Sunday, October 28, 2012
Election 2012 Frailties and Foundations
7pm - 7:10pm - Intro
7:11 - 7:41pm - Prof. Robert Watson Lynn University on the Election/Debate
7:42 - 7:52pm - Winnie Tang - President of the Asian American Federation
7:53 - 8:10pm - Jose Suarez Communication Dir. SEIU
8:11 - 8:26pm - Stratton Pollitzer Deputy Director Equality of Florida
8:27 - 8:53pm - Greg Palast BBC Economics Reporter
8:53 - 9:00pm - Outro
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1. Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. intends to keep adding names to kill lists
Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the “disposition matrix.”
The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.
Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation’s counterterrorism ranks: The United States’ conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years.
Among senior Obama administration officials, there is a broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade. Given the way al-Qaeda continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight.
“We can’t possibly kill everyone who wants to harm us,” a senior administration official said. “It’s a necessary part of what we do. . . . We’re not going to wind up in 10 years in a world of everybody holding hands and saying, ‘We love America.’ ”
That timeline suggests that the United States has reached only the midpoint of what was once known as the global war on terrorism. Targeting lists that were regarded as finite emergency measures after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are now fixtures of the national security apparatus. The rosters expand and contract with the pace of drone strikes but never go to zero.
Meanwhile, a significant milestone looms: The number of militants and civilians killed in the drone campaign over the past 10 years will soon exceed 3,000 by certain estimates, surpassing the number of people al-Qaeda killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Obama administration has touted its successes against the terrorist network, including the death of Osama bin Laden, as signature achievements that argue for President Obama’s reelection. The administration has taken tentative steps toward greater transparency, formally acknowledging for the first time the United States’ use of armed drones.
Less visible is the extent to which Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war. Spokesmen for the White House, the National Counterterrorism Center, the CIA and other agencies declined to comment on the matrix or other counterterrorism programs.
Privately, officials acknowledge that the development of the matrix is part of a series of moves, in Washington and overseas, to embed counterterrorism tools into U.S. policy for the long haul.
White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan is seeking to codify the administration’s approach to generating capture/kill lists, part of a broader effort to guide future administrations through the counterterrorism processes that Obama has embraced.
CIA Director David H. Petraeus is pushing for an expansion of the agency’s fleet of armed drones, U.S. officials said. The proposal, which would need White House approval, reflects the agency’s transformation into a paramilitary force, and makes clear that it does not intend to dismantle its drone program and return to its pre-Sept. 11 focus on gathering intelligence.
The U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, which carried out the raid that killed bin Laden, has moved commando teams into suspected terrorist hotbeds in Africa. A rugged U.S. outpost in Djibouti has been transformed into a launching pad for counterterrorism operations across the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.
JSOC also has established a secret targeting center across the Potomac River from Washington, current and former U.S. officials said. The elite command’s targeting cells have traditionally been located near the front lines of its missions, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. But JSOC created a “national capital region” task force that is a 15-minute commute from the White House so it could be more directly involved in deliberations about al-Qaeda lists.
The developments were described by current and former officials from the White House and the Pentagon, as well as intelligence and counterterrorism agencies. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
These counterterrorism components have been affixed to a legal foundation for targeted killing that the Obama administration has discussed more openly over the past year. In a series of speeches, administration officials have cited legal bases, including the congressional authorization to use military force granted after the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as the nation’s right to defend itself.
Critics contend that those justifications have become more tenuous as the drone campaign has expanded far beyond the core group of al-Qaeda operatives behind the strikes on New York and Washington. Critics note that the administration still doesn’t confirm the CIA’s involvement or the identities of those who are killed. Certain strikes are now under legal challenge, including the killings last year in Yemen of U.S.-born al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son.
Counterterrorism experts said the reliance on targeted killing is self-perpetuating, yielding undeniable short-term results that may obscure long-term costs.
“The problem with the drone is it’s like your lawn mower,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and Obama counterterrorism adviser. “You’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”
An evolving database
The United States now operates multiple drone programs, including acknowledged U.S. military patrols over conflict zones in Afghanistan and Libya, and classified CIA surveillance flights over Iran.
