New faces everywhere as Suns meet Demons

Posted on: March 7th, 2019 by
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New look teams will be the order of the day when Gold Coast take on Melbourne at the MCG on Saturday.


The Suns head south with five players set to make the debut for the club, including three AFL debutants, the most new faces in a Gold Coast line-up since their inaugural match in round two, 2011.

Experienced recruits Nick Malceski and Mitch Hallahan will both make their first starts for their new club while mature-aged rookie Adam Saad and draftees Touk Miller and Jarrod Garlett are the set for their first senior game.

The Demons will also boast a revamped line-up with seven new faces, including another trio of AFL debutants.

Key forward Jesse Hogan, No.3 draft pick Angus Brayshaw and mature rookie-listed player Aaron Vandenberg will play their first AFL match while 2010 Collingwood premiership player Heritier Lumumba, ex-Carlton player Jeff Garlett, former Giants defender Sam Frost and ex-Power midfielder Ben Newton have been named for the hosts.

Malceski, a 2012-premiership player with Sydney, says his move to Gold Coast has been just the tonic to extending his AFL career.

“It’s something that has freshened me up,” he said.

“Especially moving interstate as well. To come up to the Gold Coast has definitely freshened me and my family up. Really looking forward to the next three years.”

The Suns have won just two of their seven matches at the MCG, but both those wins have been against the Demons.

The visitors will also be boosted by the return of superstar captain Gary Ablett, named to play his first AFL game since injuring his shoulder against Collingwood last July.

The dual Brownlow Medallist is sure to attract plenty of attention from the Demons to test out the strength of his shoulder but Malceski says that will be nothing out of the ordinary for Ablett.

“He’s copped it his whole career because he’s one of the best,” Malceski said.

“When you are like that you’re going to get treatment off your opposition.

“We’ve just got to do as much as we can to try and restrict that and help him out as much as possible.

“Obviously Gaz is one of the best in the AFL. To be able to play with him in his team will be good, rather than in the opposition.”

Israeli FA vows to repel Palestinian call for suspension

Posted on: March 7th, 2019 by
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The Palestine FA said earlier this week it would request the suspension at next month’s FIFA Congress because it believes Israel is hampering its football activities.


The Israeli FA said in a statement that new chairman, Ofer Eini, was “acting at all possible levels to ensure the standing of Israeli soccer is not harmed”.

“The Israeli FA believes that FIFA and Sepp Blatter at its helm, and the heads of the various federations and associations will not permit a move which seeks to mix sport and politics in a manner that is completely opposed to the principles of the organisation and the aims of the game,” the Israeli FA said.

Despite efforts by Blatter to ease tensions, the Palestinians remain frustrated at restrictions they say Israel imposes on the movement of their athletes between the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian FA also cited curbs Israel places on the import into Palestinian territories of sports equipment and on visits by foreign teams and individuals.

Blatter set up in 2013 a task force which included himself, the Israeli and Palestinian football chiefs and the heads of the European and Asian football confederations to examine the Palestinian complaints and to try to resolve them.

But Palestine FA president Jibril Rajoub said he has lost patience, and he has called on FIFA to show Israel “the red card”.

Israel cites security concerns for restrictions it imposes in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited self rule, and along the border with the Hamas Islamist-run Gaza Strip.

But it says it has eased travel for Palestinian athletes between the two territories, which requires passage via Israel.

Last week, 41 runners from Gaza were allowed to participate in a marathon in the West Bank, something that has been denied all Gaza runners in the past two years.

Thirteen others were barred from travelling, as was the Palestinian beach football team, according to Gisha, an Israeli non-governmental group that monitors freedom of movement for Palestinians.

In December, Rajoub called on FIFA to sanction Israel after Israeli troops entered the offices of the Palestine Football Association. An army spokesman said soldiers were seeking a wanted individual and were not targeting the premises because of its links to football.

The Palestinian draft resolution calls for Israel’s suspension because its actions “inhibit our ability to develop the game”.

Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Toby Davis.

