US as many as 15 years behind China on nuclear power, report says

US as many as 15 years behind China on nuclear power, report says
China has been developing and financing high-tech nuclear technology to power its huge economy. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2024
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US as many as 15 years behind China on nuclear power, report says

US as many as 15 years behind China on nuclear power, report says
  • China has 27 nuclear reactors under construction with average construction timelines of about seven years
  • A high-tech plant that had been planned to be built at a US lab was canceled last year

WASHINGTON: The US is as many as 15 years behind China on developing high-tech nuclear power as Beijing’s state-backed technology approach and extensive financing give it the edge, a report said on Monday.
China has 27 nuclear reactors under construction with average construction timelines of about seven years, far faster than other countries, said the study by Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute.
“China’s rapid deployment of ever-more modern nuclear power plants over time produces significant scale economies and learning-by-doing effects, and this suggests that Chinese enterprises will gain an advantage at incremental innovation in this sector going forward,” the report said.
The US has the world’s largest fleet of nuclear power plants and President Joe Biden’s administration considers the virtually emissions-free electricity source to be critical in curbing climate change.
But after two large plants in Georgia came online in 2023 and 2024 billions of dollars over budget and delayed by years, no US nuclear reactors are being built. A high-tech plant that had been planned to be built at a US lab was canceled last year.
China’s state-owned banks can offer loans as low as 1.4 percent, far lower than available in Western economies. Its nuclear power industry has benefited from sustained state support and localization strategies that has allowed China to dominate sectors like renewable power and EVs.
The world’s first so-called fourth-generation high-temperature gas cooled reactor at Shidao Bay came online last December. The China Nuclear Energy Association claims that the project involved the development of more than 2,200 sets of “world-first equipment” with a total localization rate of domestically produced materials of 93.4 percent.
Backers of high-tech reactors say they are safer and more efficient than current plants. Critics say some new reactors introduce proliferation and material risks.
It has not all been smooth sailing for China. The China Nuclear Energy Association has warned that there was a severe glut in nuclear component production, and “excessive competition” was driving down prices and causing losses.
Stephen Ezell, the report’s author, said if the US is serious about nuclear it should develop a robust national strategy involving more investment in research and development, identifying and accelerating promising technologies, and supporting development of a skilled workforce.
“While America is behind, it can certainly catch up technologically,” said Ezell.
The US Department of Energy did not comment on the report.


India plans to ease rice export curbs to retain market share against Pakistan

India plans to ease rice export curbs to retain market share against Pakistan
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India plans to ease rice export curbs to retain market share against Pakistan

India plans to ease rice export curbs to retain market share against Pakistan
  • Authorities in India imposed rice export curbs in 2023 in an effort to keep local prices in check
  • Rice exporters say supplies have exceeded local demand, seek overseas sales to prevent spoilage

NEW DELHI: India is likely to cut the floor price for basmati rice exports and replace the 20 percent export tax on parboiled rice with a fixed duty on overseas shipments, government sources said, as rice inventories in the country jumped a record high.
The world’s biggest rice exporter imposed various curbs on exports in 2023 and continued them in 2024 in an effort to keep local prices in check ahead of the general elections held in April-May.
New Delhi is expected to lower the basmati rice’s minimum export price (MEP) to $800-$850 a metric ton, down from $950 a ton, to boost shipments, said the sources, who didn’t wish to be identified as they are not authorized to talk to media.
Lowering the MEP would help India retain its market share against Pakistan, which exported a record amount of rice this year due to New Delhi’s export curbs.
India and Pakistan are the leading exporters of basmati rice. New Delhi exports more than 4 million metric tons of basmati – the premium long-grain variety famed for its aroma – to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
New Delhi is also expected to drop the 20 percent export tax on parboiled rice and introduce a minimum export tax to stop under-invoicing of shipments, the sources said.
The government was examining possibilities of easing rice export curb, including resuming white rice exports, Reuters reported last month.
Worried over expectations of lower output due to the El Nino weather pattern, India banned overseas shipments of non-basmati white rice varieties in July 2023 and imposed curbs on other grades.
“With rice supplies significantly exceeding local demand, it’s crucial to reduce stockpiles to prevent spoilage. The most effective solution is to lift export restrictions,” said B.V. Krishna Rao, president of the Rice Exporters Association (REA).
The country’s rice stocks at state warehouses have jumped to 48.51 million metric tons as of July 1, the highest ever for the month and nearly 19 percent more than last year, according to the Food Corporation of India.
New Delhi would also review the export ban on non-basmati white rice after assessing the progress of rice planting, the sources said.
Farmers have so far planted 11.6 million hectares with rice paddy during the current planting, up 20.7 percent on the same period last year.


