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Journalists in front of the new sarcophagus on Nov. 29
Bertrand Hauger

Sealing Chernobyl For Another 100 Years

It was the worst nuclear plant accident in history, measured in both casualties and cost. And though the death count paled in comparison to the more than 100,000 killed by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, the amount of radioactive material released in Chernobyl was 400 times higher.

Six months after the 1986 disaster, the Soviet Union hastily covered the damaged reactor 4 with a massive sarcophagus of metal and concrete. Only expected to last 20 years, the structure has shown many signs of aging in the past decade, including a leaky roof that led to corrosion. Now, 30 years later, its French-built replacement structure has been put into place, and will be inaugurated today in a ceremony attended by some 500 people, Paris-based daily Les Echos reports.

Since 2012, French consortium Novarka has been constructing a new arched structure that has been sliding into place over the site. Designed to seal the reactor complex, keeping it environmentally secure for an estimated 100 years, the 25,000-ton steel framework of the shelter is the largest mobile land structure in the world.

The shelter, which cost more than two billion euros and was largely funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, will allow the partial demolition of the original sarcophagus and the reactor, at some point in the future. Beyond just the heavy lifting, the work on the most contaminated areas of the site will be carried out by robots.


Trump And The Ayatollah

With the choice of controversial retired Gen. Michael Flynn to be White House National Security Advisor comes a new flurry of anticipation (and worry) that American foreign policy will be turned on its head with the election of Donald Trump.

Take the Iranian nuclear accord negotiated by the Obama Administration, which Trump has called "the worst deal ever" in, well, the entire history of dealmaking. Tehran is watching the coming changes in Washington, with conservative Fars news agency this week quoting past remarks by the hawkish diplomat John C. Bolton, touted as a possible Secretary of State, urging support for Iranian opponents intent on toppling the regime. The more moderate ISNA agency preferred to cite, hopefully perhaps, comments by another Trump ally, Rudolph Giuliani, saying that the nuclear deal with Iran could not be ignored completely.

The conflicting reports reflect unease in Tehran over the best- and worst-case scenarios of a Trump presidency. A commentator in the conservative daily Resalat, Hamed Hajiheidari, wrote Thursday that at least America's "mischief" would now become more evident. Democrats were always "more destructive," he argues, as they "tricked" many governments into trusting the United States as benign.

In his first comments on Trump's election, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered what can only be described as a yawn. He told a crowd Wednesday that "we have no judgment" on Trump's election, because "this is the same America that has brought us no good whichever party is in power" the reformist paper Shargh cited him as saying.

If Trump's foreign policy turns into nothing more and nothing less than an extension of his "Art of the Deal," we can safely say that Tehran will be like no other re-negotiation he has ever faced.

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International Justice Denied

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Of course, much is being said about the timing of Moscow's decision, amid reports it might be investigated over its actions in Syria and Ukraine. Still, the fact that Russia never ratified the treaty it signed in 2000 meant it was already out of the ICC's reach.

Same holds for China, which never even signed the treaty, and the U.S., which also withdrew without ratifying 14 years ago.

Thus the core weakness of the ICC seems to only deepen: How can a court be respected if the most powerful are untouchable? The announcement last summer that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair wouldn't be prosecuted for war crimes, despite incriminating evidence, but that British soldiers who were deployed to Iraq under Blair's tenure might be, only reinforced the sentiment that Western leaders were above the law.

Though its founding mission may have been noble, the ICC risks being one more global body that fuels local resentments.

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Welcome To The Trumpocene

A guiding principle of modern democracy holds that a system of checks and balances helps prevent any single person or faction from making radical changes to the existing order. That the wheels of legislation move slowly, and recourse is available through courts or other branches of government, may be a hair-pulling reality for those trying to bring about change. But it is also the best protection to preserve that change once it has been achieved. Needless to say, supporters of President Barack Obama are counting on such institutional brakes as they look ahead to a Donald Trump presidency.

