Tag Archives: environmental law

100 Ways to Finance Criminal Cartels Logging Forests

The report – Green Carbon, Black Trade (2012) – by UNEP and INTERPOL focuses on illegal logging and its impacts on the lives and livelihoods of often some of the poorest people in the world set aside the environmental damage. It underlines how criminals are combining old fashioned methods such as bribes with high tech methods such as computer hacking of government web sites to obtain transportation and other permits. The report spotlights the increasingly sophisticated tactics being deployed to launder illegal logs through a web of palm oil plantations, road networks and saw mills. Indeed it clearly spells out that illegal logging is not on the decline, rather it is becoming more advanced as cartels become better organized including shifting their illegal activities in order to avoid national or local police efforts. By some estimates, 15 per cent to 30 per cent of the volume of wood traded globally has been obtained illegally…

The much heralded decline of illegal logging in the mid- 2000s in some tropical regions was widely attributed to a short-term law enforcement effort. However, long-term trends in illegal logging and trade have shown that this was temporary, and illegal logging continues. More importantly, an apparent decline in illegal logging is due to more advanced laundering operations masking criminal activities, and notnecessarily due to an overall decline in illegal logging. In many cases a tripling in the volumes of timber “originating” from plantations in the five years following the law enforcement crack-down on illegal logging has come partly from cover operations by criminals to legalize and launder illegal logging operations….

Much of the laundering of illegal timber is only possible due to large flows of funding from investors based in Asia, the EU and the US, including investments through pension funds. As funds are made available to establish plantations operations to launder illegal timber and obtain permits illegally or pass bribes, investments, collusive corruption and tax fraud combined with low risk and high demand, make it a highly profitable illegal business, with revenues up to 5–10 fold higher than legal practices for all parties involved. This also undermines subsidized alternative livelihood incentives available in several countries.

[It is important to discourage] the use of timber from these regions and introducing a rating og companies based on the likelihood of their involvement in illegal practices to discourage investors and stock markets from funding them.

Excerpts from Nellemann, C., INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme (eds). 2012.Green Carbon, Black Trade Illegal Logging, Tax Fraud and Laundering in the Worlds Tropical Forests. A Rapid Response Assessment United Nations Environment Programme

Multinational Corporations in US Courts: Kiobel v. Shell

The Alien Tort Statute (ATS)… grants American district courts jurisdiction over “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or of a treaty of the United States”. At the age of 190 it sprang back to life on April 6th 1979, when it was used to allow two Paraguayans to sue a former Paraguayan policeman in an American court for acts of torture committed in Paraguay.Since then, roughly 150 lawsuits have been filed against American and foreign corporations for actions committed around the world. Four local plaintiffs used the ATS to sue Unocal in a federal court in Los Angeles for human-rights violations allegedly committed during the construction of an oil pipeline in Myanmar. A human-rights organisation used it to sue Yahoo on behalf of two Chinese democracy activists for actions committed in China by a subsidiary. ATS suits against DaimlerChrysler and Rio Tinto, among others, are pending. Though most ATS cases have been dismissed or settled, the costs of settlements can be high and the negative publicity damaging.

Multinational companies will therefore cheer the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell), released on April 17th, 2013. It dramatically limits the ability of plaintiffs to file suit against corporations in American courts for actions committed abroad.  The ruling stems from a case brought in New York by 12 Nigerian plaintiffs living in America. They allege that Shell was complicit in human-rights violations—including murder, rape, theft and destruction of property—committed by Nigeria’s armed forces in the region of Ogoniland. A federal appeals court dismissed their suit, arguing that the ATS provides no grounds for corporate-liability lawsuits. But as the 150 ATS suits show, other courts have disagreed. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in order to settle the question.

In an earlier ruling, in 2004, the court cautiously ruled that the ATS permitted lawsuits for “a modest number of international law violations”, such as piracy and crimes involving ambassadors, which would have been recognised when it was adopted. The court’s Kiobel ruling goes much further. It holds that the ATS does not apply to actions committed by foreign companies, and noted a strong presumption against applying American law outside the United States, “There is no indication,” wrote John Roberts, the chief justice, “that the ATS was passed to make the United States a uniquely hospitable forum for the enforcement of international norms”.  In a separate concurrence, four of the court’s liberals took a slightly softer tack, arguing that the ATS should allow suits that prevent America from becoming “a safe harbour…for a torturer or other common enemy of mankind”. But that reasoning still does not permit foreign nationals to use American courts to sue foreign companies for acts committed on foreign soil.

Extraterritoriality: The Shell game ends, Economist, Apr. 20, 2013, at 34

It Can Cost Your Life: Shipping Minerals

A dark underbelly exists in Indonesia’s thriving trade with China. Since late 2010 five ships loaded with Indonesian minerals have sunk when bound for China, with huge loss of life. Little has been done to break the deadly trend. Indeed, plenty of interests have an incentive to hush it up. The latest ship to founder is the Harita Bauxite, a bulk carrier which sank on February 17th near the Philippines. Of its 24 crew, who were all or mainly from Myanmar, ten were rescued, one of whom later died. Fourteen were still missing when the search was called off two weeks later.

The vessel is thought to have been carrying nickel ore, a potentially deadly cargo, loaded on Obi island in the remote Indonesian province of Muluku and destined for China’s steel mills. In terms of the global bulk trade, shipments of nickel ore from Indonesia to China are tiny: just 2m-3m tonnes out of more than 4 billion tonnes of bulk goods carried each year on over 9,000 vessels. Yet this backwater trade accounted for four of the 20 bulk freighters lost worldwide during 2010-11, and for 66 of 82 deaths, according to Intercargo, an association of ship owners.

ll four ships were found to have sunk because the cargo had liquefied. Nickel ore is dangerous because if it gets too wet, the fine, claylike particles that are often present in the ore turn the cargo to a liquid gloop that sloshes about the holds with such momentum that even a giant ship can capsize. The four ships had loaded during Indonesia’s rainy season. The ore is typically stockpiled in the open. Quite how the Harita Bauxite foundered is not yet clear, but if liquefaction was a factor, as many in the shipping industry suspect, it will have been another entirely avoidable tragedy.

Preventing liquefaction should be fairly simple. It involves checking the moisture content of susceptible commodities. If they are too wet, a surveyor will deem the cargo unsafe and not to be loaded. Time and again in Indonesia, checks have been inadequate. With the bulk-shipping business in the doldrums, the profitable nickel trade is a siren call for ship owners and charterers. Indonesia’s ministers and mandarins in Jakarta, the capital, refuse to comment on the tragedies and have done little to tighten policing at faraway ports in Sulawesi, Muluku and Papua.

Ship captains report intimidation by miners and agents if they refuse to accept cargo. A leading marine insurer says the ports’ remoteness makes it hard to sample cargoes reliably. Local officials turn a blind eye to unsafe practices. Peter Lundahl Rasmussen at Bimco, a maritime association, says surveyors trying to do their job have been assaulted or arrested.

With insurance claims mounting, shipping bodies and insurers have issued plenty of instructions about how to load nickel ore safely, especially in Indonesia. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the UN agency responsible for shipping safety, is also taking steps to tighten the regulations for commodities that can suffer liquefaction.

But the IMO’s process is a glacial one, and the new rules will not clear its various committees and be promulgated until at least 2015. Even then, the organisation relies on its members to enforce regulations. In Indonesia, in other words, the impact of tighter rules may be minimal. Moreover, existing and planned legislation covers ore depots and the ports, but not the transit between the two, where rain may do its dangerous work. Steve Cameron at RTI, a risk consultancy, argues that it would be more effective if mining companies faced charges of corporate manslaughter for not ensuring that their ore reaches ships in good condition.

Shipping: Deadly Trade, Economist, Mar. 23, 2013, at 46.

 

Haunted by Sellafield, nuclear waste storage in the UK

The government’s long-term hopes of burying nuclear waste in the UK has suffered a major blow after Cumbria county council voted against plans for a £12bn underground site.  Three local authorities – Cumbria county council, Allerdale borough council and Copeland borough council – were set to vote on the search for a site, which would have been the first of its kind in the UK.

Copeland borough councillors voted six-to-one in favour of moving to onto the next stage of the search process. But Cumbria county council took an opposing view, rejecting the proposals by seven votes to three, and in the process ending the county council’s four-year formal involvement in the consultation process.  “As a decision to continue with the process needed the agreement of both the district and county councils, Cumbria county council’s decision has removed both districts from consideration,” councillors said in a statement. The vote triggered huge cheers from environmental campaigners outside the council chamber in Carlisle.

Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said the decision was “disappointing”….

More than 32,000 people had signed a petition against the £12bn underground storage facility.However, the issue of how to handle nuclear waste remains live in Cumbria.  Sellafield’s nuclear storage facilities remain the largest in the UK, and the ten members of the county council’s cabinet also agreed that the council will encourage the Government to invest in improvements to the existing surface storage facilities at the site while a permanent solution for the country’s higher activity radioactive waste is found.

Campaigners {West Cumbria Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace) argued the underground dump would harm the Lake District national park and its tourism industry. They also claim that studies show Cumbria’s geology is unlikely to be safe for radioactive waste.

Excerpts, Cumbria rejects radioactive waste disposal programme, http://www.channel4.com/news/, Jan. 30, 2012

Rare Earths Pollution: Australia, Malaysia and Lynas Corp.

According to the Oeko Institute, a non-profit association: The facility for refining Australian ore concentrate rich in rare earth metals of Lynas Corporation in Malaysia has several deficiencies concerning the operational environmental impacts. The environment is affected by acidic substances as well as from dust particles, which are emitted into the air in substantially larger concentrations than would be state-of-the-art in off-gas treatment in Europe. The storage of radioactive and toxic wastes on site does not prevent leachate from leaving the facility and entering ground and groundwater. For the long-term disposal of wastes under acceptable conditions concerning radiation safety a sustainable concept is still missing. These are the results of a study of Oeko-Institute on behalf of the Malaysian NGO SMSL.

In its facility in Kuantan/Malaysia Lynas refines ore concentrate for precious rare earth metals. These strategic metals are applied for example to produce catalysts…The ore concentrate to be refined in Malaysia additionally contains toxic and radioactive constituents such as Thorium. The NGO commissioned Oeko-Institute to check whether the processing of the ore leads to hazardous emissions from the plant or will remain as dangerous waste in Malaysia.

Storage of wastes insufficient

The storage of wastes, that are generated in the refining process, shall be stored in designated facilities on the site, separately for three waste categories. According to chemist and nuclear waste expert Gerhard Schmidt, there will be problems with the pre-drying of wastes that is of a high Thorium content. “Especially in the wet and long monsoon season from September to January, this emplacement process doesn’t work”, says Schmidt. “The operator has not demonstrated how this problem can be resolved without increasing the radiation doses for workers”.

