Daily Archives: March 16, 2011

CIA spy escapes murder case in Pakistan after US pays ‘blood money’

Jamaat-e-Islami party supporters hold a protest against the release of Raymond Davis, in Karachi. Photograph: Fareed Khan/AP

Raymond Davis flown to US airbase after payments made to relatives of men shot dead by intelligence agent in Lahore

guardian.co.uk | Mar 16, 2011

by Declan Walsh in Islamabad and Ewen MacAskill in Washington

Raymond Davis, the CIA spy charged with murder in Pakistan, has flown out of the country after the relatives of two men he killed dropped charges in exchange for “blood money” of at least $1.4m (£874,000) and help in resettling abroad.

Davis slipped out of Lahore on a special flight from the old city airport after being released from the sprawling jail where he had been held for almost 10 weeks amid a diplomatic storm that rocked relations between the two allies and sucked in President Barack Obama.

A Pakistani official said the 36-year-old US spy was bound for an airbase in Afghanistan, then on to the US.

Davis was freed under Islamic laws that allow a murderer to walk free on payment of compensation to the family of his victims. The acquittal took place during a closed hearing at Kot Lakhpat jail where no reporters were present.

“The court first indicted him, but the families later told the court that they have accepted the blood money and they have pardoned him,” said Rana Sanaullah, the Punjab law minister.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, thanked the families for pardoning Davis and allowing the American to go. Speaking from Cairo, Clinton said the US had not paid to win Davis’s release.

The dramatic case has become an obsession in Pakistan since Davis, a bulky former special forces soldier, opened fire on two men at traffic lights on 27 January. Davis claimed he acted in self-defence against robbers, but prosecutors said he shot one in the back as he ran away. Several officials said the men he killed were linked to Pakistani intelligence.

The deal to free Davis was an unusual mix of Islamic law and tense backroom negotiations between American and Pakistani spies and diplomats.

A senior Pakistani official said the US paid in the region of $700,000 (£436,000) to relatives of both men, while another $700,000 was paid to family of a third man killed by a US rescue vehicle, also presumed to be driven by CIA employees.

Washington also undertook to facilitate the future resettlement of family members in the US or a Gulf state such as Dubai, the official added. “The Americans will be helpful to the families,” he said. But the deal was also a defeat for US diplomacy, which had insisted Davis was a bona fide diplomat who enjoyed immunity from prosecution. In the early stage of the controversy, the US accused Pakistan of “illegally detaining” Davis, while Obama defended him as “our diplomat”.

The carefully orchestrated legal events in Lahore belied weeks of negotiations between the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which have been at barely concealed loggerheads over the incident. The legal manoeuvres were “a fig leaf”, one official admitted.

The idea of a payment was first mooted between Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, and Senator John Kerry in February. But the arrangement first needed the co-operation of Pakistani intelligence, which seemed determined to press its advantage.

Relations between the two spy agencies had been fragile for months. In December the CIA station chief had to leave Islamabad after being named in the press; ISI officials were angry that their chief, General Shuja Pasha, had been named in a New York lawsuit brought by victims of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

The ISI had been unaware of Davis’s CIA role in Pakistan, where he was employed to protect operatives gathering information about groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant Islamist group close to Pakistan’s intelligence service and linked to terrorist attacks against India, and relations between the CIA and ISI were strained as a result. The CIA director, Leon Panetta, phoned the ISI chief, General Shuja Pasha, last month to try to smooth relations.

Media leaks in the Pakistani press during the stop-start trial kept the pressure on the US, such as the publication last weekend of the names and passport details of other “Raymonds” – Americans suspected of entering Pakistan under false pretences – in a newspaper. The report quoted “official sources”.

In return for Davis’s release, the ISI has obtained an undertaking from the CIA about covert operations on their turf, the Pakistani official said. “They will do nothing behind our backs that will result in people getting killed or arrested.”

There were other indications that a deal had been worked out. The US embassy press release welcoming Davis’s release was initially dated March 10 – around the same time a deal was struck in Washington.

