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There was a time when Vietnam was America’s staunchest proxy war foe. This is not those times which explains why yesterday the president signed a landmark, controversial and not to mention hypocritical deal with Vietnam in which allows the U.S. to sell nuclear fuel and technology to its former foe, which will then be allowed to further enrich it. Why (because there is always a reason when the US does something so unexpected, and especially when nuclear power is involved)? Simple: as the Hill explains, the US “aims to help guarantee Vietnams’ energy independence as China asserts a more prominent role in the region.” Of course, the last time the US sought to prevent Vietnam’s affiliation with a foreign superpower, the results were quite disastrous. One can only hope this time it’s different.
Some more on why Vietnam is not Iran:
“I have determined that the performance of the Agreement will promote, and will not constitute an unreasonable risk to, the common defense and security,” Obama wrote in a memo for the secretaries of State and Energy.
And here is hypocrisy 101: “the deal aims to get Vietnam to import the fuel it needs for its reactors instead of producing it domestically. But it doesn’t bar the country from conducting its own uranium enrichment, raising concerns about nuclear proliferation.”
In other words, what the US allows Vietnam to do, just because it serves its own set of interests of Chinese sphere of influence containment, it will not allow Iran to do, just because Israel is still on the fences about whether the intentions of its latest weapons client are pure. “The agreement is also seen as a potential complicating factor in the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran. Iran has repeatedly accused nuclear powers, and the United States in particular, of a double standard in terms of which nations are allowed to run nuclear programs that are allegedly for civilian purposes only.”
Then again, all is fair in Realpolitik, as the world return to a multi-polar theater, and in which the US is increasingly losing its superpower relevance.
The world has grown tired of the inexorable rise in radiation levels and propaganda-talk sourrounding nuclear issues in Japan from the government in the last few years since Fukushima changed the nation’s future. However, there is another source of nuclear materials that is increasingly angering the Chinese. The tensions and rhetoric, from WWI analogs to Nazi comparisons, have risen recently; but this time, the Chinese are asking a legitimate question… “If a country claims that it sticks by the three non-nuclear principles but at same time hoards far more nuclear materials than it needs, including a massive amount of weapon-grade plutonium, the world has good reason to ask why…. After all, Abe and his cabinet have already caused too much trouble to regional peace and stability.”
Via Xinhua (Tian Dongdong),
Tokyo owes world explanation over weapon-grade
If a country claims that it sticks by the three non-nuclear principles but at same time hoards far more nuclear materials than it needs, including a massive amount of weapon-grade plutonium, the world has good reason to ask why.
As a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Japan should adhere to its international obligations. As the world’s only victim of nuclear attacks in the final stage of WWII, it should clearly understand the horrible consequences of nuclear proliferation.
However, five decades are not long enough for the island country, where some politicians wish, openly or privately, for nuclear arms, to return the 331 kilogram of weapon-grade plutonium — enough for 40 to 50 nuclear bombs — it received from the United States during the Cold War.
Some Japanese experts have said that, with necessary amounts of weapon-grade nuclear materials, their country is capable of developing nuclear bombs within a year.
Adding to the world’s concern, Japan is also reportedly hoarding more than 1.2 tons of enriched uranium and another 44 tons of plutonium, which overwhelmingly dwarf its civilian demands.
The ecological and environmental catastrophe of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 had clearly showed that the superabundant nuclear materials are actually time bombs for a seismically active country like Japan.
What’s more, storing more than necessary nuclear materials is also against the regulations of the nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which require countries to keep a balance between the demand and supply of nuclear materials.
The somewhat obsessive possession of nuclear materials is not the behavior of a responsible and reliable country, as Japan portrays itself in the international community.
It brings nothing but doubt and suspicion to the already volatile East Asia.
If the Japanese government truly wants to play a constructive role for regional stability, it should honestly explain its reluctance to the world and return the stored nuclear materials as soon as possible. After all, Abe and his cabinet have already caused too much trouble to regional peace and stability.
As The Diplomat’s Shannon Tiezzi adds,
Currently, even though Japan has shut down its nuclear reactors (and is not using plutonium), there are plans to open a new reprocessing plant at Rokkasho. According to a report by the International Panel of Fissile Materials, this new plant would separate out about 8 tons of plutonium each year—enough “to make one thousand Nagasaki-type bombs.”
There is clear concern in China that Japan’s plutonium reserves could eventually wind up being used to develop nuclear weapons. There’s historical precedent for this—India became a nuclear-armed state after using reprocessing to gain nuclear materials. For China, Japan’s plutonium stockpile is one more piece of evidence that Shinzo Abe is seeking return to Japan’s militaristic glory days.
This accumulation of plutonium also threatens global non-proliferation efforts, and thus runs directly counter to U.S. President Barack Obama’s emphasis on nuclear security. “We simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we’re trying to keep away from terrorists,” he said in a 2012 speech at Hankuk University in Seoul. The White House has apparently been quietly pressuring Japan to drop the reprocessing plan, and to begin simply storing spent nuclear fuel rather than separating out plutonium.
