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US-backed Saudi Airstrike Kills 36 Yemeni Civilians

August 31st, 2015 - by admin

AntiWar.com & Xinhua & Reuters – 2015-08-31 23:41:36

Saudi Airstrikes Kill 36 in Attack on Yemen Bottling Plant

Saudi Airstrikes Kill 36 in Attack on Yemen Bottling Plant
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(August 30, 2015) — Saudi warplanes attacked a bottling camp in the Hajjah Province of northern Yemen today, killing 36 workers at the factory, who were identified as civilians by local residents. This was the latest in a long line of huge civilian tolls in the Saudi war.

While Saudi officials usually shrug off the huge death tolls of their war, today they felt the need to deny that the death toll was wholly civilian, claiming the factory was a “bomb-making facility” and that 17 of the 36 people they killed were Houthis, with the rest civilian workers.

Oddly, the Saudi statement claimed also that the plant was next door to a rebel training facility, and that the Houthis killed were at the training ground, and not the bottling plant. Though locals confirmed Houthi sites in the area were targeted, they affirmed the 36 civilian toll.

Saudi warplanes have been bombing targets across Yemen since March, demanding the re-installation of former President Hadi, who resigned in January. Hadi is in exile in Saudi Arabia, and insists he is still the rightful government of Yemen.

Saudi-led Airstrikes Kill 17 Houthi Rebels,
19 Civilians North of Yemen


SANAA (August 30, 2015) — Saudi-led warplanes killed at least 17 Shiite Houthi rebels and 19 civilians in multiple airstrikes in Yemen’s northern province of Hajjah on Sunday, an official and witnesses said.

“A total of 17 new recruited young rebels training in Abs military camp at Abs district in Hajjah were killed and other dozens were severely injured,” an official there told Xinhua by phone. “The next-door bottling plant, which is frequented by the rebels, was also hit by the fighter jets, killing at least 19 workers and wounding several others,” the official added.

Witnesses and residents confirmed both incidents. They said both air attacks were part of at least 15 airstrikes on several Shiite rebel positions in the area since early Sunday morning. The air campaign came after the Shiite Houthi rebels sent reinforcements of new recruited youths from villages to frontlines in Abs area.

The Saudi-led Arab coalition has been air striking on a daily basis the Iranian-allied Shiite Houthi group across the country since March 26, when President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled to the Saudi capital Riyadh to take refuge. The coalition said its intervention aims to restore Hadi’s authority in the country.

The Shiite armed group seized much of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa last September, and ousted Hadi and his government. The group said it was a revolution against corrupt officials loyal to Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Over four weeks ago, Hadi’s forces, backed by elite troops and armored vehicles from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, launched a number of offensives against the rebels and recaptured the southern provinces of Aden, Lahj, al-Dhalea, Abyan and Shabwa.

UN humanitarian agencies have recorded at least 6,221 civilian casualties, including at least 1,950 civilians killed and 4,271 wounded in the five months of conflict. There is no sign that the warring parties intend to end the civil war, as the impoverished Arab country is at risk to escalate an all-out civil war.

On Thursday, a large number of Yemeni troops trained in Saudi Arabia and equipped with modern military gear entered Yemeni border crossing al-Wadee’ah in Yemen’s southeast province of Hadramout. They have already arrived in the oil-rich central province of Marib, some 173 km northeast of Sanaa, according to military sources there. They said the forces are all geared up for cleaning Marib from the rebels and advancing to the rebel-held capital Sanaa in weeks.

“A ground operation backed by the coalition air campaign began in Marib today (Sunday),” a senior military official told Xinhua.

Saudi-led Coalition Air Strike Kills
36 Yemeni Civilians: Residents


SANAA (August 30, 2015) — An air strike by warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition, which said it targeted a bomb-making factory, killed 36 civilians working at a bottling plant in the northern Yemeni province of Hajjah on Sunday, residents said.

In another air raid on the capital Sanaa, residents said four civilians were killed when a bomb hit their house near a military base in the south of the city. The attacks were the latest in an air campaign launched in March by an alliance made up mainly of Gulf Arab states in support of the exiled government in its fight against Houthi forces allied to Iran.

“The process of recovering the bodies is finished now. The corpses of 36 workers, many of them burnt or in pieces, were pulled out after an air strike hit the plant this morning,” resident Issa Ahmed told Reuters by phone from the site in Hajjah.

Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri denied the strike had hit a civilian target, saying it was a location used by the Houthis to make improvised explosive devices and to train African migrants whom they had forced to take up arms. “We got very accurate information about this position and attacked it. It is not a bottling factory,” he said.

He accused the Houthis of using African migrants, stuck in Yemen after arriving by sea before the war in the hope of crossing the Saudi border and finding work in the oil producer, as cannon fodder in dangerous border operations.

Human rights group Amnesty International said in a report this month that the coalition bombing campaign had left a “bloody trail of civilian death” which could amount to war crimes.

Air strikes killed 65 people in the frontline city of Taiz last Friday, most of them civilians, and the bombing of a milk factory in Western Yemen in July killed 65 people including 10 children. More than 4,300 people have been killed in five months of war in Yemen while disease and suffering in the already impoverished country have spread.

Militias and army units loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, currently taking refuge in Saudi Arabia, have made significant advances toward the Houthi-controlled capital in the last two months but the group remains ensconced in Yemen’s north and casualties mount in nationwide combat every day.

Also on Sunday, a bomb exploded near the vacated US Embassy in Sanaa and unknown gunmen shot and killed a senior security official in the southern port city of Aden.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility, but Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — the deadliest branch of the global militant organization — has been attacking the Yemeni state and plotting against Western targets for years.

A powerful bomb detonated in front of a gate on the wall surrounding the embassy around midnight on Sunday but claimed no casualties, residents and officials said.

The United States and other Western countries closed their missions in Yemen in February as the political feud between the Houthis and the Hadi government led to war. The Houthi-run state news agency Saba quoted a security official calling it a “terrorist and criminal act.”

In Aden, the local director of security, Colonel Abdul Hakim Snaidi, was shot dead outside his home by gunmen in a passing car, a security official said.

His death is the first such killing of a senior security official since the city was recaptured by pro-Hadi militiamen in July. Since then, a power vacuum has grown, with Al Qaeda militants moving into a main neighborhood last week and unknown assailants blowing up the intelligence headquarters.

Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Additional reporting by Angus McDowall; Writing by Noor Chehayber.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Oil or Nature? The Battle to Protect Alaska’s Great Wildlife Sanctuary

August 31st, 2015 - by admin

Rebecca Solnit / The Guardian – 2015-08-31 23:31:50


The Battle to Protect Alaska’s Great Wildlife Sanctuary
Rebecca Solnit / The Guardian

“This was not a comfortable or easy place, but it was a serene and exhilarating one. Even for those who will never visit these remote shores, the idea of them, the images of them, the knowledge of them, brings an expansiveness to the heart and mind that is tantamount to hope and faith. The value of places that let us dream big and coexist with the other species who share this earth cannot be measured.”

(August 27, 2015) — At midnight on 29 June, the sun was directly north and well above the hills. It had not gone down since I arrived in the Arctic, three days earlier, and would not set for weeks. It rolled around the sky like a marble in a bowl, sometimes behind clouds or mountains or the smoke of the three or four hundred wildfires somewhere south of us, but never below the horizon. The midnight sun made the green hilltops glow gold, and lit our walk through the wildflowers and the clouds of mosquitoes to the mountaintop.

Down below, I could see our tents, our camp kitchen, tiny from the heights, and our two rafts, all along the sandy beach and flowery grass bench alongside the shallow Kongakut River. A few days earlier, a couple of bush planes had dropped off our group of nine for a week’s journey 65 miles down the river that threads its way from the Brooks Range of mountains to the northern coast of Alaska.

Ours was not one of the great ascents of history, but my companions and I were exhilarated by the beauty of the place and by the unusual feeling of hiking at midnight. We climbed high enough to be able to see over the rough treeless ranges to the Arctic Ocean and the coastal plain where we were headed.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is a remote fastness, separated from the rest of Alaska by the Brooks mountains across its southern perimeter, and numerous rivers winding down through the foothills and across the northern coastal plain to the Arctic Sea. It is a huge place where caribou, musk ox, wolves, bears and other wild creatures live pretty much as they always have.

As we travelled slowly north at the speed of the Kongakut River’s currents and our own paddling, Shell was sending a drilling rig to the Arctic Ocean. On 16 June, the company’s massive rig, the Polar Pioneer, had broken through a blockade of valiant activists in kayaks outside Seattle — the kayaktivists — and was being towed up the coast. It was expected to begin drilling by 24 July.

We were guests of the Sierra Club, the world’s oldest environmental group, whose experts had brought us at this critical juncture to experience this remote, fragile, pristine place during the new round of conflict over its fate.

On 3 April, the Obama administration had announced a plan to recommend wilderness status for the most embattled parts of the ANWR, a move that would forever ban oil extraction from that land. However, on 17 August, with winter fast approaching, the administration gave Shell a permit for exploratory drilling just off the north coast of Alaska.

This first drilling site was hundreds of miles to the west of the refuge, but oil spills travel. It was an ominous step for the future of the American Arctic. Next week, president Obama will visit Alaska, where he will address Arctic leaders on climate change. Somehow he will have to justify the administration’s decision to let Shell start drilling.

Drilling for oil in the Chukchi Sea poses layers of threat. The industrialisation of a wild place — noise, bustle, roads, industrial equipment on a grand scale, toxic chemicals — would cause a level of damage that scientists and environmentalists consider unacceptable. Chances of an oil spill from any wells dug beneath these seas are high, and cleanup is a reassuring misnomer rather than a practical reality in these cold, rough waters.