Death inevitable, says preacher at center of Indian stampede disaster

Death inevitable, says preacher at center of Indian stampede disaster
Updated 18 July 2024
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Death inevitable, says preacher at center of Indian stampede disaster

Death inevitable, says preacher at center of Indian stampede disaster
  • Bhole Baba: ‘I am very distressed by what happened, but who can possibly challenge fate?’
  • Police constable-turned-preacher spoke to local media at one of his monasteries in Kasganj

NEW DELHI: An Indian preacher whose latest sermon ended in a deadly stampede that killed more than 120 people insisted that fate could not be challenged and death was inevitable.
In his first appearance before the media since July 2, when 121 people were crushed to death following a sermon he delivered in the northern city of Hathras, Bhole Baba said he was upset by the tragedy.
“I am very distressed by what happened, but who can possibly challenge fate?” he said.
“Whoever comes to this earth has to go one day — it is only a matter of when.”
The police constable-turned-preacher spoke to local media Wednesday at one of his monasteries in Kasganj, around 60 kilometers from the stampede site.
Baba’s lawyer had earlier said “anti-social elements” in the crowd were responsible.
The prayer meeting was attended by 250,000 devotees, more than three times the authorized number. The vast majority of fatalities were women.
A police report issued after the stampede named several organizers of the prayer meeting sought for arrest, but Baba was not among them.
So far 11 volunteers working for him have been arrested.
Religious gatherings in India have a grim track record of deadly incidents caused by poor crowd management and safety lapses.
In 2008, 224 pilgrims were killed and more than 400 injured in a stampede at a hilltop temple in the northern city of Jodhpur.


Top Democrats increase pressure on Biden to step aside, US media reports

Top Democrats increase pressure on Biden to step aside, US media reports
Updated 18 July 2024
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Top Democrats increase pressure on Biden to step aside, US media reports

Top Democrats increase pressure on Biden to step aside, US media reports
  • US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi among voices of dissent
  • Joe Biden has repeatedly rejected calls from Democrats to drop out of the presidential race

WASHINGTON: Top Democrats including US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have increased pressure on President Joe Biden to withdraw from his reelection campaign over concerns he cannot defeat Republican challenger Donald Trump, US media reported on Wednesday.
Schumer told Biden in a meeting on Saturday it would be better for the country and the Democratic Party if he ended his reelection campaign, ABC News reported.
US House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries has expressed similar views directly to Biden, ABC News reported, citing a source familiar with the conversation.
CNN reported on Wednesday that Pelosi, too, has told Biden polling shows he cannot defeat Trump and that the president could destroy the Democrats’ chances of winning back control of the House of Representatives.
Pelosi spoke to Biden in a recent telephone call, CNN reported, citing four sources briefed on the call. None of the sources indicated Pelosi told Biden he should leave the race, CNN said.
Biden responded by telling Pelosi he has seen polling indicating he can win, according to one CNN source.
A Pelosi spokesperson told CNN that Pelosi has not spoken to Biden since Friday.
Earlier on Wednesday, Democratic US Representative Adam Schiff became the 20th congressional Democrat to publicly call for Biden to drop out of the race.
Schumer’s office responded to the report about his meeting with the president with a statement calling it “idle speculation” and said Schumer “conveyed the views of his caucus directly to President Biden on Saturday.”
Jeffries’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
Biden has repeatedly rejected calls from Democrats to drop out of the race after his halting performance in a debate last month against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“The President told both leaders he is the nominee of the party, he plans to win, and looks forward to working with both of them to pass his 100 days agenda to help working families,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.


Malaysia’s 99-year-old ex-PM Mahathir in hospital: aide

Malaysia’s 99-year-old ex-PM Mahathir in hospital: aide
Updated 18 July 2024
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Malaysia’s 99-year-old ex-PM Mahathir in hospital: aide

Malaysia’s 99-year-old ex-PM Mahathir in hospital: aide
  • A two-time former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad turned 99 last week
  • He has suffered several heart problems in recent years and underwent bypass surgeries

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s nearly 100-year-old former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has been hospitalized for “continuous coughing,” his aide said Thursday.
“Mahathir is expected to be treated for the next few days,” Sufi Yusoff said, adding he had been admitted on Monday.
A two-time former prime minister, Mahathir turned 99 last week.
He has suffered several heart problems in recent years and underwent bypass surgeries.
He spent nearly three months in hospital earlier this year.
Born on July 10, 1925, Mahathir served as prime minister twice, first taking office as the country’s fourth national leader from 1981 until 2003.
He then served as prime minister for a second time at the age of 92 from 2018 to 2020.


