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Environmental and indigenous groups have protested the Xingu River project, which the government says is needed to bring power to the booming country. One villager is waiting as long as he can to leave.


Valcione da Silva makes a living catching tiny, delicate fish in Brazil’s Xingu River. A dam project is forcing him and many others from their homes and livelihoods. (Matthew Teague / Los Angeles Times / December 29, 2012)

SANTO ANTONIO, Brazil — The wind blows in from the river, mingling with the scent of the day’s last meal in the kitchen. The smells of work and home for Valcione da Silva. He sits on a worn bench and watches children play on the floor, laughing. Somewhere outside, a siren begins, long and loud.

Da Silva reaches beneath his bench to retrieve two knives, double-edged like daggers. They’re not weapons, he says, clattering them together. They’re special fishing tools. “Only wood,” he says. He ignores the siren.

He pulls out what appears to be a string of plastic Coke bottles dangling from a belt. “Look,” he says, pressing into the side of a bottle. It flexes open along a slit in the plastic. When he lets go, it springs closed again. “Very simple. I can keep them alive in here.” His fish are delicate, he says.

A moment later a thunderous WHOOMP shakes the little home, and a concussion rolls the air like a wave on the river. Dirt dances on the floor. The nearly bare shelves rattle. Another WHOOMP, and outside in the yard, the leaves of Da Silva’s mango tree flicker green and silver.

Da Silva walks to his doorway with his wooden daggers, and looks like a man standing at the edge of the world.

Over the last year the villagers around him have packed up and left. A few days ago the school closed, because all but Da Silva’s children had left. His wife was the teacher, so she continues their lessons at home. Santo Antonio would look like a ghost town, except that bulldozers have leveled all the empty homes.

Da Silva watches the trucks as they rumble past, carrying countless tons of earth, blown with dynamite from the hillsides where he was born.

“I want to stay and fish,” the 36-year-old says. But it’s early December, and he’ll have to leave soon; clever men with clipboards have outmaneuvered him.

In the morning, he says, he will do the only thing within his power. He’ll break the law.

***

Progress and the past are colliding at Da Silva’s doorway.

His small home sits at the foot of the Belo Monte dam site, where a consortium is building the third-largest dam in the world, almost four miles across the Xingu River, a $16-billion construction project in the heart of the Amazon basin.

Indigenous peoples and environmental groups have cried out against the dam for reasons local and global; the people here depend on the mighty Xingu River — one of the Amazon’s largest tributaries — for transportation, and their livelihoods. Environmental groups say the dam will destroy rain forest that the world needs to breathe. The builders counter that millions of Brazilians need the electricity, and construction continues.

There had always been talk of a gigantic dam. During the dictatorships of the 1970s, important men made speeches about the riches of the Amazon, waiting to be discovered.

In 1972, President Emilio Medici showed up with a construction crew just outside Santo Antonio. The president cut down a Brazil nut tree — a symbol of the rain forest — and stood on its fresh stump to make a speech about bringing industry, roads and population to the Amazon. Part of the plan, starting in 1975, was to build a massive hydroelectric dam.

There’s a pattern, in Brazilian history, of industries focusing on one natural resource, stripping it, and moving on to another. When Portuguese colonials arrived, the Brazil nut tree was so plentiful that the explorers named the country after it. Now the trees are endangered. Later prospectors found so much gold that they named an entire state Minas Generais, or General Mines. The gold is dwindling too. The same happened with the rubber trees, and the diamonds.

The Amazon’s river system, though, seemed to resist progress for many years. The first bridge in the entire Amazon basin wasn’t built until 2010. The area was too difficult to reach. Too wild a riverbed. Populated by too wild a people.

The dictator’s workers symbolically paved the top of the stump where Medici stood to make his speech, and today it stands shrunken and cracked. Now an enormous concrete power pole looms over the stump. It’s one of an endless series of identical towers, marching electricity to the reawakened site of the dam called Belo Monte: the Beautiful Mountain.

***

Men came to Da Silva’s door a couple of years ago, and knocked.

We are subcontractors to Norte Energia, the head man told him. We are building the dam.

They entered his home with a clipboard, writing a list of all his meager possessions. He followed them from one small room to another, as questions tumbled through his mind: What on Earth is Norte Energia? And why do these men have a clipboard?

