Thursday, November 25, 2010

Are Display Energy Certificates worth the paper they're printed on?

An analysis of Display Energy Certificates (DECs) assessments of the energy performance of 28,300 public buildings

An analysis of Display Energy Certificates (DECs) released under environmental freedom of information requests, has shown that there is considerable room for improvement in assessors' performance.

The UK has two forms of mandatory energy performance certification, thanks to the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive: the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) and the Display Energy Certificate (DEC).

DECs are mandatory for all public buildings over 1000m2 that are regularly visited by members of the public. In recent months, the Government has been sounding out extending DECs to cover public buildings over 250m2 that are also open to the public.

This is a good time, then, to look at how effective the issuance of certificates so far has been.

BSRIA (a construction services testing and research consultancy owned by The Building Services Research and Information Association) has been looking at the statistics behind 28,259 completed DEC assessments made up until November 2009.

The figures were made available through Environmental Information Legislation at the request of the BBC. (Landmark manages and maintains the database from EPC and DECs on behalf of the Department for Communities and Local Government, and this data is not made publicly available.)

The results

BSRIA says that their analysis reveals a high number of buildings “without effective energy management". They question the quality of the data being gathered for the assessments, looking in particular at how irregular results, such as buildings given a rating of zero (supposedly signifying a perfect score (or 500 or more (supposedly signifying extremely poor energy management) can reveal whether information is being gathered sensibly.

They say “These high value results are highly questionable. The precise cause of the extreme data in those specific assessments clearly requires further investigation" and suggest "that assessors do not understand the CLG guidance documents".

The average building is intended to have a result of around 100 – that is the way the certificates were designed. However, the average result is 113, a worse performance.

A result of 200 is given if insufficient data is available to obtain a certificate; in other words it is assumed that the building has a poor performance. 3001 buildings are given this operational rating, and BSRIA says “this is especially worrying when energy efficiency and cost savings should be a high priority for all public buildings".

They conclude: “It could be argued that there are problems throughout the entire data set. Without the means of validating all the data, it is very misleading to aggregate the consumption data into something meaningful - it simply has too many distortions within it."

CLG says it has recognised the shortcomings and is working with accreditation providers to identify the problems and to devise solutions.

DECs do not currently take into account process energy, and BSRIA also advocates that it should be included in future.

The body also recommends that the certificates should record building occupancy levels and building age, so it could be possible to examine and compare buildings by age.

The introduction of DECs has brought energy consumption in buildings to more prominent attention, which is a good thing. But there is clarly much room for improvement.

The fact that DECs are renewed on annual basis can provide building occupiers, owners and operators with a simple visual guide for a year on year comparison of performance.

This should encourage pro-active energy management decisions to be implemented in a bid to improve energy performance and save money - these are pubic buildings, after all, and it is taxpayers' cash that can be saved.

Friday, November 19, 2010

UK gave dead children's body parts to American nuclear researchers

Sellafield nuclear reprocessing pant in Cumbria, UK, from the air
The UK Government has apologised for letting parts of the dead bodies of nuclear industry workers and thousands of children be removed for analysis without telling their families.

The events happened in hospitals and UK nuclear facilities from 1955 to 1992.

An inquiry was set up in 2007 by the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Alistair Darling. It was undertaken by Michael Redfern QC, who has just published his findings.

The Inquiry looked at the processes and practices surrounding the analysis of human tissue from many nuclear installations, not just Sellafield, including Springfields, Capenhurst, Winfrith, Dounreay and Aldermaston.

Project Sunshine

The report says that during the 1950s and 1960s the Medical Research Council oversaw research measuring levels of Strontium-90 in human bone - femurs and vertebrae - obtained at post mortem. This national survey, involving over 6000 people, most of them children, had nothing to do with nuclear workers.

Information gained was in some cases set to America, to be included in a research project named - in some kind of sick joke - Project Sunshine. This study, initiated in the US in 1953, received vertebrae taken in the UK from 43 individuals who died between 1955 and 1958.

The Inquiry found that one doctor involved, Dr Loutit, in 1959, found difficulty in obtaining adequate numbers of samples, which led him to offer a modest payment - although none was ever made. Bones were "converted to ash" for analysis. The last paper on this topic was published in 1973, describing results obtained from bone taken from people who had died in 1970.

