Imagine you are an Israeli Arab. You receive a graduate fellowship in an American university. You set there in the campus cafeteria, meet with a Syrian or Lebanese colleague or friend, a fellow Arab who happens to share with you the same religion, nationality and language. You then return home for the summer vacation. You are arrested, stripped of your citizenship and expelled out of your homeland.
This episode is not taken from a satirical novel. It is what the new Knesset law all about. The law already passed in its second and third reading. “Knesset passes law to strip terrorists of Israeli citizenship” was the Haaretz headline. That is, not only does the law make dispossession and transfer of Palestinians legal, but it also labels the entire people terrorists.
On March 28, 2011, the Knesset plenum in Israel gave its final seal of approval to “citizenship loyalty” law that enables Israel’s Supreme Court to revoke the citizenship and the status of any permanent resident convicted of espionage, treason or aiding the enemy during war. We must remember here that Israel considers itself to be in a permanent state of war with Arabs and Palestinians.
“Anyone who betrays the state and carries out acts of terror must know that citizenship and loyalty go together,” said Yisrael Beiteinu MK David Rotem, who initiated the bill. Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman lauded the Knesset’s decision as a step toward “contending with the phenomenon of exploiting democracy in order to subvert it.”
This is no doubt a modern Israeli version of dispossession and ethnic cleansing. “No citizenship without loyalty” simply means that two million Palestinian Arabs living in Israel today can be immediately expelled or put in prison, by law of course. The absurd irony is that since every Arab Palestinian in Israel is considered a permanent enemy of the state and potential threat of its national security, any discussion involving two Arab citizens can be literally seen as subversive to the state.
One might wonder how could an Arab Palestinian be loyal to a state that continues to define itself as a Jewish state that belongs to the Jewish people, in which native Arab Palestinians are seen as potential enemies? Isn’t the “Jewish democratic” state of Israel after all a state in which democracy and law are goaded into the service of an ethnic hegemony and the suppression of the native community?
One might also wonder what about solidarity with fellow Palestinians under occupation and blockage in the West Bank and Gaza? What about national solidarity with fellow Arab victims of Israeli attacks and massacres? Is that considered treason too? The law is ambiguous enough to include all expressions of national and humanist solidarity under the category of terrorism.
The new law does not tell us whether the category of terrorism includes Israeli Jewish terrorists, such as Kahana’s supporters or Jewish settlers who terrorize Palestinians on a daily basis. Nor does it really explain who the terrorist is. One thing is for sure here; Israel can right now begin a systematic persecution of all Arab Palestinian citizens under the banner of legal and democratic ideals.
There is a famous passage by the French philosopher Roland Barthes named “Dominci, or the Triumph of Literature.” Barthes examines a case in which an inarticulate rural laborer is condemned in terms of legal discourse. The judges describe Dominci’s motives in terms borrowed from literary clichés, jargon and abstract lexicon.
Dominci’s trail is a classic account of how hegemony is produced through interactions between formal institutions and discourses. These notably include language, literature, law and journalism. It is a classic example of how colonial hegemony is exercised over the body of those who can hardly speak back.
So if your Palestinian grandmother would say in her next prayer “May God grant victory to Arabs and Muslims,” she too can be arrested, trailed, condemned and expelled for providing a divine aid to the state’s “enemies.” Perhaps it is time for young Palestinians in Israel to remove all those Gazan, Lebanese and Syrian “enemies” from their Twitter Friends list.
The timing of the law is by no means coincidence. This week marks the 35th anniversary of the Land Day, the annual commemoration of the massacre of six Palestinian citizens by the Israeli police. The approval of the Loyalty Law comes in this historical moment to mark the transition from ethnic cleansing by direct force to one exercise by law and legal manipulations. Not only does it come to remind Palestinian citizens that Israel is never ready to admit its massacres, but never ready to admit Palestinian right to exist in their homeland.
- Seraj Assi is a PhD Student in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC.
An Israeli army watchtower and locked metal gate block the main entrance to Beit Ommar, 29 March 2011. (Nora Barrows-Friedman)
Since 24 March, Israeli forces have sealed the southern occupied West Bank village of Beit Ommar for an indefinite amount of time as soldiers continue to arrest young Palestinian residents and hold them in Israeli detention centers.
In a move akin to the four-year-long economic blockade against the occupied Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers have closed the six entrances to the village of 17,000 inhabitants and have imposed a widespread prohibition policy against all major imports and exports from the village — including gasoline, produce, raw industrial materials and basic supplies. Ambulances have also been prevented from entering or exiting the village.
The closures and arrests followed a brazen attack by an Israeli settler on a funeral procession on 21 March.
The settler stopped his car on Route 60 (the highway linking Jerusalem with Hebron-area settlements) as the crowd of mourners moved towards the village cemetery, and started firing indiscriminately with live ammunition, injuring two Palestinian men, the Beit Ommar-based Palestine Solidarity Project (PSP) reported.
“The settler who shot the two men was not arrested,” PSP stated (“Two Palestinians Injured as Settler Opens Fire on Funeral Procession in Beit Ommar,” 21 March 2011).
“Israeli forces arrived on the scene and used sound bombs and tear gas to disperse the gathered crowd as medical teams evacuated the wounded,” the report added.
Settler attacks have continued this week. The Palestine News Network reported that Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians in Ramallah, Jenin and Hebron on 30 and 31 March (“Daily Roundup: Settler Attacks in Ramallah, Jenin; Three-year-old Hit by Settler Car; Four Arrested,” 31 March 2011).
Following the settler attack against the funeral procession, Israeli forces closed the main entrance to Beit Ommar, as special forces invaded the village and shot tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets before arresting three Palestinian residents, PSP reported on 25 March (“Three Beit Ommar Residents Arrested As Israeli Forces Close Village Streets“).
The next day, all six entrances to the village were shut, and continue to remain closed. Beit Ommar residents and international solidarity activists engaged in protests against the closures and collective punishment on 26 March.
On the evening of 27 March, fifteen young Palestinians were arrested and remain in detention at the military base in nearby Gush Etzion settlement. Of those fifteen, seven are under 18 years old. [[The military gave no reason for their arrests and detentions, PSP stated.]]
