As anti-government protests escalate in Yemen, revolutionaries have taken control of two major cities in the north and east of the country.
The protesters reportedly took over al-Jawf, which borders Saudi Arabia in the northeast on Monday. Three soldiers were killed during clashes in the city.
Protesters also took control of Marib, east of the capital, Sana’a, where several oil and gas fields run by international companies are located.
Earlier reports said Marib Governor Ahmed Naji al-Zaidi was attacked and wounded during an anti-government protest outside the local government headquarters. He is currently receiving treatment in Sana’a.
Meanwhile, one of Yemen’s largest tribal federations, Baqil, joined the protesters in the capital’s Change Square.
Two high-ranking officers have also joined the protesters.
This comes as Yemeni police have intensified the crackdown on demonstrators. Security forces have surrounded a protest camp in Sana’a.
At least 40 people were injured in the capital after police opened fire on protesters on Monday.
One-hundred others were also wounded on Sunday after police on rooftops fired live rounds and teargas on people, camping near Sana’a University.
Heavily armed troops have also been deployed in the southern city of Aden.
Protesters are calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down after 32 years in power.
The Idiocy and Hubris of Engineers: Will GE Get Whacked for the Catastrophic Failure of its Nuke Plants in Fukushira?
GE, the company that boasts that it “brings good things to life,” was the designer of the nuclear plants that are blowing up like hot popcorn kernels at the Fukushima Dai-ichi generating plant north of Tokyo that was hit by the double-whammy of an 8.9 earthquake and a huge tsunami.
The company may escape tens or hundreds of billions of dollars in liability from this continuing disaster, which could still result in a catastrophic total meltdown of one or more of the reactors (as of this writing three of the reactors are reported to have suffered partial meltdowns, and all could potentially become more serious total meltdowns with a rupture of the reactor container), thanks to Japanese law, which makes the operator–in this case Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) liable. But if it were found that it was design flaws by GE that caused the problem, presumably TEPCO or the Japanese government could pursue GE for damages.
In fact, the design of these facilities–a design which, it should be noted, was also used in 23 nuclear plants operating in the US in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Vermont–appear to have included serious flaws, from a safety perspective.
The drawings of the plants in question, called Mark I Reactors, provide no way for venting hydrogen gas from the containment buildings, despite the fact that one of the first things that happens in the event of a cooling failure is the massive production of hydrogen gas by the exposed fuel rods in the core. This is why two of the nuclear generator buildings at Fukushima Dai-ichi have exploded with tremendous force blasting off the roof and walls of the structures, and damaging control equipment needed to control the reactors.
One would have thought that design engineers at GE would have thought about that fact, and provided venting systems for any hydrogen gas being vented in an emergency into the building. But no. They didn’t.
There goes the neighborhood: A second GE nuclear reactor building at Fukushima Dai-ishi suffers a hydrogen gas explosion.
There is a worse problem though. Probably in an effort to keep the problem of nuclear waste hidden from the public, these plants feature huge pools of water up in the higher level of the containment building above the reactors, which hold the spent fuel rods from the reactor. These rods are still “hot” but besides the uranium fuel pellets, they also contain the highly radioactive and potentially biologically active decay products of the fission process–particularly radioactive Cesium 137, Iodine 131 and Strontium 90. (Some of GE’s plants in the US feature this same design. The two GE Peach Bottom reactors near me, for example, each have two spent fuel tanks sitting above their reactors.)
As Robert Alvarez, a former nuclear energy adviser to President Bill Clinton, has written, if these waste containers, euphemistically called “ponds,” were to be damaged in an explosion and lose their cooling and radiation-shielding water, they could burst into flame from the resulting burning of the highly flammable zirconium cladding of the fuel rods, blasting perhaps three to nine times as much of these materials into the air as was released by the Chernobyl reactor disaster. (And that’s if just one reactor blows!) Each pool, Alvarez says, generally contains five to ten times as much nuclear material as the reactors themselves. Alvarez cites a 1997 Nuclear Regulatory Commission study that predicted that a waste pool fire could render a 188-square-mile area “uninhabitable” and do $59 billion worth of damage (but that was 13 years ago).