LPGA Commissioner Whan eyes a ‘grander stage’

Posted on: March 7th, 2019 by
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However, Whan has never been a big fan of the status quo and has set his sights on establishing a “grander stage” for the LPGA Tour by giving it increased television exposure and making it more on a par with the men’s equivalent for prize money.


“A typical men’s PGA Tour event has the exposure of a major,” Whan told Reuters during this week’s ANA Inspiration, the opening women’s major of the year, at Mission Hills Country Club.

“So how do we get that grander stage on a regular basis with the LPGA? Last week, Cristie Kerr probably made about as much money as somebody who came in 10th place at a similar event on the PGA Tour.”

American Kerr, a former world number one who has claimed two major titles, earned a check for $255,000 with her victory at the Kia Classic in Carlsbad, California.

That same day, little-known American Scott Pinckney came away with $179,800 after tying for eighth at the PGA Tour’s Texas Open.

“If we can expand that viewership footprint for the LPGA, we will create greater purse opportunities, greater financial opportunities,” said Whan.

“Generally speaking, once you’ve made it to the PGA Tour, you’re financially set. On the women’s side, making it to the LPGA Tour is just phase one. Phase two is making it on the LPGA Tour financially.”

Whan felt that financial security was guaranteed on the LPGA Tour only by players who had established themselves in the top 70.

“That’s something I’ve got to change,” he said. “I’ve got to make it that if you’re one of the best 200 female golfers on the planet, then there ought to be an opportunity on this tour to be financially successful.”


Whan, who took over in 2010 and earlier this week agreed to a contract extension to remain as commissioner through the 2020 season, has grown the circuit from 23 to 33 events in the last five years.

Purses have increased by 50 percent to more than $60 million this season and television coverage has doubled.

A fifth major, the Evian Championship, has been added and the tour has expanded into China and Taiwan before culminating in a season finale at the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida with a purse of $2 million.

The global nature of the tour, where New Zealand’s teenage prodigy Lydia Ko heads the rankings with players from South Korea, the United States, China and Norway in hot pursuit, is an added bonus for Whan.

“When some of these players come from different countries and they start having real success, it opens up a whole other range for us in terms of television rights and most importantly other title sponsors,” Whan said.

“When (Taiwan’s) Yani (Tseng) was on the top of the world, we added an event in her country and we added a Taiwanese sponsor in San Francisco.

“I remember Japan’s Ai Miyazato in 2011 just killing it and we added a bunch of Japanese sponsors. More recently, we’ve had a lot of sponsors from South Korea and from North America.”

Whan overcame stiff challenges when he took over as the world grappled with an economic downturn.

“2010 and 2011 were tough years,” he said. “I really underestimated how frozen the economy was, especially in North America. It forced me to go back to basics, making sure that we delivered for the sponsor and not for the tour.

“I became kind of a seed money guy to help sponsors get started.

“A lot of events — the Kia Classic, Founders Cup, CME Tour Championship – when we first started them weren’t really title sponsored or funded. But we got them started, found a title and now they are long-term successful events.”

(Editing by Larry Fine)

Aussie shares plunge as nuclear fears grow

Posted on: February 3rd, 2019 by
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The Australian share market plunged to a six-month low, suffering its worst one-day fall in nine months as investors feared the economic impact of Japan’s worsening nuclear crisis.


Stock markets across the region were sharply lower.

The investor rout began after reports that another explosion and fire had pushed radiation to harmful levels at one of Japan’s earthquake-hit nuclear plants.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index fell 97.7 points, or 2.11 per cent, to 4,528.7 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index lost 100.2 points, or 2.13 per cent, to 4,609.9 points.

On the ASX 24, the March share price index futures contract was 74 points lower at 4,535 points, with 167,423 contracts traded.

The fall took the S&P/ASX200 index to its weakest level since September 3 last year when it finished at 4541.2 points. It was the biggest one-day fall since June 7 last year, when the market at that time fell on renewed sovereign debt concerns in Europe.

