Monthly Archives: December 2011

Polluting the Seas, the 25 000 Nuclear Dumps of Russia

There are nearly 25,000 hazardous underwater objects containing solid radioactive waste in Russia, an emergencies ministry official said on Monday (Dec. 26, 2011).  The ministry has compiled a register of so-called sea hazards, including underwater objects in the Baltic, Barents, White, Kara, and Black Seas as well as the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan, Oleg Kuznetsov, deputy head of special projects at the ministry’s rescue service, said.  These underwater objects include nuclear submarines that have sunk and ships with ammunition and oil products, chemicals and radioactive waste.  Their condition has been closely monitored for the past 15 years by ministry specialists.  The danger is that metal containers can eventually be eroded by sea water, resulting in the leak of hazardous substance.  Hazardous sites with solid radioactive waste sit on the sea bed mainly at a depth of 500 meters, Kuznetsov said.  Especially dangerous are reactor holds of nuclear submarines off the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago and a radio-isotope power units sunk near Sakhalin Island, he added.  “Should a major threat to the environment and people arise then the state will take effective measures to eliminate it,” he said.

Russia reports 25,000 undersea radioactive waste sites, RIA Novosti, Dec. 26, 2011

The Under-Reported War: Afghanistan and the American Democracy

Of all the news content in newspapers and on the Web, television and radio this year, Afghanistan accounted for about 2 percent of coverage, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an arm of the Pew Research Center.  Six other subjects were given more sustained attention than the war there. In descending order, they were the economy in the United States; the unrest in the Middle East; the 2012 presidential election; the earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear disaster in Japan; the killing of Osama bin Laden; and the shooting in Tucson in which six were killed and Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, was critically injured.

The figures come from the project’s weekly monitoring of 52 major papers, news Web sites, TV networks and stations, and radio stations. The project uses that sample to show what is atop the national news agenda, and what is not.  In a year-end report last week, the project’s researchers noted that “despite a drop in coverage of the war in Afghanistan,” there was an increase in international news over all, owing largely to the war in Libya and the protests in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries. The United States’ withdrawal from Iraq accounted for less than 1 percent of all news coverage.  Since Pew started its weekly monitoring in 2007, the war in Afghanistan has never accounted for more than 5 percent of all news coverage on an annual basis. In 2010, Afghanistan accounted for 4 percent of all news coverage.  The United States has about 91,000 troops in Afghanistan now. For much of this year and last, about 100,000 United States troops were in the country.

The news executives that pay for bureaus in Afghanistan have had to contend with tight news-gathering budgets, safety concerns and, in some cases, a perception that American audiences are not interested in the situation.  The relative dearth of coverage has brought occasional criticism in the United States, particularly from those who recall vigorous coverage of the Vietnam War. “Other than in its early stages in 2001-2002, the American press has greatly underreported this war,” John Hanrahan, formerly the executive director of the Fund for Investigative Journalism, wrote in an essay for Nieman Watchdog in August.  “This paucity of reporting — the almost total reliance on just a few reporters — has stark implications for how the war is perceived back home,” Mr. Hanrahan wrote. “The fewer the reporters, the fewer the first-hand accounts needed for citizens to form knowledgeable opinions of the war.”

By BRIAN STELTER, Afghanistan Low on News Agenda, NY Times, Dec. 25, 2011

Decimation of Endangered Species: the Rhino

Sumatra rhino. image from wikipedia








Malaysian wildlife authorities said Monday (Dec. 26, 2011) the capture of a young female Borneo Sumatran rhino had given them a last chance to save the highly endangered species from extinction. The female rhino, aged between 10 and 12 years old, was caught on December 18 and is being kept in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah on the Malaysian area of Borneo island where it is hoped it will breed with a lone captive male.

The female rhino, which has been named Puntung, was caught in a joint operation by the Borneo Rhino Alliance and the Sabah Wildlife Department. “This is now the very last chance to save this species, one of the most ancient forms of mammal,” Laurentius Ambu, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, said in a statement. Puntung had been specifically targeted since early 2010 as the mate for a 20-year-old, lone male rhino named Tam, who was rescued from an oil palm plantation in August 2008.

Previous attempts in the 1980s and 1990s to breed Borneo Sumatran rhinos failed… The breeding programme is important because it is estimated only between 30 and 50 of the Borneo sub-species of the Sumatran rhinos are known to remain in the wild in Borneo — a vast island shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.  Only 150 to 300 Sumatran rhinos are known to exist in the wild, making it one of the world’s most endangered species, with only small groups left on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, the north of Borneo and peninsular Malaysia.

