Saturday, July 26, 2008

'A Pageant Where You Butcher Sheep'

'A Pageant Where You Butcher Sheep'


Documentary film maker Billy Luther, left, and Crystal Frazier, former Miss Northern Navajo in 2005 AP Photo/Courtesy of ITVS/Independent Lens

'A Pageant Where You Butcher Sheep'

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — When young women head off to compete in the weeklong Miss Navajo Nation pageant, they bring along their evening gowns, jewelry, high heels, public speaking skills — and their butcher knives.

This is no ordinary pageant.

On the nation's largest Indian reservation where tradition reigns, contestants are required to speak their native language, make fry bread and butcher an animal that represents life to the Navajos — sheep.

"The pageant really gets people's interest because they say, 'Oh my gosh, a pageant where you butcher sheep.' That's really the grabber," said Billy Luther, a documentary film maker. "But I think people walk away learning the Navajo way of life and how much the Navajo people respect women."

Luther, whose mother was crowned Miss Navajo in 1966, offers a different take on what it means to be beautiful in his first feature-length documentary, "Miss Navajo," which aired Tuesday on PBS's Independent Lens. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Beauty is very much internal, Luther says. What Navajos perceive as beautiful might not be beautiful to others, he said.

"It's having the knowledge of your culture, it's having respect for your mothers and grandmothers, it's the language, fluency. As we say, that's harmony, that's what we strive for," said Luther, 32, who is Navajo, Laguna and Hopi.

Luther's documentary follows Crystal Frazier, a now-23-year-old Table Mesa resident, on her quest to become Miss Navajo during the 2005 pageant.

The pageant, held each year during the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, Ariz., takes contestants of all shapes and sizes through skill and talent tests, and quizzes them on tribal government and Navajo beliefs.

For Frazier, a self-described introvert who raised chickens as a hobby, her insecurities centered on her ability to speak the Navajo language, which long had been passed down orally.

A panel made up of former Miss Navajos greets the contestants in one part of the film with the intent of finding out whether the girls truly know their Native language.

Frazier blanks on her turn. She wants the question repeated in English.

"I was just a deer in headlights," said Frazier, who was Miss Northern Navajo in 2004-05. "I remember being in the room and being in awe of seeing formal title holders. You feel the pressure, and you see all the lights from the cameras, and you just freak. I remember I didn't even hear a word."

The queen's panel was added in 2005 at the insistence of Sunni Dooley — the 1982-83 Miss Navajo.

"They know they are supposed to talk Navajo, but as you saw in the pageant, a lot of them entered without knowing their language," said Dooley, a storyteller from Vanderwagon. "They probably had memorized their clan, where they came from, who their parents are and who their grandparents are."

What the judges wanted was simple: Give the directions to your house, she said.

The pageant began in 1952 as somewhat of a popularity contest. The winner was crowned based on how much applause she got from the audience.

Until the early 1960s, two Miss Navajos were crowned, a traditional one and "one who looked like Jackie Kennedy," Dooley says.

Now only one queen is named and the contest is open to any Navajo woman age 18 to 25 who is single and meets other contest requirements, such as having a high school diploma or GED and no children.

Faced with a dwindling number of contestants, Dooley and other former Miss Navajos created a nonprofit group in Arizona this year to address how to make the pageant last.

"I think what's scaring a lot of these contestants is the sheep butchering part of it, also the Navajo," she said.

Ultimately, Dooley said she would like to see one girl representing each of the Navajo Nation's 110 chapter houses in the pageant.

"I think whoever wins that pageant, they can say, 'Yeah, not only did I compete against 110 girls but I can butcher a sheep with one hand,' " Dooley jokes.

Although his original intent wasn't to make a film about Navajo women, Luther sees the final product as an inspiration for young girls, some of whom consider Miss Navajo the ideal woman.

Some people who have watched the film consider it an important one about women, an unexpected story of a contemporary Navajo family or a language-in-crisis film, he said.

Luther says simply: "This is a film about a beauty pageant contestant, and there's a winner and a loser.

"But sometimes, as in life, the winners aren't always the winners and the losers aren't always the losers."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says The Reactor Revival Is NOT Ready For Prime Time

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says The Reactor Revival Is NOT Ready For Prime Time

by Harvey Wasserman

A devastating blow to the much-hyped revival of atomic power has been delivered by an unlikely source—the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC says the “standardized” designs on which the entire premise of returning nuclear power to center stage is based have massive holes in them, and may not be ready for approval for years to come.

Delivered by one of America’s most notoriously docile agencies, the NRC’s warning essentially says: that all cost estimates for new nuclear reactors—and all licensing and construction schedules—are completely up for grabs, and have no reliable basis in fact. Thus any comparisons between future atomic reactors and renewable technologies are moot at best. And any “hard number” basis for independent financing for future nukes may not be available for years to come, if ever.

These key points have been raised in searing testimony before state regulators by Jim Warren of the North Carolina Waste and Awareness Reduction Network and Tom Clements of the South Carolina Friends of the Earth, and by others now challenging proposed state-based financing for new Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors. The NRC gave conditional “certification” to this “standardized” design in 2004, allowing design work to continue. But as recently as June 27, the NRC has issued written warnings that hundreds of key design components remain without official approval. Indeed, Westinghouse has been forced to actually withdraw numerous key designs, throwing the entire permitting process into chaos.

The catastrophic outcome of similar problems has already become tangible. After two years under construction, the first “new generation” French reactor being built in Finland is already more than two years behind schedule, and more than $2.5 billion over budget. The scenario is reminiscent of the economic disaster that hit scores of “first generation” reactors, which came in massively over budget and, in many cases, decades behind promised completion dates.

In North and South Carolina, public interest groups are demanding the revocation of some $230 million in pre-construction costs already approved by state regulators for two proposed Duke Energy reactors. In both those states, as well as in Florida, Alabama and Georgia, Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors have been presented to regulatory commissions to be financed by ratepayers as they are being built.

This astounding pro-utility scheme forces electric consumers to pay billions of dollars for nuclear plants that may never operate, and whose costs are indeterminate. Sometimes called Construction Work in Progress, it lets utilities raise rates to pay for site clearing, project planning, and down payments on large equipment and heavy reactor components, such as pressure vessels, pumps and generators, that can involve hundreds of millions of dollars, even before the projects get final federal approval. The process in essence gives utilities an incentive to drive up construction costs as much as they can. It allows them to force ratepayers to cover legal fees incurred by the utilities to defend themselves against lawsuits by those very ratepayers. And the public is stuck with the bill for whatever is spent, even if the reactor never opens—or if it melts down before it recoups its construction costs, as did Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island Unit Two in 1979, which self-destructed after just three months of operation.

According to Warren and Clements, Duke Energy and its cohorts have “filed some 6,500 pages of Westinghouse’s technical design documents as the major component of applications” to build new reactors. “Of the 172 interconnected Westinghouse documents,” say NCWARN and FOE, “only 21 have been certified.” And most of what has been certified, they add, rely on systems that are unapproved, and that are key to the guts of the reactor, including such major components as the “reactor building, control room, cooling system, engineering designs, plant-wide alarm systems, piping and conduit.”

In other words, despite millions of dollars of high-priced hype, the “new generation” of “standardized design” power plants actually does not exist. The plans for these reactors have not been finalized by the builders themselves, nor have they been approved by the regulators. There is no operating prototype of a Westinghouse AP-1000 from which to draw actual data about how safely these plants might actually operate, what their environmental impact might be, or what they might cost to build or run.

In fact, as the NRC’s June 27 letter notes, Westinghouse has been forced to withdraw key technical documents from the regulatory process. The NRC says this means design approval for the AP-1000 might not come until 2012.

