Jaeah Lee

Jaeah Lee

Associate Interactive Producer

When Jaeah isn't coding, researching, or writing for Mother Jones, she's usually reading about foreign policy, climate change, or new dinner recipes. A lover of mass transit, she can pretty much navigate the New York City subway blindfolded.

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Prior to joining Mother Jones, Jaeah worked as a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, focusing on China. Her writings have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Global Post, Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, and Movements.org.

Forget Earthquakes: Fires Are the Biggest Threat to US Nuclear Plants

| Wed May 11, 2011 4:54 PM EDT

Fires occur at US nuclear plants a total of ten times a year on average, but most sites are underprepared for the event of a disaster, according to two reports published today by ProPublica and iWatch News. The independent reviews highlight how over the last three decades, industry neglect and gaps in regulatory enforcement have contributed to the risk of fire-induced nuclear accidents at the 104 existing plants across the country. The reports come in the wake of the March earthquake that triggered a leak at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi reactor, which has resulted in the country freezing its own nuclear power expansion plans. Here are some of the reports' most alarming findings:

  • Fires are often triggered by accidents as likely as a short circuit in an electric cable or a spark igniting oil in a pump.
  • Most existing safety plans focus on containing and putting out fires rather than preventing them, and rely on time-consuming manual actions like sending in a worker to activate a pump that will ensure a reactor is shut down.
  • At two dozen of the nation's reactors, spent fuel are stored in unsecured, above-ground pools with potential lethal waste exceeding those stored in Japan. (If a cooler at one of the reactors were to break down, spent fuel could overheat or catch on fire, releasing radiation that could kill people living within 50 miles of the plant.)
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the main nuclear safety enforcement body, has in the past resisted issuing citations to violators, and when it does often exempts them from paying penalties, numbering more than 900 exemptions as of 2001. The NRC does not keep its own list of fire safety gaps, but instead relies on plants to provide them during inspections.
  • Most plants are ill equipped to stamp out large-scale fires; reactor owners get away with using electrical cables wrapped in fire-proof materials that have previously failed safety tests.

Nuclear plant fires have not killed any Americans to date, which might explain why the hazard has been downplayed. But shortcomings like fire protection violations make disasters more likely, the Union of Concerned Scientists' David Lochbaum told ProPublica. And as the map below shows, nuclear reactors are clustered in some of the most dense areas of the US, meaning the risk of fire is simply too dangerous to go unaddressed. "The NRC is to nuclear power today what the SEC was to Wall Street three years ago," Richard Brodsky, a former Westchester, NY assemblyman told iWatch. 

Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory CommissionSource: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

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What We Didn't Know About Internet Controls

| Thu Apr. 21, 2011 5:20 PM EDT

A new Freedom House report has uncovered increased threats to internet freedom worldwide. It's no news that politically restrained countries like China, Iran, and Burma are among the worst offenders, but as the report details, similar practices are fast spreading. Some surprising findings:

  • Even relatively democratic countries—notably Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, and the United Kingdom—are seeing increased threats to internet freedom, such as "legal harassment, opaque censorship procedures, or expanding surveillance." In many cases, censors target content related to illegal gambling, child pornography, or inciting violence, but censorship incidents are also politically motivated. South Korea, for example, blocked access to some 65 websites related to North Korea, including the official North Korean Twitter account launched in August 2010.
  • Arrests of online activists are on the rise. In 23 of the 37 countries assessed, a blogger or other internet user was arrested for content posted online. Authorities in Vietnam sentenced four activists to a total of 33 years in prison for posting human rights violations and pro-democracy views on the internet.
  • In all the countries studied, governments made decisions about restricting internet content arbitrarily and without transparency. Even in democratically governed countries, censorship decisions are made without public discussion, and appealing the decisions "may be onerous, little known, or nonexistent."
  • If you thought Egypt's internet shutdown in January was bad...in recent years 12 of the 37 countries were known to exploit their control over telecom infrastructure to restrict access to politically relevant information.
  • More websites, activists, and dissidents are self-censoring. China is known for pressuring websites to censor their own content, an issue that led Google to move its search engine operations off the mainland to Hong Kong in early 2010. Since 2007 Thailand, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, and Venezuela have issued new laws or directives that put the onus of politically unfavorable comments on the media outlet. At least one editor in Thailand, for example, is facing criminal charges over comments that criticized the monarchy.

All in all, what we're seeing is "a very worrisome trend," with the state of internet freedom around the world "on the decline," and cyber attacks "against regime critics intensifying," said the report's co-editor Sanja Kelly on Monday at a panel hosted by the World Affairs Council. Alex Fowler of Mozilla, also on the panel, noted that as we celebrate the advent of Twitter, Facebook, and Google in spurring discussions of protest, "those things are centralizing information about individuals" that create "a lot of new risks."

Electronic Frontier Foundation's International Director Gwen Hinze says a company based in a more free internet country like the US can't really get around censorship rules in countries with tighter controls. She notes that expansions in US laws on wiretapping and invasion of privacy can set a bad precedent for countries around the world.

Fowler, Hinze, and Yahoo!'s Ebele Okobi-Harris add that while internet and telecom companies are bound by the laws of the countries they operate in, there are ways in which they can prevent a bad situation from getting worse: stepping up consumer protection measures by alerting users when their information is requested by authorities.

BP to Oil Spill Victims: Get Off My Stoop!

| Fri Apr. 15, 2011 3:50 PM EDT

Almost one year since creating the worst oil spill in US history, BP is holding steadfastly to its response strategy: Duck and hope for the best. At its annual shareholder meeting in London yesterday, five Gulf residents who flew in to tell investors about their loss of livelihood were denied entry. A few tried to sneak in, among them 62-year-old Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation fisherwoman from Seadrift, Texas, who covered herself in oil to make a statement. Police arrested her for "breaching the peace," the Associated Press reports. Others who made it in were dragged out by security guards. NBC's Nightly News has more on this:

Is there any other way for a major corporation to deal with these kinds of situations but ignore protestors and feign optimism? BP's chief executive Bob Dudley doesn't seem to think so, based on what he told shareholders on Thursday:

BP remains a great company with a great history and I believe a great future...Not every company gets such an opportunity and we don't intend to squander it.

Except, er, you kind of already did squander it. For all its promises to compensate victims, many have not yet been paid out. Journalists have been barred consistently from accessing the coastal areas affected by the spill. 

And why wouldn't BP ignore its victims, when few in Washington seem to care that much? Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard told us earlier this week about certain GOP Congressmen who are trying to expand off-shore drilling. And as Mac McClelland reported, Kenneth Feinberg, whom the president appointed to oversee victim compensation issues in the Gulf, was entirely unmoved by victims complaints at a recent town hall meeting in Louisiana. All of which is why the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression named the company and the Obama administration the worst First Amendment violators of 2011.

Meanwhile, some BP shareholders are increasingly frustrated about the way things are going. Investors accounting for 60 percent of shares voted yesterday against re-electing William Castell as the head of its safety committee, while about 7 percent voted against re-electing Carl-Henric Svanberg as BP chairman. Around 11 percent voted against the company's remuneration report, which awarded bonuses to Iain Conn, who oversees BP's refining activities, and Chief Financial Officer Byron Grote. BP might continue to ignore its oil spill victims, but good luck dodging your investors.

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