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Today Marks 25th Anniversary Of Three Mile Island Accident; "Air America" Begins Broadcasting This Week; Teacher Investigated For Class Discussion Of Gay Marriage

Aired March 28, 2004 - 18:30   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR, CNN LIVE SUNDAY: Today marks the 25th anniversary of a frightening day for America. A day when the nation collectively held its breath as crews scrambled to stop a meltdown at Three Mile Island.
It was the nation's worst nuclear power plant accident. If you who don't think America relies much on nuclear power anymore, take a look at this. Dozens of nuclear plants still operate across the U.S., providing about a fifth of the nation's electrical power. Our Maria Hinojosa tracks down some of the families who lived near Three Mile Island.


MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Catherine Mayberry (ph) lived a stone's throw away from Three Mile Island 25 years ago, after the partial nuclear reactor melt down, she was evacuated.

CATHERINE MAYBERRY, THREE MILE ISLAND EVACUEE: My friend had small children, and she said if you take your child out; make sure you cover them with something, a blanket or something.

HINOJOSA: And the thought that this could protect a baby from that.

MAYBERRY: That. Well, I don't know. I didn't understand what I was protecting her from.

HINOJOSA: The photo of her and her little girl captured America's moment of fear. A scared and trepidatious mother escaping the unknown.

MAYBERRY: It was surreal because you're leaving your home, being evacuated and no one could really give you any answers.

HINOJOSA: Others who were there still question how they were affected on that frightening day. Debrah Baker is looking for answers on her own. Using radiation detectors and air filters, maps, an extensive computer tracking system. Baker doesn't know if her son was born with Down's syndrome because he was exposed then.

DEBRA BAKER, THREE MILE ISLAND MONITORING NET: Every time there's a cancer or a birth defect -- their at death (ph) to wonder, could it happen.

HINOJOSA: The chair of the nuclear regulatory commission says the worrying should stop.

NILS DIAZ, NRC CHAIRMAN: Three Mile Island was not really a disaster in radiological terms. There was no significant amount of radiation released, nobody was hurt. However, there was anxiety.

HINOJOSA: The anxiety has subsided for Catherine whose daughter how has a healthy newborn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do breathe a sigh of relief that everything is OK, and that he's OK, and hope you just hope that it continues that way.

HINOJOSA: For as long as it can. Maria Hinjosa, CNN. Middletown, Pennsylvania.


LIN: In the post-9/11 world, look around and wonder what are the easiest targets for terrorists? Buses, buildings? Nuclear power plants? Just look at the list of plants that actually produce nuclear weapons, and then consider that the energy department's own internal watchdog concludes that the government cannot guarantee its guards can actually defend against a terrorist attack.

Jim Walsh is an expert on security and terrorism. He's a regular on our program. And he is with the Belford Center at Harvard University in Boston. Jim, thank you very much for being with us today.

JIM WALSH, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: It's good to see you, Carol.

LIN: You consider this report and what was said. How likely is it that any of these facilities would actually be attacked?

WALSH: Well, it's a good question. It's hard to know. I think there are two types of dangers that people worry about. One would be a group of terrorists who would go on site and actually try to get the highly enriched uranium or the plutonium, or the nuclear weapons, and then get off site and use them someplace else.

That would be pretty difficult I think. The other scenario is that terrorists would attack these facilities with the purpose of sabotage to blow them up. I think that is more of a danger, and is certainly something we should protect ourselves against.

LIN: When you consider the locations of these, they're vulnerable by air, they are vulnerable by land. I mean, shoulder rocket could probably do some damage to a building. I mean, what are the possible likeliest scenarios, realistically?

WALSH: I think the scenario that most people worry about, and remember, when thinking about security, the question that you ask is the most important, what are we defending against?

In the nuclear world we call that the design basis threat. What do we think the terrorists might do? In the old days, we tested against a couple of guys with guns. Today we have to worry about a team of 20 or even 40 people with trucks, with truck bombs that might come in and attack a facility. I think that's the most likely scenario as opposed to the use of an airplane.

