Category Archives: Health

Lethal price of climate inertia far exceeds action

Climate change will impose a lethal price if we do not all pay the far smaller cost of confronting it.

LONDON, 10 September, 2020 – In the hotter world of climate change, it won’t just be the glaciers that melt: national and regional economies, big business, government and even the multinationals will all pay a lethal price.

If the planet becomes 4°C warmer by 2100, then many regions could see a 10% fall in economic output. They’d be the lucky ones. In the tropics, the economic losses could be double that.

There are of course ways to limit losses and save lives. US researchers believe that if a quarter of all motorists in the US switched to electric vehicles, the nation could save $17bn a year in the costs of climate change and air pollution. If three fourths of drivers switched to cars fuelled by renewable electricity, savings could tip $70bn.

Both studies are specimens of the kind of economic reasoning – always arguable and often intensely-argued – that necessarily must make “what-if” calculations about the notional costs to society of carbon dioxide emissions and the notional value of human lives blighted by heat-related illnesses and air pollution a lifetime from now.

But both are just the latest in a long line of calculations that demonstrate, repeatedly, that the costs to the next generation of doing nothing about climate change far outweigh the costs now of shifting from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy.

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture”

The latest exploration of the price of doing nothing is published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

German scientists report that they looked, in detail, at the possible consequences of a 4°C warning, not on national economies but on 1500 states, provinces, departments and other political subdivisions within 77 nations around the globe.

Their finding – that more intense global heating could cost all of them 10% of their output and those in the warmer regions more than 20% – is, they say, conservative.

That is because their calculations do not take into account the potential catastrophic damage from extreme weather events and sea level rise – both of which could be substantial.

“Climate damages hit our businesses and our jobs, not just polar bears and coral reefs,” said Leonie Wenz, of the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Tangible value

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture. They affect our harvests and they mean extra stress, and thus costs for our infrastructure.”

But, according to a study in the journal GeoHealth, even the purchase of a new car could soften the impact: providing the car is electric and the power for its batteries is delivered by wind or solar energy.

If electric vehicles replaced 25% of all cars on US roads, the country could save $17bn a year in the notional costs of climate change and health damage – asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and premature death – from choking exhausts. Triple that, and the savings would reach $70bn.

“The social cost of carbon and value of statistical life are much studied and much debated metrics,” said Daniel Horton, of Northwestern University in Illinois, one of the authors.

“But they are used regularly to make policy decisions. It helps to put a tangible value on the consequences of emitting largely intangible gases into the public sphere that is our shared atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

Climate change will impose a lethal price if we do not all pay the far smaller cost of confronting it.

LONDON, 10 September, 2020 – In the hotter world of climate change, it won’t just be the glaciers that melt: national and regional economies, big business, government and even the multinationals will all pay a lethal price.

If the planet becomes 4°C warmer by 2100, then many regions could see a 10% fall in economic output. They’d be the lucky ones. In the tropics, the economic losses could be double that.

There are of course ways to limit losses and save lives. US researchers believe that if a quarter of all motorists in the US switched to electric vehicles, the nation could save $17bn a year in the costs of climate change and air pollution. If three fourths of drivers switched to cars fuelled by renewable electricity, savings could tip $70bn.

Both studies are specimens of the kind of economic reasoning – always arguable and often intensely-argued – that necessarily must make “what-if” calculations about the notional costs to society of carbon dioxide emissions and the notional value of human lives blighted by heat-related illnesses and air pollution a lifetime from now.

But both are just the latest in a long line of calculations that demonstrate, repeatedly, that the costs to the next generation of doing nothing about climate change far outweigh the costs now of shifting from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy.

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture”

The latest exploration of the price of doing nothing is published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

German scientists report that they looked, in detail, at the possible consequences of a 4°C warning, not on national economies but on 1500 states, provinces, departments and other political subdivisions within 77 nations around the globe.

Their finding – that more intense global heating could cost all of them 10% of their output and those in the warmer regions more than 20% – is, they say, conservative.

That is because their calculations do not take into account the potential catastrophic damage from extreme weather events and sea level rise – both of which could be substantial.

“Climate damages hit our businesses and our jobs, not just polar bears and coral reefs,” said Leonie Wenz, of the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Tangible value

“Rising temperatures make us less productive, which is relevant in particular for outdoor work in the construction industry or agriculture. They affect our harvests and they mean extra stress, and thus costs for our infrastructure.”

But, according to a study in the journal GeoHealth, even the purchase of a new car could soften the impact: providing the car is electric and the power for its batteries is delivered by wind or solar energy.

If electric vehicles replaced 25% of all cars on US roads, the country could save $17bn a year in the notional costs of climate change and health damage – asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and premature death – from choking exhausts. Triple that, and the savings would reach $70bn.

“The social cost of carbon and value of statistical life are much studied and much debated metrics,” said Daniel Horton, of Northwestern University in Illinois, one of the authors.

“But they are used regularly to make policy decisions. It helps to put a tangible value on the consequences of emitting largely intangible gases into the public sphere that is our shared atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

Cool your home, save money, chill the atmosphere

Feeling too hot? Then turn the thermostat down and cool your home − a good start to cooling the planet.

LONDON, 8 September, 2020 − Rescuing battered economies in the wake of the coronavirus onslaught often demands building anew, but it doesn’t have to mean altogether different ways of life, transformed industries and modern buildings: just cool your home for a start, because new ways to heat our houses could save money, improve health − and help the planet by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Housing, at least in temperate northern countries, could provide much better living conditions while doing much less environmental damage. A new approach in the Netherlands, known in Dutch as Energiesprong, is one answer.

It can cut the fossil fuel used for heating (or cooling) a house, offering occupants affordable, comfortable lives and helping to solve an urgent problem. And it can do it all in days, a fraction of the time energy retrofits usually need.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based group which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change). It thinks the built environment looks set for a long-overdue makeover.

Energiesprong involves some basic rethinking, about how much comfort we need. In 1970 the Danish scientist Povl Ole Fanger published his research on how warm people like to feel. His work still influences the designed-in temperature of modern buildings and their energy use.

“A reduction from 20°C to 18°C across the British housing stock would save the equivalent of 33 TWh of electricity − about two thirds of Portugal’s domestic consumption”

So, despite all of us having different metabolisms and body shapes and sizes, we usually work seated in a space heated or cooled to 21-22℃. Engineers and architects also factor in assumptions about what the supposedly typical occupant will be wearing: a man’s business suit  (trousers, a jacket and a long-sleeved shirt).

Fanger’s equation therefore locks in assumptions that apply only to a male, suited minority, ignoring more than half of humanity: women, people who don’t wear suits, those with different metabolisms. It also locks in a level of the carbon emissions which stoke the climate emergency.

A 2012 study commissioned by the UK government looked at potential energy savings from small behaviour changes. It concluded that lowering central heating temperatures worked best.

A reduction from 20°C to 18°C across the British housing stock would save the equivalent of 33 TWh of electricity − about two thirds of Portugal’s domestic electricity consumption in 2019 of 48 TWh.

Day-to-day energy use currently accounts for about 28% of global emissions annually. A massive increase in the rate of existing building energy efficiency is needed to meet the emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement. But building renovations currently affect only 0.5-1% of the existing UK building stock each year.

Slow progress

Governments are variously funding schemes to insulate inefficient old buildings and to remove polluting systems such as gas boilers in favour of renewables. All these efforts are chasing the target of “net zero” carbon emissions and beyond to “negative” emissions, resulting in an overall reduction.

For most older houses especially, this can prove costly, disruptive and time-consuming; without government assistance or incentives, few people are willing or able to undertake the challenge. Even in countries claiming to be climate leaders, like the UK, progress has been slow.

Energiesprong offers integrated refurbishment, regulatory change and financing. Its retrofits leave net zero energy buildings, generating all the energy they need for heating, hot water and electrical appliances by using new technologies such as prefabricated facades, insulated rooftops with solar panels, smart heating, and ventilation and cooling installations. A complete home makeover can be finished in less than 10 days, and some have been done in as little as a single day.

It’s an approach that could become much more widespread, and experts say it needs to be. It has to be set against the predicted doubling in global building space by 2060, when two thirds of the expected global population of 10 billion people will live in cities.

That will need the equivalent of an entire New York City to be added to the global built environment every month for the next 40 years. The energy used simply to construct buildings before they are used constitutes an additional 11% of global emissions today.

Killer homes

The budget for an Energiesprong renovation or new build is reckoned as future energy cost savings plus the cost of planned maintenance and repairs over the next 30 years. To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement,  the built environment’s energy intensity − how much energy a building uses − will have to improve by 30% by 2030.

Globally, the energy intensity of the building sector is improving by about 1.5% annually, but this is more than offset by the number of new buildings. Global floor area is growing by about 2.3% annually, and carbon emissions related to buildings are expected to double by 2050 on present trends.

Making houses less energy-hungry also improves social justice. Most of the UK’s housing – and particularly rental properties and those in poorer areas – are leaky and cold, and often damp. Many people simply can’t afford to heat them, which can put a decision to cool your home in a different perspective.

A 2018 briefing paper by researchers from two UK groups, E3G and National Energy Action, said the UK had the sixth highest long-term rate of excess winter mortality out of 30 European countries, with 9,700 deaths attributable that winter to the avoidable circumstances of living in a cold home. Another estimate puts the 2018 figure at 17,000.

As well as the Netherlands, there are Energiesprong initiatives in the UK, France, Germany and Italy. In the US, groups inspired by Energiesprong are working on local solutions in New York state and California. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Feeling too hot? Then turn the thermostat down and cool your home − a good start to cooling the planet.

LONDON, 8 September, 2020 − Rescuing battered economies in the wake of the coronavirus onslaught often demands building anew, but it doesn’t have to mean altogether different ways of life, transformed industries and modern buildings: just cool your home for a start, because new ways to heat our houses could save money, improve health − and help the planet by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Housing, at least in temperate northern countries, could provide much better living conditions while doing much less environmental damage. A new approach in the Netherlands, known in Dutch as Energiesprong, is one answer.

It can cut the fossil fuel used for heating (or cooling) a house, offering occupants affordable, comfortable lives and helping to solve an urgent problem. And it can do it all in days, a fraction of the time energy retrofits usually need.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based group which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change). It thinks the built environment looks set for a long-overdue makeover.