Oil-spill cleanups are considered successful if they remove a modest percentage of the oil. Twenty-six years after the wreck of the oil tanker the Exxon Valdez in southern Alaska’s Prince William Sound, the wildlife and the fishing community there have not recovered from being drenched in dirty crude oil. A quarter of a million birds died in that disaster.

We know that a viable future for the biosphere depends on leaving most of the known reserves of fossil fuel in the ground, so finding treacherous new locations from which to extract what activists call extreme oil, does not just tempt fate — it punches fate in the face.

There is an ugly irony about extracting oil from one of the places already threatened by the effects of burning fossil fuel — where the summer ice is much reduced and temperatures are shooting up: you make the place complicit in its own destruction.

The refuge is as real as the bright wildflowers at our feet that glorious night and the clouds of mosquitoes buzzing around our heads, as tangible as the caribou that migrate through it annually to give birth on the coastal plain before they return to their winter homelands in Canada. But it is also a symbol. It stands for the idea that we do not need to devour everything, that some places can remain free and wild, that they do not need to be dominated by human beings or ravaged by our ravenous hunger for fossil fuel.

* * *

In 1960, just as Alaska was attaining statehood, President Dwight D Eisenhower signed an order to set aside one wild corner of the region in perpetuity, excluding it from certain kinds of private development and exploitation. The nearly 9 million acres became part of the vast lands that the US Fish and Wildlife Service manages; protection of wildlife was a principal goal, although the land was not given nearly the kind of protection that national parks get. In 1980, the protected area was doubled and given the name “refuge”.

The Republican party and the petroleum companies for which it stands have long been demanding drilling on that coastal plain — the great expanse of tundra we were approaching on our journey, the plain that shone pinkish gold when we saw it from afar.

The coastal plain is also known as the 1002 area (a reference to section 1002 of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act). The 1002 zone, comprising 1.5 million of the arctic refuge’s 19 million acres, does not have the protected status of the surrounding area and is vulnerable to exploitation if environmentalists lose the battle to protect it.

The 1980 act laid the ground for the battles that have raged since. Although advocates for drilling in the refuge have claimed that the oil industry would bring economic benefits to the region, Republican figures about how much oil and how many jobs would be created are wildly exaggerated.

A bill to protect the coastal plain has been introduced in every session of Congress since 1986. Legislation to open the place to drilling was moving through Congress in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez oil spill stalled it. Bills to drill were introduced and blocked in 1991 and 1995. Exploiting the area was a key goal of the George W Bush administration, and huge battles over it were fought in the House and Senate during the Bush years.

There were filibusters, dramatic speeches, shouting matches, monumental sulking by the Alaska delegation, and even the controversial moving of an exhibition of ANWR photographs by Subhankar Banerjee at the nearby Smithsonian to a less prestigious location after Senator Barbara Boxer held up the images to show the place’s beauty and vibrant wildlife.

One critic noted that Banerjee’s lush colour photographs undermined then-secretary of the interior Gale Norton’s assertion that this place is “a flat white nothingness”.

The refuge is the great sacrificial beast at the altar of the cult of petroleum. As the former house majority leader Tom DeLay put it in 2001, once this great symbol is gone, “We feel very, very confident we will be able to crack the backs of radical environmentalists.”

Drilling in the refuge would suggest that the fossil fuel corporations have won, and that nothing is too good, too pristine, too ecologically valuable to set aside from that pursuit. The state of Alaska has made its own stabs at opening up the ANWR to industrial development; a lawsuit brought in district court by the state to do so was fought by a dozen environmental groups and rejected by the judge on 21 July of this year.

Climate change is already disordering this place in countless ways: thawing permafrost and vanishing sea ice are radically changing the very surface of land and sea, while the wildfires that break out in Alaska’s rapidly warming weather are increasing. Almost 400 fires scorched Alaska in June of this year, the worst month on record for fire in the state, with 1.6m acres burnt.

Some of the fires burned the forest floor itself — a deep accumulation of moss, twigs, needles, and other fuel — down to the permafrost, making that permafrost more vulnerable to melting or melting it directly.

We will leave the Age of Petroleum behind. Whether we do so willingly and in time to limit the devastation of climate change, or only after all the carbon in the depths of the earth has been extracted, burned, and returned to the upper atmosphere, is what the fight is about.

* * *

The southern border of the refuge curls around Arctic Village, where we stopped to refuel. Its scatter of brightly coloured little houses, a community centre, general store, and lots of free-roaming dogs constitutes the political and cultural centre of the US Gwich’in tribe. A larger population of Gwich’in people lives on the Canadian side of the border, and the Gwich’in ancestral lands are roughly similar to the range of the huge Porcupine caribou herd (named after the Porcupine River).

These hunter-gatherers have historically derived a great deal of their food and some of their clothing from these tough, magnificent animals. They, in turn, survived winters by pawing beneath the snow for fodder — until climate change began to bring freak thaws that melt the snow and then freeze it into thick, impenetrable ice.

Most Gwich’in are ardently opposed to drilling in the ANWR and the Arctic Ocean, and this has set them in opposition to the majority of Alaskans, including other indigenous groups. Alaska is an economy based on mining and drilling, one where petroleum companies wield more political influence than any other group, and where residents receive annual cheques from the oil royalties — $1,884 last year.

Some members of the coastal Inupiat community, the Gwich’in’s neighbours to the north, have supported drilling — or at least some Inupiat members of the isolated island town of Kaktovik off the coast of the refuge have.

As Dan Ritzman, leader of our expedition and the Sierra Club’s Arctic expert, told me afterwards, “The 250-person community of Kaktovik is in the uncomfortable position of being physically located in a place that matters nationally. This place is, for them, simply their backyard, and it is at times confusing and even insulting that people across the Lower 48 and beyond would care, and take action to decide how that land is managed.

Some people in the community think drilling should occur in the refuge; and others think it should not be drilled. At the heart of the issue for this Inupiat community is the ability to participate in deciding what does or does not happen on this land. That part of the community is finding its voice more and more.”

The Gwich’in have been articulate about their opposition to drilling ever since it was first proposed in the 1980s. As Gwich’in leader Sarah James said many years ago, “The coastal plain itself is a birthing place for so many creatures that we call it ‘Where Life Begins’. Fish come here from the Arctic Ocean to spawn. Polar bears make their dens along the coast. Wolves and grizzlies and wolverines have their young here. And many kinds of birds from different parts of the world come here to nest.”

Female polar bears give birth in their winter dens on the plain, and the Porcupine caribou herd comes here, to this place relatively safe from predators and insects, to give birth every summer.

In the city of Fairbanks, Alaska, the night before we flew to the Arctic, two Gwich’in leaders, Princess Daazhraii Johnson, and her brother, former tribal chair and current university vice-chancellor Evon Peter, joined us for dinner. They talked about their struggle to protect this place and what it means to pit yourself against most of the politicians and industrial powers in the state.

As Princess Johnson put it recently: “A birthing ground is no place for a battlefield. Each summer up to 40,000 calves from the Porcupine caribou herd are born and nurse on the coastal plain of the refuge. Protecting the coastal plain of the refuge is about upholding our rights to continue our Native ways of life as our communities depend upon the Porcupine caribou herd to survive.”

* * *

In many ways, the animals are still in charge in the ANWR, or at least — in many of the encounters with the 250 or so species of bird and mammal in residence there — humans are not. White gulls dive-bombed us on the trip, seemingly indignant to see humans at all. A moose could trample or gore you — and Alaska’s irascible moose are the largest of their kind, standing upward of seven feet at the shoulder, the males sporting broad paddle-like antlers that spread several feet.

In a willow grove near the Kongakut River, on our first day’s hike, we found a waterlogged antler that a moose had shed: it was staggeringly heavy and looked as though it might make a nice cradle for a baby. The strength of the neck that could carry the weight of two of these was impressive to contemplate.

And then there are bears, grizzly bears, Ursus arctos horribilis. The males weigh up to three quarters of a ton and, standing on their hind legs, tower high above a human. Their fangs are thick ivory daggers; their claws, curved black stilettos.

Ritzman told us about a pilot who recently had to shoot a bear at the very site where we were camping — the bear charged at him and he fired warning shots with his .44. That sometimes works but in this case it did not do much, so he shot the bear at close range. The huge slug did not kill it, but it did amble off after being hit.

Ritzman mentioned that you do not want to shoot a full-grown grizzly in the head; bullets can ricochet off their skulls, which are up to two inches thick. His advice to us took the form of bear etiquette: if you are intruding on the bear, apologise and back away — but never turn your back. If the bear is intruding on you, look big, give a show of strength, let it know you are not an easy meal.

We walked around that week cognisant that we were potential meals, easy or not. We were careful about going off alone and gave warnings — claps or shouts — when we went into the willow brush or anywhere else we might surprise a bear.

We saw a grizzly the first evening we spent on the shores of the Kongakut. Some of the members of our expedition were already in their tents when Ritzman and guide Peter Elstner saw a bear lumbering along the steep mountainside less than a mile from us.

Through a spotting scope it was easy to watch the light brown creature meander in and out of willow clumps, sniffing for food, not in a hurry. As it turned this way and that, I was reminded that though the front end of a bear is formidable, the rear end, tail tucked into its hindquarters, is abject, almost apologetic-looking.

