Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Devil’s Scenario for the End of Tokyo: Fukushima

Spent fuel pool at nuclear plant ....before an accident.  Image from wikipedia

By late March 2011… after tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi plant—it was far from obvious that the accident was under control and the worst was over. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano feared that radioactive material releases from the Fukushima Daiichi plant and its sister plant (Fukushima Daini) located some 12 km south could threaten the entire population
of eastern Japan: “That was the devil’s scenario that was on my mind. Common sense
dictated that, if that came to pass, then it was the end of Tokyo.”

Prime Minister Naoto Kan asked Dr. Shunsuke Kondo, then-chairman of the Japanese Atomic Energy Commission, to prepare a report on worst-case scenarios from the accidenta .  Dr. Kondo led a 3-day study involving other Japanese experts and submitted his report (Kondo, 2011) to the prime minister on March 25, 2011. The existence of the report was initially kept secret because of the frightening nature of the scenarios it described. An article in the Japan Times quoted a senior government official as saying, “The content [of the report] was
so shocking that we decided to treat it as if it didn’t exist.” …
One of the scenarios involved a self-sustaining zirconium cladding fire in the Unit 4 spent fuel pool. Radioactive material releases from the fire were estimated to cause extensive contamination of a 50- to 70-km region around the Fukushima Daiichi plant with hotspots significant enough to require evacuations up to 110 km from the plant. Voluntary evacuations were envisioned out to 200 km because of elevated dose levels. If release from other spent fuel pools occurred, then contamination could extend as far as Tokyo,…There was particular concern that the zirconium cladding fire could produce enough heat to melt the stored fuel, allowing it to flow to the bottom of the pool, melt through the pool liner and concrete
bottom, and flow into the reactor building.

Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Daiichi Accident for Spent Fuel Storage: The U.S. nuclear industry and its regulator should give additional attention to improving the ability of plant operators to measure real-time conditions in spent fuel pools and maintain adequate cooling of stored spent fuel during severe accidents and terrorist attacks. These improvements should include hardened and redundant physical surveillance systems (e.g., cameras), radiation monitors, pool temperature monitors, pool water-level monitors, and means to deliver pool makeup water or sprays even when physical access to the pools is limited by facility damage or high radiation levels….

[At nuclear power plants there must be…adequate separation of plant safety and  security systems so that security systems can continue to function independently if safety systems are damaged. In particular, security systems need to have independent, redundant, and protected power sources…

Excerpts from Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Accident for Improving
Safety and Security of U.S. Nuclear Plants: Phase 2, US National Academies, 2016

How Tuna Boats Can Turn Into Weapons

Mozambique map Indian ocean.

Mozambique’s tuna fishing fleet needs to be refitted to meet European Union standards, Finance Minister Adriano Maleiane said on May 23, 2016 piling more costs onto a project at the centre of a debt crisis.

The boats were paid for out of an $850 millionoan arranged in 2013 by Credit Suisse and Russia’s VTB to finance “fishing infrastructure”. The cash came in the form of a government-backed bond to state tuna-fishing company Ematum.

Nearly three years later, the fishing project, initially touted as self-sustaining, has severely underperformed and added to a sovereign foreign debt mountain equal to 80 percent of GDP that could bankrupt the [country]….Not only did Ematum fall short of its targets but $500 million of the “tuna bond” was subsequently designated for “maritime security” and reallocated to the defence budget.The 24 boats, which were built in France, will now be modified in South Africa so they can export tuna to Europe…Mozambique’s government cannot afford to have them all upgraded at once. “The costs involved in refitting the boats are high, hence the work is being done in phases,” Maleiane was quoted by the state news agency as saying.

Deepening the mire, a further $1.35 billion of previously undisclosed government-backed debt emerged last month, prompting the International Monetary Fund and Western governments to suspend budgetary aid support.  The loans included $622 million for Proindicus, a state-owned company tasked with providing maritime security, and a $535 million for Mozambique Asset Management (MAM) to build a shipyard for gas projects…The hidden loans have exposed widespread government mismanagement that risks pushing a promising African economy, one that emerged from a ruinous 1976-92 civil war, into crisis.

Excerpts from Mozambique to refit tuna fleet, compounding debt crisis, Reuters, May 24, 2016

Justice 4 Fish

 image from News VietNamNet

Hundreds of people have held a rare protest in Vietnam against the unexplained mass death of fish on the country’s central coast. Vast numbers of dead fish have appeared across some 200km (125 miles) of coastline since early April. A government investigation has so far found no links to a steel plant owned by Taiwanese firm Formosa Plastics.But many of the demonstrators in Hanoi blamed the company, and carried placards saying “Formosa Out”. Other signs read “Formosa destroying the environment is a crime” and “Who poisoned the central region’s waters?”  Environment Minister Tran Hong Ha said the die-off was “a very huge and serious environment disaster” and admitted that the government had been slow to react.He said Formosa Plastics had been ordered to dig up an illegal waste pipe at its plant.

