Tag Archives: emergency

Canada, U.S. agree to use each other’s troops in civil emergencies

Canada, U.S. agree to use each other’s troops in civil emergencies

By Ottawa Citizen

Canada and the U.S. have signed an agreement that paves the way for the militaries from either nation to send troops across each other’s borders during an emergency, but some are questioning why the Harper government has kept silent on the deal.

Neither the Canadian government nor the Canadian Forces announced the new agreement, which was signed Feb. 14 in Texas.

The U.S. military’s Northern Command, however, publicized the agreement with a statement outlining how its top officer, Gen. Gene Renuart, and Canadian Lt.-Gen. Marc Dumais, head of Canada Command, signed the plan, which allows the military from one nation to support the armed forces of the other nation during a civil emergency.

The new agreement has been greeted with suspicion by the left wing in Canada and the right wing in the U.S.

The left-leaning Council of Canadians, which is campaigning against what it calls the increasing integration of the U.S. and Canadian militaries, is raising concerns about the deal.

“It’s kind of a trend when it comes to issues of Canada-U.S. relations and contentious issues like military integration. We see that this government is reluctant to disclose information to Canadians that is readily available on American and Mexican websites,” said Stuart Trew, a researcher with the Council of Canadians.

Trew said there is potential for the agreement to militarize civilian responses to emergency incidents. He noted that work is also underway for the two nations to put in place a joint plan to protect common infrastructure such as roadways and oil pipelines.

“Are we going to see (U.S.) troops on our soil for minor potential threats to a pipeline or a road?” he asked.

Trew also noted the U.S. military does not allow its soldiers to operate under foreign command so there are questions about who controls American forces if they are requested for service in Canada. “We don’t know the answers because the government doesn’t want to even announce the plan,” he said.

But Canada Command spokesman Commander David Scanlon said it will be up to civilian authorities in both countries on whether military assistance is requested or even used.

He said the agreement is “benign” and simply sets the stage for military-to-military co-operation if the governments approve.

“But there’s no agreement to allow troops to come in,” he said. “It facilitates planning and co-ordination between the two militaries. The ‘allow’ piece is entirely up to the two governments.”

If U.S. forces were to come into Canada they would be under tactical control of the Canadian Forces but still under the command of the U.S. military, Scanlon added.

News of the deal, and the allegation it was kept secret in Canada, is already making the rounds on left-wing blogs and Internet sites as an example of the dangers of the growing integration between the two militaries.

On right-wing blogs in the U.S. it is being used as evidence of a plan for a “North American union” where foreign troops, not bound by U.S. laws, could be used by the American federal government to override local authorities.

“Co-operative militaries on Home Soil!” notes one website. “The next time your town has a ‘national emergency,’ don’t be surprised if Canadian soldiers respond. And remember — Canadian military aren’t bound by posse comitatus.”

Posse comitatus is a U.S. law that prohibits the use of federal troops from conducting law enforcement duties on domestic soil unless approved by Congress.

Scanlon said there was no intent to keep the agreement secret on the Canadian side of the border. He noted it will be reported on in the Canadian Forces newspaper next week and that publication will be put on the Internet.

Scanlon said the actual agreement hasn’t been released to the public as that requires approval from both nations. That decision has not yet been taken, he added.
© (c) CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.

SOURCE

Exclusive: U.S. banks told to make plans for preventing collapse

Exclusive: U.S. banks told to make plans for preventing collapse

By Rick Rothacker

– U.S. regulators directed five of the country’s biggest banks, including Bank of America Corp and Goldman Sachs Group Inc, to develop plans for staving off collapse if they faced serious problems, emphasizing that the banks could not count on government help.

The two-year-old program, which has been largely secret until now, is in addition to the “living wills” the banks crafted to help regulators dismantle them if they actually do fail. It shows how hard regulators are working to ensure that banks have plans for worst-case scenarios and can act rationally in times of distress.

Officials like Lehman Brothers former Chief Executive Dick Fuld have been criticized for having been too hesitant to take bold steps to solve their banks’ problems during the financial crisis.

According to documents obtained by Reuters, the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency first directed five banks – which also include Citigroup Inc,, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase & Co – to come up with these “recovery plans” in May 2010.