Strikes against al-Qaeda, however, are carried out under secret lethal programs involving the CIA and JSOC. The matrix was developed by the NCTC, under former director Michael Leiter, to augment those organizations’ separate but overlapping kill lists, officials said.
2. Associated Press: Ex-CIA Officer Kiriakou Pleads Guilty to Leaking Covert Operative’s Identity to Reporter
October 23, 2012
Summary: This is extended coverage of GAP client and former CIA officer/torture whistleblower John Kiriakou, who pled guilty yesterday (in a plea deal) to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. The majority of Kiriakou’s charges were dropped – including all Espionage Act charges. Kiriakou was motivated to take the plea because of the desire to ensure that he could see his children grow up.
Kiriakou was one of the first to publicly acknowledge the use of torture as CIA policy. He will likely serve 30 months in prison.
Key Quote: After Tuesday’s hearing, one of Kiriakou’s lawyers described him as a whistleblower. Jesselyn Radack, an expert on whistleblower issues with the Government Accountability Project, said it was an outrage that Kiriakou will serve jail time. She was glad, though, that the charges under the Espionage Act — which she characterized as vague and overbroad — were dropped.
3. Drone Policy
But it should also be noted that US drone strikes in Pakistan currently are not really about protecting civilians in the United States from terrorist attacks in any event. US drone strikes in Pakistan today are primarily an extension of the war in Afghanistan, targeting suspected militants believed to be planning to attack US troops in Afghanistan. Since the majority of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan and want US troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan, this is a highly relevant political fact: US drone strikes in Pakistan are being carried out in support of a war in Afghanistan that most Americans oppose. Pretending that US drone strikes in Pakistan are about protecting civilians in the United States when they are primarily about extending the unpopular Afghanistan war across the border with Pakistan is therefore a pretty significant deceit.
When US troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan, as most Americans want, then there will be no reason to use drone strikes to target militants in Pakistan who are trying to attack US troops in Afghanistan, because there will be no militants in Pakistan trying to attack US troops in Afghanistan, because there will be no US troops in Afghanistan for them to attack. The situation is analogous to that which we faced in Iraq during the Bush administration: We were told we had to keep our troops in Iraq to fight the people who were attacking our troops in Iraq, but the people attacking our troops were attacking our troops because they were there. Now that our troops have left Iraq, no one is attacking our troops in Iraq anymore. The best solution to the problem of people trying to attack our troops in other people's countries is to get our troops out of other people's countries where people are likely to attack them.
Moreover, it is crucial to recognize that the mere existence of drone strikes is not the focus of international criticism. It is specific features of the drone strike policy that are overwhelmingly the focus of international criticism. There is relatively little international criticism, for example, about the US use of drone strikes in Afghanistan compared to other use of air power, given that whether one supports or opposes it, the war in Afghanistan is generally considered internationally to be lawful overall (which is different from saying that specific actions within the war are lawful). But there is a great deal of international criticism about the US use of drone strikes in Pakistan, where considerable international opinion does not accept that the US is conducting a lawful war.
4. Drone vote killers
If this year's presidential election comes down to the electoral votes in Ohio, the deciding votes could be cast on electronic voting machines manufactured by a company - Hart Intercivic - with deep financial ties to the Romney family.
Hart Intercivic is majority owned by H.I.G. Capital which controls two of the five seats on the Hart Intercivic board. An investment fund with deep ties to the Romney family and the Mitt Romney for president campaign, H.I.G. Capital was founded by Tony Tamer, a major bundler for the Romney campaign, and it is one of the largest partners of Solamere Capital, an investment fund founded by Tagg Romney and Spencer Zwick, Mitt Romney's chief fundraiser from the 2008 presidential campaign. This makes the
Romney family part owner of the voting machine company, through it's interest in H.I.G. Capital.
A 2007 study conducted by Ohio's Secretary of State showed that Hart Intercivic's touch screen voting machines could be easily corrupted.