The guides speculated on whether they would have to keep watch all night with Peter’s 12-gauge shotgun to scare them off. But when the bear began clambering down the slope toward the flat river expanse we were camped on, it paused, perhaps sniffed the air and us, then turned tail and loped off. I took that for, perhaps, youthful exuberance, but Peter thought it was a clear sign it had had a bad experience with humans and did not want another one. The guides were going to be able to sleep after all.

Though the wildlife of the place is rich, and though we saw dall sheep on a steep, stony slope, a tiny white Arctic fox at the end of the journey, bald eagles, hawks, common merganser ducks, eider ducks, arctic terns and various kinds of gulls, we did not see the caribou we had hoped for.

This time of year, they are here in the refuge in huge numbers — the Porcupine caribou herd, now numbering about 169,000, migrates from Canada’s Yukon/Northwest Territories every spring to calve on the north slope, then returns with the calves to its winter grazing lands.

We saw traces everywhere: antlers, other bones, hoof prints, dung, and once a great hank of soft, woolly underhair, part of the winter coat that a musk ox had shed. But the animals had gone before us, perhaps pushed onward by the warmer-than-usual weather.

Birds from all 50 states and every continent but Australia come to the refuge in summer; it is a major nesting site for migratory birds. This place is already changing as the climate does: new species are advancing north, ones adapted to earlier conditions are now in decline. Red foxes are spreading north, invading the territory and preying on the cubs of the smaller arctic fox.

The old model of protecting the earth meant putting barriers around the most beautiful and the most ecologically significant places, making parks and preserves and refuges. By the early 1960s, the idea that anything could ever be kept separate enough to protect it had to be retired.

The effects of climate change in Alaska demonstrate that we must think systemically, that everything is connected. The Arctic is hard hit by changes caused elsewhere: Alaska is a capital of climate-change deniers but it is also a place that is burning, melting, and metamorphosing at terrifying speed. And when climate change unfolds in the Arctic, the feedback loops make it all worse. As white sea ice, which reflects sunlight and heat back to the heavens, loses area in the Arctic seas, the dark water beneath it absorbs sunshine and accelerates the heating of our oceans.

As new heat records are set in Alaska, the permafrost melts. There are local impacts from melting tundra — buildings and infrastructure tip and tilt when once-solid foundations turn to mush, and the methane beneath the permafrost begins to emerge, preventing ice from forming on lakes. The emergence of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from the thawing north also has global significance. Climate change feeds climate change, and the far north disintegrates.

There was one species of wildlife we saw far more than we wanted to and that, until the cold end of our journey, we were almost never without, no matter the wind, the rain, or the smoke. Alaska’s most ubiquitous and least-loved wild animal is a droning grey insect hungry for blood.

Humans have some options to avoid them — mosquito nets, protective clothing, repellent sprays — caribou have nothing but immersion in water and migration into the stronger winds and lower temperatures of the Arctic coast. The stings can drive them mad, and they lose a lot of blood to the insects. Mosquitoes are, on the other hand, a key food for a lot of birds.

The warm weather and swarms of insects may have driven the caribou on before us. After we left the refuge, we met a woman who lived alone at a refuelling station who had, the day before, from a small plane, seen a herd she estimated at three miles wide and 20 miles long.

To the west of the ANWR is the massive infrastructure of the Prudhoe Bay oil-extracting region now run by BP. I saw it from the air; it looked like a behemoth of a factory that had been disassembled across a vast plain: pipes, roads, structures, vehicles. Prudhoe’s oil fields began producing in 1977, peaked about a decade later, and have declined in productivity to about 300,000 barrels a day.

More than 1,000 square miles have been industrialised to produce the crude that is sent 800 miles along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline to Valdez on the south coast. About 450 oil and toxic chemical spills occur annually.

Millions of gallons of industrial chemical and toxic byproducts stored on site mean that the place will never be pristine, even when the last barrel of crude has travelled down the pipeline. Prudhoe Bay’s industrialised landscape, with its factory-like structures, its hundreds of miles of pipelines, its 1,114 oil wells, its roads, and its residues, is a reminder of what petroleum extraction on land really means.

* * *

Alaska is remote and lightly populated; the ANWR even more so. No human beings live permanently in the refuge, and only 300 permits a year are granted for visitors, most of whom come for only a brief stay during the summer months. The state of Alaska itself is estimated to have more caribou than people. Its land mass is a little larger than France, but while that country has 68 million people, Alaska’s population is only about 736,000.

There is something magical about being in the refuge. Imagine that you are hundreds of miles from the nearest building, the nearest road, that you are in a realm of no advertisements, no marketing, no commerce, no electronic communications, few machines but the tiny bush planes that drop off and pick up explorers, that all that bustle and distraction and racket and almost all the earth’s human population is to the south of you. You are entirely immersed in the luminous midsummer light that never stops.

We woke up the last morning before we reached the sea in a flowering meadow spreading west from the riverbank. Vivid blue-violet lupins, magenta fireweed, fragrant dark pink sweet peas and pale Indian paintbrush bloomed on the green ground.

It looked like grasslands, unless you got down on your knees and saw how little grass was visible among the low plants, mosses and lichens — the food the caribou depend on. This Arctic prairie stretched on, low and level, far further than the eye could see. It seemed as though you could walk forever on it, or at least for days, until you came to the next river.

The evening we made camp there, some of the people who went out for a long stroll came back exalted, saying that it seemed like heaven, as though your deceased grandmother, your long-dead dog, your childhood friends might come up and greet you in that unearthly light, that endless openness.

The flowery plain was scattered with caribou antlers: the delicate backswept branching antlers of female caribou, the sturdier antlers of male caribou, sometimes with mosses growing on the older ones. Near our tents, patches of the prairie had been peeled up by bears, but we did not see large animals there, just their traces. And then we got into our rafts and the morning of flowers turned into the afternoon of ice.

First there was a shelf of ice — aufeis, as Germans named it, or ice on top — that in the coldest places spreads out when a river flows and freezes. This process repeats over and over, the ice damming the water behind it so that more and more of it spreads further and further, creating a plateau of ice far beyond the riverbanks.

We floated on our small rafts by a single shelf of it — startling to see in what looked like a summer landscape — and then were surrounded by high walls of white and pale blue ice on either side of the shallow river. A mile or two into this new realm, Ritzman and Elstner pulled the rafts onto gravel bars and we got out in our high rubber boots to explore, sloshing through the clear, chilly water.

In some places, ledges of ice had been undercut by the flowing water and they sometimes fell off, crashing like thunder. In others, surface melt carved meandering streams that flowed in curving little beds, darker against the white ice, then formed waterfalls as they fed the river. Sometimes the ice cracked, and some of the cracks were blue within.

That blue! It is a cold, pale, otherworldly colour, an ethereal turquoise, as cold as cold blue can be. We were now in the deep Arctic, the blue, grey and white world, the unearthly earth, the place so northern that this world of winter ice had survived into midsummer. Everyone was exhilarated to have arrived.

Some of us stayed up most of the night to see what the sun would do. It looked as though it was going to set, because it was a fiery red. A long streak reflected across the still water, though it remained well above the horizon. A small white Arctic fox fled away from us toward the eastern end of the sandbar.

The thunder of aufeis breaking came from south of us. There were no seashells on this shore, but huge grey tree trunks that must have washed up the Mackenzie River and out to sea lay on the gravel sand, here where the only trees for many miles were low willows. I kept finding heart-shaped rocks at my feet.

It felt utterly peaceful if not entirely safe — it was too stark for that. Somewhere far south of us the Polar Pioneer was being towed toward the Arctic Ocean. A few days later, Shell’s icebreaker the Fennica was found to have a huge gash in its hull, caused by an underwater rock, and sent back to Portland, Oregon, for repairs, where it too was blockaded, this time by climbers who suspended themselves on ropes across the channel, then by kayakers, and finally by a few passionate swimmers who threw themselves in on the spur of the moment.

The Fennica is supposed to be critical to addressing an oil spill, except that it had already proven itself frighteningly vulnerable in the rough waters it was supposed to traverse. All that frenzied activity seemed far away as we walked along that beach at the end of the world.

This was not a comfortable or easy place, but it was a serene and exhilarating one. Even for those who will never visit these remote shores, the idea of them, the images of them, the knowledge of them, brings an expansiveness to the heart and mind that is tantamount to hope and faith. The value of places that let us dream big and coexist with the other species who share this earth cannot be measured.

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Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Obama Set to Visit Alaska’s Arctic Circle Amid Charges of Hypocrisy

August 31st, 2015 - by admin

Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America – 2015-08-31 23:13:26


Obama Set to Visit Alaska’s Arctic Circle Amid Charges of Hypocrisy
Environmental advocates say decision to permit Shell to set rig off Alaska has tarnished president’s climate legacy

Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America

(August 31, 2015) — President Barack Obama is set to become the first serving US president to witness firsthand the impact of global warming in Alaska’s Arctic Circle when he visits the state this week to press for urgent action against climate change. But many activists have charged him with hypocrisy following his administration’s recent decision to formalize Royal Dutch Shell’s permit to drill for oil off Alaska’s northwest coast. Protests against the administration’s policies are planned Monday in Anchorage, Seattle and Portland.

“We think it’s deeply hypocritical,” said Travis Nichols, spokesman for Greenpeace. “For a president who’s done so much for the climate, to see him do something that could undo that is a real tragedy.”

Obama’s express goal for the trip is to bolster his agenda to combat global warming by highlighting the toll rising temperatures have begun to take on Alaska.

On Monday, the president will speak at a conference on Arctic issues and meet with the state’s governor in Anchorage, before departing to hike the Exit Glacier in the Kenai Mountains, meet with fishermen and visit Kotzebue, a Native village of 3,100 people that sits just above the Arctic Circle.