Fishermen along the affected coastline are banned from selling their stocks, but seafood industry officials said exports, that bring in $6.6b a year, would not be affected.

Excerpt from Vietnam protest over mystery fish deaths, BBC, May 1, 2016

Hermes Bags and Crocodile Farms

hermes birkin croco bags

Over 20 countries export crocodilian skins, according to statistics from the UN Environment Programme. More than half the global tally is from caimans and alligators farmed in Colombia and the United States. The skins are largely sold to tanners in Italy and France, and also in Singapore.The industry has grown apace since the late 1970s, when conservationists began loosening an export ban designed to defend the animals from hunting (the trade is still controlled under CITES, an intergovernmental effort to protect endangered creatures). Grahame Webb, a biologist, says that many of the 5,000 or so farms are tiny set-ups in Asian villages. The largest outfits, however, now boast as many as 70,000 crocs. Some are getting snapped up by big leather-buyers at fashion houses such as Hermès and Louis Vuitton.

Excerpt from  Crocodile Farming: Snapping Dressers, Economist, May 14, 2016, at 55

As Secure as it Can Get: hacking the banks


A little-noticed lawsuit details a hacking attack similar to one that stole $81 million from Bangladesh’s central bank, saying cybercriminals stole about $9 million in 2015 from a bank in Ecuador…..…A third attack, from December 2015 at a commercial bank in Vietnam, was detailed last week by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift. That bank detected the fraudulent requests and stopped the movement of funds, the central bank in Vietnam said.  In the January 2015 Ecuador hack, as with the Bangladesh case, hackers managed to get the bank’s codes for using Swift, the global bank messaging service, to procure funds from another bank, according to court papers.

The Ecuadorean bank, Banco del Austro, filed a lawsuit in New York federal court in 2016 accusing Wells Fargo & Co. of failing to notice “red flags’’ in a dozen January 2015 transactions and to stop them before the thieves transferred about $12 million, most of it to banks in Hong Kong.  Lawyers for the two banks didn’t immediately return phone calls asking to comment about the case and Swift’s complaints that they had failed to notify the messaging network….

There are similarities in method, including thieves accessing the bank’s system to log on to the Swift network through customer sites, and doing so after bankers’ hours, apparently to reduce the likelihood someone would ask questions about specific transactions…

According to that filing on behalf of Banco del Austro, or BDA, “For each of the unauthorized transfers, an unauthorized user, using the Internet, hacked into BDA’s computer system after hours using malware that allowed remote access, logged onto the Swift network purporting to be BDA, and redirected transactions to new beneficiaries with new amounts.” Using that method, just before midnight on Jan. 14, 2015, a payment order made to a Miami company for less than $3,000 was altered to send $1.4 million to an account in Hong Kong, according to the court filing. There were 12 suspect transfers carried out over a 10-day period in January 2015, according to the lawsuit.  BDA’s lawsuit argues Wells Fargo should have noticed several anomalies in the transfers and, at a minimum, asked questions about them.  “The unauthorized transfers were made in unusual times of the day, in unusual amounts, to unusual beneficiaries in unusual geographic locations,’’ the bank’s lawyers argued in the filing. “Despite the numerous anomalies in the unauthorized transfers, [Wells Fargo] inexplicably failed to block them and/or alert BDA of the suspicious activity.’’

Excerpts from DEVLIN BARRETT and KATY BURNE, Now It’s Three: Ecuador Bank Hacked via Swift, Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2016

The Niger Deltans 1992-2016

Niger Delta states of Nigeria. image from wikipedia

They call themselves the Niger Delta Avengers. Little is known about the new radical group that has claimed a series of pipeline bombings in Nigeria’s oil-producing region this year and evaded gunboats and soldiers trawling swamps and villages.  Their attacks have driven Nigerian oil output to near a 22-year low and, if the violence escalates into another insurgency in the restive area, it could cripple production in a country facing a growing economic crisis.

President Muhammadu Buhari has said he will crush the militants, but a wide-scale conflict could stretch security forces already battling a northern rebellion by hardline Sunni Muslim group Boko Haram.  Militancy has been rife over the past decade in the Delta, a southern region which is one of the country’s poorest areas despite generating 70 percent of state income.

