The week that was 28 May - 3 June | The Jackal

3 Jun 2011

The week that was 28 May - 3 June

The majority of people would have heard about Germany's plans to go Nuclear Free by the year 2022. This caused some New Zealand media outlets to wheel out the kooks to say Germany would need to burn more coal or purchase electricity from France, which derives over 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy and has no plans to change. All they really had to do to get their facts straight was find an article on the net that quoted what the German Chancellor Angela Merkel actually said: 

"We believe we as a country can be a trailblazer for a new age of renewable energy sources, and will phase out nuclear power. We can be the first major industrialised country that achieves the transition to renewable energy with all the opportunities - for exports, development, technology, jobs - it carries with it." Merkel said.

Germany is the largest industrial power to renounce nuclear energy in a policy reversal for the governing centre-right coalition, which will see the country reap many economic and environmental benefits from the move. Mrs Merkel set up a panel to review nuclear power following the crisis at Fukushima in Japan. 

The official commission, which has studied the issue, found that electricity use can be cut by 10% in the next decade through more efficient machinery and buildings. The intention is to also increase the share of wind energy.

After an anti-nuclear drive including many largely unreported protests that swept the country, Germany's Green party took control of the Christian Democrat stronghold of Baden-Wuerttemberg, in late March.
But Germany wasn’t the only country to declare its intent to go nuclear free. Mainstream media failed to pick up on the story that Switzerland's cabinet has decided to phase out nuclear power by the year 2034. Five Swiss nuclear plants will close as each reaches the end of its 50-year life span. The first, at Beznau near the German border, is due to go offline in 2019.

"After Fukushima we had to rethink our use of atomic power. The goal is a clean, safe and secure energy supply," Energy Minister Doris Leuthard told reporters in Bern.

Switzerland produces 39% of its energy requirements from nuclear power and had already shelved two planned atomic power stations after the quake in Japan. They opted for a gradual shutdown of the country's nuclear plants, rejecting both their early closure and continued use.

"Plans to cover the shortfall in output include increasing energy efficiency and relying more on hydro generation. Coupled with upgrades to the grid, the shift might cost as little as 0.7% of Swiss GDP," said Pascal Previdoli, deputy director of the Federal Office of Energy.

There was yet another incident at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant last Sunday. The system to cool the nuclear reactor and fuel pool of Unit 5 stopped working. This follows a number of other problems that have developed at the plant since the March 11 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami.

A TEPCO official said the operator had started work to repair the cooling facility and hoped to restore the system within several hours. However the success of this work has gone unreported. TEPCO said the breakdown of the cooling systems would not lead to a rapid rise in temperatures at the reactor and spent fuel pool. From past experience we've learned not to trust what TEPCO officials say.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant's cooling systems for No. 1 to 4 reactors were severely damaged in the natural disaster, which resulted in a number of large explosions. TEPCO have now confirmed that there's been three meltdowns at the facility housing a total of seven nuclear reactors.
Japan's Self-Defense Force at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Research undertaken in a Colmar Brunton survey shows that 73% of New Zealander’s think the Government should prioritise increased development of renewable energy to provide electricity and transport fuel. Only 18% said National's strategy of prioritising more exploration and mining for fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas to sell offshore was a good idea.

WWF-New Zealand commissioned the research, which found that the majority of Kiwi's disagree with the priorities outlined in the government’s Energy Strategy. At the beginning of May, Coal Action Network Aotearoa published the Government’s strategy online in its final draft stages.

“The research shows that the majority of people want the Government to prioritise development of safe, clean energy future for New Zealand. As the Deepwater Horizon oil spill shows us, drilling for oil in deep water is dangerous - it risks loss of human life and oil spills that have the potential to devastate natural habitats.” WWF Climate Change campaigner Lee Barry said.

“We know that oil exploration is becoming more expensive, more dangerous and when burnt, contributes to climate change.  Digging and drilling for more coal, oil and gas is applying a 19th century strategy to 21st century challenges.  This survey shows that seven in ten Kiwis instead want a safe, clean energy future."

"Real opportunities exist to build on New Zealand's significant renewable energy potential including wind, geothermal and home-grown biofuels, and the research indicates the majority of Kiwis want the Government to develop those opportunities.” She said.

A recent study published in the online journal PLoS ONE, says climate change is expected to dramatically alter the global industry in fruits and nuts as tree crops such as pistachios and cherries struggle in the rising temperatures, researchers said.

The study found that trees in temperate regions evolved to need a chilly period so they can grow in the spring. The expectation was that fruit and nut trees would be highly affected in California, the southeastern United States, China's Yunnan province, southern and South-western Australia.

The research found that 'Rising temperatures pose a special problem for many varieties of trees that require temperate but comparatively warm areas where the winter chill is already in short supply. Areas that have already seen the worst losses of winter chill include Israel, Morocco, Tunisia and the Cape region of South Africa.'

Co-author Eike Luedeling of the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre said that farmers making long-term investments needed to realize quickly that fruits and nuts are more vulnerable than many other crops.

"If I'm growing wheat or maize, then from one year to the next I can decide whether to plant a little late or plant a little earlier or plant a different variety. But for trees, you can't. Once you've made a decision to plant a certain crop, you're locked in for 30 years," Luedeling said.

Thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the state regulators Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health from Fracking are greater than previously understood.

The destructive drilling method known as high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydro fracking; carries significant environmental risks. It involves injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations to release gas deposits.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

The Times also found never-reported studies by the EPA and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways. The EPA has thus far not intervened in the destructive process that has laid waste to large areas of the US.

A Purdue University study published in the early online edition of the journal Ecological Applications, found that when exposed to increased carbon dioxide, precipitation, nitrogen and temperature - yellow starthistle in some cases grew to six times its normal size while the other grassland species remained relatively unchanged.

Yellow starthistle is a significant weed in the West, especially in California, where it has a longer growing season than native plants and depletes ground moisture, affecting water supplies.

"The rest of the grassland didn't respond much to changes in conditions except nitrogen. We're likely to see these carbon dioxide concentrations in the second half of this century. Our results suggest that yellow starthistle will be a very happy camper in the coming decades," said Jeff Dukes, a Purdue associate professor of forestry and natural resources and the study's lead author.
The study is one of the first comparing the growth of invasive species versus their local competitors under future climate scenarios. Dukes believes the results indicate problems land managers and crop growers could see in the coming decades, and not just with yellow starthistle.
"Plants are going to respond in a number of ways to climate change. Sometimes, the species we depend on will benefit, but other times, it will be the weedy, problematic species that benefit most, and there can be economic and ecological damages associated that people should be aware of. These problems with yellow starthistle aren't going to go away on their own. If anything it's going to become more of a problem than it is now," Dukes said.