Hours later, PSP reported, Israeli soldiers “fired tear gas and rubber bullets at villagers attempting to pass the road blocks on foot to board the taxis and buses waiting below. The soldiers refused to let anyone exit Beit Ommar until after their departure roughly an hour and a half later” (“15 Beit Ommar Residents Arrested as Closures, Army Harassment, Continue,” 28 March 2011).
Yousef Abu Maria, coordinator of the Center for Freedom and Justice in Beit Ommar (CFJ), told The Electronic Intifada that the indefinite closures imposed on the village have already created an economic crisis for Beit Ommar’s 17,000 residents during the last week.
“The industrial factories in Beit Ommar are effectively closed,” Abu Maria said. “There haven’t been any imported raw materials from the outside. And the gas station will close soon, because there isn’t enough gas. Essential products are hard to obtain right now in the village.”
Ahmed Oudeh of the PSP and the CFJ told The Electronic Intifada that farmers in the village who depend on exporting their produce to nearby cities and towns are facing a dire financial situation if the closure remains in place. Additionally, pregnant women and people needing medical attention are not able to reach the hospital, as the policy affects ambulance access to and from the village.
The Electronic Intifada witnessed a Palestinian Red Crescent Society ambulance being turned away at the front gate of Beit Ommar, forced by Israeli soldiers to find a rural route out of the village. Oudeh said that it could take up to an hour and a half to get back to the hospital in Hebron.
It is against international law — as outlined in the Fourth Geneva Convention — for the Israeli military to prevent ambulances from accessing or transporting persons needing medical attention.
Abu Maria further explained that schoolteachers working in the village are having difficulties getting to and from Beit Ommar, since the roads are sealed and public buses and taxis are being turned away by the soldiers at the gates.
“Laborers who work in Hebron or nearby in Saffa village are also being directly affected,” Abu Maria added. “They can’t drive their cars out of the village or back inside, and many don’t have enough money to pay for taxi services to and from work. [These policies are] a collective punishment for the people in Beit Ommar.”
Meanwhile, a new section of the Efrat settlement colony on the other side of Route 60 is being built, according to a new map issued by the Israeli military and obtained by the CFJ. Beit Ommar is surrounded by several illegal settlements, parts of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the southern West Bank.
Abu Maria said that the Israeli military is planning to erect a fence around the village, and will move the main entrance gate deeper inside Beit Ommar to protect settlers on the road. But the main purpose of the current closures and the fence is to “take more land and expand the settlements,” he said.
Beit Ommar resident Naama Hassan Sleibi, 65, told The Electronic Intifada that she and her husband have been farmers their whole lives but continue to lose their land as the nearby Karmei Tsur settlement expands. “We have empty land with no produce,” she said. “[The expansion of the settlements] is a huge loss for farmers.”
For years, Beit Ommar’s residents have been engaged in unwavering actions of civil disobedience against the encroaching settlements and land confiscation policies. Abu Maria explained that part of Israel’s intention to impose the closures and control movement of the villagers is to break the steadfast resistance inside Beit Ommar.
“In [the nearby village of] Saffa, next to the Bat Ayn settlement, we are planting olive trees,” he said. “The Israeli military said we can’t plant there, but we’re going to keep doing it anyway. They won’t succeed in stopping us.”
As the closures continue to paralyze people’s lives across a broad spectrum, Sleibi said that she’s most worried most about the youth of Beit Ommar. “[The Israeli soldiers] come and arrest young people all the time,” she said.
Sleibi needed to go to the hospital in Hebron several days ago for routine medical needs but was turned back by Israeli soldiers. “We can’t do anything,” she said. “The settler attacked the funeral, but the people of Beit Ommar pay the price.”
Majed: I have mixed feelings about the speech. On one hand, it wasn’t anywhere near the unrealistic expectations some officials alluded to, namely Bouthaina and Sharaa. But on the other hand, the speech was a display of strength and confidence, following a strong show of support by the Syrian people for the President a day earlier. As much as I would like to see reforms, doing so immediately following this suspicious and unpopular uprising could be interpreted as a sign of weakness that could weaken Syria’s resolve and embolden its enemies. There is no denying that the President is popular in Syria and throughout most of the Arab world; so why should he not capitalize on his popularity and turn this into an opportunity to consolidate and regroup. Why should he appease those with questionable agendas who are looking to even the score and embarrass Syria? I still think the President is a reformist. He has been slowly introducing economic reforms, and will, in due time, bring in gradual political reforms, perhaps starting this year. However, he is not willing to do it under pressure, or be black mailed into it by Syria’s enemies who are obviously trying to rob Syria out of its political gains from the recent revolutions in the “moderate Arab” camp who sided with Israel and the U.S against Syria and the Palestinian cause. Let’s face it, Syria has been vindicated since the Arab uprising, as those “moderate Arabs” and their masters suffered unprecedented humiliation. By giving in under the current environment, Syria will look indistinguishable from those who sold out to Israel and U.S, thus greatly diluting its hard earned gains.
Paul: Let me understand one thing: what could one have really expected Bashar to say? That from today on Syria is a democratic country? That people will obey traffic laws? That corruption will be over in a pass of magic? That the price of arghile will be lowered? In the circumstances I think he acted in the best possible way. Not in desperation but recognizing that change is needed. If he really understands where the wind is blowing he’ll do it slowly but surely. If not it will happen much faster and painfully.
Nabu: The people of Syria want a defiant leader, a leader with balls and that’s the image he showed in the speech. The people of Syria want a leader that doesn’t order things twice, not a weak and that’s the image he showed in the speech. Today’s speech was a gamble, I will admit. A gamble because the minority of the people who are not scared to say things they think will not like it and they’ll get again to the street. But the reaction will be strong and that’s the image he now wants to show on the ground. The govt knows it’s coming, and it will tackle it. The liberty seekers will be cornered everywhere just like he cornered them in Hama. Whatever he said, he is backed for every word he mentioned inside and outside Syria. He thought about it, he took his time and he thinks this is the best for the long run for him, his image, his community and for Syria.