And yet, forces more powerful than democratic institutions exist — like the laws of physics! Trump's opponents may (or may not) remember the second law of thermodynamics, which holds that it is ultimately easier to destroy than to create. Translate that scientific proposition to any number of Trump campaign promises, with the backing a Republican Congress, and we can see how quickly the Obama legacy, and more, could vanish.

Nowhere are the stakes higher than on the issue of climate change. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived today at the ongoing COP 22 conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, where participants had hoped to put the finishing touches on last year's momentous Paris agreement to limit global warming with unprecedented limits on greenhouse emissions. But after the crucial Obama administration leadership on last year's accord, the world is now faced with Trump's repeated vows to tear it in two.

Le Monde's environmental reporter Stéphane Foucart laid out the scenario in stark terms yesterday: "At a time where the majority of scientists believe that the Earth has entered a new age — the Anthropocene — characterized by the dominant influence of a single species (ours) on major biogeochemical cycles, we may actually have to think of a different terminology. Welcome, then, to the ‘Trumpocene", where the course of things no longer depends on the choices of a single species, but on a single member of this species: Donald Trump." We'll have to see what the laws of physics and rules of democracy have to say about that.


Obama's Journey In Times Of Trump

As he embarks today on what is expected be his last major trip abroad as president — with stops in Greece, Germany and Peru — Barack Obama might find himself thinking back to that remarkable visit he made to Germany in August 2008 as Democratic nominee.

It was an unprecedented event that included a jam-packed speech near Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, marking the beginning of "Obamania" around the world, recalled German author Richard Herzinger recently in Die Welt. "The boundless euphoria ignited by the man onto whom we had pinned our hopes — even we Germans — even before he was elected for the first time," Herzinger wrote.

Fast forward eight years, and the man coming to Berlin now will be missing a certain sparkle in his eye, after Hillary Clinton's stinging defeat last week to Donald Trump — which was also a major final blow to Obama's own legacy. Herzinger notes the first African-American president's failure "to stop the disintegration of political and societal institutions or the increasingly dangerous polarization of American society."

But the legacy of the outgoing president is also a reminder of the limits of even the most powerful man on Earth. La Stampa's Massimo Gramellini wrote last Wednesday, "Barack Obama was supposed to change the world; instead the world kept changing on its own accord, as if he didn't even exist." Looking ahead to four (or eight) years of President Trump, we can only wonder how much — and in what ways — he will manage to change his country and our world.

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Power In America And American Power

The election of Donald Trump is a shocking event for millions of Americans. And not only Americans. The man set to move into the White House has spent the past 18 months crossing lines of both basic decency and what we still like to call modern democracy. Beyond any fair debate on points of policy, Trump's candidacy amounted to a vitriolic, almost violent thirst for power and disregard for a half-century of progress in the way we talk to and about each other. He also seems utterly uninterested in doing the basic homework necessary for one of the most demanding and consequential jobs in the world.

While some Americans expressed their outrage at Trump's win by protesting on the streets, The New Yorker editor David Remnick articulated his own in words. "The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump's shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy."

And yet, even if one can imagine them sharing such a sentiment, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had something very different to say out loud yesterday. In her concession speech, Clinton told her supporters that they must now root for Trump's success: "We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead." This is something much bigger than courtesy or protocol. Public officials, at their best, know the stakes of their work and weight of their words — and how they can influence both their own followers and their fiercest rivals. In part because it is unclear what Trump actually believes or wants to do with his power, his opponents in America must now decide whether to try to limit the harm of his presidency through coaxing or confrontation.

Contained in the famous quote "war is merely the continuation of politics by other means," is the understanding that the democratic battle over power and ideas is always at risk of suddenly turning very ugly. That applies both at home and abroad. Some non-Americans have lamented Trump's victory as the death of the U.S. model for progressive democracy and discourse, while others have noted bitterly that Washington may be about to get a taste of the kind of "strongman" leadership it has long imposed on other countries around the world.

