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Archive for September 2011

Floods in Pakistan displace 5.4 million

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A man carries a child through the flood waters in Digri, Sindh province. Southern Pakistan has been struck by severe monsoon floods 12 months after last year's devastating flood emergency that affected most of the country. Photo: IRIN / UNICEF Warrick Page

Torrential monsoon rains have triggered severe flooding in Pakistan, primarily in Sindh Province, Reliefweb has reported. Before the monsoon season began, forecasts predicted 10% below normal rains for Sindh and the southern parts of the country for the 2011 monsoon season. However, by 10 August, heavy rains began affecting districts of southern Sindh and extended to the northern regions of the province and adjoining areas of south Punjab and north-eastern Balochistan. While this spell lasted till mid-August, another more debilitating and sustained rain spell heavily affected areas across the entire Sindh Province from the end of August until 14 September. Concurrent impact in adjoining vast areas of Balochistan has resulted in serious humanitarian consequences including in South Punjab. In Sindh, the central and southern districts have been the worst affected.

These rains caused widespread breaches in the agricultural and saline water canals, particularly in the Left Bank Outfall Drain, which exacerbated flood impact in Badin, Mirpurkhas and Tharparkar districts, among others. Continued rains have seriously impeded delivery of emergency services and flood impacted mitigation works. Outflow of the draining flood water is compromised due to poor infrastructure and lack of maintenance of the drainage routes. Some parts of Karachi and Hyderabad have also experienced urban flooding. Flood waters are likely to stagnate in most of the affected regions for the foreseeable future.

As the monsoon season continues, the impact upon the population is intensifying with 5.4 million people affected to date. In Sindh, in particular, the concentration is most severe and all 23 districts have been affected to some degree. It is expected that the population will continue to be uprooted from their homes to seek refuge in the short term as more areas are affected. While some are housed in Government appointed shelters, more seek higher ground along bunds and roads. In Balochistan, five districts are affected and notified (considered seriously affected by the national authorities).The Government of Pakistan, through the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and utilising the Armed Forces’ logistical capacity, has taken the lead in responding to the disaster with the deployment of rescue and life-saving relief operations.

IRIN News has reported that heavy monsoon rain in southern Pakistan is in many ways hitting children worst of all, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which says five million people are affected. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says children are among the most vulnerable in the kind of situation that prevails now in Sindh Province: “Up to 2.5 million children have been affected by severe monsoon floods in southern Pakistan – and with many still recovering from the worst floods in the country’s history just a year ago, UNICEF says more help must reach them fast before the situation worsens.”

Media in Pakistan quoted disaster management authorities in Sindh as saying at least 270 people have been killed in the province’s 23 districts. The provincial government, which has called on international agencies to help, says 1.2 million homes have been washed away, while the aid agency Oxfam has reported that more than 4.2 million acres of land (1,699,680 hectares) has been flooded and 1.59 million acres (643,450 hectares) of standing crops destroyed in Sindh. It also warned the “situation could worsen” over the coming days.

“The nature of this disaster in some ways poses challenges that are more complex than those of 2010,” Kristen Elsby, a spokesperson for UNICEF, told IRIN from Islamabad. She said the main factor in this was that displaced populations were scattered, with many based along roadsides. “We did not know where to go when the rains swept in, took away our goats and destroyed the vegetable crop we had cultivated,” said Azrah Bibi from Badin District. She and her extended family of eight are currently camped along a roadside near the town of Badin. “We saw some people here and joined them. Some people delivered one lot of food, but there has been very little since, and it is hard to cook anyway since we have no facilities other than a fire from bits of timber and scrap,” she said.

Once again, people living in Sindh and nearby provinces have been hit by floods and forced to flee the waters. Photo: IRIN / Abdul Majeed Goraya

“Children, in particular, need access to clean water and also sanitation to prevent illness from breaking out.” Like many others affected by this year’s flood, Azrah Bibi and her husband, Gulab Din, 45, were also affected by the floods of 2010, widely rated as the worst in the country’s history, which partially damaged their home and also their rice crop. “This year things seem equally bad to me. The wrath of Allah has hit us twice,” she said.

Another IRIN report has said that Sindh is facing disaster once more with heavy rains over the past five days, according to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA). “Two million people in 15 [out of 23] districts have been affected,” PDMA Director of Operations Sajjad Haider told IRIN. He also said crops had been devastated. Eighty-five people are reported to have died and provincial authorities have announced disaster relief measures, including compensation packages for victims. Haider said crops had been devastated.

“My sugarcane crop, which was ready for harvesting, has been lost. I am still recovering from last year’s losses of crops and livestock. Who knows what will happen now,” said Majeed-ud-Din, 40, from his village in Khairpur, one of the worst-hit districts. In the remote Kohistan District of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province (KP) flash floods triggered by heavy rain last week are now confirmed by District Coordination Officer Syed Imtiaz Ali Shah as having killed at least 33 people. Media reports put the death toll at almost double that figure, with dozens of houses including an entire village swept away by torrents pouring down hillsides.

[See the earlier post, ‘Pakistan floods six months later’]

The UN Rapid Response Plan has said that in Sindh, of the approximately 5.44 million people affected, 49% are women. The number of deaths has increased to 223, of which 60 are women and 37 are children. To date, 665,821 family homes have been damaged or destroyed. Nearly 297,041 people (77,175 women, 139,661 children) are currently living in 2,150 relief sites.

The situation of the people who have been forced to leave their homes is dire, and there is clear evidence of growing humanitarian needs. People have sought refuge on higher ground, along roadsides and on bunds, while others are housed in public shelters. Access to safe drinking water is compromised, although health services are reaching out. Due to damaged infrastructure, however, it is difficult for the population to access existing services and efforts to avoid a major disease outbreak must continue. With an increasing number of people uprooted as a consequence of the situation, ensuring emergency shelter and food for the population is critical.

Across both provinces, Sindh and Balochistan, there has been a significant impact on people’s lives, especially related to the loss of livelihoods, most predominantly those related to agricultural activities. The UN Rapid Response Plan has said that approximately 80% of Sindh’s rural population’s livelihood is dependent upon agricultural activities, such as crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry. According to preliminary information from NDMA, 1.6 million acres of crop area have been destroyed by the floods, and pre-harvest crop losses include rice, vegetables, cotton, and sugarcane. The survival and health of animals in flood-affected areas are at risk due to loss of fodder reserves and animal feeds. These combined effects are likely to severely affect the availability of and access to adequate food for a large proportion of the affected population over the coming months.

The floodwaters have devastated towns and villages, washed away access routes, downed power and communications lines, and inflicted major damage to buildings. Many key roads and major bridges are damaged or destroyed. The prevailing socio-economic conditions along with flood have exacerbated the living conditions of women, men, boys and girls residing in the flood-affected districts. Additionally, female and children are not always able to access basic services or humanitarian aid. Vulnerable people in general are potentially experiencing a higher risk of disease, in addition to the challenges of limited access and mobility.

Do women and men have equal rights?

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Inequality is a lifelong experience for girls and women, says a World Bank microsite. It has asked: Do men and women have equal rights? There’s an interesting short poll (results available as soon as you finish!). Have a look at this quick preview of what World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development is all about.

Do men and women have equal rights? The poll results after 5,720 votes is 51 (men have more) : 5 (women have more) : 44 (equal)

 

Written by makanaka

September 24, 2011 at 20:55

How to plot a satellite’s fall

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Update 20110925-pm(Asia): NASA has said that UARS fell back to Earth between 11:23 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 23 and 1:09 a.m. Sept. 24.

UARS reentered the atmosphere sometime between 0323 and 0509 GMT on 24 September. The mid-point of that groundtrack and a possible reentry location is 31 N latitude and 219 E longitude (green circle marker on the above map). Re-entry assessment by DoD's Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg AFB, CA. Credit: NASA

UARS fell back 20 years and nine days after its launch on a 14-year mission that produced some of the first long-term records of chemicals in the atmosphere. NASA has said the precise re-entry time and location of debris impacts have not been determined. During the re-entry period, the satellite passed from the east coast of Africa over the Indian Ocean, then the Pacific Ocean, then across northern Canada, then across the northern Atlantic Ocean, to a point over West Africa. The vast majority of the orbital transit was over water, with some flight over northern Canada and West Africa.

There have been a host of claims concerning the fall of UARS. SPACE.com has said it was flooded with emails from people claiming to have seen the spacecraft’s descent or to report potential debris sightings, but agency officials said these cases are unlikely. So far, NASA has not received any credible reports of debris, or of people on the ground who think they may have observed UARS burning up on its way through the atmosphere.

