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While IAEA Pushes to Secure Ukraine’s Beleaguered Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant, US Nuclear Plants Remain at Risk, Warns Sign-on Letter
Yesterday the White House received a letter signed by some 90 NGOs plus over 70 individuals and counting telling President Biden that “nuclear plant security must begin at home.” The sign-on letter was spearheaded by the Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS).
While the US has expressed its concern that Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) is under threat of attack and Congress has authorized federal spending to help with ZNPP security issues, US civilian nuclear power plants remain vulnerable to attack at home, and government spending and regulation to make them harder targets is lagging badly.
ZNPP, Europe’s largest nuclear plant, is currently occupied by over 2500 Russian troops. It has been repeatedly shelled, cutting the plant off from the electrical grid seven times, raising concerns about cooling loss and meltdown risks. Each side in the conflict accuses the other of using these risks to gain advantage in the war. The International Atomic Energy Agency is currently pushing for an agreement to secure ZNPP before a renewed Ukrainian offensive in the area aggravates risks to the plant.
But meanwhile, the letter to President Biden points out, security threats to US nuclear power plants remain underrecognized and inadequately addressed.
“The security of U.S. nuclear power plants does not seem to be receiving a commensurate amount of attention, neither from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), nor the Administration,” the letter warns. “Worse, your Administration is also seeking to expand the nuclear industry in dangerous ways that compound nuclear plant security threats…The US government must learn the lesson of Zaporizhzhia -- that attacks on nuclear facilities and other external dangers they face are credible threats and could happen here -- and prioritize domestic US nuclear plant security accordingly.”
Documentation submitted with the letter cites studies that find US civilian nuclear power plants are insufficiently protected from credible terrorist threats, and highly vulnerable to cyberattack. Security decisions are left up to the plant’s owners, which have an incentive to cut costs and maximize profits. In addition to attacks on operating or decommissioned plants themselves, the highly radioactive nuclear waste they generate is also vulnerable to attack, both in storage facilities and during transport. Nuclear waste transport dangers were pointed out in writing repeatedly to Transportation Secretary Buttigieg, but as yet DOT hasn’t issued a reply.
“The recent catastrophic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and the crash of two Boeing 737MAX jets demonstrate the real-world consequences of inadequate or capriciously enforced safety regulation and oversight,” the letter argues. “We can’t add radiological releases from US nuclear plants or nuclear waste shipment and storage to this list.”
The letter writers submitted a list of recommendations to improve US nuclear plant security, including framing and enforcing enhanced, mandatory security measures for existing nuclear facilities and spent nuclear fuel, with costs borne by nuclear plant owners rather than US taxpayers. Other recommendations include Hardened Onsite Storage (HOSS) for highly irradiated “spent” nuclear fuel (SNF), and preventing proposed SNF shipments by truck, train, and barge across the country to two recently licensed consolidated interim storage facilities (CISFs) in Texas and New Mexico, which would concentrate radioactivity and themselves be potential terrorist targets.
The proposed New Mexico CISF is owned by the private US-based company Holtec International, which formerly contracted to handle spent fuel management at ZNPP, and recently signed a contract with Ukraine’s Energoatom to develop and deploy small modular nuclear reactors in Ukraine.
“Holtec’s performance in handling spent fuel has been abysmal in Ukraine and similarly abysmal in the United States,” said Kevin Kamps, Radioactive Waste Specialist with the national NGO Beyond Nuclear, which signed onto the letter. “That’s one illustration among others that the problem is not limited to Ukraine, and that US nuclear plants are subject to security threats we need to start addressing.”
“What sense does it make to send tens of millions of dollars to Ukraine to enhance security and safety, when our own 92 operating reactors and 90,000 tons of high-level radioactive wastes are not secure?” asked NEIS director Dave Kraft. “What sense does it make to sprinkle the next-generation micro- and mini- nuke reactors around the nation and the world, boasting they can be mobile on flat-bed trucks or housed in factories or Wal-Marts, when it is daily demonstrated that silent drones are capable of turning heavily armored tanks and military vehicles into shredded heaps of burning metal? This is the real world nuclear power now exists in, and this Administration is not prepared to provide the safety and security necessary for it to survive.”
Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic.(301) 270-2209
"One of these individuals is a seven-year-old boy in remission from Leukemia who is now unable to access follow-up—and potentially lifesaving—treatments," said local advocacy groups.
Hundreds of thousands of poor Floridians have been kicked off Medicaid in recent weeks as their Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, travels the country for his 2024 presidential bid and rakes in campaign cash from big donors.
