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Will People Power End Japan’s Nuclear Plans? The Niigata Effect

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In Japan, energy policies may not go the way the government and the nuclear industry want, Pablo Figueroa writes.

There was a common concern in the mind of voters during the recent poll to elect a new governor in Japan’s Niigata prefecture: to be in favour of or against restarting nuclear reactors. The triumph of nuclear-cautious Ryuichi Yoneyama shows that people in that area of the country are distrustful of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the infamous electric utility that owns the Kashiwasaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant.

Currently shut down for inspections, Kashiwasaki-Kariwa is a massive seven-reactor power station and the largest nuclear complex in the world. Across Niigata prefecture, local residents are worried about the safety of the reactors looming in their backyard. And they should be. TEPCO is one of the main parties responsible for the 2011 nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi. The company’s systemic falsifying of safety checks, concealment of the true extent of earthquake damages and multiple nuclear incidents at their plants, as well as their proven ineptitude in dealing with the Fukushima crisis (which resulted in the worsening of the nuclear disaster) has been thoroughly documented. TEPCO recklessly put financial profit ahead of public safety, and people know it.

Yoneyama, endorsed by the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, defeated Tamio Mori, a construction bureaucrat backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The LDP’s pro-nuclear stance has been maintained with an almost blind stubbornness and Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has done his utmost to restart the reactors that went offline for safety checks following the Fukushima debacle.

What shaped the Niigata election was the candidates’ attitudes toward Kashiwasaki-Kariwa: Mori remained ambiguous while Yoneyama pledged not to support restarts without a deeper investigation of the Fukushima disaster and the ability to protect prefectural residents. Most media in Japan portrayed Yoneyama as antinuclear but his stance would be better described as nuclear-cautious. His intention is to build dialogue with the nuclear industry and the central government, rather than spark a confrontation.

Losing the Niigata election is a blow for the LDP since not being able to secure control over the restarting of Kashiwasaki-Kariwa will have implications for the government’s energy policy. At the moment, only two of Japan’s forty-eight operational reactors are connected to the grid, one at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Kagoshima Prefecture and one at the Ikata Nuclear Power Plant in Ehime Prefecture. Previously, two more reactors had been restarted at the Takahama Nuclear Power Plant in Oi Prefecture but were later shut down when a district court issued an injunction ordering Kansai Electric Power Company to halt them. This outcome was perceived as a major victory against the nuclear industry’s unethical policies that dismiss people’s logical fears as unfounded.

Despite claims of improved safety standards, the reactors that are currently functioning still remain a huge public threat. When Unit 3 at the Ikata plant was restarted, the governor of Ehime stated that an accident similar to that in Fukushima will never happen. This claim is based on a safety myth and unnecessarily puts prefectural residents at risk. First, the plant sits just five kilometres off the Median Tectonic Line Fault Zone. This fault line, Japan’s longest, is active and projections estimate that a major quake will strike the island of Shikoku where the plant is located. Furthermore, the so-called emergency evacuation plans are largely smoke and mirrors. Nuclear energy operators make the common mistake – or adopt the typical strategy – of relying on best-case rather than worst-case scenarios. For instance, if a nuclear accident were to occur at Ikata, it is expected that people will flee by boat or car but this does not take into consideration potential bottlenecks, damage to roads, etc. A look at the access routes suggests that almost 5,000 people living on the peninsula west of the plant might become trapped. If that happens, they will be required to stay indoors where they would have no effective means of avoiding exposure to radioactive contamination. In addition, radiation-proof facilities in Ikata town are located underneath landslide-prone areas.

The situation of the Sendai Plant in Kagoshima is comparable. A major earthquake recently hit Kumamoto, an adjacent prefecture, and this was yet another red flag forcing many residents to consider how and where they would escape to should a major nuclear accident take place. The electric utility does not have a proper contingency plan. This severe flaw is a common pattern among nuclear companies and has been repeatedly denounced by groups opposing nuclear restarts.

