(CNN Student News) -- March 29, 2011
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CARL AZUZ, CNN STUDENT NEWS ANCHOR: An airport's recovery, a former president's return to Cuba, and a plan to block out the sun! All of it's on the schedule for today's show. I'm Carl Azuz. This is CNN Student News!
AZUZ: We're starting today in Japan at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Engineers are trying to figure out just how much the recent earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant's nuclear reactors, and what that might mean for the area around those reactors. Yesterday, a government official said one of the reactors might be leaking radioactive material. Tests on seawater showed some signs of contamination as well, about 360 miles out into the Pacific Ocean. And tests have shown small amounts of plutonium in the soil at different spots around the power plant, though the company that owns the plant says the plutonium is not a harmful amount.
Parts of Japan were shaken by another earthquake, though; this one hit on Monday. Wasn't nearly as strong as the quake from two weeks ago. But it did happen in the same general area as the March 11th quake, near the city of Sendai on Japan's east coast. That's where Martin Savidge is now for us. He's at Sendai's airport, looking at how its recovery is a sign of hope for the victims of these disasters.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you remember some of the most amazing images that came out in the first hours after the tsunami, one of them would have to be the airport in Sendai. It was just so amazing to see this massive airport overrun with water and debris. Now, we're going back to see how it looks today. But first, we have to avoid Japan's ongoing nuclear disaster.
COLONEL ROB TOFT, USAF SPECIAL OPS: This is the Fukushima reactor, the 25-mile restricted area. This is our airplane here.
SAVIDGE: Colonel Rob Toft was aboard the first plane to land at Sendai after the tsunami.
TOFT: I think anything that you see on TV, well, Hollywood with their greatest special effects can't put into perspective the amount of destruction that was down there on the airfield the day that we arrived.
SAVIDGE: Sweeping in for landing ourselves, we see none of that. You can probably see that, for the most part, behind us it looks great. It really does. The transition is amazing given what happened here the day of the disaster. But get away from the runway and you see the reminders, which a literal army of 240 U.S. airmen, soldiers and Marines, alongside Japanese civilians, frantically worked to clear. By just dumb luck, there were no large passenger planes here when the wave hit, but hundreds of smaller, mostly private aircraft weren't so lucky. They look as though they fell from the sky. Even ones in the hangers weren't spared. This is the main entrance here at Sendai. It's like any normal American airport, only it's not so normal now. Sendai's an international hub. Think Logan Airport or Dulles. Japanese officials had written the place off.
Did you think it would be able to be reopened?
COLONEL MAKOTO KASAMATSU, JAPAN SELF-DEFENSE FORCES: To be honest, the answer is no.
SAVIDGE: But it is open. It now serves as a center for humanitarian aid distribution. And guiding those planes from the same roof on which so many sought shelter, now stand American Air Force air traffic controllers, who saw a tragedy and were able to help.
MASTER SGT. MICHAEL CHARVAT, U.S. AIR FORCE COMBAT CONTROLLER: You feel kind of sad. Then you know you're here for a job and hopefully you can bring some relief to the Japanese people.
SAVIDGE: Once an iconic image of a disaster, Sendai Airport has now been transformed into an early sign of hope. Martin Savidge, CNN, Sendai, Japan.
Crisis in Libya
AZUZ: President Obama says the U.S. role in Libya will get smaller as NATO takes control of the coalition operation. But U.S. forces will still be involved. The question a lot of people are asking is why did the U.S. get involved in the first place? Democrats and Republicans have been criticizing the president. They're asking about the purpose of the mission in Libya, the cost, and what it might mean for America's relationship with the Arab world. President Obama was scheduled to give a speech last night to address some of those concerns. It happened after we produced this show. We're gonna have more details on that speech for you tomorrow.
Unrest in Syria
AZUZ: In the Middle Eastern nation of Syria, a law that's been on the books for nearly 50 years could soon be removed. It's called the "emergency law." What it does is allow the Syrian government to make preventive arrests, meaning it can arrest people before they commit a crime. The decision to lift the law comes after protests against the country's government. Dozens of people have been killed in the fighting between protesters and Syrian security forces. A lot of this violence has been happening in a couple cities in Syria. The government blamed the violence in one of those cities, the one you see in these photos, on "armed gangs" who got a hold of police weapons.
