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Has the green movement lost its way?

Susanna Rustin, the Guardian
In 2008 prizewinning environmentalist author Mark Lynas experienced a “eureka moment”. Reading the hostile comments underneath an article outlining his objections to GM foods on the Guardian website, he decided his critics were probably right.

A couple of years later, Lynas had another eureka moment when he read Stewart Brand’s book, Whole Earth Discipline, in which the American writer tore up the green rulebook and came out in favour of urbanisation, nuclear power and genetic engineering. A few months ago, Lynas appeared in a TV documentary, What the Green Movement Got Wrong, alongside Brand – and inside the ruins of Chernobyl which, he argued, had not been nearly as devastating a disaster as most people think.

Next week Lynas publishes a new book, The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans, in which he takes his argument with the green movement a step further. The book accuses the greens of having helped cause climate change through their opposition to nuclear power, and calls this a “gargantuan error, and one that will echo down the ages”.

“Anyone who still marches against nuclear today,” he writes, “as many thousands of people did in Germany following the Fukushima accident, is in my view just as bad for the climate as textbook eco-villains like the big oil companies.”

The idea for Lynas’s new book came to him in another “moment of revelation” two years ago. Lynas, who is a part-time climate adviser to the Maldives government (he is also a visiting researcher at Oxford university), was invited to sit in on the meetings of a group of scientists in Sweden. The group were aiming to flesh out the concept of “planetary boundaries”, coined by sustainability expert Johan Rockström.

The best-known of these so-called boundaries is the climate-change one – the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But there are boundaries too for biodiversity, nitrogen, and ocean acidification. The idea is that, beyond these limits, Earth’s systems will begin to break down…
(July 2, 2011)

Radioactive Cesium Is Found in Tokyo Tap Water for First Time Since April

Pavel Alpeyev, Bloomberg
Radioactive cesium-137 was found in Tokyo’s tap water for the first time since April as Japan grapples with the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years. The level was below the safety limit set by the government.

Cesium-137 registered at 0.14 becquerel per kilogram in Shinjuku ward on July 2 and none was discovered yesterday, compared with 0.21 becquerel on April 22, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Public Health. No cesium-134 or iodine-131 was detected, the agency said on its website.

“This is unlikely to be the result of new radioactive materials being introduced” into the water supply, Hironobu Unesaki, a nuclear engineering professor at Kyoto University, said today by telephone. That’s “because no other elements were detected, especially the more sensitive iodine,” he said.

Japan is battling radiation leaks into the air, soil and water after an earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out cooling systems at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station, resulting in the meltdown of three of the six reactors at the plant.

Products including spinach, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tea, milk, plums and fish have been found to be contaminated with cesium and iodine as far as 360 kilometers (224 miles) from the station. Prolonged exposure to radiation in the air, ground and food can cause leukemia and other cancers, according to the London-based World Nuclear Association….
(July 4, 2011)

Revealed: British government’s plan to play down Fukushima

Rob Edwards, The Guardian
British government officials approached nuclear companies to draw up a co-ordinated public relations strategy to play down the Fukushima nuclear accident just two days after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and before the extent of the radiation leak was known.

Internal emails seen by the Guardian show how the business and energy departments worked closely behind the scenes with the multinational companies EDF Energy, Areva and Westinghouse to try to ensure the accident did not derail their plans for a new generation of nuclear stations in the UK.

“This has the potential to set the nuclear industry back globally,” wrote one official at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), whose name has been redacted. “We need to ensure the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not gain ground on this. We need to occupy the territory and hold it. We really need to show the safety of nuclear.”

Officials stressed the importance of preventing the incident from undermining public support for nuclear power.

The Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who sits on the Commons environmental audit committee, condemned the extent of co-ordination between the government and nuclear companies that the emails appear to reveal.