Where is Japan going in terms of nuclear politics? The country’s leadership is in denial over the ongoing Fukushima catastrophe and the tragic situation of nuclear evacuees, the multiple issues surrounding radioactive contamination of vast expanses of land and the potential spikes in the incidence of thyroid cancer among children in Fukushima. Abe’s claims that Fukushima is ‘under control’ were met with public criticism and widespread scepticism: polls showed that practically nobody believed him. This attitude goes in lockstep with the electric utilities’ assertions that, under more stringent safety regulations, it is ‘safe’ to restart some reactors. None of the arguments employed to convince people of the need for nuclear power hold true: as it is, nuclear power is neither a safe nor a cheap option.

However, the government keeps pushing for a nuclear renaissance, completely disregarding the important lessons that could have been learned from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.  But there might be a snag in the government’s plans. The ‘Niigata Effect’ may be repeated during prefectural elections next year in Onagawa, Tokai and Hamaoka, where utilities are trying to get reactors back online. The outcome of these elections might delay or impede such processes; municipalities’ might not grant the consent needed for restarts.

Without a proper consideration of the risks involved, transparency, citizen participation, and multiple stakeholder involvement, there is the danger of reproducing the institutional mindset that incubated the Fukushima catastrophe. Japan’s leadership would benefit greatly from addressing these issues rather than trying to sweep them under the rug. What is at stake goes beyond economic profit and political muscle. Irresponsible nuclear policies endanger the wellbeing of present and future generations in Japan and the wider world.

http://www.policyforum.net/will-people-power-put-end-japans-nuclear-plans/

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November 8, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment

Zero-nuclear policy can lead opposition to victory: Koizumi

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Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, center, appears at a Niigata gathering on Nov. 4 with Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, right, and Niigata Mayor Akira Shinoda.

NIIGATA–An anti-nuclear stance taken by opposition parties could lift them from their doldrums and defeat the ruling coalition, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said, pointing to the recent Niigata governor’s election.

We now know that the ruling parties will lose if the opposition parties back a unified candidate and focus on a nuclear-free energy policy in the campaign,” Koizumi said at a gathering here on Nov. 4. “The effects of this have not yet surfaced but they are huge.”

Koizumi cited the victory by Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, who was backed by the opposition Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party and Liberal Party. Running on a plank urging caution about restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in the prefecture, Yoneyama defeated a candidate supported by the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.

The former prime minister said Yoneyama’s win should be a wake-up call to both ruling and opposition parties to focus on nuclear energy in the next national election.

If the opposition parties realize the significance of this, the LDP cannot feel complacent,” Koizumi told reporters at the gathering. “If the opposition parties change, the LDP will also be forced to change.”

However, Koizumi scratched his head at the inability of the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, to come out clearly against nuclear energy. The party’s major backer, Rengo, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, includes unions made up of employees of electric power companies.

For that reason, the Democratic Party did not formally support Yoneyama in the Niigata gubernatorial election.

There are only about half a million votes from labor unions with ties to electric power companies and that support nuclear energy,” Koizumi told reporters. “I wonder why the party does not make the effort to win 5 million or 50 million votes.”

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201611050034.html

November 8, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Ministry Devises Crafty Finance Scheme Favoring Nuclear Power

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The industry ministry, the supposed champion of electricity market deregulation, is making a move that runs counter to the principles of reform by giving preferential treatment to nuclear power.

A proposal by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry would force new electricity suppliers that have entered the market in response to its liberalization to shoulder part of the costs of decommissioning the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The plan was submitted to an expert council discussing the issue.

The ministry, which regulates the power industry, has already presented a plan to make such new utilities bear part of the costs of decommissioning aging reactors at other nuclear power plants.

The power market reform, which was expanded this spring to cover retail electricity sales as well, is designed to abolish the regional monopolies of established utilities, thereby encouraging new entries into the market.

It is also aimed at lowering electricity rates by separating the operations of power plants and transmission grids to promote fair competition.

The ministry cannot claim it is working for fair competition if it is now creating rules that force new electricity providers that have nothing to do with any nuclear power plant or the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster to pay part of the decommissioning bills.

