Institute for Policy Studies

Washington, DC, United States

Institute for Policy Studies

Washington, DC, United States
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News Article | December 1, 2016

Seemingly little connects a community in India plagued by toxic water, a looming air pollution crisis in South Africa and a new fracking boom that is pockmarking Australia. And yet there is a common thread: American taxpayer money. Through the US Export-Import Bank, Barack Obama’s administration has spent nearly $34bn supporting 70 fossil fuel projects around the world, work by Columbia Journalism School’s Energy and Environment Reporting Project and the Guardian has revealed. This unprecedented backing of oil, coal and gas projects is an unexpected footnote to Obama’s own climate change legacy. The president has called global warming “terrifying” and helped broker the world’s first proper agreement to tackle it, yet his administration has poured money into developments that will push the planet even closer to climate disaster. For people living next to US-funded mines and power stations the impacts are even more starkly immediate. Guardian and Columbia reporters have spent time at American-backed projects in India, South Africa and Australia to document the sickness, upheavals and environmental harm that come with huge dirty fuel developments. In India, we heard complaints about coal ash blowing into villages, contaminated water and respiratory and stomach problems, all linked to a project that has had more than $650m in backing from the Obama administration. In South Africa, another huge project is set to exacerbate existing air pollution problems, deforestation and water shortages. And in Australia, an enormous US-backed gas development is linked to a glut of fracking activity that has divided communities and brought a new wave of industrialization next to the cherished Great Barrier Reef. While Obama can claim the US is the world’s leader on climate change – at least until Donald Trump enters the White House – it is also clear that it has become a major funder of fossil fuels that are having a serious impact upon people’s lives. This is the unexpected story of how Obama’s legacy is playing out overseas. A hulking thermal power plant funded by American money shimmers in orange when night settles in India’s coal-rich district of Singrauli. A heavy blanket of smog wraps around the industrial district and its residents. Sasan, an ambitious project by Indian energy utility Reliance Power, consumes coal incessantly from a nearby mine in the promise of lighting the homes of almost 300 million people in the country. But since it began operating in 2012, the project has been caught in a storm of health and safety violations, environmental concerns and land disputes. In 2010, Sasan was handed a $650m export finance loan by the US Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), a taxpayer-funded branch of the federal government that ostensibly exists to support American jobs and contribute to the US Treasury. The Sasan project was initially rejected by the bank for financing because of the extremely high carbon emissions from the coal-powered plant. However, Reliance reapplied for the loan under tighter emission guidelines, promising to “offset” 26.4m tonnes of annual carbon dioxide emissions produced by the plant through renewable power projects. Ex-Im Bank approved the loan to facilitate exports of goods and services from the US, insisting on environmental and safety guidelines for the plant’s sustainable development. However, over the course of five years, residents and activists in Singrauli concerns about the project have grown. Ramakali, 30, dressed in a vibrant sari with a thick smear of vermillion on her forehead, bent over a murky green well that was brimming to the top. The towers of Reliance Power stood tall behind her, the lettering on the chimneys within sight of her mud-and-brick home in the village of Harrahawa. Flies and insects flitted in the well water. “The water has started to taste funny,” she said. “I have been struggling with strong pains in my stomach ever since they started dumping their trash into our groundwater.” She pointed to the residual ash dumpsite of the Sasan plant, which is only a couple of metres from her doorstep. On a hot day, one can see ash dust blowing up from the ash pond in the direction of nearby villages surrounding the plant. The locals complain that ash from the enclosed reservoir is settling into the surface water of nearby regions, causing the wells to fill up to the top with impure water. “We put in a request for a handpump to the company but we never heard back,” Ramakali said, shaking her head. “They do nothing. We have complained countless number of times.” The national green tribunal, a court that hears environmental cases in India, released a report by a committee of environmental experts in August 2015, stating that the groundwater in Harrahawa next to the plant had high levels of mercury in it. Excess mercury in drinking water has been medically linked to severe nervous disorders and birth defects. Sasan was not exclusively identified as a source of contamination in the report, but the experts are certain that it’s linked to Sasan and the other big thermal plants in the region. Two other government agencies determined Sasan’s mining waste was illegally overflowing into surrounding forest and farmlands, and that the company had failed to restore the green space lost due to the plant’s construction. Toxic coal dust was also found to have settled in the fields located next to the mines. The Singrauli industrial cluster has been dotted with several giant thermal plants and coalmines since the 1980s, Sasan being the most recent addition to the country’s coal hub. In January 2010, the Indian ministry of environment and forests declared Singrauli a critically polluted area. “When Reliance was planning to set up a plant in Singrauli, they knew that area already had severe poisoning and massive industrial pollution issues,” said Ashwani Kumar Dubey, a lawyer who has repeatedly taken on the coal industry. “Yet, they went ahead and set up their plant. They are adding to the damage, and not doing anything to control it.” Reliance’s coalmine at Moher and its dumpsite are only a short distance away from the thermal power plant. The coal is transported into the power plant through a 14km long, blue, snake-like conveyor belt, saving Reliance Power the overhead costs of railroad transportation. Devnarayan Sahu, 40, lives with his family and a herd of cattle in a village cluster called Amlohri, within 50 metres of Sasan’s overflowing dumpsite. The thud of mine blasting echoes in the background and Narayan’s house quivers a little. “We’ve become used to the tremors,” he said. Narayan walked over to his backyard, and pointed to the bulldozers dropping boulders from atop the mounds of toxic mining waste. “Look at how those stones are rolling into my farm and home,” he said. “When it rained a couple of days ago, we were flooded with their rubble.” A layer of grey coal dust has settled on his impoverished eggplant and tomato farm, his main source of livelihood. “If I don’t water them continuously to get rid of the toxic dust, the crop will not flower,” he said, wiping off dust from a pod with his fingers. The industrial pollution is taking a toll on Narayan and his family. Difficulties in breathing, stomach aches and joint pains are common. “When we cough in the morning, we see dust in our sputum,” he said. “The little that we earn is now going into medical treatments.” “Asthma, allergies and bronchitis are prevalent here because of the air pollution, especially in children belonging to clusters around the ash dams, mines and thermal power plants,” said Dr Kalpana Ravi, a paediatrician at the