Trump gunman Thomas Crooks leaves behind pile of mysteries

Trump gunman Thomas Crooks leaves behind pile of mysteries
Updated 18 July 2024
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Trump gunman Thomas Crooks leaves behind pile of mysteries

Trump gunman Thomas Crooks leaves behind pile of mysteries
  • An FBI review of Crooks’ phone found he had searched for images of both President Joe Biden and Trump, and other famous figures in the days before the shooting, New York Times reports

BUTLER, Pennsylvania: Thomas Crooks was pacing next to a warehouse building outside the Butler Farm Show grounds as a crowd gathered for one of former President Donald Trump’s signature outdoor rallies.
Crooks had already been flagged as suspicious by law enforcement. By the time two police officers walked over to check him out, he was on the roof, belly crawling.
“He’s got a gun,” a bystander yelled.
One officer hoisted the other to the lip of the roof. As the officer pulled his head over the edge, a long-haired young man wearing glasses turned toward him, wielding an AR-15 -style rifle. The officer dropped back to the ground, the Butler County sheriff told Reuters.
Crooks, an introverted 20-year-old computer whiz who had just earned a spot at a college engineering program, turned back to his target about 400 feet away. He squeezed off several shots at Trump, clipping the former president’s ear, killing an audience member and wounding two others before Secret Service snipers on a nearby building killed him with counterfire.
This account of the first assassination attempt to injure a US president since 1981 is based on interviews with more than two dozen people, including law enforcement officials, Crooks’ school associates and witnesses who attended the rally, along with public records and news accounts.
Crooks fired his rifle at approximately 6:10 pm, according to a Reuters photographer at the rally. Trump winced and grabbed his right ear. Secret Service agents tackled the former president and some supporters dived for cover. A bullet hit what appeared to be the hydraulic line of a forklift that held a bank of speakers to the right side of the stage. Fluid spewed across the crowd and the lift’s arm collapsed. To the left, screams erupted where a spectator had been fatally shot.

As Secret Service agents tackled the former president, some supporters scrambled for safety. Others grabbed children and hustled toward the gates.
“The audience wasn’t like what you’d expect out of a crowd that just experienced something like this,” said Saurabh Sharma, a Trump supporter sitting near the front. “Everyone was really quiet. There were a few women crying. They were, you know, saying, ‘I can’t believe they tried to kill him’.”
Four days after the assassination attempt, a coherent picture of the moments before the shooting was emerging. But Crooks’ ideology and reasons for pulling the trigger remained a mystery.
A review of Crooks’ phone by the Federal Bureau of Investigation found he had searched for images of both President Joe Biden and Trump, as well as other famous figures, in the days before the shooting, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing US lawmakers briefed on the law enforcement investigation.
Crooks had been searching for the dates of Trump’s public appearances and of the Democratic National Convention, the report said. He had also looked up “major depressive disorder” on his phone, the Times said. Reuters was unable to independently confirm the report.
The shooting comes amid a years-long rise of political violence and threats in the US When that violence turns deadly, it has been more likely to be perpetrated by people on the American right, according to a Reuters analysis published last year. But the ideological motivation behind Saturday’s attack remains unclear.