Analysts also noted that General Pasha, who was due to retire this month, obtained an unusual one-year extension of tenure this week.

Kerry, head of the Senate foreign affairs committee, who is often used as a go-between in difficult issues, is thought to have raised the issue of compensation with the Pakistan government on a visit to Islamabad on 16 February. Kerry’s visit, devoted to securing Davis’s release, was initially believed to have been a failure. But US officials have been working behind the scenes since then at trying to secure the deal.

Kerry said: “This was a very important and necessary step for both of our countries to be able to maintain our relationship and remain focused on progress on bedrock national interests, and I’m deeply grateful for the Pakistani government’s decision.

“We deeply regret the loss of life that led to this difficulty in our relationship and the demonstrations on Pakistan’s streets, but neither country could afford for this tragedy to derail our vital relationship. We look forward to working with Pakistan to strengthen our relationship and confront our common challenges.”

The US state department released a statement by the US ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, who accompanied Davis on the flight from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Munter thanked the families of their victims for pardoning Davis. “I am grateful for their generosity.”

He stressed that the US justice department has opened an investigation into the shooting in Lahore.

He added: “Most of all, I wish to reaffirm the importance that America places in its relationship with Pakistan, and the commitment of the American people to work with their Pakistani counterparts to move ahead in ways that will benefit us all.”

As night fell in Lahore, there was a small protest outside the US consulate where Davis claimed to work, led by demonstrators from the Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s main religious party. Further protests are expected after prayers on Friday.

Meanwhile, the CIA continued drone strikes in the tribal belt, firing three missiles at a car in North Waziristan that reportedly killed five people. It was the 16th drone strike in Pakistan this year.

Acquittal Of CIA Contractor Sparks Violent Protests In Pakistan

Under Pakistani law, relatives of a murder victim can pardon the killer after accepting compensation known as “blood money.”

RTTNews |  Mar 16, 2011

(RTTNews) – Thousands of Pakistanis took to streets in most of the country’s towns and cities on Wednesday to protest against the acquittal of U.S. national, Raymond Davis, accused of killing two Pakistanis, according to local news reports.

Violent protests against the acquittal were reported in the country’s major cities of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. While at least six protesters were reportedly injured in clashes with police near the US consulate in Lahore, protesters in Karachi and Islamabad blocked roads, burned tyres and disrupted traffic.

The developments came hours after a Pakistani court acquitted CIA contractor Raymond Davis of two counts of murder at a hearing held at a prison in Lahore. The court ruling came after the victims’ families accepted compensation and pardoned the accused.

The relatives of the two men killed in the shooting incident reportedly told the court that they had accepted compensation from the accused. Under Pakistani law, relatives of a murder victim can pardon the killer after accepting compensation known as “blood money.”

Davis, 36, was arrested in Lahore, capital of the eastern province of Punjab, on January 27 after he allegedly shot dead two motorcycle-borne young men in “self-defense” when they allegedly tried to hijack his vehicle at gunpoint.

Davis was released from detention immediately after the verdict was announced on Thursday and subsequently flown out of Pakistan in a chartered flight. He was identified only as a member of the “technical and administrative” staff of the US Embassy in Islamabad when he was arrested.

But unnamed U.S. officials have since been quoted as saying that Davis was working as a CIA contractor for the U.S. Consulate in Lahore when he got himself involved in the shooting incident.

In addition to the two people shot dead by Davis, a pedestrian was run over by a vehicle carrying Davis’ colleagues from the consulate as they rushed to his aid. The three Americans involved in the hit-and-run incident have not been charged so far.

The Davis affair had earlier threatened to undermine ties between Washington and Islamabad. While the Americans insisted on his release citing diplomatic immunity, Pakistani officials had argued that he did not qualify for such privilege as he was not licensed to carry firearms.

The latest development comes as a relief to both the governments. But hard-line Islamist in Pakistan who had been demanding a harsh punishment to Davis over the killings have said that they will hold massive rallies across Pakistan on Thursday to protest against the American’s release.

