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tv   Today in Washington  CSPAN  March 15, 2011 2:00am-6:00am EDT

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participation in this hearing. i was particularly impressed by mr. katz and mr. crimmins testimony. i'm so much surprised because i'm looking at the title of the hearing and the sign above the chairman said that reads can american taxpayers trust today's sec to manage itself and do its job? i thought it might be interesting to substitute congress and asked the same question and see if we would fare as well. chairman schapiro, having served over two years on the financial services committee i have watched you and i think you are truly committed to doing the right thing. before you came back as chair under chairman cox, the number of actual enforcement actions at the sec was reduced by 80% in the number of disgorgement actions were reduced by 60%.
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more at home and be efficient in other places. but what i really would like to talk about just briefly, and i know senator durbin is coming to the floor, is just to give my heartfelt condolences to the people of japan, mr. president. we have prached all weekend my husband and my family and i in horror watching the scene unfold with the terrible catastrophe that struck japan on friday afternoon, followed the creak
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9.0 now on the richter scale, followed by a terrible tsunami, a wave of water in some places 30-feet high that devastated coastal communities. some of the pictures are reminiscent of what happened to us on the gulf coast about five and a half years ago with a 30-foot wave coming on shore right into gulfport and biloxi, mississippi, and then a catastrophe of man made proportions, in our case when the federal levy -- levee system broke and 1,800 people lost their lives. but this situation in japan as we now know is the worst crisis, according to their prime minister, since the second world war. it's going to take all of our best efforts, governments around the world, individuals, corporations and businesses to be generous. i know and i hope the people of louisiana and our skis and communities will be generous because we were so benefited by
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the warm generosity of the people of japan and many, many volunteers that came from all over the country and the world. i hope that as this week of just search and rescue comes to a close, that then there will be time for debris cleanup and rebuilding and mental health counseling and all the things that have to go into helping an area of the country survive and grow back, and i know the people of japan were as prepared as any country could be for a situation like this, but the events of that day have even overwhelmed one of the best and most organized governments in the world. and i just am heartbroken to hear the thousands of people that are yet unaccounted for, and our hearts go out to them. i hope that our nation will be generous in this time, not only from just a charitable and moral standpoint, but, mr. president,
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japan is the -- one of the strongest economies in the world. from the state that i represent, louisiana, we are their second largest trading partner as a state. so for the people of louisiana and all of our states have a vested interest in japan getting back up on its feet, building better and stronger. we're still in the process of rebuilding new orleans and the lower ninth ward and new orleans east and other neighborhoods that were hard hit along the gulf coast. gulfport and waveland are still struggling to come back. an important economic center for our country, but most certainly this coastal and industrial community around sendai and other coastal communities are very important, not just to japan but to the world. so i hope with this 9.5 earthquake that hit, i hope people know that this is a thousand times worse than an 8-point on the richter scale. it's just not slightly worse. it's a thousand times worse.
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this was a -- it's a huge earthquake and shift in the earth plates, and then the subsequent tsunami. so our -- on behalf of the people of louisiana, we want to say a special condolences and best wishes for the people of japan as they recover and bury their dead, those that have lost and heal their injured and begin to rebuild their cities and communities even stronger than they were before, and i hope that we'll all be as generous as we can. and one final point, mr. president. this is a wake-up call to our country, and as chairman of the homeland security committee, i'd like to get this on record this week. this is a wake-up call because we have not funded adequately our disaster response fund, the d.r.f. we are actually about
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about $1.6 billion below where we should be. this is not a wise policy, given what happened over the weekend. catastrophes can strike without warning at any time. if we leave just the amount of money that's in the d.r.f. and something like a katrina or this event would happen, that money would be used up in three days, and we have not replenished that fund. i've called on the president to send a supplemental emergency bill. we can't pay for current disasters out of future preparedness money, and that's what the continuing resolution in the house basically does. i strongly object to taking money that we have to set aside in the event that catastrophes happen to pay for past disasters. so that's another reason that i voted against the house concurrent resolution, and now with this visual of this horrific tragedy unfolding in
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japan, with the tsunami, the destruction of the cities, the two nuclear power plants that are under extraordinary pressure, it does us no good to take money out of paying for current disasters, paying for the past damage. so i've sent a letter to the president asking him to send up an emergency bill. it would be wise for us to pay for past emergencies off budget, and then to use our homeland security bill to budget as effectively and as appropriately as we can for disasters that may occur. i'm proud to say that the democratic leadership has doubled the amount of money that we're setting aside just in case these things happen. it used to be only $800 million a year. now we're budgeting close to to $1.08 or $1.09, thinking if something happens we want to make sure. this is -- in 48 states,
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disasters have been declared in the last two years. not just along the gulf coast. we have had flooding up in the northeast, flooding in the midwest. we could potentially have -- we had some flooding this weekend. i'm not sure how widespread it was, but in new jersey, there were scenes throughout the weekend about rivers overflowing as the spring approaches. so, mr. president, let us, you know, as we mourn for japan and are in solidarity with them through this crisis, let's use this as a reminder to get our business straight, to get our budgets straight and not mess around with our disaster relief fund. let's pay for past disasters that we owe the communities. we have pledged to help them rebuild and set aside the appropriate money in the regular budget to take care of things that might happen this year as we advance. mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from tennessee.
