The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has released papers under the freedom of information act, revealing that radioactive materials have gone missing from businesses, hospitals and universities more than 30 times in the past 10 years.
The papers revealed by the HSE, the UK government’s safety watchdog, list some big names in British industry as amongst the culprits including Rolls-Royce Marine Power Operations in Derby, which makes the reactors for Britain’s nuclear submarines, it was reported in The Guardian on Monday.
Small pellets of highly radioactive Ytterbium-169 were lost from the Rolls-Royce marine division, while a 13kg ball of depleted uranium went missing from the Forgemasters steel works in Sheffield, The Royal Free hospital in London lost caesium-137 used in cancer treatment. A report into the incident found that it “had the potential to cause significant radiation injuries to anyone handling [it] directly or being in the proximity for a short period of time.”
In another case, materials containing caesium-137 were lost on a North Sea oil rig by the oil services firm Schlumberger.
While at the site of the former atomic energy research center at Harwell near Oxford, cobalt 60 was found under a tube store under a machine during clearance.
Earlier this year a small canister of iridium-192 was stolen from a van in Lancashire, but was later found at a nearby retail park almost a month later.
“The unacceptable frequency and seriousness of these losses, some with the potential for severe radiological consequences, reflect poorly on the licenses and the HSE regulator. I cannot understand why it is not considered to be in the public interest to vigorously prosecute all such offences,” John Large, an internationally consultant to the nuclear industry, told The Guardian.
“Such slack security raises deep concerns about the accessibility of these substances to terrorists and others of malevolent intent,” he said.
While the HSE successfully prosecuted the Royal Free Hospital, Shlumberger and the massive Sellafield nuclear plant, other organizations have got away with written warnings.
In the case of Sellafield, the nuclear reprocessing facility pleaded guilty at Workington magistrates to sending mixed general waste, such as plastic, paper and metal from controlled radioactive areas to the Lillyhall landfill site in Workington when it should have been sent to the low-level waste repository [for low level nuclear waste] at Drigg, Cumbria.
The science departments of York and Warwick universities were luckier; they received written advice over losing radioactive materials during science demonstrations.
While the Loreto high school in Manchester is being investigated over the loss of americium-241.
“Some of these radioactive sources are very persistent, for example the Royal Free hospital’s lost caesium-137 has a half-life of around 30 years, so it remains radio-toxic for at least 10 half-lives or about 300 years,” said Large, who led the nuclear assessment risk for the raising of the destroyed Russian nuclear submarine Kursk in 2001.
The good news is that the cellulosic ethanol industry—turning trees and woody plants into liquid fuels—has yet to take off. And without an endless stream of taxpayer handouts to develop this polluting and environmentally destructive energy source, it probably never will.
Under the guise of taking action on climate change, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, expanding it under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007.
According to Institute for Energy Research, the RFS “mandates the production of ethanol to the level of 36 billion gallons by 2022, where 15 billion gallons is to be corn-based and the remainder is to come from advanced forms of biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol.
“The advanced biofuel contribution starts at 0.6 billion gallons in 2009 increasing to 1.35 billion gallons in 2011, 2.0 billion gallons in 2012 and eventually to 21.0 billion gallons in 2022.”
At first, the advanced biofuels component was set at an optimistic 0.6 billion gallons by 2009, 1.35 billion by 2011, 2.0 billion by 2012, and an obscene 21.0 billion by 2022. Yet the industry’s repeated botched attempts to break down wood cellulose into a usable fuel combined with overwhelming investor uncertainty—in the wake of corn ethanol’s recent fall from grace—meant refiners weren’t able to get their hands on anywhere near the EPA’s desired amount.
“Because cellulosic ethanol was not yet commercial, EPA issued changes to the original act that requires four separate standards including 1.0 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel by 2012 and 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels by 2022.”
The requirement for motor fuel from cellulose was initially set at 250 million gallons by 2011 and 500 million by 2012. When that proved impossible, the EPA lowered the bar to 6.6 million gallons by 2011 and 8.65 million by 2012.
When big biofuels still couldn’t make the cut in 2011, the EPA fined refiners $6.8 million. Yet in January 2013, the DC District Court of Appeals struck down the mandate, ruling that it was unfair of the EPA to put refiners in an “impossible position” by punishing them for not buying and blending biofuels that didn’t exist. The EPA repaid the fines.
Wally Tyner, agricultural economist at Purdue University, claims in a Science Insider article that the court decision doesn’t entirely gut the RFS. Tyner concludes that if more cellulosic ethanol comes online in the future, the EPA will then be able to issue their beloved “blending mandates.”
Which won’t happen anytime soon. In 2012 the entire US biofuels industry brewed up only 20,069 gallons of cellulosic ethanol, according to Climatewire.
But the elusive nature of the magic tree gas hasn’t stopped some of the more enterprising bio-profiteers from cashing in. Rodney Hailey, owner of Maryland-based Clean Green Fuel, LCC, sold $9 million in “renewable fuel credits” for biofuels his company never even produced. In February 2013, a US District Court Judge sentenced Hailey to twelve years in the slammer for his sins.
Florida, Georgia, and Oregon have been the site of the industry’s latest casualties. Even the heaping fortunes of fossil fuels giant British Petroleum (BP) weren’t enough to make a go of a $350 million forest-to-fuels facility in Highlands County, Florida—which went belly up in 2012.
