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Film "Pandora's Promise" Explores Nuclear Energy; NASA Says Meteor Over Russia May Not Be So Rare; Secret Letter from Chinese Inmate; Arafat Death Mystery

Aired November 7, 2013 - 12:30   ET


ROBERT STONE, PRODUCER, CNN'S "PANDORA'S PROMISE": You have to look at nuclear energy.

And the more I looked at it, the more I realized that almost everything that I had been told by people like The Sierra Club and other organizations that I had revered and given money to turned out to be wrong. And I urge people to watch the film and judge for themselves

I mean, I'm not an activist. I'm not a lobbyist. I'm an independent filmmaker, who spent four years making this film. And I come to these conclusions, not lightly, because like I said, my first film was anti- nuclear film, you know.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Carl, obviously, you want to jump in here, being a former leader of The Sierra Club. One of the things that they talk about is like that there has been misinformation, that there is not necessarily this dramatic link between radiation exposure and cancer, per se, or that the numbers are wildly different when it comes to whether or not people suffered from Chernobyl.

How do you explain what Robert is saying here, is that you guys have just been duped, that you don't have the right information?

CARL POPE, ENVIRONMENTALIST: Well, I think the truth is that we don't truly know exactly how many people died from radiation as a result of Chernobyl. These kinds of things are difficult to measure, and the Soviet Union wasn't a great place for getting honest numbers. But we ought to be looking forward. I agree with Robert about that. And looking forward, the reality is we should be researching new versions of energy technology, including new versions that might be nuclear.

But the biggest enemy of the next generation of nuclear opportunities is not environmentalists. It's the fact that the nuclear industry is continuing to pour billions of dollars, not into research into better nuclear technology, but into building outmoded, unaffordable and unsafe boiling water and pressurized-water reactors like the one at Fukushima and like the one the British government just agreed to build, which is going to double the cost of electricity in Great Britain if it's built.

We cannot afford the most expensive --

STONE: That's not true. POPE: -- alternatives -

STONE: That's not true.

MALVEAUX: Robert, I want you to weigh in, if you would, because I know that you mentioned --

STONE: Yeah, the new generation -

MALVEAUX: -- you thought it was a red herring to talk about the amazing cost that would be required to develop nuclear energy.

STONE: Yeah, look, the reason -- this is an argument against all technology, really. I mean, all technologies are expensive until you start mass-producing them.

Wind and solar was terrifically expensive until groups like The Sierra Club urged for government subsidies to this technology. We created a market. Now, solar panels are mass-produced in China, and their costs have plummeted by a thousand percent as soon as the environmental movement gets behind this technology, and I think they are, the grassroots are, at least, and we start to have support --

POPE: Robert it's not this technology.

STONE: --then we can mass-produce nuclear reactors the same way we mass produce aircraft, a new generation of reactors, and we can power the planet.

The problem is we have no choice. We either do this or we burn fossil fuels and we destroy the planet.

I would urge everybody to read the letter that was written by four of the world's most eminent climate scientists directly to groups like The Sierra Club, urging them to change their tune on nuclear power and to support this development.

MALVEAUX: Carl, I want you to weigh in on what Robert has said.

POPE: A very simple point, look, we cannot mass-produce the kinds of nuclear technology we're constructing now.

We're not being blocked in China by environmentalists. We're not being blocked in Russia by environmentalists. We're not being blocked in France by environmentalists.

And those countries have not been able to build safe, affordable, nuclear power plants at scale.

The fact is the present generation of nuclear technologies is outmoded. We ought to be researching the next generation, and, yes, that will require subsidies.

I'm in favor of researching the next generation of nuclear technology. I'm not in favor of throwing money at clunky, outmoded -- and the British government did, in fact, just sign a contract as a result of which the cost of electricity in Great Britain will double by building an outmoded nuclear technology.

Even George Monbiot of "The Guardian," an environmentalist who favors --

STONE: That's not true.

POPE: -- Robert's position.

Well, go look at the numbers.

STONE: That's not true.

POPE: They signed the contract, I didn't.