Additionally the storages are only isolated with a one-millimeter thick plastic layer and a 30 cm thick clay layer. This is insufficient to reliably enclose the several meters high and wet waste masses. “For the long-term management of these wastes Lynas has urgently to achieve a solution”, claims Gerhard Schmidt, and adds: “in no case those wastes should be marketed or used as construction material, as currently proposed by the operator (Lynas) and the regulator (AELB/MOSTI). According to our calculations this would mean to pose high radioactive doses to the public via direct radiation”.

One of the most serious abnormalities is that in the documents relevant data is missing, which prevents reliably accounting for all toxic materials introduced”, says project manager Gerhard Schmidt. “So it is not stated which and to what amount toxic by-products, besides Thorium, are present in the ore concentrate. Also in the emissions of the facility via wastewater only those constituents are accounted for that are explicitly listed in Malaysian water regulation, but not all emitted substances.” The salt content of the wastewater is as high that it is comparable to seawater. This is discharged without any removal into the river Sungai Balok.

The scientists at Oeko-Institute evaluate the detected deficiencies as very serious. Those deficiencies should have been already detected in the licensing process, when the application documents were being checked. However the operator received a construction license in 2008 and a temporary operating license in 2012.

Especially for the safe long-term disposal of the radioactive wastes a suitable site that meets internationally accepted safety criteria has to be selected urgently. A consensus has to be reached with the affected stakeholders, such as the local public and their representatives. “If it further remains open how to manage those wastes in a long-term sustainable manner, a future legacy associated with unacceptable environmental and health risks is generated”, considers Schmidt. “The liability to prevent those risks and to remove the material is so shifted to future generations, which is not acceptable.”

Rare earths are important metals that are used in future technologies such as efficient electro motors, lighting and catalysts. In its study from 2011 “Study on Rare Earths and Their Recycling” Oeko-Institute showed that no relevant recycling of these metals is performed so far. Albeit recent positive developments in this direction: satisfying the prognosticated global requires the extension of the worldwide primary production.

Rare earth refining in Malaysia without coherent waste management concept, Oeko Institute Press Release, Jan. 28, 2013

See also  Oeko Report on Lynas (pdf)e

The Desert at the Heart of the Amazon Rainforest

An area of the Amazon rainforest twice the size of California continues to suffer from the effects of a megadrought that began in 2005, finds a new NASA-led study. These results, together with observed recurrences of droughts every few years and associated damage to the forests in southern and western Amazonia in the past decade, suggest these rainforests may be showing the first signs of potential large-scale degradation due to climate change.

An international research team led by Sassan Saatchi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., analyzed more than a decade of satellite microwave radar data collected between 2000 and 2009 over Amazonia. The observations included measurements of rainfall from NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission and measurements of the moisture content and structure of the forest canopy (top layer) from the Seawinds scatterometer on NASA’s QuikScat spacecraft.

The scientists found that during the summer of 2005, more than 270,000 square miles (700,000 square kilometers, or 70 million hectares) of pristine, old-growth forest in southwestern Amazonia experienced an extensive, severe drought. This megadrought caused widespread changes to the forest canopy that were detectable by satellite. The changes suggest dieback of branches and tree falls, especially among the older, larger, more vulnerable canopy trees that blanket the forest.

While rainfall levels gradually recovered in subsequent years, the damage to the forest canopy persisted all the way to the next major drought, which began in 2010. About half the forest affected by the 2005 drought – an area the size of California – did not recover by the time QuikScat stopped gathering global data in November 2009 and before the start of a more extensive drought in 2010.

“The biggest surprise for us was that the effects appeared to persist for years after the 2005 drought,” said study co-author Yadvinder Malhi of the University of Oxford, United Kingdom. “We had expected the forest canopy to bounce back after a year with a new flush of leaf growth, but the damage appeared to persist right up to the subsequent drought in 2010.”

Recent Amazonian droughts have drawn attention to the vulnerability of tropical forests to climate change. Satellite and ground data have shown an increase in wildfires during drought years and tree die-offs following severe droughts. Until now, there had been no satellite-based assessment of the multi-year impacts of these droughts across all of Amazonia. Large-scale droughts can lead to sustained releases of carbon dioxide from decaying wood, affecting ecosystems and Earth’s carbon cycle.

The researchers attribute the 2005 Amazonian drought to the long-term warming of tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures. “In effect, the same climate phenomenon that helped form hurricanes Katrina and Rita along U.S. southern coasts in 2005 also likely caused the severe drought in southwest Amazonia,” Saatchi said. “An extreme climate event caused the drought, which subsequently damaged the Amazonian trees.”

Saatchi said such megadroughts can have long-lasting effects on rainforest ecosystems. “Our results suggest that if droughts continue at five- to 10-year intervals or increase in frequency due to climate change, large areas of the Amazon forest are likely to be exposed to persistent effects of droughts and corresponding slow forest recovery,” he said. “This may alter the structure and function of Amazonian rainforest ecosystems.”

The team found that the area affected by the 2005 drought was much larger than scientists had previously predicted. About 30 percent (656,370 square miles, or 1.7 million square kilometers) of the Amazon basin’s total current forest area was affected, with more than five percent of the forest experiencing severe drought conditions. The 2010 drought affected nearly half of the entire Amazon forest, with nearly a fifth of it experiencing severe drought. More than 231,660 square miles (600,000 square kilometers) of the area affected by the 2005 drought were also affected by the 2010 drought. This “double whammy” by successive droughts suggests a potentially long-lasting and widespread effect on forests in southern and western Amazonia.

The drought rate in Amazonia during the past decade is unprecedented over the past century. In addition to the two major droughts in 2005 and 2010, the area has experienced several localized mini-droughts in recent years. Observations from ground stations show that rainfall over the southern Amazon rainforest declined by almost 3.2 percent per year in the period from 1970 to 1998. Climate analyses for the period from 1995 to 2005 show a steady decline in water availability for plants in the region. Together, these data suggest a decade of moderate water stress led up to the 2005 drought, helping trigger the large-scale forest damage seen following the 2005 drought…

Results of the study were published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Other participating institutions included UCLA; University of Oxford, United Kingdom; University of Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom; National Institute for Space Research, Sao Jose dos Campos, Sao Paulo, Brazil; Boston University, Mass.; and NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Study Finds Severe Climate Jeopardizing Amazon Forest, NASA Press Release, Jan. 17, 2013

Reversing Deforestation in the Amazon

Brazilian policymakers can take some of the credit for a dramatic slowdown in the deforestation rate in the Brazilian Amazon, say experts – but that’s not the whole story.  In November Brazil (2012) announced deforestation rates in the Amazon declined 27 percent from August 2011 to July 2012, reaching the lowest rates ever recorded for the fourth consecutive year.  According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), 4656 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest were cleared over the twelve months, compared with 27,772 square kilometres in 2004.

Brazil’s government says this represents a 76 percent reduction since 2004 – coming close to the country’s commitment to reduce deforestation in the Amazon region 80 percent by 2020.  It has attributed the dramatic results to a package of policies known as PPCDAm (The Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Legal Amazon Deforestation) that were first implemented in 2004.

PPCDAm comprises more than 200 initiatives across 14 ministries that together aim to reduce deforestation in the Amazon…Over the last decade, the country has established new protected areas, indigenous lands and sustainable use areas covering 709,000 square kilometres.  This has decreased both deforestation and the incidence of fires – and crucially, more of them than previously are located near particularly threatened areas, making them more effective.We know every day where deforestation is going on in the Amazon…from detection to having people in the field stopping illegal loggers takes just five days….Brazil’s space agency, remote sensing centre, and law enforcement agencies collaborate to detect and precisely locate deforestation and forest degradation, and to apprehend perpetrators.  From detection to having people in the field stopping illegal loggers takes just five days….  Last year [Brazil]  confiscated 110 chainsaws, nine bulldozers, and 329 trucks…

Jorge Hargrave – who  worked with Wunder on the UNEP report (pdf) – and colleagues assessed the effectiveness of the PPPDAm policies.  They found that these policies were responsible for curbing deforestation – and that the command-and-control policies, particularly the issuance of environmental fines, had the most impact.  The government’s decision to focus on 36 specific municipalities where deforestation was most intense was also very effective, they found, as was the cross sector coordination and high-level political support for the program.

However, Hargrave also cautioned against over-confidence about the recent encouraging results. “It’s not clear that if the government changes or the policy changes, deforestation can’t go up again,” he said.  “In addition, the lack of land tenure security in the region was consistently identified as a key problem and the biggest bottleneck to further progress.”

In another recent study, Clarissa Costalonga e Gandour and colleagues from the Climate Policy Initiative showed that environmental policies are important – but are only part of the deforestation-reduction story.  The study found that agricultural prices – particularly meat and soybeans – had a significant impact on deforestation as well…The study makes special mention of a 2008 policy that made rural credit for agricultural activities in the Amazon conditional on proof of compliance with environmental regulations – with exceptions for smallholders.

Excerpts, KATE EVANS, How much credit can Brazil take for slowing Amazon deforestation – and how low can it go?, CIFOR, Jan. 15, 2013

Nuclear Waste from Britain to Japan on the Pacific Grebe

Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. said Thursday that 28 canisters of high-level radioactive waste produced through the reprocessing of spent Japanese nuclear fuel in Britain will arrive in Aomori Prefecture in the latter half of February.  The 28 canisters of vitrified radioactive waste include 14 for Kansai Electric Power Co. and seven each for Chubu Electric Power Co. and Chugoku Electric Power Co.

The freighter Pacific Grebe carrying the waste left the port of Barrow on Wednesday Jan, 9, 2013) and will travel to Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, via the Panama Canal, Japan Nuclear Fuel said.  It will be the third time that vitrified radioactive waste will be brought to Japan from Britain.

Japan has received 104 canisters of such waste from Britain and plans to receive around 800 more. The 104 canisters have been stored at a facility in the village of Rokkasho.

Reprocessed nuclear waste to arrive in Aomori from Britain in late February, The Japan Times, Jan. 11, 2012

What Transocean Pays for the Gulf Oil Spill

Transocean Ltd. appeared in federal court in New Orleans after reaching a $1.4 billion settlement with the U.S. over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill….The company agreed last week to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of violating the Clean Water Act and to pay $400 million in criminal fines and $1 billion plus interest in civil penalties. Under the agreement, Transocean will undergo five years’ probation and establish a technology innovation group to focus on drilling safety, devoting a minimum of $10 million to this effort…..

The agreement doesn’t cover costs to Transocean for natural-resources damage under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the company said. That law requires responsible parties to reimburse governments for restoring natural resources to pre- incident conditions.  Transocean said last week that the company’s liability for these damages was limited by a 2012 court ruling that it wouldn’t be liable under the Oil Pollution Act for subsurface discharge from the well.

The blowout and explosion aboard Transocean’s drilling rig sent millions of barrels of crude leaking into the gulf. The accident prompted hundreds of lawsuits against Transocean, London-based BP, the well’s owner, and Houston-based Halliburton Co. (HAL), which provided cementing services. BP previously agreed to pay $4 billion to the Justice Department to resolve charges connected to the spill and $525 million to settle the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s claim that the company misled investors about the rate of oil flowing into the gulf.  BP announced Nov. 15 that it reached a deal with the Justice Department to plead guilty to 14 counts, including 11 for felony seaman’s manslaughter. U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance said last month that she would determine at a Jan. 29 hearing whether to accept BP’s plea.

