Best of our wild blogs: 15 Mar 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [7 - 13 Mar 2011]
from Green Business Times

You scratch my back
from The annotated budak

Straw-headed Bulbul duetting
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Finally found: the back back mangroves of Lim Chu Kang
from wild shores of singapore

A Guide to the Eco Labels in Singapore
from Green Business Times

All Saplings Gone
from Natura Gig

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Singapore unlikely to be affected by nuclear radiation: experts

Joanne Chan Channel NewsAsia 14 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE: It would take conditions like a complete meltdown of Japan's reactors and a continuous fire for a radioactive cloud to reach Singapore, said nuclear experts to ease concerns about Singapore being affected by a radioactive fallout.

Singapore's National Environment Agency had said on Sunday that the country is unlikely to be affected, as the incident is taking place some 5,000 kilometres away.

However, SMSes have been circulating, warning people not to expose themselves to rain as it may carry radioactive particles that can burn or even cause cancer. Other messages caution people to remain indoors and swab iodine on their neck to prevent radiation.

Experts say such messages are causing unnecessary fear, as such a worst case scenario is unlikely because it requires a complete meltdown of Japan's reactors.

Dr Benjamin Sovacool, assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said that out of 66 nuclear accidents that have occured in the past, only the Chernobyl incident resulted in the wide dispersal of radioactive material.

"It burned for more than four days in Chernobyl, which is why elements dispersed so far. In the case of Japan, it's more than likely that if there's a type of explosion, they would contain it relatively quickly. Which means South Korea, or maybe some parts of China will be hit, but not Singapore," said Dr Sovacool.

Even with this worst case scenario, Singapore will likely have advance warnings.

"It would take weeks, at least days, for any radioactive cloud to leave Japan and make it here, unless wind speeds were to get to tsunami-like speeds. Again, we will have lots of advanced warnings. Even if the worse case scenario were to happen, there would be time to talk about taking pills and changing behaviour," said Mr Sovacool.

Separately, The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority have confirmed Japanese food products exported before last Friday are safe.

These include products currently in the market and those which arrived in Singapore over the last few days.

However, as a precautionary measure, samples of fresh produce from Japan after Friday will be tested.

- CNA/cc

Bogus SMSes about radiation causing panic and fear
Joanne Chan Today Online 15 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE - It had to happen. Amid fears of a radioactive fallout from Japan, some people here have been receiving bogus and misleading SMSes.

One hoax message making the rounds claimed that "radiation may hit the Philippines" and "Asian countries should take necessary precautions".

Another bogus message warned people not to be caught in the rain as rain drops may contain radioactive particles that could burn or even cause cancer. That message also urged people to remain indoors and to swab iodine on their necks to prevent radiation contamination.

Sales manager Leong Hoon Kee, 59, who received one such message, said he was so concerned that he forwarded it to friends and family, without verifying its accuracy.

Experts warned that such messages could cause unnecessary fear and panic.

Nuclear expert Dr Benjamin Sovacool said: "You would have to have a much more serious core meltdown. That would actually destroy the containment vessel, expose radioactive elements to the air. Now that's only happened once in all history of nuclear accidents."

Dr Sovacool, an Assistant Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said in a study of 66 nuclear accidents in the last 50 years, only one reactor experienced a complete meltdown, and that was Chernobyl in the Ukraine.

In the case of Japan, it is more than likely that, if there is a Chernobyl-type of explosion, it would be contained relatively quickly. However, South Korea and some parts of China could be at risk.

Singapore's National Environment Agency had said on Sunday that the Republic was unlikely to be affected, as the crisis is about 5,000km away. Joanne Chan

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New conservation plan launched to mark Pacific Year of the Dugong

UNEP 14 Mar 11;

Bonn (Germany) / Palau, 14 March 2011 - A new pilot project using financial incentives to address direct hunting and the accidental capture of dugongs by changing people's practices and improving the livelihoods of local communities are among the initiatives to be promoted under the Pacific Year of the Dugong 2011.

The campaign, launched today in Palau by President Johnson Toribiong and Minister of Natural Resources, Environment & Tourism Harry Fritz, is a boost to the conservation of the mermaid-like sea cow and its seagrass habitats. Palau hosts the smallest, most remote and critically endangered dugong population in the region.

The initiative to protect the dugong, led by the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and its partner the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS), will target local coastal and fishing communities and water craft users in the Pacific region by showing that livelihoods and conservation are linked.

Dugongs, which play a significant ecological role in the functioning of coastal habitats, live in warm coastal and island waters from East Africa to Vanuatu in the Pacific. The action plan developed under the UNEP/CMS Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their Habitats throughout their Range (Dugong MoU) provides the framework for the regional cooperation for the long-term protection of dugongs in the Indian Ocean, South East Asia, South Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands.

