Saturday, August 2, 2008

Honecker's nuclear bunker opens

Honecker's nuclear bunker opens

The BBC's Tristana Moore takes a look around the bunker

A once-secret bunker designed to shield communist rulers of the former East Germany from a nuclear attack has opened to the public.

The three-storey complex, finished in 1983, was intended to house leader Erich Honecker and 400 staff.

At the time it was one of the communist world's most advanced bunkers. Now the walls are covered in mould and the decontamination chambers long-defunct.

The bunker, north of Berlin, will be open for three months.

The Berlin city authorities say they will seal it with concrete afterwards.

Honecker, who ruled the German Democratic Republic (GDR) for almost two decades, is thought to have visited the bunker only once.

"Contemporary witnesses told us that Honecker was more or less frightened or shocked when he walked through here," said Sebastian Tenschert of the Berlin Bunker Network - a group that campaigned for the bunker to be opened.

Top secret?

Groups will be given short tours through the ill-lit complex - where they will see offices and control rooms once intended for the elites, now covered in green slime and reeking of mould.

The bunker near Berlin, file image
It was said to be the most advanced bunker in the Warsaw Pact countries

They will be led along submarine-like tunnels divided by heavy metal doors, leading on to 170 rooms.

The three storeys reach a depth of 70m (230ft) below ground.

The bunker was fitted with a fountain, air conditioning and "springed" rooms able to cushion residents from detonations.

It was built in a forest 25km (16 miles) north-east of Berlin, near Wandlitz, where the whole East German government was accommodated in a special colony.

The bunker was surrounded by a village occupied almost entirely by members of the feared East German spy agency, the Stasi.

Falko Schewe, who worked on the building, described the project - codenamed 17/5001 - as "not that top secret".

"My wife and mother knew about the special work which I did, but no-one else knew what I was working on.

"I was a very normal GDR citizen except that I worked for the security ministry."

Link to video:

Nuke proponent seeks communities for waste sites

Nuke proponent seeks communities for waste sites

Waterford, Haddam not in the mix

The Nuclear Energy Institute has located two communities interested in hosting commercial interim nuclear waste storage facilities, but it won't identify them.

The towns of Haddam and Waterford, past and present homes to nuclear-power facilities here in Connecticut, are not among several towns that have approached NEI voluntarily, said Marshall Cohen, NEI's senior director for government affairs.

Cohen said New England towns as a whole are unlikely candidates because nuclear power tends to be more controversial here.

As first reported Wednesday in the Platt's Nuclear News Flashes and confirmed Thursday by Cohen, the NEI has been talking with rural towns on both the East and West coasts that may be interested in storing spent fuel at sites that already house nuclear waste.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently reapplied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license for Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a proposed permanent repository for the waste, but there are no pending applications for any interim storage facilities, said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

Cohen said that the NEI has been talking with towns that have volunteered to host interim storage sites. U.S. lawmakers have talked off and on about the potential need for such sites because of the delays plaguing Yucca Mountain.

The environmental and security concerns raised by such steps should require full disclosure, said Paul Gunter of the watchdog group Beyond Nuclear, which alerted the media with a press release.

”We're concerned that this whole process is starting out 'behind the curtains,'” he said. “It's particularly troublesome because it involves transportation routes.”

”We think it should be an open process that includes everybody who is potentially affected,” Gunter added. “It's not cute to be hiding it like this. We really want to know where these sites are.”

Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward confirmed Thursday that he has had no conversations with NEI on the topic.

Millstone Nuclear Power Station is already host to two operational and one closed reactor, as well as additional storage bunkers that house spent fuel.

Millstone's storage bunkers were erected as temporary, Steward noted, with the intent of having the spent fuel eventually moved to a permanent national storage site such as Yucca Mountain.

NEI represents the commercial nuclear industry and is involved in policy development.

”We, the industry, are not going to wait for DOE,” Cohen said. “We're out in the country looking to see if there are communities who after seeing what storage looks like, how it works, (if they'd) voluntarily be interested in locating a facility” in their towns.

He refused to identify the towns having those conversations.

”It's not appropriate for me to do that yet,” Cohen said. “It's not being done in secret, it's being done in fairness to the communities. The licensing process will be public when it happens.”

He accused Beyond Nuclear of using “scare tactics and misinformation,” saying, “all they want to do is kill nuclear energy, and they'll use everything they can.”

Haddam is home to the former Connecticut Yankee reactor, which has been decommissioned. First Selectman Anthony Bondi could not be reached for comment.


US says Iran fails to win much NAM support on nuclear issue

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

©2008 Google - Map data ©2008 NAVTEQ™ - Terms of Use

US says Iran fails to win much NAM support on nuclear issue

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Iran has failed to win much support for its disputed nuclear drive from its friends in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), US officials alleged Friday.

State Department officials showed reporters in Washington two statements they said they obtained from unidentified NAM members at a ministerial meeting in Tehran to highlight points Iran had added and NAM deleted.

A draft statement, for example, had a phrase that NAM ministers "affirmed that Iran as a state party to the NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty).... has the right to have its fuel cycle program for peaceful purposes."

But the phrase was deleted in a later statement.

