Daily Archives: March 24, 2011

NATO to take command of Libya campaign

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen addresses a news conference at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels March 24, 2011. NATO clinched agreement on Thursday to take over command of all allied military operations in Libya from the United States after days of sometimes heated wrangling with Muslim member Turkey. Reuters Pictures

AFP | Mar 25, 2011

NATO members have struck a deal in principle to take over command of military operations in Libya within days from the coalition led by Britain, France and the United States.

“NATO countries are in agreement to launch final planning, enabling it to take over the command from the coalition on Monday or Tuesday,” said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.

Another diplomatic source cautioned however that details remain to be worked out over a no-fly zone enforced by the coalition since Saturday, due to Ankara’s continued objections to strikes against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
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After days of difficult talks, discussions continued late on Thursday at NATO’s Brussels headquarters.

In Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also announced the NATO takeover after a conference call with his US, French and British counterparts.

“The coalition formed after a meeting in Paris is going to give up its mission as soon as possible and hand over the entire operation to NATO with its single command structure,” Davutoglu said, according to Anatolia news agency.

Several NATO allies, including Britain and Italy, wanted the 28-member alliance to run the show.

But Paris argued that flying the mission under NATO’s flag would alienate Arab allies suspicious of the Western military machine.

Few Arab states have joined the military campaign, with Qatar the only nation contributing fighter jets.

Turkey, NATO’s sole Muslim member, has offered a submarine and vessels to enforce an arms embargo on the seas.

In Ankara, parliament on Thursday approved the dispatch of a naval force, as the Islamist-rooted government moved reluctantly to join military action despite anger at Western-led air raids.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has slammed coalition strikes, saying “we have seen in the past that such operations are of no use and that on the contrary, they increase the loss of life, transform into occupation and seriously harm the countries’ unity.”

As Washington pressed for a transfer of command, NATO envoys have been meeting at headquarters for several days to discuss the issue.

One compromise under discussion would allow countries opposed to the strikes, such as Turkey, to opt out of such operations while others could take part in the attacks, diplomats said.

Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa on Thursday evoked two possible aerial missions over Libya, one run by NATO and a second “no-fly zone plus” with a broader mandate that would permit strikes against targets on the ground.

Allies still have to hammer out the political structure of the more offensive operation, he said.

Italy accused the French of being “intransigent” and threatened to take back control of the seven air bases it offered for no-fly zone operations if the command handover is not sealed.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said London wanted “transition to NATO command and control as quickly as possible” and said it expected “to get that soon.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned his country would only take part in a no-fly zone headed by NATO.

“For me it’s the key,” Rutte said.

European Union leaders, torn over Libya after Germany broke ranks with allies by refusing to back the UN Security Council resolution approving the strikes, were working to overcome divisions at a two-day summit that opened Thursday.

Germany went into the talks calling for a “total” oil embargo on Gaddafi’s regime, as others urged an upgrade in recognition of Libyan rebels.

“There’s a form of give-and-take being negotiated between these positions”, a diplomatic source said.

The countries taking part in military action, such as Britain, France and Italy, are less inclined to step up sanctions, said an EU diplomat who asked not to be named.

France, however, is expected to press for the EU to add political weight to anti-Gaddafi insurgents in the interim transition council, by recognising them as “legitimate” rather than merely “political” interlocutors — the status decided at an EU summit earlier this month.

‘Libya war could last 30 years’: Armed forces minister’s extraordinary admission

Supporting the dictator: A man clutches a poster of Gaddafi to his chest as he passes a Tripoli military site damaged by coalition air strikes

Daily Mail | Mar 23, 2011

By Tim Shipman

Ministers admitted yesterday that they have no idea how long the military operation against Colonel Gaddafi could take.

Asked for an estimate, Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey said: ‘How long is a piece of string? We don’t know how long this is going to go on.

‘We don’t know if this is going to result in a stalemate. We don’t know if his capabilities are going to be degraded quickly. Ask me again in a week.’

The comments come as a defiant Muammar Gaddafi made a speech on Libyan state television last night in which he claimed said he was ready for entrenched conflict, saying; ‘In the short term, we’ll beat them, in the long term, we’ll beat them.’

The Libyan leader was said to have delivered the message to supporters at his residential compound near the capital Tripoli which was hit by an allied cruise missile on Sunday.

He denounced the ‘unjust’ action against his country and called those taking action against Libya as ‘crazed fascists’.

And as Tory MPs expressed fears that the war could last for 30 years, Foreign Secretary William Hague added to fears of an expensive and open-ended commitment, saying that it was impossible to put a deadline on British involvement.

Mr Hague said: ‘It’s too early to speculate. It depends what happens one way or another.

‘I don’t think you can put a deadline or a time objective to that.

‘We need to do those things as long as it is necessary, and that will depend on how people react in Libya, the reaction of the Gaddafi regime, on so many factors.’

In a major speech last night, he added: ‘We will continue to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 until there is a complete and genuine ceasefire and an end to attacks on civilians.’