There are complicated domestic reasons for Japan to continue with the opening of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, including vested interest groups that insist on the economic benefits of continuing with construction. But Tokyo should not overlook the regional and global concern caused by opening a new reprocessing plant when Japan has no concrete plan for using or disposing of its current plutonium stockpiles.
But apart from that – everything is great in the world… it must be, US stocks are at all-time highs…
Of course, this places “ally” President Obama in an awkward position given his anti-proliferation stance… though we suspect he will have an angle: “if you like your plutonium stockpile, you can keep it.”
Windhoek, Namibia – Somewhere in the middle of the vast Namib desert is a settlement by the name of Arandis. It has been here since 1975, ever since the Anglo-Australian mining firm Rio Tinto came to set up its Rössing uranium mine.
It needed a place to house its black workforce.
Almost forty years later, the glamour of the olden days has passed, when uranium prices were high and competition low. Arandis is still the home of the workers, but has lost the financial support of the company. It looks like it is doomed to decay. The town lies like an island in the middle of endless rocks, sand and dust. The streets are dull and lifeless and the houses only distinguishable by the colours in which they’ve been painted.
There’s a saying here: “If you leave Arandis, you will die.” One of those who repeat the phrase is Hoseas Gaomab, who worked in the mine’s laboratory for 23 years. He knows many men who have died. But he doesn’t know why.
Gaomab, aged 73, is a fragile old man. He first came to Arandis in 1975, a year before the Rössing mine started operations. He was there when it became the largest open pit in the world. When it almost single handedly turned Namibia into one of the leading uranium producing countries – by supplying Europe, the US and Japan.
The question is, at what expense this has happened. Many men who worked here in the mine’s early days claim to suffer from severe illnesses including cancers, hypertension and anaemia. Gaomab is sick, too. He suffers from a disease that has made his legs and hands numb for the much of the past 20 years.
|I had been feeling weak, but the mine doctors always said it’s okay… The doctors only ever tested us for flu. if I had known, I would have asked them to test me for radiation.Hoseas Gaomab, former mine laboratory worker|
“I had been feeling weak, but the mine doctors always said it’s okay,” he told Al Jazeera. He can barely walk, or get up from the armchair in which he sits.
Discovering the risks, too late
For a long time it simply didn’t occur to Gaomab that his illness could be work-related. Then, in 1993, a medical student named Reinhard Zaire arrived, interviewing miners and taking blood samples. “He asked us how long we worked for Rössing and when we got sick. Then he called us together to tell us we were irradiated.”
This was the first time he heard about the existence of radiation in the uranium mine. “The doctors only ever tested us for flu,” he said. “If I had known, I would have asked them to test me for radiation.”
Aside from Zaire’s claims, there is no proof that Gaomab has been fatally irradiated. And chances are slim that he will ever find out. There are no records available from the company of what happens to workers once they leave Rössing. After their retirement, the men return to their homes in rural Namibia, where they rarely have access to proper healthcare facilities.
“To date, there have been no confirmed occupational illness related deaths,” said Rio Tinto spokesperson Penda Kiiyala.
However, there is great scepticism among people here in Arandis towards the company and their medical staff.
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“The mine is a big company, they can tell everyone what to do. They tell you what’s wrong with you and you have to believe them,” said Gaomab. Although scientists have previously linked diseases such as those reported in Arandis to the exposure of radiation, nobody – other than Reinhard Zaire – has investigated them in the context of the Rössing uranium mine.
Zaire studied the effects of long-term exposure to low levels of radiation believed to be found in the Rössing mine. He concluded that there was an increased risk for uranium miners to develop malignant diseases such as cancer. Shortly after the report was published, Zaire was dismissed by the Namibian Ministry of Health and Social Services, his research permission was revoked, and he was accused of practising as a medical doctor illegally.
Rio Tinto – facing a lawsuit in the UK at the time, in which it was accused of damaging an employee’s health – slammed Zaire’s report.
Doug Brugge from the Tufts University in the United States has conducted research on the impacts of underground uranium mining on the Navajo tribe in North America. Brugge is sceptical to give the issue “the kind of framing” Zaire suggested. “For me, to just talk about low-dose ionizing radiation exposure is inadequate. Other things like the metal toxicity of uranium also plays a role and how the workers were exposed to radiation,” he said.
|We had to smoothen out the yellowcake with our hands before we sampled it. There were no gloves, those things only came later.Hoseas Gaomab, former mine laboratory worker|
Gaomab and a former lab colleague, Petrus Hoaeb, described the health and safety regulations at Rössing as inadequate in the early days. “For the sampling we used to suck up the yellowcake through a pipette,” said Hoaeb. “Whenever there was crushing, there was dust everywhere.”
Gaomab agreed: “We had to smoothen out the yellowcake with our hands before we sampled it. There were no gloves, those things only came later.”
Yellowcake is a solid form of concentrated uranium which is produced after the ore has been crushed and processed. It is usually stored in drums for transport and not hazardous if handled with appropriate precautions.
