Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Take Action at Fukushima: An Open Letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

Dear Secretary General Ban Ki-moon:

You no doubt observed the Fukushima disaster on March 11, 2011, with terror and worry: what would another nuclear disaster mean for state relations, especially in your home region of East Asia? Fortunately, it seemed, the effects were largely kept to Japan’s islands and were less than many experts anticipated. Within weeks the stories dissipated if not disappeared from the major media outlets, only to be resurrected with personal interest stories of a hero or an especially tragic case of a lost loved one.

But the crisis is not over. Today, Martin Fackler reported in the New York Times that radioactively polluted water is leaking out of the plants and that the site is in a new state of emergency. Mitsuhei Murata, Japan’s former ambassador to Switzerland, wrote a letter last year that brought international attention to the thousands of radioactive spent fuel rods at the site and the danger their vulnerability presents; he has testified to this several times before Japan’s parliament. International experts, independent and of the International Atomic Energy Agency, have commented that the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s plans for the removal of the rods from the site and their storage in a safer, if still temporary, location are optimistic if not unrealistic.

The news media has done an adequate if meager job of reporting the many issues the fuel rods present. The radioactive fuel must be continuously cooled in order to stay safe; the improvised electric system that maintains this cooling has failed several times, once for more than 24 hours, both on its own and because of hungry rats. The mechanism that stands between safety and a fire at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is, to say the least, precarious. (And, as has been clear to many since the beginning, TEPCO hope to shirk its responsibility: first, in its safety and maintenance of the site; second, in paying its costs to Japan.)

One can only speculate to the extent of the consequences of a spent fuel fire, but, unarguably, once a fire ignites (from lack of cooling water or from an earthquake-caused spill), even the best case scenario would be an unprecedented global disaster. Possible consequences are the evacuation of Tokyo’s 35 million people, permanent disuse of Japan’s land, and poisoned food crops in the United States. These are not fantastic projections, but reasonable, if not conservative, expectations.

Yet, unimaginably but all too familiarly, the situation is still relegated to the back pages of our papers, and thus to the back of our leaders’ minds. This reminds me of our international approach to solving climate change, which I have partaken in for decades, first in the United Nations and then as the Secretary General of the Parliamentary Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro: we have a latent but very serious issue that we can likely fix but lack the resolve and political will to do so. As you well know, a successful climate change agreement has eluded us.

In comparison with climate change, however, the radioactive fuel rod issue at Fukushima is both easier to solve and more urgent. Any Japanese can tell you another serious earthquake will hit Japan well inside the next decade. That is to say, this situation must be resolved quickly.

Still, even if possible to solve, the issue needs constant attention and competent and well funded actors. So who might take charge? The International Atomic Energy Agency said last week that it will take TEPCO 40 years to secure the radioactive fuel rods in more appropriate storage containers. TEPCO is already refusing to pay Japan billions of Yen in cleanup costs, and does not have the technology or wherewithal to perform the task competently and expediently. Yet, so far the Japanese government has only looked to TEPCO.

The next obvious choice outside Japan is the United States, for their technological superiority, money, and leadership. Early after the accident, the U.S. Department of Defense offered assistance to Japan, but the Japanese denied their help. It remains to be seen whether that door has permanently closed. This would not be a benevolent action: the U.S. sits in harm’s way in the case of a fuel pool fire; residents of California, Oregon, and Washington have already received much radiation. U.S.-led action, except perhaps by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, is unlikely: U.S. senators and representatives continues to demonstrate their impotence at home or abroad.

I have long been advocating for an international team of independent experts to investigate the situation. The United Nations is one appropriate body to assemble and deliver such a team. The IAEA, however, should not take on the responsibility.

The IAEA’s mission is to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Concerns of proliferation are not applicable here, and the disaster itself has certainly called into question (again) what the peaceful use of nuclear energy means and whether it should be promoted. While the agency has recently urged safety improvements at Fukushima, the official line of thinking is still, incorrectly and impossibly, to use TEPCO to carry out the process.

We are not only waiting for a bigger disaster. One is already unfolding before us. The health consequences of the released radiation are large: despite what major news outlets are reporting, we will see a significant jump in thyroid and other cancers in Japan in four to five years. Congenital malformations will likely begin to appear. The premature reporting of some UN agencies and the press at large has been irresponsible: do we have no notion of what “precaution” means? These latent effects will cripple much of Japan’s young population within the decade.
Our myopia, in Japan and internationally, is tragic. One bright spot was the UN Special Rapporteur Anand Grover’s fact-finding mission in Japan last year; I hope you back his findings and circulate them widely.

We have already waited too long, as we did for climate change, to take international action on Fukushima. But now it is clear that we cannot allow Japan to take care of an issue that could affect all of us.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, I urge you to use your unique position as the head of the United Nations to galvanize political will and organize an independent assessment team of international scientists and engineers to solve the Fukushima radioactive spent fuel rod issue before we are forced to reckon with the fallout of another disaster. Japan and the world should not have to suffer more because we choose to wait.