In his weekly address Saturday, Obama explained what he expected to find in Alaska: Americans who are “already living” with the effects of climate change, including frequent wildfires, shoreline erosion and melting sea ice and glaciers.

“This is all real,” Obama said. “This is happening to our fellow Americans right now.”

But some environmental advocates said that while they hoped Obama’s visit would highlight the urgency of climate change, they also expressed widely held concerns about the potential for an oil spill, like the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Such an accident in the sensitive environment of the Arctic Circle could devastate the livelihood of Alaska Natives, environmentalists say.

“When you’re eating fish and animals out of the water . . . an oil spill would be catastrophic,” said Alex Whiting, an environmental specialist in Kotzebue, which is one of the three villages Obama will visit this week.

Obama has preempted those criticisms, acknowledging in his address Saturday that many Americans “are concerned about oil companies drilling in environmentally sensitive waters. . . . That’s precisely why my administration has worked to make sure that our oil exploration conducted under these leases is done at the highest standards possible, with requirements specifically tailored to the risks of drilling off Alaska.”

But environmental advocates say the spill is hardly their only concern. A recent study from the environmental group Clean Air Task Force found that drilling operations would likely emit considerable quantities of at least two major contributors to global warming — the greenhouse gas methane and harmful particulate matter black carbon.

Oil drilling has also been linked to ocean acidification, a process that is already underway in the Arctic Ocean, environmentalists say.

And Obama’s decision to permit a new drilling operation in the year 2015 — as the White House pursues emissions reduction and invests in clean energy — reflects the central role of oil and gas in U.S. energy consumption and indicates that may not change in the near-term.

Obama said Saturday, transitioning away from dirty energy sources was crucial, but “our economy still has to rely on oil and gas.”

But critics argue that even if all goes according to plan with Shell’s drilling, oil might not start flowing for 20 years. As Shell Oil President Marvin Odum told CNBC in May, “These are potentially very large resources, but resources that would come online 10, 15, 20 years from now.”

“By that point,” Greenpeace’s Nichols said, “everyone agrees we have to have moved on from this fossil fuel economy. It’s the type of thing that will lock us into destruction.”

Groups opposed to Shell’s Arctic drilling will host a protest in Anchorage on Monday as Obama meets with ministers from around the world for the GLACIER conference, a summit on Arctic issues.

Speakers at the rally will include Besse Odom with Alaska NAACP, Sweetwater Nannauck of Idle No More and Canadian First Nations activist Ta’Kaiya Blaney, a press release by the groups said. Solidarity rallies will be held in Seattle and Portland — the site of two major protests against Shell’s Arctic drilling plans — throughout the day.

“We are in climate crisis here, and advancing energy extraction within our ancestral territories would seriously exacerbate climate change and threaten our ability to survive in the Arctic,” Faith Gemmil, executive director of Resisting Environmental Destruction On Indigenous Lands (RedOil), said in a press release Monday.

Whiting, of the Kotzebue village, said he understood the political realities of Obama’s energy policy. “It’s sort of unreasonable to expect a politician will agree with you all the time,” he said. But he said he was still hopeful the visit would succeed in its stated purpose.

“A lot of us concerned about the issue are still excited that Obama’s coming to the Arctic,” he said. We will “continue to voice our concerns about the … potential danger to our environment and resources. We’re going to try to make the best of it.”

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Scrap the F-35 Jet; Use the $1.1 Trillion for Free Universal Child Care

August 31st, 2015 - by admin

C. Robert Gibson / Al Jazeera America – 2015-08-31 23:08:20


Cutting Pentagon Pork Could Fund Free Childcare in the US
Current childcare costs are bankrupting working parents

C. Robert Gibson / Al Jazeera America

The US military has already spent approximately $400 billion on a fleet of 2,457 F-35 jets. To operate and maintain the program, the Pentagon is set to spend more than $1.5 trillion. In December, the Pentagon revealed the F-35 wouldn’t be able to fire its gun until 2019, due to computer malfunctions.

(August 31, 2015) — The cost of childcare is bankrupting America’s parents. But providing free, universal childcare for all parents is easily affordable by simply cutting a small handful of military programs whose absence almost nobody would notice.

Joy Richmond-Smith is a full-time social worker and mother of two small children. Her husband also works full-time, so daily childcare is essential to the couple. In the Boston area, where she lives, Richmond-Smith pays $400 for four days of childcare per week just for her 3-year-old son.

If she were to put her 1-year-old daughter in childcare for two of those days, the cost would jump to $500 per week. And if she were to pay for both children to have full-time daycare at that same facility, the cost balloons to $700 per week. Richmond-Smith says her household’s childcare costs are more than double the amount she pays for her mortgage.

“These early years of life and brain development are so important,” she says. “I’m not skimping on childcare, so I’ll pay whatever I need to pay.”

She’s right. Between birth and the age of three, the human brain is forming most of the neural connections it will depend on for life. According to the Urban Child Institute, 80 percent of brain development takes place before kids turn three.

A 2008 joint study by Arizona State University and the University of Colorado at Boulder found that, on average, children with access to quality early childhood care and education have higher test scores, have a lower chance of having to repeat the same grade and are less likely to commit crimes as teens and adults.

High-quality childcare and early childhood education are largely inaccessible to middle-class parents such as Richmond-Smith, who doesn’t qualify for federal childcare subsidies under programs such as Head Start. To qualify, a family of four needs to make less than the incredibly outdated federal poverty limit of $22,000.

Worse still, families that do qualify for a low-income childcare subsidy have to get in line — according to Richmond-Smith, more than 500 low-income families are on the Head Start waiting list in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. In 2010, Head Start workers were penalized for enrolling middle-class families who couldn’t afford childcare, but didn’t meet federal qualifications for subsidies.

One solution for funding free childcare for all parents could be found by simply cutting out Pentagon waste that nobody would notice.

To find out how much free, universal childcare would cost for all American children under age 5, I calculated the median cost of childcare in all 50 states using data published by The Boston Globe in 2014.

The Globe‘s research showed the estimated cost of full-time childcare for one child in all 50 states in 2012 dollars. The cheapest was Mississippi ($4,863 per year for an infant), while the most expensive was Washington, D.C. ($21,948 per year for an infant).

The median figure was $9,230 — the halfway point between 26th-most expensive (Wyoming, $9,100 per year for an infant) and 25th-most expensive (Maine, $9,360 per year for an infant). By multiplying that figure by the estimated 21,005,852 children in the US under age 5, I estimated the total cost for providing childcare to all of these children to be $193.8 billion.

That sounds like a lot, but much of the funds can be made available by simply eliminating one wasteful Pentagon program that serves no purpose: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The US military has already spent approximately $400 billion on a fleet of 2,457 F-35 jets. To operate and maintain the program, the Pentagon is set to spend more than $1.5 trillion. In December, the Pentagon revealed the F-35 wouldn’t be able to fire its gun until 2019, due to computer malfunctions.

By scrapping the F-35 program, the US government would have another $1.1 trillion to spend, which could fund almost six years of free, universal childcare across the United States.

To shore up more money, Congress could eliminate the $30 billion Littoral combat ship fleet, the $15 billion Gerald Ford-class aircraft carrier program and the $25 billion that former US Senator Tom Coburn outlined in his Pentagon “wastebook” (which includes a $1 billion missile defense system that only stops 3 out of 10 missiles).

Congress could listen to Pentagon officials who have asked for fewer military appropriations in order to cut the troop size down by 70,000 or 80,000 troops, saving between $59.5 billion and $68 billion, assuming 2012 costs of $850,000 per troop, per year. The US military could also simply cut down on the amount given to private military contractors. In 2011 alone, defense contractors got $374 billion.

Germany, France, Sweden and Denmark all understand the importance of free childcare in supporting their national economies, and make it a priority in their budget.

The US should follow their lead. If you get a chance to talk to your member of Congress during the August recess, ask them which they feel is more important — free childcare for everyone under age five, or wasteful weapons programs?

C. Robert Gibson is an independent journalist and a co-founder of the anti-austerity group US Uncut.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

US & Saudi Arabia War Crimes Keep Killing Yemenis

August 31st, 2015 - by admin

William Boardman / Reader Supported News & Noam Chomsky / RT News – 2015-08-31 14:50:59


Is there anyone who believes that Yemeni Lives Matter?

(August 30, 2015) — Saudi ground forces invaded Yemen for the first time in this war on August 27. Officially, the Saudi government characterizes the invasion as an incursion that will be limited and temporary. The Saudi government made similar representations about their terror-bombing of Yemen that began March 26 and has continued on a near-daily basis to the present.

Other foreign troops have invaded southern Yemen in support of the ousted Yemeni government.

At the same time as the Saudi invasion, the ousted Yemeni government, now talking tough from the safety of Riyadh, the Saudi capital, says it won’t enter into any peace talks until the other side, which has no air force and no navy, surrenders its weapons and withdraws from disputed territory. This “demand” is consistent with the corrupt UN Security Council resolution that passed in April, with the support of the US and other countries then waging war on Yemen.

Saudi Arabia’s aggression against Yemen, the poorest country in the region, has been catastrophic for Yemen, which is all-but-defenseless. Backed by eight other Arab dictatorships and the US, the Saudi alliance has committed uncounted war crimes and crimes against humanity. The onslaught has killed more than 4,300 people (mostly civilians), subjected roughly half the Yemeni population to severe hunger and water scarcity, and laid waste to World Heritage sites among the oldest in the world.