Another nuclear scientist agrees with Alvarez, quoted in an article in the Christian Science Monitor:
“There should be much more attention paid to the spent-fuel pools,” says Arjun Makhijani, a nuclear engineer and president of the anti-nuclear power Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. “If there’s a complete loss of containment [and thus the water inside], it can catch fire. There’s a huge amount of radioactivity inside – far more than is inside the reactors. The damaged reactors are less likely to spread the same vast amounts of radiation that Chernobyl did, but a spent-fuel pool fire could very well produce damage similar to or even greater than Chernobyl.”
Adding to that worry, Alvarez says photos of Reactor 3 seem to show white steam rising from the damaged facility, from a location where the spent fuel pond would likely be. (See photo below)
Steam appears to be billowing up from the damaged Reactor 3 at the Fukushima Dai-ishi plant, suggesting the pool containing spent fuel has been compromised
But it gets worse. According to news reports, the Reactor 3 unit was being fueled with a controversial mixed oxides fuel rod, which includes, in addition to uranium, a significant amount of plutonium–a far more dangerous element both chemically as a toxin, and in terms of its radioactivity.
You have to ask, what kind of numbskull would put a waste “pond” for spent fuel right above the reactor of a nuclear plant, thus insuring that in the event of a meltdown, not only would the core of the reactor blow up into the environment, but also all of the spent fuel from prior years? All that “Six Sigma” quality culture stuff at GE and they came up with this?
I don’t know. I heard about those waste “pools” in the past, and always assumed they were somewhere on the plant grounds away from the reactor itself, but now it turns out they put the damned things right in the line of fire of any meltdown. Boy, that’s just brilliant!
It’s as if you put the oil tank or propane tank for your furnace right above the burner in your basement, so that if there was some problem with the furnace it would ignite the tank, or as if you put the gas tank of your car right above the engine, so that if you had an engine fire, it would explode the gas tank!
This may explain why people in India are reportedly rethinking GE’s bid for a big piece of the country’s proposed market for $150 billion in new nuclear power plants in that country, and why it may not be so easy for GE and other nuclear plant builders to escape liability for their products in the future.
Back in November, President Obama was in India pushing that country’s government to pass legislation exempting GE from liability for nuclear “accidents.” That idea is probably not going to go very far now.
Jeffrey Immelt, the chairman and CEO of GE and a big friend of Obama’s (he was named to an unpaid post as “jobs czar” by the president earlier this year, despite the company’s long record of exporting US jobs to places like China and India), says it’s “too soon” to assess the impact on the company’s nuclear business prospects of the nuclear “accidents” in northern Japan.
He’s certainly right about that (though investors aren’t waiting: the stock was down 3.5% today alone by noon, following the second hydrogen gas explosion). At this point only two of the buildings housing the six troubled reactors has blown up, and TEPCO has only lost control of the cooling systems in three of the six, and also, so far, only three have suffered partial meltdowns. Things could get a lot worse if one or more goes into full meltdown, or if one or more of those waste “ponds” blows up.
GE may end up having to change its motto to: “GE brings death to things.”
Abu Rahmah was released this evening, after having served the 16 months sentence imposed on him by the Israeli Military Court of Appeals for organizing demonstrations. Abu Rahmah was received by his family, friends and supporters at the prison’s gate and vowed to continue the struggle.
After much delay, Abu Rahmah who was supposed to have already been released yesterday, was finally released from the Ofer Military Prison this evening. He was received by hundreds who waited for him at the prison’s gate.
