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Tuesday
Mar152011

WikiLeaks: US Called Former Japan Nuclear Safety Official 'Disappointment'

MYKOLA LAZARENKO/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Two years before a powerful earthquake rocked Japan and threatened catastrophe for its nuclear facilities, U.S. officials slammed the senior Japanese safety director of the International Atomic Energy Agency as "a disappointment" in part due to Japan's nuclear safety practices, according to a leaked U.S. State Department document.

"[Tomihiro] Taniguchi has been a weak manager and advocate, particularly with respect to confronting Japan's own safety practices, and he is a particular disappointment to the United States for his unloved-step-child treatment of the Office of Nuclear Security," said the document, posted on the website for British newspaper The Guardian. "This position requires a good manager and leader who is technically qualified in both safety and security."

Taniguchi was the executive director of Japan's Nuclear Power Engineering Corporation, a company that specifically dealt with nuclear plant security in the aftermath of earthquakes, prior to becoming the Deputy Director General for the IAEA's Department of Nuclear Safety and Security in 2001. Taniguchi stepped down after another Japanese official, Yukiya Amano, assumed control of the IAEA as Director General in September 2009.

Before he left, however, Taniguchi told a meeting of nuclear officials in 2008 that the international community should focus more on nuclear power safety and security, according to a separate leaked cable posted on the website WikiLeaks.

"We should avoid another Chernobyl or nuclear 9/11," Taniguchi said according to the document, referring to the infamous 1986 nuclear disaster in the Ukraine.

After Japan suffered one of its largest earthquakes in history March 11, one of the country's nuclear plants was so badly damaged it prompted fears of a disaster and invited comparisons to the Chernobyl incident.

Amano, now the sole representative from Japan on the senior IAEA management team, is scheduled to speak in April about the safety improvements made since that incident at an international conference called "Chernobyl, 25 Years On: Safety for the Future."

Japan's 3-Step Plan for Nuclear Safety

In the same 2008 meeting in which Taniguchi pushed for more international safeguards when it comes to nuclear power, other IAEA officials "saw promise in the Japanese 3 Ss' (Safety, Security, Safeguards) proposal," the leaked State Department document said.

That proposal, as described in a 2010 document from the Japan Atomic Energy Agency obtained by ABC News, is a highly technical how-to on nuclear facility safety -- from the safe operation of nuclear facilities in crisis, to the protection of the actual nuclear materials and guards against proliferation.

Even with the 3 S's system, Japan appeared overwhelmed by the quake, according to Tony Pietrangelo, a spokesman for lobbying group Nuclear Energy Institute

"Clearly what happened in Japan is well beyond what [the nuclear plants] were designed for," he said.

Representatives at the IAEA did not respond to requests for comment on this report.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Nuclear Emergency: Japanese Officials Fear Catastrophic Disaster

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Radiation is leaking from the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and Japanese officials say that the containment vessel of one reactor may have been damaged, raising worries of a catastrophic nuclear disaster.

"The leaked radiation level is now rather high and there is high chance for further leakage of radiation from now on," Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said.

Kan urged those living 12 to 19 miles around the plant to stay inside. The 140,000 people living within 12 miles of the plant have been evacuated. So far, 150 people from that area have tested positive for exposure to radiation.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said radiation dose rates of up to 400 millisievert per hour had been reported at the Fukushima power plant site immediately following an explosion and fire at the plant Tuesday. That's four times higher than the acceptable level of radiation for humans.

The radiation levels have since dropped, but experts are still concerned.

Just 50 of the plant's 800 workers remain at the plant, fighting to keep the four reactors cool by pumping sea water into the reactors. Officials ordered most of the workers to leave the plant after the initially high levels of radiation were reported.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Snubbed! Egyptian Youth Groups Won't Meet with Hillary

Win McNamee/Getty Images(CAIRO) -- A coalition of six youth groups that emerged from Egypt's revolution last month has refused to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived in Cairo on Tuesday, in protest of the United States' strong support for former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who was ousted by the uprising.