CMS Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema said: "Innovative measures under the CMS action plan will help protect dugongs and other marine species. Financial incentives will be promoted to make sure that conservation needs and sustainable development are reconciled at the community level."

Two pilot projects are currently being developed in Daru, Papua New Guinea, and Bazaruto Bay in Mozambique to reduce hunting and bycatch by providing some form of incentive to drive behavioural change - this might be in the form of loans, or payments for ecosystem services, for lessening their catches or for changes to more dugong-friendly fishing gear.

In some parts of the Pacific Islands, such as the Torres Strait between Papua New Guinea and Australia, hunting for direct consumption is the legal right of traditional inhabitants and sustainable hunting levels need to be agreed as part of the action plan.

The projects will consider the needs of both animals and of coastal communities and will increase dugong protection as well as improve socio-economic development.

Most of the world's remaining dugong populations outside of Australia and the United Arab Emirates are at serious risk of disappearing without effective and timely conservation action. The major causes of dugong mortality are poaching, unsustainable hunting, entanglement in fishing gear, vessel strikes and habitat degradation.

Gillnets are being used in almost 90% of the dugong's habitat, which threatens their survival. Reducing dugong mortality in fisheries remains the greatest challenge to the conservation of the world's only herbivorous marine mammal. Providing financial incentives to encourage the fishing community to replace harmful gillnets with alternative equipment such as line-fishing gear to reduce bycatch is one option being considered in the pilot projects.

In addition to biodiversity conservation and promoting sustainable fisheries practices, changing gear-types to reduce bycatch would also make a significant contribution to the Green Economy of small-scale and subsistence fisheries. Under conservation agreements with the communities, the ecological and economic value of seagrass habitats would be protected and livelihood incentives for coastal communities would be guaranteed, many of whom rely on these sustainable small-scale fisheries.

For the first time, the 18 signatories to the UNEP/CMS Dugong MoU have agreed to fund these pilot projects which will test economic incentives, including micro-loans and direct payments for biodiversity conservation.

Dugong conservation efforts will have other benefits as the protection of dugongs can have positive impacts across a wide range of habitats, in turn protecting other coastal marine species such as turtles, whales, dolphins and sharks.

At least five projects will be tested in sites across the Indian Ocean, South East Asia, South Asia, and Pacific Islands regions, and will be funded over a three-year period (2011-2013) through the UNEP/CMS MoU. Community organizations, NGOs, government officials and individuals will participate in developing and implementing the projects.

The Pacific-wide Year of the Dugong campaign invites individuals, conservation bodies, communities and governments to support this unique drive for dugong conservation. National campaigns will be conducted in Palau, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands.

The Pacific Year of the Dugong will initiate sustainable and long-term dugong protection by fostering community participation in environmental stewardship by improving their economic livelihoods.

Notes to Editors

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS) works for the conservation of a wide array of endangered migratory animals worldwide through the negotiation and implementation of agreements and action plans. CMS is a fast-growing convention with special importance due to its expertise in the field of migratory species. At present, 115 countries are parties to the Convention (

The UNEP/CMS Office in Abu Dhabi aims to implement the CMS Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs (Dugong dugon) and their habitats. It was concluded in 2007 and has been signed by 18 countries: Australia, Bahrain, Comoros, Eritrea, France, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Myanmar, Philippines, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Seychelles, Vanuatu, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania and Yemen.

SPREP is the Pacific region's major intergovernmental organisation charged with protecting and managing the environment and natural resources. SPREP's mandate is to promote cooperation in the Pacific islands region and to provide assistance in order to protect and improve the environment and to ensure sustainable development for present and future generations. It has 25 members.

New UN project uses financial incentives to try to save the dugong
UN News Centre 14 Mar 11;

14 March 2011 – The dugong, the reputed mermaid of seafarers’ lore, was today thrown a lifeline by a United Nations pilot project that uses financial incentives to curb direct hunting or incidental by-catch of the large marine mammal amid concerns it could become extinct within 40 years.

The project, launched in the small Pacific island State of Palau by the country’s President Johnson Toribiong, is one of several undertaken by the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the inter-governmental South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) to protect the creature, which plays a significant ecological role in the functioning of coastal habitats.

Promoted under the Pacific Year of the Dugong 2011, the projects seek to reduce hunting and by-catch of the creature, which sailors once took for a mermaid when spotted from afar, by providing incentives for behavioural change in local communities with loans or payments for ecosystem services, lessening their catches or changing to more dugong-friendly fishing gear.

“Financial incentives will be promoted to make sure that conservation needs and sustainable development are reconciled at the community level,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of CMS, whose Secretariat is provided by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Also known as the sea cow, the dugong, the world’s only herbivorous marine mammal, lives in warm coastal and island waters from East Africa to Vanuatu in the Pacific. The major causes of mortality are poaching, unsustainable hunting, entanglement in fishing gear, vessel strikes and habitat degradation.