A $37 million federal grant and $235 million loan guarantee couldn’t prevent major financial difficulties that ultimately forced ZeaChem, a cellulosic ethanol company in Boardman, Oregon to “scale back plant operations…and let go a number of our valued employees” in March 2013. Only a few weeks before, the company had produced its first and only batch of ethanol. While ZeaChem insists they’re not throwing in the paper towel yet, a recent Oregonian article suggests otherwise.
Perhaps the highest profile bio-failure to date—dubbed the “Solyndra of biofuels” by some—is the shuttering of Range Fuels’ wood-to-ethanol factory in Treutlen County, Georgia. The corporation broke ground in 2007 with promises to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol, seducing the US Department of Energy (DOE) to fork over a $76 million grant. As one of his final acts as president, George W. Bush also doled out an $80 million loan guarantee. The facility was completed in 2010—after having absorbed $46.3 million of the DOE grant and $42 million of the loan—when Range Fuels jumped ship and sold the facility in 2011 for a mere $5.1 million—without having brewed up a single tank of gasoline.
Range Fuels and the company that snatched it up for pennies on the taxpayer subsidized dollar, LanzaTech, are financed by investment company Khosla Ventures. “Billionaire Vinod Khosla, who is known for investing in so-called black swan ideas and innovation that could disrupt markets, also sits on the LanzaTech board,” according to Smart Planet.
Despite the industry’s repeated losses right out of the gate, investors like Khosla keep betting on the same horse. In a fit of either desperation or supreme optimism, Khosla is also backing a Columbus, Mississippi cellulosic ethanol factory that produced its first shipment in March 2013, with plans to build another plant in Natchez, Mississippi later this year.
More ominously, Khosla invested through Mascoma Corporation in a proposal to build a cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in Kinross, Michigan, in the state’s Upper Peninsula. When Mascoma struggled to find sufficient funding, Valero—the largest US refiner of traditional gasoline and the company that would process the dirty tar sands oil at the end of the yet-to-be-constructed Keystone pipeline in Texas—dropped $50 million into the project while agreeing to purchase up to 40 million gallons of the stuff.
Even with Khosla’s millions, in March 2013 Mascoma withdrew its registration for a $100 million initial public offering (IPO)—when a company goes from private to publicly trading on the stock market—blaming “market conditions.” Now the facility is being solely managed by Valero and its disturbingly long track record of Clean Air Act violations.
Pat Egan, area resident and former owner and publisher of the local daily newspaper, is fearful that with Valero acting as sugar daddy the Kinross facility stands a fairly good chance of creating a “commercial and viable product.” Add to this a $26 million grant from the feds, $80 million from DOE and $26 million from the state of Michigan, the facility is certainly a contender.
Before jumping ship, Mascoma conjured up a process called consolidated bioprocessing (CBP) to “develop genetically-modified yeasts and other microorganisms to reduce costs and improve yields in the production of renewable fuels and chemicals.” It’s evident that commercial scale cellulosic biofuels can’t happen without the equally controversial—if not more so—practice of genetic engineering.
Perhaps the unholiest of marriages between the biofuels and genetic manipulation industries involves ArborGen, the progenitor of genetically modified freeze-tolerant eucalyptus trees to convert into paper pulp and biofuels. The US Department of Agriculture is accepting public comments until April 29 in its consideration whether or not to allow the Franken-company to sell hundreds of millions of the experimental life form across Texas, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Georgia.
In order for the Kinross project to work, according to Egan, the facility has to cut all its wood within a 150 mile radius. If you look at a map and draw a circle around the facility, Egan points out that one-third of it is water, including Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, and one-third of it is Canada. Egan believes a significant portion of the grant and development money will migrate north to Canada.
The facility would require a “phenomenal” amount of wood—1.1 million green tons per year to produce 20 million gallons, according to Egan. In comparison, a 50 megawatt biomass power incinerator burns about 500,000 green tons per year. The wood for Kinross would come primarily from pulpwood or whole trees in Michigan and Ontario, sixty to seventy cordwood trucks a day, said Egan.
Upper Peninsula-based Longyear Forestry, a partner in the project, is slated to be providing many of the trees to chip and convert into ethanol and has provided the land to site the facility. 56% of the wood would come from private land owners and the rest from public land, cutting down wild forests and monocrop tree plantations alike, including willow and aspen, explained Egan.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is “already changing their ten year forest plan to create more fast growing use of land,” said Egan. Two national forests, the Hiawatha National Forest and the Superior National Forest are within 150 miles. “All the state and federal sustainable cuts would still offer less than half of the wood supply the project may need.”
A Michigan State University Department of Forestry study acknowledged a limited woodshed in the region, admitting that already “wood-fired electric power plants consume large quantities of wood throughout Michigan and in the Kinross supply region.”
The Kinross biorefinery would provide about fifty to sixty five jobs, said Egan. Yet those numbers don’t include the loss of jobs from businesses competing for the same wood source—that don’t have the taxpayer subsidies to pay top dollar—such as fiberboard.
Not long ago, Pat thought the “bottom” use of wood was for electricity, but now believes “this ethanol thing can be even worse on per job basis.” He points to an area paper mill that employs 1,100. “All of a sudden the paper industry is looking like the good old days,” he said, worried that the refinery’s commandeering of local wood could knock the mill out of business. It’s a perfect example of the government “picking winners and losers.”
Egan refers to the potential biomass boom as the “third big cut”—the first cut being the initial land clearing by settlers in the 1800’s and the second cut taking place in the 20th century for lumber to build houses. Instead of trees growing to 80 to 120 years for high quality lumber, Egan warns that the biomass industry will only be waiting ten to twenty five years between cuts.
