Hong Kong watching Chinese nuclear plant after leak reported

Hong Kong watching Chinese nuclear plant after leak reported
Nuclear experts say gas might be leaking from fuel rods inside a reactor in Taishan, which was built in 2013. (AFP)
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Updated 15 June 2021

Hong Kong watching Chinese nuclear plant after leak reported

Hong Kong watching Chinese nuclear plant after leak reported
  • Experts say that gas might be leaking from fuel rods inside a reactor in Taishan, 135 kilometers west of Hong Kong
  • In Hong Kong, radiation levels Tuesday were normal, according to the Hong Kong Observatory

HONG KONG: China’s government said Tuesday no abnormal radiation was detected outside a nuclear power plant near Hong Kong following a news report of a leak, while Hong Kong’s leader said her administration was closely watching the facility.
The operators released few details, but nuclear experts say based on their brief statement, gas might be leaking from fuel rods inside a reactor in Taishan, 135 kilometers (85 miles) west of Hong Kong.
A foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing, Zhao Lijian, gave no confirmation of a leak or other details. He responded to reporters’ questions by saying, “there is nothing abnormal detected in the radiation level surrounding the plant.”
In Hong Kong, radiation levels Tuesday were normal, according to the Hong Kong Observatory.
Framatome, a French company that helps manage the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong province, said Monday it was dealing with a “performance issue.” It said the facility was operating within safe limits.
That followed a report by CNN that Framatome told US authorities about a possible leak.
“With regards to foreign media reports about a nuclear plant in Taishan, Guangzhou, the Hong Kong government attaches a high degree of importance to this,” said Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Lam said her government would ask authorities in Guangdong for information and tell the public about any developments.
China is one of the biggest users of nuclear power and is building more reactors at a time when few other governments have plans for new facilities because the cost of solar, wind and other alternatives is plunging.
Chinese leaders see nuclear as a way to reduce air pollution and demand for imports of oil and gas, which they deem a security risk. Government plans call for Hong Kong to use more mainland nuclear power to allow the closure of coal-fired power plants.
The Taishan plant, which began commercial operation in December 2018, is owned by China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group and Electricite de France, the majority owner of Framatome. A second reactor began operating in September 2019.
They are the first of a new type called European Pressurized Reactors. Two more are being built in Finland and France.
CNN reported Framatome wrote to the US Department of Energy warning of an “imminent radiological threat” and accusing Chinese authorities of raising acceptable limits for radiation outside the plant to avoid having to shut it down.
US officials believed there was no severe safety threat, CNN said.
The Department of Energy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The International Atomic Energy Agency, a UN body, told The Associated Press it was aware of the issue and awaiting information from China.
Electricite de France said Monday it was informed of the increase in concentration of “certain rare gases” in Taishan reactor No. 1.
That suggests fuel rods are leaking noble gases, a byproduct of nuclear fission, according to Luk Bing-lam, an expert on nuclear engineering at the City University of Hong Kong.
“If the leakage is more severe, then you will start seeing more radioactive material like cesium, rather than gas,” said Luk, who is chairman of the Hong Kong Nuclear Society.
Such leaks “happen every so often” in China and plants “usually can handle it themselves,” Luk said. But he said this incident might be complicated if the Taishan plant uses US technology that is covered by export restrictions.
China’s state-owned nuclear power companies are on Washington’s “entity list” that bars them from obtaining US technology without government approval.
The French partner might ask for permission because Framatome previously licensed technology from Westinghouse, Luk said.
“With the situation now, that becomes difficult,” he said. “For even a small problem, they need US government approval.”
China has 50 operable reactors and is building 18 more, according to the World Nuclear Association, an industry group. It is largely self-sufficient in reactor design and construction but is “making full use of Western technology while adapting and improving it,” the association says on its website.
China has constructed reactors based on French, US, Russian and Canadian technology and has developed its own Hualong One reactor, based on Westinghouse technology, marketing it abroad since 2015.
Hong Kong gets as much as one-third of its power from the Daya Bay nuclear power plant east of the territory in Guangdong.
Luk, who has worked with Chinese nuclear power plant operators, said he asked the company for information about the leak but managers won’t talk about it.
“I suspect the leakage is far more widespread than just a single assembly,” he said. “Because of that, they probably need some special technology to resolve this leakage problem.”
Previously, the Taishan facility leaked a “small amount” of radioactive gas on April 9, the National Nuclear Safety Administration said on its website. It said the event was “Level 0,” or “without safety significance.”
Zhao, the foreign ministry spokesman, defended China’s nuclear safety record and said the nuclear agency works with regulators in other countries and the IAEA.
“China’s nuclear power plants have maintained a good record in operation and no incidents affecting the environment or public health have occurred,” Zhao said.