The criminal case is U.S. v. Transocean Deepwater Inc., 13- cr-001, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans). (pdf)

Margaret Cronin Fisk & Allen Johnson Jr, Transocean Appears in Court After $1.4 Billion Spill Pact, Bloomberg, Jan. 9, 2013

Illegal Nuclear Waste Dumping, Japan

Cleanup crews in Fukushima Prefecture have dumped soil and leaves contaminated with radioactive fallout into rivers. Water sprayed on contaminated buildings has been allowed to drain back into the environment. And supervisors have instructed workers to ignore rules on proper collection and disposal of the radioactive waste.  Decontamination is considered a crucial process in enabling thousands of evacuees to return to their homes around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and resume their normal lives.  But the decontamination work witnessed by a team of Asahi Shimbun reporters shows that contractual rules with the Environment Ministry have been regularly and blatantly ignored, and in some cases, could violate environmental laws.  “If the reports are true, it would be extremely regrettable,” Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato said at his first news conference of the year on Jan. 4. “I hope everyone involved will clearly understand how important decontamination is to the people of Fukushima.”

He called on the Environment Ministry to investigate and present a clear report to the prefectural government.  The shoddy practices may also raise questions about the decontamination program itself–and the huge amounts of money pumped into the program.  The central government initially set aside 650 billion yen ($7.4 billion) to decontaminate areas hit by radioactive substances from the March 11, 2011, accident at the Fukushima plant. Since last summer, the Environment Ministry has designated 11 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture for special decontamination work.  Work has already begun in four municipalities to remove radioactive substances from areas within 20 meters of buildings, roads and farmland.  The Environment Ministry itself does not have the know-how to decontaminate such a large area, so it has given contracts to joint ventures led by major construction companies to do the work.

A contract worth 18.8 billion yen to decontaminate the municipality of Naraha was awarded to a group that includes Maeda Corp. and Dai Nippon Construction. A 7.7-billion-yen contract for Iitate was signed with a group that includes Taisei Corp., while a 4.3-billion-yen contract for Kawauchi was given to a group led by Obayashi Corp. A consortium that includes Kajima Corp. was awarded a 3.3-billion-yen contract to clean up Tamura.  In signing the contracts, the Environment Ministry established work rules requiring the companies to place all collected soil and leaves into bags to ensure the radioactive materials would not spread further. The roofs and walls of homes must be wiped by hand or brushes. The use of pressurized sprayers is limited to gutters to avoid the spread of contaminated water. The water used in such cleaning must be properly collected under the ministry’s rules.

A special measures law for dealing with radioactive contamination of the environment prohibits the dumping of such waste materials. Violators face a maximum prison sentence of five years or a 10-million-yen fine.  From Dec. 11 to 18, four Asahi reporters spent 130 hours observing work at various locations in Fukushima Prefecture.At 13 locations in Naraha, Iitate and Tamura, workers were seen simply dumping collected soil and leaves as well as water used for cleaning rather than securing them for proper disposal. Photographs were taken at 11 of those locations.

Excerpt, CROOKED CLEANUP (1): Radioactive waste dumped into rivers during decontamination work in Fukushima, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, Jan. 4, 2012

The Lack of Nuclear Waste Confidence

In documents filed Wednesday (Jan. 2, 2012)  with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), a wide range of national and grassroots environmental groups said it would be impossible for the NRC to adequately conduct a court-ordered assessment of the environmental implications of long-term storage of spent nuclear reactor fuel in the two short years the federal agency envisions for the process.

In June 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the NRC’s 2010 Waste Confidence Decision and Temporary Storage Rule and remanded them to the agency for study of the environmental impacts of storing spent fuel indefinitely if no permanent nuclear waste repository is licensed or if licensing of a repository is substantially delayed. Spent nuclear fuel remains highly dangerous for prolonged periods. It has long-lived radioactive materials in it that can seriously contaminate the environment and harm public health if released. Additionally, spent nuclear fuel contains plutonium-239, a radiotoxic element that can be used to make nuclear weapons if separated from the other materials in the fuel. Plutonium-239 has a half-life of over 24,000 years.

In their filings, the 24 groups said a full review of the three issues outlined in June 2012 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – long-term storage risks for spent nuclear fuel, spent fuel pool fire risks, and spent fuel pool leakage risks – would take at least the seven years originally projected by the NRC staff, and likely considerably longer. Current federal law requires that the NRC conduct a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS) study before issuing a revised Waste Confidence Decision; the 24 groups submitted their comments about the appropriate “scoping” of the EIS.

In the absence of an adequate EIS review, the NRC has “no choice but to continue to suspend all licensing and re-licensing actions” for U.S. nuclear reactors, according to the 24 organizations. All licensing and re-licensing actions were previously suspended by the NRC until an EIS and revised Waste Confidence Decision have been issued.  The 24 groups jointly filing the comments today with the NRC are the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Beyond Nuclear, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Center for a Sustainable Coast, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Citizens Environmental Alliance, Don’t Waste Michigan, Ecology Party of Florida, Friends of the Earth, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, New England Coalition, Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, NC WARN, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Nuclear Watch South, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Public Citizen, Riverkeeper, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, SEED Coalition, Sierra Club Nuclear Free Campaign, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The expert declarations were made by: Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research; Dr. Gordon Thompson, executive director for the Institute for Resource and Security Studies; and Phillip Musegaas, Esq., Hudson River program director for Riverkeeper, Inc.

Highlights of the 24-group filings include the following:

•The “hurry-up” two-year timeframe for environmental review falls far short of the 2019 estimate of NRC’s own technical staff for data collecting and analysis on the impacts of long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel. The NRC currently lacks sufficient information to reach scientifically, well-founded conclusions about the impacts of such storage. The agency also lacks information regarding the impacts associated with the eventual disposal of spent nuclear fuel. According to Dr. Makhijani, the NRC will not be able to gather this information within its truncated, self-imposed two-year timeframe.

•The short timeframe provided for environmental review will also not permit post-Fukushima information about U.S. reactors to be fully collected and evaluated. Under the schedule established by the NRC staff in March 2012, reactor licensees are not due to supply post-Fukushima seismic information until September 2013 for reactor sites in the eastern and central U.S. and March 2015 for western reactor sites. According to the groups’ filing with the NRC today: “Given the significant role played by seismic events in accidents ranging from spent fuel pool leaks to pool fires and their potential effects on long-term storage sites, this information is crucial to the NRC’s ability to take a ‘hard look’ at all three topics remanded by the Court.”

•Despite the Court’s order to consider impacts associated with the failure to ever establish a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel, the NRC proposed only to consider the impacts associated with failing to secure a repository by the end of this century. Dr. Makhijani and Dr. Thompson argue that the NRC should consider the environmental impacts of failing to establish a repository until 2250, requiring approximately 300 years of onsite storage.

•The NRC should consider alternatives to minimize the risks of storage of spent nuclear fuel and high level waste, including placement below ground level, elimination of the current practice of high-density storage of spent fuel in pools, and more robust designs for storage casks.

•The environmental impact statement should assess the radiological risk arising from a range of conventional accidents or attacks, including those conducted by terrorists.

24 Groups: NRC Rushing Nuclear “Waste Confidence” Process, Not Satisfying Court-Ordered Requirements, PRNewswire, Jan. 3, 2013

Oil Sands of Canada

Canada’s oil sands contain some 170 billion barrels of oil that can be recovered economically with today’s technology (and perhaps ten times that in total). Canada thus has the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. And since most oil-rich nations’ reserves are under state control, Canada has the largest reserves that private companies are free to invest in—more than half of the global total, reckons Ken Hughes, Alberta’s energy minister.

Other countries welcome the idea of plentiful energy from a stable democracy. It could reduce the rich world’s dependence on the Middle East. There are “no bribes or body bags”, grins an oil-industry booster. And the potential is immense. A new study by the Alberta Geological Survey estimates that the province has huge resources in its shale beds as well as its oil sands: 3,400 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 420 billion barrels of oil—numbers comparable to America’s.  However, Canada’s output of 3.5m barrels of oil a day is less than half that of America. (America’s output is set to exceed Saudi Arabia’s; see article.) Several problems hobble Canadian energy: geology, capital, people and pipes.

First, geology. Canadian oil is hard to extract. It mostly comes in the form of bitumen, which is “hard as a hockey puck” at 10°C, as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), an industry body, puts it. If it is far below ground, it must be blasted with steam to make it flow, and then pumped out. This process (known as “steam-assisted gravity drainage”) was developed in Alberta. In the past decade, with high oil prices, it has made the oil sands economical to exploit. But precariously so: the best projects break even when oil is $30 a barrel, but many new ones need it to be $80 or more. (West Texas Intermediate is currently $85.)

Canada gets less than it should for its oil because it lacks enough pipelines. Environmentalists oppose them, arguing that pipes leak (which is always possible) and that Canada’s heavy oil causes more greenhouse-gas emissions than other oil (which is true, but not by much). President Barack Obama has delayed the approval of a pipeline called Keystone XL, which would move Canadian oil to America’s Gulf coast. A decision is expected soon.

Alex Pourbaix of TransCanada, the firm behind the Keystone pipeline, insists that the project will be good for both countries. Canada forgoes a fortune—perhaps $20 a barrel—because it cannot get its oil to the sea. Canadian gas sells at a discount, too: North American prices are far lower than those in Asia.  Another proposed pipeline, Northern Gateway, would carry oil to Canada’s west coast, whence it could be shipped to Asia. Canada would benefit from having a choice of customers. But the government of British Columbia, and various aboriginal groups, have yet to say yes.

To exploit its hydrocarbons, Canada needs capital: some $50 billion-60 billion a year, on recent trends. Such sums are “far more than Canadian capital markets can raise,” says Dave Collyer of the CAPP. Canada gets plenty of foreign investment: Syncrude, one of the biggest oil-sands developers, is a joint venture that includes American, Chinese and Japanese partners. But lately the country has grown frostier towards foreign capital.

In October Canada’s federal government temporarily blocked a $5.2 billion bid by Petronas, Malaysia’s state energy giant, for Progress Energy Resources, a Canadian natural-gas company. It has yet to approve a $15 billion offer by CNOOC, a Chinese state-owned firm, for Nexen, a Canadian oil-and-gas firm. A deadline passed last week; a decision may come next month. Mr Hughes says he is keen on foreign investment so long as foreign firms abide by the same rules as Canadians; but it is not up to the provincial government.

The other big bottleneck is human capital. Hardly anyone lives near the oil sands, so labour must be imported, from other parts of Canada and from abroad. People from 127 countries live in Fort McMurray, says Ken Chapman of the Oil Sands Developers’ Group. They speak 69 languages. The Walmart in town looks like the United Nations, except that all the shivering Africans are buying woolly hats. Mr Hughes expects to see a skills shortfall of 100,000 people in Alberta by 2017. Canada’s immigration rules are more liberal than America’s, but firms still gripe about delays. An Irish worker in Fort McMurray complains of having to fly to Calgary to sit a test of English proficiency. It’s her native language, and the test is online.