Liberal Democrat Mr Harvey went further than any minister yet in admitting that ground forces may be needed.

The UN resolution rules out an ‘invasion’ and an ‘occupying force’ but not ground force assistance to protect civilian lives.

‘I don’t think we would at this stage rule anything in or rule anything out,’ Mr Harvey said.

‘It’s something that the twists and turns of the next few days and weeks will determine, what any individual country puts into this fray.

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Neutron beam observed 13 times at Fukushima nuclear plant

Neutron beam observed 13 times

Kyodo News | Mar 24, 2011

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday it has observed a neutron beam, a kind of radioactive ray, 13 times on the premises of its crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Tepco said the neutron beam measured about 1.5 km southwest of the plant’s Nos. 1 and 2 reactors over three days from March 13 and is equivalent to 0.01 to 0.02 microsieverts per hour. This is not a dangerous level of radiation, it added.

The utility said it will also measure uranium and plutonium, which could emit a neutron beam.

In the 1999 criticality accident at a nuclear fuel processing plant run by JCO Co. in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, uranium broke apart continually in nuclear fission, causing a massive amount of neutron beams.

In the latest case at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, a criticality accident has yet to happen.

But the measured neutron beam may be evidence that uranium and plutonium leaked from the plant’s nuclear reactors and spent nuclear fuel have discharged a small amount of neutron beams via fission.

Tokyo: Radiation in Water Puts Infants at Risk

Kokona, an 8-month-old baby, received a medical examination at a temporary clinic in Hadenya, Minamisanroku, Japan. Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

NY Times | Mar 23, 2011


TOKYO — Radioactive iodine detected in Tokyo’s water supply prompted Japanese authorities on Wednesday to warn that infants in Tokyo and surrounding areas should not drink tap water, adding to the growing anxiety about public safety posed by Japan’s unfolding nuclear crisis.

Ei Yoshida, head of water purification for the Tokyo water department, said at a televised news conference that iodine 131 had been detected in water samples at a level of 210 becquerels per liter, about a quart. The recommended limit for infants is 100 becquerels per liter. For adults, the recommended limit is 300 becquerels. (The measurement unit is named for Henri Becquerel, one of the discoverers of radioactivity.)

The announcement prompted a run on bottled water at stores in Tokyo and a pledge from the authorities to distribute bottled water to families with infants. Prime Minister Naoto Kan said earlier Wednesday that the public should avoid additional farm produce from areas near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, severely damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, according to the Japanese news media.


Tokyo tap water not safe for infants, officials warn

Bottled water scarce after Japan’s tap water shown unsafe for infants

The Health Ministry said in a statement that it was unlikely that there would be negative consequences to infants who did drink the water, but that it should be avoided if possible and not be used to make infant formula. There was some confusion about the public health advice, with experts saying it should also apply to pregnant women, since they and fetuses are vulnerable.

“It’s unfortunate, but the radiation is clearly being carried on the air from the Fukushima plant,” said Yukio Edano, the chief cabinet secretary. “Because it’s raining, it’s possible that a lot of places will be affected. Even if people consume the water a few times, there should be no long-term ill effects.”

There has been frequent rain in recent days and the watershed for Tokyo’s tap water lies almost entirely to the north and northeast of the city. The nuclear plant is about 140 miles to the north.

But it was not entirely clear why the levels of iodine were so high, said a senior Western nuclear executive, noting that the prevailing breezes seem to be pushing radiation out to sea. “The contamination levels are well beyond what you’d expect from what is in the public domain,” said the executive, who insisted on anonymity and has broad contacts in Japan.

The daily Asahi Shimbun cited the Health Ministry as saying that drinking the water would hurt neither a pregnant woman nor her fetus, and that it was safe for bathing and other everyday activities.

But experts say that pregnant women, nursing mothers and fetuses, as well as children, face the greatest danger from radioactive iodine, which is taken in by the thyroid gland and can cause thyroid cancer. Children are at much higher risk than adults because they are growing, and their thyroid glands are more active and in need of iodine. In addition, the gland is smaller in children than in adults, so there is less tissue to share the radiation: a given amount of iodine 131 will deliver a higher dose of radiation to a child’s thyroid and potentially do more harm.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if an adult and a child ingest the same amount of radioactive iodine the thyroid dose will be 16 times higher to a newborn than to an adult; for a child under 1 year old, eight times the adult dose; for a 5-year-old, four times the adult dose.

Pregnant women also take up more iodine 131 in the thyroid, especially during the first trimester. The iodine crosses the placenta and reaches the fetus, and the fetal thyroid takes up more and more iodine as pregnancy progresses. During the first week after birth a baby’s thyroid activity increases up to fourfold and stays at that level for a few days, so newborns are especially vulnerable. Women who are breast-feeding will secrete about a quarter of the iodine they ingest into their milk.

The compound potassium iodide can protect the thyroid by saturating it with normal iodine so it will have no need to soak up the radioactive form. People in Japan have been advised to take it. Scientists say that if it is in short supply and must be rationed, the pills should go first to pregnant women and children.

