Monthly Archives: July 2015

Nuclear Reactors Exports – China

China Power Investment Corporation and State Nuclear Power Technology Corp have officially announced their merger, as Beijing moves to consolidate its nuclear power sector, aiming eventually to export reactors.  China Power producer currently controls about a tenth of China’s nuclear power market, while the State Nuclear was formed in 2007 to handle nuclear technology transferred from U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric Co.

The new company, State Power Investment Corporation, is expected to own assets over 700 billion yuan ($112.94 billion) and to post revenue of over 200 billion yuan annually, state news agency Xinhua said, citing Wang Binghua, the chairman and party secretary of State Power Investment Corporation.

China National Nuclear Power Corp (CNNC) said …that the merger to form State Power Investment Corporation will increase competition between China’s three major nuclear corporations in both domestic and international construction of nuclear infrastructure. The other major player in this sector is China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN).China is contemplating a merger between CNNC and CGN which were set up as rivals to compete for projects at home and overseas but, under government prompting, have cooperated on a single reactor brand, Hualong 1, with the intention of eventually marketing it abroad.

Beijing said in January it would aid the overseas expansion of Chinese firms, in particular in the rail and nuclear power sectors, raising hackles with some trading partners who fear it signals another wave of subsidized Chinese exports.

China nuclear power firms merge to fuel global clout, Reuters, May 30, 2015

Unleashing Nuclear Power – Iran

China was expected to build two nuclear power plants for Iran as part of the country’s new nuclear direction under the controversial nuclear deal that was signed July 15, 2015. The plants were set to be located on the Makran coast, near the neighboring Gulf of Oman, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi announced on July 22, 2015.

Uninhibited by sanctions, Iran announced plans for four new nuclear power plants. Chinese contractors will be building two of the four planned. “We will simultaneously launch construction of four new nuclear power plants in the country in the next two to three years,” Salehi said, according to Indo-Asian News Service. “We plan to engage more than 20,000 workers and engineers in this large-scale construction.”

When it comes to United Nations sanctions, China had always been an advocate for Iran, along with Russia, generally opposing Washington’s proposed restrictions. On July 20, 2015, the United Nations adopted the nuclear deal between Tehran and Washington, after the “P5+1” countries — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — unanimously approved it, also voting to lift a series of economic sanctions that were previously imposed on Iran.

China has played a unique, hands-on role in the nuclear deal involving Iran’s Arak reactor, which has been described previously as a “pathway” to nuclear weapons for Iran.

“China has put forward the idea of the modification of the Arak heavy water reactor. … This is the unique role China has played in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yisaid in a statement…..  [The nuclear deal]  has also opened up a door to increased business opportunity in Iran, particularly for China.  Following the announcement of the landmark deal, Wang said that China played a pivotal role in negotiations, and he expressed hope that Iran would take part in China’s “one belt, one road” ambition to revive the Silk Road route.

Excerpts from Michelle FlorCruz, Iran Nuclear Deal: China To Build 2 Nuclear Power Plants For Islamic Republic Following Landmark Agreement, International Business Times, July 22, 2015

Full text of Iran Nuclear Deal Signed July 15, 2015
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
Annex I: Nuclear-related commitments
Annex II: Sanctions-related commitments
Attachments to Annex II
Annex III: Civil nuclear cooperation
Annex IV: Joint Commission
Annex V: Implementation Plan

Power of Indigenous Defense Industry

Even though Colombia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco and Singapore have very different perspectives and agendas, they are all expected to sharply increase their defence spending over the next 10 years. Due to the arms race and an increasing threat perception, the effects of the 2008 financial slowdown on defence spending in these transitioning markets are gradually reducing.

“Unlike leading transitioning economies like India, South Korea, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil, the five countries selected for this study are still attempting to develop an industrial base …,” said Frost & Sullivan Aerospace & Defence Industry AnalystAlix Leboulanger. “Upon a closer look at these countries’ dynamics, it is found that their political intent is stronger than their financial and infrastructure capabilities.”  Several factors are dampening indigenisation plans. The increasingly competitive marketplace has left little room for emerging local players unless they can distinguish themselves appropriately – for instance, with price in Colombia and technology in Singapore. Moreover, weak market prospects beyond local demand, along with the absence of small- and medium-sized enterprises, have restricted partnership opportunities and transfer-of-technology ventures with foreign companies.