The draft seen by reporters also read that "the ministers are of the view that sanctions imposed on Iran for its nuclear program are of political nature and should be promptly removed.

"They further affirm that with increased cooperation of Iran with the agency to resolve all remaining issues about its past and present nuclear activities the issue of Iranian nuclear program should be solely dealt with within the agency framework and there is no legal basis that the UN Security Council proceeds in this regard," according to the draft.

But that passage was deleted in the later statement -- something US officials said was a rebuff to Iran's attempt to deal only with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and avoid a role for the UN Security Council.

"It's a black eye for Iran," a senior State Department official said on condition of anonymity.

"The (UN) Security Council has been clear on Iran's obligations. The IAEA has been clear that Iran has not been transparent," he said.

"And now they can't even get their friends from the NAM to come out in support of their interpretation of their program. It actually reinforces just how isolated they are," he told reporters.

The official would not say which members failed to back Iran but expected strong allies Cuba and Belarus to have supported Tehran.

Nor would he predict whether the NAM meeting could prompt Iran to change its stance in talks with the United States and other world powers which are demanding Iran halt its uranium enrichment program.

Hiroshima Day

Hiroshima Day

On Wednesday, Aug. 6, beginning at 6 a.m., members of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance and other peace activists will hold a remembrance ceremony at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and read the names of those who died in the A-bomb blast over Hiroshima, Japan, in World War II.

The Oak Ridge plant enriched the uranium used in the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

OREPA coordinator Ralph Hutchison said the group plans to have a peace lantern event three days later, on the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing.

Hutchison said there are no plans to hold a protest rally, concert or cross-town march to Y-12, although he said some people from Michigan and elsewhere will arrive in town to participate in the remembrance ceremony. (Here's a link to video from last August's protest.)

Sidenote: This year's anniversary falls on the same day (first Wednesday of the month) that the Dept. of Energy tests its sirens at its Oak Ridge facilities, including Y-12. That's means it's going to get mighty loud at the plant's entrance around noon.

DOE spokesman John Shewairy said he didn't realize the confluence of events, but he said it was important to maintain consistency in the emergency-preparedness tests. In other words, the show must go on.

Friday, August 1, 2008

DOE reaches deal on fines after missing 2 deadlines for waste shipment

DOE reaches deal on fines after missing 2 deadlines for waste shipment

By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer

The Department of Energy will pay a $25,000 fine and pay for a natural resource expert for Hanford after missing two deadlines for preparing radioactive waste to be shipped to New Mexico for disposal.

The resolution was reached in an agreement between DOE and the Washington State Department of Ecology, which regulates Hanford.

DOE and its contractor Fluor Hanford have prepared 3,766 cubic yards of transuranic waste -- typically debris contaminated with plutonium -- for shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a national repository for transuranic waste in New Mexico.

However, under the legally binding Tri-Party Agreement DOE was required to have about 3,600 cubic yards ready by the end of 2006, a total of 5,040 cubic yards by the end of 2007 and a total of 6,480 cubic yards by the end of 2008.

DOE ran into trouble on the deadline when work slowed to clean up the Plutonium Finishing Plant in central Hanford as money was shifted to clean up contamination closer to the Columbia River. It had expected to be producing large amounts of building rubble contaminated with transuranic waste from tearing down buildings in the Plutonium Finishing Plant complex.

Instead, it had to retrieve and prepare more drums of transuranic waste that had been temporarily buried after Congress ruled in 1970 that all transuranic waste must be shipped to a repository.

With no repository available for decades, DOE temporarily buried drums that might contain transuranic waste. Now, the badly deteriorated drums are being dug up.

The retrieved drums are X-rayed for waste that's not allowed at the national repository, are repacked in some cases and have their radioactivity level verified before they can be certified for shipment to New Mexico.

"This is a very fair resolution to a complicated issue, and we're pleased to have been able to come to an agreement with the Department of Ecology," said Geoff Tyree, DOE spokesman.

DOE had asked for more time since September 2006 to do the work. But the state denied the extension in early 2007, saying that it needed to see more effort on DOE's part to prepare transuranic waste for shipment.

"Over the past year and a half they have been trying to increase the rate at which they certify the waste that comes out of the ground," said Ron Skinnarland, waste management section manager for the Department of Ecology. "They have made efforts to improve."

Under the deal reached by the state and DOE, it was agreed that DOE must certify, or have ready to ship, 720 cubic yards of transuranic this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. DOE still must formally apply for the change in deadlines under the Tri-Party Agreement, but is on track to meet the revised goal, Tyree said.

The state also acknowledges that DOE did not have as much transuranic waste generated from the Plutonium Finishing Plant as it originally expected and that it has not had adequate funding to certify as much buried waste as required, Skinnarland said.

Although the state has repeatedly chastised the federal government for Hanford budgets that are inadequate to meet its legal cleanup obligations, the state has agreed with its priorities for spending the money it does have, Skinnarland said. Among DOE's priorities are building the vitrification plant, emptying tanks, shipping weapons-grade plutonium off site and cleaning up contaminated areas closest to the Columbia River.

Under the Tri-Party Agreement, the state could have issued a fine of up to $5,000 for the first week the 2006 and 2007 deadlines were missed, then $10,000 for each additional week for each deadline.

