Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Nuclear Plants of South Africa

WWER Russian  nuclear reactors located close to the Finnish city of Loviisa

South Africa signed a partnership agreement (Sept 2014) with Russia’s state-owned nuclear company, Rosatom Corp. to build reactors in Africa’s second-biggest economy.  “The agreement lays the foundation for the large-scale nuclear power plants procurement and development program” using Russian VVER reactors with installed capacity of about 9,600 megawatts, or as many as eight nuclear units, Rosatom and the South African government said in an e-mailed statement. The country also has a draft nuclear cooperation pact with China.

South Africa’s integrated resources plan envisions 9,600 megawatts of nuclear energy being added to the national grid to help reduce reliance on coal, which utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. uses to generate 80 percent of the country’s electricity. The state-owned company is struggling to meet power demand,The National Treasury said in February 2013 that a 300 billion-rand ($27 billion) nuclear program was in the final stages of study…

The collaboration will result in orders worth at least $10 billion to local industrial companies, Rosatom Director General Sergei Kirienko said in the statement.In addition to building the nuclear units, the agreement provides for partnerships including the construction of a Russian technology-based research reactor, assistance in the development of South African nuclear infrastructure and education of specialists at Russian universities, the parties said in the statement.  Rosatom currently holds projects for the construction of 29 nuclear power plants, including 19 foreign commissions in countries including India, China, Turkey, Vietnam, Finland and Hungary.

Excerpts from Paul Burkhardt , South Africa Signs Agreement With Russia for Nuclear Pow, Bloomberg,  Sep 22, 2014

Bitcoin Collaboration with US Special Forces

bitcoin logo

The global policy counsel of the Bitcoin Foundation flew to Florida to meet with officials from U.S. Special Operations Command for a daylong discussion  on the role of so-called cryptocurrencies—of which bitcoin is the best known—in illicit finance… The military’s interest in virtual currency is part of an overall effort by special operations forces to understand how their enemies finance themselves, and what intelligence special operators can glean by following the illicit money…Defense officials said ISIS is part of a global dark network on the Internet that is involved in the use of virtual currency—although ISIS itself is “principally funded through means other than virtual currency.”

The invitation-only event, called simply the “Virtual Currency Workshop,” was held at an office building in downtown Tampa near MacDill Air Force Base where Special Operations Command is based,…It was organized by a little-known but highly influential group called Business Executives for National Security, which facilitates connections between American business leaders and the U.S. military.The group’s members include a who’s who of America’s corporate and financial elite, according to its website, including Jeff Bezos of Amazon, former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg and David Koch of Koch Industries.,,,

A key question for the officers in the room: Can the U.S. military trace bitcoin? “That’s a difficult question,”…  For the Bitcoin Foundation, which represents a broad array of libertarian technologists who can be skeptical of the U.S. government, meeting face-to-face with the national security establishment carries certain risks.  “This is the first time I’ve talked in an organized way with the U.S. military,” said Jim Harper, global policy counsel of the Bitcoin Foundation. For their part, the special operations officers said it’s their job to dive into and understand new communities. ” … The military officials said they are mindful of the civil liberties concerns involved in monitoring private financial transactions on the Internet. “Anytime we come across information about a U.S. citizen, that information is to be disposed of if it is discovered,” the official said. “Our purpose is never to disrupt legitimate businesses.”

Participants in the event said they agreed to hold it under “Chatham House rules” that barred them from identifying other attendees or revealing what was said.

Excerpts, Eamon Javers , Special Ops grill bitcoin for its terror fight, CNBC, Sept. 27, 2014

Canada Nuclear Waste: the politics of secret meetings

The Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, on the shores of Lake Ontario.  Image from wikipedia

Ontario Power Generation is proposing to build a massive underground nuclear waste site at the Bruce nuclear power plant near Kincardine, Ontario (Canada) near lake Huron ,a plan that has drawn opposition from environmentalists, aboriginal groups and legislators in Michigan.  At issue were numerous meetings of the “community consultation” advisory group, comprising the mayors who sit on county council and representatives of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization and Ontario Power Generation, that began in 2005.

The citizen groups alleged the discussions were kept secret because the politicians feared damaging their electoral fortunes and pointed to informal notes from one meeting in February 2010 that showed a mayor fretting about “a negative backlash at the polls.”The probe by Amberley Gavel — a company based in London, Ont., that helps municipalities with closed-meeting procedure investigations — concluded the public never knew about any of the meetings.