I just signed a petition telling the Department of Justice to not let Republicans steal the election in Ohio with Romney-owned voting machines. Click on the link below to find out more and sign the petition.
5. The Remarkable, Unfathomable Ignorance of Debbie Wasserman Schultz
The Chair of the Democratic National Committee is completely unaware of one of the biggest stories of the Obama years
by Glenn Greenwald
On 29 May 2012, the New York Times published a remarkable 6,000-word story on its front page about what it termed President Obama's "kill list". It detailed the president's personal role in deciding which individuals will end up being targeted for assassination by the CIA based on Obama's secret, unchecked decree that they are "terrorists" and deserve to die.
Based on interviews with "three dozen of his current and former advisers", the Times' Jo Becker and Scott Shane provided extraordinary detail about Obama's actions, including how he "por[es] over terrorist suspects' biographies on what one official calls the macabre 'baseball cards'" and how he "insist[s] on approving every new name on an expanding 'kill list'". At a weekly White House meeting dubbed "Terror Tuesdays", Obama then decides who will die without a whiff of due process, transparency or oversight. It was this process that resulted in the death of US citizen Anwar Awlaki in Yemen, and then two weeks later, the killing of his 16-year-old American son, Abdulrahman, by drone.
The Times "kill list" story made a huge impact and was widely discussed and condemned by media figures, politicians, analysts, and commentators. Among other outlets, the New York Times itself harshly editorialized against Obama's program in an editorial entitled "Too Much Power For a President", denouncing the revelations as "very troubling" and argued: "No one in that position should be able to unilaterally order the killing of American citizens or foreigners located far from a battlefield - depriving Americans of their due-process rights - without the consent of someone outside his political inner circle."
That Obama has a "kill list" has been known since January, 2010, and has been widely reported and discussed in every major American newspaper since April 2010. A major controversy over chronic White House leaks often featured complaints about this article (New York Times, 5 June 2012: "Senators to Open Inquiry Into 'Kill List' and Iran Security Leaks"). The Attorney General, Eric Holder, gave a major speech defending it.
But Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic Congresswoman from Florida and the Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, does not know about any of this. She has never heard of any of it. She has managed to remain completely ignorant about the fact that President Obama has asserted and exercised the power to secretly place human beings, including US citizens, on his "kill list" and then order the CIA to extinguish their lives.
Just marvel at this stunning, completely inexcusable two-minute display of wholesale ignorance by this elected official and DNC chair. Here she is after the second presidential debate being asked by Luke Rudkowski of We Are Change about the "kill list" and whether Romney should be trusted with this power. She doesn't defend the "kill list". She doesn't criticize it. She makes clear that she has never heard of it and then contemptuously treats Rudkowski like he is some sort of frivolous joke for thinking that it is real:
Anyone who observes politics closely has a very low bar of expectations. It's almost inevitable to become cynical - even jaded - about just how inept and inane top Washington officials are. Still, even processing this through those lowly standards, I just find this staggering. Staggering and repellent. This is an elected official in Congress, the body that the Constitution designed to impose checks on the president's abuses of power, and she does not have the foggiest idea what is happening in the White House, and obviously does not care in the slightest, because the person doing it is part of the party she leads.
One expects corrupt partisan loyalty from people like Wasserman Schultz, eager to excuse anything and everything a Democratic president does. That's a total abdication of her duty as a member of Congress, but that's par for the course. But one does not expect this level of ignorance, the ability to stay entirely unaware of one of the most extremist powers a president has claimed in US history, trumpeted on the front-page of the New York Times and virtually everywhere else.
6. Poison Control Centers in Drone Down-size Danger
Earlier this year, federal officials put their foot down: New Hampshire could no longer use federal preparedness money to supports its poison control efforts. The directive sent state lawmakers scrambling to find extra funds so New Hampshire residents would still have access to the life-saving service. Without new money, New Hampshire callers to the Northern New England Poison Center would get a recording telling them to call 911 or go to the emergency room.
