The World Today for March 26, 2021

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Unfinished Business

Japanese officials are storing around 1.25 million tons of radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in more than 1,000 big metal tanks near the ocean.

They want to slowly release the water into the sea, the Washington Post reported. The officials claim they can safely release and dilute the contaminated coolant that was in the plant before a tsunami damaged it in 2011, triggering the worst meltdown since Chernobyl in 1986 in what is now Ukraine. They will likely wait until after the Olympics in July before beginning the process, however.

Greenpeace called the idea “delusional.” The fishing industry is crying foul. The fishermen feel as if they have just rebounded from the meltdown and tsunami, which devastated the entire region, as National Public Radio documented in a photo essay.

Dumping the water is part of a $200 billion cleanup currently underway at the Fukushima plant that could take as long as 40 years, according to the Washington Examiner. The job includes removing and storing 880 tons of deadly radioactive uranium fuel, and concrete and metal that the fuel has contaminated. The meltdown seriously damaged the attractiveness of nuclear power in Japan, the New Statesman explained.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant’s operator, has long maintained that nobody could have foreseen the natural disaster that triggered the nuclear catastrophe – more than 20,000 people died or went missing in the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. But the Associated Press noted that Japanese courts have found that “safety negligence, lax oversight by regulators and collusion” were to blame. The company also recently admitted that seismometers at the site had been broken for a year, meaning they might not have a grasp on radioactivity levels at the site.

People are trying to move on from the disaster. Many are having a hard time, however. Folks who lived near the plant are understandably worried about radiation poisoning, wrote Al Jazeera. Officials have not recorded a spike in cancer as occurred after Chernobyl but it leaked 10 times more radiation.

Plumber Kenichi Kurosawa recounted to CNN how he clung to a tree when the earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit, then walked home through a landscape of destruction including cars and boats tossed like toys. These days, he tries hard to move on, continuing to rebuild his life and also teaching others about disaster preparedness.

Sakae Kato, meanwhile, lives in the contaminated quarantine zone, where he cares for the cats left behind by owners who fled for their lives, Reuters reported. He won’t leave, he says. His forefathers lived and died here and so will he.

Rina Tsugawa grew up in Fukushima and, rather than seek out a job in Tokyo after she graduates from nursing school like most of her peers, she intends to head back to help people recover, wrote the New York Times.

That’s because recovery – like cleaning up – is nowhere near finished.



Supporting Sorrow

New Zealander lawmakers unanimously approved a bill this week that will allow mothers and their partners three days of paid bereavement leave if they experience a miscarriage or a stillbirth, USA Today reported Thursday.

Among the provisions, the draft law defines a miscarriage as the end of a pregnancy within the first 20 weeks – whereas a stillbirth occurs after that period – and says women won’t have to provide proof of their pregnancy to employers.

The legislation also applies to both known and unknown pregnancies and prevents women and their partners from using their sick leave during the bereavement period.

The bill makes New Zealand one of the first countries in the world to approve such an expansive paid bereavement leave related to pregnancy.

India has a similar legislation that provides women who have miscarriages six weeks of paid bereavement leave. However, the law does not apply to most workers, who often engage in informal work.

Britain allows women to take maternity leave if a stillbirth occurs after 24 weeks of pregnancy, while Australia offers unpaid leave for miscarriages after 12 weeks.

Meanwhile, US employers are not required to offer leave for miscarriages or stillbirths, forcing many women to use their sick leave to take time off from work.


‘Fortress Taiwan’

Taiwan will begin the mass production of long-range missiles in an effort to develop strike capabilities against a possible Chinese attack, Reuters reported Thursday.

Taiwanese officials said Thursday that the country is currently working on four missile models, although they did not provide more details about the weapons. They added that developing long-range attack capability was a priority amid rising Chinese military activity near the island.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory and has been conducting military exercises near the island to pressure Taipei to accept Beijing’s sovereignty claims.

Taiwan’s armed forces are in the middle of a modernization program aimed at creating a more effective deterrent, including the ability to strike at Chinese bases deep in the interior of the country.

The United States, the island’s main foreign arms supplier, has been eager to create a counterbalance against Chinese forces, building on an effort known within the Pentagon as “Fortress Taiwan.”


Righting Wrongs

The Bank of England unveiled a new bill featuring mathematician and computer science pioneer Alan Turing on Thursday in an effort by Britain to posthumously right some of the wrongs inflicted on him during his lifetime, the New York Times reported.

Turing’s portrait will be placed on the £50 banknote – worth about $68 – and will also include a quote about one of his computer inventions. Its circulation starts on Turing’s birthday on June 23.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said Turing’s contributions embodied “the spirit of the nation” and “showed us the way to the future.”

Turing is remembered for his major contributions to computer science – he developed the idea that became the basis for the first computer –  and artificial intelligence, as well as his key code-breaking efforts during World War II, which helped the Allies decode German ciphers, which some historians credit with shortening the war by years and saving millions of lives.

However, his wartime efforts remained a secret during his life and he was later convicted in 1952 under Victorian indecency laws that criminalized homosexuality. He was forced to undergo chemical castration and died two years later, aged 41, possibly of suicide.

In 2009, the British government apologized for his treatment, and Queen Elizabeth II granted him a royal pardon four years later.

In 2017, the government passed a law bearing his name that pardoned men who had been convicted for homosexuality, which itself was partly decriminalized in 1967.


The Un-Scrolling

In the mid-20th century, archaeologists found the Dead Sea Scrolls in Israel, a collection of parchments and papyri that include the world’s oldest copies of biblical texts, dating between the third and first centuries BCE.

Israeli archaeologists have now discovered new fragments of another ancient biblical scroll near the same area more than 60 years later, NPR reported.

The search team found the new relics around the Nahal Hever area, in the Cave of Horror – aptly named for the dozens of skeletons discovered there in the 1960s.

The small parchments appeared to be Greek translations of some verses from Twelve Minor Prophets, a book of the Hebrew Bible, and the text resembled the larger scrolls discovered decades ago.

The team said the scroll fragments were written in the first century BCE but were brought to the cave around 135 CE: Researchers determined the year after finding coins from the Bar Kokhba period of revolt against the Romans.

In the same area, Israeli archaeologists also found a 6,000-year-old mummified child’s skeleton, as well as a 10,500-year-old basket believed to be the world’s oldest fully intact one.

The discoveries are part of a large operation by the Israeli government to explore nearly 500 caves along the western shore of the Dead Sea, following concerns over looting in the area.

“…we need to get to these things before the robbers do,” said Amir Ganor, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority anti-looting squad.

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 30,079,283 (+0.23%)
  2. Brazil: 12,320,169 (+0.82%)
  3. India: 11,846,652 (+0.50%)
  4. France: 4,484,659 (+2.51%)
  5. Russia: 4,451,565 (+0.41%)
  6. UK: 4,332,922 (+0.15%)
  7. Italy: 3,464,543 (+0.69%)
  8. Spain: 3,247,738 (+0.41%)
  9. Turkey: 3,120,013 (+0.93%)
  10. Germany: 2,744,608 (+0.80%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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