The problem extends to other designs. According to Michael Mariotte of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, the “Evolutionary Power Reactor” proposed for Calvert Cliffs, Maryland, “is way behind in certification” causing delays in the licensing process. Similar problems have arisen with the “Economic Simplified Boiling War Reactor” design proposed for North Anna, Virginia and Fermi, Michigan. “All of these utilities seem to want standardization for the other guy, not for themselves, so most of them are making changes to the ’standardized’ designs, says Mariotte. “Even the ABWR,” being planned for a site in south Texas, which has actually been built before, “has design issues” that have caused delays.

The problem, says Mariotte, “is that the NRC is still trying to go ahead and do licensing even with the designs not certified. This is going to lead to a big mess later on.”

But in the meantime, Public Service Commissions like the one in Florida, have given preliminary approval to reactor proposals whose projected costs have more than doubled in just one year. Florida Power & Light’s two proposed reactors at Turkey Point, on the border of the Everglades National Park, are listed as costing somewhere between $6 billion and $9 billion. FP&L refuses to commit to a firm price, and is demanding south Florida ratepayers foot an unknowable bill for gargantuan projects whose costs are virtually certain to skyrocket long before the NRC approves the actual reactor designs. By contrast, the “huge” preliminary deal just reached between Florida, environmentalists and U.S. Sugar to buy some 180,000 acres of land to save the Everglades is now estimated at less than $2 billion, less than one-sixth the minimum estimated cost of the two reactors proposed for Turkey Point.

In the larger picture, the depth of this scam is staggering. With no finalized design, and no firm price tag, a second generation of nuclear power plants is now being put on the tab of southeastern citizens whose rates have already begun to skyrocket. These reactor projects cannot get private financing, and cannot proceed without either massive federal subsidies and loan guarantees, or a flood of these state-based give-aways. They also cannot get private insurance against future melt-downs, and have no solution for their radioactive waste problem. Current estimates for finishing the proposed Yucca Mountain national waste repository, also yet to be licensed, are soaring toward $100 billion, even though it, too, may never open.

By contrast, firm costs for proposed wind farms, solar panels, increased efficiency and other green sources are proven and reliable. These projects are easily financed by private investors lining up to become involved. Some $6 billion in new wind farms are under construction or on order in the United States alone. They are established and profitable, and can in many cases can be up and running in less than a year.

The high-profile campaign to paint atomic energy as some kind of answer to America’s energy problems has hit the iceberg of its economic impossibilities. The atomic “renaissance” has no tangible approved design, and no firm construction or operating costs to present. There are no reliable new reactor construction schedules, except to know that it will be at least ten years before the first one could conceivably come on line, and that its price tag is unknowable.

In short, the “nuclear renaissance” is perched atop a gigantic technical and economic chasm that looms larger every day, and that could soon swallow the entire idea of building more reactors.

Harvey Wasserman’s SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, A.D. 2030, is at He is senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, and writes regularly for, where this article first appeared.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Radioactive Russian woman sparks airport evacuation

AFP/Illustration Photo: Authorities evacuated the airport terminal in Vladivostok, in Russia's far east, after a flight arriving...

Radioactive Russian woman sparks airport evacuation

Thu Jul 24, 12:05 PM ET

MOSCOW (AFP) - Authorities evacuated the airport terminal in Vladivostok, in Russia's far east, after a flight arriving from Seoul set off a radiation alarm.

The alarm was called off when security officials pinpointed the source -- a woman who had just received radiation therapy, Interfax news agency reported Thursday.

The woman was released when it was established that South Korean doctors had treated her with iodine-131, a radioactive isotope used in nuclear medicine, giving her a level of radioactivity 15 times greater than the norm.

"Iodine 131 is a short-lived isotope, so the passenger should be back to normal in a month," Interfax quoted a customs spokeswoman at Vladivostok airport as saying.

Pakistan Warns That US-India Nuclear Deal Could Lead To New Arms Race

Pakistan Warns That US-India Nuclear Deal Could Lead To New Arms Race

by Jeremy Page

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has warned the international community that India’s historic nuclear deal with the United States could accelerate a nuclear arms race between Delhi and Islamabad.0724 11

The warning was made in a letter addressed to more than 60 nations as the Indian government, having survived a no confidence vote on Tuesday, dispatched diplomats to clear the deal with international regulators.

India must still negotiate a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has a board meeting on August 1, and obtain the blessing of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG).

But Pakistan warned key members of the IAEA and the NSG in its letter that the safeguards agreement would impair non-proliferation efforts and “threatens to increase the chances of a nuclear arms race in the sub-continent”.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they gained independence from Britain, and have been de facto nuclear weapons states since conducting tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998.

A peace process begun in 2004 has stabilised relations, but has made little progress on the most divisive issue — the disputed region of Kashmir - and the two sides remain deeply distrustful of each other..

Mohammad Sadiq, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, confirmed the contents of the letter, which he said was distributed to IAEA members in Vienna, but not released to the media.

“There are a number of questions about the deal, not only for Pakistan, but for many other countries,” he told The Times.

“There should be a model agreement that could be signed with any country that meets the criteria. It should not be country-specific.”

The US Congress must also approve the deal, which lifts a 34-year ban on selling US nuclear fuel and technology to India even though Delhi has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Indian and US officials say that all three steps could be completed in the next few months - although the White House has said that it could be pushed to get Congressional approval before President Bush steps down.

Meanwhile, the Indian government announced that it had sent its top diplomats to Germany, which holds the rotating chair of the NSG, and to Ireland, which has objections to the nuclear deal.

Ireland is one of the strongest proponents of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was proposed by Frank Aiken, Irish Minister for External Affairs, in 1958.

The Nuclear Suppliers’ Group - founded after India tested its first nuclear device in 1974 - is an informal grouping of 45 nuclear-exporting countries designed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and dual-use materials.

Its guidelines ban the export of nuclear fuel and technology to countries other than the five official “nuclear weapons states” - the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China - that do not have a specific agreement with the IAEA safeguarding their nuclear facilities.

India has submitted a draft safeguards agreement to the IAEA, under which it would separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities and allow IAEA inspections of the former.

But Pakistan said in its letter that the draft agreement had not listed the exact sites that would be safeguarded.

“What is the purposed of the Agreement if the facilities to be safeguarded are not known?” it asked.

Pakistan is not a member of the NSG, but it does sit on the current 35-member board of the IAEA - a United Nations agency - and is expected to vote against India’s draft safeguards agreement at the August 1 meeting.

A two thirds majority is required to approve the agreement.

Among Pakistan’s other objections are the date of the board meeting, which comes less than the required 45 days after a country starts circulating its draft.

The letter said that more time was needed because the agreement “is likely to set a precedent for other states which are not members of the NPT and have military nuclear programmes”.

Every Vote Counts

Every Vote Counts

Wakonda, a town of about 400 in South Dakota, is one of Clay County's smallest polling places. Voters drive in from as far away as Irene, S.D., to cast their ballot. Two students of the American Indian Journalism Institute talked to a few voters in Wakonda on June 3, primary election day in South Dakota.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This audio slideshow was a class assignment at the American Indian Journalism Institute and was originally published on AIJI: Freedom Forum Diversity Institute.]

Russia Considers Using Cuba For Refuelling of Nuclear Bombers

Russia Considers Using Cuba For Refuelling of Nuclear Bombers

by Luke Harding

MOSCOW - Russia was today considering the use of bases in Cuba for its nuclear bombers, in a move that revives memories of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and which is likely to profoundly annoy the United States.0724 03 1

Russian military sources said that Moscow is contemplating using Cuba as a refuelling base for its nuclear-bomb carrying aircraft. The move is in retaliation for the Bush administration’s plan to site a missile defence shield in Europe.