Bahrain crushes protests with tanks and helicopters

A journalist is taken away by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces, which moved into Pearl Square to evacuate anti-government protesters, in Manama March 16, 2011. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Reuters | Mar 16, 2011

By Lin Noueihed

MANAMA (Reuters) – Bahraini forces used tanks and helicopters to drive protesters from the streets on Wednesday clearing a camp that had become a symbol of the Shi’ite Muslim uprising and drawing rare criticism from their U.S. allies.

Three police and three protesters were killed in the violence that has transformed a crisis between the island’s majority Shi’ites and minority Sunnis into a regional standoff between Sunni Gulf Arab states and non-Arab Shi’ite power Iran.

U.S. President Barack Obama called the kings of Saudi Arabia, a strategic ally of Washington in the Middle East, and of Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, to urge restraint. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Bahrain and Gulf allies who sent in troops to back the Sunni royals were on the wrong track.

“We find what’s happening in Bahrain alarming. We think that there is no security answer to the aspirations and demands of the demonstrators,” she told CBS. “They are on the wrong track.”

The assault began less than 24 hours after Bahrain declared martial law to quell sectarian unrest that has sucked in troops from fellow Sunni-ruled neighbours Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates .

A member of parliament from the largest Shi’ite opposition group denounced the assault as a war on the Shi’ite community.

“This is war of annihilation. This does not happen even in wars and this is not acceptable,” Abdel Jalil Khalil, the head of Wefaq’s 18-member parliament bloc, said. “I saw them fire live rounds, in front of my own eyes.”

A protest called by the youth movement, which played a leading role in the protest camp at Pearl roundabout, failed to materialise after the military banned all gatherings and imposed a curfew from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. across a large swathe of Manama.

Full Story

US says plant’s spent fuel rods dry; Japan says no

Associated Press | Mar 16, 2011

By Eric Talmadge And Mari Yamaguchi

FUKUSHIMA, Japan – Nuclear plant operators trying to avoid complete reactor meltdowns said Thursday that they were close to finishing a new power line that could end Japan’s crisis, but several ominous signs have also emerged: a surge in radiation levels, unexplained white smoke and spent fuel rods that U.S. officials said might be on the verge of spewing more radioactive material.

As fear, confusion and unanswered questions swirled around the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, and Japan suffered myriad other trials from last week’s earthquake and tsunami believed to have killed more than 10,000, its emperor took the unprecedented step of directly addressing his country on camera, urging his people not to give up.

“It is important that each of us shares the difficult days that lie ahead,” Akihito said Wednesday. “I pray that we will all take care of each other and overcome this tragedy.”

The 77-year-old emperor expressed his own deep concern about the “unpredictable” nuclear crisis. “With the help of those involved I hope things will not get worse,” he said.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko said at a congressional hearing in Washington that all the water is gone from the spent fuel storage pond of Fukushima Dai-ichi’s Unit 4 reactor, but Japanese officials denied it. Hajime Motojuku, a spokesman for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., said the “condition is stable” at Unit 4.

Earlier, however, another utility spokesman said officials’ greatest concerns were the spent fuel pools, which lack the protective shells that reactors have.

“We haven’t been able to get any of the latest data at any spent fuel pools. We don’t have the latest water levels, temperatures, none of the latest information for any of the four reactors,” Masahisa Otsuki said.

If Jaczko is correct, it would mean there’s nothing to stop the used fuel rods from getting hotter and ultimately melting down. The outer shells of the rods could also ignite with enough force to propel the radioactive fuel inside over a wide area.

“My understanding is there is no water in the spent fuel pool,” Jaczko told reporters after the hearing. “I hope my information is wrong. It’s a terrible tragedy for Japan.”

He said the information was coming from NRC staff in Tokyo who are working with the utility in Japan. He said the staffers continue to believe the spent fuel pool is dry.

Other countries have complained that Japan has been too slow and vague in releasing details about its rapidly evolving crisis at complex of six reactors along Japan’s northeastern coast, which was ravaged by Friday’s magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

The chief of the U.N. nuclear agency, Yukiya Amano, said he would go to Japan to assess what he called a “very serious” situation and urged Tokyo to provide better information to his organization.