Abu Rahmah, who during his trial was declared a human rights defender by the EU and a prisoner of conscious by Amnesty International, vowed to continue struggling against the Occupation, despite his unjust imprisonment and the six-months suspended sentence still imposed on him. He said, “On my release, I have no intention to go back home and sit there idly. In fact, by imprisoning me they have silenced me long enough. Our cause is just, it is one striving for freedom and equality, and I intend to continue fighting for it just as I have before”.
Abu Rahmah, the coordinator of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, was arrested last year by soldiers who raided his home at the middle of the night and was subsequently indicted before an Israeli military court on unsubstantiated charges that included stone-throwing and arms possession. Abu Rahmah was cleared of both the stone-throwing and arms possession charges, but convicted of organizing illegal demonstrations and incitement.
An exemplary case of mal-use of the Israeli military legal system in the West Bank for the purpose of silencing legitimate political dissent, Abu Rahmah’s conviction was subject to harsh international criticism. The EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, expressed her deep concern “that the possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahma is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest[…]”, after EU diplomats attended all hearings in Abu Rahmah’s case. Ashton’s statement was followed by one from the Spanish Parliament.
Renowned South African human right activist, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called on Israel to overturn Abu Rahmah’s conviction on behalf of the Elders, a group of international public figures noted as elder statesmen, peace activists, and human rights advocates, brought together by Nelson Mandela. Members of the Elders, including Tutu, have met with Abu Rahmah on their visit to Bil’in prior to his arrest.
International human rights organization Amnesty International condemned Abu Rahmah’s conviction as an assault on the right to freedom of expression, and declared him a prisoner of conscious. Human Rights Watch denounced the conviction as well, pronouncing the whole process “an unfair trial”.
Israeli human rights organizations also criticized the conviction – including statements by B’Tselem, which raises the issue of questionable testimonies by minors used to convict Abu Rahmah, and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) which highlights the impossibility of organizing legal demonstrations for Palestinians in the West Bank.
Abu Rahmah, the coordinator of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, was acquitted of two out of the four charges brought against him in the indictment – stone-throwing and a ridiculous and vindictive arms possession charge. According to the indictment, Abu Rahmah collected used tear-gas projectiles and bullet casings shot at demonstrators, with the intention of exhibiting them to show the violence used against demonstrators. This absurd charge is a clear example of how eager the military prosecution is to use legal procedures as a tool to silence and smear unarmed dissent.
The court did, however, find Abu Rahmah guilty of two of the most draconian anti-free speech articles in military legislation: incitement, and organizing and participating in illegal demonstrations. It did so based only on testimonies of minors who were arrested in the middle of the night and denied their right to legal counsel, and despite acknowledging significant ills in their questioning.
The court was also undeterred by the fact that the prosecution failed to provide any concrete evidence implicating Abu Rahmah in any way, despite the fact that all demonstrations in Bil’in are systematically filmed by the army.
Under military law, incitement is defined as “The attempt, verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the Area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order” (section 7(a) of the Order Concerning Prohibition of Activities of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda (no.101), 1967), and carries a 10 years maximal sentence.
When I heard the horrific news last night that 5 Israeli settlers were murdered in their home in the settlement of Itamar, I knew it would only be a matter of hours before a shoddy piece of journalism describes the murders as the end of a “lull in the violence” or the end of “relative calm” since 4 Israeli settlers were killed in an attack near Hebron last summer. At that time, the Washington Post ran an editorial saying that the attacks then ended “three years of peace” in the region which we posted about.
So I suppose it should come as no surprise that the Washington Post’s own Janine Zacharia leads the way this morning by displaying a complete ignorance of the situation she is supposedly covering or an overt pro-Israel bias (or both). Here’s Zacharia’s story and the critical excerpt:
The Israeli daily Ha’aretz, citing a preliminary investigation, reported that the children killed were ages 11, 3 and a 3-month-old baby. The newspaper also said that another 12-year-old daughter and two of her younger brothers managed to escape.
The attack shattered a relative calm that had prevailed in the West Bank in recent months as Palestinian security forces assert greater control in the territories where they are allowed by Israel to operate and as Israeli and Palestinians forces coordinate security efforts.
