Monthly Archives: July 2011

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7/2/2011 The Atlantic Wire: Meltdown: What Really Happened at Fukushima?

The Atlantic Wire: Meltdown: What Really Happened at Fukushima? By Jake Edelstein and David McNeill: 7/2/2011 It’s been one of the mysteries of Japan’s ongoing nuclear disaster: How much of the damage did the March 11 earthquake inflict on Fukushima Daiichi’s reactors in the 40 minutes before the devastating tsunami arrived? The stakes are high: If the quake alone structurally compromised the plant and the safety of its nuclear fuel, then every other similar reactor in Japan is at risk. Throughout the months of lies and misinformation, one story has stuck: “The earthquake knocked out the plant’s electric power, halting cooling to its reactors,” as the government spokesman Yukio Edano said at a March 15 press conference in Tokyo. The story, which has been repeated again and again, boils down to this: “after the earthquake, the tsunami — a unique, unforeseeable [the Japanese word is soteigai] event — then washed out the plant’s back-up generators, shutting down all cooling and starting the chain of events that would cause the world’s first triple meltdown to occur.”

But what if recirculation pipes and cooling pipes, burst, snapped, leaked, and broke completely after the earthquake — long before the tidal wave reached the facilities, long before the electricity went out? This would surprise few people familiar with the 40-year-old Unit 1, the grandfather of the nuclear reactors still operating in Japan. The authors have spoken to several workers at the plant who recite the same story: Serious damage to piping and at least one of the reactors before the tsunami hit. All have requested anonymity because they are still working at the plant or are connected with TEPCO. One worker, a 27-year-old maintenance engineer who was at the Fukushima complex on March 11, recalls hissing and leaking pipes. “I personally saw pipes that came apart and I assume that there were many more that had been broken throughout the plant. There’s no doubt that the earthquake did a lot of damage inside the plant,” he said. “There were definitely leaking pipes, but we don’t know which pipes — that has to be investigated. I also saw that part of the wall of the turbine building for Unit 1 had come away. That crack might have affected the reactor.”

The reactor walls of the reactor are quite fragile, he notes. “If the walls are too rigid, they can crack under the slightest pressure from inside so they have to be breakable because if the pressure is kept inside and there is a buildup of pressure, it can damage the equipment inside the walls so it needs to be allowed to escape. It’s designed to give during a crisis, if not it could be worse — that might be shocking to others, but to us it’s common sense.”

A second worker, a technician in his late 30s, who was also on site at the time of the earthquake, narrated what happened. “It felt like the earthquake hit in two waves, the first impact was so intense you could see the building shaking, the pipes buckling, and within minutes, I saw pipes bursting. Some fell off the wall. Others snapped. I was pretty sure that some of the oxygen tanks stored on site had exploded but I didn’t see for myself. Someone yelled that we all needed to evacuate and I was good with that. But I was severely alarmed because as I was leaving I was told and I could see that several pipes had cracked open, including what I believe were cold water supply pipes. That would mean that coolant couldn’t get to the reactor core. If you can’t sufficiently get the coolant to the core, it melts down. You don’t have to have to be a nuclear scientist to figure that out.”

As he was heading to his car, he could see the walls of the reactor one building itself had already started to collapse. “There were holes in them. In the first few minutes, no one was thinking about a tsunami. We were thinking about survival.” A third worker was coming into work late when the earthquake hit. “I was in a building nearby when the earthquake shook. After the second shockwave hit, I heard a loud explosion that was almost deafening. I looked out the window and I could see white smoke coming from reactor one. I thought to myself, ‘this is the end.’”

When the worker got to the office five to 15 minutes later the supervisor ordered them all to evacuate, explaining, “there’s been an explosion of some gas tanks in reactor one, probably the oxygen tanks. In addition to this there has been some structural damage, pipes have burst, meltdown is possible. Please take shelter immediately.” (It should be noted that there have been several explosions at Daiichi even after the March 11 earthquake, one of which TEPCO stated, “was probably due to a gas tank left behind in the debris”.)