Several countries have advised their citizens to consider leaving Tokyo and earthquake-affected areas. The White House recommended Wednesday that U.S. citizens stay 50 miles (80 kilometers) away from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, not the 20-mile (32-kilometer) radius recommended by the Japanese government.

Japanese officials raised hopes of easing the crisis, saying early Thursday that they may be close to bringing power back to the plant and restoring the reactors’ cooling systems. The earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and ruined backup generators.

The new power line would revive electric-powered pumps, allowing the company to control the rising temperatures and pressure that have led to at least partial meltdowns in three reactors. The company is also trying to repair its existing disabled power line.

Tokyo Electric Power spokesman Naoki Tsunoda said the new power line to the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant is almost finished and that officials plan to try it “as soon as possible,” but he could not say exactly when.

Conditions at the plant appeared to worsen, meanwhile. A surge in radiation levels forced workers to retreat for hours Wednesday, costing them valuable time.

The radiation spike was believed to have come from Unit 3, but officials acknowledged they were far from sure what was going on there or at other troubled reactors, in part because high radiation levels made it difficult to get very close.

About 180 emergency workers have been working in shifts to manually pump seawater into the overheating reactors to cool them and stave off complete meltdowns. They were emerging as heroes as their sacrifices became clearer, and as they stepped into circumstances in which no radiation suit could completely protect them.

Japan’s health ministry made what it described as an “unavoidable” change Wednesday, more than doubling the amount of radiation to which the workers can be legally exposed.

“I don’t know any other way to say it, but this is like suicide fighters in a war,” said Keiichi Nakagawa, associate professor of the Department of Radiology at the University of Tokyo Hospital.

Late Wednesday, government officials said they asked special police units to bring in water cannons — normally used to quell rioters — to spray water onto the spent fuel storage pool at Unit 4. The cannons are thought to be strong enough to allow emergency workers to remain a safe distance from the complex, said Minoru Ogoda of Japan’s nuclear safety agency.

Tokyo Electric Power said it was also considering using military helicopters to douse the reactors with water, after giving up on such a plan because of high radiation levels in the atmosphere.

Units 1, 2 and 3 of Fukushima Dai-ichi have all been rocked by explosions, and officials have acknowledged that their cores have begun to melt down. Compounding the problems, a fire broke out Tuesday and Wednesday in the Unit 4 fuel storage pond, causing radioactivity to be released into the atmosphere. Temperatures also have been rising in Units 5 and 6.

White smoke was seen rising Wednesday above Unit 3, but officials could not ascertain the source. They said it could be spewing from the reactor’s spent fuel pool or may have been from damage to the reactor’s containment vessel, a protective shell of thick concrete.

The nuclear crisis has partly overshadowed the human tragedy caused by Friday’s massive earthquake, one of the strongest recorded in history.

Millions of Japanese have been with little food and water in heavy snow and rain. In some towns, long lines of cars waited outside the few open gas stations, with others lined up at rice-vending machines.

More than 4,300 people are officially listed as dead, but officials believe the toll will climb to well over 10,000. Police say more than 452,000 people are staying in temporary shelters such as school gymnasiums.

The threat of nuclear disaster only added to Japanese misery and frustration.

“The anxiety and anger being felt by people in Fukushima have reached a boiling point,” the governor of Fukushima prefecture, Yuhei Sato, fumed in an interview with NHK. He criticized preparations for an evacuation if conditions worsen, and said centers do not have enough hot meals and basic necessities.

In the city of Fukushima, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) inland from the nuclear complex, hundreds of harried government workers, police officers and others struggled to stay on top of the situation in a makeshift command center.

An entire floor of one of the prefecture’s office buildings had been taken over by people tracking evacuations, power needs, death tolls and food supplies.

Elevated levels of radiation were detected well outside the 20-mile (30-kilometer) emergency area around the plants. In Ibaraki prefecture, just south of Fukushima, officials said radiation levels were about 300 times normal levels by late Wednesday morning. It would take three years of constant exposure to these higher levels to raise a person’s risk of cancer.

