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Wednesday
Mar162011

Radiation Exists Across US but Mostly Harmless, Experts Say

Ablestock.com/Thinkstock (file photo of a Geiger counter)(NEW YORK) -- Despite U.S. consumers' growing awareness of iodide pills, Geiger counters and emergency kits in the wake of Japan's nuclear scare, most Americans have little to worry about, according to experts.

Radiation, they say, is all around us, even inside of us, and it's perfectly safe for the most part.

To illustrate the point, ABC News took a Geiger counter around New York City to test different objects and locations.  Even in the middle of Central Park, there was always a background level of radiation.  At a food stand in the park, a banana made the Geiger counter rise a little bit.  Bananas contain potassium, which people need to live, but is also radioactive.

Over at Grand Central Station, the meter on the Geiger counter moved a lot.  Grand Central was built with granite and marble, which are both radioactive.

Eric Hall, a nuclear researcher at Columbia University in New York City, said that the thousands of people who walk through Grand Central every day are not at risk of getting sick because the radioactivity around them comes in "very, very small" doses.

Another activity that exposes people to radiation is air travel.  In the course of a year, a flight crew flying between Tokyo and New York is exposed to 14 millisieverts of radiation.

In fact, every year, just walking around the planet, each individual is exposed to about 3.5 millisieverts of radiation.  That's about 67 chest X-rays, or 134 cross-country plane trips.

Here is a comparison of the radiation levels of everyday items and activities:

-- Banana: .0007 mSv
-- Pistachio: .001 mSv
-- Smoke Detector: .0029 mSv
-- Abdominal CT Scan: 10 mSv

Experts say even a full meltdown in Japan would be no reason for alarm in the United States.

"If any radiation were to make it here, it would be merely background levels and nothing for people on the West Coast or people in the United States to be concerned about," said Jere Jenkins, the director of Radiation Laboratories at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

In order to get radiation sickness, a person would need to be exposed to at least 1,000 millisieverts of radiation at once.  For most people, a fatal dose is about five times that amount; a range of 3,500 to 5,000 mSv of radiation at once is deadly, which would be equivalent to spending 10 hours close to the  Fukushima Daiichi reactor.

To put that in perspective, the radiation levels at the scene of the fire at the nuclear plant in Japan have reached about 400 millisieverts per hour, meaning a person would have to be right there at the fire for two and a half hours to get sick.

Radiation workers have a limit of 50 mSv per year.  Workers who are reaching that limit are being pulled out now.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar162011

“Amtrak Joe” Biden Gets His Own Train Station

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Vice President Biden, perhaps the nation's most famous Amtrak passenger, will soon have his own personal train station.

Amtrak announced last week that the newly renovated Wilmington, Delaware train station will now be known as the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Railroad Station.  There will be a dedication ceremony on Saturday that is open to the public.

The Wilmington Amtrak station, the 12th busiest in the country, just wrapped up a two-year $37.7 million renovation project, which included $20 million in federal stimulus money. Until last month, Biden was the Obama Administration's point person overseeing the disbursement and management of the stimulus funds.

Biden often boasts that he took over 7,000 round trips on Amtrak between Delaware and Washington, D.C. during his 36 years in the Senate.  Instead of moving full-time to the nation's capital, Biden would make the daily 1 hour, 15 minute commute in order to be home with his young children in Delaware.

Even after his "promotion" to the vice presidency, which comes with the flashy motorcades, Air Force planes and Marine helicopters, Biden continued to advocate for his beloved rail system. In 2009, the vice president announced that Amtrak would receive $1.3 billion in federal stimulus money to expand passenger rail capacity, calling the system "an absolute national treasure and necessity." 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar162011

Three-Quarters of Americans Back Women in Combat Roles

Jupiterimages/Comstock(NEW YORK) -- The Military Leadership Diversity Commission has company.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans agree that women in the armed services should be allowed to serve in ground units that engage in direct combat.
 
The commission, established by Congress in 2009 to evaluate military policies, recommended earlier this month that the U.S. military stop excluding women from ground combat units, saying such policies do not in fact keep them out of combat situations, deny them equal opportunities to serve, and interfere with their promotion to senior ranks.
 
And the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll finds little controversy about it.  Seventy-three percent of Americans say they support allowing women in the military to serve in ground units that engage in close combat -- essentially the same among men and women alike.
 
