Uncommon knowledge, news, and opinion

Uncommon knowledge, news, and opinion

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“Trying to catch his breath”: a father’s story about health insurance affordability

February 19, 2012 at 5:11 pm By Roz Potter

From Scientific American:  Link

A father’s story about the hospitalization of his 6 year old son for treatment of pneumonia, an illness made worse by these parents’ gamble that since it was unaffordable, health insurance wouldn’t be needed. Also, importantly, how the decision to do without health insurance adversely affected their judgement and decision-making, when their son became ill. This story is being played out all across America.


I’m at Carteret General Hospital on North Carolina’s scenic Crystal Coast, where I live. My beautiful, precious 6 year old son was admitted this past Tuesday for Pneumonia. It started 6 days before on a Wednesday. He asked his kindergarten teacher if he could lay down. Odd behavior for such an outgoing kid, one of the class favorites who even at 6 already seems quite the ladies man… When I picked up him from school he was clearly exhausted and went to bed early without his dinner.

On Thursday we kept him home as he was obviously feverish and had flu like symptoms. He was getting worse, but then he tricked me on Sunday. He was looking a little better and was more responsive…

By Tuesday we weren’t left with any choice. My son had just gotten out of a bath and though he wasn’t cold, his hand and his feet were blue. I’d never seen it like that before. My wife laid it down and we were going to the Urgent Care. We all got dressed and heading over there early. He was miserable, crying in pain cause he couldn’t get enough oxygen. We were scared that we might have waited too long.

My poor decision-making capabilities in this regard was influenced by my lack of experience with any major disease (I have an immune system of steel, fortified by coffee and whisky), and our lack of insurance. My family includes four of the 49.1 million uninsured people in the United States. I’ve comforted myself that we couldn’t afford private insurance, which we can’t, but at least we were all relatively healthy and never seemed to have problems.


When I started my family 6 years ago, I was on a path to a career in research and teaching. We had amazing health insurance through my institution and my wife and children-to-be were generously covered, no-questions-asked by the state of Pennsylvania during, and a year after, the pregnancies. We never saw a bill. After I got “real jobs” upon completing my Masters degree, I entered a grey zone of contract teaching and research employment at universities. With a decent, regular salary we were ineligible for state aid, yet didn’t make enough to afford extra costs. Furthermore, the quality of the insurance kept lowering until I wasn’t even sure what I was paying for – even as the premium costs were rising.

The mindset of being uninsured is not , well… reassuring. It causes you to take risks that your peers do not need to take. It creates a perpetual fear that anything you do will eat up your life savings or kill you. Indeed, it has for us on one occasion. Nearly a decade ago when my wife was in constant pain for over a day, and after she could not take it anymore, I rushed her to emergency room. They had no clue, it was a worthless visit. They just looked at us dumbfounded and tried to get her to take antibacterials and be on her way. They even did unnecessary x-rays.

To read more, see Link

Over 600 dead from Eastern Europe cold

February 19, 2012 at 4:26 pm By Roz Potter

From The Guardian:  Link


More than 600 people have died during a record-breaking cold snap in eastern Europe, authorities say, as officials in the Czech Republic blamed two massive car crashes on blinding snow.

Since the end of January, the region has been pummelled by the deep freeze, which has brought the heaviest blizzards in recent memory. Tens of thousands have been trapped in often-freezing homes and villages by walls of snow and unpassable roads, and officials have struggled to reach the vulnerable with emergency food airlifts.

Authorities in Russia and Ukraine alone reported on Wednesday that more than 300 people had died in the bitter cold.

About 100 damaged cars blocked a major highway in the Czech Republic connecting the capital, Prague, with the eastern part of the country and Slovakia. Seven people were injured in two separate accidents, authorities said, warning it could be hours before the mangled vehicles were cleared.


In Romania, about 23,000 people remain isolated in 225 eastern communities where more than a week of heavy snow has blocked roads and wreaked havoc on the rail network. Residents were worried that their houses could collapse under the heavy snow as authorities struggled to bring them food, water, medicine and wood.

Romanian farmers – faced with up to five metres of snow in some areas this week – are concerned about their sheep, goats, horses and cows. One farmer said he had dug his pigs out of the snow and brought them into his home.

Fukushima reactor temperature reading as high as 102C raises concerns

February 12, 2012 at 11:14 pm By Roz Potter

From UK’s the Guardian,   Link


Concern is growing that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan is no longer stable after temperature readings suggested one of its damaged reactors was reheating.

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), said the temperature inside No 2 reactor – one of three that suffered meltdown after last year’s earthquake and tsunami – may have reached 82C on Sunday.


Given that Tepco assumes a margin of error of 20C, the actual temperature could have risen to 102C.


Confirmation that the temperature has risen above 80C could force the government to reverse its declaration two months ago that the crippled plant was in a safe state known as cold shutdown.

Cold shutdown is achieved when the temperature inside the reactors remains below 100C and there is a significant reduction in radiation leaks.

Plant workers are unable to take accurate readings of the temperature inside the damaged reactor because radiation levels are still too high for them to enter and examine the state of the melted fuel, which is thought to be resting at the bottom of the reactor’s pressure vessel.


Tepco said it did not know the cause of the apparent temperature rise, but speculated that it might be due to problems with the supply of coolant or a faulty thermometer.

“We believe the state of cold shutdown is being maintained,” said Junichi Matsumoto, a company spokesman. “Rather than the actual temperature rising, we believe there is high possibility that the thermometer concerned is displaying erroneous data.”

Tepco was forced to inject additional cooling water into the same reactor last week after the temperature started rising at the beginning of the month.