Politically divided town

Crooks seemed to have a bright future, said two people who knew him at the Community College of Allegheny County, where he graduated in May with a two-year associate’s degree in engineering.
One college instructor told Reuters that she had gone back through his assignments this week, bewildered that the conscientious student who distinguished himself by going “above and beyond” could have turned murderous.
The instructor, who declined to be identified, said his homework responses were thoughtful and his emails polite. He excelled at an assignment to redesign a toy for people with disabilities. “He did a chess set for the blind. He 3D-printed it. He put the Braille on it. He talked to experts in the field,” she recalled. “He really took a lot of care.”
Crooks made less of an impression on classmates. Samuel Strotman, also enrolled in CCAC’s engineering program, took two online classes with Crooks. Strotman said Crooks never spoke in the lectures and had his camera turned off.
A college employee who knew Crooks said he was quiet but pleasant. “It’s just very, very, very unexpected,” the employee said. Crooks had seemed interested in pursuing a career in mechanical engineering, the employee said.
The college closed its engineering program on June 30. Crooks was planning to continue his engineering education at nearby Robert Morris University, that school confirmed.
Most recently, he worked as a dietary aide at a nursing home, where he “performed his job without concern,” the center said. The job was down the street from his home in Bethel Park, a middle-class suburb of Pittsburgh, where he had lived in a modest brick home with his parents and older sister.
At Bethel Park High School, where he graduated in 2022, he kept a low profile, according to classmates. One former classmate told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Crooks expressed conservative views in a history class where other students leaned liberal. Others said his views were never apparent. His photo was missing in his senior yearbook, with his name listed under “not pictured.” He enjoyed gaming and building computers, a classmate told Reuters.
Crooks’ town, Bethel Park, is divided almost down America’s political middle. In the 2020 election, Trump eked out a 65-vote margin in the borough of about 33,000 people, results show.
The political split showed up in the Crooks household. Thomas was a registered Republican. His father is a Libertarian and his mother is a Democrat, voter registration records show. Both are social workers. When Crooks was 17, he made a $15 donation to a political action committee earmarked for a Democratic turnout group, according to federal election data.
His school counselor Jim Knapp, who retired in 2022, said Crooks rarely came across his radar because he wasn’t a “needy type kid.” Knapp occasionally checked on him at lunch because he was sitting alone. “I’d say, ‘Do you want to sit with somebody?’ And he’d say, ‘No, I’m okay by myself,’” Knapp recalled.
Former high-school classmate Max Rich said Crooks was shy and “never seemed like the type” to commit such violence. He left virtually no digital footprint. He spent time on Discord, a gaming platform, but the company said it found “no evidence that it was used to plan this incident, promote violence, or discuss his political views.”
Crooks was a member of the local Clairton Sportsmen’s Club, a gun club. He was wearing a shirt advertising “Demolition Ranch,” a YouTube channel for firearms enthusiasts, when he was killed. After the shooting, Matt Carriker, a Texas veterinarian who runs the Demolition Ranch channel, posted a video on X saying he was “shocked and confused” to learn that Crooks was wearing his channel’s merchandise. “We keep politics out of it,” he said, adding that he did not know and had never met or communicated with Crooks.

Homemade bombs & ammunition

Crooks appeared to spend at least some time preparing for the Trump event. He bought ammunition on the day of the rally, stopping at a gun store in his hometown of Bethel Park to pick up 50 rounds, according to a joint bulletin issued this week by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is leading the investigation.
He built three homemade bombs – two found in his car and another in his home, according to the bulletin, which was reviewed by Reuters. In the preceding months, the bulletin noted, Crooks had received “multiple packages, including some marked as possibly containing hazardous material.”

An Allegheny County Police Department Bomb Squad vehicle makes its way to the home of assassination suspect Thomas Matthew Crooks on July 14, 2024. Police said three homemade bombs were found – two in his car and another in his home. (Reuters)

At the rally, Crooks caught the attention of local law enforcement while pacing around the grounds before Trump took the stage. One officer called in a report of a suspicious person and snapped a photo that was distributed electronically to other officers at the scene, according to Butler County Sheriff Michael Slupe, a Trump backer who was seated near the front of the rally as a special guest.
As two Butler Township Police officers responded to the call, people in the crowd already had noticed a man on the roof. Some yelled that he had a gun, according to crowd-shot video reviewed by Reuters. Slupe told Reuters the officer who initially pulled himself onto the roof had no time to unholster his gun when Crooks turned on him, leaving him no option but to drop back to the ground.
Secret Service officials have said their agency is responsible for securing the area within the event’s security perimeter; the building used by Crooks was just outside it. But some former agency officials and other security experts have disputed that contention, arguing that buildings with a direct sight line and within firing range of the former president should have been swept and under constant surveillance by the service’s sniper teams.
Local officials have bristled at any suggestions that town or county law enforcement was responsible for securing the building.
“The Butler Township Police Department had no security detail for this event,” Butler Township commissioner Edward Natali wrote in a Tuesday post on Facebook, noting that the township had seven officers on site solely for traffic duty. Even though the officer who confronted Crooks on the roof had to fall back, he added, the encounter “most likely forced the shooter to hurry his shots.”