“The government has no business doing PR for the industry and it would be appalling if its departments have played down the impact of Fukushima,” he said…
Read the emails here
(June 30, 2011)

Don’t believe the spin on thorium being a ‘greener’ nuclear option

Eifion Rees, the ecologist
It produces less radioactive waste and more power than uranium but the UK would be making a mistake in looking to it as a ‘greener’ fuel. The Ecologist reports

In a world increasingly aware of and affected by global warming, the news that 2010 was a record year for greenhouse gases levels was something of a blow.

With the world’s population due to hit nine billion by 2050, it highlights the increasingly urgent need to find a clean, reliable and renewable source of energy.

India hopes it has the answer: thorium, a naturally occurring radioactive element, four times more abundant than uranium in the earth’s crust.

The pro-thorium lobby claim a single tonne of thorium burned in a molten salt reactor (MSR) – typically a liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) – which has liquid rather than solid fuel, can produce one gigawatt of electricity. A traditional pressurised water reactor (PWR) would need to burn 250 tonnes of uranium to produce the same amount of energy.

They also produce less waste, have no weapons-grade by-products, can consume legacy plutonium stockpiles and are meltdown-proof – if the hype is to be believed.

…There is a significant sticking point to the promotion of thorium as the ‘great green hope’ of clean energy production: it remains unproven on a commercial scale. While it has been around since the 1950s (and an experimental 10MW LFTR did run for five years during the 1960s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US, though using uranium and plutonium as fuel) it is still a next generation nuclear technology – theoretical…
(June 23, 2011)

Response: don’t dismiss the potential of thorium nuclear power

Bryony Worthington, the ecologist
Thorium – the theory is sound and potentially game changing – we need to see it put into practice, argues Labour peer and former Friends of the Earth campaigner Bryony Worthington

Climate change is a challenging topic for the green movement. Environmentalists can take the credit for being amongst the first to sound the alarm when the rest of the world chose to ignore the gloomy pronouncements being made by the scientific community.

However, the range of people now concerned about the threat we face has grown hugely in recent years and so too has the range of solutions being put forward. Not all of them have found favour with the green lobby. It is easy to find reasons to object to things but if we are going to successfully decarbonise the global economy then we cannot afford to rule out too many technologies before properly exploring and assessing their pros and cons.

It is tempting to think that all nuclear reactors are the same, and by extension, to place liquid-fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs) in the same category as existing solid-fueled uranium and plutonium reactors.

However, just as it is possible to abhor nuclear weapons but support the use of radioactive isotopes in lifesaving medicine it is necessary to differentiate between different forms of nuclear power. Most of the problems currently associated with today’s solid-uranium-fuelled reactors simply do not apply to LFTRs powered by thorium.

We worry about a “meltdown” in a solid-uranium reactor because it can lead to the release of radioactivity. But many features of a LFTR make it inherently safer. A liquid fuel is the normal mode of operation, which means the reactor can be designed to automatically drain itself into a walk-away safe configuration in the event of a problem…
(July 1, 2011)

French nuclear power plant explosion heightens safety fears

Kim Willsher, the Guardian
An explosion sparked a fire at a French nuclear power station on Saturday, just two days after the authorities found 32 safety concerns at the plant.

The blaze at the Tricastin plant in Drôme in the Rhône valley sent a thick cloud of black smoke into the sky. A mistral wind sent it south over a nearby motorway on one of the busiest travel days of the year as the French left for their summer holidays.

EDF, which runs the power station, said the incident took place in an electric transformer situated in the non-nuclear part of the plant and had not resulted in any radiation leak or any other contamination. A statement issued by the energy giant raised further concerns as it omitted to mention the explosion – only a fire – and did not give the cause of the blaze.

“This event happened in the non-nuclear part of the installation and had no radiological consequence on the environment and the population. The fire brigade was immediately called and the fire was rapidly brought under control. Nobody was hurt,” it said.

EDF added that the plant’s number one reactor was not in operation at the time of the fire, having been “closed for its annual maintenance”. Police confirmed there was no environmental contamination.

On Thursday France’s nuclear safety authority, the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN), demanded 32 safety measures at the Tricastin number one reactor, a 900MW water pressurised reactor built in 1974 and put into operation in 1980…
(July 4, 2011)