A spokesman for Clinton had no immediate response to the snub. Another State Department official, who would not speak for attribution, confirmed such a meeting had been slated for Tuesday and noted that she still plans to meet with members of civil society and transitional government officials during her visit, during which she will urge Egyptians to continue on the path towards democracy.

Mubarak was one of the United States' strongest allies in the Middle East over successive American administrations. He enjoyed a cozy relationship with top U.S. leaders, which courted Egypt with massive military aid packages as thanks in large part for its support for Israel and intelligence help in the War on Terror.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Kate Middleton's Bachelorette Party: Details Emerge

David Cheskin - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- As the royal wedding approaches, news is starting to trickle in about Kate Middleton's bachelorette party, called a "hen party" in the British vernacular. Kate's sister and maiden of honor, Pippa, has taken the reins, organizing the night out for the royal-to-be and her friends.

Royal sources tell the Daily Mail that Pippa is planning a Dirty Dancing-themed bash at the Middleton family home in Bucklebury, Berkshire, followed by plans for the friends to go out on the town. Four London nightclub venues have been booked for the night.

The incredible interest surrounding the royal hen party and subsequent possible privacy breaches explain the multiple venues.

"Everything is being shrouded in secrecy," a royal source says.

Pippa appears to be preparing to throw her sister a party that proves, before a wedding -- royal or not -- that girls just want to have fun.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Japanese Follow Social Order After 9.0 Quake

MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images(SENDAI, Japan) -- Overnight and into the grey, chilly morning, long lines formed outside small convenience stores and supermarkets throughout the tsunami-ravaged city of Sendai.

At one, Daiei, the orderly lines had begun 12 hours before the shop opened and stretched for blocks. Despite the line's length everyone remained calm and polite.

As Japanese survivors cope with food and gasoline shortages amid the aftershocks and rising body count, they draw on a strong sense of social order. Unlike scenes in natural disasters in Haiti and New Orleans, there is little anger, no looting.

Neighbors are willing to share with others and are cutting back on energy use on their own to limit the need for rotating blackouts.

Four days after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami, "They are doing OK," said Ron Provost, president of Showa Boston Institute for Language and Culture, a campus of the University of Tokyo. "These are tough, strong, strong people."

Some of that community-minded resilience may come from its geography and dense population. Japan is only slightly smaller than the state of California and has a population of 127 million people.

The public broadcaster NHK is reporting 1 million Japanese missing and some have estimated the death toll could climb into the tens of thousands. An estimated 2.5 million households, or 4 percent of Japan's total population, are without electricity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Three-Month State of Emergency Declared In Bahrain

JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN/AFP/Getty Images(MANAMA, Bahrain) -- A three-month state of emergency was declared by Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah on Tuesday, authorizing the head of the military to "to take necessary steps to restore national security." It is the latest escalation in the tense and often violent month-long standoff between Shiite Muslim protesters and the security forces of the ruling Sunni family.

The declaration of martial law comes a day after a taskforce of around 1,500 troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council arrived in Bahrain to bolster the tiny island nation's forces. Most are from Saudi Arabia, crossing the short causeway that connects the two kingdoms.

The presence of foreign troops has infuriated the demonstrators who marched Tuesday from their symbolic home base of Pearl Square towards the Saudi embassy.

There are concerns that Bahrain's unrest could develop into a proxy war between Iran and its Sunni Arab neighbors. Iran has been accused of backing the protesters but so far no evidence has been offered.

What began as protests by the Shiite minority for more rights and a constitutional monarchy has developed into calls for the monarchy to be abolished. Bahrain is a key ally for the U.S., the home of the Navy's 5th Fleet. During a recent visit, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urged the king to undertake real reforms, not "baby steps."