The action plan developed under a UNEP/CMS Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their Habitats provides the framework for regional cooperation for long-term protection in the Indian Ocean, South-East Asia, South Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Most of the world’s remaining dugong populations outside of Australia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are at serious risk of disappearing without effective and timely conservation action. Governments, international and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were warned at a gathering convened by CMS in Abu Dhabi, UAE, last October that the mammal was threatened with extinction within 40 years.

Gillnets, used in almost 90 per cent of the dugong‘s habitat, threaten its survival, and reducing mortality in fisheries remains the greatest challenge. Providing financial incentives to encourage the fishing community to replace harmful gillnets with alternative equipment such as line-fishing gear to reduce by-catch is one option being considered in the pilot projects.

Under conservation agreements with the communities, the ecological and economic value of sea-grass habitats would be protected and livelihood incentives for coastal communities would be guaranteed, many of whom rely on sustainable small-scale fisheries.

In some parts of the Pacific Islands, such as the Torres Strait between Papua New Guinea and Australia, hunting for direct consumption is the legal right of traditional inhabitants and sustainable hunting levels need to be agreed as part of the action plan.

Two other pilot projects are currently being developed in Daru, Papua New Guinea, and Bazaruto Bay in Mozambique. At least five initiatives in all will be tested in sites across the Indian Ocean, South-East Asia, South Asia, and Pacific Islands regions over the 2011-2013 period under the UNEP/CMS memorandum, which has so far garnered 18 signatories, who have agreed to fund the projects.

These are: Australia, Bahrain, Comoros, Eritrea, France, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Myanmar, Philippines, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Seychelles, Vanuatu, UAE, Tanzania and Yemen.

Dugong conservation efforts will have other benefits as they can have positive impacts across a wide range of habitats, in turn protecting other coastal marine species such as turtles, whales, dolphins and sharks.

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Malaysia: Researchers discover 28 new orchid species

The Star 15 Mar 11;

KOTA KINABALU: A 10-day expedition to the Imbak Canyon, Sabah’s last untouched lowland rainforest has yielded 28 species of orchids that have never been recorded in the state.

Sabah Foundation group manager for conservation and environmental conservation Dr Waidi Sinun said researchers had also found 50 species of medicinal plants in the 30,000ha conservation area which is slightly larger than Penang island and located some 250km from the city.

He said this at a seminar on the 10-day expedition there which was opened by Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Salleh Mohd Nor here yesterday.

The expedition from Nov 26 to Dec 5 last year, involved more than 100 local researchers.

It was jointly organised by the Foundation along with ASM, Sabah Parks, the state Forestry Department, WWF Malaysia and two universities.

Dr Waidi said the Imbak Canyon would soon join Sabah’s other pristine conservation areas – the Danum Valley and Maliau Basin – as a research area for biodiversity.

He added that the foundation, which was responsible for managing the area, was planning to build a research centre and several satellite camps at Imbak Canyon.

He said the foundation was thankful to Petronas for its RM6mil contribution for the initial work including architectural plans.

“Unlike Danum and Maliau, there have been Murut and Sungei communities near Imbak Canyon for generations.

“Future research work there should take them into accoun,” he said.

“A win-win situation for all concerned must be attained not only in terms of the conservation of Imbak Canyon but also in bringing the communities to the mainstream of development,” Dr Waidi added.

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Extent and Speed of Lionfish Spread Unprecedented; Invasive Marine Fish May Stress Reefs

ScienceDaily 14 Mar 11;

The rapid spread of lionfishes along the U.S. eastern seaboard, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean is the first documented case of a non-native marine fish establishing a self-sustaining population in the region, according to recent U.S. Geological Survey studies.

"Nothing like this has been seen before in these waters," said Dr. Pam Schofield, a biologist with the USGS Southeast Ecological Science Center here. "We've observed sightings of numerous non-native species, but the extent and speed with which lionfish have spread has been unprecedented; lionfishes pretty much blanketed the Caribbean in three short years."

More than 30 species of non-native marine fishes have been sighted off the coast of Florida alone, but until now none of these have demonstrated the ability to survive, reproduce, and spread successfully. Although lionfishes originally came from the Indo-West Pacific Ocean, there are now self-sustaining populations spreading along the western Atlantic coast of the U.S. and throughout the Caribbean.

It is not yet clear exactly how the new invasive species will affect reefs in this part of the world. Foremost on the minds of scientists is the lionfishes' predatory behavior, which may negatively impact native species in the newly invaded ecosystems. They have already been observed preying on and competing with a wide range of native species.

