Despite Billion-Dollar Budget, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Cancels Project Studying Cancer near Nuclear Facilities
A five-year federal pilot program to determine levels of contamination around eight nuclear facilities in the United States was cancelled this week because, apparently, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is already doing such a fine job of oversight.
“The NRC continues to find U.S. nuclear power plants comply with strict requirements that limit radiation releases from routine operations,” agency spokesman Scott Burnell wrote in defense of the decision. “The NRC and state agencies regularly analyze environmental samples from near the plants. These analyses show the releases, when they occur, are too small to cause observable increases in cancer risk near the facilities.”
There is nothing to see, so why waste the time and money. “The NRC determined that continuing the work was impractical, given the significant amount of time and resources needed and the agency’s current budget constraints.”
The cost was $8 million, $1.5 million of which has already been spent. The NRC has a budget of more than $1 billion. Results from the testing were not expected until at least the end of the decade. The study, led by National Academy of Sciences (NAS) researchers, was meant to update a 1990 National Cancer Institute (NCI) report that focused on cancer mortality, with limited occurrence of the disease in two states.
The NRC decided in 2007 to update the report and contacted the NAS to commence a two-phase study of cancer risks in populations living near NRC-licensed facilities. Phase 1 was to determine if doing the study was feasible. The conclusion reached in 2012 was “Yes.”
Phase 2 was to be broken into two parts: planning and execution. The commission killed it on Tuesday. Nuclear sites to be studied included active and decommissioned plants in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey. A nuclear fuel fabrication plant in Tennessee was also on the list.
Supporters of the program are not happy. “Study after study in Europe has shown a clear rise in childhood leukemia around operating nuclear power facilities, yet the NRC has decided to hide this vital information from the American public,” said Cindy Folkers, radiation and health specialist at Beyond Nuclear.
Folkers blamed nuclear industry manipulation. Beyond Nuclear points to the NRC staff recommendation (pdf) that the commission drop the program. The policy issue document mentions a cheaper, crummier project pitched by the president of the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), but the staff concludes that no study is worth doing.
U.S. Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), who pushed for the cancer study in 2009, also did not sound happy. He said,
“We need a thorough, accurate accounting of the health risks associated with living near nuclear facilities so residents can know if there are any adverse health impacts. But the NRC has decided to take a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ approach to this public health concern by ceasing work on what could be a lifesaving cancer risk research study.”
To Learn More:
Cancer Risk Study Canceled at San Onofre (by Morgan Lee, San Diego Union-Tribune )
Regulators Halt Study of Cancer Risks at 7 Nuclear Plants (by Stephen Singer, Associated Press )
NRC Pulls Plug on Cancer Study near Nuclear Plants (by Christine Legere, Cape Cod Times )
Memo on Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations near Nuclear Facilities Study (Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff) (pdf)
Whether liberals are “stupid” is probably the wrong question. A lot of smart people support stupid things; their intelligence is irrelevant. But there can be no doubt that American liberals support — and lord knows, say — a lot of stupid things. Barack Obama, for instance.
Supporting Barack Obama on the basis that he was anything but a slightly lesser evil — itself very much arguable — was highly stupid. If you hated John McCain or Mitt Romney more, fine. Understandable, even. But claiming Obama was a great progressive leader in the making was always stupid. But a lot of smart (and stupid) people thought such things.
It’s worth revisiting, as a lot of bad things have happened because of it.
Quite by accident, this afternoon I came across a draft email from 2008 that I never sent containing excerpts from two different articles that I undoubtedly thought at the time were stupid, stupid, stupid, but which I apparently had neither the energy nor heart to dissect. Let’s look at them now, though, because it’s worth looking at and mocking what liberals, in this case the former head of Air America, Beau Friedlander, were saying before Barack Obama took office. It’s really embarrassing and it should give you pause when these very same people cast themselves as sophisticated and pragmatic realists.
In a piece published by the Huffington Post on November 23, 2008, Friedlander wrote this about the president-elect’s plans to fix the economy:
[W]hile many of us have expressed a range of positions from caution to strident criticism regarding the way Obama’s White House started shaping up this past week, there are some indications now that–contrary to the vague fear of a more centrist tendency that some, including myself, decried–Obama may well assume a fairly radical solution to the economic problems facing the nation, one that eclipses the craziest notions dreamt up by the progressive fringe. This will happen because he is a great leader, and the hallmark of great leaders is their ability to listen to the needs of his or her people and then translate what s/he hears into programs and workable deeds.