They told banks to consider drastic efforts to prevent failure in times of distress, including selling off businesses, finding other funding sources if regular borrowing markets shut them out, and reducing risk. The plans must be feasible to execute within three to six months, and banks were to “make no assumption of extraordinary support from the public sector,” according to the documents.

Spokespeople for the five banks declined to comment. The Federal Reserve also declined to comment.

Recovery plans differ from living wills, also known as “resolution plans,” which are required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Living wills aim to end bailouts of too-big-to-fail banks by showing how they would liquidate themselves without imperiling the financial system.

“Recovery plans are about protecting the crown jewels,” said Paul Cantwell, a managing director at consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal. “It’s about, ‘How do I sell off non-core assets?’ The priority is to the shareholders. A resolution plan is about protecting the system, taxpayers and creditors.”

The recovery plans are being used as part of regulators’ ongoing supervisory process. In Britain, recovery and resolution plans have both been part of the living will requirements for large banks.

Mike Brosnan, senior deputy comptroller for large banks at the OCC, said the regulator continuously evaluates contingency planning at the banks and savings associations it supervises.

“Recovery plans required of the largest banks are helpful in ensuring banks and regulators are prepared to manage periods of severe financial distress or instability affecting the banking sector,” he said.

This summer, nine global banks submitted living wills to the Fed and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, and regulators released the public portion of the documents.

The recovery plans requested in 2010, meanwhile, have received little publicity. The names of the banks required to submit them have not been previously disclosed, and Reuters obtained them only through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Fed supplied Reuters with the letters requesting plans from banks, but not the banks’ actual plans because they were deemed confidential supervisory information. The regulator said it was withholding 5,100 pages of information.

MOVING FURTHER FROM DISASTER

Five years after the financial crisis, concerns remain about whether blow-ups at big banks could lead to another round of taxpayer bailouts. Trading losses have cost JPMorgan nearly $6 billion so far, and scandals such as the alleged rigging of an international interest rate benchmark have only highlighted the risks lurking inside big banks.

These disasters have damaged banks’ reputations, but not their balance sheets. Most are still profitable, and in recent years the five banks have improved their capital bases and liquidity. They also have been subjected to annual Federal Reserve stress tests that measure whether the banks have sufficient capital to weather severe economic scenarios.

Bank of America and Citigroup, in a sense, have already been executing the kind of moves called for in the recovery plans. Both have been selling off non-core operations and assets to streamline their sprawling businesses, after receiving multiple bailouts during the financial crisis.

Bank of America in June 2011 told Fed officials that it could shed branches in some parts of the country if it needed to raise capital in an emergency, a person familiar with the matter said in January. The proposal was part of a series of options provided to the Fed, including issuing a tracking stock for Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch operations.

But just because the bank proposed selling branches does not mean it’s a desirable move or highly probable, the person said. In the past year, Bank of America has shown progress in building capital without such actions. Its Tier 1 common capital ratio increased to 11.24 percent of risk-weighted assets as of June 30 from 8.23 percent a year earlier.

Tier 1 refers to a bank’s core capital and has been the main focus of regulators in assessing a bank’s capital adequacy.

MENTIONED IN PASSING

The banks’ chief risk officers, and in the case of Citigroup, Chief Executive Vikram Pandit, received letters in May 2010 instructing them on what to include in the recovery plans. The requests stemmed from January 2010 crisis management meetings held by regulators. The letters sent to the five banks were nearly identical.

Each plan was to address severe financial stress at the firm, as well as “general financial instability.” The plans should be capable of being executed ideally within three months, but no longer than six months, the documents said.

The plans should “make appropriate assumptions as to the valuations of assets and off-balance sheet positions,” the documents said.

Recovery plans have been mentioned in public before, but only in passing. In testimony to Congress in July 2010, Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo said the “largest internationally active U.S. banking organizations” were working on recovery plans. The initiative stemmed from work led by the Financial Stability Board, a body that coordinates the work of international financial regulators, he said.

