Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What EDF doesn't want, Npower picks up

Npower has bought the farmland next to Wylfa nuclear power station, which EDF bought in the summer and then hurriedly sold.

While the ignorant local MP, Albert Owen, and the council, equally ignorant, are in favour of a new nuclear power station here, a recent survey found opposition running at 80%.

The fact is, as I have blogged before, marine current turbines would represent a much more sustainable, long-lasting and low impact solution to any perceived energy or jobs crisis on the island of Anglesey.

Such turbines are already being installed by Marine Current Turbines.

There is an opposition campaign to Wylfa-B called, appropriately enough, People Against Wylfa B - PAWB. Go there and sign the petition.

As they point out, the fact that EDF sold the land next to Wylfa A, demonstrates that Wylfa is a weak contender for a second nuclear plant anyway.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Obama puts science and climate change at America's heart

"It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted nor obscured by politics nor ideology."

With these words, Barack Obama has drawn a line under the faith-based, oil-industry-biased policies of his predecessor.

He has made the following highly significant appointments which are fantastic news for climate-change campaigners, and which mean the world can now begin to hope that America can lead the way to a speedy about-turn in fossil-fuel dependence, and make up for eight lost years of Bush Presidency:
  • respected climatologist Jane Lubchenco is to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Steven Chu, a Nobel prizewinner, is to be Secretary of the Department of Energy
  • Harvard physicist John Holdren has been made director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Steven Chu believes, rightly, that the best way to reduce greenhouse emissions is to waste less energy, by investing in energy efficiency.

He believes America can reduce its energy use without reducing its wealth, and has worked with the Helios Project, the research initiative Berkeley Lab launched for breakthrough renewable energy and efficiency technology - nanotech photovoltaics, microbial and cellulosic biofuels, and chemical photosynthesis. This despite the fact that his Nobel Prize was for his work in atomic physics.

In this video he explains his philosophy:

Holdren, an entrepreneur-supporting scientist who has worked with Paul Ehrlich and received the Nobel Peace Prize, knows about the new figures that show the rapid acceleration in the loss of Arctic sea ice, as well as dramatic acidification of the ocean.

Lubchenco (the first woman to hold the position of head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has said that even if the world abruptly shifts away from fossil fuels, the oceans will continue to soak up carbon dioxide and become more acidic. She recommends protecting marine life by reducing overfishing, cutting back on nutrient run-off and creating marine reserves to protect marine eco-systems.

Friday, December 19, 2008

New grants for renewable energy

The Government has announced £12 million in funding for industry, businesses and community groups investing in biomass-fuelled heating and combined heat and power systems, including anaerobic digesters, in England.

It's a pittance, a drop in the ocean, but it's better than a kick in the gonads.

Round 5 of the Bio-energy Capital Grants Scheme is now open for applications until at least 30 April 2009.

It will pay 40% of the difference in cost of a biomass boiler and the fossil fuel alternative up to £500,000. “Nearly half of the UK’s carbon emissions come from heating, so it’s essential to change how we heat businesses, hospitals, schools and community buildings,” says Sustainable Development and Energy Innovation Minister, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.

Since the scheme was launched in 2002, £55 million has been used to set up biomass power stations, biomass-fuelled heat and power plants and biomass heating systems.

Schools, hospitals, charities and local authorities can also apply for a slice of £7 million from the Low Carbon Buildings Programme for microgeneration technologies.

Get your hot ROCS off!

Renewable electricity supplier Good Energy has launched HotROCs, the UK's first Renewable Heat Incentive.

It intends to pay domestic solar heat generators for the heat energy they produce.

Over 450 businesses and homes have also signed up to its HomeGen scheme, which pays 10p for every unit of renewable electricity generated - including the units they use at home.

> www.good-energy.co.uk

Health test for new nuclear power stations

A government consultation ending in March is asking whether we regard four designs put forward for new nuclear power stations in the UK meet health criteria, when balanced against their alleged benefits.

