Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Euro Zone (European Union)

The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 27 member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC) formed by six countries in the 1950s. In the intervening years the EU has grown in size by the accession of new member states, and in power by the addition of policy areas to its remit.

The Maastricht Treaty established the European Union under its current name in 1993, and introduced, in 1999, the Euro (oy-row) which took over from each country's national currency. The last amendment to the constitutional basis of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, came into force in 2009.

EU to boost aid fund by June, Portugal clouds summit

EU to boost aid fund by June, Portugal clouds summit(Reuters) - European leaders agreed on Thursday to increase their financial rescue fund to the full 440 billion euros by June, but avoided discussion of Portugal which is under pressure to seek a bailout following the resignation of its prime minister.

Having said for weeks that they would agree a "comprehensive package" to tackle the euro zone debt crisis by the end of March, the leaders ended up delaying a final decision on boosting their safety net until mid-year.

That agreement at a two-day summit in Brussels was lauded as an accomplishment by Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, but worries about Portugal's political crisis overshadowed the meeting.

Prime Minister Jose Socrates quit on Wednesday after parliament rejected new austerity measures that he had hoped would allow the country to avoid following Greece and Ireland in needing to ask for EU/IMF financial assistance.

He is the second euro zone leader to fall victim to the rolling sovereign debt crisis after Ireland's prime minister was booted out of office last month.

Despite stepping down, Socrates came to the two-day summit and was warmly received by other leaders, diplomats said.

He resisted pressure from his peers to accept a bailout, however, and made it clear that he would hold that line, at least until a new Portuguese government is formed -- probably after early elections in about two months' time.

The fall of the government prompted Fitch to cut Portugal's credit rating by two notches to A-, saying risks to the country's financing had risen after parliament failed to pass fiscal consolidation measures.

The ratings agency warned further downgrades were likely in the next three to six months in the absence of a "timely and credible" EU/IMF support program.

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet told reporters as he left the summit that it was crucial for Portugal to stick to the fiscal austerity measures Socrates had proposed.

EU diplomats said Socrates had privately reassured other leaders that no matter what sort of government emerges after new elections, it would stick to the austerity program.

The Portuguese upheaval underscored the wealth of political obstacles the single currency bloc faces in trying to solve a debt crisis that has deepened over the past year.

Only a few days ago, the summit had been expected to deliver a full package that would reassure financial markets, but Thursday's decisions fell short of what some investors had expected only a few days ago.


Senior euro zone officials said Portugal was likely to need 60-80 billion euros in assistance from the EU rescue fund and the International Monetary Fund. No talks have begun yet and will anyway have to wait until a new government is formed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Brazil and Chile

President Obama spent the weekend, with is family, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Today he will be arriving in Santiago, Chile for photo ops and meetings.

Brazil, officially the Federative Republic of Brazil, is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 190 million people. It is the only Portuguese-speaking country in the Americas and the largest lusophone country in the world.

Bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east, Brazil has a coastline of over 4,655 miles. It is bordered on the north by Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and the French overseas department of French Guiana; on the northwest by Colombia; on the west by Bolivia and Peru; on the southwest by Argentina and Paraguay and on the south by Uruguay. Numerous archipelagos form part of Brazilian territory, such as Fernando de Noronha, Rocas Atoll, Saint Peter and Paul Rocks, and Trindade and Martim Vaz. It borders with all other South American countries except Ecuador and Chile.

Chile (Chee-lay) officially the República de Chile, is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far south. Along with Ecuador, it is one of two countries in South America that do not border Brazil. The Pacific coastline of Chile is 4000 miles long. Chilean territory includes the Pacific islands of Juan Fernández, Salas y Gómez, Desventuradas and Easter Island. Chile also claims about 480,000 sq mi of Antarctica, although all claims are suspended under the Antarctic Treaty.

The shape of Chile is a distinctive ribbon of land 2,700 miles long and on average 109 miles wide. Its climate varies, ranging from the world's driest desert – the Atacama – in the north, through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, to a rainy temperate climate in the south. The northern desert contains great mineral wealth, principally copper. The relatively small central area dominates in terms of population and agricultural resources, and is the cultural and political center from which Chile expanded in the late 19th century, when it incorporated its northern and southern regions. Southern Chile is rich in forests and grazing lands and features a string of volcanoes and lakes. The southern coast is a labyrinth of fjords, inlets, canals, twisting peninsulas, and islands.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wave of unrest shakes Syria, crowds torch party HQ

Syria, officially the Syrian Arab Republic, is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest.

The name Syria formerly comprised the entire region of the Levant, while the modern state encompasses the site of several ancient kingdoms and empires, including the Eblan civilization of the third millennium BC. In the Islamic era, its capital city, Damascus, was the seat of the Umayyad Empire and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Empire. Damascus is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.[4] The population is mainly Sunni Muslim, with a large Shia and Alawite population, and significant non-Muslim Christian and Druze minorities. Since the 1960s, Alawite military officers have tended to dominate the country's politics. Ethnically, some 90% of the population is Arab, and the state is ruled by the Baath Party according to Arab nationalist principles, while approximately 10% belong to the Kurdish, Armenian, Assyrians, Turkmen, and Circassian minorities.

Modern Syria was created as a French mandate and attained independence in April 1946, as a parliamentary republic. The post-independence period was rocky, and a large number of military coups and coup attempts shook the country in the period 1949-1970. Syria has been under Emergency Law since 1962, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens, and its system of government is considered non-democratic.[6] Since 1971 the power has been concentrated first to Hafez al-Assad and then to his son Bashar al-Assad. The ruling elite, military and the secret police are largely filled with loyal Alawites, a Syrian minority

Wave of unrest shakes Syria, crowds torch party HQ
DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Crowds set fire to the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party in the Syrian city of Deraa Sunday, residents said, as the wave of unrest in the Arab world shook even one of its most authoritarian states.

The demonstrators also set ablaze the main courts complex and two phone company branches. One of the firms, Syriatel, is owned by President Bashar al-Assad's cousin Rami Makhlouf.

"They burned the symbols of oppression and corruption," an activist said. "The banks nearby were not touched."

Thousands rallied to demand an end to 48 years of emergency law in the southern city, on the third consecutive day of protests emerging as the biggest ever challenge to Syria's ruling party since it seized power nearly half a century ago.

"No, no to emergency law. We are a people infatuated with freedom," marchers chanted, despite the arrival in Deraa of a government delegation to pay condolences to relatives of victims killed by security forces in demonstrations there this week.

