Monthly Archives: August 2014

All Comes Down to Money: the interim disposal of Fukushima nuclear waste

anti-nuclear protesters in Japan pushing fake nuclear waste

Fukushima Prefecture is set to accept the construction of an interim facility to store radioactive waste from cleanup work due to the nuclear disaster, advancing the stalled process of decontaminating the affected areas.  The prefectural government has decided to shoulder the difference between the appraised value of land in Okuma and Futaba, where the structure will be built, and the price it would have fetched before the 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The decision came after landowners insisted that the land should be bought at a fair market value because the current appraisals are much lower than pre-disaster estimates.  Consent from local governments is expected to move forward the central government’s plan to start transporting radioactive soil and other contaminated waste to the storage site in January.

Okuma and Futaba host the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The residents of the two towns are still living as evacuees due to high levels of radiation in their hometowns. Talks between local officials and the central government over the planned facility reached an impasse after Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara enraged landowners with a comment in June.  “In the end, it will come down to money,” Ishihara said, referring to efforts to gain local approval for the storage facilities. Residents were angry because of the implication they could be easily bought.

The stalemate threatened to jeopardize the entire decontamination operation in the prefecture since the storage site is indispensable to advance the work to clean up and rebuild the affected communities.  In an effort to break the stalemate, the central government on Aug. 8 offered to double the funds to be provided to the local governments to 301 billion yen ($2.9 billion).

Fukushima Prefecture to accept intermediate storage facility for radioactive waste, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, August 23, 2014

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Cardinal Violations at the New Mexico Nuclear Dump

Drum damaged, Feb. 14, 2014

A 55-gallon drum of nuclear waste, buried in a salt shaft 2,150 feet under the New Mexico desert, violently erupted late on Feb. 14 , 2014 and spewed mounds of radioactive white foam.  The flowing mass, looking like whipped cream but laced with plutonium, went airborne, traveled up a ventilation duct to the surface and delivered low-level radiation doses to 21 workers.

The accident contaminated the nation’s only dump for nuclear weapons waste — previously a focus of pride for the Energy Department — and gave the nation’s elite ranks of nuclear chemists a mystery they still cannot unravel.  Six months after the accident, the exact chemical reaction that caused the drum to burst is still not understood. Indeed, the Energy Department has been unable to precisely identify the chemical composition of the waste in the drum, a serious error in a handling process that requires careful documentation and approval of every substance packaged for a nuclear dump….

The job of identifying the waste that is treated and prepared for burial will grow even more difficult in the years ahead when the Energy Department hopes to treat even more highly radioactive wastes now stored at nuclear processing sites across the country and transform them into glass that will be buried at future high-level dumps.

The accident at the facility near Carlsbad, N.M., known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, is likely to cause at least an 18-month shutdown and possibly a closure that could last several years. Waste shipments have already backed up at nuclear cleanup projects across the country, which even before the accident were years behind schedule.

A preliminary Energy Department investigation found more than 30 safety lapses at the plant, including technical shortcomings and failures in the overall approach to safety. Only nine days before the radiation release, a giant salt-hauling truck caught fire underground and burned for hours before anybody discovered it.  The report found that “degradation of key safety management programs and safety culture resulted in the release of radioactive material from the underground to the environment.”

The 15-year-old plant, operated by a partnership led by San Francisco-based URS Corp., “does not have an effective nuclear safety program,” the investigation found.

The accident raises tough questions about the Energy Department’s ability to safely manage the nation’s stockpiles of deadly nuclear waste, a job that is already decades behind schedule and facing serious technical challenges.

“The accident was a horrific comedy of errors,” said James Conca, a scientific advisor and expert on the WIPP. “This was the flagship of the Energy Department, the most successful program it had. The ramifications of this are going to be huge. Heads will roll.”

There is no official estimate of the cost of the accident, but outside experts and a Times analysis indicate it could approach $1 billion, based on the WIPP’s annual budget; the need to decontaminate the facility; upgrades to safety that officials already have identified; and delays over the next decade in the nuclear weapons cleanup program.

The WIPP was designed to place waste from nuclear weapons production into ancient salt deposits, which would eventually collapse and embed the radioactivity for at least 10,000 years. The dump was dug much like a conventional salt mine, but with a maze of rooms for the waste. It handles low- and medium-level radioactive materials known as transuranic waste, the artificial elements — mainly plutonium — created in the production of nuclear weapons. Until the Valentine’s Day disaster, it had been operating without significant problems for 15 years.

