Monthly Archives: March 2015

Green Dams that Kill

Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam in Guatemala, image from wikipedia

A planned mega-dam in Guatemala, whose carbon credits will be tradable under the EU’s emissions trading system, has been linked to grave human rights abuses, including the killing of six indigenous people, two of them children.  Several European development banks and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) have provided funds for the $250m (£170m) Santa Rita dam.

But human rights groups back claims from the Mayan community that they were never consulted about the hydro project, which will forcibly displace thousands of people to generate 25MW of energy, mostly for export to neighbouring countries.  The issue has become a focus of indigenous protest in Guatemala – which has led to a march on the capital and severe political repression.

“At the moment our community is living under the same conditions as they did during the war,” Maximo Ba Tiul, a spokesman for the Peoples’ Council of Tezulutlán told the Guardian. “Our civilian population is once again being terrorised by armed thugs.”  Around 200,000 Mayans died or were “disappeared” during the civil war of the early 1980s, leading to the conviction of the country’s former president, Efraín Ríos Montt, in 2013 on genocide charges.

Augusto Sandino Ponce, the son of a local landowner who community leaders allege worked as a contractor to Montt’s junta during the civil war, is at the centre of new accusations of human rights violations. Last April Ponce and his bodyguards allegedly opened fire on a Mayan community ceremony in which families asked the Earth for permission to plant their crops. One local man, Victor Juc, was killed and several were injured. Ponce reportedly claims he was acting in self defence…

In a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) clean development mechanism (CDM) executive board,  the People’s Council of Tezulutlán outlined a litany of human rights abuses in the region, including kidnappings, evictions, house burnings, attacks by men wielding machetes and guns, and the arrest of community leaders.  The council also says that an environmental impact assessment for the dam suggests that it would create a 40ft-high wall, flooding local communities and depriving them of access to water, food, transport and recreation.  In approving projects, the CDM board pursues a narrow remit focused on emissions reductions. The reign of terror in the Alta Verapaz region, falls outside it – as did similar events in Honduras….

Perhaps the most shocking incident took place on 23 August 2013, when two children were killed by an allegedly drunken Santa Rita hydroelectricity company worker looking for David Chen, a community leader in the Monte Olivo region.   Chen was meeting with the rapporteur of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights at the time. When the worker could not find him, he is said to have lined up two of Chen’s nephews, David Stuart Pacay Maaz, 11 and Haggai Isaac Guitz Maaz, 13, and killed them with a single bullet to one child’s head that continued through the throat of the other. The killer has since been killed himself.  The annual report of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights implicitly blamed the approval of the dam project for the killings….

Eva Filzmoser, the director of Carbon Market Watch said: “We want the CDM board to take responsibility and establish a grievance and redress mechanism for local communities to appeal, ask for problematic decisions to be rescinded and gain redress. We will be pushing for this at the Paris climate summit to apply to all forms of climate finance in the future.”Efforts to reform the CDM were boosted last month, when 18 countries signed a “Geneva declaration” calling for human rights norms to be integrated into UNFCCC climate decisions….Signatory countries to the declaration include France, Sweden, Ireland, Mexico, Uruguay and Peru.

Excerpts Green’ dam linked to killings of six indigenous people in Guatemala, Guardian, Mar. 26, 2015

Do not Forget Fukushima

Fukushima Evacuees. image from wikipedia

The nuclear disaster was a sensitive subject at the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction for Civil Society that took place in Sendai, Japan, March 2015 .  Masaaki Ohashi, the co-chair of   Japan Civil Society Organization Coalition  (JCC) a coalition of humanitarian NGOs formed ahead of the summit, praised the new Sendai disaster reduction framework for stating clearly that it applies to man-made and technological hazards – which covers nuclear power – as well as natural hazards.

He and others also noted the importance of an official presentation made at the conference about the lessons learned from the Fukushima crisis.  “The Japanese government, represented by the Cabinet Office, has clearly indicated that they are breaking away from the ‘safety’ myth around nuclear power plants, so we’re seeing a step forward,” said Takeshi Komino, general secretary of aid agency CWS Japan.

“Our preparedness (for Fukushima) was totally inefficient – we assumed the incident would affect a 10 km radius from the plant, but it was more than 30 km,” he said.The operation to evacuate people living in the danger zone was confused and not enough support was provided, he said. Failings meant that some hospital patients died at evacuation centres, he noted.A disaster prevention and evacuation plan has since been drawn up for 550,000 people, Yamamoto said. The government is continuing with its decontamination work, and is monitoring health in Fukushima, offering tests for thyroid cancer to those aged 18 and under, he added.

