Archive for August, 2010

DEBKAfile Special Report August 14, 2010, 11:40 PM (GMT+02:00)
Photo caption: Iran’s first nuclear reactor at Bushehr

The sudden announcement in Moscow and Tehran on Aug. 11 that Russia is set to activate Iran’s first nuclear power reactor by loading the fuel on Aug. 21 has caused a major flap in Israel in view of the military aspects of the plant.

Debkafile’s military sources report that only last week, high Israeli officials asked Washington for clarifications on the latest intelligence information that Moscow had decided to finally activate the Bushehr reactor after innumerable delays.

The White House called the Kremlin and was assured that President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minster Vladimir Putin stood by their pledge to President Barack Obama that the Russian-built nuclear plant would not go on line this year. This pledge now proves worthless. Indeed, Rostratom director Sergei Kiryenko will attend the Bushehr launching ceremony.

Jerusalem is also worried by the news that Russia has stationed S-300 anti-missile batteries in Abkhazia on the Black Sea because it ties in with the imminent activation of the Bushehr reactor. It is taken as a signal that Israel’s air route to Iran is hereby closed and Moscow will do its utmost to thwart an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations and adviser to the Bush administration, defined Moscow’s date for loading nuclear fuel rods into the Iranian reactor as touching off a point of no return. Talking to Fox News Friday, Aug. 11, he said Aug. 21 is a deadline “by which Israel would have to launch an attack on Iran’s Bushehr reactor before it becomes effectively ‘immune’ to assault.”

Once they are loaded, he warned, “an attack risks spreading radiation in the air and perhaps in the water of the Persian Gulf.”

Bolton gave Israel no more than a week to destroy Iran’s nuclear program. “If they’re going to do it, that’s all the window they have,” he said, noting that Israel attacked the Iraqi Osirak reactor in 1981 and the nuclear plant Syria was building in 2007, before the fuel rods were in place.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi said Friday, Aug. 13, “The process of loading fresh fuel into the reactor building would begin on Aug. 21. Then the reactor will be officially classified as a nuclear energy installation. The testing phase will be complete and the physical launch begin.”

According to debkafile’s military sources, the Bushehr reactor billed as a peaceful project is in fact integral to Iran’s military program because the fuel rods powering it can also produce weapons-grade plutonium. Attached to the main plant too are a number of smaller facilities connected to the weapons program.

An earlier report in the Atlantic magazine estimated that the chances of a military strike against Iran in the next 12 months are “better than 50%.” It is the result of extensive research for the magazine by Middle East expert Jeffrey Goldberg. After interviewing some 40 current and past Israeli decision makers and as many American and Arab officials, Goldberg expects Israel to launch an attack with the next few months, possibly supported by the US and UK.

But that was before the rescheduled Bushehr launching. Bolton has since made a point of narrowing the window of months to days.

I’ve been reading opinion pieces questioning the continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. Reasons given by the administration don’t make common sense, in many minds. For the last year or so I’ve been looking at this situation from a different perspective: “Follow the oil.” (See previous entries on the Caspian Sea.) Here’s an article from UPI online dated August 5, 2010 that adds to my interest.

MOSCOW, Aug. 5 (UPI) — The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline, first proposed in 1995, is back on the drawing boards.

The TAPI technical working group’s executive committee — originally the Trans-Afghan Pipeline, “TAP,” now “TAPI” with the inclusion of Pakistan and India — stated that construction of TAPI could maintain and strengthen political stability throughout Central Asia, including Afghanistan, Itar-Tass reported Thursday.

Stretching 1,043 miles from Turkmenistan’s Dauletabad gas field to the northwestern Indian town of Fazilka, the $3.3 billion pipeline’s annual throughput of 33 billion cubic meters will be delivered to consumers in Pakistan and India after transiting Afghanistan.

Despite the ongoing turmoil in Afghanistan, in 2005 the Asian Development Bank financed technical feasibility study.

The project has a long genesis. In 1996 a memorandum of understanding resulted in the establishment of a consortium led by Unocal, the Central Asia Gas Pipeline Ltd. A Taliban delegation subsequently visited Unocal headquarters in Texas and in January 1997 the Taliban approved TAP’s construction. Afghanistan’s current President Hamid Karzai at the time worked for Unocal.

Whatever chances the project had were set on hold in the rising chaos in the aftermath of November 2001’s Operation Enduring Freedom, which quickly drove the Taliban from power, invalidating the arrangements.

Despite Karzai’s persistent support for the project, security of TAPI’s route through Afghanistan remains a major impediment to the project’s realization, though in 2008 the Afghan government made several pledges to relieve those concerns.

As the Obama administration is continuing its predecessor’s policy of containment and isolation of both Russia and Iran, TAPI is currently the most significant undeveloped southern output project for Central Asian natural gas and oil.

A problem with TAPI that has yet to be addressed is whether Turkmenistan will be able to provide the required throughout, should the natural gas pipeline be built.

At present Turkmenistan exports pipeline gas to China, Russia and Iran. In 2006 Turkmenistan produced 62.2 bcm of natural gas, second only to Russia. With 2005 domestic consumption estimated at 17.07 bcm, approximately 45 bcm, or more than two-thirds of Turkmen production, was available for export.

The three above-mentioned countries now account for virtually all of Turkmenistan’s exports for the foreseeable future. Most notably, recently a Turkmen-China natural gas pipeline agreed in 2006 capable of handling up 30 bcm annually came online, providing an export route for Turkmen natural gas exports for the near future.

How TAPI, which at present would be constructed through a war zone, could compete with Turkmenistan’s pre-existing markets in China, Russia and Iran remains to be seen.