“Most of the time we do rely heavily on people on the ground,” Nick Johnson, chief orbital debris scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, told reporters in a news briefing Saturday (Sept. 24). “UARS, whether it came in during the local day or local night, would have clearly been visible.” Johnson said there were some people along the western coast of North America that were hoping to capture views of the dying satellite. Since the agency did not receive any plausible reports, this would further suggest that UARS did, in fact, splash down in the ocean without ever reaching North America.

Reuters has reported that at 35 feet long and 15 feet in diameter, UARS was among the largest spacecraft to plummet uncontrollably through the atmosphere, although it is a slim cousin to NASA’s 75-tonne (68,000 kilogram) Skylab station, which crashed to Earth in 1979. Russia’s last space station, the 135-tonne (122,000 kilogram) Mir, crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2001, but it was a guided descent. NASA now plans for the controlled re-entry of large spacecraft, but it did not when UARS was designed.

Six years after the end of its productive scientific life, UARS broke into pieces during re-entry, and most of it up burned in the atmosphere. Data indicates the satellite likely broke apart and landed in the Pacific Ocean far off the U.S. coast. Twenty-six satellite components, weighing a total of about 1,200 pounds, could have survived the fiery re-entry and reach the surface of Earth. However, NASA is not aware of any reports of injury or property damage. The Operations Center for JFCC-Space, the Joint Functional Component Command at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., which works around the clock detecting, identifying and tracking all man-made objects in Earth orbit, tracked the movements of UARS through the satellite’s final orbits and provided confirmation of re-entry.

Update 20110924-pm(Asia): UARS has landed. NASA’s decommissioned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite fell back to Earth between 11:23 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 23 and 1:09 a.m. EDT Sept. 24. The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California said the satellite penetrated the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. The precise re-entry time and location are not yet known with certainty (from NASA Update No. 15).

Update 20110924: New updates from NASA on the re-entry path of UARS and possible times of re-entry. Background on predictive models of space debris. Description on kinds of debris that may be expected.

From mapping out the track of a hurricane to monitoring the melting of ice caps, satellites are heavily relied on in science. The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), which has been languishing in orbit for six years, is now on the verge of falling back to Earth, NASA announced in September 2011. In this photo, the UARS hangs in the grasp of the Remote Manipulator System during deployment from Space Shuttle Discovery in September 1991. Photo: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

NASA Update No. 13 – the orbit of UARS was 85 miles by 90 miles (135 km by 140 km). Re-entry was expected between 11:45 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, and 12:45 a.m., Sept. 24, Eastern Daylight Time (3:45 a.m. to 4:45 a.m. GMT). During that time period, the satellite was passing over Canada and Africa, as well as vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. The risk to public safety was very remote. NASA is working to confirm the re-entry location and time and will provide an update shortly. [NASA Update No. 12 was not substantially different from No. 13]

NASA Update No. 11 – the orbit of UARS was 90 miles by 95 miles (145 km by 150 km). Re-entry is expected between 11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, and 3 a.m., Sept. 24, Eastern Daylight Time (3 a.m. to 7 a.m. GMT).  During that time period, the satellite will be passing over Canada, Africa and Australia, as well as vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. The risk to public safety is very remote.

To foresee the paths of space junk so that collisions can be avoided, NASA developed one of the world’s most sophisticated predictive models, as Technology Review has explained. Called Legend (for “low-Earth to geosynchronous environment debris”), the three-dimensional model simulates the routes of all trackable space objects and even factors in new debris from future crashes. To take uncertainty and randomness into account, hundreds of scenarios are generated using the Monte Carlo method, a set of algorithms that can calculate risk factors in a complex environment. With Legend, NASA scientists use the average of multiple simulations to estimate the number, size, and type of objects that will collide—and approximately how often. Unlike models used by the U.S. Strategic Command Joint Space Operations Center, which detects and tracks large objects and screens active satellites daily for possible collisions within 72 hours, Legend includes smaller fragments and looks far into the future.

In place since 2004, the NASA model is constantly fed with data gathered from the results of ground tests and spacecraft that have broken up in orbit; from telescopes and radars viewing the sky; and from analysis of crater-marked spacecraft surfaces that have returned to Earth. That means new simulations must be run continually. Legend enables scientists to calculate the consequences of a particular breakup or collision and helps them alert managers at the space station that a piece of debris could be in its path. The model also advises soon-to-launch satellites of areas to avoid and will guide scientists as they attempt to develop and launch debris removal technology for the first time.

[Keep track of UARS via U.S. Strategic Command Joint Space Operations Center and NASA Orbital Debris Program Office.]

From NASA Orbital Debris Program Office: “After spacecraft (or parent body) breakup, individual components, or fragments, will continue to lose altitude and receive aeroheating until they either demise or survive to impact the Earth. Spacecraft components that are made of low melting-point materials (e.g., aluminum) will generally demise at higher altitudes than objects that are made of materials with higher melting points (e.g., titanium, stainless steel, beryllium, carbon-carbon). If an object is contained inside of a housing, the housing must demise before the internal object receives significant heating. Many objects have a very high melt temperature such that they do not demise, but some can be so light (e.g., tungsten shims) that they impact with a very low velocity. As a result, the kinetic energy at impact is sometimes under 15 J, a threshold below which the probability of human casualty is very low.”

This conceptual image shows the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, launched on Sept. 15, 1991, by the space shuttle Discovery. Originally designed for a three-year mission, UARS measured chemical compounds found in the ozone layer, wind and temperature in the stratosphere, as well as the energy input from the sun. Together, these measurements helped define the role of Earth's upper atmosphere in climate and climate variability. The 35-foot-long, 15-foot-diameter UARS was decommissioned on Dec. 14, 2005. Credit: NASA

Earlier: First, get the data from the owners, NASA. Second, read the onlnie news and watch TV, but keep track of what the orbital experts are saying – Space Track, Space Data Source, NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office, the Joint Space Operations Center of U.S. Strategic Command. Third, keep handy some basics about the falling satellite (a few pointers follow).

Spread of surviving debris

NASA’s latest update: As of 10:30 a.m. EDT on Sept. 23, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 100 miles by 105 miles (160 km by 170 km). Re-entry is expected late Friday, Sept. 23, or early Saturday, Sept. 24, Eastern Daylight Time. Solar activity is no longer the major factor in the satellite’s rate of descent.

The satellite’s orientation or configuration apparently has changed, and that is now slowing its descent. There is a low probability any debris that survives re-entry will land in the United States, but the possibility cannot be discounted because of this changing rate of descent. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 12 to 18 hours.

Casualty risk assessment

NASA has been posting updates daily until about 24 hours before re-entry, and then at about 12 hours, six hours and two hours before re-entry. The updates will come from the Joint Space Operations Center of U.S. Strategic Command at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., which works around the clock detecting, identifying and tracking all man-made objects in Earth orbit, including space junk.

As of Sept. 8, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 152 miles by 171 miles (245 km by 275 km) with an inclination of 57 degrees. Because the satellite’s orbit is inclined 57 degrees to the equator, any surviving components of UARS will land within a zone between 57 degrees north latitude and 57 degrees south latitude. It is impossible to pinpoint just where in that zone the debris will land, but NASA estimates the debris footprint will be about 500 miles long.

Advice: If you find something you think may be a piece of UARS, do not touch it. Contact a local law enforcement official for assistance.

UARS starboard view

UARS Reentry Predictions
The official source of reentry predictions for uncontrolled space objects is USSTRATCOM’s Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC).
Normal procedure is for TIP (Tracking and Impact Prediction) messages to be prepared and released to the public (via the Space-Track.org website) at the following intervals: – T-4 days, T-3 days, T-2 days, T-1 day, T-12 hours, T-6 hours, and T-2 hours.
TIP messages provide the best estimates of reentry time and location but have large uncertainties. Even at T – 2 hours, the uncertainty of reentry time is on average +/- 25

UARS port view

minutes for nearly circular orbits. This equates to +/- 12,000 km on the Earth.
A final, post-reentry assessment message is normally issued within a few hours of reentry. This reentry prediction comes from the ‘Re-entry and Risk Assessment for the NASA Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS)’ document [get it here, pdf], NASA Orbital Debris Program Office, Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.

Also see:
Re-Entry and Risk Assessment (498 KB PDF)
Frequently Asked Questions: Orbital Debris
NASA’s UARS satellite, launched in 1991 from the Space Shuttle, was the first multi-instrumented satellite to observe numerous chemical constituents of the atmosphere with a goal of better understanding atmospheric photochemistry and transport.

UARS recent orbital history

BRICS, agricultural commodities, G20 and experiments with truth

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There’s a flurry of activity around the start of the G20 and the IMF-World Bank meetings. Some of this activity has to do with food and agriculture, and with the agricultural commodity markets and its ties to the financial markets. While the G20 has a lot to do with the growing strength of the BRICS bloc and the IMF, what stands out is a trenchant and insightful commentary by Unctad’s Trade and Development Report 2011 on the matter of agricultural commodities and the markets (exchanges rather) which control them.