“People die” in refinery accidents, said Egan, including Valero’s refinery explosions in March 2012 in Memphis, Tennessee that killed one and injured two. It’s ironically cheaper to pay those fines—$63,000 in the case of Memphis—than make the preventative safety changes, said Egan. Though asked for an emergency plan, the developers have yet to deliver. The ethanol plant would be located within a few hundred yards of a Sioux Tribal Housing facility, with hundreds of residents living across the road. Down the road a couple miles are three state prisons with their captive population of thousands.
Egan is worried that, while so many other ethanol plants have gone bust, Kinross just might make it. He points to Mascoma’s experimental plant in Utica, New York where they claim to have “perfected” the process—burning through 25 million taxpayer dollars in the process. “As soon as they figure out non-food source ethanol and make it saleable and gasoline prices stay high,” warned Egan, they’ll be putting up “cookie cutter plants” all around the country.
So who would buy the ethanol? “If somebody can crack this nut and find the holy grail of commercial cellulosic biofuels, they have a ready made customer in the military,” said Egan. The US Department of Defense is aiming for 40% of their energy to come from biofuels by 2023. In 2012, the US Air Force tested its first ethanol in jets.
“Taking carbon traps, trees that grab carbon out of the air and grow and do so much more in terms of biodiversity,” Egan cautioned, “taking those down and releasing carbon is doing two horrible things.”
Kinross resident Larry Klein—who lives two miles from the proposed refinery site—is fighting the refinery in the courts, with the help of the Sierra Club of Michigan, suing through the NEPA process in regards to the Department of Energy’s $80 million grant. In November 2012, a judge threw out the case, which is now in appeals court in Cincinnati.
- Schlossberg: Large-scale biomass energy is not the answer (vtdigger.org)
Catastrophic nuclear accidents, like Chernobyl in 1986 or Fukushima No. 1 in 2011, are very rare, we’re incessantly told, and their probability of occurring infinitesimal. But when they do occur, they get costly. So costly that the French government, when it came up with cost estimates, kept them secret.
But now the report was leaked to the French magazine, Le Journal de Dimanche. Turns out, the upper end of the cost spectrum of an accident at a single reactor at the plant chosen for the study, the plant at Dampierre in the Department of Loiret in north-central France, would amount to over three times the country’s GDP. Financially, France would cease to exist as we know it.
Hence, the need to keep it secret. The study was done in 2007 by the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), a government agency under joint authority of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Environment, Industry, Research, and Health. With over 1,700 employees, it’s France’s “public service expert in nuclear and radiation risks.” This isn’t some overambitious, publicity-hungry think tank.
It evaluated a range of disaster scenarios that might occur at the Dampierre plant. In the best-case scenario, costs came to €760 billion—more than a third of France’s GDP. At the other end of the spectrum: €5.8 trillion! Over three times France’s GDP. A devastating amount. So large that France could not possibly deal with it.
Yet, France gets 75% of its electricity from nuclear power. The entire nuclear sector is controlled by the state, which also owns 85% of EDF, the mega-utility that operates France’s 58 active nuclear reactors spread over 20 plants. So, three weeks ago, the Institute released a more politically correct report for public consumption. It pegged the cost of an accident at €430 billion.
“There was no political smoothening, no pressure,” claimed IRSN Director General Jacques Repussard, but he admitted, “it’s difficult to publish these kinds of numbers.” He said the original report with a price tag of €5.8 trillion was designed to counter the reports that EDF had fabricated, which “very seriously underestimated the costs of the incidents.”
Both reports were authored by IRSN economist Patrick Momal, who struggled to explain away the differences. The new number, €430 billion, was based on a “median case” of radioactive releases, as was the case in Fukushima, he told the JDD, while the calculations of 2007 were based more on what happened at Chernobyl. But then he added that even the low end of the original report, the €760 billion, when updated with the impact on tourism and exports, would jump to €1 trillion.
“One trillion, that’s what Fukushima will ultimately cost,” Repussard said.
Part of the €5.8 trillion would be the “astronomical social costs due to the high number of victims,” the report stated. The region contaminated by cesium 137 would cover much of France and Switzerland, all of Belgium and the Netherlands, and a big part of Germany—an area with 90 million people (map). The costs incurred by farmers, employees, and companies, the environmental damage and healthcare expenses would amount to €4.4 trillion.
“Those are social costs, but the victims may not necessarily be compensated,” the report stated ominously—because there would be no entity in France that could disburse those kinds of amounts.
Closer to the plant, 5 million people would have to be evacuated from an area of 87,000 square kilometers (about 12% of France) and resettled. The soil would have to be decontaminated, and radioactive waste would have to be treated and disposed of. Total cost: €475 billion.
The weather is the big unknown. Yet it’s crucial in any cost calculations. Winds blowing toward populated areas would create the worst-case scenario of €5.8 trillion. Amidst the horrible disaster of Fukushima, Japan was nevertheless lucky in one huge aspect: winds pushed 80% of the radioactive cloud out to sea. If it had swept over Tokyo, the disaster would have been unimaginable. In Chernobyl, winds made the situation worse; they spread the cloud over the Soviet Union.
Yet the study might underestimate the cost for other nuclear power plants. The region around Dampierre has a lower population density than regions around other nuclear power plants. And it rarely has winds that would blow the radioactive cloud in a northerly direction toward Paris. Other nuclear power plants aren’t so fortuitously located.