STONE: The current generation of reactors that are being built are orders of magnitude safer than the Fukushima.

Fukushima's called a Gen II reactor. We're now building Gen III-plus. Nobody's building those reactors anywhere in the world. And, in fact the cost of that plant that's going up in Great Britain is about equal to a combined cycle of natural gas.

So, you know, I am not in favor of building these one-off -

POPE: That is simply not true.

STONE: -- behemoth plants as we are today. We do need to move forward.

MALVEAUX: All right -

POPE: But that's what Britain is doing. That is what Great Britain is doing, Robert. They're doing exactly what you said you're not in favor of. They're building a mammoth one-off and the price of the contract they signed is double the cost of natural gas power.

MALVEAUX: This debate will continue. We've got it let it go there.

Thank you so much, both of you, for joining us.

Of course, you know, we're going to be watching this. We're going to be talking about this as this rolls out. You don't want to miss this one. It's just fascinating. It's educational. And, of course, it's controversial, as well, as you can tell. It's CNN Film's "Pandora's Promise." That is airing tonight, 9:00 Eastern and Pacific.

And speaking of nuclear energy, Iran, which claims that it's trying to get nuclear power for peaceful purposes, well, might be closer to making a deal on its own nuclear program. A senior U.S. official -- administration official sounded rather optimistic about a two-day round of talks that start in Geneva. That starts today.

Iran has been pushing now for some relief from those crushing international sanctions. The official said, quote, "For the first time, we believe that Iran is ready to move this process forward quickly. For the first time, we're not just seeing them use this as a way of buying time." The U.S. accuses Iran of covertly developing a nuclear bomb, a weapon, and Iran said it has no desire to build a bomb and that the nuclear program is meant to provide power only.

Remember this? The asteroid that hit Russia? That was just the beginning. How the world can expect to see more damaging asteroids tumble to the Earth.


MALVEAUX: Remember this? Back in February, a meteor crashed through the Earth's atmosphere, exploded in Russia, shattered windows for miles around and about a thousand people were hurt because of it. At the time, NASA told us that a big rock from space smashing Earth was a rare event happening about every 100 years. It may be not so rare after all.

Chad Myers, our expert on anything that falls from the sky, Chad, wow, new information, yeah?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEROLOGIST: Yeah, exactly, or an "asteroidologist," I suppose.

This was a rock from space, not an iron meteorite that fell here in northern Arizona. In fact, I went to visit this about, I don't know, six months ago. That's a big hole in northern Arizona called the Meteor Crater. And there is the road. You come down from the interstate. You drive here. You go to a little parking lot. You get out and you look at it, and you go, wow, that's pretty cool.

But understanding that this was tens of thousands of years ago, but something like this that would hit a city or even state anywhere, even unpopulated, it would do an awful lot of damage.

Now, NASA scientists think there's a lot more rocks up there a lot like the one that did the damage in Russia, maybe not so much of the iron meteorites that did the big hole, but the one that we saw all the video from -- you can look at it over and over.

I can't get enough of it. It's so amazing to look at, this big, bright object coming out of the sky, exploding with the same power of 30 Hiroshima bombs. The only thing is, it exploded higher in the sky, so the damage wasn't so concentrated on the ground, but 1,200 people were hurt by this one rock in the sky as it exploded. And some of it even landed on the ground and they picked up a couple of pieces in the past couple of weeks.

But what the problem is, now that scientists believe there's a lot more out there than we first thought, they're going to start looking for they smaller ones, because, if you remember, they didn't even know this was coming, that big rock in Russia, they had no idea, no warning, whatsoever.

It was coming right from the sun. Telescopes couldn't see it. So they're going to start looking a little bit harder now, Suzanne. MALVEAUX: Yeah. I mean, it's a little disconcerting when you think about it. They had no warning. This thing, as huge as it was, came crashing down. Technology just can't pick that up, yeah?

MYERS: Not yet. They're going to work on that.

And the same day, ironically, another even larger rock flew by the Earth and didn't hit. Now, it came from a completely different direction, so they don't believe it was the same rock that split up. But now we think there are more rocks than we first thought that can do damage now to bigger cities, obviously.