In a presentation in March, JPMorgan Chase said it had a recovery plan in place and said it was ordered by regulators. The presentation was organized by Harvard Law School and was closed to the media at the time, but is available online. (here)\

SOURCE

Declaration Of Storms

Obama Has Declared Record-Breaking 89 Disasters So Far in 2011

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From Hurricane Irene, which soaked the entire East Coast in August, to the Midwest tornadoes, which wrought havoc from Wisconsin to Texas, 2011 has seen more billion-dollar natural disasters than any year on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

And as America’s hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and wildfires set records this year, so too has President Obama in his response to them.

During the first 10 months of this year President Obama declared 89 major disasters, more than the record 81 declarations that he made in all of 2010.

And Obama has declared more disasters — 229 — in the first three years of his presidency than almost any other president signed in their full four-year terms. Only President George W. Bush declared more, having signed 238 disaster declarations in his second term, from 2005 to 2009.

But while the sheer number of bad weather events played a big role in the uptick in presidential disaster declarations, Obama’s record-setting year may have something to do with politics as well.

“There’s no question about it that the increase in the number of disaster declarations is outstripping what we would expect to see, given what we observe in terms of weather,” said Robert Hartwig, the president and economist at the Insurance Information Institute. “There’s a lot of political pressure on the president and Congress to show they are responsive to these sorts of disasters that occur.”

While the president aimed to authorize swift and sweeping aid to disaster victims, Congress was entrenched in partisan battles over how to foot the bill. When Republicans demanded that additional appropriations for a cash-strapped FEMA be offset by spending cuts, the government was almost shut down over disaster relief funding.

Such budget showdowns have become commonplace in Congress, but a similarly slow response to natural disasters by the president has been met with far more pointed and politically damaging criticism. Former President Bush learned that the hard way after what was seen as a botched initial response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Ever since that time we’ve seen FEMA try to act more responsively and we’ve seen presidents more engaged in the issues going on with respect to disasters,” Hartwig said.

Mark Merritt, who served as deputy chief of staff at FEMA during the Clinton Administration, said Obama’s record-breaking number of declarations has less to do with politics and more to do with demographics.

People are moving to high-risk areas like beaches and flood plains, more bad weather events are occurring and the country’s infrastructure is “crumbling,” he said.

“It’s not being used any more as a political tool today than it has over the past 18 years,”
said Merritt, who is now the president of the crisis management consulting firm Witt Associates. “Everybody can say there’s a little bit of politics involved, and I won’t deny that, but I don’t think it’s a political tool that politicians use to win reelections.”

Politics aside, Obama’s higher-than-ever number of disaster declarations may also have a lot to do with the broad scale of this year’s disasters, which led to more declarations of catastrophes because each state affected by the disaster gets its own declaration.

For example, Hurricane Andrew, which hit Florida in 1992, cost upwards of $40 billion in damage, but resulted in only one disaster declaration because the damage was almost entirely confined to one state.

Hurricane Irene, on the other hand, pummeled much of the East Coast this summer, causing the president to make 9 disaster declarations, one for each state affected. Although there were 8 more declarations for Irene than for Andrew, the Irene caused about $7 billion in damage, a fraction of the damage caused by Andrew (up to $42 billion in today’s dollars).

Each presidential disaster declaration makes the federal government — specifically FEMA — responsible for at least 75 percent of the recovery costs, relieving cash-strapped state and local governments of the billions in damages caused by this year’s hurricanes, floods and tornadoes.

Richard Salkowe, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of South Florida who studies federal disaster declarations and denials, argued that the trend toward more declarations stems from local governments becoming more aware of the availability of federal funds.

“The local governments and state governments have become more aware of the process and more efficient in using it,” Salkowe said. “I’d say yeah, there are more states that have overwhelming needs, and that may have lead to the Obama administration declaring more disaster areas.”

SOURCE

Unprecendented Weather Disasters Plague America

US counts the cost of nine months of unprecedented weather extremes

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration, there have been 10 major disasters this year

John Vidal, environment editor

As deadly fires continue to burn across bone-dry Texas and eight inches of rain from tropical storm Lee falls on New Orleans, the US is beginning to count the cost of nine months of unprecedented weather extremes.