Life in Santo Antonio had stayed quiet for three decades, but elsewhere in Brazil a revolution had been underway, an industrial, financial and cultural revolution. The country had recently surpassed Britain to become the sixth-largest economy in the world. And the Brazilian machine needs electricity.

“Electricity is development,” said Joao Pimentel, director of institutional relations for Norte Energia, a consortium of private and state-held companies that plans to begin operating Belo Monte in 2015. “Without electricity we will go nowhere.”

“If all the electricity went to homes, the dam would provide power for 60 million people,” Pimentel said.

It won’t do that, exactly. Seventy percent of the dam’s power will flow to public utilities, sold on the national grid for business and domestic consumption. The other 30% will be divided among shareholders.

So how many Brazilian citizens will receive electricity once it trickles down? “It’s difficult to say,” Pimentel said.

“That’s a lie,” said professor Rodolfo Salm, who researches ecology at the federal university in Altamira, the largest town near the dam site. “This energy is not for homes, it is for mining.”

As Brazil expands its economic reach in the world, Salm said, it exports more goods. Aluminum, for instance.

“It takes a lot of energy to produce aluminum,” he said. “In Japan, they need aluminum but have an energy shortage. So what we are really doing is exporting energy.”

The ecological repercussions are more complex, he said. Hydropower is among the cleanest ways to make electricity, but in the Amazonian rain forest the consequences unfurl in ways that can’t be fully predicted. Belo Monte is only the beginning: The government is expected to grant concessions for at least 30 dams in coming years. The resultant flooding could cover thousands of square miles of rain forest, Salm said, releasing vast quantities of methane gas from rotted trees.

“The deforestation is already happening,” the professor said. People are moving to Altamira on the promise of an economic boom from the dam, and where the human population goes, trees disappear. “This year’s rains should have begun by now,” he said, pointing to a dusty window. “But they haven’t. It’s because we get our rains from the forest.”

The list of consequences grows.

“Look at the fish species,” the professor said. “As oxygen in the water lowers, they cannot survive. They die, and it breaks the ecology.”

The men with the clipboard, when they entered Valcione da Silva’s house two years ago, weren’t impressed with the possessions he valued most: his wooden daggers and Coke bottles. They would tally his worth back at their office, they said, and make him a settlement offer. They suggested he accept it.

***

Da Silva’s brother-in-law, Alessandro da Silva, joins him, and they sling their equipment in packs over their shoulders.

They climb onto Da Silva’s off-road motorcycle. He fires it up, and the two scoot into the rumble of transfer trucks. Dust coats the men, and the tires of the other vehicles tower above them.

Gigantic machines scrape and gouge and dynamite rock and dirt and load it into the trucks, which haul it to other sites, where they unload and repeat. Da Silva and Alessandro weave through a landscape that stopped resembling the rain forest long ago; now it looks lunar.

Off a side road they pass the village’s empty church, and the demolished houses of their former neighbors. As they get closer to the Xingu River the signs start appearing: Do not enter, they say. This land is now protected by the law. Do not enter.

They pass a water depot, where a machine pumps river water into trucks that will spray it along the roads to keep down the dust. The rain has not yet come.

More signs: Do not enter.

The two men drop on their motorbike over the riverbank, out of sight. Working quickly, they slide down the bank to their dugout canoe, crank its small motor and then navigate into the Xingu.

The Xingu is special among all rivers in the Amazon system. Where the Amazon descends just 260 feet over its length of almost 4,000 miles, the Xingu drops 295 feet over a 60-mile segment here.

And it is special for another reason, Da Silva says.

“Getting close now,” he says.

He putters past another sign, this one bobbing in the water: Do not enter.

***

The Belo Monte project itself was deemed illegal, briefly, by a Brazilian federal court. In mid-August, the court intervened to halt all construction.

Two weeks later, the Supreme Court reversed the decision. Civil rights and environmental groups cried out against the decision, claiming the court had bowed to pressure from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, whose election last year was underwritten in part by the companies interested in building the dam.

In September, the indigenous peoples who live in the dam-affected area rose up and overtook one of the dam’s largest construction sites. About 150 protesters, wielding clubs and spears, held the site for several days until Norte Energia’s representatives heard their concerns.