MALVEAUX: All right, we'll be keeping our eyes to the sky. Thank you, Chad. Appreciate it.

MYERS: All right.

MALVEAUX: And, of course, speaking of things in outer space, Lady Gaga's latest stunt is going to be out of this world, and we're talking about literally.

All right, just an excuse to see Lady Gaga again. "Us Weekly" is reporting that Gaga going to blast off in a Virgin Galactic ship and sing a song in outer space. This is going to happen 2015. This is what she wants to do.

She's going to have to train for a month, however, to prepare her vocal cords, we're told, for the atmosphere to adjust to that.

Gaga says she's not -- actually doesn't confirm if these rumors are true until November 10th.

But, a little tease here, the singer teases us and she has this tweet. She puts it out there, hash tag "gagainspace2015," so maybe it's going to happen after all.

And a letter detailing a real life horror story is found at Halloween. Now the cry for help from a Chinese labor camp inmate turns up in the Halloween decorations of a woman in Oregon.

We're going to explain as CNN connects the dots.


MALVEAUX: A Chinese labor camp inmate wanted the world to hear about the verbal and physical abuse that he was forced to endure. So what did he do? He smuggled several letters into Halloween decorations. Now one of the letters from China ended up in Oregon. Our David McKenzie, he's actually connecting the dots from a woman who found that letter to the prisoner who dared to write it.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Damascus, Oregon, just outside Portland. Halloween decorations, mostly put away now, but at Julie Keith's house, Halloween brings powerful memories. Opening a pack of totally ghoul tombstones last year, a letter fell out. In broken English and Chinese, the letter began with a cry for help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): "Sir, if you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Rights Organization."

MCKENZIE: The letter writer said he was an inmate, making the decorations in a prison camp called Masanjia in China. At first, she thought it was a hoax. But then Julie Keith found the prison on the web.

JULIE KEITH: I knew about labor camps in China, but it was really -- it slammed me in the face.

MCKENZIE: A letter secretly tucked away in a $29 Halloween toy had made it nearly 6,000 miles to Oregon from one of the most feared labor camps in China. Masanjia, it's a sprawling and secretive complex of prisons and factories. The ruling communist party has long used reduction camps like this to jail petty criminals, political dissidents and religious offenders.

For months, we searched for the prisoner who wrote the letter. We found him in Beijing. He had been out of jail a year. We hid his identity because he is afraid of being sent back. We'll call him John.

MCKENZIE (on camera): And in the labor camp itself, what was it like for you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): For people who have never been to Masanjia, it's impossible to really imagine. The first thing they do is to take your human dignity away and humiliate you.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): John says he was arrested before the Beijing Olympics in 2008 for following the outlawed Palugong (ph) spiritual movement. He was sent to Masanjia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They follow a process where they enslave you. They were innocent but detained and we all suffered through inhumane torture.

MCKENZIE: Political and religious prisoners got the worst of it, he say. So for John, when he was given the chance to work, it was a relief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe we could protect ourselves and avoid verbal and physical assaults, as long as we were doing the work and did them well.

MCKENZIE (on camera): Behind this barbed wire fence and over this wall, there's a warehouse where John says he worked up to 12 hours a day making these Halloween products. You saw that the writing was in English, so he believed he could get a message out to the west, but it would be delicate and highly dangerous work.

MCKENZIE: He stole pages from exercise books and made friends with a minor criminal from his province who got him a pen from a guard. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hid it in a hollow space in the back stand. A very secret place, as I couldn't keep it with me. I only got the time to write late at night when everyone had fallen asleep. I put a paper on my pillow and wrote with a pen lying on my side. It took me three days to finish one single letter.

MCKENZIE: John says he slipped 20 letters into the Halloween packaging, not expecting any to get out, but somehow one did. And from the prison production line in China, the decorations ended up at Kmart, where Julie Keith bought them on sale.

KEITH: I did think of his safety and what risks he took to -- to do this.