Ever since a massive blizzard causing $2bn of damage paralysed cities from Chicago to the north-east in January, nearly every month has been marked by a $1b+-weather catastrophe. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration (Noaa), there have been 10 major disasters already this year, leaving more than 700 people dead and property damage of over $35bn (£22bn).

In the past 31 years the mainland states have suffered 99 weather-related disasters where overall damages and economic costs were over $1bn. This year has seen three times as many than as usual.

Noaa will release its August data next week but Summer 2011 is expected to be the warmest on record. Chris Burt, author and leading weather historian, has complied a list of more than 40 cities and towns that have experienced record temperatures this year.

“So many heat records of various types have been shattered this past summer that it is impossible to quantify them,” he said. “Not since the great heat waves of 1934 and 1936 has the US seen so many heat-related records broken as occurred this summer. The back-to-back nature of the intensity of the past two summers should raise some interesting questions, questions I am not qualified to address.”

This year, the UN World Meteorological Organisation said 2010 was the warmest year on record, confirming a “significant” long-term trend of global warming and producing exceptional weather variations.

The insurance company Munich Re said in the first six months of the year there were 98 natural disasters in the US, about double the average of the 1990s.

“The increasing impacts of natural disasters, as seen this year, are a stark reminder of the lives and livelihoods at risk. Severe weather represents a very real threat to public safety,” said Jack Hayes, director of Noaa’s National Weather Service.

But the US is not alone. 2011 has seen the deepest drought in 60 years in the Horn of Africa which has contributed to a famine in Somalia and 10 million people affected in Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda. Southern Africa, however, experienced unusually heavy rainfall.

Latin America has suffered a series of disasters. More than 500 people died in some of Brazil’s worst rainstorms and mudslides in January, and Columbia faced what it called its worst-ever natural disaster when months of rain and floods devastated the north of the country. Meanwhile Mexico and much of central America experienced one of their deepest droughts in many years.

Korea, the Philippines, parts of China have been racked with some of the worst storms in a century, with flash floods and landslides triggered by torrential rain .

2011 has also seen a series of major non-weather-related natural disasters. The worst, by some way, was the Japanese tsunami which killed at least 12,000 people and devastated the country. However, 6.2 or above earthquakes have hit New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, the Fox Islands, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Indonesia, Fiji, Thailand, Burma, Vanuatu, Argentina, Chile and Iran in the first six months of 2011. Smaller ones have hit Pakistan, Tajikistan, Tonga, and the Solomon Islands.

In addition the Arctic ice melt this year hit a record in July and is expected to the second or third greatest ever recorded, says the US national snow and ice data centre.

• This article was amended on 05 September 2011. The original stated the death toll for the Japanese tsunami was 1,200,000 instead of 12,000. This has been corrected

A year of US disasters – 2011 so far

• Hurricane Irene, August 20-29. Over $7bn and around 50 deaths.

• Upper Midwest flooding. The Missouri and Souris rivers overflowed in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri. Damages: $2bn.

• Mississippi river flooding, spring and summer. Damages neared $4bn.

• Drought and heatwave in Texas, Oklahoma. Over $5bn.

• Tornadoes in midwest and south-east in May kill 177 and cost more than $7bn in losses.

• Tornadoes in the Ohio Valley, south-east and midwest on April devastate the city of Tuscaloosa, kill 32 and cause more than $9bn in damages.

• Tornadoes hit from Oklahoma to Pennsylvania 14–16 April. Toll: $2bn in damages.

• 59 tornadoes in midwest and north-east April 8-11. Damages: $2.2bn.

• 46 tornadoes in central and southern states 4 and 5 April. Toll: $2.3bn in damages.

• Blizzard late January paralyse cities from Chicago to the north-east. Toll: 36 deaths and more than $2bn in damages.

SOURCE

12 Things That We Can Learn About How To Prepare For Disasters And Emergencies

12 Things That We Can Learn From Hurricane Irene About How To Prepare For Disasters And Emergencies

The Economic Collapse Blog

Whenever a major disaster or emergency strikes, millions of lives can be turned upside down in an instant. Fortunately Hurricane Irene was not as catastrophic as originally projected, but millions of people did lose power and at least 35 people lost their lives. Large numbers of homes were destroyed and the economic damage from Hurricane Irene is going to be in the billions of dollars. Now that Hurricane Irene has passed, this is a good opportunity for all of us to look back and learn some important lessons about how to prepare for disasters and emergencies. The reality is that a major disaster or emergency has happened somewhere in the United States almost every single month so far this year, and it is only a matter of time before you and your family will be faced with another disaster or emergency.