Invasive lionfishes were first reported off Florida's Atlantic coast in the mid-1980s, but did not become numerous in the region until 2000. Since then, the lionfish population has rapidly spread north through the Atlantic Ocean and south throughout most of the Caribbean. The spreading population is now working its way around the Gulf of Mexico.

Schofield spent years compiling and verifying sightings of lionfishes, reaching out to local experts such as biologists, museum curators, natural resource managers, divemasters and citizens groups to collect detailed records of specimen collections and sightings throughout the region. The records were compiled in the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species database and used to map the fishes' spread.

No one knows for sure exactly how the predecessors of the current population first made it into the Atlantic and Caribbean, but Schofield believes the invasion serves as a warning of the dangers posed by introductions of non-native fishes into an ecosystem.

"This invasion may constitute a harbinger of the emerging threat of non-native marine fishes to coastal systems," Schofield said.

In the Florida Keys, Schofield and her team are working closely with partners from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in Beaufort, North Carolina and Reef Environmental Education Foundation in Key Largo, Florida to analyze lionfish diets, an important first step in understanding their impact on reef ecosystems.

Eradication of lionfishes is probably not possible, admits Schofield. Yet, local control efforts may be able to keep the population tamped down, releasing pressure on the native ecosystem. Many Caribbean countries such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands have begun lionfish control programs. In the U.S., REEF held a series of lionfish derbies in the Florida Keys that resulted in more than 600 lionfishes being removed from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Schofield's most recent paper, "Update on geographic spread of invasive lionfishes in the Western North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico," was published in the Dec. 2010 issue of Aquatic Invasions; it updates a 2009 article published in the same journal. For more information on lionfish, see the USGS Lionfish Factsheet (

Background on lionfish biology and ecology is also available on NOAA's Lionfish Website ( Information on REEF's lionfish programs is available at their website (

Journal References:

1. Pamela Schofield. Update on geographic spread of invasive lionfishes (Pterois volitans [Linnaeus, 1758] and P. miles [Bennett, 1828]) in the Western North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Aquatic Invasions, 2010; 5 (Supplement 1): S117 DOI: 10.3391/ai.2010.5.S1.024
2. Pamela Schofield. Geographic extent and chronology of the invasion of non-native lionfish (Pterois volitans [Linnaeus 1758] and P. miles [Bennett 1828]) in the Western North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. Aquatic Invasions, 2009; 4 (3): 473 DOI: 10.3391/ai.2009.4.3.5

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Could Amateur Taxonomists Catalog Earth's Fauna?

Rebecca Kessler Science Magazine 14 Mar 11;

Taxonomy has a reputation as one of science's least glamorous fields, and experts have been sounding an alarm over declining funding and a global dearth of practitioners. With extinctions estimated to outnumber discoveries of new species and many of Earth's most diverse taxa still unaccounted for, they say the effort to identify and catalog organisms is more critical than ever before. Now some researchers are calling for taxonomists to open wide their profession's gates to amateur scientists, as the popular GalaxyZoo Web site has begun to do with citizen astronomers.

"It's a little easy to stereotype, but there are a lot of my professional colleagues out there who won't accept these amateurs," says David Pearson, a tiger beetle specialist at Arizona State University, Tempe.

Yet so little is known about so many organisms that amateurs can easily make serious contributions, says Pearson. In fact, Pearson was introduced to tiger beetles as a kid by a man who he calls the "Pro-Am of Pro-Ams" (a term short for "professional-amateur"). Ronald Huber, a retired railroad worker from suburban Minneapolis who never finished college, is one of the world's foremost tiger-beetle experts.

In 1969, he started a quarterly journal on the group, Cicindela, which he has been publishing ever since. For years Huber says he slept just 4 or 5 hours a night to make time for both his job and his beetles. "If the passion is there it doesn't matter if you work in the field or if you just do it on the side on your own," he says.

Along with having the dedication, time, and some money to devote to their hobby, Pearson says, amateurs tend to be extremely bright, eager to learn, and quite capable of the basic descriptive science that many professionals no longer have the funding to do. He says that's certainly the case with the dentist and two lawyers who regularly help him collect beetles in Bolivia, paying their own and some of his graduate students' expenses. The three approached Pearson independently, looking for opportunities to help out.

There are less all-consuming ways to for people to participate, as well. These include numerous citizen science programs like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Project Feeder Watch, which has people identify their backyard birds and submit them to a Web site for research purposes, And the Encyclopedia of Life, an online database intended to document all forms of life and encourage the public to contribute photos, videos, and information.

In a January BioScience paper called "Recovery Plan for the Endangered Taxonomy Profession," Pearson and two co-authors pointed out that while in recent decades taxonomy has grown to be quite specialized, technological advances are quickly lowering the bar for participating as the field goes digital.