It also found the discussions had a marked influence on the mayors’ decisions regarding the radioactive waste project despite their contention the meetings were simply information sessions at which they passed no motions.  The citizen groups said the province should be reviewing the conduct of Ontario Power Generation.  They also said the county response — to ask staff to provide annual reminders about the law requiring open meetings — was “appallingly weak.”  Council members have “thus far show defiance with no hint of remorse,” the statement said.

Save our Saugeen Shores and the Southampton Residents Association  called on Ontario’s ombudsman to review the circumstances that led to a report critical of Bruce County council for meeting nuclear waste representatives without telling anyone or documenting the discussions.  “This was a major error of provincewide importance in light of the evidence of an 8.5-year egregious disregard of the law and the public’s right to open and transparent government,” Rod McLeod, the group’s lawyer, said in a statement.

Colin Perkel,  Nuclear waste opponents call for penalties against ‘secret meetings’, The Canadian Press, Sept. 18, 2014

Toxic Streams of E-Waste: 100 million tonnes by 2020

keyboards

Exports of electronic waste or e-waste are banned in Europe, but remain legal in America. The United States is the only developed country that has refused to ratify the 1989 Basel Convention, an international treaty controlling the export of hazardous waste from wealthy countries to poorer ones. America has also refused, along with Canada and Japan, to accept the Basel Convention’s 1995 amendment that imposes an outright ban on such trade.

There have been repeated attempts in Congress to pass legislation that would make it illegal to send toxic waste to other countries. The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2013 failed to gain a consensus. A similar act, introduced in March 2014, remains stuck in the Senate.

Not that the Europeans behave all that ethically. Inspections of 18 European seaports in 2005 found nearly half the e-waste destined for export was actually illegal. Shippers use various tricks to circumvent the Basel ban. For instance, waste labelled as goods for refurbishing or reuse can pass muster, even if it gets incinerated or dumped in landfills on arrival.

Chinese authorities tried, unsuccessfully, to put a stop to such false labeling back in 2000, by banning all imports of e-waste, whatever their intended use. Today, Guiyu, a city in Guangdong province, is the e-waste capital of the world. There, glass-to-glass recycling of computer monitors and television sets costs a tenth of what it does in America. Cathode-ray tubes, with their high concentrations of lead and chemically hazardous phosphors, are the most difficult of all e-waste to process. With an abundance of recycled glass from CRTs, China has become a leading exporter of bottles and jars.

The e-waste industry in Guiyu is said to employ 150,000 people, including large numbers of children, disassembling old computers, phones and other devices by hand to recover whatever metals and parts that can be resold. Circuit boards are soaked in acid to dissolve out the lead, cadmium and other metals. Plastic cases are ground into pellets, and copper wiring is stripped of its plastic coating. Anything not salvageable is burned.

The air pollution and contamination of the local water supply in Guiyu are said to be horrendous. A medical researcher from nearby Shantou University found concentrations of lead in the blood of local children to be on average 49% over the maximum safe level. The highest concentrations were in children living in homes with workshops for recycling circuit boards on the premises.

India is fast becoming another big dumping ground for Western e-waste. Greenpeace reckons there are 25,000 workers employed in recycling computers, phones and other hardware in Delhi alone, where up to 20,000 tonnes of e-waste are processed a year. The preferred method for recycling circuit boards is to toss them into an open fire—to melt the plastics and burn away everything but the gold and copper. Similar recycling dumps have been found in Mumbai, Bangalore and several other cities.

With the global mountain of e-waste growing bigger by 8% a year, the 20m-50m tonnes the EPA reckoned was produced globally in 2009 could easily reach 100m tonnes by 2020.

Excerpts from Where Gadgets Go to Die, Economist, Sept. 6, 2014, at 9

For responsible recycling options see

http://www.e-stewards.org/find-a-recycler/certified-recyclers/

 

Deforestation: the mixed picture

slash and burn agriculture

In a new study of the Centre for Global Development (CGD), a Washington think-tank, Jonah Busch and Kalifi Ferretti-Gallon look at 117 cases of deforestation round the world. They find that two of the influences most closely correlated with the loss of forests are population and proximity to cities (the third is proximity to roads). Dramatic falls in fertility in Brazil, China and other well-forested nations therefore help explain why (after a lag) deforestation is slowing, too. Demography even helps account for what is happening in Congo, where fertility is high. Its people are flocking to cities, notably Kinshasa, with the result that the population in more distant, forested areas is thinning out.