No plan is perfect, but if you have a plan you are going to be far better off than if you do not have a plan. September is “National Preparedness Month”, so now is a great time to focus on preparing your family for the future disasters and emergencies that are inevitably coming.

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The following are 12 things that we can learn from Hurricane Irene about how to prepare for disasters and emergencies….

#1 Disasters And Emergencies Are Inherently Unpredictable

When a disaster or an emergency strikes, you never know what is going to happen. Even a storm such as Hurricane Irene that was tracked for weeks can end up being highly unpredictable.

For example, while a tremendous amount of attention was paid to New York City, the reality is that some of the worst damage ended up being caused in Vermont. Hurricane Irene actually caused the worst flooding that Vermont has seen since 1927.

The following is how the governor of Vermont described the devastation that was caused in his state by this storm….

“It’s just devastating,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday. “Whole communities under water, businesses, homes, obviously roads and bridges, rail transportation infrastructure. We’ve lost farmers’ crops,” he said. “We’re tough folks up here but Irene … really hit us hard.”

#2 During A Major Disaster Store Shelves Become Empty Very Rapidly

What do we see happen every single time there is even a minor disaster or emergency?

Every single time, food and other emergency supplies disappear from store shelves in a matter of hours.

If you do not have at least a couple weeks of food stored up you are being totally foolish.

In fact, considering how unstable the world has become, it is amazing that only a small percentage of the population has enough food stored up to be able to last for at least six months.

If an economic apocalypse happens, a major war breaks out, an EMP attack takes place, a huge comet strikes the planet or weapons of mass destruction are used in this country, you may not have access to mass quantities of very cheap food any longer.

Get prepared while you still can.

#3 Always Have A “Go Bag” Ready

When disaster strikes, you may only have a couple of minutes before you have to race out the door.

Your “go bag” should contain some food, some water, a flashlight, a battery-powered radio, some cash, copies of your most important documents and any medicine that you may need.

#4 Know Your Escape Routes And Always Have Maps Of The Area In Your Vehicle

Have a plan and know where you are going to be heading in the event of an emergency.

If you don’t have a plan or if you don’t give yourself enough time, you could end up dead. A number of people died during Hurricane Irene while they were in their cars. The following is one example that was noted in a recent CNN article….

A 64-year-old woman was found dead Sunday by Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania, police after her family grew concerned when she did not show up for work. Her body was found a half-mile from where her car was abandoned in a deluged creek, police said.

#5 During A Major Disaster Or Emergency There Is A Good Chance That You Will Lose Power For An Extended Period Of Time

During Hurricane Irene, more than 5 million people lost power. That is why it is crucial to have a battery-powered radio, a battery-powered (or solar) flashlight and extra batteries in your home.

Know what you are going to do once the power goes out. Anyone that has been through an extended power outage knows how life can change almost instantly once the power goes down.

#6 Have Enough Water Stored Up

What was one of the biggest problems in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?

It turned out that one of the most critical problems was a very serious shortage of bottled water.

Yes, even after Katrina dumped unprecedented amounts of water on New Orleans one of the biggest problems was still a lack of water.

If you do not have clean water to drink, you can die within just a few days.

So when planning for disasters and emergencies, please be sure to store up enough water.

#7 During A Natural Disaster, Major Transportation Routes May Be Shut Down

A lot of people were horrified to find roads closed or washed out during Hurricane Irene. Just because you are used to traveling on certain roads it is not safe to assume that they will always be available during disasters and emergencies.

#8 Have Respect For The Sheer Power Of Natural Disasters

We live at a time when people like to make a joke out of anything, but major natural disasters are not to be trifled with.

If you do not respect nature, you can end up dead. Amazingly, some people were actually out boating and canoeing during Hurricane Irene. According to one CNN article, one 53-year-old man that tried boating during Hurricane Irene was later found dead….