However, while the employees prepared to leave, the tsunami warning came. Many of them fled to the top floor of a building near the site and waited to be rescued. The reason for official reluctance to admit that the earthquake did direct structural damage to reactor one is obvious. Katsunobu Onda, author of TEPCO: The Dark Empire (東京電力・暗黒の帝国), who sounded the alarm about the firm in his 2007 book explains it this way: “If TEPCO and the government of Japan admit an earthquake can do direct damage to the reactor, this raises suspicions about the safety of every reactor they run. They are using a number of antiquated reactors that have the same systematic problems, the same wear and tear on the piping.”

In a previous story, Kei Sugaoka, a Japanese engineer who worked at the Unit 1 site, says that he wasn’t surprised that a meltdown took place after the earthquake. He sent the Japanese government a letter, dated June 28, 2000, warning them of the problems there. It took the Japanese government more than two years to act on that warning. Mr. Sugaoka has also said he saw yakuza tattoos on many of the cleanup crew staff. When interviewed on May 23 he stated, “The plant had problems galore and the approach taken with them was piecemeal. Most of the critical work: construction work, inspection work, and welding were entrusted to sub-contracted employees with little technical background or knowledge of nuclear radiation. I can’t remember there ever being a disaster drill. The TEPCO employees never got their hands dirty.”

Onda notes, “I’ve spent decades researching TEPCO and its nuclear power plants and what I’ve found, and what government reports confirm is that the nuclear reactors are only as strong as their weakest links, and those links are the pipes.”

During his research, Onda spoke with several engineers who worked at the TEPCO plants. One told him that often piping would not match up the way it should according to the blueprints. In that case, the only solution was to use heavy machinery to pull the pipes close enough together to weld them shut. Inspection of piping was often cursory and the backs of the pipes, which were hard to reach, were often ignored. Since the inspections themselves were generally cursory and done by visual checks, it was easy to ignore them. Repair jobs were rushed; no one wanted to be exposed to nuclear radiation longer than necessary.

Onda adds, “When I first visited the Fukushima power plant it was a web of pipes. Pipes on the wall, on the ceiling, on the ground. You’d have to walk over them, duck under them—sometimes you’d bump your head on them. It was like a maze of pipes inside.” Onda believes it’s not very difficult to explain what happened at Unit 1 and perhaps the other reactors as well. “The pipes, which regulate the heat of the reactor and carry coolant, are the veins and arteries of a nuclear power plant; the core is the heart. If the pipes burst, vital components don’t reach the heart and thus you have a heart attack, in nuclear terms: meltdown. In simpler terms, you can’t cool a reactor core if the pipes carrying the coolant and regulating the heat rupture—it doesn’t get to the core.”

Tooru Hasuike, a TEPCO employee from 1977 until 2009 and former general safety manager of the Fukushima plant, also notes: “The emergency plans for a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant had no mention of using sea-water to cool the core. To pump seawater into the core is to destroy the reactor. The only reason you’d do that is no other water or coolant was available.”

Problems with the fractured, deteriorating, poorly repaired pipes and the cooling system had been pointed out for years. In 2002, whistle-blower allegations that TEPCO had deliberately falsified safety records came to light and the company was forced to shut down all of its reactors and inspect them, including the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant. Kei Sugaoka, a GE on-site inspector first notified Japan’s nuclear watch dog, Nuclear Industrial Safey Agency (NISA) in June of 2000. Not only did the government of Japan take more than two years to address the problem and collude on covering it up, they gave the name of the whistleblower to TEPCO.

In September of 2002, TEPCO admitted to covering up data concerning cracks in critical circulation pipes in addition to previously revealed falsifications. In their analysis of the cover-up, The Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center writes: “The records that were covered up had to do with cracks in parts of the reactor known as recirculation pipes. These pipes are there to siphon off heat from the reactor. If these pipes were to fracture, it would result in a serious accident in which coolant leaks out. From the perspective of safety, these are highly important pieces of equipment. Cracks were found in the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, reactor one, reactor two, reactor three, reactor four, reactor five.” The cracks in the pipes were not due to earthquake damage; they came from the simple wear and tear of long-term usage.

On March 2, nine days before the meltdown, the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) gave TEPCO a warning on its failure to inspect critical pieces of equipment at the plant, which included the recirculation pumps. TEPCO was ordered to make the inspections, perform repairs if needed and give a report to the NISA on June 2. The report is not confirmed to have been filed as of this time.