“During the lifetime of the mine, safety measures have been in place based on international best practice and applications at the time,” Rio Tinto’s Kiiyala told Al Jazeera. Monthly urine samples are also taken from each worker. This serves “as a check to ensure no internal contamination risk exists”.
Contrary to what the workers say, Rio Tinto emphasises that all workers have access to the results of tests made on their samples.
Rössing Uranium, the Namibian subsidiary of Rio Tinto, denied that workers were exposed to any kind of radiation in its open pit mine. “The biggest danger for the employees is the silica dust inside the pit,” said Alwyn Lubbe, an external relations officer for Rössing who spoke to Al Jazeera inside the mine’s premises. “The uranium levels are extremely low. The radiation is very low, it’s natural. Even when they process it in the final product recovery.”
Lubbe maintained there was also no toxicity leaking from the waste dumps next to the mine, which loom in the background. “There are no hazards here,” he says. From where he stands on the viewing platform, he looks at the huge hole stretching out below him and says: “Only depleted uranium is dangerous for the human body,” referring to the processed uranium that is used in nuclear power plants and in many weapons ammunitions.
According to Tufts’ Doug Brugge, the biggest threat is not the uranium itself, but its decay products, like radon, a gas that is set free when uranium is mined. “The daughter products of radon are the ones that settle in the lungs,” Brugge said. Solids such as uranium and radium can enter the human system only when inhaled or ingested. “If someone touches the ore, it can get into the body through hand and mouth contact. Once they are in the system the radiation is very strong.
“That there is radiation here and that it can cause health effects is not in question. The question is whether the way the people are exposed to it are leading to those health problems,” he said. “It sounds like what really needs to be done is research on health conditions and exposure.”
Despite the slim chances of success, Gaomab’s former colleague Petrus Hoaeb has decided to take the company to court. Hoaeb met Al Jazeera in his home, sat next to his son. Hoaeb Junior is spearheading the case for his sick father. The lack of knowledge is the biggest hurdle to overcome, he said. “If a researcher comes to you and says: ‘This is what we found,’ then you know how to fight. But if you have limited knowledge, it is very difficult.”
Currently the two parties are negotiating outside of court for a possible compensation package for Hoaeb, who was booked off work sick for twelve years before he was eventually fired in 2012. He failed to provide proof that his sickness was due to radiation exposure.
Hoaeb Jr has a different plan, however. He is about to travel to Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, to discuss further proceedings and to decide what Rössing has to offer.
“We are fighting for a large number of people,” he concluded. “Those who have died and those who are sick.”
Follow Victoria Schneider on Twitter at the Dirty Profits Exposed project: @DirtyProfitsExp
This report was produced with the support of the Facing Finance campaign.
» Plumes of mysterious steam rise from crippled nuclear reactor at Fukushima Alex Jones’ Infowars: There’s a war on for your mind!
AFP Photo / TEPCO
Fresh plumes of most probably radioactive steam have been detected rising from the reactor 3 building at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, said the facility’s operator company.
The steam has been detected by surveillance cameras and appeared to be coming from the fifth floor of the mostly-destroyed building housing crippled reactor 3, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the plant’s operator.
The steam was first spotted on December 19 for a short period of time, then again on December 24, 25, 27, according to a report TEPCO published on its website.
The company, responsible for the cleanup of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, has not explained the source of the steam or the reason it is rising from the reactor building. High levels of radiation have complicated entry into the building and further inspection of the situation.
Three of the plant’s reactors suffered a nuclear meltdown in March 2011 after the Great East Japan Earthquake and resulting tsunami hit the region. The plant is comprised of six separate water boiling reactors. At the time of the earthquake, reactor number 4 had been de-fueled and reactors 5 and 6 were in cold shutdown for planned maintenance, thereby managing to avoid meltdowns.
Unlike the other five reactors, reactor 3 ran on mixed core containing both uranium fuel and mixed uranium and plutonium oxide, or MOX nuclear fuel. The Reactor 3 fuel storage pond still houses an estimated 89 tons of the plutonium-based MOX nuclear fuel composed of 514 fuel rods.
In a similar incident, small amounts of steam escaped from the reactor 3 building in July 2013, Asahi Shimbun reported. However it was unclear where the steam came from. TEPCO said that radiation levels did not change, adding that the steam could have been caused by rain that found its way to the primary containment of the reactor, and because this vessel was still hot, the water evaporated. On 23 July the steam was seen again coming out of the fifth floor just above the reactor containment, the Japanese newspaper reported.
In November, TEPCO, responsible for the decommissioning of the plant, began the highly risky removal of over 1,500 potentially damaged nuclear fuel rods from reactor 4. The reactor is the most unstable part of the plant as it was offline at the time of the 2011 catastrophe and its core didn’t go into meltdown. Instead, hydrogen explosions blew the roof off the building and severely damaged the structure.One of the most dangerous operations attempted in nuclear history was a success as a total of 22 assemblies containing 50 to 70 fuel rods have been transported to a new storage pool. While the extraction of the fuel rods is a significant challenge for TEPCO, a more complex task of removing the cores of the stricken reactors is yet to come.
This article was posted: Wednesday, January 1, 2014 at 2:59 pm
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