Investing in high-end foreign technology is perceived as the way forward to fulfil three objectives: achieving modernisation programmes, consolidating the domestic industrial base, and providing employment to locals,” explained Leboulanger. “This will require efficient and easily-applicable regulations to create an attractive and stable environment for foreign investments and industrial partnerships. The lack of skilled personnel and infrastructure, also need to be addressed.”… Financial constraints mean that governments will try to reduce armed forces and invest in combat-proven platforms, surplus material and second-hand equipment…

“As a matter of fact Colombia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco and Singapore are expected to spend 21 percent of their total budget, circa 9.77 billion USD per year, on new equipment.”

Combat Readiness Plans Win Over Defence Indigenisation Targets in Select Markets, Finds Frost & Sullivan, PR Newswire, July 22, 2015

Foreign-Funded NGOs as Foreign Agents

Since Russia annexed Crimea last year, it has become almost impossible for scientists in Russia to buy anything in the United States or Japan that has a dual purpose, said physicist Alexander Shilov, who works in the Institute of Laser Physics in Russia’s scientific hub of Akademgorodok, or Academy Town — part of Russia’s third-largest city of Novosibirsk…The U.S. and EU sanctions were designed to halt exports to the Russian defense sector. When announcing a new round of sanctions in July 2014, the European Union noted specifically that they “should not affect the exports of dual-use goods and technology” to Russia for “non-military use.” In reality, many Western companies were so spooked by the sanctions and the penalties they could face for violating them that the door was shut completely, the scientists say….

What’s more, foreign-made equipment is now less affordable for Russian scientists because of the depreciation in the Russian ruble, which lost nearly half of its value since the Crimean annexation.

The scientists’ plight has been compounded by the Kremlin’s own crackdown on Russian private funding of science, stemming from suspicions of Western influence. The government this year labeled the Dynasty foundation, Russia’s largest source of private funding for science, a “foreign agent” — which makes the group vulnerable to an array of surprise checks and audits. It is a Cold War term that carries connotations of spying. The foundation fell afoul of the officialdom because its Russian founder funds the organization from money transferred from his foreign bank accounts.  “If Dynasty was named a foreign agent, then everyone who had contracts with Dynasty is an accomplice of a foreign agent,” said Shilov. “We are all spies now.”

The government has become increasingly suspicious of foreign-funded non-governmental organizations, seeing them as potential agents of a hostile West. Russia has brushed off the sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union, saying that Russia has plenty of resources to replace banned imports with its own production.

Excerpts from  NATALIYA VASILYEVA5, Russian scientists squeezed by sanctions, Kremlin policies, Associated Press, July 20, 2015

Al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula as Benefactor

Yemen: Local militias backed by Saudi Arabia, special forces from the United Arab Emirates and Al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants all fought on the same side this week to wrest back control over most of Yemen’s second city, Aden, from pro-Iranian Houthi rebels, according to local residents and Houthi forces.

The U.S. has backed a Saudi-led coalition that launched airstrikes against the Houthis…. [But at the same time],  the U.S. continues to conduct separate airstrikes targeting AQAP militants in Yemen.  Meanwhile, Saudi-backed militias are spearheading efforts to roll back Houthi gains and reinstate the government that the rebels drove into exile in neighboring Saudi Arabia. But they have turned to Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, for help, according to local residents and a senior Western diplomat. This puts the U.S.-allied Gulf kingdom on the same side as one of the world’s most notorious extremist groups…

The AQAP militants are exploiting the chaos to expand across Yemen, according to Western officials. At the same time, the regional coalition has been criticized for ignoring the group’s territorial gains since the onset of the conflict, while relentlessly targeting Houthi rebels.

The local militias used trucks and weapons supplied by the Saudi-led military coalition to finally push the Houthis out of the Aden ports after a five-month battle, local residents said. AQAP militants celebrated the victory alongside the militias, parading cadavers of Houthis on a main commercial street in the city to a cheering crowd, according to residents and video posted online.

Aden wasn’t the first victory for AQAP in this conflict. In April, the group captured al-Mukalla, the country’s largest eastern seaport. The Saudi-backed militias have also acknowledged that they fought with AQAP against the Houthis in Ataq, the capital of Shabwa province, earlier this year.

