Monthly Archives: February 2015

Obama’s ‘moving finger’ writes Iran ties

M.K. Bhadrakumar | February 25, 2015

The remarks by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at the Chatham House, London, on Tuesday to the effect that a nuclear deal with Iran is “at hand” are to be taken as the most definitive indication so far at a high level that a historic compromise between the United States and Iran could be taking shape. Indeed, she added the caveat (which we know already) that “a series of internal domestic political dynamics” would need to be handled with care and she listed three — the sparring between the White House and the Republican-dominated US Congress, Israel’s elections (March 17) and the Saudi-Iranian rivalry.

Mogherini is an old ‘Iran hand’, having pioneered the West’s thaw with Iran in her capacity as Italian foreign minister. She visited Tehran repeatedly to position Italy ahead of any other European country in the outreach to Iran — and the Iranians on their part valued her friendly approach. But Mogherini’s assessment also helps to decode the evaluations by US Secretary of State John Kerry at a testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington yesterday and a media briefing by senior American officials earlier on Monday regarding the outcome of the talks, which took place this weekend in Geneva.

In his senate testimony, this is what Kerry said in his opening statement: “The fact is that on Iran, sure, it’s controversial and may have some risks. But we are daring to believe that diplomacy may be able to provide a better alternative to ridding Iran of the possibility of a nuclear weapon than a war, or then going first to the threats that lead you to confrontation. So we are trying. I can’t make a prediction what the outcome will be, but we’re leading in that effort to try to help make that happen, together with our P5+1 partners.”

It exudes optimism, no doubt. Kerry’s emphasis during the Q&A on the senate floor was on setting negotiated, verifiable limits to Iran’s nuclear activity (which rejects the Israeli demand of a complete cessation and rollback of the Iranian program.) Kerry refused to concede veto rights to the Congress over a deal with Iran, arguing that the lawmakers would anyway have a say in due course when the lifting of Iran sanctions comes up for legislation.

The senior officials from the American side who briefed the media at Geneva also reiterated that a complex deal is being negotiated on the premise that “we would have a one-year breakout time for a double-digit number of years.” That is to say, a deal with a time frame of ten or fifteen years (or whatever, but involving a minimum of 10 years) will be predicated on the surety (secured through the underpinning of a verification and monitoring mechanism monitored within the framework of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) that ensures Iran will need at least one year to ‘cheat’ –that is, even if it proceeds to go back on the deal and clandestinely make a nuclear weapon.

The unnamed US officials outlined the thinking: “I think it’s a very straightforward fact, and the whole purpose of this is to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, and over a period of time, can ensure the international community that its program is exclusively peaceful and get to the point where it is treated as any other non-nuclear weapon state of the NPT. That will take some time.”

In sum, President Barack Obama’s calculation will be that the US Congress will be faced with a fait accompli since the international opinion so heavily favors an Iran deal, especially among the US’ European allies, and, secondly, the easing of the 35-year old US-Iranian enmity would create its own dynamics in the Middle Eastern politics, which would work to the advantage of the US regional strategies on a variety of issues affecting vital American interests such as the threat posed by the Islamic State, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and so on.

Read this insightful AP analysis on the Geneva talks, and it is clear that both Israel and Saudi Arabia will be mighty upset about what is likely shaping up as a basic understanding by end-March that will be filled out by June 30th with “annexes of excruciating detail.” Of course, this has never really been exclusively about nuclear non-proliferation. Obama knows – and the Iranian leadership too – that there is a large geopolitical backdrop in which the talks focused on the nuclear issue are taking place.

Equally, there is an intense awareness in Tehran regarding the ‘big picture’ of the power dynamic in the Middle East. The editorial in today’s Iran Daily underscores the self-confidence of the leadership in Tehran that Iran’s finest hour in international diplomacy is nearing. It has been truly a very long-patient, tenacious waiting through three decades — peace with honor, fairness and equality.

To be sure, the US diplomacy will be on a roller coaster ride with two of America’s most important Middle East allies – Israel and Saudi Arabia — in a near term. But the odds are that the advantages of the deal (and Iran’s integration with the western world) will incrementally work on Israel and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the sheer audacity of what is being attempted is itself mind-boggling, given the tortuous history of US-Iran relations. Obama is turning out to be one of the most underestimated American presidents of modern times. Cuba – and now Iran.

