(low resolution movie poster reproduction via wikipedia)
In the 1958 cult horror classic The Thing That Couldn’t Die, a young lass out water-witching (of all things) discovers a curious and ancient box–one that, whether you follow the conventions of the genre or the entreaties of the film’s internal expert, should obviously remain closed.
But, as these things are wont to go, greed and ambition get the better of a few mere mortals, and the box is breached, revealing the intact–and living!–head of a sorcerer executed hundreds of years earlier. The wayward wizard then uses his telepathic powers to manipulate some of the more foolish, godless humans to unearth the rest of his body so that it might be reunited with the head and realize the full force of its destructive powers.
It is hard not to think of this black and white bubbe meise while reviewing the most recent chapters in the battle over the future of the partially excavated, purportedly moribund Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in southwestern Nevada.
Or at least that is what the nuclear industry and its army of lobbyists, captured regulators, and purchased politicians would have you believe.
As Republican members of Congress try to exert pressure on Reid and Senator Barbara Boxer (whose committee has jurisdiction over the NRC) to quickly confirm Svinicki, two states with heaping helpings of nuclear waste have gone to court to make sure that the Yucca repository is kept, if not on track, at least on life support.
Davis-Besse and its critic, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D OH-9). (photos: NRC & Rep. Kucinich)
Fifteen-term House veteran Marcy Kaptur has defeated seven-term incumbent Dennis Kucinich in Tuesday’s primary for Ohio’s 9th congressional district. Rep. Kucinich previously represented OH-10, but was forced to compete with Kaptur when Ohio lost two seats in the last census. Republicans in the Ohio State House (with the blessing of US House Speaker–and OH-8 Representative–John Boehner) merged two Democratic strongholds into a new 9th district that included parts of Kucinich’s Cleveland base, but was dominated by Kaptur’s old Toledo constituency.
With nine-tenths of precincts reporting, Kaptur leads Kucinich, 60 to 39 percent.
Kucinich, who for many years voted with opponents of reproductive rights, switched his position before the 2004 presidential election and ran this year as the more socially liberal contender. Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in the House and a champion of many feminist causes, was ranked as “mixed choice” by NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Kucinich was also a stronger critic of America’s military follies, and pointed out that Kaptur, the Democrats’ number two on the powerful Appropriations Committee, should have pushed harder for cuts in defense spending.
Congratulations go out this first week of the new year to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for giving Democrats in Ohio’s 9th congressional district a reason to come out and vote in their March 6 primary. . . and for giving residents from Toledo to Cleveland, not to mention those in a large swath of southern Michigan, something to keep them up at night.
. . . a fire at Ohio’s crippled Davis-Besse facility cut ventilation to the reactor control room. A faulty valve in a pipe sending water to the reactor core leaked on an electrical switchbox, triggering an electrical arc, which started the fire. This could have been a potentially catastrophic emergency. . . had the reactor not been shut down seven weeks earlier to replace an already once previously replaced, corroded, 82-ton reactor lid. This “transplant operation” revealed a 30-foot crack in the concrete shield building that will require a separate repair program. . . which will in no way be completed before the end of the year.
This was all on top of dangerous acid leaks discovered years earlier that caused what was called the worst corrosion ever seen at a US reactor. For their lack of attention to this little detail, Davis-Besse operator FirstEnergy was fined $5.45 million by regulators, and the company agreed to pay another $28 million in civil penalties.
[O]n December 7, one day after the reactor restart, FirstEnergy, Davis-Besse’s operator, admitted that they had withheld news of new cracks on a different part of the structure, which were discovered in November.
But, hey, FirstEnergy said that they only had withheld this information from the public, and that they indeed did report it to the NRC–which, as was observed at the time, raises some serious questions about the honesty, independence and competency of that body.
Well, one month after the commission gave its latest blessing to Davis-Besse, the NRC arranged a public meeting to explain its decision.
Wait–that’s not quite right. Representatives of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and FirstEnergy were at a public meeting December 5 at the request Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D), who currently represents Ohio’s 10th congressional district, which lies to the east of Davis-Besse.
And there’s the rub. A victim of a population shift and a gerrymander by state Republicans, Kucinich’s district is disappearing in the next Congress. After much consideration, Rep. Kucinich recently announced that he would try to win back a seat in Congress representing Ohio’s 9th district, thus setting up a primary against House veteran Marcy Kaptur, the Democrat who has represented OH-9 for 29 years.