Talib: I thank Mr. President, Dr. for his care and genuine feelings when he talked about the unity of the Syrian people and when he thanked us for doing our duty and focusing on the importance of the wisdom of the people in rejecting the foreign conspiracies.
Zeina: President Assad said: “The Blood that was spilled was Syrian blood. We all care about it. Those victims are our brothers. Their parents are our parents. And we should find the reasons behind the killings and those who killed them.”
Aamer: A thousand congratulations. A thousand thanks to God, and thousands of congratulations for our big victory over the campaigns of destruction and corruption.
Equus: For all who keeps lingering about the emergency law. Look at the Egyptians..they toppled Mubarak on Feb. 11th and YET the emergency law is NOT lift with no specific date in sight despite the extreme pressure from the US. So why the media wants Assad to lift his in 24 hours.
People attend the funeral of a victim of government-ordered crackdown in the village of Sa’ar to the west of the capital, Manama.
Bahrain is reportedly recruiting former Pakistani troopers and anti-riot experts to aid in its crackdown on anti-government protesters.
Leading Pakistani daily The News wrote on Tuesday that the Bahrain National Guard (BNG) had recently visited Pakistan with the end in sight.
The visit had followed advertisements, titled “Urgent Requirement: Manpower for Bahrain National Guard,” in two daily Urdu newspapers.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has voiced ‘deep concern over the recruitment of foreign mercenaries,’ saying it would lead to growing hostility toward foreign nationals, especially Pakistanis.
Those who decide to enlist in Bahrain’s Army get their visas from the country’s embassy and consulates in Pakistan to fly to the sheikhdom. The mercenaries are interviewed by the BNG delegation and extremist Wahhabis — adherents to an already-extreme interpretation of Islam.
Some 30 paid agents have reportedly been recruited so far.
Manama has been leading violent armed attacks against peaceful protesters since the popular revolution began to sweep the Persian Gulf island on February 14.
At least 25 people have been killed and about 1,000 others injured during the government-sanctioned crackdown.
The country has already enlisted the services of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to back up the suppression.
Commenting on the allegations of Bahrain’s Foreign Minister in which he accused Hezbollah of training Bahrainis who participated in recent protests in addition to other charges, Hezbollah issued a statement denying these claims, saying it was only providing moral and political support to the opposition.
“We cannot remain silent to the training accusation and the attempt to give events in Bahrain a military and security twist,” said the statement that was issued on Thursday. “The accusations are aimed at undermining the peaceful demonstrations of the oppressed people.”
The statement denied that the opposition in Bahrain had asked for any military or security training. “None of our Bahraini brothers have ever asked for military training and we have provided no such training to anyone in Bahrain,” Hezbollah said. “Any statements to the contrary are a lie and slanderous.”
It stressed that there were no Hezbollah officials or sleeper cells in the kingdom.
“All we are proudly offering (Bahrain) is political and moral backing as we did for the Arab revolutions in Tunis, Egypt, Libya and Yemen which is legal and part of our duty. ”
Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Hamad al-Khalifa accused Hezbollah on Wednesday of training Bahraini opposition protesters in Lebanon to topple the kingdom’s regime.
Any citizen with even a casual awareness of the public debate over nuclear power is familiar with the usual talking points, pro and con, regarding this issue: safety, costs, environmental impacts, etc. I will not burden the reader with a rehash of these familiar issues.
Instead, I propose to enrich the debate with some issues with which the general public might be less familiar, all of which issues lead strongly to the conclusion that electric power generation from nuclear reactors should be phased out with deliberate speed and the technology abandoned — permanently.
This essay consists of three sections: First of all, the recent disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan urgently brings the science of plate tectonics into the debate, and raises the question of whether the promoters of nuclear power are willing and able to take the long-term implications of that technology into consideration as they select sites for these facilities.
In the second section, we ask whether it is possible to accurately and reliably assess the safety of nuclear reactors. A failed attempt to do so thirty years ago suggests that such an assessment is impossible, not simply because of a lack of scientific knowledge and technological capacity, but more fundamentally, because of the insurmountable inability to anticipate all possible circumstances that might occur in the operation of the plant.
Finally, these and other considerations lead to the conclusion that nuclear power is not economically viable and sustainable without massive government subsidies that are unavailable to its competing technologies.
Fukushima: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
What were Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and General Electric thinking when they decided to site the world’s largest nuclear power complex at Fukushima, on the eastern coast of Northern Japan?
Perhaps they weren’t thinking at all, or at least they were thinking only for the short-term. Myopia is endemic to the corporate mind, which is dedicated to an early return on investment. “In the long-term,” John Maynard Keynes famously remarked, “we’ll all be dead.”
Nonetheless, a disastrous earthquake followed by a tsunami was certain to happen along the eastern coast of Japan. Not a question of if, but of when. That certainty was ordained by the science of plate tectonics and validated in the geological record.
The sword of Damocles hanging over Fukushima is the Japan Trench, located about 100 miles due east of, and parallel to, the coastline where the plant is located.
The trench is a subduction zone, where the Pacific plate dives down under the Okhotsk plate and into the mantle. The Japanese islands, like the Marianas and the Aleutians, owe their very existence to subduction which, as it grinds along, produces great earthquakes and tsunamis.
Tsunamis can be produced by volcanoes and landslides. But they most reliably occur along subduction zones, as the ocean floor during an earthquake is suddenly and violently jolted, causing a pulse of water to move outward and perpendicular to the fault line. The Indonesian tsunami of December 26, 2004, which killed almost a quarter of a million people, was caused by a magnitude 9.1 earthquake along a subduction zone about 100 miles west of Sumatra. Among other noteworthy subduction quakes/tsunamis are the “Good Friday” Alaska earthquake in 1964 (magnitude 9.1), and the Chilean earthquake of 2010 (magnitude 8.8).
And so, because the Japan Trench is parallel to the coast of northern Japan, the tsunami was aimed directly at that coast.
Because of the dynamics of plate tectonics, earthquake/tsunamis are endemic to Japan. For example, in 1923 a magnitude eight earthquake struck central Japan, leveling the city of Yokohama and destroying more than half of Tokyo, at the cost of about 100,000 lives.