Another group, of indigenous fishermen, gathered in November. They converged on Norte Energia’s waterfront office in Altamira, demanding to know what sort of settlement the company would offer them once they’re no longer able to fish on the Xingu.

One of their leaders was Cecilio Kayapo, a man with skin like tree bark. Afterward, he shrugged. “They have told us nothing new,” he said. And then a common, defeated refrain among the fishermen: “They are clever.”

For a moment Kayapo stood and looked at an enormous, meticulous model of the Xingu under glass in Norte Energia’s office. He surveyed the water he had navigated his whole life, but from this vantage, none of it made sense.

The dam is a complex, multi-stage affair, but it will work like this: The Xingu flows downhill from Altamira to Santo Antonio — Valcione da Silva’s village — where the water will crank the dam’s turbines. Between those two points, though, the river swings through what locals call the Big Bend. It’s a wide loop where botanists, zoologists and anthropologists study life of all sorts; it’s also flat, so the river loses much of its valuable energy. So a support dam will shunt most of the Xingu directly from Altamira to the dam, through a man-made canal. It will cut out the Big Bend and slowly lower the river there.

Kayapo wanted to speak with the people of the Big Bend. He began a two-day journey in his small boat. The Arara tribe greeted him warmly, and the leader, Leoncio Arara, called a meeting in his hut. After Kayapo’s defeated report, the chief nodded. “They are clever,” he said.

He was 74 years old. He counted on his fingers the important moments of his life — all on the river — and finally threw up his hands. “The river is our road, and our food,” he said. “It is our life.”

***

Valcione da Silva steers his dugout boat around a final bend.

He will take the settlement, he says. He has no choice. Norte Energia alone cannot cast him from his home, but the government can. He will have to take the money — about $20,000, he says — and move from his home. But he will hold out as long as possible.

He stops the boat at the center of the river, and Alessandro throws out the anchor. At the center of the boat, Da Silva takes the cover off a funny old engine, which looks like something salvaged from a steam ship. It’s bright yellow, all gears and wheels and chains. It sputters to life.

“Air compressor,” Da Silva says. Two plastic tubes run from the engine, and the two men each place the free ends in their mouths. They pull on goggles, strap the Coke bottles around their waists, and tuck the wooden daggers into their belts.

They leap.

The bashing of the dump trucks fades, and the heat of the sun gives way to cool water. The dirt from the dam construction swirls around him, even underwater. Every day there are fewer fish to be found.

Da Silva dives deeper, and as he descends, darkness closes around him. He flicks on a waterproof flashlight.

Along the riverbed he finds the rocks he wants, stacked and smoothed by countless years of flowing water. He pulls the daggers from his waistband and reaches with them to the underside of the rocks, pulling the wooden edge along the stone.

Slowly he finds them — the beautiful fish. Ornate, tiny fish. Rare fish. At the market in Altamira he can sell them for $2 or $3, although they will sell for a hundred times that much eventually. He doesn’t know the scientific names, or the ones they’ll have by the time they reach aquariums in Tokyo or New York. But here they’re called the zebra, the old black man, the tiger.

They resist, hiding under the river rocks. But his daggers eventually, inevitably, sweep them from their homes.

Author: Matthew Teague
Source: Los Angeles Times
Original: http://goo.gl/vUEKs


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Os políticos da UE rejeitaram um banimento do gás de xisto e pediram por um regime regulatório rígido para lidar com preocupações ambientais e outras em uma série de votações na quarta-feira no Parlamento Europeu.

Uma revolução do gás de xisto varreu os Estados Unidos, reduzindo os preços do gás e ajudando a diminuir a poluição do carvão.

A Europa está observando isso com interesse, se não com inveja, já que os Estados Unidos estão caminhando para uma independência energética e estão conseguindo um impulso econômico com o combustível barato.

Mas a perspectiva de desenvolvimento extensivo do gás de xisto na Europa é complicada por causa de regras de propriedade de terra, alta densidade demográfica e preocupações ambientais acerca do processo de fracking, usado para extrair gás natural do xisto.

O fracking, ou fraturamento hidráulico, envolve o bombeamento de água que contém químicos nas formações rochosas de xisto a uma alta pressão, e críticos dizem que o processo arrisca contaminar aquíferos, assim como pode causar tremores de terra.