Russia objects vehemently to the Pentagon’s plan. It says the US’s proposed system in Poland and the Czech republic - which formally agreed a deal with Washington last week - poses a direct threat to Russia and its security.

According to a report in Monday’s Izvestiya, the Kremlin now wants to use Cuba as a base for its long-range Tu-160 and Tu-95 strategic nuclear bombers. Citing a “highly-placed military source”, the paper said discussions had taken place.

“While they are deploying the anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech republic, our long-range strategic aircraft already will be landing in Cuba,” the source told the paper. No final decision on landing bombers in Cuba had been taken, it added.

Today defence analysts told the Guardian there was little strategic point in using Cuba as a nuclear base - adding that the idea appeared to have been floated simply as a way of irritating the US and underscoring Russia’s anger.

Russia’s ageing nuclear aircraft have a range of 2,000-3,000kms - allowing them comfortably to fire a nuclear missile at the US from much further away, defence expert Pavel Felgenhauer said. “Frankly in Cuba they would be sitting ducks,” he added.

Additionally, there were other places were the planes could refuel, he said. “Any deployment in Cuba would be highly provocative and very costly. There would be no military advantage. Cuba would want compensation,” Felgenhauer said.

He added: “They [the Russians] are trying to tell the guys [in America] that if they don’t back out of their missile defence shield in Europe, we can make mischief in different places.”

It was not immediately clear whether Cuba had agreed to Russia’s proposal. In a brief, cryptic note posted on a government website, Fidel Castro said his brother Raul - Cuba’s president - was wise not to respond to the report.

Castro said that Cuba was not obliged to offer the US an explanation for the story, “nor ask for excuses or forgiveness.” Most observers believe that Raul - who took over from his brother in February - would be unlikely to agree to any request from Moscow.

But today’s apparent discussion is reminiscent of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when Khrushchev attempted to site nuclear missiles on the Caribbean island. His aim was to lesson the then strategic nuclear gap with the US.

Khrushchev eventually backed down and withdrew the missiles. The US secretly removed its missiles from Turkey. It also agreed not to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro’s communist regime.

During the Cold War, Cuba remained an important military ally for the Soviet Union. In 2002, however, Russia’s then president Vladimir Putin decided to close Russia’s Soviet-era radar and listening station in Cuba on the grounds of cost.

Last summer Putin ordered the resumption of worldwide bomber patrols by Russia’s nuclear aircraft. Although some experts have dismissed the flights as mere “willy waving”, Nato jets including from Britain have scrambled in response.

The US state department today said it had not had official confirmation from the Russian government about the report. “We continue to work with the Russians on this issue,” Gonzalo Gallegos told the Associated Press, referring to the US’s missile defence shield.

He added: “We have consistently made it clear to them that our proposed deployment of a limited missile defence system in Europe poses no threat to them or their nuclear deterrent.”

Russia’s new president, Dmitry Medvedev, has disappointed western observers who had hoped he might take a more conciliatory foreign policy line. During an address to ambassadors in Moscow this month, he explicitly criticised the US’s missile defence shield, promising Russia would respond ‘appropriately’.

Russia’s approach has recently hardened on several key international issues, experts say.

“It’s become much more rigid,” Felgenhauer said, adding that hardline officials inside Russia’s foreign and defence ministries appeared to be responsible. “There is uncertainty over who is really in charge of Russian foreign policy,” he said.

He added: “We are returning to policy positions agreed last autumn. There is no series attempt at compromise. Right now there is zero purpose in compromise until there is a new administration in Washington.”

“We are just spitting at each other,” he observed.

RNC Protesters Say They Reject Violence But Might Turn To Civil Disobedience

RNC Protesters Say They Reject Violence But Might Turn To Civil Disobedience

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL - A local antiwar organization that is planning a march on the final day of the Republican National Convention said Wednesday that its demonstration will be “more militant” than protest marches earlier in the week.0724 08 1 2While eschewing violence, members of the Anti-War Committee told reporters at a news conference outside the Xcel Energy Center that its activity on Sept. 4 will involve “a variety of tactics” that could include civil disobedience with sit-ins and “die-ins.”

The activists added that there could be civil disobedience every day of the Sept. 1-4 convention, which will be held at the Xcel in St. Paul.

An antiwar march is already planned for Sept. 1, which organizers say could attract tens of thousands, and a poor people’s march is scheduled for Sept. 2, which could draw thousands more. Organizers of the Sept. 4 march predict a turnout of 2,000.

Leaders of the Anti-War Committee are key organizers of the Sept. 1 protest, which is sponsored by the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, and the committee is also a supporter of the Sept. 2 march, sponsored by the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.

Speaking for the Anti-War Committee, Katrina Plotz and Misty Rowan said Wednesday that the St. Paul police issued their organization a permit, allowing them to march on the street earlier in the day but ending by 5 p.m. However, they said they planned to march around 5 p.m., using sidewalks if necessary, so they will be near the Xcel closer to the time when U.S. Sen. John McCain gives his speech accepting the GOP presidential nomination. The march will protest McCain’s support of the Iraq war, they said.

Tom Walsh, a spokesman for St. Paul police, said he had no comment.

Cindy Sheehan Is Putting Impeachment on the Table

Cindy Sheehan Is Putting Impeachment on the Table

by John Nichols

Does anyone seriously doubt that one of the reasons why a House Judiciary Committee hearing will at least discuss the “I” word on Friday is Cindy Sheehan’s independent challenge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi?

Pelosi, famously, took impeachment “off the table” just before the 2006 election.

Then, this month, she edged it back on the menu — suggesting that the Judiciary Committee might take up the matter of Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s proposal to impeach the president for using deception to draw the nation into an illegal and immoral war.

Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who has never made any secret of his desire to address the imperial reach of the Bush-Cheney presidency — especially on matters of war and peace — jumped at the chance to schedule the hearing. A two-hour session, at which the “i” word will be discussed openly by advocates such as Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, is scheduled for Friday.

Though the hearing is unlikely to evolve into the full-fledged inquiry that many of us believe necessary, it is remarkable that in the summer of a presidential election year the key committee in a chamber where impeachment was supposed to be off the table will turn its attention to the tool that the founders afforded the legislative branch for constraining the executive.

Why is this happening now?

It is worth noting that this is petition-gathering season for independent candidates running in California. Sheehan, the mother of a slain Iraq War soldier who turned her grief into activism, and her supporters are busy collecting the 10,198 signatures that will be needed to get her name on the ballot.

Sheehan — echoing the sentiments of the millions of Americans who believe that it if it is wrong for a Republican administration to abuse the Constitution then it is just as wrong for Democratic leaders to refuse to defend the document’s principles — has made presidential accountability a central issue of her independent campaign in a city that has already overwhelmingly endorsed an impeachment initiative.

Indeed, Sheehan announced that she would challenge the speaker after it became clear — after President Bush commuted White House aide Scooter Libby’s prison sentence last summer — that Pelosi was blocking consideration of impeachment by the House.

Local media has focused on Sheehan’s advocacy for impeachment, noting this spring when she filed initial paperwork for her candidacy that the woman who has been referred to as “the Rose Parks of the anti-war movement” had decided to run because “seeing George Bush impeached would be a victory for humanity.”

Sheehan is a realist. She admits that her candidacy is “an uphill battle.”

But she has drawn significant television, radio and newspaper coverage in San Francisco, as well as endorsements from the local Green and Peace and Freedom parties and local officials such as the president of the city’s school board and plan commission. She has raised more than $100,000 for the campaign, attracted an energetic team of volunteers. And, now, as those volunteers hit the streets to collect the signatures to put Sheehan’s name on the ballot, Pelosi is suddenly showing some flexibility — the key word being “some” — with regard to the impeachment discussion.

