Beyond Nuclear International

Solar start-ups are plugging Africa’s energy gap

Solar may soon be the region’s most reliable — and cheapest — source of renewable energy

By Akinyi Ochieng and Fadekemi Abiru, from Africa Expert Network

Life without electricity can be dangerous and difficult. While Scranton, Pennsylvania earned the moniker “Electric City” in 1880, 90% of rural Americans still lacked power by the 1940s. When the wealthiest nation is just a few decades removed from full electrification, does this make electrifying Africa, where nearly 600 million live without it, the world’s most urgent yet daunting developmental challenge?

Based on current trends, the World Bank predicts that even by 2040 over half a billion people in Sub-Saharan Africa will still lack electricity. Although energy use across sub-Saharan Africa has risen by 45% since 2000, supply has not kept pace with demand. However, the emerging potential of cost-competitive solar solutions may soon propel Africa into a bright future. Across the continent, entrepreneurs have driven the growth of the world’s most attractive green energy market by developing ambitious off-grid and utility-scale solar projects.

Africa has emerged as a hotbed for solar investment. In the last three years, solar has been one of the most popular sectors for development institutions and private sector investors targeting areas with significant potential for social and economic returns. In October, M-KOPA, one of East Africa’s leading pay-as-you-go energy providers, secured a total of US$80 million to finance solar installations in one million homes over the next three years.

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Hitachi wants its nuclear cake

And the UK government is happy to add the icing

By Linda Pentz Gunter

So let’s see. Construction costs for uneconomically and globally fading nuclear power plants continue to soar. The timeframes for building them stretch out endlessly like an Alice in Wonderland hallucinogen. The public don’t want them. The grid doesn’t need them.

But there is a nuclear power plant that Japanese corporation, Hitachi, wants to build on a spectacular piece of Welsh coastline. It’s likely to cost at least $28 billion and climbing. And it’s still going ahead.

Just another day in the insane world of blind nuclear evangelism, in which there is nothing in it for anyone except possibly the continued ability to claim nuclear pre-eminence somewhere in the world.

Hitachi’s nuclear project is Wylfa B, consisting of two Hitachi-designed so-called Advanced Boiling Water Reactors to be constructed by its subsidiary, Horizon Nuclear Power Ltd. Japan’s government sees this project as the “touchstone for exports of nuclear power technology.” The UK government sees it as a face-saving imperative, even though it makes zero sense from either an energy or an economic perspective. And it’s so desperate to keep nuclear power alive, it’s willing to hand over an outrageously generous bag of goodies to sweeten the deal and hold Hitachi’s interest.

With Kan

Meilyr Tomos, Robat Idris and Linda Rogers with Nato Kan (center) during their speaking tour in Japan.

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Fukushima mothers at UN tell their story

Evacuees from nuclear disaster urge the Japanese government to comply with UN Human Rights standards

By Linda Pentz Gunter, with contributions from Kurumi Sugita and Akiko Morimatsu

When Kazumi Kusano stood in the CRIIRAD radiological laboratory in Valence, France listening to lab director, Bruno Chareyron, describe just how radioactive the soil sample taken from a school playground back home in Japan really was, she could not fight back the tears.

“This qualifies as radioactive waste,” Chareyron told them. “The children are playing in a school playground that is very contaminated. The lowest reading is 300,000 bequerels per square meter. That is an extremely high level.” (CRIIRAD is the Commission for Independent Research and Information about Radiation, an independent research laboratory and NGO).

Kazumi, a Japanese mother and Fukushima evacuee who prefers not to use her real name, was in France with two other mothers, Mami Kurumada and Akiko Morimatsu — all of whom also brought their children — as part of an educational speaking tour. Morimatsu was also invited to testify before the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, to launch an appeal for the rights of nuclear refugees.

In Japan, seven years since the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster began to unfold, the government is requiring some refugees to return to the region. Says Chareyron, whose lab has worked extensively in the Fukushima zone, “the Japanese government is doing everything to force citizens to return to lands where the radiation doses that citizens and children should be subjected to are largely over the typically acceptable norms.”