Florida is one of more than a dozen states that have begun unwinding pandemic-era rules barring states from removing people from Medicaid during the public health emergency. Late last year, Congress reached a bipartisan deal to end the so-called continuous coverage requirements, opening the door to a massive purge of the lifesaving healthcare program.
A dozen states have released early data on the number of people removed from Medicaid as they restart eligibility checks, a cumbersome process that many people ultimately fail to navigate.
So far, the statistics are alarming: More than 600,000 people across the U.S. have been stripped of Medicaid coverage since April, according to a KFF Health Newsanalysis of the available data, and "the vast majority were removed from state rolls for not completing paperwork" rather than confirmed ineligibility.
Nearly 250,000 people who have been booted from Medicaid live in Florida, whose governor is a longtime opponent of public healthcare programs. As HuffPost's Jonathan Cohn wrote Sunday, DeSantis "has refused to support the ACA's Medicaid expansion for the state, which is the biggest reason that more than 12% of Floridians don't have health insurance."
"That's the fourth-highest rate in the country," Cohn noted.
But DeSantis, who has said he wants to "make America Florida," appears unmoved by the staggering number of people losing Medicaid in his state as he hits the campaign trail. The governor relied heavily on large contributors to bring in more than $8 million during the first 24 hours of his presidential bid.
Prior to formally launching his 2024 campaign, DeSantis traveled the country in private jets on the dime of rich and sometimes secret donors, and he is currently facing a Federal Election Commission complaint for unlawfully transferring more than $80 million from a state committee to a super PAC supporting his White House bid.
"Families with children have been erroneously terminated, and parents are having trouble reaching the DCF call center for help with this process."
Late last month, DeSantis' administration insisted it "has a robust outreach campaign" aimed at ensuring people are aware of the hoops they have to jump through to keep their Medicaid coverage, such as income verification.
In Florida, a four-person household must make less than $39,900 in annual income to qualify for Medicaid.
The state's early data indicates that 44% of those who have lost coverage in weeks were removed for procedural reasons like failing to return paperwork on time.
The figures have drawn outrage from local advocates, who urged DeSantis late last month to pause the Medicaid redetermination process after hearing reports of people losing coverage without receiving any notice from Florida's chronically understaffed Department of Children and Families (DCF).
"One of these individuals is a seven-year-old boy in remission from Leukemia who is now unable to access follow-up—and potentially lifesaving—treatments," a coalition of groups including the Florida Policy Institute and the Florida Health Justice Project wrote to DeSantis. "Families with children have been erroneously terminated, and parents are having trouble reaching the DCF call center for help with this process. Additionally, unclear notices and lack of information on how to appeal contribute to more confusion."
Citing Miriam Harmatz, advocacy director and founder of the Florida Health Justice Project, KFF Health Newsreported last week that "some cancellation notices in Florida are vague and could violate due process rules."
"Letters that she's seen say 'your Medicaid for this period is ending' rather than providing a specific reason for disenrollment, like having too high an income or incomplete paperwork," the outlet noted. "If a person requests a hearing before their cancellation takes effect, they can stay covered during the appeals process. Even after being disenrolled, many still have a 90-day window to restore coverage."
The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that, nationwide, around 15.5 million people are likely to lose Medicaid coverage over the next year and a half—including 5 million children—as states resume eligibility checks made necessary by a system that doesn't guarantee healthcare to all as a right.
"Many people don't realize that they've been disenrolled from Medicaid until they show up at the pharmacy to get their prescription refilled or they have a doctor's appointment scheduled," Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation, toldThe Washington Post last week.
Will the Democrat from West Virginia go to bat for the billionaire-backed No Labels?
Sen. Joe Manchin—the West Virginia lawmaker reviled by progressives for his climate-killing policies and many Democrats over his repeated sabotage of his own party's agenda—said Sunday he has still not decided about whether he might make a third-party run for president in 2024.
Asked by "Fox News Sunday" host Shannon Bream if he's decided on a possible run with the billionaire-backed "No Labels" or otherwise, Manchin applauded the group "pushing very hard to the centrist middle" and "making commonsense decisions," but dodged a direct answer to the question.
"If Plan A shows that we're going to the far reaches of both sides, the far left and the far right, and the people don't want to go to the far left and the far right, they want to be governed from the middle," Manchin said. "I think there is… you better have that Plan B available and ready to go."
When pressed by Bream on his consideration of a presidential run, Manchin replied, "Not ruling anything in, not ruling anything out."
