Category Archives: Energy

U.S. government to allow radioactive waste metals to be ‘recycled’ into consumers products like belt buckles, silverware

Nuclear Action Offering Nuclear Waste Barrels to Province North Holland in Haarlem<br /><br /><br />Nucleaire Actie Aanbieden Kernafvalvaten aan Provincie Noord-Holland in Haarlem

naturalnews.com | feb 7, 2013

(NaturalNews) The federal government is currently in the process of trying to get rid of tens of thousands of tons of radioactive scrap metal it has accumulated over the years from various nuclear testing and wartime activities. And a recent proposal made by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) would lift existing restrictions on the recycling and reuse of this nuclear waste, allowing it to be formulated into everyday consumer products like belt buckles, silverware, and even surgical devices used by medical personnel on ill patients.

The shocking proposal comes more than a decade after DOE first tried to foist this growing stock of nuclear waste onto the American public back in the late 1990s. Back in 2000, Congressman Ed Markey from Massachusetts reportedly influenced then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to reinstate a ban that was temporarily lifted on the unmitigated recycling and reuse of radioactive waste metals in consumer products. But now, DOE is trying once again to secretly dispose of this radioactive waste stock by allowing scrap companies to sell it to consumer product manufacturers.

“A Department of Energy proposal to allow up to 14,000 metric tons of its radioactive scrap metal to be recycled into consumer products was called into question today by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) due to concerns over public health,” wrote Rep. Markey in a recent news brief about the issue. “In a letter sent to DOE head Steven Chu, Rep. Markey expressed ‘grave concerns’ over the potential of these metals becoming jewelry, cutlery, or other consumer products that could exceed healthy doses of radiation without any knowledge by the consumer.”

If granted its request, DOE could soon be responsible for triggering the widespread poisoning of the public with even more low-dose radiation via metal-based consumer products. Such products include not only cutlery and jewelry, but also automobiles, city buses, coffee makers, toasters, braces for teeth — practically anything that contains metal could end up being tainted with low-dose radiation as a result of DOE’s efforts.

Many imported consumer products already tainted with radiation

Even though DOE’s proposal has yet to become official policy, American consumers already need to be wary of the safety of metal-based products, particularly those imported from other countries. As we reported last January, domestic merchandise retailer Bed, Bath & Beyond recalled a line of tissue holders produced in India from its stores after learning that the metal used in their production was tainted with radio-isotope cobalt-60. In fact, radioactive goods routinely slip through customs, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is a serious cause for concern.

“India and China were the top sources of radioactive goods shipped to the U.S. through 2008,” explains a March 24, 2012, Bloomberg article about radioactive scrap metal. And there is no indication that things have improved since that time, according to Ross Bartley, a metallurgist who has been tracking radioactive contamination since the early 1990s. In all likelihood, he says, the problem has remained the same or even gotten worse.

Since low-dose radiation has been shown time and time again to cause birth defects, cataracts, cancer, and many other health problems, DOE’s insistence on exposing the public to even more of it is highly disturbing. Perhaps this is at least part of the reason why DOE head Steven Chu recently stepped down from his position at the agency following Rep. Markey’s letter of opposition to the agency’s proposal, not to mention a widespread and growing disapproval among citizens of this serious affront to public health.

Contact DOE and say NO to radioactive poisoning of consumer products

Though DOE insists that the amount of radiation emitted from radioactive waste is “negligible” in terms of being a public health threat, science says otherwise. Cumulative exposure to even low-dose radiation over the course of many months or even years can damage cells, DNA, and even hormone balance. This is why it is important to oppose DOE’s proposal to end the current moratorium on the reuse of radioactive waste metals.

You can contact DOE and urge the agency to keep radioactive metals out of industrial, commercial, and consumer products by emailing: scrap_PEAcomments@hq.doe.gov

EU carbon price crashes to record low

Heavy industry pollution : Aerial view of the Tata steelworks at Scunthorpe
Tata steelworks at Scunthorpe. The ETS aims to reduce emissions from Europe’s entire energy and industrial sectors. Photograph: A.P.S./Alamy

Price of a permit to emit a tonne of carbon fell to €2.81 after an EU vote against a proposal to support the struggling market

guardian.co.uk | Jan 24, 2013

by Damian Carrington

The European Union‘s flagship climate policy, its emissions trading scheme (ETS), saw the price of carbon crash to a record low on Thursday after a vote in Brussels against a proposal to support the struggling market.

The price of a permit to emit a tonne of carbon dioxide fell 40% at one point to €2.81 today, far below its record high of €32, before recovering to more than €4 later in the day.

