North Korea appears to have resumed nuclear reactor operation – UN atomic agency

North Korea appears to have resumed nuclear reactor operation – UN atomic agency
Above, North Korea’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon which produces plutonium, one of the two key ingredients used to build nuclear weapons. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
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Updated 30 August 2021

North Korea appears to have resumed nuclear reactor operation – UN atomic agency

North Korea appears to have resumed nuclear reactor operation – UN atomic agency
  • North’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, produces plutonium
  • The IAEA has not had access to Yongbyon or other locations in North Korea since 2009

SEOUL: North Korea appears to have restarted the operation of its main nuclear reactor used to produce weapons fuels, the UN atomic agency said, as the North openly threatens to enlarge its nuclear arsenal amid long-dormant nuclear diplomacy with the United States.
The annual report by the International Atomic Energy Agency refers to a 5-megawatt reactor at the North’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang. The reactor produces plutonium, one of the two key ingredients used to build nuclear weapons along with highly enriched uranium.
“Since early July 2021, there have been indications, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor,” said the IAEA report dated Friday.
The report said there were indications of the operation of Yongbyon’s radiochemical laboratory from mid-February to early July this year. It said this period of operation is consistent with previous reprocessing campaigns announced by North Korea of irradiated fuel discharged from the reactor. The laboratory is a facility where plutonium is extracted by reprocessing spent fuel rods removed from reactors.
“(North Korea’s) nuclear activities continue to be a cause for serious concern. Furthermore, the new indications of the operation of the 5-megawatt reactor and the radiochemical laboratory are deeply troubling,” the IAEA said.
The IAEA has not had access to Yongbyon or other locations in North Korea since the country kicked out IAEA inspectors in 2009. The agency said it uses satellite imagery and open-source information to monitor developments in North Korea’s nuclear program.
The Yongbyon complex also produces highly enriched uranium, the other key nuclear fuel. The IAEA report said “there were indications, for a period of time, that the reported centrifuge enrichment facility was not in operation” though regular vehicular movements were observed.
The complex, which North Korea calls “the heart” of its nuclear program and research, has been at the center of international concerns for decades. It’s not clear exactly how much weapons-grade plutonium or highly enriched uranium has been produced at Yongbyon and where North Korea stores it.
In early 2019, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offered to dismantle the entire complex if he won extensive sanctions relief during a summit with then-President Donald Trump. But the Americans rejected Kim’s offer because it would only be a partial surrender of his nuclear capability.
North Korea is believed to be running multiple other covet uranium enrichment facilities. According to a South Korean estimate in 2018, North Korea might already have manufactured 20-60 nuclear weapons as well.
In recent months, North Korea has warned it would expand its nuclear program if the United States doesn’t withdraw its “hostile” policy on the North, in an apparent reference to US-led sanctions and regular US-South Korean military drills. Earlier this month, Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, said North Korea would bolster “absolute deterrence” to cope with intensifying US threats.
Lee Jong-joo, spokesperson of South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said Monday that South Korea was closely monitoring North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities along with the United States. But she declined to comment on whether Seoul was seeing signs that the North was reactivating its nuclear facilities.


Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus
Updated 6 sec ago

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus
  • India has fully vaccinated 51 percent of its 944 million adults and given at least one dose to 85 percent
  • Most other cases have been in people who have recently come from abroad
NEW DELHI: Cases of the omicron coronavirus variant have risen to 21 in India over the weekend and people must step up for vaccination, officials said on Monday.
The western state of Rajasthan reported the most number of omicron cases with nine, followed by eight in Maharashtra, two in Karnataka and one each in Gujarat and the capital New Delhi.
“The people of Delhi must get fully vaccinated, wear a mask and maintain social distancing,” its health minister Satyendar Jain said on Twitter.
He said the city’s first omicron patient was being treated at a state-run hospital. Some 94 percent of its adults had received at lease one dose, he added.
The country has fully vaccinated 51 percent of its 944 million adults and given at least one dose to 85 percent. Tens of millions of people, however, are overdue for their second dose despite ample vaccine supplies, government data shows.
India reported its first two omicron cases in the southern state of Karnataka on Thursday, in one person with no recent travel history.
Most other cases have been in people who have recently come from abroad, but doctors said the mutated virus was already spreading in the local population as well.
“omicron is here, community spread is underway,” surgeon Arvinder Singh Soin, who has been treating COVID-19 patients, said on Twitter. “Mask up. Get FULLY vaccinated.”
India reported 8,895 new COVID-19 cases for the past 24 hours, taking the total to 34.64 million. Deaths rose by 211 to 473,537.
Since a record surge in infections and deaths in April and May due to the Delta variant, new cases have hovered around 10,000 in the past few weeks.

