Friday, February 22, 2013

Published:

Officials say 6 underground tanks at Hanford nuclear reservation in Wash. are leaking waste

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) -- Six underground tanks that hold a brew of radioactive and toxic waste at the nation's most contaminated nuclear site are leaking, federal and state officials said Friday, prompting calls for an investigation from a key senator.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the leaking material poses no immediate risk to public safety or the environment because it would take a while -- perhaps years -- to reach groundwater.

But the leaking tanks raise new concerns about delays for emptying them and strike another blow to federal efforts to clean up south-central Washington's Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where successes often are overshadowed by delays, budget overruns and technological challenges.

Department of Energy spokeswoman Lindsey Geisler said there was no immediate health risk and said federal officials would work with Washington state to address the matter.

Regardless, Tom Towslee, a spokesman for Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the senator will be asking the Government Accountability Office to investigate Hanford's tank monitoring and maintenance program.

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Obama deploys 100 US troops to Niger to set up drone base

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama said Friday that about 100 American troops have been deployed to the African nation of Niger. Two U.S. defense officials said the troops would be setting up a base for unarmed drones to conduct surveillance.

Obama announced the deployment in a letter to Congress, saying that the forces "will provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region."

The move marks a deepening of U.S. efforts to stem the spread of al-Qaida and its affiliates in the volatile region. It also underscores Obama's desire to fight extremism without involving large numbers of U.S. ground forces.

The drone base will allow the U.S. to give France more intelligence on the militants its forces have been fighting in Mali, which neighbors Niger. Over time, it could extend the reach not only of American intelligence-gathering but also U.S. special operations missions to strengthen Niger's own security forces.

One of the two U.S. defense officials who discussed the development confirmed the American troops would fly drones and other surveillance platforms from Niger military airstrips, tracking militant and refugee movement inside Mali and around the border. The U.S. will share that intelligence with Niger's military, the official said.

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Pentagon grounds F-35 fighter fleet after finding crack in 1 engine blade

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon on Friday grounded its fleet of F-35 fighter jets after discovering a cracked engine blade in one plane.

The problem was discovered during what the Pentagon called a routine inspection at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., of an F-35A, the Air Force version of the sleek new plane. The Navy and the Marine Corps are buying other versions of the F-35, which is intended to replace older fighters like the Air Force F-16 and the Navy F/A-18.

All versions -- a total of 51 planes -- were grounded Friday pending a more in-depth evaluation of the problem discovered at Edwards. None of the planes have been fielded for combat operations; all are undergoing testing.

In a brief written statement, the Pentagon said it is too early to know the full impact of the newly discovered problem.

A watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight, said the grounding is not likely to mean a significant delay in the effort to field the stealthy aircraft.

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Oscar Pistorius free on bail ahead of murder trial; questions in girlfriend's death linger

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) -- Oscar Pistorius walked out of court Friday -- free at least for now -- after a South African magistrate released him on bail, capping four days of often startling testimony that foreshadowed a dramatic trial in the Valentine's Day slaying of his girlfriend.

But as he was driven away, chased by photographers and cameramen, questions continued to hound the double-amputee Olympian about what actually happened the night he gunned down Reeva Steenkamp inside a locked bathroom in his home.

Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder, and even Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair expressed doubts about his story that he mistook the 29-year-old model for an intruder and fired out of fear.

"Why would (Pistorius) venture further into danger" by going into the bathroom at all, Nair asked.

Cries of "Yes!" went up from Pistorius' supporters when Nair announced his decision to a packed courtroom after a nearly two-hour explanation of the ruling.

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Staying on: US and allies expect to keep up to 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after combat ends

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. and its NATO allies revealed Friday they may keep as many as 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends next year, largely American forces tasked with hunting down remnants of al-Qaida and helping Afghan forces with their own security.

Patience with the 11-year-old war has grown thin in the U.S. and Europe, yet Washington and its allies feel they cannot pick up and leave without risking a repeat of what happened in Afghanistan after Soviet troops withdrew in 1989: Attention turned elsewhere, the Taliban grabbed power and al-Qaida found refuge.

In disclosing that he and his NATO counterparts were discussing a residual force of between 8,000 and 12,000 troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said most allied defense ministers assured him they are committed to remaining part of a U.S.-led coalition.

"I feel very confident that we are going to get a number of nations to make that contribution for the enduring presence," Panetta told a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels at the conclusion of a defense ministers meeting.

The U.S. and its allies have managed to stick together throughout the war, despite differing views. The Europeans have seen the military mission as mainly aimed at promoting stable governance; the Americans have viewed it as mainly combat. Some allies, including France, have already pulled out their combat troops.