The criteria include the health detriment, defined as an estimate of the risk of reduction in length and quality of life occurring in a population following exposure to ionising radiations.

The Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) has put forward the proposals, which are being examined as stage one of a legal process on the road to the potential construction of a new generation of nuclear power stations.

They are being tested under the Justification of Practices Involving Ionising Radiation Regulations 2004, a piece of EU legislation transposed into UK law.

These stipulate that before any new type of practice involving ionising radiation can be introduced in the UK, it must first undergo a high-level, generic assessment to determine whether its overall benefit outweighs any associated health detriment.

The Minister for Energy and Climate Change Mike O'Brien will decide the result of the consultation, which ends in March. It will be followed by a further consultation between September and December 2009 on his draft decision.

The Low Carbon Kid says no health detriment is acceptable. And what about the health of future generations, and those in the nuclear fuel and decommissioning life cycle? But we're not allowed to comment on that, so narrow are the terms of this consultation.

> Consultation on whether new nuclear power stations in the UK meet health criteria

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Poznan and Brussels: Failure

The news from Poznan and from the European Union is deeply depressing.

In Europe what we are seeing is a last ditch attempt by the dinosaurs of the old industrial system to hang on to what they once had.

The transition to a low carbon economy to cope with the pressures of climate change was always going to be either chaotic and disruptive, or managed and planned well. It looks like it is more the first than the last.

Governments pay far too much attention to the demands of the old industries. At the very least they should be giving concessions to them only in exchange for targeted, rapid evolution to reliance on post-carbon technology.

At Poznan it is the developed countries who have blocked the establishment of rigorous targets. At Brussels, it was Germany s trying to protect its heavy industry in a bizarre alliance with Poland and Berlusconi.

Poznan also saw little progress in helping the developing world make the necessary transition -- the developed world is now too caught up in a financial crisis of its own making.

Is this the worst possible outcome? Not quite. There are still more negotiations to come in the post-Kyodo process. But one thing we don't have is time.

Representatives of the Cap and Share group of which the Low Carbon Kid is a member who went to Poznan reported back on the almost futility of their visit. Thousands of campaigners, each with their own particular message actually locked out of the area where the real decision-making was taking place.

Our own strategy will now be to target decision-makers here. Beginning with the policymakers at DECC and the new Climate Change Committee led by Lord Turner who put out their own sadly inadequate report two weeks ago. Why inadequate? Because the climate is changing more rapidly than predicted two years ago by the IPCC.

In case anybody doubts that the hour is not late, do read the evidence amassed in this report by my colleagues at the Public Information Research Centre.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

300 NGOs agree - Keep nuclear power out of climate talks

The Low Carbon Kid is not alone! In only one week, over 300 NGOs representing millions of individuals from 50 countries in every corner of the planet signed on to the public appeal to keep the nuclear power option out of the climate talks.

Three dozen environmental leaders from 16 countries braved icy cold weather yesterday morning in front of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Meeting in Poznan, Poland where they called nuclear power “a Mickey Mouse solution” to climate change.

The activists were carrying banners and posters with lively slogans including “Don’t Nuke the Climate,” “No Nuclear Power in The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)” and “Nuclear Power, No Thanks!”

Most were wearing T-shirts with the familiar “Mickey Mouse ears” emblazoned with the radiation symbol.

The activists, representing non-governmental organizations from European countries, Taiwan, South Korea, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, California and elsewhere, announced the release of a global call for the elimination of proposals to include nuclear power as an approved investment for greenhouse gas mitigation in the 2nd commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol of the UNFCCC.

Spokespeople from the four organizers of today’s action made their case throughout the morning by talking one-on-one to hundreds of government delegates and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as they entered the conference site for morning sessions.

Speaking to the press, Sabine Bock, coordinator of energy and climate protection for Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF) said: “Nuclear energy has proven in the past that it is a threat not only to our health and the environment, but also to human rights.”