Financial investment in commodities as a proportion of global oil production, 2001–2010. Chart: Unctad Trade and Development Report 2011

It has attracted the attention of Emerging Markets, a periodical (online too) which talked about food price and agricultural commodities markets with Joerg Mayer, senior economic affairs Officer at Unctad. Emerging Markets has quoted Mayer as having said that the risk management strategies promoted by the World Bank “only make sense if you assume that exchanges are working well for hedging purposes – and our research shows that, when large numbers of financial investors are present, they don’t work well“. Hear, hear.

Mayer said that the World Bank’s approach would also be logical “if you assume that financial investors have no impact on prices, or that their presence improves [pricing]”. Of course to make such an assumption is to agree with an untruth, for Unctad’s Trade and Development Report 2011 has said quite plainly that strong investment across agricultural commodities markets mean that they have “followed more the logic of financial markets than that of a typical goods market”.

The chapter ‘Financialized Commodity Markets: Recent Developments and Policy Issues’ from the report is worth reading closely and in full. Here is an indicative paragraph:

“The commodity price boom between 2002 and mid-2008 and the renewed price rise of many commodities since mid-2009 have coincided with major shifts in commodity market fundamentals. These shifts include rapid output growth and structural changes, both economic and social, in emerging-market economies, the increasing use of certain food crops in the production of biofuels and slower growth in the supply of agricultural commodities. However, these factors alone are insufficient to explain recent commodity price developments. Since commodity prices have moved largely in tandem across all major categories over the past decade, the question arises as to whether the very functioning of commodity markets has changed.”

Prices and net long financial positions, by trader category, selected commodities, June 2006–June 2011 (CIT = commodity index traders; PMPU = producers, merchants, processors, users). Chart: Unctad Trade and Development Report 2011

Unctad’s research on the subject has shown that investors are motivated by “factors totally unrelated to commodity market fundamentals”. This is as bald an assessment of the behaviour of investors as you can hope to see from an inter-governmental organisation (the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are incapable of stating truths like this one).

“Against this background, the French Presidency of the G-20 has made the issue of commodity price volatility a priority of the G-20 agenda for 2011, since excessive fluctuations in commodity prices undermine world growth and threaten the food security of populations around the world (G20-G8, 2011). These fluctuations are seen as being related to the functioning of financial markets and the regulation of commodity derivatives markets.”

Unctad’s Trade and Development Report 2011 has argued for tighter regulation of financial investors, including limits on the positions taken by individual market participants; a rule to prevent banks that have insider information about commercially based market sentiment undertaking hedging operations for clients; a similar rule to prevent physical traders betting on outcomes they are able to influence; and a transaction tax or a requirement to hold positions for a minimum amount of time.

Instead, the World Bank’s analysts have generally argued that price volatility is driven by fundamentals, such as input costs, which other economists have failed to include in their calculations. This is an argument that cannot stand up to the merest suggestion of an examination of the cost of cultivation for, while inputs do cost more from one year to another in high-input farming (in Asia and Africa and South America, even with smallholders who are held to ransom by industrial agriculture companies) these are not the “fundamentals” the Bank-IMF crowd insist are responsible. The trouble is, they won’t admit to any others. Worse, they have enfleshed this delusionary tack with the help of their old collaborators, such as JP Morgan, which now has a hedging business that works on agricultural commodities markets and this year joined the World Bank/International Finance Corporation to launch an Agricultural Price Risk Management Facility, “designed to fund small players to hedge more effectively” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, etc).

Correlation between commodity and equity indexes, 1986–2011 (The data reflect one-year rolling correlations of returns on the respective indexes on a daily basis). Chart: Unctad Trade and Development Report 2011

Said the chapter ‘Financialized Commodity Markets: Recent Developments and Policy Issues’ from the Trade and Development Report, 2011:

“Indeed, a major new element in commodity markets over the past few years is the greater presence of financial investors, who consider commodity futures as an alternative to financial assets in their portfolio management decisions. While these market participants have no interest in the physical commodity, and do not trade on the basis of fundamental supply and demand relationships, they may hold – individually or as a group – very large positions in commodity markets, and can thereby exert considerable influence on the functioning of those markets. This financialization of commodity markets has accelerated significantly since about 2002–2004, as reflected in the rising volumes of financial investments in commodity derivatives markets – both at exchanges and over the counter (OTC).”

We think the G20 participants (finance ministers, central bank administrators and similarly high-powered persons) ought to have mentioned the matter. Instead, this is what they said.

“The BRICS countries, represent quite a big share of the global economy. In today’s crisis period, internal demand of each economy is important, and we should find a way to enlarge internal demand in our economy.” – China Central Bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan. “We represent a group of countries where there is (an) enormous amount of demand for resources at home for poverty reduction … so there is going to be big, big tension between giving money to a multilateral institution for the purpose of restoring global stability and meeting our own aspirations at home.” – Reserve Bank of India governor Duvvuri Subbarao.

“Enlarge internal demand” and “enormous amount of demand for resources at home”? Isn’t that exactly the sort of prognosis the World Bank, IMF and IFC will happily enlist as fundamentals of food prince index drivers? As for the rest of us, it’s back to promoting and practicing ecological economics.

Occupying Wall Street

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The immediate area around the New York Stock Exchange, “Wall Street,” has been closed to the public and protestors who are encamped at a nearby park, chanting, singing and dancing along with marching and bugling on surrounding streets accompanied by phalanxes of cops and motor scooters, to cheers and thumbs-up from tour buses and hand shakes from passersby and street workers.

There has been no sign of the commercial media. Mainstream media in the Asia-Pacific region have ignored the historic occupation entirely, not because of their failure to see the beginning of an American democratic awakening, but because the channels of cross-holding and control are now well-established.

These mercantile cables are tightly wound around the “emerging economies” and their growing middle class populations whose consumption patterns are seen as replacing those to be lost by social movements such as this in the West.

“On the 17th of September, we want to see 20,000 people to flood into lower Manhattan, set up beds, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Like our brothers and sisters in Egypt, Greece, Spain, and Iceland, we plan to use the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic of mass occupation to restore democracy in America. We also encourage the use of nonviolence to achieve our ends and maximize the safety of all participants.”

According to their website, the mission of the leaderless resistance movement is to flood thousands of people into lower Manhattan, set up beds, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months in order to persuade President Barack Obama to establish a commission to end “the influence money has over representatives in Washington.” Demonstrators gathered to call for the occupation of Wall Street, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, in New York.

Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. The original call for this occupation was published by Adbusters in July; since then, many individuals across the country have stepped up to organize this event, such as the people of the NYC General Assembly and US Day of Rage. There’ll also be similar occupations in the near future such as October2011 in Freedom Plaza, Washington D.C.

This is from their statement:
“We agree that we need to see election reform. However, the election reform proposed ignores the causes which allowed such a system to happen. Some will readily blame the federal reserve, but the political system has been beholden to political machinations of the wealthy well before its founding. We need to address the core facts: these corporations, even if they were unable to compete in the electoral arena, would still remain control of society. They would retain economic control, which would allow them to retain political control. Term limits would, again, not solve this, as many in the political class already leave politics to find themselves as part of the corporate elites. We need to retake the freedom that has been stolen from the people, altogether.”

Eighty years after Umar al-Mukhtar’s execution, western Europe’s rulers announce the Libyan plunder

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Umar al-Mukhtär (b. c. 1862), a leader of Sanüsi resistance to Italian colonisation until his execution in 1931. Photo: General History of Africa, Vol VII, UNESCO 1985

We do not know if the president of France and the prime minister of Britain were aware of the historic signifiance of the timing of their joint visit to Libya last week. Either David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy had been informed of what had happened there, exactly 80 years before, and chose the date as a symbol of the military might that occupying colonial powers have had in North Africa; or they did not, their presence at the time being coincidence. Whichever the explanation, the Libyans who watched the two western European political leaders in their country could not have failed to have observed the anniversary of the execution of Umar al-Mukhtär, Libya’s legenary freedom fighter and the ‘Lion of the Desert’. It had taken place exactly 80 years ago, on 16 September 1931.

The Cameron-Sarkozy visit recalled all the sordid and bloody traditions of imperialism: untrammelled hypocrisy, rank economic plunder and the ruthless use of force to secure such plunder. They were feted by the leaders of NATO’s local client, the National Transitional Council (TNC), under heavy security in Tripoli. Delivering the ghastly charade, Cameron hailed “free Libya” to the cheers of the assembled crowds. “France, Great Britain, Europe, will always stand by the side of the Libyan people,” his counterpart Sarkozy declared.