Violence has increased sharply this year – most of it claimed by the “Avengers” – after Buhari scaled back an amnesty deal with rebel groups, which had ended a 2004-2009 insurgency.Under the deal, more state cash was channelled to the region for job training and militant groups were handed contracts to protect the pipelines they once bombed. But Buhari cut the budget allocated to the plan by about 70 percent and cancelled the contracts, citing corruption and mismanagement of funds.

The “Avengers” have carried out a string of attacks since February 2016… The group has emailed journalists a statement saying they were fighting for an independent Delta and would step up their attacks unless oil firms left the region within two weeks.”If at the end of the ultimatum you are still operating, we will blow up all the locations,” it said. “It will be bloody. So just shut down your operations and leave.””To international oil companies, this is just the beginning and you have not seen anything yet. We will make you suffer,” it said.

Authorities have no hard facts about the group – such as its size, bases or leadership…Diplomats and security experts say it has shown a level of sophistication not seen since the peak of the 2004-2009 insurgency, which halved Nigeria’s oil output. They say it must be getting help from sympathetic oil workers in identifying the pipelines to cause maximum damage….

In February 2016 the group claimed an attack on an undersea pipeline, forcing Shell to shut a 250,000 barrels a day Forcados terminal. In May 2016, it took credit for blasting a Chevron platform, shutting the Warri and Kaduna refineries…

Reuters, like other media, has been unable to reach the group, which mainly communicates via Twitter, with the location tracker switched off, and on its website.Its members describe themselves there as “young, well travelled” and mostly educated in eastern Europe.

Given the lack of intelligence about the militants, the army launched a wide-ranging hunt across the Delta this week, sending gunboats into mosquito-infested creeks and searching villages in the middle of the night. But some residents say such a heavy-handed military approach stokes dissent in the Delta where many complain of poverty despite sitting on much of Nigeria’s energy wealth. They say some villagers help militants to hide in the hard-to-access swamps….

Executives [oil firms in Nigeria] met Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in May 2016 and one of them warned the government was being “too direct and blunt” and needed to find some balance, according to a source familiar with the discussions….Many locals in the Christian south see Buhari, a Muslim northerner, as an oppressor.

Excerpts ‘Avengers’ threaten new insurgency in Nigeria’s oil-producing Delta, Reuters, May 16, 2016

According to their website: The Nigerian State is like the biblical Egypt, the Government of the Federation is like the Biblical Pharaohs, President Buhari is like the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses, the Niger Delta People are like the Jews while the Niger Delta Avengers is Moses. So all we are asking is let our people go (NIGER DELTANS).

See also UN on Ogoniland oil damage

Shell Nigeria and the Ogoni People

Nigeria

India’s Nuclear Capacity: the Super Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier

Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier to be built in 2016 powered by two A1B nuclear reactors. image from wikipedia, artist's concept of the carrier

India’s navy has finalised plans for a nuclear-powered super-carrier, which is scheduled to be built in Kochi with US help.  In preparation for the long-gestation project, estimated for the year 2028, the navy is setting up the building blocks that will identify the aircraft to be based on the carrier.  The carrier is  to be called the INS-Vishal.

Nuclear energy enables a carrier to sail for months without needing to dock for refuelling. The navy wants a nuclear-powered carrier….to enhance its reach beyond territorial waters.  It has determined that the carrier will need a nuclear reactor generating 180MW for propulsion, and may go for two reactors of 90MW each. Talks with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (Barc) are at an advanced stage.

The navy has bolstered its case for a nuclear-powered carrier by citing the nuclear deals India has signed not only with the US but also with Japan and Germany, albeit for peaceful uses of nuclear technology…The navy had invited preliminary inquiries from foreign entities for the design and development of the Vishal: DCNS of France, Rosoboronexport of Russia, Lockheed Martin of the US. Within the top brass, however, there is now a congealing of opinion that the US option may be the one to go after.

This is as much because of the technology regime that India promises to enter following the nuclear deals as because the US is actually operating carriers and building them, the latest being the Gerald R Ford class….India and the US have a joint working group on sharing, and possibly co-producing, the electromagnetic aircraft launch system that is going into the USS Gerald R Ford.

“In the Arihant (the Indian nuclear submarine now in sea trials) we have gained, with some Russian help, the ability to develop a reactor for our purpose. Barc is confident that it can build for the carrier too,” the officer said…The only Indian operational carrier now is the Vikramaditya. At 45,000 tonnes it has a flight deck that is still too small for the new dimensions of carrier operations the navy is envisaging from the Vishal, the officer said.

Excerpts from Plan for nuclear-driven carrier with US help, the Telegraph (Calcutta) May 16, 2016