“In our work at WECF with local communities,” Bock continued, “we have encountered severe health problems and human rights abuses of populations due to the harmful effects of nuclear energy and radiation.” Bock added: “We can’t understand why governments still promote this dangerous technology rather than taking the opportunity to develop safe and sustainable new, renewable, and clean energy solutions.”

Jan Van de Putte, Nuclear Campaign Coordinator for Greenpeace described nuclear power as an obstacle to effective climate protection saying that money invested in nuclear power is not nearly as effective as money invested in wind power, for example.”

“Nuclear power is a dangerous and dirty energy source – it provides too little energy for mitigation at too slow a pace and at too great a cost.” Van de Putte continued, “the cost per Kwh of nuclear power is double that of wind energy. It just doesn’t make sense to pursue this outdated energy source.”

Vladimir Slivyak, Co-Chair of Ecodefense Russia called upon his national government as well as other delegations, to stop promoting nuclear power into the Kyoto Protocol via provisions for Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism. “78 % of Russians are opposed to nuclear power,” Slivyak said. “We demand that the Russian delegation stop any plans to develop new nuclear plants.” “We further call on all governments to stop new nuclear development.”

Claire Greensfelder, Deputy Director of the International Forum on Globalization of San Francisco, California, said: “Despite year after year of rejection by the state parties to the Convention, the nuclear industry (and a small group of states) continues to promote the economic and public health disaster of nuclear power.” Greensfelder continued: “We also have grave concerns about the health and environmental impacts of increased uranium mining, milling and nuclear waste storage, much of which is on indigenous peoples’ lands, many of whom are opposed to continued nuclear development.” “Indigenous peoples’ right to free prior and informed consent of development on their lands, as established by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, (passed in the UN General Assembly in September 2007), must be taken into consideration.”

Holding a colorful homemade banner proclaiming “No Fishy Nukes!,”, Gloria Hsu, Chair, of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union (TEPU) said: “Using nuclear power for CO2 reduction is the same as drinking some poison to quench your thirst.”

“We have managed thus far to keep nuclear power out of the Kyoto Protocol,” said Peer de Rijk, executive director of World Information Service on Energy (WISE) speaking from Amsterdam. “We will continue to do whatever we can to achieve the same for a much be-needed post Kyoto agreement. Nuclear energy is a deadlock, blocking real solutions. Don’t nuke the climate! »

> the statement on NIRS' website

> A list of the organizational signers on NIRS' website

Monday, December 08, 2008

The undiscussed supply chain

Below is the original, longer version of my latest Guardian Comment is Free piece,
Extracting a disaster

The extraction of uranium is dangerous, leaves a toxic legacy for millions of years in vulnerable parts of the world, and is hardly conducted in an ethical fashion, yet British ministers - while sourcing FSC timber - are complacent about the supply-chain consequences of their enthusiasm for nuclear new build.

The Government is in a hurry to get eight new nuclear plants built around the country. It is even manipulating the planning laws to achieve this end: the Planning Act, Climate Change Act and Energy Act became law this week, all of which pave the way for a new generation of nuclear power stations. Nuclear power is the Government's magic ticket not only to meet its 2020 carbon emission goals and "stop the lights going out" but to export British nuclear know-how around the globe.

One can condemn ministers' gung-ho enthusiasm for this technology from any number of angles: the threat of terrorist attack; nuclear proliferation; global insecurity; the waste legacy, and so on.

I want to discuss one that is rarely raised: the fuel supply chain.

The UK Government has in place guidelines for the ethical and sustainable sourcing of many raw materials. The Government promotes Corporate Social Responsibility, and in this context Tony Blair launched something called the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative [http://eitransparency.org/ ] t the World Summit for Sustainable Business Development in 2001. The Government's Sustainable Procurement Action Plan includes purchasing advice for its departments and agencies in order to reduce waste production, energy and water use, and reduce impact upon biodiversity. The most obvious example is timber; Government departments and agencies are supposed to source timber using the internationally recognised auditing trails.