The investors of the Fukushima plant knew all this, and yet they went ahead and built a facility that was designed to withstand a magnitude seven earthquake. (The Richter magnitude scale is not linear, it is logarithmic. Accordingly, the energy released in a magnitude nine quake is not two-ninths greater than that of a magnitude seven. It is about a thousand times greater). TEPCO continued to operate the facility, despite warnings from the International Atomic Energy Commission.
To put the matter bluntly, the investors and designers of Fukushima gambled that during the operational lifetime of the plant, there would be no earthquake greater than magnitude seven. They gambled, and the people of northern Japan lost. Economists call this loss an “externality.”
In California two commercial nuclear power facilities, at San Onofre between San Diego and Los Angeles and at Diablo Canyon near San Luis Obisbo, are located along the Pacific coast and near seismically active faults. As a resident of southern California, I must wonder if the operator of that plant, Southern California Edison, like TEPCO in Japan, is likewise gambling with my life and the lives of my neighbors. Heads they win, tails we lose.
And earthquakes and tsunamis are not the only, or even the greatest, threat posed by nuclear power reactors. The Three Mile Island accident was caused by a mechanical failure, and the Chernobyl disaster was caused by human error.
Building a nuclear power complex along a shoreline opposite a subduction zone is risky. That fact is a “known known.” How risky? That is an unknowable unknown. Any attempt to assess the risk, or for that matter the risk associated with any and all nuclear power plants, is almost certain to underestimate that risk. A reliable and accurate assessment of the risk of a failure of a nuclear power reactor is unobtainable, now and forever.
These are bold assertions that I will endeavor to demonstrate below. To do so, we will examine an ambitious and massive attempt, some thirty years ago, to assess the safety of nuclear power plants, and its subsequent spectacular failure to achieve that objective. Because the reasons for that failure remain valid today, this is a tale well worth retelling in the light of the disaster at Fukuyama and in the face of the determination of the Obama Administration, despite that disaster, to proceed with the construction of the first new nuclear power plants in thirty years.
Reactor Safety: The Rasmussen Report Revisited
Concerned about public criticism of their nuclear energy ambitions, the promoters of commercial atomic energy at the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) initiated in 1972, the “Reactor Safety Study,” which was to become known as “The Rasmussen Report,” after its Director, Norman Rasmussen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In August, 1974, the draft Report was released with much fanfare in a public-relations extravaganza that prompted one newspaper to proclaim: “Campaigners Against Nuclear Power Stations Put to Rout.” Following this triumphant entrance, scrupulous scientific assessment began behind the facade, after which it was all downhill for the Report. The AEC’s successor organization, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), quietly withdrew endorsement of the Rasmussen Report in January, 1979.
Rushed into print to provide support for a renewal of the Price Anderson Act (a federally mandated limit of industry liability following a nuclear reactor failure), an eighteen page “Executive Summary” of the final Report was distributed to Congress and the Press in October, 1975, and in advance of the release of the full, 2300 page Report.
Perhaps the most famous item of the Executive Summary was the claim that the chances of being killed by a nuclear power plant “transient” is about equal to that of being killed by a meteorite. This mind-catching statistic has proven to have a longevity far exceeding that of the Report which spawned it. In general, the Summary concluded that:
…The likelihood of reactor accidents is much smaller than that of many non-nuclear accidents having similar consequences. All non-nuclear accidents examined in this study including fires, explosions, toxic chemical releases, dam failures, airplane crashes, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes, are much more likely to occur and can have consequences comparable to, or larger than, those of nuclear accidents.
Closer examination revealed a startling discrepancy between the cheerful reassurances of the Executive Summary and the nine volumes of technical information. In his splendid book, The Cult of the Atom (Simon and Schuster, 1982), based upon tens of thousands of pages of AEC documents pried loose by the Freedom of Information Act, Daniel Ford observes that:
As one moves from the very technical material … to the Executive Summary … a change of tone as well as of technical content is evident. In the “back” of the study, there are cautionary notes, discussion of uncertainties in the data, and some sense that there may be important limitations to the results. The qualifications successively drop away as one moves toward the parts of the study that the public was intended to see. In the months following the study’s completion, the honesty of the official summary … became the most controversial issue.
The reassuring conclusions of the Rasmussen Report were based upon numerous highly questionable assumptions and methodologies. Among them:
- By definition, the report estimated damage and casualties due to anticipated events. There is no clear acknowledgment that all possible significant events were not, and could not be, covered by the study. As it turned out, the near-disaster at Three Mile Island was just one of several “unanticipated” events. And as noted above, a magnitude nine earthquake was not anticipated by the designers of the Fukushima plant.
- In fact, whole categories of failures were excluded from the risk estimates. For example, it was assumed that back-up safety systems would always operate in case of the failure of a primary system. Given this assumption, the risk of a catastrophic accident would be the product of the probability of the independent failure of both systems, and thus highly unlikely. However, this discounted the possibility of a “common-mode failure,” such as that at Browns Ferry, Alabama, in 1975 (soon after the release of the Report), where, due to faulty design, an accidental fire disabled both systems at once — yet another event excluded by the Rasmussen rules. Similarly, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 disabled both the primary and backup safety systems at the Fukushima facility.
- The Report focused on mechanical and equipment failures, and discounted design flaws and “human error,” as if these were in some sense insignificant. Also overlooked was the possibility of sabotage and terrorism.
- The report adopted the so-called “fault-tree” method of analysis, described by the Report as “developed by the Department of Defense and NASA … [and] coming into increasing use in recent years.” Not so. As Daniel Ford reports, “long before [Rasmussen] adopt the fault-tree methods … the Apollo program engineers had discarded them.”  As a retired professor of engineering recently explained to me: “the simulation or probability tree … analyses … are used to locate the weak links in your design, given the possible sources of failure that you know of or can specify… [However, the analyses] are not meant to yield a credible probability of failure, but instead yield at best a lower bound for that probability.” (EP emphasis)
- The “probabilities” assigned to the component “events” in the “fault tree,” leading to a hypothetical failure, were based upon almost pure speculation, since, because the technology was new, the evaluators lacked any precedents upon which to base probability assessments. (Both Rasmussen himself, and his Report, admitted as much). (Ford 138, 141). Thus, because the Report was fundamentally an advocacy document, this gave its pro-nuclear investigators the license to concoct unrealistically low risk assessments.