local district hospital in Waidhan. Narayan has been pleading with Reliance to remedy the situation for years, but nothing has happened. “Many officials have come and inspected the place,” he said. “They come and go, but do nothing. Reliance says they don’t need our land as of yet. We can see the big boulders falling. Like many others who have abandoned their homes for the fear of their lives, they want us also to eventually get scared and move away on our own.” Families settled almost directly underneath the noisy conveyor belt that brings coal to the plant have a similar tale to tell. “I don’t know what will happen sooner: will we go deaf first due to the constant and unbearable rattling over our rooftops, or will we choke on the coal dust falling from the belt,” said Sukhlal Panika, who lives under a section of the conveyor belt with his aged mother. Reliance only acquired a part of his farmland for the belt, leaving his house and well exposed to the pollution caused by coal transportation. Sasan has also been hit by reports of accidents, harassment, fatalities and injuries. In February 2015, Ex-Im’s chairman, Fred Hochberg, criticized the “poor” safety practices at the Sasan project in a letter to Reliance. Hochberg stated: “the number of all fatalities at the integrated Project is now 19 – which is both tragic and absolutely unacceptable.” The chairman’s letter said “the alarming number of injuries and fatalities must come to an end” and that “rather than improving, the situation appears to be deteriorating”. The police confirmed that 16 cases relating to the Sasan plant and coalmine have been investigated since 2012, resulting from vehicle accidents, beam and tower deaths and electric shocks. Activist Awadhesh Kumar, who has been speaking to workers in Sasan and surrounding villages, believes the real number is larger. “It’s harder to account for the migrant workers who have no family here, and they form a huge chunk of Sasan’s labour population. When something happens or someone goes missing, there is no one to question the company for a report or explanation.” In response to Ex-Im’s letter regarding the incidents, Sasan provided the bank with information on a taskforce comprising middle managers for the purpose of improving safety and training. But the steps taken by Ex-Im to regulate Sasan are too little too late, according to people living around the thermal power plant and the coalmine. “Ex-Im’s ground inspection should have been done a long time back, and that too on a regular basis,” said Kumar. “A federal agency of the United States of America should hold their financed projects to better and more neutral standards. Development is good, but not at the cost of the environment and the people who give away their everything to make way for such projects.” All points in the story have been raised with Reliance officials. They are yet to comment. Alan and Ailsa Smith say setting foot on Curtis Island is like stepping back in history. The world-heritage-listed tropical island where they live sits just off the coast of Gladstone in Queensland, Australia, right under the Tropic of Capricorn. “It’s a quiet little community here. You slip back 25 years in time,” said Alan. The couple own a small grocery store and bed-and-breakfast. It’s the only business in the only village on the island, which is home to just 30 permanent residents. But South End has a new neighbour that makes itself known at night, illuminating the clouds with its startlingly bright lights, and occasionally sending flames into the sky. Since 2010, amid a storm of controversy that extended from Australia to the US, Curtis Island’s 30 residents have been joined by three giant gas liquefaction plants, with a fourth on the way. When complete, they will propel Australia to become the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), overtaking Qatar. Their development has allowed a controversial fracking boom in Queensland, where about 6,000 coal seam gas wells have been drilled to deliver gas to be liquefied at the plants. Two of the three plants – APLNG and QCLNG – have been backed by a $4.7bn loan from the US Export-Import Bank. Once operational, these developments will produce about 11.3m tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – and this figure will be much higher if methane emissions that leak from the wells aren’t controlled. Those estimates ignore the carbon emissions that will be produced when the gas exported from Curtis Island is burned. The two US-funded plants will produce up to 17.5m tonnes of liquid natural gas each year. When burned, that will pump about 50m tonnes of CO into the atmosphere – roughly equivalent to the annual output of Sweden. Sitting and having a beer at Capricorn Lodge, another of the island’s residents, Michael Radcliffe, says he isn’t bothered by the LNG plants, but expressed some concern about smoke produced when the plants burn some of their gases in large flares. “There’s a lot of black stuff that comes out,” Radcliffe said. A week earlier there were a lot of flares that produced a lot of black smoke, he said. “I thought there was a bushfire or something going on.” From the top of Ship Hill, it’s clear why the locals are interested to see the plants at sundown. As the sun sets, thousands of lights on the gas plants light up. The bushland between the hill and the plants is thick, but through the trees the sight of the huge plants – and the contrast they make with the rest of the island – is astounding. The plants produce a loud hum, a bit like the sound of a giant refrigerator – which is almost exactly what an LNG plant is. To allow ships to dock to collect the liquified gas, the Queensland government conducted a huge dredging operation in the harbour. Around 25m cubic metres of earth have been scooped up from the harbour floor, with the Australian government giving approval for a further 19m cubic meters to be dug up. Some was simply dumped in the Coral Sea and the rest was put behind an 8km “bund wall” and used to reclaim land right opposite Curtis Island – a measure intended to stop the dredge spoil from smothering the delicate ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef. The wall failed, the dredge spoil leaked through it, and spread through the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area. Satellite analysis showed the plumes of mud that spread through the water stretched for 35km into the Coral Sea, which would have degraded seagrass meadows that support endangered dugongs. As the dredging started, fishermen reported an outbreak of disease among marine life, which scientists said could have been caused by metals on the seafloor that were released into the water. In an unusually forthright step, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which advises the UN’s world heritage committee on scientific matters, called for the LNG developments to be halted. Trevor Falzon used to catch fish in Gladstone Harbour, home to one of the largest ports in the world. He was the lead plaintiff in an unsuccessful case brought by 51 fishermen against the Gladstone Ports Corporation over the dredging. The development meant they lost an area that they used to fish in. And the dredging meant the nets they used in shallow water weren’t suitable in the new deep water, but the case was thrown out. “Now I have to sell everything – my house is on the market,” Falzon said, sitting among packing boxes in his house on the outskirts of Gladstone. As the sun dips across the rolling hills of South Africa’s eastern Mpumalanga province the lights come on high above the valley’s wetlands, soaring columns and cranes, black against the reddening sky. The vast structure on the ridge is clearly visible from the small settlement of Arbor, a huddle of shacks and huts on a narrow strip of land between a coalmine