In its attempt to get new utilities involved in the financing plan, the ministry is targeting the fees they pay to use the power transmission lines operated by established utilities.

The total cost of decommissioning the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant is estimated at several trillion yen.

The ministry has stressed its intention to protect the public from the huge financial burden. It has promised to make Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima plant, pay for the work by saving necessary funds through streamlining its operations.

But the ministry has proposed a new system to use the money saved from more efficient power grid operations primarily to cover decommissioning costs.

The current rule requires major utilities to lower the charges they impose on smaller power suppliers using their transmission lines when higher efficiency lifts their profits. But the proposed system would exempt the big power companies from the rule when they spend the money saved on decommissioning reactors.

The ministry seems to be trying to convince the public that this approach would not increase the financial burden on consumers because it doesn’t involve price hikes.

But this idea raises some questions that cannot be overlooked.

The costs of decommissioning reactors are by nature expenses related to power generation. But the ministry’s proposal would transfer part of the expenses to the operations of transmission lines.

As a result, new power suppliers using TEPCO’s transmission cables would have to pay higher fees.

Subscribers to such new utilities would also have to shoulder part of the burden. In particular, the envisioned system would be totally unacceptable for consumers who have switched to new power providers to avoid using electricity generated by nuclear plants.

The ministry appears to be targeting an “easy source” of revenue. The charges on using transmission lines are not highly visible to general consumers.

The ministry’s plan to use power transmission charges as a source of funds to decommission reactors is a crafty scheme to give preferential treatment to nuclear power. Its aim is to ensure nuclear plants will not lose their cost competitiveness against other electricity sources like thermal power generation.

For many years, both the government and established utilities have been emphasizing that atomic energy is a low-cost source of electricity.

They are grossly irresponsible and insincere if they are trying to impose part of the inevitable cost burden of decommissioning reactors on competitors.

The ministry should rethink the idea from the viewpoint of the basic principles of market deregulation.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201611080049.html

November 8, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Will the world burn? We’ll find out on Tuesday. #auspol

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The U.S. election could have massive repercussions for global climate action.

By Natasha Geiling

There are big things happening in the news, especially if you care about climate change.

On Friday, the historic Paris Agreement officially went into effect, months earlier than anyone expected. And on Monday, countries from around the world convened in Marrakesh, Morocco for the beginning of the annual U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where leaders are hoping to begin the process of turning the agreement from a historic moment into reality.

In a normal year, these two events would be huge, headline making news. But, if you live in the United States, you probably didn’t notice this was going on. You probably didn’t care — too caught up in the final sprint of what has been one of the most divisive presidential elections in recent history.

And, for once — for now, for the next 48 hours — that’s okay.

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November 8, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cumbria Twinned with Fukushima

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 The Whitehaven News tells us that :

The company charged with cleaning up the devastated Fukushima nuclear site in Japan has taken a fact-finding trip to Copeland.

 Yoshiyuki Ishizaki, from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), visited the area last week to look at how the nuclear industry and the surrounding communities engage with one another.

And as an ambassador for martial arts, Mr Ishizaki took time out to attend a karate event with local club ESKK Martial Arts and Fitness Club at Whitehaven Civic Hall. He also visited The Beacon museum in Whitehaven.

“Ensuring openness and multi-way communication in a continuous manner is essential for restoring trust from the local community,” said Mr Ishizaki, vice-president of TEPCO’s revitalisation project, which aims to encourage people to move back into the area surrounding Fukushima, once it becomes safe following the tsunami five years ago.

