Alaska News Nightly: March 14, 2011

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Japan Struggles to Contain Damaged Nuclear Reactors
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
As Japanese officials struggle to contain three nuclear reactors damaged during Friday’s massive earthquake and resulting tsunami in their country, Alaskans and other west coast Americans are increasingly concerned about the possibility of radiation contamination if reactor fuel rods melt and leak from their current containment.

State agencies are monitoring radiation detectors in place in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. State division of Homeland Security and emergency management spokesman Jeremy Zidek says the western seaboard is safe.

Zidek says that’s not expected to change.

Stories of Japanese citizens taking iodine tablets to avoid thyroid absorption of radioactive iodine has prompted Americans to wonder if they should do the same thing. State department of Health spokesman Greg Wilkinson says the tablets, potassium iodide is not something that should be taken as a precaution here.

Because of the state’s propensity for seismic activity, both Zidek and Wilkinson urged Alaskans to focus on earthquake and tsunami preparedness rather than worry about radiation.

A plan is in the works to add some additional radiation monitoring stations in remote locations in Alaska. It’s not yet clear when this will happen, or where they will be.

Weyhrauch Accepts Plea Deal
Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau
A former Juneau lawmaker will be sentenced Tuesday night on a single charge of knowingly helping or participating with unregistered lobbyists engaged in lobbying activities.

Bruce Weyhrauch was told by District Court Judge Keith Levy that he could spend as much as a year in jail or pay a $1,000 fine.

Besides ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to routine questions, Weyhrauch said nothing else. He rushed out of the courtroom with his wife to sign paperwork in the clerk’s office and then left the courthouse through another exit.

His attorneys Doug Pope and Ray Brown declined to comment until after tomorrow’s sentencing.

Weyhrauch’s plea will be in exchange for federal prosecutors dropping their case against him. He was initially charged four years ago with conspiracy, attempted extortion, bribery, and honest services wire fraud. That case was due to go to trial in May. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the definition of honest services fraud so that it only applied to people in positions of public trust who take or offer bribes and kickbacks. It no longer applies to a non-disclosure of a conflict of interest.

Weyhrauch represented District 4, or northern Juneau, in the state House for four years starting in 2003.

Redistricting Board Meeting for First Time
Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau
The panel charged with redrawing legislative boundaries has its first meeting Wednesday. Rural Alaskans and Alaska Natives are worried they’ll lose representation in the 60-seat Legislature after the Redistricting Board comes up with a final map this spring.

Iditarod Leaders Resting at White Mountain
Diana Haecker, KTNA – Talkeetna
The Iditarod leaders are resting in White Mountain this evening. John Baker arrived at the checkpoint at around 4:00 this afternoon. Ramey Smyth followed in at around 5:00pm. The mushers take a mandatory eight-hour rest in White Mountain before making the final push into Nome.

It is also possible that this year will see a record finish.

That is what Elim race judge Jake Berkowitz is predicting.

That would shatter Martin Buser’s trail record of 8 days 22 hours and 46 minutes, set in 2002.

A large crowd welcomed Baker into Golovin as he made his way up from Golovin Bay and airplanes circled aloft.

While the weather along the coast is still sunny and warm, the wind did pick up. Hans Gatt, arrived in Elim around noon, sitting in third place. He wore his white windbreaker pants and jacket, fluttering in the wind.

Jake Berkowitz says the wind is Baker’s ally at this point.

Behind the three front runners are Dallas Seavey, Hugh Neff and Sebastian Schnuelle, all out of Elim on Monday afternoon.

Muskoxen Illegally Killed Near Nuiqsut
Jake Neher, KBRW – Barrow
Officials say a number of muskoxen were illegally killed near Nuiqsut on March 6. The animals belonged to a herd in Northeast Alaska that has been dwindling in number for the past two decades.

37-Inch Limit on for Charter Halibut Catch
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Southeast Alaska charter halibut operators are facing new restrictions. Clients on their boats can now only keep fish up to 37 inches long. That’s on top of an existing one-halibut-per-day limit imposed in 2009.

The new rule, from NOAA’s Fisheries Service, is part of a larger effort to address dwindling stocks.

Growing Rift Between Leisnoi, Timber Company Spills into Court
Jacob Resneck, KMXT – Kodiak
A rift between the Leisnoi Native Corporation and a timber company contracted to log around Chiniak spilled into the courts last week after A1 Timber filed a lawsuit alleging breach of contract. The move comes amid the surfacing of a telephone recording in which Leisnoi’s leadership brags about a plan to oust the timber company and bankrupt its owners.

Zombies Invading Talkeetna
Sue Deyoe, KTNA – Talkeetna
Film makers are not new to the village of Talkeetna, but this month brings the first zombie horror film entirely set in Alaska and Talkeetna.  Dozens of people showed up to a casting call last Monday afternoon.