“Unrequested fission surplus”: Kent Brockman, meet Jay Lehr

Nuclear expert, C. Montgomery Burns.

Nuclear expert, C. Montgomery Burns.

With the miserable news from Japan taking a turn towards a science-fiction level of horror, I’m afraid I can’t get Mr. Burns of the Simpsons out of my head. In one episode, as his nuclear plant goes critical, Mr Burns is giving a phone interview to a local newscaster Kent Brockman, and happily lying about the doom bearing down upon his neighbors.

Kent: Uh, Mr. Burns, people are calling this a meltdown.

Burns: [laughs] Oh, meltdown. It’s one of those annoying buzzwords. We prefer to call it an unrequested fission surplus.

His blithe — if entirely dishonest — optimism in the safety of nuclear power is not far from what we see on American TV. CNN in particular has been egregious in it’s coverage, inviting on a string of poorly accredited cheerleaders for the nuclear industry. On March 12, as things at the Fukushima plant starting going downhill rapidly, CNN International invited on Jay Lehr “PhD” (in “Groundwater Hydrology”, c. 1960) to speak about how safe nuclear power is. Perhaps in a poorly timed fit of morality, CNN has since edited out his quotes from their written report. When asked about the risks, Lehr, introduced as “science director at the Heartland Institute in Chicago” dismissed any concern rising from these plants. “The Japanese people” he said “have enough real problems to worry about without focusing on this.” Lehr then went into a rather ill advised Cassandra mode:

“Nobody builds better power plants than Japan, because they are the most seismically active country on earth. They are built to withstand this very earthquake… I am absolutely, 100% confident that they will be able to solve the existing problem of a meltdown, if it is occurring, that they will be able to totally eliminate the escape of any radiation”


CNN: Our experts say nothing to worry about.

Perhaps a little stunned, the CNN anchor brought in someone in the following segment who she introduced as “active on twitter” (later discovered to be actual nuclear scientist Robert Apthorpe) via Skype from his bedroom, to tell us that “100%” predictions are “unwise.”

Contrast Lehr’s unchallenged “100% confident they will be able to totally eliminate the escape of any radiation” with these in the updated CNN story.

Japanese officials earlier told the International Atomic Energy Agency that radioactivity was “being released directly into the atmosphere”. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said earlier that he could not rule out the possibility of a meltdown at all three troubled reactors at the plant.

Lehr, appearing on Fox News the next evening summed up:

There will not be any health impacts here. The nuclear engineers in Japan are doing a magnificent job under a situation that could never be expected. And the public in Japan has enough to worry about with a horrible disaster without worrying that there is going to be a nuclear explosion.

Note, this is AFTER the third explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, when we all knew radiation was being released, and that cesium was detected outside the plant.

And when asked: “But the fear is to release a radiation, is it not?” replied:

It is but we have a containment structure that is not likely to release the radiation. And if it did release the radiation, most of the radioactive particles have a very short half life. Chernobyl was a number seven as you said. It had no containment building. It totally exploded. There was a cloud of radiation that they said was going to kill tens of thousands of people and deform children.

Ten years after the accident, the U.N. produced a 1,200-page report pointing out that there was no long-term impact on health from anybody away from the plant due to the radiation cloud. There were 1,000 cases of leukemia in the village right surrounding Chernobyl, and 998 of them were cured.

So, this idea of this radioactive cloud like a nuclear bomb is totally false. And puts stress on a population –both our country and their country — that is totally unwarned.

CNN reported the next day

“Their situation is not great,” said David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University. “It’s pretty clear that they will be getting very high doses of radiation. There’s certainly the potential for lethal doses of radiation.”

But shouldn’t there be consequences, both for Lehr and CNN, for engaging in such willful ignorance in times of crisis?

The United States nuclear industry apparently doesn’t think so. One story described their lobbyists and uncritical cheerleaders as in “All hands on deck mode” the night of the 11th. So it is not surprising that CNN was offered a steady stream of amoral pro-Nuclear happy talk. Why did they accept?

Jay Lehr and the Heartland Institute are not unknown to them. Lou Dobbs was later widely ridiculed for interviewing Lehr (this time described as “an expert on environmental policy”) in December 2008. The theme: if global warming is real, why is it still snowing in the winter time? Lehr, unlike Dobbs, did not fail to understand the distinction between “climate” and “weather”, but just went on and told the world, incorrectly, that temperature averages had not increased since the 13th century. Use of Google might have provided the missing counterpoint.


Jay Leher with Lou Dobbs

In fact, the Heartland Institute often finds itself at odds with logic, science, and (by sheer coincidence according to them) in the corner of what’s easiest for large corporations. They’ve boldly defended big tobacco, big oil, fast food. Pretty much if it’s big, and makes lotsa cash while killing people, Heartland has taken the “principled, free-market, libertarian” stand to defend “freedom.” Have I mentioned their principled stand of not revealing their donors? Back when they were un-principled (“pre-principled”?) investigators found they were sponsored by a who’s who U.S. corporations, Exxon most notably. Heartland says they no longer receive funding from Exxon, but only small donors. Who they will not reveal.

