Tensions high as Russia conducts naval drill with140 warships

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Important Takeaways:

  • Russia announced Thursday it will hold huge naval drills involving more than 140 warships and supporting vessels this month and in February, at a time of heightened tensions with Western nations.
  • The war games to be held in the Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, and Mediterranean will involve “more than 140 warships and support vessels, more than 60 aircraft, 1,000 pieces of military equipment, and about 10,000 servicemen,” the defense ministry said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

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Pacific tsunami warnings lifted after big quake in Alaska

By Shubham Kalia and Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) -Tsunami warnings were lifted for Alaska and the rest of Pacific after a huge earthquake of 8.2 magnitude struck the seismically active U.S. state in the late hours on Wednesday.

In Alaska, small tsunami waves measuring under a foot above tide level were observed in Sand Point, Old Harbor, King Cove, Kodiak, Unalaska and Alitak Bay, according to the U.S. National Tsunami Warning Center (NTWC).

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage to property. Several Alaskan coastal communities were evacuated following the quake. Among them was Seward on the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, where sirens blared and residents were told to move to higher ground.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake, which struck at 10:15 p.m. local time (0615 GMT Thursday), was at a depth of 35 km. It struck about 91 km east-southeast of Perryville, about 800 km (500 miles) from Anchorage, Alaska’s biggest city.

The U.S. states of California, Oregon and Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia were not expected to see any significant tsunami threats, Dave Snider, tsunami warning coordinator with the NTWC, told Reuters.

“There might be some minor damage in some places (in Alaska), but a significant tsunami and significant damage from something like that is not expected,” Snider said.

While shallow earthquakes near populated areas can be dangerous, in this case the shallow quake posed less of a threat because they do not usually generate large tsunamis.

“That’s really fortunate in this case, because 8.2 is really strong enough to make a sizable wave, especially in that location of the world,” Snider added.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) cancelled warnings issued for Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, while the public broadcaster NHK said there was no risk to Japan. Authorities in New Zealand also said they did not expect any flooding in coastal areas.

According to the USGS, the quake was followed by over 25 aftershocks in the region, with two around magnitude 6.0.

The quake was the seventh largest in U.S. history, tied with another Alaskan quake from 1938, according to USGS data. It is also the largest quake in North America since an Alaskan quake of 8.7 magnitude in 1965, according to USGS data.

(Reporting by Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru and Yereth Rosen in Anchorage, Alaska and Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California; Additional reporting by Maria Ponnezhath, Aishwarya Nair, Radhika Anilkumar and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Antoni Slodkowski in Tokyo ; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Toby Chopra)

Taiwan wades into hotly contested Pacific with its own coronavirus diplomacy

By Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan waded into the hotly contested politics of the Pacific on Wednesday, donating face masks and thermal cameras to its four diplomatic allies there to combat the coronavirus in a region where China is challenging traditional power the United States.

The small developing nations lie in the highly strategic waters of the Pacific, dominated since World War Two by the United States and its friends, who have been concerned over China’s moves to expand its footprint there.

Democratic Taiwan has faced intense pressure from China, which claims the island as its territory with no right to state-to-state ties, and is bent on wooing away its few allies.

Taiwan has only 15 formal allies left worldwide after losing two Pacific nations, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, to China in September.

Beijing has ramped up its diplomatic push into the Pacific, pledging virus aid and medical advice.

In its own aid programme, Taiwan has donated 16 million masks to countries around the world.

“We are a very small country, so it’s easier for us to work with Taiwan than mainland China,” Neijon Edwards, the Marshall Islands ambassador to Taiwan, told Reuters at the donation ceremony in Taipei.

China has been too overbearing, she added.

“It’s pressing too much, and it’s been trying to come to the Marshall Islands, several times, but up to this time we haven’t even opened the door yet.”

While the masks presented at the ceremony are going to Taiwan’s Pacific allies, all its 15 global allies are sharing the thermal cameras.

“Today’s ceremony once again shows that Taiwan is taking concrete actions not only to safeguard the health of Taiwanese people but also to contribute to global efforts to contain COVID-19,” said Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.

Though Pacific Island states offer little economically to either China and Taiwan, their support is valued in global forums such as the United Nations and as China seeks to isolate Taiwan.

China has offered to help developing countries including those of the Pacific, and many see Chinese lending as the best bet to develop their economies.

But critics say Chinese loans can lead countries into a “debt trap”, charges China has angrily rejected.

The debt issue was a serious problem and would only lead to the spread of Chinese influence regionwide, said Jarden Kephas, the ambassador of Nauru.