A little radiation has also been detected in Tokyo, triggering panic buying of food and water.

Given the reported radiation levels, John Price, an Australian-based nuclear safety expert, said he saw few health risks for the general public so far. But he said he was surprised by how little information the Japanese were sharing.

“We don’t know even the fundamentals of what’s happening, what’s wrong, what isn’t working. We’re all guessing,” he said. “I would have thought they would put on a panel of experts every two hours.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the government expects to ask the U.S. military for help, though he did not elaborate. He said the government is still considering whether to accept offers of help from other countries.

Feds deploy more radiation monitors in western US

AP | Mar 16, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO – More radiation monitors are being deployed in the western United States and Pacific territories, as officials seek to mollify public concern over exposure from damaged nuclear plants in Japan, federal environmental regulators said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency already monitors radiation throughout the area as part of its RadNet system, which measures levels in air, drinking water, milk and rain.

The additional monitors are being deployed “in an abundance of caution” in response to the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan, where emergency workers are attempting to cool overheated reactors damaged by last week’s magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami.

Officials with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said they do not expect harmful radiation levels to reach the U.S. from Japan.

California already has 12 monitoring stations scattered throughout the state that test the air for radiation levels.

EPA told The Associated Press it is adding two more stations in Hawaii and two in Guam. In Alaska, officials are setting up three new monitors in Dutch Harbor, Nome and Juneau.

The new stations are expected to be operational by the end of the week, EPA said.

Officials in Oregon — which has two monitoring stations — held a news conference on Wednesday to reassure the public they were monitoring developments and prepared to respond.

Officials in all western states have said they do not expect to see any harmful levels of radiation reach the mainland, which is about 5,000 miles from Japan.

Data from the monitors are available on its website, the EPA said.

Wind to blow towards Pacific from quake-hit Japan plant

Two damaged reactors at the Fukushima No.1 power plant. The US military said Wednesday it had delivered high-pressure water pumps to Japan to help cool a stricken nuclear power plant as part of the US aid effort amid Japan’s worst crisis since World War II. (AFP/JIJI Press)

Reuters | Mar 15, 2011

TOKYO (Reuters) – The wind near a quake-damaged nuclear complex in northeast Japan, which has released radiation into the atmosphere, will blow from the northwest and out into the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday, a weather official said.

The wind speed will get stronger in the afternoon, blowing as fast as at 12 meters (39.4 ft) per second, said the official at the Japan Meteorological Agency in Fukushima prefecture where the plant is based.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), is about 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo on the country’s northeast coast.

Fire broke out at the plant on Wednesday, prompting some people to flee the capital which has suffered low levels of radiation, but not enough to damage health, officials say.

Public broadcaster NHK said earlier in the day flames were no longer visible at the plant.

A massive earthquake and tsunami on Friday crippled the plant’s cooling functions, forcing operator Tokyo Electric Power Co to pour sea water into the reactors, releasing radioactive air into atmosphere.

Officials said radiation in Tokyo was 10 times normal on Tuesday, when the wind was blowing from the north and northeast.

Japan crisis causes run on anti-radiation pills in U.S.

washingtonpost.com | Mar 16, 2011

By Rob Stein

The Japanese nuclear power plant crisis is triggering jitters about radioactive fallout hitting the United States, even though authorities say it is highly unlikely significant amounts of dangerous material will travel across the Pacific Ocean.

Fearful residents have flooded health officials in western states such as California, Washington and Oregon with anxious questions, and some authorities have begun issuing updates about air monitoring for radiation.

“We opened a hotline and have fielded hundreds of calls from the worried public,” said Michael Sicilia of the California Department of Public Health.

The two U.S. companies that make potassium iodide, which can reduce the risk of thyroid cancer from exposure to iodine-131, are being overwhelmed by demands for the medication from individuals, pharmacies, hospitals, day-care centers and others.

“People are terrified,” said Alan Morris, president of Anbex Inc., of Williamsburg, Va. “We’re getting calls from people who are crying and saying things like, ‘Please. Can’t you help me? Can’t you send me anything?’ ”

Both companies, along with state and federal officials and independent radiation experts, have been trying to reassure people that the chances of dangerous amounts of radiation reaching the United States from Japan are negligible, making such precautions unnecessary.

