The number of “nuclear safety events” at Britain’s submarine base and warhead depot at the Clyde has drastically soared according to official records that showed 105 incidents in 2013-2014, compared to just 68 in the previous period.
Almost all of the incidents involved the reactors on Trident and other nuclear subs at the Faslane Naval Base, while six involved nuclear weapons stored at Coulport armaments depot.
Ministers were forced to disclose the information after a question in parliament by Angus Robertson from the Scottish National Party (SNP) who leads the party’s parliamentary group in Westminster.
Only 45 of the latest incidents were level C events, meaning there was a “moderate potential for future release or exposure, or localized release within a designated radiological controlled area.” The remaining 60 were classed as level D defined as “low potential for release – but may contribute towards an adverse trend producing latent conditions.” According to the records, the base has not recently suffered from any of the more serious Category A or B safety failures.
Overall in the past six years the Clyde naval base suffered nearly 400 “widespread” safety events, according to official records. Twelve of these cases were listed as “Category B” incidents meaning there was an “actual of high” risk of exposure to radiation or that there was a release of radiation which was contained within a submarine or a building.
Robertson, whose party wants the complete removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland, asked the MoD to explain what was being done to improve safety measures especially as construction work is underway for Faslane to house all of Britain’s nuclear submarines, some of which are currently in Devonport, Plymouth.
“A near doubling in the number of nuclear safety incidents within a year is totally unacceptable and needs urgent answers from the MoD. It’s important to note this doubling has occurred before expansion work at the base for more nuclear submarines is complete,” he said.
But the government maintained that the vigorous culture of reporting any incidents as well as putting them in the public domain ensured that there was never any threat to personal or the environment. The details of the incidents were not disclosed, but MoD insisted all of them were “minor issues,” such as incorrect labeling or not filing the correct form as required by standard procedures.
“This comprehensive, independent recording process allows Clyde to maintain a robust reporting culture, undertake learning from experience and to take early corrective action,” the UK Defence Minister, Philip Dunne, told MPs.
GAZA CITY – Hundreds of Palestinians were evacuated from their homes Sunday morning after Israeli authorities opened a number of dams near the border, flooding the Gaza Valley in the wake of a recent severe winter storm.
The Gaza Ministry of Interior said in a statement that civil defense services and teams from the Ministry of Public Works had evacuated more than 80 families from both sides of the Gaza Valley (Wadi Gaza) after their homes flooded as water levels reached more than three meters.
Gaza has experienced flooding in recent days amid a major storm that saw temperatures drop and frigid rain pour down.
The storm displaced dozens and caused hardship for tens of thousands, including many of the approximately 110,000 Palestinians left homeless by Israel’s assault over the summer.
The suffering is compounded by the fact that Israel has maintained a complete siege over Gaza for the last eight years, severely limiting electricity and the availability of fuel for generators. It has also prevented the displaced from rebuilding their homes, as construction materials are largely banned from entering.
Gaza civil defense services spokesman Muhammad al-Midana warned that further harm could be caused if Israel opens up more dams in the area, noting that water is currently flowing at a high speed from the Israel border through the valley and into the Mediterranean sea.
Evacuated families have been sent to shelters sponsored by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, in al-Bureij refugee camp and in al-Zahra neighborhood in the central Gaza Strip.
The Gaza Valley (Wadi Gaza) is a wetland located in the central Gaza Strip between al-Nuseirat refugee camp and al-Moghraqa. It is called HaBesor in Hebrew, and it flows from two streams — one whose source runs from near Beersheba, and the other from near Hebron.
Israeli dams on the river to collect rainwater have dried up the wetlands inside Gaza, and destroyed the only source of surface water in the area.
Locals have continued to use it to dispose of their waste for lack of other ways to do so, however, creating an environmental hazard.
This is not the first time Israeli authorities have opened the Gaza Valley dams.
In Dec. 2013, Israeli authorities also opened the dams amid heavy flooding in the Gaza Strip. The resulting floods damaged dozens of homes and forces many families in the area from their homes.
In 2010, the dams were opened as well, forcing 100 families from their homes. At the time civil defense services said that they had managed to save seven people who had been at risk of drowning.
A small community in Uganda is challenging a UN-backed international oil palm venture that has expropriated small farmers and obliterated an entire forest on a Lake Victoria island to establish a vast plantation. Three years after the grab, Friends of the Earth groups are backing the islanders legal action, which is launched today.
Fighting a land grab can seem like a hopeless cause: the odds are hardly even when farmers without land or a source of income are pitted against multinational corporations, European banks and UN Agencies. However in Uganda, one community is fighting back.