Last August, four Jewish settlers were killed in a drive-by shooting in the West Bank.
Zacharia’s chronology is likely representative of the broader mainstream media’s coverage of these events, sadly. American readers or consumers of mainstream media (MSM) are delivered a simple, straightforward message: Israelis are killed about 6 months apart and in between everything was calm.
The problem is that for Zacharia and much of the MSM “relative calm” means no Israelis were attacked, injured or killed and ignores the ongoing occupation and violence against Palestinians.
In this period of “relative calm”, the Israeli Human Rights group B’Tselem recorded at least 41 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in occupied Palestinian territory. This includes Omar Qawasmeh, the 66 year old Palestinian civilian who was massacred in his bed while he slept by raiding Israeli soldiers and two 20-something Palestinian unarmed civilians shot and killed at the same checkpoint less than a week apart.
That reports can describe the killings of dozens of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers as “relative calm” and finding them completely unremarkable is disgusting in itself. Still, it’s only part of the story.
Readers may know that one of our ongoing research projects at the Palestine Center is the recording and analysis of Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians. This past fall, we made an extensive presentation of these data that shed light on a facet of occupation almost never discussed. The presentation covered data from Jan of 2009-Aug. 2010 and included over 1000 instances of settler violence. Since then, we’ve undertaken the coding of a much more significant period of time that would span 6 years and give us the ability to understand more about the history and trajectory of Israeli settler violence. This would be the most comprehensive analysis of settler violence that I am aware of. I was
hoping to make an updated presentation covering this new data in the fall, however given the recent surge in Israeli settler violence we’ve expedited the project and will make the presentation this spring.
So what instances of settler violence were there in the period of “relative calm” that Zacharia describes? There were, in fact, over 300 instances of settler violence during this period which left over 85 unarmed Palestinians injured, 4 dead, and inestimable property damage (Including thousands of torched or uprooted olive and almond trees). Among these events were over 26 acts of Arson, 59 acts of destruction of property, 32 physical attacks, 20 shootings, 60 acts of stone throwing and 23 instances of theft. There were also 10 instances of vehicular attacks where settlers mowed down Palestinian civilians including a 5-year old and 11 year old in Hebron, an 85-year old in Salfit and this horrifying act caught on video in Jerusalem.
Attacks originated from the settlements of Adora, Ariel, Ateret, Bat Ayin, Beit El, Beitar Elit, Bracha, Dulip, Efrat, Eli, Eli Zehav, Elkana, Elon Moreh, Haggai, Halamish, Harsina, Havat Gilad, Immanuel, Itamar, Kaida, Karmei Tzur, Karmel, Karnei Shomron, Kedumim, Maale Mikhmas, Maon, Maskiyot, Neve Daniel, Rehalim, Revava, Shama, Shuvot Rachel, Shilo, Sussia, Talmon, Kfar Tappuah, Yaki, Yash Adam and Yitzhar. These attacks were directed against 79 different Palestinian villages and cities in every district in the West Bank….and this is only in the past 6 months.
If these 6 months can be described as “relative calm” one really has to wonder just what extent of violence against Palestinian civilians would be considered noteworthy by the mainstream media?
In a world where everything is relative, it seems the mainstream American press has decided that Palestinian lives are relatively worthless compared to Israeli lives. But this is also a world where the mainstream media is losing its grip on the control of storytelling and information that directly contradicts faulty journalism is available at everyone’s finger tips.
We’ll continue to do our part to bring this information, especially about settler violence, to you and we hope you’ll share it with others who’d otherwise be mislead by a relatively worthless mainstream media.
Japan’s government and nuclear industry, with assistance from the U.S. military, is in a desperate race to stave off multiple nuclear reactor meltdowns — as well as potential fires in pools of spent fuel.
