Doomsday Clock Moves Closer to Midnight As California's Last Active Nuke Plant Puts Millions at Risk
Humanity’s clock is ticking but few in power seem to recognize how late it’s getting. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been keeping time though with their “Doomsday Clock,” established in 1947 to convey threats to humanity and the planet in the new atomic age launched by the Manhattan Project two years before. Widely recognized as an indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, global climate change and other emerging technologies, the Doomsday Clock was moved forward two minutes in January to 11:57 p.m. It’s the closest the clock has been to midnight since the height of the Cold War in 1984.
“The clock ticks now at just three minutes to midnight because international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty—ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization,” the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board stated in their announcement. “The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon."
Global climate change and the nuclear weapons industry were listed as the primary threats, but the Bulletin’s analysis also cited “the leadership failure on nuclear power.” The Bulletin noted that “the international community has not developed coordinated plans to meet the challenges that nuclear power faces in terms of cost, safety, radioactive waste management, and proliferation risk.” The triple meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant in 2011 brought the issue to global attention after an unpredictable earthquake stronger than the plant was built to withstand overwhelmed the reactors in conjunction with a massive tsunami. This unprecedented disaster even led the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to establish a Fukushima Lessons Learned Division. But the situation at California’s last remaining active nuclear plant has generated widespread concern about whether the NRC has learned anything at all from Fukushima.
Diablo Canyon—An American nuclear plant with troubling similarities to Fukushima
The Diablo Canyon Power Plant near scenic San Luis Obispo on the Golden State’s central coast sits in an area where several new fault lines have been discovered over the decades. Controversy flared in 2014 due to revelations about regulatory safety questions from the plant’s former senior resident inspector Michael Peck, who served in that role from 2007-12. Peck became concerned that new seismic data suggested the plant was operating outside the safety margins of its license. He issued a non-concurrence in 2012, a Dissenting Professional Opinion in 2013 and a DPO Appeal in 2014. Debate between Peck and his bosses at the NRC has centered around what methodology should be used to determine whether the plant could survive a massive quake it might not be built to withstand.
“I wrote the non-concurrence, DPO, and the Appeal to draw attention to the failure of the NRC to enforce nuclear safety rules and license requirements at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. These requirements include the regulatory safeguards relied on to protect California residents from a radiation release following a major earthquake,” Peck said in a recent interview by both phone and email.
He went on to explain how NRC regulations require a plant’s operating license to be amended before “non-conservative” changes are applied to safety analysis methodologies, yet PG&E had been allowed to make such changes without a license amendment.
“PG&E completed a reevaluation of Diablo Canyon seismology in January 2011. This reevaluation concluded that three local faults were capable of exceeding equipment seismic qualification limits established by the facility design basis. In September 2014, PG&E completed an additional reevaluation as mandated by California Assembly Bill 1632. This latest reevaluation revealed that several of these faults are even more capable than previously considered,” Peck explained. “PG&E created the appearance that the facility design basis remained satisfied by presenting the reevaluation results using less conservative methods than specified in the facility license. While these new methods and assumptions may or may not be technically justifiable, NRC rules required that PG&E first obtain an amendment to the Operating License before they were used in facility safety analyses. When applying the licensed methodology, the new seismic data results in stress levels on important equipment well in excess of safety limits. As a result, key safety barriers protecting the public from a radiation release may fail following a major earthquake.”
Peck went against the politically desired outcome because PG&E was no longer adhering to the parameters of the plant’s license and the NRC was no longer enforcing it.
“Bypassing this regulatory framework was not only irresponsible but also represented a serious violation of the public trust. The amendment process also would have provided public notice and hearing opportunities for these facility safety analysis changes that directly affect the principle safety barriers for ensuring public protection from radiation,” Peck added.