Energiesprong involves some basic rethinking, about how much comfort we need. In 1970 the Danish scientist Povl Ole Fanger published his research on how warm people like to feel. His work still influences the designed-in temperature of modern buildings and their energy use.

“A reduction from 20°C to 18°C across the British housing stock would save the equivalent of 33 TWh of electricity − about two thirds of Portugal’s domestic consumption”

So, despite all of us having different metabolisms and body shapes and sizes, we usually work seated in a space heated or cooled to 21-22℃. Engineers and architects also factor in assumptions about what the supposedly typical occupant will be wearing: a man’s business suit  (trousers, a jacket and a long-sleeved shirt).

Fanger’s equation therefore locks in assumptions that apply only to a male, suited minority, ignoring more than half of humanity: women, people who don’t wear suits, those with different metabolisms. It also locks in a level of the carbon emissions which stoke the climate emergency.

A 2012 study commissioned by the UK government looked at potential energy savings from small behaviour changes. It concluded that lowering central heating temperatures worked best.

A reduction from 20°C to 18°C across the British housing stock would save the equivalent of 33 TWh of electricity − about two thirds of Portugal’s domestic electricity consumption in 2019 of 48 TWh.

Day-to-day energy use currently accounts for about 28% of global emissions annually. A massive increase in the rate of existing building energy efficiency is needed to meet the emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement. But building renovations currently affect only 0.5-1% of the existing UK building stock each year.

Slow progress

Governments are variously funding schemes to insulate inefficient old buildings and to remove polluting systems such as gas boilers in favour of renewables. All these efforts are chasing the target of “net zero” carbon emissions and beyond to “negative” emissions, resulting in an overall reduction.

For most older houses especially, this can prove costly, disruptive and time-consuming; without government assistance or incentives, few people are willing or able to undertake the challenge. Even in countries claiming to be climate leaders, like the UK, progress has been slow.

Energiesprong offers integrated refurbishment, regulatory change and financing. Its retrofits leave net zero energy buildings, generating all the energy they need for heating, hot water and electrical appliances by using new technologies such as prefabricated facades, insulated rooftops with solar panels, smart heating, and ventilation and cooling installations. A complete home makeover can be finished in less than 10 days, and some have been done in as little as a single day.

It’s an approach that could become much more widespread, and experts say it needs to be. It has to be set against the predicted doubling in global building space by 2060, when two thirds of the expected global population of 10 billion people will live in cities.

That will need the equivalent of an entire New York City to be added to the global built environment every month for the next 40 years. The energy used simply to construct buildings before they are used constitutes an additional 11% of global emissions today.

Killer homes

The budget for an Energiesprong renovation or new build is reckoned as future energy cost savings plus the cost of planned maintenance and repairs over the next 30 years. To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement,  the built environment’s energy intensity − how much energy a building uses − will have to improve by 30% by 2030.

Globally, the energy intensity of the building sector is improving by about 1.5% annually, but this is more than offset by the number of new buildings. Global floor area is growing by about 2.3% annually, and carbon emissions related to buildings are expected to double by 2050 on present trends.

Making houses less energy-hungry also improves social justice. Most of the UK’s housing – and particularly rental properties and those in poorer areas – are leaky and cold, and often damp. Many people simply can’t afford to heat them, which can put a decision to cool your home in a different perspective.

A 2018 briefing paper by researchers from two UK groups, E3G and National Energy Action, said the UK had the sixth highest long-term rate of excess winter mortality out of 30 European countries, with 9,700 deaths attributable that winter to the avoidable circumstances of living in a cold home. Another estimate puts the 2018 figure at 17,000.

As well as the Netherlands, there are Energiesprong initiatives in the UK, France, Germany and Italy. In the US, groups inspired by Energiesprong are working on local solutions in New York state and California. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

UK’s plutonium stockpile is an embarrassing risk

Plutonium used to be called the world’s most valuable substance. It’s now recognised as a highly dangerous liability.

LONDON, 3 September, 2020 – After 70 years of producing plutonium in reprocessing works the United Kingdom, now with 140 tonnes of it, the largest stockpile in the world, finds it has no use for the metal – and needs to spend £4.5 billion (US$6bn) just to keep it safe.

Having already spent at least that much since the 1950s employing thousands of workers at the Sellafield plant in north-west England to refine the plutonium, the British government has now been told this was a useless endeavour, producing fissile material which, as a security risk, is a burden for future generations.

To cope with the problem the government has now authorised the building of new plants to refine, repackage and store the plutonium for another 140 years, in the hope that some time in the future someone will find a use for it.

Plutonium was once described as the most valuable substance in the world – because with seven kilograms a nation could make a devastating nuclear bomb and become a superpower.

Non-stop production

The UK began making plutonium in the 1950s so that it could keep up with the US and Russia in obtaining such a bomb, and since then it has not stopped, although it has earmarked its current stockpile for peaceful purposes.

The plan, once there was enough military plutonium to use for bombs, was to make plutonium-based fuels for electricity production, but the technology has proved too expensive to be viable.

So the plutonium is now a liability, costing more than £300 million a ton to make safe and store. It will be permanently guarded by a special armed police force for the next 140 years to prevent terrorists getting access to it – the additional cost of this 24-hour surveillance being kept secret because it is “a matter of national security.”

Some of the plutonium has been stored for so long that it already needs what is called “emergency repackaging” to keep it safe. Some of it decays into a more radioactive substance, americium-241, which remains a danger for another 300 years.

Sudden revelation

To avoid immediate danger to workers this plutonium will have to be re-packaged again to meet the standard required for it to enter a new store, so far unbuilt.

Rachel Western, a Friends of the Earth researcher, who obtained a Ph.D studying decision-making in nuclear waste management, said: “It is shocking that after half a century of production of plutonium at Sellafield they have discovered how dangerous it is, so that we are suddenly faced with emergency action.”

One of the extraordinary aspects of this history is that successive governments, both Conservative and Labour, have been warned repeatedly by scientists, engineers and environment groups that the plutonium is a liability, not an asset. Despite that, in the 1990s (having already built up a vast stock of plutonium) ministers authorised the new reprocessing works to begin operations.

After a life of 20 years this reprocessing plant, known as Thorp (the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant), shut down in 2018, and another that has been working since the 1950s is due to close in 2021 – in the meantime still turning out more plutonium that has no end use.

“Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations”

This reporter, who worked for The Guardian newspaper, was assigned to follow Britain’s plutonium story from the 1980s. After a long planning inquiry into the Thorp plant, which was to cost £1.8 billion, a debate broke out on whether the UK needed any more plutonium

The original plan for Thorp was to make money for the UK by reprocessing spent nuclear fuels at Sellafield from around the world to recover plutonium and uranium to re-use in reactors. Everyone outside the industry said that this would be uneconomic, and so it proved. But the government went ahead anyway.

The idea was to make a new fuel called MOX, mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium, to burn in reactors that would provide energy but effectively render the plutonium useless for making weapons.

In order to justify opening the second reprocessing works the government authorised the building of an additional MOX plant, but it never worked properly and was abandoned as a catastrophic financial failure. Despite this, Sellafield continued to separate plutonium.

Looking for alternative

Papers passed to the Climate News Network show what an expensive legacy this plutonium production line has proved to be.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the government body charged with dealing with the UK’s nuclear wastes, said in its 2019 document Progress on Plutonium: “Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations to manage.”

It outlined a series of possibilities for using the plutonium, including the already failed alternative of making MOX fuel. In that and future documents these alternatives were discussed and found to be too expensive, unproven or simply impractical, because there were no reactors available to burn the plutonium.

As a result, repacking the dangerously unstable plutonium and then storing it for future generations to deal with is the chosen option until an alternative can be found. The most likely, according to the NDA document, seems to be mixing it with concrete or ceramics and burying it in a deep depository.

Cost increase

Costs are not discussed in that document. However, following a request by the UK’s Public Accounts Committee, an all-party body of members of parliament, the costs of dealing with the plutonium were disclosed by the NDA.

The evidence says in part: “The costs of the programme to manage the indefinite storage of UK-held plutonium are expected to increase between £0.5-£1 billion from the current estimate of £3.5 billion.”

These costs include the current “contingency repack capability” which is code for emergency treatment for old plutonium stores; the building of a new state of the art retreatment plant; and the construction of a giant new store to take all the plutonium. This it is hoped will be ready by 2027, with extensions to be added in 2033 and 2040.

Other documents, also seen by the Climate News Network, explain that one of the problems that Sellafield faces is that plutonium breaks down.

Completely unusable

Radioactive substances decay into what are called daughter products, also highly dangerous, that have different properties and in this case dilute the purity of the plutonium. This is why nuclear warheads constantly have to be remade with pure plutonium.

At Sellafield some of this refined plutonium has been left in store for so long that it is regarded as unusable in any form and will have to be disposed of. Other plutonium could be purified for use, if a use could be found.

The documents made clear that the plutonium in these old stores was too dangerous to leave until the new facilities could be built. The NDA’s 2020 annual report said: ”In the last 12 months Sellafield has started to recover some of the most degraded plutonium storage packages, therefore beginning to mitigate one of the more significant challenges associated with storing these materials.”

Sellafield has more than 1,000 empty buildings and nearly 10,000 employees looking after the nuclear waste created since the 1950s. – Climate News Network

Plutonium used to be called the world’s most valuable substance. It’s now recognised as a highly dangerous liability.

LONDON, 3 September, 2020 – After 70 years of producing plutonium in reprocessing works the United Kingdom, now with 140 tonnes of it, the largest stockpile in the world, finds it has no use for the metal – and needs to spend £4.5 billion (US$6bn) just to keep it safe.

Having already spent at least that much since the 1950s employing thousands of workers at the Sellafield plant in north-west England to refine the plutonium, the British government has now been told this was a useless endeavour, producing fissile material which, as a security risk, is a burden for future generations.

To cope with the problem the government has now authorised the building of new plants to refine, repackage and store the plutonium for another 140 years, in the hope that some time in the future someone will find a use for it.

Plutonium was once described as the most valuable substance in the world – because with seven kilograms a nation could make a devastating nuclear bomb and become a superpower.

Non-stop production

The UK began making plutonium in the 1950s so that it could keep up with the US and Russia in obtaining such a bomb, and since then it has not stopped, although it has earmarked its current stockpile for peaceful purposes.

The plan, once there was enough military plutonium to use for bombs, was to make plutonium-based fuels for electricity production, but the technology has proved too expensive to be viable.

