Monday, May 21, 2012
GUATEMALA CITY – All eyes in central Guatemala are looking up towards the Fuego, or Fire, volcano.
The Fuego volcano has begun shooting lava and columns of ash into the air, and authorities have raised the alert level in the area.
The volcano overlooks the tourist city of Antigua and is one of Central America's most-active volcanoes.
Guatemala's National Seismology, Vulcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology Institute said in a statement Saturday that Fuego shot ash 16,400 feet (5,000 meters) into the air. Lava flows reached up to 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) in length.
David de Leon, spokesman for the national disaster agency, said authorities have raised the alert level because Fuego is in an effusive stage. The measure involves closing nearby highways, installing monitoring stations and readying emergency workers.
De Leon said while no evacuations have been ordered, there might be if Fuego's activity increases.
Read more: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/05/20/guatemala-fuego-volcano-belches-ash-lava/#ixzz1vVnkwrPD
THE spectre of funding problems is once again haunting Europe's banks.
Even after the European Central Bank pumped more than 1 trillion ($1.29 trillion) of cheap three-year loans into hundreds of banks, the continent's financial system remains vulnerable to the prospect that stampedes of customers could yank their deposits from institutions perceived as shaky.
More than a year after a devastating earthquake and tsunami triggered a massive nuclear disaster, experts are warning that Japan isn't out of the woods yet and the worst nuclear storm the world has ever seen could be just one earthquake away from reality.
The troubled Reactor 4 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is at the centre of this potential catastrophe.
Reactor 4 -- and to a lesser extent Reactor 3 -- still hold large quantities of cooling waters surrounding spent nuclear fuel, all bound by a fragile concrete pool located 30 metres above the ground, and exposed to the elements.
A magnitude 7 or 7.5 earthquake would likely fracture that pool, and disaster would ensue, says Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with Fairewinds Energy Education who has visited the site.
The 1,535 spent fuel rods would become exposed to the air and would likely catch fire, with the most-recently added fuel rods igniting first.
The incredible heat generated from that blaze, Gundersen said, could then ignite the older fuel in the cooling pool, causing a massive oxygen-eating radiological fire that could not be extinguished with water.
"So the fear is the newest fuel could begin to burn and then we'd have a conflagration of the whole pool because it would become hotter and hotter. The health consequences of that are beyond where science has ever gone before," Gundersen told CTVNews.ca in an interview from his home in Vermont.
There are a couple of possible outcomes, Gundersen said.
Highly radioactive cesium and strontium isotopes would likely go airborne and "volatilize" -- turning into a vapour that could move with the wind, potentially travelling thousands of kilometres from the source.
The size of those particles would determine whether they remained in Japan, or made their way to the rest of Asia and other continents.
"And here's where there's no science because no one's ever dared to attempt the experiment," Gundersen said. "If it flies far enough it goes around the world, if the particles stay a little bigger, they settle in Japan. Either is awful."
Essentially, he said, Japan is sitting on a ticking time bomb.
The damaged Reactor 4 cooling pool was reinforced by workers who went in and "jury-rigged" it after the tsunami, but the structure still contains a massive amount of fuel, Gundersen said.
Reactor 3 has less fuel inside its cooling pool, but it has not been strengthened since the disaster and poses a greater risk of failing.
"Reactor 3 has a little less consequences but a little more risk, and Reactor 4 has more consequences but…a little less risk," he said.
Finding a fix
The solution, Gundersen said, is for the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to immediately begin the process of transferring the fuel rods from the cooling pools to dry cask storage -- a massive and costly endeavour, but one he said is absolutely essential.
To even begin the removal process at Reactor 4, TEPCO would first have to construct a crane capable of lifting the 100-tonne fuel rod canister, since the original crane was destroyed in the disaster last year.
In order to do that, they would have to build a massive structure around the existing pool to support the new crane, which would then be used to lift the fuel rod canister from the water, down to the ground and into a steel and concrete dry-cask.
All this of course, has to be done in a highly contaminated area where workers must wear protective suits and limit their radiation exposure each day, adding time and expense to the process.