Japan’s share market fared far worse, with the Nikkei index falling more than 12 per cent during intraday trading. The Nikkei was down by just under ten per cent in late trading.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Tuesday that a fire has broken out at the number-four reactor in the earthquake-damaged Fukushima No.1 atomic power plant and radiation levels had risen considerably.

CMC Markets chief market strategist Michael McCarthy said investors had panicked in the wake of the comments.

Mr McCarthy said the negative sentiment would probably last at least a few days. “I’ve been talking to a number of big traders and investors.

They’re expecting wholesale selling across all markets tonight,” Mr McCarthy said.

“There’s little doubt in my mind that this is a panic at the moment.

“We’re certainly pricing a lot worse than has actually occurred. “Perhaps with hindsight, some of the comments that came from some of the leaders in Japan were a little intemperate in that they seem to have sparked quite a panic.”

On the Australian share market, investors dumped uranium stocks.

Paladin Energy fell 69 cents, or 17.47 per cent, to $3.26. Peninsula Energy dumped 2.6 cents, or 30.59 per cent, to 5.9 cents.

Global miner BHP Billiton shed $1.12 to $42.97, and Rio Tinto descended $1.74 to $77.41.

Among the major banks, National Australia Bank retreated 40 cents to $24.28, Westpac weakened 28 cents to $22.59, ANZ surrendered 33 cents to $22.63, and Commonwealth Bank gave away 83 cents to $49.75.

Among other stocks, Origin Energy was steady at $15.66 as the head of the company said the nuclear crisis in Japan was likely to lead to increased energy demand for liquefied natural gas in the short term.

The price of gold in Sydney closed at $US1414.77 per fine ounce, down $US10.63 from Monday’s close at $US1425.40. Gold miner Newcrest Mining was down $1.36 at $35.85.

Junior iron ore miner BC Iron was off three cents at $2.82 as Regent Pacific abandoned its friendly takeover bid, after the target’s biggest shareholder said it was opposed to the plan.

National turnover was 4.48 billion shares worth $6.69 billion, with 1,207 stocks down, 165 up and 238 unchanged.

Palu, Barnes to return for Waratahs

Posted on: February 3rd, 2019 by
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Wycliff Palu and Berrick Barnes are certain starters for NSW against the Cheetahs on Saturday night, as the Waratahs attempt to get their Super Rugby season back on track.


After an impressive start to the year the Tahs lost their way two weeks ago in a disappointing loss to the Crusaders in Nelson.

A bye has given them an extra week to lick their wounds, and while NSW should have no problem beating the Cheetahs at the SFS, they’re after more than just a victory.

The Waratahs are determined to return to the clinical play which saw them destroy Melbourne and Queensland in the opening two rounds, and prove their capitulation against the Crusaders was a mere blip on the radar and not the start of a problem.

The issues NSW faced at the set piece against the Crusaders should be helped by the return of the inspirational Palu from a hamstring injury.

Barnes will slot back into the No.10 jersey and run the attack, following time off with concussion.

Palu has barely played a Super Rugby match for the past year, after knee ligament damage ruined his 2010 and his troublesome hamstring has kept him out since this year’s trials.

Centre Tom Carter said the giant No.8 will give the Waratahs an edge.

“It’s pretty exciting isn’t it. Cliffy Palu is a great guy to have back in the team. He’s been training really hard,” said Carter.

“He’s an incredible ball carrier and a great defender so whenever he’s been fit he does a lot of damage for us.

“It’s just such a big boost for us, he’s worked so hard to get back. Eleven months in rehab, he’s shown the way, no one has seen him work so hard so we’re pretty excited to have him back.”

Tatafu Polota-Nau (knee) and captain Phil Waugh (bicep) are the two players in major doubt for the Waratahs on Friday night, and a decision will be made on Tuesday whether they should be rested for a further week.

In a more significant blow, centre Rob Horne has been ruled out for six weeks with a continuation of his elbow problem. Ryan Cross, Lachie Turner and Drew Mitchell are in contention to fill his No.13 jumper.