So the plutonium is now a liability, costing more than £300 million a ton to make safe and store. It will be permanently guarded by a special armed police force for the next 140 years to prevent terrorists getting access to it – the additional cost of this 24-hour surveillance being kept secret because it is “a matter of national security.”

Some of the plutonium has been stored for so long that it already needs what is called “emergency repackaging” to keep it safe. Some of it decays into a more radioactive substance, americium-241, which remains a danger for another 300 years.

Sudden revelation

To avoid immediate danger to workers this plutonium will have to be re-packaged again to meet the standard required for it to enter a new store, so far unbuilt.

Rachel Western, a Friends of the Earth researcher, who obtained a Ph.D studying decision-making in nuclear waste management, said: “It is shocking that after half a century of production of plutonium at Sellafield they have discovered how dangerous it is, so that we are suddenly faced with emergency action.”

One of the extraordinary aspects of this history is that successive governments, both Conservative and Labour, have been warned repeatedly by scientists, engineers and environment groups that the plutonium is a liability, not an asset. Despite that, in the 1990s (having already built up a vast stock of plutonium) ministers authorised the new reprocessing works to begin operations.

After a life of 20 years this reprocessing plant, known as Thorp (the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant), shut down in 2018, and another that has been working since the 1950s is due to close in 2021 – in the meantime still turning out more plutonium that has no end use.

“Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations”

This reporter, who worked for The Guardian newspaper, was assigned to follow Britain’s plutonium story from the 1980s. After a long planning inquiry into the Thorp plant, which was to cost £1.8 billion, a debate broke out on whether the UK needed any more plutonium

The original plan for Thorp was to make money for the UK by reprocessing spent nuclear fuels at Sellafield from around the world to recover plutonium and uranium to re-use in reactors. Everyone outside the industry said that this would be uneconomic, and so it proved. But the government went ahead anyway.

The idea was to make a new fuel called MOX, mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium, to burn in reactors that would provide energy but effectively render the plutonium useless for making weapons.

In order to justify opening the second reprocessing works the government authorised the building of an additional MOX plant, but it never worked properly and was abandoned as a catastrophic financial failure. Despite this, Sellafield continued to separate plutonium.

Looking for alternative

Papers passed to the Climate News Network show what an expensive legacy this plutonium production line has proved to be.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the government body charged with dealing with the UK’s nuclear wastes, said in its 2019 document Progress on Plutonium: “Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations to manage.”

It outlined a series of possibilities for using the plutonium, including the already failed alternative of making MOX fuel. In that and future documents these alternatives were discussed and found to be too expensive, unproven or simply impractical, because there were no reactors available to burn the plutonium.

As a result, repacking the dangerously unstable plutonium and then storing it for future generations to deal with is the chosen option until an alternative can be found. The most likely, according to the NDA document, seems to be mixing it with concrete or ceramics and burying it in a deep depository.

Cost increase

Costs are not discussed in that document. However, following a request by the UK’s Public Accounts Committee, an all-party body of members of parliament, the costs of dealing with the plutonium were disclosed by the NDA.

The evidence says in part: “The costs of the programme to manage the indefinite storage of UK-held plutonium are expected to increase between £0.5-£1 billion from the current estimate of £3.5 billion.”

These costs include the current “contingency repack capability” which is code for emergency treatment for old plutonium stores; the building of a new state of the art retreatment plant; and the construction of a giant new store to take all the plutonium. This it is hoped will be ready by 2027, with extensions to be added in 2033 and 2040.

Other documents, also seen by the Climate News Network, explain that one of the problems that Sellafield faces is that plutonium breaks down.

Completely unusable

Radioactive substances decay into what are called daughter products, also highly dangerous, that have different properties and in this case dilute the purity of the plutonium. This is why nuclear warheads constantly have to be remade with pure plutonium.

At Sellafield some of this refined plutonium has been left in store for so long that it is regarded as unusable in any form and will have to be disposed of. Other plutonium could be purified for use, if a use could be found.

The documents made clear that the plutonium in these old stores was too dangerous to leave until the new facilities could be built. The NDA’s 2020 annual report said: ”In the last 12 months Sellafield has started to recover some of the most degraded plutonium storage packages, therefore beginning to mitigate one of the more significant challenges associated with storing these materials.”

Sellafield has more than 1,000 empty buildings and nearly 10,000 employees looking after the nuclear waste created since the 1950s. – Climate News Network

‘Ban adverts for cars that damage the climate’

Tobacco advertisements are often banned these days. So why not ban adverts for gas-guzzling cars that damage the planet?

LONDON, 1 September, 2020 – Many countries now ban adverts for tobacco products and some now limit sales of junk food, to protect public health. All of them have reduced advertising, or ended it outright.

So, campaigners argue, why not do the same with adverts which promote high-carbon products and lifestyles, damaging people’s health and heating the planet?

There’s growing pressure for bans like that in the United Kingdom, with a focus on ending the promotion of highly-polluting cars, gas-guzzling 4x4s, also known as SUVs, an argument developed by a campaign called Badvertising.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based group which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change).

As part of its work to publicise how projects and communities can withstand the effects of climate heating, the Alliance too is supporting Badvertising, which it is convinced can succeed.

40-year resistance

The RTA argues that advertising bans have worked before, provided they have had three factors in their favour: strong evidence from trusted sources; clear campaigning; and a threat to public health, which policymakers take seriously.

Even so, it says, powerful moneyed interests will oppose changes that threaten their income. Advertising is one key way of driving consumption, encouraging us to “shop till we drop”. In 2020 world expenditure on advertising is expected to reach US$691.7 billion (£520bn), up by 7.0% from 2019, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

That’s more than China’s infrastructure investment programme after the 2008 financial crisis, and over four times more than the $153bn provided to developing countries in 2018 by the 30 members of the OECD’s development assistance committee.

With tobacco, once its huge public health impact became clear – 100 million people died in the last century from its use, and the figure for this century is expected to be ten times greater – campaigners had to work tirelessly for another 40 years until its promotion was banned.

The tobacco industry meanwhile resisted fiercely, arguing, for example, that adverts didn’t increase smoking but merely encouraged people to switch brands, despite evidence to the contrary.

“Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power”

For climate and health campaigners today there are valuable lessons to be learned from the fight against tobacco, the RTA says. Both tobacco smoke and car exhausts contain similar toxins that directly threaten human health.

Underlying health conditions mean that poorer households are worse hit than richer ones by the effects of tobacco and air pollution from vehicles, and so are more vulnerable too to health crises like Covid-19.

Junk food is another target for campaigners against advertising, particularly where child obesity is an issue. In London a ban on unhealthy food advertising was introduced in 2018, to widespread public approval. The UK government is now set to implement stricter rules on how junk food is advertised and sold across the country.

This year the Mexican state of Oaxaca banned the sale of sugary drinks and high-calorie snack foods to children. Mexicans drink 163 litres of soft drinks a year per head – the world’s highest level – and they start young. About 73% of Mexicans are considered overweight, and related diseases such as diabetes are rife.

A survey by El Poder del Consumidor (in Spanish) – a Mexican consumer advocacy group and drinks industry critic – found 70% of schoolchildren in a poor region of Guerrero state reported having soft drinks for breakfast. “When you go to these communities, what you find is junk food. There’s no access to clean drinking water,” said Alejandro Calvillo, the group’s director.

Doubt-spreading

In 2006 a US district judge ruled that tobacco companies had “devised and executed a scheme to defraud consumers … about the hazards of cigarettes, hazards that their own internal company documents proved they had known about since the 1950s.” After four decades of delay, obfuscation and the spreading of doubt by the industry, the tobacco companies were found guilty.

In the UK the first calls to restrict advertising came in 1962 from the Royal College of Physicians. The general advertising of tobacco products was banned in stages from 2003. But concern at the damage that advertising can cause continues.

Communities in the UK city of Bristol recently acted against the bright LCD billboards which have proliferated there, causing light pollution and using huge amounts of energy to adverise a range of goods and services. A Bristol initiative to help residents object to planning applications for new digital advertising screens has now led to a wider network, Adfree Cities.

Advertising is part of the broader public relations industry. The RTA quotes an American citizen, often called the father of public relations, Edward Bernays, who worked for the US Committee on Public Information, a body for official propaganda during the first world war.

Bernays once wrote: “Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power. We are governed, our minds moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested largely by men we have never heard of.”

Doctors’ crucial intervention

One turning point in the battle against tobacco industry propaganda in the UK, the RTA says, was the involvement of the doctors’ trades union, the British Medical Association (BMA). This brought the people the public trusted most – their family doctors – into direct confrontation with the tobacco industry.

But the medical profession was to play another crucial part in protecting public health on a far wider front in 2017, when an article in the Lancet, the leading British medical journal, featured a major study, this time with evidence supporting the climatologists’ findings that climate change is a growing health hazard.

In response, Simon Dalby of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada asks why we don’t use advertising restrictions for climate change in the same way that we have with other public health hazards like smoking.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world are already suffering because of climate change, he points out. Infectious diseases are spreading faster as the climate heats, hunger and malnutrition are worsening, allergy seasons are getting longer, and sometimes it’s simply too hot for farmers to tend their crops.

Professor Dalby’s suggestion? Not only should we restrict adverts for gas-guzzlers. We should treat climate change itself, not as an environmental problem, but as a health emergency. – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Tobacco advertisements are often banned these days. So why not ban adverts for gas-guzzling cars that damage the planet?

LONDON, 1 September, 2020 – Many countries now ban adverts for tobacco products and some now limit sales of junk food, to protect public health. All of them have reduced advertising, or ended it outright.

So, campaigners argue, why not do the same with adverts which promote high-carbon products and lifestyles, damaging people’s health and heating the planet?

There’s growing pressure for bans like that in the United Kingdom, with a focus on ending the promotion of highly-polluting cars, gas-guzzling 4x4s, also known as SUVs, an argument developed by a campaign called Badvertising.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based group which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change).

As part of its work to publicise how projects and communities can withstand the effects of climate heating, the Alliance too is supporting Badvertising, which it is convinced can succeed.

40-year resistance

The RTA argues that advertising bans have worked before, provided they have had three factors in their favour: strong evidence from trusted sources; clear campaigning; and a threat to public health, which policymakers take seriously.