Still, with the consequences so high, Gundersen said there's no time to lose.
"This is a 'now' problem, this is not a 'let's-wait-until-we-get-the-cash-flow-from-the-Japanese-government' problem. The consequences of a 7 or 7.5 earthquake don't happen every day, but we know it happened last year so you have to anticipate that it will happen," Gundersen said.
‘Fate of the world' depends on Reactor 4
He's not alone in pressing the Japanese government to adopt a sense of urgency about the Reactor 4 dilemma.
Robert Alvarez, a former top adviser at the U.S. Department of Energy, also expressed concern in a letter to Akio Matsumura, a Japanese diplomat who has turned his focus to the nuclear calamity.
Matsumura had asked Alvarez about the risk associated with Reactor 4.
"The No. 4 pool is about 100 feet above ground, is structurally damaged and is exposed to the open elements," Alvarez said in his response. "If an earthquake or other event were to cause this pool to drain this could result in a catastrophic radiological fire involving nearly 10 times the amount of Cesium-137 released by the Chernobyl accident."
Mitsuhei Murata, Japan's former ambassador to Switzerland and Senegal, has also made it his mission to convince the UN and the world that urgent action is needed.
"It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of Japan and the whole world depends on No. 4 reactor," Murata said in a recent letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in which he urged him to back efforts to address the problem.
Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said most major threats have been eliminated and "cold shutdown" status had been achieved in December.
But Noda declined to comment directly on the risk posed by Reactor 4, only telling The Wall Street Journal's Asia edition that it was important to "remain vigilant."
"We have passed a situation where people have to run far away or evacuate," he said. "Ahead of us are time-consuming tasks like decontamination and decommissioning (of the plants). We will proceed with the utmost care."
Gundersen said the remaining challenges at the Fukushima Da-Ichi site are not technological. Everyone knows what needs to be done and how to do it, he said. The challenge lies, rather, in convincing Japan that action must be taken now.
That will require international pressure, as well as international investment, on a grand scale, he said.
"We're all in a situation of having to pray there's not an earthquake. And there's the other half of that, which is pray to God but row toward shore. And Tokyo's not really rowing toward shore right now," Gundersen said.
Read more: http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/World/20120518/fukushima-dai-ichi-risk-reactor-4-120519/#ixzz1vVmXeXtD
A leading Palestinian Muslim cleric has called on Palestinians to "be alert for possible infiltration of fanatic Jews" onto Jeruslaem's Temple Mount during Jerusalem Day celebrations on Sunday, Palestinian News and Information Agency (WAFA) reported on Saturday, despite a rerouting of the parade by police to avoid Muslim-majority areas.
Sheikh Yousef Ideis, head of the Palestinian Territory's Muslim Sharia court, called on Palestinians to flood the Temple Mount on Sunday, which is a highly revered location for both Jews and Muslims, in order to be present should Jewish "fanatics decide to break into it," according to WAFA.
Police in Jerusalem announced this week that the annual Dance of Flags in honor of the national holiday - which marks the capture and unification of Jerusalem following the 1967 Six-Day War - will not pass through east Jerusalem or the Muslim Quarter due to disruptions during last year's march.
The parade, which in 2011 attracted up to 40,000 people and features live music and floats, will snake its way from King George Street in downtown Jeruaslem to Argon to the Old City, remaining in mostly Jewish-populated areas.
Last year, 24 people - the majority of them Jewish - were arrested and three wounded by flying rocks as Palestinians and Jews clashed during the parade.
Israeli police have called on Palestinian merchants whose shops lie in the path of the planned demonstration to keep their stores shuttered on Sunday in order to prevent possibly tense encounters with marchers, WAFA said. Jews taking part in Jerusalem Day's celebrations in previous years have vandalized Palestinian property and attacked individuals, according to the Palestinian report.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Knesset plenum 'today we take an oath for a built up Jerusalem, Israel's eternal capital'
The Knesset plenum on Monday convened a special session to mark Jerusalem Day, which was celebrated on Sunday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Opposition Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin addressed the plenum during the event.