Three mothers and Akiko's kids copy

Kazumi Kusano, Akiko Morimatsu and Mami Kurumada (l to r) and Morimatsu’s two children during their speaking tour in France

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Ocean groups protest radioactive waste dumping

Ocean protection groups oppose Japan and UK plans to dump radioactive waste into the sea: “Using the world oceans as a dump” must stop.

By Linda Pentz Gunter

The world’s oceans are awash in plastics.  This we know. We have seen the evidence. Vast islands of floating trash; sea creatures entangled; others who have died after ingesting plastics that look like food. Human-created detritus plagues the seas, including all manner of deadly chemicals.

As the World Wildlife Fund states: “Almost every marine organism, from the tiniest plankton to whales and polar bears, is contaminated with man-made chemicals, such as pesticides and chemicals used in common consumer products.” The damage humankind has done is immense.

And then there are the oil slicks — deadly, destructive of sea life and of the livelihoods of those who depend on the seas. BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore rig explodes and we ring our hands and call for a ban. Yet soon, corporations are back out there drilling as if no lesson can ever be too costly.

Oceans plastic sliders

The oceans are awash in plastics that harm wildlife. Photo: Kevin Krejci

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The $100 billion dollar man

Senator Ed Markey wants to slash nuclear weapons spending and get the US back to the negotiating table with North Korea

By Linda Pentz Gunter

“The Libya model as Kim Jong-un has been interpreting it, is that it’s one where the leader of the country surrenders their nuclear capability only to then be overthrown and killed. Why would you not think that Kim would not interpret that, as it continued to escalate with John Bolton on the Sunday shows, with the Vice President talking about the Gaddafi model? Why would you think that there would be any other interpretation than what happened to Gaddafi at the end of his denuclearization, which is that he wound up dead? Why would you think that would not in fact elicit hostility from a negotiating partner only three weeks from sitting down across the table?”

The man on the receiving end of this May 24th peppering was US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The gentle barrage came during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing after the North Korean regime reacted with unsurprising offense to National Security Advisor John Bolton’s reference to the 2003 disarming of Libya as the model for the White House approach to “denuclearizing” North Korea.

As we already know, the North Korean response — along with its accurate assessment of Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy” — prompted President Trump to call off the talks and accuse North Korea of “tremendous anger and open hostility.” And then say the talks were back on. Maybe. And then….who knows?

But who was grilling Pompeo? Many might spot his identity from the style of the written transcript alone. It is reasonable, tinged with humor, polite but persistent. To the point. For those unfamiliar with the speaker, the answer is the same as another question: Who is the US anti-nuclear movement’s most enduring and steadfast ally in Congress? That person would be Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts.

Markey3

Senator Ed Markey was honored by the Alliance For Nuclear Accountability for his decades of dedication to the anti-nuclear cause.

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Water is life. Will the Supreme Court disagree?

Court will decide if uranium can be mined in rainy Virginia

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Virginia Uranium, the Canadian company that wants to extract uranium from a deposit in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, has tried for years to argue its case on merit. And failed. That’s because there are no environmental, health or, at present, even economic arguments to support lifting the Commonwealth’s moratorium on uranium mining.

But corporations eager to plunder and profit do not readily throw in the towel. Instead, the company has taken its case to the US Supreme Court where it will argue the issue from a legal perspective.

Virginia Uranium has the support in this venture of the lapdog federal regulator, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which never fails to be on side with its corporate masters. (Technically the NRC answers to Congress, not the nuclear industry, but the agency annually assesses and collects fees from the industry totaling about 90 percent of its annual budget authority.)

The specifics of the Supreme Court case will debate who actually has the jurisdiction to decide whether the Virginia Uranium project can go forward. The federal government will make the case that it falls under the terms of the Atomic Energy Act. This would give the NRC the power to oversee all matters related to radiation risks posed by the mine — the core of the state’s reasoning in opposing it.

The state will argue that the Coles Hill site is on privately owned land. This would mean the mine site falls outside the jurisdiction of the AEA which is aimed at regulating mines on federal land.

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