Even so, it says, powerful moneyed interests will oppose changes that threaten their income. Advertising is one key way of driving consumption, encouraging us to “shop till we drop”. In 2020 world expenditure on advertising is expected to reach US$691.7 billion (£520bn), up by 7.0% from 2019, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

That’s more than China’s infrastructure investment programme after the 2008 financial crisis, and over four times more than the $153bn provided to developing countries in 2018 by the 30 members of the OECD’s development assistance committee.

With tobacco, once its huge public health impact became clear – 100 million people died in the last century from its use, and the figure for this century is expected to be ten times greater – campaigners had to work tirelessly for another 40 years until its promotion was banned.

The tobacco industry meanwhile resisted fiercely, arguing, for example, that adverts didn’t increase smoking but merely encouraged people to switch brands, despite evidence to the contrary.

“Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power”

For climate and health campaigners today there are valuable lessons to be learned from the fight against tobacco, the RTA says. Both tobacco smoke and car exhausts contain similar toxins that directly threaten human health.

Underlying health conditions mean that poorer households are worse hit than richer ones by the effects of tobacco and air pollution from vehicles, and so are more vulnerable too to health crises like Covid-19.

Junk food is another target for campaigners against advertising, particularly where child obesity is an issue. In London a ban on unhealthy food advertising was introduced in 2018, to widespread public approval. The UK government is now set to implement stricter rules on how junk food is advertised and sold across the country.

This year the Mexican state of Oaxaca banned the sale of sugary drinks and high-calorie snack foods to children. Mexicans drink 163 litres of soft drinks a year per head – the world’s highest level – and they start young. About 73% of Mexicans are considered overweight, and related diseases such as diabetes are rife.

A survey by El Poder del Consumidor (in Spanish) – a Mexican consumer advocacy group and drinks industry critic – found 70% of schoolchildren in a poor region of Guerrero state reported having soft drinks for breakfast. “When you go to these communities, what you find is junk food. There’s no access to clean drinking water,” said Alejandro Calvillo, the group’s director.

Doubt-spreading

In 2006 a US district judge ruled that tobacco companies had “devised and executed a scheme to defraud consumers … about the hazards of cigarettes, hazards that their own internal company documents proved they had known about since the 1950s.” After four decades of delay, obfuscation and the spreading of doubt by the industry, the tobacco companies were found guilty.

In the UK the first calls to restrict advertising came in 1962 from the Royal College of Physicians. The general advertising of tobacco products was banned in stages from 2003. But concern at the damage that advertising can cause continues.

Communities in the UK city of Bristol recently acted against the bright LCD billboards which have proliferated there, causing light pollution and using huge amounts of energy to adverise a range of goods and services. A Bristol initiative to help residents object to planning applications for new digital advertising screens has now led to a wider network, Adfree Cities.

Advertising is part of the broader public relations industry. The RTA quotes an American citizen, often called the father of public relations, Edward Bernays, who worked for the US Committee on Public Information, a body for official propaganda during the first world war.

Bernays once wrote: “Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power. We are governed, our minds moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested largely by men we have never heard of.”

Doctors’ crucial intervention

One turning point in the battle against tobacco industry propaganda in the UK, the RTA says, was the involvement of the doctors’ trades union, the British Medical Association (BMA). This brought the people the public trusted most – their family doctors – into direct confrontation with the tobacco industry.

But the medical profession was to play another crucial part in protecting public health on a far wider front in 2017, when an article in the Lancet, the leading British medical journal, featured a major study, this time with evidence supporting the climatologists’ findings that climate change is a growing health hazard.

In response, Simon Dalby of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada asks why we don’t use advertising restrictions for climate change in the same way that we have with other public health hazards like smoking.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world are already suffering because of climate change, he points out. Infectious diseases are spreading faster as the climate heats, hunger and malnutrition are worsening, allergy seasons are getting longer, and sometimes it’s simply too hot for farmers to tend their crops.

Professor Dalby’s suggestion? Not only should we restrict adverts for gas-guzzlers. We should treat climate change itself, not as an environmental problem, but as a health emergency. – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Calling time on UK’s ageing nuclear power plants

Local authorities demand the closure of all the UK’s ageing nuclear power plants to protect both safety and the economy.

LONDON, 13 August, 2020 – Four of the UK’s ageing nuclear power reactors, currently closed for repairs, should not be allowed to restart, in order to protect public health, says a consortium of 40 local authorities in Britain and Ireland.

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), the local government voice on nuclear issues in the United Kingdom, then wants all the rest of the country’s 14 ageing advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) shut down as soon as possible, with the power they produce replaced by renewables and a programme of energy efficiency.

The four reactors they want closed immediately are two at Hunterston in Scotland and two at Hinkley Point B in Somerset in the West of England. Of the other five power stations (each with two reacttors) which the NFLA wants shut down as soon as possible, one is at Torness, also in Scotland.

Three more are in the North of England – one at Hartlepool in County Durham and two at Heysham in Lancashire and one at Dungeness in south-east England.

Faster wind-down

To protect the jobs of those involved, the NFLA calls in its report on the future of the AGRs for a “Just Transition”: retraining for skilled workers, but also an accelerated decommissioning of the plants to use the nuclear skills of the existing workforce.

The report details the dangers that the reactors, some more than 40 years old, pose to the public. Graphite blocks, which are vital for closing down the reactor in an emergency, are disintegrating because of constant radiation, and other plants are so corroded that pipework is judged dangerous.

If the two Hunterston reactors were restarted and the graphite blocks failed, a worst-case accident would mean both Edinburgh and Glasgow would have to be evacuated, the report says.

The reactors are owned by the French nuclear giant EDF, which hopes to keep them going until the power they produce can be replaced by a pair of new reactors the company is building with Chinese support at Hinkley Point C. This plant was due to be completed by 2025, but cost overruns and already acknowledged delays make that unlikely.

“The NFLA urges the UK Government to move its energy policy from new nuclear and focus on delivering renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage solutions”

EDF has already spent £200 million to try to repair the off-line AGR reactors – some now 44 years old – but has so far failed to persuade the UK Government’s safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), that it is safe to do so.

The report says it would be simpler and cheaper to replace the reactors’ output with renewable energy rather than to keep repairing them – by coincidence a point also made by the UK Government’s National Infrastructure Commission on the same day.

Apart from detailing the fears of independent engineers and campaigners about the gradual disintegration of the reactors because of constant bombardment by radiation, the NFLA also criticises the ONR for not taking a stronger line on safety.

The ONR has promised to “robustly challenge” EDF Energy, to ensure that it “remains safe”. But NFLA Scotland’s convenor, Councillor Feargal Dalton, is not satisfied. He says councils will press the ONR “to forensically scrutinise what look like significant weaknesses in the EDF safety case.”

Repeat postponements

This criticism is based partly on the EDF habit of setting dates for the restart of reactors, only to postpone them repeatedly. This has happened as many as eight times in the case of Hunterston since it first shut down for a routine inspection in 2018, and six times for Dungeness.

In both cases this has just happened again, Dungeness being delayed from September to December this year.

Professor Stephen Thomas of the the University of Greenwich in London commented on the constantly postponed start-up dates for the reactors. He said: “It is clear, given that shutdowns expected to take two months are now expected to take two years or more, that EDF has found huge unanticipated problems.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors, but continues to pour money into plants to get a couple more years of operation out of plants highly likely to be loss-makers.

Relying on blandness

“It is depressing that the ONR, which has a duty to keep the public informed on such important issues, chooses to hide behind bland statements such as that it will take as long as it takes, and that it will not comment on EDF’s decisions.”

Councillor David Blackburn, who chairs the NFLA’s steering committee, called for the closure of all EDF’s AGRs as soon as possible. He said: “The NFLA urges the UK Government in particular to move its energy policy from new nuclear and focus on delivering renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage solutions.

“There is ample evidence these can be delivered quickly and in the quantity that is required for future energy policy. It is time to move from nuclear and focus on renewables.”

The problem for the Government and EDF is not that the lights will go out if the nuclear stations are closed.

Covid prompts slump

Three stations are closed down at the moment for repairs, and the newest to open, a pressurised water reactor (PWR) at Sizewell B on the east coast of England (not covered by the current report) is operating at 50% power because demand for electricity has slumped during the Covid pandemic. In fact EDF is being paid to keep it shut by consumers through their bills.

The problem is the economic mess that closing the reactors will create. EDF UK will be technically bankrupt if and when it closes its nuclear stations which will go from being assets on its balance sheet to liabilities.

The French state-owned company is already so heavily in debt and severely stretched in building new plants that it will be unable to help its British subsidiary. Asked to comment on this report, it did not answer the question.

The government of the day also has to face the difficulty of how much it will all cost. There is £9.4 billion in the ring-fenced government Nuclear Liabilities Fund to decommission the UK’s AGR stations and eventually the Sizewell station as well, but it will soon be clear this is nowhere near enough and the taxpayer will have to foot the bill. The estimate for the liabilities is currently around £20.4 billion. – Climate News Network

Local authorities demand the closure of all the UK’s ageing nuclear power plants to protect both safety and the economy.

LONDON, 13 August, 2020 – Four of the UK’s ageing nuclear power reactors, currently closed for repairs, should not be allowed to restart, in order to protect public health, says a consortium of 40 local authorities in Britain and Ireland.

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), the local government voice on nuclear issues in the United Kingdom, then wants all the rest of the country’s 14 ageing advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) shut down as soon as possible, with the power they produce replaced by renewables and a programme of energy efficiency.

The four reactors they want closed immediately are two at Hunterston in Scotland and two at Hinkley Point B in Somerset in the West of England. Of the other five power stations (each with two reacttors) which the NFLA wants shut down as soon as possible, one is at Torness, also in Scotland.

Three more are in the North of England – one at Hartlepool in County Durham and two at Heysham in Lancashire and one at Dungeness in south-east England.

Faster wind-down

To protect the jobs of those involved, the NFLA calls in its report on the future of the AGRs for a “Just Transition”: retraining for skilled workers, but also an accelerated decommissioning of the plants to use the nuclear skills of the existing workforce.

The report details the dangers that the reactors, some more than 40 years old, pose to the public. Graphite blocks, which are vital for closing down the reactor in an emergency, are disintegrating because of constant radiation, and other plants are so corroded that pipework is judged dangerous.

If the two Hunterston reactors were restarted and the graphite blocks failed, a worst-case accident would mean both Edinburgh and Glasgow would have to be evacuated, the report says.