There are some differences among groups.  Support for allowing women in combat roles peaks among young adults -- 86 percent of those under 30 years old -- while dropping to 57 percent among senior citizens.  And it's higher among more-educated Americans -- 79 percent among those with college degrees versus 66 percent among people who haven't finished high school.
 
Politically, support for allowing women in combat roles is higher among Democrats (80 percent) and independents (73 percent) than it among Republicans (62 percent).  It ranges from 85 percent among liberals to 58 percent among "very" conservative Americans, but in no group is a majority opposed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar162011

Hawaii Assesses Major Damage from Tsunami

ABC News(HONOLULU) -- Hawaii got off relatively easy last Friday compared to what the tsunami did to Japan.

Still, the nation's 50th state sustained tens of millions of dollars in damage from giant waves, although the initial estimate was lowered once state and county officials took a tour of the affected areas.

Those hardest included Kealakekua on the Big Island, Maalaea Harbor, Kahului on Maui, and Kona, where many businesses were flooded.

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who toured the damaged areas Tuesday, acknowledged that the economic impact from the tsunami will be "profound."

The state is also expected to take another economic hit, since the Japanese are its biggest tourism clients and it's expected visits will dwindle dramatically for the foreseeable future.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Fake Rockefeller Charged in 1985 Murder

Boston Police/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- A con man who posed as a Rockefeller, a rocket scientist and a heart surgeon to ingratiate himself with the wealthy was charged Tuesday with murder in the 1985 killing of a California man.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, 50, a German immigrant who used the name Clark Rockefeller and claimed to be a member of the famed family, was charged in Los Angeles with murdering a San Marino man whose body was discovered a decade after he disappeared.

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian filed the complaint Tuesday morning in Alhambra Superior Court, asking that Gerhartsreiter be extradited from Massachusetts, where he is in prison for kidnapping.

Gerhartsreiter was convicted in June 2009 of absconding with his seven-year-old daughter during a supervised visit and assaulting a social worker with a dangerous weapon when the man tried to protect the little girl.

In the new charge, Gerhartsreiter is accused of murdering John Sohus, 27, who was last seen in early 1985.

At the time, Gerhartsreiter, then calling himself Christopher Chichester, was living in the Sohus family guest house at their San Marino home, police said. Shortly after John Sohus disappeared, so did Chichester.

In May 1994, a body was discovered buried in the backyard of the Sohus home, and the remains were later identified as those of John Sohus. An investigation determined he was killed by blunt force trauma to the head.

Balian will ask that bail be set at $10 million for Gerhartsreiter when he is arraigned, according to a statement from the prosecutor's office.

Gerhartsreiter faces 26 years to life in prison if he is convicted.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Tuesday
Mar152011

Napolitano: Radiation from Japan's Nuclear Reactors Not a Threat to US

Alex Wong/Getty Images(DENVER) -- With Japan’s nuclear radiation situation worsening, officials in the United States are taking a sharper look at the safety, and faults, of America’s nuclear facilities. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the nuclear failures in Japan will “undoubtedly” expedite disaster planning at U.S. nuclear plants.

“We constantly think about, prepare, exercise, work with our states, our localities, our utilities and the private sector on thinking about what would occur and exercise to the point of failure,” Napolitano told ABC News Tuesday after a conference in Denver.

Napolitano sought to quiet fears of radiation drifting from Japan to California shores.

“The level of radiation coming out of Japan does not put the United States at risk,” she said.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged people living 12 to 19 miles around the plant to stay indoors Tuesday after fears that a containment vessel at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was leaking radiation. Concerns that the radiation would spread across the Pacific to the United States sparked a mad dash in California for potassium iodide, which protects the thyroid from radiation poisoning.

There are 15 American nuclear power plants that have the same or similar design as the site in Japan where explosions near three reactors have the country on high alert for nuclear radiation. The U.S. plants are located along the New Madrid fault line which runs through eight states -- Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi -- and could affect more than 15 million people.

“As we look at something like the upcoming New Madrid fault exercise, we will be stressing our systems and looking to what they can withstand and where we need to continue to improve,” Napolitano said.