But it's a scenario that we are not quite ready for according to this new report by the Inspector General Office at the Department of Energy.

LIN: The focus in this report had to do with security guard training, that many of these guards either did not get training, or the training that they had was on the scale of ridiculous. For example, not actually doing any physical training on site like rappelling down buildings or target practice with weapons, that they instead would watch videos or when they did do a physical reenactment, it was with wooden props.

WALSH: That's right. There were a number of complaints. That was one of them. I hope we can move beyond the wooden prop stage in terms of our preparation. But I think there are a couple of issues that the report identifies.

One is do we have enough security, do we have enough resources, personnel? Right now they seem to be using a lot of overtime. After 9/11, all government institutions used overtime to meet their short- term security needs, but you can't use that short-term fix in the long-term. At some point, you have to generally upgrade your security.

Secondly, it's a matter of training, and the report says they're not getting enough training and they are not following the guidelines that they had developed for training. But I think in general, there's even another problem, if I may go on for just a minute more, Carol.

And that is there was a second report recently issued by the same group saying that when we tested these facilities to see if they could past mock drills and attacks, some of them were cheating. They had gotten the answers in advance and cheated on the test. I think there's a number of issues we need to address here.

LIN: All right. It doesn't look like there are any near solutions in sight. So the bottom line, we're vulnerable?

WASLSH: I think the bottom line is we have work to do. It's not as if they are totally vulnerable. There are guards there, but they are not meeting the standards we need to meet. We need more resources and more realistic testing.

LIN: All right. Thank you very much, Jim Walsh.

WALSH: Thank you Carol.

LIN: Talk radio has been -- has been for years been dominated by political conservatives, but there's about to be a new liberal kid on the block. That story straight ahead.


LIN: Turning now to the presidential campaign trail. Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry wrapped up his visit to Missouri today. He attended services at the new North Side Baptist church in St. Louis.

Kerry told the congregation he rejects President Bush's claim to be a compassionate conservative. He said the Bush Administration is neglecting the less fortunate.

Kerry may be among those tuning in to "Air America". It is the first radio network devoted to liberal leaning talk. Will it lure enough listeners to survive and thrive when it goes on the air this week? Adaora Udoji takes a look.


AL FRANKEN, COMEDIAN: If I was friends with Ken Adelman, I'm sure he is a nice Jewish boy.

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Comedian Al Franken couldn't resist. Even the name of his upcoming radio show sounds like a punch line. It's called "The O'Franken Factor," a clear swipe at the conservative Bill O'Reilly show, "The O'Reilly Factor." The creators of "Air America", the country's first self-proclaimed liberal radio network are betting that humor will pull in listeners.

EVAN COHEN, CHAIRMAN AIR AMERICA RADIO: You take somebody that is as talented as Al Franken, who is working as hard as he is, with as committed as he is to being successful, and provide great radio that talk about things that he believes are not in the American dialogue right now.

UDOJI: Indeed the airwaves are dominated by conservatives with Rush Limbaugh leading the pack. He pulls in nearly 15 million listeners a week. Right behind him, conservative host Shawn Hannity at 12 million. But analysts say there's plenty of room.

MICHAEL HARRISON, EDITOR, TALKERS MAGAZINE: Being conservative or being liberal are not the main elements in the recipe for success. You have to be talented, and have some special charismatic magic about you to attract a radio audience.

UDOJI: "Air America" is promising provocative programs led by Franken, actress/comedian Janeane Gorofalo and Hip Hop godfather Chuck D of the group "Public Enemy." Some argue it might even help that Democrats are not in the White House, especially in a big presidential election year.

HARRISON: Talk radio works best when it takes on power, when it flies in the face of authority, when it takes the outsider role and is the critical position.

UDOJI (on-camera): But it's a tough business, they don't expect to turn a profit for three years. Even if people do tune in. The task for "Air America" begins this week when the shows start broadcasting out of this building on Park Avenue to radio stations here in New York City, in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Adora Udoji, CNN, New York.


LIN: A new marriage and problems already for one man. Being gay is not the problem. Being a teacher is not the problem either. But being a gay teacher and talking about it, that could get him fired.