“All of the information available right now indicates there will be no harmful levels of radioactivity in the United States,” said Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “There’s absolutely no reason for concern.”

Nevertheless, as a precaution, the Environmental Protection Agency sent seven mobile air monitoring stations to Hawaii, Alaska and Guam to bolster capabilities to detect any radiation from Japan. The agency already has more than 100 permanent air monitoring stations around the United States, including in Alaska and Hawaii, but decided to deploy the additional equipment to heighten the early-warning system.

In the meantime, thousands of people are seeking potassium iodide. CVS’s online pharmacy sold out of it over the weekend, a spokesperson said.

“I’m very concerned,” said Laurie Akey, 58, of Newport Beach, Calif. After studying news reports and weather patterns, Akey ordered enough potassium iodide for her husband, four children, three grandchildren, grandparents and Lizzy, her 5-year-old King Charles Spaniel. “This thing is blowing apart over there. If this thing keeps blowing it could come over in a cloud and land on our shores.”

Available without a prescription, potassium iodide blocks radioactive iodine from accumulating in the thyroid gland, where it would boost the risk for thyroid cancer. Thousands of cases of thyroid cancer occurred after the Chernobyl disaster, primarily among those who were children at the time and drank milk from contaminated cows.

People who think they might be exposed to radioactive iodine can start taking doses as soon as they fear they may be at risk for exposure. Potassium iodide is generally safe, although it can pose risks to people who are allergic to iodine and shellfish or have certain skin or other disorders, and can cause heart problems, nausea, vomiting and bleeding.

“It’s been a frenzy — that’s the only thing I can use to describe it,” said Deborah Fleming Wurdack, co-owner of Fleming Pharmaceuticals of St. Louis, which sells a liquid version of the drug in a bottle with a dropper for $13.25 containing 135 adult doses that can be used by adults, split up for teenagers and children of any age.

The small privately owned company has been “fielding hundreds of calls. People are showing up at the door. We’ve heard from Singapore. We’ve heard from Japan. We’ve heard from Korea. We’ve heard from states ordering large quantities,” Fleming said. “We’ve heard from mothers wanting to get it in their house to protect their children. We’ve heard from pharmacies, hospitals, day care centers. It’s just been constant.”

The company expected to have exhausted its supply of 50,000 bottles by the end of the day Wednesday, but is gearing up to resume production, hiring temporary workers to answer the phone and upgrading its Web site to let people order it directly with a credit card, she said.

“It’s crazy,” she said. “Some of these people are in a panic mode. The saddest call we got was from a quadriplegic in California who wanted to protect his children because he can’t get away from the plume if the plume is coming to California.”

Anbex, which sells bottles of 14 tablets for $10 that adults can take, estimates they have been getting two or three calls a minute for days. The company exhausted its stock of about 10,000 blister packs by Friday night. The company has resumed producing the drug and expects new supplies by the end of March or beginning of April.

“It’s been unbelievable. I think I’ve spoken to three quarters of the population of California. We are trying to tamp down the feeling that the world is falling apart. It’s not falling apart,” Morris said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) has asked federal officials to provide potassium iodide, also known as KI, to everyone living within 20 miles of a nuclear power plant in the United States. Currently, the drug is made available to everyone within 10 miles.

“We should not wait for a catastrophic accident at or a terrorist attack on a nuclear reactor in this country to occur to implement this common-sense emergency preparedness measure,” Markey wrote to John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

In response, Dori Salcido, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department, said the “U.S. government will be studying every aspect of the Japanese disaster and the Japanese government’s response, with the goal of learning as much as possible from that review. Policy options relating to KI distribution will be among the issues studied.”

Aside from taking potassium iodide, people can reduce their risk from radioactive fall-out by staying inside, covering their mouths and noses if they are outside in a contaminated area, immediately washing off any exposed clothes or body parts with soap and water, and avoiding ingesting anything tainted. In some cases, hot areas are evacuated.

