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IN THE ARENA

Nuclear Fuel Rods Exposed; Nuclear Worries in Japan; Former Nuclear Watchdog Official Concerned about Japan

Aired March 16, 2011 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ELIOT SPITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Eliot Spitzer. Welcome to the program. ARENA regular Will Cain and CNN's senior analyst Gloria Borger join me.

Gloria, you were at Three Mile Island as a reporter when that horrific event occurred. You're going to tell us about that later in the show.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I was at "Newsweek" at the time, Eliot, and it's really something you never ever forget.

SPITZER: I can imagine. Can't wait to hear that story. It is amazing. But first we start with breaking news.

We finally hear some truth telling about what's really going on at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. But it's not coming from Japan, it's coming from right here in the good old USA.

In testimony today before Congress, Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, delivered the bad news about reactor number there.

This is exactly what we were afraid of.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY JACZKO, CHAIRMAN, U.S. NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION: What we believe at this time is that there has been a hydrogen explosion in this unit due to an uncovering of the fuel in the fuel pool. We believe that secondary containment has been destroyed and there is no water in the spent fuel pool and we believe that radiation levels are extremely high which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

SPITZER: No water in the spent fuel pool. That means that radioactive fuel rods are now exposed. Without water, the fuel rods could overheat and catch fire, a fire that would spread radioactivity over a wide area and this, folks, is the nightmare scenario we've been telling you about for days now.

Another crucial point from Jaczko, any American within 50 miles of the damaged plant should evacuate, a much bigger evacuation than the Japanese government has ordered. That means that these folks you're looking at right now are in danger. They are at a shelter in Fukushima closer than our government says is safe.

The nuclear crisis threatened their homes but they, according to American estimates, are still in grave danger, too close to the dangerous reactors.

Tonight we have all the angles covered. Anderson Cooper is on the ground in Tokyo. When we'll finally get some answers from the Japanese government itself and that will be quite something to hear, but first Tom Foreman will show us exactly what the danger is tonight in each of the six Fukushima reactors. But we go initially to Jim Walsh, our nuclear security expert back tonight to help explain what is happening.

Jim, you have heard the testimony from the chair of the NRC. Devastating testimony, kind of shocking. What do you make of it?

JIM WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's astounding. It is shocking. You know this is a -- this is an earthquake of a different kind. This is a political earthquake.

The U.S. government -- the American government's top nuclear official is coming out and saying things are far worse than the Japanese government has said. You can imagine what the meetings are like in Tokyo among government officials in Japan.

Now the utility reportedly is still denying that this is the case, that the water has leaked out, but when you look at the testimony and two press conferences afterwards, American officials have been quite insistent and an American team had arrived earlier in the day so clearly they got information, relayed it to Washington.

My guess is then Washington warned Tokyo, hey, you know, we're going to make this announcement just so you know but if you're in the Japanese government, imagine what is happening now because your people are now going to seriously doubt the statements you're making about the nature of the crisis.

SPITZER: Jim, it is amazing. The American top nuclear official has cast doubt on virtually everything the Japanese government has said, their entire assessment of this.

Let's first go to Tom Foreman. He's going to show us with all his maps and his creative designs what this means, explain it to us, and then the three of us are going to discuss what it means from a scientific and from the health and danger perspective.

Tom, take it away.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Eliot. You know, really Jim and I were talking 24 hours ago about the very thing U.S. officials are confirming as their belief as well.

Look at the satellite view here as we fly in here and just get a picture of this damage, because I think you cannot see enough of this to get an idea of what we're saying here. Look at this. Reactor here in trouble. Reactor number two in trouble. Steam coming out.

Reactor number three, the only one loaded with plutonium, in trouble and then the really important one down here, reactor number four. Look at how torn up this thing is.

Let's go inside and look a little more deeply at what's going on here. If you're coming out reactor one, here's what happened. We had a hydrogen explosion in that. All the damage related to that.

If you move from that over to reactor number two, more serious problems, an explosion there as well. Possible containment damage. When we talk about containment damage we're talking about this -- this part in here. This is the concrete containment area for the reactor itself. This is the part supposed to keep everything inside.

If we move on from that to reactor number three, as I mentioned, the only one that has a combination of uranium and plutonium which makes it both hotter and ultimately more dangerous if it releases or ultimately melts down and releases everything inside here. That an explosion there, possible structural tear inside that as well.

But now we come to the big one, the one we're all focused on so much, which is reactor number four. Here we've had an explosion. We've had those repeated fires and the problem, once again, as we've been talking about all along, is not this part. This part was shut down when this began. It wasn't operating.

Let's move inside for a closer look. This is the part that's inside the containment shell, Eliot. That's the active reactor part. Nothing was going on there when this started. The part we're worried about is this. This is the place where they stored the spent rods. It's outside of the containment shell.

This is what the U.S. officials are talking about when they say they think that the water has drained down exposing these rods.

If that has happened, nuclear experts tell us that the radiation coming off of these rods would be providing a fatal dose of radiation, at least a largely likely fatal dose within 50 to 100 yards.