and railway sidings 10 kilometres from Kusile. “I watch it growing and I wonder what it will bring. It might mean jobs and development, or maybe sickness and drought. I don’t know. So I hope and pray it will make things better, not worse,” said Sibongile Sibeko, 41, a mother of five children in Arbor. The structure Sibeko can see is what has so far been built of Kusile, which will be among the 10 biggest coal-fired power stations in the world, and is already one of the most controversial. The project is part-funded by the US government, having received a loan of $805m from the US Export-Import Bank in 2011 after Eskom chose a US company to play a key engineering role, creating hundreds of jobs for American specialists. The money was crucial to the $8.4bn project, say campaigners. “Kusile would have been very challenging to proceed with if the money from the Export-Import Bank had not come through,” said Melita Steele of Greenpeace. Delayed by decades and wildly over budget, Kusile is emblematic of a development model increasingly seen as outdated. The days of vast mega-projects with enormous financial, social and environmental costs, as well as the potential to transform economies, are over, some experts say. Instead, smaller and cheaper projects can bring change as effectively, supplying energy and other needs with minimal impact. “The only hope for us is renewable energy. That would mean less destruction, less landgrabbing or none at all and no need for coal and water,” said Matthews Hlabane, of the South African Green Revolutionary Council, a local NGO. But the loan was also very expensive. As local currency has lost value against the dollar the cost of repayments has soared. The project is immense. When completed Kusile will consist of six units with the ability to generate 4,800MW, making it significantly bigger than any power station in the US except the hydroelectric Grand Coulee dam in Washington. Defenders say Kusile has been designed with advanced technology that will minimise its environmental impact, such as scrubbers to control sulphur dioxide and filters to reduce emissions of dangerous particulates. The plant will use an air cooling system to help conserve water and is designed so equipment to capture carbon emissions can be fitted in the future. The plan to build Kusile, and its twin Medupi, in Limpopo province, dates back to the immediate aftermath of the repressive racist apartheid regime. Conceived as energy providers for a growing and free nation, they were seen as powerful statements of a new commitment to a modern economy that would improve the lives of all South Africa’s citizens. Kusile means “New Dawn” in Zulu, a local language. In recent years, South Africa has been hit by severe power shortages, leading to rolling outages. Though these have now eased, in part due to renewable energy sources supplementing supply, local officials say that Kusile is still essential to ensure the developing nation’s energy security for decades to come. But circumstances – and attitudes – have changed since the original decision was taken to build the vast plants. “Medupi and Kusile are examples of large-scale mega infrastructure projects that countries see as the basis of a development model that started after World War II. Projects this large are seen as transformational. They cost a lot. They employ a lot of people. Their effects are meant to be big. But it’s a model that doesn’t make much sense now,” Janet Redman, director of the climate programme at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC said earlier this year. “Using coal for energy is hugely expensive, outdated, against international trends and is financially and environmental irresponsible,” said Robyn Hugo of the Centre for Environmental Rights, a local NGO. According to one estimate the total cost of the twin projects of Kusile and Medupi could eventually top $32bn. Medupi relies in part on a $500m loan from the African Development Bank and also $3bn from the World Bank, approved in 2010. Both projects have been plagued by allegations of corruption. All concerned deny any wrongdoing. Kusile alone is projected to emit an estimated 36.8m tonnes of CO -equivalent, according to Eskom’s own estimates. With Medupi, it will add 16% to South Africa’s current CO emission levels. The impact on local towns and villages will be immense. It is not simply the power station itself, and the air pollution and traffic it will generate, but the vast coalmining operations needed to provide the estimated 17m tonnes of coal Kusile will require each year. Farmland and wetlands will disappear as new open-cast and underground mines are opened or, in some cases, reopened. Tens of thousands of impoverished labourers will swell some settlements. Others will have to be entirely shifted to new locations. Roads will be built, bringing access and jobs for some, but exacerbating environmental consequences. This is far from pristine farmland or wilderness, however. Central Mpumalanga is the site of a dozen power stations and a huge mining industry. One of the major complaints of local communities is that local men are rarely hired by companies for anything but casual labour because already acute air pollution has, they claim, damaged their lungs. Mpumalanga is already designated as a zone of acute air pollution in South Africa. Locals complain of sinus infections, headaches and coughing children. Sibongile Sibeko, who has lived in the community of Arbor all her life said her three daughters and two sons had all suffered respiratory illnesses which local doctors blamed on “dust”. She lives in a small three-roomed hut only a few metres from waste spoil marking the boundary of a major mine, operational for around five years. The Kendal power station, Africa’s biggest, is close by. It has been operational since the early 1980s, is coal-fired and has a capacity of more than 4,000MW. “The doctor saw my little one – my four-year-old – recently. He said his chest was closing because of the dust,” Sibeko said. Then there is water. Among the impacts of Kusile will be the destruction of important wetlands around the plant. Massive infrastructure including pipelines and canals has been constructed to bring water for cooling to Kusile, but the plans were conceived in a period when water was more plentiful. South Africa is currently experiencing its worst drought for 50 years, which some blame on climate change. In all villages around Kusile, there are complaints of lack of water, deforestation and other environmental and social problems, ranging from higher crime levels to overcrowded schools, linked to the influx of workers. “Before the mine came we had wood from forests and water from boreholes, and we grew vegetables in small gardens. We had goats, cows and chickens and there was a white farmer and people here worked on his land. But there are no jobs in farming now and there is no forest and the boreholes are dry or the water is bad, and there is no space for livestock or even our gardens because of all the people who have come,” Sibeko said. Another nearby village, cut off from the main highway by a strip of dry grass strewn with cider bottles and rusting cans, is often shaken by the blasting at the nearby mine. “There is a lot of dust here, especially when they are blasting,” said Patricia Mabaso, 30. “The old people and the children get diseases from it. Once it was all green round here, now it’s a desert.” The Energy and Environmental Reporting Project is supported by the Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Fund, Energy Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Family Fund, Lorana Sullivan Foundation and the Tellus Mater Foundation. The funders have no involvement in or influence over the articles produced by project fellows in collaboration with The Guardian.