UN looking for ways to reduce global digital divide

Maria-Francesca Spatolisano officer-in-charge, office of the UN Secretary-General’s envoy on technology. (Supplied)
Maria-Francesca Spatolisano officer-in-charge, office of the UN Secretary-General’s envoy on technology. (Supplied)
Updated 23 September 2021

UN looking for ways to reduce global digital divide

Maria-Francesca Spatolisano officer-in-charge, office of the UN Secretary-General’s envoy on technology. (Supplied)
  • Inability for all to work and study online will result in further marginalization of the most vulnerable sections of the population
  • Digital Cooperation Organization is working towards achieving ‘digital prosperity for all’ and was welcomed by the UN on Thursday

NEW YORK: “Inclusivity” is a buzzword this year at the UN General Assembly as it convenes on the third day of its 76th session. Unless “including” women, children, and the most vulnerable in all aspects of sustainable development, the world’s multi-faceted crises will continue to rage.

Inclusivity is of paramount importance also when it comes to the digital divide in the world between rich nations and developing ones.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, underscoring the growing importance of the digital economy to humanity’s future, has stressed the need for everyone to be able to work and study online. Lack of such ability will result in further marginalization of the most vulnerable sections of the population: women, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Guterres’s roadmap calls for every adult to have internet access by 2030.

“Shaping an Inclusive Digital Age,” was the subject of discussion at a high-level event convened by the Digital Cooperation Organization, a recently-established global organization working towards achieving “digital prosperity for all.” DCO works with governments, the private sector, international and non-governmental organizations, and civil society in pushing for an inclusive digital transformation and growth of the digital industries.

The seven-member body includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Oman, and Pakistan. It accounts for a population of 480 million, 80 percent of which are under the age of 35. It said it is open to any new member that shares the same goals of “empowering youth, women, and entrepreneurs and leapfrogging the digital transformation.”  

Thursday’s event highlighted DCO’s efforts in bringing together all the various stakeholders to “spur digital economic growth across member states, advance DCO members’ digital transformation, and address challenges related to a growing digital divide within and between countries.”

Representing the UN technology envoy office, assistant secretary-general Maria-Francesca Spatolisano encouraged multi-stakeholder cooperation between wealthy and developing countries. She said DCO’s goals can help push forward the UN’s roadmap and are in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2015, the UN General Assembly set forth 17 SDGs designed to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. The SDGs were intended to be achieved by the year 2030.

“I welcome the Digital Cooperation Organization’s efforts to create an inclusive digital future for all, and efforts by member states Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia to prioritize the digital economy in their countries’ agendas,” Spatolisano said.

Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Alswaha, a DCO chairperson, underscored the growing polarization resulting from digital exclusion, such as seen in the access to venture capital. Stressing that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the digital economy can be a catalyst for growth, he pointed to the 34 percent rate of female digital participation.  

Helping shape the international debate around digital transformation, ministers for communication and technology from DCO’s membership, as well as Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN, Abdullah Al-Mouallimi, shared expert insight on ways to address the key challenge of the digital economy.    

“The borderless nature of the internet means that global collaboration is not an abstract idea, but rather a practical reality,” DCO Secretary-General Deemah Al-Yahya said.

“While the digital economy is seeing exponential growth clustered within specific geographies and industries, we need to ensure that the digital divide does not widen as the digital economy progresses.” 

She said the DCO has brought together countries representing 480 million people, 270 million of which are under the age of 25, and $2 trillion in combined GDP, in order to focus efforts on digital economic inclusion and bridge the digital divide.