The ETS, aimed at reducing emissions from Europe‘s entire energy and industrial sectors, has been plagued by an oversupply of permits due in part to over-generous initial allocations following lobbying by industry.

“This should be the final wake-up call both to governments and to the European parliament,” said Connie Hedegaard, EU climate commissioner. “To those in industry who both say that they want a strong EU ETS while they at the same time lobby against the policies that can secure exactly that I say: it is time to think twice.”

David Hone, climate change adviser for oil company Shell, said policy makers needed to focus on delivering a clear carbon price, rather than setting targets for renewable energy. “Many in the business community have been clear on this issue for over a decade – it’s all about putting a price on carbon.”

“The dinosaurs of European industry are holding progress back at the expense of all those businesses that would benefit,” said Lady Worthington, Labour peer and founder of carbon-trading thinktank Sandbag. “The wrong people – those who have not invested in energy efficiency and emissions reductions – get rewarded if the carbon price is low.” Sandbag calculates that there will be an excess of 2.2bn permits by 2020.

Thursday’s freefall in the ETS was prompted by the energy and industry committee of the European parliament opposing a proposal to delay the release of 900m future permits, so-called “backloading”. This would limit supply in the capped market and therefore support the carbon price. Analysts believe such a move could raise carbon prices to €15, but say prices above €20 are needed to give utilities the incentive to make serious switches to lower carbon energy generation.

“Until there is a clear will to give legislative support to this market we cannot expect participants to keep believing in it,” said one emissions trader.

The European commission warned this week that without action the carbon price could drop dramatically, leaving the ETS irrelevant and EU energy and environment policy unravelling. Coal-intensive Poland is opposed to reform, while the UK wants a more ambitious plan, with 1.2bn permits delayed. Germany, the EU’s most influential member on industrial policy, is undecided.

The ETS was launched in 2005 and prices crashed during the first trading period to near zero in 2007, because of the over-allocation of permits. But traders today dismiss that collapse, blaming it on early errors in the experimental phase of the market. The carbon price hit a peak of €32 in April 2006 and traded above €30 in 2008. Thursday’s price is the lowest since the second trading period began.

Thursday’s vote is non-binding and more decisive votes will take place in the environment committee in February and a European parliament plenary session in March. “There are good signs they will vote the right way,” said Lady Worthington, who supports the postponement of permits but argues that many must be permanently removed. “I think there is a reasonably good chance of getting the backloading measure passed by March.”

Hedegaard said: “Few would disagree that the ETS – a market-based cap and trade system – is the most cost-efficient tool in EU climate politics. If in doubt look at all the big economies now following the EU example by establishing similar ETS systems: Australia, Korea, California and China.”

Whatever the outcome in Brussels, analysts say the ETS will limp along, even if the carbon price is so low as to provide no incentive at all for emissions reductions, because dismantling the scheme would be as complicated as reforming it.

US Pumps Up Oil Output, Big Gains Seen for 2013

CNBC | Jan 8, 2013

By Patti Domm

100210362-money_oil_barrel_gettyp.240x160The growing role of the U.S. as a major energy producer is changing the dynamic of the energy market.

U.S. oil production continues to accelerate at a surprising rate, and the government now predicts the U.S. industry could pump 14 percent more oil this year alone. The use of non conventional drilling techniques in places like North Dakota and Texas has created an explosion in U.S. production to the point where the U.S. is expected to surpass Saudi Arabia in crude production by 2020, according to U.S. government statistics.

At the same time, the industry is developing more pipeline capacity to carry landlocked U.S. crude from storage in Cushing, Okla. to the Gulf Coast refining areas. That should continue to drive the trend, create more refined product for the U.S. and export markets, and bring down some oil prices in the next several years, according to the Energy Information Administration.

In the next few days, a significant pipeline expansion is coming on line as the Seaway pipeline adds 250,000 barrels a day in capacity from Cushing to its current 150,000 barrels. In anticipation, the market has compressed the spread between U.S.-produced West Texas Intermediate and the international bench mark Brent crude, to below $18, the narrowest level since September.

“There’s high hopes for what this Seaway pipeline will do for the WTI market, and that spread. There’s a lot of expectations around that right now,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital.

The energy market has been trading these macro trends, and on Wednesday traders will also have their eyes on the 10:30 a.m. ET EIA release of weekly oil and refined product inventory data. The American Petroleum Institute inventory data, released Tuesday afternoon, showed a surprise build in crude of 2.36 million barrels and a very large jump in gasoline stockpiles to 7.93 million barrels.

“It was extremely bearish tonight. If the EIA comes in with a build like that tomorrow, it could break the back of the recent crude rally and we could see gasoline prices flirt with $3 on a national average in coming weeks,” Kilduff said.