Broad R.,United International University Dhanmondi | Cavanagh J.,Institute for Policy Studies
Journal of Peasant Studies | Year: 2012

This article tracks the debate about development in theory and practice, moving from the global level of the development debate to the rice fields of the Philippines. The authors offer a reframing of the development debate through the lens of 'vulnerability' versus 'rootedness' in social, environmental and economic terms. They argue that food and farming are currently at the leading edge of the development debate and of the vulnerability versus rootedness frame. They demonstrate this through their field notes from research with small-scale, rice farmers in the Philippines who have transitioned from chemical-intensive to organic production. The authors then show how their research results mesh with those of others and examine the significance of this farming 'revolution' for a transformation of the overall development paradigm. © 2012 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.

Kaltofen M.P.J.,Boston Chemical Data Corporation | Alvarez R.,Institute for Policy Studies | Hixson L.,Kyle Street
Journal of Environmental Radioactivity | Year: 2016

Analysis of 287 soil, sediment and house dust samples collected in a 200 km2-zone in northern St. Louis County, Missouri, establish that offsite migration of radiological contaminants from Manhattan Project-era uranium processing wastes has occurred in this populated area. Specifically, 48% of samples (111 of a subset of 229 soils and sediments tested) had 210Pb concentrations above the risk-based soil cleanup limits for residential farming established by the US Department of Energy at the Fernald, OH, uranium plant, which handled and stored the same concentrated Manhattan Project-era wastes; the geographical distribution of the exceedances are consistent with water and radon gas releases from a landfill and related sites used to store and dispose of legacy uranium wastes; and offsite soil and house dust samples proximal to the landfill showed distinctive secular disequilibrium among uranium and its progeny indicative of uranium ore processing wastes. The secular disequilibrium of uranium progeny in the environment provides an important method for distinguishing natural uranium from industrial uranium wastes. In this study, the detection of unsupported 210Pb beyond expected atmospheric deposition rates is examined as a possible indicator of excessive radon emissions from buried uranium and radium-containing wastes. © 2015 Elsevier Ltd.

Alvarez R.,Institute for Policy Studies
Science and Global Security | Year: 2011

The amount of plutonium discarded as wastes from the U.S. nuclear weapons complex appears to be significantly greater than the U.S. Department of Energy's 1996 declaration of its plutonium holdings. This is due to in part to improved radioactive waste characterization and the disposal of plutonium residues originally intended for use in weapons. The Hanford site in Washington State has the largest quantity of plutonium wastes, which pose potentially serious human risks to ground water and the near shore the Columbia River. The department should revise its accounting for plutonium, and take steps to remove plutonium discarded to the environment at Hanford, as it is required to do at Idaho National Laboratory. © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

Broad R.,American University of Washington | Cavanagh J.,Institute for Policy Studies
Third World Quarterly | Year: 2011

This article argues that the contemporary triple crises of finance, food and environment, which have shaken the global economy since 2008, have exposed what should be seen as the Achilles heel of the dominant development theory and practice of the past 30 years: vulnerability. We argue that the crises not only add momentum to the delegitimisation of the old model, but also offer legitimacy for paths that lessen vulnerability and increase what we call 'rootedness' (a term we prefer to 'resilience' or 'sustainability'). After offering a brief history of 'vulnerable' development and reviewing the literature on vulnerability from the development, economic and environmental fields, we use this vulnerability versus rootedness frame to present analysis from our field work in two 'vulnerable' countries: the Philippines and Trinidad and Tobago. Integrating the article's sections, we then propose a new interdisciplinary framework for development that builds on and supplements the human rights, ecological, equity and democracy frames: the notion of 'rootedness' at the household, local and country levels. © 2011 Southseries Inc.