The 1986 accident at Chernobyl caused an epidemic of thyroid cancer — 6,000 cases so far — in people who were exposed as children. The risk in that group has not decreased over time, and many more cases are expected. The culprit was milk produced by cows that had grazed on grass that was heavily carpeted by fallout. The epidemic could probably have been prevented if people in the region had been told not to drink milk and if they had been given potassium iodide.

The warning applied to the 23 wards of Tokyo, as well as the towns of Mitaka, Tama, Musashino, Machida and Inagi to the west of the city.

After the announcement on Wednesday, at the Lawson convenience store in the Tsukiji neighborhood of central Tokyo, the shelves were about half-stocked with water. A clerk said he had just restocked them an hour before.

“People came in and cleared us out in the first hour after the announcement,” he said, saying he did not want to be identified because he did not want to anger his boss. “They were taking 20 or 30 bottles at a time.”

Outside the store a man struggling to load more than 30 half-liter bottles onto his bicycle said he had bought the water for his wife, who is seven months pregnant.

Around the corner, at an AM/PM convenience store, the bottled water section of the shelves was bare except for nine half-liter bottles of sparkling lemon-flavored water.

With water disappearing from store shelves, the Tokyo city government acted to calm fears, saying it would begin distributing 240,000 bottles of water on Thursday to families with children younger than 1 year, the broadcaster NHK reported. There are about 80,000 such children in the affected zone, NHK said.

Outside Tokyo the government said it had found radioactive materials at levels exceeding legal limits in 11 vegetables in Fukushima Prefecture, the Kyodo news agency reported. Shipments of the affected vegetables from there ended on Monday.

On Wednesday Prime Minister Kan also suspended shipments of raw milk and parsley from neighboring Ibaraki Prefecture, Kyodo reported.

The United States Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday that it would prohibit imports of dairy goods and produce from the affected region. Hong Kong also banned food and milk imports from the area.

Mr. Kan’s office said Wednesday that rebuilding after the 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami, which ravaged the northeastern coast of the main Japanese island of Honshu, would cost up to $309 billion. The World Bank, citing private estimates, said on Monday that the figure could reach $235 billion.

The economic cost of the disaster has hit the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the crippled nuclear plant and is in negotiations with its bankers for loans of as much as $24 billion, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified.

The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that the official death toll from the disaster had been raised to more than 9,500, with more than 16,000 people missing, although officials said there could be overlap between the figures.

Meanwhile, strong earthquakes hit the northeast coast on Wednesday. A 6.0-magnitude quake shook Fukushima Prefecture in the morning, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. That was followed by a 5.8-magnitude tremor about 20 minutes later.

Scientists have warned that aftershocks from the March 11 quake could continue for weeks, possibly months.


FDA reconsiders risky electric shock treatments

A patient is prepared for electroshock at Patton State Hospital in 1942.… (Associated Press)

Modern shock therapy is safe and effective, proponents argue, but others say the long-term risks are too uncertain.

FDA revisits risks of electric shock treatment

LA Times | Mar 19, 2011

By Andrew Zajac

They used to call it “Edison’s medicine” or, with a touch of gallows humor, a “Georgia Power cocktail” — the practice of hooking mentally troubled patients up to an electrical current and jolting them until they went into convulsions.

Pioneered in the late 1930s, electroshock therapy, as it was more commonly known, was a scientifically crude practice that often left patients dazed and disoriented, sometimes with broken bones. For many it became a symbol of the callousness that often characterized the treatment of the mentally ill.

But that was then. Though its use waned as a result of reformers’ attacks and the development of powerful drugs that offered an alternative treatment, electric shock therapy never entirely disappeared. The controversy over its use resurfaced in January when an advisory panel of the Food and Drug Administration met to consider a proposal for changing the official risk classification of today’s electroshock devices.

Influential voices in the mental health establishment, including the American Psychiatric Assn. and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, urged the FDA to drop such devices into a medium-risk category, arguing that modern electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, as it’s now known, has proved safe and effective over many years of use.

Although medical science still doesn’t understand exactly how it works, modern versions of the treatment offer the last, best hope of patients suffering from extreme depression and several other intractable psychiatric disorders, proponents say.

About 100,000 people, two-thirds of them women, are thought to receive such treatment annually.

“For a very small population of severely depressed people, there’s no other form of treatment like ECT,” said Roberto Estrada, chief of electroconvulsive therapy services at New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital. “It’s for patients who are beyond the reach of conventional psychotherapy and who don’t respond to drugs.”

Others remain sharply critical of the treatment, calling it dangerous, ineffective and often harmful.

“The classification should not be downgraded, and there should be a suspension of its use until it’s proven safe,” said Daniel Fisher, a Boston psychiatrist who argues that the jolts of current cause permanent brain damage. “To me, it’s unbelievable that they’re considering downgrading it. It would be putting it in the same classification as a wheelchair or a syringe.”