearing about Roger Corbin, a member of Long Island’s Nassau County Legislature, its former deputy presiding officer, bringing a lawsuit against News12 and Newsday for broadcasting and publishing images of him in handcuffs.

Corbin was arrested last month on charges that he didn’t report several hundred thousand dollars he received from a developer in his district. He was accused of income tax evasion and lying about the money he got.

U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spatt ruled in the case that "the court is simply without authority to censor the press" or "to instruct the press as to what" it could air or publish.

A News12 spokeswoman, Deborah Koller-Feeney, said afterwards: “We are pleased with the judge’s decision, and are gratified that the public’s right to know will not be compromised.”

We have, after all, freedom of the press in the United States. Or should have.

There’s an interesting website: Photography is Not a Crime: It’s a First Amendment Right.

It’s run by Carlos Miller and it looks at various attempts in the U.S. to suppress—yes, photography.

It turns out that Miller, a journalist, was arrested by police down in Miami after taking some photos of five police officers standing inside a construction zone along Biscayne Boulevard.

No big deal, but it was against the wishes of the police, he relates, even though taking a photo in a public area is supposed to be legal in America.

Since then, he started the website (http://www.carlosmiller.com/) to focus, he says, on “First Amendment violations against other photographers throughout the country, which occur on a shockingly regular basis.”

Of course, the situation is far worse in other nations.

What a scene last month airing on CNN: Chinese intelligence agents running around with umbrellas to try to block CNN reporter John Vause from being seen on-camera as he reported, on Tianneman Square, about the bloody suppression there 20 years before.

CNN anchor Tony Harris exclaimed that the cover-up, literally, that was happening, "looks absolutely ridiculous. "

Harris said the Chinese agents apparently "don’t care what the rest of the world thinks."
Still, he noted, "the story gets out. "

Only feebly, really. In China the anniversary of the Tianneman Square massacre was suppressed in all Chinese media.


Monday, June 15, 2009

'No Peaceful Nuclear Power' The whole planet must be declared a nuclear-free zone

Published in the Manhattan Jewish Sentinel and Long Island Jewish World
Issue of June 12-18, 2009

President Barack Obama’s declaration last week in his speech in Cairo that “any nation — including Iran — should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power” ignores a central issue. There is no “peaceful nuclear power.” Nuclear weapons and nuclear power are two sides of the same coin.

Physicist Amory Lovins and attorney L. Hunter Lovins wrote in their seminal book, Energy/War: Breaking the Nuclear Link: “All nuclear fission technologies both use and produce fissionable materials that are or can be concentrated. Unavoidably latent in those technologies, therefore, is a potential for nuclear violence and coercion which may be exploited by governments, factions.

“Little strategic material is needed to make a weapon of mass destruction. A Nagasaki-yield bomb can be made from a few kilograms of plutonium, a piece the size of a tennis ball.

“A large power reactor,” they note, “annually produces…hundreds of kilograms of plutonium.” Civilian nuclear power technology, they conclude, provides the way to make nuclear weapons, furnishing the material and the trained personnel.

Indeed, that’s how India got The Bomb in 1974. Canada supplied a nuclear reactor to be used for “peaceful purposes” and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission trained Indian engineers. And lo and behold, India had nuclear weapons.

“Human society is too diverse, national passion too strong, human aggressiveness too deep-seated for the peaceful and warlike atom to stay divorced for long,” oceanographer Jacques Cousteau emphasized. “We cannot embrace one while abhorring the other; we must learn, if we want to live at all, to live without both.”

The organization Beyond Nuclear (www.beyondnuclear.org), on whose board I sit, focuses on this connection. The organization warns that the “insistence on supplying the technology, materials and know-how for civilian nuclear programs perpetuates the danger that nuclear weapons may also be developed—with speculation over Iran a case in point.”

“The ‘unofficial’ nuclear weapons states all developed weapons from civilian nuclear programs,” it notes. “At least 32 additional countries could do the same using uranium and plutonium from their civilian programs.”