“They will end up dominating or having a lot of say in those countries because of the amount of debt,” he told Reuters, wondering how the money could ever be repaid. “We are not rich countries.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

China warships leave Sydney after surprise visit ‘raises hackles’

The Sydney Opera House can be seen as the Chinese naval ship Kunlun Shan departs the Garden Island Naval Base in Sydney, Australia, June 7, 2019. AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi/via REUTERS

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Three Chinese warships sailed out of Sydney on Friday after an unannounced visit that came amid a tussle for influence between Australia and China in the Pacific.

The show-of-force call by a frigate, supply ship and amphibious warfare vessel was planned but never announced by Canberra.

“That raised a lot of hackles,” John Blaxland, professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University in Canberra, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Friday.

“The ships arrived off Darling Point and other famous places in Sydney’s harbor without people knowing in advance … and with armed soldiers and sailors on the decks of the ships looking fairly aggressive.”

They left for China under leaden skies in the early afternoon.

The warships had arrived on the eve of the 30th anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in and around Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Photos showed members of the Chinese community waiting at the navy wharf where the ships docked to greet the sailors.

“It was a reciprocal visit because Australian naval vessels visited China,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in the Solomon Islands’ capital Honiara this week.

“So it may have been a surprise to others, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise to the government.”

Ties between Australia and China hit a low last year when Canberra passed laws aimed at thwarting Chinese influence in domestic affairs and also over China’s assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea.

Australia has offered diplomatic support to U.S. “freedom of navigation” voyages through the South China Sea.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Highest levels of radiation reported by TEPCO from Fukushima power plant

A worker puts up new logo of TEPCO Holdings and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Group on the wall ahead of the transition to a holding company system through a compan

By Kami Klein

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) announced the highest documented radiation levels ever recorded in reactor 2 of the damaged Fukushima  No. 1 power plant.  Based on its analysis of measurements and pictures taken by a remote controlled sensor and camera instrument, radiation levels recorded were the highest ever documented since the triple core meltdown in March 2011. TEPCO also reported close to a 3 foot hole in the metal grating under the pressure vessel of reactor 2 of the damaged Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

According to the Japan Times the power plant has reached a maximum of 530 sieverts per hour.  At 530 sieverts, a person could die from even the briefest exposure.  This highlights the difficulties that lie ahead for TEPCO and the Japanese Government as they try to figure out a way to dismantle all three reactors that were damaged by the March, 2011 9.0 earthquake and giant tsunami that killed almost 16,000 people.

Officials had never taken into account for the “unimaginable” radiation levels that are being seen.  Experts say that 1 sievert could lead to infertility, loss of hair and cataracts.  Cancer risks increase substantially with any radiation levels above the 100 millisieverts or 1 sievert mark.

In a report by the Washington Post, TEPCO recorded radiation near the reactor core using a stick-like robot equipped with a camera and a device designed to measure radiation levels and has suggested that some melted fuel escaped.  Officials state that this was the first time this kind of device has been able to get into this part of the reactor, which explains the unprecedented amount of radiation recorded.  TEPCO said that at this level of radiation, a robot would only operate for less than two hours before it was destroyed.

If deposits that have been seen on portions of the grating are proven to be melted fuel, it would be the first time they have found even a trace of any sign of the fuel rods since the core meltdowns occurred. Levels of radiation are too high to check the actual condition of the fuel, which they believe has melted through their pressure vessels and is pooled at the bottom of their containment units.  This fuel MUST be discovered and removed before the plants can be decommissioned.

Reuters reports that TEPCO has been developing robots that can swim under water and navigate obstacles in damaged tunnels and piping to search for the melted fuel rods.  But as soon as the robots get close to the reactors, the radiation destroys their wiring and renders them useless.  TEPCO does plan to send this robot into Reactor 1 but are still unsure regarding Reactor 2 because of the very intense radiation levels.

Officials still state that these levels may not actually be rising but because they have not been tested so closely to the reactor, they are just now getting a better idea of the true levels recorded. TEPCO does report a 30% margin of error in the tests.

The effects of the radiation on the rest of the world have been in constant discussion and arguments among government officials and environmental scientists.  One year ago, PBS reported that more than 80 percent of the radioactivity from the damaged reactors ended up in the Pacific, far more than ever reached the ocean from Chernobyl or Three Mile Island.  A small fraction is currently on the seafloor, but the rest was swept up by the Kuroshio current, a western Pacific version of the Gulf Stream, and carried out to sea.  Recently, radioactive contamination has been documented near British Columbia and California.