Since 2011, the U.S. has spent nearly $500 million to train and equip Yemen’s security forces to battle AQAP. The U.S. has also backed the Saudi-led regional coalition with intelligence and logistical support since it formed in March 2015, imposing a crippling aerial and naval blockade across Yemen.  American officials acknowledge that AQAP is one of the war’s biggest benefactor…

Excerpts from Al Qaeda Helps Saudi-Backed Forces in Yemen, Dow Jones Business News, July 16, 2015.

Thyroid Cancer + Nuclear Plants: Korea

South Korea:  After a medical checkup, Hwang, 67, a resident of Gyeongju, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had to have immediate surgery to remove the tumor. Several other people from her village, which is the closest human settlement to the Wolseong nuclear power plant, were also diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  Hwang is among an increasing number of South Koreans who live near the country’s four nuclear power plants and are joining civil suits against the operator of the plants, demanding compensation for cancer and other adverse health effects.

The citizen’s legal actions were prompted by a landmark ruling by the Busan[where the Kori Nuclear Plant is located]  district court October 2014, which ordered Korea Electric Power Corp., the government-owned operator of the nuclear plants, to pay 15 million won (1.68 million yen, or $13,500) in damages to a thyroid cancer patient. The number of plaintiffs seeking compensation from KEPCO for health damages incurred by radioactive emissions from the plants has now swelled to more than 2,500.   In demanding compensation from KEPCO, she argues that radioactive emissions from the Wolseong nuclear power plant in Gyeongju, with its five reactors, have caused her thyroid cancer.

Lawyer Kim Yeong-hui, who has encouraged residents living near nuclear plants to join the litigation, said that epidemiological surveys in South Korea have shown that residents living 5 to 30 km from nuclear power plants have 1.8 times a higher incidence of thyroid cancer than people from other areas.

Excerpt from  AKIRA NAKANO, More residents joining lawsuits seeking damages from South Korean nuclear plants, Asahi Shimbum, July 15, 2015

Buying the Media – the Saudi Cable

Buying Silence: How the Saudi Foreign Ministry controls Arab media (wikileaks website)

Saudi Arabia controls its image by monitoring media and buying loyalties from Australia to Canada and everywhere in between.  Documents reveal the extensive efforts to monitor and co-opt Arab media, making sure to correct any deviations in regional coverage of Saudi Arabia and Saudi-related matters. Saudi Arabia’s strategy for co-opting Arab media takes two forms, corresponding to the “carrot and stick” approach, referred to in the documents as “neutralisation” and “containment”. The approach is customised depending on the market and the media in question.

The initial reaction to any negative coverage in the regional media is to “neutralise” it. The term is used frequently in the cables and it pertains to individual journalists and media institutions whose silence and co-operation has been bought. “Neutralised” journalists and media institutions are not expected to praise and defend the Kingdom, only to refrain from publishing news that reflects negatively on the Kingdom, or any criticism of its policies. The “containment” approach is used when a more active propaganda effort is required. Journalists and media institutions relied upon for “containment” are expected not only to sing the Kingdom’s praises, but to lead attacks on any party that dares to air criticisms of the powerful Gulf state.

One of the ways “neutralisation” and “containment” are ensured is by purchasing hundreds or thousands of subscriptions in targeted publications. These publications are then expected to return the favour by becoming an “asset” in the Kingdom’s propaganda strategy. A document listing the subscriptions that needed renewal by 1 January 2010 details a series of contributory sums meant for two dozen publications in Damascus, Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Kuwait, Amman and Nouakchott. The sums range from $500 to 9,750 Kuwaiti Dinars ($33,000). The Kingdom effectively buys reverse “shares” in the media outlets, where the cash “dividends” flow the opposite way, from the shareholder to the media outlet. In return Saudi Arabia gets political “dividends” – an obliging press.

An example of these co-optive practices in action can be seen in an exchange between the Saudi Foreign Ministry and its Embassy in Cairo. On 24 November 2011 Egypt’s Arabic-language broadcast station ONTV hosted the Saudi opposition figure Saad al-Faqih, which prompted the Foreign Ministry to task the embassy with inquiring into the channel. The Ministry asked the embassy to find out how “to co-opt it or else we must consider it standing in the line opposed to the Kingdom’s policies”.  The document reports that the billionaire owner of the station, Naguib Sawiris, did not want to be “opposed to the Kingdom’s policies” and that he scolded the channel director, asking him “never to host al-Faqih again”. He also asked the Ambassador if he’d like to be “a guest on the show”.