Tepco sorry for failing to disclose latest radioactive water leak

The Japan Times | Kazuaki Nagata | Feb 26, 2015

 

Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted Thursday that its latest problem with radioactive water has shattered the trust it was building in Fukushima, especially among fishermen, and that the decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 plant might be delayed.

“To make progress with the decommissioning effort and solve the tainted-water issue, the trust of the people in Fukushima is the most important thing. We’ve been working with that in mind, but unfortunately, we have damaged that trust this time,” said Naohiro Masuda, president of Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination & Decommissioning Engineering Co., the internal unit in charge of scrapping the meltdown-hit plant.

“Due to the damaged trust, all of the schedules for the decommissioning tasks could be delayed, but we’d like to rebuild trust as soon as possible,” so Tepco can improve the plant’s condition faster, said Masuda, who peppered the news conference with repeated apologies.

One task expected to be affected by the surge in radiation detected in the water draining into the sea, is the pumping up of slightly tainted groundwater from wells around the reactor buildings. Because about 300 tons of clean groundwater seep into the reactor buildings each day before mingling with the tainted cooling water, Tepco is hoping to use the pumping maneuver to reduce the amount of groundwater and treat it so it can be dumped into the sea. The utility, however, needs the fishermen’s approval to dump it — a task the latest problem seems to have endangered.

This is not to be confused with the so-called groundwater bypass, which involves intercepting clean groundwater before it arrives at the plant and pumping it into the ocean. This operation is already underway.

Tepco also plans to drop more sandbags of zeolite, an adsorbent, in the drainage system to reduce the level of contamination by the end of March.

The utility said the source of the contamination is the roof of the No. 2 reactor building, which was damaged by an explosion during the crisis and remains heavily contaminated. Since runoff from the roof flows into the drainage system, radiation levels soar when it rains, data shows.

The roof has pools of water containing 29,400 becquerels of cesium per liter and 52,000 becquerels of other beta ray-emitting substances, such as toxic strontium-90, which causes bone cancer.

Tepco also has detected some 1,050 becquerels of cesium and 1,500 becquerels of beta ray-emitting materials per liter of water in an outlet leading to the sea.

Masuda said Tepco had no intention of hiding the information and did not think it was as urgent as reporting on its other decommissioning tasks, such as managing the hundreds of water storage tanks and removing tainted water from the underground trenches connected to the reactor buildings.

He vowed that Tepco will make efforts to keenly discern what information Fukushima people are interested in and swiftly make it available.

On Tuesday, the beleaguered utility said it knew that the abnormally toxic rainwater was leaking from the drainage ditch into the seas since last spring. It said the lack of visible impact in seawater samples taken about 1 km from the drainage outlet gave it reason to believe it was not necessary to disclose the information.

Fukushima cleanup fails to convince as just 10 to 20% of evacuees seek return

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN | February 25, 2015

percentage-of-evacuees-wanting-to-return-feb-25-2015

 

Less than one-fifth of evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster say they want to return to their homes, despite government efforts to speed up reconstruction in areas with lower radiation levels.

The finding came from a survey by the Reconstruction Agency conducted between August and October last year that covered about 7,100 evacuee households in Namie; 2,400 in Futaba; 4,000 in Okuma; and 5,600 in Tomioka.

Between 51 percent and 60 percent of the households responded to the poll, including those living outside Fukushima Prefecture.

The four towns, all situated near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, are divided into three zones based on annual radiation dosage levels: “difficult-to-return zones” with 50 millisieverts or more; “no-residence zones” between 20 and 50 millisieverts; and “zones being prepared for lifting of evacuation order,” with 20 millisieverts or less.

The central government has placed priority on decontaminating and reconstructing infrastructure in the latter zones to enable residents to return to their homes.

However, the survey showed that just 19.4 percent of evacuee households from “zones being prepared for lifting of evacuation order” in Namie wanted to return, while 14.7 percent of those in the zones in Tomioka felt the same.

Among evacuees from no-residence zones, 16.6 percent of households from Namie and 11.1 percent from Tomioka said they plan to return home when they are allowed.

Among those evacuated from difficult-to-return zones, 17.5 percent of households from Namie and 11.8 percent from Tomioka said they hope to resettle in their homes some day.

About 80 percent of all households in Namie and 70 percent of those in Tomioka are from no-residence zones and “zones being prepared for lifting of evacuation order.”

Still, even if the government lifts the evacuation order for these areas, only a handful of evacuees are likely to return, which would crimp revitalization plans for the towns.