However, the state did not see an advantage of pulling money away from cleanup, Skinnarland said.

"Putting some of the penalty proceeds to work at Hanford just makes good sense," he said.

In addition to the $25,000 fine, DOE has agreed to spend $650,000 to bring an expert from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Hanford to help assess potential natural resource injuries to the land. The expert would be hired by Jan. 1 and would work for three years.

Following completion of cleanup of soil and ground water at Hanford, federal laws require that natural resources -- including plants, animals and ground water -- be restored to their original condition and remaining environmental injuries mitigated.

Assessing the potential damage is the first step in preparing a natural resource recovery plan, the state said.

DOE's natural resource obligations have been the subject of a federal district court lawsuit filed by the Yakama, Nez Perce and Umatilla tribes and the states of Oregon and Washington. In 2007, just before Keith Klein, DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office manager, retired, DOE agreed to assess damage to natural resources. But the agreement did not come with any additional money attached.

The expert position created under the enforcement resolution will bring institutional knowledge from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has experience in natural resource damage assessments, to Hanford, the state said.

By assessing damage to natural resources before cleanup is complete, the work may be done in a way to lessen impacts on natural resources or prevent further damage, Skinnarland said

Panel says Indian Point nuke 'safe' despite local concerns

Panel says Indian Point nuke 'safe' despite local concerns
Washington (Platts)--31Jul2008
The Indian Point nuclear power plant is "safe and secure but has areas
that need improvement," an independent panel concluded Thursday after
reviewing the station in response to opposition from local groups and
officials over an application to extend its operating license for 20 years.

"First, Indian Point is a safe plant," the panel said in a statement.
"Second, Indian Point's relationship with the public and officials, in
particular on matters regarding emergency preparedness, is not healthy."

The panel recommended that plant operator Entergy make continued
investments to maintain safety levels, engage in "aggressive and proactive
communication" with the community and upgrade the station's emergency response
facilities and safety equipment.

It also said that the company should follow through on its plan to
address critical staffing shortages and invest more in the aesthetics of the
plant "to visibly convey to workers and the public that Entergy is committed
to the care and protection of the station."

Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard in March appointed the panel's co-chairs,
who then selected 10 other panel members.

Entergy asked the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in April to renew the
operating license for Indian Point, which has two operating reactors. Indian
Point-2's license expires September 28, 2013, and Indian Point-3's expires
December 15, 2015.

Decommissioning of Indian Point-1, which has been shut since 1974, is
expected to be completed in 2020.

Several groups and county and state officials complained that a timely
evacuation would be impossible in the event of a serious accident at the
plant, about 25 miles from New York.

For more news, request a free trial to Platts Nucleonics Week at
or subscribe now at

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Atomic power generation waits for nuke deal cue

Atomic power generation waits for nuke deal cue

New Delhi (PTI): There is no better time than now for the Indo-US nuclear deal to come through, as atomic power plants are running at less than 50 per cent of their capacity for want of fuel, feel Power Ministry officials.

Shortage of nuclear fuel means under-utilisation of installed capacity in general. The generation is less than 50 per cent of the installed nuclear power capacity of 4,120 MW, a senior Power Ministry official told PTI.

The deal with the US would give India access to American nuclear technology and fuel that would allow all its 22 atomic reactors to run in full capacity.

The fuel shortage at present is so acute that some of the nuclear power plants were closed down a couple of months ago. However the country is exploring the possibility of using 'Thorium' as fuel but any breakthrough is not expected in the near future, the official said.

Japan police raid company, suspect nuclear exports

Japan police raid company, suspect nuclear exports

TOKYO (AP) — Authorities raided a company in southwestern Japan on Thursday on suspicion it illegally exported machinery that can be used to make nuclear weapons, police said.

Police raided the headquarters of Horkos Corp., a maker of machining tools and construction equipment, and several other sites in the city of Fukuyama, about 370 miles southwest of Tokyo, said police spokesman Ryoji Manda.

The company is suspected of exporting equipment without obtaining government authorization, he said.

In 2004, Horkos exported several "machining centers" to South Korea, from where they could then have been sold to other countries, Japanese media reported. The equipment is highly precise and can be used to make components for centrifuges that enrich uranium for use in nuclear bombs.

Repeated calls to Horkos Corp. went unanswered Thursday.

Japanese law requires domestic companies to get permission before exporting high-precision manufacturing equipment. Despite the regulations, some advanced equipment from Japan has reportedly been exported to countries looking to develop nuclear weapons.

In 2006, Japanese police arrested the president and other employees of Mitutoyo Corp., and the company later admitted it broke the law in a case involving the export of precision three-dimensional measuring devices.

Japanese news reports said the International Atomic Energy Agency had earlier discovered Mitutoyo-made machinery at nuclear-related sites in Libya during inspections.

Earthquakes and Nuclear Powr Plants

Thousands of articles appeared within hours of the July 28th Chino Hills quake. Hundreds of those articles cited the quake's proximity to the San Onofre Nuclear Plant. Hundreds also cited the loss of cell phone availability. Had the quake resulted in damage to the nuclear facility emergency planning would have been seriously hampered.