“I will put this lesson into…

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November 8, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

November 8 Energy News

geoharvey

Opinion:

¶ “Public power: An industry in flux” • The power industry is in the midst of tectonic-level shifts, the heads of Nebraska’s three largest electric utilities said Monday. One of the most visible is the closing of the Fort Calhoun Station, the fifth US nuclear power plant to begin the process of closing in the past five years. [Lincoln Journal Star]

Field near Lincoln, Nebraska  (Photo by Urban, CC BY SA, Wikimedia Commons) Wind turbine in a field near Lincoln, Nebraska
(Photo by Urban, CC BY SA, Wikimedia Commons)

¶ “Here’s How You Know the Coal Industry Is All but Dead” • Considering the number of bankruptcies to hit the coal industry over the past few years, there’s irony in the crazy rally that has seen coal prices triple in 2016. Yet despite what looks to be good news, Caterpillar is looking to exit an important equipment market. [Motley Fool]

Science and Technology:

¶ An emerging…

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November 8, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Drought, Climate Change Spur Severe Election Day Wildfire Outbreak Across Four-State Area

robertscribbler

It’s November. A month when the United States should be cooling down toward winter-like conditions. But for the mountainous region along the four-state area bordering Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, the climate are anything but fall-like. There, enormous wildfires are now raging, spilling out massive plumes of choking smoke into the abnormally warm air over lands that have been flash-dried by climate change related heat.

Massive Wildfires Strike Dry Lands

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(Very large wildfires burning across the Smokey Mountain region on November 7. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

In the above satellite image, taken by NASA on November 7, 2016, we see multiple fires with fronts ranging from 1 to 5 miles wide erupting over the Smokey Mountain region of North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky. Some fires appear to straddle the border with Virginia. Large fires also burn further east between Ashville and Charlotte. Together, these fires are emitting…

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November 8, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

November 7 Energy News

geoharvey

Opinion:

¶ “Swansea tidal lagoon: The environmental arguments” • The prospect of securing the world’s first tidal power station off the shores of Swansea Bay is seen by many green organisations as pretty momentous. It could supply Wales with 11% of its power, and similar projects are in the wings. The WWF urges caution for migrating birds. [BBC News]

Migrating birds that depend on the Severn Estuary Migrating birds that depend on the Severn Estuary

Science and Technology:

¶ The hottest year on record globally in 2015 could be just another average year by 2025 if carbon emissions continue to rise at their current rate, according to new research published in the Bulletin of American Meteorological Society. And that “new normal” for global average temperatures is already locked in for no later than 2040. [Phys.Org]

¶ The UN Environment Program says the door will close on the 1.5° C warming limit unless countries raise…

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November 8, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

To deal with climate change we need a new financial system #auspol

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By Jason Hickel

Abolishing debt-based currency isn’t a new idea, but it could hold the secret to ending our economies’ environmentally damaging addiction to growth.

When it comes to global warming, we know that the real problem is not just fossil fuels – it is the logic of endless growth that is built into our economic system.

If we don’t keep the global economy growing by at least 3% per year, it plunges into crisis.

That means we have to double the size of the economy every 20 years, just to stay afloat. It doesn’t take much to realise that this imperative for exponential growth makes little sense given the limits of our finite planet.
Rapid climate change is the most obvious symptom of this contradiction, but we’re also seeing it in the form of deforestation, desertification and mass extinction, with species dying at an alarming rate as our consumption…

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November 8, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Analysis of Donald Trump’s Nuclear Policy: Global Implications

Republican hawk (Trump)Donald Trump’s Nuclear Policy: Global Implications – Analysis , Eurasia Review, 5 Nov 16  “……. the weightiest concern within the US and in the rest of the world is the future of the global nuclear order. What would be the effect on that order if Donald Trump becomes the next US President? The US is the first country to make a nuclear weapon, the first and only country to have used the bomb during the Second World War, the pioneer in efforts to prevent other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, and, above all, the most powerful nuclear-capable country in the world. The pervasive disquiet related to his views and policies on nuclear weapons thus are unpretentious.

President Barack Obama has backed the idea of a nuclear weapons free world, at least in principle. Will Trump endorse the idea of a world rid of nuclear weapons? ……

Will Trump spend more time and energy in nuclear arms control negotiations with Russia? ….

In the perceived march of China towards super power status, will Trump take steps to rope in China for arms control negotiations?…

How will a probable Trump presidency handle the Iranian nuclear question? His campaign has repeatedly condemned the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran….