Security forces fired tear gas at the protesters. Around 40 people were taken to be treated for gas inhalation at the main Omari mosque in the old city, residents said.

"The mosque is now a field hospital. The security forces know they cannot enter the old city without spilling more blood," one resident said.

Syria has been under emergency law since the Baath Party, which is headed by president Bashar al-Assad, took power in a 1963 coup and banned all opposition.

Makhlouf is under specific U.S. sanctions for what Washington regards as public corruption and has been a target of protesters chanting "thief." He owns several large businesses.


Security forces opened fire Friday on civilians taking part in a peaceful protest in Deraa demanding the release of 15 schoolchildren detained for writing protest graffiti, political freedoms and an end to corruption. Four people were killed.

An official statement said "infiltrators" claiming to be high ranking officers had been visiting security stations and asking security forces to fire at any suspicious gathering.

Citizens should report anyone suspected of trying to fool the security apparatus "into using violence and live ammunition against any suspicious gathering," the statement said.

The government sought to calm discontent by promising to release immediately the 15 children, who had written slogans on walls inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

The statement was a rare instance of Syria's ruling hierarchy responding to popular pressure.

Tens of people arrested Friday have been released, but scores more were still in jail, activists said.

Saturday, thousands of mourners called for "revolution" at the funeral of two of the protesters. Officials later met Deraa notables who presented then with a list of demands.

It included the release of political prisoners, dismantling of secret police headquarters in Deraa, dismissal of the governor, public trial for those responsible for the killings and scrapping of regulations requiring permission from the secret police to sell and buy property.

POLITICAL PRISONERS Non-violent protests have challenged the Baath Party's authority this month, with the largest protests in Deraa drawing thousands of people.

A silent protest in Damascus by 150 people this week demanded the release of thousands of political prisoners. At least one activist from Deraa, Diana al-Jawabra, took part in the protest. She was arrested on charges of weakening national morale, along with 32 other protesters, a lawyer said.

Jawabra, who is from a prominent family, was campaigning for the release of the 15 schoolchildren from her home city. Another woman from Deraa, physician Aisha Aba Zeid, was arrested three weeks ago for airing a political opinion on the internet.

Residents say the two arrests helped fuel the protests in Deraa, a conservative tribal region on the border with Jordan.

Graffiti have appeared on school walls and grain silos in Deraa with phrases such as "the people want the overthrow of the regime" -- the slogan that became the rallying cry of the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions.

Authorities responded by increasing secret police patrols and asking staff at schools and public departments to man their premises around the clock and by requiring IDs and registration for buyers of paint and spray cans.

"These measures only increased popular resentment," one Darea resident said.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Gulf of Aden

The Gulf of Aden is located in the Arabian Sea between Yemen, on the south coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and Somalia in the Horn of Africa. In the northwest, it connects with the Red Sea through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, which is about 20 miles wide.

The waterway is part of the important Suez canal shipping route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Sea in the Indian Ocean with 21,000 ships crossing the gulf annually. The gulf is known by the nickname "Pirate Alley" due to the large amount of pirate activity in the area.

Commerce and Trade
The Gulf of Aden is a vital waterway for shipping, especially for Persian Gulf oil, making it an integral waterway in the world economy. Approximately 11 percent of the world's seaborne petroleum passes through the Gulf of Aden on its way to the Suez Canal or to regional refineries. The main ports along the gulf are Aden in Yemen, Djibouti City in Djibouti, and Zeila, Berbera, and Bosaso in Somalia.

In earlier history, the city of Crater, located just south of the modern city of Aden, was an important port in regional trade. Crater was the principal harbor of the pre-Islamic kingdom of Awsan, and after its annexation by the kingdom of Saba at the end of the 5th century, played a significant role in connecting Africa with Arabia.

The Gulf of Aden is an area known for acts of piracy, making its waters dangerous for water transport. The main cause of piracy in the gulf is the lack of any viable government in Somalia. The International Maritime Bureau reported over two dozen actual and attempted attacks in 2007 in the gulf off of the coast of Somalia.

On 4 April 2008, pirates commandeered a French luxury yacht in the Gulf of Aden with 34 crew members off the coast of Somalia.

On 21 August 2008, a dry cargo ship going from China to the Netherlands with 40,000 tons of iron ore, a crew of 29 and an Iranian flag was hijacked in international waters in the gulf. As a result of talks the ship and its crew were released on October 10.

On 15 September 2008, the Japanese chemical tanker Stolt Valor was seized by pirates in the gulf off Somalia. The crew of 22 consisted of 18 Indians, two Filipinos, one Bangladeshi and one Russian. This vessel was later released on 16 November 2008 after 62 days in captivity, allegedly after a ransom of US$2.5 million was paid to the pirates.

In an attempt to deter piracy [and we all know how successful it's been, eh?), the Maritime Security Patrol Area, a narrow corridor through the center of the gulf, was established in 22 September 2008 by the Combined Task Force 150.

On 4 October 2008, pirates attacked an arms ship. Four attempts were foiled by counter-piracy maneuvering, and there were no captives or injuries reported.

On 11 November 2008, Jag Arnav a 38,265-tonne bulk carrier, owned by Mumbai-based Great Eastern Shipping Company was attacked by pirates. The ship sent an SOS call which was picked up by an Indian Navy warship INS Tabar, patrolling the region. An armed helicopter with marine commandos was launched from the INSTabar to intervene and prevent the pirates from boarding and hijacking the merchant vessel. The helicopter attacked the pirates by firing on them, forcing them to abort the hijack attempt and escape.

The INS Tabar claimed to have destroyed a pirate “mother ship” in the evening of 18 November 2008; the nature of the ship has since been disputed by the ship's owner. The ship was the Ekawat Nava 5, a deep-sea trawler whose crew was being held hostage below-deck by pirates at the time of the encounter.

In December 2008, pirates attempted to hijack a US-based luxury cruising vessel, Nautica, but the vessel sped to safety. Yet another attempt by pirates was made on December 13 to hijack a cargo vessel flying an Ethiopian flag. After receiving the May Day call, an Indian Navy ship INS Mysore came to its rescue and captured 23 pirates, including those of Somali and Yemeni origin.

On 3 December 2008, the MS Athena was attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden. There were reported to be 29 pirate boats surrounding the ship at one stage until a US Navy P3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft circled above which led to some of the pirates to flee. The crew prevented the pirates from boarding by firing high pressure water cannons at them. No one was injured and the ship escaped without damage and continued on her voyage to Australia.