No matter how many votes she gets in November, give Cindy Sheehan credit for opening up the debate — not just in San Francisco but in Washington.

John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written The Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

BIA limits distance for casinos

BIA limits distance for casinos
The Associated Press
Article Launched: 07/18/2008 06:08:15 AM MDT

SANTA FE—The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs has published a rule that says casinos should be located within 25 miles of a reservation headquarters.

But the rule has exceptions. Tribes may seek reservation status and permission to operate casinos on newly acquired land away from a reservation if tribes can show that a significant number of tribal members live nearby, can demonstrate a current connection to the property or if other tribal government facilities have been located on the land for at least two years before an application is filed for new reservation land.

In January, the U.S. Department of Interior turned down a request filed in 2004 by Jemez Pueblo to establish reservation land and build a casino near Anthony in southern New Mexico, 293 miles from the northern New Mexico pueblo.

The 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows off-reservation gambling only on trust land controlled by a tribe. But the Interior Department said in its Jan. 4 letter that the proposed trust land was too far from the pueblo to provide jobs to tribal members.

The new rule on casinos is meant to resolve questions about when tribes qualify for exceptions to the federal law. It comes after a series of interim checklists published since 1994.

The Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma has been trying to open a casino near Deming in southern New Mexico on land purchased by the tribe in 1998 and taken into trust by the Interior Department for the tribe in 2002.

Federal law prohibits gambling on Indian lands taken into trust after October 1988, except under certain conditions. Exceptions allow the Interior secretary to authorize tribes to open casinos away from historic reservation lands if, after consulting local and tribal officials and a state's governor, the BIA determines the casino would be in the tribe's best interest and would not be detrimental to the community where it is located.

New Mexico tribes operate casinos under compacts with the state and pay a share of the casino proceeds to it in exchange for exclusive rights to offer certain forms of gambling such as poker and roulette. Horse racing tracks have casinos but are limited to slot machines.

As of June, there were 423 Indian gambling operations in the country, operated by 225 tribes in 28 states, according to the National Indian Gaming Association. These include scores of smaller bingo halls as well as large casinos with slot machines.


Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican,

Copyright and Fair Use in the Classroom, on the Internet, and the World Wide Web

Airmen slept while guarding old nuke codes

Airmen slept while guarding old nuke codes
Published: July 25, 2008 at 6:58 AM

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D., July 25 (UPI) -- Three U.S. Air Force officers fell asleep while in control of a component with old nuclear missile launch codes, violating procedure, military officials said.

Even though the codes for nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles had been deactivated, it was a protocol violation, prompting an investigation, CNN reported Friday.

The July 12 incident at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., is the fourth alleged mishandling in the past year.

An investigation revealed the codes weren't compromised and the crew was inside an area protected by Air Force security, the Air Force said Thursday.

The incident occurred during the changing of components used to aid secure communications between an underground missile-control facility and missile silos near Minot, said Col. Dewey Ford, a spokesman for the Air Force Space Command in Colorado. Although the new component made the old code inoperable, the old launch codes were still contained in one of the new parts.

Ford said the airmen took the component to a building above the facility, locked the component in a lockbox, then three members fell asleep. Protocol calls for at least two members to be awake while in control of the component

U.S. needs to start a new START agreement

Today, a House committee will take the first step in signaling where Congress stands on a pending nuclear energy agreement with Russia. The hearing represents a critical opportunity for the United States to make progress on limiting the threat posed by nuclear weapons.

Ratification of the agreement should come with a commitment to further joint action on dealing with Iran's nuclear program and as well as a commitment to developing a post-START agreement that codifies deeper nuclear reductions. Ratification of the nuclear cooperation agreement should signal to the new Russian president and the next American president that the American people require broader leadership on the part of both governments regarding reducing the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.

On May 12, President Bush submitted to Congress the text of a proposed agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation between the United States and Russia. The agreement would provide Russia with access to U.S. nuclear technologies and markets and the right to receive U.S.-origin nuclear materials into Russia for storage or processing. While the agreement is not necessary to do so, it could also give impetus for the United States and Russia to collaborate on providing nuclear fuel cycle services to non-nuclear states that are searching for solutions to their demand for energy.

Referred to by shorthand as a "123 agreement," after the section of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, this agreement will become law if Congress does not act to amend or reject it. Because of the curious timing of the Bush administration's submission, the agreement will only have reached the 76th legislative day of consideration when Congress adjourns on Sept. 26, letting its fate fall to a new administration and Congress if the current Congress so chooses.

I strongly believe that we should not let the clock run out and punt a decision this important. Instead, we must seize this opportunity to make progress on several critical related issues. With North Korea's recent declaration of its plutonium, one of the greatest threats to global security is showing signs of resolution, leaving two significant challenges for both Russia and the United States: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's quest for nuclear weapons, and the still oversized American and Russian arsenals at risk of theft and accidental launch.

The prospect of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons continues to be one of the greatest threats to the United States and to its allies. Despite assurances from Russia - contained in the Nuclear Proliferation Assessment that accompanied submission of the 123 document - that "its government would not tolerate cooperation with Iran in violation of its U.N. Security Council Resolutions," Russia continues to build a nuclear power plant at Bushehr, and thwarts harsher international sanctions against Iran.

Arms control experts warn that Russia remains actively engaged in missile, nuclear and advanced conventional defense cooperation with Iran. Underpinning Russia's security cooperation with Iran is Moscow's commercial interest in staying involved in a country with the world's second largest reserves of gas and third largest oil supply.

While the incentives for changed Russian behavior are hard to identify in the current climate, it is critical that Russia agree to cease nuclear cooperation with Iran, including construction of Bushehr. At a time of record windfall oil profits for Russia, abstaining from supporting Iran's nuclear program is a small price to pay for a more stable region.

Of equal concern is the loss of the last major arms control agreement of the 21st century when the START agreement expires in December 2009. START contains the transparency and verification protocols on which the Moscow Treaty relies. As the United States and Russia reduce the number of deployed nuclear weapons, pursuant to the Moscow Treaty, these rules are crucial. When START lapses, the United States will lose any ability to verify that Russia is reducing its arsenal.

The United States and Russia must negotiate a legally binding replacement to START. Only through such an agreement can we ease Russian concern that the United States is seeking a strategic advantage and begin to negotiate openly and clearly.

The 123 agreement complies with all arms control criteria listed in the Atomic Energy Act, so it does not threaten nonproliferation standards. That said, in the short term, it will probably offer only limited commercial benefit to U.S. firms. But what it should do is put the United States and Russia back on a path of serious cooperation, addressing the threat of weapons of mass destruction, the most serious issue the international community faces. If the agreement can be linked to serious cooperation from Russia on the threat posed by Iranian nuclear activities, and to an extension of the critical START protocols that expire next year, then it should be approved.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, is chair of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, a subcommittee of the House Armed Serviced Committee.

Melting Icecaps and the Global Ocean (Updated)

Melting Icecaps and the Global Ocean (Updated)


We're doooooomed, doooo-- wait a minute.

If the Greenland icecap sees an even-more-significant melt, how soon do you need to pack your bags and head for the high country? Unless you live along the Atlantic coastlines of North America or Europe, you'll have a few decades, at least. And if the Antarctic icecap melts, we'll have even longer -- at least 50 years, probably much more. These are the surprising results of research undertaken by Detlef Stammer of the University of Hamburg, Germany, written up in "Response of the global ocean to Greenland and Antarctic ice melting," published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. New Scientist summarizes his findings thusly:

... the majority of Greenland's meltwater will stay in the Atlantic Ocean for at least 50 years, causing sea levels here to rise faster than expected. "The Greenland ice cap is much less of a threat to tropical islands in the Pacific than it is for the coasts of North America and Europe," he says. [...] Antarctic meltwater could be prevented from reaching much of the world for centuries due to strong currents in the Southern Ocean, says Stammer.

