IAEA fact-finding team leader Mike Weightman examines Reactor Unit 3 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on 27 May 2011 to assess tsunami damage and study nuclear safety lessons that could be learned from the accident. (Copyright: IAEA Imagebank, Photo Credit: Greg Webb / IAEA. Via Wikimedia Commons)

IAEA fact-finding team leader Mike Weightman examines Reactor Unit 3 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on 27 May 2011 to assess tsunami damage and study nuclear safety lessons that could be learned from the accident. Removal of fuel from reactor three began this week. (Copyright: IAEA Imagebank, Photo Credit: Greg Webb / IAEA. Via Wikimedia Commons)

The World This Week: April 15, 2019

Asia and the Pacific

The world’s largest democracy is going to the polls, with elections in India rolling out over the next month. The massive undertaking, which lasts for 39 days and in which 900 million eligible voters will take part in, will determine the makeup of India’s parliament for the next term. Current Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a second term in office. His party, the far-right Hindu nationalist BJP, entered into the election showing an advantage, riding a surge of popularity after recent border confrontations with Pakistan. However, rural concerns regarding persistent unemployment and low incomes among farmers have undermined some of his base of support. Much of the nation’s attention will be on the state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest administrative region by population and which is a bastion for the BJP. A weaker showing there than in the last election will leave the BJP as a smaller share of the parliament, although experts believe the BJP will still be in the best position to maintain the current coalition government regardless of the potential for losses.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has announced they have begun to remove fuel from one of the three damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant reactors. The reactor suffered a catastrophic failure in March of 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami left the facility damaged. Cleanup and recovery efforts have continued over the past eight years, but were complicated by administrative failures, earthquake debris, and severe radiological contamination. The work to remove the fuel rods from reactor number three is expected to take at least two years to complete. If the cylinders containing the fuel are damaged or exposed to air in the removal process, radioactive gasses and dust would likely escape. Although removal of the intact fuel rods has begun, removal of the molten fuel from reactor three is not expected to begin until 2021, and is considered the most difficult part of the recovery process. Removal of fuel from reactors one and two is not expected to begin until 2023. Recently, the Japanese government lifted the evacuation order for the town of Okuma, near the plant, allowing the 10,000 residents to return for the first time since 2011, although reports indicate few are likely to make the journey.

Europe and Central Asia

The European Parliament on Wednesday has called for an expansion of the European Union’s border protection authority by up to 10,000 officers. They are also pushing for tighter visa controls. Four years after the influx of refugees into the EU, the European Parliament has had to take stock of the situation during its final session before elections in May. In many cases a large number of refugees continue to live in inhuman conditions. Greek MEP Notis Marias from the European Conservatives and Reformists group argued that while aid organizations and the United Nations have criticized overcrowding in Greek refugee camps, the number of people reaching Greece by land is on the rise again. “In Greece, the people are protesting. They simply cannot, or will not, take in more people. 

Concerns over jurisdiction are giving many member states reason for pause. Most of the 28 member states are not on board to support the increase of security staff from 1,500 to 10,000. States are not prepared to delegate the necessary guards or willing to surrender sovereign tasks, such as border controls, to Brussels. Jurisdiction remains with the member states. The powers, equipment, and arming of border guards will be limited. 

President Vladimir Putin has proposed Russian help to build a nuclear power plan when he met with Kazakhstan’s new president, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, in Moscow on April 3rd. Deputy Kazakh Energy Minister Magzum Mirzagaliev stated there was no concrete decision to construct a nuclear power plant, but has also revealed that officials have already chose a site for such a project near the town of Uken, in the southeastern Almaty Province near the borders of Kyrgyzstan and China. While it is no longer the capital of Kazakhstan, it remains the most populous city in the country. It is difficult to sell the proposal of a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan due to the fact that it has seen more nuclear tests than virtually any other place. Between 1949 and 1989, when the country was part of the Soviet Union, 340 underground and 116 atmospheric tests were contested in the Semipalatinsk region of north eastern Kazakhstan and health problems continue to plague residents of the area. 

Kazakhstan has been the world’s leading uranium producer and exporter since 2009, which is certainly an important factor for the Russian state nuclear company, Rosatom. State company Kazatomprom in Kazakhstan has worked for years, and is now able, to take uranium through all the cycles— from raw uranium to nuclear fuel. So Kazakhstan has a large domestic source of uranium and can produce its own nuclear fuel. Kazatomprom has nuclear technicians trained mostly by Russia. Russia and Kazakhstan cooperate to mine uranium in Kazakhstan together. In 2018 alone, Kazatomprom exported nearly 15,290 tons of uranium, of which 17% went to Russia. It is not yet a certainty that Kazakhstan will build a nuclear power plant. It is not something officials want to move on quickly. However, it is clear that it has been on the minds of Kazakh officials. Comments from February y Russia’s ambassador indicates that this has been a topic of recent conversations between Russian and Kazakh representatives.

Middle East and North Africa

Fighting continues between the internationally recognized Libyan government and the forces of Khalifa Haftar. Thousands of people have been forced out of their homes outside of Tripoli, the country’s capital. On Sunday, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with Fattah, who’s Libyan National Army (LNA) has close ties to Egypt. While one of Haftar’s closest regional allies, Egypt publicly supports a U.N.-led peace effort in Libya.

Turkey enters its third week without a declared winner in Istanbul’s mayoral race. AKP, the ruling party behind President Erdogan, has contested the March 31st election results. Ekrem Imamoglu, who leads the main opposition Repbulican People’s Party (CHP) is currently 0.2 percent ahead of AKP’s mayoral candidate. AKP and President Erdogan have stated “organized crime” has affected the vote and thinks the results should be canceled. If Imamoglu is announced winner of the mayoral race, it would be the first time in 25 years the AKP party has not run Istanbul.

Sub-Saharan Africa

More than 150 fighters of Ethiopia’s Omoro Liberation Front (OLF) rebel group, who entered into a peace deal with the government, are being treated for suspected poisoning. Some of the soldiers said they started collapsing after having breakfast at the Tollay camp in south-western Ethiopia on Sunday. The soldiers suspect that a white poisonous substance was thrown into their tea. A doctor at the hospital confirmed that more than 129 soldiers were admitted on Sunday for suspected poisoning and a further 20 today. The OLF members complained of nausea and vomited blood, in addition to severe headaches and diarrhea. The fighters are learning about the constitution and the rule of law with the aim of being integrated into the Oromia region’s security force.

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