A comment in The Guardian has explained that in Libya the long decades of oppression could not be forgotten so easily. The Italians had devastated the old pastoral economy, and depopulated much of the land: the very term Siziliani (many of the settlers had come from Sicily) remained a term of loathing. Memories of anti-colonial resistance helped to legitimise Libya’s new British-backed king, Idris, who as head of the Sanusi order had been a figurehead for the struggle against the Italians. But such memories also helped bolster the 27-year-old Colonel Gaddafi when he accused the king of selling out to latter-day imperialism, toppled him in a coup and set up the republic.

Poster for the file, 'Lion of the Desert' (1981)

This year that republic became the pretext for NATO’s neo-colonial adventure — to protect Libyan lives from the regime of Muammar Gaddafi — one that has almost completely been dispensed with. Based on a blatant illegality [‘Is the resolution on Libya legal under international law?‘], NATO warplanes continue to pound targets around the remaining pro-Gaddafi towns of Sirte and Bani Walid with scant regard for civilian lives as the TNC and its NATO backers push to bring the entire country under their control. The World Socialist Web Site has explained that all the hypocritical claims that the war for “regime change” in Libya was all about saving human lives notwithstanding, the aims of British and French imperialism in Libya, North Africa and the Middle East are no more humanitarian today that they have been for the past 200 years.

Earlier that week, the CEO of Italy’s energy giant ENI, Paolo Scaroni, was in Tripoli to discuss the resumption of Libyan gas exports. ENI was Libya’s largest energy producer before this economic war was illegally launced the energy company wants to defend its dominant position. Libya has the largest proven energy reserves in Africa: 46.4 billion barrels of oil and 55 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Libyan officials reported to the “Friends of Libya” gathering in Paris on September 2 that five major foreign energy corporations were back in the country.

To compare better the bloody and tragic history of ‘regime change’ carried out under colonial domination then and now, here is an extract that describes the events leading up to 16 September 1931.

“To worsen the situation even further, on 21 December 1922, Emir Idrïs al-Sanusï, the Union’s spiritual leader and supreme commander, went into voluntary exile to Egypt. His unexplained and sudden departure, which is still being debated among historians, completely demoralized the people and caused many of the warriors either to leave the country or surrender to the Italians. However, before leaving, al-Sanusï appointed his brother Al-Ridä as his deputy, and Umar al-Mukhtär as commander of the National Forces in the Green Mountains, and it was under his leadership and because of the efficient guerrilla warfare that he developed that the resistance continued until 1931. He divided his forces into three major mobile companies (adwär) and camped in the mountainous area south of al-Mardj at Jardas. The series of attacks launched against him in the summer of 1923 were all repelled. Another army sent against his camp in March was routed.”

Partie de Tunis et de Tripoli. Afrique no. 3. (Dresse par Ph. Vandermaelen, lithographie par H. Ode. Troisieme partie. - Afrique. Bruxelles. 1827). Cartographer: Vandermaelen, Philippe, 1795-1869. Date: 1827. Collection: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

“It was Tripolitania that fell first. By June 1924, all arable land was occupied. But aware of their weakness as long as they did not control the desert, the Italians began a long campaign to control the desert and finally Fazzän. This was not marked by success despite the use of aerial bombing and poison gas. Several Italian advances were stopped. As late as 1928 the Libyans blocked the main Italian force at Faqhrift south of Surt. But by the end of 1929 and the beginning of 1930, Fazzän was finally occupied and the Libyan resistance in the west and south collapsed.”

“Meanwhile, the resistance in Cyrenaica continued and succeeded in inflicting heavy defeats on the Italians. When the Fascists failed to suppress the revolution of Umar al-Mukhtär in Cyrenaica through direct military attack, they resorted to some measures unprecedented in the history of colonial wars in Africa. They first erected a 300 km-long wire fence along the Tripoli-Egyptian border to prevent any aid coming from Egypt. Secondly, continually enforced, they occupied the oases of Djalo, Djaghabüb and Kufra to encircle and isolate the warriors in Cyrenaica. Finally, they evacuated all the rural population of Cyrenaica to the desert of Sirt where they kept them in fenced concentration camps. This measure was meant to deprive al-Mukhtär’s forces of any local assistance. Other mass prisons and concentration camps were established at al-Makrfln, Sulük, al-Aghayla and al-Barayka. Conditions in these camps were so bad that it is believed that more than a hundred thousand people died of starvation and diseases, not to mention their animals which were confiscated. In al-Barayka prison camp alone, there were 80,000 persons of whom 30,000 are said to have died between 1930 and 1932, according to the Italians’ own statistics.”

“Despite these wicked measures, the revolt continued and hit-and-run tactics were resorted to. The Italians again offered to negotiate with al-Mukhtâr. A series of meetings were held between the two sides. Among them was the one held near al-Mardj on 19 July 1929, attended by Governor Badoglio. At this meeting, the Italians offered to bribe al-Mukhtlr who turned down the offer and insisted on liberating his country.”

One for you, two for me. French President Nicolas Sarkozy (right) greets British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday at the Elysee Palace. Photo: Der Spiegel/DPA

“Later, when al-Mukhtär discovered that the Italians were trying to apply the policy of ‘divide and rule’ among his followers, he broke the talks with the Italians and resumed his tactics of guerrilla warfare which included skirmishes, raids, ambushes, surprise attacks and incursions spread all over the country. In the last twenty-one months before his capture, he fought 277 battles with the Italians as Graziani himself admits. In September 1931, however, al-Mukhtär was captured and taken to Benghazi. He was then court-martialed and executed before thousands of Libyans at the town of Sulük on 16 September 1931.”

[Extract from the chapter, ‘African initiatives and resistance in North Africa and the Sahara’, by A. Laroui, in Volume VII of ‘General History of Africa – Africa under Colonial Domination 1880-1935’, UNESCO-Heinemann, 1985]

From the very start of the Gaddafi regime, the Guardian comment observes, present and past merged as the anti-colonialist Gaddafi ordered British and American air bases to close and kicked out the 20,000 Italians still living in the country, nationalising their property. As his regime became more and more unpopular, so it found new uses in Libya’s history of oppression. Even as it razed the monuments of the Sanusi leadership, now seen by regime propagandists as feudal usurpers of a popular nationalist movement, so it sent researchers into the countryside as part of a vast oral history project to collect memories of the guerrilla war and Italian atrocities.

Such moves not only wrapped the regime in the heroic mantle of the anti-Italian jihad, they served geopolitical purposes too. Two years after forcing the Italians to leave, the socialist Gaddafi was inviting Italian corporations back in, turning the former colonial oppressor into Libya’s chief European business partner. And when in 2004 he sought new respectability in Europe, Italy became a crucial ally and history was part of the deal: Berlusconi apologized publicly for Italy’s past crimes, and in return, Gaddafi promised to keep Italy’s unwanted illegal migrants locked up in camps inside Libya.

There is more on Libya here: The bloody cost of ‘democratic transition’ in Libya ; A time before the pillage – what North Africa should mean to us ; Mussolini and Ethiopia, Italy and Libya, the mill of history ; Libya, the economic reasons for invasion ; Nato’s fascist war and the Black Code of the West ; So, why did the powers now attacking Libya easily tolerate Gaddafi for the last 10 years? ; The West’s Libya campaign has begun

Agricultural supply and demand estimates show impact of US heatwave

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The heatwave of mid-2011 is reflected in the latest World Agricultural Demand and Supply Estimates (WASDE), from the US Department of Agriculture, for 2011 September. The numbers and the accompanying commentary show just how badly this year’s scorching temperatures and insufficient rainfall has affected the outlook for corn, soybeans and cotton, as Worldcrops has observed.

Worldcrops has said that the most serious supply-demand tightness of these three agricommodities will be felt in corn, with a stocks-to-use ratio by the end of August 2012 now put at 5.3%. The national average yield in the US is forecast to be 148.1 bushels/acre, 4.9 bushels less than last month’s report and a massive 16.6 bushels below the record set in 2009-2010. Nevertheless this would still be the third biggest crop ever.

The USDA has slashed projected corn use for 2011-2012 by 100 million bushels – but only cut expected corn-for-ethanol usage by a meagre 50 million bushels. By August next year the US ending stocks will be, according to the report, 672 million bushels. That’s a drop in the bucket and by rights – and barring a global macroeconomic disaster – we ought to see $8/bushel corn futures sooner rather than later. Not least because the later the corn matures in the ground, the greater the risk of early frost damage.

We turn to the WASDE 2011 September commentary direct:

Wheat – Global wheat supplies for 2011-12 are projected 7.6 million tons higher mostly on larger beginning stocks in Canada and increased production for Canada, EU-27, and Ukraine. Beginning stocks for Canada are raised 1.3 million tons and production is raised 2.5 million tons, both reflecting the latest estimates from Statistics Canada. EU-27 production is raised 2.3 million tons with increases for Germany, Romania, France, Spain, and Bulgaria as harvest reports and revisions to official estimates continue to indicate higher yields. Production for Ukraine is raised 1.0 million tons based on the latest harvest reports. Other smaller production changes include 0.2-million-ton increases for both Brazil and Morocco, and a 0.2-million-ton reduction for Uzbekistan.