Moreover, a number of terrorist attacks have been carried out in the gulf, including the 2000 attack on the American guided missile destroyer the USS Cole.

(This Wikipedia article hasn't been updated since 2008 - piracy by Somalians has continued unabated.)

At least 30 killed in Yemen, raising fears of a broader conflict

(Yemen is the red/black area below Saudia Arabia and to the west of Oman, just above Somalia. To the southwest of Yemen is the Red Sea, to the south east, the Gulf of Aden, where most of the Somalian Piracy, to date, has taken place.
Christian Science Monitor: At least 30 killed in Yemen, raising fears of a broader conflict
Sanaa, Yemen
At least 30 were killed in Yemen Friday as government loyalists opened fire on opposition demonstrators gathered at Sanaa University, according to medical workers at the scene.

Just after Friday prayers, men armed with semiautomatic weapons began firing on protesters from rooftops of buildings overlooking the area. Massive clouds of black smoke could be seen billowing from the edge of the demonstration area.

“As soon as we got up from prayer they started firing from the tops of multiple buildings in the area,” said Essam al-Maqtary, a Sanaa resident who was shot in the leg. “The baltageya [thugs] lit tires on fire so nobody could see exactly where they were and so they couldn’t be recorded on video.”

The intensification of force used against demonstrators has some concerned that protesters will retaliate, threatening the possibility of a broad war that could engulf the country. Yemen is the second most heavily armed country in the world, behind the US.

Yemen is the second most heavily armed country in the world? What does that mean? Are they saying their people have hand guns, like a lot of Americans do?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Map of nuclear reactors in Japan

There are 15 of them, only 3 of which are "giving trouble".

Japan Ichiban: Nuclear Power Plants in Japan
Since 1973, nuclear energy has been a national strategic priority in Japan, as the nation is heavily dependent on imported fuel, with fuel imports accounting for 61% of energy production. In 2008, after the opening of 7 brand new nuclear reactors in Japan (3 on Honshū, and 1 each on Hokkaidō, Kyūshū, Shikoku, and Tanagashima) Japan became the third largest nuclear power user in the world with 53 nuclear reactors. These provide 34.5% of Japan’s electricity.

Below is a long read but gives a great overview. It is written by Dr Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT in Boston. He is a PhD Scientist, whose father has extensive experience in Germany’s nuclear industry.

This article refers mainly to the events of the Daiichi-1 reactor. The developments at Daiichi-3 seem to take a parallel course today. The explanations in this document will help you understand what is going on there as well. Stay informed at


I am writing this text (Mar 12) to give you some peace of mind regarding some of the troubles in Japan, that is the safety of Japan’s nuclear reactors. Up front, the situation is serious, but under control. And this text is long! But you will know more about nuclear power plants after reading it than all journalists on this planet put together.

There was and will *not* be any significant release of radioactivity.

By “significant” I mean a level of radiation of more than what you would receive on – say – a long distance flight, or drinking a glass of beer that comes from certain areas with high levels of natural background radiation.

I have been reading every news release on the incident since the earthquake. There has not been one single (!) report that was accurate and free of errors (and part of that problem is also a weakness in the Japanese crisis communication). By “not free of errors” I do not refer to tendentious anti-nuclear journalism – that is quite normal these days. By “not free of errors” I mean blatant errors regarding physics and natural law, as well as gross misinterpretation of facts, due to an obvious lack of fundamental and basic understanding of the way nuclear reactors are build and operated. I have read a 3 page report on CNN where every single paragraph contained an error.

We will have to cover some fundamentals, before we get into what is going on.

Construction of the Fukushima nuclear power plants

The plants at Fukushima are so called Boiling Water Reactors, or BWR for short. Boiling Water Reactors are similar to a pressure cooker. The nuclear fuel heats water, the water boils and creates steam, the steam then drives turbines that create the electricity, and the steam is then cooled and condensed back to water, and the water send back to be heated by the nuclear fuel. The pressure cooker operates at about 250 °C.

The nuclear fuel is uranium oxide. Uranium oxide is a ceramic with a very high melting point of about 3000 °C. The fuel is manufactured in pellets (think little cylinders the size of Lego bricks). Those pieces are then put into a long tube made of Zircaloy with a melting point of 2200 °C, and sealed tight. The assembly is called a fuel rod. These fuel rods are then put together to form larger packages, and a number of these packages are then put into the reactor. All these packages together are referred to as “the core”.

The Zircaloy casing is the first containment. It separates the radioactive fuel from the rest of the world.

The core is then placed in the “pressure vessels”. That is the pressure cooker we talked about before. The pressure vessels is the second containment. This is one sturdy piece of a pot, designed to safely contain the core for temperatures several hundred °C. That covers the scenarios where cooling can be restored at some point.

The entire “hardware” of the nuclear reactor – the pressure vessel and all pipes, pumps, coolant (water) reserves, are then encased in the third containment. The third containment is a hermetically (air tight) sealed, very thick bubble of the strongest steel and concrete. The third containment is designed, built and tested for one single purpose: To contain, indefinitely, a complete core meltdown. For that purpose, a large and thick concrete basin is cast under the pressure vessel (the second containment), all inside the third containment. This is the so-called “core catcher”. If the core melts and the pressure vessel bursts (and eventually melts), it will catch the molten fuel and everything else. It is typically built in such a way that the nuclear fuel will be spread out, so it can cool down.

This third containment is then surrounded by the reactor building. The reactor building is an outer shell that is supposed to keep the weather out, but nothing in. (this is the part that was damaged in the explosion, but more to that later).

Fundamentals of nuclear reactions

The uranium fuel generates heat by nuclear fission. Big uranium atoms are split into smaller atoms. That generates heat plus neutrons (one of the particles that forms an atom). When the neutron hits another uranium atom, that splits, generating more neutrons and so on. That is called the nuclear chain reaction.

Now, just packing a lot of fuel rods next to each other would quickly lead to overheating and after about 45 minutes to a melting of the fuel rods. It is worth mentioning at this point that the nuclear fuel in a reactor can *never* cause a nuclear explosion the type of a nuclear bomb. Building a nuclear bomb is actually quite difficult (ask Iran). In Chernobyl, the explosion was caused by excessive pressure buildup, hydrogen explosion and rupture of all containments, propelling molten core material into the environment (a “dirty bomb”). Why that did not and will not happen in Japan, further below.