The Saudi Cables are rife with similar examples, some detailing the figures and the methods of payment. These range from small but vital sums of around $2000/year to developing country media outlets – a figure the Guinean News Agency “urgently needs” as “it would solve many problems that the agency is facing” – to millions of dollars, as in the case of Lebanese right-wing television station MTV.

The “neutralisation” and “containment” approaches are not the only techniques the Saudi Ministry is willing to employ. In cases where “containment” fails to produce the desired effect, the Kingdom moves on to confrontation. In one example, the Foreign Minister was following a Royal Decree dated 20 January 2010 to remove Iran’s new Arabic-language news network, Al-Alam, from the main Riyadh-based regional communications satellite operator, Arabsat. After the plan failed, Saud Al Faisal sought to “weaken its broadcast signal”.

The documents show concerns within the Saudi administration over the social upheavals of 2011, which became known in the international media as the “Arab Spring”. The cables note with concern that after the fall of Mubarak, coverage of the upheavals in Egyptian media was “being driven by public opinion instead of driving public opinion”. The Ministry resolved “to give financial support to influential media institutions in Tunisia”, the birthplace of the “Arab Spring”.

The Rule of Law in Afghanistan?

Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, known as SIGAR: Rule of Law in Afghanistan: U.S. Agencies Lack a Strategy and Cannot Fully Determine the Effectiveness of Programs Costing More Than $1 Billion

U.S. efforts to develop the rule of law in Afghanistan have been impaired by four significant factors. First, U.S agencies lack a comprehensive rule of law strategy to help plan and  guide their efforts. Second, DOD [US Department of Defense] is unable to account for the total amount of funds it spent to support rule of law development. Third, DOD, DOJ [US Department of Justice], State Department, and USAID all have had problems measuring the performance of their respective rule of law programs.

Fourth, U.S. efforts are undermined by significant challenges from pervasive corruption in Afghanistan’s justice sector and the uncertainty regarding whether the Afghan government can or will sustain U.S. program activities and reforms.

U.S. agencies—led by DOD, DOJ, State, and USAID—lack a current, comprehensive interagency rule of law strategy to help plan and guide U.S. rule of law development efforts in Afghanistan….SIGAR determined that DOD, DOJ, State, and USAID have spent more than $1 billion on at least 66 programs since 2003 to develop the rule of law in Afghanistan.

Regulating Mining in the Deep Seabed

Interest in mining the deep seabed is not new; however, recent technological advances and increasing global demand for metals and rare-earth elements may make it economically viable in the near future  Since 2001, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has granted 26 contracts (18 in the last 4 years) to explore for minerals on the deep seabed, encompassing ∼1 million km2 in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans in areas beyond national jurisdiction However, as fragile habitat structures and extremely slow recovery rates leave diverse deep-sea communities vulnerable to physical disturbances such as those caused by mining (3), the current regulatory framework could be improved. We offer recommendations to support the application of a precautionary approach when the ISA meets later this July 2015….

The seabed outside of national jurisdictions [called the “Area” in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)] is legally part of  the “common heritage of mankind” and is not subject to direct claims by sovereign states. The common-heritage principle imposes a kind of trusteeship obligation on the ISA, created under UNCLOS in 1994, and its member states, wherein “the interests of future generations have to be respected in making use of the international commons”; those interests include both resource exploitation and environmental protection …

Efforts focused on the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCZ) in the abyssal Pacific provide a useful model. The CCZ as the largest known concentrations of high-grade polymetallic nodules, with potentially great commercial value . The scale of impacts that would be associated with nodule mining in the CCZ may affect 100s to 1000s of km2 per mining operation per year . In 2007, an international workshop brought together expert representatives from ISA and the scientific and international ocean law communities to develop design principles and recommendations for a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the CCZ off-limits to mining, to be considered by the ISA as part of a regional environmental management plan. The workshop used a recent assessment of biodiversity, species ranges, and gene flow in the CCZ to develop recommendations honoring existing mining exploration claims while incorporating accepted principles of ecosystem management ..