World wheat trade is raised slightly for 2011-12 with increased imports projected for the United States and Uzbekistan. Global exports are also raised as higher expected shipments from Canada and EU-27 more than offset reductions for the United States and Turkey. Global wheat consumption is increased 1.9 million tons with higher expected wheat feeding in Canada, China, Morocco, and Turkey more than offsetting a reduction for Russia. World wheat ending stocks for 2011-12 are projected 5.7 million tons higher at 194.6 million. At this level, global stocks would be up from 2010-11 and the second largest in the past decade.

Conversion Factors
1 metric ton = 45.9296 bushels
1 metric ton = 19.68 cwt
1 cwt is a hundredweight of 112 pounds or 45.35 kilogram

Coarse grain – U.S. feed grain supplies for 2011-12 are projected lower this month with reduced corn production as summer heat and dryness continue to be reflected in survey-based yield forecasts. Corn production for 2011-12 is forecast 417 million bushels lower with expected yields down from last month across most of the Corn Belt. The national average corn yield is forecast at 148.1 bushels per acre, down 4.9 bushels from August and 16.6 bushels below the 2009-10 record. As forecast, this year’s yield would be the lowest since 2005-06. Despite the lower yield, production is forecast to be the third highest ever with the second highest planted area since 1944. Total corn supplies for 2011-12 are lowered 442 million bushels with a 20-million-bushel reduction in carryin and a 5-million-bushel reduction in expected imports. Beginning stocks for 2011-12 drop with small increases in 2010-11 exports and use for sweeteners reflecting the latest available data. lmports for 2011-12 are reduced with the smaller forecast corn crop in Canada. Supplies for 2011-12 are projected to be the lowest since 2006-07.

USDA corn stocks-to-use ratio. Graphic: Worldcrops

Total corn use for 2011-12 is projected 400 million bushels lower with tighter supplies. Projected feed and residual use is reduced 200 million bushels mostly reflecting lower expected residual disappearance with the smaller forecast crop. Corn use for ethanol is projected 100 million bushels lower with higher expected corn prices and continued weakening in the outlook for U.S. gasoline consumption as forecast by the Energy Information Administration. Corn exports for 2011-12 are projected 100 million bushels lower with increased supplies and exports expected from Ukraine, Argentina, and Brazil. U.S. ending stocks are projected 42 million bushels lower at 672 million. The stocks-to-use ratio is projected at 5.3 percent, compared with last month’s projection of 5.4 percent. The season-average farm price is projected 30 cents per bushel higher on both ends of the range to a record $6.50 to $7.50 per bushel.

Global coarse grain supplies for 2011-12 are projected 3.1 million tons lower with larger barley, sorghum, millet, and oats supplies only partly offsetting the reduction for corn driven by the U.S. changes. Global corn supplies are reduced 4.5 million tons as increases in foreign beginning stocks and production partly offset the reduction in U.S. supplies. Projected global corn production for 2011-12 is lowered 5.9 million tons as a 4.8-million-ton increase in expected foreign output is outweighed by the 10.6-million-ton U.S. reduction. Brazil and Argentina production for 2011-12 are raised 4.0 million tons and 1.5 million tons, respectively, on higher expected area with rising returns for corn in both countries. Ukraine corn production is raised 1.5 million tons based on indications for higher yields. Production is raised 1.0 million tons for EU-27 with higher expected yields in France and several countries in Eastern Europe. Production is lowered 1.0 million tons for Canada based on the latest Statistics Canada estimates. Production is also lowered 2.1 million tons for Egypt as lack of government restrictions on planting resulted in a sharp shift in acreage away from corn and into rice.

Global coarse grain trade for 2011-12 is raised slightly with increased foreign trade in barley and corn more than offsetting the reduction in U.S. corn shipments. Barley imports are raised for Saudi Arabia and Syria with larger shipments expected from Ukraine and Russia. Corn exports are raised for Ukraine, Argentina, Brazil, and EU-27. Corn exports are lowered for Canada and Paraguay. Global corn consumption for 2011-12 is lowered 7.3 million tons, mostly reflecting lower expected use in the United States. Foreign corn feeding and consumption are nearly unchanged. World corn ending stocks are projected up 2.9 million tons with increases in South America, Ukraine, and EU-27 more than offsetting the reduction projected for the United States.

Rice – All rice beginning stocks for 2011-12 are lowered 2.7 million cwt from last month to 48.4 million (rough-equivalent basis) based on USDA’s Rice Stocks report released on August 26. The import projection is raised 1.0 million cwt to 19.0 million as it is expected that more long-grain rice will be imported due to tighter domestic supplies.

Exports for 2011-12 are projected at 93.0 million cwt, down 4.0 million cwt from last month, and down 18.6 million from the revised 2010-11 estimate. Long-grain exports are lowered 5.0 million cwt from last month to 61.0 million, and combined medium- and short-grain exports are raised 1.0 million to 32.0 million. The decrease in the export projection is due mostly to a much tighter supply situation, but additionally to an expected increase in competition from South American exporters in Western Hemisphere long-grain markets. Long-grain exports to Iraq are also expected to be lower. Increased competition principally from Egypt is expected to reduce medium-grain exports to Libya. All rice ending stocks for 2011-12 are projected at 38.3 million cwt, up 5.1 million from last month, but down 10.1 million from the revised 2010-11 stocks.

Projected global 2011-12 rice supply and use are increased from last month. Global rice production is projected at a record 458.4 million tons, up 2.1 million tons from last month, primarily due to larger expected crops in Brazil, China, the Philippines, and the United States. China’s 2011-12 rice crop is increased 1.0 million tons to 139.0 million, due mainly to an increase in the early rice crop. Brazil’s rice crop is raised nearly a million tons due to both an increase in area and expected yield. The recent surge in global prices accounts for the increase in planted area in Brazil from last month’s forecast. Global 2011-12 trade is nearly unchanged from last month. Global consumption is raised 0.7 million tons from a month ago due mostly to China. Global ending stocks for 2011-12 are projected at 98.7 million tons, up 0.7 million from last month, and the largest stocks since 2002-03. Stocks are raised for Brazil, China, the Philippines, and the United States.

Worldcrops has said that for soybeans. Ending stocks by end-August 2012 are put at 165 million bushels, 29 million higher than the August report but still tight. The US will have a reduced capacity to export soybeans and the futures price in our opinion will climb inexorably to $15/bushel and go significantly higher, if the weather outlook for the all-important South American soybean crop is unfavourable later this year. All in all this report has nothing which will astonish the markets immediately but lays the foundation for a significant bull-run in corn and, to a lesser extent, soybean futures in the coming months.

France nuclear emergency Marcoule

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Update5: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has two articles relevant to the Marcoule explosion. In ‘Regime change for nuclear security’, two important questions are asked about the status and safety of fissile materials.

World map of nuclear states and countries with fissile materials (France in focus). Graphic: Fissile Materials Working Group

Irma Arguello, founder and chair of the Nonproliferation for Global Security Foundation (NPSGlobal), a private, nonprofit initiative; and international partner of the Fissile Materials Working Group, has written in the article that the term ‘nuclear security’ covers a vast swath of issues, including the prevention of, detection of, and response to criminal acts involving nuclear materials, radioactive materials, and facilities associated with nuclear and radioactive materials. Unsurprisingly, an intricate constellation of international instruments – mostly voluntary and nonbinding – is used to reduce the risks of nuclear terrorism and to reduce the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials and technology. Some of these are:

The Doomsday Clock that is the logo of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It is six minutes to midnight

The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, enforced since 1987.
The 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.
The 2003 Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and its supplementary, Guidance on the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources of 2004.
The 2004 UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which calls on states to take “adequate and effective” measures to prevent terrorism and proliferation.
The 2001 UN Security Council Resolution 1373.
The 2009 UN Security Council Resolution 1887, which assesses threats to global security derived from terrorism.
The Proliferation Security Initiative of 2003, focused on the interdiction of suspicious materials related to weapons of mass destruction during transport.
The 2002 G-8 Global Partnership, which uses fund-raising to support safety, disarmament, and nonproliferation projects.
The 2006 Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, an information-exchange initiative.

The aggregation of such tools, together with individual nations’ own laws, comprise the current nuclear security regime – a regime of overlapping efforts and initiatives, overwhelming bureaucratic burdens, a host of voluntary and nonbinding “commitments,” challenges to efficiency, a lack of authority to deal with transgressions, and a lack of consensus on key issues (like sovereign rights versus multilateral control). So, given the enormity of the nuclear security complex, how internally coherent is the nuclear security regime? More important, can it cope with current and future challenges?

