It’s a little strange to write a fact sheet about a term that actually has no meaning.
That’s right – there’s no real definition of a “run-of-river” hydro project. As our former director, Patrick McCully, once said of run-of-river hydro, “It’s a sort of Alice in Wonderland, ‘it means exactly what I want it to mean’ term.”
Simply put, run-of-river (ROR) hydro projects have limited storage capacity as compared to conventional storage dams. But there, the clarity ends. The term has been applied to everything from micro-hydro projects providing electricity in remote villages to the Belo Monte mega-dam in Brazil, which will devastate an extensive area of the Brazilian rainforest, displace over 20,000 people, and threaten the survival of indigenous tribes that depend on the river.
One World Bank insider told me that Bank officials often misuse the term as short-hand for “low-impact.” That kind of imprecision lulls officials and the public into thinking ROR projects are the silver (or green) bullet: hydro projects that produce power but without the negative impacts. Because the term sounds so innocuous, ROR projects usually don’t get the level of scrutiny they require. And the truth is, run-of-river dams are anything but low-impact.
Preparing our new fact sheet, “Swindling Rivers,” I’ve learned a lot about run-of-river hydro, the different forms it takes, and the significant impact ROR projects can have:
The Himalayas are perforated by run-of-river tunnels where river flows are diverted to powerhouses, bypassing river channels for often dozens of kilometers. India’s Teesta River is undergoing a ROR boom that, once complete, will see more of the river flow though tunnels than the river channel itself. These ROR schemes divert some, or even all, of a river’s flow, often causing changes to a river’s temperature, velocity and depth that can completely kill off the natural life in a river.
At the same time, so-called “peaking” ROR projects are wreaking havoc on communities and aquatic life. Unlike the diversion tunnels, these projects often store a river’s flows behind a dam during the day, only to be released all at once in the evening to generate power during peak energy demand. These daily fluctuations between drought and flood are incredibly disruptive to river ecology. More tragically, these unexpected releases have made drownings a common occurrence for downstream communities in India.
And just like traditional dams, all run-of-river projects stymie the life cycle of migratory fish.
A new feature in The Economist highlights the perils of dam construction on one of the world’s greatest waterways, the Mekong River, where Laos is currently building the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams. These would be the first two of eleven dams planned on the lower mainstream of the river, all of which are classified as “run-of-river” projects, despite sizeable reservoirs. Laos’ downstream neighbors fear the dams’ impacts on fish populations and agriculture that sustain the livelihoods and food security of millions and have voiced strong concerns over the projects. The Government of Laos, in return, has pointed to the fact these projects are run-of-river in an attempt to downplay concern over their impacts. If the full suite of dams is constructed, they would transform more than half of the vibrant river into a series of stagnant reservoirs.
But the concerns are not going away. In fact, they were recently echoed in an article in the prestigious magazine Science, which raised the alarm about the threat of major biodiversity losses by run-of-river projects on the world’s great rivers – the Mekong, the Amazon and the Congo.
In short, there’s nothing innately better about run-of-river projects. If anything, the term is a greenwash for some deeply destructive projects. The upshot? Don’t be fooled by the name: All ROR projects deserve the same exacting scrutiny as any other dam.
© Flickr/ Michael Lusk
Several Northern Mariana Islands conservation groups have sued the US Department of Defense and the Navy over live-fire exercises planned for the Pagan and Tinian islands, as part of a military buildup planned for Guam.
Seen as a part of the US’ “pivot to the Pacific,” about 5,000 US Marines in Okinawa are slated to relocate to the Mariana Islands and train using mortars, rockets, artillery, attack helicopters and warplanes, as well as ship-to-shore naval bombardment and amphibious assaults.
The plaintiff organizations, Guardians of Gani, Paganwatch, Center for Biological Diversity and the Tinian Island Women’s Association, are claiming that the Navy violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it failed to evaluate the environmental effects of military tests in an initial environmental impact statement.
The plans to move the Marines to Guam created the need for a training area, and this should have also been included in an impact statement. The plaintiffs say the Navy relied on a separate, and inadequate, statement.
David Henkin, an Earthjustice attorney representing the groups, along with Tinian-based lawyer Kimberlyn King-Hinds, said,”The die is cast, the Navy has made a decision to move 5,000 Marines and their families to Guam without considering all the alternatives or whether Guam can absorb that many people in such a short time…We can’t defer consideration of other places.”
