Tag Archives: pollution

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

See also A Continent for Sale through Queensway

Rio+20 Earth Summit; agenda and prospects

The Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development is much bigger than its [three] predecessors — Stockholm in 1972,-

The Nightmare of Electronic Waste

The lack of adequate management of electronic waste in Guatemala is posing a serious threat to the environment and health, as demand for electronic devices has soared to the point that there are more cell phones than people.  Computers, mobile phones, refrigerators, microwave ovens and a long list of other devices and appliances end up in garbage dumps and even rivers, and the public is unaware of the danger posed by toxic substances in the products, experts warn.   Chrome, mercury, lead, selenium and arsenic are some of the most toxic substances in e-waste, which can cause serious damages to health, Mayron España, director of E-Waste de Guatemala, an NGO that collects such products for recycling, told IPS….”And all of these metals end up in the water sooner or later,” because they seep into groundwater or because e-waste is dumped into surface water bodies like rivers, said España, whose organisation collects e-waste to be recycled abroad.

According to Guatemala’s telecoms regulator, the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones, the number of mobile phones in use in 2011 reached 20.7 million in this country of 14 million people – up from just 3.1 million in 2004.  And a similar increase has been seen in the case of computers, digital cameras and TV sets, and other products.  But these devices are highly polluting. A single nickel cadmium battery cell phone can pollute 50,000 litres of water, according to environmental watchdog Greenpeace.

A study on e-waste by the Guatemalan Centre for Cleaner Production, “Diagnóstico sobre la generación de desechos electrónicos en Guatemala”, concluded that by 2015, at least 13,000 tons of cell phones and 18,600 tons of computers and accessories will have been thrown out in this Central American country.  The report proposes the “three R’s”- reduce, reuse, recycle – to curb the negative impact of e-waste on the environment.  The study, carried out by two engineers, Sonia Solís and Andrés Chicol, calls for the formulation of e-waste management plans as part of a national strategy that should include activities aimed at raising public awareness about the problem.

Adriana Grimaldi, a chemistry professor at the private Mariano Gálvez University, stressed the urgent need to address the question of e-waste because of the serious risks posed to the environment and human health.  Grimaldi said PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), whose production is banned by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, are among the “most powerful and carcinogenic” substances used in electrical devices like transformers and capacitors….Julio Urías, an adviser to the Red Giresol – the Guatemalan network of environmental promoters for prevention and integrated management of solid waste – says there is much to be done in the area of waste management in Guatemala, although he also mentioned important efforts by social organisations and private companies.  He said that an essential step is to draft and enforce “viable legislation.” He also called for “education and information for the population about consumption habits.”

The government’s National Commission on Solid Waste Management estimates that just five percent of the 7,000 tons of solid waste produced daily in this country is recycled.

However, there are positive experiences with recycling, which show that it can generate opportunities for people who have none.  That is the case of Edulibre, a non-profit that donates old computers to public schools in poor areas.  “Companies donate their old computers to us,” Javier Hernández, a computer technician who works with Edulibre, told IPS. “We check them and install our own operating system that we have adapted for Guatemala, from free software.”  Since 2007, the organisation has also set up five computer labs in the capital and other parts of the country, which serve more than 1,000 children, while protecting the environment by reusing old equipment.

Excerpts, Danilo Valladares, More Cell-Phones than People, and No E-Waste Treatment in Guatemala, IPS, Apr. 2, 2012

Banning Hazardous Waste Trade

Illegal E-Waste Trade

Exporting E-Waste

Nanotechnology and the Environment

Scientists working on the EC-funded research project Monacat,  are looking at how nanomaterials can remove water pollutants such as nitrates. “Nitrate reduction has been studied for decades; it’s very hard to do and it isn’t commercially viable,” says Alexei Lapkin, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Warwick, who works on Monocat.  Nitrates taken into the body through water can block oxygen transport. In severe cases this can starve tissues and organs of oxygen and lead to conditions including heart defects in babies. Nitrate levels are therefore strictly regulated, with an estimated €70bn–€320bn (£60bn –£274bn) spent every year across the EU removing nitrogen waste from water. The Monocat project has developed reactors coated with carbon nanotubes and nanofibres that could potentially remove nitrate pollutants at much lower costs. Lapkin says the most successful reactors will soon be chosen for patenting and further development.

Another European project, NanoGLOWA, is using nanotechnology to tackle global warming. The project aims to develop nanomembranes that can remove carbon dioxide from power plant emissions more efficiently than current methods. These membranes use nanomaterials to physically separate or chemically react with the carbon dioxide in flue gas streams.

As well as cleaning up fossil fuel use, nanotechnology is improving the viability of clean energy. Today, the most widespread photovoltaic solar cells are made of polycrystalline silicon and are relatively expensive, but nanotechnology is working to drive the costs of solar power down.  “It’s quicker and easier to grow a small crystal than a large one, and nanocrystals can be made in large quantities by simple chemical routes,” explains Jason Smith, leader of the Photonic Nanomaterials Group, University of Oxford. Photovoltaic cells made by “printing” nanoparticle inks are already commercially available.  “So far they have reached 17% efficiency,” says Smith. Normal polycrystalline silicon cells are about 20% efficient. “This is a pretty impressive achievement and demonstrates that nanomaterials can be almost as efficient as the standard polycrystalline silicon cells, while produced at a fraction of the cost.” An important next stage of the research will be to continue to improve the efficiency of these cheap nanoparticle cells…

“We will need at some point to replace internal combustion and diesel engines,” says Duncan Gregory, professor of inorganic materials at the University of Glasgow. “Hydrogen is an ideal fuel since one can extract a large amount of energy from it, and the process is green.”  However, storing hydrogen as a gas is both inconvenient and dangerous. “Solid-state storage, by which hydrogen is stored within a host solid, could overcome these problems, in principle making it possible to store a much higher amount of hydrogen in a relatively unreactive form,” Gregory says. He and his team have patented a nanomaterial called lithium nitride, similar in structure to carbon nanotubes and nanofibres, which may provide a way to store hydrogen safely inside a solid.