Companies poach staff from each other, bidding up labour costs. It would be easier to attract workers to Fort McMurray if the town were more liveable; a one-bedroom flat can cost $2,000 a month. To build more homes, however, the town must wrestle with provincial red tape—and also attract legions of builders, plumbers and electricians, all at inflated wages.

Working conditions in the oil sands are tough. Touch a metal pipe with your bare hand at minus 40 and it sticks. “It’s not for everybody,” shrugs an oil-firm boss. At remote work camps, companies provide hot food, warm cabins, broadband and squash courts. All this is costly. Many firms make equipment elsewhere and truck it in, so that fewer people have to toil in the cold. Some are hoping dramatically to raise the proportion of man-hours worked off-site.

With so many bottlenecks and a volatile oil price, firms are growing cautious. Suncor Energy and Canadian Natural Resources, among others, are putting new investments on hold. “It’s the uncertainty,” says Marcel Coutu, the boss of Canadian Oil Sands, a firm that owns 37% of Syncrude. “No one knows when or whether those pipelines will be built.”

Canadian energy: The sands of grime, Economist, Nov. 17, 2012, at 62

Divide and Conquer: the Mekong River

Laos has given the go-ahead to build a massive dam on the lower Mekong river, despite opposition from neighbouring countries and environmentalists.  Landlocked Laos is one of South-east Asia’s poorest countries and its strategy for development is based on generating electricity from its rivers and selling the power to its neighbours, says the BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Bangkok.  Xayaburi is being built by a Thai company with Thai money – and almost all of the electricity has been pre-sold to Thailand, BBC says.

Countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam point to a report last year that said the project should be delayed while more research was done on the dam’s environmental impact. Up to now, Laos had promised not to press ahead while those concerns remained…

Laos has followed the letter, if not the spirit, of the 1995 Mekong Agreement. Under its terms, the countries that share the Mekong agree to prior consultations on the possible cross-border impact of any development on the river before deciding to proceed. Laos believes it has just done that.  Cambodia and Vietnam expressed concerns about the dam’s impact on fish migration and the flow of sediment downstream. So the Laos authorities brought in their own contractors and now say the problems have been solved.  Critics of the dam say many of the modifications to it are untested and the decision to proceed amounts to a huge experiment on one of the world’s great rivers.

Four dams already exist in the narrow gorges of the Upper Mekong in China but until now there have been none on the slower-moving lower reaches of the river..Laos deputy energy minister Viraphonh Virawong said work on the Xayaburi dam itself would begin this week, and hoped it would be the first of many….

Excerpt, Laos approves Xayaburi ‘mega’ dam on Mekong, BBC, Nov. 5, 2012

Fradulent Quality Certificates for Nuclear Reactors: South Korea

South Korea’s ambitious nuclear energy program is under intensive scrutiny and criticism after the discovery of microscopic cracks in the structure of a nuclear power plant and forgery of quality certificates vouching for thousands of components in at least two reactors.  Officials in all three major agencies responsible for monitoring the program said Friday there’s no danger to nuclear safety, but the government ordered the shutdown of the two reactors with the uncertified parts. At the same time, the head of the state company overseeing the program, Korea Electric Power Corp. has resigned for what he said were personal reasons.

A sequence of problems at a nuclear power plant on the southwestern coast fueled rising doubts about a program that’s been a centerpiece of the government’s energy policy since the first reactors went on line more than 30 years ago. Korea counts on nuclear energy for 30 percent of its electrical power, but critics are now demanding the government shut down some of the older plants and pull back from plans to build enough reactors to fulfill half the country’s power needs.  “I am worried about safety standards,” says Lee Chang-choon, who served as South Korea’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency during his long diplomatic career. “I do not have confidence and trust in the care of sensitive machinery operations.”

The trouble seemed to begin at the nuclear power plant at Yeonggwang where inspectors this week reported thousands of  “noncore components” were installed on the basis of fraudulent quality certificates. The Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corporation, which operates Korea’s four nuclear power plants, including 23 reactors, promised to replace all the parts by the end of the year while asking prosecutors to investigate alleged bribery.

Compounding the difficulties at the Yeonggwang plant, the ministry also reported the discovery of microscopic cracks in passages linking control rods to one of the reactors. An official at the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corporation said the cracks affected warning signals on control panels but not operation of the reactors…

The underlying problem, however, is that South Korea has virtually no oil or natural gas deposits and is running out of coal. Nuclear power has long been seen as the only way to meet the demands of a growing industrial economy. Hong Suk-woon, Korea’s knowledge and economy minister, warned of severe power cuts that might affect industry and individual consumers as a result of shutdown of the two Yeonggwang reactors….

Others are still more critical. Yun Sun-jin, a professor who teaches courses on energy policy at Seoul National University, accuses the Korea Hydro Nuclear Power Corporation of placing higher priority on output with reduced emphasis on safety.  “They are decreasing the time for periodic overhaul of reactors,” she says. “They think a high operation rate means a more competitive strategy.”  She agrees with the view of the nongovernmental Korea Federation for the Environment that the government should shut down older plants and cancel plans to build new ones.  “We cannot believe nuclear power plants are safe,” says Yang-yi Won-young, in charge of the organization’s “nuclear phase-out” campaign. “The government says nuclear energy is the cheapest and cleanest, but they don’t take account of the cost of getting rid of nuclear waste.”…An official at the ministry of knowledge and economy listed 60 forged quality certificates since 2003 including more than 7,600 components, 98.4 percent of which, he says, were for the Yeonggwang plant. “These are noncore parts,” he says, including fuses, switches, and resistors that cannot be used for the core safety-related facility” and therefore “posing no threat of radiation leakage.”  The government, he adds, “will prepare and implement a comprehensive package of measures as soon as possible starting later this month to cope with the possible power shortages during this winte

Excerpts, By Donald Kirk, Cracks at South Korean nuclear plant raise safety concerns, Reuters, Nov. 9, 2012

Tricks of Illegal Waste Dumping

The US Navy has launched its own investigation into allegations that its contractor has been dumping on Subic Bay hazardous wastes which it siphons from US Navy ships docked here.  In an e-mailed statement on Saturday, Cynthia Cook, deputy press attache of the US Embassy in Manila, said the US Navy had “initiated its own inquiry into allegations of hazardous waste dumping by Glenn Defense Marine Philippines, a contractor for the US Navy in the Philippines.”  Cook said the embassy was aware of the investigation being conducted by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), and that it would “take appropriate action depending on the outcome of those processes.”

The SBMA board of directors is meeting on Monday to discuss the results of the initial investigation into the reported dumping by Glenn Defense Marine Philippines, the local operator of the Malaysian-owned Glenn Defense Marine Asia, said SBMA Chair Roberto Garcia.  In a letter to the SBMA earlier, the lawyers of Glenn Defense claimed that the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACOM) was the only agency authorized to address complaints about toxic dumping at Subic Bay.  Also on Saturday, the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce announced it had suspended the membership of Glenn Defense, a registered locator of the Subic Bay Freeport.

Danny Piano, SBFCC president, said the group was aware of the alleged dumping in Subic waters since October. He said the chamber’s environmental committee has been on the lookout for potential environmental problems around the freeport.  Piano recounted: “At around 8 a.m. on Oct. 15, members of the committee spotted a marine [vessel] collecting liquid waste from a US Navy ship at Alava Pier. They became curious [as to] why a [ship], and not a [sewage] truck, would be performing waste collection [for] a naval ship already berthed at a pier…  “Sensing potential hazard, the members reported the situation to the SBMA ecology department for a spot check and to make sure that proper procedures were followed in dumping the waste.”

The vessel, MT Glenn Guardian, had been carrying around 50,000 gallons of domestic waste and around 200 gallons of bilge water (or a combination of water, oil, and grease), which were untreated according to laboratory tests, Piano said.

By Robert Gonzaga, US Navy begins inquiry into toxic waste dumping, Inquirer Central Luzon, Nov. 10, 210

Nuclear Waste in Egypt – illegally dumped?

Egypt’s prosecution begins reviewing charges against ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his former prime ministers, Ahmed Nazif and Atef Ebeid, of negligently burying nuclear waste in Egypt, endangering citizens.  The lawsuit was filed by attorneys Hamed Mohamed, Nasser El-Askalani and Tarek Ibrahim, who are members of the Protection of Freedoms Committee of the Lawyers’ Syndicate.

The three lawyers accused Mubarak and his former regime of allowing Egyptian and European businessmen to bury nuclear waste in Egypt, particularily in desert areas close to the Mediterranean known as Al-Alamein and Al-Hamam. These areas are 71km and 106km, respectively, from Egypt’s second-largest city, Alexandria.  Hosni Mubarak is currently serving a life sentence for failing to prevent the killing of protesters during the 18-day uprising that led to his ouster on 11 February 2011.  In September, Nazif, who served as prime minister between 2004 – 2011, was founded guilty of abusing his political position for personal gain and was given a three-year prison sentence.

Prosecution reviews charges against Mubarak of burying nuclear waste, Ahram Online,Nov. 10, 2012

Nuclear Waste and Environmental Justice

After California regulators refused to allow the U.S. Air Force to label residue from radioactive aircraft instruments as “naturally occurring” – declaring it unsuitable for a Bakersfield-area dump – the military turned to Idaho with the same story.  There, military officials met with success. The Air Force is now sending radioactive waste from Sacramento County’s McClellan Air Force Base to a Grand View, Idaho, hazardous waste landfill.

This solution involved a bit of legal semantics rejected in California despite 10 months of Air Force lobbying: The military claimed radium dust left over from glow-in-the-dark aircraft instruments actually was naturally occurring, putting it the same relatively lax regulatory category as mine tailings, according to government memos obtained by California Watch through a public records request.  Larry Morgan, a health physicist with the California Department of Public Health, disagreed with that characterization. Radioactive paint does not “meet the definition” of naturally occurring waste, he wrote in a September 2011 memo.

The Idaho facility’s permit allows it to accept materials defined as natural without notifying state regulators, leaving the state’s hazardous waste manager in the dark.  “I’m not familiar with this particular waste stream. I intend to find out now that you’ve contacted me,” Robert Bullock, hazardous waste permits manager for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, said during an October interview.  The redefinition of the waste as natural might not even have been necessary, given Idaho’s different standards for waste containing trace amounts of radium.

Days after the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality told California Watch that the agency was unaware of the Air Force waste, an official went out to inspect the landfill. Interviewed after that visit, engineer Dennis Meier said the dumping was legal because of the low concentration of radium in the soil, despite the source.  “It’s not waste that has to go to a radioactive waste facility,” he said. “The concentration is way below what we would accept.”

Nonetheless,California health officials and environmental activists accused the Air Force of bending the truth to get its way.  “Illuminated instrument dials do not naturally occur,” said Daniel Hirsch, a lecturer on nuclear policy at UC Santa Cruz who leads the environmental group Committee to Bridge the Gap. “I can’t dig into the soil and discover naturally occurring radium instrument dials.”