These incidents have almost no probability of occurring, we’re told. So there are currently 437 active nuclear power reactors and 144 “permanent shutdown reactors” in 31 countries, according to the IAEA, for a total of 581 active and inactive reactors. Of these, four melted down so far—one at Chernobyl and three at Fukushima. Hence, the probability for a meltdown is not infinitesimal. Based on six decades of history, it’s 4 out of 581, or 0.7%. One out of every 145 reactors. Another 67 are under construction, and more are to come….
Decommissioning and dismantling the powerplant at Fukushima and disposing of the radioactive debris has now been estimated to take 40 years. At this point, two years after the accident, very little has been solved. But it has already cost an enormous amount of money. People who weren’t even born at the time of the accident will be handed the tab for it. And the ultimate cost might never be known.
The mayor of Futaba, a ghost town of once upon a time 7,000 souls near Fukushima No. 1, told his staff that evacuees might not be able to return for 30 years. Or never, for the older generation. It was the first estimate of a timeframe. But it all depends on successful decontamination. And that has turned into a vicious corruption scandal. Read…. Corruption At “Decontaminating” Radioactive Towns In Japan.
German journalists have found barrels of radioactive waste in an underwater valley in the English Channel, which were dumped there half a century ago. Politicians in Germany have called for the potentially harmful containers to be removed.
28,500 containers of low level radioactive waste were dumped into the English Channel by the British and the Belgians between 1950 and 1963. Most of them were sunk in an underwater channel near the island of Alderney, known as Hurd’s Deep. Several barrels were found by a team of the joint Franco-German public broadcaster ARTE in an investigative report set to air later in April.
As part of the investigation, the German Public broadcaster SWR sent an unmanned remote controlled submarine into the Channel’s depths. The team discovered two barrels just 124 meters deep, a few kilometers from the French coast.
Experts had assumed that the sea had rusted open the barrels and the contents had dissipated throughout the ocean, thus making the hazard innocuous.
According to the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), the containers hold an estimated 17,224 metric tons of low-level radioactive waste. The British barrels are estimated to contain the equivalent to 58 trillion becquerels (units of radioactivity), while the Belgian barrels are thought to hold 2.4 trillion becquerels. The European Unions’ limit for drinking water is 10 becquerels per liter.
“We think that there are still many more undamaged barrels below,” Thomas Reutter, a SWR journalist, told Spiegel Online. He added that it was likely there were other containers that the expedition hadn’t located.
Members of Germany’s Green Party have called for the barrels to be removed from the channel.
“I believe that at such shallow depths these barrels pose a high potential for danger. And it’s not for nothing that dumping in the ocean has been forbidden in the last 20 years,” Sylvia Kotting-Uhl, a Green Party member of parliament and nuclear policy spokesman, told SWR.
- nuclear waste barrels discovered in English Channel (translate.google.de)
In the last ten years, the expansion of corporate sugarcane and oil palm plantations in northern Guatemala has encroached on the lands of Maya Q’eqchi’ indigenous people—many of whom fled to this region during the country’s 36-year genocidal war. These plantations have already displaced hundreds of families—even entire communities—leading to increased poverty, hunger, unemployment, and landlessness in the region. The companies grabbing land are controlled by European-descendent Guatemalan oligarchs who are benefitting from rising global commodity prices for food, animal feed, and fuel (biodiesel and ethanol). In the face of violent expulsion and incorporation into an exploitative system, peasant families are struggling to access land and defend their resources as the basis of their collective identity as Q’eqchi’ peoples or R’al Ch’och (“sons and daughters of the earth”).
During the first week of April, the Honduran daily newspaper La Prensa ran a series of articles that included photos, a video and a link to a montage of past articles entitled Terror en el Bajo Aguán. The major thrust of the series is that there are heavily armed clandestine groups of men training in the region. The photos and video show them with AK47s, M16s, and .223 assault rifles, all of which are military issue. All of the men are wearing ski masks over their faces and they appear to be playing to the camera, running in defensive stances, crawling on the ground and being sure to showoff their heavy firepower, all at the direction of whoever is holding the camera. An April 1 article states that there have been more than 90 deaths in the Aguán attributed to people with high caliber arms like the ones shown in the photos. It states that the latest one was a campesino, but it fails to point out that these more than 90 deaths since the coup in 2009 were all campesinos who have been murdered by sicarios: assassins who mainly perform drive by shootings.
Not unexpectedly, the new propaganda campaign being orchestrated by Colonel German Alfaro, commander of Operation Xatruch III and graduate of the School of the Americas, has been carried out with the help of the pro-ruling elite, pro-coup mainstream media. In a further attempt to criminalize the campesino movements, the La Prensa series, by implication and by direct assertions, links the struggles of the campesinos to acquire land that is rightfully and legally theirs to these mysterious armed groups that are roving the Aguán and allegedly terrorizing the private security forces of the rich landowners.
The video of the alleged training maneuvers would be laughable in its obvious staging if the repression that has befallen the campesinos at the hands of the private security guards, the Honduran military, and the National police wasn’t so tragic and ever present. These forces are not just working side-by-side, but are also interchangeable since the security companies that Dinant contracts often hire police and military personnel.
Colonel Alfaro states several times to La Prensa that the identities of these clandestine groups are known and that they even know who the leaders are. In a March 1, 2013 La Prensa article, he asserts that they are being trained by Nicaraguans’ with combat training. He declares that these groups go into the fincas owned by the rich landowners, such as Miguel Facussé’s Paso Aguán, “to terrorize and scare off the security guards. Later, the campesinos go into the plantations to steal the fruit and then money is exchanged at some later date.” No explanation is given as to why it is that campesinos are being killed in overwhelming numbers if this symbiotic relationship truly exists.