That starts overlapping not just from here, but out toward all the other facilities nearby that they're trying to work on over here to other units keeping people back simply because to come within this is to subject yourself to a likely fatal dose.

Earlier today they talked about killing the missions of putting helicopters overhead. Same reason. If this is, in fact, uncovered, as suggested by this U.S. official earlier today, Eliot, and as we've talked about since yesterday, what you're seeing is a reaction of the zirconium on the outside of the rods. We've had repeated fire, that's what would happen.

They would break out into fires and all the ash, all the smoke, all the particulate would carry caesium-137 which is exactly what we got out of Chernobyl that created a wasteland out there. And all of those problems increasing for anybody in this area. Not only the immediate effects on the organs but long-term chances of lymphoma, leukemia, all sorts of things.

SPITZER: This is the actual -- actual horror show we've been talking about for days now. All springs from the lack of water in that spent rod fuel, something we were speculating about for a couple of days and the amazing thing is now the chairman of the NRC, the top nuclear official in the United States has come out and said with absolute certainty that's what we've got.

And I want to read one other thing he said, because it goes directly to the point you just made, Tom, about how lethal that radiation could be. His words were levels describing the radiation, levels that would be lethal within a fairly short period of time which means people can't go back in there to try to remedy this and if you leave these rods -- let me go back to Jim, what happens if these rods don't get water covering them very quickly?

WALSH: Well, number one, they are emitting high levels of radiation. Number two, they could melt. There is talk about fires, although fires are often associated with a quick loss of water rather than this boiling off of water. But when asked about it today, and I listened closely.

When the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was asked about the possibility of ignition, he said that was a possibility. He didn't say it was likely, but he included it among the range of things that they're planning for, so I don't think they're going -- I don't expect them to catch fire but they are generating high levels of radiation.

They could melt. There's no containment vessel like you have with the reactor to hold that material if it does begin to melt down and into the environment, and I think Tom really put his finger on the main thing here, which is if it's emitting a lot of radiation, so much so that the workers cannot come in and protect the other reactors from the other problems that they're having, then that might set up, you know, a sort of situation where it's one, two, three.

Already, by the way, the IAEA said today that reactor number three is having problems with the spent fuel rods. That's the first time I've seen them on their Web site mentioned reactor three having a -- the same problems that we're having with reactor four. Not as severe but something that they felt worried about enough to mention on their Web site.

So as Tom says, there's so much radiation we can't get in the workers -- can't get the workers in to try to secure the other reactors then the other reactors become at risk, as well.

SPITZER: You know, Jim, something you just mentioned in terms of reactor three, the chairman of the NRC did mention number three. We didn't play that little piece of it for you at the open of the show, folks, but he said this and I'll quote him. He said, "We do believe there's a crack in unit three pool as well which could lead to a loss of water in that pool." So what would happen in three is identical to what's going on -- that we're describing in four unless more water was put in there.

And then, Tom, you made the critical point. These pools are not inside that strong reactor containment vessel. They are pretty much exposed to the open air.

FOREMAN: Yes, they are.

SPITZER: And so when stuff goes bad, it goes bad.

FOREMAN: Yes. Exactly. I mean basically what this is, is just kind of a metal covering over this. This is a -- one scientist I talked to said it's like a corrugated tin roof covering it because this area up in here that we're so worried about now has simply not been considered as critical. These rods don't have the punch of these rods.

The problem is they have more than enough, Eliot. If you let them dry out and nothing on top of them, and really I did want to ask Jim a question.

Jim, you said, you don't know if they -- they would actually catch on fire. What I was told is that actually the zirconium coating on them that most likely would start burning.

WALSH: Right.

FOREMAN: But that could carry away this radiation. Is that about right?

WALSH: That's right. Exactly it's the cladding but I think there's some disagreement among some people whether that happens when you have an immediate loss of coolant, you know, and suddenly escapes or whether there is a difference when it does so gradually.

In this case I don't think so much the water leaked out as it did boil out because they weren't able to keep it -- keep it cool so the water there just got -- it got hotter and hotter and the water level went lower and lower.

In fact, IAEA as of -- I don't know, 15 minutes ago when you go to their Web site, is now publishing the data that they have on the water levels in the spent fuel containment areas for all the reactors, and you can see that they're getting lower in several of the different reactors.

SPITZER: Guys, we got to break here.

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH: And several different (INAUDIBLE) --

SPITZER: We got to break here. I just want to add one thing to this. Unit four, the spent rods had been taken out of that active nuclear reactor only a couple of days before we're told. So even though sometimes rods that are in the pool have lower levels of radiation by significant amount, these have been taken out so recently they were very, very hot in terms of their nuclear radiation capacity.

Anyway, Tom and Jim, thank you much and, you know, scary situation, we'll be chatting with you more.

All right, let's bring in Anderson Cooper from Tokyo where he's been covering the disaster in Japan for days.

Anderson, what's the latest?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN'S AC 360: Well, Eliot, I think there's increasing credibility gap in terms of what the Japanese government is saying and the way people are interpreting it.