- These “low risk estimates” in the Executive Summary were startling, to say the least: “non-nuclear events,” it claimed, “are about 10,000 times more likely to produce large numbers of fatalities than nuclear plants.” But the footnote to this statement gave it away, when it added that such “fatalities … are those that would be predicted to occur within a short period of time” after the accident. However, few fatalities due to radiation exposure are “short-term.” In fact, as Physicist Frank von Hipple pointed out, a careful reading of the voluminous technical material would disclose that for every ten “early deaths” conceded in the Summary, the same accident would cause an additional seven thousand cancer deaths. (Ford, 170) This was only one of the several scandalous discrepancies between the “public” Executive Summary and the Technical material in the Report, which led Morris Udall, then Chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, to demand a new Executive Summary. The NRC refused.
- The “peer review” of the Report was perfunctory at best. The reviewers were given eleven days to assess an incomplete 3,000 page draft report — a schedule virtually designed to yield invalid assessments. Even so, many of the referees returned withering criticisms, especially of the statistical methods employed by the studies. The findings of this review group were not released by the AEC or the NRC, and the published Report was unaltered by these criticisms.
These and numerous other flaws in the study led one critic to wryly comment that “the chance of the Rasmussen Report being substantially wrong is somewhat more than the chance of your being hit by a meteorite.”
Though the general public was much impressed by the public relations show orchestrated by AEC, informed professional investigators immediately began the erosion of credibility. Among these were the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and, most significantly, an independent panel set up by the American Physical Society and chaired by Harold Lewis of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Each of these returned severe criticisms of the Report.
All this bad news eventually led the Reactor Safety Study into the halls of Congress. Daniel Ford describes what followed:
In some cases [congressional] members and staff probed the issues [of reactor safety] carefully, prepared detailed follow-up reports, and tried to bring about needed reforms. Congressman Morris Udall’s Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, for example, held extensive hearings on the validity of the Reactor Safety Study. His protests about the misleading manner in which the report’s findings were presented to the public forced the NRC, in January 1979, to repudiate the results of the study. (p. 226)
And so, at length, the relentless discipline of science and scholarship, combined with a rare display of uncompromising congressional oversight investigation, brought about the downfall of the AEC/NRC “Reactor Safety Study.”
The NRC’s “withdrawal of endorsement” stood in stark contrast to its release, scarcely four years earlier. This time there were no publicity releases, media interviews or press conferences. It was hoped that the announcement would go unnoticed amidst the usual gross output of news out of Washington. Given the widespread public opposition to nuclear power, this expectation was bound to be frustrated.
In the end, the Rasmussen Report was yet another attempt at justification of “the peaceful atom” which backfired on the proponents. Historians looking back on this technological extravaganza may note, with some bewilderment, that however severe the attacks by the critics, commercial nuclear power was, in this case at least, inadvertently done in by its defenders.
Nuclear Power Fails the Free Market Test
Still more substantial objections to nuclear power have been raised by scientists and engineers much more qualified than I am. So I will not repeat them here. (To read these objections, google “Physicians for Social Responsibility,” “Union of Concerned Scientists” “Natural Resources Defense Council” and “The Rocky Mountain Institute“). However, in closing, a few additional concerns are worthy of mention.
(1) First of all, every source of electric power, with the exception of nuclear power, “fails safe.” A failure at a coal-fired plant would, at worst, destroy the plant. But the damage would be localized and short-term. Failures at a wind-farm or solar facility are trivial. However, the damage caused by a nuclear meltdown and radiation release endures for millennia and can render huge areas permanently uninhabitable, as they have in Ukraine and Belarus due to the Chernobyl disaster, and as they likely will in Japan following the Fukushima catastrophe.
(2) Nuclear industry assurances as to the safety of their facilities are flatly refuted by their unwillingness to fully indemnify the casualty and property losses that would result from a catastrophic release of radiation from a nuclear accident. Since 1957, the Price Anderson Act has set a limit on the liability that private industry must pay in the event of an accident. The amount of that limit, originally $560 million for each plant, has been routinely revised, so that as of 2005 the limit is now $10.8 billion for each incident. Clearly, the Fukushima disaster will exact a cost far exceeding that amount. Were such an event to occur in the United States, the cost of such a disaster in excess of ten billion would be born by the victims and by the taxpayers. The contradiction is stark: the nuclear industry and its enablers in the NRC tell the public that nuclear energy is safe. And yet, at the same time, they are unwilling to back up these assurances with a full indemnification of their facilities.
(3) The public has not been adequately informed of the ongoing hazards of nuclear power. For example, the Union of Concerned Scientists report that in the past year, there were fourteen “near misses” among the 104 nuclear plants operating in the United States. And according to the Washington Post (March 24), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has disclosed that “A quarter of U.S. nuclear plants [are] not reporting equipment defects.”
(4) The widely-heard claim that “nobody in the United States has ever died due to commercial nuclear power” utilizes “the fallacy of the statistical casualty.” Specific cancer deaths due to artificial nuclear radiation are, of course, indistinguishable from cancer deaths due to other causes. Yet epidemiological studies show, beyond reasonable doubt, that some deaths are attributable to artificial radiation. The inference from “no identifiable specific deaths” to “no deaths whatever” is fallacy made infamous by the tobacco industry’s successful defense against suits filed by injured smokers or their surviving families.
(5) The claim that nuclear power is the “safest” source of energy commits the “fallacy of suppressed evidence.” Such a claim pretends that the risk of nuclear power is confined to the radiation risks adjacent to a normally operating plant and immediately following each “event.” Usually excluded from such assessments are deaths and injuries involved in the mining, milling, processing, shipment, reprocessing, storage and disposal of fuel — in short, the entire “fuel cycle.”