But you won't find anything about uranium sourcing in that document, because the government itself does not buy uranium: British Energy does that. And yet the increased sourcing of raw uranium that will arise from nuclear new build is directly due to the U-turn in government policy on nuclear power that has come in the last three years.

The World Nuclear Association (WNA), the trade body for the ten companies that make up 90% of the industry, has convinced politicians that "Nuclear energy is one of the very few available large-scale sources of clean energy (CO2 free)" [http://www.iaea.org/OurWork/ST/NE/NEFW/documents/RawMaterials/CD_TM_IBPinUM&P%20200810/02WNA%20pres%20-%20IAEA-WNA%20TM%20-%20u%20mining%20EH&S%20-%2015oct08.pdf].

The WNA admits that in "emerging uranium producing countries" there is frequently no adequate environmental health and safety legislation, let alone monitoring. It is considerately proposing a Charter of Ethics containing Principles of Uranium Stewardship for its members to follow. But this is a self-policing voluntary arrangement. Similarly, the International Atomic Energy Agency's Safety Guide to the Management of Radioactive Waste from the Mining and Milling of Ores are not legally binding on operators.

The problem is that transparency is not a value enshrined in the extractive or the nuclear industries. Put the two together and you have a major quality of information problem. Access to the truth is, to say the least, uncertain. Journalists and others trying to obtain reliable information find themselves blocked. Recently, to tackle this issue, Panos Institute West Africa (IPAO) held a training seminar for journalists in Senegal which highlighted that only persistent investigation - or, in the case of the Tuareg, violent rebellion - has a chance of uncovering the truth.

The co-editor of The Republican in Niger, Ousseini Issa, said that only due to local media campaigns was there a revision of the contract linking Niger to the French company Areva. "We realized then that the country drew little benefit from uranium. As a result of our efforts, the price of a kilogram of uranium increased from 25,000 to 40,000 CFA francs," he said. This means that the local community receives a decent income from the extraction of their resources.

IPAO has plenty of evidence that in Africa the legacy of mining is often terrible health, water contamination and other pollution problems. The health and safety of workers and local communities is frequently a low priority. IPAO would laugh at the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – an Orwellian creation.

What is the effect of uranium mining specifically? Under current world market conditions, nuclear fuel from fresh uranium is cheaper than from recycled uranium or recycled plutonium (MOX), which is why there is a uranium rush going on worldwide.

To produce enough uranium fuel - about 25 tonnes - to keep your average (1300 MW) reactor going for a year entails the extraction of half a million tonnes of waste rock and over 100,000 tonnes of mill tailings. These are toxic for hundreds of thousands of years. The conversion plant will generate a further 144 tonnes of solid waste and 1343 cubic metres of liquid waste.

Contamination of local water supplies around uranium mines and processing plants has been documented in Brazil, Colorado, Texas, Australia, Namibia and many other sites. To supply the number of power stations worldwide expected to be online in 2020 would mean generating 50 million tonnes of toxic radioactive residue every single year.

The milling process recovers about 95% of the uranium. The residues, or tailings, contain naturally-occurring radioactive elements, including uranium, thorium, radium, polonium, and radon-222 emissions. In countries like the US, the Environmental Protection Agency sets limits of emissions from the dumps and monitors them. This does not happen in many less developed areas.

The current market prices of nuclear fuel do not include all of the costs incurred. For uranium mill tailings, the long-term management cost that is not covered by the uranium price may be as high as the uranium cost itself. The situation for the depleted uranium waste arising during enrichment even may be worse, says the World Information Service on Energy.

No one can convince me that the above process is carbon-free. It takes a lot of – almost certainly fossil-fuelled - energy to move that amount of rock and process the ore. But the carbon cost is often not in the country where the fuel is consumed - certainly in the case of the UK. So that's why it's ‘carbon free’.