Civil society groups supporting Fukushima residents still struggling with the aftermath of the crisis launched a booklet at the Sendai conference containing 10 key lessons from the disaster, available in several languages including English.,,Komino of CWS Japan said it should be up to countries and communities to decide whether they want nuclear power, but “we are against the creation of the safety myth”.  “Pro-active risk identification and risk disclosure to the communities prior to the installation of such facilities is critical,” he emphasised.

JCC2015’s Ohashi said that, as the Japanese government aims to export nuclear energy technology to developing countries, it bears a “producer’s responsibility” to share its knowledge about the risks and how to deal with them….

For example, in some countries that have shown interest in nuclear power, such as Bangladesh and Thailand, it may be difficult for people to shut themselves inside concrete buildings in the event of an accident. And in others, low literacy levels make written public education materials less useful than comic strip versions.  Takeuchi questioned the legitimacy of suggesting that nuclear emergencies could really be prevented.  “Even if you can put risk reduction measures in place, it would cost a ridiculous amount,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Fukushima…

Of the 160,000 people who left their homes after the nuclear accident, around 120,000 are still classified as evacuees. Some remain in cramped temporary accommodation, in prefabricated buildings erected on parks and other public land.   In places like Iwaki City, south of the evacuation zone, the influx of displaced people seeking new homes and jobs has stirred resentment among residents  Even though local officials have made preparations to revitalize empty towns and villages once they are decreed safe, there is concern that only older generations will want to return, raising questions about their future viability.

Excerpts from MEGAN ROWLING , Japan wants to share the lessons it learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Business Insider Australia, Mar. 27, 2015

Who is Responsible for the Train Wreck of Yemen

Yemeni Protests April 4, 2011. Image from wikipedia

Secret files held by Yemeni security forces that contain details of American intelligence operations in the country have been looted by Iran-backed militia leaders, exposing names of confidential informants and plans for U.S.-backed counter-terrorism strikes, U.S. officials say.U.S. intelligence officials believe additional files were handed directly to Iranian advisors by Yemeni officials who have sided with the Houthi militias that seized control of Sana, the capital, in September 2014, which led the U.S.-backed president to flee to Aden…. President Obama had hailed Yemen last fall as a model for counter-terrorism operations elsewhere….

Houthi leaders in Sana took over the offices of Yemen’s National Security Bureau, which had worked closely with the CIA and other intelligence agencies, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations.

The loss of the intelligence networks, in addition to the escalating conflict, contributed to the Obama administration’s decision to halt drone strikes in Yemen for two months, to vacate the U.S. Embassy in Sana last month and to evacuate U.S. special operations and intelligence teams from a Yemeni air base over the weekend.

The Houthis claimed on March 25, 2015 that they had captured that air base, Al Anad, as new fighting broke out in and around the southern seaport of Aden, the country’s financial hub, where Hadi had taken refuge. Over the weekend, the Houthis seized the central city of Taizz…..Foreign Minister Riad Yassin said Hadi was overseeing the city’s defense from an undisclosed safe location. The Associated Press reported that he had fled the country on a boat….

As the turmoil deepened, Yemen appeared to be descending into a civil war that could ignite a wider regional struggle.,,,Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Yemen to bolster the positions of the Yemeni government against the rapid advance of the Shiite militias,…Saudi Arabia reportedly moved troops, armored vehicles and artillery to secure its border with Yemen, which sits alongside key shipping routes.,,,,

The Houthis and their allies, backed by tanks and artillery, advanced Wednesday to within a few miles of Aden after battles north of the city, officials and witnesses said. Much of the rebels’ heavy weaponry was provided by Yemeni military units that remained loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was toppled in 2012 and is a bitter opponent of Hadi [who is supported by the US]…..

Four U.S. drone strikes have been reported in Yemen this year, according to the Long War Journal, a website that tracks the attacks. That compares with 23 in the first 10 months of 2014. The Houthi takeover of Sana forced a pause in the program. … [T}he Houthis may have captured a “significant portion” of the $500 million in military equipment that the U.S. has given Hadi’s government.The equipment approved included Huey II helicopters, Humvees, M-4 rifles, night-vision goggles, body armor and hand-launched Raven drones….

“It was a train wreck that anyone who knows anything about Yemen could see happening. It seems we put our head in the sand, and the train wreck has happened and now we are saying, ‘How did this happen?’” said Ali Soufan, a former senior FBI agent.