The US-led naval blockade, an act of war, has cut food imports to Yemen, which is not capable of growing enough food to feed its population. The head of the UN World Food Program reported on August 19 that Yemen is on the verge of famine, making the US naval blockade a potential crime against humanity. The UN humanitarian chief has reported to the UN Security Council that “the scale of human suffering is almost incomprehensible.”

As reported by ABC News:
He said he was shocked by what he saw: Four out of five Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, nearly 1.5 million people are internally displaced, and people were using cardboard for mattresses at a hospital where lights flickered, the blood bank had closed and there were no more examination gloves.

Like most mainstream media, ABC News delivers the suffering with relish, but has a hard time telling the war story straight, resorting to euphemistic evasions such as: “at least 1,916 civilians have died in the Yemen conflict since it escalated on March 26.” [emphasis added] That’s just dishonest. On March 25, the “Yemen conflict” was primarily a civil war (with ISIS and al Qaeda thrown in).

US leadership cultivates a new generation of war criminals

On March 26, the US-backed Saudi alliance turned the “conflict” into an illegal international war, launching saturation bombing of defenseless populations in coordination with the naval blockade designed to starve the rebels into submission.

The “conflict” did not, as ABC wrote, escalate itself — the US and Saudi coalition started a new, undeclared, criminal war for which the leading war criminals of eight countries (starting with President Obama) will likely never face accountability, any more than Obama was willing to hold Bush, Cheney, and the rest of the Iraq war criminals to account.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights observers report war crimes being committed on all sides.

An Amnesty representative said: “All the parties to this conflict have displayed a ruthless and wanton disregard for the safety of civilians.” “All the parties” includes the rebels and the Yemeni-government-in-exile in Saudi Arabia, of course. But it also includes the US, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Senegal, Pakistan, and Somalia. If any of these countries has a peace movement, there is little evidence of it.

US sponsorship of the criminal war on Yemen also includes the provision of US cluster bombs, which have been outlawed by most of the world’s civilized nations. More than 100 countries have signed the international ban on cluster bombs, but the US — like China, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel — are not signatories.

The US did not participate in negotiations at all. The primary value of cluster bombs is that they kill civilians, and go on killing them long after wars end in places like Cambodia, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Iraq.

Human Rights Watch on August 26 called on the US-back Saudi coalition bombers to stop using cluster bombs in Yemen. A human rights research said: “Cluster munitions are adding to the terrible civilian toll in Yemen’s conflict. Coalition forces should immediately stop using these weapons and join the treaty banning them.”

The reality of suffering is way ahead of the reality of US war crimes

The five-sided fighting in Yemen continues without surcease, and media coverage seems to be picking up on the suffering (perhaps following the “if it bleeds it leads” creed, though Yemen doesn’t often lead the news).

On-the-ground coverage is hampered by a virtual prohibition of reporters in the country, where they then become targets if they get there. This is Saudi alliance-enforced policy, supported by the US, along the lines first implemented in the glorious US victory over Grenada.

Alex Potter is a 25-year-old nurse and photographer from Minnesota who moved to Yemen in 2012. Her photo album of Yemen beautifully and poignantly illustrates the destruction wreaked on the people and places of an ancient part of the world. The album speaks for itself, published on an NPR website. The NPR-written text and Potter’s quotes heartrendingly describe the suffering of mostly innocent people.

But the NPR text treats the catastrophe more like a natural disaster than an actual war that actual people have decided to wage at any cost:

Yemen is at war. Rebels from the Houthi minority group took control of Sanaa and other parts of the country six months ago. Saudi Arabia backs the government that was forced out and has launched airstrikes against the Houthis. Other actors — al-Qaida and ISIS — make it even more complicated.

And in June, the unthinkable happened. The densely populated Old City [of Sanaa], where people have lived for more than 2,500 years, was attacked. Locals blamed an airstrike.

That is less reporting than it is propaganda. “Yemen is at war” is as sanitized as “Yemen had an earthquake” — and it is fundamentally dishonest. Until March 26, “Yemen” was not at war. Yemen was in the midst of the latest of its chronic civil wars over decades.

The rebels were apparently winning. So the Saudis took the Yemeni government into something like protective custody and, with US connivance and several allies, started waging undeclared air war on a population and military forces with no air force and little effective air defense. NPR must know all that, and chose not to make it clear.

To say that “locals blamed an airstrike” is almost an obscenity of journalism, as if there’s some other, unmentioned possibility. It’s as if NPR is saying: what do we know, we’re only reporters, and only one of us was on the scene. You’d certainly never know from NPR that the desolation so vividly shown is the direct result of choices made by American policy makers (among others).

The people Potter’s photographs show have nowhere to go. The text mentions that “Doctors Without Borders has called this a ‘war on civilians.'” What NPR fails to tell you is that Yemenis have nowhere to go primarily because there’s a US naval blockade keeping their country contained like an open air prison, enforcing a killing ground which the Saudis and others can — and do — bomb at will.

New war, continuous war for 14 years — NOT presidential issues?

If ANY presidential candidate has said anything substantive in opposition to the US participation in the war on Yemen, it’s not easy to find. It’s not easy to find a presidential candidate in opposition to America’s 14 years of continuous war in the Middle East and Africa.

Years ago, Rand Paul criticized the extensive drone war Obama was waging in Yemen. Paul was correct that the US drone war was illegal and destabilizing for Yemen, but neither point was taken. Yemen’s destabilization by drone contributed to today’s reality, an illegal, multinational, interventionist war on a country in which the “wrong” side was winning a civil war.

In April 2015, when US-supported bombing of Yemen was three weeks old, Paul criticized US war policies in general, especially as advocated by other Republicans: “There’s a group of folks in our party who would have troops in six countries right now — maybe more. . . . This is something, if you watch closely, that will separate me from many other Republicans. The other Republicans will criticize Hillary Clinton and the president for their foreign policy, but they would have done the same thing — just 10 times over! . . . .

“Everyone who will criticize me wanted troops on the ground, our troops on the ground, in Libya,” he said. “It was a mistake to be in Libya. We are less safe. Jihadists swim in our swimming pool now. It’s a disaster.”

Paul went on to say that he supports unspecified “military action” against ISIS, which is operational in at least three countries now (Syria, Iraq, and Yemen). Paul did not address the terror-bombing of the Houthis and others in Yemen.

Democrats appear to be no more interested in American war-making in Yemen than Republicans, even though al Qaeda has been growing stronger there as a result of the US-backed bombing weakening the Houthi government.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula now controls part of the City of Aden, parts of which are also controlled by the rebels (conflicting reports) and forces fighting for the government-in-exile in Saudi Arabia (these forces include Moroccan troops).

For anti-war activists, Bernie Sanders is generally thought to be the best bet, even though his record is fairly weak (compared to Dennis Kucinich, for example). World Socialists take a dim view of the democratic socialist candidate’s positions on war/peace issues, calling him the “silent partner of American militarism.” Even more bleakly, Black Agenda Report’s Margaret Kimberley agues that “Sanders’ candidacy is as grave a danger to the rest of the world as that of his rivals.”

In CounterPunch, Sam Husseini takes Sanders to task for his support of Saudi Arabia even as it pummels Yemen. One activist group, RootsAction.org, has an online petition with 25,000 signatures so far, calling on Sanders (a longtime supporter of the F-35 boondoggle) to denounce the madness of militarism:

Senator Sanders, we are enthusiastic about your presidential campaign’s strong challenge to corporate power and oligarchy. We urge you to speak out about how they are intertwined with militarism and ongoing war.

Martin Luther King Jr. denounced what he called “the madness of militarism,” and you should do the same. As you said in your speech to the SCLC, “Now is not the time for thinking small.”

Unwillingness to challenge the madness of militarism is thinking small.

Sanders has yet to respond publicly to the current RootsAction poll. In December 2013, the senator’s “Bernie Buzz” online newsletter reported on another RootsAction poll. That one found that 81% of RootsAction’s 19,131 members were in favor of Sanders running for president (9% opposed).

Currently, his presidential campaign website lists ten major issues — NONE of them are “war,” peace,” “militarism,” “military spending,” “foreign policy,” or anything of that sort.

Until at least one of the candidates for “leader of the free world” says loudly and clearly that the US will back off trying to run the world at the point of a gun, Americans will just have to continue living with presidents who think small about making war against anyone who annoys the US by challenging our elitist “national interests” for any reason.

And that will mean continuing to outspend the rest of the world on weapons of war. And that will mean continuing to spend more than half the US budget on war and the consequences of war. And that will leave little room for any putatively “socialist” candidate to do much more than nibble at the core corporate socialism that is the heart of the American economy.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

Noam Chomsky on the War in Yemen:
Neoliberal Assault Has Led to a Significant Decline in Democracy

Afshin Rattansi / RT News

(August 17, 2015) — Noam Chomsky discusses the crisis engulfing the West. From drone strikes in Yemen to potential conflict with Russia over the Ukraine crisis, he looks at the “disaster” of neoliberalism. With left-wing movements resisting the US hegemony from South America to Europe, could the dominance of the US on the global stage be coming to an end?

Huge Protest in Tokyo Rails against PM Abe’s Security Bills

August 31st, 2015 - by admin

Kiyoshi Takenaka / Reuters – 2015-08-31 01:06:46


Huge Protest in Tokyo
Rails against PM Abe’s Security Bills

Kiyoshi Takenaka / Reuters

TOKYO (Aug 30, 2015) — Tens of thousands of protesters gathered near Japan’s parliament building on Sunday to oppose legislation allowing the military to fight overseas, the latest sign of public mistrust in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s security policy.

