News from around the World

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on April 19, 2011

FINLAND – Finns back euroskeptics

HELSINKI — Finnish voters dealt a blow Sunday to Europe’s plans to rescue Portugal and other debt-ridden economies, ousting the pro-bailout government and giving a major boost to a euroskeptic nationalist party.

The anti-immigration and staunchly euroskeptic True Finns don’t see why Finland should rescue Europe’s “squanderers,” while the Social Democrats have called for changes to how they are funded.

[The True Finns say Finnish taxpayers are being unjustly burdened by “squanderers” in the 17-nation eurozone*, noting that no one rushed to [Finland’s] aid during its own financial crisis in the 1990s. Finland is now among the most fiscally prudent in the group.

Finland’s voice matters for Europe: any bailout requires the unanimous support of all eurozone members. And unlike other countries, where the government decides whether to approve rescue funds, it’s Parliament that makes the call in Finland. (from wapo.com)]

The outcome raises questions about Finland’s support for rescue packages that need unanimous approval in the 17-member eurozone.

If any single country pulls out, the system will crash, leading to a worsening of the debt crisis.

JAPAN – Japan taps US robots to help cleanup at nuclear reactors

TOKYO — …Nuclear cleanup crews on the tsunami-ravaged northern coast [of Japan] are depending on U.S.-made robots to enter damaged reactor units where it is still too dangerous for humans to tread.

Utility workers seeking to regain control of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are deploying robots from Bedford, Mass.-based iRobot to measure radiation levels, temperatures and other conditions inside the reactors. …..

Takeshi Makigami, an official with Tokyo Electric Power [TEPCO], which is the operator of the crippled nuclear plant, said humans must still do the sophisticated engineering needed to stem the radiation, but robots can go in first to monitor when it will be safe for people to enter.

“We have to check where to go and what to do,” he said.

TEPCO spokesman Shogo Fukuda said the company has only now begun using the robots because it took several weeks for crews to learn how to operate the complex devices.

Although Japan has a sophisticated robotics capability, most of its development is in household applications rather than disaster recovery. …

UKRAINE – Thousands protest Chernobyl benefit cuts

KIEV — About 2,000 veterans of the Chernobyl cleanup operation rallied Sunday in Ukraine’s capital to protest cuts in the benefits and pensions they receive to compensate them for their exposure to radiation.

Days before the 25th anniversary of the explosion at the nuclear power plant that sent clouds of radiation over much of Europe, protesters in Kiev expressed their anger at the government over drastically reduced pensions and the rising cost of health care, with more cutbacks to come.

Leonid Lytvynenko, 48, said his monthly pension has been cut from $212 to $150 since January, and he spends more than half of it buying medicine that until this year was free. He gave no details about his illness, saying only that it stemmed from his work in Chernobyl in 1986.

“I was 23 then and performed my national duty,” said Mr. Lytvynenko, a small, thin man whose face is deeply wrinkled. “Now I am disabled and my country has thrown me overboard.”

He was among about 600,000 so-called “liquidators” who were sent from all over the Soviet Union to the Chernobyl plant after the April 26, 1986, explosion and fire.

In 1991, Soviet authorities offered a generous package of benefits to Chernobyl cleanup workers. But over time, the benefits have been cut back, and requirements to prove a connection between Chernobyl service and illness have become tougher.

The current government under President Viktor Yanukovych said it has been forced to make further cuts this year because of the lingering effects of the global financial crisis, which hit Ukraine hard. Mr. Yanukovych said recently that fulfilling the past promises to Chernobyl workers is “beyond the government’s strength.”

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at:  WashingtonTimes.com on April 17th and Pittsburgh post-gazette.com and San Jose mercurynews.com on April 18th.)

Questions

1. For each of the 3 countries, give the following information:
a) the countries that share its borders
b) the religious breakdown of the population
c) the type of government
d) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]e) the population

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to worldatlas.com for a list of continents.]

2. For Finland:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Why won’t members of the Eurozone that are in financial trouble receive a bailout as a result of the election in Finland?
c) Read the information on Finland under “Background” below the questions. How do the majority of Finnish people feel about contributing their money to bail out fellow Eurozone member countries?

3. For Japan:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Why are the Japanese crews using the robots to go into the reactors?
c) The Japanese are famous for some of the robots they have developed. Why are they relying on an American company for robots to use at the damaged nuclear plant?
d) Read the “Background” below and visit the iRobot company links under “Resources.” What do you think of the American ingenuity used to develop these robots for military and disaster use?