Four years ago, an oil palm plantation partly operated by the oil palm giant Wilmar International began on Bugula, a highly biodiverse island on Lake Victoria. Then home to about one hundred small-scale farmers, the project was sold to them with extravagant promises of employment and development.
Yet today, 3,600 hectares of pristine forest have been destroyed, replaced with a vast swathe of oil palm, and many farmers and their families find themselves destitute with little compensation – if any – awarded to them for the loss of their land.
Finding themselves in increasingly desperate circumstances, three of them are today launching their legal action on behalf of the rest of the community against the oil palm company, Oil Palm Uganda Limited (OPUL), demanding the restitution of their land and compensation for lost crops and income.
Although nominally independent, OPUL is 90% owned by Bidco Uganda, itself a joint venture between the oil palm giant Wilmar International, Josovina Commodities and Bidco Oil Refineries, a Kenya-based company. Wilmar International holds at least 39% of the shares in OPUL and is providing technical expertise for the project.
In launching the legal action in Masaka today, the Bugula islanders are taking on more than just these mighty corporations.
The oil palm project is backed by the Ugandan government, which even helped to finance it, and by a United Nations agency: the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which is “directly overseeing” the project after providing a $52 million loan.
So this is ‘improving access to land and tenure security’?
Established in 1974 after the World Food Conference, IFAD’s ‘motto’ is “Enabling poor rural people to overcome poverty”. Its Financing Policies and Criteria state that the projects it finances should incorporate “engagement with indigenous peoples” and “improving access to land and tenure security”.
The Bugula project is carried out under IFAD’s ‘Vegetable Oil Development Project – Phase 2‘ which claims to be aimed at “increasing the domestic production of vegetable oil and its byproducts, thus raising rural incomes for smallholder producers and ensuring the supply of affordable vegetable oil products to Ugandan consumers.”
According to IFAD, “Oil palm activities are carried out on Bugula Island in Kalangala District (Ssesse islands) and Buvuma Island in Mukono District. In the course of the project, about 3,000 smallholder farmers will directly benefit from oil palm development and 136,000 households from oilseed development. The project is directly supervised by IFAD.”
It records a total project cost of $146.2 million, to which it is contributing a $52.0 million loan repayable in 2018, co-financed with SNV Netherlands Development Organization, which is contributing $0.3 million. It claims to benefit 139,000 households.
The Ecologist spoke today with Alessandro Marini, IFAD’s Country Representative for Uganda by telephone, but he repeatedly refused to comment at that time because he was “on his way into a meeting”. He has since failed to respond to our email requesting his views.
The UK is the single biggest contributor to IFAD.
John Muyiisa’s story
In January, Anne van Schaik of Friends of the Earth Europe joined NAPE / Friends of the Earth Uganda in a fact-finding mission to Bugula Island, Kalangala, and visited the house of John Muyiisa, one of the plaintiffs.
John saw his 43-acre plot taken for the palm oil project, and has since not stopped fighting to get it back. John showed us the state of his house, which is about to collapse because he doesn’t have the resources to repair it. The foundations of the new house he was planning to build for his family have been left abandoned since the project began.
When he showed us the small plot that was left to him, John said: “We all depended on this land. My land was not only my income but also a secured future income for my children. It would have provided me with the money I needed to buy a new house. Now I have lost my land and our plans are shattered.” These concerns have found little sympathy among local government officials.
We also visited the nearby island of Buvuma, where IFAD has financed another oil palm project. When we expressed our interest to hear from the local community about the effects of the island’s palm oil project, they exhausted themselves by explaining the benefits of the project.
“There will be electricity, employment, new roads, and extra income for local palm oil growers”, officials told us. This sounded all-too familiar to what we heard during a visit in 2013, but two years on, these promises seem emptier than ever.
Once we had finished speaking with the officials, we joined them at a community meeting at the district house to discuss compensation for lost land. When the chairperson gave farmers the floor to talk about the effects of the project, many raised their hands.
They talked about how the compensation had been inadequate, how it is totally unclear to them how it had been calculated, and how some of them didn’t want to leave their land but were given no choice. Clearly embarrassed and annoyed, a local official responded and corrected them. “People should not first sign an agreement and then complain after”, he said.
His unsympathetic stance was mirrored by other government officials on both islands. Often we heard jokes about how farmers drank away their compensation money in bars, got themselves a second wife or otherwise managed to fritter it away.
This indifference, although unspoken, is implicitly shared by IFAD, BIDCO, OPUL and Wilmar. Indeed, the chain of responsibility stretches back further – to banks in Europe and the USA whose financial support sets the wheels in motion for these devastating land grabs.