It should be noted that Kucinich has been on the Davis-Besse case for a very long time, and had called for the public meeting before the new district lines were drawn. But, as fate would have it, both Representatives Kucinich and Kaptur appeared at Thursday’s event.
“The cracking is not architectural, it’s structural,” Kucinich said. “FirstEnergy finally admitted this tonight. It’s an issue of public trust. FirstEnergy did not give the public, media or us a true picture of what really happened at the start.”
Rep. Kucinich has repeatedly stated that the Davis-Besse reactor should not have been allowed to restart until plant operators and regulators could explain why the reactor building was cracking and prove that the problem had been arrested. To date, neither of those criteria has been met.
Despite this uncertainty, Rep. Kaptur, whose district includes the troubled nuclear plant, supports the course currently set by the NRC and FirstEnergy–at least that seems to be what she’s saying:
“I came to assure the people that I am a proponent of public safety, I am convinced the NRC did its job this time, and I also want to see advanced energy production that’s affordable and see the plant increase employment,” Kaptur said. “We have to live in the 21st century . . . not the 20th . . . which is what Davis-Besse is providing. I know what [Kucinich] believes, but I’m in my 30th year as a public servant and I think I’ve learned something in that time.”
The Davis-Besse plant is said to account for about 800 jobs–though, since none of the players is proposing the decommissioning of the reactor, it is not clear how delaying restart until safety issues are addressed would change the employment picture. As for living in the 21st Century instead of the 20th, perhaps Kaptur has forgotten that Davis-Besse broke ground in 1970, and came on line in 1978. Its light water reactor design is older still.
As for believing in public safety, beyond the recent fire, the two reactor head replacements and the numerous unexplained cracks, Kaptur probably should be reminded that the plant in her district is the site of two of the five most dangerous US nuclear events since 1979.
As for “energy production that’s affordable,” even a casual reader is by now aware that nuclear power–with its construction costs, costs of operation, costs of fuel mining and refining, costs of spent fuel storage, accident clean-ups, tax breaks, rate subsidies and federal loan guarantees–is one of the most phenomenally uneconomical ways of producing electricity ever conceived.
And, as for the NRC doing its job–”there is a high level of assurance that the reactor building is safe,” said Cynthia Pederson, a regional director with the NRC responsible for the Midwest. But Pederson also confirmed that their investigation into the cracks is ongoing, and most notably, that the NRC is relying on FirstEnergy to sort it all out:
The commission signed off on restarting the plant following several tests and after its owner, FirstEnergy Corp., assured it that the cracks don’t pose a threat.
The commission has given Akron-based FirstEnergy until the end of February to find out what caused the cracks.
Until the cause is known, there’s no reason to order closer inspections at other plants with similar concrete shields, Pederson said.
It’s possible that the cracks have been around for a while, she said. “Concrete has a tendency to crack,” she said.
“Concrete has a tendency to crack”–how is that an acceptable “finding” from a representative of the regulatory agency responsible for guaranteeing the safety of nuclear reactors? Pederson, in her statements Thursday, has made it quite clear that her agency has no idea why the Davis-Besse containment structure is cracking, or whether it has stopped cracking, and that the NRC has relied on the operator’s assurance that the cracks “don’t pose a threat.”
Remember, this is the same operator that previously had to pay out over $33 million in penalties for a previous lapse in judgment, and has just been caught concealing knowledge of additional cracks.
And beyond those structural cracks, Davis-Besse has, time and again, revealed the troubling cracks in the system. Looking at the history of this Ohio reactor–let alone the history of atomic power across the country–the federal agency responsible for policing the nuclear industry has instead proven itself the patsy. FirstEnergy has proven itself untrustworthy, yet the NRC has said that it trusts them, and that the public should trust them, too.
And now, by coming down on the side of FirstEnergy, Marcy Kaptur has volunteered her constituents as participants in this trust exercise, as well. Rep. Kucinich chooses to trust evidence over faith–and that evidence says Davis-Besse is not just an accident waiting to happen, it is a series of accidents, some still in waiting, some now evolving. With the terrifying results of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident still very much developing, it seems naïve if not criminal to give the nuclear industry the benefit of the doubt.
So, this first week of 2012, the Kaptur-Kucinich race already has a clear issue. Residents of Ohio’s 9th, you have a clear choice.
Ahhh, the power of the Democrats! To all of you who said that Dems couldn’t get anything done, to all of you that said Congressional Democrats couldn’t find the President’s desk with a map, a flashlight, and guided tour from Desirée Rogers, to all of you that said this White House did not know how to play political hardball, I say: Behold!