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Opposition denounces Egypt president's timing of parliament election as 'recipe for disaster'

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt's president set parliamentary elections to begin in April -- a decision that an opposition leader denounced Friday as "a recipe for disaster" because of the ongoing political turmoil in the country.

About 15,000 people took to the streets in the Suez Canal city of Port Said to demonstrate against President Mohammed Morsi, hanging effigies of him in the main square. Residents have been on a general strike for six days, demanding punishment for what they considered a heavy-handed police crackdown during unrest in the city.

Morsi scheduled the staggered, four-stage voting process to begin April 27 and end in June. The newly elected parliament would convene on July 6, according to a decree issued late Thursday night.

He hopes the election will end the political turmoil that has beset Egypt for the past two years, since the ouster of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. The upheaval has scared away foreign investors and dried up tourism, both crucial foreign currency earners that helped the government pay for subsidized goods needed by the poor for survival.

But Mohamed ElBaradei, who leads one of the main opposition groups, the National Salvation Front, wrote on his Twitter account Friday that Morsi's "decision to go for parliamentary elections amidst severe societal polarization and eroding state authority is a recipe for disaster."

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Families of aspiring rapper, beloved taxi driver suffer after Vegas Strip shooting, crash

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Kenny Cherry was an aspiring rapper who moved from the Bay Area to Las Vegas to pursue his career. His music videos online show him cruising the Strip in his Maserati.

Michael Boldon was a family man and taxi driver who hailed from Michigan and loved fast cars.

The two men's lives -- along with that of an unidentified passenger in Boldon's cab -- ended in violence normally seen only in movies: gunfire, a fiery crash and an explosion before dawn Thursday on the neon-lit Las Vegas Strip.

As investigators Friday tried to find the gunman in a black Range Rover SUV who triggered the shocking chain of events, families and friends tried to grasp the blink-of-an-eye finality of it all.

"Right now my heart is breaking," said Cherry's great aunt, Patricia Sims, of Oakland, Calif. "This has really been a tragedy. Kenny was just a delightful kid."

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FDA approves new form of Roche drug that targets breast cancer tumors, spares healthy tissue

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Food and Drug Administration has approved a first-of-a-kind breast cancer medication that targets tumor cells while sparing healthy ones.

The drug Kadcyla from Roche combines the established drug Herceptin with a powerful chemotherapy drug and a third chemical linking the medicines together. The chemical keeps the cocktail intact until it binds to a cancer cell, delivering a potent dose of anti-tumor poison.

Cancer researchers say the drug is an important step forward because it delivers more medication while reducing the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy.

"This antibody goes seeking out the tumor cells, gets internalized and then explodes them from within. So it's very kind and gentle on the patients -- there's no hair loss, no nausea, no vomiting," said Dr. Melody Cobleigh of Rush University Medical Center. "It's a revolutionary way of treating cancer."

Cobleigh helped conduct the key studies of the drug at the Chicago facility.

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Michelle Obama jokes with Jimmy Fallon about a future as host of Jay Leno's 'Tonight Show'

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Michelle Obama says she's eyeing another campaign in 2016 and, contrary to speculation, it doesn't involve running for public office.

During her first appearance on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" on Friday, the host asked her to consider a Michelle-Hillary ticket for president in 2016. The latter is former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who lost the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination to Mrs. Obama's husband. Speculation is rampant that Clinton is gearing up to run again in 2016.

"You know, I have my eye actually on another job. And I hear that when Jay Leno retires that 'The Tonight Show' position is going to open and I'm thinking about putting my hat in the ring," the first lady says, according to an excerpt of the appearance released before airtime by NBC.

"I got my hat in the ring," Fallon replies.

Mrs. Obama then asks for his opinion, but Fallon's answer suggests he's had a quick change of heart about challenging her. "I'm done thinking about it," he says, laughing.

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Patrick starts up front in NASCAR's Super Bowl as new fans get swept up in Danicamania

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The big boys brought their little girls to see NASCAR's shining star.

Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson all took their daughters to meet Danica Patrick this week at Daytona International Speedway.

It was the ultimate backstage pass.

Patrick dropped to one knee, wrapped her right arm around Ella Gordon's waist and posed for pictures as the 5-year-old flashed an endless grin in Victory Lane last week. Every day since, Patrick's crew has handed out dozens and dozens of lugnuts to little girls clamoring for souvenirs. Annie Edwards wore GoDaddy green shoes for the special occasion. Evie Johnson recognizes only two cars, her Dad said -- his and the green one.

"Carl was saying it's good that she sees me in real life and in person because 'To her, you are like some mythical creature that doesn't exist,' " Patrick said. "Then after qualifying, Jimmie Johnson brought his little girl over. That's three pretty big drivers who have little girls that wanted to meet me."