South Korea accuses North of hacking official emails

August 3, 2016
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According to prosecutors in Seoul, a significant number of South Korean government officials had their email accounts hacked by North Korea last year.

An article in Asahi Shimbun reports that investigations into the cyber-attack found that between January and June 2015, a “North Korean operated group” stole the email passwords of 56 people. This included officials in South Korea’s Defence, Foreign and Unification ministries. 

The story was first reported by Yonhap news agency.

In order to obtain email passwords, Yonhap informs us that in January North Korean hackers used a free web-hosting server to create 27 phishing sites, which pretended to be portal sites run by the South Korean Foreign Ministry, universities or companies related to defence, for example.

As yet it is unknown whether any confidential information was leaked, but an investigation is underway.

This is by no means the first time that Pyongyang has been accused of involvement in cyber-attacks. 

Just a few days previously South Korean police accused the regime of stealing personal data of over 10 million customers of South Korea’s online shopping mall Interpark, Asahi Shimbun reported.

Interpark only became aware that their customer data bank had been hacked on the 11th July, when the company was blackmailed to the sum of 3 billion won ($2.6 million or €2.3 million) in return for not publicising this private information. 

The National Police Agency of South Korea asserts that North Korea’s main spy agency, The Reconnaissance General Bureau, is behind the latest attack. They said that the same codes and internet protocol addresses had previously been used in cyber-attacks carried out by Pyongyang.

According to the Japan Times, Seoul believes that military institutions, banks, various state agencies, TV broadcasters, media websites and a nuclear power plant have also been targeted by North Korean hackers in recent years. 

The South Korean Police Agency believes that the North Korean regime is seeking means of obtaining foreign currency. 

According to the South’s spy agency, Pyongyang has an army of over 1,000 hackers intent on targeting Seoul’s top institutions and officials.

Meanwhile accusations of North Korean involvement in cyber-attacks have also come from beyond the Korean Peninsula

Last year, for example, Pyongyang was accused by the FBI of being behind a major cyber-attack on Sony Pictures. This attack happened to occur as the company was preparing to release The Interview, a comedy film featuring a plot to kill the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

In November of last year, the Sony system was hacked and embarrassing emails and personal information subsequently published. Later, a group calling themselves “Guardians of Peace” threatened cinemas showing the film with attacks in the vein of 9/11. 

According to BBC News, while the North Korean leadership praised the cyber-attack calling it a “righteous deed,” they also called claims of their involvement absurd and denied any responsibility.

Even before this incident, the US government had sanctions in place over North Korea’s nuclear programme. BBC News reported that in response to the attack on Sony, Washington added further sanctions.

This is thought to be the first time the US has punished another country for a cyber-attack on a US company. 

This year, meanwhile, there has been increased tension in the region following North Korea’s fourth nuclear test carried out in January and the series of ballistic missile tests which followed. 

These events provoked an escalation of sanctions imposed by the United Nations, as well as individually by countries including the United States, South Korea and Japan

Sources include: Asahi ShimbunBBC News and Japan Times

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Fukushima Ice Wall Construction Taxes Workers

June 26, 2014

Construction on the underground ice wall around Fukushima is now underway.  its aim is to prevent water that’s been contaminated with radioactive materials from escaping and entering the broader water supply. The ambitious government funded project project intends to freeze the ground around four reactors, as well as other related buildings,  to a depth of 30 meters. In total, the frozen wall of earth will stretch for 1.5km and will reach temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius. A series of pipes carrying coolant will be used to freeze the land. Beyond preventing water from escaping the area, the AFP reports that the hope is that it will also prevent contamination of the huge volume of groundwater that flows into the plant from nearby hillsides daily. Construction is expected to finish in March of 2015 with an expected cost of about 32 billion yen ($314 million).

In Japan ground freezing projects have already been used in the construction of tunnels and subways for short periods of time. An underground ice wall has also been used to isolate radioactive waste at the U.S. Department of Energy’s former site of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee that produced plutonium, but only for six years, according to the MIT Technology Review magazine.