Perhaps California needs to seriously consider the impacts of allowing aging reactors to extend current operating licenses for an additional twenty years. Both reactor facilities have recently been licensed to store high level radioactive waste onsite. And both reactor facilities are located on earthquake active coastal bluffs.

If you would like to ensure that production of highly radioactive waste is limited to current operating licenses (2025 term), please contact the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.

U.S. fires captain of Japan-bound nuclear warship

TOKYO (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy said it had replaced the captain of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier scheduled for a controversial berth in Japan after blaming him for a fire on board on the warship.

The United States has been trying to allay fears over the planned stationing of the George Washington in Japan, the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks.

Doubts about the ship's safety were renewed when a fire broke out on board in May, and the plan has sparked two demonstrations in recent weeks.

U.S. Naval Air Forces said in a statement it had fired commanding officer David C. Dykhoff and another officer over the incident and installed Captain J.R. Haley as the ship's new commander.

A U.S. investigation determined that the likely cause of the fire, which blazed for 12 hours and seriously injured one sailor, was unauthorized smoking that ignited oil stored inappropriately, the statement said.

Rear Admiral James Kelly, the head of the U.S. Navy in Japan, and James Zumwalt, a senior U.S. Embassy official in Tokyo visited Japanese foreign ministry officials to explain the results of the investigation, the ministry said in a statement.

Japanese officials told their U.S. counterparts they were satisfied with the investigation, but wanted U.S. forces to continue to make efforts to prevent a recurrence.

Tokyo is also satisfied that the ship is safe, the foreign ministry said.

The George Washington is currently undergoing $70 million dollars of repairs in San Diego, which has delayed its arrival in Japan by several weeks
It is now scheduled to depart the United States on August 21 and arrive in Yokosuka, 45 km (28 miles) southwest of the heavily populated capital, in late September, the statement said.

Many Japanese are sensitive about the use of nuclear power by military forces. The Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki came under nuclear attack from the United States at the end of World War Two in August 1945

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Think Outside the Bomb

Think Outside the Bomb

When: Saturday, Aug. 18, 2007, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: UCSB Campus, Santa Barbara

Cost: Not available

Age limit: Not available

Categories: Workshops

Description: National grassroots conference to inspire action for nuclear abolition.

With Speakers:
Shigeko Sasamori, a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing

Myrna Pagan, a leader of the effort to evict the US military base in Vieques, Puerto Rico

Steve Lopez, a leader of the Fort Mojave Nation tribal resistance to nuclear waste dumping

Andrew Lichterman, program director of the Western States Legal Foundation

Julia Moon Sparrow, a co-founder of the Shundahai Network, most famous for its association with recently-deceased Western Shoshone activist and spiritual leader Corbin Harney

David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Members of the student network that coordinated the May 2007 "No More Nukes In Our Name" hunger strike at the University of California

Kickapoo Nation declares health care emergency

Kickapoo Nation declares health care emergency

The seats inside the Kickapoo's health center are empty. There has been a steady flow of walk-ins to the clinic, but the one doctor who serves the patients is out sick today.

"Health care here has been off-and-on because we haven't had the physicians here every day," patient Joe Williams said.

There just isn't enough money to fund the center the way it should be funded. Kansas Kickapoo Chairman Steve Cadue says the U.S. has turned its back on the treaty to provide American-Indians with health care.

"This obligation is as old as the United States," Cadue said. "They've reneged on nearly every treaty obligation that they owe the Native-American people."

Related content

Dig deeper into the issue; read the executive summary and recommendations by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (.pdf).

Tap into the Web site for the Government Accountability Office.

Go to the Web site for the U.S. commission on Civil Rights.

Though the U.S. is legally bound to provide health care to Native-Americans, funding for programs has not kept up with the rising costs. Native-Americans have a lower life expectancy than any other racial/ethnic group and higher rates of many diseases, according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Yet many American-Indians are forced to go to facilities outside of their government funded clinics because the clinics are severely underfunded.

"It's gonna come out of that person's pocket and that goes against what the federal government promised they would do," Williams said.

Just last month, the Government Accountability Office found the Indian Health Services mismanagement has led to millions of dollars in lost or stolen property.

"We have Indian people dying, and now the Indian Health Service loses $15 million," Cadue said. "It's a national disgrace."

So Cadue has taken his fight to a national level, speaking with senators and congressmen and women from Kansas. In August, Cadue will go to the Democratic National Convention as a Kansas Delegate to try and plead his people's case for help.

"I wish to speak to Senator [Barack] Obama during the convention week and express to him that Indian tribes all across the country face this crisis," Cadue said.

Digging begins at Hanford's H Reactor

Digging begins at Hanford's H Reactor

By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer

Work has begun to dig up the waste burial grounds around H Reactor, a relic of the Cold War near the Columbia River at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

The start of work meets a legally binding Tri-Party Agreement deadline to begin cleanup of the burial grounds by Oct. 31 with three months to spare.

H Reactor irradiated fuel to produce plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program and also tested new processes and equipment. Much of the waste from the reactor was disposed of in unlined trenches, starting during the reactor's construction in 1948 and continuing through its closure in 1965.