The plant’s ventilation and filtration system was supposed to have prevented any of the radioactive material from reaching the environment. But investigators discovered that the Energy Department never required the ventilation system to meet nuclear safety standards. When monitors detected radiation, dampers were supposed to route the ventilation air into filters to prevent any radioactivity from reaching the surface, but the dampers leaked and thousands of cubic feet of air bypassed filters….

The investigators are looking at a variety of materials that may have been added to the drum, including lead, tungsten, acid and even kitty litter as possible factors in the explosion…Robert Alvarez, a former assistant energy secretary and a recent critic of the department’s performance, said the risk of a radioactive release at the WIPP was supposed to be one event every 200,000 years, not one in 15 years. “This was a cardinal violation,” he said…

At the Idaho National Laboratory, there are concerns that the WIPP closure could prevent the Energy Department from fulfilling its legal agreement to remove all transuranic waste by 2018. Curt Fransen, chief of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, said federal officials had begun discussing building new warehouses at the lab to store waste as a result of the WIPP accident.At Washington state’s Hanford Site, the WIPP closure may lead to additional delays in shipping out 8,841 drums, boxes and other containers of transuranic materials to the New Mexico plant, said Deborah Singleton of the state’s Department of Ecology.

By RALPH VARTABEDIAN, Cause of New Mexico nuclear waste accident remains a mystery, Los Angeles Times,  Aug. 23, 2104

The Militarization of Japan: the Fourth Force

China Japan

Japan will add a new division to its military or Self-Defense Forces in 2019, to protect equipment in orbit from space debris as well as other attacks, a source familiar with Japan-U.S. relations said, according to a report by the South China Morning Post.

Japan revised a law regarding its non-military activities in space in 2008, allowing the creation of a “space force,” which will initially be responsible for monitoring dangerous debris floating within close vicinity of the Earth, as well as protect satellites from collisions or attacks, according to the report, which added that the U.S. has been informed of the development by the Japanese Defense Ministry. There are around 3,000 fragments of space debris currently at risk of smashing into reconnaissance or communication satellites around the Earth.  Japan will assist the U.S. military with the information it obtains through this program, and looks to strengthen bilateral cooperation in space, or the “fourth battlefield,” the report said.  The “fourth force” will initially use radar and telescope facilities in the Okayama prefecture that the defense ministry acquired from the Japan Space Forum, which also owns the Spaceguard Center radar facility in Kagamino and a telescope facility in Ihara.

Units from Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force are currently being considered by the defense ministry to make up parts of the new space force. And, the Japanese ministries of defense, education, culture, sports, science and technology, along with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, will jointly acquire the radar and telescope facilities from the Japan Space Forum, a Tokyo-based think tank that coordinates aerospace-related activities among government, industry and academia.

Japan and the U.S. have reportedly been working on a space force since 2007, when China tested its satellite destruction capabilities by launching a missile against one of its own satellites and destroyed it.  In May, at a space development cooperation meeting held in Washington, the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed to increase cooperation in using satellites for monitoring space debris, marine surveillance, and to protect one another’s space operations. Japan also pledged to share information acquired by JAXA with the U.S. Strategic Command.

Excerpts from Alroy Menezes, Japan’s ‘Space Force’ To Protect Satellites In Orbit, International Business Times, Aug. 4, 2014

West versus the Islamic State: the Apostles

ODA 525 team picture taken shortly before infiltration in Iraq, February 1991.  Image from wikipedia

Undercover warriors [led by the US spy agency CIA] will aim to “cut the head off the snake” by hitting the command structure of the Islamist terror group responsible for a trail of atrocities across Iraq and Syria, reports the Sunday People.  PM David Cameron has told the SAS and UK spy agencies to direct all their ­resources at defeating IS [Islamic State] after a video of US journalist James Foley being beheaded shocked the world.

British special forces will work with America’s Delta Force and Seal Team 6. The move sees a rebirth of top secret Task Force Black, which helped defeat al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq .This time the counter-terrorist ­experts will be targeting Abu Bakr ­al-Baghdadi, leader of IS and now the world’s most wanted terrorist.

A source said: “We need to go into Syria and Iraq and kill as many IS members as we can. You can’t ­negotiate with these people.  “This is not a war of choice. They are cash rich and have a plentiful ­supply of arms. If we don’t go after them, they will soon come after us…You have to get on the ground and take out the commanders – cut off the snake’s head.

The new task force will comprise a squadron of the SAS, special forces aircrews from the RAF and agents from MI5 and MI6. The operation will be led by America’s CIA spy agency.

One of the first jobs will be to identify the British Muslim shown on an IS video released last week apparently cutting Foley’s head off with a knife. UK intelligence sources confirmed that the killer, believed to be a British-born Pakistani from London, is already at the top of a CIA “kill list”…

Troops will also train Kurdish Peshmerga fighters…There are also moves to revive a defunct Iraqi special forces unit called the Apostles, which was ­created by the first Task Force Black a­fter the Iraq War.