Stammer's work covered a 50-year time horizon, mapping the progress of freshwater runoff through "boundary waves, equatorial Kelvin waves, and westward propagating Rossby waves." Stammer describes the volume of melting ice in his model as reflecting "enhanced runoff," although it appears from the piece that this ends up being a fairly conservative take on how rapidly the ice could melt. It does not appear from the model structure that increased meltwater volume would affect the overall global ocean current flows; however, the argument Stammer makes in the article (under-emphasized in the New Scientist summary) is that the cold freshwater flux would have a significant effect on salinity and surface temperature. The salinity and temperature changes, in particular, could have a measurable impact on the warm water flows keeping Europe warm, so once again we're back talking about localized "whiplash ice ages" (Stammer does not suggest this, but it follows).

An even more important element (getting less play in the article, unfortunately) is the lack of significant sea-level increase in the global ocean in the first few decades of an enhanced Antarctic melt. Since the potential overall sea-level increase from Antarctic ice dwarfs the potential from Greenland, this is an important finding.


One question that leaps out for me: if you have a cold freshwater flux cutting down on mixing and surface temperature, what does that do to ocean thermal inertia? My sense is that a flux of colder surface water, aside from all of the havoc it would wreak on ocean ecosystems, might actually slow the pace of overall global warming. I'd welcome more educated analysis on this.

Stammer's work matches earlier, less complex, analysis, so there's a good chance it maps to reality. Even if the runoff flow is significantly greater than used in this model, we'll still see a slow wave of sea level increase, not reaching the Pacific and the Indian oceans for decades. In that sense, any delay of disastrous results is to be welcomed, since delays mean more time to figure out and implement mitigation and adaptation strategies.

There's an important element of politics in this, too. The first places to be hit by Greenland icecap runoff-induced sea level increases would be the east coast of North America and (somewhat later) the west coast of Europe; the low-lying developing nations of the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions wouldn't be affected for decades. In fact, looking at the sea-level increase maps in the article, it looks like the North American east coast gets hammered pretty hard fairly quickly. I have no desire for my friends along the Atlantic coast to suffer, of course, but a direct threat to New York, DC, London and the like is more apt to bring a rapid response than would a more generalized threat that would hurt Tuvalu or Bangladesh first. Sad, but probably true.

(Thanks to David Zaks for letting me read the article!)

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

German Leaks Raise More Nuclear Fears

Inter Press Service
ENVIRONMENT: German Leaks Raise More Nuclear Fears
by Julio Godoy

BERLIN, July 8 (IPS) - Confirmation that radioactive brine has been leaking for two decades from a German underground deposit for nuclear waste is yet another blow to the idea that nuclear power can safely increase electricity generation and simultaneously reduce emissions.

Radioactive leaks from the nuclear waste deposit Asse II near Braunschweig in Lower Saxony, some 225 km southwest of Berlin, were first discovered in 1988. The state-owned Helmholtz Institute for Scientific Research, which operates the centre, officially admitted the leaks only Jun. 16, under pressure from the German press.

Helmholtz spokesperson Heinz-Joerg Haury told German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung that researchers "did not consider that the leaks were worth a declaration to the press. We did not have the feeling that the public would be interested in knowing that radioactive brine is leaking in Asse II."

Asse II, a former salt mine, is the oldest nuclear waste deposit in Germany. The abandoned mine was transformed into a deposit for nuclear waste in 1967, following the scientific hypothesis that rock salt pits are the best geological structure to store radioactive waste.

But in 1988, radioactive brine started to leak through the mine's walls. The site operator never informed the public.

Germany officially has four deposits for nuclear waste. Two other sites, Gorleben and Morsleben, are also abandoned rock salt mines. A fourth, Schacht Konrad, also in Lower Saxony, is a former iron mine.

No one has yet found a durable solution for storing nuclear waste, that remains highly radioactive for centuries.

France continues to deposit thousands of tonnes of highly radioactive waste into its nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at La Hague on the Normandy Atlantic coast, close to the English Channel.

In Germany, power plant operators have been "temporarily" storing nuclear waste in Gorleben, some 150 km northwest of Berlin. They are waiting for the government to decide whether it is geologically suitable as a definitive storage site.

Morsleben was the German Democratic Republic deposit for radioactive waste, and is now being dismantled (former East and West Germany reunited in 1990). Asse II is officially considered a "research site".

By June 2008, some 80,000 litres of a radioactive salt solution had accumulated there. The brine, eight times above the radioactivity limit, has been pumped to a deeper level, but some 30 litres of radioactive brine continue to leak every day.

In Germany, the maximum limit of radioactivity for material stored in open air is 10,000 Becquerel per kilogram. The Becquerel is the standard international unit of radioactivity, equal to one radioactive disintegration (change in the nucleus of an atom when a particle or ray is given off) per second.

Caesium 137, the chemical that is setting off the radioactivity from the brine, is produced from the detonation of nuclear weapons and as a by-product from nuclear power plants. It was most notably released into the atmosphere from the 1986 Chernobyl accident.

The Helmholtz institute is seeking to minimise the risks. "The Caesium 137 (detected in Asse II) will have lost its radioactivity in 90 years," Haury told the press. "Until then, the salt solution containing it is 950 metres deep, and safe."

Many others are not so sure.

"If the salt solution comes in contact with the radioactive waste, it can provoke uncontrollable chemical reactions," Rolf Bertram, professor emeritus for physical chemistry at the University of Braunschweig told IPS.

Geologist Wolfgang Kreusch says the leaks at Asse II are reason enough to reconsider the storage of radioactive waste in salt mines.

Kreusch, scientific counsellor to the village of Wolfenbuettel, less than 10 kilometres from Asse II, told IPS that "the heat emissions from the radioactive waste would lead to the heating up of the rock salt walls in the mines. This in turn can cause tensions in the salt structure, and leaks.

"And leaks in salt blocks are the worst possible event in a 'definitive" storage site for highly radioactive waste," he added.

Employees at Asse II say the mine is in danger. Gerd Hensel, project manager at the Helmholtz institute, admitted to local people that some pillars in the mine "have the phase of cracking already behind them."

Heller: Nuclear waste should stay put

LAS VEGAS -- U.S. Rep. Dean Heller says he supports nuclear energy, as long as the waste is stored where it is produced.

Heller, R-Carson City, and 10 other Republicans including House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio traveled last weekend to Colorado and Alaska to inspect energy production facilities.

Heller said Tuesday that he's not worried that building more nuclear power plants could speed development of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

He said radioactive spent nuclear fuel can be stored on site at plants around the nation.

Heller said national energy policy needs to focus on conservation, renewable energy and the environmentally safe development of more sources of energy.

The burden of nuclear waste

What you think An ancient analogy

The burden of nuclear waste

I recently came upon an interesting fact: If one of the pyramids in Egypt had been built to store radioactive waste from a nuclear power plant of that age, the pharaohs would have enjoyed about 30 years of "low cost" electricity.

We, on the other hand, would still be guarding this disposal site and would have to continue guarding it for another 25,000 years, while receiving no benefit from it whatsoever.

This immediately brought to mind three questions:

*What is the morality of unduly burdening others, without their consent, even when you have long ceased to exist?

*What is the cost of guarding nuclear waste for 30,000 years?

*Has this cost been calculated into the estimates for the new Florida nuclear power plants as reserves to be collected and passed on to future civilizations?