Yours truly,

Akio Matsumura

-Former Special Advisor to the United Nations Development Program
-Founder and Secretary General of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders for Human Survival
-Secretary General of the 1992 Parliamentary Earth Summit Conference in Rio de Janeiro More



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lockheed, Reignwood to Build Ocean Thermal Power Plant for China

The 10-megawatt facility powered by ocean thermal energy conversion, or OTEC, may spur use of a technology that has the potential for billions of dollars of projects, Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed said on its website. The plant will produce power for a Chinese resort being built by Reignwood.

“Benefits to generating power with OTEC are immense,” Dan Heller, vice president of new ventures for Lockheed Martin mission systems and training, said in yesterday’s statement. “Constructing a sea-based, multimegawatt pilot OTEC power plant for Reignwood is the final step in making it an economic option to meet growing needs for clean, reliable energy.”

While OTEC systems are able to produce round-the-clock power, clean drinking water and hydrogen for use in electric vehicles, there are no commercial-scale plants in operation.

The agreement with Reignwood may be the foundation to develop OTEC power plants from 10 megawatts to 100 megawatts, Lockheed said in the statement. A commercial-scale plant would have the capability to power a small city, it said.

Lockheed already has tested an OTEC plant that ran for three months and produced 50 kilowatts of electricity. It got $12.5 million from the U.S. Navy to develop a pilot facility. More



Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pacific nations urged to call for global shift to renewable energy

Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change called upon the Pacific Island Small Island Developing States to use their voice to call for a faster transfer to renewable energy use across the globe.

Christiana Figueres

"Traditionally the Small Island Developing States have used their voice to flesh out all the details of adaptation and loss and damage at the climate negotiations. Do not let up on this. In addition use your voice to bring a transformation to renewable energy".

The two day summit in New Zealand has brought together Pacific island countries and territories with donors and partners to help foster faster renewable energy investments in the Pacific.

79 projects and activities with an indicative project value of NZD 1.6 billion have been identified by Pacific island countries; half of these projects with a value close to NZD 800 million are not yet fully funded. The Pacific Energy Summit hopes to close this funding gap.

Pacific Islands spend, on average, 10 percent of their gross domestic product importing petroleum products. While the increase of renewable energy will help address the economic issues in the Pacific, it also helps to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions.

"Small Island Developing States alone cannot bend the curve of global emissions. It is in other regions that major transformation to renewable energy needs to take place. There is hardly a group of countries in the world like the SIDS that are more vulnerable to the present increase of global emissions," said Figueres at the meeting today.

Pacific island countries have banded together under the Pacific Islands Greenhouse Gas Abatement through Renewable Energy project (PIGGAREP) to collectively to reduce Pacific greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2015 through helping 11 Pacific island countries to overcome barriers to renewable energy.

Implemented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), this project is funded by the Global Environment Facility and co-financing partners. The UNDP Multi-country Office in Samoa is the Principal Project Representative.

"What I have learned from all of you is there is no magical solution, no quick fix, no one size fits all," said Figueres. More


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ex-Regulator Says Reactors Are Flawed

WASHINGTON — All 104 nuclear power reactors now in operation in the United States have a safety problem that cannot be fixed and they should be replaced with newer technology, the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Monday. Shutting them all down at once is not practical, he said, but he supports phasing them out rather than trying to extend their lives.

Nine Mile Point Unit 1, New York, November 1969

The position of the former chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, is not unusual in that various anti-nuclear groups take the same stance. But it is highly unusual for a former head of the nuclear commission to so bluntly criticize an industry whose safety he was previously in charge of ensuring.

Asked why he did not make these points when he was chairman, Dr. Jaczko said in an interview after his remarks, “I didn’t really come to it until recently.”

“I was just thinking about the issues more, and watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continues to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems,” which were made more evident by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, he said. “Continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem.”

Dr. Jaczko made his remarks at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington in a session about the Fukushima accident. Dr. Jaczko said that many American reactors that had received permission from the nuclear commission to operate for 20 years beyond their initial 40-year licenses probably would not last that long. He also rejected as unfeasible changes proposed by the commission that would allow reactor owners to apply for a second 20-year extension, meaning that some reactors would run for a total of 80 years.

Dr. Jaczko cited a well-known characteristic of nuclear reactor fuel to continue to generate copious amounts of heat after a chain reaction is shut down. That “decay heat” is what led to the Fukushima meltdowns. The solution, he said, was probably smaller reactors in which the heat could not push the temperature to the fuel’s melting point.

The nuclear industry disagreed with Dr. Jaczko’s assessment. “U.S. nuclear energy facilities are operating safely,” said Marvin S. Fertel, the president and chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade association. “That was the case prior to Greg Jaczko’s tenure as Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman. It was the case during his tenure as N.R.C. chairman, as acknowledged by the N.R.C.’s special Fukushima response task force and evidenced by a multitude of safety and performance indicators. It is still the case today.”


Friday, April 5, 2013

InsideClimate News Reporter Threatened With Arrest at Ark. Oil Spill Site

ExxonMobil said Lisa Song would be charged with criminal trespass if she didn’t leave the command center where federal authorities are working.

