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Hong Kong Grounds Flights as Protestors Swarm Airport

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  • Thousands in Hong Kong launched a massive protest in the city’s airport on Monday, prompting all flights to be canceled.
  • Protestors called for the demonstrations after police fired teargas into an enclosed subway station and fired rubber bullets at protestors fleeing another station the day before.
  • Also on Monday, Chinese officials referred to the protestors as “terrorists” and Chinese media sources reported that paramilitary forces ran “large-scale exercises” along the Hong Kong border.

Protest in Hong Kong International Airport

Hong Kong’s airport grounded all flights Monday after thousands of people flooded the hub in protest over the police response to demonstrations the day before.

A smaller number of protesters had already been staging a peaceful sit-in over the last three days at the airport, which is one of the world’s busiest, without disrupting services or flights.

However, protest members called for a larger demonstration at the airport after undercover police dressed as protestors fired tear gas inside a subway station during demonstrations on Sunday.

The incident was reportedly one of the only times police have used tear gas in an enclosed area.

Other videos taken at Sunday’s protests showed police firing non-lethal objects in close range at protestors trying to flee down an escalator at another subway station.

Protestors in other parts of the city reportedly injured some police officers after throwing bricks and petrol bombs.

Man-Kei Tam, the director Amnesty International Hong Kong condemned the police’s actions in a statement.

“Hong Kong police have once again used tear gas and rubber bullets in a way that have fallen short of international standards,” he said. “Firing at retreating protesters in confined areas where they had little time to leave goes against the purported objective of dispersing a crowd.”

As a result of Sunday’s violence, Monday’s protest seemed to be specifically targeted at the police, who protestors have long-accused of brutality and abuse of power.

Demonstrators could be seen holding signs that said: “Don’t trust the police,” as well as signs that displayed pictures of the violent clashes between the two groups.

Some protestors reportedly shouted, “Turn back,” and others held signs apologizing for the inconvenience to travelers.

Most of the protestors have dispersed, according to reports, though reportedly a couple hundred still remain in the airport.

Continued Growing Protests

Monday’s protest is not the first time that activists have staged demonstrations in the airport.

In fact, gathering in the airport is one of the tactics that activists have recently been using to disrupt businesses and transportation in Hong Kong, which is a huge commerce center.

Just last Monday, tens of thousands of people brought massive swaths of the city to a standstill during the city’s first general strike in over 50 years.

The most recent demonstrations also do not represent the first time protestors have accused the police of engaging in brutality.

Over the last few weeks, the protests in Hong Kong have become increasingly violent, with protestors clashing with police more often.

Authorities have also ramped up their efforts to arrest protestors. According to reports, police have said 592 people have been arrested since the protests began on June 9. 

Those arrested are between the ages of 13 to 76, and some of them face charges that include rioting, which can carry a prison term of up to 10 years.

The Hong Kong protests originally started over a proposed extradition bill that would have allowed certain criminal suspects to be transferred to mainland China.

Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam eventually suspended the bill but did not fully withdraw it. The protestors continued their demonstrations because until the bill was fully withdrawn, it could be brought back at any time. 

While the extradition bill continues to drive the demonstrations, the protestors have also expanded their demands to call for broad democratic reforms.

The protestors are also calling for Lam’s resignation, an independent investigation into alleged police brutality, and release and amnesty for protestors who have been arrested, among other things.

Lam’s Response & China

Lam recently responded to the protestors’ demands by saying she will not step down and largely denying their requests.

Speaking for the first time in two weeks last Monday, Lam said Hong Kong is “on the verge of a very dangerous situation” and accused the protestors of having a hidden agenda.

Lam also claimed it was not in her power to demand the release of people who were arrested during protests.

On Friday, Lam said that an investigation into the police would be inappropriate because they are busy responding to the protests. She also pivoted to claim that the protests were hurting Hong Kong’s economy.

While many have said that Lam’s response is predictable and falls in line with her positions throughout this whole ordeal, others have noted that recent responses from China are far more alarming.

On Monday, the Global Times, a state-backed Chinese newspaper shared a video of armored carriers heading towards a city that borders Hong Kong in advance of what the paper referred to as “large-scale exercises,” by a paramilitary unit.

The Global Times also wrote that the “tasks and missions” of the paramilitary unit included “dealing with rebellions, riots, serious violent and illegal incidents, terrorist attacks and other social security incidents.”

On Monday night, China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, issued a headline that said: “Alert! There are signs of terrorism on the streets of Hong Kong.”

“No country can accept terrorist acts in its own country,” CCTV warned. “Hong Kong has reached an important juncture. ‘End violence and restore order’ is the most important, urgent and overriding task of Hong Kong at present!”

A spokesperson for the Chinese government department responsible for Hong Kong also moved to condemn the violence at a press conference.

“The radical demonstrators in Hong Kong have repeatedly attacked police with extremely dangerous tools in recent days, which constitutes a serious violent crime, and now they are descending into terrorism,” the spokesperson said.

“We should relentlessly crack down on such violent criminal acts without mercy, and we firmly support Hong Kong police and judicial authorities in bringing the criminals to justice as soon as possible,” he continued.

The move comes just a little over a week after a video was released showing Chinese soldiers who were practicing firing on demonstrators.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality

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  • Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
  • “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
  • Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
  • Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.

The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.

In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.

“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.

“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”

“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.

Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.

“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.

“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.

Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts

According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.

Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.

Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.

Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.

Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.

At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.

On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (CNBC) (The Washington Post)

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Japan To Explore Plans for Releasing Fukushima Power Plant Water Into Ocean

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  • Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide is reportedly planning to meet with officials and agencies soon to discuss how to dispose of about a million gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima power plant.
  • The supply of water used to cool down fuel rods is stored on-site, and the government has spent a decade decontaminating it, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Local businesses, particularly fisheries, are still concerned about the release of the water because of ensuing headlines that might lead to public distrust in their products, but Suga insists the water needs to go to make way for safely storing the far more dangerous nuclear fuel rods.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Dangerous Water or Scary Headlines?

As early as next week, Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide will hold a ministerial meeting to discuss the likely release of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

The decision to release the water isn’t sudden, as the recommendation to do so has been around for over a year by various government agencies. Regardless, the decision has consistently faced backlash from local groups, particularly fisheries, over how the move will affect their livelihoods, not because the water is radioactive but because the headlines would look bad and cause fear that their products aren’t safe.

While the water is radioactive, the government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Some scientists, like geological disposal of nuclear waste expert James Conca, have pointed out that “no harm has ever come to humans or the environment from tritium, no matter what the concentration or the dose.”

Delay, Delay, Delay

The issue of the contaminated water has been kicked down the road for years, and Suga wants to resolve it because space is running out on the grounds of the plant. The water storage facilities house over a million gallons of water, which is constantly being added to as some of the stores have rainwater and groundwater seep into them.

The water is considered safe to people but takes a huge amount of space that the government wants to use to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, the rods are dangerous if not properly stored.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said the plan to get rid of the water is sound and meets global standards.    Dumping treated water into the sea is completely normal for a nuclear power plant, even in non-emergency situations.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that it’s a lose-lose situation, with Kishi reporting that he said, “It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air.”

The sentiment that the headlines would hurt local industries is likely right because even to this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture, despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to live in the area.

See what others are saying: (Kyodo News) (The Mainichi) (Japan Today)

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