“Our inclusive approach extends to creating impactful partnerships with the private sector to grow the digital economy,” Al-Yahya said. “Our member states comprise 6,300 digital and innovative start-ups and 46 million small and medium enterprises, meaning that public-private partnerships are essential to creating digital prosperity for all of our members.

“The DCO’s vision is aligned with the UN secretary-general’s roadmap for digital cooperation in advancing digital prosperity for all. If we are to ensure that digital technology offers a net benefit to society, we must take a proactive and inclusive approach. We must drive the global digital agenda. We call on every nation who shares these aspirations to join the DCO.”


A Pakistani artist’s lifetime spent creating medallion portraits of Saudi leaders

A Pakistani artist’s lifetime spent creating medallion portraits of Saudi leaders
Updated 23 September 2021

A Pakistani artist’s lifetime spent creating medallion portraits of Saudi leaders

A Pakistani artist’s lifetime spent creating medallion portraits of Saudi leaders
  • Khalil Najmi, a medallion portrait artist from Karachi, has created several images of Saudi leaders

KARACHI: Khalil Najmi was glued to the screen of his black and white television set when new channels broadcast King Faisal bin Abdulaziz’s attendance at the Islamic Summit in Pakistan in February 1974.
Mesmerized by the charismatic Saudi leader, Najmi, then a teenager, sketched the king’s portrait and started to learn more about the Kingdom and its royal family. His interest continued, leading to new work on medallion portraits of Saudi leaders.
“My father was in the Merchant Navy and brought me a portrait of King Faisal,” Najmi told Arab News. “I was deeply moved by the inscription under the image that labeled him as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.”
Najmi had an artistic flare since childhood and would engrave images on chalks and erasers during his school days. But King Faisal’s appearance during the summit held in Pakistan’s Lahore was a “turning point” in his life, he said, as it made him realize he wanted to create portraits of high-profile leaders.
The decision to focus on medallion portraits came from a meeting with a blind man in Karachi who told the artist he had wanted to see what Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah looked like.
“I put his hands on my medallion portrait of Jinnah and he gently ran his fingers on it as if he was trying to create the image in his mind,” Najmi said. “After a while, this man started crying uncontrollably and repeatedly thanked me for helping him feel what Jinnah must have looked like.”
The nature of his job required years of dedication, concentration and hard work.
“I began my work on the current set of portraits in 2016 and completed nine of them, which include three sets in three different mediums,” he said. “In 2016, I completed the portraits of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
Najmi’s work also includes portraits of UAE leaders Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, and Sultan Qaboos of Oman.
“One of my hand-carved portraits of Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa was acquired by the office of Pakistani Army Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and was presented to the Middle Eastern leader in January this year,” he said.
But his ultimate dream is to present the portraits of Saudi leaders to the Kingdom’s crown prince, Najmi said.
“I hope he can graciously grant me the honor to personally present them to him as a souvenir,” Najmi said. “I have produced these portraits with great love for the Saudi royal family.”


Indian women set sights on new military roles as court opens top ranks to female soldiers

Indian women set sights on new military roles as court opens top ranks to female soldiers
Updated 23 September 2021

Indian women set sights on new military roles as court opens top ranks to female soldiers

Indian women set sights on new military roles as court opens top ranks to female soldiers
  • From November, women will be allowed to take the NDA entrance exam straight out of high school, like men, and aspire to senior positions.