Two of the countries that have done most to slow forest decline also have impressive agricultural records: Brazil, which became the biggest food exporter of all tropical countries over the past 20 years; and India, home of the green revolution. Brazil’s agricultural boom took place in the cerrado, the savannah-like region south and east of the Amazon (there is farming in the Amazon, too, but little by comparison). The green revolution took place mostly in India’s north-west and south, whereas its biggest forests are in the east and north.

But if population and agricultural prowess were the whole story, Indonesia, where fertility has fallen and farm output risen, would not be one of the worst failures. Figures published inNature Climate Change in June show that in the past decade it destroyed around 60,000 sq km of primary forests; its deforestation rate overtook Brazil’s in 2011. Policies matter, too—and the political will to implement them.

The central problem facing policymakers is that trees are usually worth more dead than alive; that is, land is worth more as pasture or cropland than as virgin forest. The benefits from forests, such as capturing carbon emissions, cleaning up water supplies and embodying biodiversity, are hard to price….The most successful policies therefore tend to be top-down bans, rather than incentives (though these have been tried, too). India’s national forest policy of 1988 explicitly rejects the idea of trying to make money from stewardship. “The derivation of direct economic benefit”, it says, “must be subordinated to this principal aim” (maintaining the health of the forest). In Brazil 44% of the Amazon is now national park, wildlife reserve or indigenous reserve, where farming is banned; much of that area was added recently. In Costa Rica half the forests are similarly protected. In India a third are managed jointly by local groups and state governments.

Top-down bans require more than just writing a law. Brazil’s regime developed over 15 years and involved tightening up its code on economic activity in forested areas, moratoriums on sales of food grown on cleared land, a new land registry, withholding government-subsidised credit from areas with the worst deforestation and strengthening law enforcement through the public prosecutor’s office. (The most draconian restriction, requiring 80% of any farm in the Amazon to be set aside as a wildlife reserve, is rarely enforced.)

Two developments make bans easier to impose. Cheaper, more detailed satellite imagery shows in real time where the violations are and who may be responsible. Brazil put the data from its system online, enabling green activists to help police the frontier between forest and farmland. Its moratoriums on soyabeans and beef from the Amazon, which require tracing where food is coming from, would not have worked without satellites…

The Forestry Ministry of Indonesia, [on the other hand] is rated the most corrupt among 20 government institutions by Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission in 2012. Some within government are hostile to anti-deforestation schemes, which they see as “foreign”, says Ade Wahyudi of Katadata, an Indonesian firm of analysts. Perhaps the biggest problem is the lack of a single, unified map including all information on land tenure and forest licensing: efforts to create one have been slowed by unco-operative government ministries and difficulties created by overlapping land claims.

Excerpts from Tropical Forests: A Clearing in the Trees, Economist,  Aug. 23, 2014, at 56

The Space Belongs to Drones

high altitude platform image from wikipedia

Zephyr– high-altitude “pseudo-satellite” ( HAPS) —  is actually an unmanned, ultra-light, solar-powered, propeller-driven aircraft. But it is designed, just as some satellites are, to hover indefinitely over the same part of the world. With a 23-metre wingspan and a weight of only 50kg, it is fragile and must remain above the ravages of the weather and the jet stream both by day and by night. It therefore flies at an altitude of around 21km (70,000 feet) during daylight hours, and then glides slowly down to around 15km when the sun is unavailable to keep it aloft….

The main uses for satellites are observation and communication. Both are appealing markets for HAPS. Hovering drones could act as relays for telephone calls and internet traffic in places that do not have good enough infrastructure on the ground. And there is never a shortage of customers who would like to snoop on various parts of the Earth’s surface, whether for commercial or military reasons.

By satellite, such snooping is done from an altitude of about 800km. Zephyr flies at one-fortieth of that, so the optics its needs to take pictures are far less demanding. (Just as well, of course, for it is unlikely to be able to carry a huge payload.)

Airbus is not alone in the HAPS game. Google and Facebook are involved as well—and with similar customers in mind—though Google will also be its own customer, since keeping its Google Earth imagery up to date is a demanding task. Paul Brooks, spokesman for Airbus’s HAPS programme, says he does not see these firms as competitors, but rather as collaborators in proving the idea of endurance flight and promoting the changes in regulations needed to permit its safe use. Once this has happened, and the world’s aviation authorities have agreed common operating standards, HAPS should prove a cheap and reliable alternative to blasting things into orbit.

Excerpts, Pseudo-satellites: The west wind blows afresh, Economist, Aug. 30, 2014

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