The complaint says that two impact statements, made in 2010 and 2015, should be set aside, claiming the Navy acknowledged that constructing training facilities and conducting tests would destroy coral reefs and rainforests, and kill native wildlife on Pagan and Tinian, including the endangered Mariana fruit bat.
The groups also note that Tinian will suffer the destruction of historic and cultural sites, be subject to severe restrictions to beaches and fishing grounds, and the population will be subject to high-decibel noise and the loss of 15% of farmlands.
The 18-square-mile island was evacuated due to a volcano eruption in 1981, and another issue claims that families seeking to return “would be forever banished from returning to their home island, which would be turned into a militarized wasteland,” according to the filing.
A Scientific American article titled “Dreading the Dredging: Military Buildup on Guam and Implications for Marine Biodiversity in Apra Harbor,” claims that dredging the harbor would destroy up to 70 acres of coral reef.
Joint Region Marianas deputy public affairs officer Greg Kuntz said that the Navy is committed to revising its environmental impact and working within the guidelines of the National Environmental Policy Act.
Members of the Tinian Women’s Association, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Chamorro culture and advocating for Tinian women and children, have submitted comments to the Navy’s environmental review and passed out informational flyers. Member Florine Hofschneider said in a media statement, “We refuse to accept the Navy’s plan to subject our children to nearly constant bombardment.”
The Guardians of Gani say that this military training poses an “existential threat” to people who want to lead “a more traditional, productive and fulfilling lifestyle,” adding that, “the Guardians and their members view Gani [islands north of Saipan] as the last frontier to revive their traditions and culture.”
No war in recent memory can compare to the meat grinder of World War I. Europe still bears the scars of the war, even almost a century later. The gruesome and terrifying type of warfare typical of the Great War had a lasting impact on those who witnessed and experienced it. It also created such carnage on the land where it was fought that some of those areas are still uninhabitable to this day.
The uninhabitable areas are known as the Zone Rouge (French for “Red Zone”). They remain pock-marked and scarred by the intense fighting at places like Verdun and the Somme, the two bloodiest battles of the conflict.
During the Battle of Verdun, which lasted over 300 days in 1916, more than 60 million artillery shells were fired by both sides – many containing poisonous gases. These massive bombardments and the brutal fighting inflicted horrifying casualties, over 600,000 at Verdun and over 1 million at the Somme. But the most dangerous remnants of these battles are the unexploded ordnance littering the battlefield.
Immediately after the war, the French government quarantined much of the land subjected to the worst of the battles. Those areas that were completely devastated and destroyed, unsafe to farm, and impossible for human habitation became the Zone Rouge. The people of this area were forced to relocate elsewhere while entire villages were wiped off the map.
Nine villages deemed unfit to be rebuilt are known today as the “villages that died for France.” Inside the Zone Rouge signs marking the locations of streets and important buildings are the only reminders those villages ever existed.
Areas not completely devastated but heavily impacted by the war fell into other zones, Yellow and Blue. In these areas, people were allowed to return and rebuild their lives. This does not mean that the areas are completely safe, however. Every year, all along the old Western Front in France and Belgium, the population endures the “Iron Harvest” – the yearly collection of hundreds of tons of unexploded ordnance and other war materiel still buried in the ground.
Occasionally, the Iron Harvest claims casualties of its own, usually in the form of a dazed farmer and a destroyed tractor. Not all are so lucky to escape unscathed and so the French and Belgian governments still pay reparations to the “mutilée dans la guerre“– the victims of the war nearly 100 years after it ended.
To deal with the massive cleanup and unexploded ordnance issues, the French government created the Département du Déminage (Department of Demining) after World War II. To date, 630 minesweepers died while demining the zones.
An estimated 720 million shells were fired during the Great War, with approximately 12 million failing to detonate. At places like Verdun, the artillery barrages were so overwhelming, 150 shells hit every square meter of the battlefield. Concentrated barrages and driving rains turned the battlefield into a quagmire that swallowed soldiers and shells alike.