“Just as we have learned as a nation from Katrina, on response when there’s a major incident, just as we have learned from the BP oil spill this last year, I’m sure in the, sure in the aftermath when all is said and done we’ll learn something from the tragedy occurring in Japan,” Napolitano said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

New Charges in New York Subway Terror Plot

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- U.S. and Canadian authorities announced new terrorism charges Tuesday related to the 2009 plot to bomb New York City's subway system, an attack which investigators said was averted just days before it had been planned to take place, around the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced the charges against Canadian citizen Ferid Ahmed Imam, who allegedly helped train Najibullah Zazi, the key operative in the plot, and his associates.

Charges unrelated to the NYC plot were also announced against another Canadian citizen, Maiwand Yar, who investigators said conspired to participate in a terrorist group.

The RCMP alleged that both men traveled to Pakistan in March 2007 before they were to graduate from the University of Manitoba. There, investigators said Imam acted as an instructor to would-be terrorists, including Zazi. Zazi was arrested in Denver in September 2009 and pleaded guilty last year to terrorism charges, admitting that he planned to attack the New York subway system with a series of bombs that he was planning to make.

When he was arrested, after more than a year of surveillance by the FBI, Zazi was found to have chemicals and hydrogen peroxide-based beauty products to make the peroxide bombs. Zazi said he was recruited by al Qaeda in Pakistan and had discussions with al Qaeda about "target locations" in the subways. Two men authorities said worked with Zazi, Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay, were arrested in January in 2010.

The head of the New York FBI field office, Assistant Director-in-Charge Janice Fedarcyk said in a statement, "The three men already charged with conspiring to set off bombs in New York were also charged with receiving overseas training to accomplish that nefarious goal. Among other alleged acts of terrorism, Ferid Imam helped them get that training."

The charges against Imam and Yar were unsealed on Tuesday as part of the investigation, which Canadian authorities dubbed "Operation Darken." The two are part of a trio of Canadian men who have been dubbed the "Lost Boys of Winnipeg" according to Canadian press reports, and both men are currently fugitives who officials believe to be in Pakistan. The whereabouts of the third man, Muhannad al-Farekh are unknown.

"These warrants are the result of a lengthy and thorough national security criminal investigation involving key partners throughout Canada and the U.S.," Assistant RCMP Commissioner Bill Robinson said.

Zazi and his associates were allegedly in contact with senior members of Al Qaeda when they traveled to Pakistan in 2008. Among the senior members they met included Adnan Shukrijumah, a top operational planner in the terror group who has long been sought by the FBI for his connections to other Al Qaeda plots and possible connections to Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. The charges unsealed today charge Imam with aiding and abetting Zazi and his associates, allowing them to receive military type training, use of a destructive device and providing support to Al Qaeda.

Last July Shukrijumah, who is also a fugitive, was charged in an indictment for recruiting and directing Zazi, Ahmedzay, and Medunjanin to return to the United States to undertake the attacks. The FBI and State Department have issued a $5 million reward for information resulting in Shukrijumah's capture.

Shortly after Zazi was arrested, it was disclosed at a court hearing that Zazi had traveled on several occasions to Canada, but it is not known if he had previously met with Imam.

Last year, Ahmedzay pleaded guilty to three terrorism charges for his role in targeting the New York City subway in the planned attacks, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass of destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, and providing material support to Al Qaeda. Medunjanin is awaiting trial on terrorism charges scheduled top begin in January 2012.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

2010 Census: Hispanic Population Surges in New Mexico

Spencer Platt/Getty Image(WASHINGTON) -- While the Southwest grew in overall population, New Mexico saw a shift in the composition of its population as Hispanics became the largest group in the state, according to 2010 Census data released Tuesday.

The number of Hispanics in New Mexico surged to become the largest group in the state, making up 46.3 percent of the population.  Whites now make up 40.5 percent of the state.

This is a stark change since 2000, when 44.7 percent of the state’s population consisted of whites.  At that time, Hispanics made up only 42.1 percent of the population.

Part of this leapfrogging can be credited to the faster pace at which Hispanics grew. The Hispanic population increased by 24.6 percent in New Mexico since 2000 while whites grew at only a 2.5 percent rate.

Overall, the state of New Mexico experienced a boom as it expanded by 13.2 percent with its three largest cities -- Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Rio Rancho -- growing substantially at 21.7 percent, 31.4 percent, and 69.1 percent, respectively.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Murder Suspect Compares Alleged Handiwork to 'CSI'

Comstock/Thinkstock(NASHUA, N.H.) -- The New Hampshire man who has confessed to a home invasion and deadly machete attack is a self-described social outcast who turned to a darker side of himself after his girlfriend ended their relationship, he testified in court Tuesday.