In order to control the nuclear chain reaction, the reactor operators use so-called “control rods”. The control rods absorb the neutrons and kill the chain reaction instantaneously. A nuclear reactor is built in such a way, that when operating normally, you take out all the control rods. The coolant water then takes away the heat (and converts it into steam and electricity) at the same rate as the core produces it. And you have a lot of leeway around the standard operating point of 250°C.

The challenge is that after inserting the rods and stopping the chain reaction, the core still keeps producing heat. The uranium “stopped” the chain reaction. But a number of intermediate radioactive elements are created by the uranium during its fission process, most notably Cesium and Iodine isotopes, i.e. radioactive versions of these elements that will eventually split up into smaller atoms and not be radioactive anymore. Those elements keep decaying and producing heat. Because they are not regenerated any longer from the uranium (the uranium stopped decaying after the control rods were put in), they get less and less, and so the core cools down over a matter of days, until those intermediate radioactive elements are used up.

This residual heat is causing the headaches right now.

So the first “type” of radioactive material is the uranium in the fuel rods, plus the intermediate radioactive elements that the uranium splits into, also inside the fuel rod (Cesium and Iodine).

There is a second type of radioactive material created, outside the fuel rods. The big main difference up front: Those radioactive materials have a very short half-life, that means that they decay very fast and split into non-radioactive materials. By fast I mean seconds. So if these radioactive materials are released into the environment, yes, radioactivity was released, but no, it is not dangerous, at all. Why? By the time you spelled “R-A-D-I-O-N-U-C-L-I-D-E”, they will be harmless, because they will have split up into non radioactive elements. Those radioactive elements are N-16, the radioactive isotope (or version) of nitrogen (air). The others are noble gases such as Argon. But where do they come from? When the uranium splits, it generates a neutron (see above). Most of these neutrons will hit other uranium atoms and keep the nuclear chain reaction going. But some will leave the fuel rod and hit the water molecules, or the air that is in the water. Then, a non-radioactive element can “capture” the neutron. It becomes radioactive. As described above, it will quickly (seconds) get rid again of the neutron to return to its former beautiful self.

This second “type” of radiation is very important when we talk about the radioactivity being released into the environment later on.

What happened at Fukushima

I will try to summarize the main facts. The earthquake that hit Japan was 5 times more powerful than the worst earthquake the nuclear power plant was built for (the Richter scale works logarithmically; the difference between the 8.2 that the plants were built for and the 8.9 that happened is 5 times, not 0.7). So the first hooray for Japanese engineering, everything held up.

When the earthquake hit with 8.9, the nuclear reactors all went into automatic shutdown. Within seconds after the earthquake started, the control rods had been inserted into the core and nuclear chain reaction of the uranium stopped. Now, the cooling system has to carry away the residual heat. The residual heat load is about 3% of the heat load under normal operating conditions.

The earthquake destroyed the external power supply of the nuclear reactor. That is one of the most serious accidents for a nuclear power plant, and accordingly, a “plant black out” receives a lot of attention when designing backup systems. The power is needed to keep the coolant pumps working. Since the power plant had been shut down, it cannot produce any electricity by itself any more.

Things were going well for an hour. One set of multiple sets of emergency Diesel power generators kicked in and provided the electricity that was needed. Then the Tsunami came, much bigger than people had expected when building the power plant (see above, factor 7). The tsunami took out all multiple sets of backup Diesel generators.

When designing a nuclear power plant, engineers follow a philosophy called “Defense of Depth”. That means that you first build everything to withstand the worst catastrophe you can imagine, and then design the plant in such a way that it can still handle one system failure (that you thought could never happen) after the other. A tsunami taking out all backup power in one swift strike is such a scenario. The last line of defense is putting everything into the third containment (see above), that will keep everything, whatever the mess, control rods in our out, core molten or not, inside the reactor.

When the diesel generators were gone, the reactor operators switched to emergency battery power. The batteries were designed as one of the backups to the backups, to provide power for cooling the core for 8 hours. And they did.

Within the 8 hours, another power source had to be found and connected to the power plant. The power grid was down due to the earthquake. The diesel generators were destroyed by the tsunami. So mobile diesel generators were trucked in.

This is where things started to go seriously wrong. The external power generators could not be connected to the power plant (the plugs did not fit). So after the batteries ran out, the residual heat could not be carried away any more.

At this point the plant operators begin to follow emergency procedures that are in place for a “loss of cooling event”. It is again a step along the “Depth of Defense” lines. The power to the cooling systems should never have failed completely, but it did, so they “retreat” to the next line of defense. All of this, however shocking it seems to us, is part of the day-to-day training you go through as an operator, right through to managing a core meltdown.

It was at this stage that people started to talk about core meltdown. Because at the end of the day, if cooling cannot be restored, the core will eventually melt (after hours or days), and the last line of defense, the core catcher and third containment, would come into play.

But the goal at this stage was to manage the core while it was heating up, and ensure that the first containment (the Zircaloy tubes that contains the nuclear fuel), as well as the second containment (our pressure cooker) remain intact and operational for as long as possible, to give the engineers time to fix the cooling systems.

Because cooling the core is such a big deal, the reactor has a number of cooling systems, each in multiple versions (the reactor water cleanup system, the decay heat removal, the reactor core isolating cooling, the standby liquid cooling system, and the emergency core cooling system). Which one failed when or did not fail is not clear at this point in time.

So imagine our pressure cooker on the stove, heat on low, but on. The operators use whatever cooling system capacity they have to get rid of as much heat as possible, but the pressure starts building up. The priority now is to maintain integrity of the first containment (keep temperature of the fuel rods below 2200°C), as well as the second containment, the pressure cooker. In order to maintain integrity of the pressure cooker (the second containment), the pressure has to be released from time to time. Because the ability to do that in an emergency is so important, the reactor has 11 pressure release valves. The operators now started venting steam from time to time to control the pressure. The temperature at this stage was about 550°C.

This is when the reports about “radiation leakage” starting coming in. I believe I explained above why venting the steam is theoretically the same as releasing radiation into the environment, but why it was and is not dangerous. The radioactive nitrogen as well as the noble gases do not pose a threat to human health.