As of Sunday afternoon, more than 170,000 people have been evacuated near the reactor sites as radioactive releases have increased. The number of military emergency responders has jumped from 51,000 to 100,000. Officials now report a partial meltdown at Fukushima’s Unit 1. Japanese media outlets are reporting that there may be a second one underway at Unit 3. People living nearby have been exposed to unknown levels of radiation, with some requiring medical attention.
Meanwhile, Unit 2 of the Tokai nuclear complex, which is near Kyodo and just 75 miles north of Tokyo, is reported to have a coolant pump failure. And Japan’s nuclear safety agency has declared a state of emergency at the Onagawa nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan because of high radiation levels. Authorities are saying its three reactors are “under control.”
The damage from the massive earthquake and the tsunamis that followed have profoundly damaged the reactor sites’ infrastructure, leaving them without power and their electrical and piping systems destroyed. A hydrogen explosion yesterday at Unit 1 severely damaged the reactor building, blowing apart its roof.
The results of desperate efforts to divert seawater into the Unit 1 reactor are uncertain. A Japanese official reported that gauges don’t appear to show the water level rising in the reactor vessel.
There remain a number of major uncertainties about the situation’s stability and many questions about what might happen next. Along with the struggle to cool the reactors is the potential danger from an inability to cool Fukushima’s spent nuclear fuel pools. They contain very large concentrations of radioactivity, can catch fire, and are in much more vulnerable buildings. The ponds, typically rectangular basins about 40 feet deep, are made of reinforced concrete walls four to five feet thick lined with stainless steel.
The boiling-water reactors at Fukushima — 40 years old and designed by General Electric — have spent fuel pools several stories above ground adjacent to the top of the reactor. The hydrogen explosion may have blown off the roof covering the pool, as it’s not under containment. The pool requires water circulation to remove decay heat. If this doesn’t happen, the water will evaporate and possibly boil off. If a pool wall or support is compromised, then drainage is a concern. Once the water drops to around 5-6 feet above the assemblies, dose rates could be life-threatening near the reactor building. If significant drainage occurs, after several hours the zirconium cladding around the irradiated uranium could ignite.
Then all bets are off.
On average, spent fuel ponds hold five-to-ten times more long-lived radioactivity than a reactor core. Particularly worrisome is the large amount of cesium-137 in fuel ponds, which contain anywhere from 20 to 50 million curies of this dangerous radioactive isotope. With a half-life of 30 years, cesium-137 gives off highly penetrating radiation and is absorbed in the food chain as if it were potassium.
In comparison, the 1986 Chernobyl accident released about 40 percent of the reactor core’s 6 million curies. A 1997 report for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) by Brookhaven National Laboratory also found that a severe pool fire could render about 188 square miles uninhabitable, cause as many as 28,000 cancer fatalities, and cost $59 billion in damage. A single spent fuel pond holds more cesium-137 than was deposited by all atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the Northern Hemisphere combined. Earthquakes and acts of malice are considered to be the primary events that can cause a major loss of pool water.
In 2003, my colleagues and I published a study that indicated if a spent fuel pool were drained in the United States, a major release of cesium-137 from a pool fire could render an area uninhabitable greater than created by the Chernobyl accident. We recommended that spent fuel older than five years, about 75 percent of what’s in U.S. spent fuel pools, be placed in dry hardened casks — something Germany did 25 years ago. The NRC challenged our recommendation, which prompted Congress to request a review of this controversy by the National Academy of Sciences. In 2004, the Academy reported that a “partially or completely drained spent fuel pool could lead to a propagating zirconium cladding fire and release large quantities of radioactive materials to the environment.”
Given what’s happening at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, it’s time for a serious review of what our nuclear safety authorities consider to be improbable, especially when it comes to reactors operating in earthquake zones.
Robert Alvarez, an Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar, served as senior policy adviser to the Energy Department’s secretary from 1993 to 1999. www.ips-dc.org
A tense calm is reported in Bahrain as pro-democracy protesters poured into Bahrain’s central business district Monday while Saudi official said that 100 Saudi forces have entered Bahrain to reinforce the country’s embattled monarchy.
