Selasa, 15 Mac 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

The Star Online: World Updates

FACTBOX - Key facts on Chernobyl nuclear accident

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 07:10 AM PDT

KIEV (Reuters) - Unlike the nuclear crisis in Japan which was caused by a natural disaster, the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl power plant on April 26, 1986 -- the world's worst nuclear accident -- was caused by human error.

Facility operators, in violation of safety regulations, had switched off important control systems at the Ukrainian plant's reactor number four and allowed it to reach unstable, low-power conditions, according to a United Nations report. A power surge led to a series of blasts, at 1.24 a.m., which blew off the reactor's heavy steel and concrete lid and sent a cloud of radioactive dust billowing across northern and western Europe, reaching as far as the eastern United States.

A visitor walks in front of the damaged fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant February 24, 2011. (REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

Key facts:

* The cloud of radioactive strontium, caesium and plutonium affected mainly Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus, as well as parts of Russia and Europe.

* Estimates for the numbers of direct and indirect deaths from the disaster vary.

* The Chernobyl Forum, a group of eight U.N. agencies, and the governments of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, have estimated the death toll at only a few thousand as a result of the explosion. U.N. agencies have said some 4,000 people will die in total because of radiation exposure.

* The environmental group Greenpeace puts the eventual death toll far higher than official estimates, with up to 93,000 extra cancer deaths worldwide.

* The Chernobyl Union of Ukraine, a non-government body, estimates the present death toll from the disaster at almost 734,000.

* The disaster was the object of a cover-up by secretive Soviet authorities who did not immediately admit to the explosion.

* The accident dented the image of reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who had earlier launched his 'glasnost' policies for greater openness in Soviet society.

* Chernobyl engineers shut down the last functioning reactor, Number Three, in December 2000. Radioactive nuclear fuel is still being removed from the plant.

* A make-shift cover -- the 'Sarcophagus' -- was built in six months after the explosion. It covers the stricken reactor to protect the environment from radiation for at least 30 years. This has now developed cracks, triggering an international effort to fund a new encasement.

* Ukraine is seeking a further 600 million euros ($840 million) to help finance the new convex structure which will slip over the ageing 'Sarcophagus' and allow the old reactor to be dismantled.

* International donors are expected to agree to the funding at a conference in Kiev in April on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the disaster.

* Officials say it could be up to 100 years before the station is completely decommissioned.

* A 30-km (19-mile) exclusion zone is in place round the disaster site.

* Wildlife has made a comeback in this area and there are said to be more than 60 different types of mammals living there including wild boar and elk.

* Although research continues, the first reports about long-term radiation damage have been published, and the results are that the radiation did less damage than initially feared. "There is a tendency to attribute increases in the rates of all cancers over time to the Chernobyl accident, but it should be noted that increases were also observed before the accident in the affected areas," the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) said in its summer 2010 assessments of the radiation effects in Chernobyl.

"Moreover, a general increase in mortality has been reported in recent years in most areas of the former Soviet Union, and this must be taken into account when interpreting the results of Chernobyl-related studies," the report said.

* In its conclusion, the U.N. report said that "the vast majority of the population need not live in fear of serious health consequences due to the radiation from the Chernobyl accident".

* The report also said that the majority of the affected population in the region was exposed to radiation levels "comparable to or a few times higher than the natural background levels, and future exposures continue to slowly diminish as the radionuclides decay".

(Writing By Richard Balmforth)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Israel seizes ship with Iran arms for Gaza - Netanyahu

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 07:10 AM PDT

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli naval commandos on Tuesday seized a cargo ship in the Mediterranean carrying what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said were Iranian-supplied weapons intended for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

A military spokeswoman said Israeli forces met no resistance when they intercepted the German-owned "Victoria" some 200 miles from Israel and were taking the vessel to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Israel maintains a land and naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, a coastal enclave controlled by Hamas, an Islamist movement opposed to peace with the Jewish state.

The military said the vessel had set off from the Syrian port of Latakia and stopped in Mersin, Turkey, before heading towards Alexandria in Egypt. Turkey has no involvement in the arms shipment, the military said.

Palestinians use a network of tunnels to smuggle weapons and other goods from Egypt into the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu said he personally approved the operation, which he told reporters was carried out "on the high seas in accordance with international law".

"Many weapons were found on board, intended for terrorist forces in the heart of Gaza," Netanyahu said. "Iran is the source of the weaponry."

An Israeli military spokesman said an initial search turned up three containers loaded with arms and more cargo would be examined after the ship reached Israel.

Last May, there was an international outcry when Israeli naval commandos seized a Turkish ship that was part of a flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade.

The soldiers met violent resistance from pro-Palestinian activists when they boarded the cruise vessel Mavi Marmara and killed nine of them, in an incident that strained Israel's ties with Ankara.

In 2009, about 100 miles off Israel's Mediterranean coast, Israeli commandos seized the Francop, a freighter the Israeli military said was carrying hundreds of tonnes of Iranian arms, including rockets, to Lebanon's Hezbollah group.

Nine years ago, Israeli forces intercepted the merchant ship Karine-A in the Red Sea and brought it to the Israeli port of Eilat, where the military displayed 50 tonnes of weapons, including rockets, which Israel said Iran had sent to Palestinian militants.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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