In the second article, ‘Nature and malice: Confronting multiple hazards to nuclear power infrastructure’, Igor Khripunov and Duyeon Kim make several interlinked points. These are: (1) as the IAEA has suggested, the lessons of Fukushima that need particular study are “those pertaining to multiple severe hazards” that might afflict a nuclear power plant; (2) such complex hazards can emerge from natural disaster, sabotage by terrorists or other malcontents, or be a combination of natural events and intentional acts; (3) nuclear safety and security staffs – whose cultures are quite different – should be trained to interact with one another as they respond to all three types of severe hazards.

Update4: There is a critical note emerging in the French media about the Marcoule nuclear fuel plant explosion. Le Figaro has run a longish report quoting ecologists in France who are demanding ‘transparency’ from the Sarkozy government on the incident: “Marcoule : les écologistes réclament la transparence”.

In translation, Le Figaro has said that Cécile Duflot, national secretary of the Greens Europe Ecologie (EELV), said on the iTV Energy Minister Eric Besson “makes fun of the world when he said that the explosion of a furnace that burns waste irradiated is not a nuclear incident or accident. “The boss of EELV also the responsibility of leading authorities in the flow of information. “This is not to the public or local officials to seek information, it must come from the authorities and in real time,” insists Cécile Duflot. “We need people living around nuclear facilities and the whole country are aware of plans to be implemented in case of accident.”

The Association France Nature Environnement does say it is  “not surprised” by the accident of Marcoule. “It must be remembered that in France there are three reported incidents per day in the nuclear industry, and we know that this area tends to under-report such incidents,” said BFM-TV Benoît Hartmann, the spokeswoman the association. It also reviews the difference between incident and nuclear accident.

Picture taken in June 2009 of operators dismantling one of the rooms of the plant in Marcoule. Photo: AFP PHOTO/CEA/Celine Jandaureck

On the government side, Minister for Ecology Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet was expected in the late afternoon on the Marcoule site. According to his office, she will participate in “an accurate assessment of potential radiological impacts of this accident,” knowing that “no impact on the outside has been detected.” Information confirmed by the director of plant safety at the IRSN (institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire) on LCI.

The well-known daily Le Monde has reported that after the accident in Fukushima, the explosion near the French nuclear site is “a further illustration that an accident is unfortunately possible. It’s beyond our means,” said Corinne Lepage, former Minister of environment and President of CAP 21, on her Twitter account. “How many accidents, explosions, human dramas before starting the transition energy and finally ask the people if he is willing to take risks?” asked the Left Party in a statement.

Before stating: “Get away from the nuclear! Other energy choices are possible, we can not wait!” The Association France Nature Environment also said in a statement that “this new accident highlights the problems of risk control and nuclear technology in France.” “Without prejudice to the extent” of this accident, “we see that nuclear accidents at Chernobyl or Fukushima. Even in the Gard we are not immune,” said Catherine Grèze. She said “it is urgent to rethink our energy policy and nuclear power, to move towards a policy that does not pose a sword of Damocles over the heads of our citizens.”

The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has assured that there was “no discharge outside” following the explosion that took place in a waste treatment facility operated by Socodei, a subsidiary of EDF. “‘No radioactive release according to the CEA…But who can still rely on such statements,” said Denis Baupin, assistant ecologist at the town hall of Paris, in a message broadcast on his Twitter account.

Satellite image of the Marcoule fuel plant site

Actu-Environnement, a news website for environmental scientists, technicians and development workers, reported that the fatal accident on the central processing of radioactive waste in Marcoule (Gard) has revived, if there was need to, the debate on nuclear power. “The government procrastinate by talking of an industrial accident. The site was under increased surveillance since 2008.” Given the finding of “gaps in the safety culture within the installation Centraco, the ASN has been led in 2008 to seek strong commitments to the operator.

ASN has found, through its inspections and analysis of a succession of events in the installation, failure of control operations and coordination, insufficient knowledge of the safety standard by operating personnel and a lack of safety culture within the facility,” stated the ASN in its report on nuclear safety in 2008. Eleven incidents with a level 1 were found in 2008. Thus, the operator [Areva through its subsidiary, see below] to set up an action plan. “In a new meeting between the ASN and CEO Centraco held in late 2010, the ASN asked for real ownership by the operator of its action plan to improving the safety and commitment at management to implement safety”.

Update3: Unlike the operation of nuclear reactors, the ‘back end’ – spent fuel reprocessing – is inconspicuous. The public know little about these plants, the kind of materials that pass through them, the safety measures they need, the hazards they represent. The nuclear industry likes to keep it that way. The nuclear industry is a worldwide club of nuclear technology suppliers, power companies, regulators and administrators. They work under several layers of secrecy and obfuscation, most of these depending on technical and scientific sophistry. This is part of what makes this club so dangerous.

In France, the way this club operates has been doubly dangeous because local anti-nuclear groups have hardly been heard, their small influence in no way comparable to the powerful French nuclear lobby and its mighty propaganda machine. Until Fukushima, decades of nuclear brainwashing had succeeded in making the population, if not supportive, at least passive and resigned, and accepting of the widely-spread myth of climate-friendly nuclear power. That has changed, slowly but perceptibly. The Marcoule explosion of 2011 September 12 will change it further.

Until more information is released through official sources or through the network of anti-nuke campaign groups, here is useful background information on the Marcoule plant, its operator Areva and its lousy safety record.

The MELOX plant, an Areva subsidiary, is the world leader in the market for the fabrication of recycled nuclear fuel (MOX). it makes 46% of the world’s Mixed Oxide fuel (MOX). To support business development, Areva has said, the MELOX plant, with a production capacity of 195 metric tons per year, launched a three-year investment plan at the end of 2009 to increase production capacity and flexibility, in particular to meet demand for “multi-design/multi-customer” fuel fabrication. Approximately 850 employees work at the site, in addition to nearly 400 indirect jobs. Areva expects the workforce to rise to 900 employees by 2015.

Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication – world total 420 tons (metric tons of initial heavy metal MTIHM/year)

Country – Owner/Controller – Plant Name/Location – Capacity [MTIHM/year]
BelgiumBelgonucléaire SADessel (closes July 31, 2006) – 37
FranceAreva NCCadarache (somewhat closed) – (40)
FranceMELOX SA (100% Areva NC) – Marcoule195
IndiaDAE Nuclear Fuel ComplexTarapur50
JapanJNCTokai-Mura10
United KingdomBritish Nuclear Fuels, LtdSellafield128

Areva nuclear power operations. Source: Areva annual report

Incidents/Events in the last five years at the MELOX MOX fuel fabrication plant, Marcoule (Gard, France):

1. Contamination incident at MELOX MOX fuel plant – On June 28, 2011, a mechanical failure of an assembly bench caused a radioactive contamination event at the fuel assembly stage of the MELOX MOX fuel plant. Seventeen workers could return to their workplaces after medical checks. The event was rated level 1 on the INES scale. (ASN July 5, 2011)
2. MELOX SA new owner of MELOX MOX fuel plant – On Sep. 3, 2010, the Ministry of Ecology approved the ownership change of the MELOX Marcoule plant from Areva NC to MELOX SA, a 100% owned subsidiary of Areva NC. (Journal Officiel Sep. 5, 2010)
3. Worker contaminated in glove box accident at MELOX fuel fabrication plant – On Feb. 9, 2010, a worker was contaminated when the glove box he was using was damaged in an accident. The worker was transfered to a specialized medical service in the Paris area. The event was rated level 1 on the INES scale. (ASN Feb. 11, 2010)
4. MOX fuel lots mixed up at MELOX fuel fabrication plant – On Oct. 20, 2009, three baskets carrying MOX fuel pellets were mixed up at the Marcoule MOX plant. The error was not detected until Oct. 29, 2009. ASN rated the incident level 1 on the INES scale. (ASN Nov. 6, 2009)
5. Violation of criticality rules at MELOX MOX fuel plant – On March 3, 2009, the amount of fissile material located in a working station exceeded the permissible limit by 1%. No criticality occured, as the limit is set at half the amount required to initiate a criticality. Areva had initially rated the event level 1 on the INES scale. In view of the violation of several safety requirements that led to the event, the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) changed the rating to level 2 on the INES scale. (Areva March 4, 2009; ASN March 19, 2009)
6. Spill at Marcoule waste water treatment plant – On July 17, 2007, three cubic meters of waste water with a specific activity of approx. 40 Bq/cm3 spilled inside the building; only some dozen litres reached the outside of the building. The event was rated level 1 on the INES scale.
7. Violation of criticality rules at MELOX MOX fuel plant – On May 29, 2007, an automatic transport cart carrying plutonium oxide was permitted to enter an already loaded working station. No criticality occured. The incident was rated INES 1. (ASN July 9, 2007)
8. Government authorizes further capacity increase for MELOX MOX fuel plant – On April 26, 2007, Areva received government approval for the requested capacity increase of the MELOX MOX fuel plant from 145 to 195 tHM/a. (Areva April 27, 2007)
9. Public Inquiry into further extension of MELOX MOX fuel plant – On Feb. 2, 2006, the Vice Minister of Industry announced the start of the public consultation process regarding the increase of capacity from 145 to 195 tHM/a. The public inquiry was held from April 18 to June 17, 2006.
[Source: WISE Uranium Project]

Areva's graphical description of its nuclear technologies and fuels cycle. Source: Areva 2010 Reference Document

According to Areva, MOX fuel (Mixed Oxide fuel) is a mixture of approximately 93% depleted uranium powder and 7% plutonium oxide powder. Areva is the world leader in the manufacture of MOX fuel with almost 1,570 tons of heavy metal (tML) and more than 3,000 assemblies produced since the Areva MELOX plant was put online in 1995. In 2009, approximately 139 tons of MOX were produced worldwide, 134 tML of which at the MELOX plant, representing a market share of around 95% for Areva.

