U.N. authorizes Libya no-fly zone
UNITED NATIONS, March 17 (UPI) -- The U.N. Security Council Thursday approved airstrikes to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, by a vote of 10-0 with five abstentions, including China and Russia.
U.S., U.K. and French military aircraft began preparations to protect the western Libyan city of Benghazi, a rebel stronghold, after the vote, Britain's The Guardian newspaper reported.
The Security Council approved the resolution -- sponsored by the United Kingdom, France and Lebanon -- backing the use of "all necessary measures short of an occupation force" to protect the rebels and protesters, and several Arab nations were expected to join the military action, the newspaper said.
Dictator Moammar Gadhafi issued a statement on state television shortly before the vote, saying: "Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger, and civilian and military [facilities] will become targets of Libya's counterattack. The Mediterranean basin will face danger not just in the short term, but also in the long term.
"No more fear, no more hesitation, the moment of truth has come," Gadhafi said. "There will be no mercy. Our troops will be coming to Benghazi tonight."
Military action beyond a no-fly zone should be considered to protect Libyans threatened by Gadhafi's forces, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said before the vote.
"We need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include, but perhaps go beyond, a no-fly zone at this point, as the situation on the ground has evolved, and as a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk," Rice said.
The League of Arab States Saturday requested that the United Nations authorize military action against Libya to protect civilians.
"The turning point was really the Arab League statement on Saturday," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday to reporters traveling with her in Cairo. "That was an extraordinary statement in which the Arab League asked for Security Council action against one of its own members.
"As we speak there is an intense debate in New York, and they are looking at the details of what Arab participation will be," Clinton said.
Lebanese U.N. Ambassador Nawaf Salam said a "number" of Arab nations would join in enforcing a no-fly zone, but did not specify which Arab nations would participate, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Libya's deputy U.N. envoy, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who broke with the Gadhafi regime last month, warned Wednesday that if the international community did not intervene within 10 hours, Libya risked genocide, The New York Times reported.
Gadhafi's second-oldest son, Saif al-Islam Moammar Gadhafi, said Wednesday: "Within 48 hours everything will be finished. Our forces are almost in Benghazi," Libya's second-largest city and the provisional capital of the rebel's interim Libyan government.
Cooling efforts suspended at nuclear plant
TOKYO, March 17 (UPI) -- Efforts to cool down crippled Japanese nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were suspended Thursday because of high radiation levels, officials said.
The nuclear plant, which houses six reactors, was damaged by Friday's 9-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which took out cooling systems.
Workers attacked the situation from the air and from the ground Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported. Helicopters made four passes, dumping seawater, and water was also sprayed first from police water cannons and then from military trucks normally used for riot control.
Kyodo reported 64 tons of water was dumped on the plant to try to cool down spent fuel rods from the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors but failed to lessen radiation levels immediately.
Smoke later was spotted coming from the No. 2 reactor, indicating water in its cooling pond was boiling as well, Kyodo said.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said electricity to power the cooling systems would not be restored until at least Friday, a day later than officials had hoped. Three of the six reactors were damaged by hydrogen explosions.
Three of the plant's reactors were shut down for a routine check prior to Friday's disaster.
CNN reported the utility increased the number of workers at the site Wednesday from 50 to 180.
The hydrogen and other blasts have destroyed the buildings housing the reactors at No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4, and damaged the containment vessel's pressure-suppression chamber at the No. 2 reactor.
TEPCO has said an estimated 70 percent of the nuclear fuel rods have been damaged at the No. 1 reactor and 33 percent at the No. 2 reactor. The city of Tokyo was spared a major power failure Thursday as frigid temperatures overloaded a stressed electrical system, officials said. The system almost reached its limit Thursday morning, Kyodo News reported. Tokyo Electric Power Co. said demand was 33.3 million kilowatts, within 200,000 kilowatts of capacity.
Many companies sent workers home early. Rail services were asked to cut the number of trains running Thursday evening. Tokyo Electric had already planned rolling blackouts in the capital region.
U.S. President Barack Obama Thursday pledged U.S. aid. He said he told Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, "the Japanese people are not alone in this time of great trial and sorrow."
America would lend a helping hand to its longtime ally with whom it shares "the ties of family, the ties of culture and the ties of commerce."