Excerpts from By BRIAN BENNETT AND ZAID AL-ALAYA, Iran-backed rebels loot Yemen files about U.S. spy operations, Associated Press

The Weapons-Grade Uranium of South Africa: more precious than gold

Yellowcake is a type of uranium concentrate powder obtained by the processing of uranium before fuel fabrication or enrichment.

In the early hours of 28 July 2012, three people, one of them an 82-year-old nun named Megan Rice, broke into the Y-12 Nuclear Security Complex near the city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Y-12 is where all of America’s highly enriched uranium (HEU) – for making nuclear weapons is stored… in November 2007, two groups of intruders cut through the security fences surrounding South Africa’s 118-acre Pelindaba Nuclear Research Centre, west of Pretoria. They got as far as the emergency operations centre before a barking dog alerted a stand-in security office….=

Pelindaba houses South Africa’s stockpile of HEU, which was extracted in 1990 from the six or seven nuclear bombs that the old National Party government had built. According to the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) report, the HEU was melted down and cast into ingots, which were stored at Pelindaba. Over the years, some of the HEU was used to make medical isotopes for sale…..

Now, according to the CPI report, about 220 kg of the HEU remains, with no immediate purpose. This gives Pretoria the theoretical ability to make nuclear weapons again. But what really bothers the US officials who the CPI interviewed is that terrorists could steal the HEU and use it to make nuclear weapons. The report says Pelindaba contains enough weapons-grade uranium to fuel half a dozen bombs, each powerful enough to obliterate central Washingt

…US President Barack Obama has been trying very hard since 2011 to persuade President Jacob Zuma to relinquish the HEU stockpile, as part of his global effort to mop up such fissile material from nuclear states.

So why won’t South Africa give up its HEU stockpile? …Pelindaba is now probably more secure than most US nuclear facilities – especially after the US spent nearly US$10 million in helping South Africa to upgrade security there after the 2007 break-in. … [T]he main reason Pretoria wants to keep its HEU is because ‘it’s a stick they are using to beat up on the US for not dismantling its own nuclear weapons.’

In the end though, the 220 kg of highly enriched uranium stored away in the depths of Pelindaba has much more than commercial or tactical value…the stockpile is a symbol of South Africa’s sovereignty, its power and its integrity: of its ability to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes – and even of its technical ability to construct an atomic weapon. But also of its firm moral determination never to do so.  In that sense, the 220 kg of highly enriched uranium ingots are more precious to the African National Congress government than all the gold bullion in the Reserve Bank. They aren’t going anywhere.

Excerpt from Peter Fabricius, Foreign Editor, Independent Newspapers, South Africa ISS,  Why is Pretoria so jealously guarding it fissile material? Mar. 19, 2014

From Switzerland: Stolen Money Trickles back to Nigeria

sani abacha. image from wikipedia

Geneva’s public prosecutor will send $380 million confiscated from the family of Nigeria’s former military ruler Sani Abacha to Nigeria and closed a 16-year investigation into his funds, the prosecutor’s office said.   Abacha stole as much as $5 billion of public money during his five years running Africa’s top oil producing country from 1993 until his death in 1998, according to the corruption watchdog Transparency International.

The return of the $380 million follows an agreement between Nigeria and the Abacha family in July 2014, the prosecutor’s statement said. The agreement provides for Nigeria to receive the frozen funds in return for dropping a complaint against Abba Abacha, Sani’s son.He was charged by a Swiss court with money-laundering, fraud and forgery in April 2005, after being extradited from Germany, and subsequently spent 561 days in custody. In 2006 Switzerland ordered funds held by him in Luxembourg to be confiscated.  The return of the funds is conditional on effective monitoring by the World Bank of how the funds are used.

Switzerland to return $380 million of Abacha’s loot to Nigeria, Reuters, Mar. 19, 2015

The Nuclear Waste Nightmare: Germany

Nuclear plant at Grafenrheinfeld, Germany. Image from wikipedia

Germany aims to phase out its nine remaining reactors by 2022, faster than almost any country. But nobody knows exactly how much it costs to shut and clean up atomic-power plants and all the facilities used over decades to store radioactive waste. Building a depository for the waste deep underground and delivering the waste add additional unknown costs…

“There are still no clear answers to many fundamental questions involving final and intermediate storage, dismantling [reactors] and transporting radioactive waste,” said Frank Mastiaux, chief executive of EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG, one of Germany’s largest utility companies. “Concrete concepts have long been promised, but there is nothing yet in sight.”