I mean I think everyone I've talked to here, I haven't met anyone who really has faith in the public statements that are being made by the Japanese government because in truth it seems that the Japanese government is getting their information from this private company which is still in charge of the operation.

You know, people complain during the BP oil spill that BP was running too much of the show and the U.S. government kept saying, no, you know, we're the ones in charge. That -- you know, there was -- though there wasn't enough transparency in that situation, there was some transparency.

In this situation there is virtually no transparency, everybody is dependent, it seems, on these statements on whatever information is being put out by the private Japanese company and we know from their track record they have a history of misleading the public.

So it's of great concern I think as -- I think all of this is compounded by now the statements by U.S. officials which seem to be very frank statements and I think people frankly appreciate the frankness because in an emergency situation like this, the last thing you want is to not have credibility to not believe the statements which are being made by the authorities.

And I think there's a lot of people -- especially in Tokyo, you know, when you go up to the northeast which is the tsunami affected areas, people are trying to figure out where to get food, where to get water, you know, they're in homeless shelters. They may not be as focused on the issue but people here in Tokyo where there is no tsunami damage are focused constantly on what is happening up in the Fukushima plant.

So it's very worrying, very worrying especially when you consider now the statements made by U.S. officials.

SPITZER: You know, Anderson, you are so right. This sort of tension between the clarity with which the chairman of the NRC, our highest nuclear regulatory fellow, said this is dangerous. Here's the situation and the sort of vagueness and obscurity that we keep hearing from the Japanese officials.

COOPER: Right.

SPITZER: And when I asked Mr. Shikata, who's the spokesman for the prime minister of Japan, and we'll play this in just a couple of moments, I said, how do you square these, they had no answer. There is simply this complete disconnect.

So --

COOPER: Well, I --

SPITZER: How is the public there dealing with this?

COOPER: Yes, I got to tell you, I saw an interview that man did, the spokesman for the prime minister did on CNN International a couple of hours ago, and I can't wait to see the interview that you did with him, because the interview he did on CNN International -- he was talking but he was not saying anything.

And I literally as a viewer I'm sitting there watching wanting to throw something at the screen because in a situation like this everybody wants information and granted it's a fast-moving situation, it's not clear, you know, what the condition of some of these rods is. It's not clear exactly what's going on in the plant, but you at least want somebody to say, you know what, it's not clear as opposed to kind of saying, well, we're all working together and, you know, we're endeavoring to rectify the situation.

I mean things which just are words but don't really have much meaning. It's also frustrating I think a lot of people probably considered earlier, the last couple of days, that the IAEA was somehow on site or at least monitoring or overseeing from here. We've learned now of course in the last 24 hours, the IAEA does not have a presence here.

Now the head of the IAEA is talking about coming in perhaps today, but it would just be a one-day visit from what I've heard of his statements. And, you know, there's -- the information they're getting just seems to be getting the information from the Japanese government which is getting the information from this private company.

So even you have the energy secretary saying that they are not receiving enough information from their Japanese counterparts and that's very worrying and incredibly frustrating.

SPITZER: You know, Anderson, I think that art of talking but saying nothing and giving out no information is taught to spokesman for energy companies and certain government officials.

And yes, we're going to have to start to drill down and kind of rake them over the coals because we can't let that continue.

And Anderson, all right. Thank you so much. And, you know, stay safe over there. Coming up, why is it that we're hearing the real news about Japan from American officials? As I just mentioned I'll be getting some answers straight from Japan. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: Right now we have the opportunity to hear the Japanese government respond to the frightening news coming out of Fukushima. Since this crisis began we have not heard the straight story from the prime minister of Japan but now the rare chance to hear directly from his spokesman Noriyuki Shikata -- excuse me -- who I spoke with just a few minutes ago from Tokyo.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER: Let me begin, you have heard no doubt of the rather startling testimony that we heard today from the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission here in the United States, the most senior person -- Mr. Jaczko, who is the most senior regulator of nuclear power in the United States, who just testified this afternoon that unit four at the plants where all this is occurring -- at unit four there may no longer be any water in the spent fuel pool.

If that is true, this is a crisis of unbelievable enormity. Can you confirm that his testimony is correct?

NORIYUKI SHIKATA, GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, I saw the testimony itself. I cannot directly confirm it, but what I can say is that this unit four of Fukushima Daiichi needs continued cooling activity and we are trying utmost efforts to realize the cooling of the unit number four.

SPITZER: This is startling testimony from the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission before Congress. He made these statements today here in the United States. Do you not know whether it's true or not, or you simply disagree with it? How can it be that you can't either confirm it or deny it?

You are the spokesman for the prime minister. This is absolutely critical factual -- a critical factual issue. Is it true or not to the best of your knowledge?

SHIKATA: Well, you know there is ongoing situation at the -- at the site and, of course, you know, we tried to share information with the U.S. government very closely, but I cannot comment on the basis of the testimony itself.