Bahrain’s opposition said Monday it considered any foreign military intervention to be an occupation, shortly after a Saudi official said the kingdom’s troops had entered the Gulf state. “We consider the arrival of any soldier, or military vehicle, into Bahraini territory…. an overt occupation of the kingdom of Bahrain and a conspiracy against the unarmed people of Bahrain,” said an opposition statement.
The Financial Harbour business complex was blocked off by protesters a day after more than 200 people were injured there in clashes between riot police and demonstrators, residents said. It was the worst day of violence in the tiny Gulf kingdom since seven people were martyred at the start of anti-regime unrest in mid-February.
More than 1,000 Saudi troops, part of the Gulf countries’ Peninsula Shield Force, have entered Bahrain, a Saudi official said Monday.
Demanding King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s ouster and constitutional reforms, the demonstrators have been peacefully camping in the Pearl Roundabout since February 14. The thousands of protesters camped in the square, which has become known to many as “the Martyrs Roundabout,” in memory of those that died during Manama-ordered suppression of the popular uprising, saying they will not leave until the king steps down and the government implements political and economic reforms.
NABLUS — Soldiers toured Awarta village on Monday morning, calling over loud speakers for all residents aged 15-40 to gather in the yard of the community’s school.
Local sources said a village council official and a local man working for the Palestinian security departments were said to have been detained overnight.
Palestinian security officials told AFP that two Palestinian Authority intelligence officers were among over 300 residents detained by Israeli soldiers
The Israeli army refused to comment on the detentions.
The call to appear at the school was the first time many were permitted to leave their homes in three days, and village council leader Qays Awwad said interrogations were expected.
An Israeli-imposed curfew remains in place on the village for the third day in a row, keeping Awarta residents locked indoors as a wide-scale military campaign continues. Israeli media said the military had declared the village a closed military zone.
Awwad village council Salim Qawariq had been taken from his home while Israeli forces inspected it, while informed Palestinian sources confirmed the detention of Lieutenant Iyad Muhammad Awwad, a Palestinian general intelligence officer.
Two activists with the International Solidarity Movement were able to enter Awarta before the curfew was imposed, and confirmed the continued closure of the town.
Speaking with Ma’an one Swedish national said searches conducted by Israeli forces appeared random, with homes being entered more than once over the course of three days.
In one home the activist said he visited shortly after a military search, framed pictures were smashed, furniture overturned, fuse cables cut, cash and SIM phone cards confiscated, a computer thrown off its desk, and oil poured into barrels of drinking water in the kitchen.
“From where we are we have seen at least 19 people taken from homes and transported to an unknown location,” he said.
Locals told the ISM activists that Israeli forces searched the town hall, taking some 1,800 shekels ($500) from a drawer, and an unknown amount from the council’s safe.
Medicines and basic food stuffs in the village were said to be running short, with families forced to live off any reserves in their homes, council member Awwad said.
Israeli forces said Monday that they were searching the village for suspects in the murder of five members of a settler family from the adjacent settlement of Itamar. A mother, father and three of their children were stabbed to death on Friday night, by an unknown assailant.
Israeli officials have said that they believe a Palestinian was behind what has been described as a “terror attack.”
Condemnations of the killings were issued in Ramallah, with prime minister-designate Salam Fayyad saying “An infant, two children and their parents were the victims, and as we have always rejected violence against our people, we reject it against others and we condemn it.”
Israeli police were put on high alert and the army said troops had been ordered “to be vigilant” for any attempted revenge attacks, reports said on Sunday.
The murder of five out of eight members of the settler family sparked anger from Israel and its settler communities. A wave of attacks against Palestinian civilians has been documented across the West Bank, including the torching of a field north of Ramallah, vandalism in the southern West Bank near Hebron, and several incidents of rock and Molotov cocktail throwing on settler roads connecting West Bank population centers.