InsideClimate News reporter Lisa Song was threatened with arrest on Wednesday after she entered the command center for the cleanup operation in Mayflower, Ark., where a major oil pipeline spill occurred on Friday.

Song went to the command center in hopes of reaching representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation. She had been told they were working out of the command center, but had been unable to get their names or contact information despite multiple requests to the agencies.

Thousands of barrels of oil from Alberta's tar sands region—similar to the diluted bitumen that would flow through the controversial Keystone XL project—spilled into a residential neighborhood from a pipeline owned by ExxonMobil, forcing the evacuation of 22 homes. Those families are now being housed in hotels at Exxon's expense.

Song had tried to enter the command compound on Tuesday, but was turned away by a security guard. On Wednesday, however, a different guard was on duty and he waved her through the gate. Inside, a second person directed her to the warehouse that houses the command center.

Inside the building, Song went to a table with a sign that said "public affairs," where she was given the name and contact information for Austin Vela, the EPA spokesman at the site. Before she could get the name of a DOT representative, however, Exxon spokeswoman Kim Jordan spotted Song and told her to leave. A second person arrived and said, "You've been asked by security to leave. If you don't you'll be arrested for criminal trespass."

Song left the compound.

InsideClimate News lodged complaints with the EPA and with officials at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the division of the DOT that regulates interstate pipelines. More

Look closely at the photograph - ExxonMobil Emergency Response Strike Team? This is more proof of who actually runs the United States. Editor


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Wind Power by J. Matthew Roney

Even amid policy uncertainty in major wind power markets, wind developers still managed to set a new record for installations in 2012, with 44,000 megawatts of new wind capacity worldwide.

With total capacity exceeding 280,000 megawatts, wind farms generate carbon-free electricity in more than 80 countries, 24 of which have at least 1,000 megawatts. At the European level of consumption, the world’s operating wind turbines could satisfy the residential electricity needs of 450 million people.

China installed some 13,000 megawatts of wind in 2012, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). This was a marked slowdown from the previous two years, when new installations averaged 18,000 megawatts annually. Reasons for the drop-off include concerns about project quality and inadequate electricity transmission and grid infrastructure, which prompted the government to approve fewer projects and to restrict lending. Still, all told, China leads the world with 75,000 megawatts of wind capacity: more than a quarter of the world total.

In a country more readily associated with coal-fired electricity and nuclear power ambitions, wind reached some impressive milestones in China’s energy mix in 2012. Wind-generated electricity increased more than coal-fired electricity did for the first time. Even more remarkable, the electricity produced by wind farms over the course of the year exceeded that produced by nuclear power plants. And this is just the beginning: with massive wind projects under development across its northern and eastern provinces, and 19 ultra-high-voltage transmission projects connecting windy rural areas to population centers (all to be completed by 2014), more milestones lie ahead in China. Consulting firms GTM Research and Azure International project that China will reach 140,000 megawatts of wind by 2015 and nearly 250,000 megawatts by 2020.

The U.S. wind industry made headlines too. More new wind electricity generating capacity was added in 2012 than any other generation technology, including natural gas—a record 13,100 megawatts. An incredible 5,200 megawatts, spread among 59 wind farms, came online in December alone as developers raced to qualify for the federal production tax credit before it expired at the end of the year. The United States remains second only to China, with 60,000 total megawatts of wind capacity—enough to power more than 14 million U.S. homes.

Several U.S. states have more installed wind capacity than most countries do. The 12,200 megawatts in Texas and the 5,500 megawatts in California, for example, would rank them sixth and eleventh, respectively, on the world wind power list. In Texas, a further 21,000 megawatts of wind projects are under consideration, much of which could be accommodated by the “Competitive Renewable Energy Zones” high-voltage transmission projects scheduled for completion by the end of 2013. These new lines will connect wind-rich West Texas and the panhandle with high-demand markets to the east. (See data.)

Wind farms generated at least 10 percent of the electricity produced in nine states in 2012, up from five states the year before. Iowa and South Dakota got nearly a quarter of their electricity from wind. Oregon’s 845-megawatt Shepherd’s Flat wind farm, commissioned in 2012, is North America’s largest. But in Carbon County, Wyoming, a project of up to 3,000 megawatts is under development.

To the north, Canada’s 6,500 megawatts of wind power are sufficient to meet the electricity needs of nearly 2 million households. As Ontario, the country’s most populous province, works to phase out coal-fired power by 2014, its wind generation is growing—in fact, Ontario’s wires carried more electricity from wind than from coal for the first time in 2012.

The European Union (EU) added more megawatts of wind in 2012 than it did natural gas, coal, or nuclear, even as fiscal austerity measures cut renewable energy incentives. Several EU member states lead the world in the share of electricity they get from wind farms. Spain and Portugal typically have a 16 percent wind share. In Germany, whose 30,000 megawatts of wind capacity are the third highest in the world, the national wind share is 11 percent. Four of Germany’s northern states now get roughly half of their electricity from wind. More