Some experts are still skeptical about the technology and say the running costs will be a huge burden. Atsunao Marui, an underground water expert at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, said a frozen wall could be water-tight but is normally intended for use for a few years and is not proven for long-term use as planned in the outline. The decommissioning process is expected to take about 40 years.

A group of reporters were permitted into the Fukushima plant last Friday to visit key working areas to tackle the radioactive water. They were accompanied by Masato Kino the Natural Resources and Energy Agency’s director for management of the contaminated water at the plant and Tokyo Electric Power Co. officials.

Kino emphasized the importance of improving working conditions for the roughly 6,000 workers at the crippled nuclear plant during the tour.

“I sincerely felt the hardships workers have experienced, as what’s going on here is different from ordinary construction work in terms of the severe heat due to protective suits and high radiation level,” he said.

The water buildup is a major headache for TEPCO  and the government as they work toward decommissioning all six reactors at the complex. The contaminated water is increasing at a rate of around 400 tons per day as groundwater flows into the damaged buildings for reactors 1 through 4.

Tepco began constructing the huge underground ice wall early this month. It will surround reactor buildings 1 through 4 in an attempt to prevent more groundwater from seeping into their basements and mixing with heavily contaminated water. Under the unprecedented government-funded project, 1,550 pipes will be inserted deep into the ground to circulate coolant and freeze the nearby soil. However, the work is taking place in conditions of high radiation. “A worker is permitted to continue to do his job for about three hours a day due to legal limits on radiation exposure,” said Kino.

The scale of the project is immense. “Look at that crane! Three out of only six or seven of that supergiant kind existing in Japan are operating here,” Kino said. “The current work is dominated by construction.” In addition to the huge cranes, various kinds of heavy machinery and trucks are operating in the area, which is now a large-scale construction site. Everyone on site has to wear white protective suits and full face masks. A signboard reads “Highly contaminated water here.”

Since May, Tepco has employed a “groundwater bypass system” in which it has dumped thousands of tons of groundwater into the Pacific Ocean collected from wells dug near the reactor buildings. The utility claims the water’s radiation level meets safety guidelines.The system is designed to pump out the groundwater before it reaches the heavily contaminated area near the reactors. “We will not be sure whether this measure is working effectively until one or two months have passed,” said Kino.

An Advanced Liquid Processing System, or ALPS, has been developed to reduce the radiation level of the highly contaminated water accumulating at the plant.ALPS is reportedly capable of removing 62 different types of radioactive substances from the contaminated water, but not tritium. The system has been plagued by glitches and is still in the trial stage, with all three of its lines resuming Sunday for the first time in about three months.

TEPCO is also constructing an offshore wall of steel panels to keep contaminants from spreading further into the sea. The utility says radioactive elements have mostly remained near the embankment inside the bay, but experts have reported offshore “hot spots” of sediments contaminated with high levels of cesium.

Sources:The Japan Times,The Huffington Post, The Verge.com

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Japan to increase number of foreign and female construction workers

April 4, 2014

The Japanese government has decided to allow more foreign workers to work in the construction industry following the growing demand for manpower in Japan, reported Kyodo News Network.

The building of facilities for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and planned reconstruction of areas hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, are drivers behind the ever increasing demand for workers in this sector, officials said.

The country has experienced a general labour shortage since spending on public projects was increased under President Shinzo Abe. 

Measures to create a new resident status, allowing apprentices from emerging economies working in the construction industry to remain in Japan longer than the current period of three years, will be introduced in April 2015. These measures will also permit previous trainees in Japan to return to the country.

The news comes at the same time as plans by The Japan Federation of Construction Contractors to double the number of skilled female construction workers in Japan to some 180,000 within the next five years to help ease the industry’s labor shortage.

“I hope more and more young people and women will enter the industry to help it remain attractive,” Mitsuyoshi Nakamura, chairman of the federation, said in February.