Embora as votações de quarta-feira tenham rejeitado um pedido de banimento das atividades de fracking, afirmando que os estados membros da União Europeia têm o direito de explorar suas reservas, elas também seguiram uma linha cautelosa.

As votações, em dois relatórios separados, eliminaram sentenças que estimulavam o desenvolvimento rápido do gás de xisto.

As sentenças eliminadas incluíam uma em que o gás de xisto poderia “ter um papel essencial” na transição para a geração de energia de baixo carbono e outra de apoio “a um nível elevado na produção sustentável de gás de xisto”.

A Comissão Europeia deve no próximo ano criar um quadro sobre gerenciamento dos riscos e supressão de deficiências na regulamentação da UE.

“Estudos realizados indicam que há uma série de incertezas ou falhas na atual legislação da UE”, disse o comissário ambiental Janez Potocnik em uma declaração.

“Enfrentar riscos de saúde e ambientais será de suma importância para que a indústria ganhe ampla aceitação do público.”

As votações parlamentares de quarta-feira não foram obrigatórias, mas são um sinal político aos legisladores da Comissão.

Os partidários do gás de xisto parabenizaram os parlamentares, enquanto os ambientalistas e políticos do Partido Verde elogiaram o clima de cautela, mas teriam preferido um banimento.

“Isso implica que os estados membros deveriam pensar duas vezes antes de permitir que qualquer projeto dessa tecnologia controversa vá em frente”, declarou Carl Schlyter, do Partido Verde sueco e membro do Parlamento Europeu.

A Shale Gas Europe, um novo órgão apoiado por firmas de petróleo e gás, incluindo a Chevron, a Statoil e a Royal Dutch Shell, comentou que o parlamento pediu pela exploração do gás de xisto, garantindo que isso seria feito sustentavelmente.

“A Shale Gas Europe apoia totalmente essas metas e continuará o envolvimento com cidadãos e tomadores de decisão, ouvindo e atendendo às preocupações relacionadas ao gás de xisto”, observou a porta-voz Monica Cristina.

Traduzido por Jéssica Lipinski

Autor: Barbara Lewis
Fonte: Reuters
Original: http://goo.gl/RXeb8


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After its water is removed, this algae is destined to excrete biofuels. (SEE Algae)

Last week I wrote about two companies that are racing to be first in commercial-scale production of motor fuel from nonfood sources. A large group of other companies is pursuing various other strategies, one or two steps behind. One of those companies is planning to use algae.

The company, SEE Algae Technology of Austria, is building a 2.5-acre factory on a sugar plantation near Recife, Brazil, that will use genetically modified algae that can eat carbon dioxide from the sugar. Adding urea and some nutrients, the algae excrete ethanol.

The path to profitability, according to the company, is raising the amount of algae produced per unit of area. Algae grows in ponds, but that turns out to require a lot of space: sunlight does not penetrate more than a couple of inches, so the ponds must have big surfaces. The problem is that the carbon dioxide injected to promote algae growth tends to escape from a big surface.

SEE Algae’s solution is a silo that is 16 feet tall and has a volume of 177 cubic feet. Sunlight is directed all over the inside of the silo by optical fiber technology. Because the light is coming from multiple directions, the hardware can produce algae at a density up to 20 times greater than can be generated on a pond, according to Joachim Grill, the company’s chief executive.

The carbon dioxide source is a small electricity-producing plant that burns the part of the sugar cane that remains after the sugar has been extracted. (Brazilian sugar plantations have a second source of carbon dioxide: sugar is often used to make ethanol, and the yeast that digests the sugar and yields the ethanol also gives off a pure stream of carbon dioxide as well. Still, that carbon dioxide has more value when sold for edible uses like producing carbonated beverages, Dr. Grill said.)

The pilot plant, which is scheduled to be complete in May, will produce about 370,000 gallons of ethanol a year, Dr. Grill said. If it runs as planned, SEE Algae’s customer, Grupo JB, will add 14 more, all the same size. Even that would be small by the standards of commercial oil refineries, but it could turn out to be the first serious commercial production of ethanol from algae.

Using genetically altered algae to make ethanol is one route to biofuels, but SEE Algae has a second route in mind. Ordinary algae develops an oil as it grows, and this can be processed into a diesel substitute. The procedure involves removing the water and adding a solvent, generally hexane, that dissolves the cell wall so that the oil can be purified and processed.