But officials stressed that there is no indication that any of those precautions will become necessary in the United States.

“The public does need to pay attention. If the public receives specific instructions from their local government, all of these approaches will be based on the best information available,” Burnell said. “But at this time there’s no indication that anyone in the United States is going to see harmful levels of radiation.”

The only other treatment for radiation exposure is a drug known as Prussian Blue, which binds to cesium so the body can eliminate it through the digestive system.

People exposed to high levels of radioactive material, which is usually confined to first-responders and workers at damaged plants, may need intensive medical care.

“Prevention is really the key,” said Fred A. Mettler Jr., a radiation expert and physician at the University of New Mexico. “Whatever us doctors can do afterwards is pretty limited.”

Mettler noted, however, that other sources of iodine are available if potassium iodide is not. Seaweed, for example, is rich in iodine.

“You can just go to your local sushi place and order some seaweed and eat it,” Mettler said. “But there really isn’t any need for that in this country.”

Fewer Americans worry about climate change: poll

The number of Americans who are worried about global warming has fallen to nearly the historic low reached in 1998

AFP | Mar 15, 2011

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans who are worried about global warming has fallen to nearly the historic low reached in 1998, a poll released Monday showed.

Just 51 percent of Americans — or one percentage point more than in 1998 — said they worry a great deal or fair amount about climate change, Gallup’s annual environment poll says.

In 2008, a year after former US vice president Al Gore and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize, two-thirds of Americans were concerned about climate change.

The rate of concern among Americans has fallen steadily since then to 60 percent in 2009 and 52 percent last year.

The poll also found that for the first time since the late 1990s, a minority of Americans — 49 percent — believe global warming has already begun to impact the planet, down sharply from more than six in 10 Americans who three years ago said climate change was already impacting the globe.

“The reasons for the decline in concern are not obvious, though the economic downturn could be a factor,” Gallup analysts say, citing a poll from two years ago that shows that in the minds of Americans, economy takes precedence over environment.

The pollsters also found that a plurality of Americans — 43 percent — think the media exaggerates the seriousness of global warming, and that how Americans view climate change and its impacts varies widely depending on their political beliefs.

Just over a quarter of Americans believe reports in the press about climate change are generally correct, while nearly three in 10 believe the US media understates the effects of global warming.

Conservative Republicans are three times as likely as liberal Democrats to think the media is exaggerating the severity of global warming, while Democrats are roughly twice as likely as Republicans to be concerned about climate change and to think it is already impacting the planet.

The year that Americans’ concern about the effects of climate change hit its lowest point, 1998, was the year that the Kyoto Protocol, the UN treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, was open for ratification.

Eighty-four countries ratified the treaty. The United States was not among them.

Gallup’s poll was based on telephone interviews conducted March 3 and 6 with 1,021 US adults.

No ‘Supermoon’-earthquake connection: Scientists

The phrase ‘Supermoon’ is believed to have been coined by an astrologer, Richard Nolle, on his website, and spread to astronomers online. — PHOTO: AP

straitstimes.com | Mar 14, 2011

THE mega earthquake that hit Japan on Friday had no connection to the ‘Supermoon’, scientists said, referring to an event on March 19 when the moon will be at its closest to Earth in 18 years.

Dr Paul Walker, a senior meteorologist for AccuWeather Inc, told ABC News that ‘there is no connection between the moon’s position’ and the 8.9-magnitude earthquake, which is feared to have killed over 1,000 people. ‘I don’t think you can attribute it to being a full moon… These moon events can cause the tides to run higher than normal, but I’ve not heard of any correlation between them and extreme weather events,’ Dr Walker added.

The phrase ‘Supermoon’ is believed to have been coined by an astrologer, Richard Nolle, on his website, and spread to astronomers online.

Mr Nolle had written that the last ‘Supermoon’ this year was just before the earthquake that hit Christchurch, New Zealand, in February. Other disasters occurring near a ‘Supermoon’ included Hurricane Katrina and the 8.8 Chile earthquake, Mr Nolle said in his post.