Coach Chris Hickey said he doesn’t have any reservations about starting Palu, despite hamstring problems being tedious injuries to shake.

“No I don’t think so, whether you’re starting or coming off the bench you’ve still got to play,” he said.

“I think the advantage of starting as a player is … there’s a definitive time when you know you’re going to be ready to play.

“We’re confident to start with Cliffy, then we’ll monitor his progress through the game.”

Carter said complacency won’t be a risk for the Tahs against the Cheetahs, who struggle on the road.

“We’re pretty well aware of where we stand,” he said.

“We’ve shown we can play positive footy and there’s a really strong belief that’s the way we’re going to play all year.

“We need to put the Crusaders game behind us, that’s the challenge.”

Centrelink to review appeals process

Posted on: February 3rd, 2019 by
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A hard-hitting Ombudsman’s report has found major problems in how Centrelink responds to review requests from clients owing money or whose benefits have been cut.


Commonwealth Ombudsman Allan Asher said his organisation had identified systemic weaknesses in Centrelink’s review processes including lack of transparency and insufficient education about options.

In a report released on Wednesday, the Ombudsman found those problems produced delays, inaction and what was referred to as “appeal fatigue” whereby customers facing extended delays in having their appeal determined simply give up.

“Centrelink customers have a right to independent review of decisions and the review process should be transparent, timely and result in the best outcome for the customer,” Mr Asher said in a statement.

“The options for review, including benefits and implications, need to be clearly explained.”

The Ombudsman report said Centrelink had advised that it had now started the staged implementation of a review of its decision framework.

It said its examination of the appeals process highlighted the need for Centrelink to identify and rectify causes of delay in the review model, including obstacles to recognising and acting on requests for review.

The report said Centrelink had put significant effort into developing effective review processes but it currently fell short of the ideal.

Centrelink, the government’s welfare agency, paid seven million customers $84.2 billion in social security payments in 2009/10, and considered 207,871 requests for review in the same period.

Almost half the reviewed decisions were changed, often because new information became available.

The Ombudsman report cited the case of disability pensioner Mr B who received a bill for $15,000. His appeal against the decision continued for more than five months with the debt eventually reduced.

Another client, Ms A, was told she owed $50,000. Only after the intervention of the Ombudsman and her local MP was the debt reduced by a quarter.

In many of the cases cited by the Ombudsman where Centrelink claimed to be owed money, clients had to fend off debt collectors while their case remained under review.

Mr Asher said the report highlighted the need for Centrelink to identify and rectify causes of delay, including obstacles to recognising and acting upon requests for review.

“The (Ombudsman’s) office recognises that Centrelink has put significant effort into developing effective review processes. However, it presently falls short of the ideal,” he said.

Nuclear fuel rods ‘fully exposed’

Posted on: February 3rd, 2019 by
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The fuel rods at a third nuclear reactor at the Fukushima No.


1 nuclear power plant have been fully exposed to air, allowing them to heat up and raising the risk of a meltdown, according to officials of the Tokyo Electric Power Co, which owns the plant.

Engineers had begun pumping seawater into the reactor at the facility, the third reactor to receive the last-ditch treatment, after the plant’s emergency cooling system had failed and the fuel rods had been partially exposed to the air.

But apparently something went wrong and the injection of water failed.

Workers were scrambling to re-immerse the fuel assembly before more damage is done to the reactor core.

No one knows how much damage has been done to the fuel rods, either in this reactor, No.2, or in reactors No.1 and No.3, where engineers began pumping in seawater..

Officials have called the situation a partial meltdown because they have detected minute quantities of radioactive caesium and iodine – byproducts of the nuclear fission that powers the reactor – outside the plant.

That may mean simply that the zirconium cladding that sheathes the uranium fuel pellets has cracked due to heat from being exposed to the air, allowing small quantities of the radionuclides to escape, or it may mean that the fuel pellets themselves have partially melted.

As long as the reactor containment vessel remains intact, however, no one will know until workers can physically examine the fuel rods for damage.