That didn’t happen. Whoops. I don’t feel like writing anything else about the above excerpt, except: look at that part in bold again. Ha ha.
In another piece published December 21, 2008, Friedlander wrote this about our great leader:
At first glance, sure, the president-elect might seem to be the ultimate confidence man. His manner is unflappable as he looks you right in the eye, calms you with that winning smile, and robs you blind. He’s from Illinois, after all. To many on the progressive side, the campaign for change seems like a good old fashioned bait and switch, with the final indication being Team Obama’s announcement last week that Rick Warren would deliver the invocation at the inauguration on January 20.
Here’s what’s missing from the grouch and brainstorm so rife among the dyspeptic tide of liberal resentment: a coherent thought. Obama is precisely who we wanted. He’s going to deliver the promised change, and we just can’t see it. And that’s how it should be, folks, because if we could see what Obama sees, we wouldn’t need a transformative leader. Remember, we elected him because he had the vision thing.
Oh, gosh. So close in that first paragraph! But Friedlander, being a liberal Democrat, doesn’t know how to turn his ideal programs into “workable deeds,” so he falls back on the tried-and-true partisan platform of trust, but don’t verify (that only helps the Republicans).
We all know liberals think they’re the smartest ones in the room, especially if there’s some hipster anarchist in it pointing out how full of shit their blood-soaked heroes are. But when they adopt the cynic’s stylings to piss on anyone who hopes for anything better — “This is the best we can do. The only hope worth having is the hope that things don’t get worse.” — it’s worth remembering what they and their idols once promised. And how stupid it all sounds.
An Illinois community is rallying around a teacher who is reportedly up against disciplinary action for informing his students of their rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment before the high-schoolers answered a survey regarding their personal behavior.
John Dryden, a social studies teacher at Batavia High School, not far from Chicago, Illinois, told the Kane County Chronicle he was docked a day’s pay for reminding his students they have the right to not incriminate themselves before administering a drug-screening survey to the class.
The exact contents of the survey were not disclosed, but Dryden said each form was printed with a student’s name and had questions relating to drug use, alcohol consumption, and emotional tendencies. The results were to be reviewed by school officials, social workers, counselors and psychologists, according to the Chicago Daily Herald.
For advising the students of their rights guaranteed by the Constitution, Dryden was scheduled to face a closed-door meeting with school board officials on Tuesday night. He was charged with the vague count of “unprofessional conduct” and could be disciplined with a “letter of remedy” that would remain on his 20-year employment record, along with the docked pay.
Dryden said it was “dumb luck” that he examined the contents in the survey before handing them out. He said that if he had been notified about the questions, he would have consulted a school administrator over the issue.
“Somebody needs to remind them they have the ability not to incriminate themselves,” Dryden said. “I made a judgment call. There was no time to ask anyone.”
School Superintendent Jack Barshinger told the Daily Herald the survey was meant to determine which students were emotionally unstable and considering self-harm.
“We can’t help them if we aren’t aware of their needs,” he said.
A letter mailed to parents did not specify whether the survey was mandatory or optional. A petition of support, which described Dryden as an “uncharacteristically engaging educator,” attracted 4,000 signatures and pleaded with administrators to not discipline him.
“It is Mr. Dryden’s task as an educator to impart his students with the knowledge and ability to make informed choices, even if these lead to conscientious objection,” the letter read. “For the administration of Batavia High School to pursue disciplinary action against a dedicated educator, whose instruction is solely student centered is, in our opinion, an extreme lapse of professional competence.”
Through the scrutiny and media attention Dryden has maintained that the survey’s legality, not he, should be the focus of the story.
“I have asked people to talk about the survey. I think I am a sideshow,” he said. “I’m not a martyr. I’m trying to refocus people’s attentions. Calm down.”
- School Board Reprimands Teacher for Telling Students About Their Right to Remain Silent (reason.com) … “These kids need to know that the U.S. Constitution is there for them,” Batavia Alderman Alan Wolff told the school board yesterday, referring to the Fifth Amendment’s ban on compelled self-incrimination, which Dryden mentioned as he distributed the survey forms. Another Batavia High School teacher, Scott Bayer, said Dryden was not alone in thinking it was important to let students know they were not obligated to answer the questions if doing so involved admitting crimes. “Every teacher I talked to addressed students in the same way,” he said. Perhaps we can expect more written warnings of improper conduct. …
In the US state of Illinois, the Chicago Teachers Union is planning on going on strike and staging a walkout in demand of higher pay and job security.