One man in Croton, New York, died Sunday while boating along with four others down the Croton River, said Lt. Russell Haper, a spokesman for the Croton police. The boat overturned in the strong rapids. The 53-year-old man was found dead after a three-hour rescue effort. The other men were pulled safely from the water.

#9 Living Near Water Can Be Very Dangerous

If you live near the ocean or near a major river, you need to understand that the potential for danger is always there.

Even if you live a good bit in from the coast, the danger for substantial flooding is always there. The following is how one CNN article described the situation in Philadelphia at the height of Hurricane Irene….

Outside Philadelphia, waters had already climbed to street-sign levels in Darby, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said, with the water sending “couches, furniture, all kinds of stuff floating down the street.”

#10 During A Major Disaster Bring In All Objects From Outside

During any disaster that involves high winds, anything that is left outside can quickly become a very dangerous projectile. The last thing that you want is for the wind to pick up heavy objects and send them crashing into your home or the home of a neighbor. If you know that a major storm is coming, please bring in everything that you can from outside.

#11 Have A Plan But Be Flexible

Your best chance of making it through a disaster or emergency is to have a plan. But that doesn’t mean that you should always stick with that plan. Disasters and emergencies are inherently unpredictable, so it will be very important to be as flexible as possible.

#12 If You Wait Until Disaster Strikes To Prepare It Is Too Late

Right now is the time to prepare for the next disaster or emergency. If you wait until an emergency happens, you will be out of luck. You need to develop a disaster plan for yourself and your family if you do not have one already.

If you plan on storing up food, water, medicine and other emergency supplies, you need to do it ahead of time. Victory belongs to the prepared, and if you think that you will never wind up in the middle of a major disaster you are just being foolish.

Hurricane Irene was a terrible storm, but fortunately it was not nearly as bad as it could have been.

Hopefully this storm will serve as a wake up call for many of us.

The next time that a disaster strikes, we may not be let off the hook so easily.

SOURCE

Nuclear Plants and Disasters: NRC Inspection Results

Nuclear Plants and Disasters: NRC Inspection Results

by John Sullivan and Ariel Wittenberg, Special to ProPublica, June 29

The NRC ordered the inspection in response to the March earthquake and tsunami that crippled Fukushima reactors.. The purpose was to conduct a fast check on the equipment and procedures that U.S. plants are required to have in place in the event of a catastrophic natural disaster or a terrorist attack.

Agency officials unveiled the results in May, stating in a news release that “out of 65 operating reactor sites, 12 had issues with one or more of the requirements during the inspections.”

But ProPublica’s examination of the reports found that 60 Plant sites had discrepancies. that ranged from broken machinery, missing equipment and poor training to things like blocked drains or a lack of preventive maintenance. Some of the more serious findings include:

At the Arkansas Nuclear Oneplant outside Russellville, several portable pumps dedicated to flood control didn’t work.
At the Clintonplant outside Bloomington, Ill., a fire pump broke down during a test.
At the Sequoyah plant outside Chattanooga, Tenn., inspectors couldn’t find drain valves needed for flood control.
At the Diablo Canyon plant in California, a fence blocked the path for a hose to pump emergency water.

Plant officials said they have moved to fix those problems and that none would have prevented them from responding in an emergency. The NRC told ProPublica that all the issues raised by inspectors “fell well short of being imminent safety concerns” and were being addressed.

In a summary attached to the inspection findings, however, the NRC expressed some concern.

“While individually, none of these observations posed a significant safety issue, they indicate a potential industry trend of failure to maintain equipment and strategies required to mitigate some design and beyond design-basis events,” the summary says.

The NRC reported fewer problems at the plants than ProPublica because it only counted those in which a plant had a problem demonstrating how its emergency preparedness plan would work. The agency said that, despite these questions, all the plants could protect their reactors.

The special inspection covered equipment and procedures for use in disasters that are beyond the scope of the plant’s design — major earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and terrorist attacks.

Many of the items covered in the special inspection are supposed to be checked by NRC inspectors on a regular basis. Items that were required after the 9/11 attacks to respond to large explosions and fires — like extra pumps, hoses and generators — are supposed to be reviewed as part of regular triennial fire protection inspections. As populations have soared around Nuclear Reactors, so has the potential for danger.