In one of Japan’s biggest protests in years — organizers put the crowd at 120,000 — people of all ages braved occasional rain to join the rally, chanting and holding up placards with slogans such as “No War” and “Abe, quit”.

Demonstrators swarmed into the street before parliament’s main gate after the crowd size made it impossible for police, out in heavy numbers, to keep them to the sidewalks. A second nearby park area also filled with protesters.

The rally was one of more than 300 this weekend in Japan protesting Abe’s move to loosen the post-war, pacifist constitution’s constraints on the military.

“Sitting in front of TV and just complaining wouldn’t do,”

said Naoko Hiramatsu, a 44-year-old associate professor in French and one of the Tokyo protesters.

“If I don’t take action and try to put a stop on this, I will not be able to explain myself to my child in the future,” said Hiramatsu, holding a four-year-old son in her arms in the thick of the protest.

Abe in July pushed through parliament’s lower house a group of bills that let Japan’s armed forces defend an ally under attack, a drastic shift in Japan’s post-war security policy.

The bills are now before the upper chamber, which is also controlled by Abe’s ruling bloc and aims to pass the legislation before parliament’s session ends on Sept. 27.

Abe’s ratings have taken a hit from opposition to the security bills. Media surveys showing those who oppose his government outnumber backers, and more than half are against the security bills.

“We need to make the Abe government realize the public is having a sense of crisis and angry. Let’s work together to have the bills scrapped,” Katsuya Okada, head of Japan’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, told the Tokyo rally.

The demonstration was the biggest in Tokyo since the mass protests against nuclear power in the summer of 2012, after the March 2011 Fukushima atomic disaster.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Linda Sieg.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

The 2015 Global Peace Index Finds the World Is Getting Less Peaceful

August 31st, 2015 - by admin

The Institute for Economics and Peace – 2015-08-31 01:03:35


(June 16, 2015) — The 2015 Global Peace Index reveals a divided world, with the most peaceful countries enjoying increasing levels of peace and prosperity, while the least peaceful countries spiral into violence and conflict.

The Global Peace Index
Institute for Economics and Peace

The Global Peace Index measures the state of peace in 162 countries according to 23 indicators that gauge the absence of violence or the fear of violence. It is produced annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

This year the results show that globally, levels of peace remained stable over the last year, however are still lower than in 2008.

The 2015 Global Peace Index shows that the world is becoming increasingly divided with some countries enjoying unprecedented levels of peace and prosperity while others spiral further into violence and conflict.

Since last year, 81 countries have become more peaceful, while 78 have deteriorated.

Many countries in Europe, the world’s most peaceful region, have reached historically high levels of peace. 15 of the 20 most peaceful countries are in Europe.

Due to an increase in civil unrest and terrorist activity, the Middle East and North Africa is now the world’s least peaceful region for the first time since the Index began.

Globally the intensity of internal armed conflict has increased dramatically, with the number of people killed in conflicts rising over 3.5 times from 49,000 in 2010 to 180,000 in 2014.

The economic impact of violence reached a total of US$14.3 trillion or 13.4% of global GDP last year.

The most peaceful countries are Iceland, Denmark and Austria. The countries that made the biggest improvements in peace over the last year, generally benefited from the ending of wars with neighbours and involvement in external conflict. The biggest improvers were: Guinea-Bissau, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt and Benin.

Syria remains the world’s least peaceful country, followed by Iraq and Afghanistan. The country that suffered the most severe deterioration in peace was Libya, which now ranks 149th of 162 countries.

Ukraine suffered the second largest deterioration: following a popular revolution which brought down the administration of Viktor Yanukovych, Russia moved to destabilise the country, meaning it scored poorly on organised conflict indicators.

2014 was marked by contradictory trends: on the one hand many countries in the OECD achieved historically high levels of peace, while on the other, strife-torn nations, especially in the Middle East, became more violent. This is a real concern as these conflict become even more intractable they spread terrorism to other states.

The world is less peaceful today than it was in 2008. The indicators that have deteriorated the most are the number of refugees and IDPs, the number of deaths from internal conflict and the impact of terrorism. Last year alone it is estimated that 20,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks up from an average of 2,000 a year only 10 years ago.

Only two indicators have markedly improved since 2008: UN peacekeeping funding and external conflicts fought. The number of deaths from external conflict has fallen from 1,982 to 410 over the last eight years.

Peace is more than just the absence of conflict. Positive peace can be understood as the attitudes, structures and institutions that underpin peaceful societies. The research shows that in countries with higher levels of Positive Peace, resistance movements are less likely to become violent and are more likely to successfully achieve concessions from the state.

The total economic impact of violence last year reached US$14.3 trillion, or 13.4% of global GDP. That’s equivalent to the combined economies of Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the UK.

The Global Peace Index is a composite index comprised of 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators that gauge the level of peace in 162 countries. These indicators can be grouped into three broad themes: the level of safety and security in a society, the number of international and domestic conflicts and the degree of militarization.

The only statistical measure of its kind, the Global Peace Index allows us to understand what makes societies peaceful and what we need to do in order to mitigate violence in the future.

The Global Peace Index interactive map allows you to explore how your country scores on the Index, compare two or more countries, see changes in peace over time and discover how the world fares according to each of the 23 indicators of peace.

A detailed analysis of the state of global peace and the full Global Peace Index methodology can be found in the 2015 Global Peace Index Report.

The 25 Most Dangerous Countries
According To The Global Peace Index

(September 18, 2014) — Every year, the Global Peace Index (product of the Institute for Economics and Peace) attempts to determine the level of peacefulness of 162 world’s largest countries. Measuring the countries’ peacefulness is a complex process based on evaluating a wide range of indicators. T

here are 22 indicators in total, including things like number of external and internal conflicts, relations with neighboring countries, political instability, terrorist activity, number of homicides per 100,000 people, number of jailed persons per 100,000 people, nuclear and heavy weapons capability and many more.

Since 2007 when the project was launched, Iceland has always been the safest and most peaceful country in the world. In this year’s TOP 5 peaceful countries, Iceland (this year’s score 1.189) was followed by Denmark (1.193), Austria (1.200), New Zealand (1.236), and Switzerland (1.258).

In these countries, as well as in those which ranked close by, you should not worry about your safety. But let us have a look at the other end of the chart. These 25 countries have been listed as the most dangerous countries in the world and definitely should not be among your vacation destinations.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

German Diplomat: G. W. Bush Considered Dropping Nuclear Bomb on Afghanistan

August 31st, 2015 - by admin

Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Der Spiegel & RT News – 2015-08-31 00:48:06

German Envoy: US Considered Nuking Afghanistan After 9/11

German Envoy: US Considered Nuking Afghanistan After 9/11
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(August 30, 2015) — In comments to Der Spiegel, German Ambassador Michael Steiner, who is retiring this summer, revealed that the Bush Administration was seriously considering carrying out a nuclear attack against Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, apparently at a loss for what to do.

Steiner was serving as a foreign policy aid to Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, and said he clashed with Schroder on Germany’s decision to provide a statement of unconditional support for whatever the US reaction might be after 9/11, saying it wasn’t appropriate to give anyone that kind of blank check.

Though Schroder went with the endorsement of whatever anyhow, a number of German officials were said to be seriously concerned about a “shocking overreaction” by the United States, with Steiner noting that the US was “playing through” all the different possibilities.

How close the US was to actually nuking a site in Afghanistan may perhaps never be known, and without details we can’t possibly estimate just how many civilians would’ve been killed in such an attack. Ultimately, the US decided on an open-ended military occupation as an alternative, which itself has killed tens of thousands of people over the past 14+ years.

US Considered Nuking Afghanistan after 9/11 – German Diplomat
RT News

(August 30, 2015) — A nuclear strike against Afghanistan was on the table in Washington in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, a senior German diplomat told Spiegel magazine.

Michael Steiner, the current German ambassador to India, served as foreign and security policy aide to then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder at the time of the 9/11 attacks. “The papers were written,” he said, confirming that the nuclear option was under consideration. “They had really played through all possibilities.”

There was a concern in Berlin that the Americans were so shocked by the attacks, which claimed nearly 3,000 lives, that they would overreact, Steiner told the magazine. He added that he objected to Schroder’s plan to express “unconditional support” for the United States, saying no nation should get carte blanche from Germany. The chancellor overturned his objections, Steiner said.

The 9/11 attacks were a turning point for the post-Cold War world, sending the United States on a global war against Islamic terrorism. The invasion of Afghanistan and the ousting of the Taliban from power was the most direct consequence of the attack. It was globally welcomed as a just move, unlike Washington’s later war with Iraq, in which several European allies of the US, including Germany, refused to take part.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Study Reveals: 60,000 West Bank Settlers Are Americans

August 30th, 2015 - by admin

Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Judy Maltz / Haaretz – 2015-08-30 01:52:57

Study: 60,000 West Bank Settlers Are Americans

Study: 60,000 West Bank Settlers Are Americans
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(August 28, 2015) — A new study by Oxford University scholar Sara Hirschhorn on the makeup of settlers in the occupied West Bank has revealed what she described as a “strikingly over-represented” number of American settlers. Some 60,000 Americans are settlers, fully 15% of the overall settlement population.

By comparison, only 170,000 American immigrants are living in Israel all told, including the children of immigrants, which means that the overall Israeli-American population of Israel is just about 2%. It is puzzling, then, to find such a huge number of American settlers.

