Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday Must Read: Fears of Nuke Meltdown in Japan Spur a Run on Iodine in Northern California; Brown’s Budget Talks with GOP 5 Unravel

By Robert Gammon
Tue, Mar 15, 2011 at 7:05 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. Fear of a nuclear power plant catastrophe in Japan is spurring a run on iodine pills in Northern California, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports. Some distributors of potassium iodide say they’re already sold out as Northern Californians worry that a potential Chernobyl-like disaster in Japan will spew huge amounts of radiation into the air and that it will spread to the West Coast. Potassium iodide can help prevent thyroid cancer caused by radiation exposure. Scientists tell the Bay Citizen, however, that fallout from a nuclear meltdown in Japan is unlikely to cause harm to West Coast residents — unless there’s a huge explosion and the radiation reaches the jet stream. At that point, it could be carried toward the West Coast at about 100 mph in high concentration levels.

2. In Japan, meanwhile, efforts to prevent a full-scale nuclear disaster appear to be unraveling, the New York Times reports. Japanese government officials urged calm but told people living within eighteen miles of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station to stay indoors. In addition, most of the 800 workers at the station, who have been struggling to keep its three damaged reactors from melting down since last week’s monster 8.9 earthquake and giant tsunami, were told to go home to avoid deadly radiation exposure. About fifty workers will remain, but if they leave, experts say the reactors will melt down, resulting in a major nuclear disaster. "It's way past Three Mile Island already," said Frank von Hippel, a physicist and professor at Princeton. "The biggest risk now is that the core really melts down and you have a steam explosion."

3. Budget talks between Governor Jerry Brown and a group of centrist Republican state senators broke down over the weekend, dimming any hope of reaching a compromise deal, the SacBee reports. Members of the so-called GOP 5 who have been huddling with Brown blamed public-employee unions for blocking their proposal to overhaul pension benefits, the CoCo Times reports. Republicans also balked at Brown’s plan to extend current tax levels for five years, saying they would only agree to eighteen months. The Chron reports, meanwhile, that some members of the Republican Party want to censure any GOP lawmakers who strike a deal with Brown.

4. In Oakland, the public school system issued layoff notices to one-fifth of its teaching force out of concern that Brown’s talks with the GOP will fail, the Trib reports. Schools in the city’s low-income areas will be hit the hardest because of union contract requirements that force the newest teachers to be laid off first. Schools in low-income areas tend to have the most new teachers because veterans don’t want to work there. Los Angeles Unified agreed to spare schools in low-income areas from teacher layoffs after the ACLU sued the district over unfair treatment of poor children.

5. Pride Elementary school in East Oakland was ransacked over the weekend by thieves, who stole computers and other equipment from thirty classrooms, the Trib reports. The school had to close yesterday because of the extensive damage.

6. The Fruitvale gang injunction sought by City Attorney John Russo is turning out to be much more costly than originally planned, the Chron reports. The judge in the case indicated that it may take weeks, perhaps months, to issue a final ruling, and that he intends to allow eighteen more alleged gang members to take the stand in their own defense. Russo’s gang injunction program has already cost the city more than $760,000 and it appears likely to top $1 million before it’s over.

7. California and five other states hope to short-circuit Congressional Republican plans to gut climate-change laws nationwide by urging the US Supreme Court to allow them to sue the federal government, the Chron reports. The lawsuit is intended as a backstop should Congress pass a GOP-sponsored bill that would overturn climate-change laws in California and elsewhere and block the EPA from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions.

8. And mass transit ridership is up throughout the Bay Area likely because of rising gas prices, the Mercury News reports.

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