Khamis, 31 Mac 2011

The Malaysian Insider :: World

The Malaysian Insider :: World


Japan crisis drags, France wants global nuclear reform

Posted: 31 Mar 2011 05:51 PM PDT

The paediatrician has to stand in line for Nagashima Rio, born on March 15, 2011. Her first appointment on March 31 is for nuclear radiation screening at an evacuation centre in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, 70km from the tsunami and earthquake-crippled Fukuyama Daiichi nuclear plant. She was born in a hospital 50km from the plant. — Reuters pic

TOKYO, April 1 — Japan's nuclear crisis today stretched to three weeks, with radiation widening from a crippled power plant and scant hope of a quick resolution.

France — the most nuclear-dependent in the world — called for new global nuclear rules and proposed a global conference in France for next month as President Nicolas Sarkozy paid a quick visit to Tokyo yesterday to show support.

"We must look at this coldly so that such a catastrophe never occurs again," said Sarkozy, who chairs the Group of 20 bloc of nations, during his brief stopover.

It was the first visit by a foreign leader since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami battered northeast Japan, leaving nearly 28,000 people dead or missing. The damage may top US$300 billion (RM907 billion), making it the world's costliest natural disaster.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, under enormous pressure as he struggles to manage Japan's toughest test since World War II, welcomed the gesture of solidarity.

"I told him a Japanese proverb — 'a friend who comes on a rainy day is your true friend', and thanked him for coming to Japan from the bottom of my heart," he said.

Illustrating the gravity of the problem and spreading contamination, radioactive iodine 131 was found in ground water near No. 1 reactor of Fukushima Daiichi complex, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) said.

"Radioactive materials in the air could have come down to the earth's surface and they could have seeped into the ground due to rainfall," a company spokesman said.

Radiation in water at an underground tunnel near another reactor of the plant had also been found more than 10,000 times above the normal level of water in reactors, Kyodo news agency said.

Nami Itou is screened at the Koriyama an evacuation centre, March 31, 2011. Itou was evacuated from her house about 30km from the Fukuyama Daiichi nuclear plant and she now lives with a relative. — Reuters pic

An abnormal level of radioactive cesium appeared in beef from the area for the first time, but Japan's nuclear safety agency wants to test it again as it had some doubts over test results, Kyodo added.

Robots

France is a global leader in the nuclear industry, and Paris has flown in experts from state-owned nuclear reactor maker Areva to work with Japanese engineers.

"Areva is one of the companies that will make the most out of a nuclear revival and therefore will be in most trouble if there isn't a nuclear revival," said Malcolm Grimston, an expert from London's Imperial College.

"Certainly Sarkozy or France generally have a very strong interest in getting things moving as quickly as possible and trying to ensure that there isn't a major backlash (to nuclear power). France would be one of the biggest losers from that."

Other nations are also scrambling to help Japan.

The United States and Germany are sending robots to help repair and explore the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant. Kyodo said some 140 US military radiation safety experts would soon visit to offer technical help.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which says the situation at the Fukushima plant remains very serious, already has two teams in Japan, monitoring radiation levels.

The Japanese disaster, the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, has appalled the world and revived heated debate over the safety and benefits of atomic power.

The controversy took an alarming twist in Switzerland when a parcel bomb exploded at the office of the national nuclear lobby, injuring two employees. It was not known who sent it.

Japan's Kan is under pressure to expand a 20km evacuation zone around the plant, where radiation has also hit 4,000 times the legal limit in the nearby Pacific sea.

Worryingly, the source of the leak is unclear.

More than 70,000 people have been evacuated from the 20km ring. Another 136,000 who live in a 10km band beyond that have been encouraged to leave or to stay indoors.

The UN atomic agency IAEA said radiation at a village 40km away exceeded a criterion for evacuation, while the head of a group of independent radiation experts said Japan must hand out iodine tablets now and as widely as possible to avoid a potential leap in thyroid cancers.

'Cannibalisation'

Underlining the terrible and surreal times Japan is living, one newborn baby's first medical appointment was not with a paediatrician — but a Geiger counter.

"I am so scared about radiation," Misato Nagashima said as she took her baby Rio, born four days after the earthquake and disaster, for a screening at a city in Fukushima prefecture.

Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said chickens and pigs left behind by farmers in the evacuation zone were resorting to desperate means. "A considerable amount of time has passed and I am hearing there were episodes of cannibalisation," he said.

Government officials are pleading for Japanese, and the world, to avoid overreacting to what they say are still low-risk levels of radiation away from the plant.

Food and milk shipments from the region have been stopped, decimating the livelihoods of farmers and fishermen. Various nations have banned food imports from the area.

Contaminated milk was one of the biggest causes of thyroid cancer after the 1986 nuclear accident in Chernobyl because people near the plant kept drinking milk from local cows.

Experts say the battle to control Fukushima's six reactors by restoring pumps to cool fuel could take weeks, if not months, followed by a clean-up operation that may drag on for years.

"In order to shut down the immediate public health risk, it's necessary to transition from interim cooling to a longer-term cooling solution, stop leakage of radioactive liquids, and decontaminate or remove radioactive materials in and around the facilities," said Eric Moore of US-based FocalPoint Consulting group.