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15
Updated 06 December 2021

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15
  • Mount Semeru spewed thick columns of ash as high as 12,000 meters into the sky in a sudden eruption triggered by heavy rain

SUMBERWULUH, Indonesia: Rescuers dug out the body of 13-year-old boy with their bare hands on Monday, as improved weather conditions allowed them to resume their search after the highest volcano on Indonesia’s Java island erupted with fury, killing at least 15 people with searing gas and ash and leaving 27 others missing.
Mount Semeru in Lumajang district in East Java province spewed thick columns of ash as high as 12,000 meters into the sky in a sudden eruption Saturday triggered by heavy rain. Villages and nearby towns were blanketed by tons of volcanic debris.
Searing gas raced down the sides of the mountain, smothering entire villages and killing or seriously burning those caught in its path.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari said 56 people had been hospitalized, mostly with burns. He said rescuers were still searching for 27 villagers reported missing. Nearly 3,000 houses and 38 schools were damaged, Muhari said.
The body of the 13-year-old boy was recovered in the worst-hit village of Sumberwuluh, where houses were buried to their rooftops and cars were submerged. Crumpled roofs, charred carcasses of cattle and broken chairs covered in gray ash and soot dotted the smoldering landscape.
Search and rescue efforts were temporarily suspended Sunday afternoon because of fears that heavy rain would cause more hot ash and debris to fall from the crater.
The eruption of the 3,676-meter-high mountain eased pressure that had been building under a lava dome in the crater. But experts warned that the dome could further collapse, causing an avalanche of blistering gas and debris trapped beneath it.
More than 1,700 villagers escaped to makeshift emergency shelters after Saturday’s powerful eruption, but many others defied official warnings and chose to remain in their homes to tend their livestock and protect their property.
Semeru, also known as Mahameru, has erupted many times in the last 200 years. Still, as on many of the 129 volcanoes monitored in Indonesia, tens of thousands of people live on its fertile slopes. It last erupted in January, with no casualties.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines.


Next pandemic could be more lethal than COVID-19, Oxford vaccine creator says

Next pandemic could be more lethal than COVID-19, Oxford vaccine creator says
Updated 28 min 49 sec ago

Next pandemic could be more lethal than COVID-19, Oxford vaccine creator says

Next pandemic could be more lethal than COVID-19, Oxford vaccine creator says

LONDON: Future pandemics could be even more lethal than COVID-19 so the lessons learned from the outbreak must not be squandered and the world should ensure it is prepared for the next viral onslaught, one of the creators of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine said.
The novel coronavirus has killed 5.26 million people across the world, according to Johns Hopkins University, wiped out trillions of dollars in economic output and turned life upside down for billions of people.
"The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both," Sarah Gilbert said in the Richard Dimbleby Lecture, the BBC reported. "This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods."
Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said the world should make sure it is better prepared for the next virus.
"The advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost," she said.
Efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic have been uneven and fragmented, marked by limited access to vaccines in low-income countries while the "healthy and wealthy" in rich countries get boosters, health experts say.
A panel of health experts set up by the World Health Organisation to review the handling of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has called for permanent funding and for greater ability to investigate pandemics through a new treaty.
One proposal was for new financing of at least $10 billion a year for pandemic preparedness.
The COVID-19 outbreak was first detected in China in late 2019. Vaccines were developed against the virus in record time.
Gilbert said the omicron variant's spike protein contained mutations known to increase the transmissibility of the virus.
"There are additional changes that may mean antibodies induced by the vaccines, or by infection with other variants, may be less effective at preventing infection with omicron," Gilbert said.
"Until we know more, we should be cautious, and take steps to slow down the spread of this new variant." 


Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi jailed for four years: Junta spokesman

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi jailed for four years: Junta spokesman
Updated 06 December 2021

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi jailed for four years: Junta spokesman

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi jailed for four years: Junta spokesman
  • For inciting dissent against the military and breaching COVID-19 rules
  • Former president Win Myint was also jailed for four years under the same charges

YANGON: A Myanmar court on Monday jailed ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi for four years for inciting dissent against the military and breaching COVID-19 rules, a spokesman for the ruling junta SAID.
Suu Kyi “was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment under section 505(b) and two years’ imprisonment under natural disaster law,” junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said.
Former president Win Myint was also jailed for four years under the same charges, he said, adding that they would not yet be taken to prison.
“They will face other charges from the places where they are staying now” in the capital Naypyidaw, he added, without giving further details.
The 76-year-old Suu Kyi has been detained since the generals ousted her government in the early hours of February 1, ending Myanmar’s brief democratic interlude.
The junta has since added a slew of other indictments, including violating the official secrets act, corruption and electoral fraud. The Nobel laureate faces decades in jail if convicted on all counts.
Journalists have been barred from proceedings in the special court in the military-built capital, and Suu Kyi’s lawyers were recently banned from speaking to the media.
More than 1,300 people have been killed and over 10,000 arrested in a crackdown on dissent since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.


Norwegian Cruise ship detects one probable case of omicron variant

Norwegian Cruise ship detects one probable case of omicron variant
Updated 06 December 2021

Norwegian Cruise ship detects one probable case of omicron variant

Norwegian Cruise ship detects one probable case of omicron variant
  • The probable case was found among 10 people who tested positive for the virus on Saturday

A probable case of the omicron variant has been identified in a crew member of a Norwegian Cruise ship that reached New Orleans on Sunday after detecting COVID-19 among some crew and guests, the Louisiana Department of Health said.
The probable case was found among 10 people who tested positive for the virus on Saturday, the health agency said in a tweet on Sunday.
Another seven cases have since been reported, it added, taking the total number of cases among passengers and crew of Norwegian Breakaway, a cruise ship owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. , to 17.
“At this time, there have been no changes to scheduled future sailings on Norwegian Breakaway,” a spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line said in a statement to Reuters.
The cruise ship departed New Orleans on a week-long cruise on Nov. 28 and had stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico, the health agency said.
“NCL has been adhering to appropriate quarantine and isolation protocols,” the department said in an earlier tweet.