Excerpts from Aaron Sharp, SAS and US special forces forming hunter killer unit to ‘smash Islamic State’, Mirror, Aug.23, 2014

How Oil Dictates the Future of South Sudan

South Sudan’s oil fields have become a battleground in the struggle for power in Africa’s newest nation, encouraging Western nations and regional mediators to consider international monitoring of crude revenues as a way to remove a major bone of contention from such conflicts.  South Sudan sits on Sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest crude reserves, and its oil fields were early targets in fighting that erupted in December 2013 and has rumbled on despite two ceasefire deals and U.N. warnings that a man-made famine looms.

It marks an alarming slide into dysfunction by a nation whose creation three years ago the United States hailed as a foreign policy success. Instead of lifting the nation out of grinding poverty, oil is blamed for stoking a war…Diplomats and regional mediators said monitoring revenues was gaining traction as an idea for discussion, though the mechanics of such a system and how the warring sides would be pushed towards a deal have not been determined….

South Sudan’s oil output has tumbled by about a third to 160,000 barrels a day since the fighting began in December 2013, but it remains the main source of cash for President Salva Kiir’s government both by selling crude and by borrowing against future earnings, digging the nation deeper into debt.  As of June 25, 2013 South Sudan owed $256 million to China’s National Petroleum Corp, which has 40 percent of a venture developing South Sudan’s oil fields, and a further $78 million to oil trader Trafigura. [a Dutch multinational commodity trading company] It plans to borrow about $1 billion from oil firms in fiscal year 2014/15, equal to about a quarter of forecast revenues.

Rebel leader Machar, who was fired as deputy president last year, said oil sites would be a “legitimate target” unless funds were put into a neutral escrow account pending any deal.

But President Salva Kiir’s government says such outside intervention would violate its sovereignty and insists it has not bought arms since fighting began.  “We are not the protectorate of anyone,” presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said. “We have the right to buy arms, but we haven’t bought anything since December,” he said, despite rebel claims of weapon shipments arriving in recent months.  Kiir and Machar come from rival ethnic groups, and the conflict has re-opened deep ethnic divisions in the country.

Monitoring revenues is on the table for talks sponsored by the regional African grouping IGAD, though diplomats acknowledge it can only be part of a broader deal on how to share wealth and power in the divided nation…South Sudan has already lost billions of petrodollars in its young life. Kiir wrote to 75 former and serving officials in 2012 seeking the return of $4 billion that disappeared since 2005. No significant amounts were repaid, diplomats said.  Though the country – the size of France – has almost no roads and only a third of its 11 million people can read, South Sudanese now watch more wealth frittered away on fighting than on building roads or paying for schools….Fighting has killed at least 10,000 people, displaced 1.5 million and left a third of the population facing the prospect of famine as they have not planted crops…

But Western diplomats say pressure for a deal on oil monitoring needs to come from the region, led by heavyweight neighbours such as Kenya and Ethiopia.China, with its oil interests, would need to support the move, though diplomats said it had worked with the West during the crisis. Alongside China, other oil investors are India’s ONGC Videsh and Malaysia’s Petronas.”  If they can get the oil sector right, share the oil revenues in a much more inclusive manner, then that will dictate the country’s future,” said Luke Patey, author of a book on Sudan and South Sudan’s oil industry.

Excerpts from South Sudan conflict drives idea of oil wealth monitoring, Reuters, Aug. 1, 2014]

A Ready-Made Vehicle for Dirty Money: Trade

Money-laundering. image from wikipedia

A few years ago American customs investigators uncovered a scheme in which a Colombian cartel used proceeds from drug sales to buy stuffed animals in Los Angeles. By exporting them to Colombia, it was able to bring its ill-gotten gains home, convert them to pesos and get them into the banking system.This is an example of “trade-based money laundering”, the misuse of commerce to get money across borders. Sometimes the aim is to evade taxes, duties or capital controls; often it is to get dirty money into the banking system. International efforts to stamp out money laundering have targeted banks and money-transmitters, and the smuggling of bulk cash.