Hirschorn is planning to publish an entire book on the phenomenon of Jewish-American settlers in the occupied territories, with some other surprising demographic facts about them. She noted that a large number of them were politically active American Socialists in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Hirschorn noted that the American settlers tended to use the “values and language of the left to justify projects on the right,” and that many seem convinced they are creating ideologically important “suburbanized utopian communities” in the region.

Her research in the past shows an interest in how Americans shaped the settler movement, and the ideological origins of “occupied suburbia.” The book is expected to come out some time in 2016.

60,000 American Jews Live in the West Bank, New Study Reveals
Judy Maltz / Haaretz

(August 27, 2015) — Roughly 60,000 American Jews live in West Bank settlements, where they account for 15 percent of the settler population, according to figures revealed Thursday by an Oxford University scholar and expert on this population.

“This provides hard evidence that this constituency is strikingly over-represented, both within the settler population itself and within the total population of Jewish American immigrants in Israel,” said Sara Yael Hirschhorn, the author of the upcoming book “City on a Hilltop: Jewish-American Settlers in the Occupied Territories Since 1967,” scheduled for release by Harvard University Press in 2016.

The number of American immigrants living in Israel, including their children, has been estimated at about 170,000.

Speaking at the first of a two-day Limmud event in Jerusalem, Hirschhorn noted that the main focus of her research has been American Jews who immigrated to Israel in the 1960s and 1970s and became active in the settlement movement.

She said her findings disputed many of the widely held presumptions about this group, namely that these immigrants had been unsuccessful back home and came to Israel for lack of any other alternative, that they were very Orthodox and supported right-wing causes in America.

“In fact, these assumptions are patently false,” said Hirschhorn, who serves as the University Research Lecturer and Sidney Brichto Fellow in Israel Studies at the University of Oxford.

“What my studies reveal is that they were young, single, highly-educated — something like 10 percent of American settlers in the occupied territories hold PhDs, they’re upwardly mobile, they’re traditional but not necessarily Orthodox in their religious practice, and most importantly, they were politically active in the leftist socialist movements in the US in the 1960s and 70s and voted for the Democratic Party prior to their immigration to Israel.”

Based on 10 years of studying this group, she said, the portrait that emerges “is one of young, idealistic, intelligent and seasoned liberal Americans who were Zionist activists, and who were eager to apply their values and experiences to the Israeli settler movement.”

As case studies in her upcoming book, Hirschhorn focuses on three settlements that had American immigrants among their founders: Yamit (which was evacuated in 1982 following the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord), Efrat (one of the biggest today, with about 10,000 residents) and Tekoa.

She noted two common, yet contradictory caricatures of American immigrants in West Bank settlements. “One prevalent image is of the zealot for Zion, the most fanatical ideologues within the movement,” she said.

“On the other hand, there is the prevalent image of the immigrant suburbanite of occupied Scarsdale, a settler stripped of ideological significance who’s just some kind of new-age yuppie living the American dream over the Green Line.” Neither, she said, provides a “satisfying portrait” of this group.

In her quest to make sense of the inherent contradiction between liberal American values and the “illiberal” settlement project, Hirschhorn said she reached the following conclusion about this group of immigrants:
“They’re not only compelled by some biblical imperative to live in the Holy Land of Israel and hasten the coming of the messiah, but also deeply inspired by an American vision of pioneering and building new suburbanized utopian communities in the occupied territories.
“They draw on their American background and mobilize the language they were comfortable with, discourses about human rights and civil liberties that justify the kind of work that they’re doing.”

As an example, she noted that Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a well-known Modern Orthodox rabbi who founded the settlement of Efrat, was known to talk in the same breath about “squatting on a hilltop in Givat Dagan near Efrat and squatting with African-Americans in Selma.” It demonstrates, she said, the way many American settlers “use the values and language of the left to justify projects on the right.”

This is the second time Limmud, the global Jewish learning movement, is holding an event in Jerusalem. Its previous one in the capital, which drew 500 participants, was held in May 2012. The organizers estimated that roughly 600 would be attending the current Limmud JLM, as it is called.

“Limmud JLM expresses the true face of Jerusalem, the worldwide capital of Jewish diversity and creativity,” said presenter Aaron Leibowitz, a Jerusalem City Council member from the pluralist Yerushalmim Party who is also an Orthodox rabbi. “I cannot express how valuable this gathering is to the future of the city.”

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Nuclear Power Threatens to Expand to South Africa

August 30th, 2015 - by admin

The Conversation – 2015-08-30 01:40:28


The Risks Attached to South Africa’s Nuclear Energy Strategy
The Conversation

(August 19, 2015) — According to Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the South African government has entered into a nuclear energy procurement process likely to be completed as early as 2016. So far, South Africa has signed Intergovernmental Framework Agreements on nuclear co-operation with Russia, France, China, South Korea and the US.

The agreement with Russia is very advanced compared to the others. This leads to the assumption that the procurement process will result in risky Russian reactors with a total capacity of 9.6 GW.

The risk of nuclear power to South Africa comes from the high costs of nuclear construction. It also comes with decommissioning nuclear plants, and safety concerns regarding the Russian nuclear industry.

Nuclear energy is expensive
Today, a 1000 MWt reactor costs at least US$6 billion. But the real question is, does nuclear technology produce cheap electricity? Two recent South African studies have found that nuclear generated electricity will be more expensive than the electricity generated by new coal plants, solar photovoltaic panels and wind.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research projects the levelised cost of electricity from nuclear power to be R1/kWh, R0.80/kWh from new coal, R0.80/kWh from solar photo voltaic, and R0.60/kWh from wind in today’s prices.

Analysis by another South African institute also projects that the levelised cost of nuclear energy to be higher than most other technologies. Both studies are inclusive of capital‚ finance‚ maintenance and fuel costs.

As the projected costs of electricity reveal, committing to a nuclear future now is senseless. A report by a Swiss-based banking firm claimed:

We believe solar will eventually replace nuclear and coal, and be established as the default technology of the future to generate and supply electricity.

Africa Joins the Renewable Revolution
145 countries, including African ones, have introduced various policies in support of renewable energy generation. Next year Kenya will increase its renewable capacity by 1.4 GW and will generate more than half of its required electricity from solar plants by 2016.

It is projected that Kenyans will enjoy electricity at a rate 80% cheaper than current costs once the project is complete.

Even Ethiopia has plans to install 570 MW worth of geothermal and wind capacity. South Africa also has approved large amounts of money dedicated to renewable energy projects. Investment in renewables in Africa is expected to exceed US$7 billion by 2016.

The Future Doesn’t Look Good for Nuclear
Despite the nuclear industry’s enormous state funding and political support, the contribution of nuclear to the world’s primary energy production has dropped from 8% in 2000 to around 4.4% in 2014.

The reason behind the decline in nuclear power across the world is simple. Most nuclear reactors currently operating were built back in the 1960s and 1970s. These old reactors were designed for a lifespan of 30 to 40 years. Although some have been granted renewed licenses to operate for another one or two decades, nuclear reactors are not eternal and most now require decommissioning.

Decommissioning requires clean-up of radioactive wastes and demolition of nuclear plants. Because it involves high-level radioactive wastes, it is hazardous for workers and the environment. It is also time intensive. The costs of decommissioning depends on the technology. Some of the radioactive wastes will remain dangerous for thousands of years.

Limited experience with nuclear decommissioning exists around the world and cost overruns are common issue in this field. The UK authorities estimated the cost of decommissioning for 19 existing nuclear sites at £100 billion in 2012.

According to a report, more than 200 of the world’s nuclear reactors will reach the end of their designed operation lifetime by 2030. Decommissioning these old reactors can be as expensive as construction costs.

The decommissioning programme in France alone is estimated at €300 billion, and this cost will likely escalate further.

Accidents Are a Very Real Threat
Russia and the previous Soviet Union has experienced many problems as a consequence of nuclear power development. The largest nuclear accident in the history of humankind, the reactor explosion at Chernobyl in 1986 is infamous across the world. According to the latest scientific data, more than one million people in different countries were affected by this catastrophe.

Before Chernobyl, a lesser-known accident occurred at the Mayak nuclear facility in South Urals. A tank containing radioactive waste exploded resulting in about 20,000 square kilometres of contaminated territory and the forced resettlement of 10,000 local residents. Thousands of locals were sent to clean up the radioactive mess, including 2000 pregnant women.

The Mayak disaster happened in the late 1950s, but the world only became aware of it 30 years later. Despite the disaster, the nuclear facility at Mayak continued to dump radioactive waste from it’s spent fuel reprocessing operations into the nearby Techa river up until at least 2005. There are thousands of local residents living there until today. To date, the Russian nuclear industry has yet to accept full responsibility for the damage done at Mayak.

It is not only Russian nuclear industry which had terrible nuclear accidents. Reactors were melting in Fukushima in Japan; Three Mile Island in the US; Sellafield in the UK. There are dozens of smaller but still very dangerous events. But Russian industry definitely occupies one of the top places in this list.

From this, it is no surprise that when the agreement was signed between South Africa and Russia, this clause was included:

In the case of a nuclear accident, South Africa will accept all of the liability.

Russian nuclear federation Rosatom has launched a large public relations campaign in South Africa with the intention of convincing the public that nuclear power is the solution to the electricity crisis. Rosatom’s campaign makes use of several well-known nuclear lobbyists and deliberately misrepresents key information, such as the real cost of nuclear power and the status of the global nuclear industry.

The Nkandla scandal is a drop in the ocean compared with the pending Russian nuclear deal. South African civil society must take a stand now towards the future it wants before it is too late.

Accidents, Waste and Weapons:
Nuclear Power Isn’t Worth the Risks

The Conversation

(May 18, 2015) — The case for expanding nuclear energy is based on myths about its status, greenhouse gas emissions, proliferation, accidents, wastes and economics. Let’s take each in turn.