Tree S.,Institute for Policy Studies
Drugs and Alcohol Today | Year: 2011

This article describes Proposition 19, a referendum that would have allowed the regulation and taxation of cannabis in California if it had gone ahead, and the debates surrounding the legalisation of the drug. © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

PubMed | Institute for Policy Studies, Boston Chemical Data Corporation and Kyle Street
Type: | Journal: Journal of environmental radioactivity | Year: 2016

Analysis of 287 soil, sediment and house dust samples collected in a 200 km(2)-zone in northern St. Louis County, Missouri, establish that offsite migration of radiological contaminants from Manhattan Project-era uranium processing wastes has occurred in this populated area. Specifically, 48% of samples (111 of a subset of 229 soils and sediments tested) had (210)Pb concentrations above the risk-based soil cleanup limits for residential farming established by the US Department of Energy at the Fernald, OH, uranium plant, which handled and stored the same concentrated Manhattan Project-era wastes; the geographical distribution of the exceedances are consistent with water and radon gas releases from a landfill and related sites used to store and dispose of legacy uranium wastes; and offsite soil and house dust samples proximal to the landfill showed distinctive secular disequilibrium among uranium and its progeny indicative of uranium ore processing wastes. The secular disequilibrium of uranium progeny in the environment provides an important method for distinguishing natural uranium from industrial uranium wastes. In this study, the detection of unsupported (210)Pb beyond expected atmospheric deposition rates is examined as a possible indicator of excessive radon emissions from buried uranium and radium-containing wastes.