"We need to stop for one day every year and realize that we are witnessing and experiencing the fulfillment of a prophecy, the yearning for Zion, the return to Zion and the revival of Zion" Netanyahu told the Knesset plenum.
The prime minister came to the defense of visionary of the state Theodor Herzl, saying "he foresaw the problem and the solution, but he didn’t give up on Zion.
"He raised his right hand and said – If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither. Today we are raising our hand with the same oath. We are taking an oath for a built up Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel," he said.
At the opening of the special session, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said "Jerusalem Day is not a religious holiday, nor does it belong to rightists. Any attempt to attribute Jerusalem Day (to a particular group) removes it further from the heart of our shared Jewish identity.
"Disputing over Jerusalem is unbearable, yet being indifferent to its fate is a failure of the Zionist enterprise and Jewish education," he noted.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that partitioning Jerusalem could result in a religious war.
Speaking at a state ceremony marking Jerusalem Day in the capital's Ammunition Hill, Netanyahu said: "If we place this quadrate of the Temple Mount in the hands of others, I doubt we will be able to avoid a religious war.
"I know what history has taught us: only under Israeli sovereignty were peace and quiet among the faiths maintained."
Netanyahu further added, "Israel without Jerusalem is like a body with a weak heart. Never again will our heart be divided.
"A nation willing to sacrifice its heart would convince its enemies it has no desire to fight for anything. Jewish history has changed forever: the divided city has been united and will stay that way.
"Our generation has a great privilege of witnessing the realization of the words of the prophets. It is up to our generation to secure this change for generations to come."
TEHRAN (FNA)- Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi said threats and pressures cannot deter Iran from its revolutionary causes and ideals, and stressed that the Iranian nation will remain committed to the full annihilation of the Zionist regime of Israel to the end.
Addressing a defense gathering here in Tehran on Sunday, General Firouzabadi said that nations should realize the threats and dangers posed by the Zionist regime of Israel.
He reiterated the Iranian nation and Supreme Leader's emphasis on the necessity of support for the oppressed Palestinian nation and its causes, and noted, "The Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel."
The top military official reminded that the Iranian Supreme Leader considers defending Palestine as a full religious duty and believes that any kind of governance and rule by anyone other than the Palestinians as an instance of usurpation.
Earlier this year, Supreme Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei stressed in explicit remarks Iran's direct involvement in the Palestinian and Lebanese confrontation with Israel, including the Lebanese Summer 2006 33-day resistance against the Zionist regime.
"Wherever Iran interferes, it announces it in a very straightforward manner. For instance, we interfered in confrontations against Israel, which resulted in the (Lebanese) victory in the 33-day war and (Palestinians' victory in) the 22-day (Gaza) war," Ayatollah Khamenei said, addressing millions of Friday Prayers worshippers on Tehran University Campus in February.
"In future too, we will support and help everyone who opposes the Zionist regime," the Leader underscored.
"The Zionist regime is a real cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut, God Willing," Ayatollah Khamenei underscored.
Spain's banking system will have to be bailed out in the coming months, with lenders jettisoning overseas assets to survive, according to one of Europe's leading fund managers.
Dominic Rossi, chief investment officer for equities at Fidelity Worldwide Investment, likened the ensuing collapse, which will include the exit of Greece from the euro, to the 1990s Latin American meltdown.
"I don't think it will be long before Spain will need to seek official assistance in the recapitalisation of its banks from both the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund." he said.
"Spain has a lot of assets outside of the country which can be sold and certainly I suspect some of those assets will come on to the market in order to recapitalise the banks before this is all over."
Mr Rossi, who oversees £155bn of assets at Fidelity, believes that the Greek exit could provide the impetus for greater debt reduction in other struggling eurozone nations.
"The key for me, in the event that Greece does come out, is what is the popular reaction in both Spain and Italy towards austerity?" he said. "We have seen support for austerity shrink over the course of the last few months. What I would hope and expect to see is once Greece leaves the euro that the impact it has is visible to all, and that will engender far more support in Spain and Italy for the current programme."