David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, says the large number of problems uncovered in the special inspection shows that NRC must strengthen oversight.

“I think they need to look at the inspections,” said Lochbaum, whose group monitors safety matters. “Why did they find so much in these inspections? Shouldn’t these have been found sooner?”

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Nuclear plants conduct emergency drills every two years, and Lochbaum said that one possible improvement would be for inspectors to check the condition of the emergency response equipment then.

Mary Lampert, executive director of the advocacy group Pilgrim Watch in Massachusetts, said many of the deficiencies uncovered by the NRC may seem minor but could quickly turn into bigger problems in an emergency situation.

“They all add up. They cannot wait for a disaster to start looking around for a screwdriver that is required to open a valve because time is typically of the essence,” she said.

Lampert said it is important for the NRC to keep an eye on the problems they found and not simply assume the nuclear companies will fix everything.

The Fukushima accident has focused the NRC’s attention on the risk that a natural disaster or attack could knock out a plant’s safety systems for an extended period and lead to a radiation release.

Although all plants are designed to withstand natural disasters, U.S. nuclear facilities are aging. Recent studies have shown that earthquake risks are now higher than they were predicted when some plants were built, although the NRC says reactors can still withstand the highest expected quake. Now historic flooding on the Missouri River is testing design limits at two Nebraska plants.

Flood waters are expected to come within a few feet of levels the Fort Calhoun and Cooper nuclear plants were built to withstand. At Fort Calhoun, a special berm providing backup protection collapsed Sunday after being damaged. Operators briefly turned on emergency diesel power but said there was no risk to reactor cooling systems. The plant has been shut down for refueling since early April.

On April 1, the NRC launched a task force of senior agency managers to examine the ability of plants to respond to events that might overwhelm existing safety systems and procedures. The panel is concentrating on disaster preparedness and the ability to survive a lengthy blackout, as at Fukushima.

The six-member group is scheduled to report its findings to the commission on July 19, and the NRC has held two briefings on the subject so far. Until the task force reports back, the NRC said it would not comment on what, if any, changes the agency might propose.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and other watchdog groups have said that Fukushima points to the need for some obvious improvements, such as adding backup generators and moving used nuclear fuel out of cooling pools and into safer storage locations.

The nuclear industry’s main trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, is teaming up with the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations and the research organization the Electric Power Research Institute to develop disaster preparedness guidelines for nuclear companies, said Thomas Kauffman, a spokesman for NEI.

Kauffman said U.S. nuclear plants have survived hurricanes, tornadoes and extended power outages without damage to their reactors, but the industry is looking hard at Fukushima nevertheless. “We want to take the lessons learned and make sure they are applied across the industry,” he said.

Chairman Gregory Jaczko raised the issue of emergency preparedness this month at an International Atomic Energy Agency conference in Vienna. According to a copy of his speech, he brought up the post-Fukushima inspection results.

“While I see nothing that calls into question the safety of our plants, I see areas where performance was not as good as would be preferred,”
Jaczko said. Changes are likely, he added, “although it is too early to say right now precisely what those changes might be.”

Jaczko visited the Nebraska plants this week and declared that, while flood conditions were likely to continue for some time, the plants are safe.

“Water levels are at a place where the plant [workers] can deal with them,” Jaczko said at Fort Calhoun on Monday, according to the Iowa Independent. “The risk is really very low that something could go wrong.”

ProPublica intern Ariel Wittenberg contributed to this story.

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Terrorism can be good for bunker builders. An apocalypse can be even better!

Terrorism can be good for bunker builders. An apocalypse can be even better for business.

Danila Andreyev started building “panic rooms” three years ago, when fears of terrorist attacks and commercial disputes turning violent created demand in Russia. Now he’s selling “survival bunkers” for as much as $400,000 each to capitalize on angst over theories the world will end next year.

“I myself am not a believer in doomsday scenarios,
” Andreyev, 31, whose Spetsgeoproekt company is completing 15 bunkers at hidden locations across Russia, said at his office in central Moscow. “But when you start hearing clients talking about the end of the world, it gets you thinking.”