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mr. alexander: mr. president, as the senator from arizona and the senator from connecticut have done in their ways eloquently, i would like to express on behalf of the people of tennessee my sympathy, our sympathy to the people of japan and the devastation they've experienced. i applaud the administration and the american people for their immediate response to offer tans, charitable aid and search and rescue teams to find survivors. there is no more important two-country alliance than that of japan and the united states. the former majority leader and ambassador mike mansfield used to teach that to all of us younger governors in the 1980's and 1990's, and we will stand with the people of japan until they recover from this disaster. there is a special relationship between the japanese and tennesseans because of the
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location of so many japanese industries in our state over the last 30 years, so as a result, tennessee have been reaching out to our friends and their families in japan. we should also commend the japanese for their courage that they have shown in dealing with the devastation and particularly with their level-headed response to the damage that their nuclear reactors at fukushima daiichi. in this instance, when communication can sometimes create misinformation and even panic, the japanese leadership and nuclear shifts are working with organizations around the world in responding to the danger of keeping the rest of the world informed. this is the largest earthquake in japan's recorded history, 30 times more forceful than the san francisco earthquake of 1906, 700 times stronger than the 2010 earthquake in haiti. so while the risk is no means over and the events in japan continue to evolve, the
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reactor's safety systems so far appear to have done their job in withstanding the earthquake tsunami power loss and sploarks -- explosions and none of the containment structures seem to have been breached in these worst-case conditions. so the lesson americans can take away from this tragedy is this: learn all that we can from the japanese experience to make the operation of american reactors as safe as possible. mr. president, i would ask for an additional five minutes. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. alexander: mr. president, since the 1950's, the united states navy has safely traveled more than 136 million miles on nuclear power. today 104 civilian reactors produce 20% of america's electricity and 70% of our clean electricity. that is, without sulfur, without
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nitrogen, without mercury or without carbon. no one has ever died from a nuclear accident of any of our commercial or navy reactors. let me say that again. no one has ever died from a reactor accident at one of our navy or commercial reactors. without nuclear power, it is hard to imagine how the united states could produce enough cheap, reliable, clean electricity to keep our economy moving and keep our jobs from going overseas. here's what we know about what has happened in japan. we have all seen the video of the explosion of the building at daiichi unit one and now unit three. i'm sure many of us thought that those were reactors exploding. fortunately, that's not what happened. a buildup of hydrogen gas in the secondary containment structures led to explosions which destroyed the buildings
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themselves, but the primary containment structures inside appear not to have been compromised. to reduce the resulting increase in containment pressure, a relatively small amount of radioactive vapor has been dispersed into the atmosphere. the tokyo electric power company has told us that the highest level of radiation detected on site to date is 155.7-milligram per hour, and that level has since been reduced to 4.4 per hour. what does that mean in regard to human exposure risk? to help put that in perspective, here's a couple of facts. the average american receives about 300 millirim of radiation exposure each year from naturally occurring sources such as the sun, and another 300 mill irim of exposure from medical applications such as c.t. scans and x-rays.