But for the time being, Dr. Grill said, customers who follow that pathway do not bother making fuel from the oil. The reason is that the oil can also be processed into products with a higher profit margin, notably cosmetics and nutritional supplements, including Omega-3. “It’s a big rage,’’ he said of the latter.

Turning algae into fuel or other chemicals that are now made from oil could have commercial benefits when oil prices are high. But it could also make financial sense in countries that have put a price on carbon dioxide emissions to combat global warming, since the algae consume the carbon and reuse it in their product.

(If that product is fuel, the carbon will be released when the ethanol or biodiesel is burned. But environmentally, that is better than releasing carbon that had been sequestered deep underground as oil.)

Author: Matthew L. Wald
Source: The New York Times
Original: http://goo.gl/y2V1b


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Local fisherman protest the Russian-built nuclear plant in Kudankalam, India.(dapd)

The 2011 disaster at Japan’s Fukushima plant led many countries to turn away from nuclear power. But a growing population and rising economy has prompted India to massively expand its nuclear program — even in the face of technological worries and fervent opposition.

They placed the photo of the dead man in the entrance of the hut. A lightbulb illuminating his face makes it look like that of a saint. The bereaved widow has her four children stand in front of the photo. They have lost their breadwinner, and now they can only hope that he will continue to somehow feed them even after death. Opponents of nuclear power in India view him as a martyr and are collecting donations for the family.

Sahayam Francis was only 42, and now his picture is displayed everywhere on the straw-roofed houses of Idinthakarai, a fishing village in the state of Tamil Nadu, on the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. It looks like an idyllic place, where fisherman spread their catches out to dry on the beach and repair their nets while sitting under palm trees. But it’s a deceptive paradise.

A few kilometers to the southwest, the new Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, built with Russian technology, towers over the haze. In September, the Supreme Court in New Delhi dismissed a lawsuit filed by opponents of nuclear power who were trying to block the loading of fuel at the plant. Now the countdown continues, and the first reactor could be ready for start-up by the end of the year, with the second one to follow shortly thereafter. The reactors are expected to generate a total of 2,000 megawatts of electricity to help satisfy some of the rising economic power’s thirst for energy.

On the day of the accident, Sahayam and his neighbors were protesting against the plant. They had formed a human chain in the shallow water, the women wearing colorful saris and the men carrying black flags. Sahayam was standing on a breakwater when a coast guard plane suddenly made a low pass over the crowd. Sahayam’s family says that he was so startled that he fell headfirst onto the rocks, dying a short time later.

“They surrounded us like prisoners,” complains S. P. Udayakumar, the 53-year-old leader of the nationwide People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy. Udayakumar, who studied political science at American universities, has gathered the villagers in front of the church in Idinthakarai, where he preaches about the evils of nuclear power on a daily basis.

Udayakumar says that millions of people living along the coast could be exposed to radiation if the government continues to pursue its ambitious nuclear program. He spreads out his hand to illustrate the shape of the subcontinent. “Here, here and here,” he says. “They want to build nuclear power plants everywhere, and they’ll contaminate our ocean and our fish populations.”

Dressed in a white robe, Udayakumar looks like a cross between a guru and a guerilla leader. He and several hundred of his fellow activists risk arrest on charges of agitation and other alleged offences.

Taking Risks to Satisfy Demand

Were any lessons learned from Fukushima? What about phasing out nuclear power? The Japanese reactor disaster in March 2011 did little more than briefly stun India’s government. Now it is pressing forward with its plans to expand nuclear energy, often against fierce resistance.

The new Kudankulam power plant is intended as only one stage in India’s program. Between now and 2032, the government plans to expand the country’s nuclear capacity from 4,400 to roughly 63,000 megawatts.

By 2050, India even expects to satisfy a quarter of its electricity demands with nuclear energy. Today, about 20 reactors generate roughly 4 percent of India’s electricity, but the country plans to double its nuclear energy capacity in the next five years alone. In doing so, the Indians will rely on particularly controversial reactor types. To make matters worse, many doubt that India — with its bizarre infrastructure and often chaotic organization — can keep the technology under control.

Still, the nation of 1.2 billion urgently needs energy, as became glaringly evident last summer when large sections of the country went without power for days and more than 600 million people suffered in the heat without electricity. Blackouts are a common occurrence, and the lights go out, air-conditioners stop running and elevators get stuck every day even in the capital city of New Delhi.