It will also point to a further period of turmoil for Europe's banks which are sat on billions of pounds of exposure to sovereign debt.
"I think the first issue with the banks is how sound are their book values? We are now in a second downturn and that will have implications for non-performing loans and provisioning.
"Everything is pointing to the banks continuing to shrink and continuing to have to provide more regulatory capital, which means that the overall return profile of the banking sector in Europe is going to be very low. The returns now resemble rather poorly run utilities."
However, Mr Rossi believes that British banks are in better shape because they have already taken steps to boost their capital positions and have a smaller exposure to sovereign debt.
He criticised politicians for failing to take control of the situation months ago. "I still don't understand why there was from the very start this perception that it's impossible for a nation state within the eurozone to go bust. But once you get on to the slippery slope of support then it's very difficult to get off that."
Andrew Wells, chief investment officer for fixed income at Fidelity, said that markets have suddenly realised that you cannot negotiate long-term refinancing with a government that changes on a constant basis.
"What is driving Greece away from Europe is a lack of political long-term stability, which means that it is impossible to deliver a long-term financial solution. This means there has to be a resolution around Greece before any sort of confidence comes back to the markets."
Mr Wells said that high-quality companies or high-quality bonds are the place to be until the political roadmap is more certain. "This is not the time to be jumping into high-risk assets because the political uncertainty remains," the fixed-income specialist said.
An annular solar eclipse is seen in the sky over Tokyo Monday, May 21, 2012. Millions of Asians watched as a rare "ring of fire" eclipse crossed their skies early Monday. The annular eclipse, in which the moon passes in front of the sun leaving only a golden ring around its edges, was visible to wide areas across the continent.
Greece's former finance minister has told Sky News that if Greece reneges on its bailout deal with the EU and the IMF it will "open the door to hell".
Sky News last interviewed George Papaconstantinou two-and-a-half years ago.
In December 2009 he told how Greece could survive independently and Greece's creditors had nothing to fear - they would get back every euro they were owed.
A lot has changed since then.
Greece is in the process of borrowing 240bn euros of emergency loans from the EU and the IMF (in return for pledges to raise taxes, cut spending and balance the books) and investors holding Greek debt have been forced write off up to 50% of their money.
Even now Greece remains heavily in debt, deep in recession (now in its fifth year) and without a functioning elected government.
Mr Papaconstantinou lost his position as finance minister last summer, shortly after the second bailout package was agreed.
In the general election, two weeks ago, he also lost his seat as an MP. He was not alone as support for his Pasok party collapsed.
The result of the election was inconclusive and, ultimately, no party was able to form a coalition government. In four weeks' time Greece will vote again.
The opinion polls suggest that were an election to be held tomorrow the result would, once again be inconclusive, but the Syriza party, which is promising to "tear up" the bailout agreement with the EU and the IMF, continues to attract support.
Mr Papaconstantinou is the man who negotiated Greece's participation in the bailout deal and he says understands that the people of Greece are angry.
There are no easy solutions. Either we stay within the framework we have all agree or we tear it up in which case we have a complete and utter catastrophe.Former Greek finance minister George Papaconstantinou
"People have had wage cuts, pension cuts, tax rises... and unemployment has gone through the roof - we need to respond to this," he told Sky News.
Interestingly, he admits there are elements of the bailout deal that he would seek to renegotiate but he says if Greece were to do what Syriza's leader, Alexis Tsipras, is proposing and fail to honour the promises the country has made in return for emergency funding then the results would be disastrous.
"The extremist parties are lying to the Greek people because they are not telling them that reneging on the agreement means that you have opened the door to hell," he said.
Syriza is promising voters it will not only reject the austerity measures it says are keeping Greece in recession but will also keep Greece in the eurozone.
Mr Papaconstantinou is clear that Syriza cannot deliver on both.
"The first thing that happens is the money (from the EU and IMF) stops flowing to Greece, the second thing that happens is people start worrying about their deposits in the banks, the third thing that happens is the banking system is in danger of collapsing and then you have to defend it even by sending in the army and the police on to the streets to avoid a bank run," he said.