Goods Worth Millions Are Missing From Indian Agency

Washington Post Staff Writer

Millions of dollars in equipment purchased by the Indian Health Service, including all-terrain vehicles and tractors, laptop computers and digital cameras, has been lost or stolen because of mismanagement, according to a report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office.

Investigators said a whistle-blower, identified only as a "cognizant property official," called a government hotline a year ago, alleging widespread discrepancies in the agency's inventory. After auditing property records, investigators said they identified about 5,000 missing or stolen items at the agency's headquarters and 12 regional offices. The items are valued at roughly $15.8 million.

Based in Rockville, the Indian Health Service provides medical services to about 1.9 million people affiliated with federally recognized tribes of American Indians and Alaska natives. It operates under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Health Service officials objected to many of the findings, saying that most of the items were only temporarily misplaced and that some discarded equipment was outdated.

But investigators pointed to a number of "egregious" errors, including $700,000 worth of IT equipment damaged by "bat dung" in a storage room; a yard sale by government workers in Schurz, Nev., that resulted in 17 computers being given away for free; the theft of a desktop computer from a New Mexico hospital that contained a database with personal details about 849 uranium miners; and the creation of fake purchasing documents to purposely mislead auditors.

Jacqueline L. Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, a nonpartisan group that monitors federal Indian policies, said the loss of equipment in tribal lands only further exacerbates existing shortages, citing missing "jaws of life" equipment, which is used to help pull people from accidents.

"Car accidents are a leading killer in tribal country," she said. "I was a little shocked at how extensive some of the property loss was."

Democratic congressional leaders who received the report yesterday quickly pounced on the findings.

"It's disgusting what's happening at the Indian Health Service," said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "We can't continue to allow this. We have people dying because they can't get health care, and then we get a report like this."

Stolen Copper Radioactive

Stolen Copper Radioactive
posted 11:23 pm Tue July 22, 2008 - Bedford Co., VA
reporter: Manuel Quinones posted by: Webteam
ABC 13 - Stolen Copper Radioactive

Some thieves are in danger. They stole from a local TV transmitter site, but probably didn't realize what they took is radioactive. They may also not have realized they were caught on tape. The suspects broke into the secured area on Thaxton Mountain where the FOX 21 broadcast tower is. They took a very expensive broadcasting tube and it contains hazardous materials and even some radiation. It looks like the thieves rammed their truck through a gate, then stole the tube from right outside the transmission building on top of the mountain. They were caught on surveillance video. You can see the pickup truck making a getaway. Workers here assume they stole the tube for its copper. They also tried to break in to the actual building, but were not successful. Little do they know that much of the tube's copper was taken out. What was left behind is potentially dangerous. Robert Lynch, Fox 21/27 - "It's not something that you want to handle. And we hope that whoever did this can see this video and know they are dealing with a hazardous substance that could be dangerous to them." We are very close to our very own ABC-13 transmitter and tower. It seems the thieves went though an old car there but didn't take anything, but because they stole from a broadcast facility, they are facing a federal charge.

Hanford Tank Waste Continues to Bedevil Clean-Up Crews

Hanford Tank Waste Continues to Bedevil Clean-Up Crews

SEATTLE, WA (2008-07-22) The Hanford Nuclear site in South Central Washington is the most polluted radioactive waste dump in the country. At the center of the Hanford reservation are hundreds of buried tanks that hold waste left over from plutonium production during World War 2 and the Cold War. A multi-year, multi-billion dollar clean-up is underway. But there are problems: an accidental spill of tank waste shut down clean-up for nearly a year. Recently, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) raised concerns about how much longer the aging underground tanks can hold up. KPLU's Austin Jenkins reports in the first of a two-part series on Hanford clean-up efforts.

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Hanford Tank Waste Continues to Bedevil Clean-Up Crews

Hanford Tank Waste Continues to Bedevil Clean-Up Crews

SEATTLE, WA (2008-07-22) The Hanford Nuclear site in South Central Washington is the most polluted radioactive waste dump in the country. At the center of the Hanford reservation are hundreds of buried tanks that hold waste left over from plutonium production during World War 2 and the Cold War. A multi-year, multi-billion dollar clean-up is underway. But there are problems: an accidental spill of tank waste shut down clean-up for nearly a year. Recently, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) raised concerns about how much longer the aging underground tanks can hold up. KPLU's Austin Jenkins reports in the first of a two-part series on Hanford clean-up efforts.

Find a free MP3 Audio Player.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

China eyes nuclear plant for quake-hit province

EIJING, July 23 (Reuters) - China's earthquake-hit Sichuan province hopes to build its first nuclear power plant within as little as five years, but has chosen a site it says is geologically sound, state media said on Wednesday.

A feasibility study for the 25 billion yuan ($3.66 billion) project, which would be located at Sanba village, will soon be submitted to the central government's top economic planner for approval, the official China Daily cited a top official saying.

"Construction of the station will begin once we have received approval, and will take about five years to complete," said Zhao Hua, head of the Nuclear Power Institute of China.

The chosen site is to the east of the capital Chengdu, while the zone devastated by the May earthquake, which killed nearly 70,000 and left thousands more missing, lies to its west.

A team of experts visited the site after the quake to confirm its geology was sound, Zhao added.

"There was no signs of any subsidence or landslips," he said.

The province currently gets around two thirds of its power from dams, and often suffers electricity shortages in the dry season, the paper quoted Sichuan's deputy Communist Party Secretary Li Chongxi as saying.

It wants to diversify its generating base and secure enough electricity to fuel fast economic development.

Sichuan is also home to several energy firms, which Li said made it a good place to develop nuclear power.

But some of the companies he named, including listed Dongfang Electric Corp. (600875.SS: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz)(1072.HK: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), were badly hit in the earthquake. Many of Sichuan's dams were also damaged, destroyed or even buried by the devastating quake, arousing some concerns over the industry's future there. ($1=6.828 Yuan) (Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Keiron Henderson)

Rosenberg evidence kept secret

Rosenberg evidence kept secret

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the back of a prison van after their conviction
The couple pleaded their total innocence until the very end

A New York judge has ruled against releasing secret testimony from the spy trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

The couple were convicted of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union and executed by electric chair in 1953.

Campaigners have sought to challenge the evidence used to convict Ethel Rosenberg after a key witness admitted he fabricated details.

Supporters of the Rosenbergs said the trial was set up amid anti-communist hysteria at the height of the Cold War.

The Rosenbergs' children believe that the US government always held information that raised doubts about the credibility of their convictions.

Notes for KGB

Some scholars have been asking for the release of the secret grand jury testimony - particularly evidence from a key prosecution witness - Ethel's younger brother David Greenglass.

Mr Greenglass, now 86, admitted in interviews for a book published in 2000 that he gave false testimony under pressure from prosecutors. He has however asked for his testimony to remain secret.

Mr Greenglass, a convicted spy, was spared execution for giving a testimony against his sister and spent 10 years in prison.

He claimed that Ethel had typed notes concerning US atomic secrets, which were to be handed over to the KGB.

In his ruling on Tuesday US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said the public's right to know was outweighed by the tradition of grand jury secrecy.

"He may be a scoundrel, he may be a hypocrite, he may be a liar," Judge Hellerstein said.

But he added, "It's no easy task to compare the value of accountability with grand jury secrecy."

Judge Hellerstein reserved a ruling on whether the transcript would be released following Mr Greenglass' death.

Heller backs nuclear power if waste stored on site

Heller backs nuclear power if waste stored on site

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., on Tuesday said he supports nuclear energy as long as its highly radioactive waste is stored where it is produced.

Heller said he is not worried that more nuclear power plants could speed the development of a waste repository at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, "as long as the waste is left on site."

"So as long as there is on-site waste -- they take care of the waste -- I'm fine with that," Heller said.