Fukushima-like new U.S. nuclear reactors approved for Georgia – design flaws NOT fixed

February 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm By Roz Potter

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,  Link

America’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission, approved two new reactors for Georgia, the first in the U.S. since1978, the year before the partial core meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

Of the five NRC commissioners, the chairman, Gregory Jaczko, cast the the lone dissenting vote. He had asked for but not received a binding commitment from Southern Company, the plant’s owner, to incorporate changes that would avert a Fukushima-like disaster.

The four commissioners who approved the new reactors are the subject of a congressional report which details their efforts ” to undermine the efforts of the Fukushima Task Force with request for endless additional study in an effort to delay the release and implementation of the task force’s final recommendations”.

“Documents also show open hostility on the part of the four Commissioners toward efforts of NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko to fully and quickly implement the recommendations of the Task Force, despite efforts on the part of the Chairman to keep the other four NRC Commissioners fully informed regarding the Japanese emergency.” An account of the report by Senator Edward Markley of Massachusetts, can be found here.

The Vogtle project will be built with a new reactor design, the AP1000 from Westinghouse, approved in December. An NRC report said the AP1000 design has “many of the design features and attributes necessary to address” new safety recommendations since the disaster. However, as NRC Chairman Jaczko point out, although the new design improves upon the old, there is no evidence that sufficient improvements to safeguard the public have been made.

The Vogtle expansion is considered the vanguard of a possible revival of nuclear power construction in the United States, though projections of as many as 30 new reactors have been scaled back. It is also a test of whether the industry can smoothly build and bring online new reactors without major cost and technical problems.

San Onofre radiation leak: Inspectors find unusual wear on new tubes carrying radioactive water

February 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm By Roz Potter

From the Washington Post,  Link

LOS ANGELES — Federal regulators said Thursday that unusual wear has been found on hundreds of virtually new tubes that carry radioactive water at Southern California’s San Onofre Unit 2 nuclear plant.

The disclosure came two days after a tube leak at the plant’s other unit prompted operators to shut down the reactor as a precaution. A tiny amount of radiation could have escaped, but officials say workers and the public were not endangered.

The problems at Unit 2 were discovered during inspections of a steam generator, after the plant was taken off-line for maintenance and refueling. That equipment was replaced recently in both units of the twin-reactor plant, which is located about 45 miles north of San Diego.

In two tubes, more than a third of the wall had been worn away, requiring them to be plugged and taken out of service. At least 20 percent of the tube wall was worn away in 69 other tubes, and in more than 800, the thinning was at least 10 percent.

“The amount of wear that we are seeing on these tubes is unusual for a new steam generator,” Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Victor Dricks said.

“If you have that kind of thinning anywhere along the length of the tube, you have a problem because it degrades the integrity of the tube, which can contribute to leaks,” he added. (emphasis added)


According to company officials, the new steam generators were manufactured by Japan-based Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The company did not respond to an email sent Wednesday.

Retired NRC engineer and researcher Joram Hopenfeld said the company will have to determine why the tubing is degrading so quickly “before they do anything else.”

“I’ve never heard of anything like that over so short a period of time,” Hopenfeld said.

“The safety implications could be very, very severe,” Hopenfeld added. “Usually the concern is in older steam generators, when they have cracks all over the place.” (emphasis added)

To read more, Link

PG&E neglect led to “most severe kind” of gas leak in city of Napa, other leaks and lost maps. Fined $16.8 M

February 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm By Roz Potter

From an Associated Press article found in many newspapers including the Herald Tribune, Link

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. admitted Wednesday that its safety officials never checked for gas leaks in a much broader swath of California than the company previously disclosed following the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion.

PG&E originally told the California Public Utilities Commission that the utility misplaced 16 maps of its pipelines last year, so as a result never did leak surveys in any of those locations, in violation of state regulations. The commission said last week it would fine PG&E $16.8 million in response.

But on Wednesday, the company admitted it actually hadn’t checked for pipeline leaks in a much larger geographic region detailed in 46 additional maps stretching from Fresno to Yolo counties, and including parts of the San Francisco Bay area.

PG&E spokesman Brian Swanson said the company had since surveyed the lines and found five leaks on 9.61 miles of gas distribution lines “associated” with the maps. A leak in the city of Napa was considered to be of the most severe kind, requiring immediate repair, Swanson said. (emphasis added)

Two other leaks were located in unincorporated Napa County, another was found in unincorporated area if Solano County and a fifth was in Elk Grove. (emphasis added)

Commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper didn’t immediately say what actions the commission planned to take, or whether the fine would increase with the revelation of a wider problem.

PG&E simultaneously announced the company intends to appeal the fine.

“We believe the fine is excessive because we did the right thing _ by promptly self-reporting what we’d found to assure we placed public safety first,” Nick Stavropoulos, executive vice president of gas operations, said in a statement Wednesday. “We congratulated the employees who identified the missing information and took immediate corrective action.”

The Sept. 9, 2010, blast on PG&E’s transmission line in San Bruno killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

PG&E could face additional, larger penalties in a separate probe by the commission into whether the company should be fined for the San Bruno blast.

Consumer advocates and a state lawmaker urged Commission President Michael Peevey on Wednesday to recuse himself from the probe to remove the appearance of impropriety.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill said Gov. Jerry Brown should remove Peevey from the investigation because federal safety investigators found myriad safety lapses occurred since he has led the commission since 2003.

“Under the president’s stewardship over the past decade, the commission failed to ensure that PG&E’s gas distribution system was safe,” said Hill, a Democrat who represents San Bruno. “That’s why I find it offensive that someone so responsible for the culture implicated in the San Bruno disaster has taken it upon himself to lead the direction of this penalty proceeding.”

The commission said any settlement with PG&E will require a vote of the five-member panel.


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