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what did happen after the earthquake is that the ensuing tsunami crippled the backup electrical generators and batteries needed to keep cooling water circulating in the plants after they had been safely shut down. this ultimately led to the use of the last line of defense emergency, core cooling system, flooding the entire containment vessel with seawater. while this pretty much assures that the reactors won't ever be used again, as long as the seawater continues to be pumped in, the possibilities of further damage ought to be halted. people have been evacuated, and authorities are taking every precaution, and that, of course, is what we would like to see. despite one of the largest earthquakes in the world, the world's history, with the aftershocks, multiple disasters compounded one on top of another, the primary containment reactors near the epicenter appear not to have been breached and the radioactive release appears to have been controlled
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and minimal. this experience has brought back memories of the 1979 accident at three mile island in pennsylvania. although we remember three mile island as the worst nuclear accident in u.s. history, it's also important to remember that no one was hurt at three mile island. as i said before, there has never been a death resulting from a commercial nuclear accident in american history. what happened at three mile island was basically an operator failure, a valve failed, and when the automatic safety mechanism kicked in, the operators overrode it because they became confused by the number of alarms. three mile island completely changed the american nuclear industry. the kennedy commission appointed by president carter analyzed the problems, made many recommendations, almost all of which have been put into practice. the valve that started the whole
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thing had failed nine times before in other reactors but the manufacturer tried to keep it a secret. people in the nuclear industry then just didn't talk to each other. now safety is a top priority of the nuclear industry. the institute of nuclear power operations collectively shares best practices to achieve the highest levels of safety as well as reliability. nuclear operators train for five years before they could take over in the control room. they spend one week out of every five to six weeks in a simulator honing their skills. the nuclear companies have special emergency teams that can be dispatched anywhere in the country at a moment's notice. a nuclear regulatory commission inspector practically lives on site. what's more, every reactor in the country is on the hook for more than $100 million if something goes wrong at another reactor. as you can imagine, they watch each other very carefully. i have talked with any number of navy veterans who had experience with nuclear commands, and one reason i am confident that there
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haven't been any nuclear reactor accidents in the nuclear navy that have killed anyone over the last half century is because the responsibility for the safety of that reactor goes right up to the captain of the vessel. all this wasn't the same at chernobyl, the infamous 1986 soviet accident. chernobyl involved 60 immediate deaths and radiation exposures that according to the world health organization may eventually result in 4,000 cancers. but chernobyl was a completely different kind of accident and the result of different technology. more than that, the soviets hadn't built a containment structure at chernobyl. the containment structures at these japanese reactors 40- 40-80 inches thick concrete and steel appear, appear, as we speak this afternoon, to have withstood an 8.9 magnitude earthquake, a tsunami, power failure and explosion.
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mr. president, there are gas and oil fires raging in japan. water and sewer systems are damaged. the possibility of disease and starvation are eminent. there are a great many things to worry about in addition to the problems with the japanese reactor. there are tens of thousands of people still unaccounted for. right now, the effort needs to be helping those who need help, containing further damage and risk and getting japan back up and running again. then we can take the lessons learned from this earthquake and tsunami and apply them to make our nuclear plants as safely as possible and help the world do the same. america's 104 nuclear reactors provide, as i mentioned earlier, 20% of our electricity, 70% of our clean electricity. japan has 54 reactors and gets 30% of its electricity from
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nuclear. france gets 80% of its electricity from nuclear power. the united states invented nuclear power, but the nuclear regulatory commission has not issued a construction license for a new reactor in more than 30 years. there are 65 reactors under construction around the world outside the united states right now, but only one of those 65 is in the united states, and that's the construction of a previously halted project at the tennessee valley authority. the japanese and the french have surged into the lead in terms of nuclear power and are now being challenged by korea and russia on the international market, and china, with 27 nuclear reactors currently under construction, will soon join them all. nuclear power today provides about 15% of the world's electricity.
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there are always risks with every form of energy. it's important that we be clear about the risks that each type of energy poses, but it's also important to remember that we don't abandon -- we don't abandon highway systems because bridges and overpasses collapse during earthquakes. the 1.6 million of us who fly daily would not stop flying after a tragic airplane crash. we cannot stop drilling after a tragic oil spill unless we want to rely more on foreign oil, one up our prices, turn our oil drilling over to a few big oil companies, and all our oil hauling over to more leaky tankers. 34,000 people die in motor vehicle accidents every year, but we don't stop driving because we have to get our children to work and our children to school and ourselves to work. in all of these cases, when
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there are accidents, we do our best to examine the tragedies and make our continued operation and our lives as safe as possible. that's what we need to do here. our reactors in the united states are built to the highest standards in the world. the chairman of the nuclear regulatory commission said in a press briefing today right now we believe that the nuclear power plants in this country operate safely and securely. the chairman said nuclear power plants in the united states are designed to very high standards for earthquake effects. all our plants are designed to withstand significant natural phenomenon like earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis. we will take whatever steps are necessary, the chairman continued, to ensure the safety and security of nuclear power plants in the country, but right now we believe we have a very strong program in place. as we get more information from
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japan, said the chairman of the united states nuclear regulatory commission, as this immediate crisis ultimately comes to an end, we will look at whatever information we can gain from this event and see if there are any changes we need to make in our system. the deputy secretary of energy said nuclear power has been a critical component of the united states energy portfolio. the white house press secretary on behalf of president obama said nuclear power remains a part of the president's overall energy plan. despite the fact that there has never been a death as a result of the operation of a commercial american reactor nor in our nuclear navy, which has been using reactors in its ships and submarines since the 1950's, our goal should be to continue every effort to try to make certain that the operation of our existing and new nuclear power
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plants are as safe as possible. for example, some have suggested that so-called passive cooling systems that operate on natural convection currents and don't need pumping would prevent the problems that arose in japan when the backup power to pump water was lost. mr. president, nuclear power is a demanding but manageable technology. as we move forward, let us learn the proper lessons from this japanese experience to make sure that in the united states and in the world we are even better prepared for the unexpected events of the future. i thank the president and i
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