Jellyfish biologist Antonio Marques of the University of São Paulo in Brazil agrees that so long as the peer review process assures research quality, it shouldn't matter whether papers' authors have Ph.D.s. But whereas attractive creatures like birds and beetles draw plenty of amateurs and professionals alike, when it comes to humble groups like jellyfish and nematodes, he says, "I don't think that amateurs are going to do the job."

Another limitation is that amateurs tend to be knowledgeable at the local level, but continental-scale expertise is essential to truly understand a given organism, says Joel Cracraft, an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. While amateurs can certainly contribute, Cracraft says, "They are not going to be the solution to the problem."

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Protected Areas Increase Economic Gains in West Africa

IUCN 14 Mar 11;

Local populations living close to protected areas in West Africa , earn an additional 40% of their income from activities related to these areas.

This is the result of IUCN’s 2010 survey on the economic benefits of protected areas to households in West Africa. The study looked at how protected areas affect jobs and revenues and compared the benefits with the average agricultural income.

“People living near protected areas have a very low income anyway,” says Geoffroy Mauvais, IUCN Regional coordinator, Protected Areas in Central and West Africa. “We’ve found out that sustainable gathering of natural products made possible by the protected area are the major source of increased income, with tourism and fishing following far behind.”

The results come from some of the poorest areas in countries that are among the least well off in West Africa. The annual per capita income of the almost 8,000 people living in the local villages surrounding the Nazinga forest in Burkina Faso is estimated at €304 in 2010. Sustainable gathering of shea nuts and other fruits, wild honey, grasses for brooms, straw and wood, made possible by the protected area, accounts for €78, which is 80% of the poverty line income.

“This 40% income growth can be considered as a minimum amount that could easily be increased with investment in ecotourism, for example,“ adds Mauvais. “We now have a better understanding of the potential that protected areas have for both sustainable development and nature conservation, keeping in mind of course that conservation must be the priority and that local development must contribute to its reinforcement.“

Note to editors:

To read the full report, visit

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Call to end EU biofuel perks

Jack Wong The Star 15 Mar 11;

KUCHING: Global environmental organisation Wetlands International has called for an end to incentives for biofuels in the European Union (EU).

It said such incentives had resulted in direct and indirect land use change, like in Malaysia where huge areas of peat swamp forests had been cleared for oil palm cultivation.

In its latest published global news, Wetlands International claimed that the expansion of oil palm plantations in Sarawak might lead to the complete loss of the vast and unique peat swamp forests by the end of this decade.

“In just five years (2005-2010), almost 10% of Sarawak's forests and 33% of the peat swamp forests have been cleared. Of this, 65% was for conversion to palm oil production,'' it added.

The report said separate studies by Wetlands International and Sarvision showed that a rapidly increasing proportion of Malaysian palm oil was produced on peatland, leading to deforestation and degradation of organic soils.

“The new studies concluded that 20% of all Malaysian palm oil is produced on drained peatland. For Sarawak, this is 44%. For recently established plantations, the percentage on forested peat swamp is even higher,'' added the report.

Wetlands International wants a complete ban of palm oil production on peatland and calls for a halt of further conversion of natural areas for this crop.

Responding to the report, Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners' Association (Soppoa) refuted Wetlands International's deforestation claims, saying that the Sarawak government had only allocated 750,000ha out of the 1.69 million ha of peatland for oil farm cultivation.

Some 330,700ha of oil palm estates in Sarawak now are on peatland.

It said the state government's policy was to maintain around 50% of its land area under forest cover.

Soppoa said area under oil palm estates had not been deforested but only undergone changes in species, from tree to palm trees, and that oil palm plantation could be classified as forest plantation under the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“'Our planters have managed to get an average yield of between 25 and 30 tonnes per ha of fresh fruit bunches (FFBs) from well managed mature oil palm plantation on peatland.

“This yield is about 20% more than the average yield of the mineral soil plantation areas in Sarawak,'' said Soppoa in a statement.

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Countries taking another look at nuclear power

Business Times 15 Mar 11;

(NEW YORK) Global expansion of nuclear power may draw more scrutiny as Japan struggles with reactors crippled by the quake.

'This is obviously a significant setback for the so-called nuclear renaissance,' said Peter Bradford, a former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 'The image of a nuclear power plant blowing up before your eyes on a TV screen is a first.'

China may consider the effects of the nuclear accident as it completes its energy plans for the 2011-2015 period, Xie Zhenhua, vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, said. China is tripling the number of its reactors, building 27 units to add to the 13 now operating on the mainland, according to the World Nuclear Association.

'Evaluation of nuclear safety and the monitoring of plants will be definitely strengthened,' Mr Xie said.

India, which plans for a 13-fold increase in nuclear power generation, will reconsider its expansion as Japan's worst accident in at least 33 years forces a safety review of existing and proposed plants, Nuclear Power Corp of India said.