The EIA also released its short-term outlook Tuesday, which included raised expectations for 2013 and its first forecast for 2014.

It said U.S. oil production, already at a 15-year high, is now expected to rise to 7.3 million barrels per day in 2013. That’s 300,000 more than its December forecast, and 900,000 barrels per day more than what was produced in 2012. It also expects 2014 production to increase to 7.9 million barrels, the highest since 1988. That is up from a low of 5 million barrels in 2008.

The result could be lower prices. The EIA forecasts Brent could fall to $105 next year, and to $99 in 2014, from its 2012 average of $112. It expects WTI to trade an average $89.54 in 2013, and $91 in 2014. The spread between WTI, trading at about $93 Tuesday, and Brent, trading at $111.82 Tuesday, should continue to narrow to $16 in 2013, and to $8 in 2014.

“We were having trouble getting oil to market because of that bottleneck in Cushing, and that’s one of the things that the pipeline is supposed to help,” said Gene McGillian, analyst with Tradition Energy. McGillian said the oil market also has its eye on Washington, and trading has been more volatile as a result.

“The idea that the spending cuts and the debt ceiling weren’t dealt with keeps the market focused on economic issues,” he said.

Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates, said Seaway is the first of several pipelines that will change the flow of oil. “By the end of the first quarter, we expect pipelines form Magellan LP and Sunoco Logistics to be on line,” said Lipow. “By the end of 2013, we should have the Keystone XL Southern leg in service from Cushing to the Gulf Coast.

The flood of new oil coming to the Gulf Coast could compete with Louisiana Light Crude, used in refining, and priced closer to Brent, said Kilduff.

“The question is whether the impact of all this crude coming into the Gulf Coast, is it going to be enough to top over demand for Brent? Will it be a tipping point?” said Kilduff. “The way these numbers keep going up and up, it seems like it could.” Kilduff said that would depend on how the impact of the Midwest crude filters through to the east coast, since the east coast refineries have run on oil based on Brent prices.

“The question is whether WTI rises to the Brent price, or Brent falls down toward the WTI price,” said Kilduff. “Right now, it appears the WTI is rising toward the Brent. The focus now is on what this pipeline is going to do to drain the bottleneck in Cushing.” Brent has historically traded below WTI, but in the last several years it’s been at a premium because of Middle East tensions, declining production in the North Sea, production disruptions in Africa and mostly the bottleneck in Cushing.

Kilduff added that the Saudis have also increased supplies to their jointly owned Motiva refinery in Texas, and that supply will also hit the Gulf Coast market.

“My expectation is that the Brent spread will get to $10,” said Lipow. “My expectation is that we will export a record amount of petroleum product in 2013 because petroleum product demand in the U.S. is relatively stagnant and we are going to process more crude as refiners in the Gulf Coast have raw material and operating cost advantages.” The U.S. became a net exporter of refined products in 2011 for the first time since 1949.

Lipow said the U.S. refineries are running at historically high levels for this time of year, and he thinks pump prices, could fall to a low this year of $3.10 per gallon. According to AAA, the national average is $3.30 per gallon for unleaded regular gasoline, up slightly from $3.29 a week ago, but down from $3.47 a month ago. His expectation is that the year high will be $3.70.

Peter Thiel Gives Inventor $300,000 To Develop Man-Made Tornados

tornado
A tornado near Anadarko, Oklahoma. Wikimedia Commons.

businessinsider.com | Dec 17, 2012

by Megan Rose Dickey

Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel just gave Canadian inventor Louis Michaud $300,000 to make man-made tornadoes.

Michaud and his company, AVEtec, are building a prototype of its Atmospheric Vortex Engine to create tornadoes about 40 meters high that can produce energy from waste heat.

The energy would be free of carbon emissions, and would only cost 3 cents per kilowatt hour. As a reference, coal can cost anywhere from 4 to 5 cents per kwh.

The money specifically comes from Thiel’s Breakout Labs program, which gives small grants to early-stage companies pursuing scientific ideas.

Michaud intends to have an operational model complete by Summer 2013.

Alaska’s oil windfall


Oil revenue accounts for 90% of Alaska’s tax haul, and a booming energy sector puts more money into residents’ pockets.

CNNMoneyMarkets | Feb 29, 2012

By Maureen Farrell

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Alaska has a big vested interest in high oil and gas prices.

Oil revenue accounts for 90% of the state’s tax haul. So its budget swells and oil royalties gush into a special state investment fund — the only one of its kind in the United States.

And that can translate into windfalls for residents, who share in the oil bounty through annual dividends paid by the fund and, in boom times, direct payments from the state.

For example, when oil and gas hit record highs in 2008, residents received $3,000 checks, twice what they normally get.