And what of the other costs? Over half of the world’s uranium is in Australia and Canada. In Australia the Government is relishing the idea of making money from the nuclear renaissance being predicted, and uranium mining is expanding all over the place. Australian greens are fast losing the optimism they felt when the Labor Party won the last election. The temptation to cash in the expense of the environment and traditional peoples under the pretense of it being 'low carbon' is too much.

Uranium mining has often been a disaster for indigenous peoples. In the Northern Territory plans to expand a nuclear dump at Muckaty station are being pushed forward with no regard for the land's Aboriginal owners. The supposedly greener new Australian government Minister Martin Ferguson has failed to deliver an election promise to overturn the Howard Government's Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act, which earmarks a series of sites for nuclear waste dumps. Senator Ludlam asked him last week at a senate hearing: "How can Martin Ferguson wash his hands of this issue and allow small Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory to cop this waste in a repeat of the worst nuclear colonialism of the past?"

In South Australia, in August the Australian Government approved the expansion of a controversial uranium mine, Beverley ISL. This was dubbed a “blank cheque licence for pollution”. Groundwater specialist Dr Gavin Mudd, a lecturer in environmental engineering at Monash University, has examined the data from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and called for it to be “independently verified by people not subservient to the mining industry” (The Epoch Times Sept. 2, 2008).

Elsewhere in the Northern Territory, on Oct. 31 BHP Billiton said it plans to have the first of five planned stages of expansion at its Olympic Dam mine in production by 2013. This will increase production capacity to 200,000 tonnes of copper, 4500 tonnes of uranium and 120,000 ounces of gold. This is a vast open cast mine, from which the wind can carry away radioactive dust.

Not far away locals are fighting a new uranium mine 25 kilometres south of Alice Springs. Elsewhere, at the Ranger mines, on November 17, Energy Resources of Australia - 68.4% owned by Rio Tinto - said it expects to find 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes of ore in the Ranger 3 Deeps area. In October the company signed an agreement to supply uranium oxide to a Chinese utility. At the same time they signed a safety accord. This is how safe the mine in fact is - and you won't find such records at African mines: almost 15,000 litres of acid uranium solution leaked in a 2002 incident, and since then further leaks ranging from 50 to over 23,000 litres have been reported on the South Australian Government's Primary Industries website. The most recent was on April 22, 2006 when 14,400 litres of solution containing approx. 0.5% uranium leaked out.

The list goes on.

The bottom line is this: UK ministers are blind to the consequences of their pro-nuclear evangelism. Their hypocrisy is breath-taking. Carbon credits under the Kyoto mechanism have to be independently audited by a global body to ensure that new renewable energy is unique, additional and lives up to its claims. At the very least there should be an independent, global body verifying the ethics, health and long-term safety of the nuclear supply chain.

Better, just leave it in the ground.

© David Thorpe

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Energy and Environmental Management - new issue

The latest (Nov/Dec) issue of Energy and Environmental Management is now live to read online at the e-reader here.

There are articles on the credit and nature crunch, the Climate Change Act, and how environmental businesses are faring in the downturn, plus a Focus on emissions and pollution control.

Stop Climate Chaos Recharge the Media

The Low Carbon Kid is taking part in Recharge the Media week.

He's just asked the Prime Minster on the Simon Mayo show why he doesn't institute a green new deal to tackle climate change and the recession.

Register here NOW for the Stop Climate Chaos Recharge the Media action alerts from 1 –7 December. They’ll tell you how climate change is being covered in the media throughout the week and where you can influence the debate in newspapers, online, on the radio and in your local news.

In addition, Stop Climate Chaos is aiming to get 100,000 messages to the government to say ‘no’ to coal’ and ‘yes’ to renewable energy by Spring. To help the Stop Climate Chaos campaign click here.