Further complicating the cleanup is the soil contamination caused by the remains of humans and animals. The grounds are also saturated with lead, mercury, and zinc from millions of rounds of ammunition from small arms and artillery fired in combat. In some places, the soil contains such high levels of arsenic that nothing can grow there, leaving haunting, desolate spaces.
Though the Zone Rouge started at some 460 square miles in size, cleanup efforts reduced it to around 65 square miles. With such massive amounts of explosives left in the ground, the French government estimates the current rate of removal will clear the battlefields between 300 and 900 years from now.
ANTI-NUCLEAR activists have claimed that a recent incident off the coast of Gibraltar in which a nuclear-powered submarine made a “glancing collision” with a merchant vessel shows the “risks” of the technology.
A statement on the Ministry of Defence website said the collision took place at approximately 1.30pm yesterday, with the submarine suffering “some external damage”, but claimed the nuclear reactor was was left undamaged while none of the submarine’s crew were injured.
The statement says the MoD were in contact with the merchant ship and that “initial indications are that it has not sustained damage”, and that the submarine – HMS Ambush – would be entering Gibraltar for further checks.
“It is yet another example of the risks of nuclear submarines operating out of Faslane.” John Ainslie
HMS Ambush is part of the Royal Navy’s Astute-class, of which there are seven in development. They are distinct from the Vanguard-class of submarines which carry the UK’s Trident nuclear missiles.
John Ainslie, co-ordinator with the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), said: “You can’t have a minor incident on a nuclear submarine, there’s no such thing. It’s a question of what follows on. Clearly from the picture there’s major damage to the conning tower. The shock of that will have upset everything on the submarine.”
Ainslie questioned whether it was genuinely a “glancing” collision, pointing out that similar incidents have taken place in the past: “The MoD describe this as a ‘glancing’ collision but HMS Triumph ran aground in Skye at high speed and the description of the circumstances was pretty scathing.
“One of the main risks on a nuclear submarine is fire. The reactor may have automatically shut down, as a result of the shock, but these submarines carry an over-ride system which can over-ride the shutdown.
“We have consistently campaigned against nuclear-powered submarines as well. The whole thing is linked in. All the nuclear armed submarines are all nuclear-powered. It is yet another example of the risks of nuclear submarines operating out of Faslane.”
“Indian Point” is a film about the long problem-plagued Indian Point nuclear power plants that are “so, so risky—so close to New York City,” notes its director and producer Ivy Meeropol. “Times Square is 35 miles away.”
The plants constitute a disaster waiting to happen threatening especially the lives of the 22 million people who live within 50 miles from them. “There is no way to evacuate—what I’ve learned about an evacuation plan is that there is none,” says Meeropol. The plants are “on two earthquake fault lines,” she notes. “And there is a natural gas pipeline right there that an earthquake could rupture.”
Meanwhile, both plants, located in Buchanan, New York along the Hudson River, are now essentially running without licenses. The federal government’s 40-year operating license for Indian Point 2 expired in 2013 and Indian Point 3’s license expired last year. Their owner, Entergy, is seeking to have them run for another 20 years—although nuclear plants were never seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling metal parts and otherwise causing safety problems. (Indian Point 1 was opened in 1962 and closed in 1974, its emergency core cooling system deemed impossible to fix.)
At Indian Point 2 and 3 there have been frequent accidents and issues involving releases of radioactivity through the years. The discharges of tritium or irradiated water, H30, which cannot be filtered out of good water, into the aquifer below the Westinghouse nuclear plants and also the Hudson River have been a major concern.
But it’s not just Indian Point that “Indian Point” is about. The film emphasizes: “With so much attention focused on Indian Point, the future of nuclear plants in the United States might depend on what happens here.”
“I would give the film an ‘A.’ I wholeheartedly recommend it for wide release throughout the United States,” says Priscilla Star, founder of the Coalition Against Nukes: “It is a stellar learning tool. It depicts the David-versus-Goliath struggle involving those trying to close these decrepit nuclear plants and the profit-hungry nuclear industry. It shows grassroots activists fighting the time bombs in their community.”
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. For the past two weeks it has been showing five-times-a-day at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, also in Manhattan. That run will go until Thursday, July 21. On Friday, July 22, it is to open in Los Angeles. After its theatrical release, it will air on the Epix cable TV channel.