Fortunately, New Hampshire officials found enough funds to keep the service up and running for state residents this year; however, they’ll confront the same problem again in the next budget cycle. Such ups and downs of funding are nothing new to Karen Simone and her colleagues, but it’s most definitely taking a toll.
“People seem to make the assumption that the poison center will always be there,” said Simone, a clinical toxicologist and director of the Northern New England Poison Center, which serves Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. “They seem to think that any doctor or emergency room can handle this and it’s a shock when I say your average ER doctor doesn’t know how to (handle these cases).”
Simone tells me that her poison center used to have enough staff to help every caller at a more leisurely pace — to answer every question without having to rush. But due to overall funding cuts, typical daytime staff has been cut from three or four people to one or two, and callers have to triage themselves according to a phone tree. Occasionally, the center has to shut down its nonemergency line for hours at a time because it just doesn’t have the capacity to handle every call. Previously, the center never had to shut down any of its phone lines, Simone said.
The Northern New England Poison Center managed more than 66,000 calls from Maine between July 2010 and June 2011; more than 5,500 calls from New Hampshire between January 2011 and March 2011; and more than 11,300 Vermont calls between March 2011 and August 2011.
“It’s kind of like you pay now or you pay later,” said Simone, who added that her time is increasingly being spent on trying to find funds to keep the center afloat. “If you give a little bit of money to poison control centers…you’ll save about $14 for every dollar spent down the road. You can choose not to spend that $1 on poison centers, but that dollar will be spent.”
A new report from the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) brings the situation Simone describes into even greater focus.
The value of investing in poison control
The AAPCC report, which quantifies the value of investing in the nation’s 57 poison centers, found that such centers save Americans more than $1.8 billion every year in medical costs and lost productivity — that’s a $13.39 return on investment for every dollar invested. In 2011, however, poison centers experienced a 36 percent cut in federal funding in addition to cuts at the state level. The report states:
Poison center professionals serve as primary health care providers for the home management of suspected poisonings and as toxicology consultants for health care providers and hospitals. In less than a few minutes, callers are connected to specially trained individuals knowledgeable of the treatment, prevention and safety measures that should be taken to prevent injury from a number of hazardous materials. This rapid early intervention often limits morbidity and prevents mortality.
According to the report: Three dollars in medical costs are saved for every $1 invested in poison center outreach, education and in raising awareness of the poison center hotline; poison centers save families more than $47 million every year in out-of-pocket medical costs, as well as more than $214 million in annual Medicaid spending and more than $176 million in Medicare spending; and more than $171 million annually is saved in emergency department visits and more than $518 million in hospitalizations. In 2010, the country’s poison centers received about 4 million calls, about 2.4 million of which were about poison exposures.
Richard Dart, AAPCC’s immediate past president and director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver, noted in an association news release that the poison control system is “one of the most successful and cost-effective public health programs in the nation…It’s vital that policymakers and the public understand the importance of funding this essential public health service.” Dart told me that due to funding cuts, the Rocky Mountain poison center has lost staff and has had to cut back on educational outreach — “we can’t spare staff to do education because we need them on the phones.”
“It’s one of those nasty cycles — decreases in education lead to more poisonings which leads to more calls,” Dart told me. “We’re really holding our breath week to week and month to month because we know that many centers are very close to closing.”
A sentinel system
If a poison center closes, not only will residents and health care providers lose a vital source of expertise and life-saving help, but also the rich data that help shape effective interventions and often serve as an early warning of new dangers. For example a few years ago, young people in Colorado Springs were trying to get high off a new product called Green Hornet, which contained high levels of over-the-counter drugs diphenhydramine and dextromethorphan. It was causing seizures and the Denver poison center picked up on it, Dart said. Soon after, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took action to alert consumers to its dangers and urge people to avoid it completely.
Similarly, back in New England, Simone noted that in the aftermath of a severe ice storm that knocked out power throughout the region and led residents to hook up their generators, the poison center detected an uptick in carbon monoxide poisoning. The real-time data helped local health officials craft appropriate prevention messages and target those messages where they were needed most. Simone also noted that poison centers began noticing an increase in opioid poisoning long before the problem hit the front pages. (Prescription painkiller misuse was involved in more than 475,000 emergency room visits in 2009, a statistic that doubled in just five years.)