At some stage during this venting, the explosion occurred. The explosion took place outside of the third containment (our “last line of defense”), and the reactor building. Remember that the reactor building has no function in keeping the radioactivity contained. It is not entirely clear yet what has happened, but this is the likely scenario: The operators decided to vent the steam from the pressure vessel not directly into the environment, but into the space between the third containment and the reactor building (to give the radioactivity in the steam more time to subside). The problem is that at the high temperatures that the core had reached at this stage, water molecules can “disassociate” into oxygen and hydrogen – an explosive mixture. And it did explode, outside the third containment, damaging the reactor building around. It was that sort of explosion, but inside the pressure vessel (because it was badly designed and not managed properly by the operators) that lead to the explosion of Chernobyl. This was never a risk at Fukushima. The problem of hydrogen-oxygen formation is one of the biggies when you design a power plant (if you are not Soviet, that is), so the reactor is build and operated in a way it cannot happen inside the containment. It happened outside, which was not intended but a possible scenario and OK, because it did not pose a risk for the containment.

So the pressure was under control, as steam was vented. Now, if you keep boiling your pot, the problem is that the water level will keep falling and falling. The core is covered by several meters of water in order to allow for some time to pass (hours, days) before it gets exposed. Once the rods start to be exposed at the top, the exposed parts will reach the critical temperature of 2200 °C after about 45 minutes. This is when the first containment, the Zircaloy tube, would fail.

And this started to happen. The cooling could not be restored before there was some (very limited, but still) damage to the casing of some of the fuel. The nuclear material itself was still intact, but the surrounding Zircaloy shell had started melting. What happened now is that some of the byproducts of the uranium decay – radioactive Cesium and Iodine – started to mix with the steam. The big problem, uranium, was still under control, because the uranium oxide rods were good until 3000 °C. It is confirmed that a very small amount of Cesium and Iodine was measured in the steam that was released into the atmosphere.

It seems this was the “go signal” for a major plan B. The small amounts of Cesium that were measured told the operators that the first containment on one of the rods somewhere was about to give. The Plan A had been to restore one of the regular cooling systems to the core. Why that failed is unclear. One plausible explanation is that the tsunami also took away / polluted all the clean water needed for the regular cooling systems.

The water used in the cooling system is very clean, demineralized (like distilled) water. The reason to use pure water is the above mentioned activation by the neutrons from the Uranium: Pure water does not get activated much, so stays practically radioactive-free. Dirt or salt in the water will absorb the neutrons quicker, becoming more radioactive. This has no effect whatsoever on the core – it does not care what it is cooled by. But it makes life more difficult for the operators and mechanics when they have to deal with activated (i.e. slightly radioactive) water.

But Plan A had failed – cooling systems down or additional clean water unavailable – so Plan B came into effect. This is what it looks like happened:

In order to prevent a core meltdown, the operators started to use sea water to cool the core. I am not quite sure if they flooded our pressure cooker with it (the second containment), or if they flooded the third containment, immersing the pressure cooker. But that is not relevant for us.

The point is that the nuclear fuel has now been cooled down. Because the chain reaction has been stopped a long time ago, there is only very little residual heat being produced now. The large amount of cooling water that has been used is sufficient to take up that heat. Because it is a lot of water, the core does not produce sufficient heat any more to produce any significant pressure. Also, boric acid has been added to the seawater. Boric acid is “liquid control rod”. Whatever decay is still going on, the Boron will capture the neutrons and further speed up the cooling down of the core.

The plant came close to a core meltdown. Here is the worst-case scenario that was avoided: If the seawater could not have been used for treatment, the operators would have continued to vent the water steam to avoid pressure buildup. The third containment would then have been completely sealed to allow the core meltdown to happen without releasing radioactive material. After the meltdown, there would have been a waiting period for the intermediate radioactive materials to decay inside the reactor, and all radioactive particles to settle on a surface inside the containment. The cooling system would have been restored eventually, and the molten core cooled to a manageable temperature. The containment would have been cleaned up on the inside. Then a messy job of removing the molten core from the containment would have begun, packing the (now solid again) fuel bit by bit into transportation containers to be shipped to processing plants. Depending on the damage, the block of the plant would then either be repaired or dismantled.

Now, where does that leave us?

The plant is safe now and will stay safe.
Japan is looking at an INES Level 4 Accident: Nuclear accident with local consequences. That is bad for the company that owns the plant, but not for anyone else.
Some radiation was released when the pressure vessel was vented. All radioactive isotopes from the activated steam have gone (decayed). A very small amount of Cesium was released, as well as Iodine. If you were sitting on top of the plants’ chimney when they were venting, you should probably give up smoking to return to your former life expectancy. The Cesium and Iodine isotopes were carried out to the sea and will never be seen again.
There was some limited damage to the first containment. That means that some amounts of radioactive Cesium and Iodine will also be released into the cooling water, but no Uranium or other nasty stuff (the Uranium oxide does not “dissolve” in the water). There are facilities for treating the cooling water inside the third containment. The radioactive Cesium and Iodine will be removed there and eventually stored as radioactive waste in terminal storage.
The seawater used as cooling water will be activated to some degree. Because the control rods are fully inserted, the Uranium chain reaction is not happening. That means the “main” nuclear reaction is not happening, thus not contributing to the activation. The intermediate radioactive materials (Cesium and Iodine) are also almost gone at this stage, because the Uranium decay was stopped a long time ago. This further reduces the activation. The bottom line is that there will be some low level of activation of the seawater, which will also be removed by the treatment facilities.
The seawater will then be replaced over time with the “normal” cooling water The reactor core will then be dismantled and transported to a processing facility, just like during a regular fuel change.
Fuel rods and the entire plant will be checked for potential damage. This will take about 4-5 years.
The safety systems on all Japanese plants will be upgraded to withstand a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami (or worse) I believe the most significant problem will be a prolonged power shortage. About half of Japan’s nuclear reactors will probably have to be inspected, reducing the nation’s power generating capacity by 15%. This will probably be covered by running gas power plants that are usually only used for peak loads to cover some of the base load as well. That will increase your electricity bill, as well as lead to potential power shortages during peak demand, in Japan.
If you want to stay informed, please forget the usual media outlets and consult the following websites:

Japan tsunami 'could be 1,000-year event'

BBC News Science & Environment: Japan tsunami 'could be 1,000-year event'

Tsunamis on the scale that hit north-east Japan last week may strike the region about once every 1,000 years, a leading seismologist has said.

Dr Roger Musson said there were similarities between the last week's event and another giant wave that hit the Sendai coast in 869AD.

It is not unusual for undersea earthquakes to generate tsunamis in this part of Japan. Offshore quakes in the 19th and 20th centuries also caused large walls of water to hit this area of coastline.

But previous research by a Japanese team shows that in the 869 "Jogan" disaster, tsunami waters moved some 4km inland, causing widespread flooding.