The reactors are owned by the French nuclear giant EDF, which hopes to keep them going until the power they produce can be replaced by a pair of new reactors the company is building with Chinese support at Hinkley Point C. This plant was due to be completed by 2025, but cost overruns and already acknowledged delays make that unlikely.

“The NFLA urges the UK Government to move its energy policy from new nuclear and focus on delivering renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage solutions”

EDF has already spent £200 million to try to repair the off-line AGR reactors – some now 44 years old – but has so far failed to persuade the UK Government’s safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), that it is safe to do so.

The report says it would be simpler and cheaper to replace the reactors’ output with renewable energy rather than to keep repairing them – by coincidence a point also made by the UK Government’s National Infrastructure Commission on the same day.

Apart from detailing the fears of independent engineers and campaigners about the gradual disintegration of the reactors because of constant bombardment by radiation, the NFLA also criticises the ONR for not taking a stronger line on safety.

The ONR has promised to “robustly challenge” EDF Energy, to ensure that it “remains safe”. But NFLA Scotland’s convenor, Councillor Feargal Dalton, is not satisfied. He says councils will press the ONR “to forensically scrutinise what look like significant weaknesses in the EDF safety case.”

Repeat postponements

This criticism is based partly on the EDF habit of setting dates for the restart of reactors, only to postpone them repeatedly. This has happened as many as eight times in the case of Hunterston since it first shut down for a routine inspection in 2018, and six times for Dungeness.

In both cases this has just happened again, Dungeness being delayed from September to December this year.

Professor Stephen Thomas of the the University of Greenwich in London commented on the constantly postponed start-up dates for the reactors. He said: “It is clear, given that shutdowns expected to take two months are now expected to take two years or more, that EDF has found huge unanticipated problems.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors, but continues to pour money into plants to get a couple more years of operation out of plants highly likely to be loss-makers.

Relying on blandness

“It is depressing that the ONR, which has a duty to keep the public informed on such important issues, chooses to hide behind bland statements such as that it will take as long as it takes, and that it will not comment on EDF’s decisions.”

Councillor David Blackburn, who chairs the NFLA’s steering committee, called for the closure of all EDF’s AGRs as soon as possible. He said: “The NFLA urges the UK Government in particular to move its energy policy from new nuclear and focus on delivering renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage solutions.

“There is ample evidence these can be delivered quickly and in the quantity that is required for future energy policy. It is time to move from nuclear and focus on renewables.”

The problem for the Government and EDF is not that the lights will go out if the nuclear stations are closed.

Covid prompts slump

Three stations are closed down at the moment for repairs, and the newest to open, a pressurised water reactor (PWR) at Sizewell B on the east coast of England (not covered by the current report) is operating at 50% power because demand for electricity has slumped during the Covid pandemic. In fact EDF is being paid to keep it shut by consumers through their bills.

The problem is the economic mess that closing the reactors will create. EDF UK will be technically bankrupt if and when it closes its nuclear stations which will go from being assets on its balance sheet to liabilities.

The French state-owned company is already so heavily in debt and severely stretched in building new plants that it will be unable to help its British subsidiary. Asked to comment on this report, it did not answer the question.

The government of the day also has to face the difficulty of how much it will all cost. There is £9.4 billion in the ring-fenced government Nuclear Liabilities Fund to decommission the UK’s AGR stations and eventually the Sizewell station as well, but it will soon be clear this is nowhere near enough and the taxpayer will have to foot the bill. The estimate for the liabilities is currently around £20.4 billion. – Climate News Network

Save wildlife, save forests, and avoid pandemics

Covid-19 emerged from the wilderness. That alone is reason to protect the forests, control trade in wildlife – and avoid pandemics.

LONDON, 5 August, 2020 – If the world wants to avoid pandemics like Covid-19 in future, it has a lot to learn. This coronavirus outbreak is likely to cost the world somewhere between $8 trillion and $15 trillion.

It might have been 500 times cheaper, say US scientists, simply to have done what conservationists have sought for years: control trade in wildlife and stop destroying tropical forests.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus – also known as Covid-19 – is a new human infection that has been traced back to bats apparently traded as food in China. It has so far infected 15 million people around the planet and caused nearly 700,000 deaths.

But it is just one of a series of viruses that have emerged from creatures in the wilderness, to cause a series of local or global epidemics: among them HIV, Ebola, MERS, SARS and H1N1.

Researchers calculate that, for the last century, at least two new viruses each year have spilled from their natural hosts into the human population.

“Nothing seems more prudent than to give ourselves time to deal with this pandemic before the next one comes”

And this has happened, they argue in the journal Science, most often directly after people have handled live primates, bats and other mammals, or butchered them for meat, or indirectly after such viruses have infected farm animals such as chickens or pigs.

These infections are now so familiar they have acquired their own medical classification: they are zoonotic viruses.

And human exploitation of the world’s last remaining wildernesses – the tropical forests – and pursuit of exotic creatures for trophies, medicines or food can be linked to the emergence of most of them.

“All this traces back to our indifference about what has been happening at the edge of the tropical forests,” said Les Kaufman, an ecologist at Boston University.

He and 17 other experts argue that at a cost of somewhere between $22 billion and $30 billion a year, the transmission of unknown and unexpected diseases could be significantly reduced: chiefly by controlling logging and conversion of rainforest into ranch land, and limiting the trade in wild meat and exotic animals.

Clear argument

The sums are large. But the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic so far is likely to prove at least 500 times more costly.

Professor Kaufman and his colleagues did the calculations. They added up the annual costs of monitoring the world’s wildlife trade; of active programmes to prevent what they call “spillovers” from wild creatures; of efforts to detect and control outbreaks; the cost of reducing infection to human populations and farmed livestock; the cost of reducing deforestation each year by half, and the cost of ending the trade in wild meat in China. Their highest estimate was $31.2bn a year, their lowest $22bn.

They offset this with the benefits simply in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions linked to forest destruction, and then matched the total against the global loss of gross domestic product, the cost of the estimated 590,000 dead from the virus at the end of July, and so on, to arrive at a minimum cost of $8.1 trillion, and a maximum of $15.8tn.

The researchers see this balance of costs as a clear argument for international and concerted action from governments around the world to reduce an enduring hazard.

“The pandemic gives an incentive to do something addressing concerns that are immediate and threatening to individuals, and that’s what moves people,” Professor Kaufman said. “Nothing seems more prudent than to give ourselves time to deal with this pandemic before the next one comes.” – Climate News Network

Covid-19 emerged from the wilderness. That alone is reason to protect the forests, control trade in wildlife – and avoid pandemics.

LONDON, 5 August, 2020 – If the world wants to avoid pandemics like Covid-19 in future, it has a lot to learn. This coronavirus outbreak is likely to cost the world somewhere between $8 trillion and $15 trillion.

It might have been 500 times cheaper, say US scientists, simply to have done what conservationists have sought for years: control trade in wildlife and stop destroying tropical forests.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus – also known as Covid-19 – is a new human infection that has been traced back to bats apparently traded as food in China. It has so far infected 15 million people around the planet and caused nearly 700,000 deaths.

But it is just one of a series of viruses that have emerged from creatures in the wilderness, to cause a series of local or global epidemics: among them HIV, Ebola, MERS, SARS and H1N1.

Researchers calculate that, for the last century, at least two new viruses each year have spilled from their natural hosts into the human population.

“Nothing seems more prudent than to give ourselves time to deal with this pandemic before the next one comes”

And this has happened, they argue in the journal Science, most often directly after people have handled live primates, bats and other mammals, or butchered them for meat, or indirectly after such viruses have infected farm animals such as chickens or pigs.

These infections are now so familiar they have acquired their own medical classification: they are zoonotic viruses.

And human exploitation of the world’s last remaining wildernesses – the tropical forests – and pursuit of exotic creatures for trophies, medicines or food can be linked to the emergence of most of them.

“All this traces back to our indifference about what has been happening at the edge of the tropical forests,” said Les Kaufman, an ecologist at Boston University.

He and 17 other experts argue that at a cost of somewhere between $22 billion and $30 billion a year, the transmission of unknown and unexpected diseases could be significantly reduced: chiefly by controlling logging and conversion of rainforest into ranch land, and limiting the trade in wild meat and exotic animals.

Clear argument

The sums are large. But the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic so far is likely to prove at least 500 times more costly.

Professor Kaufman and his colleagues did the calculations. They added up the annual costs of monitoring the world’s wildlife trade; of active programmes to prevent what they call “spillovers” from wild creatures; of efforts to detect and control outbreaks; the cost of reducing infection to human populations and farmed livestock; the cost of reducing deforestation each year by half, and the cost of ending the trade in wild meat in China. Their highest estimate was $31.2bn a year, their lowest $22bn.

They offset this with the benefits simply in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions linked to forest destruction, and then matched the total against the global loss of gross domestic product, the cost of the estimated 590,000 dead from the virus at the end of July, and so on, to arrive at a minimum cost of $8.1 trillion, and a maximum of $15.8tn.

The researchers see this balance of costs as a clear argument for international and concerted action from governments around the world to reduce an enduring hazard.

“The pandemic gives an incentive to do something addressing concerns that are immediate and threatening to individuals, and that’s what moves people,” Professor Kaufman said. “Nothing seems more prudent than to give ourselves time to deal with this pandemic before the next one comes.” – Climate News Network

Bigger cars make bigger profits, but only for a few

Manufacturers who promote bigger cars earn more but harm efforts to cut carbon emissions and reduce unhealthy air.

LONDON, 3 August, 2020 − Increasing sales of more fuel-hungry and bigger cars are putting vital climate goals out of reach and causing many more deaths from pollution.

Although the trend to larger vehicles is most marked in the United Kingdom it is a global problem and one of the leading causes of increased carbon dioxide emissions, more damaging than both aviation and heavy industry. It also adds to poor air qality, which kills up to half a million people a year in Europe, and many more elsewhere.

The rise of so-called Chelsea Tractors, large, four-wheel drive vehicles used in towns and cities for ordinary domestic purposes, is being fuelled by manufacturers who make more profit from them than from smaller models.

These sports utility vehicles (SUVs), which are designed for off-road driving and so cause extra congestion in urban areas, now make up 40% of new cars sold in the UK. In 2019 this meant that over 150,000 new cars were sold which were too big to fit in a standard parking space.