MCKENZIE: When she put the letter on Facebook, it became global news, spreading all the way back to John in Beijing, now released. John told us he wanted to survive Masanjia to tell the truth. At Masanjia now we saw unmanned guard towers and some buildings seemed empty. It appears to be closing, but officials would not respond to our queries.

KEITH: For a reason known to all, I cannot openly express my gratitude.

MCKENZIE: John was able to thank Julie Keith in a new letter, but he dare not talk to her on the phone.

KEITH: Under the communist party's rule, China is a big labor camp.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: China is like a big labor camp. It is monitored everywhere in the country. I am really grateful to her. I wish her the best. She has a sense of justice.

MCKENZIE: David McKenzie, CNN, Beijing.


MALVEAUX: Sears, which is Kmart's parent company, tells CNN, quote, here, "We found no evidence that production was subcontracted to a labor camp during our investigation." Well, CNN tried to reach the local and provincial authorities in China multiple times. They refused to comment on this story, as well as the allegations. No one really knows how many labor camp products have been made into the U.S., but one expert group actually told Congress back in 2008 that there could be hundreds of camps producing goods to be exported.

Was he or was he not murdered? Yasser Arafat's widow believe that he was poisoned. But the potential proof has now been destroyed. The ongoing mystery surrounding the Palestinian leader's death, up next.


MALVEAUX: People waiting for definitive answer about what exactly killed Yasser Arafat. Well, I imagine they're frustrated today because scientists in Switzerland, they've been investigating rumors that the Palestinian leader was poisoned. Well, their findings are now out and our Matthew Chance, he has the story out of the West Bank. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Unexpectedly high levels of radioactive polonium, moderately supporting the theory that Yasser Arafat died as a result of poisoning. That was the conclusion of the latest forensic report into the death of the late Palestinian leader who's buried here at this tomb in Ramallah. But the Swiss forensic scientists that carried out the tests said their results were problematic. They warned that tissue samples they tested were too small, too much time had lapsed between Arafat's death and the collection of the samples, and that some of his personal effects could have been contaminated. Professor Francois Bouchud is the director of the forensic team.

DR. FRANCOIS BOUCHUD, FORENSIC TEAM DIRECTOR (through translator): Was polonium the cause of death? Can we say with certainty that polonium was the cause of the death of President Arafat? The reason, unfortunately - the answer, unfortunately, it's clearly we cannot give a clearly defined answer. Again, so our study has not been able to prove categorically a hypothesis of poisoning or another of non- poisoning by polonium.

CHANCE: Well, Yasser Arafat's widow, Suha Arafat, has a very different take, telling CNN that the results reveal what she calls a real crime, a political assassination. She is now calling for a full international criminal investigation to find who is responsible.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Ramallah, in the West Bank.


MALVEAUX: And a California high school is now coming under fire for its sports team's name, the Arabs. You can see the mascot in this YouTube clip here. The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, well, they sent a letter to the school accusing it of stereotyping and they are demanding a name change. The school says it's had its name since the 1930s. Well, the school district and the group, they're meeting later this month to see if they can come up with some kind of resolution. Hope they can.

Christmas coming early. This is in Venezuela. This is by presidential order, if you can imagine this. The president, Nicolas Maduro, has kicked off an early Christmas season to help bring, as he puts it, happiness for everyone. He lit the nativity lights at his presidential palace, even announced workers will be getting early Christmas presents. They're going to receive two-thirds of the bonuses and pensions a month ahead of time. Critics, well, they're saying Maduro, he's just trying to get more votes for elections which are on December 8th.

And that's it for AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Have a great afternoon. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now the pressure is growing to delay a key part of Obamacare and some of that pressure actually coming from anxious Democrats. We're going to get the latest reaction from the White House. Stand by.

Right now, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Twitter is making its public debut. And the shares so far, they are soaring.

Also right now, the family of Kendrick Johnson is speaking out. He's that Georgia teenager found dead inside a rolled up gym mat at his high school. Now there's new school surveillance video that has just been released.

Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting today from Washington.

We begin this hour with a major decision by the FDA, decision that could lead to dramatic changes in the food we eat every day. Today the agency said artificial transfats are no longer, quote, "generally recognized as safe."