STAN CASE, CNN STUDENT NEWS: See if you can I.D. Me! I'm an island nation located in the Caribbean Sea. Communist forces took over my government in 1959. I'm less than 100 miles away from the United States, but I've had a tense relationship with America for decades. I'm Cuba, and my capital city is Havana.
AZUZ: And that's where former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is right now. He's in the middle of a three-day visit to the communist nation of Cuba. President Carter arrived on Monday. He was invited by Cuban President Raul Castro, whom he's scheduled to meet with today. Yesterday, Carter met with religious leaders and U.S. officials. It's not the former U.S. president's first trip to Cuba. Shasta Darlington looks at what's on the agenda for former President Carter and how this trip will be different from his last visit to the island nation.
SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT, HAVANA: When Jimmy Carter arrived on his last visit to Cuba, Fidel Castro himself was on the tarmac to greet the former U.S. president. He's the only American leader, in or out of office, to visit the island since Castro's 1959 revolution.
Carter will be back on a private mission to talk about ways to improve U.S.-Cuba relations with the new president, Raul Castro. In some ways, the time is ripe. Castro has introduced sweeping changes to the Soviet-style economy. Cuba freed the last of 75 dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown on the opposition that prompted worldwide condemnation. Oscar Elias Biscet was sentenced to 25 years in prison for counter-revolutionary activities, but freed this month.
OSCAR ELIAS BISCET, CUBAN DISSIDENT [TRANSLATED]: "I want to continue my work in the defense of human rights," he says. "We want a democratic and free society."
DARLINGTON: Raul Castro agreed to release the prisoners last year as part of a deal brokered by the Catholic Church and Spain, removing one of the major obstacles to improved relations with the United States. But you wouldn't know it from President Barack Obama's speech. He talked about changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba that he's made, and the need for reciprocal action.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Cuban authorities must take some meaningful actions to respect the basic rights of their own people, not because the United States insists upon it, but because the people of Cuba deserve it.
DARLINGTON: Part of the reason for the impasse between the nations is Alan Gross, a USAID contractor who was arrested in Havana in 2009. This month, Gross was sentenced to 15 years in jail for his work on what Cuba saw as a "subversive" program hooking dissidents up to the internet. The U.S. said he was merely helping the Jewish community. No doubt, expectations will run high that Carter will try to secure the early release for Gross. But at least officially, it's not even on the three-day agenda for the former president. Shasta Darlington, CNN. Havana.
Is This Legit?
TOMEKA JONES, CNN STUDENT NEWS: Is this legit? Soccer's World Cup is played every two years. Nope! Not true! The FIFA World Cup occurs once every four years.
AZUZ: In the summer of 2022, the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar will host the World Cup. This is a country where the temperatures in the Summer are normally triple digits, so engineers are working on ways for fans and players to beat the heat. This is one idea. It's a robotic cloud made out of carbon fibers. Officials are planning to put together a prototype this year, and this animation shows you how it might work. Engines would help the robo-cloud get off the ground. And officials would plan to use remote controls to position the cloud between the stadium and the sun. Will it work? Engineers have 11 years to find out for sure.
Before We Go
AZUZ: Finally, in a cross-state battle, someone's about to get their just desserts. And it looks like it's going to be Maine, thanks to the world's biggest whoopie pie. This is basically a giant cookie sandwich with fluffy filling in the middle. Delicious! Maine and Pennsylvania were jawing over which state could claim it as their dessert. Pennsylvania's largest: more than 200 pounds. This one in Maine: more than a thousand!
AZUZ: No matter how you slice it, that victory is sweet. I'm sure it took a while to bake something so big. But if you ask the chefs, they'd probably say it was easy as pie. We've eaten up all our time for today. For CNN Student News, I'm Carl Azuz.