Nuclear is not, and has never been, a major energy force. Global annual nuclear energy generation peaked in 2006. Meanwhile its percentage contribution to global electricity generation has declined from its historic peak in 1993 of 17% to about 10% today. The only countries with significant growth are China, India, Russia and South Korea. In the rest of the world, retirements of ageing reactors are likely to outweigh new builds.

Greenhouse Emissions
Nuclear advocates are fond of claiming that nuclear energy has negligible greenhouse gas emissions and hence must play an important role in mitigating climate change. However, the greenhouse case for new nuclear power stations is flawed.

In a study published in 2008, nuclear physicist and nuclear energy supporter Manfred Lenzen compared life-cycle emissions from several types of power station. For nuclear energy based on mining high-grade uranium ore, he found average emissions of 60 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour of electricity generation, compared with 10–20 g per kWh for wind and 500–600 g per kWh for gas. Now comes the part that most nuclear proponents try to ignore.

The world has, at most, a few decades of high-grade uranium ore reserves left. As ore grades inevitably decline, more diesel fuel is needed to mine and mill the uranium, and so the resulting CO2 emissions rise. Lenzen calculated the life-cycle emissions of a nuclear power station running on low-grade uranium ore to be 131 g per kWh.

This is unacceptable in terms of climate science, especially given that Lenzen’s assumptions favoured nuclear energy. Mining in remote locations will be one of the last industries to transition to low-carbon fuels, so new nuclear reactors will inevitably become significant greenhouse gas emitters over their lifetimes.

The Next Generation of Reactors
Some generation IV reactors are potentially lower in life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, but these are not yet commercially available.

All are likely to be even more expensive than conventional reactors. The fast breeder reactor is even more complex, dangerous, expensive and conducive to weapons proliferation than conventional nuclear reactors. Despite several decades of expensive pilot and demonstration plants, fast breeders have not been successfully commercialised, and may never be.

Advocates try to justify the integral fast reactor and the thorium reactor on the fallacious grounds that they cannot be used to produce nuclear weapons explosives. However, if not operated according to the rules, the integral fast reactor can actually make it easier to extract weapons-grade plutonium and hence make bombs. To be useful as a nuclear fuel, thorium must first be converted to uranium-233, which can be fissioned either in a nuclear reactor or an atomic bomb, as the United States has demonstrated.

The small modular reactor (SMR) has been a dream of the nuclear industry for decades, amid hopes that future mass production could make its electricity cheaper than from existing large reactors. However, offsetting this is the economy of scale of large reactors. The Union of Concerned Scientists, which is not anti-nuclear, has serious safety and security concerns about SMRs.

Weapons Proliferation
Nuclear proponents dismiss the danger that civil nuclear energy will drive the development of nuclear weapons, by saying that the nuclear industry is now under strong international oversight. This ignores the harsh reality that India, Pakistan, North Korea and South Africa have all used civil nuclear energy to help build their nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, Libya, South Korea and Taiwan all used civil nuclear energy to cloak their commencement of nuclear weapons programs, although fortunately all except Iran have now discontinued them.

Thus nuclear energy contributes to the number of countries with nuclear weapons, or the capacity to build them, and hence increases the probability of nuclear war.

Analyses of the damage done by major nuclear accidents, such as Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011, should properly consider not just the short-term deaths from acute radiation syndrome, but also the cancers that appear over the ensuring decades, and which represent the major contribution to death and disabilities from these incidents.

Estimates of future Chernobyl deaths by reputable impartial authors range from 16,000 by the International Centre for Research on Cancer, to 93,000 by an international group of medical researchers.

Four years after Fukushima, the plant is still leaking radiation, while a reported 120,000 people remain displaced and Japanese taxpayers face a bill that could run to hundreds of billions of dollars.

Proponents often cherry-pick highly optimistic projections of the future cost of nuclear energy. However, past and present experience suggests that such projections have little basis in reality. Apart from the Generation IV reactors, which are not commercially available and hence cannot be costed credibly, all of the much-touted current (Generation III+) power reactors under construction (none is operating) are behind schedule and over budget.

In Finland, Olkiluoto-3 is nearly a decade behind schedule and nearly three times its budgeted cost; in France, Flamanville-3 is five years behind schedule and double budgeted cost; in Georgia, USA, Vogtle is three years behind schedule and about US$700 million over budget.

Britain’s proposed Hinkley Point C will receive a guaranteed inflation-linked price for electricity over 35 years, starting at about US$180 per megawatt hour — double the typical wholesale price of electricity in the UK. It will also receive a loan guarantee of about US$20 billion and insurance backed by the British taxpayer. It’s doubtful whether any nuclear power station has ever been built without huge subsidies.

Nuclear Waste vs. Renewable Energy
High-level nuclear wastes will have to be safeguarded for 100,000 years or more, far exceeding the lifetime of any human institution.

Meanwhile, Denmark is moving to 100% renewable electricity by 2035, and Germany to at least 80% by 2050. Two German states are already at 100% net renewable energy and South Australia is nudging 40%. Hourly computer simulations of the National Electricity Market suggest that it too could be operated on 100% renewables, purely by scaling up commercially available technologies.

The variability of wind and solar power can be managed with mixes of different renewable energy technologies, at geographically dispersed locations to smooth out the supply. Why would we need to bother with nuclear?

This article is part of The Conversation’s worldwide series on the Future of Nuclear. You can read the rest of the series here, and a counterpoint to the views expressed in this article here.

Russia’s Floating Nuclear Plants
To Power Remote Arctic Regions

The Conversation

(November 11, 2013) — Though Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of oil and gas, it is embarking on an ambitious and somewhat imaginative programme of building floating nuclear power stations. These are part of Russia’s wider investment in nuclear energy, with many reactors beginning construction in the next few years and technology being exported to China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Jordan and Turkey.

These reactors, mounted on huge, 140m by 30m barges, are being built in the Baltic shipyard in St Petersburg and will be floated through the Norwegian and Barents Seas to where they will generate heat and electrical power in the Arctic.

The first, Academician Lomonosov, has been built and its two 35MWe KLT-40S reactors are now being installed. Lomonosov is destined for Vilyuchinsk, on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East where she will be operating by 2016. Up to ten similar plants are destined for similarly remote and unpopulated areas.

Power Where It’s Needed
Russia is building these reactors to help extract its most valuable asset: Siberian oil and gas. This requires huge quantities of energy and large amounts of heat for the operators living in subzero temperatures.

Relatively small, self-contained nuclear power units such as these are a way of providing energy in this inhospitable, isolated region far from the grid. Nuclear power is seen as both dependable and relatively simple to operate.

The concept is not new. The US mounted a submarine nuclear power plant on the Liberty ship, Sturgis, in 1966 to power the Panama Canal Zone from 1968 to 1975.

The Russian concept shares a similar heritage, using two small, military reactors designed for nuclear powered icebreakers. Instead of driving a ship’s propeller, it drives electricity generators and has facilities to provide heating. Larger barge-mounted reactors up to 600MWe are planned — a similar size to a civil nuclear, gas- or coal-fired power station on land.

Cheaper to Run?
Such plants are ideal for remote regions and these reactors are a direct application of military industries. Can they tell us anything about the economics and safety of small power reactors?

The KLT-40S reactor is fuelled by 30-40% enriched uranium, which falls outside what would be allowed for civil use (concern about weapons proliferation limits enrichment to very low levels). The reactors are built in factories and assembled in shipyards, where productivity is much higher and quality standards easier to police than on construction sites.

But military reactors are designed with little thought for costs and because of their small power output it’s very likely that their lifetime generating costs will be several times that of large, grid-connected reactors, and many more times higher that of a gas power station.

Mixed Safety Record
Modern nuclear safety practice focuses on the “three Cs”: control of reactivity, cooling of the core, and containment of radioactivity. Each of these has to be completely effective and reliable, so designers employ multiple system redundancy with backups and layers of protection.

Just how safe Russian military reactors are is clouded in secrecy; we just don’t know how safe the KLT-40S is. Russia has successfully operated nine nuclear icebreakers over the past 50 years. On the other hand we know that seven Russian nuclear submarines have sunk, some due to reactor problems and others due to weapons explosion onboard, and a further ten reported reactor accidents. So this reactor’s pedigree is not unblemished.

Cooling systems for civil reactors have become very complex and this is a prime cause of soaring construction costs. It is difficult to install in a naval vessel the number of systems and separate them so that they provide redundancy should one fail.

New ideas are needed, such as the natural circulation cooling used in some small reactor designs in the US. They provide cooling through largely passive systems, which are inherently less complex and therefore cheaper.

Providing containment is difficult in a small plant. The usual approach is to construct a very large, almost cathedral-like, box around the reactor to ensure that even in the worst case a radioactive release is kept inside the plant.

The result of poor containment design can be seen from the disaster at Fukushima in 2011, where radioactivity had to be vented into the atmosphere to ensure the structure did not burst from built up pressure.

As with many other aspects, we do not know whether the containment structure of the Russian reactors will be effective. Though the Russians are being imaginative in developing barge-mounted reactors to address a problem specific to their geography and their needs, the lack of openness makes it hard to see how useful their nuclear technology can be in the West.

Britain still has a similar nuclear capability and a nuclear-powered naval fleet, but one more attuned to civil safety standards. But, unlike Russia and the US, Britain is making little attempt to develop such small, factory-built reactors as a counter to the huge costs of civil reactors — such as the multi-billion pound planned power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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