The radioactive dirt in question hails from the former McClellan Air Force Base northeast of Sacramento,now a commercial development site.“At least 24 sites” on the base “all have low levels of radium mixed in with the soil, and there are many thousands of cubic yards” of contaminated soil, according to Philip Mook, Western region senior representative for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, which is in charge of cleanups at Air Force installations. “A little bit of radium goes a long way.”  The Air Force has sent 22,000 tons of radioactive dirt from McClellan out of state so far, according to Charlotte Fadipe, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, if significant radium is inhaled or ingested, it can increase the risk of diseases such as lymphoma, bone cancer and leukemia. While the concentrations in the McClellan soil are low, they are above limits the federal government has set to protect human health.  Before these medical effects became evident, aircraft dials and gauges were painted with glowing radium so pilots could see them better at night. Air Force officials speculate that the radium became dispersed in the soil at McClellan “probably in cleanup water, like mop water or solvents that were used to clean the equipment or to clean up spills of radium,” Mook said. Although radium paint wasn’t used on the base after the 1950s, items contaminated with it remained…

Stephen Woods, chief of the California Department of Public Health’s Division of Food, Drug and Radiation Safety, argued in a Nov. 4, 2011, letter that the dirt should be sent to “a licensed low-level radioactive waste disposal facility.” The Idaho facility where the soil is now going does not meet that criteria. Neither do any California waste disposal facilities.  That’s partly because of vocal opposition from local Kern County residents and environmental groups.  “Hazardous waste landfills in low-income communities of color in California aren’t the right places for” nuclear waste, said Caroline Farrell, executive director of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, which for almost two decades has fought to limit the Buttonwillow landfill’s expansion and impact on local residents.

But in the past, the landfill has accepted nuclear waste. In 1998 and 1999, the Army Corps of Engineers sent residue from the Manhattan Project, the World War II-era research and development program that produced atomic bombs dropped in Japan, to the landfill.  The move outraged civilian officials.  Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer testified before a Senate committee on July 25, 2000: “When I learned that the Corps had disposed of 2,200 tons of radioactive waste at an unlicensed hazardous waste facility in Buttonwillow, California, I was shocked. The facility sits atop aquifers that supply water to the Central Valley of California.”  Since the Manhattan Project controversy, the facility’s permit has been tightened. Yet the landfill’s current permit states that it may accept naturally occurring radioactive materials at low concentrations….

US Ecology, which operates the hazardous waste landfill in Grand View, Idaho, seemed to accept the terminology.  Steve Welling, senior vice president of sales and marketing for US Ecology, said in an interview that “state law and our permits” allowed the facility to accept the waste that the Air Force had characterized as naturally occurring.

Katharine Mieszkowski and Matt Smith, Air Force Ships Calif. Radioactive Waste To Idaho Landfill, NBC, Nov. 9, 2012

Ship Breaking – Greens against workers

At its height in 2008 Bangladesh’s ship-breaking industry accounted for half of all ships scrapped in the world, according to IHS, a consultancy. Today the country accounts for around a fifth. In these years Bangladeshi ship breakers found themselves at the forefront of criticism as NGOs and pressure groups exposed some of the worst practices causing environmental and human harm. These included high health risks due to injuries, noxious fumes and the handling of asbestos. Critics say one way in which Bangladesh competes on cost is that poor workers are unlikely to file claims for accidents or bad health. Another advantage is (or was) the use of child labour.

In 2009 the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), a public-advocacy group, convinced the Supreme Court to ban all ship recycling not meeting certain environmental standards. The court’s decision meant that by 2010 the ship-breaking industry had come to a halt. Zahirul Islam of PHP, a local manufacturer with a big ship-breaking division (the industry prefers to call it ship recycling), says that for 14 months the company was unable to import a single vessel for breaking.  Knock-on effects hurt the wider economy. A World Bank study estimated that ship breaking employed over 200,000 in Bangladesh. Many of the jobs were subsequently lost. And domestic steel prices rose sharply. Half of all Bangladesh’s steel comes from breaking ships.  Under pressure from the ship breakers, Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has since relaxed the regulations. Hefzatur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association, believes this has saved the industry. From just a score of vessels scrapped in the main part of Chittagong two years ago, about 150 were broken up in 2011.

Greens are not happy and want the ban reimposed. Delphine Reuter of the Shipbreaking Platform, an NGO in Brussels, describes ship recycling as “close to slavery”. It and BELA are leading the call for more regulation. That bothers international shipping firms and ship brokers, which argue that Bangladeshi ship breakers have cleaned up their act.

At the International Maritime Organisation, the UN agency responsible for curbing shipping pollution and ensuring safety, the head of pollution prevention, Nikos Mikelis, says environmentalists present Bangladesh with a false choice. “They say they are happy to have the industry, but not on the beaches. Where do they want it? In the mountains?”

Ship breaking in Bangladesh: Hard to break up, Economist, Oct. 27, 2012, at 44

Chevron, 50 Activists and their Email Accounts

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and EarthRights International (ERI) asked judges in California and New York today to quash subpoenas issued by Chevron Corporation to three email providers demanding identifying information about the users of more than 100 email accounts, including environmental activists, journalists, and attorneys. The information Chevron wants could be used to create a detailed map of the individuals’ locations and associations over nearly a decade.

The subpoenas are the latest salvo in the long-running battle over damage caused by oil drilling in Ecuador. After years of litigation, an Ecuadorian court last year imposed a judgment of over $17 billion on Chevron for dumping toxic waste into Amazon waterways and causing massive harm to the rainforest. Instead of paying, Chevron sued more than 50 people who were involved in the Ecuador lawsuit, claiming they were part of a conspiracy to defraud the oil giant. None of the individuals represented by EFF and ERI has been sued by Chevron or accused of wrongdoing.

“Environmental advocates have the right to speak anonymously and travel without their every move and association being exposed to Chevron,” said Marcia Hofmann, EFF Senior Staff Attorney. “These sweeping subpoenas create a chilling effect among those who have spoken out against the oil giant’s activities in Ecuador.”

The motions to quash filed today asked the courts to reject the subpoenas, pointing out that anonymous speakers who are not parties in a lawsuit receive particularly strong First Amendment protections. EFF first won court recognition of this protection in Doe v. 2theMart.com in 2001. Chevron’s subpoenas also violate the legal protections for the right of association for political action that were developed during the civil rights era.

“The courts have long recognized that forcing activists to reveal their names and political associations will chill First Amendment rights and can only be done in the most extreme situations,” added Marco Simons, Legal Director of ERI, which has provided legal assistance to third parties affected by the Chevron litigation in two international proceedings. “We look forward to having those longstanding principles applied in this case so that people can engage in journalism and political activism and assist in litigation against environmental destruction without fear that their identities and personal email information will be put at risk.”

EFF and ERI are challenging the subpoenas to Google and Yahoo! in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and the subpoena to Microsoft in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. .

EFF and ERI Fight to Quash Speech-Chilling Subpoenas from Chevron, Press Release of Electronic Frontier Foundation, Oct. 22, 2012

Palm Oil Industry: environmental and human impacts

Indonesia’s largest palm oil company, Sinar Mas, ran into trouble recently when communities in Liberia complained about a 33,000 ha. operation being developed on their lands by its indirectly-owned subsidiary, Golden Veroleum in Butaw District, Sinoe County. Alfred Brownell, the lawyer from Green Advocates representing the Kru tribes impacted by the project who is attending the 10th Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) being held in Singapore this week noted:

Golden Veroleum is in clear violation of the RSPO’s New Planting Procedure as it has not advertised its plans to clear and plant oil palms and carry out and publicise a High Conservation Value Assessment in advance of expanding its operations. Under the RSPO procedure, the company should now cease clearance until due process is followed. The villagers are concerned that their lands are being taken without their fully informed or free consent.

This is the second palm oil development involving a prominent RSPO member to run into controversy in Liberia. Last year, a subsidiary of Malaysia’s largest palm oil consortium, Sime Darby, was criticised for expanding its operations without respecting local peoples’ rights. The company was in the early stages of developing a 220,000 ha. operation but was halted in its tracks by complaints, which, to its credit, the company has responded to by entering into dialogue with the communities.

The spotlight is now on two large palm oil operations in Cameroon. One is planned by a company called BioPalm, a subsidiary of India-based corporation Siva Group which is marking out its planned operations without consultation on the lands of the Bagyeli “Pygmies” in Océan Département in western Cameroon. The company claims to be an RSPO member but does not show up on the RSPO’s membership lists. Messe Venant, Project Coordinator of the community-based indigenous NGO Okani says:  As the affected Bagyeli communities have told us, the forest is their memory. If they lose it, they lose their past, their present and their future. They will no longer be Bagyeli. To destroy the forest is to reduce them to nothingness.

Another palm oil developer is SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon PLC (SGSOC), owned by Herakles Farms from the USA and an affiliate of Herakles Capital, which is also involved in the telecommunications, energy, infrastructure, mining and agro-industrial sectors in Africa. SGSOC is developing an oil palm plantation further north in Cameroon, but has also run into sustained opposition from local communities and concerned NGOs and has announced it will pull out of the RSPO.

Other cases are highlighted in a searching review of 15 companies’ operations carried out by the Forest Peoples Programme and SawitWatch with a consortium of other NGOs and community organisations in Liberia, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

One case examined is the operation being developed by Genting Plantations, a client of HSBC, and a subsidiary of the vast Genting group which runs a casino, hotel and property empire in Malaysia. Both companies are prominent RSPO members. Genting is now in a protracted land dispute with the Dusun and Sungai peoples in Tongod District in Sabah over the imposition of the oil palm plantation. Leonard Alaza representing the Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia or Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) at the 10th Roundtable of the RSPO underway in Singapore, says:  The communities have been objecting to this plantation since 2000 and filed a court case 10 years ago asking the court to recognise their rights and freeze the company’s expansion. But instead of recognising our rights, as the RSPO standard requires, the company has been contesting even the admissibility of our case and meanwhile has taken over and planted all the disputed lands.

Excerpt from Press Release of Forest Peoples Programme, New oil palm land grabs exposed: Asian palm oil companies run into trouble in Africa, Nov. 1, 2012

How Iran Copes with Sanctions?

According to the latest figures from the Natural Gas Vehicle Knowledge Base, Iran, with the world’s second-largest natural gas reserves after Russia, in 2011 became the world leader in natural gas vehicles with some 2.9 million on the road, narrowly edging Pakistan, which is trailed by Argentina, Brazil and India, respectively.  Iran’s reliance on its cleaner fossil fuel seems unlikely to diminish as international sanctions continue to bear down on its nuclear program, which in turn have curbed imports of gasoline; though Iran has large oil reserves, its ability to refine its own gasoline falls well short of its needs.  But for ordinary Iranian motorists, natural gas is less a geopolitical or environmental issue than a pocketbook concern. “This sort of fuel is cheap, and it gets me home every day — that’s what I care about,” said Sasan Ahmadi, a 42-year-old office assistant filling up his Iranian-made Kia Pride at a natural-gas station for his hour commute home.