Often inefficiently operated coal-fired power plants and chronic corruption are to blame for India’s disastrous power supply. In many states, for example, local politicians illegally tap electricity from the grid and then secure votes by supplying

households with free power. In addition, the central and local governments are constantly jostling over how energy is allocated.

Given these circumstances, India’s business community, in particular, views nuclear power as a surefire way to stimulate growth. Impatient backers of nuclear energy even want to see controversial reactors placed directly under the control of the military.

A Symbol of Independence

Kudankulam is already practically under a state of martial law. Journalists who travel to the area are followed and sometimes arrested. Fishermen in Idinthakarai claim that police officers and thugs in civilian clothes recently combed the village for Udayakumar and other activists, albeit unsuccessfully. Before the frustrated intruders left, say villagers, they urinated in the church and desecrated a statue of the Virgin Mary. As evidence, one of the nuclear-power opponents holds up the statue’s severed head.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s legendary first prime minister (1947-1964), promoted nuclear development. “We must develop this atomic energy quite apart from war,” he insisted, though he added that India could “use it for other purposes” if compelled. Ever since, it has been viewed as a symbol of independence, making a phase-out inconceivable for planners in New Delhi.

Indian reactors supplied the plutonium for the country’s first nuclear test in 1974, a decade after China detonated its first nuclear bomb. In 1998, the entire nation celebrated further denotations, which gave India a permanent place among nuclear powers. Military leaders named their project “Shakti,” the Sanskrit word for “strength.” Soon afterwards, Pakistan, India’s nemesis to the north, detonated its own nuclear bombs.

American, French, Russian and Japanese companies all want to develop the subcontinent as a market for nuclear power plants. Since the Fukushima disaster, they have been eagerly looking toward India — because they’ve been having more trouble selling their technologies at home.

India currently needs foreign uranium to power its reactors. In the long term, however, it hopes to free itself from foreign sources by developing what it needs to complete the full nuclear-reprocessing cycle.

Insufficient Expertise

To this end, India’s planners are clinging to questionable technologies, such as fast breeder reactors operated with plutonium as well as ones that use thorium. Germany, by comparison, abandoned a similar test plant in the late 1980s because it was too expensive and prone to failure.

But how is India, a developing country, supposed to master a technology that even proved too much for a perfectionist, industrialized nation like Japan to keep under control?

Indeed, there are already growing doubts about the safety of Indian nuclear plants. In August, the country’s general accounting office released a devastating critique of the domestic nuclear regulatory agency, noting that more than half of inspection reports were submitted late and that a number of inspections were never even performed.

The government intends to set up a new, independent monitoring agency. But nuclear opponents fear that even this agency could devolve into a vicarious agent of the nuclear lobby.

Arundhati Roy, the novelist and political activist, says that the government lacks the know-how needed to safely operate nuclear power plants. “The Indian government has shown itself incapable of even being able to dispose of day to day garbage, let alone industrial effluent or urban sewage,” she scoffed in a message of solidarity to opponents of the plant in Kudankulam. “How does it dare to say that it knows how to deal with nuclear waste?”

Though she might sound rhetorical, Roy is merely describing the sad reality of those living near the power plant. In fact, there are even piles of garbage in front of the local police station. Likewise, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, the state-owned company that operates Kudankulam and other reactors, has yet to present a plan for how to permanently dispose of nuclear waste.
However, India’s parliament has passed a compensation law that obligates the operators of nuclear power plants and their suppliers to compensate victims should there be a reactor disaster. This is one reason why foreign companies are currently holding off on signing agreements to deliver new reactors to India.

The ongoing struggle over Kudankulam should also dampen the nuclear lobby’s enthusiasm. The original contract for the project was signed in 1988 by former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

Author: Wieland Wagner
Source: Spiegel Online International
Original: http://goo.gl/k0C3c


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Leading nuclear worker says space is running out for contaminated water cooling the Fukushima plant.


Yuichi Okamura warned contaminated water may already be getting into the underground water system [AP]

Japan’s crippled nuclear power plant is struggling to find space to store tens of thousands of tonnes of highly contaminated water used to cool the broken reactors, the manager of the water treatment team has said.