The NRC put together a three-person “independent” panel to rule on Peck’s DPO. Eric Leeds, director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, appointed Mike Case, director from the Division of Engineering in the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research, as panel chair. Peck, as DPO submitter, was entitled to recommend one panel member and selected NRC’s Rudolph Bernhard, a senior reactor analyst. The other panel member selected by Leeds, Brit Hill, is a bit more curious. Hill is COO of NUTECH Energy Alliance, a Houston-based oilfield services company. He previously spent 13 years working for the notorious Halliburton Company, before moving on to NUTECH (which was co-founded by former Halliburton execs). NRC spokesperson Lara Uselding says Hill has relevant seismic experience and has worked with NRC for almost a decade.
The panel apparently spent almost a year analyzing Peck’s DPO before rejecting it in May of 2014 and declaring that PG&E had satisfied all regulatory requirements. A primary issue for Peck was a difference of opinion about Diablo Canyon’s Safe Shutdown Earthquake (SSE), the level of seismic activity the plant could withstand. Peck says the panel used “circular logic” in justifying a change to the seismic standard that conflicted with the facility’s license application (FSAR) and then used that assumption to support their conclusion.
“When I asked the Panel Chairman (Mike Case) the basis for their assumption, he directed me to a recently changed FSAR Section (Revision 21). NRC regulations (10 CFR 50.59) required PG&E to first obtain an amendment to the Operating License before changing either the facility design basis or using a less conservative methodology or input assumptions in safety analyses that demonstrate that the design basis is satisfied. So, the basis the Panel chairman provided was built on an unauthorized change of the Operating License by PG&E,” Peck says.
Peck’s concerns about circular logic by the NRC drew support of varying parties such as the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and environmental non-profit Friends of the Earth.
Dave Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the UCS, authored a November 2013 report, “Seismic Shift: Diablo Canyon Literally and Figuratively on Shaky Ground,” in which he backed Peck’s concerns and voiced some of his own. “Of the 100 reactors currently operating in the U.S., the two at Diablo Canyon top the NRC’s list as being most likely to experience an earthquake larger than they are designed to withstand,” wrote Lochbaum.
He cited figures indicating that “the Diablo Canyon reactors are more than 10 times more likely to experience an earthquake larger than they are designed to withstand than the average U.S. reactor” and he calculated that “the chance such a large earthquake will occur at Diablo Canyon over the 40-year lifetime of the plant is … about 1 in 6—which is a toss of a die.”
“PG&E sought to have the NRC increase the SSE value to a level PG&E believed its reactors could withstand, but that had not been justified by a rigorous analysis meeting the NRC’s regulatory standards,” Lochbaum wrote. “David Copperfield and other magicians get paid when performing such feats of illusion. PG&E also gets paid for its illusion from the revenue generated by the continuing operation of Diablo Canyon’s two reactors.”
Lochbaum used the NRC’s seismic data to calculate that Diablo Canyon could be expected to suffer an earthquake larger than its SSE every 256 years. Reached by email, he put that number into context by comparing it with what happened at Fukushima.
“That seems like a fairly rare event. But for comparison, the odds that Fukushima would experience a tsunami as large as it experienced on March 11, 2011, were about one such tsunami every 1,000 years or so ... So, Diablo Canyon is nearly four times more likely to experience an earthquake larger than its SSE than Fukushima was to experience its devastating tsunami,” Lochbaum explained.
Peck submitted an appeal to the DPO decision in June of 2014, stating that the decision appeared to be built around a misunderstanding of the plant’s license requirements and agency rules. But his concerns were again rejected. “I have exhausted the NRC processes for raising nuclear safety concerns,” Peck wrote in an editorial for the Santa Barbara Independent in September. “I was left with the impression that the NRC may have applied a different standard to Diablo Canyon.”
Part of the NRC’s justification for rejecting Peck’s appeal is that Peck agreed in a meeting last summer with Mark Satorius, the NRC’s Executive Director for Operations, that there is “no immediate or significant safety issue” at Diablo Canyon.