Officials of the Tokyo Electric Power Co, which owns the plant, said conditions are stable at reactors No.1 and No.3 and that the cooling seems to be working.

An explosion at reactor No.3 destroyed the outer building at the reactor and injured 11 workers, but did not damage the reactor containment vessel.

A similar explosion at reactor No.1 earlier in the weekend damaged that building and released what is said to be small amounts of radiation into the environment.

Three workers at the plant have been hospitalised for radiation exposure, but it is not clear how much radiation they received.

At least 20 civilians have had radiation detected on their clothes, but US experts believe their exposure was minimal.

A US warship sailing off the coast of Japan reported that it sailed through a small plume of radiation from the plant, but has successfully decontaminated both the ship and sailors.

Japanese authorities have so far reported no radiation release from the explosion at the No.3 reactor.

Authorities fear that the injection of seawater into the No.2 reactor and the exposure of the fuel rods to air could lead to a buildup of hydrogen gas and an explosion at that plant as well.

‘Hundreds shot’ in Bahrain protest

Posted on: February 3rd, 2019 by
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after bringing in Saudi and Emirati troops to help quell anti-regime protests.


As violence escalated, close ally the United States warned that there was “no military solution” to political upheaval in Bahrain and that any violence against peacefully expressed political demands “should be stopped.”

“More than 200 people we received today had been shot with buckshot,” a hospital doctor in the village of Sitra, south of the capital, told AFP by telephone.

The doctor, who asked that his name not be used, said the hospital was under siege by armed gangs and security forces targeting Shi’ites – the backbone of anti-regime protests that have raged for a month.

Neighbouring Iran condemned Monday’s intervention by Saudi-led Gulf troops to help put down the protests, prompting Manama to recall its ambassador.

Thousands of protesters marched to the Saudi embassy, chanting slogans against the king and vowing to defend the country from the “occupation” forces, as unrest in the tiny country became a regional diplomatic crisis.

The financial district of Manama – a regional banking hub – was deserted for a third day except for anti-government protesters.

Sunni and Shi’ite vigilantes were on the streets in various parts of the capital and in rural villages.

A Shi’ite protester and a member of the security forces were killed in separate incidents in the south, amid unconfirmed reports of bloody clashes outside the capital.

In Manama, the protesters brandished banners against the king.

They also called for unity between Sunnis and Shi’ites in the mainly Shi’ite country, which has been ruled by a Sunni dynasty for more than 200 years.

Police and foreign forces were nowhere to be seen there, witnesses said.

State television interrupted normal programming to announce a three-month state of emergency in the strategic Gulf state, which is home to the US Fifth Fleet and hosts major international banks and financial institutions.

“The Commander in Chief of the Bahrain Defence Force has been mandated to take the measures and procedures necessary to preserve the safety of the nation and its people,” it said, adding that “other forces” could also be used if necessary.

Armoured troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had earlier rolled across the causeway from Saudi’s Eastern Province to help Manama tackle pro-democracy protests shaking the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia’s staunchly Sunni government said it had responded to a call for help from its neighbour under a mutual defence pact of the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

But Iran said the military intervention in a Shi’ite-majority country it has historic claims to was unacceptable.

“The people of Bahrain have demands, which are legitimate and are being expressed peacefully,” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in Tehran.

“Any violence in response to these legitimate demands should be stopped.”

Bahrain’s state news agency said the kingdom had decided to “immediately recall” its ambassador in Tehran, as the crisis widened into a broader stand-off between Iran and the Gulf Arab states.

The United States warned Gulf states to respect the rights of the Bahraini people, but said the entry of foreign troops was “not an invasion.”

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said “we call for calm and restraint on all sides. We are particularly concerned by the increasing reports of provocative acts and sectarian violence by all groups.”

“The use of force and violence from any source will only worsen the situation,” Vietor said in a statement that did not mention key US ally Saudi Arabia but which seemed clearly aimed at Riyadh.

“One thing is clear: there is no military solution to the problems in Bahrain.

