Uni takes blame for radiation blunder

DELHI: The security of radioactive waste in India is being questioned after it was revealed that one of the country’s elite research institutions sold equipment contaminated by deadly Cobalt-60 to a junkyard in the suburbs of Delhi.Rajender Pal, a 35-year-old scrap dealer, died from multiple organ failure caused by radiation poisoning after being exposed to the Cobalt-60 at Delhi’s Mayapuri scrap yard this month.Seven other scrap workers were treated for radiation sickness; two are reported to be seriously ill and require urgent bone-marrow transplants.The source of the deadly radiation was a machine called a gamma irradiator discarded by a chemistry laboratory at the University of Delhi. The junkyard had to be cordoned off last month while specialists retrieved the radioactive material.Rajender Pal, whose death is believed to be India’s first radiation fatality, dismantled the instrument. Hundreds of dealers have shops at Mayapuri scrap market which is surrounded by densely populated suburbs.It is possible more radioactive material from the lab has not yet been accounted for. Didier Louvat, a nuclear waste specialist with the International Atomic Energy Agency, told The New York Times the Mayapuri case was the most serious instance of radiation exposure anywhere in the world since 2006.The vice-chancellor of Delhi University, Deepak Pental, said the university was ”very apologetic” about what had happened and offered to pay compensation to the victims.He said there had been a miscalculation about the active life of the radioactive material in the machine which was imported from Canada in 1970 and had not been used since 1985.India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has instructed the university to suspend all activities using radiation and has issued a ”show cause” notice that requires it to explain apparent violations of regulations governing the disposal of radioactive materials.The mishap raised questions about the oversight of radioactive waste in India at a time when the government is seeking to rapidly expand its nuclear industry, especially for electricity generation.Last year a historic nuclear co-operation deal between Delhi and Washington allowed India to participate in global nuclear commerce even though it is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.Ravi Agarwal, a founder of the environmental advocacy group Toxic Link, said the Mayapuri radiation incident showed the need for India to reassess the systems used to oversee nuclear materials.”It opens up a question of how good is the infrastructure for monitoring the movement of such waste,” he said.”It also shows the great lack of public awareness on this issue, even in high-risk areas like scrap markets.”
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Shooting caught on video

JERUSALEM: The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has released video footage that purports to show an unarmed Palestinian protester in Gaza being shot by an Israeli soldier.Ahmad Sliman Salem Dib, 19, later died from gunshot wounds at Gaza City’s Shifaa Hospital.In video footage of the incident filmed by B’Tselem’s Gaza field research officer, Muhammad Sabah, a group of Palestinian and foreign protesters can be seen on Wednesday walking east of Gaza City, towards the double wire fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel.Israeli security forces have declared a 300-metre ”no go” zone inside the fence for fear of attempts by Palestinian militants to launch attacks on Israel.The protesters reach a distance of a few dozen metres from the border, facing an Israeli military post. A soldier is seen near the post, observing events. None of the protesters appear armed.Some members of the crowd are seen throwing stones at the Israeli military post and several fires appear to have been lit.Then there is the sound of a single gunshot. Mr Dib is then seen being evacuated to receive medical treatment.B’Tselem acknowledges that the video footage of the incident posted on the internet was edited for brevity, but says no relevant footage was cut.The organisation says it is in no doubt that the shot was fired by Israeli security forces.In response to questions posed by the Herald, the Israeli Defence Forces Spokesperson Unit refused to confirm or deny whether any shot was fired, or who might have been responsible.”The matter is currently being investigated by the IDF Southern Command,” the IDF said in a statement released to the Herald.”The area adjacent to the security fence is considered a combat zone and the presence of terrorist elements in the area endangers the citizens of the state of Israel as well as the security forces operating in the area.”Terror organisations have, in the past, launched terror attacks under the cover of demonstrations they staged in the area.”
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Florida governor defects as Tea Party claims its first victim

WASHINGTON: A high-profile political defection in Florida has hinted at the influence of America’s Tea Party movement in shaping November’s mid-term congressional elections.It also plays to fears of further polarisation in Washington, reducing opportunities for bipartisanship at a time when Americans are denouncing their system of government as dysfunctional and unable to tackle pressing issues.Florida’s populist and moderate governor, Charlie Crist, announced on Thursday that he was quitting the Republican Party in his bid to win a seat in the Senate as an independent.His decision had been speculated as it became clear that he could not win his party’s endorsement ahead of conservative opponent Marco Rubio, the 38-year-old son of Cuban exiles and an emerging Republican star championed by the Tea Party.Explaining his decision, Mr Crist told supporters in St Petersburg: ”I haven’t supported an idea because it’s a Republican idea or a Democratic idea. I support ideas I believe are good ideas for the people and I have always found that is exactly what the people believe, too. They’ve had enough of political fighting. They’re tired of the games and the name-calling.”Mr Crist is considered a likely first victim of an ideological battle within a Republican Party being pushed to the right by Tea Partiers who have turned on moderates, branding them accomplices to Barack Obama’s ”socialism”.The anti-tax, anti-government movement, which comprises a loose coalition of disaffected voters has targeted mostly Republicans who its supporters believe are RINOs (”Republicans in name only”) who have abandoned traditional Republican values.Some commentators argue the downfall of Mr Crist unmasks the Tea Party’s true identity – namely, angry rank-and-file Republicans purging moderates from within the party.”What happens to Republicans who don’t march to the right-wing tune?” asked liberal commentator Chris Mathews, of MSNBC. ”Well, they’re getting purged. This is Stalinesque, this stuff.”A professor of governmental affairs at the University of Tampa, Scott Paine, said Mr Crist could use the next six months to paint Mr Rubio into a conservative corner. ”Florida is not that conservative … [it] supported Barack Obama two years ago,” he said.Mr Crist’s biggest battle will be to raise campaign funds without major party backing.
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Babies left in limbo as India struggles with demand for surrogacy