“I was only agreeing that there wasn’t an imminent threat of a core meltdown,” Peck says, standing by his concerns that the plant continues to operate outside the safety margins of its license. “We consider an immediate safety issue one requiring immediate intervention to protect the public from an imminent or potential release of radioactive material. We consider a significant safety issue one representing an increase of core damage probability in the range of about one in a hundred. The probability of a large earthquake at Diablo Canyon is outside of this frequency range.”
“That said, NRC regulations require the plant design basis to ensure important plant structures, systems, and components are designed to withstand the effects of the most severe earthquake reported for the site and surrounding area. PG&E’s new seismic evaluations indicated that local faults can produce about twice the ground motion established by the facility license. While a major earthquake is unlikely to occur, as we saw in Japan, the consequence to the local population can be quite severe,” Peck added. “The lack of an ‘immediate or significant safety issue’ does not justify the failure of the NRC to enforce agency regulations and license requirements at Diablo Canyon ...”
Lochbaum backed Peck again in another report for the UCS last August, citing information that UCS had acquired from the NRC through Freedom of Information Act requests. “It is clear and undeniable that Dr. Peck’s findings are correct: the company’s [PG&E] evaluation of the Shoreline Fault and its implications on safety at Diablo Canyon is incomplete and does not use methods and assumptions accepted by the NRC,” Lochbaum concluded.
A Congressional hearing debates the diabolical questions at Diablo Canyon
Peck’s dissent drew the attention of California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who made Diablo Canyon a focal point of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Dec. 3 hearing on “NRC’s Implementation of the Fukushima Near-Term Task Force Recommendations and Other Actions to Maintain and Enhance Nuclear Safety.” Daniel Hirsch, who lectures on nuclear policy at the University of California-Santa Cruz, testified and compared the situation at Diablo Canyon with Fukushima to illustrate the NRC’s failure to learn from the Japanese disaster.
“In the Diablo case, the decisions have turned out to be erroneous, over and over again. And yet the pattern is repeated, over and over again. How many times do they get to be wrong before something changes?” Hirsch asked. “Unless we fix these problems—of regulated entities pressing for exceptions to and weakening of safety requirements and of regulators viewing themselves more as advocates for and allies of the industry they are to regulate rather than primarily protectors of public safety—we will not have learned the lessons of Fukushima.”
Hirsch went on to elaborate on the historical pattern of political interference and subterfuge at Diablo Canyon.
“NRC and PG&E attempt to avoid public licensing hearings on the critical seismic issues. Overly optimistic assumptions are thus chosen, only to be, time and time again, disproven by newly discovered scientific facts. Rather than shut the plant down or require sufficient upgrades to address the newly revealed seismic challenges, NRC and PG&E carve more and more safety margins out of the design, using ever less conservative (i.e., less protective) assumptions and methodologies. And they try to do this behind closed doors, with the public locked out of their right to evidentiary hearings … The problem is that nature may not go along with the regulatory fictions. As at Fukushima, an earthquake larger than the plant can withstand could occur at any moment. And as at Fukushima, it will not be an act of nature, but a man-made disaster, caused by the failure of our institutions. “
Tony Pietrangelo, Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer at the Nuclear Energy Institute, testified along with NRC commissioners in support of PG&E and NRC’s decisions at Diablo Canyon. “Differing professional opinions do occur among the 4,000 staff at the NRC, and the NRC has a process for addressing them. In this case, the conclusion was that, ‘there is not now nor has there ever been an immediate safety concern’ with this issue at Diablo Canyon. In addition, the panel concluded that older analytical techniques were overly conservative and no longer technically justified since the license at Diablo Canyon allows for newer technologies to be used,” Pietrangelo said.
Peck doesn’t doubt “that the geo-science has improved greatly since the 1980s,” but he remains steadfast that PG&E is still violating the terms of Diablo Canyon’s license.
“PG&E didn't even bother to ask for NRC permission to use the new methods associated with the September 2014 data. They just went ahead and used them. Remember, the plant would be shut down if PG&E used the methods and inputs required by the license,” Peck points out.