 

“It might be this material or similar that provides the breakthrough, or a completely different way of thinking,” says Gregory. “How soon this technology becomes ready depends on what the political will for change is. In these challenging economic times, real-terms government spending on research has fallen. Thankfully, energy remains a high UK research priority that will be essential, given all our environmental, economic and political concerns.”

New forms of glass that control the heat, light and glare passing through a surface are emerging. But these are based on nanotechnology procedures that, in some cases, have been around for decades.

Excerpt, Penny Sarchet, Essential matter, Guardian, Nov. 25, 2011

Nuclear Lobbyists, Money=Power


The main trade group for the nuclear power industry, the Nuclear Energy Institute, spent $580,000 in the second quarter  of 2011 lobbying federal officials about financial support for new reactors, safety regulations and other issues, according to a disclosure report. …NEI, based in Washington, lobbied the government on measures designed to ensure the nation’s 104 commercial reactors can withstand natural disasters. It also lobbied on a measure that would require nuclear operators to transfer radioactive spent nuclear fuel from cooling pools inside or near reactor cores to dry casks further from the reactors.  In the Japanese nuclear accident, crowded pools of spent nuclear fuel overheated when the nuclear station’s cooling power was knocked out.  NEI also lobbied the government over environmental regulations. Congress is considering measures that would delay new clean air and clean water rules and curb the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to issue rules by forcing the EPA to factor in the cost of their implementation in addition to medical and scientific evidence.  There also are several measures under consideration that would block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.  Nuclear power generation produces no greenhouse gases and none of the airborne toxins such as mercury that EPA clean air rules target. But many nuclear plants use outdated cooling systems that consume enormous amounts of water. Replacing those cooling systems with newer systems that use less water is expensive.

NEI also lobbied for funds for research and development for smaller, cheaper reactors and other nuclear technologies.  Nuclear reactors produce about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, but the country’s reactors are aging. No new reactor has been planned and completed since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

In April through June, NEI lobbied Congress, the Commerce Department, the Defense Department, the Executive Office of the President, the Departments of Transportation, Energy, State and Homeland Security Department, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Office of Management and Budget, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, according to the report the NEI filed July 19 with the House clerk’s office.  Lobbyists are required to disclose activities that could influence members of the executive and legislative branches of government under a federal law enacted in 1995.

Nuclear group spent $580,000 lobbying in 2Q,-

Fukushima Decontamination: lengthy and costly

Japan faces the daunting task of decontaminating large areas of land around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, which is still leaking low levels of radiation nearly six months after an earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear meltdown.  In a meeting with local officials on Saturday, the government estimated it could take more than 20 years before residents could safely return to areas with current radiation readings of 200 millisieverts per year, and a decade for areas at 100 millisieverts per year.  The estimates, which merely confirm what many experts have been saying for months, are based on the natural decline of radiation over time and do not account for the impact of decontamination steps such as removing affected soil….The Japanese government unveiled guidelines this week with the aim of halving radiation in problem areas in two years, but for spots with very high readings it could take much longer to reach safe levels….Japan has banned people from entering within 20 km (12 miles) of the Fukushima plant, located 240 km northeast of Tokyo. Around 80,000 people have been evacuated since the March 11 quake and tsunami and many are living in shelters or temporary homes.

The government’s announcement follows the release of data this week showing radiation readings in 35 spots in the evacuation zone above the 20 millisieverts per year level deemed safe by the government. The highest reading was 508 millisieverts in the town of Okuma, about 3 km from the nuclear plant.  Kan, who resigned on Friday [Aug. 26, 2011] as leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan amid intense criticism of his handling of the nuclear crisis, also told Sato that the government planned to build a temporary storage facility in Fukushima for radioactive waste.

The accident at the Fukushima plant is likely to have released about 15 percent of the radiation released at Chernobyl in 1986, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has estimated.But that is still more than seven times the amount of radiation produced by Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979, and experts have estimated Japan’s decontamination efforts could cost as much as 10 trillion yen ($130 billion).

Osamu Tsukimori and Nathan Layne, Reuters, Aug. 27, 2011

Secret Talks to Dispose of Nuclear Waste in Mongolia?

Mongolia’s Foreign Minister Gombojav Zandanshatar on Friday (Aug. 19, 2011) denied that any talks on accepting nuclear waste materials in Mongolia would be held during the upcoming visit of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. “There was never any discussion on storing nuclear waste in Mongolia. We have sent an official letter to the Japanese newspaper Mainichi to correct the false information,” Zandanshatar said.

The Mainichi daily has reported that Japan and the U.S. planned to jointly build a spent nuclear fuel storage facility in Mongolia to serve customers of their nuclear plant exporters. Several Mongolian civil groups including Green Coalition, Just Society Front, Fire-Nation group are planning to hold protests during Biden’s visit.  The groups consider that government officials held secret talks with Japan and the United States to accept and store nuclear waste materials in Mongolia.

Mongolia denies nuclear waste talks will be held during Biden visit, Xinhua, Aug. 19, 2011