The government began promoting natural gas about a decade ago, and not just in response to American-led sanctions. A big initial reason was the increasingly thick yellow blankets of smog that often engulf greater Tehran and its 12 million inhabitants. That was a result of rising auto sales by domestic carmakers like Iran Khodro and Saipa, which took off as oil revenue began rising sharply around 15 years ago, enriching tens of millions of Iranians…..

As a means to counter outside economic pressure, natural gas’s usefulness is clear. Because of its inadequate investment in oil refineries, Iran has long been forced to refine a portion of its own crude at refineries in Europe to satisfy rising domestic demand for gasoline. So when the European Union in July barred gasoline sales to the country, natural gas helped to blunt the blow.

Despite the sanctions against Iran, motorists like Mr. Ahmadi can make their commute for the equivalent of less than a penny a mile using the alternative fuel at subsidized prices. Gasoline is more expensive, especially because government subsidies have been reduced, but it is still incredibly cheap by Western standards: less than $1 a gallon….

Excerpt, THOMAS ERDBRINK, Oil-Rich Iran, Natural Gas Turns Wheels, New York Times, Oct. 23, 2012

Water/Oil/Gas Wars: the Stans of Central Asia

Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rakhmon, likes things big. He has built the world’s tallest flagpole. Last year he opened the region’s largest library (with few books in it so far). But one gigantic project is proving contentious with the neighbours: building the world’s tallest hydroelectric dam.

Islam Karimov, the strongman who rules downstream Uzbekistan, says the proposed 335-metre Rogun dam, on a tributary of the Amu Darya, will give Tajikistan unfair control over water resources and endanger millions in the event of an earthquake. On September 7th, he said such projects could lead to “not just serious confrontation, but even wars”.  Mr Karimov wasn’t talking only about Tajikistan. Upstream from Uzbekistan on a tributary of the region’s other major river, the Syr Darya, Kyrgyzstan is seeking investment for a project of its own, called Kambarata. The two proposed dams (Rogun at 3.6 gigawatts and Kambarata at 1.9) would theoretically end their respective countries’ frequent power shortages and provide badly needed export earnings.

Both were conceived in the twilight of the communist era and stalled when subsidies from Moscow evaporated at independence. Soviet leaders envisioned managing the region’s water flows, energy trades and competing interests, and their Russian successors still maintain an interest. During a visit to Bishkek on September 20th, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, promised help with Kambarata in exchange for, among other things, an extension of military-basing rights in Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan has sought Russian help for Rogun, too. Mr Putin promised $2 billion for the dam in 2004. But that deal fell apart three years later, when the two countries could not agree about the dam’s height.

Spurring on both projects is Uzbekistan’s bad behaviour, egregious even in a tetchy region. Unlike Uzbekistan, neither Tajikistan nor Kyrgyzstan, the two poorest former Soviet republics, has reliable access to oil or gas. Uzbekistan’s Mr Karimov has a habit of changing gas prices and cutting deliveries during the coldest months. He has prevented electricity supplies to his indigent neighbours from transiting his country’s Soviet-era grid. Uzbekistan has also unilaterally closed most border checkpoints with both upstream countries, set mines along parts of the boundary with Tajikistan, and often holds up commercial traffic. When a rail bridge in southern Uzbekistan mysteriously exploded last autumn, depriving southern Tajikistan of its rail connections, few believed Uzbek claims of a terrorist attack. Indeed, rather than fix the track, the Uzbeks dismantled it. Tajikistan calls the actions a blockade.

Though it seems unlikely Mr Karimov will drive his tanks over the border just yet, shoot-outs on the disputed borders are not uncommon. All of this worries NATO officials. All three countries help supply the war in Afghanistan and will be crucial for NATO’s withdrawal.

Excerpt, Water wars in Central Asia: Dammed if they do, Economist, Sept. 29, 2012, at 44

One the international agreements between states on water and electricity exchanges, see Elli Louka International Environmental Law

Nuclear Waste Island, Orchid, Taiwan

Most people on the windswept outpost, 62 kilometres east of Taiwan’s mainland, would love to see the 100,277 barrels of nuclear waste gone. But many admit they are concerned about their livelihoods if that day comes.  Orchid Island has been a flashpoint for Taiwan’s environmental movement since nuclear waste was first shipped there in 1982. Local residents, mostly members of the Tao aboriginal group, say the waste was put on the island without their consent. Periodic protests have claimed negative health and environmental effects.

In response, Taiwan Power Co has showered the community with cash handouts, subsidies, and other benefits.  Orchid Island received subsidies worth 110 million Taiwan dollars in 2011, according to company data. That doubled local government spending, according to township secretary Huang Cheng-de.  “The current situation, basically, is that Taipower gives us quite a bit of money, and our people are becoming pretty reliant,” Huang said.  Most of the funds are divided into government-managed accounts for each of the island’s 4,700 residents, who can apply for it if they have a business or career-oriented need. Residents also receive free electricity, health-related emergency evacuations, scholarships for higher education and a 50-per-cent discount on all transportation costs to Taiwan’s mainland.  Statistics indicate local residents are taking advantage of the benefits. In 2011, they used nearly twice as much electricity per household as the national average, according to company data.

Protests have weakened and for many residents, including Chou the restaurant owner, the existence of nuclear waste has become more acceptable.  “Most people here are against the nuclear waste, but since its already here, they should pay us for using our land,” Chou said. “For now, I’m okay with it as long as they don’t add any more barrels.”  The utility plans to move the waste off the island by 2021, but only if another township in Taiwan agrees by referendum to take it, according to Huang Tian-Huang, a company deputy director.  If it goes to plan, “so goes the compensation,” Huang said, although he acknowledged that gaining consent from another community will be difficult.  Questions remain on what would support Orchid Island’s economy if those subsidies end.

For Taiwan aborigines, nuclear waste is blessing and curse, http://www.timeslive.co.za, Sept. 16, 2012

Nuclear Waste Russia: Andreyeva Bay

Andreyeva Bay, the former naval technical base come solid radioactive waste storage facility has undergone many improvements, but problems also remain. Andreyeva Bay is one of the hottest radioactive spots in Northwest Russia and work deadlines are hard to meet.  Founded in between 1960 and 1964, Andreyeva Bay’s task was to remove, store and ship for reprocessing at the Ural Mountains Mayak Chemical Combine spent nuclear fuel from nuclear submarines. After a 1982 accident in the spent nuclear fuel storage, Russia Ministery of Defense decided to reconstruct the facility. But the turbulent political and economic conditions of the 1980s and 1990s scuttled the plans. Andreyeva Bay was assigned to Minatom, Rosatom’s precursor, in 2000.  The beleaguered facility, which is nearby the Norwegian border is of special concern to Oslo. Norway’s Deputy Ambassador in Moscow, Bård Svendsen, noted that the two countries had cooperated on solving the Andreyeva bay issue for many years.  “Over these years, much has been done and much remains to be done,” said Svendsen. “Norwegian authorities will continue this work, which costs some €10 million euro a year.”  According to Rosatom’s deputy head of Department for Project Implementation and Nuclear and Radiaiton Safety, Anatoly Grigorieyev, the last 10 years have seen the installation of constant radiation monitoring and significant improvements in the conditions in which radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel is stored.  A new installation for working with spent nuclear fuel is expected to be installed at Andreyeva Bay in 2014, and by 2015 the fuel is slated for removal – the same year a facility for handling radioactive waste should be installed, he said in remarks reported by Regnum news agency.  “The work we have planned will allow for the territory to be brought up to suitable conditions within 10-15 years,” said Grigorieyev.

Vladimir Romanov, deputy director of the Federal Medical and Biological Agency, said that studies conducted by his institute confirm that the radiological conditions at Andreyeva Bay and at Gremikha – the second onshore storage site at the Kola Peninsula for spent nuclear fuel from submarines – are indeed on the mend…. According to Valery Panteleyev, head of SevRAO, the Northwest Russian firm responsible for dealing with radioactive waste Some 846 spent fuel assemblies have been taken from storage at the former naval based to the Mayak Chemical Combine for reprocessing thanks to infrastructure built for fuel unloading purposes.  Panteleyev said Gremikha still currently is home to used removable parts from liquid metal cooled reactors submarine reactors, spent fuel assemblies, a reactor from an Alpha class submarine and more than 1000 cubic meters of solid radioactive waste.  Panteleyev said that by the end of 2012, all standard and non-standard fuel will have been sent to Mayak from Gremikha. He said that between 2012 and 2020 the removable parts of the liquid metal cooled reactors would also be gone, and that during the period between 2012 and 2014, 4000 cubic meters of solid radioactive waste would also be removed to long term storage at Saida Bay.  If all goes according to schedule, the Gremikha site will be rehabilitated by 2025.

Rosatom also presented detailed reports on an international project to build long-term storage for reactor compartments at the Saida Bay storage site for aged submarine reactors.  Panteleyev said none of the achievements at either Saida Bay or Gremikha would have been possible without international help.  The projects are being completed with funding from Germany, Italy, France, Norway, Sweden, Great Britain and the EBRD.  “These countries are investing in the creation of infrastructure for handling radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, dismantlement of nuclear vessels of the atomic fleet and in the infrastructure for the safe storage or reactor compartments,” said Panteleyev….

Another item of special concern at the Bellona/Rosatom seminar was the disposition of the floating spent nuclear fuel vessel, the Lepse. A former technical support vessel, taken out of service in 1988 the Lepse presents the biggest nuclear and radiation risk of all retired nuclear service ships in Russia. The Lepse’s spent nuclear fuel storage holds – in casks and caissons – 639 spent fuel assemblies, a significant portion of which are severely damaged.  Extraction of these spent fuel assemblies presents special radiological risks and technical innovation. The vessel is currently moored at Atomflot in Murmansk, the base of Russia’s nuclear icebreaker fleet.  Mikhail Repin, group director for the Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise the Federal Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, said work on the Lepse is divided into three categories: transfer of the vessel to the ship repair yard Nerpa in the Murmansk Region, fixing it to an assembly based, removing the spent fuel and dividing into blocks. The work is expected to be complete by 2012.  But the barriers to enacting this project, however, remain largely bureaucratic.  “One gets the impression that international and Russian bureaucrats are capable of muddling any project, as shown by the experience with the Lepse,” said Bellona’s Niktin. The project of dismantling the Lepse have remained on paper since 1995.  The Lepse was built in 1930, and the vessel has been afloat for 75 years, said Repin… The equipment necessary for removing the spent fuel assemblies must be fabricated for specifically this project. The equipment must first ensure the safety of the workers, meaning the work will have to be done essentially remotely to ensure minimum exposure.