About 200,000 tonnes of radioactive water, enough to fill more than 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools, are being stored in hundreds of gigantic tanks built around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

Operator Tokyo Electric Power Company has already chopped down trees to make room for more tanks and predicts the volume of water will be more than triple within three years.

“It’s a time-pressing issue because the storage of contaminated water has its limits, there is only limited storage space” the water-treatment manager, Yuichi Okamura, told the AP news agency in an exclusive interview this week.

Dumping massive amounts of water into the melting reactors was the only way to avoid an even bigger catastrophe.

Okamura remembers frantically trying to find a way to get water to spent fuel pools located on the highest floor of the 50m high reactor buildings.

Without water, the spent fuel is likely to have overheated and melted, sending radioactive smoke for miles and affecting possibly millions of people.

The measures to keep the plant under control itself created another major problem for the utility: What to do with all that radioactive water that leaked out of the damaged reactors and collected in the basements of reactor buildings and nearby facilities.

“At that time, we never expected high-level [radiation] contaminated water to turn up in the turbine building” Okamura said.

Okamura was tasked with setting up a treatment system that would make the water clean enough for reuse as a coolant, and was also aimed at reducing health risks for workers and environmental damage.

At first, the utility shunted the tainted water into existing storage tanks near the reactors.

Contaminated water

Meanwhile, Okamura’s 55-member team scrambled to get a treatment unit up and running within three months of the accident, a project that would normally take about two years, he said.

Using that equipment, TEPCO was able to circulate reprocessed water back into the reactor cores.

But even though the reactors now are being cooled exclusively with recycled water, the volume of contaminated water is still increasing, mostly because ground water is seeping through cracks into the reactor and turbine basements.

Next month, Okamura’s group plans to flip the switch on new purifying equipment using Toshiba Corp technology.

“By purifying the water using the ALPS system, theoretically, all radioactive products can be purified to below detection levels” he said.

But in the meantime its tanks are filling up, mostly because leaks in reactor facilities are allowing ground water pour in.

Masashi Goto, nuclear engineer and college lecturer, said the contaminated water build-up posed a big, long-term health and environmental threat.

He worried that the radioactive water in the basements may already be getting into the underground water system, where it could reach far beyond the plant via underground water channels, possibly in the ocean or public water supplies.

“There are pools of some 10,000 or 20,000 tonnes of contaminated water in each plant, and there are many of these, and to bring all these to one place would mean you would have to treat hundreds of thousands of tons of contaminated water which is mind-blowing in itself,” Goto said.

“It’s an outrageous amount, truly outrageous” Goto added.

The plant also would have to deal with contaminated water until all the melted fuel and other debris is removed from the reactor, a process that will easily take more than a decade.

Author: Agencies
Source: Al Jazeera
Original: http://goo.gl/osABd


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Num planeta onde um em cada cinco vive sem luz, empresas e países não podem se dar ao luxo de desperdiçar energia, diz Banco Mundial, que pede redução de 30% na queima até 2017


Se o gás queimado fosse comercializado, as transações seriam da ordem de US$ 50 bilhões. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP)

São Paulo – O que hoje é uma enorme perda de recurso natural – a queima de gás natural associada à produção de petróleo – deve ser transformado em investimentos para o desenvolvimento sustentável. Em um apelo divulgado por nota oficial, o Banco Mundial diz que mundo tem o desafio de reduzir o volume de gás natural queimado em 30% até 2017.

Em 2011, a queima do combustível somou 140 bilhões de metros cúbicos – isso é quase seis vezes a produção recorde brasileira de gás natural, registrada no mesmo período. Com a redução defendida pelo Banco, o desperdício global do insumo cairia para 100 bilhões de metros cúbicos nos próximos cinco anos.

Do ponto de vista ambiental, a redução das emissões de CO2 resultante equivaleria à retirada de 60 milhões de carros das estradas – na prática, seria como varrer do mapa 90% da frota de veículos da cidade de São Paulo.

“Um corte de 30% em cinco anos é uma meta realista”, disse Rachel Kyte, vice-presidente de Desenvolvimento Sustentável do Banco. “Hoje, uma em cada cinco pessoas no planeta não tem eletricidade. Nós simplesmente não podemos nos dar ao luxo de continuar desperdiçando esse gás”, sublinha.

