South Korean lawmakers berate IAEA chief over Japanese plans to release Fukushima wastewater

Main opposition Democratic Party lawmaker Woo Won-shik, left, shows a list of proposed disposal methods for the Fukushima contaminated water as his party lawmaker Wi Seong-gon and Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, right, look on on July 9, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 09 July 2023
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South Korean lawmakers berate IAEA chief over Japanese plans to release Fukushima wastewater

  • Planned release of the Fukushima plant’s treated wastewater a major political issue in South Korea
  • Japan called to work with neighboring countries to find safer ways to handle the wastewater

SEOUL: South Korean opposition lawmakers sharply criticized the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog for its approval of Japanese plans to release treated wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant during a tense meeting in Seoul on Sunday, with protesters screaming outside the door.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s director general, arrived in South Korea over the weekend to engage with government officials and critics and help reduce public concerns about food safety. The planned release of the Fukushima plant’s treated wastewater emerged as a major political issue in South Korea after the IAEA last week approved the Japanese discharge plans, saying the process would meet international safety standards and pose negligible environmental and health impacts.
South Korea’s government has also endorsed the safety of the Japanese plans, saying that the contamination levels of water pumped out from the plant would be within acceptable standards and wouldn’t meaningfully affect South Korean seas as long as the plant’s treatment systems work as designed.
In his meeting with visiting members of the liberal Democratic Party, which controls a majority in South Korea’s parliament, Grossi said the IAEA’s review of the Japanese plans was based on “transparent” and “scientific” research. He acknowledged concerns over how the Japanese plans would play out in actuality and said the IAEA would establish a permanent office in Fukushima to closely monitor how the discharge process is implemented over the next three decades.
The lawmakers responded by harshly criticizing IAEA’s review, which they say neglected long-term environmental and health impacts of the wastewater release and threatens to set a bad precedent that may encourage other countries to dispose nuclear waste into sea. They called for Japan to scrap the discharge plans and work with neighboring countries to find safer ways to handle the wastewater, including a possible pursuit of long-term storage on land.
The party has also criticized the government of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for putting people’s health at risk while trying to improve relations with Japan.
“If you think (the treated wastewater) is safe, I wonder whether you would be willing to suggest the Japanese government use that water for drinking or for industrial and agricultural purposes, rather than dumping it in the sea,” Woo Won-shik, a Democratic Party lawmaker who attended the meeting, told Grossi. The party said Woo has been on a hunger strike for the past 14 days to protest the Japanese discharge plans.
Further details from the meeting weren’t immediately available after reporters were asked to leave following opening statements. Dozens of protesters shouted in a nearby hall while holding signs denouncing the IAEA and Japan, and they were closely watched by parliamentary security staff.
Hundreds of demonstrators had also marched in downtown Seoul on Saturday demanding that Japan scrap its discharge plans. Those protests provided a tense backdrop to a meeting between Grossi and South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, who called for IAEA’s “active cooperation” in reassuring the South Korean public.
The safety of Fukushima’s wastewater has been a sensitive issue for years between the US allies. South Korea and Japan have been working in recent months to repair relations long strained over wartime historical grievances to address shared concerns such as the North Korean nuclear threat and China’s assertive foreign policy.
South Korea’s assessment about the safety of the discharge plan was partially based on observations by a team of government scientists who were allowed to tour the Fukushima plant in May. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had agreed to that visit during a May 7 summit with Yoon in Seoul, in a show of his desire for improved ties.
In a statement released by state media on Sunday, North Korea also criticized the Japanese discharge plans, warning against “fatal adverse impact on the human lives and security and ecological environment” resulting from the discharge of “nuclear-polluted water.” The statement, which was attributed to an unidentified official in North Korea’s Ministry of Land and Environment Protection, also criticized Washington and Seoul for backing the Japanese plans.
“What matters is the unreasonable behavior of IAEA actively patronizing and facilitating Japan’s projected discharge of nuclear-polluted water, which is unimaginable,” it said. “Worse still, the US and (South) Korea openly express unseemly ‘welcome’ to Japan’s discharge plan that deserves condemnation and rejection, provoking strong anger of the public.”
A massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed the Fukushima plant’s cooling systems, causing three reactors to melt and release large amounts of radiation.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, which operates the facility, has been storing the treated water in hundreds of tanks that now cover most of the plant and are nearly full. Japanese officials say the tanks must be removed to make room to build facilities for the plant’s decommissioning and to minimize the risk of leaks in case of another major disaster. The tanks are expected to reach their capacity of 1.37 million tons in early 2024.
Japan first announced plans to discharge the treated water into the sea in 2018, saying the water will be further diluted by seawater before being released in a carefully controlled process that will take decades to complete.