Sources include: Kyodo News Network; The Japan Times

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Japan makes drastic cuts to greenhouse gas reduction goals

November 16, 2013

Yesterday, Thursday 14th November, Japan’s Ministry of Environment announced that it would be slashing its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. The Environment minister for Japan yesterday said that the original target, that of reducing greenhouse gas levels in Japan by 25 per cent from their 1990 levels, has been cut by a quarter, a figure so significant and drastic that environmental experts have wasted no time in expressing their concern for the “devastating effect” this cut could make to climate change action.

For a nation which led the way at the recent Kyoto climate change treaty, this certainly presents as a significant step backwards for Japan. Such a turnaround is very likely a response to the increase in fossil fuel consumption in Japan caused by the Fukushima Daiichi disaster two years ago and the subsequent closure of Japan’s nuclear power stations, which have made the current emission reduction targets highly difficult to meet.

Speaking about the modified targets, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga explained that the government would now be working towards a 3.8 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 as compared to 2005 levels, rather than the previously agreed 25 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. “The new target is based on zero nuclear power in the future,” said Japan’s chief negotiator at the UN talks in Warsaw. “We have to lower our ambiton level.”

Whilst many in the country, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, look favourably towards a return to nuclear power, many are opposed to the idea, or at least do not see a return to nuclear power to be a viable or realistic option. Indeed, many are hopeful that Japan will be able to decrease and eventually end its reliance upon nuclear power. Currently, all fifty of Japan’s nuclear reactors are offline due to safety and maintenance checks being carried out by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. The process of restarting reactors will be by no means quick, and due to the extent of the devastation caused by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake, many will never be restarted.

As a result of the cut to Japan’s nuclear energy sources, which provided a large proportion of the nation’s energy, Japan has been forced to return to importing natural gas and coal, thus increasing carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. Japan hopes to offset this increase by 2.8 per cent by planting trees, and will also be using carbon credits from other countries wherever possible.

Sources include The Japan Daily Press, Japan Today

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Floating wind farms off Fukushima coastline mark a big step in the search for alternative energy sources

November 12, 2013

In the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami that devastatedJapan’s Fukushima prefecture, attention has turned increasingly towardsalternative sources of energy, as Japan seeks to downscale its dependency on nuclear energy.

Recent explorations into the world of renewable energy have led researchers towards wind power as a potential alternative, and indeed, a floating wind turbine station set up just off the coast of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant marks an important step in the downscaling operation.

The floating turbines, which lie 20 kilometres away from the coast where the damaged nuclear power plant is located, could become the world’s largest offshore wind farm, capitalising fully on the huge potential Japan has for wind power.

Japan’s offshore winds reportedly have the capacity to produce over 1500 gigawatts of power, a remarkable figure representing over five times the amount of power currently produced by Japan’s existing energy companies.

Takeshi Ishihara, who leads the Fukushima wind farm project alongside his role as a civil engineer at the University of Tokyo, says of the project: “I believe that the Fukushima (wind) project will help the Fukushima region and Japan as a whole move toward more use of renewable energy.” In the wake of the March 2011 disaster, nuclear energy is no longer seen as a dependable source of energy, and as such, wind power is a source of renewable energy that is increasingly seen as vital to Japan’s search for alternative energy sources.

The idea of an offshore wind farm is relatively novel in terms of renewable energy, but its development is an important one, bringing with it several advantages which set it apart from traditional wind turbine towers.

The construction of normal wind towers is usually done from the seafloor upwards; a costly process which becomes exponentially more costly in waters upwards of 50 metres in depth. In the waters off Japan’s coastline, sea levels lie at 50 metres at the bare minimum, increasing up to 200 metres in some areas. Floating wind turbine stations present a solution to this financial problem, as they come complete with their own substation, and are firmly rooted to the seabed by huge steel chains, allowing them to operate efficiently even in the deepest waters.