Much more significant will be a Trump presidency’s policy towards Japan and South Korea. ….. http://www.eurasiareview.com/05112016-donald-trumps-nuclear-policy-global-implications-analysis/

November 8, 2016 Posted by | USA elections 2016 | Leave a comment

Megadroughts, Extinctions, Water, Air, Fire – the results of climate change

Climate Disruption’s Legacy: Megadroughts, Extinctions, Obituaries for Reefs Sunday, 06 November 2016 00:00By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Report  “…..September of this year saw Earth pass a dramatic threshold — one that signifies our entrance into a new era of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). September 2016 will now be remembered as the month that Earth passed the threshold of 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere permanently, according to scientists.

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That means that no one currently alive on the planet will ever again see an atmosphere with less than 400 ppm CO2……

We are watching giant pieces of our planet’s biosphere die before our eyes…….

The Great Barrier Reef obituary is a sign of our times, and we must brace ourselves for more tragedies like it — for coral reefs, glaciers, ice fields, forests, lakes, rivers, and of course, species……

Even in late October, Arctic sea ice hit a new record daily low extent, underscoring the fact that this year’s record low readings are three million square kilometers below the same day readings (October 23) of that day in 1981.

Earth

recently published report on Earth’s biodiversity revealed that global wildlife numbers have fallen by 58 percent since just 1970. The report — called The Living Planet assessment — produced by the Zoological Society of London and the World Wildlife Fund also said that if trends continue, this decline will likely reach two-thirds among vertebrates in only four more years. The report lists ACD as one of the driving factors of the great dying.

The report confirms what many of us have been watching for a number of years now — that we are bearing witness to the collapse of wildlife. We are so obviously living in the Anthropocene: the era in which humans exert the dominant influence over Earth and its destiny……..

Water

This month, as usual, ACD-fueled dramatic changes in water-related phenomena abound.

recently published study found that multi-decade megadroughts due to ACD are “virtually certain” across the US Southwest.

Perhaps this has already begun as by late October, over 120 million people (28 percent of the population of the lower 48 states) were experiencing drought. California entered the sixth year of its drought.

Things are looking grim for the Mediterranean region as well, as another study warned that even if the Earth only warmed 2C (which is a laughably low estimate at this point) widespread desertification will overtake huge swaths of this lush region and render the ecosystem there “unrecognizable.”

At the other end of the extreme water event spectrum, Louisiana is struggling to figure out what to do about rising seas.

Air

Evidence that conditions in the atmosphere are worsening continues to unfold.

study recently published in Nature shows that, thanks to leaks from oil and gas activities around the world being far more persistent and larger than previously believed, methane emissions from that industry are likely 60 percent higher than estimated. Methane is 22 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2…….

Fire

Given that this year saw the hottest summer ever recorded, it comes as no surprise that there has been a preponderance of fires, many of which persisted well into the fall season.

Massive fires covering millions of acres across Russia prompted many residents to sign a petition to Vladimir Putin, in which they complained of suffocating from the smoke. According to independent satellite analysis from experts, huge fires across Siberia have burned millions of acres year after year, and have caused a dramatic uptick in the number of fires facing that region.

In Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology recently released a report stating that that country is experiencing more extreme fire weather and hotter days as ACD progresses. Fire season there has been extended by several weeks, according to the agency, and that trend is expected to continue to increase.

In the US, a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that ACD is what is behind the recent surge in wildfires across the west, as the research ties them directly to escalating temperatures…..http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/38236-climate-disruption-s-legacy-megadroughts-extinctions-obituaries-for-reefs

November 8, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, climate change | Leave a comment

Nuclear weapons industry is such a job provider – but there’s down side

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Robert Dodge: A ‘jobs program’ to end humanity Ventura County Star  November 5, 2016 Nuclear weapons present the greatest public health and existential threat to our survival every moment of every day. Yet the United States and other nuclear nations stand in breach of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which commits them to work in good faith to end the arms race and achieve nuclear disarmament.