Substantial El Nino Predicted

Scientists say that the El Nino effect is under way in the tropical Pacific.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology says a “substantial” El Nino event could take place before the end of the year.  Forecasters say that the El Nino is in early stages but the potential for extreme weather is real.

U.S. scientists initially said that El Nino had arrived but characterized it as “weak.”  Australian officials countered their U.S. colleagues’ claims.

“This is a proper El Nino effect, it’s not a weak one,” David Jones, manager of climate monitoring and prediction at the Bureau of Meteorology, told reporters. He said that El Nino could bring much lower than normal rainfall and enhance the country’s drought conditions.

“You know, there’s always a little bit of doubt when it comes to intensity forecasts, but across the models as a whole we’d suggest that this will be quite a substantial El Nino event.”

After the Australian model was released, U.S. forecasters on Thursday revised their statements and said that El Nino could bring much needed rain to California.

“We’ve seen continued evolution toward a stronger event,” NOAA official Mike Halpert told TIME. “Last month we were calling it weak, now we’re calling it borderline weak to moderate.”

“Stronger El Niños interrupt tropical rainfalls. That rain fall shifts and Indonesia and Austrailia become drier than average,” explained Halpert. “They’re not looking forward to El Niño shutting the tap off.”

Alaskan Volcano Prompts Red Alert

A red alert has been issued for an Alaskan volcano located on the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Pavlof Volcano, which has been active for years in releasing smoke, erupted with high intensity sending a plume of ash and smoke over 24,000 feet into the sky.  The eruption was so significantly that the Alaska Volcano Observatory issued their first red alert warning since 2009.

The last alert was for Alaska’s Mount Redoubt when an eruption sent a 2009 plume over 50,000 feet into the skies.  Scientists believe that the volcano could be active long after the red alert will end.

“This means it can erupt for weeks or even months,” observatory research geologist Michelle Coombs said of the warning. “I don’t think we will be at red for that long, but we are expecting it to go for a while based on its past.”

Scientists say that commercial air traffic has yet to be impacted by the eruption but say that changing weather patterns could cause a serious disruption to flights.

Major Earthquake Strikes Chilean Coast

A major 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck off the Chilean Pacific coast Sunday that forced the evacuation of almost 100,000 residents from coastal areas.

The quake struck about 6:16 p.m. local time about a depth of 12.5 miles 37 miles northwest of Iquique.  The quake was followed by a series of strong aftershocks ranging from magnitude 4.9 to 5.2 according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Officials say that no major damage is reported from the quake however many buildings have broken windows and cracked doors.

Chile’s navy had detected the possibility of a small tsunami setting off the tsunami warning systems between the towns of Arica and Tocopilla.  The tsunami was smaller than expected with only a crest of 13 inches above normal sea level.

Chile, located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries and is the location of the strongest quake in recorded history, a 9.5 magnitude in 1960 that killed over 5,000 people.

Dual Volcanoes Erupt In Indonesia

Two volcanoes in Indonesia have erupted sending thousands fleeing and destroying entire crops.

Mount Sinabung first erupted Thursday in the early morning hours sending a plume of ash 23,000 feet into the air in the Karo region of North Sumatra. The mountain then erupted again just before noon with an ash plume that rose 16,400 feet.

Government officials rushed at least 5,500 residents away from the area.

Then today Mount Sinabung was the second Indonesia volcano to erupt in a span of hours. Mount Merapi exploded just before 5 a.m. local time send a plume of ash 6500 feet into the air. Hours later, Mount Sinabung erupted stronger than ever with an ash cloud rising 26,500 feet into the air.

The Indonesian Transportation Ministry has issued a statement to all airlines telling them to avoid the airspace surrounding the volcanoes because of the ash and their current instability.

The ash from the volcanoes has destroyed the crops of farmers surrounding the mountain who depend on their crops to live. A local farmer told the Jakarta Globe the losses to farmers in the region could end up in the billions. He said some of the farm land has been so damaged by the volcanoes they can no longer be used for farming.

Indonesia is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Tropical Storm Flossie Heads Toward Hawaii

Hawaii is under tropical storm watches and warnings as Tropical Storm Flossie travels directly toward the islands.

Flossie’s western track is placing this sixth named storm of the Pacific hurricane season on a path to hit the islands head-on. However, forecasters are predicting that cooler water will weaken the storm before it makes landfall on the “big island” of Hawaii. Continue reading