NEW DELHI: Most new parents expect to take their baby home after a few days but a German couple, Jan Balaz and Susan Lohle, are still waiting after more than two years.Their twin sons, Nikolas and Leonard, have been trapped in citizenship limbo ever since an Indian surrogate mother gave birth to them in February 2008.The boys were refused passports by their parents’ homeland because German nationality is determined by the birth mother.That left the slow-moving Indian judicial system to wrestle with their citizenship status. The case has now reached the country’s highest court.Lawyers say a Supreme Court hearing in New Delhi on Monday could be crucial in deciding whether Mr Balaz and Ms Lohle will finally be allowed to take the twins back to Germany.India’s reproductive tourism industry is booming thanks to low-cost surrogate mothers, inexpensive medical services and lax regulation.It is likely that hundreds of infertile couples from the West hire Indian surrogates each year. But Nikolas and Leonard show that things can go badly wrong.Another heartbreaking Indian surrogacy controversy, this time involving two Canadian doctors, was revealed by the Toronto Star this week. The couple received a devastating shock when they applied for Canadian passports for what they believed were their twins borne by an Indian surrogate. A DNA test ordered by the Canadian high commission in New Delhi revealed the twins were not related to the Canadian couple – or to the birth mother – but were the product of fertilised eggs from an unknown mother and father.The doctors left India childless and the twins may spend their childhood in an orphanage.The number of Australians hiring surrogates in India has been rising and officials admit privately they are concerned that something similar could go wrong for an Australian couple.There are more than 1000 IVF clinics in India, but no laws govern assisted reproductive technology (ART), which includes surrogacy, and no watchdog has been authorised to police it.”Most of the ART clinics in this country are not following these guidelines because they do not have any legal strength,” said R. S. Sharma, the deputy director-general in the division of reproductive health and nutrition at the Indian Council of Medical Research.A surrogacy debacle that left a Japanese baby stranded in India in 2008 increased pressure on the government to tighten its surrogacy rules. The child’s parents hired an Indian surrogate mother but divorced during the pregnancy. The Japanese mother-to-be disowned the baby and Indian law prevented the single father from claiming the child.It took nearly six months of legal wrangling before an Indian court finally allowed the baby, called Manji, to leave India with her biological grandmother.A bill to govern assisted reproductive technology and surrogacy has been drafted but, as the Herald reported on Monday, it threatens to make it much harder, and maybe impossible, for Australian couples to hire Indian surrogates.Under the proposed law, a foreign couple wanting to enter an agreement with an Indian surrogate would need a written guarantee of citizenship for the child from their government.In a response to questions from the Herald the Australia High Commission said it expected Indian laws to change in response to the growing demand for surrogacy.”Any changes to legislation in India could impact on eligibility for Australian citizenship,” the statement said.The Indian legislation would also prohibit gay couples from hiring surrogates unless local laws change to recognise same-sex relationships.
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Fears oil spill could become world’s worst

NEW YORK: Oil from a giant slick has washed ashore in Louisiana, threatening a catastrophe for the US Gulf Coast as the government declared national disaster and considered sending in the military.With up to 900,000 litres of oil a day spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from a ruptured well, experts warned it could prove to be the world’s worst offshore spill.Strong south-east winds blew the first oily strands of the slick – which has a circumference of 1550 kilometres – directly on to the wetlands of South Pass near the mouth of the Mississippi River late on Thursday, local officials said.Hundreds of kilometres of coastline in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida were under imminent threat.With BP, which leases the wrecked rig, no closer to capping the well, the White House adopted emergency measures to try to avoid the kind of disaster that Hurricane Katrina wrought on the Gulf Coast in 2005.The President, Barack Obama, said he would send senior members of his cabinet, including his homeland security, environment and interior secretaries, to survey the site.”While BP is ultimately responsible for funding the cost of response and clean-up operations, my administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially the Department of Defence to address the incident,” Mr Obama said.The administration is well aware that Mr Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential election was built in part on a belief among voters that he would do a better job at responding to disasters than George Bush did to Katrina.The Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, said the spill was a disaster of ”national significance”. She said a command centre would be opened in Mobile, Alabama, in addition to the one in Louisiana. The US Navy said it had sent 20,000 metres of inflatable boom and seven skimming systems to the area. Both are used to control the movement of spills.White House officials said they began holding regular conference calls with BP executives soon after the accident.BP, which says it has been spending $US6 million ($6.5 million) a day on its own efforts, is already facing a class-action lawsuit brought by two Louisiana shrimp fishermen who are seeking at least $US5 million in damages for alleged negligence.The slick could cause severe environmental damage to beaches, wildlife and estuaries in four states.Rear Admiral Mary Landry, of the Coast Guard, who is leading the US response, said: ”It is premature to say this is catastrophic. I will say this is very serious.”However, Mike Miller, who runs Safety Boss, a Canadian oil well firefighting company, said the spill ”could be right up there, if not the biggest ever”.He said the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, in which a tanker spilt 41 million litres of oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska, would ”pale into insignificance in comparison to this as it goes on”.Mr Miller, whose company extinguished 180 of the 600 oil fires lit by Saddam Hussein’s retreating forces in Kuwait after the Gulf War, said the slick bore comparison with the Kuwait fires but was likely to be far more environmentally damaging as it was at sea rather than in a desert.The spill followed an explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20 in which 11 workers are presumed to have died.Telegraph, London; The Washington Post, Agence France-Presse
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