To meet modern environmental standards, the Department of Energy expects to retrieve an estimated 276,000 tons of waste from sites near the reactor and the river. The work is being done by Federal Engineers & Constructors under a $9 million subcontract awarded by Washington Closure Hanford, which holds the DOE contract for Hanford cleanup along the Columbia.

With at least some cleanup work done at burial grounds near seven other reactors, workers have an idea of what to expect. They will dig up waste and soil contaminated with radioactive isotopes and with hazardous chemicals, which could include lead, asbestos, mercury, PCBs and acid. Items could include reactor hardware, process equipment and waste, laboratory equipment and waste, metals and construction debris.

Thorough records of what was disposed of in burial grounds near the reactor were not kept.

But "we're ready to safely handle any anomalies we may encounter or items not on existing inventory logs," Mark Buckmaster, project manager for Washington Closure, said in a statement.

That includes being prepared to find pieces of irradiated fuel which will be too radioactively hot for workers to get near.

The first pieces of spent fuel found when excavation of reactor burial grounds began were a surprise, since fuel was supposed to be carefully inventoried. But Hanford workers now have found about 66 whole and partial fuel pieces. The pieces, which are up to eight inches long, have radiation levels up to 200,000 times the exposure limit set by the Department of Energy, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology, a Hanford regulator.

To protect workers, the pieces are identified and handled by remotely operated equipment.

Most of the debris and contaminated soil to be unearthed near H Reactor will be sent to the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility, a lined landfill in central Hanford for low-level radioactive waste. Any fuel pieces will require disposal at a federal repository, likely Yucca Mountain, Nev.

With work that started this week to dig up the clean soil above the H Reactor burial grounds, DOE is working on retrieval of waste in two reactor areas -- the 100 H Area and the 100 D and DR Area.

"We're happy they are working on two at the same time," said John Price of the Department of Ecology. "The concurrent work should allow DOE to increase the rate of waste being shipped."

DOE is required by the Tri-Party Agreement to have the first burial ground near the H Reactor excavated by the end of 2009, three excavated by the end of 2010 and all five by the end of 2011.

Egypt seizes Israeli radioactive cargo

Egypt seizes Israeli radioactive cargo
Mon, 28 Jul 2008 03:49:36
Egypt has refused to allow entry to an Israeli truck carrying 3.5 ton of ceramics after high radiation levels were detected in the shipment.

Egyptian officials seized the goods at the Al-Oja border crossing after radiation detection equipment showed a high presence of radioactive material in the cargo, a security official told AFP.

A special team from the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority (EAEA) was expected to inspect the shipment immediately, he added.

It is not the first time that an Israeli truck is denied entry to Egypt. In June, Egypt sent back to Israel a delivery of 32 tons of tiles because it was emitting high levels of radiation.

Monday, July 28, 2008

100 employees at French nuke site contaminated

100 employees at French nuke site contaminated

The Associated Press

PARIS -- The French electric company EDF says that 100 employees have been "slightly contaminated" by a leak at a reactor site in southern France.

It was the third incident at a French nuclear site in recent weeks and the second at the huge Tricastin site.

An EDF spokeswoman says the employees were exposed to radioactive particles that escaped from a pipe in a reactor that had been shut down. It says the employees were exposed to radiation far below permitted levels, and went home but will be tested.

A leak of unenriched uranium at another facility at Tricastin led to a just-lifted ban on water sports and fishing in two rivers.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

NAJA Convention Begins Unconventionally

NAJA Convention Begins Unconventionally


NAJA Convention Begins Unconventionally

Just look how progressive Indian Country can be.

New members of the Native American Journalists Association were welcomed at a reception last night at the Viejas Casino, about 25 miles east of San Diego. The crowd was Native, but the fare wasn't. Example: Caviar on artichoke hearts.

Cocktail waitresses sauntered between the tables. Canapes were passed 'round but the diners each seemed to silently agree on how to handle the toasty appetizers: Smell 'em and put 'em back down.

Later, the lights dimmed in the casino's Dreamcatcher Lounge as the opening ceremonies of the 18th annual NAJA convention began. Traditional elders of the Kumeyaay spoke, welcoming their guests to their territory.

Then, the Campo New Bird Singers, a group of young men from various bands of the Kumeyaay, told stories through their bird-singing.

They stood side-by-side, their voices resonating through the large lounge in deep, rich tones. Each held a wooden rattle in his right hand. Shake. Shake. Roooollll. Their song was hypnotic.

The leader of songs, a young man wearing a red shirt that read "What's Your Fancy?" stood in the middle of his peers. As he began each song, the men to his right and left joined in, the tone swelling as voices were added down the line.

The syncopated rhythm of their songs quickly switched, with the youths deftly following the beat set by the leader.

Women are not allowed to sing the songs, but the young men don't know why. It's just the way it is.

Then, a young girl in cut-off jeans and a black jacket mysteriously appeared in front of the singers, her back to the audience. She swayed from side-to-side but kept her head down and her eyes averted from the men before her. They adopted her side-step movements.

An older woman joined the girl, her older body mimicking the younger.

"Anyone can get up and dance," Joseph Castelol, one of the singers, said after the performance.