The researchers said that such gigantic tsunamis occur in the area roughly once every 1,000 years. Dr Musson, who is the head of seismic hazard at the British Geological Survey (BGS), suggested the latest tsunami was comparable to the event in 869.

Quake rule

The most recent tsunami waves were up to 10m high; it is unclear how far inland the waters travelled, but reports say it was on the order of several miles.

Dr Musson told BBC News: "I would imagine it would be about the same, because it is hard to think that there would be any larger earthquakes than this in this part of the world."

The tsunami has devastated coastal areas of north-east Japan
The BGS seismologist acknowledged there had been other notably large earthquakes in the region in 1933 and in the 1890s. But he said: "There is a convenient little fact to remember... if you know how often Magnitude 9 earthquakes are, you will get Magnitude 8 earthquakes roughly 10 times as often and Magnitude 7 earthquakes approximately 100 times as often."

However, another researcher contacted by BBC News said they would be cautious to draw conclusions about the frequency of such events, given how seismically active this region is.

Far inland

About 10 years ago, a team led by Professor Koji Minoura, from Japan's Tohoku University, analysed sediments from the Sendai and Soma coastal plains that preserved traces of the tsunami in 869.

Their results, published in the Journal of Natural Disaster Science, indicated that the medieval tsunami was probably triggered by a Magnitude 8.3 offshore quake and that waters spread more than 4km from the shore.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote
It can also be dangerous to plan on past events only - even in Japan where the record is long, it might still not be long enough”
End Quote
Hermann Fritz

Georgia Tech
They also found evidence of two earlier tsunamis on the scale of the Jogan disaster, leading them to conclude that there had been three massive events in the last 3,000 years.

Dr Lisa McNeill, a geophysicist at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, told BBC News: "There are several ways you can find out about past events, before we began to record earthquakes on seismometers in the 1900s - one is through historical records, the other way is through geological records.

"You can either look for evidence of tsunamis, or you can look for evidence that the ground has moved rapidly up or down due to the earthquake itself. That is what happens to the seafloor and generates the tsunamis. In some cases, underwater sediment flows can be triggered by the earthquakes and these may leave a datable record which we can identify in sediment cores."

Dr McNeill said it can be difficult to estimate a precise magnitude from limited geological data and historical records. But she said that - broadly speaking - there was a good correlation between the size of an earthquake and the size of a tsunami.

Planning ahead

She explained: "That usually works reasonably well, but there are some deviations. Some of them are due to local effects at the coastline: either the shape of the coastline - which can focus and increase the amplitude of tsunami waves - and the local bathymetry (seafloor relief).

US scientists estimated the progression of the tsunami over the entire Pacific basin "There can sometimes be additional effects that deform the seafloor such as undersea landslides or other faults that moved at the same time, which affect how the seafloor deforms."

Professor Hermann Fritz, a tsunami expert from Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), US, said: "Nowhere in the world is as prepared as Japan - but in general you can plan for a magnitude 7 or 7.5 that happens every generation, but not for anything in the 9 range.

"The relationship [between earthquake size and tsunami size] is not linear, and it depends on how the rupture actually occurs. If the rupture is actually on the seafloor you get a much bigger displacement - then again if you get something like 7.2 somewhere deep in the Earth, that won't create a tsunami at all.

"Once it's a full megathrust rupture, Magnitude 9, then basically the entire zone ruptures from deep down up to the surface.

He added: "Each event is going to be different, and it can also be dangerous to plan on past events only - even in Japan where the record is long, it might still not be long enough."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Information about Benghazi

Benghazi - several years ago.

Benghazi is the city in Libya where the "rebels" have their stronghold. It's currently under attack by the government forces of Libya.

From Wikipedia:
Benghazi is the second largest city in Libya, the main city (or capital) of the Cyrenaica region (or ex-Province), and the provisional capital of an interim Libyan government. The wider metropolitan area (which includes the southern towns of Gimeenis and Suluq) is also a district of Libya. The port city is located on the Mediterranean Sea.

During the Kingdom era of Libya's history, Benghazi enjoyed a sort of joint-capital status (alongside Tripoli), possibly because the King used to reside in the nearby city of Al Bayda' and the Senussis (royal family) in general were associated with Cyrenaica rather than Tripolitania. Benghazi continues to hold institutions and organizations normally associated with a national capital city. This creates a constant atmosphere of rivalry and sensitivities between Benghazi and Tripoli and by extension between the two regions (Cyrenaica and Tripolitania). The population of the entire district was 500,120 in 1995 and has increased to 670,797 in the 2006 census.

In February 2011 mass protests against the government of Muammar al-Gaddafi occurred in the city. On 21 February, the city was taken by Libyan opposition groups and is no longer under the control of the Gaddafi government

Japan's Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant

On the left you can see where the plant is, several miles above Tokyo. It actually looks to be quite close to Misawa, a relatively small city that is home to a US Air Base. I've been there...

Gulf security forces enter Bahrain, in response to escalating protests

Washington Post: Gulf security forces enter Bahrain, in response to escalating protests
DAMMAM, SAUDI ARABIA - A military force from Bahrain's Gulf neighbors entered the tiny island nation Monday in an apparent attempt to restore order as anti-government demonstrations escalate.

The Bahrain Defense Force confirmed the arrival of military units from a special Gulf Cooperation Council security force. The Council is a regional economic and military alliance comprised of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman.

A Saudi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told the Associated Press that the force would secure key buildings. The U.S. Embassy in Bahrain advised American citizens to stay in their residences.

The force included about 1,000 Saudi soldiers, a Saudi official source told Reuters news service. Witnesses saw some 150 armored troop carriers, ambulances, water tankers and jeeps cross into Bahrain over a causeway from Saudi Arabia, Reuters reported.

It was not clear Monday evening whether Bahrain had requested the troop presence or whether it had been imposed by neighboring countries. A spokeswoman for the Bahraini government, Rebecca Guthrie, declined to say that Bahrain had asked for the military presence.

"I couldn't say whether it was requested or not," she said, "but the decision came out after a GCC foreign ministers' meeting" on Sunday.

"It's like a declaration of war on the people who are engaged in a peaceful protest demanding basic rights," said Jassim Hussain, a spokesman for Al-Wefaq, the main political opposition party. "They are viewed as occupation forces."

He said that the presence of "foreign troops" made it more difficult for opposition groups to engage in negotiations with the government.

The Obama administration repeated its call for restraint in Bahrain. "We urge our GCC partners to show restraint and respect the rights of the people of Bahrain, and to act in a way that supports dialogue instead of undermining it," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

Frederick Martin, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, which is stationed in Manama, said in an e-mail that "we have a long standing relationship with the Government of Bahrain, and they are a valued member of the Combined Maritime Forces. We continue to monitor the situation."