News Article | September 19, 2016

You and the Commissioners approved the publication of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to deny proposed regulations on improving evaluations of spent fuel pool fires, provided that the Staff’s draft of the decision was “subject to the attached edits.”[1] But what were the “edits” that you insisted upon? The “edits” were the censoring of a few pages on the science of spent fuel pool fires. The censored pages discussed the fact that the nitrogen content of air would intensify a spent fuel pool fire. Of course, the term “spent fuel pool fire” is informal. In a fire, strictly speaking, there wouldn’t be any nitriding, only burning (oxidation). What we call a spent fuel pool fire would occur if the highly-radioactive, discharged (spent) fuel assemblies stored in a pool were uncovered by cooling water and heated up enough (from decay heating, generated by fission products) to ignite. The zirconium cladding of the fuel assemblies would then chemically react with oxygen and nitrogen. A spent fuel pool fire could expose millions of people to large doses of ionizing radiation, which damages human tissue. A recent study by Frank von Hippel and Michael Schoeppner of Princeton University found that a major fire could contaminate as much as 100,000 square kilometers of land and force the evacuation of millions.[2] In the petition for rulemaking (with proposed regulations) on spent fuel pool fire evaluations, I (the petition’s author) pointed out that the NRC’s computer model for evaluating spent fuel pool fires (MELCOR) is flawed because it doesn’t simulate the effects of nitrogen. I alleged that your MELCOR computer model under-predicts the severity of spent fuel pool fires. I asked that MELCOR be improved; mainly, that it simulate the effects of nitrogen.[3] Incidentally, a May 2016 National Academy of Sciences report, which discusses spent fuel pool fire evaluations, points out that MELCOR “cannot model nitriding reactions with zirconium.”[4] The NAS report recommends improvements to MELCOR, including: “Modeling the thermal and chemical behavior of spent fuel assemblies in partially drained pools.” I essentially asked for the same things when I submitted my petition in June 2014. Among the sentences that you and the Commissioners redacted from the Staff’s draft was the simple statement: “The NRC recognizes that the phenomena discussed in the petition are important to realistically evaluate the initiation and progression of SFP fires in the unlikely event of a beyond design basis accident.” Isn’t that something? The NRC recognized phenomena discussed in my petition are important to realistically evaluate spent fuel pool fires. So why did you deny the petition? I would guess you denied it because you’d rather have unrealistic evaluations of spent fuel pool fires. A realistic evaluation would show that discharged fuel assemblies should promptly be removed from spent fuel pools and placed into dry cask storage (as the Union of Concerned Scientists has recommended for years[5]). But the industry you appear to serve wouldn’t like that, as it’d cost millions. Never mind that the US is particularly vulnerable to spent fuel pool fires because its storage pools are overpacked (almost as densely as reactor cores). Thinning out pools would help improve public safety. Germany started doing it 30 years ago;[6] the US still doesn’t. And computer simulations that under-predict the severity of spent fuel pool fires help “justify” keeping US pools overpacked. You and the Commissioners also redacted the following statement from the Staff’s draft: “Nitriding is most relevant when nuclear fuel is undergoing a severe accident in an air environment and oxygen-starved conditions develop because of rapid consumption of oxygen from the air.” That censored statement sums up one of the primary reasons why I submitted my petition. I cited reports asserting that the cladding of fuel assemblies degrades quickly when oxygen isn’t present and the effects of nitrogen prevail. Instead, of publishing scientific statements, you published dogmatic platitudes like: “The MELCOR computer code…represents the current state of the art in severe accident analysis.”[7] Meanwhile, back in 2000, Dana Powers, Chairman of the ACRS, wrote a letter to NRC Chairman Richard Meserve, complaining that the NRC’s evaluations of spent fuel pool fires didn’t consider the effects of nitrogen. Sixteen years ago, he said the evaluations “relied on relatively geriatric work.”[8] Chairman Burns, if you really think MELCOR’s so great, why did you resort to redacting information on the science of spent fuel pool fires when you denied my petition? Why do you insist on censorship, when the NRC professes to embrace transparency and open government? Chairman Burns, you undermine the NRC’s policy of public participation through your acts of censorship. As a member of the public, if you deny a petition, I expect it to be a science-based decision, not a decision based on saving industry money. I have actually submitted a petition that the NRC accepted (PRM-50-84).[9] In 2012, the NRC Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a proposed rulemaking—revisions to Section 50.46(b), which will become Section 50.46(c)—that is partly based on the safety issues I raised in PRM-50-84.[10] In her comments for the Commission Voting Record, Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane wrote: “Finally, I want to highlight that a portion of this proposed rulemaking…is the result of a petition for rulemaking submitted by a member of the public, Mr. Mark Leyse.  I’m encouraged by continued public participation in our regulatory processes and I believe it’s particularly important that we highlight the contributions of members of the public to the agency’s mission.” Chairman Burns, your predecessor encouraged public participation.  You suppress it.  As a member of the public, who spent weeks researching and writing the petition on spent fuel pool fire evaluations, I personally resent the way you disrespect science and the efforts of the public. Even worse, much worse, your cynical actions undermine public safety.  The NRC has used the results of unrealistic MELCOR simulations to justify not expediting the transfer of spent fuel from pools to dry cask storage.[11]  This endangers the very public that the NRC is congressionally mandated to protect. About the author: Mark Leyse is a nuclear safety consultant who has written reports about nuclear power accidents for Natural Resources Defense Council as well as written enforcement action petitions against Indian Point Nuclear Plant on behalf of Riverkeeper and NRDC. Leyse also coauthored a paper on evaluations of reactor loss-of-coolant accidents that was presented at the American Nuclear Society’s 2009 Winter Meeting. [1] The censored Federal Register notice is in the April 4, 2016 Commission Voting Record, SECY‑15‑0146, Denial of Petition for Rulemaking Requesting Amendments Regarding Spent Fuel Pool Severe Accident Evaluations (PRM-50-108; NRC-2014-0171). (available at: : last visited on 08/29/16) [2] Richard Stone, “Spent fuel fire on U.S. soil could dwarf impact of Fukushima,” Science, May 24, 2016. (available at: : last visited on 08/30/16) [3] Mark Leyse, petition on spent fuel pool fire evaluations, PRM-50-108, June 19, 2014. (available at: : last visited on 08/29/16) [4] National Academy of Sciences, “Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety and Security of U.S. Nuclear Plants: Phase 2,” May 2016. (available at: : last visited on 08/29/16) [5] Union of Concerned Scientists, “Safer Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel.” (available at: : last visited on 08/29/16) [6] Robert Alvarez, “Spent Nuclear Fuel Pools in the U.S.: Reducing the Deadly Risks of Storage,” Institute for Policy Studies, May 2011. (available at: : last visited on 08/29/16) [7] NRC, “Fuel-Cladding Issues in Postulated Spent Fuel Pool Accidents,” PRM-50-108, NRC-2014-0171, Federal Register, Vol. 81, No. 93, May 13, 2016 (available at: : last visited on 08/29/16) [8] Dana Powers’s letter to Chairman Richard Meserve, “Draft Final Technical Study of Spent Fuel Pool Accident Risk at Decommissioning Nuclear Power Plants,” April 13, 2000. (available at:  last visited on 08/29/16) [9] Mark Leyse, PRM-50-84, March 15, 2007. (available at: : last visited on 08/29/16) [10] January 7, 2013 Commission Voting Record, SECY-12-0034, Proposed Rulemaking 10 CFR 50.46(c): Emergency Core Cooling System Performance during Loss-of-Coolant Accidents (RIN 3150-AH42). (available at: : last visited on 08/29/16) [11] NRC, “Consequence Study of a Beyond-Design-Basis Earthquake Affecting the Spent Fuel Pool for a U.S. Mark I Boiling Water Reactor,” NUREG-2161, September 2014. (available at: last visited on 08/29/16) Buy a cool T-shirt or mug in the CleanTechnica store!   Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech daily newsletter or weekly newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.