However, Nasa astronomer Dave Williams agreed with Dr Walker’s view that the moon had no connection to the Japan quake, ABC News reported.

In an e-mail to ABCNews.com, Mr Williams said that at the time of the earthquake in Japan, the moon was actually closer to its furthest point in orbit from Earth than it was to its closest point (on March 19), ‘so the gravitational effect of the moon was, in fact, less than average at that time’.

Japan: Thousands of bodies wash ashore, coffins and body bags run out, crematoriums beyond capacity

Tsunami survivors cook and eat in front of their damaged house today. Photo by Kyodo News/AP Photo

2,000 bodies wash up – and coffins run out

Post Wire Services | Mar 15, 2011

By DAVID LANDSEL in Tokyo and ANDY SOLTIS in New York

Thousands of bodies washed up on Japan’s devastated northeastern coast yesterday as more thundering aftershocks hampered efforts of emergency workers to get to those still trapped in the rubble of last week’s earthquake and tsunami.

Overwhelmed officials said they had rescued 15,000 survivors so far. But even with 40 percent of Japan’s armed forces committed to search and rescue, they have not been able to reach at least 24,000 others in remote areas of the ravaged coast.

So many new victims have been found since the weekend that officials have run out of body bags and coffins.

Kyodo, the Japanese news agency, reported that 2,000 bodies washed up on two shorelines in Miyagi Prefecture alone.

The official death toll stood at more than 2,400 and was expected to rise.

But amid the grim news came word that a 4-month-old girl, safe in her tiny pink wrap, was found in the rubble of the Miyagi town of Ishinomaki by members of the Japanese military during a house-to-house search.

That ray of hope came as harrowing accounts of survival came to light.

“We were in total isolation,” said Kaori Ohashi, a 39-year-old mother of two, who was trapped inside her home in hard-hit Sendai.

“I thought my life was over. During all that time, we were feeling large aftershocks.

“A rescue nurse came to me and said, ‘You have done well.’ It was only then that I lost it and cried hard,” she said.

The outlook for much of the country remains grim. According to public broadcaster NHK, some 430,000 people are living in emergency shelters or with relatives.

Almost 2 million households are without power, and the Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it would start its first-ever rolling blackouts to prevent a larger blackout.

About 1.4 million households have no running water four days after the disaster hit. And snow is predicted in the next few days.

Many stores, even in Tokyo, aren’t receiving deliveries, and bare shelves are common.

Tokyo was hit by its own temblor this morning. A magnitude-4.1 quake was registered in the area at 5 a.m., NHK said.

US officials said that about 1,300 American citizens were believed to be in regions hardest hit by Friday’s disaster, but there are no reports of fatalities or even injuries.

Japan’s stock market plunged over expectations of staggering losses by corporations such as Toyota and Honda. The benchmark Nikkei stock index fell more than 11 percent in today’s trading.

To lessen the damage, Japan’s central bank injected 15 trillion yen, about $184 billion, into money markets yesterday and added another 5 trillion yen today.

The depth of the tragedy was underlined by the inability of people to cope with the deaths.

Most Japanese prefer to cremate their dead, and with so many bodies, the government was forced yesterday to waive a rule requiring permission from local authorities before cremation or burial.

“The current situation is so extraordinary, and it is very likely that crematoriums are running beyond capacity,” said Health Ministry official Yukio Okuda.

The government may have to ask foreign funeral homes for body bags, Sato said. “We simply don’t have enough,” he said. “We just did not expect such a thing to happen. It’s just overwhelming.”

The government has refused to speculate on how high the eventual death toll will be, but experts said it should be several times the few thousands of bodies reported so far.

“It’s a miracle, really, if it turns out to be less than 10,000,” said Hery Harjono, a senior geologist with the Indonesian Science Institute who dealt closely with the aftermath of the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami.

As so many Japanese tried to comprehend why they were chosen for one history’s worst earthquakes, Tokyo’s governor offered his own answer. Shintaro Ishihara told reporters the disaster was “punishment from heaven,” because the Japanese have become greedy.