Europe’s mega-banks financing palm oil explosion
Taking the case of Wilmar International, in 2014 US and EU financiers had a total of €371 million of shares in the corporation, and 1.1 billion Euro in loans outstanding to them.
For instance in the Netherlands, ING held more than €26 million in shares; the British bank HSBC held €298 million in loans, while BNP Paribas and Dutch Rabobank held €189 million and €111 million respectively. Deutsche Bank held €4 million in shares and €12 million in outstanding loans.
Like Wilmar, many of these financiers have adopted policies to address the environmental, social and governance impacts of their investments. However, there is no accountability mechanism in place for most of these commitments, and so there is no financial or legal incentive for financiers to follow through.
This means that many European financial institutions, through their investments in agribusiness projects, are supporting a significant number of what are in fact land grabs in the global South. Such incidents are widespread and growing: new cases are reported to civil society organisations on a near-weekly basis in countries from Cambodia and Papua New Guinea to Indonesia, Myanmar and Nigeria.
Europe needs to take action at the political level. Both by ensuring financial institutions on its soil are not complicit in land grabs, and by voting this year to finish reforms to halt the expansion of agrofuels which compete for cropland.
UN-IFAD must hang its head in shame
And clearly IFAD is an organization crying out for abolition. Its financing of the Bugula Island land grab is in clear violation of its financing principles and criteria, indeed the very purpose of its existence – “Enabling poor rural people to overcome poverty”
While IFAD speaks of “community-driven development approach to fighting rural poverty“, “improving access to land and tenure security”, “dynamic and inclusive rural development“, “food and nutrition security for all”, “inclusive growth and poverty eradication”, and “sustainable smallholder agriculture” it is actually financing land-grabbing projects that achieve the precise reverse of all its empty rhetoric.
Indeed it is robbing poor farmers and farming communities of their land and livelihoods, leaving them destitute, and handing over their wealth for plunder by foreign corporations and profiteering financiers.
As for John and the rest of the former farmers of Bugula, the next steps in their fight for justice will be taken in court in Masaka. With pressure coming at them from both sides, the message to oil IFAD, palm companies and financiers alike is clear: the battle against land grabs is on.
Action: to support John Muyiisa’s struggle in his search for legal redress for the farmers of Kalangala, please visit our crowdfunding page.
The discovery of over 16,000 cracks in two Belgian reactor vessels may have global implications for nuclear safety, says the country’s nuclear safety chief. He and independent experts are calling for the immediate checks of nuclear reactor vessels worldwide.
Thousands of cracks have been found in the steel reactor pressure vessels in nuclear reactors Doel 3 and Tihange 2 in Belgium – vessels contain highly radioactive nuclear fuel cores.
The failure of these components can cause catastrophic nuclear accidents with massive release of radiation.
The pervasive – and entirely unexpected – cracking could be related to corrosion from normal operation, according to leading material scientists Professor Walter Bogaerts and Professor Digby MacDonald.
Speaking on Belgian TV, Professor MacDonald said:
“The consequences could be very severe … like fracturing the pressure vessel, loss of coolant accident. This would be a leak before break scenario, in which case before a fracture of a pipe occurred … you would see a jet of steam coming out through the insulation.
“My advice is that all reactor operators, under the guidance of the regulatory commissions should be required to do an ultrasonic survey of the pressure vessels. All of them.”
Professor Bogaerts added:
“If I had to estimate, I would really be surprised if it … had occurred nowhere else … I am afraid that the corrosion aspects have been underestimated.”
Jan Bens, Director-General of the Belgian nuclear regulator the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC), has said that this could be a problem for the entire nuclear industry globally – and that the solution is to begin the careful inspection of 430 nuclear power plants worldwide.
An unexplained embrittlement
The problem was discovered in the summer of 2012. Both the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactors have been shut down since March 24th, 2014 after additional tests revealed an unexplained advanced embrittlement of the steel of the test sample.
At the time the reactors’ operator, Electrabel, dismissed the cracks as being the result of manufacturing problems during construction in the late 1970’s in the Netherlands – but provided no supporting evidence.
FANC also stated that the most likely cause was manufacturing – but added that it could be due to other causes. Following the further tests FANC has now issued a statement confirming that the additional 2014 tests revealed 13,047 cracks in Doel 3 and 3,149 in Tihange 2.
“In carrying out tests related to theme 2 during the spring of 2014, a fracture toughness test revealed unexpected results, which suggested that the mechanical properties of the material were more strongly influenced by radiation than experts had expected. As a precaution both reactors were immediately shut down again.”
As nuclear reactors age, radiation causes pressure vessel damage, or embrittlement, of the steel mostly as a result of the constant irradiation by neutrons which gradually destroys the metal atom by atom – inducing radioactivity and transmutation into other elements.