Jay Lehr really is a perfect fit for the liberty loving Heartland Foundation. A consultant on environmental impacts of well drilling for companies and others seeking to suck things out or stick things in the water table (in the 80s the practice of drilling such wells for industrial waste disposal was all the rage), Dr. Lehr has long railed against the big government interference of the Environmental Protection Agency. Except for that time in the late 80s when he was contracted to do analysis required by the EPA. After a fraud investigation, the then prominent member of the National Water Well Association and Minnesota Ground Water Association Jay Lehr, also came to be known as “defendant”, along with a co-worker. To quote their then employers:

“the defendants Jay H. Lehr and Keith Lelux falsified and caused to be falsified the employee time sheets to reflect that the employees worked a total of 2270 hours on EPA Project Number CR-910715-02-3 when, in fact, as they knew, the employees did not work a total of 2270 hours on EPA Project Number CR-910715-02-3.”

This resulted in fraud against the taxpayers of almost $200,000. Lehr, despite weaselly protesting, plead guilty, was fined $25,000, and was sentenced to six months in a Federal Prison. So he could be considered an expert in both fleecing taxpayers and the ways in which the feds can take away your liberty.

Lehr, though, has been consistent in his criticism of the EPA. He spoke out in articles dated 1994 and just last year, Lehr has criticized the EPA as too political, and ready to be decommissioned. No one has to my knowledge charged that his legal history with the EPA predated these surely honest ideological positions.

And bold ideological defense of liberty is surely Lehr’s forte. He’s taken on the powers that be, defending the health benefits of eating red meat, the hardy independence that comes in Atrazine (a pesticide banned as dangerous to human health in the EU) in our water supply, poo-pooed those communists who worry about recycling, asbestos exposure, and stepped up against the scourge of Canadian style health care. But where Lehr has really shined, putting his 1960 degree in well digging to use, has been in fighting that boondoggle of “climate change”. In fact this is were he really is a world leader, one of the most prominent of speakers shipped around the country — and as far away as Australia — to save us from the unneeded worry over rising sea levels, melting glaciers, or limp-wristed hurricanes. Sissies!

So what is the consequence of all this?

This professional denier of reality has been given prime time exposure, lauded not challenged, in front of millions of viewers of “America’s most trusted news source,” blatantly telling us the thing that are being reported are untrue. In a sense, one can feel sorry for Lehr, even the staff at Heartland. They have to eat after all, and being unable to practice your chosen profession, it must be nice to have rich donors pay you to tell the world everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. If I wanted to build nuclear power stations, I’m sure the Heartland Institute would be a great investment.

But one must wonder still, why would news sources put them on and treat their obvious ravings with deference? CNN would do us all a service, one that would begin to make up for this last mistake, by explaining who books these charlatans and why.


And now for your edification, several really frightening but well informed articles on the Japanese nuclear crisis, and the complete script of Mr. Burns’ TV appearance!

* Nuclear experts weigh in on GE containment system – The Washington Post

* Reactors at heart of Japanese nuclear crisis raised concerns as early as 1972, memos show – The Center for Public Integrity

* In Fuel-Cooling Pools, a Danger for the Longer Term – NYTimes.com

* Japan Woes May Impede U.S. Nuclear Push – NYTimes.com

* Stricken Reactors Defy Japan’s Best Efforts to Contain Damage – NYTimes.com

* Radiation exposure: a quick guide to what each level means | World news | guardian.co.uk


From Simpsons Episode 305: Homer Defined.

They have Monty Burns on the phone, as a picture of a badly-toupee’d Monty is shown on the screen.

Kent: On the line with us now is plant owner C. Montgomery Burns. Mr. Burns?

Burns: Oh, hello, Kent. [as loud rhythmic buzzing continues in the background] Right now, skilled nuclear energy technicians are calmly correcting a minor, piffling malfunction. [rapid-fire shots of havoc in the plant] But I can assure you and the public that there is absolutely no danger whatsoever. [air raid siren wails] Things couldn’t be more ship-shape. [cut to Burns’ office, where he is busy donning a radiation suit]

Smithers: Sir, where is my radiation suit?

Burns: How the hell should I know? [covers the name `Smithers’ on the suit he is wearing]

Kent: Uh, Mr. Burns, people are calling this a meltdown.

Burns: [laughs] Oh, meltdown. It’s one of those annoying buzzwords. We prefer to call it an unrequested fission surplus.

At the Retirement Castle, Abe, Jasper, and a woman watch TV…

Kent: After the meltdown, we can expect roving bands of…

Abe: Ah, I don’t like this program.

Jasper: Change the channel.

TV: Wheel! Of! Fortune!!

On TV…

Prof. John Fink: [indicating on a map] These unfortunate people here will be instantly killed. [indicating] This circle, which I am sad to say we are in, will experience a slower, considerably more painful death.

Kent: Good Lord!

At the Retirement Castle…

TV: I’d like to solve the puzzle. `Three Loins in the Fountain’. [buzz]

On TV…

Burns: [voice only] Yes, we’ve isolated the problem. Wouldn’t you know, false alarm.

Marge: Phew!

Burns: It seems a single wayward crow flew into our warning system.

Kent: Very good. Well, sir, your point about nuclear hysteria is well-taken. This reporter promises to be more trusting and less vigilant in the future.

Burns: [in his office, still wearing his radiation suit] Excellent. Well, ta!


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