Just look what has happened in the last fortnight (or so): the president actually put his health plan on paper, the Senate leadership and the White House decided that budget reconciliation wasn’t such a bad idea after all, Democrats in both houses of Congress came together on a sidecar strategy, leadership has started whipping votes like there’s no tomorrow, President Obama has taken his show on the road in campaign-style events to sell his reform plan, and he, the president himself, is having one-on-one meetings with Democratic members (yes, that’s Democratic, not Republican) of the House to arm twist and horse trade. And, the great grassroots organizing forces of the left—from OFA to SEIU, from DFA to HCAN, from MoveOn to what the serious folks call “the liberal blogosphere” (not the marginal blogs, of course [smile])—have been mobilized in an all-out, no-holds-barred, damn-near scorched earth effort to move every last member of the House off the dime and on board the health care highway.
Hell, the White House is giving away NASA bases, and the SEIU is threatening primary challenges to anyone that votes against the “Senate-plus” health care overhaul—even if that means running kamikaze, third-party candidates. All to counteract the horrible, obstructionist, downright evil efforts of notorious Public Enemy Number One. . .
But, whatever—there are mountains to be moved here!
And look what they are moving mountains for.
It is strikingly educational to note that none of this was done last spring for single-payer. None of this was done last summer for a bill with a robust public option. None of this was done last fall for drug re-importation. None of this was done to stop the health care bill from containing the greatest threat to reproductive rights in a generation. Some yelled, some organized, some worked hard—a group here, a blog there (or vice versa)—but there was no massive, coordinated push, no hard sell, no “win one for the gipper,” and no demonizing of those who were then the obstacles to real, progressive change.
But, today—today everything is different. The White House has the bill it really always wanted. They have their deals with PhRMA, AHIP, and the Hospitals more-or-less unbroken (despite some of their protest-too-much carping); they have their real goal in sight.
The White House has their individual mandate—a law that will require those without coverage to buy from private health insurers under pain of penalty enforced through the IRS—they have their restrictions on drug re-importation and direct drug price negotiation still intact, and they have kept their word on the handshake deal that they made last spring with the medical industrial complex: no public option.
They have the Big Insurance Bailout and Medical Industries Profit Protection Act of 2010. If BIBMIPPA doesn’t sound good to you, it shouldn’t. This bill will not provide universal coverage, it will not provide universal access, it will not significantly bend the cost curve, it will not prevent draconian escalations in premiums or out-of-pocket expenses, and, upon signing into law, it will not do anything at all for the large majority of the 48 million uninsured for another four years.
What it will do is mandate an expansion of the customer pool for private insurance. What it will do is funnel taxpayer dollars into the coffers of the lobbying arms AHIP, PhRMA, and the various private hospital associations. What it will do is enrich and entrench the current powers-that-be at the expense of middleclass and poorer working Americans.
What it will do is make future efforts at reform much, much harder.
And for this, the Democrats have practically risen from the grave—and with the force of an army of hungry zombies, they will not stop until they have converted the whole village. And, today, it looks pretty much like they will.
So, behold: Democrats can get things done. When everyone comes together and whips in one direction they can take on any foe—FOX News, John McCain. . . even Dennis Kucinich. But is this really the battle Democrats should be fighting—is this the battle we should be proud of?
No, fair cousin. Today is not St. Crispin’s Day. (Or, at least, Obama is no Henry V.) Those that the White House and its legions are fighting for are the ones covetous of gold, Rahm doth care who feeds his cost, and too many in this new vanguard do covet honor. Rather, after a year of claiming to be on the side of real health care reform, it is those who have joined this final push for the Obama plan that should think themselves accursed and hold their manhoods cheap.
And, a note, too, to those that plan on complaining about and campaigning against Republican obstructionism—this week’s events render that strategy weaker by a furlong than that of the French at Agincourt. Even without the mythical army of 60 senators—or bipartisan support—the Democrats can get things done. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
That this will was to serve corporate interests, over and at the expense of the public good, is as sad as it is signature. And, I believe, it will be noticed and remembered by voters, maybe not from this day till the ending of the world, but certainly through November, and likely long past. Behold, the power of Democrats—and for what and whom they would wield it.
MyFDL is the community site of progressive political blog Firedoglake. Anyone can participate by writing a diary, commenting on others’ diaries, or joining groups to find other people in your area. Content posted to MyFDL is the opinion of the author alone, and should not be attributed to Firedoglake.