Among those in the film are anti-Indian Point activist Marilyn Elie and long-time environmental journalist Roger Witherspoon who has written extensively about Indian Point. And also Entergy employees appear. Meeropol and her crew were given full access to the nuclear plants.
The documentary provides a special focus on Dr. Gregory Jaczko. He was chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) when the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan began in March 2011. As notes Meeropol, Jaczko sought to have “lessons learned” from the Fukushima catastrophe—which involved General Electric nuclear plants—applied to nuclear power plants in the U.S. And he was given “a really tough time.” Pressure by the nuclear industry caused Jaczko, with a doctorate in physics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, to be “pushed out” as NRC chairman and member. Meeropol tells of how “this guy, a decent person trying to do his job, was completely abused.”
Meeropol, in an interview, said the NRC “is too closely linked to the nuclear industry. It’s not going to do anything that the nuclear industry regards as too costly or onerous. I want that to be one of the biggest takeaways from the film—how a regulatory body cares more about the industry it is supposed to regulate than the public. And of all industries that should be regulated, it’s the nuclear power industry.” She said she found the nuclear industry and nuclear energy officials in the U.S. government “one and the same.”
Meeropol began the “Indian Point” film project in January 2011. She had moved from Brooklyn up to the Hudson Valley “a decade ago when our son was born. Commuting in and out of the city on the Metro-North train, I went right past the plants. They looked so foreboding and odd there in that beautiful landscape.”
Also, until she, her husband and son moved upstate, “having lived in New York City, I had no idea how close they were to the city.”
Further, in the community where they went to live, Cold Spring, 15 miles from the plants. “we could hear the [emergency] sirens” from the plants and she was unsettled receiving in the mail an “emergency preparedness booklet titled: ‘Are You Ready?’”
So the experienced filmmaker started doing research on the “dangerous endeavor of making nuclear energy.” With the Fukushima disaster beginning just a few months after she started on the film, that “broadened” its perspective.
She said the films she has made have always been “character-driven” and she was attracted to feature in “Indian Point” Marilyn Elie—“she knows her stuff”—and Roger Witherspoon. “I liked his dynamic. He is a journalist. She is an activist.” She stressed to Entergy officials that she would be even-handed “and quite amazingly was given access” to the plants. Her connecting with Jaczko was crucial. It “became my crusade to redeem Greg Jaczko before the world.”
She started making the film on a shoe string. “I ran out of money numerous times.” But she was able to get financial support from the Sundance Institute, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Catapult Fund, and individual contributions. And “partnering” with Julie Goldman, founder of Motto Films, was extremely important. Goldman is also producer of “Indian Point.” A “very generous grant” was received from the MacArthur Foundation which also “opened up other doors.”
The avidly pro-nuclear New York Times (its pro-Indian Point editorials never cease and its last reporter who long covered the plants and the nuclear industry has now gone on to a job with the PR arm of the industry) said in its review: “’Indian Point’ is a good overview of the issues, with insights into the problems of regulating the industry.” It complained about Meeropol’s being “steadfast in providing both sides.”
Meanwhile, Indian Point sits there on the Hudson, continuing with accidents and in emitting what the NRC says are “permissible” levels of radioactivity. They are highly likely candidates for a Chernobyl or Fukushima-level catastrophe in the most highly populated area of the United States. And the NRC, steadfastly ignoring Jaczko’s warnings, in league with Entergy, seeks to let the decrepit time bombs run for another 20 years—just asking for disaster.
The good news is that New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has been endeavoring to have the Indian Point nuclear plants closed and safe-energy activists and an array of environmental and safe-energy organizations are working hard to shut them down—and the film “Indian Point” is out.
Britain has no intention of cleaning up its deadly radioactive legacy in Iraq or even monitoring the terrifying impact depleted uranium (DU) shells will have on the population in the future, it has been claimed.
Writing in the Ecologist on Tuesday, Doug Weir, who is coordinator of the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW), says that hidden within the Chilcot report is a previously classified military document setting out the UK’s rejection of any duty to cleanse Iraq of DU of unexploded ordnance (UXO).
“In it, the clearance of unexploded ordnance and DU is considered and the Ministry of Defence [MoD] argues that it has: “… no long-term legal responsibility to clean up DU from Iraq” Weir writes.
“Instead it proposes that surface lying fragments of DU only be removed on ‘an opportunity basis’ – i.e. if they come across them in the course of other operations.”