The only real way to end the threat of nuclear weapons spreading throughout the world is by putting an end to nuclear technology. Such a move might seem radical but consider the even more radical alternative: a world in which scores of nations have nuclear weapons. There are parts of the earth designated “nuclear-free zones.” If we are to have a world free of the terrible threat of nuclear weapons, this designation should be extended to the entire planet: no nuclear weapons, no nuclear power.

To keep using carrots and sticks, by trying to juggle through the 2lst Century to prevent nuclear proliferation, we are on the road to inevitable nuclear disaster. A nuclear-free world is the only way humanity will be free of the specter of nuclear war.

Is it possible to put the atomic genie back into the bottle? Anything people have done, other people can undo. And the prospect of massive loss of life from nuclear destruction offers the best of reasons for doing so.

In Prague in April, Obama, in a remarkable declaration, said: “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

That’s only half of what needs to be done. There needs to be a world, too, without the nuclear power plants that provide the means for any nation — or terrorist group — to get nuclear weapons.

There are well-grounded concerns that a nuclear-armed Iran might attack Israel. A nuclear counter-attack would follow. There would be atomic devastation of a major area of the world. Would zealots in Iran invite such self-destruction? This might have seemed illogical until the 9/11 terrorists demonstrated suicide as a desirable form of martyrdom. Thousands of suicide bombings have further illustrated the phenomenon.

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic earlier this year: “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.”

What about controls of the International Atomic Energy Agency? The IAEA was formed as a result of President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech before the UN in 1953. He proposed an international agency to promote civilian atomic energy and, at the same time, to control the use of fissionable material — a dual role paralleling that of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. In 1974, the AEC was abolished after Congress concluded that the two roles were a conflict of interest. But the IAEA — set up in the AEC’s image and riddled with the same conflict of interest — continues to operate.

With its mission “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy,” it unabashedly boosts nuclear power at the same time it tries to police that same power.

In the last several months, I’ve been a guest by phone on Tehran radio programs on which Iranians have insisted that nuclear power represents “progress” to which their nation is entitled. I’ve argued that it is not progress but vested interests that are the driving force behind nuclear power.

At the end of World War II, the scientists, bureaucrats and corporate contractors involved in the Manhattan Project viewed their future with anxiety. The program, created after Albert Einstein wrote President Franklin Roosevelt calling on the U.S. to develop atomic technology before the Nazis did, led to the construction of four atomic bombs, two of which were dropped on Japan. The program would continue to build nuclear weapons, but bombs don’t lend themselves to commercial spin-offs. Schemes were concocted to keep jobs and contracts, despite the enormous dangers involved with nuclear technology. These included nuclear-powered airplanes, using radiation to zap food so it could last for years, and setting off atomic devices as a substitute for TNT. And there was the scheme to use the heat of nuclear reactors to boil water and generate electricity.

In Russia, where I’ve also researched and spoken, I found similar links, this time between the vested interest of the Soviet military nuclear establishment and its civilian atomic program.

In this country, some on the inside would eventually recognize the terrible mistake.

Admiral Hyman Rickover, “father” of the U.S. nuclear navy, stated in a farewell address before a committee of Congress in 1982 that the world must “outlaw nuclear reactors.” He said, “Until about 2 billion years ago, it was impossible to have any life on earth: that is, there was so much radiation on earth you couldn’t have any life — fish or anything. Gradually, about 2 billion years ago, the amount of radiation on this planet and probably in the entire system reduced and made it possible for some for some form of life to begin.

“Now,” he went on, “when we go back to using nuclear power, we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible. … Every time you produce radiation, you produce something that has life, in some cases for billions of years, and I think there the human race is going to wreck itself, and it’s far more important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it.”

As for nuclear weaponry, the “lesson of history,” he said, is that in war nations “will use whatever weaponry they have.”

Meanwhile, today, safe, clean, renewable energy technologies render nuclear power unnecessary. These technologies include solar (for which Iran is abundantly endowed), wind (now the fastest-growing and cheapest new energy form), geothermal, hydrogen, tidal-power, wave-power, bio-fuels, hydropower and co-generation.

On Iranian radio, too, I’ve stressed that if Iran gets nuclear plants, pushing nuclear power in response will be Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and other Arab nations, and, considering the neighborhood’s volatility, atomic conflict would happen sooner than later. The Mideast is an especially wrong place for nuclear power.