'This event may be a big dampener for our programme,' Shreyans Kumar Jain, chairman of India's state-run monopoly producer, said in a telephone interview from Mumbai. 'We and the Department of Atomic Energy will definitely revisit the entire thing, including our new reactor plans, after we receive more information from Japan.'

Germany's energy agency Dena recommends a return to phasing out nuclear power and switching off reactors that are similar to those crippled in Japan, the German newspaper Handelsblatt reported, citing an interview with the agency's head Stephan Kohler.

There are 442 reactors worldwide that supply about 15 per cent of the globe's electricity, according to the London-based World Nuclear Association. There are plans to build more than 155 additional reactors, most of them in Asia, and 65 reactors are currently under construction, the association said.

Japan gets about a third of its electricity from 54 nuclear power plants, the third-most after the US and France. Two reactors are under construction and 12 more are planned, according to the association.

In the US, companies including Southern Co and NRG Energy have submitted applications to build as many as 21 new reactors, adding to the 104 existing units.

'Certainly it's going to cause some reappraisals because this is what you call a 'show-stopping' event,' said Robert Alvarez at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies.

US utilities cancelled 14 nuclear plant orders in the wake of the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

'The arguments that held sway during the Three Mile Island days will hold sway today with this accident,' said Tom Cochran, a nuclear physicist at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

The US should slow the construction of new domestic nuclear power plants until officials can assess whether the situation in Japan signals a need for additional safety measures, said Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

Twenty-three nuclear power plants in the US were built according to designs that are similar to the Dai-Ichi plant's, he said.

Problems at the reactor may encourage the replacement of older models, said Sergei Novikov, a spokesman for Russia's nuclear holding company Rosatom Corp. 'The global nuclear industry will speed up phasing out first-generation power units and start building new ones,' he said.

Rosatom is building 15 new reactors worldwide, more than any other international supplier, five of them outside Russia. -- Bloomberg

Analysis: Nuclear Power Growth At Risk If Japan Plant Leaks
Gerard Wynn and Bernie Woodall PlanetArk 14 Mar 11;

The growing risk of a significant radiation leak at two Japanese nuclear power plants following Friday's earthquake and tsunami threatens to hurt an industry that has enjoyed a rebirth since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

On Friday, nuclear power advocates and environmentalists staked out familiar ground over the incident. But a wider public debate may be ignited if a major radiation leak occurs in Japan, said Paul Patterson, an energy analyst with consultants Glenrock Associates in New York.

That debate has been largely muted since the 1980s when rock concerts were held to galvanize opposition to nuclear power after the Three Mile Island incident in Pennsylvania and the popular movie "The China Syndrome," that raised awareness of the dangers of a nuclear reactor meltdown.

"The severity of what happens is what is important," Patterson said of the impact of the Japanese incident.

If there is a substantial radioactive release, there could even be questions about whether it could travel on the Pacific jet stream to the U.S. West Coast.

"It is serious and it could lead to a meltdown," said Mark Hibbs, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "And what we're seeing, barring any information from the Japanese that they have it under control, is that we're headed in that direction."

But Naoto Sekimura of the University of Tokyo, said that a major radioactive disaster was not likely.

An 8.9-magnitude earthquake centered in northern Japan triggered a series of events at two Tokyo Electric Power Co plants that created conditions for a radioactive leak because there wasn't electric power to circulate cooling water over superheated uranium fuel rods.

The two TEPCO plants, the Daiichi plant and the Daini plant are around 40 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake that led to a tsunami and probably killed more than 1,000.

Nuclear industry advocates on Friday were saying that the ability of the nuclear reactors in Japan to largely withstand the power of the earthquake shows how safe nuclear power is.

But that was before a series of scary announcements from TEPCO that it had lost the ability to control pressure at several reactors and that it was having trouble with a valve that would allow reactor pressure to be eased.

Thousands of residents were evacuated from the immediate area of the Fukushima plants, about 150 miles 240 km north of Tokyo.

Industry experts said the precautions taken at Fukushima showed that enhanced security at nuclear power plants should prevent any disaster. But green groups said the threatened leak showed that the risks were still too high.

"I wouldn't expect there to be a radiation emergency ultimately, they may have something to fix but it's a precaution more than anything else," said Sue Ion, former chief technology officer at British Nuclear Fuels, after Japan declared an atomic power emergency.

Altogether, some 11 Japanese reactors shut down after the earthquake.

Successive layers of security should prevent any leak of radiation, said Jeremy Gordon, an analyst at the World Nuclear Association based in London.


"The reactor designs that are up for consideration today are generation three where the safety systems operate at an even higher level," said WNA analyst Jonathan Cobb.

But environmental groups said the threat of a radiation leak underscored the general risks from atomic energy.