SPITZER: Well, let me ask you this question, you have heard that the chairman of the U.S. regulatory commission made these statements today. Have you gone back to any of the officials of TEPCO, the company that runs these reactors, to say, is this true? Have you gone to them and said confirm this is true or not, because if it's true then it requires a completely different sort of response than what is being done right now?

SHIKATA: Well, of course, you know, we are very, very closely monitoring the situation and we do take every effort to bring the situation under control, and as I mentioned, you know, the preparations are now under way for further attempts to cool the reactors.

SPITZER: Look, again, I don't mean to be too persistent and in any way push too hard on this issue, but once this testimony was given before Congress, was it not incumbent upon the prime minister of Japan to find out whether or not it was true, and if it is true, do something about it? So have you had that conversation with the prime minister?

SHIKATA: Well, we have -- you know, as I mentioned, very close contact, you know, between the U.S. government authorities and the Japanese government authorities. And American nuclear experts are with us in times of tackling situation, so I don't think there is a fundamental disconnect, you know, between the United States and Japan on this.

SPITZER: All right, Mr. Shikata, look, I want to thank you so much for joining us and I hope you understand that what troubles us and concerns us is that we are getting such a wholly different set of statements about the facts over there from our government officials as opposed to what we're hearing from your government officials.

And what we're worried about, frankly, is a lack of transparency there, and so I hope you understand the types of questions I'm asking.

SHIKATA: Well, you know, this is something which is very, very important for us and for the people living in this country, and we try to provide as much information as possible and also we are, you know, collaborating with the U.S. government experts and international delegation like IAEA.

SPITZER: Look, I'm sure there is all that cooperation, but I've just got to ask, the Japanese population over the course of today must have heard of the testimony that was provided before the United States Congress.

It is very ominous testimony and information like that about what is going on in the area surrounding the reactors necessarily would travel very quickly. Has the public there called you and said, tell us the truth about this?

SHIKATA: No, I have not received that kind of inquiries and this is something that, you know, of course we tried -- as I mentioned, you know, we are trying to provide information to the public and the Japanese public is extremely interested in the ongoing situation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER: We thank Mr. Shikata for that interview and we'll be hoping to get more answers in the days to come.

Now, coming up, Victor Gilinsky knows all about disasters. He was in charged at Three Mile Island. And he's really worried about what he sees in Japan. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: Joining us now is one of the former commissioners of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory agency, one of those in charge during the Three Mile Island disaster. And he thinks what we're seeing tonight is so much worse, especially the new details we're getting on damage to that spent fuel pool at reactor number four.

Victor Gilinsky joins us now from Santa Monica.

Victor, good to have you back.

VICTOR GILINSKY, FORMER COMMISSIONER, NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION: Nice to be here.

SPITZER: Will Cain joins us as well.

Let me ask you this question, first, Victor. What do you make first of the substance of what we've heard, the testimony today from the chairman of the NRC, and also the relationship between the Japanese and American governments that seems to be evolving here that doesn't seem to be a perfect match?

GILINSKY: I tell you the truth, I think you're overplaying this difference. The information that Greg Jaczko put out was available -- in fact, I got it this morning from the Japanese Nuclear Industry Web site. They put out a chart and that spent fuel pool in unit four is marked in red and about the water being low.

It's a very serious situation and I think that they're very much aware. I mean, my god, the emperor spoke on the subject. But we are at a very, very critical stage. The company is saying, and I don't know if this is correct, that they're bringing up a power source, a new line, and they hope to connect it up and then get pumps going and so on.

It's not clear what they can accomplish at this point because I'm not sure where they have sources of water other than the seawater, but it's certainly a plus. If they don't stabilize the situation, Japan is in for a very grim time.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Victor, Will Cain here.

Which one of the problems -- there's so many problems mounting upon other problems at four different reactors now. Which one of these problems has the most potential to spread dangerous levels of radiation? Is it the meltdown, the break of a containment vessel? Or is it in fact this spent fuel pond that we kept hearing about?

GILINSKY: Well, the spent fuel pond contains the core's -- many, many cores. In other words, it contains the spent fuel for many years of operation so it has much more radioactive material in it, much more fuel which contains radioactive material than does each of the individual cores in the first three reactors. And that is completely open to the air, that building, it's at the top floor and the building is -- the walls are knocked down. Not that that building isn't formidable anyway. And if that melts as it can, at least certainly the more recent fuel, you can have a horrific release.

CAIN: How horrific? I'm trying to -- I'm trying to wrap my brain around it. How dangerous of levels of radiation are we talking about? I've read that if I walked up to the outside of the plant right now and stood there for an hour, the amount of radiation we're talking right now that I would receive would be less than I would get if I get a CT scan. However, I know we're talking about the potential of something much worse happening. So what kind of levels of radiation are we talking about here coming from the spent fuel ponds?