\u201cSen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) hits extremism on the left and right but does not give a straight answer to Fox's Shannon Bream when she asks whether he'll run as a third-party candidate on a No Labels ticket.\u201d— The Recount (@The Recount) 1685886740
Last month, as Common Dreamsreported, journalists with More Perfect Union dove into the secretive funding of No Labels—which offers itself as a harmless, more middle-of-the-road option to the two major political parties in the U.S.—and found that much of the money behind the group comes from "a whole lot of billionaires with a history of opposing democracy."
\u201cA group calling themselves "No Labels" has suddenly emerged as a huge financial backer of Kyrsten Sinema.\n\nThey're also floating the idea of running Joe Manchin for President.\n\nWe dug into them, and found a whole lot of billionaires with a history of opposing democracy.\u201d— More Perfect Union (@More Perfect Union) 1684768082
In a 2018 column, financial industry watchdogs Porter McConnell and Rion Dennis identified No Labels as part of a cabal of so-called "centrists" who are really just "wolves of Wall Street in sheep's clothing," hiding behind their harmless-sounding name to mask very insidious intent.
"For years, the group No Labels and its close partner, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, have quietly promoted policies that are wrapped in the mantle of bipartisanship and pitched as "non-ideological," while being in the pay of corporate interests," McConnell and Dennis explained. "They produce reports, sponsor events, and weigh in on policy on behalf of unnamed corporate donors."
Critics of a No Labels' candidate in 2024 say it's strikingly obvious that the true motive for such a move would be to slice off enough gullible voters to create a path for Donald Trump's reelection.
Manchin is up for reelection this year to defend his U.S. Senate seat, but according to a poll released last week he is currently trailing the top Republican challenger, Gov. Jim Justice, by 22 points in a hypothetical general election contest.
Big-money special interests "want to divide us up," said the indepedent senator at a living wage rally in South Carolina, "and we are determined to bring working people together."
As President Joe Biden signed into law an agreement Saturday that would shield wealthy tax cheats from stronger IRS enforcement while at the same time enacting cuts to key anti-poverty programs, Senator Bernie Sanders and other progressive allies were busy denouncing the immoral, low-wage economic system in the United States in which just a small handful of mega-billionaires have accumulated more wealth than tens of millions of hard-working but low-paid workers and their families.
At a "Rally to Raise the Wage" in Charleston, South Carolina on Saturday, the independent politician and two-time presidential candidate railed against the inequality that remains so pervasive in the country and the political forces that seek to divide the working class.
"The reason we are here today is not complicated," Sanders said. "In the richest country in the world, we demand an economy that works for all, not just the few."
"In every age, moral people have had to rise up and decide to make the moral case that things have to change and injustice has to move." —Bishop William J. Barber II
"It is not moral that three people on top own more wealth than the bottom half of American society, 165 million Americans," Sanders declared during his speech. "That's not moral. That's not right. That's not what should exist in a democratic society."
\u201c"It is not moral that 3 people on top own more wealth than the bottom half of American society, 165 million Americans. \n\nThat's not moral.\n\nThat's not right.\n\nThat's not what should exist in a democratic society."\n\n@BernieSanders in South Carolina rallying to #RaiseTheWage\u201d— Union of Southern Service Workers (@Union of Southern Service Workers) 1685827759
Sanders was joined on the tour through the south—which also included stops in Durham, North Carolina and Nashville, Tennessee—by Bishop William J. Barber II, founding director of the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy at Yale Divinity School, who said Sanders had asked him to attend specifically to discuss the moral case for combating poverty and raising wages.
"When Jesus started his ministry," said Barber, surrounded by members of the audience he had called up to gather around him on stage, "he said I'm coming to preach good news to the poor[...] meaning those who had been made poor by the economic exploitation of Rome."
Barber told the crowd that "there are over 2,000 scriptures in the Bible" detailing the worth of the poor and the value of laborers.
"So what our movement is about, is precisely the opposite of what the big-money interests want. They want to divide us up and we are determined to bring working people together." —Sen. Bernie Sanders
"The Bible does not talk about taking a women's right from her body," Barber said. "The Bible does not talk about hating people because of their sexuality. The Bible does not talk about prayer in the school. The Bible does not talk about putting up the Ten Commandments. But more than 2,000 times—more than any other subject other than self-worship idolatry—the Bible says the way to please God is how we treat the least of these and those in the margins."
"In every age," he continued, "moral people have had to rise up and decide to make the moral case that things have to change and injustice has to move."
In contrast to a living wage of $17 an hour at the heart of the rally, Bishop Barber said the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 should be seen as a "death wage," given the rate at which poverty kills in the country.