(6) Similarly, the claim that nuclear power is the “cheapest” power available is likewise based upon “the fallacy of suppressed evidence.” Specifically, nuclear proponents arrive at this conclusion by “externalizing” (i.e., failing to include) such costs as government subsidies for research and development, the costs of disposing of wastes, the cost of decommissioning of facilities, and, again, the cost of risks to human life, health and property. As noted above, the risk factor is excluded due to the Price Anderson Act and the failure to acknowledge “statistical casualties. Once all these “externalized costs” are included, nuclear power adds up to the most expensive energy source, hands down. Over fifty years of industry research, development and operation have not altered this fact. Meanwhile, as R & D of alternative energy sources progress and economies of scale kick in, the costs of solar, wind, tide, geo-thermal and biomass energy continue to fall. (See UCS, “Nuclear Power Subsidies: The Gift that Keeps on Taking,” and Amory Lovins, “With Nuclear Power, ‘No Acts of God Can Be Permitted’”).
Because of considerations such as these, no nuclear plants have been commissioned since the completion in 1985 of the Diablo Canyon facility along the central coast of California. The Obama Administration is prepared to change all this, as the President has announced $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to allow the building of the first nuclear power plant since Diablo Canyon.
Without this “federal intervention,” along with the Price-Anderson liability cap, no new nuclear plants would be built. The “free market” would not allow it. And yet there are no conspicuous complaints from the market fundamentalists on the right.
Why am I not surprised?
PostScript: My involvement in the Diablo Canyon controversy goes way back. In 1981, a group of local citizens blockaded the Diablo Canyon construction site in an act of civil disobedience, for which, predictably, they were arrested. At the time, I was a Visiting Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The defense team asked me to testify as to the “reasonableness” of the protesters’ belief that the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors posed a significant danger to their community and to themselves. The prosecution objected on the grounds that the defense was asking me to “do the jury’s work.” The judge concurred, and so I was not permitted to testify. My account of this experience and critique of the ruling may be found in my unpublished paper, “A Philosopher’s Day in Court” at my website, The Online Gadfly, The discussion above of the Rasmussen Report is a revision of my unpublished class discussion paper from 1980, “The Strange Saga of the Rasmussen Report”.
Ernest Partridge is the co-editor of The Crisis Papers.
The British government has announced controversial plans to ban protestors from taking part in public gatherings following the weekend anti-cuts rallies, which were marred by violence.
Based on a proposal by Home Secretary Theresa May, the police may be given new powers to prevent so-called hooligans from attending rallies and marches while officers will also be authorized to force demonstrators, who do not want to be known, to remove their face-scarves and balaclavas.
The announcement has raised concerns among MPs who say no hasty decision should be made on the issue as the police may abuse the “stop and search” powers to target ordinary people rather than “known hooligans”.
May outlined her plans during an emergency Commons briefing on the violent incidents, which marred the Saturday rally organized by the Trades Union Congress.
May told the MPs that she is considering “banning orders” similar to those used against football hooligans for the demonstrators who police think may turn to violence.
She also said officers should force more protestors to remove their masks and balaclavas to help the police quickly identify participants in the rallies.
“Just as the police review their operational tactics, so the Home Office will review the powers available to the police. I have asked the police whether they need further powers to prevent violence before it occurs. I am willing to consider powers which would ban known hooligans from rallies and marches and I will look into the powers the police already have to force the removal of face-coverings and balaclavas,” May said.
While the Metropolitan Police earlier said it has charged 149 people out of more than 200 arrested during the Saturday rallies with various offenses, at least five people have lodged complaints with Scotland Yard about police violence against marchers.
The Met said on Monday that it has charged 138 people in connection with the sit-in at Fortnum & Mason luxury store for charges including aggravated trespass.
However, the UK Uncut, which organized the sit-in dismissed any claims that those participating in the Fortnum & Mason incident resorted to violence.
“This was not a protest by people wearing balaclavas and breaking things. It was a peaceful and mild-mannered gathering by people from all walks of life – teachers, hospital workers, charity workers,” said Tim Matthews, a spokesman for UK Uncut.
“People who took part now find themselves charged with a criminal offence simply for exercising their right to protest,” he added.
This comes as Tom Brake MP, co-chair of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary policy committee on home affairs, justice and equalities, warned the government against “a knee-jerk reaction” to what happened.
“Clearly there was a small minority who were out to cause trouble. We need to look in detail into whether the police have sufficient powers to tackle that, or whether they can be deployed differently to ensure such violent scenes don’t happen again,” Brake said.
Peace loving Americans are few and far between. The vast majority of our citizens see nothing wrong with their government killing masses of people as long as the rationale sounds high minded and noble.
The love of bloodshed is generally connected with the right wing in this country, but nothing could be further from the truth. The desire for America to dominate the rest of the world is prevalent among most of its citizens, regardless of party affiliation. Those citizens differ only on who they want to see doing the dominating. Republicans are ecstatic when a Republican president drops bombs, sends drones on killing missions or occupies other nations. Democrats are equally enthusiastic when one of their own does the same.
Democratic party reaction to President Obama’s military intervention in Libya is but the latest example of the American propensity to exult over government sponsored violence. Obama, like George W. Bush before him, claims that his intervention, no-fly zone, peace mission (take your pick) is being conducted only for the most humanitarian of purposes. The dead bodies belie the claims of dogooderism but those words have a distinct power for people in this country and will always be used as a pretext for someone dying somewhere on the planet.
The legacy of Manifest Destiny and the belief in white American superiority effects and infects every policy discussion in this nation. The equation of goodness and rightness with white America holds sway very strongly and sadly not just for white people either. The willingness to see white behavior as normative means that foreign policy decisions get a pass precisely at the moment when resistance and skepticism are needed.
No, Barack Obama isn’t white, but he may as well be. He is president precisely because he assured voters that he would not change the complexion of their belief systems. If he didn’t fulfill the deeply ingrained belief that might makes right as long as America, a country thought of as white, is in charge of world affairs, he would never have become the president.
The United States attack on Libya has brought out the worst in this phenomenon. Liberals are gleeful that conservative icon Newt Gingrich backtracked on supporting intervention until the Democratic president actually intervened, but Gingrich is no different than they are.