To try to curb sales, two groups have launched a campaign aimed at securing a ban on advertising such vehicles. A thinktank, the New Weather Institute, and a climate charity, Possible, propose that advertising for the “dirtiest third” of new cars being sold − primarily SUVs − should be banned by law.

“There are adverts, and then there are badverts. Promoting the biggest, worst-emitting SUVs is like upselling pollution, and we need to stop”

They say in a report that the big car brands appear to be disproportionately promoting larger, more polluting SUVs because of the higher profit margins these vehicles provide.

The groups also make the point that tobacco advertising was banned when people grasped the damage smoking caused to public health, so the same standards should apply to harmful vehicles.

The report says the Land Rover company is among the worst offenders, with four models among the top ten vehicles for carbon dioxide emissions, selling altogether more than 60,000 cars in 2019. Other makers named are Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, and Jaguar. All except Jaguar also make the list for the longest vehicles, with Volvo and Ford also having models in this category.

Andrew Simms, co-director of the New Weather Institute, said: “We ended tobacco advertising when we understood the threat from smoking to public health.

Help for commuters

“Now that we know the human health and climate damage done by car pollution, it’s time to stop adverts making the problem worse. In a pandemic-prone world, people need clean air and more space on town and city streets.

“There are adverts, and then there are badverts. Promoting the biggest, worst-emitting SUVs is like upselling pollution, and we need to stop. In a climate emergency, when we need to make the places where we live more people-friendly, SUVs are in the way of progress.”

The report comes at a time when local authorities in the UK are creating wider pavements and new cycle lanes to allow commuters to maintain a safe distance apart and to get to work without using public transport.

It is also now clear that the air pollution caused by vehicles such as Chelsea Tractors may lead to increased deaths from Covid-19.

Robbie Gillett, campaigner at Possible, said: “Whilst millions of us are trying to reduce our carbon footprints to tackle the climate crisis, we have a multi-billion pound car and advertising industry aggressively marketing highly-polluting vehicles − many of which are literally too big for UK streets.

Space to breathe

“Their misleading ads promise us freedom and escape − but the reality of urban road conditions is grinding traffic jams, toxic air pollution and spiralling carbon emissions from road transport that will trash our climate goals. Let’s create space to breathe and space to think − free from the advertising pressures of big polluters.”

The government’s statutory advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, has recommended that by 2030 the sales of all new cars with internal combustion engines should be phased out.

With the precedent of the ban on tobacco advertising, Possible and the New Weather Institute are urging the government to introduce legislation to outlaw advertising for the dirtiest new cars sold in the UK, as well as advertising for any cars which are too large for a standard UK parking space.

They have launched a petition to raise support for the proposal, and have produced an online toolkit for activists and policymakers wanting to act against such advertising at local level, to stop adverts fuelling the climate emergency. − Climate News Network

Manufacturers who promote bigger cars earn more but harm efforts to cut carbon emissions and reduce unhealthy air.

LONDON, 3 August, 2020 − Increasing sales of more fuel-hungry and bigger cars are putting vital climate goals out of reach and causing many more deaths from pollution.

Although the trend to larger vehicles is most marked in the United Kingdom it is a global problem and one of the leading causes of increased carbon dioxide emissions, more damaging than both aviation and heavy industry. It also adds to poor air qality, which kills up to half a million people a year in Europe, and many more elsewhere.

The rise of so-called Chelsea Tractors, large, four-wheel drive vehicles used in towns and cities for ordinary domestic purposes, is being fuelled by manufacturers who make more profit from them than from smaller models.

These sports utility vehicles (SUVs), which are designed for off-road driving and so cause extra congestion in urban areas, now make up 40% of new cars sold in the UK. In 2019 this meant that over 150,000 new cars were sold which were too big to fit in a standard parking space.

To try to curb sales, two groups have launched a campaign aimed at securing a ban on advertising such vehicles. A thinktank, the New Weather Institute, and a climate charity, Possible, propose that advertising for the “dirtiest third” of new cars being sold − primarily SUVs − should be banned by law.

“There are adverts, and then there are badverts. Promoting the biggest, worst-emitting SUVs is like upselling pollution, and we need to stop”

They say in a report that the big car brands appear to be disproportionately promoting larger, more polluting SUVs because of the higher profit margins these vehicles provide.

The groups also make the point that tobacco advertising was banned when people grasped the damage smoking caused to public health, so the same standards should apply to harmful vehicles.

The report says the Land Rover company is among the worst offenders, with four models among the top ten vehicles for carbon dioxide emissions, selling altogether more than 60,000 cars in 2019. Other makers named are Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, and Jaguar. All except Jaguar also make the list for the longest vehicles, with Volvo and Ford also having models in this category.

Andrew Simms, co-director of the New Weather Institute, said: “We ended tobacco advertising when we understood the threat from smoking to public health.

Help for commuters

“Now that we know the human health and climate damage done by car pollution, it’s time to stop adverts making the problem worse. In a pandemic-prone world, people need clean air and more space on town and city streets.

“There are adverts, and then there are badverts. Promoting the biggest, worst-emitting SUVs is like upselling pollution, and we need to stop. In a climate emergency, when we need to make the places where we live more people-friendly, SUVs are in the way of progress.”

The report comes at a time when local authorities in the UK are creating wider pavements and new cycle lanes to allow commuters to maintain a safe distance apart and to get to work without using public transport.

It is also now clear that the air pollution caused by vehicles such as Chelsea Tractors may lead to increased deaths from Covid-19.

Robbie Gillett, campaigner at Possible, said: “Whilst millions of us are trying to reduce our carbon footprints to tackle the climate crisis, we have a multi-billion pound car and advertising industry aggressively marketing highly-polluting vehicles − many of which are literally too big for UK streets.

Space to breathe

“Their misleading ads promise us freedom and escape − but the reality of urban road conditions is grinding traffic jams, toxic air pollution and spiralling carbon emissions from road transport that will trash our climate goals. Let’s create space to breathe and space to think − free from the advertising pressures of big polluters.”

The government’s statutory advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, has recommended that by 2030 the sales of all new cars with internal combustion engines should be phased out.

With the precedent of the ban on tobacco advertising, Possible and the New Weather Institute are urging the government to introduce legislation to outlaw advertising for the dirtiest new cars sold in the UK, as well as advertising for any cars which are too large for a standard UK parking space.

They have launched a petition to raise support for the proposal, and have produced an online toolkit for activists and policymakers wanting to act against such advertising at local level, to stop adverts fuelling the climate emergency. − Climate News Network

UK’s nuclear plans flounder through muddy dispute

Arguments over where to dump huge amounts of potentially radioactive mud are now ensnarling the UK’s nuclear plans.

LONDON, 3 July, 2020 – Vast quantities of mud, which campaigners say may contain radioactive particles, are the latest problem to confront the UK’s nuclear plans for two new reactors under construction in the West of England.

The nuclear industry, which insists that it is a key part of fighting climate change, is no stranger to controversy, and it may be glad that it has experience of arguing for the mud’s harmless character.

The battle concerns campaigners’ attempts to prevent 600,000 cubic metres of mud from the sites of two closed reactors being dumped in the waters of the Bristol Channel, close to where the French nuclear company EDF is building two new reactors at Hinkley Point.

EDF wants to move the mud from where it is now so that it can build the water intakes for the new reactors up to three kilometres offshore.

Relying on tides

The issue is whether the mud contains radioactivity discharged from the old Hinkley Point reactors, and whether dredging it will release dangerous particles to be distributed across the estuary onto Welsh beaches.

Amid much controversy EDF was given permission to dump 300,000 cubic metres of mud from the same site in 2018, but in the end it moved less than half the total to the disposal grounds close to Cardiff, the capital of Wales. The plan is not for the mud to settle on the sea bed but for the powerful tides that scour the Bristol Channel to distribute the mud over much of the estuary.

The campaigners opposing the dumping believe there is a risk that the mud contains plutonium and other highly dangerous radionuclides which can reach the shore in spray or dry in sand on the beaches and then be blown inland.

These particles could be inhaled, they say, and could cause an increase in cancers – particularly child leukaemia and birth defects.

“Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched”

The 34 groups, with members including policy analysts, experts and local authorities, spell out their objections in a letter sent to the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford. They ask for an extended sampling programme, for protection of Welsh people’s health, and for the appointment of an expert group to advise on the dangers.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the Welsh government’s environment agency, has received over 150 representations about EDF’s plan and has imposed conditions on the company, requiring it to sample the mud from the area to be dredged, including for plutonium and other radionuclides.

EDF, whose two reactors will cost £22.5 billion (US$27.9bn) by 2025, said the dredging was safe and that claims the mud was toxic were wrong. All the mud dumped already had been tested to international standards, it said, and it was sure it was safe.

At the heart of the argument are the internationally accepted radioactive dose limits for humans. There is an increasing body of evidence of cancer clusters around nuclear installations, but established government scientists reject the idea that there could be a link with radioactivity.

Urgent review

These issues are discussed in a recently published report for Children with Cancer UK. It calls for an urgent scientific reassessment of international standards and says that governments are trying to avoid the evidence of the dangers of low-level radiation.

The report suggests the risk is far greater than officially acknowledged.

Those who wrote to Mark Drakeford supported this view. They said: “Past activities at the Hinkley nuclear site have almost certainly resulted in the dispersal of plutonium and other radioactive substances on land in the Severn Estuary in the area adjacent to the plant.

“These carcinogenic (cancer-causing) materials are highly likely to be present in the mud EDF wants to dump on the north side of the estuary, close to Cardiff, with a population of 350,000 people.”

‘Risk to thousands’

They add that well-documented evidence shows radioactive particles can come ashore, travel long distances on the breeze, “and can easily be ingested or inhaled, adding to the risk of cancer, leukaemia and congenital malformation at far higher rates than government advisors and the nuclear industry admit.

“Disposal of material which has not been adequately assessed for content of plutonium and other alpha-emitting materials is highly irresponsible and represents a potential health risk for thousands of people in Cardiff and beyond.”

Richard Bramhall, from the Low-Level Radiation Campaign, said: “Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched.”

EDF denies any danger. Chris Fayers, head of environment at Hinkley Point C, said the second phase of dredging was necessary ahead of drilling six vertical shafts for the cooling water system for the new power station.

More stringent testing

“The mud is typical of sediment found anywhere in the Bristol Channel and no different to sediment already at the Cardiff Grounds [disposal] site”, he said.