Meanwhile, 32.4 percent of households evacuated from no-residence zones in Okuma, which cohosts the crippled plant with Futaba, said they want to return home.

The higher figure reflects preferential construction by the central government and town office of key facilities to promote the town’s reconstruction, spurring hope among residents to return. Decontamination work and restoration of a local highway route are also nearing an end in Okuma.

However, just 3 percent of Okuma residents are from no-residence zones, while the rest are from difficult-to-return zones.

Fisheries ‘shocked’ at silence over water leak at wrecked Fukushima No. 1 plant

The Japan Times | Kyodo, JIJI, Staff Report | Feb 25, 2015

Fishermen in Fukushima Prefecture slammed Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Wednesday after it emerged that water containing cesium and other radioactive isotopes has been draining into the Pacific near the Fukushima No. 1 plant and that Tepco did nothing to prevent it despite learning of the leak last May.

“I don’t understand why (Tepco) kept silent even though they knew about it. Fishery operators are absolutely shocked,” Masakazu Yabuki, chief of the Iwaki fisheries cooperative, said at a meeting with Tepco officials.

Local fishermen have already given Tepco approval to dump groundwater into the ocean before it becomes tainted, to reduce the volume of water stored in tanks at the site. The operator is now doing this, pumping water from wells, monitoring it and piping it into the ocean.

The latest incident threatens to delay a second round of approval that Tepco wants the fishermen to provide.

The utility admitted Tuesday it failed to disclose leaks of rainwater containing radioactive substances from a drainage ditch at the stricken plant even though it was aware of high radiation in the water last spring.

The ditch receives runoff from the roof of the No. 2 reactor building, which is highly contaminated with radioactive substances such as cesium.

Tepco has said it recorded 29,400 becquerels of radioactive cesium per liter in water pooled on the rooftop.

The water also contained 52,000 becquerels of beta-ray-emitting radioactive substances such as strontium-90. It also detected some 1,050 becquerels of radioactive cesium and 1,500 becquerels of beta ray-emitting radioactive materials per liter near an outlet leading to the sea.

Tepco said there is no major change in the concentration of radioactive substances in seawater it sampled about 1 km from the drainage outlet.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Tepco reported water contaminated with high levels of radiation was flowing into the ocean at the plant’s port through another drainage ditch.

Yuji Moriyama, a Tepco spokesman said the utility did not disclose the information because there is no evidence of environmental impact.

“We were aware that the levels of radioactive materials around the drainage ditch were higher than other places,” Moriyama said, adding that they have been investigating the sources of contamination since last spring.

Tepco covered-up an ongoing leak into the sea since last year April 2014

Nuclear News | February 24, 2015

daiichi_drainage_canals-leak-since-april-2014-admission-24-feb-2015

 

Tepco admits that it failed to disclose a leak since last year April 2014.

Unit 2′s roof and downspouts have been draining directly out to sea since the disaster. Water found on unit 2′s roofs was highly radioactive with 52,000 bq/liter on one roof

TEPCO did attempt to manage this by throwing down bags of zeolite at the downspout entrance and again at the drainage canal exits. Plans submitted to IRID for a drainage canal filter system called for a much more sophisticated system that would have forced any water leaving these drainage canals through a series of filters.

Zeolite bags were also placed around the entrance to the downspouts on the building roofs. Radiation readings in the downspout water was significantly lower than the water on the roof. A filter that forces all outgoing water through the filter media would have at least worked to more effectively filter water.

Source: Tepco
http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/handouts/2015/images/handouts_150224_01-e.pdf

Roundup: TEPCO blasted for concealing latest radioactive leak for nearly a year

Global Post (Xinhua News Agency) | February 25, 2015

TOKYO, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) — Local fisherman in Fukushima Prefecture, home to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s stricken Daichi nuclear power station, blamed the plant’s operator on Wednesday for knowingly allowing radioactive substances from a rainwater drainage ditch linked to one of its buildings to flow freely into the sea since April last year.

The leader of a local fishing corporative, Masakazu Yabuki, lambasted the embattled utility for its latest gaffe, four years after a massive earthquake-triggered tsunami breached the plant’s defenses, leading to multiple nuclear meltdowns and the worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

“I don’t understand why you (TEPCO) kept silent about the leakage even though you knew about it. Fishery operators are absolutely shocked,” Yabuki, chief of the Iwaki fisheries cooperative, told TEPCO officials at a meeting.