Capture of rare Sumatran rhino gives hope for species, Agence France Presse, Dec. 26, 2011

United States, India and Japan: Nuclear Cooperation and Beyond

India and Japan will firm up strategic ties during their summit meeting next week with a $4.5-billion grant for an ambitious infrastructure project, announcing Tokyo’s participation in next year’s India-U.S. naval exercises and holding talks on moving ahead with India-Japan-U.S. trilateral cooperation.    Talks will also be held on a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation accord. Although Japan will shortly sign similar pacts with Russia, Jordan, Vietnam and South Korea, prospects of an accord with India, a non Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatory, sailing through the Japanese Diet are dim…..[But there should] be no problem in Japanese companies supplying components to French and U.S. civil nuclear companies despite the absence of an India-Japan civil nuclear agreement. “Our understanding is that an agreement is required for a comprehensive partnership. But individual items can be sold by Japanese companies [which have a near monopoly on reactor vessels and its parts] to companies such as Areva under a licence from the government,” said sources.

Discussion on rare earthswill be held for the second summit meeting in a row. The decks have been cleared with the removal of Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL) from the Japanese End Users List in August this year. The Prime Ministers are likely to discuss this sensitive subject that entails a joint venture between IREL and Toyota Tsusho for a plant in Orissa. India stopped exporting rare earths seven years ago to stop depletion of mineral resources at a time when international prices were weak.

Sandeep Dikshit, India, Japan to firm up strategic ties, The Hindu, Dec. 25, 2011

The Quiet Nuclearization of the Middle East, UAE

The Braka-1 nuclear plant is slated to operate in 2017, with its three sister plants following at one-year intervals, said William Travers, the UAE’s Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation’s (FANR) director-general.Travers added the Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team presented its initial findings in Abu Dhabi on its ten-day mission during which they found “good practices in the regulatory system; yet with some recommendations and suggestions for further improvement.  “The review is of strategic value which results from an extensive dialogue that engenders common commitment to improving the quality and effectiveness of technical cooperation between the UAE and the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].  “We have been working hard to establish FANR as a world-class nuclear safety regulator,” he said, pointing out inviting the IAEA’s peer review service is one important way to progress.

Carl-Magnus Larsson, IRRS team leader said: “Among the recommendations to improve the UAE regulatory system were: The UAE government should clarify roles and responsibilities of emergency response organisations as soon as possible.”  He added: “The UAE should conclude and implement a national policy and strategy for radioactive waste management.”  The comprehensive IAEA review was not an inspection or an audit and was based on a detailed self-assessment FANR has prepared over months.  “The mission included visits to the proposed Braka nuclear power plant site in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi Emirate, to the medical and industrial facilities as well as meetings with other key entities involved in the nuclear programme,” said Larsson.

The UAE will select a uranium supplier in the first half of next year for its $20 billion (Dh73.5 billion) nuclear energy programme, Hamad Al Ka’abi, the UAE’s permanent representative to the IAEA told Gulf News earlier after the Global Energy Markets: Changes in the Strategic Landscape conference.

“Our nuclear policy states that we would favour sending back the spent fuel to the country that supplied it,” Al Ka’abi pointed out, adding: “If that is not feasible, we would consider storing it in the UAE, in underground storage, for example. Nuclear safety will be the core of our plans and fundamental to the success and the long-term stability of the UAE programme.”

By Shehab Al Makahleh, Nuclear regulator wins accolades from review team Braka-1 facility expected to open in 2017,, Dec. 25, 2011

Israel’s Covert War

Amid deepening tension between Iran and its principal adversaries — the United States and Israel — the Jewish state has formed a Special Forces command to carry out strategic strikes deep inside hostile territory.   The formation of the new command indicates that Israel’s military envisages long-range, largely clandestine and multi-arm operations will have a much higher priority than the conventional operations…  Israeli defense officials say the elite new corps’ area of operations includes the “third circle,” a term that usually encompasses the Persian Gulf and the Horn of Africa.  Indeed, the new formation, officially known in Hebrew as the Depth Corps, has been popularly dubbed the “Iran Command” so ingrained has the Islamic Republic become in the national psyche as the main existential threat to the Jewish state because of its alleged quest for nuclear weapons.

The Depth Corps is the equivalent of the U.S. Special Operations Command that oversaw the clandestine operation that led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden in May and will have the authority to initiate special operations.  It’s the brainchild of the recently appointed chief of the general staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, until recently head of the Northern Command along the border with Lebanon.  Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israel’s most decorated soldier and a legendary Special Forces leader, green-lighted the project.

The corps will integrate the Israeli military’s various special units such as the elite Sayeret Matkal of Military Intelligence, the air force’s Shaldaq and the navy’s Flotilla 13, coordinating their operations and their unique specialties to an unprecedented degree.  Sayeret Matkal was commanded by Barak in the 1970s. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, then an army captain, was one of his officers.  They both participated in the May 9, 1972, storming of a hijacked Boeing 707 of Sabena Belgian Airlines at Lod Airport outside Tel Aviv — now Ben Gurion International — held by Black September Palestinian militants to free the 100 hostages aboard the jet.