4. For Ukraine:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Why has the Ukrainian government cut benefits originally given to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster by the now-collapsed Soviet government?
c) The news blurb does not specify how many of the original 600,000 workers are still receiving compensation/benefits, and if so, what amount. If all 600,000 were receiving the $212 per month, how much would the Ukrainian government pay out each year?
d) The government says it does not have the money to make payments at the original rates. What do you think: should they have made the cuts to workers’ payments, or should they have done something else to keep payments the same? Explain your answer. Be specific.
e) Watch the video of the workers protesting under “Resources” below the questions. Think about news clips you’ve see of other protests recently around the world. How is this Ukrainian protest different?


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Background

FINLAND: 

(From wapo.com):  True Finns’ leader Timo Soini [explained his party’s position]: “We are against any new contributions to bailouts. This is not the way to do it. Banks have to be made responsible for lending money too freely and countries in trouble should sell their assets.”

Some 60 percent of Finns responding to a survey earlier this month said they opposed bailouts, while 31 percent approved.

Henri Nylund, a 23-year-old jobseeker said of the bailouts:  “I don’t think Finnish taxpayers should cough up any money for Portugal. Bailouts are just wasted money – like throwing cash into a bottomless pit. Countries that overspend should not be helped but punished for their stupidity.”

*Eurozone: (from wikipedia)

  • The eurozone, officially the euro area, is an economic and monetary union (EMU) of 17 European Union (EU) member states that have adopted the euro (€) as their common currency.
  • The eurozone currently consists of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.
  • Of the 10 EU member states [that did not join] the eurozone, seven states are obliged to join, once they fulfil the strict entrance requirements.
  • Three EU member states have exceptions (that is, states not obligated to join the Zone), include Sweden, Denmark and the United Kingdom….

The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) is a special purpose vehicle agreed by the 27 member states of the European Union in May 2010, aiming at preserving financial stability in Europe by providing financial assistance to eurozone states in economic difficulty.

In March 2010, the European Council agreed on a bailout mechanism for Greece and, with the approval of the [eurozone], for any other country in need of it.

The majority of the €22 billion [U.S. $31.4 billion] loan funds came from contributions from eurozone members, with substantial extra contributions from the IMF [International Monetary Fund].

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JAPAN: (from mercurynews.com)

  • After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, irobot’s PackBot robot [which is now being used in Japan] was sent to search through the rubble of the collapsed World Trade Center.
  • Another of the company’s robots has disarmed roadside bombs and sussed out buildings and caves in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • iRobot also helps out with disasters of a more domestic nature: it’s the manufacturer of the disc-shaped Roomba vacuum cleaner robot.
  • TEPCO spokesman Shogo Fukuda said the company hadn’t anticipated using robots in the power plant until they were offered by iRobot.
  • The company was lending the two PackBots for free, so Fukuda did not know how much the company charges for the use of the units. …..
  • iRobot is offering up two additional robots of a heavier-duty type — the Warrior — which workers are being trained how to use.
  • British defense contractor QinetiQ Group has also provided four robots, which are not yet being used, Fukuda said.
  • Applied physics professor Shuji Hashimoto, who directs the Humanoid Robotics Institute at Tokyo’s Waseda University, said he was not surprised to see Japan depending on robots from abroad, despite the sophistication of his country’s robotics research.
  • He said countries such as the United States have developed robots for use in disaster situations because their militaries fund the development of the devices for war zones.
  • Japan’s military is restricted by the country’s post World War II constitution to self defense and activities such as U.N.-led peacekeeping missions.
  • In Japan, best known for robots such as Sony’s robotic Aibo dog and Honda Motor’s chummy Asimo, development tends to foster domestic uses.

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UKRAINE – THE CHERNOBYL DISASTER:

  • The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident of catastrophic proportions that occurred on April 26, 1986, at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine (then in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, part of the Soviet Union).
  • It is considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history and is the only level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
  • The disaster occurred on April 26 1986, 1:23 A.M., at reactor number four at the Chernobyl plant, near the town of Pripyat, during an unauthorized systems test.
  • A sudden power output surge took place, and when an attempt was made at an emergency shutdown, a more extreme spike in power output occurred which led to the rupture of a reactor vessel as well as a series of explosions.
  • This event exposed the graphite moderator components of the reactor to air and they ignited; the resulting fire sent a plume of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive area, including Pripyat.
  • The plume drifted over large parts of the western Soviet Union, and much of Europe. As of December 2000, 350,400 people had been evacuated and resettled from the most severely contaminated areas of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.
  • According to official post-Soviet data, up to 70% of the fallout landed in Belarus.
  • Following the accident, Ukraine continued to operate the remaining reactors at Chernobyl for many years. The last reactor at the site was closed down in 2000.
  • The accident raised concerns about the safety of the Soviet nuclear power industry as well as nuclear power in general, slowing its expansion for a number of years while forcing the Soviet government to become less secretive about its procedures. (from wikipedia)

Resources

JAPAN: 

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UKRAINE:

Watch a video of Chernobyl disaster cleanup workers protesting the government’s cut in their benefits below: