September 30, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

JAPAN

The Half-Life of Fear

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach wants to reassure athletes that radiation won’t taint their food when they compete in the Summer Games in Tokyo next year.

Bach’s recent comments at the United Nations came after South Korean officials announced they would expand inspections of Japanese food products that began in 2011 after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, reported Japanese news agencies.

The news was one example of the lingering effects of the meltdown, which was triggered by an earthquake and a massive tsunami that killed thousands.

Another is liability. Or rather, who should be held to account for the nuclear accident, which forced 160,000 people to evacuate their homes in northeastern Japan and rendered the coastal area around the plant uninhabitable, the New York Times wrote.

A Japanese court recently acquitted three former executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that operated the plant, triggering protests. “It would be impossible to operate a nuclear plant if operators are obliged to predict every possibility about a tsunami and take necessary measures,” one of the judges concluded.

TEPCO is still liable for civil penalties – earlier this year a court awarded $39 million in damages to some evacuees – and it must still clean up the plant, a process that could take 40 years.

Many Japanese citizens weren’t pleased. CNN noted that prosecutors only charged the three men after relatives of those who perished in the aftermath of the disaster launched a public campaign for justice. “How can the court make this ruling?” said a protester after the verdict in a video in the Daily Mirror, a British tabloid. “We cannot understand and cannot accept it.”

Meanwhile, the Japanese government isn’t helping calm the people’s fears. Former environmental minister Yoshiaki Harada recently suggested that TEPCO should pour radioactive water from Fukushima into the Pacific Ocean, reported Popular Mechanics. The company has more than 1,000 tanks containing more than 1 million tons of contaminated water generated at the site. Workers are simply running out of room to store the irradiated liquid. The site produces around 350 tons of contaminated water every day.

“The only option will be to drain it into the sea and dilute it,” said Harada at a recent press conference. “The whole of the government will discuss this, but I would like to offer my simple opinion.”

Local fishermen told the Guardian they are scared. The disaster nearly crippled their industry. Officials conduct stringent testing of seafood harvested in the region to ensure its safety, but polls indicate that many customers understandably would think twice about eating sushi from the waters around the plant.

Like the isotopes floating in the sea, fear doesn’t dissipate quickly – or easily.

WANT TO KNOW

RUSSIA

Unclenched Jaws

Russians took to the streets of Moscow Sunday calling for the release of demonstrators arrested during summer’s mass protests, the biggest show of dissent against President Vladimir Putin to date.

More than 20,000 protesters from various political movements carried signs and slogans against the establishment and chanted “let them go,” the Guardian reported.

Russian prosecutors filed criminal cases against dozens of demonstrators protesting allegedly rigged city council elections in July and August. The protests attracted more than 60,000 people at one point – the largest since Putin was elected president in 2012.

A public backlash forced prosecutors to drop most of the charges but 17 people were sentenced or remain under investigation.

Analysts told the Moscow Times that the protests won’t likely force the Kremlin to drop the remaining charges or implement reform.

Still, protesters said they won’t stop.

“The dragon has unclenched its jaws but not all the way,” said protester Larisa Solovova. “We have to keep going.”

ASIA

Going Global

Thousands of people marched in the cities of Australia, Taiwan and Japan Sunday as part of a coordinated day of global protests to denounce “Chinese tyranny” and support the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

The global protests come just days before China prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Al Jazeera reported.

China’s National Day is scheduled for Oct. 1.

Demonstrators rallied in several cities chanting “fight for freedom” and “stand with Hong Kong.”

Meanwhile, the “anti-totalitarianism” march in Hong Kong took a violent turn Sunday when thousands of people attacked signs congratulating the Communist Party.

Protestors in Hong Kong are planning to hold more rallies on Monday and Tuesday.

The demonstrations began in June inspired by a now-shelved extradition bill but have since evolved into an anti-China movement.

China has denounced the movement and accused foreign governments of fueling anti-China sentiment in the region.

INDIA

Up in Smoke

Hundreds of people rallied in six cities in India over the weekend, outraged over a recent ban on electronic cigarettes, the latest country to forbid their sale following Brazil and Thailand.

The government banned the sale and import of vaping devices on Sept. 18, warning of an “epidemic” of vaping among young people.

A health ministry official told Reuters that the government will not repeal the ban despite the public backlash and two court challenges.

“There is no question of a rollback or anything like that,” the official said.

India has 106 million adult smokers making it a very lucrative market for tobacco and vaping companies.

E-cigarette importer Plume Vapour is challenging the ban in court: The company argues that the ban will put vaping firms out of business and allow cigarette companies to flourish.

DISCOVERIES

Forget Atlantis

The existence of Atlantis remains dubious to this day but there’s no denying that there are lost continents below the earth’s crust.

Recently, scientists found a Greenland-sized piece of continental crust that separated from North Africa about 240 million years ago, the Washington Post reported.

After a 10-year intensive study, an international team of researchers discovered that the lost continent of Greater Adria was mostly under water, forming shallow seas with large coral reefs – similar to Atlantis.

But unlike the mythical continent, Greater Adria took millions of years to slide below Europe and left evidence in the form of mountain belts and ranges, such as parts of the Alps, or the highlands in the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.

“Forget Atlantis,” wrote lead author Douwe van Hinsbergen in a blog post announcing the findings. “Without realizing it, vast numbers of tourists spend their holiday each year on the lost continent of Greater Adria.”

Greater Adria, however, is not the only “lost continent” discovered.

Back in 2017, researchers found fragments of a supercontinent beneath the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.

Click here to see how our planet’s geography was shaped.