- What's going on at Japan's crippled nuclear power plant?
- US sees credible but unconfirmed terrorism threat
- Interim PM warns Libya battle not over
Posted: 08 Sep 2011 09:14 PM PDT
TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) has edged another step closer to its near-term goal of bringing the crippled reactors at its quake and tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi plant to a state of cold shutdown by January, as the temperature at the second of three damaged units fell below boiling point this week.
The utility said it would be cautious on officially declaring cold shutdown had been achieved, however, even when the temperature at the third reactor has dropped significantly, saying the government and the nuclear watchdog would need to give their seal of approval to such a move.
WHAT IS COLD SHUTDOWN AND HOW CLOSE IS IT?
Cold shutdown is when water used to cool nuclear fuel rods remains below 100 degrees Celsius, preventing the fuel from reheating.
But even when the temperature at the third reactor falls below 100 degrees, Tepco said it would not automatically declare that a cold shutdown has been reached.
"According to our definition for this case, cold shutdown will not be reached until the spread of radiation from the reactors has been suppressed," a Tepco spokesman said.
"And whether cold shutdown has been reached will only be decided after the matter has been discussed with the government and the nuclear safety agency."
Declaring that a cold shutdown has been achieved will have repercussions well beyond the plant as it is one of the criteria the government said must be met before it begins allowing residents evacuated from the area around the facility to return home.
Tepco said in August that the radiation level measured on the fringes of the Daiichi plant compound was 0.4 millisieverts per year, below its 1 millisievert target.
But the utility downplayed the achievement, saying it was still only a rough calculation.
HOW HAS TEPCO GOT TO THIS STAGE?
After cooling systems were knocked out on March 11, causing meltdowns of nuclear fuel rods at three of the plant's six reactors and triggering the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years, Tepco has been trying to cool the plant's reactors and four of its spent fuel pools.
Immediately after the March disasters Tepco tried to cool the reactors by pouring in tens of thousands of tonnes of water, much of it from the sea. But the method left a vast pool of contaminated runoff, some stored in huge tanks and some in the basements of the reactor buildings, that threatened to leak into the ocean.
It alleviated this problem by building a cooling system introduced in June, designed to decontaminate the tainted water and then reuse some of it to cool the reactors and spent fuel pools.
The system has repeatedly stalled but, as of Tuesday, Tepco had treated about 78,000 tonnes of water. It estimates that 120,000 tonnes of highly radiated water has accumulated at the plant.
Temperatures at all four of its spent fuel pools had fallen to levels considered stable by August. As of Tuesday temperatures at all the spent fuel pools were at or below 40 degrees.
The temperature at the No 1 reactor dropped below 100 degrees in July and that of the No 3 reactor fell below the threshold this week, leaving only the No 2 reactor above boiling point. As of Tuesday the temperature at the No 2 reactor was 112.9 degrees.
WHAT IS HAMPERING TEPCO?
The decontamination system was built in a hurry from a patchwork of technologies from France, the United States and Japan and its very complexity -- it has to remove oil and radioactive substances and desalinate the water in different steps -- has left it prone to breaking down.
Apart from working on the reactors, Tepco also has to divert resources to other expensive and labour intensive tasks, such as putting a giant cover on one of the reactors to prevent radiation from spreading and building a wall underground to stop contaminated water leaking into the ocean.
Providing a measure of how long the cleanup could take, Tepco recently said it wanted to remove fuel stored at spent fuel pools within three years and fuel from reactors within 10 years.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE DISASTER?
Nearly 80,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes, most of them from a 20-km radius around the plant. Living in fear of radiation has become part of life for residents both near and far from the plant.
The crisis prompted then Prime Minister Naoto Kan to say he believes Japan should wean itself off nuclear power and to rely more on renewable sources such as solar power.
The Japanese parliament passed a feed-in-tariff bill in August that promotes the use of renewable energy.
(Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro; Editing by Joseph Radford)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 08 Sep 2011 09:14 PM PDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered a redoubling of U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in the face of a "credible but unconfirmed" threat ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
U.S. officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the threat involved Washington D.C. and New York City, which were targeted in al Qaeda attacks a decade ago this Sunday that killed nearly 3,000 people.