Safety of Nuclear Fuel at Pools: From Fukushima to Yucca Mountain

An Entergy Corp.  unit sued the U.S. for $100 million alleging the government breached a contract for disposal of nuclear waste at two plants in Michigan.  Entergy Nuclear Palisades LLC, owner of the Palisades Nuclear Plant and the Big Rock Point plant, alleged yesterday that the Energy Department collected fees under a 1983 contract without ever starting to dispose of the radioactive material. The suit is in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington.  Entergy and a previous owner of the shuttered Big Rock Point plant “have fully complied with all their fee payment obligations under the contract,” according to the complaint. “The government, however, has failed to perform its reciprocal obligation to dispose of spent nuclear fuel, and currently has no plan to meet these obligations.”

Entergy’s lawsuit is the latest legal challenge stemming from the federal government’s failure to create a central, long- term facility to store nuclear waste.  Most nuclear-plant owners continue to store spent nuclear fuel onsite despite contributing for decades into a fund meant to finance a central waste depository.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is freezing U.S. operating licenses for at least two years as it reassesses waste-storage risks and strategies in response to a June 8 order by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.  See US Court of Appeals

Entergy Corp., based in New Orleans, is the second-largest owner of nuclear plants in the U.S.  Through June 30, Entergy and Consumers Energy Co., the former owner of Big Rock Point, have paid about $274 million into the fund under the contract, the company said. Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The case is Entergy Nuclear Palisades LLC v. U.S., 12-cv- 1641, U.S. Court of Federal Claims (Washington).

By Tom Schoenberg and Julie Johnsson, Entergy Sues U.S. for Failure to Dispose of Nuclear Waste, Bloomberg, Sep 27, 2012

The Hundred Defects in Nuclear Plants: Europe

Hundreds of defects have been found throughout Europe’s nuclear reactors and mostly in France, according to a EU stress test report leaked to the German and French media.  A leaked EU stress test report says it it will cost €25 billion to bring Europe’s nuclear reactors up to international saftey standards   The stress tests assess whether any of Europe’s 143 licensed nuclear power plants can withstand extreme events such as earthquakes and terrorists attacks.  The tests were introduced after the nuclear accident in Japan’s Fukushima some 18 months ago. EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger is to present the final report and recommendations in the upcoming EU summit on 18 and 19 October…

The European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (Ensreg), a group of senior officials from the national nuclear regulatory authorities from all 27 member states, said on Monday (October 1, 2012) in a statement said they have yet to be informed of the content of the report.  “The commission had not made available to Ensreg any draft of the communication. However, the content of a draft was known by some Ensreg members and this draft raised major problems and concerns in Ensreg,” said the group’s chairperson Tero Varjoranta.

Meanwhile, a preview into the content by French daily Le Figaro and German daily Die Welt suggests none of France’s 58 nuclear power plants meet, to varying degrees, the international security standards outlined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  “For the very first time in history, we know for all the nuclear power plants in Europe whether these very high standards are actually used or not used,” said Holzner.

Nineteen French reactors have no seismic measuring instruments, says Le Figaro. The paper also notes that safety and rescue equipment in case of disaster is not adequately protected unlike at German, British and Swedish reactors.  The report does not recommend shutting down any one EU nuclear power plant, say the papers, but notes that getting them up to standard would cost some €25 billion.

National regulators carry out the initial stress tests inspections. Teams of safety experts from the EU member states and the commission then scrutinize their conclusions followed by on-site spot checks.  For its part, Belgium’s national regulator, the federal agency for nuclear control (FANC), decided to shut down two of its seven reactors in August after having discovered thousands of cracks.  The discovery of the cracks came two months after having submitted their peer-reviewed EU stress tests in April.  “Results of the stress tests are still perfectly valid. In any case they had an altogether different purpose,” said FANC at the time.

Leaked EU nuclear stress tests reveal hundreds of defects, EUobserver.com, Oct. 2, 2012

The iPhone, radioactive waste and rare earths: the Lynas case

Lynas Corporation, an Australian based mining company are constructing a rare earth processing plant, known as the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Gebeng industrial estate in Kuantan, Malaysia. The LAMP will process lanthanide concentrate which will be trucked from the mine site in Mt Weld Western Australia to the Port of Fremantle where it will be shipped to Malaysia. This report provides an assessment of the emissions from the LAMP plant rather than Lynas Corporation‟s activities in Western Australia. The LAMP plant will have significant atmospheric, terrestrial and waterborne emissions of toxic chemicals and radionuclides including uranium, thorium and radon gas.

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A Malaysian high court put on hold until October 4 a temporary operating license granted to Lynas Corp Ltd’s controversial rare earth plant near the eastern city of Kuantan, prompting an 8 percent fall in the Australian firm’s shares on Tuesday (Sept. 24, 2012).  The rare earth plant – the world’s biggest outside China – has been ready to fire up since early May, but the company has been embroiled in lengthy environmental and safety disputes with local residents since construction began two years ago [regarding the handling of radioactive waste at the plant].

The plant is considered important to breaking China’s grip on the processing of rare earths, which are used in products ranging from smartphones to hybrid cars.

Lynas confirmed the Kuantan High Court’s decision on Tuesday, but said it would not affect production at the plant and that it plans to strongly assert its rights at the next court hearing…Lynas shares plunged more than 8 percent after the court order to A$0.795, their lowest close in almost three weeks as investors closely track each move in the sensitive case. Earlier this month they rose up to 50 percent when Malaysia approved the license.

Activists linked to the environmental group, Save Malaysia Stop Lynas, want the court to suspend the temporary license until two judicial review cases challenging the government’s decision allowing the plant to operate are heard.  “It’s a small victory, but there is still a long way to go,” Tan Bun Teet, a spokesman for the group, told Reuters after the court decision. “We will fight tooth and nail. We have a lot at stake,” he added.  The group’s previous attempts to legally stop the plant had failed.

Lynas received a temporary operating license for its long-delayed $800 million rare earth plant earlier this month, enabling it to start production as early as October.  The Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) issued the permit following an earlier recommendation from a government committee.  Protests over possible radioactive residue have drawn thousands of people and the project has become a hot topic ahead of an election that must be held by early next year.

Sources

Lee Bell, Rare Earth and Radioactive Waste: A Preliminary Waste Stream Assessment of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant, Gebeng, Malaysia, National Toxics Network. April 2012

Siva Sithraputhran, Malaysian court puts license on hold for Lynas rare earth plant, Reuters, Sept. 25, 2012

How to Avoid the Carbon Tax

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS),  a Climate of Corporate Control, statements and actions on climate science and policy by 28 U.S. companies, shows how these contributions can be problematic, and suggests steps that Congress, the public, the media, and companies themselves can take to address the problem.  Corporations have the right, of course, to weigh in on public policy issues that affect their interests. But too often they do so irresponsibly, misrepresenting and misusing science at the public’s expense, and in recent years their influence has grown.

Corporations skew the national dialogue on climate policy in a variety of ways—making inconsistent statements across different venues, attacking science through industry-supported organizations, and taking advantage of the secrecy allowed them by current legal and regulatory structures.

Inconsistency: Having It Both Ways–Some corporations are contradictory in their actions, expressing concern about the threat of climate change in some venues—such as company websites, Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, annual reports, or statements to Congress—while working to weaken policy responses to climate change in others.  For example, ConocoPhillips has acknowledged on its website that “human activity…is contributing to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that can lead to adverse changes in global climate.” Yet in its comments on the 2009 EPA Endangerment Finding, the company claimed that “the support for the effects of climate change on public health and welfare is limited and is typified by a high degree of uncertainty.”

Using Outside Organizations: Contrarians By Proxy–One way a company can work against effective climate policy while avoiding accountability for that work is to provide funding to outside groups that lobby against climate legislation and regulation or engage in advocacy campaigns against climate science. Such groups range from business associations such as the National Association of Manufacturers to front groups like the Heartland Institute.

Echoing the inconsistency in their other statements and actions on the issue, many companies belong to groups lobbying on both sides of the climate policy debate. For example, Caterpillar is affiliated both with the World Resources Institute and Nature Conservancy, which advocate global warming solutions, and with the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, which oppose them.  Of course, corporations may point out that the organizations they support work on many issues besides climate—but the fact remains that many of these groups take starkly anti-science positions on climate change and work aggressively to challenge science-based climate policies.

A Lack of Transparency–When business interests can hide their influence on policy-making processes from public view, it becomes easier for them to manipulate perceptions of science and skew policy discussions. There are several areas in which greater transparency is needed:  Charitable contributions. Current law only requires corporate foundations to disclose their donations to the IRS; companies can get around this requirement by making their donations directly, bypassing their foundations. This information is also hidden from shareholders: several corporations have received proposals from their shareholders demanding access to the company’s charitable contributions, and legislation to require such disclosure has been proposed in Congress.  Lobbying and political expenditures. While companies are legally required to report their total expenditures on political contributions and lobbying, they are not required to disclose the particular issues for which these contributions are targeted. So it is not possible to determine how much lobbying corporations are doing on climate issues. Business risks from climate change. Publicly traded companies are required to discuss risks that might materially affect their business in their annual SEC filings. The report shows that compliance with this requirement with regard to climate change is not consistent; some companies address climate-related risks fully, some discuss only the possible impacts of climate regulation, neglecting the physical impacts of climate change, and others ignore the issue entirely.

Good and Bad Behavior–It’s not all bad news out there: The report shows that some companies, such as NIKE, appear to be consistently constructive in their climate-related statements and actions.  At the other extreme, some companies appear to be almost uniformly obstructionist on climate issues. This list is dominated by fossil-fuel companies such as Peabody Energy and Marathon Oil.  But because of the lack of disclosure, it is impossible to say for sure whether companies are completely constructive or obstructionist.  Inappropriate corporate influence on the national dialogue on climate science and policy is a large-scale, complex problem requiring large-scale, complex solutions.

Excerpt from A Climate of Corporate Control

Canada and its Nuclear Waste

Since the 1960s,  Canada’s nuclear power plants have generated more than two million bundles of highly radioactive used fuel. And they’re all still stored on the sites of the plants that produced them.But the pace of finding a site to store Canada’s most potent radioactive waste permanently is about to pick up.  Twenty Canadian communities have said they’ll consider volunteering to host the storage site.  That list is about to close. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization, whose job it is to find and build the site, will stop taking new names on Sept. 30, 2012.  The impending cut-off is ratcheting up the pressure on the technocrats charged with selecting a site; on the boosters who want to snare the multi-billion-dollar repository for their community; on the activists who harbour deep suspicions about safety; and on the aboriginal leaders who say they’ve been cut out of the process….