GILINSKY: Well, I'll tell you, you know, I'm just getting this information from this Japan atomic industrial forum site. At least earlier today, and I don't know whether the levels have come down, they were talking about in the units that I'm familiar with 10 rems per hour to 40 rems per hour at the reactors. Now, these are incredible rates, because the maximum for an operator is about five rems per year, and usually it's held to something like 1 1/2. So these are very, very high rates. They're nothing like what you're talking about.

ELIOT SPITZER, HOST: So, Victor, just to follow up on that, if that is the measured level of radiation right now, is it fair to presume that probably that is coming from these spent fuel ponds that don't have water in them?

GILINSKY: Well, yes, apparently at least in unit four, they dried it out or nearly dried it out. The fuel -- what happens at first is the cladding or the tubing which the fuel pellets are put for -- in fuels like 14 feet long, that reacts with hot steam to form hydrogen. You had a hydrogen burn, fast burn or explosion as it's sometimes called. Really an explosion is something different, but it has the same effect.

CAIN: Victor --

GILINSKY: And the --

CAIN: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

GILINSKY: Well, it blew out part of the building and then if it proceeds and the stuff slumps and comes together, the fuel melts. And once it melts, it vaporizes and stuff goes out into the air and you've just got a big hole in the front of the building and, you know, you're in big trouble.

CAIN: I think the difference between the numbers I was citing and the numbers you were just mentioning are the difference between what I've read inside the plant and outside the plant. So I guess I have two-part question for you. The numbers you cite, which are staggeringly high for the workers inside the plant --

GILINSKY: Right.

CAIN: -- would that amount in your mind, and what's the danger for them? Is that a suicide mission? And then the second part is back to my question, what does it mean for people outside the plant, people who live or evacuated within 50 miles of the plant? What are we looking at for them?

GILINSKY: Well, I don't know. That depends on a lot of detail. It depends on which way the winds are blowing, whether the atmosphere is turbulent or it's static and a lot of things that we don't know and we just have to assume that they're keeping track of this and have uppermost in their mind the protection of the people.

Incidentally, just to mention another point, it isn't just people. Even if you get the people out of the way which is not so easy, but let's assume they do get people out of the way and people don't get harmed. If you get a really major release, you're going to have a lot of radioactive material, cesium, strontium deposited in the surrounding area. In which case, that will be uninhabitable essentially indefinitely.

SPITZER: You know, Victor, one of the things when I was just chatting with the spokesman for the Japanese prime minister, it was kind of surprising to me that he was unwilling to deny or accede to and accept these facts that you just said. And I was not aware of this that it was actually on the Web site of the Japanese nuclear agency itself. If that is the case, you would have expected there to be a much more fulsome response to try to figure out both publicly to warn people and also privately how are they going to get water back into that pond because that seems to me to be the crisis of the moment. Are we understanding this properly?

GILINSKY: Well, right, they got to get water into the cores which are probably melted in part the first three. They got to get water into the spent fuel ponds with number four being the highest priority, but the others are important too. The reason you've got a problem starting in number four which was as you said that's where they put the core from the -- there is no core inside the reactor, number four. That core is in the spent fuel pond. So that spent fuel pond has the largest heat source.

All of these things have to be done. Now, they have to be done by the company. The government can't do this. The company people are the ones who know the reactor. No one else is qualified to run it. No one else is licensed to operate it. You have to rely on them. What the government has to do is make sure the company has the resources and make sure that the company has the right priorities. In other words, public safety is absolutely number one.

SPITZER: All right.

GILINSKY: Obviously they're not handling it well, but, you know, we didn't either.

SPITZER: All right. Victor Gilinsky, thanks so much for your insights tonight. We'll be chatting with you in days ahead.

Coming up, breaking news on the situation in Libya. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SPITZER: Now for the latest on the situation in Libya. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice says the U.S. and I quote, "needs to prepare and contemplate steps that include but perhaps go beyond a no-fly zone." Even though there's no agreement for resolution yet, this is the first time the U.S. has gone that far in voicing support for not just a no-fly zone but perhaps even further action. As the U.N. debates this issue, pro-Gadhafi forces are on the attack launching fierce assaults against the rebels reclaiming cities. Arwa Damon now joins us from eastern Libya.

Arwa, what's the latest?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Eliot, as far as we can tell, the battle is still the battle for the city of Ajdabiya, around 100 miles west of the opposition stronghold of Benghazi. We tried to get in there earlier today. We were stopped on opposition checkpoints, told quite simply that the fighting was too fierce.

Eyewitnesses telling us that air strikes began at around 9:30 in the morning followed by a heavy and sustained bombardment by artillery. Another witness telling us that pro-Gadhafi forces had set up sniper positions and yet another talking to us about the rise in civilian casualty saying that an entire family at the very least had been killed in these ongoing strikes.

A few hours later, we were in front of the courthouse in Benghazi walking alongside a march of women, and they were carrying one banner at the very front. And the message on it was quite simple. How many Libyans need to die before the United Nations takes action? And that, Eliot, is what we keep hearing. People want to know on this side in eastern Libya what it is going to take for the world to actually take concrete steps to bring about an end to this before even more blood is shed, Eliot.