Heller was among 11 Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who traveled last weekend to Colorado and Alaska to inspect facilities that could help boost U.S. energy production.

Noting that his district covers 105,000 square miles, Heller said the trip reinforced his belief that U.S. energy policy should be like a three-legged stool.

The three legs include conservation, renewable energy and additional sources of energy that can be developed in an environmentally safe way.

"If you do one without the other two; you'll fail. If you do two of them without the third, you're going to fail. You have to do all three of them," Heller said.

But Heller said the technology isn't available yet to make renewable energy an option in the near future.

For example, after driving a hydrogen-powered car at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., Heller said he was told the cost of the car is $1 million. He said the price was the same when he drove a hyrdogen-powered car five years ago.

"Renewable energy is critical in the future. We just don't see it moving so quickly, and I think that's why we have to make sure we think about all three (energy sources)," he said.

Heller said he is confident the House would pass legislation to allow off-shore drilling if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., allowed it to come to the floor.

"I think that's why we haven't seen a vote," he said.

Heller also compared oil exploration to mining.

"I think you drill where the oil is," he said. "It's like the mining reform bill. They're trying to tell us where to mine for gold. You don't mine for gold where bureaucrats or some group tells you."

Navajo miners in a different kind of Cold War

Deadly denial: Navajo miners in a different kind of Cold War

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

George Blue Horse, a medicine man, performs a ceremony to improve relations between the Navajo people and the U.S. Department of Labor, at the Tuba City, Ariz., branch of the Office of Navajo Uranium Workers.

George Blue Horse, a medicine man, performs a ceremony to improve relations between the Navajo people and the U.S. Department of Labor, at the Tuba City, Ariz., branch of the Office of Navajo Uranium Workers.

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TUBA CITY, Ariz. — This spring, officials from the U.S. Department of Labor sat around a small fire, touching sweet corn pollen to their tongues and inhaling spicy cedar smoke in a traditional Navajo ceremony.

Larry Martinez, who manages the Office of Navajo Uranium Workers, had organized the ceremony hoping to improve a working relationship that he described as "difficult and getting worse" between the Navajo and the labor department, which manages a federal program to compensate sick nuclear weapons workers.

Ten thousand Navajo men mined uranium for America's atomic bombs. The U.S. government knew early on that uranium could cause lung damage. But instead of warning the Navajo miners, the government decided to study what happened to them.

Now those who survived — and the families of those who didn't — are having trouble proving that they qualify for compensation.

"I'd like to have you understand this ceremony is going to create this coordination," Martinez said in English during the mostly Navajo-language ceremony. "We're all in this together, to make sure the Cold War patriot, the person who sacrificed his health to protect his country, is taken care of. When you leave here, you'll be part of what happened here."

But less than two hours after the ceremony, the spirit of cooperation appeared to have worn off.

At a public meeting to explain the benefits of the compensation program to sick Navajo uranium workers, the lead DOL official ejected some of the people he had just participated with in the cooperation ceremony.

Booted out were representatives of an in-home health care company from Denver authorized to provide care for gravely sick uranium workers.

Martinez was seething.

"Did that ceremony mean nothing to them?" the usually calm Martinez said.

Wall of opposition

Most of the uranium workers whom Martinez helps are by law supposed to be compensated automatically through a program created eight years ago. It compensates workers who sacrificed their health, and sometimes their lives, as they labored amid highly toxic and top-secret materials used to build nuclear weapons.

Many of the Navajo were compensated $100,000 by a previous program created in 1990 and were to be automatically eligible for the new one, so their total benefits would rise to the current standards.

Instead, the Navajos have joined other former nuclear workers in fighting a different cold war, this time against their own government.

A Rocky Mountain News investigation found that the compensation program has become so complex and adversarial that even claims that by law were to be automatically approved — the Navajo being a striking example — are being stonewalled.

Only one in four sick workers or their survivors has been compensated, while millions of tax dollars have been spent redoing faulty work, including repeatedly rewriting technical reports, re-examining old exposure records that workers say are wrong and reopening denied claims only to deny them again.

Meanwhile, top officials running the compensation program have collected tens of thousands of dollars each in bonuses. In all, program officials have been given more then $3.2 million in bonuses since the program began. That includes $116,000 in bonuses for Shelby Hallmark, the program's top official.

Sick workers believe that their government is intentionally thwarting them. They are not alone.

"It's an ideological issue," said Bill Richardson, the former energy secretary who persuaded the Clinton administration to enact the compensation program. "When the Bush administration came in, they saw this as an entitlement program they didn't believe in. They had to comply with it, but they did so by putting up barriers so it wouldn't work properly."

A White House spokesman declined to comment, saying that the labor department would speak for the administration.

While DOL didn't respond to the Rocky's inquiries, it sent a statement responding to Richardson: "The Department of Labor has paid out nearly $4 billion dollars to energy worker claimants, well in excess of estimates provided by then-Secretary Richardson's Department of Energy, which led to the official Congressional Budget Office report. In just eight years, DOL has already issued payments to almost three times as many workers and their families (6,500 vs 15,000) as the CBO estimated would be paid in ten years. We remain committed to making sure that energy workers receive the compensation to which they are entitled."

The DOL's Web site says that more that 42,000 claims have been paid. The department did not respond to questions about the discrepancy between 15,000 paid versus 42,000.

Counting the cost

The controversial method of determining which workers deserve compensation has been fraught with problems, but program officials have clung to the process. Government scientists at the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health continually change the way they estimate how much radiation workers absorbed.

More than two thirds of these estimates — involving more than 12,000 sick Cold War veterans — have had to be reviewed or completely reworked because of changes in the methods scientists say will give the best estimates. And because the scientific understanding of how toxic substances cause disease continues to evolve, virtually no case can ever be closed for good.

Larry Elliott, who directs dose reconstruction at NIOSH, declined to say how much each of nearly 18,000 dose reconstructions cost taxpayers. But since the program began, his office has spent more than $280 million in administrative costs.

Too much of that has been wasted, said U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., cousin to Colorado Congressman Mark Udall.

"Nothing could be more irresponsible than to spend taxpayer dollars fighting claimants rather than compensating them," Tom Udall said. "When claimants are forced to submit to unnecessary tests — or when NIOSH spends time and resources hunting for records that simply don't exist — taxpayer money is wasted and sick workers are forced to bear additional suffering."

One key government contractor was paid for completion of essential reports, and got paid more when those reports proved faulty and had to be fixed.

One of the key documents used in the dose reconstruction is called a site profile. This report attempts to list the kinds of toxic exposures workers in different jobs at different sites might have encountered. But not one of the site profiles for any of the major weapons sites was correct the first time, the Rocky found in reviewing various versions of the reports.

A big part of NIOSH's administrative expense went to Oak Ridge Associated Universities, the Tennessee-based consortium that won the original $70 million contract to do the profiles and estimate worker radiation doses. As of last year, the contract, still going after nine extensions that include new dose reconstruction work, had nearly tripled to $200 million.

As one result, the administrative costs for the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program are 15 times higher than similar programs.

While the government declined to detail its spending in response to the Rocky's questions, labor department officials acknowledged earlier this year that administrative costs for the program reach about 33 percent of its payments to claimants.

That is a stunning figure for administrative costs when compared with the 2 percent for a sister program that compensates uranium miners and people exposed to atomic bomb testing. Administrative costs for Social Security Disability Insurance are about 2.5 percent of payments.

Officials say part of the reason is that the nuclear workers program is much more complex than the other compensation programs. But that, says Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., whose district includes the former Rocky Flats weapons site near Denver, is exactly the problem.

"It's putting the onus and the burden on the people who are already carrying significant burdens," Udall said. "I think it's an outrage."

