Category Archives: Development

Fukushima reactor disaster costs near $200 billion


The latest sobering numbers from Japan Today:

Japan’s trade ministry has almost doubled the estimated cost of compensation for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and decommissioning of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to more than 20 trillion yen ($177.51 billion), the Nikkei business daily reported on Sunday.

The trade ministry at the end of 2013 calculated the cost at 11 trillion yen, which was comprised of 5.4 trillion yen for compensation, 2.5 trillion yen for decontamination, 1.1 trillion yen for an interim storage facility for contaminated soil, and 2 trillion yen for decommissioning, the report said.

The new estimate raised the cost of compensation to 8 trillion yen and decontamination to 4-5 trillion yen, the cost for an interim storage facility remained steady, and decommissioning will rise by several trillion yen, it added.

The part of the cost increase will be passed on in electricity fees, it added, citing multiple unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

A parallel story from California

The Fukushima reactor complex was constructed adjacent to the Pacific Ocean coast in a nation known for it’s frequent and furious earthquakes.

Remind you of California?

As we’ve written previously and extensively, California allowed construction of both its commercial power reactor complexes on the Pacific Coast and in areas riddled with earthquake faults.

And when one of the reactor complexes suffered a major breakdown, the Golden State did just as Japan is now doing. They stuck utility customers with the bill.

From a 3 June story in the San Diego Union-Tribune, reporting on the shutdown of the San Onofre reactor complex in northern San Diego County, a project of San Diego Gas & Electric Co.:

According to the utility, customers are on track to save $500 million or more off their share of the original $4.7 billion deal adopted by regulators 19 months ago.

An insurance payout and funding from a federal nuclear decommissioning trust have helped, the utility said. And further reductions in the ratepayer contribution may come if Edison is successful in a lawsuit against vendor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and in selling off fuel purchased for the nuclear plant that will no longer be needed.

Consumer advocates criticized Edison’s response to the utilities commission. They said the company cherry-picked numbers to make it appear customers are being charged less than they are.

The critics said that nowhere in the filing does the utility accept responsibility for installing flawed equipment that led to the shutdown of the plant amid a radiation leak in January 2012.

The reason for the shutdown is that the company installed a faulty piping system inside the reactor complex, a set of pipes so flawed that they leaked radioactively “hot” water inside the containment structure.

The whole nuclear power industry was an offshoot of the U.S. nuclear weapons program, and the government lied to the American people in order to get concessions and support run through Congress.

The most notorious lie came in 1954, when the first chair of the Atomic Energy Commission [now the Department of Energy] told science writers that “Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter.”

Those children now have children of their own, and those meters are still clocking up the dollars.

And now when those power stations go flooey [a favorite phrase of esnl’s own dad], the customers are stuck with the bill.

Consider an analogy

You’re in a grocery store when an earthquake hits, hurling all those beer and wine bottles, milk containers, pickle jars, and all the rest smashing to the floor.

Where they break.

Then you go the the checkout line to pay for whatever you’re gathered before the earth moved, only to discover that you’re forced to pay for all that smashed inventory — goods smashed because the store didn’t built in devices to restrain those goods from hurtling into into a catastrophic mess of goo and gunk. . .

Seem fair to you?

Army says it won’t evict Dakota pipeline protesters


Some good news, for the moment for protesters attempting to blockade the Dakota Access Pipeline [previously].

From Deutsche Welle:

The US Army Corps of Engineers said Sunday it has “no plans for forcible removal” of protesters who have been camping in North Dakota to protest the pipeline. The Corps had notified tribal leaders Friday that all federal lands north of the Cannonball River would be closed to public access December 5 out of “safety concerns.” The move sparked fears of a violent confrontation with law enforcement officials as they attempted to evict thousands of activists from the Oceti Sakowin camp erected in April.

Protesters and local law enforcement have regularly clashed over efforts by activists to disrupt final construction of the 1,172-mile (1,885-kilometer) pipeline that would move crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

But in a statement the Army Corps’ district commander in Omaha, Nebraska clarified that federal agencies aren’t planning to forcibly evict protesters.  “I am very concerned for the safety and well-being of all citizens at these encampments on Corps-managed federal land, and we want to make sure people are in a safe place for the winter,” Colonel John Henderson said.  “We fully support the rights of all Americans to exercise free speech and peacefully assemble, and we ask that they do it in a way that does not also endanger themselves or others, or infringe on others’ rights.”

The Standing Rock Sioux have challenged the project in federal court, saying the pipeline’s more than 200 water crossings, including one less than a mile upstream of the reservation, would imperil drinking water for more than 8,000 tribal members and millions downstream. Activist organizers told a news conference on Saturday at the main protest site where about 5,000 people are camped that they had no intention of moving. There are smaller camps on land not subject to the planned restrictions, including an area south of the Cannonball River where the Corps said it was establishing a so-called “free-speech zone” by authorities.