SPITZER: Arwa, have you heard any reaction to what we just heard ourselves, a few, you know, a few minutes, perhaps an hour ago now that the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations says there may actually be a vote perhaps as soon as tomorrow on a resolution. We don't yet know exactly what's in it, but has there been any response to the notion that the United Nations may finally be on the cusp of some action?

DAMON: No direct response to that just yet given the hour it is here at this point, Eliot, but I can say that if a resolution that would include a no-fly zone and some sort of air capability were to somehow pass through, anyone who was involved in that would be viewed by the people here as heroes. Failure to do so, of course, would have the entire opposite result and that is up until now what we have, in fact, been seeing. People questioning why it is taking so long. People wondering how it is that if the international community is, in fact, seeing these images coming out of Libya that it can continue to, in the eyes of the opposition, sit by idly because up until now, they have not seen any action. So if that were, in fact, to materialize, it would be greatly welcomed. One man who I was speaking to earlier today was saying that if the U.S. were to actually take action, he would be so grateful that he would personally hand stitch all of the stars on the massive American flag. They would plan on draping from the courthouse. And I have to say it would probably be among the first times that Arabs themselves would be hanging an American flag inside an Arab and Muslim nation, Eliot.

SPITZER: All right. Thank you, Arwa. Stay safe.

When we come back, Senator Lindsey Graham, he's not happy about how the Obama administration is dealing with what we just saw in Libya. And then, an update on the crisis in Japan. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: The big question regarding Libya tonight, will a no-fly zone now even help the rebels? David Gergen, a CNN senior political analyst and a former presidential adviser, I talked to him a few moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER: David, it's great to have you here again this evening. We have heard President Obama say repeatedly that Gadhafi has to go. Gadhafi has no legitimacy, yet Gadhafi is still there and we are doing nothing to help the opposition. Can you explain this?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Difficult. I think the White House has shown understandable restraint in one respect, and that is, Bob Gates who is arguably the best secretary of defense we've had since George Marshall, has been arguing very strongly for caution, don't go in. So I understand why they held back but, Eliot, I mean the problem is that the president went on record early -- back on -- 18 days ago.

He first said in a phone call to Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, he's got to go. He's totally unacceptable. The secretary of state has come out that the president has repeatedly says that. And when you say that as president of the United States, you almost invite the rebels to keep fighting because they think you're going to be there at their side and here then when you let them be crushed and they're about to be crushed. Look, it's too late for a no-fly zone. Then it's the humiliation for the president and it's an embarrassment in many ways.

SPITZER: It seems to me the president is losing credibility day by day. The opposition forces are being pushed back by Gadhafi. The Arab League said do a no-fly zone. France has recognized the opposition and is begging us to join them in a no-fly zone. So what is the hesitancy at this point? What is creating this tension (ph) that makes it impossible to move?

GERGEN: Well, again -- well, first of all, they don't have the support of China, of Russia, of Turkey, of a number of other critical countries that would want to go in. They don't have NATO united on this, but they haven't made the push. That's what's been really surprising. There has been no American leadership on this. I mean, to have the headline in "The Washington Post" on Libya Obama wants others to lead. That to you and me as traditionalists that's sort of, what? You know, it's very -- it's hard to understand.

Look, there is a strong case you don't want to be bombing a third Muslim country before it's over. But I do think that what they've allowed themselves to get into is to be accused now by -- first, they were accused by the friends of Mubarak, you throw your oldest ally under the bus, how can we trust you. The Saudis, for example. And now the people who are the pro-democracy people say, wait a minute, we thought you are on our side and you allowed us to be crushed in Libya. So you've got the worst of both worlds. You've got both of them, the democracy people and the Saudis thinking, who are you guys? So I don't think it's turned out well for them in the short term.

SPITZER: Or the long term. We'll get to that in a moment.

GERGEN: Yes.

SPITZER: What worries me most is this perhaps has turned the entire arc of the pro-democracy movement in North Africa and the Middle East because clearly in Libya the democracy forces are on the defense. In Bahrain, Saudi Arabia sent troops in. I don't think they could have done that if we had not been backing off in Libya. They would have said, wait a minute, we better get on the side of democracy.

GERGEN: Well, I think that we tried to get the Saudis not to go in and -- but I do think that the Bahrainian government can say, wait a minute, you stood by over there. Why are you going to object to us? But I do want to say two things, Eliot. In a longer term, I don't think we should be as pessimistic. I've had a chance to talk to White House folks. They still feel that they can bring Gadhafi down through sanctions and through other efforts even though at the expense -- there's going to be enormous expense of life. We may have real bloodshed now as Gadhafi closes in and finishes off.

SPITZER: -- Benghazi which is the last stronghold. That would be an ugly battle.

GERGEN: So you still have to -- if you were to realize that there are ways to get him out, but it just takes a long time and a lot of bloodshed and just the humiliation.

The other thing is that they are -- I do think they've got their eyes on the ball about Egypt and about Saudi Arabia. Those are the two critical countries and they're working hard. Hillary Clinton going to Egypt now. They're working hard to make sure they've got a good transition there and they do want to get the Saudi relationship back on track. Those are really important.