“This data is crucial to have — the earlier we can detect a problem, the faster we can correct it,” said Dart, who described poison control as a sentinel surveillance system. “If we start to lose centers, we’ll start losing that early detection.”
Dart said demand for the poison center’s help hasn’t declined — “people still need our help as much as they ever did.” Interestingly, though, he noted that even though opioid-related calls have gone up, overall call volume into the Denver center remains about the same. He said it might indicate that more people are turning to the Internet for poison information. In response, creating a larger presence on the web and looking for ways to interact with people via the Internet and text messaging has become a top priority, he noted. In New England, the poison center recently debuted a new chat feature on its website that residents are just beginning to use, Simone said.
Both Simone and Dart emphasized that there’s no replacement for a poison center — the emergency rooms and hospitals that would likely fill the gap also depend on poison centers and their trained staff for accurate, immediate information. As is the case with much of the public health system, decreasing poison center funds today only increases medical spending in the long run. It’s a message — regardless of the mountains of evidence in its favor — that doesn’t always fall on receptive ears. (In fact, Dart told me that one congressional representative told him that even though poison centers are among the best data-justified programs out there, he just didn’t believe the government should be paying for such a service.)
“The response from (some) politicians is that this is an individual problem,” Dart said. “Is that really an appropriate way for our society to address this? I don’t think so.”
For a copy of “Final Report on the Value of the Poison Center System,” visit www.aapcc.org. If you have a poisoning emergency, call 1-800-222-1222.
7. KOCH BROS
fund rightwing think tanks
fund AFP -
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Legislators/ALEC + Funding
8. Severe Birth Defects Soar in Post-War Iraq
A new study confirms what many Iraqi doctors have been saying for years – that there is a virtual epidemic of rare congenital birth defects in cities that suffered bombing and artillery and small arms fire in the U.S.-led attacks and occupations of the country.
The hardest hit appear to be Fallujah (2004), a city in central Iraq, and Basra in the south (December 1998, March and April 2003).
Records show that the total number of birth defects observed by medical staff at Al Basrah Maternity Hospital more than doubled between 2003 and 2009. In Fallujah, between 2007 and 2010, more than half the children born there had some form of birth defect, compared to less than two percent in 2000.
Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, a lead author of the latest study published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, entitled “Metal Contamination and the Epidemic of Congenital Birth Defects in Iraqi Cities,” reports that in the case study of 56 Fallujah families, metal analysis of hair samples indicated contamination with two well-known neurotoxic metals: lead and mercury.
IPS correspondent Julia Kallas spoke with Savabieasfahani about Iraq’s health crisis and the long-term consequences of exposure to metals released by bombs and munitions.
Excerpts from the interview follow.
Q: You focused on Fallujah and Al Basra. Is there any indication that this problem could be affecting other Iraqi cities as well?
A: There is one other paper that has come out from another city and I think that there are similar things. I think that it is possible that anywhere could be affected. Some other places are seeing similar situations but there are no publications to indicate it. There is a great possibility that other places that have been bombed are also showing similar things.
Q: Your study found serious deformities in infants as late as 2010. How many years will the health effects of the war continue to be felt?
A: Speaking as an environmental toxicologist, I think that a long as the environment is not cleaned, as long as the source of this public contamination is not found and as long as people are exposed to it periodically on a daily basis, I think this problem will persist.
And what we can see is that they are actually increasing. I think that the best step right now is to do large-scale environmental testing – test water, air, food, soil, everything that comes in touch with people. Test them for the presence of toxic metals and other things that are in the environment. And once we find the source, then we can clean it up. Unless we do that, this is going to continue to happen because people are getting exposed.
Q: What kind of munitions would be responsible for this type of large-scale contamination?
A: We have referenced a couple of U.S. military documents and it is the kind of things that could lead to this version of metal as indicated in the references. Various metals are contained in small arms ammunition.