A tale of two indigenous land protest movements


The Dakota Access Pipeline [DAP] is a 1,600-mile pipeline being built to carry high-grade petroleum from North Dakota’s fracked-up Bakken Shale proposed across North and South Dakota and on through Iowa to Illinois.

The only problem, besides all the environmental worries connected with oil, fracking, and constructing a pipeline that could leak into some of the nation’s most environmentally sensitive landscapes and waterways, the project is being driven through land considered sacred by several of the nation’s indigenous tribes.

Native American take a different view of land that do the statutes of states and the federal government, which see land as property, susceptible to “improvements” — usually those proposed by folks looking out to make a fast buck.

Indigenous people tend to see land different, as a living thing of which they are a small but significant part.

Mother Earth, in other words, is more than just as advertising slogan.

The DAP passes through landscape — a better term than the purely utilitarian land favored by legislators, banksters, and corporateers — considered sacred by the Standing Rock Sioux, and it was a woman, tribal Historic Preservation Officer LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who formally launched the protest movement against the project by opening the Sacred Stone Camp on April 1.

The protest has been joined by other indigenous groups, environmentalists, and scientists concerned about the ecological impacts and threats to endangered species.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced Friday that protesters blockading pipeline construction must end by 5 December or mass arrests would follow, and the Obama administration shows no sign of intervening as of this writing.

Which brings us to the story of another protest, and a successful campaign launched by women to thwart a housing development of scared landscape north of the U.S. border.

From the National Film Board of Canada, a 2009 documentary film by Sara Roque:

Six Miles Deep

Program notes:

A documentary portrait of a group of women who led their community, the largest reserve in Canada, Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, in an historic blockade to protect their land. On February 28, 2006, members of the Iroquois Confederacy [also known as the Haudenosaunee or People of the Longhouse] blockade a highway near Caledonia, Ontario to prevent a housing development on land that falls within their traditional territories. The ensuing confrontation makes national headlines for months. Less well known is the crucial role of the clan mothers of the community who set the rules for conduct. When the community’s chiefs ask people to abandon the barricades, it is the clan mothers who overrule them, leading a cultural reawakening in their traditionally matriarchal community.

Poisoning San Francisco’s poor, Latino babies


In our years reporting for the Berkeley Daily Planet, our primary beat was land development, long the dominant force in California politics.

One thing we learned very quickly: Much of the San Francisco Bay Area is built on sites laden with environmental pollutants hazardous to human health, and without rigorous enforcement by federal and state regulatory agencies — agencies under relentless attack by Republican — thousands of Californians would face even greater dangers

[And note that one of Donald Trump’s campaign promises is the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency (or, as he calls it, the “Department of Environmental Protection“, the federal enforcement arm created by, of all people, fellow Republican Richard M Nixon.]

Who suffers most from the legacy of a century or more of unregulated manufacturing along San Francisco Bay.

It is the poor of course, forced to live in housing on or adjacent to some of the most polluted sites. and their children most of all.

From the University of California:

Low-income and Latina pregnant women who seek care at Zuckerberg San Francisco General have widespread exposure to environmental pollutants, many of which show up in higher levels in newborns than the mothers, according to a new study from UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and Biomonitoring California. The study is the first in the United States to measure exposure to 59 toxic chemicals in pregnant women and their newborns.

“Pregnant women in the U.S. are exposed to many harmful industrial chemicals that have been linked to premature birth, low birth weight and birth defects, but estimates of how efficiently pollutants are transferred from mother to fetus have varied widely,” said Tracey Woodruff, a professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences and the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at UCSF. Woodruff, the senior author of the study, also directs the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at UCSF. “Our findings have found that many chemicals do indeed accumulate in the fetal environment and are absorbed at greater levels by fetuses than by the pregnant women themselves. This may have significant consequences for the growing fetus, since many of these chemicals are known to affect development.”

Researchers measured polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides (OCPs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), mercury and lead, among other chemicals. These industrial pollutants are common in the environment, and in previous studies many have been detected in greater than 99 percent of U.S. pregnant women, according to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data.

“Contrary to previous research, we found evidence that several PCBs and OCPs were often higher in umbilical cord samples than in maternal blood samples,” said lead author Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. The study also found that concentrations of mercury and certain PBDEs were often higher in umbilical cord samples than in maternal samples, and for most PFCs and lead, cord blood concentrations were generally equal to or lower than maternal concentrations, which is consistent with previous research.