Segundo estimativa do Banco, se todo o gás queimado fosse comercializado, as transações seriam da ordem de 50 bilhões de dólares. Então por que isso não acontece? Um dos motivos é que o gás natural ainda não é visto como um mercado atrativo e, para tornar sua comercialização viável, as empresas e governos precisam investir na criação de estruturas de estocagem e escoamento, como gasodutos.

Por meio do seu programa Parceria Global para Redução da Queima de Gás (GGFR, da sigla em inglês), a entidade visa aproximar iniciativa privada e poder público em diversos países do mundo na tentativa de transformar o desperdício em investimento.

No curso de seis anos, a iniciativa já ajudou a reduzir a queima de gás em 20%, um corte que se traduz na prevenção da emissão de 274 milhões de toneladas de emissões de CO2, equivalente ao emitido por 52 milhões de carros.

Para aumentar a redução de queima de gás, países e empresas precisam trabalhar juntos para alimentar os mercados de gás e construir infraestrutura adequado. “Os parceiros podem aproveitar as oportunidades de negócios e ao mesmo tempo ampliar o acesso das populações mais carentes”, disse Kyte. Um exemplo do desperdício é a Nigéria, o segundo país que mais queima gás natural no mundo, apenas atrás da Rússia. Apesar do governo ter proibido a prática por lá, as autoridades estaduais e municipais ainda falham na hora de obrigar as empresas a cumprir a regra.

Autor: Vanessa Barbosa
Fonte: Exame
Original: http://goo.gl/TT2ip


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Big business is right to be concerned about the chancellor’s equivocal strategy


Walney offshore windfarm, 10 miles west of Cumbria in the Irish Sea . Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

As the coalition prepares to introduce its energy bill into Parliament in the next few weeks, it must demonstrate political leadership and ensure that its policy is based on robust economic analysis, recognising and addressing failures of the market.

The most obvious market failure is created by the fact that, without policy, the price of products and services that involve emissions of greenhouse gases does not reflect the costs of damage caused by climate change.

A strong and stable carbon price corrects this market failure and helps to produce a level playing field on which new low-carbon technologies, such as wind, solar and carbon capture and storage, can compete against fossil fuels. However, it is not the only market failure that holds back these new technologies.

A failure arises as well from the inability of capital markets to manage the risks associated with investments in new technologies properly.

And other failures are associated with the limitations of networks, particularly concerning public transport and grids. Most consumers and many firms do not yet fully understand the technological opportunities that are available.

At a time when the public finances are under strain, it would be better to deal with these market failures through the tax system to disincentivise high-carbon activities or even regulate against them.

But it takes time to design and implement such policies and delaying action is dangerous because it can lock in high-carbon infrastructure, such as fossil fuel power stations with unabated greenhouse gas emissions.

So, in the meantime, while these market failures are inadequately tackled and there is not yet a strong and stable carbon price, low-carbon technologies need government assistance through direct subsidies.

These subsidies should be reduced and eliminated as the costs of development and deployment fall over time, as carbon markets become stronger and as other market failures are tackled.

But it is crucial that the reductions in subsidies for low-carbon energy are carried out according to a predictable rule-based system. Sudden and unexpected cuts undermine the confidence of the private sector and hold back badly needed investment in the UK power sector.

Those who argue against subsidies for low-carbon technologies are implicitly adopting an anti-market approach. Those who want markets to be harnessed to deliver greater prosperity and wellbeing, on the other hand, recognise a role for public policy in ensuring that markets can do their job in providing incentives and promoting entrepreneurship.

Removing subsidies for low-carbon technologies too quickly and erratically would undermine efforts to reduce the UK’s emissions of greenhouse gases in an efficient and effective way and delay progress towards our ultimate target of a cut of at least 80% by 2050 compared with 1990.

Such delay would risk relegating the UK to also-rans in the global low-carbon race and could mean that we are shut out of the developing markets for cleaner goods and services.

But most dangerous of all, delay would mean higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and huge risks across the world from climate change.

The coalition must demonstrate leadership through its energy and climate policies, supporting creativity and innovation in the power sector, and boosting the UK’s prospects for sustainable economic growth.

Anything less would damage the prospects of future prosperity and wellbeing, for us, our children and future generations.

Author: Nicholas Stern – The Observer
Source: The Guardian
Original: http://goo.gl/Zj7uD


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