The new corps will be commanded by Maj. Gen. Shai Avitai, a former Sayeret Matkal chief and a close associate of Barak. Israel’s military objectives are primarily focused on Iran at this time, with threats to unleash pre-emptive strikes, primarily using fighter-bombers and ballistic missiles, against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear infrastructure.  But it’s also concerned with clandestine arms shipments, mainly from Iran, funneled through the Red Sea into Egypt via Sudan. At least two long-range strikes were reportedly carried out in January 2010 against arms convoys moving north through the Sudanese desert.But the formation of the new command follows major gains by Islamist radicals in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya amid the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings that began in January.

The seismic shifts in the Arab world’s geopolitical landscape, with a savage confrontation under way in Syria between the minority Alawite regime of President Bashar Assad and its opponents that could produce another Islamist-dominated power, have radically altered Israel’s security perspective…..The Post’s military correspondent, Yaakov Katz, said that, Iran aside, likely targets for the Depth Corps is Lebanon and Syria.

Israel forms corps for strategic strikes,, Dec. 19, 2011

State of the World: Nuclear Waste

With more than 400 nuclear power plants in 32 countries, nuclear waste disposal is no longer an afterthought…  No nation yet has opened a permanent geological repository. But plans are well advanced in some countries, notably Finland and Sweden.  Canada plans to open a deep repository for high-level waste around 2035, though much work lies ahead, including finding a suitable site. Transferring the estimated four million spent fuel bundles into the vault will take an additional 30 years…

In the United States, the Obama administration’s recent decision to cancel the 2015 opening of a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada’s remote desert country has left jittery and angry American nuclear power producers sitting on enormous amounts of spent fuel crammed into interim storage for an indefinite additional period. The country’s 104 commercial power reactors churn out more every day. Cancellation of the project, which cost an estimated $9 billion and involved more than 20 years of research, is widely considered to have been based on political, not technical, concerns.But so was the original siting process. Washington in 1987 unilaterally deemed the waste was going to Yucca without seriously considering other potential sites. Not surprisingly, Nevada citizens have railed against the top-down plan ever since.

If the government doesn’t bow to pressure and reverse its decision, U.S. nuclear waste planners will be going back to the drawing board for what promises to be another very prolonged and expensive exercise.

The World Nuclear Association says deep geological disposal is the preferred option for several other countries, too, including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Japan, Netherlands, Republic of Korea and Spain.

FINLAND: Olkiluoto, on the shore of the Gulf of Bothnia in western Finland, was chosen and excavation and construction was started in 2004 by Posiva Oy, a nuclear waste management company. The repository is named Onkalo. Scheduled to open in 2020, spent nuclear fuel packed in copper canisters will be embedded in bedrock at a depth of around 400 metres. Onkalo will be the world’s first permanent nuclear waste crypt.

FRANCE:  Almost 80 per cent of France’s energy comes from 59 nuclear power reactors…The French radioactive waste disposal agency, Andra, is designing a deep geological repository in clays at Bure in eastern France for its disposal, as well as long-lived intermediate level waste. Andra expects to apply for a construction and operating licence in 2014.

GERMANY:  In May, as the enormity of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear complex disaster became clearer, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to phase-out nuclear power from the country’s 17 reactors by 2020.  Like France, Germany reprocesses its waste — but at reprocessing facilities in France, Russian and Britain. The reprocessed waste is then shipped back to Germany and stored in a former salt mine in the northern town of Gorleben.  In 1979, Gorleben was selected as a temporary nuclear waste site, but the government recently resumed research to make it into a permanent storage site. In November, thousands of protesters clashed with police in an unsuccessful bid to halt a Gorleben-bound train of reprocessing waste from France.

RUSSIA: Used fuel from 27 reactors is reprocessed for plutonium. Four geological disposal facilities are planned to begin operation in 2025-2030.

INDIA: Spent fuel from 14 reactors is stored in pools, then reprocessed. A geological repository is planned but not sited.

SWEDEN: Forsmark, on the east coast of Uppland and site of a nuclear power plant, has been chosen, When open in 2023, it is to safely hold spent fuel 500 metres underground for 100,000 years.

SWITZERLAND: The country had been reprocessing its high-level waste abroad in France and Britain, but enacted a 10-year reprocessing moratorium in 2006. Spent fuel is now kept at the country’s five reactor sites.  Two sites are under investigation as possible locations for two national waste repositories, one for low- and medium-level waste and one for spent fuel.  In June, meanwhile, the country resolved not to replace any reactors and phase-out nuclear power by 2034.

BRITAIN: Used fuel from its 31 reactors is reprocessed and the vitrified waste is stored above ground for 50 years.  In 2003, the government established the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management to investigate options for a long-term management approach. In 2008, the committee recommended deep geological disposal, which the government endorsed.

Excerpts, By Ian MacLeod, The global nuclear waste race,The Ottawa Citizen December 20, 2011