Residents protest over power cuts in southern Russian city

Updated 21 July 2024
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Residents protest over power cuts in southern Russian city

  • One video posted on the Baza Telegram channel appeared to show police making at least two arrests during Saturday’s protest

MOSCOW: Residents angry over recent power cuts in southern Russia staged a rare public protest on Saturday in the city of Krasnodar, posts on social media said, as the local governor blamed a heatwave for causing the blackouts.
The south of Russia has been affected by unusually hot weather that has caused mass power outages in several regions and led to the shutdown earlier this week of one of four power units at the Rostov nuclear power plant, the region’s largest.
The unit has been put back into operation since then.
“There has been abnormal heat in the Krasnodar region for a week now. The load on the energy system is colossal. I know and understand all the indignation of residents due to power outages,” Veniamin Kondratyev, the governor of Krasnodar region, said on the Telegram messaging app.
He said power capacities were not currently sufficient to meet peak demand during the hot summer months.
One video posted on the Baza Telegram channel appeared to show police making at least two arrests during Saturday’s protest.
Russian authorities have clamped down on any protest activity, especially politically laced dissent, since the start of the conflict with Ukraine in February 2022, and public protests are very rare given the risk of arrest.


Nigeria fines Meta $220m for ‘violations’

Updated 21 July 2024
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Nigeria fines Meta $220m for ‘violations’

  • Meta’s platforms — WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram — are among the most popular social media in the country.

LAGOS: Nigeria has issued a $220 million fine against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and WhatsApp, for “multiple and repeated” violations.
The country’s Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) on Friday accused Meta of violating the country’s data protection and consumer rights laws on Facebook and WhatsApp.
The FCCPC’s chief executive officer Adamu Abdullahi said the investigations the commission carried out in conjunction with the Nigeria Data Protection Commission between May 2021 and December 2023 showed that it engaged in “invasive practices against data subjects/consumers in Nigeria.”
Abdullahi accused Meta of discriminatory practices, abuse of market dominance, sharing Nigerians’ personal data without authorization and denying Nigerians the right to determine how their data are used.
Apart from the hefty fine, the FCCPC boss insisted that Meta must “comply with prevailing law and cease the exploitation of Nigerian consumers and their market abuse.”
It ordered the company to “desist from future similar or other conduct/practices that do not meet nationally applicable standards.”
Meta did not immediately respond to a request for a response to the fine. But the FCCPC said the company was aware of its 38-month investigation.
About three quarters of the 200 million people in Africa’s most populous country are younger than 24 — a generation that is also hyper-connected to social media.
The country had some 164.3 million Internet subscriptions as of March, according to the figures published by the National Communication Commission (NCC) on its website.
Meta’s platforms — WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram — are among the most popular social media in the country.
The minister for communication and the digital economy, Bosun Tijani, said in December that there were “over 51 million WhatsApp users in Nigeria.”
The European Union (EU) accused Meta at the beginning of July of breaching the bloc’s digital rules, paving the way for potential fines worth billions of euros.
The EU said Meta’s new ad-free subscription model for Facebook and Instagram “forced millions of users” in the bloc to pay to avoid data collection or agree to share their data with Facebook and Instagram to keep using the platforms for free.


Poland calls on EU to stress ties with US to counter Russian ‘disinformation’

Updated 21 July 2024
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Poland calls on EU to stress ties with US to counter Russian ‘disinformation’

  • Poland calls for positive action ahead of the US presidential election
  • The Kremlin has said it would not meddle in the November US election

BRUSSELS: Poland wants the European Union to launch a campaign in the United States to raise awareness with the American public about the importance of the joint relationship.
In a paper prepared for an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday, Poland calls for positive action ahead of the US presidential election on Nov. 5 to counter what it describes as Russian “disinformation” aimed at sowing division between the EU and Washington.
“At this critical moment in history, it is imperative that we collectively take swift and robust action to strengthen the transatlantic relations through strategic communication about the EU in the US,” the paper, seen by Reuters, says.
It adds: “This means scaling up our de-bunking and, even more importantly, pre-bunking of Russian disinformation and launching campaigns which set the record straight about where Europe stands today and about the benefits of diplomacy, collective security and open society.”
The Kremlin has said it would not meddle in the November US election. It has also dismissed US allegations that it orchestrated campaigns to sway the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections.
Poland’s paper said Russian state media and online accounts tied to the Kremlin were spreading and amplifying misleading content about US immigration and border security, misstating the impact of immigration, highlighting stories about crimes committed by immigrants, and warning of dire consequences if the US does not crack down at its border with Mexico.
“We should expect much more is to come, as eroding support for Ukraine remains Russia’s top priority. We need to remind the American public, especially the younger generation of the deliverables our decades-long partnership has brought to the US economy,” the paper said.
Poland has said it has been the target of numerous Russian attempts at destabilization and election interference because of its role in supplying military aid to its neighbor Ukraine, allegations Russia has dismissed.
“We should raise awareness among the American public about the size of European aid to Ukraine and how that effort helps save Ukrainian lives,” the Polish paper said in reference to claims by US presidential candidate Donald Trump that European aid to Ukraine was much smaller than that of the US
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the EU has provided 107 billion euros ($116.38 billion) to Ukraine and has agreed on a further 50 billion euros for the next four years.
The US Council on Foreign Relations estimates US support for Ukraine at $107 billion.