Nuclear energy accounts for about 16% of German electricity production, down from a peak of 31% in 1997, according to the federal statistics office. France gets roughly 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy and the U.S. around 20%, according to the World Nuclear Association. The issue of Germany’s decommissioning became urgent in 2011, after the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima power plant, when Ms. Merkel decided to accelerate the shutdown of all German reactors by as much as 14 years, to 2022.

That move forced EnBW and Germany’s other big utilities—E.ON SE, RWE AG and a unit of Sweden’s Vattenfall AB—to book billions of euros in write-downs on nuclear assets and increase their provisions for early decommissioning of the facilities. The provisions now total about €37 billion ($40 billion).

The cost could ultimately top €50 billion, estimates Gerald Kirchner, a nuclear expert previously at Germany’s federal office for radiation protection.And that money might have to be covered by taxpayers if a power company faces insolvency or some other scenarios, the government report warned.

The energy companies are being pummeled by falling electricity demand in Europe and billions of euros in government-subsidized so-called green energy flooding the power grid. Both effects are eroding wholesale power prices, leaving conventional power stations unprofitable….
Germany isn’t alone in tackling decommissioning. The International Energy Agency says roughly half of the world’s 434 nuclear-power plants will be retired by 2040. Most are in Europe, the U.S., Russia and Japan.Despite this global trend, no country yet has a site ready for final disposal of radioactive waste.

Germany is trying to find a deep geological site suitable to store highly radioactive waste for about one million years—the time waste needs to become safe to most living organisms. The country expects about 600,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste by 2080. And that doesn’t include more highly radioactive waste slated to be shipped back soon from France and Britain, where German nuclear fuel had been sent for reprocessing…

Until a final disposal site is found, all waste will be stored temporarily. Keeping interim facilities safe is expensive. E.ON has said delays in finding a disposal site will cost the German nuclear industry €2.6 billion.Utilities have sued the German government to recover some cleanup costs, but verdicts could be years away. And their efforts face political opposition.

Excerpts By NATALIA DROZDIAK and JENNY BUSCHE, Germany’s Nuclear Costs Trigger Fears, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 22, 2015

Nuclear Waste: Divided Europe

Riso National Laboratory. The two cylindrical buildings contained the two nuclear reactors DR-2 and DR-3.

Germany, Poland and Sweden are all jumping on the bandwagon to criticise Denmark’s plans to safely dispose of its 5,000-10,000 cubic metres of nuclear waste. The main criticisms concern both the geographical areas being considered for the waste storage and the assessment of the type of waste that is being deposited, reports Ingeniøren.

Currently, Denmark’s nuclear waste is stored in Risø, a town on the west Zealand coastline north of Roskilde, where the country’s DR3 reactor is located. The waste is piling up and is scheduled to be removed by 2023 and put in a final repository. [Note that Denmark doe s not produce nuclear energy.  The radioactive waste has been produced by research reactors at the Risø National Laboratory that are  in the process of being decommissioned].

Based on a report by Rambøll, an engineering consultancy group commissioned by the Ministry of Health to assess waste locations, Denmark is considering six possible locations for the waste site: Rødbyhavn on Lolland, Paradisbakkerne on Bornholm, Thyolm, Thise, Skive and Kertinge Mark Kerteminde. All six municipalities have declined to have the waste deposited on their lands.

German and Polish authorities have been particularly worried about locations near their borders as both countries have said Denmark’s final repository plans would be too close to the surface for nuclear waste and would be a real threat to groundwater contamination.

Umweltsinstitu München, a German environmental group, has said none of the six sites would be suitable for depositing such waste since they are all located in coastal zones, which are prone to danger due to rising sea levels.

The Danish plan is to bury the waste between 30 and 100 metres below the surface, though other nations are recommending the waste be buried between 300 and 800 metres.  Furthermore, the Swedish authorities have called into question Denmark’s classification of special waste.

Part of the waste at Risø includes 233 kilos of special waste, consisting mainly of spent fuel rods, which Sweden would classify as highly radioactive, but Denmark has not. The rods were classified as highly radioactive in 2003, but Dansk Dekommissionering, the group responsible for decommissioning the Risø reactor, later downgraded them.  The Polish and German authorities have also expressed concern over the Danish assessment, claiming greater demands need to be placed on safety for these highly radioactive rods. Denmark has tried to export the special waste over the last 15 years, but has yet to have any takers.

{The Danish]Parliament will consider three options for disposing of the waste: the final repository, intermediate storage and export, or a combination.

Excerpts from Dwayne Mamo, Neighbouring nations nail Denmark on nuclear waste plan, the Copenhagen Post, Feb. 5, 2015