"The songs all tell a story," interjected Marcos Cuero, another member. "The songs are about when the stars are coming out until the coming of the dawn."

Another singer and Cuero's cousin, James Cuero, added: "We sing because the people who have gone before us are now with us. It's time for everyone to get up and dance."

After a host of speakers addressed convention-goers, the vice chairman of the Sycuan band took the stage. Danny Tucker, wearing a silver-sequined vest over his white button-down shirt, danced and kicked a la Barry Manilow, belting out the words to Copacabana and other lounge tunes.

It was like going from the 1670s to the 1970s in the span of two hours.

LAND SWAP PLAN: Tribal leaders say oil benefits are short-term.

LAND SWAP PLAN: Tribal leaders say oil benefits are short-term.

ARCTIC VILLAGE -- The new generators in this remote Yukon Flats village shut down every night at 10:30, after the televised evening news, as a way to save fuel. The electric blackout ends in the morning, before caribou meat and other frozen goods begin to thaw.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Times are getting harder in Arctic Village, where diesel fuel arrives by air tanker and retails for $8.50 a gallon. But soaring fuel costs haven't softened opposition here and in other Yukon Flats villages to oil drilling in their own region.

A complex land trade that would hasten oil and gas exploration inside the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge continues to draw protest from local villages, despite a promise of jobs and revenue from the region's big Native corporation, Doyon Ltd.

Indeed, packed houses at community meetings helped slow the six-year negotiation to a crawl, and time may now be running out for Bush administration officials who support the deal.

Gwichin Indian leaders say they are worried about pollution from oil spills in the vast wetland basin. They also fear changes to their hunting and fishing territory that would come with a road connection to the outside world.

Trimble Gilbert, the 73-year-old traditional chief in Arctic Village, said he is advising people to hone their hunting and trapping skills to prepare for the hard economic times ahead. An oil boom would offer only a short-term respite, he said.

"Yukon Flats oil, I don't think it's going to last very long. And what then?" Gilbert said during a recent community festival day, where he showed his authority by beating the village's young men in a bow-and-arrow contest.


While debate over oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge immediately to the north has been a national cause celebre, the debate over the Yukon Flats Refuge has been mostly an obsession in Interior Alaska for the past four years.

But the Yukon case ripples with many of the same themes: national energy security, subsistence vs. jobs, a Native vs. Native power struggle.

It's a much smaller field, however -- estimates of oil on the Yukon Flats range from 173 million barrels of oil to more than 800 million barrels, compared to estimates for the Arctic coastal plain starting at 5.7 billion barrels and running much higher.

There's a better potential for gas than oil on the Yukon Flats, the U.S. Geological Survey has said.


For Doyon, which has been looking at the region's oil and gas potential since making its land-claims selections in the 1970s, the local opposition has been frustrating. The corporation has said the land swap and successful development of oil and gas fields there is vital to its future.

"It's clearly taken longer than most people anticipated," said Jim Mery, senior vice president for lands and natural resources for the Fairbanks-based Native corporation.

Mery pointed out that several Yukon Flats villages -- the smallest ones are losing their school-age population -- have favored the trade. Doyon's backers in other communities, he said, "choose not to engage in debate in a village setting."

The proposed land trade, first unveiled in 2004 after two years of private negotiation, would give Doyon 110,000 acres of refuge land with high oil and gas potential, and another 97,000 acres of subsurface drilling rights. Doyon would gain access to current inholdings via a swath of land through the middle of the wildlife refuge.

In return, the federal government would receive at least 150,000 acres of Doyon land inside refuge boundaries with good fish and wildlife habitat. Another 120,000 acres of Doyon inholdings could also be folded into the trade in the future.


The 11-million-acre Yukon Flats Refuge is the nation's third-largest wildlife refuge. Congress created it in 1980 under the complex sorting-out of Alaska's federal lands triggered by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act a decade earlier. That act gave Doyon the right to select land around villages inside the refuge-to-be.

Refuge officials have promoted the exchange, saying the new federal acreage would improve the government's ability to manage the vast region of lakes and oxbow rivers for wildlife. National environmental groups oppose the swap, saying they worry about a precedent for opening refuges to oil development.

In the Interior, the topic has developed into a classic dispute between two Native power centers, the village-based tribes and the regional Native corporation.

"They're acting like any other corporation," said Dacho Alexander, chief of the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwichin tribal government in Fort Yukon, the area's governmental hub and a center of the opposition. "I think those special feelings (for a Native-owned corporation) went away a long time ago."


This year's escalation in oil prices has complicated the trade significantly.

With oil and gas drilling rights more valuable, the acreage trade worked out in 2004 is probably way out of balance, critics say. Fixing the deal could mean giving away much more Native corporation inholdings, which local villagers want to keep in Native hands.

Mery concedes that more Native land will probably have to be surrendered, up to a limit. The amount of extra acreage won't have to match the rise in oil prices because there's a risk that exploratory drilling will be disappointing, he said.

At the same time, the higher price makes it more likely that Doyon can go ahead with oil development on its own holdings in Yukon Flats, without any land trade, Mery said. Access is guaranteed to Native corporation land inside a refuge, subject to certain restrictions.