The problems were not only with the piping. Gas tanks at the site also exploded after the earthquake. The outside of the reactor building suffered structural damage. There was some chaos. There was no one really qualified to assess the radioactive leakage because, as the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency admits, after the accident all the on-site inspectors fled the site. And the quake and tsunami broke most of the monitoring equipment so there was little information available on radiation afterwards.

Before the dawn on March 12, the water levels at the reactor began to plummet and the radiation began rising. Meltdown was taking place. The TEPCO Press release issued on March 12 just past 4am stated, “the pressure within the containment vessel is high but stable.” There was a note buried in the release that many people missed. “The emergency water circulation system was cooling the steam within the core; it has ceased to function.”

According to The Chunichi Shinbun and other sources, a few hours after the earthquake extremely high levels of radiation were being measured within the reactor one building. The levels were so high that if you spent a full day exposed to them it would be fatal. The water levels of the reactor were already sinking. After the Japanese government forced TEPCO to release hundreds of pages of documents relating to the accident in May, Bloomberg reported on May 19 that a radiation alarm went off 1.5 kilometers from the number one reactor on March 11 at 3:29 p.m., minutes before the tsunami reached the plant.

TEPCO would not deny the possibility that there was significant radiation leakage before the power went out. They did assert that the alarm might have simply malfunctioned. On March 11, at 9:51 p.m., under the CEO’s orders, the inside of the reactor building was declared a no-entry zone. Around 11 p.m., radiation levels for the inside of the turbine building, which was next door to the reactor, reached hourly levels of 0.5 to 1.2 mSv. The meltdown was already underway. Oddly enough, while TEPCO later insisted that the cause of the meltdown was the tsunami knocking out emergency power systems, at the 7:47 p.m. TEPCO press conference the same day, the spokesman in response to questions from the press about the cooling systems stated that the emergency water circulation equipment and reactor core isolation time cooling systems would work even without electricity.

Sometime between 4 and 6 a.m. on March 12, Masao Yoshida, the plant manager decided it was time to pump seawater into the reactor core and notified TEPCO. Seawater was not pumped in until hours after a hydrogen explosion occurred, roughly 8:00 p.m. that day. By then, it was probably already too late.

On May 15, TEPCO went some way toward admitting at least some of these claims in a report called “Reactor Core Status of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Unit One.” The report said there might have been pre-tsunami damage to key facilities including pipes. “This means that assurances from the industry in Japan and overseas that the reactors were robust is now blown apart,” said Shaun Burnie, an independent nuclear waste consultant. “It raises fundamental questions on all reactors in high seismic risk areas.”

As Burnie points out, TEPCO also admitted massive fuel melt — 16 hours after loss of coolant, and 7-8 hours before the explosion in unit 1. “Since they must have known all this — their decision to flood [the core] with massive water volumes would guarantee massive additional contamination — including leaks to the ocean.”

No one knows exactly how much damage was done to the plant by the quake, or if this damage alone would account for the meltdown. However, eyewitness testimony and TEPOC’S own data indicates that the damage was significant. All of this despite the fact that shaking experienced at the plant during the quake was within it’s approved design specifications. Says Hasuike: “What really happened at the Fukushima Daiicihi Nuclear Power Plant to cause a meltdown? TEPCO and the government of Japan have provided many explanations. They don’t make sense. The one thing they haven’t provided is the truth. It’s time that they did.”

Jake Adelstein is an investigative journalist, consultant, and the author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter On The Police Beat In Japan. He is also a board member of the Washington, D.C.-based Polaris Project Japan, which combats human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children in the sex trade. David McNeill writes for The Irish Times, The Independent and other publications. He has taught courses on journalism at Sophia University and is a coordinator of Japan Focus. Stephanie Nakajima contributed to this article.

Photos via Reuters.


6/30/2011 The Guardian: Revealed: British government's plan to play down Fukushima disaster

7/1/2011 The Guardian: Subject: Revealed: British government’s plan to play down Fukushima disaster Rob Edwards, The Guardian Internal emails seen by Guardian show PR campaign was launched to protect UK nuclear plans after tsunami in Japan. British government officials approached nuclear companies to draw up a co-ordinated public relations strategy to play down the Fukushima nuclear accident just two days after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and before the extent of the radiation leak was known. Internal emails seen by the Guardian show how the business and energy departments worked closely behind the scenes with the multinational companies EDF Energy, Areva and Westinghouse to try to ensure the accident did not derail their plans for a new generation of nuclear stations in the UK.