Also see – many maps, including proposed pipelines:

China flood toll reaches 1072
Sify News online
5 Aug 2010

The toll in floods triggered by torrential rains in China this year has reached 1,072, while 619 people are still missing. The floods have affected over 140 million people in 28 provinces and caused economic losses estimated at almost 210 billion yuan, said Shu Qingpeng, deputy director of the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief.

Floods also destroyed over 1.1 million homes and damaged 9.72 million hectares of farmland, Xinhua reported. Rivers like the Yangtze, the Yellow and the Songhua were all swollen to danger levels after heavy rains. Authorities have evacuated 10.42 million people this year from areas at risk of flooding, he said.

President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice Premier Hui Liangyu were concerned about the relief and rescue work, he said, adding that the central government has allocated more than 2.1 billion yuan for the purpose.


Severe floods in China threaten to block Three Gorges Dam with waste
Recycle news online
August 4th, 2010 by Sarah Flanagan

Intense flooding from the Yangtze River in China is threatening the Three Gorges Dam as thick layers of waste are brought down the river. According to the state media in a report on Monday, the rubbish could pose a threat to the gates of the dam by blocking them. Dam official Chen Lei said that the large mass of waste accumulating in the area could cause the miter gate to jam. Although it was not detailed what the effects of a jam would be for the dam operations.

Mr Chen has said that unusually large amounts of waste are being pushed downstream by the heavy rain such as branches, domestic waste, and plastic bottles. So far, almost 3,000 tonnes of rubbish has been pooling at the base of the dam per day. The heart of the issue, according to Chen, is that there is a lack of resources in manpower and equipment to clear enough of the waste in time.

Currently, the layer of refuse covers more than 50,000 square meters and is almost 60 centimeters deep. The pile, according to the government, first began to form in early July, the start of China’s rainy season. So far, 150,000 to 200,000 cubic meters have been cleared costing nearly 10 million yuan ($1.5 million dollars). Over 150 million people live close to the dam, but cities are unprepared to handle the sheer amount of waste accumulating at its base.

The dam is the world’s biggest hydropower project and was touted as an ideal solution to ending centuries of flooding at the basin of the Yangtze River. Environmental groups have previously protested against the dam’s environmental impact, which displaced over 1.4 million people to be constructed.

BBC news online 5 Aug 2010

“People say they are not getting help from the army or the government.”

Pakistan’s worst flooding in nearly a century has now affected more than four million people and left at least 1,600 dead, says the UN. While floods in the north-west began to recede, the vast body of water has been moving down the country into new parts of Punjab and menacing Sindh province. All wells have been contaminated and water-borne diseases have been spreading, officials say. The region is midway through monsoon season and more rain is forecast.

The number of affected districts in Punjab has reached seven, while 350,000 people have been moved from neighbouring Sindh province, most of which is on high alert, the United Nations said.

Manuel Bessler, who heads the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Pakistan, told a news conference in Geneva: “What we are facing now is a major catastrophe.” He added: “We are only in the middle of the monsoon season, there is more rain expected. We are afraid it will get worse.”

With crops, homes, roads and bridges washed away, the human exodus continued on Thursday as yet more torrential rain fell. In the worst-affected areas, houses, shops, petrol pumps and small villages have been submerged. Fleeing villagers have waded barefoot through water up to their necks and chests, carrying belongings on their heads…

About 10,000 homeless people have gathered on an open area of ground in front of a technical college in the town. They are living in tents donated by an Islamic organisation, but in conditions of overwhelming squalor and filth. Doctors, helping out under a tarpaulin to give them some protection from the fierce sun, say growing numbers of people, particularly children, are suffering from diarrhoea, skin diseases and malnutrition. Every day that passes, the situation gets worse.

Meanwhile, forecasters warned of further downpours for the north-west, which has not seen such flooding since 1929. “The flood water is increasing at different points and we are expecting more rain in the next 24 hours,” Hazrat Mir, chief meteorologist for Punjab, told news agency AFP.

Government and civilian agencies have been struggling to get supplies to the worst affected areas. Victims have bitterly accused the authorities of failing to come to their rescue and provide sufficient relief.

Particular scorn has been poured on President Asif Ali Zardari because he pressed ahead with a visit to Europe. Mr Zardari is due to launch his son’s political career on Saturday in the British city of Birmingham.

Flames travel along the floor of the forest near the town of Voronezh: AP/Mikhail Metzel

Reuters Africa online, 1 August 2010:

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill asked Russians to pray for rain on Sunday as wildfires raged across the European parts of the vast country, sweltering since June in an unprecedented heatwave.

The hottest weather since records began 130 years ago has withered crops and pushed thousands of farmers to the verge of bankruptcy.

“Grief has come to our nation, human lives have been lost, hundreds have lost shelter and thousands have been left without sustenance, including many children,” national media quoted Patriarch Kirill as saying in a prayer during a visit to the Nizhny Novgorod region, one of the worst hit by fires.

“I call upon everyone to unite in a prayer for rain to descend on our earth.”

At least 28 people have died in wildfires in European Russia in the last few days, the Emergencies Ministry said, adding that by Sunday morning a total of 774 fires had been registered, including 369 ones that occurred since Saturday.

More than 5,200 people have been evacuated from disaster-stricken regions, it said.

“The threat of new fires has increased sharply due to unfavourable weather in a number of regions in the Central and Volga federal districts, with temperatures soaring to up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and winds of up to 20 metres per second,” the Emergencies Ministry said.

The drought in Russia, one of the world’s biggest wheat exporters, has sent global prices soaring to year highs. U.S. wheat futures rose more than 5 percent on Friday and posted the biggest monthly percentage gain since at least 1959.(emphasis added)

Around 240,000 people were battling the flames, the Emergencies Ministry said. Army units, including elite paratroops, were taking part in the fight. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to allocate 5 billion roubles (105.2 million pounds) to help fire victims.

(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)