The study was published Nov. 1 in the print edition of Environmental Science and Technology [$40 to access for 48 hours].

Risks for women of color

Almost 80 percent of the chemicals detected in maternal blood samples were also detected in the umbilical cord blood samples, indicating that they passed through the placenta and entered the fetal environment, where they can pose a health risk to the developing baby. For those chemicals detected in at least 20 paired maternal and umbilical cord samples, 77 percent had significant correlations between maternal and umbilical cord concentrations.

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Brazilian prosecutor probes Trump profiteering


Yep, The Donald’s a shady character in Brazil as well, reports teleSUR English:

A Brazilian prosecutor investigating potentially corrupt investments made by state pension funds said the real estate company run by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump appears to have benefited “suspiciously” from a massive redevelopment of Rio de Janeiro’s port ahead of the Olympics.

The development, known as Porto Maravilha, or Marvelous Port in Portuguese, cost 8 billion reais (US$2.5 billion) and developed run-down docklands into a plaza, museums, corporate and residential real estate. As part of the project, five 38-story buildings were meant to be erected under the Trump brand.

Public prosecutor Alselmo Lopes said in a court filing made public on Thursday that he is investigating the Porto Maravilha deal in which the national employee severance fund FGTS, managed by state bank Caixa Economica Federal (CEF.UL), paid up front for building rights which it then resold.

The structuring of the Porto Maravilha deal “favored, in a suspicious way, the Trump Organization economic group”, among others, Lopes said. The prosecutor gave no further details and was not immediately reachable for comment.

Chart of the day: Wealth rises to the top, again


Just as the rich are getting richer while the rest of us stagnate, so too the richer economies are getting richer while the poorer economies can’t keep up.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun:

blog-econ

Big Agra African land grabs raise risk of violence


Regions of Africa where the relative availability of fresh water, as calculated by the Blue Water Index [BWI] threatens violence as the competition got fresh water between smallholders and giant foreign-owned farms intensifies.

Regions of Africa where the relative availability of fresh water, as calculated by the Blue Water Index [BWI] threatens violence as the competition got fresh water between smallholders and giant foreign-owned farms intensifies.

We’ve long been concerned about the increasing share of African farmlands, once owned in common by the people who farm them, being sold to foreign agricultural giants by cash-strapped African governments.

One of our deepest concerns has been the power of those corporations, largely own by Chinese and European multinationals, to gain control over the continent’s water supplies, raising the risk of starvation and violence for the planet’s poorest continent.

And now comes a study confirming our suspicions and revealing just where the risks of conflict are greatest.

From Sweden’s Lund University:

For the first time, researchers point to areas in Africa where foreign agricultural companies’ choice of crops and management of fresh water are partly responsible for the increased water shortages and greater competition for water. This in turn increases the risk of outright conflicts between all those who need water – plants, animals and humans.

During the 21st century, foreign companies have leased large tracts of land in Africa – more so than in other parts of the world – in order to produce cheap food, cheap timber and cheap raw material for biofuels. An interdisciplinary study from Lund University in Sweden shows that about three per cent of the land leased in Africa by foreign companies has been registered as currently in production, for the purpose of growing crops. For various reasons, the companies have either pulled out or not started producing on other leased land.

The study also shows that the crops that foreign investors decide to grow often require more water than the traditionally grown crops. Furthermore, it shows that the same crop can have very different needs for water, depending on the climate where it is grown and which irrigation systems the companies use.

The researchers in Lund, together with a colleague in France, have developed a model that shows how much water is needed for different production systems, in different types of climates, in different parts of the continent. The model takes into account both the size of the land and the type of irrigation system.

This model has enabled researchers to distinguish between areas where rainwater accounts for the largest share of irrigation water, and areas where large foreign agricultural companies satisfy more than half of their water needs by using fresh water sources, such as groundwater, rivers and ponds. This has allowed the researchers to highlight the areas around the continent where increased competition for water escalates the risk of water-related conflicts between different sectors and ecosystems.

“These hotspots have not been identified in this way before. Previous studies have often focused on the size of the area and not on how much fresh water is used to grow the demanding crops that foreign companies are interested in”, says physical geographer Emma Li Johansson, who was in charge of the study.

The leases are often written for periods of 33 to 99 years. The contracts rarely include any rules or limits concerning the use of water.

“Our research can perhaps lead to foreign investors showing greater consideration for how much water is necessary, in relation to how much water is actually available. Hopefully, the results can serve as a basis for documents that regulate the water consumption of large-scale farming companies”, says Emma Li Johansson.

The results are published in an article in the scientific journal PNAS.

Download article: Johansson E L et al (2016) Green and blue water demand from large-scale land acquisitions in Africa. PNAS (open access).