Areva’s 2010 Reference Document said: “The production of MOX assemblies is handled by the MELOX plant at the Marcoule site (France – Gard region). The world leader on the MOX market, the AREVA MELOX plant has grown its capacity since 2003 in order to meet increased demand. Annual licensing therefore moved from 145 tons of heavy metal to 195 tons in 2006. Since the Areva Cadarache plant ceased production in July 2003, Areva has brought together MOX production in its MELOX plant.”

We can see clearly the links to the USA and Japanese nuclear industries from these statements in the Areva 2010 Reference Document: “In France, 21 reactors have been technically adapted to cope with this type of fuel. These reactors produce around 7% of the national electricity production. EDF licensing requests for using other reactors are pending. Japan plans to use MOX fuel in 16 to 20 reactors by 2010. A MOX fabrication plant with a capacity of around 130 tons/year is in the planning stages for the Rokkasho-Mura site. Operated by JNFL, it will benefit from an Areva technology transfer. In the United States, in partnership with the Shaw Group and on behalf of the US Department of Energy (DOE), Areva is pursuing the construction of an MFFF plant (Mixed Fuel Fabrication Facility) to manufacture MOX using plutonium of military origin.”

Update2: There’s still little official news being released by France’s government and nuclear authorities on the Marcoule reprocessing plant explosion. The word from the N-safety organisations is as follows: (1) the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has in a new statement said that the explosion occurred in a furnace used for the treatment of low level radioactive waste; (2) according to [French nuclear agency] ASN, the main radionuclide present in the waste materials in the oven is cobalt-60. Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN) has confirmed that there has not been any release of radioactivity from the site and that there is no prospect of any release. According to ASN, the incident has ended. The cause of the explosion is currently unknown and is under investigation.

These statements have not helped inform a Euro and global public fearful of new nuclear disasters, just six months after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima nuclear power plant. A look at this twitter trendmap shows why.

The Guardian has commented that the Marcoule accident came just a week after the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, bucked the anti-nuclear trend following Japan’s Fukushima disaster and pledged €1bn (£860m) of new investment in atomic power. Despite growing worldwide concern about the safety of nuclear plants – Germany has announced it is phasing its nuclear plants out — Sarkozy said the moratorium on new nuclear reactors adopted by some countries since the Japanese nuclear crisis in March “makes no sense”. “There is no alternative to nuclear energy today,” he told journalists at the time. “We are going to devote €1bn to the nuclear programme of the future, particularly fourth-generation technology.” He also promised “substantial resources” to strengthen research into nuclear safety and a further €1.3bn investment in renewable energy.

Greenpeace has urged the French government to ensure local people are kept fully up to date with the situation and the potential radioactive releases. “Information is still emerging and we do not know the cause of the explosion, but it serves as yet another tragic reminder of the dangers of nuclear power and the urgent need for governments to follow the lead taken by Germany in phasing it out.” It should be noted that this installations on the Marcoule site has not been included in the stress tests of nuclear facilities requested by the French government, nor in the last inspections by the Nuclear Safety Authority.

Authoritative background on the huge Marcoule plant is to be found in the documentation by the International Panel on Fissile Materials. “France initiated a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing program to provide plutonium for its nuclear weapons program in Marcoule in 1958. Later, the vision of the rapid introduction of plutonium-fuelled fast-neutron breeder reactors drove the large-scale separation of plutonium for civilian purposes, starting with the opening of the La Hague plant in 1966, financed under the military and civilian budgets of the Atomic Energy Commission (Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique, CEA). This effort initially was supported broadly by neighboring European countries who contributed to the French fast breeder project and, along with Japan, signed up for French reprocessing services in the 1970s.”

Workers at the Marcoule Nuclear Plant. Photo: TPM Idea Lab

France’s first reprocessing plant was the Usine de Plutonium 1 (UP1, Plutonium Factory 1) at Marcoule. Thirteen thousand tons of reactor fuel from gas-graphite plutonium production and power reactors was reprocessed there between 1958 and late 1997. Today the site hosts a huge decommissioning and clean-up effort. In 2003, the clean up, including waste management, was estimated to eventually cost about €6 billion ($6 billion) and is currently expected last till 2040. In 2005, these costs and liabilities were transferred from the government-owned nuclear-services conglomerate, AREVA NC, to the CEA.

The two reprocessing sites, La Hague and Marcoule, contain over 90 percent of France’s radioactive waste inventory. Their inventories include spent fuel, separated plutonium, large quantities of liquid and vitrified high level waste, and various types of intermediate, transuranic and low level radioactive wastes. A significant fraction of these wastes remains unconditioned. Conditioning techniques have been under development for decades. In view of changing standards, much of the waste that was conditioned between the 1950s and the 1970s will have to be reconditioned. [This information has come from the International Panel on Fissile Materials, Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing in France (2008 April)]

Update1: The first images about the Marcoule explosion have become available, thanks to MaxiSciences. See the photostrip below (captions in French and translated English). Not surprisingly, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), still has not even a mention of the problem on its website. The IAEA doesn’t have Fukushima on its main page either. The ‘Atoms For Peace’ agency, set up 54 years ago “to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies”, has a lot of catching up to do.

Voici les premières images de la centrale nucléaire de Marcoule où a eu lieu ce matin un accident meurtrier. (L) Des employés prennent des mesures par sécurité, (M) Les photographes ne peuvent pas dépasser un certain périmètre, (R) Un homme réalise des mesures de la radioactivité. (L) Employees take safety precautions, (M) Photographers are stopped from entering the area, (R) A man measures radioactivity. Photos: MaxiSciences

Sciencemag has reported that on its home page, France’s Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) says that no radioactivity appears to have leaked from the site. The plant, called Centraco, is owned by Socodei, a daughter company of French energy giant EDF (Electricite de France SA). According to Socodei’s website, Centraco “processes scrap metal in its melting plant and combustible waste in its incinerating plant. … The objective is to reduce waste volume, recycle whenever possible, and condition the remainder as ultimate waste packages accepted by the French national agency for radioactive waste management (ANDRA).”

Location of Marcoule. Graphic: Ladepeche.fr

News reports coming in about the explosion at Marcoule, southern France, are still sketchy. One death and several injuries are reported. France’s nuclear safety agency ASN (Autorité de sûreté nucléaire) has issued a short early statement to say there is no radiation threat. This is to be taken as a pre-emptive statement. As we know from the terrible record of nuclear power the world over, the Marcoule falout will become clear in the next days and weeks. [see the detailed Fukushima page and running post].

Reuters has reported that one person was killed in an explosion at the nuclear site of Marcoule in southern France, France’s ASN nuclear watchdog said on Monday, but there was no leak of radioactive material. Marcoule is a nuclear waste management site that does not include any reactors. The explosion took place near a furnace, an ASN spokesperson told Reuters.

Electricite de France SA (EDF) is described in the European bourses as a France-based integrated energy operator active in the generation, distribution, transmission and supply of energy services. It generates energy using nuclear technology, as well as thermal, hydroelectric and other renewable sources. The company is involved in energy generation and energy sales.

Early news in the French press:

Ladepeche.fr – Gard. Un mort dans l’explosion d’un four sur un site nucléaire: Un four a explosé, ce lundi, sur le site nucléaire de Marcoule dans le Gard, entraînant la mort d’un homme et en blessant quatre, dont un grièvement. Alors que la préfecture et les pompiers craignaient une fuite radioactive, l’Autorié de sûreté nucléaire (ASN), EDF et le ministère de l’Ecologie précisent que l’accident n’a provoqué aucune fuite, ni chimique, ni radioactive.