Another problem is that hydrogen from cooling water can migrate into reactor vessel cracks. “The phenomenon is like a road in winter where water trickles into tiny cracks, freezes, and expands, breaking up the road”, says Greenpeace Belgium energy campaigner Eloi Glorieux.
“It appears that hydrogen from the water within the vessel that cools the reactor core is getting inside the steel, reacting, and destroying the pressure vessel from within.”
He adds that the findings mean that “the safety of every nuclear reactor on the planet could be significantly compromised … What we are seeing in Belgium is potentially devastating for nuclear reactors globally due to the increased risk of a catastrophic failure.”
Immediate action needed to prevent another catastrophe
On February 15th the nuclear reactor operator, Electrabel (GDF / Suez parent company) announced that it would be prepared to “sacrifice” one of its reactors to conduct further destructive tests of the reactor pressure vessel in order to study this poorly understood and extremely concerning damage phenomenon.
Electrabel’s findings will be submitted to FANC which will organize a new meeting of the international panel of experts to obtain their advice on the results of the new material tests and on the new data.
According to Electrabel, the findings constitute a “Level 1 occurrence on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES)” but the company emphasises that the event “has no impact whatsoever on the wellbeing or health of the employees, the local residents, or the surrounding area.”
But Glorieux dismisses such complacency: “As we approach the fourth anniversary of the Fukushima-daiichi nuclear disaster, evidence has emerged that demands immediate action to prevent another catastrophe. Thousands of previously unknown cracks in critical components of two reactors point to a potentially endemic and significant safety problem for reactors globally.
“Nuclear regulators worldwide must require reactor inspections as soon as possible, and no later than the next scheduled maintenance shutdown. If damage is discovered, the reactors must remain shut down until and unless safety and pressure vessel integrity can be guaranteed. Anything less would be insane given the risk of a severe nuclear accident”
There are 435 commercial nuclear reactors worldwide, with an average age of 28.5 years in mid 2014. Of these, 170 reactors (44 percent of the total) have been operating for 30 years or more and 39 reactors have operated for over 40 years. As of 2015, Doel 3 has been operating for 33 years; Tihange 2 for 32 years.
Now the plant’s owners are asking the Ohio Public Utilities Commission to force the public to pay billions of dollars over the next 15 years to subsidize reactor operations.
But Davis-Besse’s astonishing history of near-miss disasters defies belief. Its shoddy construction, continual operator error and relentless owner incompetence would not be believed as fiction, let alone as the stark realities of a large commercial reactor operating in a heavily populated area.
Time and again Davis-Besse has come within a fraction of an inch and an hour of crisis management time. Today its critical shield wall is literally crumbing, with new cracks opening up every time the northern Ohio weather freezes (like this week).
The company’s owners have blacked out the entire Northeast including 50 million customers—the largest such disaster in world history.
They allowed boric acid to eat within 3/16th of an inch of a Chernobyl-scale disaster that would’ve permanently irradiated the Great Lakes region. They have set the record for fines by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and continue to drain billions of ratepayer dollars from Ohio’s bleeding economy.
Now they want those ratepayers to fork over billions more to keep this reactor running beyond the brink.
Hear about Davis-Besse’s astonishing story, by listening to this incredible hour-long interview with local attorney Terry Lodge and Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, along with Tim Judson of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, three of the key expert activists working to get Davis-Besse shut down.
Many wild stories have been told about atomic power over the decades, but it’s hard to top the true tales from Davis-Besse. In this case, hearing is believing—and holding your head in dismay:
If you want Davis-Besse shut write the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio at firstname.lastname@example.org. Use this label in the subject line of the email, as well as the body of the email message, so PUCO can route the public comments to the correct proceeding: OPPOSITION COMMENT UNDER CASE # 14-1297-EL-SSO.
A high-level radioactive waste “parking lot” — proposed for West Texas — poses both terrible and unnecessary risks for people throughout the country — Texas in particular — and should not be built.
That’s the position of a coalition of public interest groups that declared its opposition to the plan February 9.
The proposal was announced by Waste Control Specialists (WCS) which currently operates a low-level radioactive dump at the site near Eunice, New Mexico. The plan is for WCS, and the French nuclear giant AREVA, to accept high-level radioactive waste.
About 70,000 tons of such waste fuel–other rad waste is called “low-level”– is now stored at about 70 reactor sites around the country. The waste is some of most long-lived, deadly and dangerous material known to science, radioactive for over half-a-million years.
“It was irresponsible even to generate high-level nuclear waste without a plan for how to dispose of it,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, in a press release. “It would be doubly so to ship it across the country, with no serious plan to protect it in transit or in its new temporary destination. Hiding the problem of high-level nuclear waste in West Texas doesn’t make it go away, it makes it worse.”