The La Prensa “exposé” raises more questions than it answers. If it is the security guards who are being terrorized then why aren’t there huge numbers of their deaths? Furthermore, why are they only a tiny fraction of the campesino deaths, and often found to be the result of infighting among the guards? Why are the campesinos from MARCA who have successfully fought in the courts to retain possession of their land being assassinated? Their lawyer, Antonio Trejo, was assassinated last November in Tegucigalpa after successfully winning the case that secured the land for three of MARCA’s collectives. His brother was later assassinated in Tocoa while investigating his murder. While denying any responsibility, Facussé told an L.A. Times reporter in a December 21, 2012 interview that he certainly had reason to see the lawyer dead. The National Police have attempted to raise spurious claims that the Trejo’s were involved with different less than desirable elements, creating red herrings to take the focus off of Facussé.
There are further questions raised by Alfaro’s claims of there being a connection between armed groups and campesinos. Why are the leaders of MUCA being stopped at every police checkpoint as they drive from Tocoa on their way to a meeting in Siguatepeque in the south. At one checkpoint an officer said to another, “It’s them… they are here.” Later, when they decide that it is safer not to drive any further, they stop at a hotel to rest and then take a bus at 3am to their destination. A group of armed men was seen by the campesino’s driver, who stayed behind, pulling up to the hotel at 3:30 a.m. and question the receptionist about them. Further, why are Facusse’s guards and police and military on a regular basis harassing the MUCA collectives. A truck full of soldiers drove through the community of La Confiansa on the eve of the internal elections shouting out “we’re hunting for Tacamiches” a derogatory term used by the upper classes and police and military to denote campesinos? Why have the military been surrounding the campesino community of La Panama, which borders the Paso Aguán finca, and in which two bodies of members of the community have been dug up near where the private security guards camped? Meanwhile, more are suspected buried there, but why won’t the police and private security, and indeed, the military allow the community to search for the bodies of those missing?
These are questions that neither the mainstream media will ask, nor will Colonel Alfaro answer. Instead they work in concert to manufacture a connection between alleged criminal groups and the campesinos. Alfaro’s motives are made clear when he states that they are there to protect the property and the palm fruit of the rich landowners. Soldiers are often seen riding in or along side Facusse’s Dinant trucks and they along with the National Police intermingle on a regular basis with Facussé’s and the other rich landowner’s guards, who have often been described by those living in the Aguán as paramilitaries.
Alfaro claims that, after the National Congress passed a decree in 2012 that banned all firearms from being possessed except by the police, military and private security, they captured 200 weapons in the first month (he does not specify if they were of high caliber like AK47s or if they were .22 rifles or handguns), and then an average of about 14 per month since then. It is evident from his boast that the military has greatly disarmed the general public, while it is evident just by driving up and down the roads between Tocoa and Trujillo that the arms of gruesome caliber, as the newspaper describes them, are in the hands of the police, military and paramilitary of Facussé and the other rich landlords.
There are both police and military checkpoints that randomly stop cars and buses along the main road between these two cities. When a bus is stopped all the men are told to leave and keep their bags and backpacks on board along with the women. The men are then told to press up against the bus with arms and legs spread while the very young soldiers of the 15th Battalion, with their rifles strapped across their chests, do a body pat down while looking at IDs. Other soldiers search the personal belongings on the bus. Off to the side of the road is a military personnel carrier that has a mounted machine gun pointed toward the street. Alfaro doesn’t explain if this is the method that has led to the discovery and confiscation of so many weapons, but it has been successful in labeling every citizen as a potential criminal and preparing the streets for Martial Law as the country prepares for the general elections in November.
In late February, several hundred police, military, and security guards surrounded the community of La Panama, as they have done various subsequent times since then. They proceeded to knock down a security gate that had been erected to keep the paramilitary guards from invading the community. In July of 2012, La Panama found it necessary to put up the gate after one of the community’s leaders, Gregorio Chavez, was disappeared and his corpse later found in the Paso Aguán. His shallow grave was a ten-minute walk from where Facussé’s paramilitary guards had set up an encampment. The community, after pleading with police to accompany them onto the finca, and after international human rights observers had visited and taken testimonies from the community, finally were allowed access. As Señor Chavez’ son and brother pulled the cadaver from the ground it was apparent from marks on the body that he had been tortured. Previous to Chavez’ murder the guards had been harassing him, shooting his chickens, and threatening to do the same to him and his family. They often drove up and down the road that goes through the community with their guns pointing out at the children who played in the yards.
Dinant had put up a building in the middle of the community that functioned as both a guardhouse and a parking space for their palm fruit trucks. A week before his disappearance Gregorio Chavez had gone to this building to complain to someone in charge about the threats and the killing of his chickens. It was also in this building that many in the community had seen the bicycle of one of the disappeared after he went missing. It is suspected that he is buried in the Paso Aguán. It could be the remains that were recently found on April 3. A security guard who had connections to the community tipped them off as to where they could find the body. The community is hoping, with the help of COFADEH and other human rights groups, to get an international forensic team to positively identify who it is.
This latest news was revealed at a press conference in Tegucigalpa held on the April 3 by the Agrarian Platform of the Campesinos of the Aguán (PARCA, in its Spanish acronym). PARCA is a new initiative formed by 13 campesino movements to better support each other as they face ever-increasing threats to their rights to the land. The press conference was called in response to the La Prensa stories. Yoni Rivas, Secretary General of MUCA, reasserted that the campesinos have no connection to any armed groups. In fact, it was the campesinos who had gone to the press in 2011 to point out that there were armed thugs killing campesinos in the Aguán and he showed pictures of armed men with automatic weapons wearing uniforms that matched the clothes worn by Dinant’s security forces.