But as the front door closes, the back door has been left open. Trade is “the next frontier in international money-laundering enforcement,” says John Cassara, who used to work for America’s Treasury department. Adepts include traffickers, terrorists and the tax-evading rich. Some “transfer pricing”—multinationals’ shuffling of revenues to cut their tax bills—probably counts, too. Firms insist that tax arbitrage is legal, and that the fault, if any, lies with disjointed international tax rules. Campaigners counter that many ruses would be banned if governments were less afraid of scaring off mobile capital. Trade is “a ready-made vehicle” for dirty money, says Balesh Kumar of the Enforcement Directorate, an Indian agency that fights economic crime. A 2012 report he helped write for the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering, a regional crime-fighting body, is packed with examples of criminals combining the mispricing of goods with the misuse of trade-finance techniques. Using trade data, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), an NGO, estimates that $950 billion flowed illicitly out of poor countries in 2011, excluding trade in services and fraudulent transfer pricing. Four-fifths was trade-based laundering linked to arms smuggling, drug trafficking, terrorism or public corruption.

The basic technique is misinvoicing. To slip money into a country, undervalue imports or overvalue exports; do the reverse to get it out. A front company for a Mexican cartel might sell $1m-worth of oranges to an American importer while creating paperwork for $3m-worth, giving it cover to send a dirty $2m back home. One group of launderers was reportedly caught exporting plastic buckets that cost $970 each from the Czech Republic to America. To lessen the risk of discovery the deal may be sent via a shell company in a tax haven with strict secrecy rules. This may mean using a specialist “re-invoicing” firm to “buy” the oranges at an inflated price with an invoice to match and charge the importer the true price. The point is to get paperwork to justify an inflated transfer to the seller. Re-invoicers are used by multinationals to shift profits around, which gives them a veneer of respectability, says Brian LeBlanc of GFI—but they also “feed a giant black market in the offshore manipulation of paperwork”…

American authorities have ratcheted up penalties for banks that assist money-launderers, knowingly or not. In 2012 they reached a $1.9 billion settlement with HSBC after concluding that Latin American drug gangs had taken advantage of lax controls at its Mexican subsidiary. And last year they imposed a $102m forfeiture order on a Lebanese bank implicated in a complex scheme involving the export of used cars to West Africa with the proceeds funnelled to Hizbullah, an Islamist group. Alternative remittance systems and currency exchanges, such as the trust-based hawala networks in Asia and the Middle East, and Latin America’s Black Market Peso Exchange (BMPE), offer another route to launder money through trade. ..A recently leaked Turkish prosecutor’s report describes an alleged conspiracy involving Turkish front companies and banks, an Iranian bank and money-exchangers in Dubai. By marking up invoices for food and medicine allowed into Iran—to as much as $240 for a pound of sugar—the scheme gave Iranian banks access to hard currency from Iran’s oil sales that was locked in escrow accounts overseas, to be transferred only for approved transactions…

In the meantime, launderers who curb their greed and invoice goods worth $10 for $9, or $11, will probably continue to get away with it. A dodgy deal is almost impossible to spot if the pricing is only slightly out and you see just one end, says one American investigator. “You can study the slips all day long, and all you see is stuff being imported and exported.”

Excerpts from Trade and money laundering: Uncontained, Economist, May 3, 2014, at 54

The Drones and Nuclear Weapons of India 2014

India Mysore, image from

Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) suggests that India appeared to have followed through on its publicly announced intention to build the  Special Material Enrichment Facility (SMEF) and started constructing a large enrichment centrifuge complex near Chitradurga, Karnataka.  Furthermore, [o]n June 20, 2014 IHS Jane’s revealed that India was possibly extending Mysore’s Indian Rare Metals Plant into clandestine production of uranium hexafluoride that could theoretically be channelled towards the manufacture of hydrogen bombs.

This week the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) suggested that the country appeared to have followed through on its publicly announced intention to build the SMEF and started constructing a large enrichment centrifuge complex near Chitradurga, Karnataka, where, between 2009 and 2010, approximately 10,000 acres of land were allegedly diverted for various defence purposes.

Within this walled-off tract, 1,410 acres in Ullarthi Kaval and 400 acres in Khudapura were allocated to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre for the purpose of developing the SMEF, the ISIS said, adding that a further 4,000 acres in Varavu Kaval and 290 acres in Khudapura were allocated to the Defence Research and Development Organisation for the purpose of developing and testing “long-endurance (48-72 hours) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles.”…

The report’s authors, David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini, said that the new facility “will significantly increase India’s ability to produce enriched uranium for both civil and military purposes, including nuclear weapons”, urging India to therefore announce that the SMEF would be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, committed only to peaceful uses….At the heart of India’s apparently strong enrichment thrust is an urgent need for Highly Enriched Uranium for the indigenously developed INS Arihant nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine and probably for nuclear and thermonuclear weapons.

Excerpt from NARAYAN LAKSHMAN. Karnataka home to second covert nuke site, drone testing: report,  The  Hindu, July 2, 2014