“Things become much easier for the state when oil prices are high,” said Gerald McBeath, a professor at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. “It makes it possible for them to increase funding for schools, construction and protection services.”

But, of course, there’s a dark side to high oil prices.

Alaska is a net importer of food and other consumer staples, the cost of which rise when energy prices spike. Residents get hit with outsize fuel and food prices.
What’s behind the gas price spike

In addition, the state investment fund’s investments — primarily stocks, bonds and real estate — usually take a hit if the economy cools.

Still overall, rising gas prices mean higher revenues for the state’s treasury.

In 2011, Alaska collected $7 billion from oil companies, up from $6.2 billion in 2010.

Now if oil prices continue to climb, the state will exceed the $8.9 billion it had projected it would earn in 2012. Back in 2008, revenues hit $11.3 billion.

And unlike fiscally-strapped states struggling over which public services to cut, Alaskan officials are deciding whether to increase state-backed programs or create new ones. Examples include a $4.3 billion hydroelectric dam or more dividend checks to residents.

“Whenever we have money in the treasury, people come forward with ideas to spend it,” said Steve Colt, a professor at the University of Alaska at Anchorage. “There’s a long laundry list of smaller projects that people are advocating for.”

The state’s treasury now holds reserves of $12.1 billion, the largest amount of any U.S. state.

Alaska collects income from oil companies in three ways: excavation taxes, corporate taxes on oil profits and royalties. The treasury gets 75% of the royalty payments, and the oil investment fund gets the rest.

The Alaska Permanent Fund was created in 1976, soon after oil started moving through the TransAlaska pipeline. The idea was to give residents a cut of the state’s oil revenues in the form of an annual dividend.

The royalties have helped the fund build a $41 billion portfolio.

The dividend to residents is based on the fund’s returns over the past five years. That helps smooth out oil’s boom and bust years. During good years, the fund gets more in royalties, but typically those years coincide with challenging economic times and tougher market conditions.

“You’ve got more money to make money with, and more money to lose money with too,” said Mike Burns, executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Indeed, the fund’s 2009 fiscal year covered both record oil prices and the fall of Lehman Brothers — and the ensuing stock market plunge. The fund reported a loss of 18.5% that year, but it generated 20.5% returns in fiscal year 2011.

he fund also makes longer-term bets on real estate and infrastructure.

Alaska’s fund is a 50% owner of the Manhattan headquarters of megabank UBS. It also owns a piece of Tyson’s Corner mall outside of Washington, D.C., and the North Bridge shopping mall in downtown Chicago.

The fund even has stakes in airports in London and Vancouver, a waste disposal plant in Great Britain and a propane storage plant in India. To top of page

How the Yakuza went nuclear


Suzuki Tomohiko’s book on the ties between the yakuza and the nuclear industry

What really went wrong at the Fukushima plant? One undercover reporter risked his life to find out

Telegraph | Feb 21, 2012

By Jake Adelstein

On March 11 2011, at 2:46pm, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan. The earthquake, followed by a colossal tsunami, devastated the nation, together killing over 10,000 people. The earthquake also triggered the start of a triple nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). Of the three reactors that melted down, one was nearly 40 years old and should have been decommissioned two decades ago. The cooling pipes, “the veins and arteries of the old nuclear reactors”, which circulated fluid to keep the core temperature down, ruptured.

Approximately 40 minutes after the shocks, the tsunami reached the power plant and knocked out the electrical systems. Japan’s Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (Nisa) had warned Tepco about safety violations and problems at the plant days before the earthquake; they’d been warned about the possibility of a tsunami hitting the plant for years.

The denials began almost immediately. “There has been no meltdown,” government spokesman Yukio Edano intoned in the days after March 11. “It was an unforeseeable disaster,” Tepco’s then president Masataka Shimizu chimed in. As we now know, the meltdown was already taking place. And the disaster was far from unforeseeable.

Tepco has long been a scandal-ridden company, caught time and time again covering up data on safety lapses at their power plants, or doctoring film footage which showed fissures in pipes. How was the company able to get away with such long-standing behaviour? According to an explosive book recently published in Japan, they owe it to what the author, Tomohiko Suzuki, calls “Japan’s nuclear mafia… A conglomeration of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, the shady nuclear industry, their lobbyists…” And at the centre of it all stands Japan’s actual mafia: the yakuza.

It might surprise the Western reader that gangsters are involved in Japan’s nuclear industry and even more that they would risk their lives in a nuclear crisis. But the yakuza roots in Japanese society are very deep. In fact, they were some of the first responders after the earthquake, providing food and supplies to the devastated area and patrolling the streets to make sure no looting occurred.