The ultimate question is, if Colonel Alfaro and Operation Xatruch are simply doing what they say they are, “maintaining the peace and harmony of the people of Colon,” then why is he conducting press conferences denouncing both Honduran and international human rights groups? On February 18, 2013, in a clear act of aggression toward these groups and in a further attempt at criminalization of the campesinos, he called out human rights observers and campesino leaders. He published the phone numbers of international human rights observers in the US and Europe, and attempted to set up a confrontation between what he refers to as the “Laboriosa población,” the hard working people of the department of Colon against the aforementioned campesino groups referring to them as “a minority”, who create permanent friction and a constant problem of disrespect for the legally established laws and legal authorities. Alfaro’s and the Honduran military’s disdain for the campesinos is further illustrated in the report, Human Rights Violations Attributed to Military Forces in the Bajo Aguan Valley in Honduras written by Annie Bird of Rights Action where she states that her report, “describe[es] the abuses, many of them grave human rights violations, in which soldiers from the 15th Battalion were present and/ or direct participants [in the killings of campesinos]; in either case the 15th Battalion is a responsible party to the violations.” The 15th Battalion is where Xatruch III and Colonel Alfaro are stationed.
In a further indictment of Alfaro’s disingenuousness, during Xatruch’s raid of La Panama in February, there was, coincidentally, a human rights delegation from the US-El Salvador Sister Cities organization visiting the community. This forced the military, police and security guards to retreat. Much of the military force moved into the Paso Aguán finca. Later, members of the community who didn’t want their names made public stated that Alfaro attempted to “negotiate” with the community, but told them to stop talking to human rights groups. They of course denied his request. Today, the tensions between the community and the heavily armed forces continue as the military remain in the finca protecting Facussé’s palm fruit.
- Will the World Bank Stop Investing in Campesino Assassinations? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Killings Continue in Bajo Aguán as New Report Documents Abuses by U.S.-Trained Honduran Special Forces Unit (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Honduras: Murdered Lawyer’s Brother Killed in Aguán (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Step by Step: Honduras Walk for Dignity and Sovereignty (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- World Bank Must End Support for Honduran Palm Oil Company Implicated in Murder (alethonews.wordpress.com)
All 104 nuclear reactors currently operational in the US have irreparable safety issues and should be taken out of commission and replaced, former chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory B. Jaczko said.
The comments, made during the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, are “highly unusual” for a current or former member of the safety commission, according to The New York Times. Asked why he had suddenly decided to make the remarks, Jaczko implied that he had only recently arrived at these conclusions following the serious aftermath of Japan’s tsunami-stricken Fukushima Daichii nuclear facility.
“I was just thinking about the issues more, and watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continues to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems,” which were made more evident by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, he said. “Continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem.”
According to the former chairman, US reactors that received permission from the nuclear commission to operate for an additional 20 years past their initial 40-year licenses would not likely last long. He further rejected the commission’s proposal for a second 20-year extension, which would leave some American nuclear reactors operating for some 80 years.
Jaczko’s comments are quite significant as the US faces a mass retirement of its reactors and nuclear policy largely revolves around maintaining existing facilities, rather than attempting to go through the politically hazardous process of financing and breaking ground on new plants.
Though the US maintains a massive naval nuclear program, all of the country’s current civilian reactors began construction in 1974 or earlier, and a serious incident at Three Mile Island in 1979, along with an economic recession, essentially caused new projects to be scrapped.
A modest revival of enthusiasm for nuclear power emerged in the early part of the last decade, leading to the construction of four reactors at existing facilities within the last three years, slated to be completed by 2020. Despite the lack of new projects, the US is still the world’s biggest producer of nuclear power, which represents 19% of its total electrical output.
Fittingly, Jaczko’s comments came during a panel discussion of the Fukushima incident, which has brought greater attention to aging US reactors – some of which were quite similar to the General Electric-designed models overwhelmed by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011.
In response to those comments, Marvin S. Fertel, president and chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Institute, told the Times that the country’s nuclear power grid has, is, and will operate safely.
“US nuclear energy facilities are operating safely,” said Fertel. “That was the case prior to Greg Jaczko’s tenure as Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman. It was the case during his tenure as NRC chairman, as acknowledged by the NRC’s special Fukushima response task force and evidenced by a multitude of safety and performance indicators. It is still the case today.”
Since the first nuclear reactor went operational in the US, there have been very few fatal incidents at nuclear power facilities, though there were a number of high profile stories written over the inherent dangers of large nuclear reactors during the mid-1970s. One of the most recent incidents at a US reactor was in April of 2013, when an employee was killed at the Arkansas Nuclear One plant while moving part of a generator.
Jaczko served as chairman of the nuclear regulatory agency since 2009, and according to the Times resigned in 2012 following conflicts with colleagues. He was seen as an outlying vote on a number of safety issues, and had advocated for more stringent safety improvements during his tenure.
Another leak has been discovered at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, only a few days after two similar incidents and a major power failure at the facility, Reuters reported.
The new leak was detected in pool No.1 while water from the leaking pool No.2 was being transported, according to the Nuclear Regulation Authority. The water transfer has been halted.
The plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) indicated they were “losing faith” in temporary storage pits for the radioactive water, but did not have anywhere else to put it.
“We can’t move all the contaminated water to above ground [tanks] if we opt not to use the underground reservoirs. There isn’t enough capacity and we need to use what is available,” Tepco general manager Masayuki Ono explained at a news conference.