“This has the potential to set the nuclear industry back globally,” wrote one official at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), whose name has been redacted. “We need to ensure the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not gain ground on this. We need to occupy the territory and hold it. We really need to show the safety of nuclear.”

Officials stressed the importance of preventing the incident from undermining public support for nuclear power. The Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who sits on the Commons environmental audit committee, condemned the extent of
co-ordination between the government and nuclear companies that the emails appear to reveal.

“The government has no business doing PR for the industry and it would be appalling if its departments have played down the impact of Fukushima,” he said. Louise Hutchins, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace, said the emails looked like “scandalous collusion”. “This highlights the government’s blind obsession with nuclear power and shows neither they, nor the industry, can be trusted when it comes to nuclear,” she said.

The Fukushima accident, triggered by the Japan earthquake and tsunami on 11 March, has forced 80,000 people from their homes. Opinion polls suggest it has dented public support for nuclear power in Britain and around the world, with the governments of Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Thailand and Malaysia cancelling planned nuclear power stations in the wake of the accident.

The business department emailed the nuclear firms and their representative body, the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), on 13 March, two days after the disaster knocked out nuclear plants and their backup safety systems at Fukushima. The department argued it was not as bad as the “dramatic” TV pictures made it look, even though the consequences of the accident were still unfolding and two major explosions at reactors on the site were yet to happen.

“Radiation released has been controlled – the reactor has been protected,” said the BIS official, whose name has been blacked out. “It is all part of the safety systems to control and manage a situation like this.”

The official suggested that if companies sent in their comments, they could be incorporated into briefs to ministers and government statements. “We need to all be working from the same material to get the message through to the media and the public.

“Anti-nuclear people across Europe have wasted no time blurring this all into Chernobyl and the works,” the official told Areva. “We need to quash any stories trying to compare this to Chernobyl.”

Japanese officials initially rated the Fukushima accident as level four on the international nuclear event scale, meaning it had “local consequences”. But it was raised to level seven on 11 April, officially making it a major accident” and putting it on a par with Chernobyl in 1986.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has released more than 80 emails sent in the weeks after Fukushima in response to requests under freedom of information legislation.

They also show:
* Westinghouse said reported remarks on the cost of new nuclear power stations by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, were “unhelpful and a little premature”.
* The company admitted its new reactor, AP1000, “was not designed for earthquakes [of] the magnitude of the earthquake in Japan”, and would need to be modified for seismic areas such as Japan and California.
* The head of the DECC’s office for nuclear development, Mark Higson, asked EDF to welcome the expected announcement of a safety review by the energy secretary, Chris Huhne, and added: “Not sure if EDF unilaterally asking for a review is wise. Might set off a bidding war.”
* EDF promised to be “sensitive” to how remediation work at a UK nuclear site “might be seen in the light of events in Japan”.
* It also requested that ministers did not delay approval for a new radioactive waste store at the Sizewell nuclear site in Suffolk, but accepting there was a “potential risk of judicial review”.
* The BIS warned it needed “a good industry response showing the safety of nuclear – otherwise it could have adverse consequences on the market”.

On 7 April, the office for nuclear development invited companies to attend a meeting at the NIA’s headquarters in London. The aim was “to discuss a joint communications and engagement strategy aimed at ensuring we maintain confidence among the British public on the safety of nuclear power stations and nuclear new-build policy in light of recent events at the Fukushima nuclear power plant”.

Other documents released by the government’s safety watchdog, the office for nuclear regulation, reveal that the text of an announcement on 5 April about the impact of Fukushima on the new nuclear programme was privately cleared with nuclear industry representatives at a meeting the previous week. According to one former regulator, who preferred not to be named, the degree of collusion was “truly shocking”.

A spokesman for the DECC and BIS said: “Given the unprecedented events unfolding in Japan, it was appropriate to share information with key stakeholders, particularly those involved in operating nuclear sites. The government was very clear from the outset that it was important not to rush to judgment and that a response should be based on hard evidence. This is why we called on the chief nuclear inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, to provide a robust and evidence-based report.”