US to take ‘hard look’ at fighter project, top official says

Updated 56 min 45 sec ago
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US to take ‘hard look’ at fighter project, top official says

  • Kendall: The idea of using drones or Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) will remain part of the proposed initiatives
  • The Air Force faces heavy costs for renewing its land-based nuclear deterrent and developing the B-21 bomber.

RAF FAIRFORD, England: The US will closely dissect its plans for a Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) platform — a future family of fighters and drones — before deciding whether to go ahead, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said on Saturday.
The cost of the future F-22 replacement has come under scrutiny after topping $300 million each, three times the cost of an F-35. But Kendall also highlighted evolving threats, in an apparent reference to rapidly arming China.
The idea of using drones or Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) will remain part of the proposed initiatives, he said.
“Before we make the commitment that we are close to making, we want to make sure we have got the right design concept,” Kendall said at Britain’s Royal International Air Tattoo, the world’s largest military air show.
“NGAD was conceived before a number of things: before the threat became so severe, before CCAs were introduced into the equation and before we had some issues with affordability that we are currently facing,” Kendall told reporters.
“So we are going to take a hard look at NGAD before moving forward, but the family of systems which includes a crewed platform and CCAs and weapon systems and communications ... is still very much the concept that we are pursuing.”
The Air Force faces heavy costs for renewing its land-based nuclear deterrent and developing the B-21 bomber.
“Before we commit to the 2026 budget, we want to be sure we are on the right path,” Kendall told reporters.
Analysts attending the air show said the depth of the review suggested the Air Force wanted to refresh its view on whether NGAD remained well adapted to threats posed by China as its schedule slips into the 2030s.
“NGAD is a whole series of programs under the umbrella of capabilities that the Air Force wants in order both to better deter China and to fight and win if necessary,” said Vago Muradian, editor of Defense & Aerospace Report.
“The Chinese are changing how they’re going to fight. So the question that a budget-constrained Air Force is asking is whether the tens of billions of dollars is the right investment, or are there better ways of achieving some of these same aims.”
Boeing and Lockheed Martin are widely seen as competing to win the core fighter part of the project.
The rethink has captured attention in Europe where Britain’s crewed-uncrewed GCAP project, in partnership with Japan and Italy, may face scrutiny in an upcoming UK defense review and France, Germany and Spain are working on the FCAS/SCAF project.
Partners in GCAP are expected to give an update at the opening of the Farnborough International Airshow on Monday.


Trump’s former physician gives new details on gunshot wound

Updated 21 July 2024
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Trump’s former physician gives new details on gunshot wound

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump’s former physician Ronny Jackson said on Saturday that the former president is recovering as expected from a gunshot wound to his ear that he suffered last week, but noted intermittent bleeding and said Trump may require a hearing exam.
The bullet fired by a would-be assassin at a July 13 Trump rally in Pennsylvania came “less than a quarter of an inch from entering his head” before striking the top of Trump’s right ear, said Jackson, a Republican congressman from Texas who served as physician to Presidents Trump and Barack Obama.
Five days after narrowly escaping assassination, Trump on Thursday accepted the Republican Party’s presidential nomination for the Nov. 5 election.
Jackson, providing what appeared to be the first public description by a medical professional of Trump’s gunshot wound, said in a letter posted on social media Saturday that “the bullet track produced a 2 (centimeter) wide wound that extended down to the cartilaginous surface of the ear.”
“There was initially significant bleeding, followed by marked swelling of the entire upper ear. The swelling has since resolved, and the wound is beginning to granulate and heal properly,” he wrote.
Jackson said he had provided daily evaluation and treatment of Trump’s wound since the shooting. He said no sutures were required, but noted that due to the “highly vascular nature of the ear, there is still intermittent bleeding requiring a dressing to be in place.”
“He will have further evaluations, including a comprehensive hearing exam, as needed,” Jackson added.
Trump recounted the assassination attempt to a rapt audience on Thursday at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, saying that he was only there “by the grace of Almighty God.”
“I heard a loud whizzing sound and felt something hit me really, really hard on my right ear,” he said, a thick bandage still covering his ear. “I said to myself, ‘Wow, what was that? It can only be a bullet.’”