A fuel bundle for a Candu nuclear power reactor is about the size of a fireplace log. As of June 30, 2011, Canada had 2,273,873 used fuel bundles stored at its nuclear plants in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.  Another 85,000 or so have been added since then.  In total, they’d fill about six NHL hockey rinks, stacked up as high as the boards.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization, formed by the three electric utilities that run nuclear reactors, wants to bury the waste deep underground in caverns excavated from stable rock, where it can lie undisturbed forever.  The depth will probably depend on the site’s geology. A facility proposed to hold less-potent radioactive waste at the Bruce nuclear site near Kincardine will be 680 metres deep. By comparison, the CN Tower is 553 metres tall.  The NWMO is looking for a “willing” community to agree to take the $16-to-$24-billion project. The host community itself will decide how to define “willing.” Candidate communities will have multiple opportunities to withdraw if they get cold feet, the NWMO says.  As it moves through a nine-stage selection process, the NWMO hopes to have narrowed the field to one or two communities by 2015, then spend until about 2020 deciding on a specific site within the chosen community.  After that, it will take three to five years to do an extensive environmental assessment of the site. The proponents will also have to satisfy the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission that their plan makes sense, and obtain a license to construct and operate the facility.  Then, it will take six to 10 years to build. The NWMO doesn’t expect the first bundles to be stored until 2035.  The plan is to seal the waste in sturdy, radiation-proof containers and store it deep in a stable rock formation where — even if the containers were to crack and leak — there’s be no danger of contaminating groundwater used by humans. (Although that’s the current strategy, the NWMO says it would consider a different plan if compelling evidence emerged that another technique is superior.)

Current designs call for surface buildings and facilities to cover about 100 hectares (250 acres), says the NWMO’s Michael Krizanc.  “As well, there may be a need to limit activities in the immediate area surrounding the surface facilities in order to meet regulatory or other requirements.”  Underground, the excavated caverns will cover an area of about 2.5 kilometres by 1.5 kilometres. That’s 375 hectares, or 930 acres.  “The NWMO would need to have rights to the land above the repository,” says Krizanc, but “alternative uses could be considered, with the community, for portions of the land.”….

Meanwhile in Saugeen Shores, a lively battle is under way as members of a citizens group dubbed save Save Our Saugeen Shores, or SOS, fights what they see as an attempt to impose the waste site on their community on the shore of the Great Lakes….SOS also worries that U.S. power plants might be able to force Canada to take U.S. nuclear waste in a Canadian waste site, through terms of the free trade agreement between the countries…..Up in Elliot Lake, contractors Stephen Martin and Marc Brunet can’t wait for the project to start….Elliot Lake has been identified with uranium since its founding, he shrugs: “We’re the uranium capital of the world…. This thing will be a tourist attraction. I think it’s the best thing that could happen.”

John Spears, Nuclear waste seeks a home, Toronto Star, Sept. 1, 2012

UNESCO World Heritage: Failed States and Kleptocratic Elites

UNESCO’s World-Heritage regime began life 40 years ago, when dozens of countries signed up to the idea that the world’s cultural and natural patrimony was under threat not only from “traditional causes of decay” but also because of “changing social and economic conditions”. Among those who endorsed the principle was the Republican administration of Richard Nixon, which gave remarkably high priority to conservation and the environment. (Since then, America has had a stormy relationship with UNESCO; it cut off payments to the agency last year, under a law which denies funding to any body that admits Palestine.)

In many poorer countries which host heritage sites, the biggest changes since 1972 have been exploding populations and a huge rise in global tourism, combined with a lack of the governance needed to cope with both phenomena. Angkor Wat, a temple complex in Cambodia, and the Inca fortress of Machu Picchu in Peru (pictured above) are often cited as places of world-historical importance where a vast influx of tourists may be causing serious damage. By recognising and thus publicising individual sites, UNESCO and other cultural watchdogs risk harming the cause of conservation, which would be better served if visitors to the country were spread around a broader range of places.

But there are no easy ways to maintain heritage sites in relatively poor countries; it requires delicate balancing acts, much local diplomacy and long-term engagement, according to organisations that work in that field. Even a well-functioning state, be it democratic or authoritarian, will fail to conserve monuments unless local people see an interest in maintaining their heritage and using it rationally, says Vincent Michael, new chairman of the Global Heritage Fund (GHF), based in California. The effort will collapse if cultural heritage is seen either as a pesky impediment to making money, or as something to be exploited for short-term gain. Nor should local economies ever be too reliant on tourism, which can fall as rapidly as it rises….

But in many places where sites are at risk, government either does not operate at all, or functions only in the interest of a kleptocratic elite. In some such places, so-called non-state players (from warlords to private firms to religious leaders) are about the only things that really function at all…

One of the biggest global challenges to conservation, says the WMF’s president, Bonnie Burnham, is that national agencies which control precious places (culture ministries, for example) often have no say over what goes on—in terms of development, transport or sanitation—in the surrounding areas. That is one of the obstacles to conserving Inca sites in Peru…

As part of her agency’s [UNESCO] effort to stop the traffic in stolen art, Ms Bokova  [UNESCO’s director-general]has started a dialogue—a constructive one, she says—with commercial auction houses. Perhaps she should also be talking more to tour operators, and even darker forces, from the conservationists’ viewpoint, like road-builders and mining companies.

Excerpts, The Heritage Debate: Living Treasure, Economist, July 14, 2012, at 73

Resuscitating Collapsed Fisheries: catch shares

For American fish, this is a good time to be alive. On May 14th, 2012 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that a record six federal fisheries returned to health last year. After a decade of similar progress, 86% of America’s roughly 250 federally monitored commercial fish stocks were not subject to overfishing; 79% were considered healthy…

In the late 1980s cod fisheries in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank collapsed. This led to efforts to improve the fishery act, in 1996 and 2006, which forced the eight regional bodies that manage federal fisheries to introduce science-based quotas and ten-year recovery programmes for depleted fisheries. The recent recovery of species, including New England scallops, mid-Atlantic bluefish and summer flounder and Pacific lingcod, is the result. This signals another truth: given a break, the marine environment can often replenish itself spectacularly.

America’s fisheries are probably now managed almost as well as the world’s best, in Norway, Iceland, New Zealand and Australia. Yet there is plenty of room for improvement. State-run fisheries, which tend to be close to shore and dominated by small-scale and inefficient fishermen, are less well funded and well managed and much poorer for it. New England groundfish stocks, including cod, have also not recovered: they account for 13 of the remaining depleted populations. This appears to be partly the result of environmental change, climatic or cyclical.

And the politicians are still interfering. On May 9th the House passed legislation forbidding NOAA from developing an innovative means of apportioning fishing quotas, known as catch shares. These are long-term, aiming to give fishermen a stake in the future of their fisheries; market-based, since they can be traded; and, in practice, good for fish. Sadly, the two Republican congressmen behind the ban consider they have been designed “to destroy every aspect of American freedom under the guise of conservation”.

Fish stocks: Plenty more fish in the sea, Economist, May 26, 2012, at 32

China and its Collaborators in Africa

Congolese critics accuse Sassou-Nguesso [President of Congo] of using the Chinese-backed building boom to move from his ‘authoritarian-authoritarian’ model to something nearer the ‘developmental authoritarian’ style of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. However, Sassou-Nguesso was in triumphant mode as he inaugurated a spate of Chinese construction projects in the country’s hinterland on 14-18 May. These projects are intended to bring the benefits of oil-backed growth to regions previously isolated from the bustling cities of Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire.  Now known locally as ‘The Cutter of Ribbons’, Sassou-Nguesso is using oil money and plans to develop Congo-Brazzaville’s mineral resources to shape a new relationship with China. Once a key commercial and diplomatic ally of France, Sassou-Nguesso’s headlong rush to Beijing coincides with the election of President François Hollande. Hollande’s African policy team promises to break with the old Françafrique networks. Among their advisors is the activist lawyer William Bourdon, who has been pursuing a case against Sassou-Nguesso in France for stealing Congolese state assets…..

From fibre-optic installation and new dams to more than 1,000 kilometres of paved roads, companies like China Road and Bridge Corporation and China State Construction Engineering Corporation have quietly landed most of the major contracts issued by the Brazzaville government.  That means large profits and more deals to come.

Congo-Brazzaville, for so long the preserve of European companies, is drawing serious attention from China. The two countries have signed deals to develop special economic zones, build a new oil port and revamp an ageing refinery. For the Chinese investors, the lure is Congo-Brazzaville’s rich but under-exploited resource base. Having relied for decades on offshore oil riches and forestry, the country has until recently made little effort to exploit its mineral deposits, develop its more remote regions or diversify the economy into commerce and services. That could change if the new Asian relationships live up to their billing. For Sassou-Nguesso, the big attraction is an engagement based purely on economic and financial criteria, with a partner who does not impose awkward governance or human rights conditions.

This is not Congo’s first encounter with Asian investment. South Korean and Malaysian companies, via the Consortium Congo Malaisie Corée, had proposed a huge resources-for-infrastructure deal that would build new rail lines in exchange for access to forestry and mining permits in 2008. That deal didn’t work out but the Chemin de Fer Congo Océan received part of its order of engines and cars from Korail in August 2011. Malaysian investors have looked at opportunities in the hydrocarbons sector and – building on their experience of rural Congo in the timber business – palm oil production. In 2010 Atama Plantation agreed to invest $300 million in new oil palm plantations and processing capacity.

The most recent interest from Chinese entities takes the engagement a step further. Alain Akouala Atipault, a Minister in the Presidency, was China’s guest at an international infrastructure and investment forum in Macau where, on 24 April, he signed an agreement with the China Friendship Development International Engineering Design and Consult Corporation (FDDC) – an offshoot of the Trade Ministry in Beijing.  FDDC will seek out Chinese investors interested in setting up operations in four special economic zones, which Congo plans to establish in Brazzaville, Pointe- Noire, Ouesso and the Oyo-Ollombo area. FDDC will also help to mobilise financing for the zones, build their infrastructure and carry out feasibility studies……

China’s engagement in Congo is typical of its strategy elsewhere in Africa. Beijing often takes a long-term view of whether projects will generate an economic return. Viability is seen in broad terms, encompassing not just the specific project’s concerns but also the wider trade and political benefits of partnership and the political goodwill that could open up access to valuable natural resources. Congo has both major reserves of high-value timber – a sector where Congo Dejia Wood Industry, Jua Ikié, Million Well Congo Bois, Sino-Congo Forêt and Société d’Exploitation Forestière Yuan Dong are already active – and reserves of minerals such as iron ore and potash, which are largely untouched.

China National Complete Plant Import & Export Corporation is developing the potash reserves at Mengo with Canada’s MagIndustries; Australia’s Sundance Resources relies on finance and expertise from Hanlong Mining and other Chinese infrastructure companies to make its designs on iron-ore projects in Cameroon (Mbarga) and Congo-Brazzaville (Nabeba) viable. Sundance is waiting for final approvals from Yaoundé and Brazzaville and expects all the paperwork to be signed before the end of 2012.

Beijing’s policy of ignoring questions of democracy and human rights is certainly helpful to Sassou-Nguesso’s regime – which has a poor human rights record, is marred by widespread corruption and remains fundamentally authoritarian despite the trappings of a multiparty system.

Excerpt, Congo-Brazzaville: Sassou Draws in Beijing,AllAfrica.com, June 2, 2012

Chevron and Amazon: the $18 billion Ecuador Liability

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals  on June 12, 2012  (pdf) dealt another setback to Chevron over its $18 billion Ecuador liability, reversing a lower court decision that allowed the oil giant access to documents from a prominent consulting group for the Amazon rainforest communities that sued the company.