Double dose of rejection

DOL has had to reopen thousands of cases it had already denied, citing changes in the scientific methods it uses to determine who receives compensation.

Government scientists discovered, for example, that Rocky Flats contained a previously unknown kind of plutonium — "Super-S" — that had not been monitored or studied. They spent two years working on a scientific method to estimate the radiation wallop that the Super-S might have given Flats workers. Some were notified by letter that their denials were being overturned and their cases reconsidered.

But many former workers found their new dose estimates lower than before.

Shelby Hallmark, the labor department executive who oversees the program, predicted workers' dismay with these so-called reworks earlier this year.

"More people are going to go back through reworks and get a second denial," he said. "It's not going to be pleasant for these folks."

Hallmark knew even then that the reworks were unlikely to result in more workers being compensated. That is because the original method used more claimant-friendly assumptions in estimating radiation doses. But the newer methods are more exact, Hallmark said.

The original estimates were "claimant-favorable ... overestimates," said Larry Elliott, who oversees the work at NIOSH.

But the original estimates apparently weren't favorable to all claimants. Elliott acknowledged some reworks came back higher than the original "overestimates."

The constantly changing methods have not benefited most workers, Mark Udall said, but the changes have benefited the contractors.

"It keeps those folks employed," Udall said.

Questions pile up

Among all of the complicated claims of illness related to half a century of nuclear weapons production, two kinds were supposed to be slam-dunks. If you were a uranium worker compensated in an earlier program, or a beryllium worker or uranium worker with lung damage, your claim was supposed to slide right through the system.

But that isn't happening because laws and rules are not being followed.

A 90-year-old Navajo woman who lost her uranium miner husband is still waiting for federal compensation from the new program, even though the law says that compensation should be automatic.

A 48-year-old beryllium worker tried for five years to get compensation that was supposed to be automatic, given his diagnosed lung disease.

An 86-year-old uranium miner is too sick to complete the breathing test required to prove that he qualifies for compensation.

But some workers never even make it into the system to be considered. DOL calls these "non-covered" applications because they failed to prove the employee worked at one of the more than 300 covered sites or had one of some two-dozen covered illnesses.

But the Rocky found evidence that the failure to prove information was sometimes the labor department's fault. For example, a uranium miner in New Mexico was rejected because DOL said he didn't submit medical records to prove his illness. But Jarvina Lee, a caseworker at the Navajo office of uranium miners in Shiprock, N.M., said she personally had sent 1,600 pages of medical records to DOL's Denver office on behalf of the worker.

DOL eventually found the box of records six months later at its Seattle office, after the worker had died.

"I don't know how someone could lose 1,600 pages of medical records," Lee said. "But we have had lots of horror stories like that."

The federal compensation program is so difficult to navigate for sick workers or their survivors that both the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico have established offices to help claimants file for their benefits.

"It's a sham," Richardson, the former Energy Secretary who is now governor of New Mexico, said of the program. "It's an insult to our workers, and it's wrong."

Vera Begay lives in a home on the Navajo reservation in eastern Arizona that was made from smooth, square stones her husband brought home from the uranium mines. The mines were so close by that blasted rock sometimes rained down on the three-room house, which even now is slightly radioactive.

Begay's husband died of lung cancer 24 years ago. She was given a "compassionate payment" for his lost life years ago, through the earlier program specifically for miners. That should have made her automatically eligible for additional compensation.

But the 90-year-old Begay — whose grandson is Martinez, the man who oversees the Navajo Uranium Workers office — has been waiting three years.

"I don't know why," Begay said in English, though she speaks mostly in Navajo.

Even Martinez is not sure why his grandmother has not received the compensation.

"She should already have been paid," he said.

Talk of reform so far just talk

Congress has the authority to change the compensation program, but so far, its efforts to do so haven't had much impact. A series of hearings in 2006 and 2007 resulted in little change. At least a dozen bills are pending that would improve the compensation program, but none has gone anywhere. There is talk of holding more hearings and submitting more bills to reform the law.

"The bottom line is we want to protect and help the most needy and most deserving folks," said U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo. "I think we have to continue to push on this."

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said he is working on new legislation to relieve the workers' plight.

"More and more evidence is surfacing that former workers have had their claims lost or ignored, that claims examiners were encouraged to deny claims, and that bureaucratic red tape is tying the program in knots," Salazar said.

"This is an absolutely unacceptable way to treat those who have sacrificed for our country."

Dr. Laurence Fuortes is a physician and University of Iowa professor who studies occupational illness. He has helped some sick workers with lung disease try to get compensation.

When he began to suspect that workers were being wrongly rejected, he filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see more examples of lung disease claims that had been denied. Of the first 19 cases he reviewed, he found five of them contained medical evidence that they should have been approved instead.

Fuortes said he told program director Peter Turcic that the cases suggested a larger problem that needed further review.

"He seemed to agree," Fuortes said, adding that it was not clear what DOL might do about it.

"This system has been designed with maximum complexity," Fuortes said. "To me, it's setting things up for disaster."

That is exactly what's happened, said former DOL claims examiner Anne Block.

Block, a Seattle attorney who said she was fired from her job because she too helpful to claimants, said that mistakes are rampant in the system.

When a case goes through the years-long dose reconstruction process, DOL sends it to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for an estimate of how much radiation the worker absorbed.

"I would send half the claims back to NIOSH because there would be something wrong with them," Block said.

Other times, claims examiners would be given "pre-screened" files marked as "accept" or "deny."

"I'd say 90 percent of the time, they were wrong," Block said.

She described cases that should have been approved automatically but were instead sent to NIOSH for the dose reconstruction process, cases sent off for review when a final decision already had been issued, and meetings where senior managers encouraged claims examiners to deny claims to close out cases more quickly.

"It's a complete mess," she said of the program. "And a complete waste of taxpayers' money."

DOL officials declined earlier this year to address Block's allegations.

Standing their ground

Mike Chance oversees DOL's resource centers, 11 offices across the country that are designed to help sick nuclear weapons workers file claims for compensation and medical coverage. Chance was the lead DOL official at the Navajo cooperation ceremony.

After the ceremony, Chance was about to start a "town hall" meeting at the Navajo chapter house in Tuba City, Ariz., to describe benefits available to sick workers and their families.

One of those benefits is home health care, if a doctor orders it for a gravely ill worker. Although Chance did not mention this benefit during the meeting, the labor department has approved Denver-based home health care company Professional Case Management as one provider. The company had been invited by the Navajo Nation to participate. But when employees of the company tried to set up a table to display their services, Chance ousted them from the public meeting.

Chance said he was not allowed to comment to the media, but he was overheard saying that he ousted Professional Case Management because DOL did not want to appear to endorse the company, which is suing DOL for failure to pay covered medical expenses of some of its clients.

Chance held a second town hall meeting on the Navajo reservation the next day in Kayenta, Ariz., near the Four Corners area. Again, he ejected the Professional Case Management employees. Martinez, who was setting up an information table with staff from his Office of Navajo Uranium Workers, confronted him.

Martinez told Chance that he and his entire staff also would leave if the home health care display was not allowed. Chance let them put the display in the hallway of the Kayenta Recreation Center, outside the auditorium where the meeting was being held.

The memories of the cooperation ceremony fiasco were still burning in Martinez's mind as he stood outside the century-old, eight-sided mud and log Hogan where his grandmother grew up, amid the red sands of eastern Arizona, just over the border from Colorado.

Years of frustration fueled the fire inside him.

"Time doesn't mean anything to the Department of Labor," he said. "They're not thinking about the individuals out there who are suffering. Congress is the only one that can do anything about this. And if we keep pushing them, maybe they will." or 303-954-5091