Meanwhile, the nuclear watchdog IAEA has announced its experts are set to come to Fukushima to inspect the situation at the nuclear plant.
A day earlier, the operator admitted that they are running out of space to store radioactive water from the facility.
The company is still dealing with the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, as it attempts to keep reactors and spent fuel pools in a safe state known as ‘cold shutdown.’
On Saturday, as much as 120 tons of contaminated water seeped from an underground tank; a new leak was spotted on Sunday. The cooling system for the plant has also failed twice over the past three weeks.
- Tepco finds second pit leaking in Fukushima (japantimes.co.jp)
- Fukushima: at Least Three of Seven Underground Chambers Leaking Radioactive Water (cryptogon.com)
Depleted Uranium: The BBC’s John Simpson does a hatchet job on Fallujah’s genetically damaged children
Under the title ‘Fallujah’s children’s ‘genetic damage’ that old war horse ‘literally’ of the BBC’s foreign propaganda service, John Simpson, manages not to mention the phrase ‘depleted uranium’ when allegedly reporting on the alarming rise in birth defects that include cancer, leukaemia and a horrific rise in child mortality since the US demolished the city of Fallujah in 2004. And it’s not until right at the end of the piece that the US attack on Fallujah is even mentioned, let alone depleted uranium!
“Even if it’s possible to produce watertight scientific proof that American weapons were responsible for the genetic damage it will be almost impossible for the people who suffered to get any redress. American legislation makes it extremely difficult to sue the US government over acts of war.”
Well that takes care of that little problem then, doesn’t it. I trust the US government will reward Simpson for his slavish support of its wars of conquest and destruction.
Indeed, just look at the title of the video, the phrase genetic damage is in single quotes, thus the damage to the children of Fallujah, which is clearly and obviously genetic in origin, is questioned by the BBC’s spin meister Simpson. Worse, the video shows doctors comparing the effects of depleted uranium on the children of Fallujah with that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and point out that in fact, they’re much worse than the damage inflicted by the Empire’s atomic bombs.
Dan Hind, in his latest piece describes the BBC’s role as follows:
“[The BBC's] journalistic failings derive from its nature as a creature of parliamentary opinion. If the executive and most of Parliament are uninterested in seeing an issue debated then the BBC remains silent. Given the centrality of the BBC in our information system its dependence on cues from an out of control political class lends mainstream coverage of public affairs an increasingly hallucinatory quality. When Westminster wants something – from a war in the Middle East to the privatization of the NHS – the BBC falls into line.” – ‘What If They Held A Constitutional Convention and Everybody Came?‘ By Dan Hind
I wanted to put the BBC video up here, but inconveniently, The BBC decided that us punters who pay for the BBC, are denied that right, so you’ll have to watch it here, but hurry up, who knows how long the BBC will allow us to view it? This in spite of the fact that it states on its website:
Clearly this video is one that the BBC doesn’t want distributed too widely in spite of its disingenuous and downright misleading message (or perhaps because of it?).
Facts in the video about genetic damage (note not alleged genetic damage) to the children of Fallujah in the video that Simpson apparently didn’t notice include:
- A twelve-fold increase in childhood cancers since 2004
- Child mortality in Fallujah 80 per thousand but in neighbouring Jordan it’s only 17 per thousand.
- The ratio of boys to girls born has dramatically altered. Normally it’s a little over a 1,000 thousand boys to 1,000 girls but in Fallujah it’s 860 boys to a 1,000 girls, an effect seen after the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
- Horrific birth defects (too horrible for the BBC to show)
And even after a specialist talks about “genetic damage” in Fallujah, Simpson tells us:
“Yet the way the survey was done, asking people to fill in forms, means that it still isn’t finally conclusive.”
I’m not sure what Simpson wants here (aside from “watertight scientific proof”), if the survey of 4,800 people, conducted by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health doesn’t fit the bill, what does?
But to add insult to injury, Simpson ends the report by blaming the Iraqi government!
“But even the Iraqi government doesn’t seem interested in finding out the truth, perhaps because Fallujah is a predominately Sunni Muslim town and the government is overwhelmingly Shiite Muslim.”
So Simpson manages to make the alleged Sunni/Shiite divide as the reason why we can’t get at the truth of the situation in Fallujah! Once more, the victims get blamed.
This is outrageous stuff, truly propaganda of the worst kind. Hopefully, if there’s any justice in this world, one day Simpson will be called to account for his crimes of misreporting.
US residents near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation may be in grave danger: a nuclear safety board found that the underground tanks holding toxic, radioactive waste could explode at any minute, due to a dangerous buildup of hydrogen gas.
After Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DFNSB) about the risks posed by the nuclear site, board members relayed their concerns about the potential for hydrogen gas buildup within the walls of a tank – particularly those with double walls.
“All the double-shell tanks contain waste that continuously generates some flammable gas,” the board said in a letter received by Wyden on Monday. “This gas will eventually reach flammable conditions if adequate ventilation is not provided.”
The safety board had previously issued a warning about their concerns, which have not yet been addressed. In September, the board sent a letter to the Department of Energy, claiming that there were no adequate safeguards to protect against the buildup of flammable gasses inside Hanford’s waste storage tanks. The letter, which outlines the concerns shared with Sen. Wyden on Monday, was declassified on Tuesday.
If the tanks were to explode, there would be flammable releases that would “have considerable radiological consequences, endanger personnel, contaminate portions of the Tank Farms, and seriously disrupt the waste cleanup mission,” the previously classified DFNSB report states.