“Ahead of the second phase of dredging independent experts will carry out further analysis of the mud and sediment using techniques that are even more stringent than those used in 2017.”

He said NRW had confirmed that independent analysis showed the levels of toxicity were so low as to be not classed as radioactive under UK law, and posed no threat to human health or the environment.

NRW says: “We only grant licences if we’re satisfied that the activity can take place without harming the health of people, wildlife and the environment.” – Climate News Network

Arguments over where to dump huge amounts of potentially radioactive mud are now ensnarling the UK’s nuclear plans.

LONDON, 3 July, 2020 – Vast quantities of mud, which campaigners say may contain radioactive particles, are the latest problem to confront the UK’s nuclear plans for two new reactors under construction in the West of England.

The nuclear industry, which insists that it is a key part of fighting climate change, is no stranger to controversy, and it may be glad that it has experience of arguing for the mud’s harmless character.

The battle concerns campaigners’ attempts to prevent 600,000 cubic metres of mud from the sites of two closed reactors being dumped in the waters of the Bristol Channel, close to where the French nuclear company EDF is building two new reactors at Hinkley Point.

EDF wants to move the mud from where it is now so that it can build the water intakes for the new reactors up to three kilometres offshore.

Relying on tides

The issue is whether the mud contains radioactivity discharged from the old Hinkley Point reactors, and whether dredging it will release dangerous particles to be distributed across the estuary onto Welsh beaches.

Amid much controversy EDF was given permission to dump 300,000 cubic metres of mud from the same site in 2018, but in the end it moved less than half the total to the disposal grounds close to Cardiff, the capital of Wales. The plan is not for the mud to settle on the sea bed but for the powerful tides that scour the Bristol Channel to distribute the mud over much of the estuary.

The campaigners opposing the dumping believe there is a risk that the mud contains plutonium and other highly dangerous radionuclides which can reach the shore in spray or dry in sand on the beaches and then be blown inland.

These particles could be inhaled, they say, and could cause an increase in cancers – particularly child leukaemia and birth defects.

“Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched”

The 34 groups, with members including policy analysts, experts and local authorities, spell out their objections in a letter sent to the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford. They ask for an extended sampling programme, for protection of Welsh people’s health, and for the appointment of an expert group to advise on the dangers.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the Welsh government’s environment agency, has received over 150 representations about EDF’s plan and has imposed conditions on the company, requiring it to sample the mud from the area to be dredged, including for plutonium and other radionuclides.

EDF, whose two reactors will cost £22.5 billion (US$27.9bn) by 2025, said the dredging was safe and that claims the mud was toxic were wrong. All the mud dumped already had been tested to international standards, it said, and it was sure it was safe.

At the heart of the argument are the internationally accepted radioactive dose limits for humans. There is an increasing body of evidence of cancer clusters around nuclear installations, but established government scientists reject the idea that there could be a link with radioactivity.

Urgent review

These issues are discussed in a recently published report for Children with Cancer UK. It calls for an urgent scientific reassessment of international standards and says that governments are trying to avoid the evidence of the dangers of low-level radiation.

The report suggests the risk is far greater than officially acknowledged.

Those who wrote to Mark Drakeford supported this view. They said: “Past activities at the Hinkley nuclear site have almost certainly resulted in the dispersal of plutonium and other radioactive substances on land in the Severn Estuary in the area adjacent to the plant.

“These carcinogenic (cancer-causing) materials are highly likely to be present in the mud EDF wants to dump on the north side of the estuary, close to Cardiff, with a population of 350,000 people.”

‘Risk to thousands’

They add that well-documented evidence shows radioactive particles can come ashore, travel long distances on the breeze, “and can easily be ingested or inhaled, adding to the risk of cancer, leukaemia and congenital malformation at far higher rates than government advisors and the nuclear industry admit.

“Disposal of material which has not been adequately assessed for content of plutonium and other alpha-emitting materials is highly irresponsible and represents a potential health risk for thousands of people in Cardiff and beyond.”

Richard Bramhall, from the Low-Level Radiation Campaign, said: “Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched.”

EDF denies any danger. Chris Fayers, head of environment at Hinkley Point C, said the second phase of dredging was necessary ahead of drilling six vertical shafts for the cooling water system for the new power station.

More stringent testing

“The mud is typical of sediment found anywhere in the Bristol Channel and no different to sediment already at the Cardiff Grounds [disposal] site”, he said.

“Ahead of the second phase of dredging independent experts will carry out further analysis of the mud and sediment using techniques that are even more stringent than those used in 2017.”

He said NRW had confirmed that independent analysis showed the levels of toxicity were so low as to be not classed as radioactive under UK law, and posed no threat to human health or the environment.

NRW says: “We only grant licences if we’re satisfied that the activity can take place without harming the health of people, wildlife and the environment.” – Climate News Network

How dangerous is low-level radiation to children?

A rethink on the risks of low-level radiation would imperil the nuclear industry’s future − perhaps why there’s never been one.

LONDON, 22 May, 2020 − The threat that low-level radiation poses to human life, particularly to unborn children, and its link with childhood leukaemia, demands an urgent scientific reassessment.

This is the conclusion of a carefully-detailed report produced for the charity Children With Cancer UK by the Low-Level Radiation Campaign.

It is compiled from evidence contained in dozens of scientific reports from numerous countries over many decades, which show that tiny doses of radiation, some of it inhaled, can have devastating effects on the human body, particularly by causing cancer and birth defects.

The original reports were completed for a range of academic institutions, governments and medical organisations, and their results were compared by the newest report’s authors, Richard Bramhall and Pete Wilkinson.  They believe they have provided overwhelming evidence for a basic rethink on so-called “safe” radiation doses.

They write: “The fundamental conclusion of this report is that when the evidence is rationally assessed it appears that the health impacts, especially in the more radio-sensitive young, have been consistently and routinely underestimated.”

Ceaseless controversy

The pair concede this is not the first time such a call has been made, but it has never been acted upon. Now they say it must be.

What constitutes safety for nuclear workers and for civilians living near nuclear power stations, or affected by fall-out from accidents like the ones at Sellafield in Cumbria in north-west England in 1957, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011, has always been highly controversial.

Bramhall and Wilkinson detail how the debate began in earnest in the 1980s, when a cluster of childhood leukaemia cases, ten times higher than would be expected, was identified around Sellafield.

Government inquiries followed but reached no settled conclusion, and low-level radiation safety has been a scientific battleground ever since.

The official agencies appointed by governments are still using dose estimates based on calculations made in 1943, when Western governments were trying to develop an atomic bomb.

“The discrepancy between the number of congenital malformations in babies expected after Chernobyl and the number actually observed was between 15,000 and 50,000”

The new report highlights that this was when very little was known about how tiny doses of ingested radiation could affect the body − and when DNA was yet to be discovered.

Despite the fact that international standards are based on these scientifically ancient, out-of-date assumptions, they have not been revised. If they were, the results could be catastrophic for the nuclear industry and for the manufacturers of nuclear weapons.

The report makes clear that if the worst estimates of the damage that low-level radiation causes to children proved anywhere close to correct, then no-one would want to live anywhere near a nuclear power station.

Most would be appalled if they knew even small numbers of children living within 50 kilometres of a station would contract leukaemia from being so close.

It acknowledges that the stakes are high. If the authors’ findings are accepted, then it will be the end of public tolerance of nuclear power.

Revolution needed

Despite this long-lived institutional pushback from governments and the industry, the report says what is needed is a scientific revolution in the way that low-level radiation is considered. It compares the situation with the treatment of asbestos.

It was in the 1890s that the first evidence of disease related to asbestos exposure was laid before the UK Parliament. But it was not until 1972, when the causal link between the always fatal lung cancer, mesothelioma, and human fatality rates was established beyond reasonable doubt, that the use of asbestos was banned.

This delay is why on average 2,700 people still die annually in the UK: they were at some point exposed to and inhalers of asbestos.

Another example, which the report does not quote but is perhaps as relevant today, is air pollution. It has taken decades for the scientific community to realise that in many cities it is the tiniest particles of air pollution, invisible to the naked eye, that are taken deepest into the lungs and that cause the most damage, killing thousands of people a year.

So far governments across the world have not yet outlawed the vehicles and industrial processes that are wiping out their own citizens in vast numbers.

Anxiety not irrational

The report cites many studies, with perhaps the most telling those that compare the actual numbers of cancers and malformations in babies which occurred in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident with the numbers to have been expected if the currently accepted and out-of-date risk calculations had been used.

Despite the difficulties of getting information from reluctant governments close to Chernobyl, the report says: “The discrepancy between the number of congenital malformations in babies expected after Chernobyl and the number actually observed was between 15,000 and 50,000.”

The authors say their object “is to dispel the repeated assertion that public anxiety about the health impact of radioactivity in the environment is irrational.”

Both Wilkinson and Bramhall have considerable experience of dealing with governments, both inside official bodies as members, and as external lobbyists.

They detail how they believe the concerns of both ordinary people and scientists have been swept aside in order to preserve the status quo. Clearly, in sponsoring the report, Children with Cancer UK agrees. − Climate News Network

A rethink on the risks of low-level radiation would imperil the nuclear industry’s future − perhaps why there’s never been one.

LONDON, 22 May, 2020 − The threat that low-level radiation poses to human life, particularly to unborn children, and its link with childhood leukaemia, demands an urgent scientific reassessment.

This is the conclusion of a carefully-detailed report produced for the charity Children With Cancer UK by the Low-Level Radiation Campaign.

It is compiled from evidence contained in dozens of scientific reports from numerous countries over many decades, which show that tiny doses of radiation, some of it inhaled, can have devastating effects on the human body, particularly by causing cancer and birth defects.

The original reports were completed for a range of academic institutions, governments and medical organisations, and their results were compared by the newest report’s authors, Richard Bramhall and Pete Wilkinson.  They believe they have provided overwhelming evidence for a basic rethink on so-called “safe” radiation doses.

They write: “The fundamental conclusion of this report is that when the evidence is rationally assessed it appears that the health impacts, especially in the more radio-sensitive young, have been consistently and routinely underestimated.”

Ceaseless controversy

The pair concede this is not the first time such a call has been made, but it has never been acted upon. Now they say it must be.

What constitutes safety for nuclear workers and for civilians living near nuclear power stations, or affected by fall-out from accidents like the ones at Sellafield in Cumbria in north-west England in 1957, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011, has always been highly controversial.