“A political solution is necessary and all sides must now work to produce a dialogue that addresses the needs of all of Bahrain’s citizens.”

A US official said visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal from Cairo, where she was on the first leg of a North African tour, to express her deep concern about the violence and potential for escalation.

She “urged restraint and stressed that the only durable solution is a credible political process, not a military one,” the official said.

“She stated that all parties must avoid violence and provocation and find a peaceful path forward.”

The European Union urged “utmost restraint” and called on Bahrain’s security forces to respect “fundamental freedoms including the right to assemble freely and peacefully,” a spokeswoman said.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said “governments should respond to calls for change with reform, not repression.”

Gulf troops enter Bahrain amid protests

Posted on: February 3rd, 2019 by
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Armed forces have rolled into Bahrain from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help restore order in the strategic Gulf kingdom where protesters have shut down the financial centre.


Thousands of mostly Shiite protesters occupied Manama’s business district, turning the regional banking hub into a ghost town as they pressed their calls for democratic change from the Sunni Muslim monarchy.

The Saudi government said it had responded to a call for help from its neighbour as Saudi-led forces from the Gulf countries’ joint Peninsula Shield Force crossed the causeway separating the two countries.

“The council of ministers has confirmed that it has answered a request by Bahrain for support,” the Saudi government said in a statement carried by the SPA state news agency.

It said that under an agreement of the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), “any harm done to the security of a member state is considered a harm done to the security of all members.”

The United Arab Emirates also said it sent some 500 police to help “defuse tension,” according to Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan.

It was not clear if other GCC members were participating. The GCC groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Television footage showed convoys of unmarked, desert-brown armoured vehicles crossing from Saudi’s Eastern Province into Bahrain, the home of the US Fifth Fleet.

The Shiite-led opposition alliance said any foreign force would be treated as an invading army.

“We consider the arrival of any soldier, or military vehicle, into Bahraini territory… an overt occupation of the kingdom of Bahrain and a conspiracy against the unarmed people of Bahrain,” said an opposition statement.

But authorites called on the population to “cooperate fully and to welcome” the troops.

Helicopters buzzed overhead as protesters blocked access roads to the Financial Harbour business complex, a day after more than 200 people were injured there in clashes between riot police and demonstrators.

The recent violence was the worst in the kingdom since seven people were killed at the start of anti-regime unrest a month ago.

Shiite-majority Bahrain has transformed itself into a regional financial centre as it seeks to reduce dependence on diminishing oil revenues.

But to many of the country’s disenfranchised Shiites the banking district is a symbol of corruption, wealth and privilege.

Police appeared to have deserted the area, while shopping malls and office towers were closed.

Protesters persisted with a sit-in at nearby Pearl Square, where activists were readying for a showdown with the security forces. Thousands had gathered at the square.

“We are ready for them. What is the difference between the Saudis and police here who shot at us?” asked one protester, asking not to be named.

“We are not intimidated,” said a woman, also requesting anonymity.

Most workers seemed to be following a trade union call for a general strike to protest against violence by the security forces.

The Saudi intervention comes two days after US Defence Secretary Robert Gates visited Manama and urged King Hamad to undertake rapid and significant democratic reform, not just “baby steps.”

Gates told reporters after the talks that Washington was concerned the longer the instability dragged on the more likely Iran, a Shiite theocracy, was to try to meddle in Bahrain’s affairs.

In a major concession to the opposition demands, Crown Prince Salman said Sunday he supported the creation of a parliament with full powers and pledged to tackle corruption and sectarian tensions.

But he warned “legitimate demands should not be carried out at the price of security and stability.”

The opposition has refused to negotiate until the government resigns, a condition the country’s rulers have deemed unacceptable.

Foreign Minister Khalid Al-Khalifa accused the opposition of shifting their demands and likened the protesters to gangsters.

“All goodwill gestures were not reciprocated by (protesters)… Look where we are now,” he said, adding demonstrations amounted to “wanton, gangster-style takeover of people’s lives.”

