Japanese appeals court is expected to rule soon in a suit filed on behalf of 14 children by their parents and anti-nuclear activists in June 2011 in a district court in Fukushima arguing that the nearby town of Koriyama should evacuate its children to an area where radiation levels are no higher than natural background levels in the rest of Japan, or about 1 millisievert annual exposure. After the Fukushima accident, Japan set an annual exposure limit of 20 millisieverts for determining whether people can live in an area. The average radiation for Koriyama is below this level, but some "hot spots" around the city are above the cutoff. The district court rejected the suit in a December 2011 decision. An appeal is now before the Sendai High Court in nearby Miyagi prefecture.
With all eyes on the crisis between North and South Korea, the international media have largely overlooked growing tensions between both Koreas and Japan. On April 5, Seoul lodged a diplomatic protest against Japan's renewed territorial claim to the Dokdo Islands, known as Takeshima in Japan. The protest came after Tokyo issued a formal claim over the Seoul-controlled easternmost islets through approval of a diplomatic report that stated: "Takeshima is clearly Japanese territory in light of historical facts and under an international law." In a separate protest days earlier, Seoul lodged a complaint over new textbooks approved in Japan that emphasize Tokyo's claim to the islets while downplaying Japanese wartime atrocities in Korea. (Dong-a Ilbo, April 6; Xinhua, April 5; AsiaOne, March 27)
Workers started a 72-hour strike at the Somina uranium mine in northern Niger March 20, demanding better wages and the release of unpaid bonuses. A spokesman for the Syntramines union told Reuters 680 workers have downed tools for the strike, which could be extended to an open-ended stoppage if demands were not met. Somina is run by the uranium unit of the China National Nuclear Corporation, Sino-U, in a partnership with Niger's government. The mine, in the remote Agadez region, was established in 2007, producing 700 tons annually. Niger is also top uranium supplier to France, which is expanding operations. Areva’s Imouraren mine is expected to more than double the French company's current production in Niger when it comes online in 2014, with expected output of 5,000 tons per year. (Reuters, March 21; Asia Daily Wire, Press TV, March 20)
A group of 40 Argentine environmentalists invaded the Embalse Nuclear Center in the central province of Córdoba on March 11 to mark the second anniversary of the earthquake that caused meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan's Fukushima prefecture, the second-worst nuclear accident in history. The protesters, members of Greenpeace Argentina, "entered [the complex] peacefully, waving flags and wearing orange overalls," according to Greenpeace Energy Campaign coordinator Mauro Fernández. They proceeded to climb to the top of the reactor, where they unfurled a giant banner reading: "Enough with nuclear danger!" The activists were then "beaten and arrested," Greenpeace said, and taken to Río Cuarto federal court, with jurisdiction over the facility.
The Pentagon announced plans March 15 to add 14 missile interceptors to its anti-missile system in response to recent nuclear posturing of North Korea. The new interceptors would augment 26 already deployed at Ft. Greely, Alaska, with four others deployed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But the system is plagued with technical failures. The last successful hit against a target was in December 2008; test launches have failed to hit their targets since then. The Pentagon is said to have discovered a flaw in the guidance system of the newest Raytheon-made model. (LAT, March 16; Bloomberg, March 15) The ABM Treaty, which barred anti-ballistic missile systems during the Cold War, was pronounced effectively dead in the Bush years
The current apocalyptic zeitgeist was made all too clear by the recent hoopla over the turning of the Maya calendar, so it was inevitable that the morbidly paranoid would glom on to the papal resignation—just as they did the Vatican's opening of the Knights Templar archives a few years back. The Irish Central on Feb. 11 provides some fodder, recalling the prophecies of Saint Malachy, a 12th century bishop of Armagh, who supposedly predicted the names of all future popes—accurate up to this point, supposedly. And after Benedict XVI, he wrote: "In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End." Gee, thanks.
North Korea conducted its third nuclear test Dec. 12, exploding what is paradoxically being called a "miniaturized" device that nonetheless packed a greater explosive force than those the DPRK set off in 2006 and 2009. "We can assume this is roughly twice as big in magnitude," said Lassina Zerbo of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which monitored from afar the underground blast at the Punggye-ri test site in the DPRK's northeast mountains. Pyongyang said the test was an act of self-defense against "US hostility." South Korea, which placed its US-backed military on alert after the test, said it would fast-track development of longer-range missiles that can reach the whole of North Korea. "We will speed up the development of ballistic missiles with a range of 800 kilometers," a Defense Ministry spokesman told reporters.
Israeli warplanes carried out an air-strike overnight on Syrian territory near the border with Lebanon. Unnamed US and "regional" (presumably Israeli) officials said the target was a weapons convoy with a shipment that included Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah, which would be strategically "game-changing" in the hands of the militant group. Damascus called the strikes an act of "Israeli arrogance and aggression" that raised the risks that the two-year-old civil conflict in Syria could spread beyond the country's borders. The regime said a research facility in the Damascus suburbs had been hit, and denied that a convoy had been the target. The attack comes days after Israel expressed concerns that Damascus' stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah. Israel had no official statement on the air-strikes.