The U.S. State Department is urging Americans to avoid travel to Bahrain and suggesting those there to leave. The embassy in the capital Manama has authorized the departure of non-essential personnel.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Japanese Officials Warn People to Stay Inside as Radiation Threat Grows

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The threat of radiation exposure was heightened in Japan Tuesday following an explosion and fire at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant which later prompted officials to warn people in a 30-kilometer (19-mile) radius to stay indoors.

"Please do not go outside," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano through a translator. "Please stay indoors.  Please close windows and make your homes airtight.  Don't turn on ventilators.  Please hang your laundry indoors."

"These are figures that potentially affect health. There is no mistake about that," Edano added.

The explosion, which occurred at 6:10 a.m. local time Tuesday came shortly after the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were shut down.

While the previous explosions at Fukushima Daiichi reactors 1 and 3 were hydrogen blasts caused by a buildup of steam in the reactor units, the new blast at reactor No. 2 has officials very concerned.

This time, the roof did not blow off and it's now believed the trapped pressure cracked the containment vessel around the reactor's core, allowing radioactive material to seep out.

"It is likely that the level of radiation increased sharply due to a fire at Unit 4," Edano said.  "Now we are talking about levels that can damage human health.  These are readings taken near the area where we believe the releases are happening.  Far away, the levels should be lower."

Edano said that "there could be a high level of concentration among the debris from the explosion," and nearly 800 workers were told to leave the plant as a result.  For the workers who remain, Edano advised them that they "have to be very cautious when working."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Palestinians Take to Gaza, West Bank to Protest for Change

Antenna Audio, Inc./Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- Inspired by the protests sweeping the Middle East, Palestinians on Tuesday are demonstrating across Gaza and the West Bank. Nearly 10,000 people have come out in Gaza; thousands more in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Organized on Facebook by activists that call themselves the "March 15 Youth Movement," protesters are demanding political change from their divided government. The people are demanding the rival Palestinian Authority and Hamas reconcile and form a unity government. They say it's the best way to confront Israel in the people’s bid for independence. They're also demanding new elections for the Palestinian National Council.

Police are staying out of the way and there have been no clashes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Japan Earthquake: Radiation Leaking After Fukushima Nuclear Plant Explodes

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Radiation has spread from damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant following an explosion at one unit and a fire at another, Japanese government officials said early Tuesday.

A spokesman for the government said radiation levels at areas around the plant are high enough to pose a health risk.

The explosion at unit 2 and the fire at unit 4 of the plant, where units 1 and 3 also have exploded since the powerful earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on Friday, have Japanese officials "freaked out," a senior U.S. official said.

"The level seems very high, and there is still a very high risk of more radiation coming out," Prime Minsiter Naoto Kan said.

Kan said most people have left the 20-kilometer evacuation zone around the plant, and he advised people within a 30-kilometer (19-mile) radius to stay indoors to avoid possible radiation poisoning.

"Now we are talking about levels that can damage human health," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. "These are readings taken near the area where we believe the releases are happening. Far away, the levels should be lower."

While the previous explosions at Fukushima Daiichi reactors one and three were hydrogen blasts caused by a buildup of steam in the reactor units, the new blast at reactor number two has officials unsure of the cause.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

US Issues Travel Warning About Violence in Bahrain

JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As the security situation in Bahrain deteriorates and the potential for violence increases with the arrival of security forces from other Gulf countries, the U.S. State Department is now urging Americans not to travel to Bahrain and suggests those already there should leave the country.

The agency also announced Monday that it has authorized the departure of family members of U.S. Embassy staff who wish to leave Bahrain.

Although the department says "there is no indication that U.S. citizens are being threatened or targeted," it urges Americans in Bahrain to stay alert and to avoid all demonstrations.  The agency says "spontaneous demonstrations and violence can be expected throughout the country."

Violence between police and protesters has escalated in Bahrain since demonstrations began last month, with clashes leaving several dead and wounded.  Protesters in the country are demanding jobs, the release of political prisoners, broad constitutional reforms and an end to the monarchy that has ruled Bahrain for 200 years.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio