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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 17 April 2021 | Legacy IAS Academy

Contents

  1. Iran starts enriching uranium to 60%
  2. U.S. Treasury keeps India on currency watch list
  3. Maldives bets on artificial islands
  4. Monkeydactyl

Iran starts enriching uranium to 60%

Context:

Iran began enriching uranium to 60%, its highest level ever, edging closer to weapons-grade levels to pressure talks in Vienna aimed at restoring its nuclear deal with world powers after an attack on its main atomic site.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Foreign Policy and Treaties that affect India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the current increase in enrichment by Iran
  2. About Uranium Enrichment
  3. About the 2015 Nuclear Deal

About the current increase in enrichment by Iran

  • A top official said only a few grams an hour of uranium gas would be enriched up to 60 % purity — triple the level it once did but at a rate far slower than what Tehran could produce.
  • International inspectors already said Iran planned to do so above-ground at its Natanz nuclear site, not deep within its underground halls hardened to withstand airstrikes.
  • The move is likely to raise tensions even as Iran negotiates in Vienna over a way to allow the U.S. back into the agreement and lift the crushing economic sanctions it faces. However, its scope also provides Iran with a way to quickly de-escalate if it chose.
  • While 60 % is higher than any level Iran previously enriched uranium, it is still lower than weapons-grade levels of 90 %.
  • Iran had been enriching up to 20 % — even that was a short technical step to weapons grade. The deal limited Iran’s enrichment to 3.67 %.
  • Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, though the West and the IAEA say Tehran had an organized military nuclear program up until the end of 2003.
  • Iran previously had said it could use uranium enriched up to 60 % for nuclear-powered ships. However, the Islamic Republic currently has no such ships in its navy.

About Uranium Enrichment

  • Natural uranium consists of two different isotopes – nearly 99% U-238 and only around 0.7% of U-235.
  • U-235 is a fissile material that can sustain a chain reaction in a nuclear reactor.
  • Enrichment process increases the proportion of U-235 through the process of isotope separation (U-238 is separated from U-235).
  • For nuclear weapons, enrichment is required upto 90% or more which is known as Highly Enriched Uranium/weapons-grade uranium.
  • For nuclear reactors, enrichment is required upto 3-4% which is known as Low Enriched Uranium/reactor-grade uranium.
  • Highly enriched uranium has a concentration of 20% or more and is used in research reactors.

About the 2015 Nuclear Deal

  • In 2015, Iran with the P5+1 group of world powers – the USA, UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany agreed on a long-term deal on its nuclear programme.
  • The deal was named as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and in common parlance as Iran Nuclear Deal.
  • Under the deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activity in return for the lifting of sanctions and access to global trade.
  • The agreement allowed Iran to accumulate small amounts of uranium for research but it banned the enrichment of uranium, which is used to make reactor fuel and nuclear weapons.
  • Iran was also required to redesign a heavy-water reactor being built, whose spent fuel would contain plutonium suitable for a bomb and to allow international inspections.
  • In May 2018, the USA abandoned the deal criticising it as flawed and reinstated and tightened its sanctions.
  • Since sanctions were tightened, Iran has been steadily breaking some of its commitments to pressure the remaining signatories to find a way to provide sanctions relief.

Concerns

  • Enrichment could shorten Iran’s time it would take to develop a nuclear bomb.
  • Previously the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed serious concerns over Iran’s blocking of inspections of two suspect locations of Uranium enrichment for more than four months.

-Source: The Hindu


U.S. Treasury keeps India on currency watch list

Context:

India is one of the 11 countries on the U.S. Treasury’s ‘Monitoring List’ with regard to their currency practices, according to the April 2021 edition of the semi-annual report, the first from the Biden administration. India was on the list in the December 2020 report as well.

Relevance:

GS-III: Indian Economy, GS-II: International Relations (Foreign policies that affect India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the recent designation by U.S.
  2. Currency Manipulator Designation by the U.S.
  3. Back to basics: How does Currency Manipulation work?

About the recent designation by U.S.

The report on Macroeconomic and Foreign Exchange Policies of Major Trading Partners of the United States, which is submitted to the U.S. Congress, reviews currency practices of the U.S.’s 20 biggest trading partners.

Three criteria are used to review partners:

  1. A significant (at least $20 billion) bilateral trade surplus,
  2. A material current account surplus, and
  3. A ‘persistent one-sided intervention’ in forex markets.

India met two of the three criteria —

  1. The trade surplus criterion and
  2. The “persistent, one-sided intervention” criterion, according to the U.S Treasury Department.

The other 10 countries on the list with India that merit “close attention to their currency practices” according to the U.S. Treasury are China, Japan, Korea, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Mexico. All of these, except Ireland and Mexico, were on the December 2020 list.

Currency Manipulator Designation by the U.S.

  • Currency manipulator is a designation applied by United States government authorities, such as the United States Department of the Treasury, to countries that engage in what is called “unfair currency practices” that give them a trade advantage.
  • Such practices may be currency intervention or monetary policy in which a central bank buys or sells foreign currency in exchange for domestic currency, generally with the intention of influencing the exchange rate and commercial policy.
  • Policymakers may have different reasons for currency intervention, such as controlling inflation, maintaining international competitiveness, or financial stability.
  • In many cases, the central bank weakens its own currency to subsidize exports and raise the price of imports, sometimes by as much as 30-40%, and it is thereby a method of protectionism.
  • The Treasury’s goal is to focus attention on those nations whose bilateral trade is most significant to the US economy and whose policies are the most material for the global economy.

Back to basics: How does Currency Manipulation work?

  • Let’s take China as an example for a country that manipulates its currency to gain an unfair advantage.
  • We can first consider the fact that – the value of China’s exports in goods annually surpasses the amount it imports from the rest of the world – (China’s global trade surplus for the first 11 months of 2020 is $460 billion, up by more than 20% in comparison to 2019.)
  • In the normal Scenario – when China exports a particular good (say “X”) to the U.S., it receives payment for the goods in Dollars which the U.S. firms importing “X” use, and upon conversion at the current exchange rate, the Chinese exporters receive the amount in Yuan.
  • Now, if China intervenes by releasing more Yuan into the exchange market by buying Dollars, the value of Yuan drops (its exchange rate weakens, so now one receives more Yuan for a Dollar on exchange).
  • In such a scenario, the Chinese Exporters can now price their product “X” lower in terms of Dollars in comparison to domestic sellers and sell “X” in the U.S. while receiving the same or higher amount in Yuan upon conversion.
  • This gives the Chinese exporters an unfair advantage against the domestic competitors in the U.S. and hence capturing the market driven by demand for Chinese goods which are now priced competitively.
  • The reduced value of Yuan will affect the value of goods Imported to China from other countries as well (i.e., now that the value of Yuan is lower, Chinese importers have to pay more for the goods that they import from U.S. or other exporters).
  • However, the negative impact (losses) on imports are much lesser considering the fact established earlier that China exports more than it imports, and the protectionist action of manufacturing essential goods within China help in reducing the import bill.

-Source: The Hindu


Maldives bets on artificial islands

Context:

The government of Maldives, one of the most low-lying terrains in the world, is developing at least three artificial islands to tide over the rising sea-levels due to climate change, showed a report by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). 

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Climate Change and its impact)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the concerns regarding Maldives and rising sea level
  2. Case of Hulhumale
  3. Other artificial islands and other solutions for Maldives
  4. India–Maldives relations

About the concerns regarding Maldives and rising sea level

  • About 80 per cent of Maldive’s 1,190 coral islands are at an elevation of less than 1 metre (m) above sea level.
  • Globally, the annual sea-level rise is recorded at 3-4 millimetres and has been accelerating. At this rate, it is only a matter of time that many of the islands are submerged.
  • Low-lying islands will become uninhabitable by 2050 due to flooding and scarcity of freshwater according a 2018 United States Geological Survey.
  • Sea-level will rise half a metre by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced, or by 1m if they continue to rise, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had warned.

Case of Hulhumale

  • Hulhumale, located to the northeast of the archipelago’s capital, Male, has been created by pumping out sand from the seafloor onto a submerged coral platform and is now Maldives’s fourth-largest island.
  • Hulhumale, that rises 2m above sea level, could become a refuge for Maldive’s population. 
  • The government had started constructing Hulhumale in 1997 on a lagoon off Male to accommodate the capital’s population swell. Now, the island covers an area of 4 square kilometres and is home to 50,000 people. Its population could grow to 200,000 in the future.

Other artificial islands and other solutions for Maldives

  • Since the 1990s, the government has also expanded at least two other coral atolls —Thilafushi and Gulhifalhuea — through land reclamation. They are currently being used as industrial areas or landfills.
  • The natural properties of these coral atolls to resist sea-level rise offers a glimmer of hope.
  • Most of these reefs in Maldives and elsewhere “have remained stable or even grown larger in recent decades”, NASA pointed out based on data from studies.

There are a couple of theories to explain this phenomenon:

  1. One, storms and flood that sweep the islands can deposit sediments scooped up from other land masses and elevate these islands.
  2. The second theory is that the coral reefs can produce excess sediment and grow taller, outpacing the rise in sea levels.

India–Maldives relations

  • India and Maldives are neighbors sharing a maritime border and relations between the two countries have been friendly and close in strategic, economic and military cooperation.
  • Maldives is located south of India’s Lakshadweep Islands in the Indian Ocean.
  • Both nations established diplomatic relations after the independence of Maldives from British rule in 1966.
  • India has supported Maldives’ policy of keeping regional issues and struggles away from itself, and the latter has seen friendship with India as a source of aid as well as a counterbalance to Sri Lanka, which is in proximity to the island nation and its largest trading partner.

Significance

  • Maldives plays an integral role in realising the potential of Indian Ocean blue economy as a contributor to the security and sustainable development of sea resources.
  • The growing Chinese presence in the archipelago could have serious security implications.
  • The crucial oil supply coming from Gulf nations to India pass through this area.
  • There are about 25,000 Indian expatriates in Maldives who are engaged in a number of professional pursuits and their security is also of prime concern for India.

-Source: Indian Express


Monkeydactyl

Context:

The new pterosaur fossil was discovered in the Tiaojishan Formation of Liaoning, China, thought to be 160 million years old, has been named Kunpengopterus antipollicatus, also dubbed “Monkeydactyl”.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-I: Geography (Geomorphology)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Pterosaurs
  2. About the Monkeydactyl Fossil (Kunpengopterus antipollicatus)
  3. Tiaojishan Formation
  4. Opposability of the Thumb
  5. Back to basics: Jurassic Period

About Pterosaurs

  • The pterosaur species were reptiles, close cousins of dinosaurs and the first animals after insects to evolve powered flight.
  • They evolved into various species, while some were as large as an F-16 fighter jet, others were as small as paper airplanes.
  • They flourished during all periods (Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous) of the Mesozoic Era (252.2 million to 66 million years ago).

About the Monkeydactyl Fossil (Kunpengopterus antipollicatus)

  • “Antipollicatus” in ancient Greek means “opposite thumbs”, and it was attached to the name because the researchers’ findings could be the first discovery of a pterosaur with an opposed thumb. It could likely be the earliest-known instance of the limb.
  • It is far older than the one identified in 2019. Paleontologists had identified that species as a pterosaur that lived over 77 million years ago in what is Western Canada today.
  • Named Cryodrakon boreas, it was believed to be one of the largest flying animals, which “flew over the heads of dinosaurs”, with a wingspan of over 10 metres.

Monkeydactyl and Opposability of the Thumb:

  • The research team scanned the fossil of K. antipollicatus using micro-computed tomography (micro-CT), a technique making use of X-ray to image an object.
  • By studying its forelimb morphology and musculature, they suggest that K. antipollicatus could have used its hand for grasping, which is likely an adaptation for arboreal life (living in trees).
  • The grasping hands of primates developed as a result of their life in the trees — an opposable thumb made it easier for the common ancestor of all primates to cling on to tree branches.

Tiaojishan Formation

  • Geographically, the Tiaojishan Formation is widely distributed in western Liaoning Province and the neighboring northern Hebei Province (China).
  • This formation is lithologically composed of intermediate lava and pyroclastic rocks, interlayered with basic volcanic rocks and sedimentary deposits.
  • It contains abundant and well-preserved fossil plants, including leaves, seeds and fruits, permineralized rhizomes and wood.

Opposability of the Thumb

  • Opposability of the thumb is defined as being able to “simultaneously flex, abduct and medially rotate the thumb” in a way that one is able to bring the tip of the thumb to touch the tips of the other fingers.
  • Along with humans, some ancient monkeys and apes also had opposable thumbs.
  • Humans, however, have a relatively longer and distally placed thumb, and larger thumb muscles.
  • This means that humans’ tip-to-tip precision grip when holding smaller objects is superior to non-human primates. This is the reason that humans are able to hold a pen, unscrew an earring stopper, or put a thread through a needle hole.

Back to basics: Jurassic Period

Spans from 200 million to 145 million years ago, and features three major epochs: Early Jurassic, Middle Jurassic, and Late Jurassic.

Early Jurassic

  • Spans from 200 million to 175 million years ago.
  • The climate was much more humid than the Triassic, and as a result, the world was very tropical.
  • In the oceans, plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs and ammonites dominated the seas.
  • On land, dinosaurs and other reptiles dominated the land.
  • The first true crocodiles evolved, pushing the large amphibians to near extinction.
  • The reptiles rose to rule the world.
  • Meanwhile, the first true mammals evolved, but never exceeded the height of a shrew.

Middle Jurassic

Spans from 175 million to 163 million years ago.

  • During this epoch, dinosaurs flourished.
  • Many other predators rose as well, such as Allosaurus.
  • Conifer forests made up a large portion of the world’s forests.
  • In the oceans, plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs were flourishing.
  • This epoch was the peak of the reptiles.

Late Jurassic

  • Spans from 163 million to 145 million years ago.
  • The Late Jurassic featured a massive extinction of sauropods and ichthyosaurs due to the separation of Pangaea into Laurasia and Gondwana in an extinction known as the Jurassic-Cretaceous extinction.
  • The increase in sea-levels opened up the Atlantic seaway which would continue to get larger over time.

The divided world would give an opportunity for the diversification of new dinosaurs.

-Source: The Hindu

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