How Long Will Japan’s Nuclear Recess Be? Enter Kazakhstan
Environmental victories are so scarce these days that you can’t blame eco-activists for trumpeting any good news—even when the news turns out to be mostly smoke and mirrors.
Take the latest sequel to Japan’s March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which was deemed the “most serious nuclear crisis since Chernobyl” by NewScientist. To this day the city of Fukushima is surrounded by a 20-kilometer (12.4 mile) deadzone.
On May 4, in an action hailed by anti-nuclear activists around the world, Japan announced that it was putting its last remaining operational nuclear power plant, located in the northern city of Tomari, on “recess.” The next day, five thousand demonstrators in Tokyo celebrated what one participant called a “historic” victory, in a country where some 30 percent of electrical power had been provided by nuclear reactors.
While pressure from activists undoubtedly influenced the government’s decision, a closer look at Japan’s nuclear power industry raises serious questions about the extent of the victory.
Japan Announces Big Nuclear Deal with Kazakhstan
Unmentioned by all but two news outlets was the fact that a day before the announcement, the Japanese government signed a deal with Kazakhstan’s state-owned nuclear giant, KazAtomProm, to begin supplying Japan with more nuclear fuel starting in 2013.
“Japan will take part in the implementation of 40 projects in Kazakhstan,” explained the Kazakh state-run news outlet, CaspioNet. “This applies to cooperation in the nuclear industry, mining and metallurgical complex, high technology, as well as mechanical engineering and gas-chemical industry.”
As for “projects” in Japan itself, the picture is a little murky, perhaps intentionally so. “The Japanese government never actually said it was going to turn off the lights on the nuclear industry at any point in time,” the Netherlands-based Nuclear Campaigner for Greenpeace International, Aslihan Tumer told WhoWhatWhy in an interview.
“What the Japanese government has been saying is that they’re going to restart it, eventually, once the safety checks are done, once they take local concerns into consideration,” said Turner. “So, they are not saying it is off the table right now.”
Japan’s newly strengthened ties to Kazakhstan come on top of the major foothold Japanese multinational energy corporations already have in that Central Asian country, which is four times the size of Texas.
Japan’s Nuclear Alliance with KazAtomProm
Known for its massive reserves of Caspian Sea oil and natural gas resources, Kazakhstan also possesses roughly 15 percent of the world’s known uranium supply, accounting for roughly one-third of current global production, according to the World Nuclear Association (WNA).
With no uranium resources of its own Japan, the world’s third biggest economy, has relied on the global market to fuel its nuclear reactors, trading mainly with Australia, Canada and, increasingly, Kazakhstan, according to WNA. In 2010, three Japan-based nuclear fuel corporations, Kansai Electric Power Company, Sumitomo and Nuclear Fuel Industries Ltd, signed a deal with KazAtomProm to supply its plants with uranium.
A complex web of agreements across national borders links many of the biggest players in the nuclear industry. For example, in October 2006, the Japanese multinational corporation Toshiba purchased a 77-percent share of the U.S. nuclear company Westinghouse Electric for $5.4 billion. Two other companies were involved in the deal: Japan’s IHI Corporation, and U.S. multinational Shaw Group. Later, in July 2007, KazAtomProm paid $486.3 million for 10 percent of Toshiba’s stake in the jointly owned corporation, meaning it now owns 7.7 percent of the corporation formerly known as Westinghouse.
As a result of such deals Kazakhstan has a direct tie to the Fukushima meltdown. Investigative reporter Greg Palast explained in a March 2011 story: “One of the reactors dancing with death at Fukushima Station 1 was built by Toshiba. Toshiba was also an architect of the emergency diesel system.”
Eerily enough, Kazakhstan is still recovering from a nuclear tragedy of its own. The city of Semey, near the country’s northeastern border with Siberia, was formerly known as Semipalatinsk. From 1949 to 1989, a secret complex 93 miles west of the city was the site of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons tests.
History Repeating Itself?
“After a wave of popular protests, the Semipalatinsk site was closed in 1991. It had carried out 456 secret nuclear tests,” explained EuroNews. “However, the closure could not reverse the environmental damage to the region, which has more than a million inhabitants, most of which are villagers.”
“Local oncology centers are screening tens of thousands of patients, trying to detect and treat tumors at early stages…Infant mortality here is five times higher than the average or developed countries. Embryonic defects are widespread, and cancer strikes teenagers as well as adults,” the report continues.
The nuclear tragedies at Chernobyl, Semipalatinsk and Fukushima have not proved a deterrent to the global nuclear industry’s ambitions. “Japan hasn’t used the Fukushima disaster as an opportunity to push for renewable energy or energy efficiency,” said Tumer. “Instead, it has used the time since the disaster to push for the restart of nuclear reactors.”
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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