In 2012, the ISA pioneered a precautionary approach in the CCZ when it provisionally adopted the deep seabed’s first environmental management plan that included Areas of Particular Environmental Interest (APEIs), a modified version of the recommended MPA network from the 2007 workshop. The design principles used in developing the APEIs included (i) compatibility with the existing legal framework of the ISA for managing seabed mining and protecting the marine environment. (ii) minimizing socioeconomic impacts by honoring existing exploration claims; (iii) maintaining sustainable, intact, and healthy marine populations; (iv) accounting for regional ecological gradients; (v) protecting a full range of habitat types; (vi) creating buffer zones to protect against external anthropogenic threats (e.g., mining plumes); and (vii) establishing straight-line boundaries to facilitate rapid recognition and compliance (12)….

Meanwhile, the ISA continues to grant exploration contracts for large areas of other deep-sea habitats in the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans. Preexisting or new exploration claims (up to ∼75,000 km2 for nodules) can erode the effectiveness of protected-area networks by preempting protection of critical habitats and by limiting population connectivity by causing excessive spacing between MPAs. We thus recommend that the ISA consider suspending further approval of exploration contracts (and not approve exploitation contracts) until MPA networks are designed and implemented for each targeted region.

Excerpts from L. M. Wedding et al., Managing mining of the deep seabed, Science 10 July 2015:

The Runit Nuclear Tomb

[The debris left by the United States nuclear testing at the Marshall islands  were buried under] a vast structure is known as the Runit Dome. Locals call it The Tomb. Below the 18-inch concrete cap rests the United States’ cold war legacy to this remote corner of the Pacific Ocean: 111,000 cubic yards of radioactive debris left behind after 12 years of nuclear tests.  Brackish water pools around the edge of the dome, where sections of concrete have started to crack away. Underground, radioactive waste has already started to leach out of the crater: according to a 2013 report by the US Department of Energy, soil around the dome is already more contaminated than its contents.  Now locals, scientists and environmental activists fear that a storm surge, typhoon or other cataclysmic event brought on by climate change could tear the concrete mantel wide open, releasing its contents into the Pacific Ocean….

Enewetak Atoll, and the much better-known Bikini Atoll, were the main sites of the United States Pacific Proving Grounds, the setting for dozens of atomic explosions during the early years of the cold war.  The remote islands – roughly halfway between Australia and Hawaii – were deemed sufficiently distant from major population centres and shipping lanes, and in 1948, the local population of Micronesian fishermen and subsistence farmers were evacuated to another atoll 200 km away.  In total, 67 nuclear and atmospheric bombs were detonated on Enewetak and Bikini between 1946 and 1958 – an explosive yield equivalent to 1.6 Hiroshima bombs detonated every day over the course of 12 years.

The detonations blanketed the islands with irradiated debris, including Plutonium-239, the fissile isotope used in nuclear warheads, which has a half-life of 24,000 years.  When the testing came to an end, the US Defence Nuclear Agency carried out an eight-year cleanup, but Congress refused to fund a comprehensive decontamination programme to make the entire atoll fit for human settlement again.

The DNA’s preferred option – deep ocean dumping – was prohibited by international treaties and hazardous waste regulations, and there was little appetite for transporting the irradiated refuse back to the US.  In the end, US servicemen simply scraped off the islands’ contaminated topsoil and mixed it with radioactive debris. The resulting radioactive slurry was then dumped in an unlined 350-foot crater on Runit Island’s northern tip, and sealed under 358 concrete panels.

But the dome was never meant to last. According to the World Health Organization, the $218m plan was designed as temporary fix: a way to store contaminated material until a permanent decontamination plan was devised.  Meanwhile, only three of the atoll’s 40 islands were cleaned up, but not Enjebi, where half of Enewetak’s population had traditionally lived. And as costs spiralled, resettlement efforts of the northern part of the atoll stalled indefinitely.  Nevertheless, in 1980, as the Americans prepared their own departure, the dri-Enewetak (“people of Enewetak”) were allowed to return to the atoll after 33 years.

Three years later, the Marshall Islands signed a compact of free association with the US, granting its people certain privileges, but not full citizenship.  The deal also settled of “all claims, past, present and future” related to the US Nuclear Testing Program – and left the Runit Dome under the responsibility of the Marshallese government.  Today, the US government insists that it has honoured all its obligations, and that the jurisdiction for the dome and its toxic contents lies with the Marshall Islands.  The Marshallese, meanwhile, say that a country with a population of 53,000 people and a GDP of $190m – most of it from US aid programs – is simply incapable of dealing with the potential radioactive catastrophe left behind by the Americans.