News Article | December 15, 2016

Money talks. That’s why one key element in the battle against climate change must be aligning the financial compensation of executives to tangible corporate efforts to decarbonize. Better aligning incentives is particularly important in energy intensive industries, where the status quo can encourage decisions on strategy, investment, and operations that jeopardize the planet’s climate, while also generating risk to investors that can, ultimately, undercut a company’s long-term viability. In a promising sign, Royal Dutch Shell CEO recently announced that executive bonuses at the oil and gas giant will include greenhouse gas goals. “We have linked executive remuneration in the past to energy intensity and next year we are going to make it even more specific to the CO2 footprint metrics associated with these energy efficiencies” he said. Ten percent of bonus payments to executives, including the CEO and CFO at Shell, will reportedly be linked to “greenhouse gas management”. Shell’s move to link GHG management to executive compensation, along with its stated intention to screen the carbon profile of future investments more seriously, suggest the company is moving in the right direction. Indeed, a broader trend toward heightened sustainability in governance is underway. Analysts at the nonprofit organization CERES report that as of 2014, 24% of examined companies linked executive compensation to sustainability performance, up from 15% two years earlier. Do These Pay Policies Measure Up? As companies like Shell translate aspiration into practice, the big questions now are how will executive pay linked to de-carbonization be operationalized, and will it be enough to make the difference demanded by the dire science of climate change. There are two key issues in particular that boards, shareholders, and others can ask as GHG bonus measures are developed and assessed: The mere act of including greenhouse gas management in compensation is not sufficient. CERES found that of companies linking executive pay to sustainability, few used sustainability performance targets that go beyond goals driven by compliance with laws and regulations. In the absence of comprehensive climate policy – for example market-based signals that put a price on carbon pollution – operators like Shell must go above and beyond compliance metrics for their bonuses to be meaningful. Mere compliance should be expected as a matter of course; winning a GHG bonus must require another level of executive leadership and results. There are a host of metrics that oil and gas operators can consider as they link compensation to GHG management. Those metrics may differ for large vertically integrated oil and gas majors like Shell, versus smaller companies that operate in just one or two segments of the oil and gas value chain. One common element is incentivizing strong methane management. Methane emissions are a widespread issue across the oil and gas supply chain. Leaks and other intentional releases waste valuable product, speed climate change, and cast serious doubt on the ability of natural gas to play a constructive role in the transition to a cleaner energy economy. However, as Environmental Defense Fund found in Rising Risk: Improving Methane Disclosure in the Oil and Gas Industry, as of early 2016, none of the leading 65 oil and gas operators disclosed a quantitative target to reduce methane emissions. As Principles for Responsible Investment noted in its recent Investor’s Guide to Methane developed with EDF, investors should expect operators to put governance to work to get the incentives right for enhanced methane management. After all, what gets measured, gets managed, and creating incentives to address invisible gas leaks can make a visible difference. The ultimate methane metric would operationalize the same kind of “zero tolerance” approach to methane leaks that companies take to preventing fatalities. In the near term, we look for incentives tied to comprehensive, direct methane measurement; leading practices including minimizing venting and conducting regular leak detection and repair; and achievement of verifiable emission reductions. Beyond methane, GHG metrics may encompass reducing CO2 intensity from fossil fuel operations, but also expanding into renewable energy, as Total, Statoil, and others have signaled. Ultimately the gold standard is absolute reductions in CO2 emissions over time. Taken together, an appropriate mix of GHG metrics will send an unmistakable signal to executives that a holistic approach to de-carbonization is the new order of the day. Even well-defined de-carbonization metrics can prove insufficient if the incentive is not strong enough, particularly compared with the full suite of executive motivators. In Shell’s case, while its commitment to tie 10% of executive pay to greenhouse gas management puts it 10% ahead of most of its peers, the question remains: is the incentive adequate enough to change decision making with the speed and seriousness required to achieve the energy transformation we need. We expect institutional investors and others to look carefully not only at the specifics of the 10% bonus on GHG management, but the 90% on other factors. For energy operators taking the positive step to link pay to climate performance, it will be important to guard against also using contradictory factors that could send mixed messages, such as rewarding executives for expanding carbon reserves, a practice that 13 of 30 major U.S. fossil-fuel corporations practiced, according to a recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies. We applaud Shell’s intent to link climate performance to pay and look forward to examining the details. In the meantime, as pressure mounts for more oil and gas operators to follow suit, varying operator reactions will tell investors a lot about which companies are poised to adapt best to a lower-carbon energy future.