This indicates, according to Weir, that the UK has effectively swerved any obligation to clear up after itself in Iraq.
“In other words, the UK’s stance is that chemically toxic and radioactive DU ‘ash’ from spent munitions is strictly the problem of the country in which the munitions were used – in this case Iraq – and that the UK, which fired the DU shells, has no formal responsibility of cleaning up the mess.”
DU ammunition is used in only two UK weapons systems – the Royal Navy’s PHALANX Close-In Weapon System and in the Charm 3 ammunition fired by the Challenger 2 main battle tank.
However, the route to shirking responsibility may not be as easy as the UK government seems to hope. In October, the UN will meet to debate a sixth resolution on DU weapons. It’s a move which will give succor to the government of Iraq, which in 2014 called for the international community to help clean up DU.
Weir remains hopeful that the UN meeting may be able to encourage governments to take responsibility for the use and fallout of the weapons.
“When the United Nations last discussed DU two years ago, 150 governments recognised the need for states to provide assistance to countries like Iraq,” he wrote.
“This October, our Coalition will add our voice to those of the states affected by DU weapons in calling for an end to the use of DU weapons and for the users to finally accept responsibility for their legacy,” he added.
It may take Germany over a hundred years to bury its mounting pile of nuclear waste in a spot it is yet to secure, a special parliamentary commission has concluded.
After two years of research, the repository commission presented its 682-page report to the parliament on Tuesday where it called into question an on-time solution to the problem of radioactive storage.
“The German Bundestag is due, according to current estimates, to start searching for an optimal secure place in 2017. Decades will pass before the waste can be buried and possibly more than a century before this process ends,” the report predicted.
The German government announced in 2011 it was going to phase out all eight nuclear reactors by 2022, following the Fukushima disaster. The initial plan was to find a suitable place by 2031 where to store highly-radioactive spent nuclear fuel, with the dump scheduled to open in 2050.
U.S. trade negotiators continue to claim that free trade agreements help to support security, but in reality, they exacerbate the root causes of instability in the Mesoamerican region, IPS’s Manuel Perez-Rocha said in a speech at the AFL-CIO conference on U.S. trade policy.
“Real security encompasses economic, human, financial, and political security,” he said.
Today the Northern triangle of Latin America is one of the most dangerous places in the world. In Mexico alone, there are more than 27,000 people reported missing on top of the 100,000 killed in the so-called war on drugs, Perez-Rocha said.
He explained that the origins of this crisis are rooted in structural adjustment policies that the IMF and the World Bank imposed on Central America to pave the way for free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and now the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
“Instead of bringing prosperity, [NAFTA] took away domestic protections from Mexico’s food production, leading to greater food insecurity and the widespread loss of our agricultural livelihoods,” he said.
Perez-Rocha said the abandonment of national production of food to favor imports, brought on by NAFTA, has meant the fall of production, employment, and income and the increase of inequality, poverty, and migration. He said this abandonment of the countryside by the government propelled the vacuum that has become occupied by organized crime.
“NAFTA is responsible,” he said. “for the increase of violence and public insecurity in the countryside and in all of Mexico.”
Ten years later, CAFTA was imposed in Central America, ushering in what Perez-Rocha called “the deterioration of economic conditions for working people and major new threats to the environment.”
Perez-Rocha offered one of the most egregious examples in the case of the Pacific Rim mining company which is demanding millions of dollars from El Salvador for protecting its environment.
“This is a deep humanitarian crisis that should be recognized as such,” he said. He quoted U.S. Vice President Biden as saying ‘confronting these challenges requires nothing less than systematic change, which we in the United States have a direct interest in helping to bring about.’
However, the proposal in the Alliance for Prosperity Plan does not address the roots of the crisis, Perez-Rocha said.
“The goal of the alliance, as we see it,” Perez-Rocha said, “is to attract foreign direct investment for the exploitation of natural resources.”
The alliance and agreements like the TPP, on top of the destruction already brought on by NAFTA and CAFTA, will only mean an acceleration of the race to the bottom for the region’s working families, further dislocation and displacement, and regional insecurity, he said.
Read Manuel Perez-Rocha’s full essay on page 43 [PDF).