As the scale of the catastrophe at Fukushima became apparent, many workers fled the scene. To contain the nuclear meltdown, a handful of workers stayed behind, being exposed to large amounts of radiation: the so-called “Fukushima Fifty”. Among this heroic group, according to Suzuki, were several members of the yakuza.

The yakuza are not a secret society in Japan. The government tacitly recognises their existence, and they are classified, designated and regulated. Yakuza make their money from extortion, blackmail, construction, real estate, collection services, financial market manipulation, protection rackets, fraud and a labyrinth of front companies including labour dispatch services and private detective agencies. They do the work that no one else will do or find the workers for jobs no one wants.

“Almost all nuclear power plants that are built in Japan are built taking the risk that the workers may well be exposed to large amounts of radiation,” says Suzuki. “That they will get sick, they will die early, or they will die on the job. And the people bringing the workers to the plants and also doing the construction are often yakuza.” Suzuki says he’s met over 1,000 yakuza in his career as an investigative journalist and former editor of yakuza fanzines. For his book, The Yakuza and the Nuclear Industry, Suzuki went undercover at Fukushima to find first-hand evidence of the long-rumoured ties between the nuclear industry and the yakuza. First he documents how remarkably easy it was to become a nuclear worker at Fukushima after the meltdown. After signing up with a legitimate company providing labour, he entered the plant armed only with a wristwatch with a hidden camera. Working there over several months, he quickly found yakuza-supplied labour, and many former yakuza working on site themselves.

Suzuki discovered evidence of Tepco subcontractors paying yakuza front companies to obtain lucrative construction contracts; of money destined for construction work flying into yakuza accounts; and of politicians and media being paid to look the other way. More shocking, perhaps, were the conditions he says he found inside the plant.

His fellow workers, found Suzuki, were a motley crew of homeless, chronically unemployed Japanese men, former yakuza, debtors who owed money to the yakuza, and the mentally handicapped. Suzuki claims the regular employees at the plant were often given better radiation suits than the yakuza recruits. (Tepco has admitted that there was a shortage of equipment in the disaster’s early days.) The regular employees were allowed to pass through sophisticated radiation monitors while the temporary labourers were simply given hand rods to monitor their radiation exposure.

When Suzuki was working in the plant in August, he had to wear a full-body radiation protective suit and a gas mask that covered his entire face. The hot summer temperatures and the lack of breathability in the suits ensured that almost every day a worker would keel over with heat exhaustion and be carried out; they would invariably return to work the next day. Going to the bathroom was virtually impossible, so workers were simply told to “hold it”. According to Suzuki, the temperature monitors in the plant weren’t even working, and were ignored. Removing the mask during work was against the rules; no matter how thirsty workers became, they could not drink water. After an hour fixing pipes and doing other work, Suzuki says his body felt like it was enveloped in flames. Workers were not checked to see if they were coping, they were expected to report it to their supervisors. However, while Tepco officials on the ground told the workers not to risk injury, it seemed that anyone complaining of the working conditions or fatigue would be fired. Few took their allotted rest breaks.

Related

The Yakuza and the Nuclear Mafia

Those who reported feeling unwell were treated by Tepco doctors, nearly always with what Suzuki says was essentially cold medicine.The risk of radiation exposure was 100 per cent. The masks, if their filters were cleaned regularly, which they were not, could only remove 60 per cent of the radioactive particles in the air. Anonymous workers claimed that the filters themselves were ill-fitting; if they accidentally bumped their masks, radiation could easily get in. The workers’ dosimeter badges, meanwhile, used to measure an individual’s exposure to radiation, could be easily manipulated to give false readings. According to Suzuki, tricks like pinning a badge on backwards, or putting it in your sock, were commonplace. Regular workers were given dosimeters which would sound an alarm when radiation exceeded safe levels, but it made such a racket that, says Suzuki, “people just turned them off or over and kept working.”

The initial work, directly after a series of hydrogen explosions in March, was extremely dangerous. Radiation was reaching levels so high that the Japanese government raised the safety exposure levels and even ordered scientists to stop monitoring radiation levels in some areas of the plants. Tepco sent out word to their contractors to gather as many people as possible and to offer substantial wages. Yakuza recruited from all over Japan; the initial workers were paid 50,000 yen (£407) per day, but one dispatch company offered 200,000 yen (£1,627) per day.

Even then, recruits were hard to find. Officials in Fukushima reportedly told local businesses, “Bring us the living dead. People no one will miss.” The labour crunch was eased somewhat when the Japanese government and Tepco raised the “safe” radiation exposure levels at the plant from pre-earthquake levels of 130-180cpm (radiation exposure per minute) to 100,000cpm.