Christopher Gribble, 21, has admitted to the random stabbing death of Kimberly Cates of Mount Vernon and to the attempt to kill her 11-year-old daughter in early October 2009.

Gribble on Tuesday described the alleged attack in calm detail, saying that unlike co-defendant Steven Spader, he was controlled and precise during the alleged killing. Gribble described stabbing the mother with a long knife several times from one side of the bed, while Spader allegedly swung a machete and stabbed uncontrollably from the other side.

He said the daughter, who was asleep in the same bed, soon jumped out of bed and bumped into him.

"I immediately wrapped my left arm around her," he said in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua. "I went for some sort of shot, I'm pretty sure it was a neck shot because I remember it being high. But I missed," he added, his eyes widening in surprise.

At one point, Gribble said, the lights were turned on, and he looked at Spader "panting" and "completely out of control."

"The only thought that really entered my head at that point [was], 'Wow, this looks just like a CSI scene,'" Gribble said in reference to the popular television show.

Gribble, who did not know the victims and has claimed he was insane at the time of the attack, at times calmly described the events, and at other times seemed surprised at his memories of that night. He said it was interesting to see his co-defendant allegedly stab the mother, 42, so deeply that Gribble could see bone.

During the alleged murder and subsequent robbery, he said, he "knew instinctively" what to do. He said repeatedly that it is difficult to describe what he felt that night: especially afterward, when he was in the car leaving the scene of the alleged crime.

Days before the attack, Gribble sent his ex-girlfriend, Ashley Martin, a string of prescient text messages. The alleged killing and home invasion took place less than one week later.

Tuesday was Gribble's second day on the stand. He testified Monday that he had fantasized about various ways to kill his mother when he was a young teenager: cutting her into little pieces "bit by bit," pouring boiling water over her and bending her limbs out of joint.

In Tuesday's testimony, Gribble spoke of how he had felt emotionally attached to ex-girlfriend Martin, and how that made him feel awkward.

Co-defendant Spader was convicted in November and sentenced to life in prison.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Tuesday
Mar152011

Texas Man Charged in Kidnapping and Torture of Woman May Have Kidnapped Before

Medioimages/Photodisc/ThinkStock(CORSICANA, Texas) -- The arrest of a man in the kidnapping of a 62-year-old Texas woman has led investigators to re-examine the disappearance of two other women, one of them the suspect's former wife who vanished 19 years ago.

Jeffrey Allan Maxwell, 58, was arrested Saturday after Parker County Police visited his Corsicana, Texas home to follow up on a tip about Maxwell's car. The suspect's car had been spotted at the missing woman's home when it mysteriously burned down March 3. Her car was also burned.

Police discovered the 62-year-old woman in the midst of interviewing Maxwell when she "burst out of the residence yelling, 'I'm here,'" according to a court affidavit.

She told police that Maxwell had "forced his way into her residence, assaulted her, tied her up and got her into his vehicle," according to the affidavit. Two days later, Maxwell allegedly returned to the woman's home and burned it down, she told police.

Maxwell admitted that he had hit the woman several times with his fist and a rolling pin, according to court records. He told police that he bound the woman with handcuffs and "strung her up in a homemade device used for skinning deer," according to court documents.

Police swept the home, finding handcuffs, ankle restraints, sex toys and a leather gag. The woman was sexually assaulted, Maxwell told police.

Badly beaten, she was taken to the hospital. Her brother had reported her missing after a search of her burned home turned up no human remains. The woman was described by neighbors as a recluse who typically never left her home, according to court documents.

This is not the first time Maxwell has been accused of assaulting a woman.

The arrest of Maxwell has shed new light on the cold cases of two other missing women. The Parker County Sheriff's Office, with the help of Texas Rangers, are re-examining the disappearance of Amelia Smith.

Smith, 51, disappeared in 2000 under similar circumstances to the current case. Her home was burned to the ground the day she vanished. The family of Smith said that they had never heard of Maxwell and don't believe the missing woman knew him.

Fort Worth police are re-examining the 1992 disappearance of Maxwell's wife, Martha Martinez Maxwell.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 







ABC News Radio