Hanford’s double-shelled tanks contain some of the deadliest mixtures of nuclear and chemical waste left over from World War II and Cold War-era plutonium production. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation has been a serious cause of concern, since six of the facility’s tanks were found to be leaking about 1,000 gallons of nuclear waste each year. The Department of Energy discovered the leaks years ago, but has failed to address the problem.
Last September, the safety board recommended that state and federal officials more closely monitor the tanks and increase ventilation. Federal officials have allegedly taken those recommendations into consideration and are working on a plan to address the board’s concerns, the Associated Press reports.
But despite continuous problems and public health risks associated with the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, construction of a waste treatment plant has been delayed. Such a plant would make the toxic chemicals safe for long-term disposal and would be crucial in preventing all of the radioactive waste from leaking into the ground.
The DFNSB hopes that discussing the very real possibility of an explosion will alarm Department of Energy officials and prompt them to take action. The Hanford site currently holds 56 million gallons of radioactive toxic waste that is leaking into the soil. Wyden, who chairs the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee, believes there is no time to waste in regards to the cleanup process.
“The next Secretary of Energy – Dr. Moniz – needs to understand that a major part of his job is going to be to get the Hanford cleanup back on track, and I plan to stress that at his confirmation hearing next week,” Wyden said in a statement Tuesday.
The US government spends about $2 billion each year cleaning up the waste generated by the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, about one third of which goes towards the flawed design and construction of the plant. The $2 billion also makes up about one third of the federal government’s nuclear cleanup budget, and costs are only expected to rise.
Although the DFNSB and Sen. Wyden have long been emphasizing the risks created by the plant, the Department of Energy has long failed to acknowledge the severity of the problem. And after the latest warnings about the very possible risk of a nuclear explosion, the department countered the report.
“All DSTs are actively ventilated, which means they have blowers and fans to prevent hydrogen gas build-up,” the Department of Energy said in a statement. “These ventilation systems are monitored to ensure they are operating as intended.”
Wyden said he plans to ask tough questions during Moniz’s confirmation hearing regarding the future of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Onésimo Rodríguez, a leader in Panama’s Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous group, was killed by a group of masked men in Cerro Punta, in western Chiriquí department, the evening of Mar. 22 following a protest against construction of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam. Carlos Miranda, another protester who was attacked along with Rodríguez, said the assailants beat both men with metal bars. Miranda lost consciousness but survived; Rodríguez’s body was found in a stream the next day. Miranda said he was unable to identify the attackers because it was dark and their faces were covered. Manolo Miranda and other leaders of the April 10 Movement, which organizes protests against the dam, charged that “the ones that mistreated the Ngöbes were disguised police agents.”
The Ngöbe-Buglé stepped up their demonstrations against the Barro Blanco project in January, when construction continued at the site despite a United Nations (UN) report that largely substantiated indigenous claims that the dam would flood three villages, cut the residents off from food sources and destroy important cultural monuments [see Update #1168]. As of Mar. 26 an independent study mandated by the UN report and agreed to by the government had still not started.
In addition to protesting the Honduran-owned company building the dam, Generadora del Istmo, S.A. (GENISA), indigenous activists blame two European banks for funding the project: Germany’s private Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft (DEG) and the Nederlandse Financierings-Maatschappij voor Ontwikkelingslanden N.V. (FMO), in which the Dutch government holds a controlling interest. Dam opponents say GENISA also sought funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB) but withdrew the application after learning that bank officials planned to visit the affected communities themselves. (Mongabay.com 3/25/13; La Estrella (Panama) 3/26/13)
In other news, as of Mar. 19 the National Coordinating Committee of the Indigenous Peoples of Panama (COONAPIP) had decided to withdraw from the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (UN-REDD+) program, which focuses on environmental problems in developing nations. The indigenous group charged in a statement that the UN and the Panamanian government “have appeared to marginalize the collective participation of the seven indigenous peoples and 12 traditional structures that make up COONAPIP” and have put “legal and administrative obstacles in the way” of indigenous participation. The Mesoamerican Alliance of People and Forests (AMPB), a coalition of Central American and Mexican indigenous and environmental groups, is backing COONAPIP’s decision. (Mongabay.com 3/19/13; Adital (Brazil) 3/21/13)
A record quantity of radioactive cesium – 7,400 times the country’s limit deemed safe for human consumption – has been detected in a greenling fish in the waters near the crippled Fukushima plant, two years after the nuclear disaster.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), which runs the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, discovered a record 740,000 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium in the fish, Kyodo News reported.
The operator installed a net on the seafloor of the port exit near the plant to prevent the fish from escaping.
The bottom-dwelling greenling fish was found in a cage set up by TEPCO inside the port next to the Fukushima Daiichi plant, a utility official told AP on condition of anonymity.
The company also indicated that the previous record of cesium concentration in fish was 510,000 becquerels per kilogram detected in another greenling caught in the same area, TEPCO said.
In January, a fish containing over 2,500 times Japan’s legal limit for radiation in seafood was caught in the vicinity of the nuclear plant, the facility’s operator reported.
The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant, causing meltdowns that spewed radiation into the surrounding soil and water. The disaster forced the evacuation of 170,000 local residents.
Some experts have speculated that radioactive water may be seeping from the plant into the ocean; this may have been confirmed after bluefin tuna caught off the coast of California tested positive for radiation poisoning at the end of February.
Most fish along the Fukushima coast are banned from market.
- Record cesium level detected in fish caught near Fukushima nuclear plant (japantimes.co.jp)