There were some excellent points in Obama’s speech. “Tomorrow,” he said, “I will visit Buchenwald…part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed—more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction… is deeply wrong.” But his support for “peaceful nuclear power” — an oxymoron — was something else.

In the end, Einstein regretted the letter he sent in 1939 to President Roosevelt. “If I had known that the Germans would not succeed in constructing the atom bomb, I never would have moved a finger,” he wrote in Out of My Later Years. He described atomic energy as “a menace.”

How horrific it would be if a technology that came about because of the Nazis (fission was discovered in Berlin in 1938) is used by Iran for what could be a Second Holocaust.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Shoreham Turning Point--30 Years Later

A demonstration 30 years ago involving 15,000 people, the largest protest ever held here on Long Island, New York, coupled with nearly 600 people being arrested for non-violent civil disobedience, was a turning point in the battle against the Shoreham nuclear power plant.

Importantly, not only would Shoreham be stopped but so would the Long Island Lighting Company’s scheme to build seven to 11 nuclear plants. In all the official filings for Shoreham, it was Shoreham Nuclear Power Station 1. LILCO planned two more nuclear plants at Shoreham. Four more were slated to the east, at Jamesport. And LILCO wanted to construct several more, also along the Long Island Sound, between Shoreham and Jamesport. This is why the book I wrote on the situation was titled Power Crazy.

Long Island would have been turned into a “nuclear park,” a term the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission used to denote areas slated for intense nuclear power development when Shoreham l was first advanced in 1966.

The key to the protest at Shoreham on June 3, 1979 was the partial core-meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania in March. Proponents of nuclear power had insisted that the chances of a catastrophic accident were infinitesimal. The TMI accident and, even more seriously, the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident seven years later, showed that to be baloney.

Also a factor: what became known as the Shoreham “dump documents.” In May, a person who refinishes furniture, scavenging in the Southold Town dump, came upon a box of documents from Shoreham each headed “Engineering & Design Coordination Report.” The reports, brought to me, included 416 labeled as citing “nuclear safety related” problems in the building of Shoreham. The documents had apparently been dispatched to the dump after the TMI accident.

“A lemon grows on Long Island!” declared Dr. Michio Kaku, a nuclear physicist and professor at the City University of New York, at the June 3 demonstration. I had given Dr. Kaku copies of the reports to evaluate. He has gone on to become a well-known scientist globally—and remains solidly against nuclear power.

Nobel Prize-winner biologist Dr. George Wald also spoke declaring: “Not only is nuclear power anti-life” but despite “constant industry and government propaganda…it’s an economic disaster and the whole game now is to lay all its major costs on the people.”

Thirty years later, this is even more severe. These days, “no private money anywhere in the world is being used to build new nuclear plants,” notes Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service. And although the price of Shoreham ended up at $6.5 billion—in contrast to the “$65-$75 million range” LILCO spoke of when it announced Shoreham—today nuclear plants are projected to cost $12 billion each.

With Wall Street unwilling to providing financing, U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman and John Warner last year pushed legislation to give $544 billion in taxpayer subsidies to build new nuclear plants. That didn’t pass, but the nuclear industry and its friends in the federal government are still pushing hard for your tax dollars.

No new nuclear plant has been ordered and built in the U.S. since 1973—and Shoreham was an element in this. As U.S. Energy Secretary Donald Herrington said at the height of the Shoreham fight: “The Shoreham plant must open! If it doesn’t, the signals will be the low point in this [nuclear] industry’s history.”

As was the case 30 years ago, the pro-nuclear propaganda remains intense. In their current drive to “revive” nuclear power, the nuclear promoters are trying to latch on to the global warming issue by saying nuclear plants don’t emit greenhouse gases. What we’re not supposed to know is that the overall nuclear “chain” or “cycle”—including uranium mining and milling, enrichment, fuel fabrication—has significant greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, the great advances since 1979 in safe, clean renewable energy technologies mean they can provide all the power we need—without endangering life. Nuclear power not only remains outrageously expensive and terribly dangerous but is--ever more clearly—unnecessary.