A DECC source played down the significance of the emails from the unnamed BIS official, saying: “The junior BIS official was not responsible for nuclear policy and his views were irrelevant to ministers’ decisions in the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake.”

Tom Burke, a former government environmental adviser and visiting professor at Imperial College London, warned that the British government was repeating mistakes made in Japan. “They are too close to industry, concealing problems, rather than revealing and dealing with them,” he said.

“I would be much more reassured if DECC had been worrying about how the government would cope with the $200m-$300m of liabilities from a catastrophic nuclear accident in Britain.”

The government last week confirmed plans for eight new nuclear stations in England and Wales. “If acceptable proposals come forward in appropriate places, they will not face unnecessary holdups,” said the energy minister, Charles Hendry.

The NIA did not comment directly on the emails. “We are funded by our member companies to represent their commercial interests and further the compelling case for new nuclear build in the UK,” said the association’s spokesman.

“We welcome the interim findings of the independent regulator, Dr Mike Weightman, who has reported back to government that UK nuclear reactors are safe.”


7/1/2011 Gallup Independent: Navajo energy vision 'a beginning,' But is it short-sighted? First in a two-part series

7/1/2011 Gallup Independent: Navajo energy vision ‘a beginning,’ But is it short-sighted? First in a two-part series By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: GALLUP – The Navajo Nation’s draft energy policy, or “vision statement,” does not dwell on past mistakes. The forward-looking document focuses on a balanced, multi-pronged approach to shape the Nation’s energy future, according to President Ben Shelly’s energy team, which presented the draft Wednesday evening at a public meeting in Gallup. While audience members hailed the policy was “a beginning” and commended the team for its hard work, they also were quick to point out where the policy appeared to be short-sighted. For starters, the grassroots Navajo people were not consulted, according to Teddy Nez of Churchrock. “Also, as a matrilineal society, it’s shocking that there’s no women” on the Energy Advisory Committee, Nikki Alex of Dilkon, an independent researcher and policy analyst, said. The committee is made up of division directors and program managers from within the Executive Branch.

“The Navajo people have the right to incorporate Dine Fundamental Law into the Navajo Nation’s Energy Policy, yet in all documentation there is no mention of it. This is an outrage since our elected officials use the Dine Fundamental Law as a defense for their decisions that are often detrimental to our Navajo Life Way or to undermine our laws for their own gain or defense,” Mervyn Tilden of Gallup said.

Audience members were given three minutes each to present their remarks and were cautioned to address what was in the policy, not events of the past, as they could spend days talking about past wrongs. Many members of the audience disagreed, however, including George Arthur, former Navajo Nation Council delegate.

“I think we need to keep an open mind about what happened in the past. The past is what develops the future. I’ve been at the negotiating table with Mr. (Louis) Denetsosie and others here. It’s very difficult to be at the negotiation table when the rules are already developed by your counterparts that are sitting across from you,” he said.

“There was a statement made early on about looking to the future. … Ladies and gentlemen, the only thing that’s in the future that’s on the table that can be talked about is Peabody and Navajo Generating Station. Everything else has been negotiated.”

Former Navajo Nation President Milton Bluehouse Sr. said the Indian Mineral Leasing Act allows Navajo to name its price, rather than settling for the 12.5 percent coal royalty discussed in the Peabody Energy Co. lease reopener which is expected to come up during Council’s summer session.

“It’s got to be a lot more,” he said. “People that are affected out there, like Black Mesa, they were promised roads, houses, water, electricity and all of this. At the onset they were lied to. … Let’s do something about it and let’s put something in this policy so people get advantage of it.”

Ed Becenti of St. Michaels agreed. “The act of 1938, the Indian Minerals Leasing Act, gave Indian tribes the ability and power to negotiate their own lease. Why not go back and ask for retro payments from all of these energy companies. We have some leases that are coming up for renewal. This is the time for the energy policy task team to address them – not to rush into them and make some bad choices again.”