"This could take six months to a year, or longer, if the radioactive materials are very dispersed."

Tokyo Electric could face compensation claims of up to ¥11 trillion (RM401 billion), nearly four times its equity, according to one analyst.

Decommissioning the four worst-affected reactors could take more than a decade and cost about US$10-19 billion, experts say. — Reuters

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Rebels cheer cracks in Gaddafi regime

Posted: 31 Mar 2011 05:16 PM PDT

Rebels guard the front line on the road between Ajdabiyah and Brega, March 31, 2011, as forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi threatened to push them further away from strategic oil refineries in eastern Libya. — Reuters pic

TRIPOLI, April 1 — Rebels cheered the defection of a Libyan minister as a sign that Muammar Gaddafi's rule was crumbling, but US officials warned that he was far from beaten, and made clear they feared entanglement in another painful war.

After former Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa arrived in Britain, London urged others around Gaddafi to follow suit. "Gaddafi must be asking himself who will be the next to abandon him," Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

Soon afterwards, Ali Abdussalam Treki declined to take up his appointment by Gaddafi as UN ambassador, condemning the "spilling of blood" in Libya.

But reports of defections of more senior Gaddafi aides remained unconfirmed.

Asked about an Al Jazeera TV report that he was one of several who had fled to Tunisia, top oil official Shokri Ghanem told Reuters by phone late yesterday: "This is not true, I am in my office and I will be on TV in a few minutes."

Koussa's defection, however, raised the spirits of rebel fighters who were put to headlong retreat in a counter-attack by Gaddafi forces this week.

"We are beginning to see the Gaddafi regime crumble," rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani said in the eastern town of Benghazi.

A still image taken from footage recorded by a Belgian Air Force F16 fighter aircraft shows smoke billowing from an aircraft after bombs were dropped during an operation in Libya March 27, 2011. The Belgian Air Force dropped bombs on an aircraft and a shelter during the operation, according to a Belgian Defence Minister spokesman. — Reuters pic

Despite almost two weeks of Western air strikes, Gaddafi's troops have used superior arms and tactics to push back rebels trying to edge westward along the coast from their eastern stronghold of Benghazi towards the capital Tripoli.

News that US President Barack Obama had authorised covert operations in Libya raised the prospect of wider support for the rebels.

'No boots on the ground'

Obama's order is likely to alarm countries already concerned that air strikes on infrastructure and troops by the United States, Britain and France go beyond a UN resolution with the stated aim only of protecting civilians.

"I can't speak to any CIA activities but I will tell you that the president has been quite clear that in terms of the United States military there will be no boots on the ground," US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said.

"I am preoccupied with avoiding mission creep and avoiding having an open-ended, very large-scale American commitment," he later told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We know about Afghanistan; we know about Iraq."

The top US military officer said Gaddafi's forces were not close to collapse. "We have actually fairly seriously degraded his military capabilities," Admiral Mike Mullen said. "That does not mean he's about to break from a military standpoint."

The top Vatican official in the Libyan capital yesterday cited witnesses saying at least 40 civilians had been killed in Western air strikes on Tripoli.

Nato said it was investigating but had no confirmation of the report. Libya's state news agency, citing military sources, said Western air strikes had hit a civilian area in the capital overnight, but did not mention casualties.

Britain said it was focussing air strikes around Misrata, which has been under siege from government forces for weeks. Rebels say snipers and tank fire have killed dozens of people.

About 1,000 people were believed to have been killed in clashes between supporters and opponents of Gaddafi since the uprising against his 41-year-old rule began on February 17, the British government said.

The rag-tag forces fighting Gaddafi say they desperately need more arms and ammunition to supplement supplies grabbed from government depots. The United States, France and Britain have raised the possibility, but say no decision has been taken.

Nato, which yesterday took over formal command of the air campaign, said it would enforce a UN arms embargo on all sides. "We are there to protect the Libyan people, not to arm the people," Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Stockholm.

Immunity for defector?

Rebels were wary of any attempt by Koussa to negotiate immunity, saying Gaddafi and his entourage must be held accountable. "We want to see them brought to justice," senior rebel national council official Abdel Hameed Ghoga told Reuters.

While British officials hope Koussa will provide military and diplomatic intelligence, Scottish officials and campaigners want him to shed light on the 1988 Pan Am airliner bombing over Lockerbie in Scotland, which killed 259 people, mostly Americans, on the plane and 11 on the ground. A Libyan citizen was convicted over the bombing.

Noman Benotman, a senior analyst at a British think tank, said his friend Koussa was "very positive to cooperate not just with the UK government, but Europe as well".

Asked by Channel 4 News if Koussa was ready to face justice, Benotman replied: "Of course, without a doubt, trust me on that. But the point is there is no official case against him — there's a lot of rumours and a lot of loose talk in the media."

A Libyan government spokesman said Gaddafi and all his sons would stay on "until the end".

Gates said Gaddafi's removal was "not part of the military mission" by coalition forces, and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Western military action would not oust him.

"It is not through actions of war that we can make Gaddafi leave, but rather through strong international pressure to encourage defections by people close to him," Frattini said. — Reuters

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