"Above all, I am confident that Japan will recover and rebuild because of the strength and spirit of the Japanese people," Obama said.
NRC head: U.S. safe from radiation fallout
WASHINGTON, March 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission believes there is no radiation danger to U.S. soil from the nuclear disaster in Japan, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said.
"Basic physics and science say there can't be any risk or harm to the United States," Hawaii, Alaska or U.S. territories in the Pacific Ocean, Jaczko said Thursday during a White House briefing.
Meanwhile, Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, wrote to Jaczko to request the NRC conduct a thorough investigation of U.S. nuclear facilities to assess their capacity to withstand natural or man-made disasters.
"Public safety is our top priority, and it is therefore vital that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission extensively investigate the risks posed to nuclear facilities in the United States as soon as possible," the letter read. "We believe it is important to assist Japan to ensure that the nuclear disaster is contained as quickly, safely and effectively as possible, and we will closely monitor the situation as it unfolds."
When discussing the situation in Japan, Jaczko said U.S. nuclear plants have procedures and equipment in place to handle a catastrophic event such as the one in Japan.
He said the decision to evacuate U.S. citizens within 50 miles of the Fukushima nuclear power plant was a "prudent measure" given the situation in the nuclear facility is a "very significant crisis."
The crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is a stark reminder of the risks inherent in nuclear power. One of its consequences has been heightened concern about the safety of nuclear power facilities in the United States.
The Union for Concerned Scientists said the NRC gets mixed reviews in its work to assure U.S. facilities are safe, saying in a report released Thursday the independent agency had 14 "near misses" at nuclear plants during 2010.
The events exposed a number of shortcomings, including inadequate training, faulty maintenance, poor design and failure to investigate problems thoroughly, the organization said in a release.
"The chances of a disaster at a nuclear power plant are low -- and current events remind us how important it is to keep them that way," the release said. "The new report shows that the NRC is capable of functioning as a highly effective watchdog, but also makes clear that much work remains to be done before the agency can fulfill that role as consistently as the public has a right to expect."
Obama to visit Ireland to explore roots
WASHINGTON, March 17 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama -- or maybe O'Bama -- kept up a St. Patrick's Day tradition by welcoming Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny to the White House.
While praising the "incredible bond" the two countries share, Obama also announced Thursday he plans to check out his roots when he travels to Ireland in May as part of a European trip for a Group of Eight summit.
The U.S. president touted Ireland's efforts on the worldwide stage, focusing on Ireland's role in Afghanistan and bilateral cooperation on issues such as international food security.
"So, overall, the state of the relationship between our two countries is extraordinarily strong," Obama said. "This is a wonderful tradition each St. Patrick's Day for me to be able to once again reaffirm the great warmth and affection that we have towards the people of Ireland."
Obama said he wants to see not only the known sites in Ireland, but also visit Moneygall, "where my great-great-great-great-great grandfather hails from."
He said Vice President Joe Biden, who was in the room, "is envious because he wants to go first."
Obama also expressed his belief that "Ireland is going to be bouncing back from severe economic challenges."
Kenny said he was pleased to "continue to build" on the strong relationships in business, politics and culture between the countries.
"My message to the American people is that the new government, which I lead, which has the strongest mandate in the history of the state, will continue to build on the very strong traditional links that we've had with the United States in business and in politics and in culture and the arts, and so on," the prime minister, called Taoiseach in Ireland, said.
"Ireland is open for business," Kenny said.
He also said he'd welcome a round of golf with Obama in May.
"I hear Taoiseach is pretty good, so I've got to be careful," said Obama, an avid golfer. "I may have to practice before I play with him."
During an evening reception at the East Room of the White House, Obama acknowledged prominent Americans of Irish descent -- including the Kennedy family, automobile industry pioneer Henry Ford, inventor Cyrus McCormick, actor Audie Murphy and the late U.S. House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill.
"On behalf of the American people I want to thank the people of Ireland. In the years ahead, may our sons and daughters only grow closer," Obama said.
Kenny spoke of two peoples crossing the Atlantic Ocean to come to America: "The Irish for freedom; the Africans for slavery. Though they didn't know it, in time theirs were the genes that would build this great country of the United States of America."