"There are no easy solutions. Either we stay within the framework we have all agreed or we tear it up, in which case we have a complete and utter catastrophe."
In the general election in 2009 Syriza attracted barely 5% of the vote. Two weeks ago it managed 17%.
Some of the most recent opinion polls suggest Syriza is now Greece's most popular party and that 25% of the population say they will vote for the party on June 17.
That is not quite enough support for Syriza to form a government but it does suggest that the party's aggressive, defiant message is increasingly capturing the public mood.
It is also more than enough support to unsettle the financial markets and give the leaders of other eurozone countries a few sleepless nights.
A 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit seas off northeastern Japan on Sunday afternoon, said the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA).
The focus of the quake, which occurred at 16:20 p.m. local time (0720 GMT) , was located some 10 km under the sea off the northeastern Sanriku region on the Honshu Island, according to the agency.
The tremor was most felt in prefectures of Iwate and Miyagi, and parts of Yamagata.
There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage to properties, and no tsunami warning was issued.
"Although there may be slight sea-level changes in coastal regions, this earthquake has caused no damage to Japan," the JMA said.
NATO leaders launched Sunday the first phase of a US-led missile shield for Europe and sought to appease Russian anger over the system by renewing an invitation to cooperate.
President Barack Obama and his allies declared an "interim capability" at a Chicago summit, putting a US warship carrying interceptors in the Mediterranean and a Turkey-based radar system under NATO command in a German base.
The alliance insists that the shield is not aimed at Russia and aims to knock out missiles that could be launched by enemies such as Iran, but Moscow fears the system will also serve to neutralize its nuclear deterrent.
"We have invited Russia to cooperate on missile defense and this invitation still stands," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference.
"We will continue our dialogue with Russia and I hope that at a certain stage Russia will realize that it is in our common interest to cooperate on missile defense," he said.
Stressing that NATO must be able to defend itself against missile threats, Rasmussen said the move "cannot be blocked by Russia, it's a NATO decision."
In a threat reminiscent of the Cold War, Russia has warned it may respond to the NATO system by stationing short-range Iskander missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave near Poland, a European Union and NATO member state.
The standoff has tested Russian-US relations for much of the past decade and been one of the primary issues addressed by Obama when he launched a diplomatic "reset" with Moscow in 2009.
NATO had hoped that Russian President Vladimir Putin would come to Chicago, but instead he sent a lower level delegation to represent Moscow during the summit's discussion on Afghanistan.
Putin, who returned to power after succeeding his protege Dmitry Medvedev this month, was often at odds with the previous US administration over missile defense in his first two terms of office.
"Russia is sensitive about its nuclear capability because that's what makes it a superpower," said Nick Witney, a London-based defense expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
In a bid to appease its former Cold War foe, the Western military alliance offered to cooperate with Russian on missile defense at the last summit in November 2010 in Lisbon, but the two sides have struggled to find common ground.
"This is not a project targeted against Russia, but a project we want to push forward with Russia in the interest of Europe's security," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. "And therefore the door for Russia will stay open."
NATO leaders, in a declaration on its nuclear Deterrence and Defense Posture Review, reaffirmed that missile defense "is not oriented against Russia nor does it have the capability to undermine Russia's strategic deterrent."
The first phase will only give the alliance a very limited defense against rogue missiles. The system is being rolled out in four phases and will become fully operational by 2018.
Spain will host four US Aegis ships at its port in Rota while Poland and Romania have agreed to host US land-based SM-3 missiles in the coming years.
Moscow has called for joint control over the system and for NATO to sign a legally-binding guarantee that it is not aimed at Russia.
But NATO has balked at both demands, insisting on keeping two separate systems and refusing to sign a legally-binding document. Instead, the alliance has offered to share sensitive data with Russia.
The US election also appears to have affected the pace of negotiations.
An open microphone famously caught Obama telling then president Medvedev in March that he could negotiate some concessions on the system if Russia gave him "space" until after the election this year.