But it could be anything from bombardments, from the bombs that come down on the place, or bombs that exploded from the tanks, or even bullets. They all have similar metals in them, including mercury and lead poisoning, which is what we have found in the bodies of the people who live in these cities, Fallujah and Basra.
Q: Have you collaborated at all with the World Health Organisation researchers who are conducting similar research, with their findings due out next month?
A: No, I have not been in touch with the World Health Organisation or any other organisation. We have just worked with a collection of scientists.
Q: Are you aware of any formal reaction to your research by the Iraqi, U.S. or UK governments?
A: There has been some. The U.S. Defense Department responded to the report by saying that they do not know of any official reports that indicate any problems in Al Basrah or Fallujah. But I think that is the only thing that comes to my mind.
Q: How is the local health care system coping with an emergency like this? And how can contamination management and medical care procedures be provided in these areas?
A: I know that the hospitals in the two cities that we studied are overstretched and as far as that is a concern there are ways to help these hospitals. We need to organise doctors, scientists and people who are professionals in this area to help clean up. Organise them, bring them to these two cities and get them to start working. However, all of that requires financial and other kinds of support. Financial and political support together will help to make that happen.
9. Shizuoka assembly nixes nuke referendum
SHIZUOKA — The Shizuoka Prefectural Assembly on Thursday voted down a revised bill calling for a referendum on whether to restart Chubu Electric Power Co.'s suspended Hamaoka nuclear power station.
In addition to the revised bill, the assembly rejected the original proposal, with most members opposed to holding what would be the first referendum on restarting a nuclear plant that was suspended after the March 2011 meltdown crisis stated in Fukushima Prefecture.
During the plenary session, a member affiliated with the Liberal Democratic Party, which has a majority in the assembly, questioned the legitimacy of holding a referendum, saying it could "influence national policy on nuclear power."
The original bill, which had already been voted down by an assembly committee last Friday, was submitted after a citizens' group had collected more than 165,000 signatures calling for the referendum.
The revised bill was introduced by a group of assembly members from the Democratic Party of Japan and other groups after the original version faced opposition during last week's committee meeting, at which members from the LDP and DPJ pointed out flaws in the original proposal.
The revised bill would have set the eligible minimum voting age at 20, rather than 18 under the original version.
The newer version also stipulated that a referendum would be held "when the prefectural governor judges the central government has started considering a restart after completing safety measures for the nuclear power station." The original bill said the referendum would be conducted within six months.
Assembly members affiliated with the DPJ and New Komeito were opposed to the original version, but some expressed support for the revised bill. The LDP-linked members were against both the original and revised versions.
The beach-side Hamaoka plant in the city of Omaezaki is one of the largest nuclear power complexes in the nation. Its three operating reactors were shut down at the government's request in May 2011, two months after the Fukushima nuclear crisis erupted, because of its lack of tsunami defenses.
10. No. 1 radioactive water tanks maxed
By MARI YAMAGUCHI
Workers at the Fukushima No. 1 plant are struggling to find space to store tens of thousands of tons of highly contaminated water used to cool its crippled reactors, the manager of the water treatment team said.
About 200,000 tons of radioactive water — enough to fill more than 50 Olympic swimming pools — are being stored in hundreds of gigantic tanks built around the complex. Tokyo Electric Power Co. has already felled trees to make room for more tanks and predicts the volume of water will more than triple in three years.
"It's a pressing issue because our land is limited and we would eventually run out of storage space," the water-treatment manager, Yuichi Okamura, told AP.
Tepco is close to starting a new treatment system that could make the water safe enough to discharge into the ocean. But its tanks are filling up in the meantime, mostly because cracks in reactor buildings are allowing groundwater in.
Experts worry the highly radioactive water could have a lasting impact on the environment, and fear that because of the reactor leaks and water flowing from one part of the facility to another, this is already happening.
Nuclear engineer and college lecturer Masashi Goto said the contaminated water buildup poses a long-term health and environmental threat. He worries the radioactive water in the reactor buildings' basements may already be seeping into the groundwater system, where it could travel far beyond the plant and possibly into public water supplies and the Pacific.