Today, Runitis still uninhabited, but it receives regular stream of visitors heading from neighboring islands to its abundant fishing grounds or searching for scrap metal to salvage.…Three decades after the Americans’ departure, abandoned bunkers dot the shoreline, and electric cables encased in black rubber snake across the sand.Nowhere on the beaches or the dome itself is there a warning to stay away – or even an indication of radioactivity.

The US has yet to fully compensate the dri-Enewetak for the irreversible damage to their homeland, a total amounting to roughly $244m as appraised by the Nuclear Claims Tribunal.+++ Many locals are deeply in debt, and dependent on a supplemental food program funded by the US Department of Agriculture, which delivers shipments of process foods such as Spam, flour and canned goods. The destruction a centuries-old lifestyle have lead to both a diabetes epidemic and regular bouts of starvation on the island….

Other – and more worrying – traces of Enewetak’s history have also reached China: according to a 2014 study published in Environmental Science & Technology, plutonium isotopes from the nuclear tests have been found as far a the Pearl River Estuary in Guangdong province.

Many people in Enewetak fear that one day the dome will break open, further spreading highly radioactive debris.  As catastrophic weather events become more frequent, recent studies – including 2013 study of the Runit Dome’s structural integrity carried out by the DoE – have warned that typhoons could destroy or damage the cement panels, or inundate the island. A 2013 report commissioned by the US Department of Energy to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory acknowledged that radioactive materials are already leaching out of the dome, but downplays the possibility of serious environmental damage or health risks….

Independent scientists say that salvaging Runit’s scrap metal may expose locals to much higher risks.“Those guys are digging in the dirt breathing in stuff in hot spots. That has to be hundreds of thousands times higher doses of potential health effects than swimming,” said Ken Buessler, a senior scientist and marine chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who visited Runit and gathered samples of sediment in the lagoon earlier this year…

“Why Enewetak?” asked Ading, Enewetak’s exiled senator during an interview in the nation’s capital. “Every day, I have that same question. Why not go to some other atoll in the world? Or why not do it in Nevada, their backyard? I know why. Because they don’t want the burden of having nuclear waste in their backyard. They want the nuclear waste hundreds of thousands miles away. That’s why they picked the Marshall Islands.” “The least they could’ve done is correct their mistakes.”

Excerpts from Coleen Jose et al., The radioactive dome on Enewetak atoll, Guardian, July 3, 2015

+++In June 1983, the Agreement Between the Government of the United States and the Government of the Marshall Islands for the Implementation of Section 177 of the Compact of Free Association (referred to as 177 Agreement) established the Claims Tribunal “with jurisdiction to ‘render final determination upon all claims past, present and future, of the Government, citizens and nationals of the Marshall Islands which are based on, arise out of, or are in any way related to the Nuclear Testing Program.”The Tribunal was established in 1988.

See also UN Human Rights report Mission to the Marshall Islands

Animal Diseases as Biological Weapons

The World Health Organisation (WHO), animal health and national defence officers called for wider international co-operation to avoid the spread of animal diseases that could be used as biological weapons.  Sixty percent of human diseases come from animal agents and 80% of the agents that could be used for bio-terrorism are of animal origin, said Bernard Vallat, director general of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

“History has shown animal diseases have often been used as weapons before. Advances in genetics can now make them even more harmful. So we are calling for further investment to be made at national level on bio-security,” Vallat said at a conference on biological threat reduction.  Diseases have spread from animals to humans for millennia, with latest examples including the bird flu virus that has killed hundreds of people around the globe.

The OIE and the WHO warned animal disease agents could escape naturally, accidentally but also intentionally from laboratories, to be used as bio-weapons….Security breaches involving animal diseases are not rare.  The Pentagon said in May 2015 and June the US military had sent live samples of anthrax, which can be used as biological weapon, to five countries outside the United States and to dozens of US labs.

Excerpts from Beware of animal diseases as biological weapons, health experts say, Reuters, June 30, 2015

Subsidize Exports: US Export-Import Bank

[T]he Export-Import Bank of the U.S., which was so successful at expanding exports that scores of other nations have copied the model. Now — for the second time in a year — small-government advocates are trying to abolish the bank, saying it distorts the free market by using tax dollars to pick business winners and losers. …

Unless Congress acts, the Export-Import Bank’s lending authority will expire June 30, 2015. Tea Party Republicans, who want to limit government intervention in the free market, say the bank provides a form of corporate welfare. Some airlines, including Delta, say the bank’s loan guarantees for Boeing jets unfairly subsidize its international competitors. Congress is now considering four bills that would reauthorize the lender with some reforms. But Republican Representative Jeb Hensarling, head of the House committee that oversees the bank, is still calling for its abolition.