Protesters who have been calling for democratic reforms have successfully shut down large swaths of Manama, the capital city, and Bahraini security forces have fought back with teargas and rubber bullets. Pro-government civilians have in some cases attacked protesters with sticks, knives and swords; the protesters have responded with rocks and other objects, witnesses have said.

Witnesses in Manama said that most downtown businesses were closed Monday.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia, which is connected to Bahrain by a causeway, have looked at its smaller neighbor with growing anxiety, fearful that a victorious Shiite majority in Bahrain could embolden Saudi Arabia's own Shiite minority in nearby oil-rich Eastern Province.

They are also worried about Iran exploiting the situation off their coast, although American officials have said that they do not believe Iran has been involved in the Bahrain protests.

A pro-government political society in Bahrain called Sunday for martial law to be imposed, the state news agency reported, while the White House issued a statement condemning the use of force.

On Saturday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and pushed him to take stronger steps toward democratic reforms.

Protesters, who are largely from the country's Shiite majority, have occupied central Pearl Square in Manama since mid-February. They have been calling for democratic reforms and an end to what they say is discrimination against Shiites by the Sunni monarchy.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tsunami hits north-eastern Japan after massive quake


BBC News: Tsunami hits north-eastern Japan after massive quake
A massive earthquake has hit the northeast of Japan triggering a tsunami that has caused extensive damage.

Japan's TV showed cars, ships and even buildings being swept away the Fukushima prefecture, after the 8.8 magnitude earthquake.

Officials said a wave as high as 6m (20ft) could strike the coast.

The quake struck about 250 miles (400km) from Tokyo at a depth of 20 miles, shaking building in the capital for several minutes.

The tremor at 1446 local time (0546 GMT) was followed by a series of powerful aftershocks.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Name these 5 middle eastern countries - quiz

The quiz from the Christian Science Monitor





Monday, March 7, 2011

5 Middle Eastern States - Quiz

Well, the quiz is actually from the Christian Science Monitor: Think you know the Middle East? Take our geography quiz.


Saudia Arabia




Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rebels reinforce key Libyan oil port in east

Yahoo News: Rebels reinforce key Libyan oil port in east

BREGA, Libya – Rebels reinforced a key oil port Thursday while facing new regime airstrikes in eastern Libya, and thousands of angry mourners buried victims of a counteroffensive by Moammar Gadhafi's forces, shooting guns in the air, shouting "Down with Gadhafi!" and swearing to take vengeance.

Although there have been stirrings of a diplomatic effort to ease the crisis, an opposition spokesman flatly ruled out any negotiations with Gadhafi, saying "his hands are tainted with blood."

President Barack Obama insisted that Gadhafi leave office, declaring he had "lost the legitimacy to lead."

He pledged to hold Gadhafi and his loyalists accountable, saying the U.S. and the entire world were outraged by violence against the rebels, and he lauded U.N. sanctions meant to put international pressure on the longtime ruler.

Signaling he was digging in, Gadhafi's regime apparently has stepped up its recruitment of mercenaries from other African countries, with an official in neighboring Mali saying that 200-300 men have left for Libya in the last week.

The International Criminal Court in the Netherlands said it will investigate Gadhafi, his sons and his inner circle for possible crimes against humanity in the violent crackdown of the 17-day-old uprising that sought to topple the man who has ruled Libya for four decades.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court's top prosecutor, said Gadhafi and several commanders and regime officials had formal or de facto control over forces that attacked protesters, and he promised "no impunity in Libya."

Army units that have joined the rebels fanned out in the oil facilities and port at Brega, armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers and dressed in camouflage army uniforms with checkered keffiyehs. They were backed by at least a dozen pickup trucks with mounted machine guns or towing rocket launchers.

Click image to see photos of protests in Libya

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
Government warplanes launched a new airstrike on the town Thursday morning, according to witnesses. It was not clear what they targeted, but it was likely an airstrip of the huge oil complex on the Mediterranean coast.

No casualties were reported, and pro-Gadhafi forces withdrew 80 miles (130 kilometers) to the west to another oil port, Ras Lanouf, after their defeat Wednesday by citizen militias from nearby towns and cities.

Despite having little central organization or command, the anti-Gadhafi fighters were able to repel a force of several hundred regime troops that attacked after dawn.

"We are in a position to control the area and we are deploying our forces," a rebel officer in Brega told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

At least 14 rebel fighters were killed in Wednesday's battle, including Abdul-Salaam Senoussi, whose father, Mohammed, came to Brega to claim his body.

"You know, this is my son," the grieving father said softly after identifying the body. He made a gesture like a pistol and said: "They shot him by plane."

Gadhafi has come under international criticism for firing at his people from warplanes, although his regime denies it.

Also among the dead was 7-year-old Hassan Umran, who was killed when he was caught in the crossfire. His body was at the same Brega morgue as Senoussi's son.

In the opposition stronghold of Benghazi, 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Brega, thousands of mourners chanted "Down with Gadhafi" and fired weapons into the air as they buried three of the dead.

"Our message to Gadhafi is we are coming and we will make Libya free," said one man in the crowd, Sami Mosur. "We will kill him, like he has killed our people here."

Gadhafi has unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab nation to the recent wave of anti-government protests. Hundreds are known to have been killed, and some estimates top 1,000.

The fighting at Brega halted for now the regime's first counteroffensive on the opposition-held eastern half of the country. It also underlined the deadlock that Libya appears to have fallen into.

Farj Lashrash, a soldier with the opposition, said the rebels had captured 10 pro-Gadhafi soldiers since Wednesday night.

The western gate of the nearby rebel-held town of Ajdabiya, which buried five dead, was reinforced with heavy weaponry — including a tank, four anti-aircraft guns mounted on pickup trucks and four rocket launchers.

Gadhafi's forces seem unable to bring significant strength to dislodge rebels from the territory they hold. But the opposition does not have the capability to go on the offense against Gadhafi's strongholds in the west, including the capital, Tripoli. Its leaders have pleaded for foreign powers to launch airstrikes to help them oust Gadhafi as the United States moves military forces closer to Libyan shores.

The Pentagon on Wednesday tried to play down the idea of using military force in Libya, including a "no-fly zone" that Defense Secretary Robert Gates said would first require attacking Libya's air defenses.