A law enforcement source said a manhunt was underway for two or three suspects. One person familiar with the matter said they were suspected of having links to al Qaeda.
But the officials used strong caveats when discussing the threat information privately, with a national security official cautioning that experts thought the threat would ultimately not check out.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also stressed that the threat had not been corroborated, even as he announced heightened security measures "some of which you may notice, some of which you may not notice."
"There is no reason for any of the rest of us to change anything in our daily routines," he told a news conference.
Still, Bloomberg asked citizens to report suspicious or dangerous activity, adding: "Over the next three days we should all keep our eyes wide open."
The White House said Obama was briefed on specific threat information on Thursday morning, and noted that the U.S. government had already "enhanced its security posture" ahead of the anniversary.
"Nevertheless, the President directed the counterterrorism community to redouble its efforts in response to this credible but unconfirmed information," a White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said "we're hyper-vigilant to this specific report that's just coming in." He told MSNBC television that the U.S. government was taking all necessary precautions, without offering details.
Documents discovered in Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after he was killed in a raid in May by Navy SEALs, highlighted his persistent interest in attacking the United States around the anniversary of the 2001 attacks. But it is unclear if the plans ever evolved beyond aspiration.
"As we know from the intelligence gathered following the Osama bin Laden raid, al Qaeda has showed an interest in important dates and anniversaries, such as 9/11," said Jan Fedarcyk with the FBI's New York field office.
Bloomberg said he spoke with the head of New York's public transportation authority, which was hiking security. He added: "For the record, I plan to take the subway tomorrow morning."
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced measures including more bag inspections on the subway, more bomb-sniffing dogs on patrol and increased deployment of radiation monitoring equipment.
"There will be increased focus on tunnels and bridges and infrastructure in general, as well as landmark locations, houses of worship and government buildings," he said.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which said only last week that there was no credible information that al Qaeda was plotting an attack around the Sept. 11 anniversary, declined to offer details on the threat.
It cautioned that there were always threat reports before important dates like the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Sometimes this reporting is credible and warrants intense focus, other times it lacks credibility and is highly unlikely to be reflective of real plots under way," spokesman Matt Chandler said.
"Regardless, we take all threat reporting seriously, and we have taken, and will continue to take all steps necessary to mitigate any threats that arise."
A second law-enforcement source played down an ABC News report about missing rental trucks -- saying the vehicles had been recovered and there was no connection to terrorism.
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, Alister Bull and JoAnne Allen in Washington and Michelle Nichols in New York; editing by Anthony Boadle)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 08 Sep 2011 09:14 PM PDT
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The man tasked with running the new Libya reminded his forces that the war was not yet over as the latest deadline for the surrender of pro Muammar Gaddafi towns loomed and fighters massed on both sides.
Earlier on Thursday, the voice of the on-the-run former leader boomed out from his hiding place, denying he had fled Libya and cursing as rats and stray dogs those whose efforts to start governing in his place are being frustrated by his die-hard followers.
Interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, in Tripoli for the first time since transitional council forces seized the capital, hailed a great victory. But he told his rebel allies that "the tyrant" was not yet finished and warned against the kind of factional in-fighting which some see as a growing threat.
"This is a stage where we have to unify and be together," said Jibril, who noted Gaddafi still had bastions of support, two weeks after the capital Tripoli fell. "Once the battle is finished ... the political game can start."
"If we discover that we are not on common ground, then I will retreat and leave it to others who may be more capable of taking part in this experiment," he said.
Graphic on rebel leadership click http://link.reuters.com/quz33s
Graphics on Libya/Middle East click http://r.reuters.com/nym77r
Gaddafi said in what Syria's Arrai TV said was a live broadcast from Libya: "We will not leave our ancestral land ... The youths are now ready to escalate the resistance against the rats in Tripoli and to finish off the mercenaries.
"Our resolute Libyan people, the Libyan land is your own," said the 69-year-old who ran the country from the age of 27 until two weeks ago.
