‘Many questions’ for IAEA visit of Russian-held nuclear plant

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi with Ukrainian Minister of Energy German Galushchenko talk to the press during a media briefing, in Kyiv, on Feb. 6, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 06 February 2024
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‘Many questions’ for IAEA visit of Russian-held nuclear plant

  • Its six reactors have been shut down, unprecedented for a plant of its size
  • At times “we weren’t granted the access that we were requesting for certain areas of the facility,” Grossi said

KYIV: UN nuclear chief Rafael Grossi on Tuesday said he had many questions for the Russian team in control of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant ahead of a visit to the facility.
Concerns have surrounded the safety of the power plant — Europe’s largest nuclear power station — since it was seized by Russian forces in March 2022.
Its six reactors have been shut down, unprecedented for a plant of its size.
“On a technical point of view, we have many questions and we are trying to address these one by one with the administration,” Grossi said in a press conference in Kyiv.
Grossi heads the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that has had a monitoring team on the ground since September 2022.
But its experts have not been able to inspect every part of the power station, said Grossi, who will visit the plant on Wednesday.
At times “we weren’t granted the access that we were requesting for certain areas of the facility,” Grossi said.
“We were allowed partial access,” he said, but “there are still some parts of the plant we have not been able to visit.”
The Russian operator has started granting increasing access, Grossi said in Kyiv on Tuesday after a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The nuclear chief also raised the alarm over a drastic reduction in staff numbers at the plant, which he plans to discuss on Wednesday with the Russian operator.
Only around 4,500 staff are employed on site — down from 11,500 before the war — triggering safety worries.
Grossi said he had fresh concerns over staffing levels after the Russian operator barred pro-Ukrainian staff from working at the plant.
The IAEA has repeatedly warned of persistent nuclear safety and security risks at the site.
Grossi nevertheless hailed a “gradual increase in the way that both (Russian and Ukrainian) sides are following what the IAEA says.”


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 21 July 2024
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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, July 20 : 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.’”