Nuclear centres in France. Graphic: Le Monde

Le site de Marcoule est un centre de traitement de déchets d’une filiale d’EDF. L’incident a eu lieu vers 11h45 dans le centre Centraco, de la société Socodei, a déclaré un porte-parole du Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (CEA). “Pour l’instant, il n’y a pas de rejets à l’extérieur”, a-t-il ajouté. Il a également signalé qu’un périmètre de sécurité a été mis en place en raison des risques de fuite, ce que dément le Midi-Libre.

Europe 1 – Gard : explosion sur un site nucléaire

Le Monde – Explosion d’un four et risque de fuite radioactive sur le site nucléaire de Marcoule

BBC News has provided some useful background on Marcoule – the site is one of the oldest in France, and played a significant role in the development of the French nuclear and thermonuclear deterrents. It opened in 1956 – well after the US began the era of nuclear armaments, at a time when France was among the nations looking to gain their own seat at the nuclear table.

The earliest reactors generated first data and then plutonium for the first successful French test in 1960. Other defence-oriented reactors followed – and as the world contemplated a new generation of much bigger bombs with much bigger destructive capacity, a new reactor at Marcoule was built to produce tritium, fuel for hydrogen (or thermonuclear) weapons. On the civilian side, the site also housed the experimental Phenix fast-breeeder reactor, and – since 1995 – it has combined fissile uranium and plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, which can be used in nuclear power stations.

The Marcoule site dates back the dawn of the French nuclear age. Photo: BBC News

CBC has reported that the Marcoule site does not include any nuclear power reactors. It is involved with the decommissioning of nuclear facilities, and operates a pressurized water reactor used to produce tritium. The site is located in the Gard region of France, in Langedoc Roussillon, near the Mediterranean Sea. Midi Libre, a local paper in Montpellier, near the site, says the explosion occurred at 11:45 a.m. local time.

The report said one person was seriously injured and has been airlifted to a hospital in Montpellier. Three others were taken to a local hospital. No evacuation notice was given to the local area but a security perimeter around the site has been established, according to reports.

World Nuclear News has a short item – details of the event come from the French nuclear safety regulator, the ASN. It said that the incident occurred at the Centraco facility where low-level radiaoctive wastes is prepared for packing and disposal. This includes items such as equipment, filters and clothing from power plants, universities and hospitals. The facility is operated by Socodei, part of the EDF group. ASN said that its preliminary information was that the furnace used to melt lightly contaminated scrap metal had suffered an explosion. Its first assessment was that one worker was killed and four more injured, one of those seriously.

Nuclear centres in France. Graphic: Ladepeche.fr

RFI English has reported the French government as having said that there are no signs of a radiation leak after a blast at the Marcoule nuclear site in the Rhone Valley on Monday. At least one person died and four more were injured following the explosion of a furnace used to melt down radioactive material. One of the injured is said to be in a critical condition.

Bloomberg cites a spokeswoman for France’s Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet having confirmed that there has been an explosion and said that the minister will visit the site. France’s ASN nuclear safety watchdog said that it will make a statement on the incident. France, which has more nuclear reactors than any other European country, is carrying out safety checks on atomic installations to evaluate dangers from earthquakes and flooding.

News reports two months ago said that the UK is relying on EDF to build the first nuclear power stations for a generation in Suffolk and Somerset by 2018. However, suspicions are growing that EDF is preparing to delay Britain’s new plants substantially, having said it will issue a “revised timetable” for the UK in the autumn. It was understood by the British media that British officials are now working on the assumption that new nuclear will not arrive in the UK until after 2020. The reports had said costs in France have already doubled and construction is severely delayed at EDF’s flagship plant in Flamanville, which will be its first new plant in more than 15 years. Back when construction started in 2006, EDF thought it would cost just €3.3bn (£2.9bn) and take under five years to build. Until last year, EDF was still insisting that Flamanville would be ready by 2012.

How ‘sticky’ is food inflation? What the FAO food index really says

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Using the just released FAO food index update for 2011 August, I have compared the two periods of high food prices, the earlier one in 2007-08 and the continuing period of 2010-11.

Between 2007 Dec and 2008 Sep: for 8 months the Food Index was above 200, and for 10 months the Cereals Index was above 200.

Between 2010 Sep and 2011 Aug: for 11 months the Food Index has been above 200, and for 12 months the Cereals Index has been above 200.

This is the longest period in the last ten years that the FAO food index has been at such a level. This is the backstory of the FAO Food Price Index.

Let’s turn to what the FAO has said about the 2011 August update.

World food prices remained virtually unchanged between July and August 2011. The Index averaged 231 points last month compared to 232 points in July. It was 26% higher than in August 2010 but seven points below its all-time high of 238 points in February 2011. Within the index, cereals prices rose, reflecting the fact that although cereal production is expected to increase, it will not do so by enough to offset the additional demand, so that stocks continue to be low and prices continue to be high and volatile.

The FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 253 points in August, up 2.2%, or 5 points, from July and 36% higher than in August 2010. However, the firmer cereal prices were largely offset by declines in international prices of most other commodities included in the Food Price Index, oils and dairy products in particular.

Cereal price rises stem from a supply and demand balance that remains tight despite the anticipated increase in production. World cereal production in 2011 is now forecast to reach 2,307 million tonnes, 3% higher than in 2010. But this latest forecast is nearly 6 million tonnes lower than the previous forecast published in July.

Among the major cereals, the maize supply situation is a cause for concern following downward revisions to maize crop prospects in the United States, the world’s largest maize producer, because of continued hot weather in July and August. Average wheat prices were also up 9% in August given the strong demand for feed wheat and shrinking supplies of high quality wheat. Nonetheless, world wheat production is forecast to increase by 4.3% (or 28 million tonnes), only 4 million tonnes below the 2009 record.

World coarse grain production is still heading for a record level of 1,147.5 million tonnes, up 2.4% (or 27 million tonnes) from 2010, in spite of lowered maize production prospects in the United States, the world’s largest maize producer. Rice prices also gained with the benchmark Thai rice price up 5% from July, driven by a policy change in Thailand, the world’s largest rice exporter, where paddy rice will be purchased from farmers at above market prices. Global rice production prospects remain favourable, however, with output set to reach a new high of 479 million tonnes, up 2.5% from 2010.

Total cereal utilization in 2011-12 is forecast to increase by 1.4%, almost matching anticipated 2011 production. As a result, global cereal inventories by the close of seasons in 2012 are likely to remain close to their already low opening levels. Only rice stocks are expected to increase significantly, supported by record production. Wheat inventories are likely to decline to their lowest level since 2009 and world stocks of coarse grains are also forecast to plunge, with maize inventories falling to 124 million tonnes, their lowest level since 2007. Given the tight global supply and demand balance for coarse grains, its stocks-to-use ratio is forecast to fall to a historical low of 13.4%.

The FAO Oils/Fats Price Index averaged 244 points in August, following a declining trend since March but still remaining high in historical terms. The FAO Dairy Price Index averaged 221 points in August, significantly down from 228 points in July and 232 points in June, but still 14% higher than the same period last year. The FAO Meat Price Index averaged 181 points in August, up 1% from July. The FAO Sugar Price Index averaged 394 points in August, down 2% from July, but still 50% higher than in August 2010.

Written by makanaka

September 9, 2011 at 20:37

The long orange line – India-Pakistan border from space

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This night-time view of the India-Pakistan border was photographed by an Expedition 28 crew member on the International Space Station. Clusters of yellow lights on the Indo-Gangetic Plain of northern India and northern Pakistan reveal numerous cities both large and small.

What the border looks like on the ground – near Jammu, India. Photo: BBC News

Of the many clusters of light, the largest are the metropolitan areas associated with the capital cities of Islamabad, Pakistan in the foreground and New Delhi, India at the top – for scale these metropolitan areas are approximately 700 kilometres apart. The lines of major highways connecting the larger cities also stand out – also visible are Lahore, Pakistan, which is close to the border, and Srinagar, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India. More subtle but still visible at night are the general outlines of the towering and partly cloud-covered Himalayan ranges immediately to the north (left).

The full image from the ISS. Photo: NASA

[For other posts on Pakistan see Pakistan, India and people’s responsibility (new), Floods in Pakistan displace 5.4 million and Pakistan floods, six months later.] The striking feature of this photograph is the line of lights, with a distinctly more orange hue, snaking across the central part of the image. It appears to be more continuous and brighter than most highways in the view. This is the fenced and floodlit border zone between the countries of India and Pakistan. The fence is designed to discourage smuggling and arms trafficking between the two countries. A similar fenced zone separates India’s eastern border from Bangladesh.

NASA has said this image was taken with a 16-mm lens, which provides the wide field of view, as the space station was tracking towards the southeast across the subcontinent of India. [NASA ref: ISS028-E-029679 (21 Aug. 2011)]

Written by makanaka

September 9, 2011 at 11:34