The union says it plans to open its strike on Saturday and stage its walkout on Monday, the Associated Press reports.
However, the union and district officials in the country’s third most-populated city say they will negotiate with the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel to see if the walkout can be avoided or not.
Monday will be the first walkout strike by Chicago teachers in 25 years.
Last Monday, thousands of union workers gathered in Chicago’s Daley Plaza in support of the city’s teachers union.
This comes after several rounds of negotiations, which have failed to result in a solution to the demands of teachers.
According to a report released by the White House, as a result of state and local budget cuts, the US has slashed more than 300,000 education jobs since June 2009.
- Chicago Teachers Union to file 10-day strike notice (educationviews.org)
- All Eyes on Chicago’s Teachers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- White House report says 300,000 education jobs lost since 2009 (thehill.com)
David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project, testified today in favor of closing Tamms Correctional Center at a hearing before the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability in Ullin, Illinois. Tamms is a supermax prison where prisoners are held in long-term solitary confinement, often for a decade or longer.
The following is an excerpt from the ACLU’s testimony:
Tamms is a supermax facility in which prisoners — many of them mentally ill — are held in solitary confinement, sometimes for years on end. A 2009 study by the Belleville News-Democrat found that 54 Tamms prisoners had been in continuous solitary confinement for more than ten years.
The shattering effects of solitary confinement on the human psyche have long been well known.
In 1890, the United States Supreme Court described the devastating effects of solitary confinement as practiced in the nation’s early days:
A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others, still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.
Half a century later, the Court referred to solitary confinement as one of the techniques of “physical and mental torture” that have been used by governments to coerce confessions.
More recently, the Chicago-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit observed that “the record shows, what anyway seems pretty obvious, that isolating a human being from other human beings year after year or even month after month can cause substantial psychological damage, even if the isolation is not total.” The court recognized that “there is plenty of medical and psychological literature concerning the ill effects of solitary confinement (of which segregation is a variant)[.]”
And in 2010, an Illinois federal court found that “Tamms imposes drastic limitations on human contact, so much so as to inflict lasting psychological and emotional harm on inmates confined there for long periods.”
A number of states have dramatically reduced their use of solitary confinement, preserving prison and public safety and saving millions of dollars in the process. None of these states have experienced any adverse effect on prison or public safety as a result of reducing their use of solitary confinement. This is not surprising, as evidence shows that prisoners released from solitary confinement have higher recidivism rates than comparable prisoners released from general population.
Because of the profoundly damaging effects of solitary confinement, particularly on prisoners with mental illness, a number of federal courts have ruled that conditions in supermax prisons like Tamms cause such extreme suffering that they violate the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments.
A federal court in California characterized housing prisoners with mental illness in a supermax unit as “the mental equivalent of putting an asthmatic in a place with little air to breathe.” And a federal court in Wisconsin ordered prison officials to remove prisoners with mental illness from the state’s Supermax Correctional Institution.
Conditions at Tamms are also inconsistent with international human rights principles. In a global study on solitary confinement, presented last year to the United Nations General Assembly, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture called on all countries to ban the practice, except in very exceptional circumstances, as a last resort, and for as short a time as possible. The Special Rapporteur concluded that solitary confinement can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and in some cases even torture. He recommended a ban on solitary confinement exceeding 15 days, and the abolition of solitary confinement for juveniles and mentally disabled persons.
The U.N. Committee Against Torture, the official body established pursuant to the Convention Against Torture — a treaty ratified by the United States — has also recommended that the practice of long-term solitary confinement be abolished altogether.
Because it is inconsistent with international human rights norms, the use of supermax prisons like Tamms threatens the ability of the United States to secure the extradition of criminal suspects from other nations. The European Court of Human Rights has temporarily blocked the extradition of three terrorism suspects to the United States on the ground that if convicted, their eventual confinement in a U.S. supermax prison might violate the European Convention on Human Rights.
Closing Tamms will advance human rights, preserve public safety, and save Illinois taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. The ACLU respectfully urges the Commission to take this long overdue step.
The full text of the written testimony submitted to the Commission by the ACLU and the ACLU of Illinois is available here. You can also listen to a new podcast with former Tamms prisoner Brian Nelson (pictured above), who spent 23 years in solitary confinement.
- Supermaxed Out: Adios to an Isolation Facility (montanacorruption.org)
- California prisoners ask U.N. to probe solitary confinement (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
- Amnesty International accuses Arizona of abuse in prisons (aboriginalpress.wordpress.com)