November 8, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

British nuclear lobby now going after government subsidies

UK-subsidy 2016Government could part-fund new UK nuclear plants, NuGen suggests, Telegraph UK,    energy editor 5 NOVEMBER 2016

Taxpayers could shoulder the multibillion-pound cost of civil engineering works for new nuclear power plants to make them easier to finance and reduce their impact on energy bills, the company seeking to build reactors in Cumbria has suggested.

Tom Samson, chief executive of NuGen, proposed reviewing how the different elements of new nuclear plants could be “carved up in different way to allow the Government to take a role in some of the enabling infrastructure”.

This could include funding major aspects of construction such as “the civil works”, he told a House of Lords committee.Mr Samson’s company wants to build three Westinghouse reactors at Moorside, near Sellafield in Cumbria, in a 3.8-gigawatt project he said was expected to cost up to £15bn.

But financing presents a major challenge for the project, which is 60pc owned by Japan’s Toshiba and 40pc by France’s Engie, formerly GDF Suez. It has been in talks with potential investors for months about a deal.

Under the funding model used for the £18bn Hinkley Point nuclear plant, developer EDF is to shoulder the full cost of construction in return for a 35-year contract from the Government guaranteeing it subsidies for the electricity it eventually produces.

These will be levied on consumer energy bills and could cost as much as £30bn.

But the model has been criticised as inefficient and expensive.

Even EDF, which is majority-owned by the French government, struggled to raise enough funds for the construction, raising major questions about how non-state-owned groups like Toshiba could hope to…….

NuGen is already lobbying via the Cumbrian Local Enterprise Partnership for Government assistance in improving the transport infrastructure in the Cumbrian area to help support both decommissioning operations at Sellafield and the proposed construction site at Moorside.

Ministers are reported to have commissioned a study earlier this year to consider alternative funding models, which also suggested the Government could take direct stakes in future projects.

Earlier this year rival developer Horizon warned that the Government needed to come up with a framework that was palatable for private investors, not just state companies like EDF….. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/11/05/government-could-part-fund-new-uk-nuclear-plants-nugen-suggests/

November 8, 2016 Posted by | politics, UK | Leave a comment

Next president will have to grapple with nuclear weapons issues — and possible nuclear crises

USA election 2016Whose Finger on the Nuclear Button?Election 2016 and playing a game of chicken with nuclear strategy, Common Dreams by Michael T. Klare , 7 Nov 16 

 Once upon a time, when choosing a new president, a factor for many voters was the perennial question: “Whose finger do you want on the nuclear button?” Of all the responsibilities of America’s top executive, none may be more momentous than deciding whether, and under what circumstances, to activate the “nuclear codes” — the secret alphanumeric messages that would inform missile officers in silos and submarines that the fearful moment had finally arrived to launch their intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) toward a foreign adversary, igniting a thermonuclear war.

Until recently in the post-Cold War world, however, nuclear weapons seemed to drop from sight, and that question along with it. Not any longer. In 2016, the nuclear issue is back big time, thanks both to the rise of Donald Trump (including various unsettling comments he’s made about nuclear weapons) and actual changes in the global nuclear landscape.

With passions running high on both sides in this year’s election and rising fears about Donald Trump’s impulsive nature and Hillary Clinton’s hawkish one, it’s hardly surprising that the “nuclear button” question has surfaced repeatedly throughout the campaign.  In one of the more pointed exchanges of the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton declared that Donald Trump lacked the mental composure for the job.  “A man who can be provoked by a tweet,” she commented, “should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes.”  Donald Trump has reciprocated by charging that Clinton is too prone to intervene abroad. “You’re going to end up in World War III over Syria,” he told reporters in Florida last month.

For most election observers, however, the matter of personal character and temperament has dominated discussions of the nuclear issue, with partisans on each side insisting that the other candidate is temperamentally unfit to exercise control over the nuclear codes.  There is, however, a more important reason to worry about whose finger will be on that button this time around: at this very moment, for a variety of reasons, the “nuclear threshold” — the point at which some party to a “conventional” (non-nuclear) conflict chooses to employ atomic weapons — seems to be moving dangerously lower.