"We've opposed nuclear power for decades, and this is another proof that it can't be safe," said Sven Teske, director of renewable energy at Greenpeace International.

A leading U.S. scientist group said the incident highlighted the grave risk of inadequate back-up power to cooling systems at U.S. facilities.

New interest from governments and investors in nuclear power follows the development of more advanced plants, and a new focus on security of energy supply and moves to reduce carbon emissions. Nuclear plants generate low-carbon power in contrast to fossil fuels and can produce constantly unlike wind and some other clean energy sources.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimated last month that about 10 countries have decided to introduce nuclear power and started preparatory infrastructure work, up from four in 2008.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Fineren, Fredrik Dahl, Karolin Schaps, and Scott DiSavino; editing by Martin Howell)

Analysis - Japan accident shows dilemma over atom plant sites
Alister Doyle Reuters 14 Mar 11;

OSLO (Reuters) - Japan's nuclear accident exposes the dilemma of whether to build power plants on tsunami-prone coasts or inland sites where water supplies are unreliable, a problem likely to be aggravated by climate change, experts say.

Many of the world's 442 nuclear power reactors are by the sea, rather than by lakes or rivers, to ensure vast water supplies for cooling fuel rods in emergencies like that at the Fukushima plant on Japan's east coast.

"It's quite a conundrum," said Ian Jackson, a nuclear energy fellow at Chatham House in Britain. "If you are in a geologically stable area, a coastal location is still the best option."

Japan was scrambling to avert a meltdown at the Fukushima plant after Friday's devastating quake and tsunami, which killed at least 10,000 people.

Inland, water supplies can be more vulnerable to heatwaves, floods, temperature swings and dam failures. Water is a prime consideration in siting decisions that include staying clear of geological fault lines, flight paths and cities.

A 2003 heatwave in Europe, for instance, forced Electricite de France to close or lower output at about half its 19 nuclear plants because of temperature limits on the water it returns to rivers such as the Rhone.

Excessively high temperatures can kill fish and other river life, as well as reduce output from the power plants.

"If climate impacts include flood, heatwaves and droughts then you can expect that nuclear plants will have to shut down more often," said Rianne Teule, a nuclear expert with the environmental group Greenpeace in South Africa.

"It will bring more risks," she said. Greenpeace favors a phase-out of all nuclear power.

A study in the journal Nature found that it was very likely that global warming, stoked by human emissions of greenhouse gases, had contributed to the extreme temperatures of the 2003 European heatwave and hence the severity of its impact.

Rising sea levels are also a long-term consideration for siting power plants that will operate for decades. Higher sea levels would aggravate storm surges or the impact of tsunamis.

The U.N. panel of scientists said in 2007 that the sea level is likely to rise by between 18 and 59 cms (7 and 24 inches) this century, more if there is a big thaw in Greenland and/or Antarctica.

"Deciding where to site a plant is tricky," said Nils Boehmer, a nuclear physicist at the environmental group Bellona in Norway.

Placing plants inland often exposes them to the risk of higher water temperatures in summer, reducing generating capacity. "Then you end up that the best place is on the coast where there is a risk of a tsunami," he said.

An added consideration is that environmental rules are getting tougher in many nations.

Last year, Exelon Corp. said it would shut its Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey in 2019, about 10 years before its license expires, as part of an agreement to let it keep operating without expensive cooling towers.

New Jersey had wanted Exelon to install a new cooling system at the plant, the oldest reactor operating in the United States, to reduce the threat to fish and other life.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

What will spark the next Fukushima?
An untrustworthy nuclear industry, incompetently regulated, is leading the world into greater and greater danger
John Vidal 14 Mar 11;

The gung-ho nuclear industry is in deep shock. Just as it and its cheerleader, the International Atomic Energy Agency, were preparing to mark next month's 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident with a series of self-congratulatory statements about the dawning of a safe age of clean atomic power, a series of catastrophic but entirely avoidable accidents take place in not one but three reactors in one of the richest countries of the world. Fukushima is not a rotting old power plant in a failed state manned by half-trained kids, but supposedly one of the safest stations in one of the most safety-conscious countries with the best engineers and technologists in the world.

Chernobyl blew up not because the reactor malfunctioned but because an ill-judged experiment to see how long safety equipment would function during shutdown went too far. So, too, in Japan, it was not the nuclear bits of the station that went wrong but the conventional technology. The pumps did not work because the power supply went down and the back-up support was not there because no one had thought what happened was possible.

Even though Japan had been warned many times that possibly the most dangerous place in the world to site a nuclear power station was on its coast, no one had taken into account the double-whammy effect of a tsunami and an earthquake on conventional technology. It's easy to be wise after the event, but the inquest will surely show that the accident was not caused by an unpredictable natural disaster, but by a series of highly predictable bad calls by human regulators.