And as they are located further out from the coastline, these floating wind farm stations will benefit from the faster wind speeds found off the coast. Walt Musial, principal engineer at the National Wind Technology Centre in Colorado, USA, said of the wind stations: “Japan has lots of deep water off the coast, which is a good wind resource. In order to develop that resource it needs to be at the forefront for floating turbine technology.”

Whilst the Fukushima wind farm project does still have some way to go before its completion, facing obstacles both technologically and politically, it nevertheless marks a positive step in Japan’s quest for alternative sources of energy. Sources suggest that reputed companies such as Marubeni, Mitsubishi and Hitachi are keen to pay for the installation of 140 floating wind turbines, pending a successful pilot of the scheme.

Sources include: The Japan Daily Press

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TEPCO to begin high-risk operation of Fukushima fuel rod removal

November 11, 2013

This month, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is to begin a difficult and dangerous task, as it sets out to remove the first of several thousand potentially unstable fuel rods from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Nuclear engineers in Japan are preparing to begin the long and arduous – not to mention risky – task of transporting the uranium and plutonium fuel rods out of the reactor building which was heavily damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami. The fuel rods, which each stand at four metres long, filled with pellets of uranium fuel, are currently being stored in a pool in the Fukushima Daiichi plant. There are over 1,500 rods to be removed, a daunting number, but experts say that the removal operation is a dangerous but essential step in the nuclear plant’s decommissioning process.

Whilst the removal of fuel rods does not constitute anything out of the ordinary for a typical day’s work at a nuclear power plant, the removal of these rods must be approached with extra caution, as there are fears that they may have been damaged and destabilised during the 2011 disaster. The operation could not have taken place before necessary repair work had taken place, such as removing the chunks of debris that were flung into the storage pool when surrounding buildings were damaged, but experts are now happy that the removal process can go ahead. Additional precautions have also been set up, such as a protective hood erected over the building, in an attempt to contain any radioactive leakage.

The rods must be submerged in water at all times, as even the slightest contact with the outside air could cause the rods to overheat and release radiation. Once removed, the rods will be transferred to a different storage pool, which, according to a Ministry of Trade, Economics and Industry (METI) official, contains its own cooling system, and is “planned to be used over a long period, supposedly for 10 to 20 years, and will be reinforced against possible future earthquakes and tsunamis.”

The task is certainly not without its risks, and experts have warned that even the smallest of mistakes could easily escalate rapidly. It is likely to be decades before Fukushima is fully decommissioned, and harder tasks are yet to come, such as the removal of the plant’s reactor cores, which are thought to be melted beyond all repair.

Sources include BBC News, Japan Today

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For the first time in history, Japan signs a UN declaration against nuclear weapons

October 25, 2013

Japan has, for the first time ever, backed a statement  from the United Nations, stating that nuclear weapons should not be used under any circumstances, having refused to do so three times in the past.

The statement was made during the the first ever UN General of the Committee on Disarmament which took place on Monday. Originally proposed by New Zealand, 125 countries, two-thirds of the UN member states chose to show their support of the declaration at the meeting.

The disarmament statement claims that nuclear weapons are a huge and uncontrollable destructive power and that such weapons, by their very nature, kill indiscriminately.

Statements of this kind had been made three times before, including in April at a conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, Japan had refused to sign the documents until now.

The Japanese government had previously claimed that that the rejection of nuclear weapons “under any circumstances” was incompatible with its defense policy based on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. It has since changed its mind, believing now that the statement is in accordance with its security policy and its efforts for disarmament.

Before the unveiling of this declaration, Japanese officials asked their New Zealand counterparts to review certain elements of the text to make it easier for Japan to accept.

According to the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Japan will continue to lead efforts at an international level for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Fumio Kishida said that Japan firmly backs the section which attests to the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons – that their use is a threat to the environment and to the survival of humanity.

According to the Minister, Japan, as the only country to have suffered from the horror of these weapons, will continue to pass on the lessons of this tragic experience to future generations from all countries.

 


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