The work would be further subcontracted to the point where labourers were being sent from sixth-tier firms. A representative from one company told Suzuki of an agreement made with a Tepco subcontractor right after the accident: “Normally, to even enter the grounds of a nuclear power plant a nuclear radiation personal data management pocketbook is required. We were told that wasn’t necessary. We didn’t even have time to give the workers physical examinations before they were sent to the plant.”

A former yakuza boss tells me that his group has “always” been involved in recruiting labourers for the nuclear industry. “It’s dirty, dangerous work,” he says, “and the only people who will do it are homeless, yakuza, or people so badly in debt that they see no other way to pay it off.” Suzuki found people who’d been threatened into working at Fukushima, but others who’d volunteered. Why? “Of course, if it was a matter of dying today or tomorrow they wouldn’t work there,” he explains. “It’s because it could take 10 years or more for someone to possibly die of radiation excess. It’s like Russian roulette. If you owe enough money to the yakuza, working at a nuclear plant is a safer bet. Wouldn’t you rather take a chance at dying 10 years later than being stabbed to death now?” (Suzuki’s own feeling was that the effects of low-level radiation are still unknown and that, as a drinker and smoker, he’s probably no more likely to get cancer than he was before.)

A recent report in Japan’s Mainichi newspaper alleged that workers from southern Japan were brought to the plant in July on false pretences and told to get to work. Many had to enter dangerous radioactive buildings. One man was reportedly tasked with carrying 20kg kilogram sheets of lead from the bottom floor of a damaged reactor up to the sixth floor, where his Geiger counters went into the danger zone. One worker said, “When I tried to quit, the people employing me mentioned the name of a local yakuza group. I got the hint. If Tepco didn’t know what was going on, I believe they should have.” Former Tepco executives, workers, police officials, as well as investigative journalist, Katsunobu Onda, author of TEPCO: The Dark Empire, all agree: Tepco have always known they were working with the yakuza; they just didn’t care. However, the articles Suzuki wrote before his book was published, and my own work, helped create enough public outcry to force Tepco into action. On July 19, four months after the meltdowns, they announced that they would be cutting ties with organised crime.

“They asked the companies that have been working with them for years to send them papers showing they’d cut organised crime ties,” Suzuki says. “They followed up by taking a survey.” Tepco has not answered my own questions on their anti-organised crime initiative as of this date; they’ve previously called Suzuki’s claims “groundless”.

The situation at Fukushima is still dire. Number-two reactor continues to heat up, and appears to be out of control. Rolling blackouts are a regular occurrence. Nuclear reactors are being shut down, one by one, all over Japan. Meanwhile, there is talk that Tepco will be nationalised and its top executives are under investigation for criminal negligence, in relation to the 3/11 disaster. As for the yakuza, the police are beginning to investigate their front companies more closely. “Yakuza may be a plague on society,” says Suzuki, “but they don’t ruin the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and irradiate the planet out of sheer greed and incompetence.” Suzuki says he’s had little trouble from the yakuza about his book’s allegations. He suspects this is because he showed they were prepared to risk their lives at Fukushima – he almost made them look good.

Shocker: dirty electric cars

From the University of Tennessee at Knoxville  comes this surprising bit of research. Taken in entirety, and electric vehicle has a greater impact on pollution than a comparable gasoline vehicle.

wattsupwiththat.com | Feb 13, 2012

UT researchers find China’s pollution related to E-cars may be more harmful than gasoline cars

by Anthony Watts

Electric cars have been heralded as environmentally friendly, but findings from University of Tennessee, Knoxville, researchers show that electric cars in China have an overall impact on pollution that could be more harmful to health than gasoline vehicles.

Chris Cherry, assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, and graduate student Shuguang Ji, analyzed the emissions and environmental health impacts of five vehicle technologies in 34 major Chinese cities, focusing on dangerous fine particles. What Cherry and his team found defies conventional logic: electric cars cause much more overall harmful particulate matter pollution than gasoline cars.

“An implicit assumption has been that air quality and health impacts are lower for electric vehicles than for conventional vehicles,” Cherry said. “Our findings challenge that by comparing what is emitted by vehicle use to what people are actually exposed to. Prior studies have only examined environmental impacts by comparing emission factors or greenhouse gas emissions.”

Particulate matter includes acids, organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles. It is also generated through the combustion of fossil fuels.

For electric vehicles, combustion emissions occur where electricity is generated rather than where the vehicle is used. In China, 85 percent of electricity production is from fossil fuels, about 90 percent of that is from coal. The authors discovered that the power generated in China to operate electric vehicles emit fine particles at a much higher rate than gasoline vehicles. However, because the emissions related to the electric vehicles often come from power plants located away from population centers, people breathe in the emissions a lower rate than they do emissions from conventional vehicles.