Gadhafi warned the U.S. and other Western powers not to intervene, saying thousands in his country would die and "we will turn Libya into another Vietnam."

A large group of ethnic Tuareg have left from the city of Kidal in northern Mali for Libya in the last week, according to a senior elected official in Mali who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared government retribution.

Kidal, the base of a rebellion by the Tuareg over the years, is about a two days' drive across the desert to southern Libya. The official, who added that even some of his relatives had gone, said the men were lured by money.

Another man in Mali who is in touch with people en route to Libya said about 40 cars of prospective fighters have crossed into Algeria. They are hesitating about crossing into Libya, fearing that anti-Gadhafi forces were guarding the frontier, the man said. Both spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Mali is one of the world's poorest countries, where nearly two-thirds of the population earns less than $1 a day.

Oil prices — which have risen to their levels in more than two years — eased below $102 a barrel Thursday on profit-taking and hopes that the conflict in Libya — a member of OPEC — might be resolved by international mediation. Gadhafi ally President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela proposed that his country and a bloc of "friendly" nations mediate, but so far Gadhafi has not responded, and opposition spokesman Mustafa Gheriani ruled out talks.

"We do not accept any negotiations with Col. Gadhafi," Gheriani said. "His hands are tainted with blood and we will not talk to him."

Added Gheriani: "He knows his way to the airport and he can leave."

The attacks on Brega have bolstered the rebels, he said. "We have strong hearts and a cause, and they have nothing," Gheriani added.

Exports from the country with Africa's largest proven oil reserves have all but stopped. Crude production in the southeastern oil fields that feed the facility at Brega has been scaled back because storage facilities there are filling up. Overall, Libyan crude production has dropped from 1.6 million barrels per day, nearly 2 percent of world consumption, to as little as 600,000 barrels per day.

"In the last 24 hours, we had a bit of a panic here," oil company employee Osman Rajab told the AP. "Now they (the rebel army) are trying to control the industrial areas," he said, referring to the oil complex.

At the edge of Brega's massive oil facility, the country's second largest, the rebel army set up a line of defense, with soldiers, four pickup trucks mounted with machine guns and one truck towing a rocket launcher.

For the past week, pro-Gadhafi forces have been focusing on the west, securing Tripoli and trying to take back nearby cities held by rebels using weapons looted from storehouses and backed by allied army units.

Pro-Gadhafi forces succeeded over the weekend in retaking two small towns. But the major western rebel-held cities of Zawiya and Misrata, near Tripoli, have repelled repeated attacks — including new forays against Zawiya on Wednesday.

Zawiya was quiet Thursday, and residents have set up defenses at the city entrances, said resident Alaa al-Zawi, an opposition activist. He said the city has six months' worth of food and water, though it lacks medicine if fighting resumes.

The turmoil in Libya has set off a massive exodus of 180,000 people — mostly foreign workers in Libya — who have fled to the borders, U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told the AP.

At least 5,500 foreign workers were being evacuated from the port of Benghazi. Europe, the United States and the United Nations donated more than $30 million to help the chaotic exodus from the North African nation.

Forces loyal to Gadhafi captured three Dutch marines and their helicopter during a botched evacuation mission Sunday near Sirte, a stronghold of the Libyan leader, the Netherlands' Defense Ministry said.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The pirate infested waters of East Africa

The fact that the pirate of Somali have been able to kidnap and murder virtually unopposed for over a decade now is just ridiculous. There's a simple solution. A US C-130 gunship could patrol above Somali waters, and anytime a boat sets out from its shores - blow them out of the water. Sure, the pirates would die, but who cares? They are pirates.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark – A Danish family whose sailboat was seized by pirates in the Indian Ocean wrote on a travel blog that they were in daily contact with anti-piracy forces and had prepared a "piracy plan" in case of an attack.

The family — a couple with three teenage children, aged 12 to 16 — and two adult crew members, also Danes, were captured Thursday by pirates after sending a distress signal, Denmark's government said.

Most hostages captured in the pirate-infested waters off East Africa are professional sailors. Pirates rarely capture families and children, but a 3-year-old boy was aboard a French yacht captured in 2009. His father was killed in the rescue operation by French navy commandos. Two pirates were killed and four French citizens were freed, including the child.

Blog postings chronicling the Danes' round-the-world journey showed they entered the area well aware that an American yacht had been hijacked by pirates just days before but comforted by the presence of counter-piracy forces.

"Of course, we talked quite a lot about it but this is far over thousands of kilometers (miles) away and the Arabian Sea that we sail in is the size of Europe," the family said a Feb. 20 posting on ING ING is the name of their boat.

Two days later, that standoff ended with four Americans being killed by their Somali captors.

It's unclear if the Danish family knew about the deaths of the Americans. Their last posting on Feb. 23 — a day before the hijacking — only said their journey was uneventful and "we have NOT been boarded by pirates."

The blog identified the family as Jan Quist Johansen, his wife Birgit Marie Johansen, their sons Rune and Hjalte and their daughter Naja. They are from Kalundborg, 75 miles (120 kilometers) west of Copenhagen.

The chairman of the Kalundborg yacht club, Ole Meridin Petersen, confirmed their names to The Associated Press. He called them "experienced sailors" and said they were planning to enter the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez canal from the Red Sea.

That route would take the family through the Gulf of Aden, one of the most dangerous waterways in the world in terms of piracy.

"They expected to be home in August," Meridin Petersen told the AP.

Somali pirates have extended their range east and south after increased naval patrols in the Gulf of Aden. They hold more than 660 hostages and some 30 vessels. If a ship's owner is unable to pay the multimillion dollar ransoms the pirates demand, they may keep it and use the boat to stalk other vessels until they run out of supplies or break down.

In the blog, family members wrote they felt reassured as they saw overflights by counter-piracy patrol planes and had daily contact with naval authorities.

"It is reassuring that they look after us," a Feb. 20 blog post said.

A day earlier, the family blogged they had drawn up "a piracy plan for who does what if we are attacked." They were also sending daily position and status updates to the British Royal Navy's UK Maritime Trade Operations, which acts as a liaison for ships traveling through waters threatened by pirates.

The Johansens had been reporting the position of their yacht daily via e-mail since Feb. 17, said Wing Cmdr. Paddy O'Kennedy, a spokesman for the European Union's anti-piracy force.

Denmark's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday advised citizens against traveling in sailboats in the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the northwestern Indian Ocean. Ministry officials said they confirmed the Danish boat was seized by pirates and were doing "everything in our power" to help the Danes.