Washington Extra – Sticky situations

March 14, 2011

It is a natural instinct to review one’s own situation when a friend or neighbor is hit by a crisis.

NUCLEAR-USA/So the risk of a nuclear disaster in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami prompted the United States to look inward. The upshot is that President Barack Obama is committed to nuclear power, and “it remains a part of the president’s overall energy plan,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The administration is not going to switch gears on nuclear policy while a crisis unfolds, so that type of statement is to be expected while it assesses the situation.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Greg Jaczko saw a “very low probability” of any harmful radiation levels reaching the United States from Japan.

On the other side of the world, Saudi Arabia grew alarmed by anti-government protests in neighboring Bahrain and decided to offer some kingdom-to-kingdom support by sending 1,000 troops to militarily enforce peace.

“This is not an invasion of a country,” Carney said.

He avoided a yes or no response to questions about whether Saudi Arabia should pull its troops out, reflecting the difficult spot the United States is in and its deliberate avoidance of picking sides: protesters demanding democratic reforms or important Mideast allies that happen to be ruled by monarchies?

Here are our top stories from Washington…

U.S. says still committed to nuclear energy

President Obama remains committed to keeping nuclear energy as part of the energy mix despite concerns about its safety after the earthquake in Japan. “It remains a part of the president’s overall energy plan,” spokesman Jay Carney said.

For more of this story by Jeff Mason and Timothy Gardner, read here.

Japan asks U.S. for help cooling nuclear reactors

The United States is ramping up assistance to help Japan avert a major nuclear meltdown, U.S. officials said, as Washington wrestled with the risks of radiation exposure to aid workers. The Japanese government has asked for more equipment to cool down three reactors damaged by last week’s massive earthquake and tsunami, which triggered the worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

For more of this story by Ayesha Rascoe and Phil Stewart, read here.

One more oil spike may push Obama to tap SPR

President Obama appears one price-spike away from tapping crude from emergency reserves, as political pressure drives him to assure Americans he will keep gasoline costs under control. With the potential for further upheaval in the Middle East, plus the possibility of a demand shock if Japan rapidly steps up imports after an earthquake damaged its refineries and nuclear power plants, Obama may have the excuse he needs to come to the aid of voters scared about escalating costs.

For more of this analysis by Timothy Gardner and Ayesha Rascoe, read here.

U.S. urges restraint by Gulf nations in Bahrain

The United States urged Saudi Arabia to show restraint after it sent troops to neighboring Bahrain, a move some analysts said showed the limits of Washington’s influence in the region. The deployment of Saudi troops came two days after Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the island kingdom and pressed its rulers to implement political reforms to defuse tensions with the Shi’ite majority. The United States, which fears Shi’ite Iran could try to exploit the instability in Bahrain, was cautious in its response to the troop deployment, neither criticizing nor explicitly welcoming it. “This is not an invasion of a country,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

For more of this story by Andrew Quinn and Mark Hosenball, read here.

Messy U.S. budget, spending prospects

The deeply divided U.S. Congress has been unable to agree on a federal budget for 2011 more than six months into the fiscal year. A series of temporary funding bills have averted government shutdowns while trimming spending amid a projected record budget deficit of $1.65 trillion. The current stopgap spending bill expires on Friday and Congress is preparing a three-week extension with $6 billion in non-controversial spending cuts. The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Tuesday, soon followed by the Senate.

For more of scenarios by Richard Cowan, read here.

France pushing for swift G8 agreement on Libya

France pressured G8 foreign ministers to agree to action on Libya and back its efforts to speed up a U.N. Security Council decision on imposing a no-fly zone sought by rebels. France and Britain have led calls to impose a no-fly zone, and a French diplomatic source said Paris was pushing the issue with G8 foreign ministers arriving for talks that will wind up with a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

For more of this story by Arshad Mohammed and John Irish, read here.

Lawmakers seek probe on CFTC swaps analysis

Two Republican lawmakers said the futures regulator is taking a “vague and minimalist approach” to analyzing the costs of new rules for swaps traders, and asked its top watchdog to investigate. The request is the latest in a series of efforts by Republicans to rein in the CFTC as it creates new regulations for over-the-counter derivatives, worth about $600 trillion globally. Two leaders on the House Agriculture Committee asked the CFTC inspector general to review the accuracy of cost calculations for four proposed rules, and assess whether the CFTC is living up to its obligation to perform due diligence on rules.

For more of this exclusive story by Roberta Rampton, read here.

US advisers say teens’ menthol cigarette use rises

Use of menthol cigarettes is rising among teenagers and “very high” for minority youth, government advisers said in a draft report. More than 80 percent of black adolescent smokers and more than half of Hispanic adolescent smokers use menthol cigarettes, advisers to the FDA said. The FDA will use the report to help decide whether to ban or limit menthol cigarettes. Any curbs would be a severe blow to menthol makers — menthols account for nearly one-third of annual U.S. cigarette sales, according to Euromonitor.

For more of this story by Lisa Richwine, read here.

Obama wants reform of Bush education law this year

President Obama called on Congress to overhaul his Republican predecessor’s signature “No Child Left Behind” education law before the next school year begins in September. The law has been criticized as inflexible, forcing teachers to adhere to a narrow curriculum targeted mostly at ensuring that every student pass a series of standardized tests.

For more of this story by Patricia Zengerle, read here.

What we are blogging…

Will she? Won’t she? Still reading the tea leaves…

Is Sarah Palin getting the kind of press that makes for viable presidential campaigns? Maybe not, and her critics appear to be increasingly of a conservative stripe. The Mama of Mama Grizzlies proved to be a fierce campaigner on the 2010 midterm election trail, and she continues to command an army of devoted supporters, particularly among members of the Tea Party movement. But winning the White House requires an ability to attract many, many independent voters.

For more of this post by David Morgan, click here.

From elsewhere…

Apple iPad 2 sales seen clearing 1 million units

Apple Inc sold close to 1 million units of its next-generation tablet computer during its debut weekend, analysts estimated. By comparison, the original version of the iPad, which launched in April of 2010, crossed the one-million mark 28 days after its launch. Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White said it was difficult to find an iPad 2 over the weekend.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder (nuclear power station at Seabrook, N.H.)

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The future of nuclear power is in Thorium breeder reactors.

It’s difficult to understand why most of the world continues to embrace uranium as the primary nuclear fuel source when a much safer and more abundant alternative stands waiting.

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