Not so long ago, it was implausible that a major nuclear power — the United States, Russia, or China — would consider using atomic weapons in any imaginable conflict scenario.  No longer.  Worse yet, this is likely to be our reality for years to come, which means that the next president will face a world in which a nuclear decision-making point might arrive far sooner than anyone would have thought possible just a year or two ago — with potentially catastrophic consequences for us all.

No less worrisome, the major nuclear powers (and some smaller ones) are all in the process of acquiring new nuclear arms, which could, in theory, push that threshold lower still.  These include a variety of cruise missiles and other delivery systems capable of being used in “limited” nuclear wars — atomic conflicts that, in theory at least, could be confined to just a single country or one area of the world (say, Eastern Europe) and so might be even easier for decision-makers to initiate.  The next president will have to decide whether the U.S. should actually produce weapons of this type and also what measures should be taken in response to similar decisions by Washington’s likely adversaries.

Lowering the Nuclear Threshold………

The New Nuclear Armaments

Both countries are already in the midst of ambitious and extremely costly efforts to “modernize” their nuclear arsenals.  Of all the weapons now being developed, the two generating the most anxiety in terms of that nuclear threshold are a new Russian ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) and an advanced U.S. air-launched cruise missile (ALCM).  Unlike ballistic missiles, which exit the Earth’s atmosphere before returning to strike their targets, such cruise missiles remain within the atmosphere throughout their flight……..

On the American side, the weapon of immediate concern is a new version of the AGM-86B air-launched cruise missile, usually carried by B-52 bombers.  Also known as the Long-Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO), it is, like the Iskander-M, expected to be deployed in both nuclear and conventional versions, leaving those on the potential receiving end unsure what might be heading their way.  In other words, as with the Iskander-M, the intended target might assume the worst in a crisis, leading to the early use of nuclear weapons.  Put another way, such missiles make for twitchy trigger fingers and are likely to lead to a heightened risk of nuclear war, which, once started, might in turn take Washington and Moscow right up the escalatory ladder to a planetary holocaust.

No wonder former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry called on President Obama to cancel the ALCM program in a recent Washington Post op-ed piece. “Because they… come in both nuclear and conventional variants,” he wrote, “cruise missiles are a uniquely destabilizing type of weapon.” And this issue is going to fall directly into the lap of the next president.

The New Nuclear Era

Whoever is elected on November 8th, we are evidently all headed into a world in which Trumpian-style itchy trigger fingers could be the norm. It already looks like both Moscow and Washington will contribute significantly to this development — and they may not be alone. In response to Russian and American moves in the nuclear arena, China is reported to be developing a “hypersonic glide vehicle,” a new type of nuclear warhead better able to evade anti-missile defenses — something that, at a moment of heightened crisis, might make a nuclear first strike seem more attractive to Washington. And don’t forget Pakistan, which is developing its own short-range “tactical” nuclear missiles, increasing the risk of the quick escalation of any future Indo-Pakistani confrontation to a nuclear exchange. (To put such “regional” dangers in perspective, a local nuclear war in South Asia could cause a global nuclear winter and, according to one study, possibly kill a billion people worldwide, thanks to crop failures and the like.)

And don’t forget North Korea, which is now testing a nuclear-armed ICBM, the Musudan, intended to strike the Western United States.  That prompted a controversial decision in Washington to deploy THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-missile batteries in South Korea (something China bitterly opposes), as well as the consideration of other countermeasures, including undoubtedly scenarios involving first strikes against the North Koreans.

It’s clear that we’re on the threshold of a new nuclear era: a time when the actual use of atomic weapons is being accorded greater plausibility by military and political leaders globally, while war plans are being revised to allow the use of such weapons at an earlier stage in future armed clashes.

As a result, the next president will have to grapple with nuclear weapons issues — and possible nuclear crises — in a way unknown since the Cold War era……..http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/11/06/whose-finger-nuclear-button

November 8, 2016 Posted by | USA elections 2016 | Leave a comment