Diane D’Arrigo, radioactive waste project director at Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said, “Moving nuclear waste to a supposedly temporary consolidated storage place gives the delusion of ‘a solution’ when in fact it will at least double the risks and create a de facto permanent dump near one of the largest aquifers in the country.”
D’Arrigo called the plan part of an elaborate, unnecessary shell game. “WCS is really volunteering to make the US nuclear problem worse by putting the deadliest radioactive wastes from nuclear power on the same highways, railways and waterways we all use every day,” she said. The government said 20 years ago that the waste could safely be kept at reactor sites for 100 years.
“This plan is all risk and no reward for the state of Texas,” said Tom Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office. “It poses transportation and accident risks around the country. We don’t need Fukushima Freeways,” he said. […]
“The federal government has made a mess of nuclear waste policy,” said Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. “The highly radioactive spent fuel from nuclear reactors should be stored on-site, in hardened configurations while Washington sorts it out. Putting the deadliest nuclear waste on the roads needlessly increases risks.” he said.
The only plausible rationale for moving high-level waste away from reactor sites has come from those warning about tsunami risks on the West Coast, and from environmental justice advocates who note that radioactive waste is often placed — as with Xcel’s Prairie Island reactors in Minnesota — near Native American communities.
Former Texas State Rep. Lon Burnam of Ft. Worth said, “The site isn’t even dry — a minimum safety prerequisite for safe storage or disposal of radioactive waste. Recently, 22 percent of test wells at the existing low-level radioactive waste site had water present. … WCS admits the Ogallala Aquifer is nearby. What would happen if radioactive waste contaminated water that lies beneath eight states?”
Texas must not be allowed to risk answering that question. – Full article
John LaForge works for Nukewatch and lives on the Plowshares Land Trust near Luck, Wisc.
Back in October, I reported that, “A type of airplane, the A-10, deployed this month to the Middle East by the U.S. Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing, is responsible for more Depleted Uranium (DU) contamination than any other platform, according to the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW). . . . Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright told me, ‘There is no prohibition against the use of Depleted Uranium rounds, and the [U.S. military] does make use of them. The use of DU in armor-piercing munitions allows enemy tanks to be more easily destroyed.'”
This week I have left an email message and a phone message for Mark Wright at the Pentagon. Here’s what I emailed, after consulting with Wim Zwijnenburg of PaxForPeace.nl:
Recent reports by CENTCOM have noted that 11% of the U.S. sorties have been flown by A-10s , and that a wide range of attacks on tanks and armored vehicles have taken place. Can you confirm that PGU-14 30mm munitions with depleted uranium in the A-10s (and any other DU weapons) have not been used during these attacks. And if not, why not? Thanks!
I sent that email on January 28 and left a voice message January 30.
You’d think there’d be lots of reporters calling with the same question and reporting the answer. But then it’s only Iraqis, I guess.
Soybean workers exposed to the agrochemicals like glyphosate, the main component in Monsanto’s ‘Roundup’ herbicide and other biocides, suffer from elevated DNA and cell damage, according to a new study.
The study, published in the journal Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis, involved 127 people, including 81 exposed to biocides while working in the Brazilian soybean industry and 46 non-exposed individuals in a control group.
The exposed group exhibited an elevated level of cellular apoptosis, as well as DNA damage, according to researcher Danieli Benedetti and his team, which concluded that the now-common use of genetically-modified soybeans in the State of Rio Grande do Sul, especially in the city of Espumoso, has toxic ramifications for workers.
“Our findings indicate the advisability of monitoring genetic toxicity in soybean farm workers exposed to pesticides,” the researchers said.
Genetically-engineered seeds, proliferated across the globe by multinational agribusiness conglomerates like Monsanto, are designed to withstand dousing by glyphosate and other biocides in order to terminate insect, fungus, and weed nuisances.
Benedetti’s team focused specifically on Glyphosate and 2,4-D, the two top biocide components in American-biotechnology farming culture. Glyphosate is the prime ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup products, while Dow Chemical’s 2,4-D is a potent herbicide that was also used in making Agent Orange, the chemical used by the US to devastate resistance during the Vietnam War.
Last spring, Brazil’s public prosecutor sought to suspend use of glyphosate based on its toxic effects. Studies have linked glyphosate to a fatal kidney disease that has affected poor farming regions worldwide.
Just last week, Monsanto won final approval from the US for its new genetically-modified soybeans and cotton, designed to withstand a dominant biocide that fights weed resistance built up as a result of the company’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide already in use.
