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Need to Know, September 24, 2010

This week on Need to Know, we tackle some serious problems and report on potential solutions. Harvard historian Niall Ferguson talks about what we can do to help the economy recover — and why people are so angry about it. Anneke van Woudenberg examines the roots of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Our correspondents travel to a small town in Maine to investigate how to store nuclear waste. And Dr. Emily Senay explores a program in Somerville, Mass. that has had some success in fighting childhood obesity.

Editor’s note: The report on nuclear waste previously included a still image of liquid natural gas storage tanks near the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant that Need To Know erroneously believed to be the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant itself.

Watch the individual segments:
Reshaping Somerville

Need to Know medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay travels to Somerville, Mass., where town officials have pioneered a new anti-obesity program that’s producing promising results.
Doing battle over the economy

Niall Ferguson, the Harvard historian, joins Need to Know’s Jon Meacham to discuss his many battles over the Tea Party, the budget and the jobless recovery.
Rape as a weapon of war in Congo In this extended web interview, Alison Stewart speaks with Anneke van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch about the roots of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the use of rape as a weapon against communities there.
Legacy of waste

As the Obama administration puts nuclear power at the center of its energy agenda, Need to Know explores the decades of indecision about what to do with nuclear waste.


  • Babbtx

    Dear Need:

    In 1989, I saw an employment ad in “Aviation Week” seeking Health Physicists to man a new facility in rural Texas. I knew that this meant that NRC was planning a Coup – build a facility and claim it to be wasteful and out of budget to change a decision.

    The problem with the facility was that it would have drilled down through the Ogallalla Aquifer to store nuclear waste in salt domes. The problem with this approach is as follows:
    1. Salt domes are unstable; they can collapse and fill up with surrounding water – entire lakes have disappeared when salt domes in Louisiana have opened up.
    2. The collapse of the salt dome would allow large amounts of serious radiation to contaminate the water source of the bread basket of the United States.
    3. Just pouring the waste into the salt dome will allow an amount of radiation to affect the acquifer simply because it would take time for the material to settle in.
    4. Even if the salt dome were stable, radiation would be emitted from the dome and into to acquifer since salt is not an effective nuclear shield.
    5. The entire program was being implemented to spite the Texas Farmers who had opposed the site.

    I wrote a letter to, then Senator, Lloyd Bentsen. I listed the problems with the NRC plan, and offerred my professional testimony as a Licensed Engineer, pro bono.

    My offer was unnecessary because two days later the NRC and Sen. Bentsen’s Office jointly announced that the site in Deaf Smith County, Texas was no longer under consideration for a nuclear waste facility. The reasons given were the same ones cited above, and in the same order as my letter expressed them.

    Finally, the nuclear waste problem will not be solved until the government quits awarding contracts to the lowest bidder. The nuclear waste program has been a pariah to the industry because no one will pay for highly qualified, competent, problem solvers. Instead the government thinks they can brush the problem under the rug by awarding contracts to the low bidding, outsourcing, bottom feeding companies that feed on the fringe of the taxpayer’s largesse.

  • Growth is not sustainable

    The tetratons of CO2 storage issue is of course, resolved. Put it in our atmosphere and doom the future to hell and high water.

  • Gmiller

    I’m a progressive. There’s a couple of things Progressives have done that preclude solving many problems, especially nuclear waste disposal. Progressives often side with the people with the back yards abutting this or that objectionable activity and side with them as litigants.

    Unfortunately, society needs airports, waste dumps, power lines, and other things people find objectionable and those activities must go into some back yard somewhere. The process of generating paperwork and litigating has to stop somewhere.

    A smaller scale illustration of this problem was the limitation on stimulus funding to “shovel-ready” projects. “Shovel-ready” means the projects that cleared the paperwork and litigation hurdles. As it turns out, there aren’t many “shovel-ready” projects.

    Progressives need to work on defining how to accomplish the ends sought in paperwork and litigation and determine when those objectives are met so work can be done.

    A key means of doing this is to ensure that project planners solicit input and account for the various environmental and other concerns early, repeat early, in project planning before budgets and time lines are set and before official reports and documents are issued. This may require developing new processes to accomplish this in a society where the project planners are on opposite poles from those who have concerns – a society more comfortable with bickering and litigating than with working and solving problems.