Monday, June 4, 2012

Fukushima Reactor 4 poses massive global risk

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. Read More

Why Are Central Asia's Presidents Blowing Off NATO?

Central Asia's presidents would have a lot to talk about at the NATO summit taking place in Chicago, given that the summit is focusing on Afghanistan and the Central Asian states play a key role in NATO transport to the theater.

But all five of Central Asia's presidents are a no-show at the NATO summit in Chicago, in spite of being on NATO's official list of "leaders expected to attend" and being regular attendees of the last few summits. Instead, they all seem to have sent their foreign ministers.

It's a strange snub, and intriguing because these five countries never do anything in coordination. Information on their decisions are of course hard to come by, and so it's not certain if they are in fact coordinated, but it sure seems that way.

One Kyrgyzstan analyst, Orozbek Moldaliyev, told KyrTag that it's because of Russia:

"One can make various guesses and speculation about why none of the leaders of Central Asian countries responded to the invitation and why all of them are sending their foreign ministers. One of the main reasons, which is on the surface, could be solidarity with Russia," Moldaliyev told KyrTAg.

Moldaliyev pointed out the recent CSTO directive to harmonize members' foreign policies, which is as reasonable explanation as any for the collective no-show, especially since Armenia's Serzh Sargsyan also seems to be skipping it. Read More

GLOBAL NATO: A Geostrategic Instrument of Worldwide Military Conquest A Historical Review and Analysis (1949-2012)

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was founded in 1949. Its supporters claim that this military alliance succeeded in building a dam against the aggressive expansionist communist system that threatened to wage war over Europe.

This discourse of a threatening war was highly polarised by the media. They were keen on pointing at the Berlin blockade, the Korean war, the repression of the Hungarian uprising, the Prague spring, etc. Historical phrases such as the famous “Nous avons peur” in Paul-Henri Spaak's speech – the then Belgian minister of foreign affairs - before the UN general assembly of September 1948 were to highlight the perception of a real threat. This context urged the West to arm itself and create NATO to deter the enemy and to respond militarily if necessary.

A more thorough reading and analysis of the facts, however, give a strongly nuanced and even different story. NATO's founding had less to do with the external military threat of the Soviet Union than with ideological, economical and geopolitical interests. Even hardliner John Foster Dulles, US Secretary of State (1953-1959) said back in 1949 that “I do not know of any responsible high official, military or civilian in this government or any other government, who believes that the Soviet now plans conquest by open military aggression.”

Moreover, Paul-Henri Spaak was guided by political opportunism when he pronounced his famous speech. It has become clear in the meantime that neither he, nor any of his colleagues, really believed that the Soviet Union represented a concrete military threat. Originally Spaak was opposed to the establishment of an Atlantic Pact because this would confirm the European division. He essentially thought that Belgian interest lay in a rapid German recovery and therefore American assistance was crucial.(1)

The Marshall Plan

This assistance came with the Marshall plan, which wasn't built on American altruism but was to serve American economical and political purposes. Read More

Heist of the century: Wall Street's role in the financial crisis

Wall Street bankers could have averted the global financial crisis, so why didn't they? In this exclusive extract from his book Inside Job, Charles Ferguson argues that they should be prosecuted.

Wall Street bankers could have averted the global financial crisis, so why didn't they? In this exclusive extract from his book Inside Job, Charles Ferguson argues that they should be prosecuted

Bernard L Madoff ran the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, operating it for 30 years and causing cash losses of $19.5bn. Shortly after the scheme collapsed and Madoff confessed in 2008, evidence began to surface that for years, major banks had suspected he was a fraud. None of them reported their suspicions to the authorities, and several banks decided to make money from him without, of course, risking any of their own funds. Theories about his fraud varied.

Some thought he might have access to insider information. But quite a few thought he was running a Ponzi scheme. Goldman Sachs executives paid a visit to Madoff to see ifthey should recommend him to clients. A partner later recalled: "Madoff refused to let them do any due diligence on the funds and when asked about the firm's investment strategy they couldn't understand it. Goldman not only blacklisted Madoff in the asset management division but banned its brokerage from trading with the firm too."

UBS headquarters forbade investing any bank or client money in Madoff accounts, but created or worked with several Madoff feeder funds. A memo to one of these in 2005 contained the following, in large boldface type: "Not to do: ever enter into a direct contact with Bernard Madoff!!!" Read More

Graduating collegians cope with student debt in a weak economy

Students and graduates from several Southland campuses talk of their loans and how paying them off figures into their plans. For some, the path seems secure; for others, uncertainty is the only certainty.

College graduation is typically a time to tally accomplishments and to look ahead. But for many graduates, it is also a time to tally student loans and figure out how to repay them.

About two-thirds of college graduates have some student loans to pay off, and their average debt is about $25,000 to $28,700, according to estimates by education experts and organizations. (About 10% of those with loans owe more than $50,000 or so.)

Many college seniors say they had not thought much about their debt until they received summaries just before graduation. Read More

'No cash for NATO adventures in Afghanistan, but Pentagon stays'

Is Korea at risk of a housing bubble?

The property market is stagnant and needs a jolt. At least, that’s the view of the government, which on May 10 announced measures to boost house sales, particularly in affluent areas of southern Seoul such as Gangnam, Songpa and Seocho.

Within days, however, real estate agents and market observers had labeled the measures, including lowering transaction taxes and easing lending rules, too modest to be effective.

If boosting weak property values is today’s concern, very different fears dominated discussion on real estate until relatively recently. This month two years ago, Hyundai Economic Research Institute warned of a catastrophic collapse of an inflated market without immediate government action. Economist Kim Kwang-soo, the head of think tank KS Economic Research Institute, made similar predictions, claiming that mortgage debt and speculative buying had led to a huge bubble the government could only hide for so long. Read More