We now have MSNBC television host Ed Schultz proclaiming “Support for Obama’s Invasion of Libya.” Never mind that Obama has taken great pains to claim that the bombing will be of limited duration and that ground troops will not have a presence there. Schultz seems to be ahead of the president on this one, but his show of support is telling in revealing the true support for American motivations in its interventions abroad. Likewise Juan Cole in an “Open Letter to the Left on Libya” dismisses criticism of the intervention thusly. “I would like to urge the Left to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time,” and adds, “We should avoid making ‘foreign intervention’ an absolute taboo . . .”
Foreign interventions conducted by the United States should be taboo. Our system is not designed to be in any way humanitarian. Its motives are to say the least suspect and no matter how evil its enemies are made out to be, the evidence of past history should make us suspicious of the arguments in favor of war.
The liberal hawks, like Obama, have no concern for Libyan civilians who are enduring bombing, and exposure to depleted uranium shells which create cancers and birth defects for years to come. This is not conjecture, but has been seen in Iraq and ought to be a reason for anyone who claims to be on the “left” to oppose the actions which bring it to pass.
The true anti-war activist, not just anti-Republican activist, has to raise its voice. The true anti-war movement must reawaken itself and hit the streets in the hundreds of thousands, just as they did in 2003 before the invasion of Iraq. That moment can be recreated, and in a deeper, more honest way, now that a Democrat is the head killer in charge.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.com.
Depleted uranium is considered a weapon of mass destruction and is banned for use in warfare by international law, yet the US and Israel use it routinely.
The US military has used thousands of tons of depleted uranium in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq sickening civilians and its own soldiers by the tens of thousands.
Depleted uranium contaminates food, water, air and land forever. It’s the ultimate “dirty bomb.”
For more information about this video go to: http://www.beyondtreason.com
NAZARETH — The Facebook administration has responded to calls to have a page calling for a third Intifada removed from the social website for good.
The page with a fan base exceeding 340,000 urged Palestinians to take to the streets to mark the anniversary of the Nakba on May 15.
The move came after Israeli minister Yuli Edelstein wrote to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg claiming that the page contained incitement against Jews and Israelis.
He said the page could help spark an ”armed rebellion” against Israel.
The page’s organizers had expressed fears that Facebook would shut down the page after the Free Palestine page, which had earned 216,000 fans, was closed without explanation.
They had threatened to boycott Facebook if it responded to the calls to close the page. They have contacted the administrators of popular Arab pages who had agreed to promote the third Intifada page.
They had also said the page’s closure would reveal Facebook’s true colors to the world, as it was the largest Palestinian site to date placed on the most important social website in the world.
The page used many innovative ideas to promote the third intifada. They included writing the set time for it on the currency and asking each of its fans to inform at least five friends of the due date.
RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank – Trucker Nazar Zarro hoists himself up into the cab of his articulated lorry loaded with emergency flour supplies bound for the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) food distribution centers in the Gaza Strip.
Zarro makes the 100 kilometer trip from Israel’s Ashdod port to Kerem Shalom crossing — where the boundaries of Gaza, Israel and Egypt meet — five days a week.
The emergency flour rations will be loaded and unloaded eight times — part of a complex system of Israeli security procedures — until they reach food-insecure families in Gaza.
UNRWA’s food distribution to around 750,000 Palestinian refugees across Gaza is a massive operation, requiring more than 270 tons of flour daily to meet the needs.
More than half of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are food insecure, according to World Food Program estimates.
Kerem Shalom is the only crossing point where commercial goods and humanitarian supplies are allowed to enter Gaza, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), under a nearly four-year Israeli blockade of the territory.
“Kerem Shalom is a small crossing — entering 200 trucks per day pushes its capacity,” says Zarro, as he parks in the seemingly endless line of trucks at the crossing. “Karni [crossing] is nearly five times the size of Kerem Shalom and we used to work until midnight to enter 700 trucks daily,” he says. The last time Zorro drove to Karni was in 2006.
The trip from Ashdod to Kerem Shalom is twice as far, and Kerem Shalom closes just after midday.
Karni, controlled by Israel, is the only commercial crossing with the facilities to allow large numbers of trucks to enter Gaza. Closed to trucks since June 2007, the conveyor belt had been operating to transfer wheat grain — until the Israeli authorities announced its complete closure on 2 March.
Transferring wheat grain via Kerem Shalom will add an additional 20 percent to logistics and transportation costs, says UNRWA.
Containers of humanitarian supplies from foreign countries are shipped from Ashdod port to nearby rented UNRWA warehouses, where workers transfer the goods onto pallets by forklift. A second tier of laborers then furiously wraps the goods — mostly food and medical supplies — in plastic by hand to secure them for the long, hot journey under the sun until they reach UNRWA’s 12 distribution centers in Gaza.
UNRWA describes the lengthy process of bringing basic humanitarian supplies into Gaza as unduly complicated and costly.
Despite Israel’s “adjustment” to the blockade in June 2010, which established a “prohibited items” list and technically permitted the entry of any item not on that list, the agency still struggles to import adequate amounts of flour and construction materials as a result of lack of capacity and insufficient operating hours at the crossings, UNRWA says.
UNRWA has received approval for 43 reconstruction projects requiring restricted construction materials, worth about 11 percent of the cost of its entire work plan for Gaza.
According to UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness in Jerusalem, containers of supplies bound for the occupied West Bank are loaded onto UNRWA trucks at Ashdod and unloaded at their final destination. Hence, West Bank supplies are unloaded twice. Gaza-bound supplies are loaded and unloaded eight times before they reach their final destination.
Transporting goods via pallets costs UNRWA twice as much as bringing goods in via 38 cubic meter containers, and the risk of damage to the goods is higher. Additionally, high import fees, aside from taxation, are taken from private companies operating Kerem Shalom.
UNRWA estimates their additional costs for transporting palletized food and non-food items to Gaza, compared to transporting containerized food and non-food items, to be about $2.1 million in 2010, and $730,000 for January and February 2011.
“At a time when UNRWA faces a budget deficit of over $50 million, these costs are significant,” said spokesperson Gunness, adding that the funds could be invested in development and job creation projects in Gaza.
UNRWA has paid about $80,000 to store goods at Ashdod Port since 2007 (such as X-ray equipment and tools for UNRWA’s vehicle repair training centers) marked as potential “dual-use” items by Israeli authorities and still awaiting approval to enter Gaza.
