99% Invisible

121- Cold War Kids

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

During the 1961 Berlin Crisis—one of the various moments in the cold war in which we came frighteningly close to engaging in actual war with the Soviets—President John F. Kennedy vowed to identify spaces in "existing structures both public and private ...


99% Invisible

114- Ten Thousand Years

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In 1990, the federal government invited a group of geologists, linguists, astrophysicists, architects, artists, and writers to the New Mexico desert, to visit the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. They were there on a mission.



Double Blasted

Monday, July 16, 2012

In early August of 1945, Tsutomu Yamaguchi had a run of the worst luck imaginable. A double blast of radiation left his future, and the future of his descendants, in doubt. In this short: an utterly amazing survival story that spans ... well, 4 billion years when you get down to it.

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Transportation Nation

Bill Would Require Independent Study of X-Ray Body Scanners

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The TSA testing new scanning technology at McCarrin Interational Airport in Las Vegas. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(Michael Grabell, ProPublica) Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the homeland security committee, plans to introduce a bill in the coming days that would require a new health study of the X-ray body scanners used to screen airline passengers nationwide.

The Transportation Security Administration began using the machines for routine screening in 2009 and sped up deployment after the so-called underwear bomber tried to blow up a plane on Christmas Day of that year.

But the X-ray scanners have caused concerns because they emit low levels of ionizing radiation, a form of energy that has been shown to damage DNA and mutate genes, potentially leading to cancer. ProPublica and PBS NewsHour reported in November that the TSA had glossed over cancer concerns. Studies suggested that six or 100 airline passengers each year could develop cancer from the machines.

Shortly after our report, the European Union separately announced that it would prohibit X-ray body scanners at its airports for the time being “in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens’ health and safety.”

The new bill drafted by Collins would require the TSA to choose an independent laboratory to measure the radiation emitted by a scanner currently in use at an airport checkpoint. The peer-reviewed study, to be submitted to Congress, would also evaluate the safety mechanisms on the machine and determine whether there are any biological signs of cellular damage caused by the scans.

In addition, the bill would require the TSA to place prominent signs at the start of checkpoint lines informing travelers that they can request a physical pat-down instead of going through the scanner. Right now, the TSA has signs in front of the machines noting that passengers can opt out. But the signs mostly highlight the images created rather than possible health risks.

The bill is the latest volley in a back-and-forth between Collins and the TSA. At a hearing in November, TSA administrator John Pistole agreedto a request from Sen. Collins to conduct a new independent health study.

But a week later at another hearing, Pistole backed off the commitment citing a yet-to-be-released report on the machines by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.

“I have urged TSA to move toward only radiation-free screening technology,” Collins said in a statement to ProPublica. “In the meantime, an independent study is needed to protect the public and to determine what technology is worthy of taxpayer dollars.”

The TSA uses two types of body scanners to screen passengers for explosives. The X-ray machines, known as backscatters, look like two refrigerator-size blue boxes and are used at Los Angeles, Chicago O’Hare, New York’s John F. Kennedy, and elsewhere. The other machine, which looks like a round glass booth, uses electromagnetic waves that have not been linked to any adverse health effects. Those machines are used at airports in Dallas and Atlanta, among others.

The TSA says the radiation from the X-ray machines is minute, equivalent to that received in two minutes of flying at altitude. That measurement has been verified in previous tests by the Food and Drug Administration, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the Army Public Health Command.

“All the previous independent testing showed that the machines are well below the national standard,” TSA spokesman Greg Soule said.

A group of vocal critics, primarily based at the University of California, San Francisco, has cast doubt on those tests, suggesting that the device used to measure the radiation isn’t equipped to provide accurate measurements on body scanners, among other flaws.

While not commenting specifically on the drafted legislation, Soule said, “the TSA is committed to working with Congress to explore options for an additional study to further prove these machines are safe for all passengers.”

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Underreported: Airport Body Scanners and Cancer

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Full body X-ray scanners are now commonplace in airports across America. ProPublica reporter Michael Grabell tells us about a new report that has found that the U.S. government glossed over a number of safety concerns about the the devices—even ignoring concerns about a potential increased risk of cancer.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

EPA and the Clean Air Push

Monday, July 18, 2011

Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, discusses the latest clean air regulation the EPA has proposed, as well as what's coming up from the agency and the political reaction in Washington. 

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The Takeaway

Chernobyl Cleanup Worker: 'We Thought We Were Saving a Country'

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Twenty-five years ago today, disaster rocked Ukraine when a systems test at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant led to a series of explosions, releasing nuclear fallout into the atmosphere. It was the beginning of a months-long struggle by Soviet authorities to contain the spread of deadly radiation. Thousands of workers joined this fight. Sergei Belyakov was one of them. He’s the author of a forthcoming book about his experience called “The Liquidator.”



Japan Nuclear Situation Upgraded to 7

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Japan has raised the level of the disaster at its nuclear power plant to a 7. Although that's the same level as the Chernobyl disaster, according to The Associated Press Japanese officials say Fukushima has leaked a tenth of the radiation released at Chernobyl.


The Brian Lehrer Show

Chemical Reaction

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

With news that plutonium has been found around Japan's damaged nuclear power plant, David Brenner, Ph.D., D.Sc., director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University's College of Physicians & Surgeons, explains what other radioactive elements might be released.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Please Explain: Radiation

Friday, March 25, 2011

The crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan has raised many questions about what kind of radiation is leaking and what the health risks of it are. Kenneth Mossman, Professor of Biomedicine and Biotechnology at the University of Arizona, and radiation physicist Jacqueline Yanch, senior lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explain radiation—from nuclear fallout, to airport body scanners, to x-rays and medical treatment. 

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The Takeaway

Radiation Explainer: What it Does, Why We're Scared

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Since the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the world has associated radiation with fear and horrible repercussions. That fear seemed somewhat justified during the cold war, and then after the Chernobyl disaster and Three Mile Island. But it’s easy to forget that we’re surrounded by radiation every day; that it occurs naturally. Or that we undergo medical treatments to fight diseases like cancer with radiation. Is radiation as scary as we think?

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'Almost No Risk' of Japan Nuclear Material Reaching New York, Expert Says

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Though many stores in New York have sold out their stock of iodine tablets, an expert said there is little chance radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan will reach New York. 

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