Monsanto reported an earnings drop of 34 percent in its first fiscal quarter. The company reportedly lost $156 million in the fourth quarter of last year due to a one-time payment made to settle an environmental legal case.
As multinationals such as Monsanto and Dow Chemical have sought strict standardization in agriculture markets the world over, the corporate leviathans, especially the former, have become the target of considerable protests and demonstrations.
Companies like Monsanto market their own patented seeds that, given their genetic modification, can be doused with biocides to kill pests and weeds, and which can jeopardize long-term health of the soil and the necessary biodiversity of a local environment that allows for natural pollination and, thus, food security.
In May of last year, activists on five continents around the globe, comprising of 52 nations organized resistance under the ‘March against Monsanto’ umbrella. Protests positioned against Monsanto and involving other corporate-food issues occurred in around 400 cities worldwide, according to reports.
Just this past weekend, more than 120 organizations joined the fifth annual ‘We are Fed Up!’ demonstration in Berlin to focus on the increased importation of American farming practices – such as genetic modification, frequent antibiotic injections for animals, and chemical meat treatments – following the implementation of the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Protests have raged most furiously in Europe, where the EU recently approved a law that would let its nations ban genetically-modified organisms even if the EU had deemed them safe. Monsanto said last year it would not try to get any more GM crops approved in Europe given the consistent pushback.
Anger and unrest against Monsanto’s stranglehold has also spread to South America. In Argentina, protests have occurred in resistance to the company’s potent biocides used in tandem with their genetically-engineered seeds. In Brazil, farmers have called on Monsanto and other producers of pest-resistant corn seeds to reimburse them for money spent on additional biocides when the bugs killed the crops instead of dying themselves, speaking to the biocide arms race involved in using GM seeds. Brazilian soy exporters are also tangling with Monsanto over seed royalties.
In Central America, Guatemala’s highest court suspended in September a controversial ‘Monsanto Law,’ a provision of a US-Central American trade agreement, that would insulate transnational seed corporations considered to have “discovered” new plant varieties.
On its home turf in the United States, Monsanto has worked diligently with other multinational biotech, agribusiness, and food production companies to beat down state-level proposals to simply label whether food is comprised of GM ingredients.
The most recent example came in the state of Oregon, where a November ballot initiative to require GMO labeling was narrowly defeated in what became the most expensive ballot measure in the state’s history. The likes of Monsanto and Dupont flushed more than $21 million into the anti-labeling campaign, dwarfing the $9 million raised by proponents.
The company has sued Hawaii’s Maui County for passing last year that bans the cultivation of genetically modified organisms.
Monsanto’s St. Louis headquarters have been the target of mild protests, especially during shareholder meetings.
Meanwhile, agribusiness allies on Capitol Hill are pushing new federal legislation, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, that would standardize food labeling, effectively killing popular state-based efforts to pass labeling laws.
Monsanto has won final approval from the US for its new genetically-modified soybeans and cotton, designed to withstand a dominant biocide that fights weed resistance built up as a result of the company’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide already in use.
The US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced Thursday that the powerful biotechnology corporation’s GMO cotton and soybean plants have been given “non-regulated” status.
Monsanto now awaits approval from the US Environmental Protection Agency for the new herbicide – a mix of the formidable chemical dicamba and glyphosate, which the company has developed for use on the newly-approved GMO crops.
The new GMO crops – coupled with the dicamba/glyphosate cocktail – make up what Monsanto has dubbed the ‘Roundup Ready Xtend crop system,’ designed to trump super weeds that have evolved along with the company’s glyphosate-based Roundup biocide.
Consumer, health, environmental, and farmer advocates have fiercely opposed the new Xtend system, as it portends an overall “10-fold increase in dicamba use in American agriculture, from under 4 million lbs. at present to more than 40 million lbs. per year,” according to Center for Food Safety.
“Monsanto’s genetically-engineered dicamba-resistant crops are yet another example of how pesticide firms are taking agriculture back to the dark days of heavy, indiscriminate use of hazardous pesticides, seriously endangering human health and the environment,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety, in a statement.
“If EPA also reneges on its responsibility to protect human and environmental health, Center for Food Safety will pursue all available legal options to halt the introduction of these dangerous crops.”
The USDA and Monsanto have said that Xtend will increase dicamba use in cotton by 14 times current levels, according to Reuters, and, in soybeans, 500 times current levels, the Pesticide Action Network said in a statement.
“I am convinced that in all of my years serving the agriculture industry, the widespread use of dicamba herbicide [poses] the single most serious threat to the future of the specialty crop industry in the Midwest,” said Steve Smith, Director of Agriculture for Red Gold, a tomato-processing company.