He said the corporation is discussing the possibility with several potential partners.

"We think in the current environment, this makes even more sense," Mery said. "We think there is a good case for the trade to be made to the next administration."

Critics portray the proposed trade as a ploy by the Bush administration to open more federal land to oil companies. They say the original plan was to approve the trade on a fast track, without an environmental impact statement.

"I don't think the refuge is supportive of this deal," said Fort Yukon's Alexander. "I think it came from the top down."

Yukon Flats refuge staff referred questions about the trade to a regional public affairs specialist based in Anchorage, who has not been personally involved.

Bruce Woods said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to support the trade as a good deal for the American public.The approval schedule has slipped, however, with the plan in a "holding pattern" while internal discussions over the appraisals take place, he said.

Release of a final environmental impact statement, originally scheduled for October, could be delayed, he said. A substantial change in the number of acres involved could require a separate document known as a supplemental EIS, he said.

"Obviously, we do not know at this stage when the final appraisal will be done, so it puts all the other dates up in the air," Woods said.


Meanwhile, in the Yukon Flats villages, talk turns frequently to the North Slope villagers of Nuiqsut, who saw the Alpine oil field grow up next to them. Nuiqsut villagers spoke at a Gwichin gathering in Beaver several years ago.

"They were made the same promises. There'd be jobs, better schools, subsistence resources would be protected," said Alexander.

"They can see light everywhere they used to hunt and fish," said Gilbert, the chief in Arctic Village.

Gilbert's village has been prominent in the fight over drilling in the Arctic Refuge, which they contend could hurt the caribou herd on which they depend. The fight over the Yukon Flats Refuge, tribal leaders say, belongs more to the people around Fort Yukon. Arctic Village, though distant, is providing support.

Arctic Village is not part of the Doyon region but depends on the same healthy wetlands basin for its food, Trimble said. And all the area's villages are Gwichin, bound to help each other in times of famine for more than a century.

"We fight to keep it closed because of our hunting traditions," said Lorraine Tritt, 39, the elected tribal chief of Arctic Village. "I don't think money is that important to us. I think the food we eat is important."



CARSON CITY, Nev. – Governor Jim Gibbons today helped kickoff Nevada Vigilant Guard ’08, a full-scale disaster preparedness exercise involving more than 2,000 participants from civilian emergency response agencies and National Guard units from seven western states. The Vigilant Guard ‘08 exercise simulates a 7.1 magnitude earthquake striking Reno, triggering widespread damage and destruction.

The joint civilian and military exercise got underway at 6 a.m. PDT when the simulated earthquake “struck” southwest Reno near the intersection of State Route 431—Mt .Rose Highway—and U.S. Highway 395. The drill, which includes emergency response units coming to Nevada’s aid from six other western states, will be staged through June 19 with different scenarios played out at specific sites in Washoe, Carson City, Douglas, Storey, Lyon, and Churchill counties.

At a news conference held at the State Emergency Operations Center in Carson City this morning, Gov. Gibbons said, “Vigilant Guard ‘08 has been in the planning stages for two years, and the earthquake scenario has turned out to be very timely given the recent seismic activity around Reno. Nevada must be fully prepared to respond swiftly and effectively to any emergency or disaster that may occur, including flood, wildfire or biochemical incident. This exercise will help achieve that goal.”

Nevada is among the nation’s most seismically active states, ranking No. 3 in larger quakes after Alaska and California. According to University of Nevada, Reno seismologists, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake in Reno would cause death, extensive injury, damage, destruction, disruption of transportation and utilities, and an economic loss of $3 billion to $11 billion.

Vigilant Guard ’08 will test and train participants’ skills in victim recovery, triage, mobile field hospital setup, evacuation by ground and helicopter, search and rescue, mass sheltering for displaced victims and pets, emergency food distribution, hazardous chemical spill response, and gathering of information. Assessing “damage” to buildings, roads, dams, pipelines, and other infrastructure is also part of the exercise.

The Nevada Division of Emergency Management is directing the exercise in conjunction with the Nevada National Guard. Participants in the exercise include emergency response agencies from six Nevada counties and more than 1,750 National Guard soldiers and airmen from Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Washington state, and Utah.

Attendees at the news conference in Carson City this morning also heard from Frank Siracusa, Chief of the Nevada Division of Emergency Management; Maj. Gen. Cynthia Kirkland, commander of the Nevada National Guard; and State Geologist Jonathan Price, director of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, which includes the Seismological Laboratory at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“This exercise will provide participants an unprecedented opportunity to work and train together to strengthen their skills in all aspects of emergency preparedness,” Siracusa said. “As we undertake the emergency response activities, evaluators will assess our performance and recommend areas for improvement when the exercise concludes.”

Major General Kirkland said, “Although Vigilant Guard is a National Guard exercise program nationwide, it is critical that we include as many of our local, state, and federal partners as possible. In the guard we train like we fight, and since the guard responds to emergencies to support local and state partners, it makes sense to ensure we include as many as possible in the plan. The time to build relationships and learn about each others' capabilities is not when you're responding to an actual emergency.”