Families’ views were not obtained as required under the Human Tissue Act 1961. The report says that "All the pathologists who gave evidence to the Inquiry had been profoundly ignorant of the law under which they had performed post mortem examinations", which "arose from deficiencies in medical education and training".

As part of Project Sunshine, 91 pregnant British women were injected with radioactive iodine in the 1960s and a further 37 women who were due to undergo medically-approved abortions had been involved in a separate series of tests to monitor the effect of radioactive iodine in the foetus.

The experiments were conducted in Aberdeen, Hammersmith and Liverpool. "In a separate series of experiments, between 1957 and 1970, body parts from an estimated 6,000 corpses had been removed for tests without the permission of the next of kin and sent for examination at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment," claimed a 1995 UK Channel 4 documentary 'True Stories: Deadly Experiments'.

Sellafield workers' body parts removed

Organs from 64 former Sellafield workers were also removed by pathologists and taken for analysis at Sellafield between 1960 and 1991.

In addition, organs taken from 12 workers at other nuclear sites were analysed at, or at the request of, Sellafield, giving a total of 76. The Inquiry also found evidence of other individuals whose organs were analysed at Sellafield.

The report highlights unacceptable working practices within the nuclear industry, NHS pathology services and the coronial service, saying "there was a lack of ethical consideration of the implications of the research work the industry was doing; that there was limited supervision undertaken; and that relationships between pathologists, coroners and the Sellafield medical officers became too close."

Investigations also found that "organs from a small number of former Ministry of Defence employees were removed for analysis".

Coroners' failures

Coroners did not communicate with families, who were left in the dark. There was no attempt to explain to them why the coroner had ordered a post mortem or what it would entail.

They often failed to read post mortem reports. As a result, when the reports indicated organs had been inappropriately removed, they remained in ignorance and took no action.

The report acknowledges that these events occurred a number of decades ago, and puts them within the context of the times and current practice.

Government Apology

Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change told Parliament: “I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt regret and to apologise to the families and relatives of those involved. I hope that the publication of today’s report goes some way toward providing the closure they deserve.

“The events described in the Inquiry should never have happened in the first place. We have learned the lessons of the past. The law on human tissue has been reviewed, and there is now a rigorous regulatory system in place, in which both the public and professionals have confidence."

A Redfern Inquiry helpline has been set up to help people who think their relative may have been involved in one of the studies covered by the Redfern Inquiry. The telephone number is 0800 555 777 and minicom number is 0800 887 777.

Huhne promised this would never happen again. He said that the Secretary of State for Justice intends to take forward several of the provisions in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 which address some of the concerns. "Although the Government is not proceeding with the role of a Chief Coroner" - due to the cuts - "we intend to transfer many of the intended leadership functions of the post to the Lord Chancellor, or possibly the senior judiciary", he said.

"The Inquiry has sought and received assurances from all of the key nuclear industry stakeholders that the practice of retaining organs or tissue at autopsy has ceased," he added.

The Results

Examination of tissues looked into the prevalence of various isotopes including those of plutonium. The Report says that a fair amount of the research was not scientifically valid, for various reasons, not all of which could have been known at the time.

If it can be believed given the notorious secrecy of the industry, the report says, "In many cases the levels of [radioactive] activity in the samples were towards or even below the lower limit of detection. Results are generally a few hundred millibecquerels: one mBq represents one single atomic decay every 1,000 seconds (16.7 minutes)."

The Report recommends that the data collected from all the research, "should be made available, anonymised, for use in appropriate research".

Thursday, November 04, 2010

West Cumbria not ruled out as nuclear waste dump

In a week that saw the European Commission approve underground burial as a way to dispose of high-level nuclear waste, Defra published a geological report on the suitability of West Cumbria for this kind of geological disposal.

The study looks at the Copeland and Allerdale areas, where Allerdale, Copeland and Cumbria County Councils have set up the West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) Partnership to ensure that people living in the area are involved in making an informed decision about whether or not to proceed with a facility siting process.

This area is the only one in the country to have come forward as a candidate for taking nuclear waste.

The study's conclusions are ambiguous, not ruling out the suitability of the area, but advocating further investigation. It rules out parts of the West of Cumbria, but raises the possibility that part of the Lake District could be a potential store.