Others such as Alex noted the lack of language in regard to transitioning from finite resources such as fossil fuels to a green economy. “I really want to emphasize that nuclear is not the future. Clean coal is not the future. Why are we going to put ourselves as guinea pigs again for this new industry? … I understand the importance of economic development, but social aspects, economic aspects, health aspects and environmental aspects are important as well. It’s not just about money.”

Anna Rondon, chair of the Green Economy Commission, disagree with Attorney General Harrison Tsosie that the policy did not need to go out for a formal public hearing as is done in rulemaking hearings.

“I believe any public policy that impacts people, especially Dine people, should be given out as a public hearing campaign to be recorded by a court reporter because this might come back in the future and there may be lawsuits because it wasn’t adhered to. If this policy is going to the Navajo Nation Council, it goes into the Legislative Branch, so the play on the words kind of gets to me. Is this another ploy?”

Rondon said she also would like to dispel the myth that they are environmentalists who want to shut down the coal-fired power plants. “We want to help balance the dirty-based economy that we have with a green, clean economy for future generations. I would like to know what are your guiding principles? Ours, as a commission, is the Dine Fundamental Law. We just had a prayer talking about our sacred elements. There is a lack of sacredness, there’s an absence of holiness” in the policy, she said.

Amber Crotty of Sheepsprings, a policy analyst at Dine Policy Institute, said, “Now that we know that some of these leases are far into the future, how do we get this equal or greater fair market value when a majority of the leases now are in the hopper for the next 25 years?”

Dana Eldridge of Cornfields, also a researcher at Dine Policy Institute, said she believes it is very critical for the Navajo Nation to transition its energy economy.

“We need to be diversifying our energy sources. Part of the transitioning needs to support the coal mine workers we care so much about. We hear that as a justification to continue coal mining, but I really, firmly believe that we need to be transitioning to renewable sources and in that process have a support system for those workers. We need to be moving at a rate faster than the U.S., because they’re not moving fast enough and their scientists predict catastrophic energy issues for the U.S. as a whole, so we really should be at the forefront of a transitioning economy.”

Eldridge said the commitment to renewables within the energy policy is very weak when compared to the economic goals, and if the Nation is moving toward energy sovereignty, it needs to take out the middle man. In addition, there needs to be a holistic analysis on the cost of coal.

“What are the health care costs that our communities are facing? What are the environmental costs going to be? What are the cost of tourism dollars that we’re losing from people who don’t want to visit our states any more because they’re so hazy?

“I was in Shiprock just yesterday, and it’s such a big indicator of the environmental racism that we have put on our own people. These people don’t benefit from the energy development; they just suffer from the environmental consequences. Let’s not continue this legacy of environmental racism in our own lands.”

7/1/2011 Navajo Nation Public Hearing on Energy Policy

Public comments on the Navajo Nation Energy policy are welcome through July 31st, and should be sent in writing to Michelle — Navajo Nation Public Hearing on Energy Policy By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative: The location for last night’s public hearing on the Navajo Nation’s proposed energy policy was fitting for political theatrics – held at the UNM Student Union Building’s theater, the stage was set for Navajo Nation officials to make their case for the energy policy as currently drafted. The document at the center of discussion was the draft of the Navajo Nation Energy Policy, completed June 20th, 2011 (see copy of draft here). The UNM meeting was the last of the public hearings on the policy, meetings meant to gather public input on the draft. The Attorney General for the Navajo Nation, Harrison Tsosie, reminded the audience that this document was not a law, regulation or statute. “Instead, this policy is to serve as a vision statement for Navajo leaders and for the outside world, to then guide future decisions and laws and to ensure that in the future the Federal Government is not deciding the direction of our Dine’ people.”

There have been four prior attempts to develop such an energy policy by the Navajo Nation, with the only document that made it past draft stage being the 1980 policy. The current administration, under President Ben Shelly has made energy policy a priority.

The document supports development of renewable energy, with Navajo Nation officials admitting that in the past years there has been no clear direction, and therefore, no significant strides in this realm.

Coal and uranium appear to be the biggest points of contention in the draft policy, judging from the audience members who spoke during the public response section of the hearing.

In terms of coal, the current draft supports a coal-driven energy future for the Navajo Nation, stating, “The Nation will plan for a future that includes coal as a key component of the Nation’s energy mix…[and] will seek to shape federal fossil fuel regulation.” (Section 7)

Mario Atencio of Dine’ CARE (Coalition Against Ruining our Environment) stated that coal has no place in the energy future of the Navajo Nation, adding that he was concerned that the Navajo Green Energy Commission was not included in the drafting of the policy.