LIN: Top stories this hour. Gasoline prices are up to a new record high. $1.80 a gallon for all grades.

A part of I-95 in Connecticut shut down by a tanker accident on Thursday opens some of the lanes to traffic.

And the 9/11 Commission says it will keep working to get Condoleezza Rice to testify in public.

A California teacher who recently married his male partner in San Francisco now fears his job is on the line. He is facing an investigation because of a classroom discussion he insists he didn't even start. CNN's Miguel Marquez reports from Los Angeles.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: During the rush to be married in San Francisco, two southern Californians Ron Finelly (ph), and Randy Serric (ph) the drive and the commitment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it is the one of the biggest commitments of a relationship. After 15 years, we were recognized.

MARQUEZ: They returned to their Ventura home expecting life to return to normal.

MARQUEZ: But there was a hitch in getting married. Finelly (ph) teaches history to seventh and eighth graders. One day the students had questions.

The question was asked was we heard you had gotten married. I said yes that's true. And then the follow-up question was we heard it was to a man. I said yes, that's true.

MARQUEZ: Finelly (ph) says he spent a few minutes talking about gay marriage, and then he says his students gave him a standing ovation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They wanted to know the same things about me that they knew about every other teacher on that campus.

MARQUEZ: But a parent didn't see it that way. He pulled his child out of the class, and took his complaint to the school board.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm very upset and disappointed that this teacher brought his homosexual platform to our school district.

MARQUEZ: Matis (ph) claimed Finelly (ph) was advocating homosexuality, and influencing kids. Finelly (ph) followed a grievance because he felt other teachers outed him to students, so the district started an investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're trying to investigate the whole entire situation of course. Because it's a personnel investigation, it's all confidential.

MARQUEZ: The district says being gay and a teacher is a no issue, but Finelly (ph) is concerned that the investigation appears more focused on the parents' issues than his.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't do anything remarkable, but there's definitely a double standard in the way I'm being treated for being married, versus the way other people are treated.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): Finelly (ph) says he has the support of the vast majority of parents and kids. The school district says it will wrap up its investigation by the end of this week. And there's a board meeting scheduled for Thursday. Attendance is expected to be heavy. Miguel Marquez, CNN Los Angeles.


LIN: Turning now to consumer news. America's current fascination with high protein, low carb diets could be fueling food costs. They're expected to climb more than three percent this year. The hearty American appetite for sirloins and roasts remains unshaken by the discovery of a single case of mad cow disease late last year. On average, Americans eat nearly 67 pounds of beef each year. Meat purchases account for about 10 percent of what Americans spent on food.

And remember, spam? No, not the stuff that clogs your e-mail. The canned meat. It's often called the butt of jokes in the U.S. and Britain. But in the Philippines, they love it. Now an enterprising businessman hopes spam will do for him what the Big Mac did for Mickey D's. Catherine Dorset (ph) explains.


MARGOT MANOZA, LOVES SPAM: I love spam. It's, if you ask my people of my age, I think they grew up with spam. It's a favorite.

CATHERINE DORSETT CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look out, burger chain restaurants. There's a new type of product getting a lot of attention. A businessman in Manila says his spam jam restaurant is attracting a lot of customers.

PHILLIP ABADILLA, OWNER OF SPAMJAM: Well, as you can probably imagine, I'm a huge spam lover.

DORSETT: Phillip Abadilla says his new restaurant has been a success since its opening in December, pulling in 300 customers a day. He already has plans underway to open two more branches. ABADILLA: As a businessman, I'm always on the lookout for good opportunities, and I figure since there's a big market for spam here in the Philippines, maybe a restaurant serving all spam will be something that will be welcomed by a lot of Philipinos, and it prove us right.

DORSETT: The canned luncheon meat first founded during World War II by Hormel is often ridiculed by Americans. However, in the Philippines, 2.75 million pounds of it is consumed each year. Businessman Phillip Abadilla decided to capitalize on his country's passion for the tin pork product, which is why the Spamjam restaurant was born.

ABADILLA: I grew up on spam. So I like spam very much.