Geneva-based Le Temps asked Rupert Colville of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights about Trump. "If we think that the decisions or practices of the next American administration violate the human rights of any groups or individuals, we will say so, just as we have done in the past, and as we do in the rest of the world." We might all agree the world is better off with such checks in place on American power. Now we must also hope the checks are in place on the power of any one American.

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It's Trump: Unifying Victory Speech After Clinton Concedes

In one of the most stunning election results in modern democratic history, Republican candidate Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the race to become the 45th president of the United States. Winning the world's most powerful job in his very first run for public office, the 70-year-old real estate tycoon and television reality star defeated his Democratic rival, who had served as First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State in the first term of outgoing President Barack Obama.

  • The Trump win was an echo of the surprise victory in June of the so-called Brexit referendum, calling for the UK to leave the European Union. Voters in both cases defied the establishment and polling institutes to deliver a result that will possibly change the world as we know it.
  • The latest confirmed figures show 279 electoral votes for Trump against 218 for Clinton in the state-by-state contest, as the Republican went past the 270 votes needed to win with surprise victories in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Several states are still counting their ballots and too close to call. The Republicans will also retain their majorities in both houses of the Congress, with 51 senators and at least 236 representatives.
  • Trump, who had been repeatedly underestimated since announcing his candidacy on June 16, 2015, won sizable majorities among men and whites without a university degree, The New York Timesreports. Hillary Clinton's edge from minorities and women was not enough to take her over the top in key swing states in the Midwest.
  • In his victory speech, Trump stroke a unifying tone after a divisive campaign, as he vowed to "begin the urgent task of rebuilding our nation." "Now it's time for America to bind the wounds of division ... I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It's time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me."
  • Trump began by saying he had "just received a call from Secretary Clinton" to congratulate him. This came despite Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta saying earlier that the Democratic candidate "isn't done yet." Clinton is expected to offer a concession speech later today.
  • A series of spontaneous protests were reported around the U.S. following confirmation of the Trump victory.
  • Several foreign leaders were quick to congratulate Trump for his victory. Among them was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said "Russia is ready and wants to restore full-format relations with the United States," even though he admitted it would be "a difficult path considering the current degradation" of bilateral relations.
  • The Guardiannotes that far-right politicians were the first ones to congratulate the Republican candidate, including France's Marine Le Pen who tweeted even before Trump's victory speech.
  • Observers are now trying to analyze how it all went so wrong for Clinton. But according to Politico, her team saw the defeat coming and believed her chances were "always fragile."
  • Asian markets tumbled as Trump's victory appeared more and more likely during the night, and Dow futures fell by as much as 800 points but recovered some ground later. Reuters however reports that the U.S. dollar, Mexican peso and world stocks "began to steady in the European morning."

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"Trump Brand" Ready For Export?

From Malmö to Mumbai to Melbourne, news junkies will spend the next 24 hours scrutinizing voting patterns coming out of places like Youngstown, Ohio, and Pensacola, Florida. Those Swedes, Indians and Aussies in the know can identify such bellwether localities in battleground states that the pundits say will decide whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States.

It has become something of a trite habit every four years to declare that the race for the White House is a global event — from the international interest generated by the spectacle of the never-ending campaigns to the obvious and less-obvious ramifications for the rest of the world of the policies bound to come out of Washington.

The 2016 campaign, however, has fused this truism with a brand new kind of urgency. For the first time in memory, there is the realistic chance that a candidate will be elected who has openly vowed to pull America back from its role as global superpower, to question generation-old military alliances, to stem free trade, to close borders.

Beyond the cheerleading bluster of his "Make America Great Again," Donald Trump has tapped into a sentiment among voters that the supposed greatness of yore has been lost not only amid Washington and Wall Street maneuverings, but in some distant and faceless swirl of globalization. Of course, such inward-looking, nationalistic messages had already been gaining traction — and winning at the polls — elsewhere in the world. A Trump victory would give it the kind of brand packaging and export power that, still, only America can provide.

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