Bramhall and Wilkinson detail how the debate began in earnest in the 1980s, when a cluster of childhood leukaemia cases, ten times higher than would be expected, was identified around Sellafield.

Government inquiries followed but reached no settled conclusion, and low-level radiation safety has been a scientific battleground ever since.

The official agencies appointed by governments are still using dose estimates based on calculations made in 1943, when Western governments were trying to develop an atomic bomb.

“The discrepancy between the number of congenital malformations in babies expected after Chernobyl and the number actually observed was between 15,000 and 50,000”

The new report highlights that this was when very little was known about how tiny doses of ingested radiation could affect the body − and when DNA was yet to be discovered.

Despite the fact that international standards are based on these scientifically ancient, out-of-date assumptions, they have not been revised. If they were, the results could be catastrophic for the nuclear industry and for the manufacturers of nuclear weapons.

The report makes clear that if the worst estimates of the damage that low-level radiation causes to children proved anywhere close to correct, then no-one would want to live anywhere near a nuclear power station.

Most would be appalled if they knew even small numbers of children living within 50 kilometres of a station would contract leukaemia from being so close.

It acknowledges that the stakes are high. If the authors’ findings are accepted, then it will be the end of public tolerance of nuclear power.

Revolution needed

Despite this long-lived institutional pushback from governments and the industry, the report says what is needed is a scientific revolution in the way that low-level radiation is considered. It compares the situation with the treatment of asbestos.

It was in the 1890s that the first evidence of disease related to asbestos exposure was laid before the UK Parliament. But it was not until 1972, when the causal link between the always fatal lung cancer, mesothelioma, and human fatality rates was established beyond reasonable doubt, that the use of asbestos was banned.

This delay is why on average 2,700 people still die annually in the UK: they were at some point exposed to and inhalers of asbestos.

Another example, which the report does not quote but is perhaps as relevant today, is air pollution. It has taken decades for the scientific community to realise that in many cities it is the tiniest particles of air pollution, invisible to the naked eye, that are taken deepest into the lungs and that cause the most damage, killing thousands of people a year.

So far governments across the world have not yet outlawed the vehicles and industrial processes that are wiping out their own citizens in vast numbers.

Anxiety not irrational

The report cites many studies, with perhaps the most telling those that compare the actual numbers of cancers and malformations in babies which occurred in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident with the numbers to have been expected if the currently accepted and out-of-date risk calculations had been used.

Despite the difficulties of getting information from reluctant governments close to Chernobyl, the report says: “The discrepancy between the number of congenital malformations in babies expected after Chernobyl and the number actually observed was between 15,000 and 50,000.”

The authors say their object “is to dispel the repeated assertion that public anxiety about the health impact of radioactivity in the environment is irrational.”

Both Wilkinson and Bramhall have considerable experience of dealing with governments, both inside official bodies as members, and as external lobbyists.

They detail how they believe the concerns of both ordinary people and scientists have been swept aside in order to preserve the status quo. Clearly, in sponsoring the report, Children with Cancer UK agrees. − Climate News Network

At last: a fair deal for our atomic love affair

However you view the argument, nuclear passions run strong. This film gives you a breathless ride through our atomic love affair.

LONDON, 15 May, 2020 – It’s probably hard to imagine a dispassionate account of the West’s atomic love affair, the way so many of us have been beguiled by the notion of both civil and military nuclear power.

And, although it’s taken more than a decade to come to the big screen, the wait has been worthwhile. Anyone interested in nuclear power, politics, or simply how to make a documentary, should watch The Atom: A Love Affair.

It’s hard to beat the New Scientist’s summary of the film (6 November, 2019): “It takes no sides and pulls no punches in its witty and admirably objective archival account of the West’s relationship with nuclear power.”

Vicki Lesley, of Tenner Films, UK, who directed the film, has amassed a remarkable library of clips of scientists, politicians, campaigners, old newsreels and up-to-date interviews, to chart the evolution of nuclear power from the first atom bombs to the present, the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

To someone who has used for teaching purposes other excellent but much shorter films directed and produced by Lesley, it seemed likely that this feature-length documentary, running for 90 minutes, might be anti-nuclear. But it is much cleverer than that.

Open approach

In the best traditions of journalism and documentary-making, she has allowed the facts and the people to speak for themselves, with a clever commentary delivered by Lily Cole knitting it all together.

There are people in the film who clearly do not like nuclear power, but equally there are enthusiasts, among them scientists and politicians who saw, and still see, the technology as the answer to humankind’s insatiable energy needs.

Few subjects arouse such strong feelings as nuclear power, and the film’s publicity is right to describe it as a sweeping story of technological obsession, political imperatives and powerful conflicting passions.

For those, like me, who have written extensively about the technology and have come to believe that nuclear power is far too expensive, too slow and too much a waste of resources to help in tackling climate change, it reinforced my views. But whatever your opinion of nuclear power, The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs.

The movie, and the need for nuclear reactors, all began with the atom bomb, and the perceived need for Western powers to make nuclear weapons. The documentary recalls how the first nuclear power stations in Britain were designed to manufacture fissile material, particularly  plutonium.

‘Ludicrous’ pretence

The public, however, could not be told this, so the stations were launched as civil nuclear power plants, producing energy “too cheap to meter”.

This ludicrous claim was based on the fact that the UK’s Ministry of Defence footed the entire bill for the project, because the government wanted the plutonium for nuclear weapons. It could therefore be said that the electricity produced as a by-product of the process and fed into the grid was cost-free. The reality was, however, and still is, that nuclear power is very expensive.

These deceptions, which in the view of some were necessary during the Cold War, ingrained a habit of secrecy into the industry that continued for decades. Many would argue it still persists.

But the movie makes no such judgements. What it does do is remind all those with an interest in the industry of the important milestones in its relatively short life: the many dreams of new types of reactors like fast breeders, which worked but could not be scaled up to work commercially, for instance, and the terrible accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

But it is not all doomy. There are plenty of jokes, clever interchanges of archive footage to put both sides of the argument, but equally no dishonesty or tricks. There is none of the poor judgement of some TV documentaries when clips are cut to make the participants appear to have made statements that they later qualified.

“The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs”

This film captures the mood of the moments in history it is reporting, and sometimes makes you laugh at the naivety of those involved.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the film, mainly because Lesley struggled to finance the production while being a mother and earning a living as a documentary maker for TV companies.

Finally she won the backing of Dartmouth Films, which has organised public viewings. While there have been some private showings already, achieving wider distribution of documentaries, even one as excellent as this, is hard.

However, the film is being shown on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 May, with a Q&A session afterwards with Lesley and Cole.

At a time when millions of people are still locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, it is a perfect moment to launch such an entertaining and educational film. – Climate News Network

However you view the argument, nuclear passions run strong. This film gives you a breathless ride through our atomic love affair.

LONDON, 15 May, 2020 – It’s probably hard to imagine a dispassionate account of the West’s atomic love affair, the way so many of us have been beguiled by the notion of both civil and military nuclear power.

And, although it’s taken more than a decade to come to the big screen, the wait has been worthwhile. Anyone interested in nuclear power, politics, or simply how to make a documentary, should watch The Atom: A Love Affair.

It’s hard to beat the New Scientist’s summary of the film (6 November, 2019): “It takes no sides and pulls no punches in its witty and admirably objective archival account of the West’s relationship with nuclear power.”

Vicki Lesley, of Tenner Films, UK, who directed the film, has amassed a remarkable library of clips of scientists, politicians, campaigners, old newsreels and up-to-date interviews, to chart the evolution of nuclear power from the first atom bombs to the present, the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

To someone who has used for teaching purposes other excellent but much shorter films directed and produced by Lesley, it seemed likely that this feature-length documentary, running for 90 minutes, might be anti-nuclear. But it is much cleverer than that.

Open approach

In the best traditions of journalism and documentary-making, she has allowed the facts and the people to speak for themselves, with a clever commentary delivered by Lily Cole knitting it all together.

There are people in the film who clearly do not like nuclear power, but equally there are enthusiasts, among them scientists and politicians who saw, and still see, the technology as the answer to humankind’s insatiable energy needs.

Few subjects arouse such strong feelings as nuclear power, and the film’s publicity is right to describe it as a sweeping story of technological obsession, political imperatives and powerful conflicting passions.

For those, like me, who have written extensively about the technology and have come to believe that nuclear power is far too expensive, too slow and too much a waste of resources to help in tackling climate change, it reinforced my views. But whatever your opinion of nuclear power, The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs.

The movie, and the need for nuclear reactors, all began with the atom bomb, and the perceived need for Western powers to make nuclear weapons. The documentary recalls how the first nuclear power stations in Britain were designed to manufacture fissile material, particularly  plutonium.

‘Ludicrous’ pretence

The public, however, could not be told this, so the stations were launched as civil nuclear power plants, producing energy “too cheap to meter”.

This ludicrous claim was based on the fact that the UK’s Ministry of Defence footed the entire bill for the project, because the government wanted the plutonium for nuclear weapons. It could therefore be said that the electricity produced as a by-product of the process and fed into the grid was cost-free. The reality was, however, and still is, that nuclear power is very expensive.

These deceptions, which in the view of some were necessary during the Cold War, ingrained a habit of secrecy into the industry that continued for decades. Many would argue it still persists.

But the movie makes no such judgements. What it does do is remind all those with an interest in the industry of the important milestones in its relatively short life: the many dreams of new types of reactors like fast breeders, which worked but could not be scaled up to work commercially, for instance, and the terrible accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

But it is not all doomy. There are plenty of jokes, clever interchanges of archive footage to put both sides of the argument, but equally no dishonesty or tricks. There is none of the poor judgement of some TV documentaries when clips are cut to make the participants appear to have made statements that they later qualified.

“The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs”

This film captures the mood of the moments in history it is reporting, and sometimes makes you laugh at the naivety of those involved.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the film, mainly because Lesley struggled to finance the production while being a mother and earning a living as a documentary maker for TV companies.

Finally she won the backing of Dartmouth Films, which has organised public viewings. While there have been some private showings already, achieving wider distribution of documentaries, even one as excellent as this, is hard.

However, the film is being shown on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 May, with a Q&A session afterwards with Lesley and Cole.

At a time when millions of people are still locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, it is a perfect moment to launch such an entertaining and educational film. – Climate News Network