Bush in the Garden of Nuclear Delights

Atom Eve

It is always instructive to note that while President Bush and his conservative buddies rail against government meddling when it comes to ecological matters, they are more than eager to have the government meddle — at great expense to taxpayers — when it comes to footing the bill for industries that can rip off consumers and ruin the environment.

The latest proof of this comes in Bush’s new energy plan, released last week. Making short shrift of conservation and green sources of fuel, Shrub calls for stepping up our use of natural gas, a product whose increasing popularity has already caused a big jump in prices. As gas bills continue to rise, a second part of the proposal kicks in: leaning on nuclear power for cheap, clean watts.

Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, a public interest group based in Washington, D.C., argues the economics of this scheme are not as attractive as they might at first appear.

Bush’s energy plan calls for removing regulatory hurdles to speed the construction of about 400,000 megawatts of electric-generating capacity, much of it from plants fired by natural gas, over 20 years. However, the capacity for 90,000 megawatts is already being built and should come on line over the next year and a half — without loosening environmental regulations.

Mariotte points out that the Department of Energy itself has said heightened efficiency could provide the equivalent of 180,000 megawatts; renewable energy sources like wind and solar power could provide another 50,000. Improvements are also being made in electrical production and in pipelines. Thus, instead of an expanding and profitable market, the energy industry may actually face a glut of electricity, leading to the fall of natural gas prices and making nuclear once more uncompetitive.

To head off this downturn, the Bush team wants to “streamline” the process, shutting out public input and paving the way for such things as the construction of a second high-level radioactive-waste dump. The first one, at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, is still under construction and will cost at least $50 billion — if indeed it ever is completed. The last time anyone tried to find a place for a second site was during the Reagan administration, when, because of intense public opposition, the government eventually just gave up.

We may also see a push to renew the Price-Anderson Act, which since 1957 has limited the liability of the nuclear industry. “No utility would build or operate a reactor if it were not shielded from the potential liability that could be accrued from a nuclear accident,” says Mariotte, citing potential damages upward of $300 billion. “No other hazardous industry enjoys such liability protection — an indication of just how dangerous nuclear power is.”

None of these proposals will help California, now in the grips of a power shortage masterminded by the energy lobbyists who wrote the state’s unworkable deregulation law and the Texas companies that have made a killing on soaring prices. The latest turn in this saga occurred late last week when Loretta Lynch, head of the state’s public utilities commission, said her agency was working with the California attorney general to investigate cases where an energy “cartel” was deliberately taking power plants out of service, not producing electricity, and thereby creating “artificial shortages.”

The nation’s so-called energy crisis is of course a complete phony, just as it was in the mid 1970s. Back then, Big Oil used public anxiety to pressure Washington into abandoning regulation of natural gas prices. This time, the even more transparent crisis is being used to justify the rip-off profits and to rationalize environmentally dangerous expansion.

Federal Prisoner Dies Under Restraint

Dire Straits

The Voice has learned that a male inmate locked in an Atlanta federal prison died nearly two years ago while in four-point restraints. In four-point, a prisoner is tied spread-eagle to a bed, sometimes for days.

Thomas M. Fitzgerald, who died December 9, 1999, had been charged with bank robbery and sent to Atlanta for a 45-day psychiatric evaluation. Sources familiar with the case say that by the time Fitzgerald’s body was discovered, rigor mortis had set in — a process that can take six hours. Mike Binion, the spokesman at the prison, provided Fitzgerald’s name but said he couldn’t comment further. The matter is under investigation.

Meanwhile, reports of four-point in facilities run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons have steadily come into the Southern Center for Human Rights. Inmates across the country report being held in four-point for anywhere from four to 20 days. One man in a federal prison medical center says he filed a lawsuit against the facility in Terre Haute, Indiana, for “restraining me on four-point for nine days at a time for nearly four months… with no clothes, only a diaper.”

Sven Jones, a bureau spokesman, defended the practice. “These restraints are simply used for safety and security concerns,” he said.

Complaints collected by the Southern Center tell another story. One federal prisoner claims that on April 6, 1999, he was locked in a cell with others after he protested overcrowding. According to the complaint he filed, the inmates “each had blood on their arms and legs from wearing the handcuffs and leg irons for four days.” The man remained under restraint until May 31, when he agreed to room with three others. By then, his limbs were “covered with scabs from the handcuffs and leg irons.”

Lealon Muldrow, an Atlanta inmate, described a 1997 incident in which he was tied down from July 1 through July 6. “I did not receive a sheet to cover myself until the second day,” he says. “For the first three days, I was not allowed out of the four-point restraints for any reason. I was forced to urinate and defecate on myself during that time, and was not allowed to clean myself in any way, take a shower, or brush my teeth. On the fourth through sixth days I was allowed up to use the toilet beside the bed only about once per day. On the fifth day I was allowed up for about 20 minutes to take a shower and to clean my cell. I was kept in handcuffs and leg shackles while I did this, and then I was returned to four-point restraints.” He claims to have been checked only sporadically by medical personnel.

The Southern Center says this kind of treatment violates recommendations established in the wake of a 1998 investigative series by The Hartford Courant. The paper detailed the misuse of restraints that led to the deaths of 142 mentally ill or retarded people. Improper restraints can cause fatal blood clots or suffocation. Guidelines now call for four-point to be closely supervised by a doctor and used for no more than two hours at a single stretch and eight hours overall.

On its Web site, the Bureau of Prisons states that “qualified health professionals” must be consulted when four-point is used, but gives wardens the authority to restrain an inmate when it’s “the only means available to obtain and maintain control.” The rules go on to stipulate: “Staff shall check the inmate at least every 15 minutes, both to ensure that the restraints are not hampering circulation and for the general welfare of the inmate. When the inmate is restrained to a bed, staff shall periodically rotate the inmate’s position to avoid soreness or stiffness.”

What appears to be widespread use of four-point restraints in federal prisons has received little attention from members of Congress. Stephen Bright, head of the Southern Center, wrote Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch last month, seeking an inquiry into the practice and hearings. The center subsequently learned Hatch had no intention of holding hearings. Ranking minority member Patrick Leahy wants the bureau to give him a report on the use of four-point restraints. The House Judiciary Committee has done nothing.

British Woman Fights for Pet Sheep

Wolves at the Door

Although it has largely dropped out of stateside news, the slaughter of healthy animals in Britain continues unabated. Last Thursday, according to the London Sunday Times, some 79,000 livestock were killed, more than twice the “daily average of 33,000 two months ago at the peak of the epidemic.”

When they came for her sheep on May 4, Carolyn Hoffe wouldn’t let the beasts go quietly. The five pets — Matthew, Maggie, Melissa, Emily, and Eva — were condemned by authorities because they lived one meter inside a three-kilometer cull zone for foot-and-mouth disease in northern England. According to a report in the London Telegraph, Hoffe brought the beloved critters inside her house, bolting the door and blocking it with a wardrobe.

As police beat on the door, Hoffe screamed, “Please spare them!” The terrified sheep raced around the room, looking for an escape. After the killers threatened to beat down the door, Carolyn opened it, looked one vet straight in the eye, and spat: “You are a traitor to your profession.”

The sheep were put down by lethal injection. “What happened to my sheep was evil,” Hoffe told the paper. “This was the slaughter of the innocents. This was officialdom gone crazy.”

Additional reporting: Rouven Gueissaz and Adam Gray