Opposition — and even the USDA — says more dicamba will only mean additional weed resistance in the future, translating to more profits for the likes of Monsanto and Dow Chemical, which received US approval for its genetically-engineered 2,4-D-resistant corn and soybeans in September 2014.
“The pesticide treadmill spins on, and that’s great news for Monsanto,” said Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right to Know, a consumer advocacy group, Reuters reported. “This is just the latest in a endless string of favors from our federal government to Monsanto.”
Crops most at risk from increased dicamba exposure include fruits, nuts, and vegetables, growers of which say they fear the chemical will drift onto and damage their fields.
Monsanto, according to Reuters, said it will educate food growers over the proper way to avoid dicamba drift. But biocide opponents are skeptical of these promises and say the burden will rest with the growers — not Monsanto.
“Monsanto’s response to farmers’ concerns about crop damage has been to develop exceedingly complex and demanding protocols for applying and disposing of the herbicide cocktail, including a ten-step triple rinse of sprayers that is likely to take more than an hour and then entails proper disposal of the contaminated rinse water,” said the Pesticide Action Network. “This ‘solution’ puts all responsibility on farmers, and sets up the company to escape liability for crop damage.”
Biocide drift will also adversely impact flowering plants and their pollinators and other species, which depend on them for nectar and habitat.
Meanwhile, Monsanto is awaiting approval from China to allow imports of its new soybeans. China has been reticent about approving more GMO crops, as exemplified in farmer lawsuits aimed at American agribusiness companies following the nation’s rejection of US genetically-engineered-corn imports.
Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley said last week that Chinese approval is expected in time for Xtend’s commercial launch in 2016.
Britain said on Tuesday that it had scrapped a deal worth $30.2 billion with an international consortium to clean up the Sellafield nuclear facility in Cumbria in the northwest of the country.
The contractors of the project were Amec of Britain, Areva of France and URS, an American company. They have been fired from the job that was delegated to them six years ago after their leader was accused by the government of “delays and exceeding budgets”.
Meanwhile, there are reports that while rising costs have been a major motivation for the decision, among the problems encountered was the accidental shipping of radioactive waste to a landfill, which resulted in a fine of more than $1 million.
Despite the problems, members of parliament hesitated to tear up the contract last year in part because of concerns about the government’s ability to get the decommissioning job done, the Telegraph said.
The government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) will now take ownership of the clean-up.
Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey described Sellafield as “the biggest and most complex nuclear site in Europe” and said “it’s right that we keep the way it’s being managed under constant review”.
He added that a “strategic partner” would be found from the private sector.
Part I – Predictions
I can make high-probability predictions for 2015 and the near-beyond without the benefit of a crystal ball, tarot cards or tea leaves. The only thing that I need is a list of items from the new 2015 federal budget. Here are some of my forecasts and the budget items that make them so highly probable:
1. There will be more deadly truck-related accidents than necessary on the nation’s highways in 2015. That means more deaths, injuries, highway delays, stress and frustration. How do I know? Because the 2015 budget rolls back the safety requirement that truckers need to get more rest between driving assignments. The regulation that was rolled back was itself barely adequate. It restricted drivers to a 70-hour week with mandated rest times between long periods behind the wheel. Nonetheless, despite obviously being in the public interest, this regulation could not survive the pressure of the lobbies representing the trucking industry and its corporate customers. Now we are back to truckers working 85-hour weeks with hardly any mandated rest at all.
2. Either in 2015 or soon thereafter there will be another major banking crisis requiring the outlay of enormous sums of public money to avert economic meltdown. How do I know? Because the 2015 federal budget rolls back the requirement, put in place after the last financial crisis, that forced the trading of derivatives to be done by corporate entities separated from the banks and not covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company. In other words, if the banks wanted to devise unreasonably risky investment strategies for their more gullible customers, they had to insulate these strategies from their main banking operations that are crucial to the national economy. In addition the government was not required to insure such undue risks through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Although obviously in the public interest, these regulations could not survive the pressure coming from the banking lobbies and so, once more, we all must be prepared to pay the price of this version of insufficiently regulated capitalism.
3. The political influence of the nation’s wealthiest individuals will increase by a factor of ten in 2015, making the United States more of a plutocracy and less of a democracy than at any time since the 1920s. How do I know? Because the new federal budget emasculates what little was left of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act by increasing tenfold the amount of money individuals can give to political parties. This is the result of conservatives’ demanding that political campaigns be underwritten wholly by private funds. Common sense tells us that such an arrangement can only confirm political power in the hands of those who are already economically dominant. By the way, most countries claiming to be democracies regulate against just this dominance of private money because it is recognized as politically corrupting.