The mainstream opposition says it is not trying to overthrow the royal family, but more radical Shiite elements have said they want a republic.

New Japan reactor fire ‘puts itself out’

Posted on: February 3rd, 2019 by
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The latest fire to break out at a quake-hit Japanese nuclear power plant is under control, the government says.


“We have received information from TEPCO (the plant’s operator) that the fire and smoke is now invisible and it appears to have gone out of its own accord,” Minoru Ogoda, a spokesman for the state nuclear safety agency says.

The blaze had broken out on Wednesday 16th March on the fourth floor of the number-four reactor at the Fukushima No.1 plant, 250 kilometres northeast of Tokyo.

A fire and explosion hit the same reactor on Tuesday 15th March, causing a crack in the roof.

Japan crisis ‘worst since Chernobyl’

As Japan’s nuclear emergency escalates, the accident at the Fukushima plant now rates six on a seven-point international scale of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.

The accident at Japan’s Fukushima plant now rates six on a seven-point international scale of gravity for nuclear accidents, the head of France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) said.

The 1979 accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania rates five on an international scale of zero to seven, while Chernobyl is put at seven, the highest.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency has estimated the accident at Fukushima at level four.

“The incident has taken on a completely different dimension. It is clear that we are at level six,” Andre-Claude Lacoste told a press conference.

“The order of gravity has changed,” he said.

Japan battling imminent nuclear disaster

Meanwhile Japanese crews are battling to avert a nuclear disaster and say they may pour water from helicopters to stop fuel rods from being exposed to the air and releasing even more radioactivity.

Radiation near the quake-hit Fukushima No.1 plant has reached levels harmful to health and remains high, officials said, advising thousands of people to stay indoors after two explosions and a fire at the facility.

Four of the six reactors at the crippled facility, 250 kilometres northeast of Tokyo, have now overheated and sparked explosions since Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami knocked out their cooling systems.

The blasts at the seaside plant have shattered buildings housing the reactors but have apparently not penetrated the steel and concrete containers surrounding the fuel rods, reducing the risk of massive contamination.

Workers have used fire-fighting equipment to pump seawater into the reactors – and fears have spiked sharply after separate containment pools holding spent fuel rods at reactor number four started to heat up, threatening to run dry.

If the water in the deep pools evaporates, this would expose the fuel rods to the air, destroying them and sending radioactive materials into the air.

“We have no options other than to pour water from a helicopter, or to spray water from the ground,” a spokesman for operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said on television.

“We have to take action tomorrow or the day after.”

The water in the containment pool of reactor number four may have been boiling earlier, Kyodo News reported on Wednesday.

Radiation levels worsening

Worsening levels of radiation forced the company to pull out most of its hundreds of workers who have been battling the emergency.

They later evacuated the plant’s central control room and were now monitoring the site remotely, Kyodo reported.

Tens of thousands have already been evacuated from within a radius of 20 kilometres of the 40-year-old plant, andPrime Minister Naoto Kan urged people living within 10 kilometres of that zone to stay indoors.

“There is no doubt that unlike in the past, the (radiation) figures are at the level at which human health can be affected,” chief government spokesman Yukio Edano said.

There was a danger of further leakage, Kan said.

“Please stay indoors, close windows and make your homes airtight,” Edano urged residents during a press briefing. “Don’t turn on ventilators. Please hang your laundry indoors.”

Radiation levels were monitored at 4.548 millisieverts per hour at 11pm (0100 AEDT) and rose further to 7.966 millisieverts less than an hour later at the plant’s entrance, Jiji Press reported, quoting TEPCO officials.

Levels fluctuated throughout the day.

A single dose of 1000 millisieverts – or one sievert – causes temporary radiation sickness such as nausea and vomiting.

The continuing nuclear crisis has unnerved regional residents already struggling with the aftermath of the quake and tsunami.

Radiation detected in Tokyo

Higher than normal radiation was detected in Tokyo, prompting many people to flee, but a city official said it was not considered at a level harmful to human health and the level fell later in the day.