Karni less safe?
Maj Guy Inbar, Israeli coordinator of government activities in the (Palestinian) territories (COGAT), told IRIN Kerem Shalom is the safer crossing to operate due to security threats near Karni crossing.
“Most of the rocket attacks launched in the last month were from the Shajaiyeh area [east of Gaza City] near Karni,” said Inbar.
Israeli truckers (which UNRWA contracts) unload at Kerem Shalom on the Israeli side. COGAT coordinates the entrance of the goods, and Israeli border authorities, under the Defense Ministry, inspect the goods prior to entering Gaza, explained Inbar.
UNRWA trucker Zarro said three secured rooms are located at the crossing to transfer goods — two rooms can hold about 32 truckloads of goods, and the third about 12 truckloads.
“Pallets are unloaded into the rooms, which are closed from the Gaza side, and after inspection the doors open on the Gaza side for Palestinian truckers to receive the shipments,” said Zorro.
“The three rooms allow for the goods to be safely transferred in one place and provide a sterile area,” said Inbar.
Gaza’s commercial traders liken the process to feeding a prisoner.
Israel tightened its blockade of Gaza after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007. Through prolonged border closures Israel has restricted the import of fuel and commercial goods, as well as most construction and raw materials, and has largely restricted the movement of people, according to OCHA.
UNRWA inspection officers come to Kerem Shalom daily to facilitate the entrance of UNRWA trucks to Gaza.
Truck drivers crowd window
Scores of Israeli truckers crowd the trailer window, seeking approval to transfer their load from the Israeli border authorities. Trucker Zarro secured a stamp of approval for the flour shipment, although several truckers will be turned away after waiting outside for hours.
According to UNRWA, there is no cold storage at Kerem Shalom, damaging medical supplies and decreasing the shelf-life of food items exposed to the desert climate.
“If proper security equipment was present at Kerem Shalom, containers of goods could easily be transferred,” said UNRWA spokesperson Gunness. “This equipment is available and from a logistical point of view it would be safer, easier and more cost effective to scan entire truckloads.”
The Israeli Defense Ministry did not respond to IRIN’s request for comment as to why palletizing goods at Kerem Shalom is a necessary procedure.
A recent survey conducted by the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), representing more than 80 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, found that the cost for international NGOs of dealing with movement restrictions on staff and goods is at least $4.5 million a year. … Full article
As Techdirt recently discussed, the drug pipeline is running dry, as Big Pharma’s patents are beginning to expire, and the drug companies are freaking out. For years they have been spending more money on research and testing and getting fewer results. This year alone they are going to have 11 patents expire on drugs that bring in approximately $50 billion in revenue to the big pharma firms. Of course, the flip side to this is that consumers can start saving about 95% on the price of those drugs, as generics hit the market. The drug companies have gotten to a point where the incremental increases in efficiencies are so small as to be meaningless. What is coming is more personalized and targeted treatments for diseases — treatments that do not require bulk production of a specific chemical, but individual testing and personalized care, and not lifetime treatments and repeat sales, but cures. The treatments will be expensive to begin with, but they will become less expensive over time. The business model of healthcare is about to change dramatically, and Big Pharma needs to do something to maintain their profits. Unfortunately, they seem to have chosen the path of regulating the competition out of existence, rather than competing and innovating.
One way the drug companies have been coping is to repackage and rebrand health food supplements. Drugs like Lovaza, which is nothing more than the fish oil you can get in health food stores, and lovastatin which has been in use for roughly a thousand years (800 AD) in the form of red yeast rice. In the case of lovastatin, the FDA banned the supplements because they are “identical to a drug and, thus, subject to regulation as a drug.” That is very convenient for the drug company, which now charges monopoly rents on the product — which can increase prices at ridiculous levels.
More recently, the FDA banned 500 prescription drugs that had been on the market and working for years. To be fair, it was really 50-100 drugs (pdf), made by different companies, but that just highlights how there was actual competition in the marketplace for these drugs, which has now been removed. For all of the drugs, there is either a high-priced prescription version, or all the small manufacturers have been removed, leaving a virtual monopoly for one or more larger companies. This process began in 2006 when the FDA decided to remove marketed unapproved drugs (pdf).
The reasoning is that these drugs weren’t ever technically “approved” by the FDA. While the FDA has been around for about a century, the business of having the FDA first approve drugs before they could go on the market came about closer to fifty years ago, and a bunch of “unapproved drugs” that were in common usage before that never got approved. The FDA is targeting many of those, even if they have a long history in the marketplace. Conveniently, of course, there always seems to be a pharma company with a monopolized substitute ready.
In 2006 the first “new” monopoly that was created by this FDA process was for the malaria drug quinine sulfate. This left only Mutual Pharmaceutical Company to manufacture quinine in the US (pdf). While malaria is not a disease that affects many people in the US, it is big business worldwide. Malaria causes 300 to 500 million infections and over 1 million deaths each year. Treating this disease with quinine used to cost pennies a day. In fact, the British turned this treatment into a cocktail, the gin and tonic (quinine water).
Another drug removed was the antihistamine carbinoxamine, which was created prior to needing FDA approval, in the early 1950s. It was approved by the FDA in a slightly modified form in 2006. It is now sold exclusively by Mikart, Inc and Pamlab, LLC with no future competition because the FDA has banned all 120 other versions of carbinoxamine. You can imagine just how much that must increase the profits for Mikart and Pamlab on carbinoxamine, though that seems to come at the expense of consumers.
It’s really nice being granted a government monopoly.
As for the drugs now being banned in this latest purge, you can argue that it’s not really 500 drugs, because many are different combinations of the same 50 to 100 drugs. To be sold, these disapproved drugs will require drug trials and certification — a massive and expensive process. Under current law, after successful completion of FDA trials these drugs will be granted approval. But in every case these trials are almost certainly not necessary. And, “coincidentally” in almost every case, there is a chemically similar patented version ready to go. This is a pure money grab: replacing old tried and true drugs, with monopoly priced prescription drugs. It just requires removing competing drugs from the market to increase profits.