TEPCO confessed on Tuesday that it had found a pool of highly- radioactive water on the roof of one of its buildings, which had likely been leaking into the sea via a drainage ditch when it rained.

The embattled utility said it had been aware of the leak since April last year, and it stems from the roof of the building of the No. 2 reactor, where it has detected 29,400 becquerels of radioactive cesium per liter at the site of the roof. These readings are more than 10 times higher than readings taken at other sites on the roof, TEPCO said.

TEPCO also said that water containing 52,000 becquerels of beta ray-emitting radioactive substances such as strontium-90, were also detected.

The latest admission comes after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised the International Olympic Committee in September 2013 that all radiation leaks at the tsunami-ravaged plant were “under control.”

Ironically, earlier this year Abe’s government announced that TEPCO would be the Main Sponsor for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, despite the fact that more than 140,000 people still remain displaced following the 2011 disaster in Japan’s northeast.

As local, national and international fury once again rises at the hapless utility, TEPCO maintained that the contaminated water that has been freely leaking into the Pacific Ocean, does not violate regulations, because the outflow of radiation from the plant is controlled by monitoring radiation levels in sea water, and the Nuclear Regulation Agency (NRA) has not detected a spike in the sea’s radiation.

But experts and skeptics have been quick to point out that the NRA, as Japan’s nuclear watchdog, falls under the auspices of the Ministry of Environment and thus doesn’t work autonomously from the government, who itself has pumped trillions of yen to end the ongoing nuclear crisis at the plant, with the utility now effectively under state control.

On Wednesday, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka resignedly urged the plant operator, whose history of attempting to conceal its blunders has appalled the international community, to disclose such information more swiftly.

In the latest indication that the crisis at the plant is far from under control, TEPCO officials tried to gain the approval from local fisherman to pump radioactive water from its well at the plant, before the water could leak into ditches near reactor buildings and become even more contaminated.

Chief of the Soma Futaba fisheries cooperative, Hiroyuki Sato, took aim at the lackadaisical utility, stating that the latest incident had completely “destroyed trust between the operator and local fishermen.”

Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori also said during the meeting Wednesday with TEPCO that the current situation is wholly ” regrettable,” adding that once again, “a problem which causes anxiety to people in Fukushima has occurred, and that information was not disclosed immediately.”

Uchibori, highlighting the mistrust of the utility, the central government and the government’s nuclear watchdog, said local city officials and its own nuclear experts would be conducting inspections at the Daiichi facility.

In stark contrast to TEPCO’s own readings and running contrary to the fact that the runaway utility failed for almost one year to disclose the leak, Japan’s top government spokesperson reiterated the government’s long-standing mantra that the situation is under control.

“The situation is completely under control and radiation levels in the ocean outside an enclosed port area adjacent to the plant are well below the legal limits. Any negative impact of radioactive water on the environment is completely blocked,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.

As the nuclear crisis rumbles on in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan ‘s nuclear regulator this month gave safety clearance to two more nuclear reactors that were idled in the wake of the 2011 disaster.

Despite Abe being a staunch supporter of bringing the nation’s nuclear power stations back online, however, as a comparatively weak yen has continued to push up the price of Japan’s fossil fuel imports, all of Japan’s 48 commercial reactors currently remain offline due to safety concerns and ongoing checks.

Pakistan 4th nuclear reactor has just become operational

Economic Times (PTI) | 25 Feb, 2015

NEW DELHI: The fourth nuclear reactor of Pakistan capable of producing plutonium for use in nuclear weapons has just become operational, government today informed the Lok Sabha.

In a written reply in the House, Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh said the Indian government is aware of Pakistan’s nuclear reactors at Khushab.

“Government of India is aware that Pakistan is operating nuclear reactors at Khushab capable of producing plutonium for use in Pakistan’s

nuclear weapons. According to reports, the 4th such reactor has just become operational,” he said.

Singh, however, said the government is committed to taking all necessary steps to safeguard India’s interests on the basis of India’s national security requirements.

In reply to another question on alleged spying on Indian missions, he said government is aware of reports stating that US national security agency spied on 38 diplomatic missions of foreign countries, including the Indian Embassy in Washington, by implanting bugs and using specialised antenna.

“Government has expressed concerns ovder the reports of monitoring of the Indian embassy and our mission to the UN in New York by US agencies. Government has raised these concerns with the US authorities at senior levels,” he said.

In reply to another question, Singh said that during the current finacial year India has spent Rs 580.52 crore (till January 2015) on assistance to Afghanistan.