Ridd was punished by James Cook University for “not displaying responsibility in respecting the reputations of other colleagues.” The university even warned that if he does this again, he’ll be tried for serious misconduct.
The latest perversion in research ethics comes to us from James Cook University in Australia. The Australian has the scoop, but it is behind paywall. Michael Bastasch of the Daily Caller has an article on this University Censures Science Prof For Fact-Checking Global Warming Claim. Excerpts:
An Australian university recently censured marine scientist Paul Ridd for “failing to act in a collegial way and in the academic spirit of the institution,” because he questioned popular claims among environmentalists about coral reefs and global warming.
What was Ridd’s crime? He found out two of the world’s leading organizations studying coral reefs were using misleading photographs to make the case that global warming was causing a mass reef die-off. Ridd wasn’t rewarded for checking the facts and blowing the whistle on misleading science. Instead, James Cook University censured Ridd and threatened to fire him for questioning global warming orthodoxy.
Ridd’s not alone in criticizing some institutions and environmental groups for over-hyping the impacts global warming will have on coral reefs.
In fact, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s own chairman had to come out and dispel notions the reef was almost completely gone.
“We’ve seen headlines stating that 93 percent of the reef is practically dead,” Reichelt said. “We’ve also seen reports that 35 percent, or even 50 percent, of the entire reef is now gone.”
“However, based on our combined results so far, the overall mortality rate is 22 percent — and about 85 percent of that die-off has occurred in the far north between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island, 250 kilometers north of Cairns,” he said. “Seventy-five per cent of the reef will come out in a few months time as recovered.”
The group’s former chairman Ian McPhail even accused environmentalists of “exaggerating the impact of coral bleaching for political and financial gain.”
Despite the campaign to tamp down on reef alarmism, Ridd was punished by James Cook University for “not displaying responsibility in respecting the reputations of other colleagues.” The university even warned that if he does this again, he’ll be tried for serious misconduct.
I just love this statement: “not displaying responsibility in respecting the reputations of other colleagues.” Folks, we have a new definition of serious academic misconduct. Watch out, Michael Mann.
If this seems like a joke, it isn’t. I was ostracized from the ‘community’ for criticizing my colleagues overconfidence and failure to adequately account for uncertainty (see the infamous article Climate Heretic Judith Curry Turns on Her Colleagues). I thought that, in the midst of all the important issues at play in the climate debate, ‘turning on my colleagues’ was the least of them.
In my previous post Scientists and Motivated Reasoning, I identified a major ethical conflict for scientists between the microethics of your conscience in adhering to the norms of science, versus the macroethics of your perceived duty to the public, which may be colored by your politics and values.
Also included in the discussion of microethics versus macro ethics is responsibility to your colleagues. In my previous post, I wrote:
I am particularly concerned about microethical conflicts involving colleagues and scientific institutions that apparently justify self-serving irresponsible professional behavior, both by individuals and institutions. This seems much worse to me than politically motivated reasoning by members of the public. Personally, I have felt the need to break loose of the shackles of loyalty to colleagues and institutions if it comes at the expense of integrity in science and professional conduct.
Why even bother with loyalty/responsibility to colleagues – beyond giving them credit for their research? Do I really have any responsibility to any and all scientists just because they are members of the same professional society? I would say no, but upon further reflection I can see a tiny point here – it isn’t just a joke.
The importance of ‘collegiality’ among elite academic researchers seems to be perceived as more important than I have credited. In Michael Polanyi’s Republic of Science, the self-coordination of scientists is of paramount importance.
Going back to my previous discussion on microethics versus macroethics, I wrote:
As a researcher, what kinds of responsibilities do you have to
your conscience (micro)
your colleagues (micro)
the public (macro)
the environment (macro)
My previous post illustrated numerous ethical conflicts that can arise for researchers. But when it comes to conflicts between your conscience and your colleagues, or the public and your colleagues, any perceived responsibility to your colleagues has to take a back seat.
But it seems that in academic science, responsibility to your colleagues and their opinions, their declarations of consensus, their reputations, is apparently regarded by many researchers as the paramount consideration, viz. the circling of the wagons that occurred in Climategate.
This concern about ‘responsibility’ to your colleagues seems only to extend to colleagues who happen to agree with you.