"You never know where it's leaking out and once it's out you can never put it back in place," he said. "It's just outrageous and shows how big a disaster the accident is."
The concerns are less severe than the nightmare scenario Tepco faced in the weeks after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and cooling systems at the power station, causing hydrogen explosions and three reactor core meltdowns in the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
The plant released radiation into the atmosphere, soil and ocean, and displaced more than 100,000 local residents who are uncertain when — or even if — they will be able to return home.
Dumping massive amounts of water into the stricken reactors was the only way to avoid an even bigger catastrophe.
Okamura remembers frantically trying to find a way to get water to the spent-fuel pools located near the top of the 50-meter-high reactor buildings. Without water, the spent nuclear fuel likely would have overheated and melted, dispersing radioactive smoke over a vast area and potentially affecting millions of people.
"The water would keep evaporating and the pools would have dried up if we had left them alone," Okamura said. "That would have been the end of it."
Attempts to dump water from helicopters were ineffective, and spraying water from fire trucks into the pools didn't work either. Okamura then helped bring in a huge, German-made pump normally used for concrete with a remote-controlled arm long enough to spray water into the fuel pools.
The plan worked — just in time, Okamura said.
Those measures and others helped bring the plant under tenuous control, but it will take decades to clean up the radioactive material emitted by the three wrecked reactors. And those desperate steps created another huge headache for Tepco: What to do with all the radioactive water that leaked out of the reactors and gathered in the basements of the buildings housing them and nearby facilities.
Some of the water ran into the Pacific, raising concerns about contamination of marine life and seafood. Waters within a 20-km zone are still off-limits, and high levels of contamination have been found in seabed sediment and fish tested in the area.
Okamura was tasked with setting up a treatment system that would make the water clean enough for reuse as a coolant, and was also aimed at reducing health risks for workers and environmental damage.
At first, Tepco shunted the tainted water into existing storage tanks near the reactors. Meanwhile, Okamura's 55-member team scrambled to get a treatment unit up and running within three months of the disaster — a project that would normally take about two years, he said.
"Accomplishing that was a miracle," Okamura said, noting a cheer went up from his men when the first unit started up.
Using that equipment, Tepco was able to circulate reprocessed water back into the reactor cores. But even though the reactors are now being cooled exclusively with recycled water, the volume of contaminated water is still increasing, mostly because groundwater is seeping through cracks into the reactor building basements.
Next month, Okamura said his group plans to flip the switch on new purifying equipment using Toshiba Corp. technology that is supposedly able to decontaminate the water by removing strontium and other nuclides potentially below detectable levels.
Tepco claims the treated water from this new system is clean enough to be released into the ocean, although it hasn't said whether it would actually do so. At any rate, that would require the permission of authorities and local consent and would also likely trigger harsh criticism at home and abroad.
To deal with the excess tainted water, the utility has channeled it to more than 300 huge storage tanks placed around the plant. Tepco has plans to install storage tanks for up to 700,000 tons — about three more years' worth of contaminated water. If those facilities were to be maxed out, it could build additional space for roughly two more years' worth of radioactive water, said Mayumi Yoshida, a Tepco spokeswoman.
But these forecasts hinge on plans to detect and plug holes in the damaged reactors to minimize leaks over the next two years. Tepco also plans to take steps to keep groundwater from seeping into the reactor basements.
Both are tasks Tepco is still unsure how to accomplish, as those areas remain so highly radioactive it is unclear how humans or even robots can operate in them.
There's also a risk the storage tanks and jury-rigged pipe system connecting them could be damaged if the area is struck by another powerful quake or tsunami.
Goto, the nuclear engineer, believes it will take far longer than Tepco's goal of two years to repair all the holes in the reactors. The plant also would have to deal with contaminated water until all the melted fuel and other debris is removed from the reactors — a process that will easily take more than a decade.
He described Tepco's road map for dealing with the problem as "wishful thinking," adding that "the longer it takes, the more contaminated water they get."
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Posted by Rick Spisak at 3:22 PM