The World Today for February 07, 2023

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Dirty Laundry

THE PACIFIC

Since Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant melted down in 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami knocked out its power generators, officials have been running water through the nuclear fuel in the damaged reactor, then storing the irradiated water in more than 1,000 tanks at the site.

Now, as Science magazine reported, officials are running out of room to store the radioactive water – the area generates enough hazardous water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every two weeks, according to Radio Free Asia. So, they are planning to dump 1.3 million tons of irradiated water into the Pacific Ocean over the course of the next 40 years. Japanese officials insist the resulting radiation levels will be too low to harm local ecosystems.

But many people who live throughout the Pacific are not pleased, arguing that nobody has conducted the research necessary to substantiate the officials’ claims. Japanese officials, for example, said they would filter the waste before dumping it, but can’t remove harmful tritium that is hard to separate from water.

“Based on our experience with nuclear contamination, continuing with ocean discharge plans at this time is simply inconceivable,” said Henry Puna, secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum, in an interview with Global Voices. “We do not have the luxury of time to sit around for four decades in order to ‘figure it out.’”

In an op-ed in the Guardian, Puna called on Japanese officials to negotiate with regional countries – potentially China, too – to find a better solution.

There is a reason that he and other regional leaders are skittish – they have experience with nuclear contamination. Leaders of the Marshall Islands, a republic of more than 1,200 islands in the central Pacific, have been seeking compensation from the US for the lingering effects of American nuclear testing in the region dating back almost 80 years ago, wrote Al Jazeera.

France has doled out almost $17 million in compensation to residents harmed by France’s nuclear tests in French Polynesia – a number that locals say is not nearly enough, added Radio New Zealand.

Still, writing in the Conversation, University of Portsmouth environmental science professor Jim Smith argued that dumping the water in the Pacific might be Japan’s best option.

First, wrote Smith, officials are correct to say they can reduce the water’s radioactivity with filtering. Second, tritium is relatively benign compared with other radioactive elements. Lastly, he argued, imagine the disaster if the 1,000 tanks ruptured and spilled uncontrollably, without preparation. He admitted, though, that dumping tainted water would harm Fukushima’s “beleaguered fishing industry.”

As far as disasters go, the nuclear ones keep on giving.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Tragedy After Tragedy

TURKEY/ SYRIA

Rescuers continued into Tuesday morning combing structures reduced to rubble in their search for survivors from Monday’s massive earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people in Turkey and Syria, in one of the largest quakes to hit the area in hundreds of years, the Guardian reported.

Turkish officials said the quake of 7.8 magnitude hit the country’s southeast in the early hours of Monday, adding that a second one – with a magnitude of 7.6 – occurred a few hours later after a number of aftershocks. As rescuers struggle against sub-zero temperatures, the World Health Organisation said the death toll could pass 20,000 in the coming days.

Authorities have declared a level 4 state of emergency that calls for international assistance and the mobilization of all national forces. The death toll in Turkey has topped 3,419 people and is expected to rise, they noted, with 5,775 buildings confirmed as collapsed.

Meanwhile, Syrian officials said there were more than 1,600 killed in government-held areas and opposition-controlled parts of Syria, which has been plagued by civil war for more than a decade.

A number of foreign leaders quickly offered support, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, who maintains diplomatic relations with both Turkey and the Syrian government, CNN reported.

Turkey is located in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones: In 1999, huge earthquakes struck the country’s northwest, killing around 18,000 people.

Analysts said the catastrophe will have an effect on the upcoming Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections. They explained that the situation will serve as a major test for the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan amid unfavorable economic concerns and rising prices, Al Jazeera noted.

The 47

HONG KONG

Hong Kong’s largest national security trial began Monday with dozens of prominent pro-democracy advocates facing life imprisonment, proceedings that some believe mark the end of the city’s once vibrant political opposition against mainland China, the Financial Times reported.

The trial focuses on 47 defendants who were arrested two years ago in the single largest police raid to date against activists. The defendants include high-profile politicians and campaigners, including activist Joshua Wong and journalist-turned-lawmaker Claudia Mo.

The defendants have been charged under the controversial national security law, which mainland China passed in 2020 following the mass anti-Beijing protests that swept the city the year before. The legislation criminalized broadly defined crimes such as terrorism, secession, subversion and collusion with foreign powers, and used it to apply to the activities of opponents of mainland China.

For example, authorities have charged the 47 individuals with conspiring to overthrow state power by organizing or participating in an unofficial primary election among the opposition camp in July 2020. Only 16 defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Critics called the arrests and trial a politically-motivated move by Beijing to remove pro-democracy parties and eliminate dissent in the semi-autonomous city.

The case has damaged relations between China and the West, with the latter denouncing the charges against the detained activists.

The trial comes as Hong Kong’s government is redoubling efforts to restore its faltering economy and entice international companies back to the territory following three years of economic restrictions and demonstrations that have harmed the city’s worldwide reputation.

Meanwhile, city authorities are preparing to try another high-profile national security case later this year, against media mogul and Beijing critic Jimmy Lai.

Lai faces charges of foreign collusion for his role as founder of the defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. He is currently in prison on fraud charges related to his media company.

Making Exceptions

CANADA

The Canadian government withdrew elements of its proposed gun-control legislation this week, following opposition from various organizations, including Indigenous groups who complained that the bill impacted their livelihoods, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rolled out a bill that would formally prohibit the purchase, sale, or transfer of handguns and introduces a mandatory buyback program for nearly 1,500 different models and makes of firearms banned in 2020.

The bill followed the 2020 Nova Scotia massacre – considered the deadliest in the country – and the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas last year.

But lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Party later introduced a series of amendments to the draft law, including a ban on thousands of rifles and shotguns.

Critics warned that the broad ban would impact the lives of Indigenous and rural communities, who rely on hunting for their livelihood and sustenance.

The government later withdrew the wider firearm ban, saying that authorities are focusing on prohibiting assault-style weapons.

Analysts noted, however, that the decision came after the Liberal Party’s political allies in parliament said they did not support the amended bill, following complaints from the affected communities.

Observers added that the withdrawal comes at a time of low popularity for Trudeau’s party: Polls show that half of the voters feel the country is going in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party is trailing its traditional rival, the Conservatives, by eight percentage points – the biggest gap between the two since 2015.

DISCOVERIES

Weapons of Love

A stag with his antlers, black birds with their beaks, rhinos and their horns – fauna have various tools at their disposal to use in their often violent fights over mates.

So did the bug-like Trilobites a half billion years ago, scientists recently discovered, a finding that marks the earliest evidence of sexual combat, CNN reported.

The extinct invertebrates emerged in the Early Cambrian period but died out 252 million years ago in the mass extinction that gave way to the dinosaurs.

Although there are more than 22,000 species of Trilobite, a research team focused only on the Walliserops. These marine creatures reached lengths of up to three inches and had trident-like protrusions branching off their heads.

In their study, researchers initially suggested a few uses for the protrusions, including as a weapon against predators.

But their analysis showed that the tridents were more of a “sexual weapon.”

They used a special technique to compare Walliserops’ tridents with the horns of rhinoceros beetles and found many similarities.

Their findings showed that male Trilobites used the tridents to fight and win mates.

The team cautioned, however, that they haven’t determined whether the protrusions were exclusive to males or whether females also sported them.

“In general, if there’s going to be an extravagant trait that’s used for fighting for mates, usually, it’s the males that have the extravagant trait,” said Erin McCullough, a researcher at Clark University in Massachusetts who was not involved with the study. “But biology is fun because there’s always exceptions – female reindeer have antlers.”

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