4. Environmental protection will deteriorate in 2015. If you live in a rural area where there are large farms, your water supply will become more suspect. How do I know all this? Because the 2015 federal budget slashes funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by $60 million and forbids the same agency from applying the Clean Water Act to farm ponds and irrigation ditches. In the public interest? Of course not. However this move pleases agribusiness concerns and other industries.
5. Israel, the economically developed nation that has violated just about every human rights regulation listed under international law, and also has repeatedly broken U.S. law forbidding the use of U.S.-supplied weapons for offensive actions against civilian populations, will continue to be both economically and militarily subsidized by the American taxpayer in 2015. How do I know this? Because the 2015 federal budget follows in the footsteps of so many past budgets by setting aside huge sums of money – in the present case $3.1 billion in total aid – for the Zionist state. Of that aid package, $619.8 million is military related.
I could not get exact gross figures for how much money the federal government gives back per year to U.S. states for various programs, but certainly Israel gets more of your federal tax dollar than any single state does, and maybe more than all fifty states put together.
On the same topic of foreign aid to undeserving governments, the 2015 budget will help insure the survival of the brutal military dictatorship in Egypt. That bunch of gangsters will be getting $1.3 billion in military aid.
These dubious expenditures are also not in the U.S. public interest for they will undermine democracy in Egypt and uphold dictatorship. In the case of Israel the money will help uphold racist authoritarianism, ethnic cleansing and religious bigotry. All of which (including the aid to Egypt) has been successfully encouraged by the financial power of the Zionist lobby.
Part II – John Boehner’s Bipartisanism
According to House Speaker John Boehner, the 2015 federal budget is a product of bipartisan compromise: “Understand all these provisions … were worked out in a bi-partisan, bi-cameral fashion.” However, this can hardly be the whole story. Boehner’s statement implies that there were only Republicans and Democrats in the proverbial back room where the budget was worked out and that everyone was practicing sweet reason so as to come to a compromise that benefits the nation. In truth, looking over the shoulders of those representing both parties were numerous lobbyists who had given a lot of money to all these politicians and now wanted something back for their investment. As a result, we as a nation, as a community, were thoroughly outbid by the trucking industry, the bankers, agribusiness, and a good number of conservative ideologues who want the right to gut the federal government (particularly the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service) while monopolizing funding of our two major political parties. They want to do this so that, among other things, they don’t have worry about regulations or pay even a reasonable amount of taxes.
Part III – Conclusion
The ultimate conclusion we can draw from this “bipartisan” process is that there is no sense of national interest, and damn little sense of community, in the American political system. Both concepts have been superseded by the particular parochial goals and sense of solidarity of groups and subgroups with the deep pockets necessary to buy legislators and legislation. This is what happens when democracy allows itself to be captured by an increasingly unregulated capitalist ethic – an erosion of any politically based sense of a need to work for the common good.
The really depressing part is that for most of our national history it has not been very different. In the mid nineteenth century President James Polk, himself a man of questionable integrity, observed, “There is more selfishness and less principle among members of Congress than I had any conception of, before I became President of the United States.” Well, the problem persists, and given our political way of doing things, it may never be fully overcome
Ecuador has terminated its environmental cooperation with Germany after German legislators tried to visit an Amazon rainforest recently opened for oil exploitation, the country’s foreign minister says.
“Ecuador unilaterally ends all cooperation with Germany on environmental issues,” Ricardo Patino said on Friday.
In 2012, Germany and Ecuador inked a cooperation deal worth 36 million euros ($44 million) to protect the environmentally sensitive rainforest known as Yasuni. They also signed another deal worth 7 million euros ($9 million) in other environment projects.
“If they think they had the right to doubt the word of Ecuador’s government on the issue of Yasuni because they were providing funds, we’ll give them their money back with interest,” Patino added.
He also noted that the Latin American country has not received the funds for the rainforest, and the money allocated for the other projects will be returned soon.
In 2007, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa asked rich countries to donate $3.6 billion to help protect the Yasuni in exchange for pledges not to drill for the oil beneath it.
However, Correa allowed the national oil company to do drilling after his proposal was not welcomed by the other countries.
Earlier this month, Correa did not permit the German lawmakers to visit the Yasuni to observe oil production and talk to activists opposing the measure.
The Ecuador government assured that it will take every measure possible to protect the sensitive Amazon environment during the extraction process. However, the Correa government was not pleased that the German delegation wanted to meet with opposition groups first.
“We either have relations based on equality, or none at all,” Correa said in a statement to the German delegation, asking if Germany would likewise accept a delegation from Ecuador coming to their country to inspect their nuclear projects, for instance. Correa added that his country “stopped being a colony 200 years ago.”