The question now is whether the industry can be trusted anywhere. If this industry were a company, its shareholders would have deserted it years ago. In just one generation it has killed, wounded or blighted the lives of many millions of people and laid waste to millions of square miles of land. In that time it has been subsidised to the tune of trillions of dollars and it will cost hundreds of billions more to clean up and store the messes it has caused and the waste it has created. It has had three catastrophic failures now in 25 years and dozens more close shaves. Its workings have been marked around the world by mendacity, cover-ups, secrecy and financial incompetence.

Sadly, the future looks worse. The world has a generation of reactors coming to the end of their days and politicians putting intense pressure on regulators to extend their use well beyond their design lives. We are planning to double worldwide electricity supply from nuclear power in the next 20 years, but we have nowhere near enough experienced engineers to run the ever-bigger stations. We have private companies peddling new designs that are said to be safer but which are still not proven, and we have 10 new countries planning to move into civil nuclear power in the next five years.

It gets worse. More than 100 of the world's reactors are already sited in areas of high seismic activity and many of 350 new stations planned for the highly volatile Pacific rim where earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural hazards are certain to happen. We still have not worked out how to store waste and, we now know that we cannot protect stations from all eventualities.

What the industry and governments cannot accept are the two immutable laws of life – Murphy's law and the law of unintended consequences. If something is possible to go wrong then it will, eventually. It may be possible to design out the technological weaknesses but it is impossible to allow for the unknown unknowns.

Next time the disaster may have nothing to do with an earthquake or a tsunami, but be because of terrorism, climate change, a fatal error in an anonymous engineering works, proliferation of plutonium or a deranged plant manager. If there were no alternatives than employing nuclear power to light up a bulb or to reduce carbon emissions then the industry and governments might be forgiven. But when the stakes are so high, the scale is so big and there are 100 other safer ways, it seems sheer folly to go on in this way.

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Japan nuclear crisis mixed message for climate change

Marlowe Hood And Anthony Lucas Yahoo News 14 Mar 11;

PARIS (AFP) – Japan's nuclear crisis will boost interest in clean renewables such as solar and wind power but may also sharpen demand for coal, oil and gas, whose carbon pollution drives climate change, experts said Monday.

Nuclear energy provides around 14 percent of the world's electricity mix, although this is overwhelmingly concentrated in six countries, and is not going to disappear off the map any time soon, they said.

"The accident in Japan is not a death sentence for nuclear power," stressed Jean-Marie Chevalier, an economist and energy expert at the Universite Paris Dauphine, pointing to the hundreds of billions of dollars invested in existing reactors and plants under construction.

But the scare surrounding the crippled reactors at the earthquake-struck Fukushima plant means nuclear's renaissance after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster will be crimped, at least in the short term.

Governments in India, the United States and Europe are under pressure to review safety standards or slap a moratorium on new projects, and Germany and Switzerland have already said they will be on hold plans to extend the operational life of existing plants, pending safety reviews.

"At the very least, we would expect significant investments in nuclear to be delayed, or deferred, for a period of one to two years," said Rupesh Madlani, renewables analysts at Barclays Capital in London.

In the short run, any energy shortfall in Japan, and elsewhere, will be filled by fossil fuels, said other experts.

"Disruption to the Japanese nuclear industry means that they are going to be relying increasingly on oil and gas for power generation," said Julian Lee, an analyst at the Centre for Global Energy Studies, a London think tank backed by the oil industry.

Jacques Percebois, head of the Centre for Research on Energy Economy and Law at Monpellier University, agreed the fossil fuel industry would be early beneficiaries as it could provide gigawatts of quick power.

"Those who declare a moratorium on new nuclear energy should understand that the available solution for meeting large-scale energy demands today is not solar panels, it's gas," he told AFP.

Burning natural gas contributes to global warming, but less so than oil, and far less than coal.

"The major risk is that, facing an energy shortage, coal-fired reactors with coal imported from Australia are built," said Cedric Philibert, an analyst in the renewable energy division of the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris.

"Japan's greenhouse gas emissions would skyrocket."

At the same time, though, a slowdown in nuclear investment would also steer money into renewable energies, which since the 2008 financial crisis have been struggling to expand their share of the world's power market, several experts said.

"This should lead to an incremental upside in terms of demand for wind and solar projects," said Madlani of Barclays.

"It could mean 10 percent more wind and solar being demanded each year for the next couple of years," he told AFP.

Madlani also pointed to current high oil prices and the increasing cost of oil extraction, especially after the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

For Christiana Figueres, the United Nations' top climate change official, the meltdown will probably push up the costs of nuclear energy, making renewables more competitive.

"Japan will change mid-term world energy scenarios," she said in a Twitter message on Sunday from a meeting of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in Berlin.

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