Price added, “No one can predict with certainty when an earthquake will occur, but we can take action to prepare, and Vigilant Guard ’08 is exactly what we should be doing right now. Most of the damage from the earthquake this exercise envisions would occur in Nevada, particularly in Washoe County, Carson City, Douglas, Storey, and Lyon counties. Damage also would occur in El Dorado, Placer, and Nevada counties in California, and may affect other counties as well.”

Price said the probability of a 7.0 earthquake occurring near Reno or Carson City within the next 50 years is between 12 percent and 15 percent, which he called “significant, but low enough that we can take action to be better prepared.”

“Living with Earthquakes in Nevada,” a guide to preparing for, surviving and recovering from an earthquake, is available online at

The federal government requires states to conduct Vigilant Guard exercises and provides funding through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that is designated for training exercises. Nevada’s Vigilant Guard exercise, the 11th such exercise to be staged across the country, received a federal allocated of $1.5 million for National Guard and Nevada Division of Emergency Management mobilization.

To learn about specific exercises being staged in a particular county, go to to find contact information for the local Emergency Operations Center.

The public may notice an increased military presence during the exercise as National Guard and other troops participate in a variety of activities, including “victim” recovery and triage. However, the exercise will not stage any real-life impact on services or infrastructure during the week-long exercise. Information about Vigilant Guard ’08 activities can be found at

Senator Harry Reid Wants to Change the Rules

Senator Harry Reid Wants to Change the Rules

By Paul M. Weyrich

What makes the newest United States Senator more powerful than a ten-term Representative? Every Senator has the power to stop consideration of any legislation until his concerns are addressed or sixty of his colleagues agree to override his objection. That power, better know as the filibuster, is regularly asserted by Senators when they place a hold upon various bills. A hold is really a threat to filibuster.
Senator Harry Reid Wants to Change the Rules (Image: Wenn)
Senator Harry Reid Wants to Change the Rules (Image: Wenn)

With up to six separate opportunities to filibuster any bill, a hold is a powerful tool to force the Senate to take due consideration of each and every Senator’s concerns. “It’s difficult to work around a Senator. Ultimately, it’s a cloture vote. It’s very time-consuming, and you can’t do that on most issues,” Maryland Senator Ben Cardin told THE POLITICO newspaper.

Before the August recess, the Senate is expected to consider a proposal by Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV) which would make the Senate more like the House of Representatives, where a one-vote majority is all that is needed to run roughshod over the interests of the minority.

Reid is cleverly disguising the impact of his idea by framing it as a means to undercut the already unpopular anti-spending hawk, Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK).

Coburn is not afraid to block legislation, even when his actions hit close to home. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), reports THE POLITICO, “still betrays some anger after being in Coburn’s crosshairs a few months back over an earmark that Nelson was pushing for a Nebraska company which employed his son.” The Alaska delegation still is smarting over Coburn’s exposure of the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere,” its multibillion dollar raid on the Federal Treasury.

Reid plans a single up-or-down vote on a package of seventy or more spending proposals to which Dr. Coburn has objected. This massive bill, already nicknamed the “Coburn Omnibus,” is a frontal assault on the rights of all Senators.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley gave the game away when he told THE POLITICO that Coburn is “exercising his rights as a Senator, but his approach is contrary to the traditions of collegiality and bipartisan compromise in the Senate. No wonder it’s so hard to get things done when a handful of junior members insist on a their-way-or-the-highway approach to legislating.”

Senator Reid has not exactly been a shrinking violet when it comes to “my-way-or-the-highway” legislating. Reid has spent years blocking efforts to store spent nuclear fuel rods in Yucca Mountain, Nevada, terming the proposal “the screw Nevada bill,” before recently cutting the budget for this program by $108 million.

Manley has also said:

The idea that Senator Coburn is talking about the traditions of the Senate is ridiculous. Look what happened last time we did this. Senator Coburn held up action on dozens of bills for narrow, personal reasons, demanding debate and four amendments. These bills were held up for months; the Senate had to waste precious time to allow him to offer a few amendments. Each amendment failed by overwhelming bipartisan margins (63, 76, 67, 73 votes against), and the final bill passed 91-4 (Coburn, DeMint, Vitter and Inhofe being the only Nos). That is not debate and amendment; it is abuse, obstruction and delay.

Jim Manley, meet Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT). Sanders has been insisting upon fast-track consideration of his bill to vastly increase taxpayer subsidies for heating oil, which is important to his New England State. Implicit in Sanders’ demand is a threat to obstruct and delay other bills until his concerns are satisfied.

Given that polls suggest a bigger Democratic majority in the 2009 U.S. Senate, Reid’s interest in curtailing the over two century-old power of Senate minorities to have their interests taken into account may be obvious.

Were Reid to have the unchecked powers of a latter-day Lyndon B. Johnson during a Democratic Administration, the leftist dream of another burst of Great Society-style legislation would be close to fruition: national health care, amnesty for illegal aliens, card-check unionization and every other plank of their agenda nearly would be unstoppable.

Yet it is hardly in the interest of leftist Senators like Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy (D-MA) or Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) to be reduced to rubber stamps for the latest ideas from the White House.

Should the Senate pass Reid’s “Coburn Omnibus,” it will be crossing a procedural Rubicon from which there is no turning back.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.