The Export-Import Bank was started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934 as a New Deal program to boost exports….It provides loan guarantees, loans and insurance to help foreign companies — sometimes those with less-than-perfect credit — buy U.S. goods when private banks can’t or won’t make loans in industries including aerospace, energy and manufacturing. Though Democrats widely support Ex-Im, Barack Obama criticized it while campaigning for president in 2008, calling it “little more than a fund for corporate welfare” at a time when opposition to government spending, triggered by the bailouts that year, was growing. Ex-Im authorizationssoared, reaching a peak of $114 billion in total outstanding financial commitments at the end of fiscal 2013, from $58 billion in 2008. President Obama now supports Ex-Im reauthorization.

In May 2015, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce began a national ad campaign in favor of the bank, arguing that without it, jobs might be lost to competitors in China or Russia. …[Another issue] is “corruption” at Ex-Im, after a former bank employee pleaded guilty to accepting over $78,000 in bribes between 2006 and 2013. While about 90 percent of Ex-Im’s deals help U.S. small businesses, an analysis by Veronique de Rugy, a bank critic at George Mason University, found that Boeing benefited from about 30 percent of the bank’s authorizations in 2013.

Excerpt from : Brian Wingfield, U.S. Export-Import Bank: From Apple Pie to Endangered Species, Bloomberg, June 25, 2015

United States Forces in Gabon

The [United States] Marines worked with the government of Gabon to test the full-scale employment of the force on the continent. Their forward-staged compound, known as a Cooperative Security Location, (CSL)…also provides the Marines with easy access to their MV-22 Osprey and KC-130J aircraft, which are critical in providing a crisis-response capability over a geographically dispersed area.  “For this particular CSL, we planned to support up to 200 personnel,” said 1st Lt. Micah Tate, the combat logistics detachment’s executive officer. “From those personnel, we have around 20 logistics Marines who are providing direct support and two platoons of infantrymen that are able to embark on the Ospreys. That’s the point of these CSLs.”

Excerpt from Marines test forward-staging abilities in Gabon, June 23 2015 

How to Engineer Mars to Become Earth

Modifying a planet’s atmosphere to make it habitable for humans could be a possibility, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.  Darpa has announced it is developing terraforming technology in a bid to recreate the conditions needed for live to thrive….[DARPA is developing]…  a ‘technological toolkit’ to transform hostile places. It will involve genetically engineering a wide variety of organisms.   Alicia Jackson, the deputy director of Darpa’s Biological Technologies Office in Virginia, made comments alluding to the technology at a biotech conference on June 22, 2015

‘For the first time, we have the technological toolkit to transform not just hostile places here on Earth, but to go into space not just to visit, but to stay,’ she was quoted as saying…This ‘toolkit’ will involve genetically engineering organisms of all types, of which there are up to 30 billion on Earth. On Earth, most synthetic biology projects use just two at the moment – e. coli and yeast. A newly developed software called DTA GView, dubbed the ‘Google Maps of genomes,’ will help scientists correlate information on organisms.  And the ultimate goal is to choose organisms with specific genes to create something with certain characteristics.

For example, it has been theorised that some organisms could be bio-engineered to pull certain gases out of the Martian atmosphere – like carbon dioxide – and create nitrogen and oxygen.  Both are abundant in Earth’s atmosphere – and would be needed for any humans hoping to breathe on Mars without a spacesuit.  NASA has toyed with the idea before; last year, they unveiled the Mars Ecopoiesis Test Bed concept, which would create ecosystems capable of supporting life within biodomes on Mars.   But Darpa’s technology would creative liveable environments outside in the open air on the Martian surface.

The technology has other uses, too; it could be used to repair an environment on Earth after a manmade or natural disaster, although Darpa did not specify what these could be.

Excerpts from: JONATHAN O’CALLAGHAN Could we turn Mars into Earth 2.0? Darpa is working on designer organisms to terraform the red planet, Daily Mail, June 26, 2015