I wouldn’t be eating any West Coast sushi if I were you:

TOKYO — Two years after a triple meltdown that grew into the world’s second worst nuclear disaster, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is faced with a new crisis: a flood of highly radioactive wastewater that workers are struggling to contain.

Groundwater is pouring into the plant’s ravaged reactor buildings at a rate of almost 75 gallons a minute. It becomes highly contaminated there, before being pumped out to keep from swamping a critical cooling system. A small army of workers has struggled to contain the continuous flow of radioactive wastewater, relying on hulking gray and silver storage tanks sprawling over 42 acres of parking lots and lawns. The tanks hold the equivalent of 112 Olympic-size pools.

But even they are not enough to handle the tons of strontium-laced water at the plant — a reflection of the scale of the 2011 disaster and, in critics’ view, ad hoc decision making by the company that runs the plant and the regulators who oversee it. In a sign of the sheer size of the problem, the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, plans to chop down a small forest on its southern edge to make room for hundreds more tanks, a task that became more urgent when underground pits built to handle the overflow sprang leaks in recent weeks.

“The water keeps increasing every minute, no matter whether we eat, sleep or work,” said Masayuki Ono, a general manager with Tepco who acts as a company spokesman. “It feels like we are constantly being chased, but we are doing our best to stay a step in front.”

While the company has managed to stay ahead, the constant threat of running out of storage space has turned into what Tepco itself called an emergency, with the sheer volume of water raising fears of future leaks at the seaside plant that could reach the Pacific Ocean.

That quandary along with an embarrassing string of mishaps — including a 29-hour power failure affecting another, less vital cooling system — have underscored an alarming reality: two years after the meltdowns, the plant remains vulnerable to the same sort of large earthquake and tsunami that set the original calamity in motion.

There is no question that the Fukushima plant is less dangerous than it was during the desperate first months after the accident, mostly through the determined efforts of workers who have stabilized the melted reactor cores, which are cooler and less dangerous than they once were.

But many experts warn that safety systems and fixes at the plant remain makeshift and prone to accidents.

Stephen Colbert’s sister was in a debate

There is a special election coming next week in South Carolina’s First Congressional District and a debate was held between the candidates last night.

Stephen Colbert’s sister was in a debate against Mark Sanford, former South Carolina governor. This seems to be the most important fact on the background of Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Did I mention that she is Stephen Colbert’s sister? It is “noteworthy” to be the sister of Stephen Colbert, but, it seems to be mentioned by the press before the fact that she is an accomplished shipping executive and was a director for Clemson University’s renewable energy and water programs, if her experience in these areas is mentioned at all.

She is Stephen Colbert’s sister and that is most important.

And she skewered Sanford for “walking the Appalachian Trail.” Gasp!

Yes, Stephen Colbert’s sister went there.

The grand prize for reporting that Elizabeth Colbert Bush is Stephen Colbert’s sister goes to Kelly O’Donnell on the Today Show this morning. There was a banner on the lower part of the screen that read, “Comedian’s sister takes swipe at Fmr. Governor’s disappearance.”
Runner up in reporting the Colbert connection was The Atlantic Wire. Elizabeth Colbert Busch is referred to as “Stephen Colbert’s sister” and “…a celebrity’s impressive sister.”

Neither report mentions anything about her professional background, experience or accomplishments. She is a newcomer in politics and these things do not seem to matter enough to mention.

She is Stephen Colbert’s sister.



The hopey-changey thing

Young Ezra is actually critical of the administration today:

Here’s a depressing sentence: “the White House has not filled a position overseeing ethics and lobbying issues for more than two years — a job Obama created with great fanfare when he took office in 2009.”

That’s from Juliet Eilperin’s look at President Obama’s fading commitment to campaign-finance reform. This morning also brings a blistering letter signed by Americans for Campaign Reform, the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, and Public Citizen. ”We are writing to express our deep concern about the nation’s corrupt campaign finance system and about your failure, to date, as President to provide meaningful leadership or take effective action to solve this fundamental problem facing our democracy,” they say.

This is a White House that has little interest in quixotic causes. And campaign-finance reform is, at the moment, nothing if not a quixotic cause. With Republicans in control of the House and in possession of the filibuster in the Senate, big money is in no danger of being banished from American politics.

The White House thus sees this issue as heads, Republicans win, tails, Democrats lose. They’ll never get the votes to truly change campaign-finance laws. But along the way, they’ll attack the system in ways that will make them look like hypocrites for participating in it.

This all makes perfect sense. But it is another example of Team Obama being changed by Washington rather than changing Washington.

Bill Burton, head of Priorities USA, the pro-Obama superPAC, wrote that “our system is broken and…the Democratic Party should be spearheading reform. However, until campaign-finance reform is a reality, the party of reform should not be one of perpetual loss.” It is a pragmatic argument that has fully triumphed over 2008′s idealistic campaign.

Under Obama, today’s Democratic Party is not the party of campaign-finance reform in any serious way. They favor it abstractly, but with the exception of relatively modest laws meant to roll back the effects of Citizens United and its related rulings, they expend no political capital or intellectual energy on the topic. Washington is safe. Democracy less so.

Expending political capital on “quixotic” causes is how change begins. Who would have thought ten years ago that marriage would be so available for gay people? But without any actual leaders exercising a little thing I like to call “leadership,” progress becomes even harder. Bug or feature?

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