Juan Reynosa of the Sierra Club, following Mario to the microphone, seconded the opinion. “This is our opportunity to transition away from coal, switching to renewable resources. Juan talked about his work to push for tighter regulations on the Four Corners Power Plant, pointing out the un-tapped potential that wind and solar energy have in this region.

Nuclear energy and uranium is also addressed in the document with a recognition of the current ban on uranium mining that the Navajo Nation has adopted. “The Navajo Nation, nonetheless will continue to monitor uranium mining technologies and techniques…to assess the safety, viability, and potential of these activities for the future.” (Section 9).

Norman Patrick Brown of the Dine’ Bidziil (The People’s Strength) stated simply, “I don’t trust this policy. Our past shows us that energy infrastructure has been devastating to our land, our health and our way of life.” He said that from a traditional perspective, talking to Medicine Men, “I have yet to meet one person who supports any extraction from our Mother Earth of these materials.”

Additionally, there was obvious concern about those who spoke from the audience about the transparency of the process to create the draft, and at this point, the process of allowing public input to affect the final version of the document. A writer from the Navajo Times asked a pointed question to this later point – “How do you plan to share the public’s thoughts from these meetings that have been held?” Translating the answer from politico speak, it appears that the comments and written testimony will be compiled and made available on the Navajo Nation website. I could not find the policy or comments on the Navajo Nation website at the time of this article.

Public comments on the policy are welcome through July 31st, and should be sent in writing to Michelle —

6/21/2011 Washington Post: Taking the grand tour: Va. lawmakers sully their reputations by accepting a mine company’s free trip to France.

6/21/2011 Washington Post: Taking the grand tour: Va. lawmakers sully their reputations by accepting a mine company’s free trip to France. By Editorial, Tuesday, June 21,8:27 PM: AS THE POST’S Anita Kumar reported last Friday, more than a dozen Virginia lawmakers are traveling on all-expenses paid trips to France. Their sugar daddy? A corporation pushing the state’s legislature to repeal a moratorium on mining so it can excavate a supposedly uranium-rich deposit in Pittsylvania. The company, Virginia Uranium, wants legislators to see French excavation sites where mining of the element occurred until the late ’90s. Despite the obvious appearance of impropriety, the conduct of these legislators is permissible under Virginia’s astonishingly permissive law. The paid travel — estimated to cost roughly $10,000 per legislator — is legal as long as legislators report it as a gift in the coming fiscal year. Nor does the law bar the bipartisan delegation from taking three days of vacation in Paris, courtesy of Virginia Uranium. No doubt they will need to unwind after their rigorous mine inspections.

“My vote can’t be bought. . . . I’m going and coming right back. I’m not going to the south of France. But if anyone else wants to, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Del. Jeion A. Ward (D-Hampton) told The Post. If her constituents don’t find that terribly reassuring, we don’t blame them. Whether or not the legislators tack on a visit to the Riviera or wine country, the trip raises serious doubts about their ability to assess objectively Virginia Uranium’s case for drilling.

We are all for legislators expanding their horizons. But this is no impartial fact-finding mission to assess the safety of uranium digging. There are no diverse or opposing viewpoints that legislators will hear during their tours. Why even ask opponents of lifting the ban to testify before the assembly after legislators have been wined and dined — or in this case flown to a European getaway — by the mining lobby?

These legislators should know better. Those taking the free trip, according to The Post, are: Sens. Mamie E. Locke (D-Hampton) and L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) and Dels. William R. Janis (R-Goochland), John A. Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake) and Mamye E. BaCote (D-Newport News), who left last week. Dels. David L. Englin (D-Alexandria), Barry D. Knight (R-Virginia Beach), L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William), James P. Massie III (R-Henrico), Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax), Lionell Spruill Sr. (D-Chesapeake) and Roslyn Tyler (D-Greensville) were scheduled to go this week.

Virginia should know better, too. It’s ridiculous that this kind of junket, paid for by a company with such a direct stake in upcoming legislation, is permissible under state law.