SPITZER: But how about at a different level, the more academic level perhaps?

GERGEN: Sure. SPITZER: What you just said before, we didn't have Russia and china on board.

GERGEN: Right.

SPITZER: Wait a minute. We're promoting democracy in North Africa. This critical moment in history when finally the awakening of the Arab soul and spirit and we're letting Russia and China say no. Isn't that problematic to those of us who think we stand for something?

GERGEN: Yes. I thought "The Wall Street Journal" in its editorial made a really important point the other day. This is what the world is going to start looking like without American leadership.

SPITZER: That's right.

GERGEN: That we have to step up as a country. And we've got to renew and revive ourselves at home so that we can be that superpower again.

SPITZER: That's right. And we can't live in fear of multilateralism --

GERGEN: Absolutely.

SPITZER: -- so that we hesitate.

GERGEN: Absolutely.

SPITZER: Quickly, last remaining seconds. What does this say about Barack Obama and his political leadership and will this become a metaphor for his failure to lead, whether it's on health care or on any other issue facing him?

GERGEN: I think he has got to break out of this mold that he's been in recently both on deficits and on North Africa of appearing to be sort of standing back from it. I think that he had a really good series of weeks right after the elections last November. He had a great -- remember the session of Congress he appeared to be leading. He was leading and got many things done. I think he's got to get back in that mode and exercise American leadership again.

SPITZER: He's got to realize leading is not waiting for somebody else to form the consensus which he then jumps on. He's got to create that consensus and grab it.

GERGEN: Absolutely. You can do that quietly. You can do it behind the scenes, but you've got to do it. And you've got to have a strategy.

SPITZER: Right.

GERGEN: You've got to know what -- you've got to know what you want to build in the Middle East, and then you've got to push things along in that direction. SPITZER: All right. David Gergen, as always, thank you so much for joining us.

GERGEN: Thanks, Eliot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER: All right. Gloria, thank you for joining us this evening. As you can see, I mean, it just seems pressure is building from every vantage point for this administration to do something.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely.

SPITZER: What's your take on it? And you spoke to Lindsey Graham about it.

BORGER: Well, I talked to Senator Lindsey Graham earlier today, as you know, and he had some strong advice for the president, Eliot. He said, go for a no-fly zone with a coalition of the willing. You don't need to get the approval of everyone in the U.N. Security Council. We know that's a problem this evening, so take a look at what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BORGER: Senator Graham, thanks so much for being with us tonight.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, MEMBER, ARMED SERVICES CMTE.: Yes.

BORGER: You have said that we are failing the test in Libya, that we should call for a no-fly zone and you've also said you're disappointed by the indecisiveness of the administration in the face of tyranny.

GRAHAM: Right.

BORGER: Seems to me they've been pretty decisive. They've decided to hold back until they get the international community to go along with them. What's wrong with that?

GRAHAM: Well, the analysis of the president that the noose is tightening around Gadhafi, it defies logic. It defies reason. Secretary Clinton is talking all the right ways about Gadhafi murdering his own people, but yet we're not leading.

The French have recognized the opposition forces in Libya. The French have called for a no-fly zone. My advice to the administration, be as bold as the French. You'll never go wrong. To those people in Libya who are fighting for their freedom, I hope that we will do something soon to help them.

BORGER: Well, explain this to our viewers who might be asking this question. Why is it our job to get rid of Gadhafi?

GRAHAM: It is our job to take care of the United States' national security interest. It is in our national interest to make sure that Moammar Gadhafi does not come back into power by murdering his own people because the Iranians will look at what happened in Libya and say why should we be worried about the United States coming after us if we develop a nuclear weapon?

BORGER: So is this about Iran? Is this about Iran?

GRAHAM: It's about -- it's about momentum for tyranny versus freedom.

BORGER: Well, do you think that President Obama made a mistake by coming out and saying Gadhafi must go if he wasn't willing to follow that up?

GRAHAM: Yes, that's a good question. He made -- I think he did the right thing in Egypt by pushing Mubarak to leave and standing with the Egyptian army and standing behind the demonstrators. He's a little slow on the uptake but he got it right. I think he missed a great opportunity in Iran in 2009 to really stand behind the demonstrators, but he's the president of the United States. And when the most powerful person in the world, the president says Gadhafi must go, and he doesn't go, that makes everything we stand for in our national security interests weaker.

BORGER: Well, the president's point, as you well know, because you've talked to the president, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his point is he doesn't want this to be seen as a U.S. instigated revolution. That, in fact that would work to Gadhafi's benefit.

GRAHAM: It's clear to me that the fighting in Libya is inspired by the Libyan people. The question for us, are we going to respond in a prudent, cautious, decisive way?

I totally understand why you wouldn't want to introduce ground forces. This is a hard decision for the president. There is risk with a no-fly zone, but the greatest risk is to allow this to continue and Gadhafi murder his way back into power because he gave up weapons of mass destruction in the past. Now I'm not so sure what he would do if he came back in power.