Still, the rate isn’t low enough to level the playing field between the vehicles. In terms of air pollution impacts, electric cars are more harmful to public health per kilometer traveled in China than conventional vehicles.

Read More

Study Finds that Childhood Leukemia Rates Double Near Nuclear Power Stations

oilprice.com | Jan 19, 2012

By John Daly

In a report certain to cause fear and loathing in the global nuclear industry, an eminent French research institute published a study in the International Journal of Cancer, which notes increased rates of leukemia in children living close to French nuclear power plants (NPPs.)

How much greater?

The study by the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale (French Institute of Health and Medical Research, or INSERM) found a leukemia rate twice as high among children under the age of 15 living within a 3.1-mile radius of France’s 19 nuclear power plants.

INSERM has carried out similar research in conjunction with the Institut de Radioprotection et de Surete Nucleaire (Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety, or IRSN) CEPA UMRS1018, team 6 for over two decades, but has never before found a higher incidence of leukemia.

The report builds upon the findings of a German study published in late 2007 studying German children under 5 years old, which found that children of that age in the vicinity of German NPPs had suffered an increase in the incidence of childhood leukemia.

IRSN epidemiology research laboratory head Dominique Laurier observed, “This is a result which has been checked thoroughly and which is statistically significant.”

For those wishing to read the International Journal of Cancer study by C. Sermage-Faure, D. Laurier, S. Goujon-Bellec, M. Chartier, A. Guyot-Goubin, J. Rudant, D. Hemon and J. Clavel, “Childhood leukemia around French nuclear power plants – the Geocap study, 2002 – 2007,” the document is online in English at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ijc.27425/pdf.

The study has ominous implications for the future of the nuclear industry in France, which opted for a full-blown nuclear energy program with minimal public debate after the first oil crisis in 1974 and whose 19 NPPs’ 58 reactors now provide more than 78 percent of the country’s electricity.

As for the study’s methodology, “The case-control study included all the 2,753 French childhood leukemia cases aged up to 15 years at the end of the year of diagnosis, diagnosed between 2002 and 2007, and residing in metropolitan France. The cases were obtained from the French National Registry of Childhood Hematological Malignancies (NRCH).”

Other unsettling findings from the study –

“The age distribution of the cases included in the study showed the expected peak of incidence, between 2 and 4 years old.”

“Overall, the results suggest a possible excess risk of AL (Acute lymphoblastic leukemia) in the close vicinity of French NPPs in 2002-2007.”

Nuclear power proponents will immediately seize upon the fact that the study fell short of establishing a direct causal link between the higher incidence of leukemia in children living near nuclear power plants. Laurier, one of the study’s authors remarked, “But we are working on numbers which are very small and results have to be analyzed with a lot of care. It’s a rare disease and working on a bigger scale would allow more stable results.”

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Russian ship leaves after ice-bound Alaska fuel run


Russian-flagged tanker Renda sits just off the coast of Nome, Alaska with two fuel transfer hoses running to a causeway in the harbor, in this January 16, 2012 handout photo. Reuters

AFP | Jan 21, 2012

NOME, Alaska — A Russian tanker left the Alaskan coast Saturday bound for home after delivering fuel to a remote Alaskan port, in an unprecedented winter operation helped by a US Coast Guard ice-breaker.

The Vladivostok-based Renda followed its escort the USCG Healy into the mist, leaving Nome after supplying 1.3 million gallons of fuel to top off the ice-locked town’s winter fuel supply.

The Russian ship had arrived a week earlier after battling across 300 miles (480 kilometers) of Arctic ice to reach Nome, a town of 3,500 people, with the help of the Healy.

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In some cases, the ice has been so thick that the Healy has opened a path for the Renda, only to see it close before the Renda could use it, forcing the Healy to circle around and reopen a path.

The remote town did not get its usual pre-winter oil delivery due to a storm, necessitating the unprecedented operation to bring fuel in during winter.

A special waiver had to be granted to allow the Renda to head to the rescue, as under a 1920 law only US-owned and operated vessels are allowed to make such deliveries.

The two ships finally arrived near Nome late last week, although it took several days to move the tanker into position and start pumping fuel through some 460 yards (meters) of arctic-proof hoses to fuel storage tanks onshore.

Once out of the ice, the ships will separate. The Healy will go to Seattle for maintenance.

Mark Smith, head of Vitus Marine, the company that chartered the Renda for the fuel delivery, said ice and wind conditions could be favorable for the ship’s return to Vladivostock, its home port in Russia’s Far East.