NEW DELHI: Women in India have welcomed the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on Wednesday that will make it easier for females to join the military from November — a significant development in a country where gender inequality remains a major social concern.
India ranked 140th of 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, slipping 28 places in a year due in large part to its declining percentage of women in professional and technical roles.
Only a tiny fraction of India’s 1.4 million-strong army are women, who have only previously been able to join the country’s armed forces if they have a college degree. This meant that they were already over the age limit to enroll in India’s National Defense Academy, from which the majority of the military’s high-ranking officers graduate.
However, from November, women will be allowed to take the NDA entrance exam straight out of high school, like men, and aspire to senior positions.
“This ruling is very encouraging for a society that discriminates against women from birth,” Jagmati Sangwan, a Haryana-based activist known for campaigning against female feticide, told Arab News on Thursday. “The Supreme Court’s decision will help improve the mindset of the people.”
Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, told Arab News that the court’s decision was “a welcome ruling” as “no spaces should be barred to any gender.”
Dr. Ranjana Kumar, president of the New Delhi-based Center for Social Research, an NGO supporting female empowerment, said: “Access has to be equal. If a woman wants to join the armed forces, she must be allowed to (take the) exams. You cannot deny the right to join any service or any job on the basis of (gender).”
She added that she expects the ruling to “encourage many women to come forward.”
“When police forces opened their doors for women, many women joined,” she said. “Day by day, women’s participation in police forces has increased.”
Women have served in India’s security forces since British colonial rule, mainly as nurses and peacekeepers. In recent years, their roles have expanded. India’s oldest paramilitary force, the Assam Rifles, started inducting women in 2016, and the army police followed suit in 2019.
But without NDA training, opportunities for women remain limited, especially when it comes to the higher ranks. So the upcoming admission of women to the defense academy is seen as a new beginning by women such as 18-year-old girl scout Yashika Singh from New Delhi, who hopes to become an officer in the future.
“The way has been cleared for women to join the NDA,” Singh said. “I will really make an attempt to join the armed forces. This is challenging, but cool.”
However, the court’s decision has also met with resistance in military circles.
Retired Lt. Gen. PG Kamath of Mission Victory India — a think tank whose members are active and former military officers — suggested women lacked the physical ability to become army officers.

Related


Blinken, Egypt’s FM hold talks in New York

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UNGA. (AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UNGA. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2021

Blinken, Egypt’s FM hold talks in New York

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UNGA. (AFP)
  • According to the US State Department, they discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed bilateral relations as well as regional and international issues of common interest. 

The meeting took place in New York, where Shoukry is attending the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

His spokesman Ahmed Hafez said the meeting with Blinken covered the most prominent political, security and economic aspects of bilateral relations, as well as ways to strengthen cooperation in various important fields. Both sides agreed on the need to overcome any obstacles that might hinder bilateral relations.

According to the US State Department, they also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, diplomatic efforts on Libya and the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, an organization set up by various Middle Eastern and European countries. 


US fallout over Kabul drone strike grows with plans for multiple probes

US fallout over Kabul drone strike grows with plans for multiple probes
Updated 23 September 2021

US fallout over Kabul drone strike grows with plans for multiple probes

US fallout over Kabul drone strike grows with plans for multiple probes
  • "This is an issue that several committees are going to look at, and we've already started to do that," Representative Adam Schiff told reporters
  • The US military apologized on Friday for the Aug. 29 drone strike in Kabul that killed as many as 10 civilians

WASHINGTON: A senior US Democrat said on Thursday that multiple congressional committees will investigate a drone strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians last month, to determine what went wrong and answer questions about future counterterrorism strategy.
“This is an issue that several committees are going to look at, and we’ve already started to do that,” Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, told reporters.
The US military apologized on Friday for the Aug. 29 drone strike in Kabul that killed as many as 10 civilians, including seven children, calling it a “tragic mistake.”
The Pentagon had said the strike targeted a Daesh suicide bomber who posed an imminent threat to US-led troops as they completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The intelligence failure raised hard questions about future risks, particularly whether the United States can keep track of threats from Afghanistan without a presence in the country.
“Particularly as we are going to be moving to an over-the-horizon strategy, we need to understand exactly what went wrong and what that means in terms of the limits of what we are able to do,” Schiff told a meeting with journalists sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
“Over-the-horizon” refers to counterterrorism efforts from outside Afghanistan, such as drone strikes from bases located 1,000 miles from their targets.
The confirmation of civilian deaths provided further fuel to critics of the chaotic US withdrawal, which generated the biggest foreign policy crisis yet for President Joe Biden’s administration.
Many of Biden’s fellow Democrats, as well as Republicans, have criticized the conduct of the withdrawal. Congressional committees have scheduled hearings with top administration officials.
Schiff said he backed the withdrawal. “We can’t occupy everywhere,” he said. “Today there is a greater risk in other parts of the world than there is in Afghanistan.”