In Science on the Verge, and in postnormal science more generally, the importance of extended peer review is emphasized, which is very much needed to break down the clubby, exclusionary academic collegiality that is used as a club to marginalize dissenting voices.
The sickness of the clubby academic collegiality is absurdly highlighted by this latest episode from James Cook University.
The Swedish parliament has today agreed to abolish a tax on nuclear power as it recognizes nuclear’s role in helping it to eventually achieve a goal of 100% renewable generation.
The framework agreement announced by the Social Democrats, the Moderate Party, the Green Party, the Centre Party and the Christian Democrats, will see the tax phased out over two years. It also allows for the construction of up to ten new nuclear reactors at existing sites, to replace plants as they retire. Setting 2040 as the date at which Sweden should have a 100% renewable electricity system, the document stresses that 2040 is a ‘goal’ and not a cut-off date for nuclear generation.
A variable production tax on nuclear power introduced in 1984 was replaced by a tax on installed capacity in 2000. Since its introduction this tax has gradually increased and today corresponds to about 7 öre (0.8 US cents) per kilowatt-hour. In February this year, utility Vattenfall said that the capacity tax had brought its nuclear operating costs to around 32 öre (3.8 US cents) per kWh. However, its revenue from nuclear power generation is only about 22 öre (2.6 US cents) per kWh.
Swedish utilities had sought redress against the tax through the courts, but the European Court of Justice ruled last October that Sweden could continue to tax nuclear power, deciding the tax is a national, rather than European Commission, matter.
Vattenfall CEO Magnus Hall welcomed the agreement, which he said gave the utility the predictability it needed. “The abolishment of the nuclear capacity tax is an important precondition for us to be able to consider the investments needed to secure the long-term operation of our nuclear reactors from the 1980s,” he said. Vattenfall’s reactors at Forsmark and Ringhals have undergone a comprehensive modernisation programme to allow them to operate until the mid-2040s. However, to continue operating beyond 2020 they must meet stricter safety requirements through the installation of independent core cooling. Investing in those upgrades was economically impossible with the tax in place.
“Even with the abolishment of the capacity tax, profitability will be a challenge,” Hall concluded. “Low electricity prices put all energy producers under pressure and we will continue to focus on reducing production costs. Naturally, investment decisions must be taken on commercial grounds, taking all cost factors and expected long-term market developments that the agreement implies into account,” Hall said.
The director general of the World Nuclear Association, Agneta Rising, said: “Today’s announcement is a positive development. It is vital that there is now consistent policy to give operators the confidence to make the investments needed in their plant to allow for their long term continued operation. Other countries should follow Sweden’s example and ensure that their energy policies provide a level playing field that treats all forms of generation equally on their merits.”
Although decades have passed since atomic tests were conducted by the US on the northern Marshall Islands, radiation levels within the territory are still dangerously high, a recent study revealed.
In 1940s and 50s, during a heavy period of nuclear weapons testing, scientists predicted that background radiation would eventually drop to a level that would allow the return of relocated indigenous people to their native islands.
According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), the Pacific Ocean islands are still too dangerous for habitation, 60 years since the massive hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll.
The lead author of the research, Autumn Bordner, from Columbia University’s Center for Nuclear Studies, accompanied by fellow scientists, traveled to the islands to test gamma radiation levels on Enewetak, Rongelap, and Bikini.
The team stayed on the islands for two weeks and covered an area of over 1,000 square miles. Radiation readings were then compared to measurements from Majuro Atoll, an island far enough away to be used as a control. Measurements were also taken in Central Park, in New York City, New York, as an additional control.
“Central Park and the Majuro Atoll experience 13 and 9 millirems of radiation per year, respectively,” the study said. “Enewetak had the lowest radiation levels, at 7.6 mrem/y, which makes sense, since the island has had extensive cleanup efforts. Rongelap has higher levels at 19.8 mrem/y, and Bikini Atoll has the most radiation of the islands studied, with a mean of 184 mrem/y.”
Radiation on Bikini Atoll was found to be higher than the minimum accepted levels agreed upon by the US and Marshall Islands governments.
The scientists observed that the measurements differ little from those taken two decades ago, although it had been expected that radiation levels would by now have measurably decayed.
Researchers affirm that, without studying the effects of the environment on humans, it is not known whether the Marshallese people can safely return to Rongelap and Bikini.