Though Russia has been a target for terrorists, with 37 people dying in a blast at Moscow’s busiest airport in January, more people are looking to protect themselves from what Andreyev calls a “global cataclysm” in 2012 based on predictions such as interpretations of the ancient Mayan calendar.

Northwest Shelter Systems, a company based in Sandpoint, Idaho, that specializes in nuclear-bomb shelters, has had the number of inquiries from potential customers rise as much as 60 percent since the March tsunami and earthquake in Japan, Allen Thompson, vice president, said by e-mail.

The Vivos Group, a Del Mar (San Diego County) bunker builder with a website that features a meteor striking Earth, said requests for a shelter in one of its facilities jumped by 10 times since the disaster, which left about 25,000 people dead or missing.

“Hundreds of applications” come from Russia and other former Soviet states, Vivos founder Robert Vicino said by e-mail. The nearest Vivos shelter is at an unidentified location in central Europe, he said. It costs about $25,000 per person.

Every person has a different belief or sense of what may be ahead for all of us,” Vicino said. “Vivos is not about 2012, but having a life-assurance solution for our families for whenever disaster strikes.

Vivos is building facilities in the United States and elsewhere. It said in January it was considering buying a two-story bunker constructed for the British government in 1990 in rural Scotland.

Spetsgeoproekt, which stands for Special Geological Projects, plans to open a showroom in the affluent Moscow neighborhood of Rublevka this year and is expanding into Russia’s regions, Andreyev said.

The company’s bunkers range from 377 to 969 square feet. Maintaining the unit, including the air system, runs about $2,500 a year, he said.

Altai, the mountainous southern Siberian region that borders China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, is of particular interest because it’s believed to be “flood proof,” Andreyev said. Spetsgeoproekt started building an approximately 260-square-foot, $350,000 bunker in Altai.

“They all say the same thing: Next year there’ll be a polar shift or something and most of Russia will be flooded except for Altai and a few other regions,” Andreyev said.

Alexei, 35, one of Andreyev’s clients, said distress over the coming apocalypse prompted him in February to order the construction of a $150,000 bunker big enough to shelter eight people outside of Moscow. He declined to give his full name to keep it secret that he ordered a bunker.

Something catastrophic certainly will happen next year, Alexei said in a telephone interview.

“It all points to some shake-up on Dec. 21, 2012,” Alexei said, citing his interpretations of the doomsday predictions of 16th century French apothecary Nostradamus, the blind Bulgarian mystic Baba Vanga and the Mayan calendar.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/05/14/BU331JFFO8.DTL#ixzz1MX5CeYpW

Conflicting messages on the need for US residents to purchase Potassium Iodide

Surgeon General: Buying Iodide a “Precaution” Conflicting messages appear in the effort to buy iodide tablets

By LORI PREUITT
Updated 3:30 PM PDT, Tue, Mar 15, 2011 | Print

The fear that a nuclear cloud could float from the shores of Japan to the shores of California has some people making a run on iodine tablets. Pharmacists across California report being flooded with requests.

State and county officials spent much of Tuesday trying to keep people calm by saying that getting the pills wasn’t necessary, but then the United States surgeon general supported the idea as a worthy “precaution.”

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U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin is in the Bay Area touring a peninsula hospital. NBC Bay Area reporter Damian Trujillo asked her about the run on tablets and Dr. Benjamin said although she wasn’t aware of people stocking up, she did not think that would be an overreaction. She said it was right to be prepared.

On the other side of the issue is Kelly Huston of the California Emergency Management Agency. Huston said state officials, along with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the California Energy Commission, were monitoring the situation and said people don’t need to buy the pills.

“Even if we had a radiation release from Diablo Canyon (in San Luis Obispo County), iodide would only be issued to people living within a 10-mile radius of the plant,” Huston added.

Santa Clara County’s public health officer Dr. Martin Fenstersheib told the Mercury News he also does not recommend getting the tablets, adding some people can be severely allergic to the iodine.

“There is no reason for doing it,” Fenstersheib told the paper.

Either way, the pills are hard to get. eBay prices have skyrocketed.

View more videos at: http://www.nbcbayarea.com.