EUROPE

Austrian law enforcement and the Moldovan Police with the support of Europol have jointly investigated and arrested an organized crime group suspected of smuggling and attempting to sell a nuclear container to an army, which allegedly contained radiological material. 


In late December the Russian Defense Ministry announced the deployment of its first regiment of hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles. President Putin said that Russia’s new generation of nuclear weapons can hit almost any point in the world and evade a U.S.-built missile shield, though some Western experts have questioned how advanced some of the weapons programs are.


Germany took another step toward completing its withdrawal from nuclear power when EnBW pulled the plug on the Philippsburg 2 power station on New Year’s Eve. The government decided to shut down the 17 reactors in operation at the time of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. It is estimated that nuclear power accounted for about 12% of German power generation in 2019.

THE AMERICAS

A chemical factory in Port Neches, Texas, USA, exploded in early December, prompting voluntary evacuation order due to elevated levels of 1,3 - Butadiene. It was the fourth major petrochemical fire in Texas this year. A March blaze outside Houston burned for days and was followed a month later by a fire at another Houston-area chemical plant that killed one worker.

Five highway bus passengers died from exposure to ammonia after an accident involving a tanker which rolled-over at a highway in the Mexican state of Guerrero.Twenty-one other passengers aboard the buswere hospitalized for ammonia poisoning, as were several rescue workers, and residents of the area were evacuated from their homes.

ASIA

In mid-December North Korea said it had successfully conducted another test at a satellite launch site, the latest in a string of developments aimed at “restraining and overpowering the nuclear threat of the U.S”. In a later state news-broadcasted statement, Chief of the General Staff Pak Jong Chon said the tests were designed to bolster North Korea’s defenses by developing new weapons. It was the second test at the Sohae facility in the space of a week.

Radiation hot spots have been found at the J-Village sports facility in Fukushima, Japan, where the Tokyo 2020 Olympic torch relay began, Greenpeace Japansaid. Greenpeace found that radiation levels around the recently refurbished venue, which also hosted the Argentina team during the Rugby World Cup earlier in 2019, were significantly higher than before the Fukushimadisaster. Greenpeace called on the Japanese government to conduct more extensive radiation surveys in the area. 

The use of tear gas to control crowds of protesters in the Chinese-ruled city of Hong Kong could have dangerous effects on health and the environment, a group of academics warned. Researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) called for government-led decontamination efforts in areas where tear gas has been dispersed, including residential neighborhoods and commercial shopping centers. Since the warning Hong Kong’s Food and Health Bureau has acknowledged risks of tear gas exposure and issued protective advice.  

MIDDLE EAST

As the Iran nuclear deal crisis deepened further, in early December the country announced the launch of a new generation of uranium enrichment centrifuges. Following a significant military escalation of tensions due to the US’ killing of Iranian General Soleimani, Iran declared that it will no longer abide by any of the restrictions imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal nor observe the limitations on its capacity for enrichment, the level of enrichment, the stock of enriched material, or research and development. 

AFRICA

At least 90 people were killed when a bomb-laden truck exploded at a busy checkpoint in the Somali capital Mogadishu at the end of December, making this the deadliest attack in the country in two years.

No-one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast but the city’s mayor blamed al Qaeda-linked Islamist group al Shabaab.The group regularly carries out such attacks in an attempt to undermine the government backed by the United Nations and African Union peacekeeping troops.The group has sometimes not claimed responsibility for attacks that sparked a big public backlash. 

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