DORSETT: Some of Abadilla's menu items include spam burgers, spam nuggets, and spam spaghetti, Caesar salad with spam and spam and eggs. And for those who are not fans of the tin pork product, you can also order a good old-fashioned hot dog from the menu. I'm Catherine Dorset (ph) reporting.


LIN: March is almost over, and so is March Madness. Scores from today's games just ahead. And we're less than 48 hours away from the start of baseball season. Amongst those familiar teams, is the most unfamiliar setting.


LIN: Add another team to college basketball's final four. Georgia Tech's Yellow Jackets beat Kansas today in overtime, 79-71 at the St. Louis regional finals. Xavier's Musketeers are playing the Duke Blue Devils right now hoping for their own set of tickets to San Antonio.

In baseball, the New York Yankees are opening their season in Japan. Many baseball fans are wondering whether this team is the greatest collection of salaries ever assembled on a diamond, or a new murderer's row. On paper the line-up looks invincible but as Josie Burke explains, on paper you don't have to deal with the egos.


JOSIE BURKE, CNN CORRESPONDETN: The New York Yankees' line-up resembles a modern day murderer's row.

DEREK JETER, SHORTSTOP: Some former teammates called and even some teammates now called saying how excited we were. Not just Alex but you get Sheffield, Kevin Brown (ph), Kenny Law (ph) and Vasquez, Quantro (ph), Gordon, I'm probably leaving some people out, but that's a big list.

JOE TORRE, MANAGER: You can't take for granted because you have say the most talent or more talent than a lot of other teams that you're going to get there. BURKE: There is the last game of the World Series, holding the trophy. Torre is exercising caution because New York hasn't won at all since 2000. The game's best player has never been there, period. And changing that is the main reason Alex Rodriguez welcomed a trade to the Yankees. It's also why the All-Star shortstop switched to third base and allowed New York Captain Derek Jeter a main stay at shortstop to stay put.

ALEXANDER: RODRIQUEZ: To me, I'm excited to be playing with one of my favorite players, and one of my greatest friends. And to hopefully some day win a championship together would be magical.

TORRE: You come here for one reason and that's because you want to get to the World Series. We've been able to deliver six of the eight years to get to the World Series.

BURKE: With a roster that lists four players with $100 million contracts and a total payroll approaching $190 million, winning is also expected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It isn't about competing. It's not about getting to the playoffs here, or winning a wildcard ,which in many teams that's really what you're looking to do. Here it's very clear, very precise. It's to win the World Series, and I love it.

BURKE: What could derail the Yankees? New York returns only one regular starting pitcher from last year's rotation. And with so many big names and egos now in the same clubhouse, team chemistry could be an issue.

JETER: We have to make sure we stay you know chemistry wise, we play together. You know, we play like they say with the names on the front of our jerseys, not on the back of our jerseys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You look around, you see Derek Jeter's got four World Series. And Bernie Williams (ph), (INAUDIBLE) and we're all looking for a lot of us for our first. So everybody comes here to win. So it really doesn't matter where you hit or where you play. It's all about winning around here.

BURKE: Josie Burke, CNN.


LIN: An exclusive ski resort in Switzerland is hosting a visit by members of Great Britain's royal family. Before tackling the slopes today Prince William and his father posed for pictures. In return for the photo op, aides hope the media will give the royals a bit of peace and quite during their week long vacation. Yes, right.

That's it for us. Coming up at 7:00 Eastern, PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Tonight profiles of Janet Jackson and Kobe Bryant. At 8:00, CNN PRESENTS, "Fit to Kill," CNN takes a look how young soldiers deal with killing in combat, and how it affects their lives once they return home. At 9:00 Eastern, LARRY KING. Larry's guest tonight, Tammy Fay Messner (ph), who discusses her battle with lung cancer and the role her faith plays in her fight. And at 10:00 Eastern, the multimillion-dollar business of Christian pop culture. Tonight I'm going to be talking with Tim Lahay (ph) and Jerry Jenkins the authors of the enormously popular "Left Behind" series. Headlines when we come back, and then PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.


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