This was condemned by local activists against the dump. Senior energy campaigner Ben Ayliffe said the report meant “almost anywhere” in the Lake District could become a dump for the UK’s radioactive waste.

The MRWS Partnership said they needed more detailed investigations before there could be any “real idea" of where the site could be located, if anywhere.

Minister of State for Energy Charles Hendry said: “We must progress implementation of geological disposal, the long-term sustainable solution for dealing with radioactive waste.

“The report, commissioned from the British Geological Survey, is a step forward. The geological disposal facility site selection process is based on voluntarism and partnership and these results do not present any reason why West Cumbria cannot continue to consider whether or not to participate in that process.”

The exclusion criteria, defined by two independent groups of experts, mainly examine whether there is any risk of the security of the dump being compromised in the future by anyone seeking to extract resources or the need to protect the quality of exploitable groundwater.

If the Partnership chose to proceed further, increasingly detailed geological and other criteria assessment would have to be undertaken.

Keekle Head, a 70 hectare former opencast coal mine near Whitehaven, Cumbria, which Endecom, a company owned by SITA UK, has bought to use for the disposal of low and very low level radioactive construction and demolition waste.
Keekle Head, a 70 hectare former opencast coal mine near Whitehaven, Cumbria, which Endecom, a company owned by SITA UK, has bought to use for the disposal of low and very low level radioactive construction and demolition waste.

California's success against Big Oil still faces a hurdle

grassroots campaigners who helped to defeat Proposition 23

Californians voted on Tuesday in favour of a low carbon future, but against environmental taxes.

While voting in the American mid-term elections, they also defeated a measure called Proposition 23, a move by oil companies to roll back a piece of progressive legislature - AB 32 - the state passed in recent times in favour of clean energy and climate protection.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune described the victory as follows: “Despite more than $10 million spent on deceptive advertising campaign funded by out-of-state oil barons — more than $8 Million from Texaco and Valero alone - California voters took a stand for clean energy – not in spite of a major economic downturn, but because of it."

The Proposition was defeated by over 60% to under 40%, in the first public referendum in history on clean energy policy.

It represents a triumph for a coalition that stood up to the oil industry, which involved leaders from environmental, health, labour, business, clean technology and national security sectors, not mentioned community groups and faith-based organisations.

One of the coalition's unlikely members, former US Secretary of State George Schultz, said, “This is the new face of the clean energy economy. This broad coalition will continue to push for California to be on the cutting edge in building the new energy economy”.

The Los Angeles Times said the "oily club" from Texas was sent packing through being outspent and out-organised, campaign-wise by wealthy philanthropists and celebrity backers.

Chief architect of the original global warming law in 2006, and outgoing Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, was jubilant at the result.

However, voters also passed Proposition 26, which makes it harder to enforce global warming laws by undermining the principle that polluters should pay for the harm they cause. It is likely to do this in three ways:

1. by repealing two laws passed this year that fund product stewardship programmes to prevent hazardous chemicals and bulky products from ending up in landfill

2. by decreasing funding for 'green chemistry', which aims to control exposure to hazardous chemicals

3. by making it harder to implement the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), whose goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through carbon trading.

California and carbon trading

Provided that it can get around this limitation, this act would set up a system very similar to the European Emissions Trading Scheme.

It would recognise offset credits originating from sectors in developing countries, including Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and other sector-based credits, so that the state can join international sector-based carbon trading schemes.

California's economy is the largest of any state in the USA and one of the worlds top 10 economies.

Offset credits allow private companies to meet a portion of their obligation to reduce emissions by buying lower-cost emissions reductions generated elsewhere.

Sector-based offset credits require all actors within a sector, for instance all forest owners or all steel manufacturers, to be included in a developing country’s emissions reduction strategy.

This approach differs from the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that recognises one-off, project-based offset credits.

California’s approach is consistent with key design features in the current international climate negotiations. Its cap-and-trade program would therefore play a huge part globally, and help to define what constitutes environmentally sound emissions reductions efforts in developing countries.

Tea Party and the environment

Elsewhere in the elections, in Florida, Tea Party candidate Mario Rubio made it to the Senate, on a ticket which supports continued drilling for oil offshore, only months after the disaster that was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

But in Nevada, Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle, who is a climate change denialist, was beaten to the Senate by Democrat incumbent Harry Reid.