PG&E stands by their seismic data, asserting that they have completed exhaustive research to confirm Diablo Canyon is not vulnerable to a potential earthquake stronger than it’s designed to withstand.
“As the NRC confirmed in the hearing, Diablo Canyon is being operated safely and is in compliance with its seismic licensing requirements,” PG&E spokesperson Blair Jones said to the media after the hearing, adding that the company’s Long Term Seismic Program (LTSP) continues to assess seismic safety at the plant. “The LTSP is a unique program in the U.S. commercial nuclear power plant industry. It is comprised of a geosciences team of professionals who partner with independent seismic experts on an ongoing basis to evaluate regional geology and global seismic events to ensure the facility remains safe. Because of our LTSP and decades of industry-leading research, the seismic region around Diablo Canyon is among the most studied and understood areas in the nation.”
Daniel Hirsch’s argument that NRC management has greater allegiance to profits than safety gained further ammunition in the early part of 2015 when American diplomats at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Convention on Nuclear Safety were blamed for rejecting a Swiss-led European Union proposal to strengthen international nuclear safety rules.
“Opposition to the Swiss proposal mirrors the situation of the international nuclear industry,” Paris-based Mycle Schneider, lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, told Bloomberg.com. “Nuclear operators are confronted with severely shrinking profit margins everywhere.”
The U.S. delegation insisted that it did not oppose the initiative due to increasing costs and market losses to the nuclear industry, saying that current upgrades are adequate. But watchdog group Beyond Nuclear took issue, noting that the NRC had already shown its hand by rejecting another reactor safety upgrade recommendation from its own Japan Lessons Learned Task Force.
“The lesson, now unlearned by the Commission, would have ordered all U.S. operators of Fukushima-style reactors (GE Mark I and Mark II boiling water reactors) to install high capacity external radiation filters for hardened vents on the vulnerable containment systems,” reported BeyondNuclear.org. “Senior staff had concluded that installing external filters was ‘a cost-benefited substantial safety enhancement’ to more reliably manage the next severe nuclear accident by venting the extreme heat, high pressure, explosive gases while still significantly reducing the consequences by capturing large amounts of radioactivity. However, the UBS international energy investment bank had earlier predicted that the Commission would likely vote down its senior managers’ recommendation because of the ‘added stress this places on the incumbent’s portfolio’ and ‘the fragile state of affairs’ of their licensees' financial and economic condition.”
As for Michael Peck, he now works as a senior instructor at the NRC’s Technical Training Center in Tennessee, a position he applied for after he saw the writing on the wall at Diablo Canyon.
“I went from being the ‘senior resident inspector’ to having both performance and conduct issues after I submitted the non-concurrence,” Peck explains about his departure from Diablo Canyon. “I felt that [NRC] Region IV was setting me up to involuntarily reassign me to their Dallas-Fort Worth office. Over the years, I’ve seen it happen to many other inspectors. So, rather than wait for the other shoe to drop, I applied and was selected for the position in Chattanooga. I’m sure that had I not filed the non-concurrence or DPO, I would still be a senior resident inspector.”
It looks like the controversial status of Diablo Canyon will be decided in the courts. Washington, DC-based non-profit Friends of the Earth has filed a lawsuit against the NRC in the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the court that reviews decisions of federal agencies. The lawsuit asks the court to order the NRC to conduct public hearings on the amending of Diablo Canyon’s license and to shut down the plant until that process concludes.
The NRC motioned to have the case dismissed but on February 20 the D.C. Circuit ruled not to grant the motion and that the case should be heard on its merits. “This is a big victory,” said Damon Moglen, senior strategic advisor for Friends of the Earth, in a press release. “The public has a right to know what the NRC and PG&E won’t admit—hundreds of thousands of people are put at immediate risk by earthquake danger at Diablo Canyon.”
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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