\u201c"Poverty is the 4th leading cause of death in America. It's higher than homicide. $7.25 is a poverty wage which means $7.25 is a death wage. \n\nWe've got to fight against people dying." @RevDrBarber with @BernieSanders in South Carolina rallying to #RaiseTheWage\u201d— Union of Southern Service Workers (@Union of Southern Service Workers) 1685827249
Barber told the diverse South Carolina audience in attendance—including those standing beside him who were older people and younger people of different racial, religious, and sexual identities—that their unity and solidarity in the face of economic inequality and social injustice remains their greatest asset.
The people in power, said Barber, "They are afraid of this room."
Invoking Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Barber explained how in 1965, Dr. King stood on the steps of the Alabama state house "and said that the greatest fear of the southern aristocracy and the oligarchy was for the masses of poor Negroes and poor white folk to get together and form a powerful new voting bloc that would shift the economic architecture of the nation."
"If they are cynical enough to be together, we oughta be smart enough to come together around the moral agenda."
"And I want to suggest," he continued, "if that's what they're afraid of: Let's build it! Let's built it and maybe in the process some of them will even be redeemed and stop hurting people. Who gets up in the morning and all you can think about is how you can take somebody's healthcare? Who gets up in the morning and asks, 'How I can use my power to hurt somebody?'"
He made a final point about those in power and how the forces at work denying freedom and dignity to certain people in society are also the same forces attacking democracy and economic equality.
"The same people who are attacking gay people, are attacking our voting rights," Barber said. "The same people who are attacking trans people, are attacking our healthcare. The same people trying to take away a woman's right are also against living wages. If they are cynical enough to be together, we oughta be smart enough to come together around the moral agenda."
Barber said the southern states are "key" and must not be ignored by federal politicians, arguing that the Carolinas, Tennessee, and others are not necessarily red states, but just states that have been "intentionally divided" and where workers have been disempowered.
"We need a living wage and we need it now," Barber declared. "It's time for change and justice has got to move. You've got to make them hear you. You've got to make them see you. You've got to make them feel your power."
He added: "This is a moral fight. We can't allow corporate greed to sell out and tear the souls and substance of this nation apart. This is a nation-saving fight."
Prior to Barber, local hairdresser Lydia Stewart spoke about working conditions at the salon business that employs her, Great Clips, and the organizing effort she and her colleagues have undertaken with the Union of Southern Service Workers to increase workplace safety and win higher wages.
\u201c"At my job we're organizing [with @RaiseUpTheSouth] because change has to be brought. My store is mostly Black women and they have no respect for us, they treat us like a pair of hands." @GreatClips worker Lydia Steward with @BernieSanders and @RevDrBarber #RaiseTheWage\u201d— Union of Southern Service Workers (@Union of Southern Service Workers) 1685824077
During the rally, State Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-111) also spoke and talked about the need for a true living wage in the state that should be no less than $17 an hour.
"We have come a long way," Gilliard said during his remarks, "fighting for the rights of 'We the People.' This is not about party, it's always been about the people. Charlestonians work hard and deserve more for what they do to keep this region running. They deserve more than a minimum wage—they deserve a living wage!"
"With rising costs of living," Gilliard continued, "more and more of our neighbors, our friends, and our family members will slip into poverty unless they see an increase... $17 an hour is a living wage. It will help poverty from swallowing up more victims and help increase the standard of living here in Charleston."
\u201cLIVE from CHARLESTON: No one in America should be forced to work for starvation wages. Join us as we rally in South Carolina for an increase in the minimum wage. https://t.co/5aQjgGGlnw\u201d— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1685823586
In closing his speech for the rally, Gilliard said the event with Sanders and Barber could not simply be a moment in time, but must signify the existence of a movement ready to fight for the long haul.
"It cannot be a moment in time," the state lawmaker said. "It has to be a movement that will live until we get it done."
In his headliner address, Sanders echoed what Bishop Barber argued, that the ruling elite and monied oligarchy "wins" when they divide up the working class and those living in poverty.
"In every way that you can think," said Sanders, "there are really smart people—out there polling today—saying: How do I get you to vote against your own self-interest? How do I get black and white and Latino and Native American, Asian American, gay, and straight against each other so that the big-money interest laugh all the way to the bank."
"So what our movement is about, is precisely the opposite of what the big-money interests want," he continued. "They want to divide us up and we are determined to bring working people together—black and white and Latino—all of us together around an agenda that works for us not just the billionaire class!"