Forecasts suggested 100-150 miles of open water were opening up, he said before the tanker and its US escort left.

“They are optimistic that if they can get away from shore fast ice they can make some rapid progress,” he said.

“It’s all about ice conditions, but once the Renda is free of the ice pack, they are probably 10 days away from homeport in Vladivostok.”

Shivering S. Koreans battle ‘Big Chill’ in offices


South Korean women wearing warm clothes walk in a street of Seoul on January 11 (AFP/File, Hong Jin-Hwan)

AFP | Jan 18, 2012

By Nam You-Sun

SEOUL — “It’s freezing!” complained chef Byun Sang-Won, jogging on the spot with arms folded and teeth clenched as he tried to keep warm inside the luxury Seoul hotel where he works.

“I can’t even imagine working without wearing extra underwear and hot packs because it’s too cold in the kitchen and hallways,” the 26-year-old said.

Tens of thousands of shivering South Koreans feel the same way.

Cold Januarys, with average lows of minus 6 to 7 Celsius (21-19 Fahrenheit) and occasionally minus 15 C, are the norm. But this winter there is no escape from the chill.

The government, worried about shrinking power reserves after a shock September blackout, has ordered staff in 19,000 government offices to keep the indoor temperature below 18 degrees C (64 F).

Private buildings including offices must not exceed 20 C (68 F) between December 5 and February 29. Offenders face fines of between 500,000 won ($433) and three million won.

“There have been complaints that working in such a chilly environment is uncomfortable,” acknowledged Kim Jeong-Dae, an official at the Knowledge Economy Ministry in charge of enforcing the measures.

“But we have no choice. Recent changes in energy usage patterns led to surging demand for electricity, while eco-friendly policies and awareness that Korea overuses energy made it difficult to build more power plants.”

Officials from the knowledge economy ministry regularly visit private and government offices and other premises to check room temperatures with thermometers.

During the big chill, employees pile on more layers of clothing starting with underwear. To stop shivering at their desks, they use hot packs — air-activated pads for pockets or under vests — and blankets.

“Everyone works wearing a jacket, scarf and gloves because it’s so cold even in the office,” said Lee Hae-Woo, 24, an assistant director at state broadcaster Korea Broadcasting System.

“With guards checking the temperature regularly, it’s impossible to heat up more than we are told to. Well, it’s government policy, so what can we do about it?”

Chef Byun said his co-workers, when out of the public eye, swathe themselves in blankets or stuff hot packs in their pockets.

“It’s good trying to cut energy usage but it shouldn’t be too cold, because people’s efficiency really does fall when they feel too frozen to do anything,” he told AFP.

“And it gets worse when our guests complain and talk about their ‘right to be warm’ in the lobby and restaurants. But we can’t do anything about it.”

Not everyone gives the rules a frosty reception. Online shopping malls have been doing a roaring trade.

From early December, major online malls GS shop and D&shop together sold more than 16,000 sets of underwear in less than a month, double the amount even in the unusually cold winter of 2010-2011.

Sales of hot packs and blankets sales increased by more than 20 percent to 3,000 and 2,000 respectively.

“Office workers are at the centre of this spree, as the office temperature is so low that it’s called ‘Big Chill training’ for employees,” GS shop said in a statement.

The electricity scare was paradoxically caused by unusually warm weather last September, when several power stations were down for maintenance.

As reserves fell dangerously low, authorities briefly imposed rolling blackouts lasting several hours which hit up to 2.1 million households and other premises.

In November, as winter loomed, the government announced its winter power-saving measures. President Lee Myung-Bak urged fellow Koreans to follow his example and don thicker underwear.

Restrictions on neon signs were also announced, although the giant TV screens which dot Seoul’s cityscape are still switched on.

The power-saving drive follows measures imposed in neighbouring Japan to help lower blackout risks last summer, which limited the use of air conditioning following the March tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster.

With the majority of its nuclear reactors halted for routine inspections, Japan has also urged businesses and households to reduce consumption this winter.

Unlike Japan, analysts say South Korea’s power problems arise because successive governments have shirked charging consumers a realistic price for electricity.

Britain’s electricity price is about twice that of South Korea.

Critics say the office restrictions are counter-productive because workers smuggle in small fan heaters to hide under their desks.

But despite the complaints, the government is expected to maintain this winter’s policy for the foreseeable future.

“So far, people have followed the policy without much trouble and thanks to that, we are not going through severe electricity shortage issues for now,” Kim of the knowledge economy ministry told AFP.

“It takes 10 years to build a nuclear power plant and at least five years to build a liquefied natural gas plant. So we will have to try our best to reduce consumption rather than increase supply.”