"Those who try to take it from you now, they are intruders, they are mercenaries, they are stray dogs."
Backing up his words, volleys of Grad missiles flew out of Bani Walid, a desert town south of Tripoli where a hard core of loyalists -- estimated by their opponents at about 150 -- are under siege by the new interim government's forces. Some of its commanders suspect Gaddafi himself might be hiding inside.
Two of the defenders were killed and one of the siege force wounded in overnight skirmishing, though a military spokesman for the National Transitional Council (NTC) said the new rulers would abide by a truce until Saturday to allow negotiated surrenders at Bani Walid and Gaddafi's home town of Sirte, on the coast.
"We can do it within two hours maximum," Ahmed Bani said of taking over Bani Walid. He said he believed Gaddafi's son and heir-apparent Saif al-Islam was there, though he did not share the belief of some others in the NTC that his father was.
Referring to the arrivals this week of senior Gaddafi aides in Niger, across the desert, which prompted talk that Gaddafi might already have fled Libya, Bani said: "He's a fox. Maybe he wants us to believe that he's out. But he's inside ... close to the border so that in an emergency he can escape."
In remarks which clearly indicated he was speaking after the reports from Niger came out, Gaddafi himself said: "This is not the first time that convoys drive in and out of Niger."
Anti-Gaddafi fighters inched forward to about 5 km (3 miles) outside Bani Walid late on Thursday, with NATO planes monitoring the advance from the sky, Reuters witnesses said.
As dusk fell, dozens of NTC men gathered to pray quietly on the tarmac at the vast checkpoint outside the city, unfazed by the sound of distant shelling from Gaddafi's side.
"We are approaching from the Misrata side as well. Bani Walid will be liberated no matter what," NTC field commander, Abdurahman el Kazmi, said.
Residents fleeing Bani Walid, 150 km south of Tripoli, have said Gaddafi loyalists were intimidating people and supplies were low. Information from the town is limited.
Jibril, head of the NTC's Executive Committee, said the die-hards in the town appeared set on fighting and warned that, despite the ceasefire, NTC forces would hit back if fired upon.
But on a first visit to establish a presence in the capital after months touring world capitals drumming up support, Jibril seemed more concerned about the risk of premature politicking among those so far united largely by their hatred of Gaddafi:
"Perhaps some thought the tyrant had already left and that the regime had toppled. And this has brought to the surface some differences," he told a news conference in a city where militias from potentially rival political and regional factions have been staking out territory for the past two weeks.
Despite the sweeping and sudden nature of their victory in Tripoli two weeks ago after six months of civil war, the new leadership is struggling to impose its authority across the capital and the rest of the sprawling, oil-rich desert nation which is home to just six million people.
The stalemates around Sirte, Bani Walid and south into the desert town of Sabha -- all pro-Gaddafi bastions -- mean the original rebel stronghold of Benghazi is still largely cut off from Tripoli, an 800-km (500-mile) drive away to the west.
NTC leaders have said they hope to be pumping oil again next week, and the new head of the central bank briefed the media on Thursday to assure Libyans and their foreign business partners that the bank had not been looted by fleeing members of the old regime. Business as usual was the watchword.
Jibril assured people in Tripoli that the NTC would have completed its move there from Benghazi by the end of next week -- though previous forecasts have been followed by delays.
Some of that hesitation seems to stem from long-standing regional rivalries and from a sense that Tripoli may not be a safe place for every Libyan official, as potential political rivalries coalesce around the rebel brigades which swept in to the city from different towns and provinces, eager for a share of power that for 42 years was in the hands of one man only.
(Reporting by Christian Lowe in Tripoli, Sherine El Madany in Ras Lanuf, Maria Golovnina in Wishtata, Barry Malone, Sylvia Westall and Alastair Macdonald in Tunis, Ahmed Tolba and Edmund Blair in Cairo, Daniel Alvarenga in Lisbon, David Brunnstrom in Brussels and Joseph Nasr in Berlin; Writing by Alastair Macdonald and Barry Malone; Editing by Michael Roddy)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
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