News Article | December 9, 2015

NGO representatives gather next to on the mini red Eiffel Tower after a sit-in protest closed to the plenary session to denounce the first draft COP21 Climate Conference agreement, and put pressure to reach an international agreement to limit global warming, during the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference in Le Bourget, north of Paris, France, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) More LE BOURGET, France (AP) — The latest news related to the U.N. climate conference in Paris, which runs through Dec. 11. All times local: Just about all countries have reservations about the latest draft of a global agreement to fight climate change, though none has rejected it outright. In a plenary session late Wednesday, delegates from India and Malaysia said the draft needs stronger commitments from wealthy nations to provide financial support for poor nations to cope with climate change. Malaysian negotiator Gurdial Singh Nijar said the help from rich countries so far amounts to "paltry dribbles." Wealthy nations, which want the new agreement to apply to everyone, say there are too many paragraphs in the draft with one set of rules for rich countries and another for poor ones. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, hinted that it won't accept a long-term goal of keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) — a demand by island nations and other vulnerable countries. There are two remaining scheduled day of talks, but the yearly U.N. negotiations rarely finish on time. Hundreds of protesters have held a sit-in demonstration against a new draft agreement released Wednesday at the Paris climate talks. Protester Kyle Gracey said "it is still not enough. It is not enough across the board. We are calling for much stronger action across the board." The new draft leaves key issues unresolved just two days before the talks are due to end. It doesn't settle whether governments are aiming to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) above pre-industrial times or closer to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F). Janet Redman, with the Institute for Policy Studies, said "I won't be surprised if the Paris deal does not deliver what we need. I think it's a travesty but it is not a surprise." Some protesters chanted "what do we want? Climate justice. When do we want it? Now!" Island nations are keeping up the pressure on negotiators at the Paris climate talks for a strong accord against global warming. Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoaga said a new draft accord released Wednesday is "looking good," but warned "the next few hours are extremely important." The talks are scheduled to end Friday. He said he considers it an "achievement" that key issues are still in the latest draft, such as responsibility for damages caused by future climate change, even though the final language remains unresolved. The foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, Tony De Brum, said he met with U.S. Republican members of Congress who warned that a Paris accord might not "fly at home." De Brum, however, says "it has to fly ... there has to be commitment from everyone. It doesn't matter what party they belong to." Negotiators have released a new, shorter draft of an international accord to fight global warming that removes many previous questions but leaves several key issues unresolved. The talks in Paris are scheduled to end in two days. The draft document released by U.N. climate agency Wednesday is 29 pages, down from a 48-page version released Saturday. It does not resolve the question of the long-term goal of the accord — whether it is to remove carbon emissions from the economy altogether, or just reduce them. Nor does it settle whether governments are aiming to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) above pre-industrial times or closer to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F). There are about 100 places where there are decisions still to be made — either multiple options in brackets, or blank spaces. The host of Paris climate talks says negotiators have completed a new draft of a global climate accord, two days before the high-stakes conference is scheduled to end. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius distributed the draft to delegations on Wednesday. He said it's down to 29 pages, from a 48-page version released Saturday. He said "three-quarters" of the brackets in the previous version have been deleted, meaning negotiators have come to agreement on some of the many sticking points. Fabius said that "we've made progress but still a lot of work remains to be done." The sticking points include how to define the obligations of countries in different stages of development in fighting climate change. Star Wars heroes are trying to save Earth from getting too hot. Activists dressed as Yoda and Storm Troopers appeared at the Paris climate conference Wednesday in one of many authorized protest stunts around the talks. They're part of a push by the activist group Avaaz for governments to abandon oil, gas and coal in favor of renewable energy. That's one of the sticking points in the Paris talks, which run through Friday. Amid a ubiquitous international promotional campaign before the Dec. 18 release of "The Force Awakens," the spirit of Star Wars appeared to be on many minds at the Paris conference — one security guard greeted visitors Wednesday with "may the force be with you." U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is announcing that the United States will double its commitment to helping vulnerable nations adapt to climate change impacts such as increased extreme weather events. Kerry says the U.S. will increase the amount of money it provides for climate adaption grants to $860 million from $430 million by 2020. The money will be part of an existing promise by wealthy countries to jointly mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 in climate finance. Developing nations have been demanding more money for adaption in talks on a new global climate agreement in Paris. The U.S. money, which must be approved by Congress, will help fund domestic weather services, tracking systems to better assist poorer nations in forecasting and coping with major storms and other extreme weather events. It wasn't immediately clear whether this is money that has already been promised in other aid packages. A coalition of rich and poor nations calling for a binding and ambitious global pact on climate change is emerging as a new, potentially powerful bloc in U.N. climate talks outside Paris. The European Union has been taking the lead in recruiting countries to the alliance, which includes more than 100 countries, including small island nations and some African and Latin American countries. Major developing nations like China and India aren't part of it. Though U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern referred to it as a "coalition of ambition" earlier this week, a negotiator for another developed country said the U.S. hadn't yet joined the group. Speaking on condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing, the negotiator said that the alliance is expected to announce common positions on crunch issues later Wednesday. The negotiator said they include having a legally binding agreement with a reference to the desire by vulnerable nations to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C, compared with pre-industrial times, as well as a commitment to review countries' climate targets every five years, starting before 2020. There were still discussions with the U.S. about how to deal with climate finance for developing nations, the negotiator said. Actor and climate activist Alec Baldwin says he wants to see an American oil company go out of business, and more attention paid to indigenous people in a global climate accord under negotiations in Paris. Baldwin said that while he doesn't want to see mass U.S. job losses, "I'd love to see a major oil company go out of business in the United States. That would be a tremendous sign of progress," he told The Associated Press in an interview on the sidelines of the Paris climate talks. He praised work of indigenous people "who can report what's really going on" with the planet's climate, thanks to NGOs providing them drone technology and cameras to post images and data online. "I'm more eager to rely on people like this ... than to rely on governments and industry." Many U.S. lawmakers oppose a binding agreement in Paris to limit carbon emissions because they fear it would hurt U.S. industry and jobs. Baldwin was in Paris to host the Equator Prize awards ceremony, a U.N.-sponsored event honoring people contributing to the fight against climate change and poverty. One winner was Farkhunda Ateel Siddiqi from Kabul, who described her work to reduce poverty and malnutrition after a remote province in northeastern Afghanistan had run out of traditional resources. Climate conference organizers waiting to see the latest draft of the Paris climate accord will have to wait a bit longer: It's been delayed a few hours. A French official says the draft, expected for release at 1 p.m. (1200 GMT), will not be released until at least 3 p.m. (1400 GMT). The official says negotiators are working to "harmonize" one or two points in the text. The official, not authorized to be publicly named speaking about the high-stakes negotiations, would not elaborate on which points. It's the first official delay in the negotiating process so far. The two-week talks, the culmination of years of U.N. efforts to fight global warming, are scheduled to wrap up Friday. Sticking points have included how much of it should be legally binding, and what rich countries should do to help poor countries adapt and reduce climate change. The Paris climate talks have a new visitor: a two-story-high, mechanically operated polar bear. Activists from Greenpeace rolled the bear into the conference venue Wednesday morning. It's among many scattered protest actions around the two weeks of talks. "We want the bear to represent everyone hoping in the next 72 hours" for a robust climate deal, said Greenpeace's Ben Stewart. The talks are scheduled to wrap up Friday night. The same bear protested in front of the headquarters of Royal Dutch Shell as part of campaigns against oil drilling in the Arctic. Activists are trying to call attention to melting glaciers, rising sea levels and other results of man-made emissions that contribute to global warming.

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