BORGER: Well, and very quickly, Senator, what does this tell you about Barack Obama as a leader?

GRAHAM: You know, I like the president as a person -- as a person and these are hard decisions. But he is being indecisive at a time when once you say Gadhafi must go, then you got to understand the power of your words and the position you have. I'm just urging the president to do a no-fly zone with willing partners and see if we can turn this around.

He is cautious and that's a good quality, because we don't need another ground war, another intervention in the Mideast unless we have to, but this is a moment in history. Egypt and Libya are different. He has a chance to change history for the better. I would urge the president to embrace a no-fly zone while it still matters, and I think it really still does matter because the people in Libya are going to fight to the death because they know what happens if they lose and I would like to see them prevail with our help and other people throughout the world.

BORGER: Thanks so much, Senator, for being with us.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BORGER: Eliot, there's absolutely no doubt where Senator Graham stands on this and what was interesting about the news this evening is that for the first time we saw the U.N. Ambassador Rice actually say that we ought to be contemplating steps that include but perhaps go beyond a no-fly zone. Now, whether or not the United States would do that with a coalition of the willing or would want the U.N. Security Council behind it or NATO behind it remains to be seen.

SPITZER: Also interesting when you hear Senator Graham, he and David Gergen make a lot of similar points about once the president says something, he's got to make it happen.

All right, Gloria.

BORGER: Words matter.

SPITZER: Indeed they do. Fascinating interview. We'll be right back with an update on breaking news out of Japan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: And this just in. A possible hopeful development from Japan according to Reuters. Operators of the Fukushima plant are now attempting to run an electricity cable to the site to pump water. This could possibly help cool the overheated reactors and those spent fuel rods we've been talking about all night.

All right. Gloria, in what time you've got left, take us back, Three Mile Island. You were there. What was it like?

BORGER: Well, I was a brand-new reporter at "Newsweek" and they sent me to one of my first assignments. What we did in those days -- we chartered airplanes and we were in an airplane. I was with the famed "Newsweek" photographer Wally McNamee, and I remember him saying to the pilot, "Do you think we could take the plane around a little bit so we could get a picture of that plume coming" -- and we did. And so when you think back on it and you think how naive we were about the damage. We wore the dosimeters but I remember people being evacuated and running after them to interview them. And I remember very contentious press conferences there which I'm sure we'll be seeing more of, but it's one of those things where what we know today versus what we know in 1979 about the dangers is really different.

CAIN: As we wonder about everybody else's radiation levels now in Japan, did your dosimeter hit any higher levels?

BORGER: No, no. CAIN: No?

BORGER: Actually it did not. So we were fine but I will tell you that our editors who had sent young women of childbearing age to Three Mile Island quickly called us back after we had filed --

SPITZER: Because they thought -- after you filed the story.

BORGER: After we filed our story --

SPITZER: Needless to say -- but here's the thing, and the very sad element of the story is that what's going on in Japan right now is being viewed as being closer to Chernobyl in terms of downside risk --

BORGER: Absolutely.

SPITZER: -- than Three Mile Island even though there was a meltdown at Three Mile Island it did not break through the canister that keeps the reactor.

BORGER: But, of course, you know, it was the unknown.

SPITZER: Right.

BORGER: It was the first and it was so frightening to everyone there and to the people who live there who really didn't know what to anticipate.

SPITZER: Right.

CAIN: You know, the context you just provided is the one I keep seeking in this story. As you said at Three Mile Island, it didn't break the canister. There are relatively no negative health effects in the area. Where will Fukushima land?

SPITZER: Well, the one thing we already know is that Fukushima is already beyond that in terms of the radiation that has gotten out. We already have a 50-mile evacuation according to the United States government at least. And one thing we have not spoken about yet and I think it's properly delayed for a couple of days at least, maybe weeks, months, the political fallout of this in terms of nuclear power.

BORGER: That's right.

SPITZER: Should the president put in his budget $36 billion to fund nuclear power plants in this nation? A lot of people think nukes are important. Gloria, up or down? You're the Washington maiden in the 30-seconds we have left. It doesn't happen?

BORGER: You know what? I don't know. We're hearing -- we're hearing different voices out of the administration saying different things. Until we hear from Barack Obama, we're not going to know what the answer is on energy policy but I guarantee you that there's going to be a slow walk on this just as there was in offshore drilling after BP. SPITZER: And, Will, five seconds.

CAIN: If history is our judge it's going to be no nuclear power in the future.

SPITZER: China is already beginning to cancel China.

CAIN: Right.

SPITZER: Beginning to cancel its nuclear program.

CAIN: Germany --

SPITZER: Germany, they've just taken seven plants offline, so clearly the rest of the world is saying we don't want more nukes. This poses a lot of tough energy problems for us here.

Anyway, Gloria, thanks so much for being here. Will, a regular, great to have you here tonight.

Thanks so much for joining us IN THE ARENA tonight. Thank you for watching. Good night from New York.

"PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.