News 360 - Brief

Published: Tuesday 30 September 2008

India gets into nuclear family

On September 6, the 45-member nuclear suppliers group (nsg) lifted its 16-year-old embargo on nuclear commerce with India.

The tough negotiations in Vienna went down to the wire after China, which had sounded positive in the run-up to the nsg meeting took a different line. Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Ireland also acted tough. But a consensus emerged after three days and five rounds of roller-coaster negotiations it waives the requirement of "full-scope safeguards" as a condition for the cartel's member states to export nuclear material and fuel for use in Indian facilities.

The government claims the move will allow India to resume civil nuclear cooperation with the world despite possessing nuclear weapons, something nsg guidelines have barred since 1992. Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, who headed the high-powered Indian delegation to Vienna, did not provide details of the waiver text citing nsg's rules of confidentiality. At the time this magazine went to press, the waiver text had not been made public.

waste dumping
Blue Lady in the UK now

The decommissioned French warship, Le Clemenceau, nicknamed Blue Lady, is again mired in controversy. It recently docked at Hartlepool, a North Sea port in the uk, for dismantling.

The toxic-laden vessel came to India in early 2006 to be scrapped, but was turned away on safety grounds. It remained stranded at the port of Brest in France for over two years.

Down to Earth In June, the Health and Safety Executive (hse) allowed a Hartlepool-based company, Able uk, to bring the ship for breaking. Activists in Hartlepool have already launched a campaign against the warship. "The hse has made a special exception to allow this toxic ghost ship and its deadly cargo into our local community. It is a deep injustice to force a small accept France's toxic waste," said Jean Kennedy of Friends of Hartlepool, a citizens group that has filed a case against hse. The ship contains an estimated 760 tonnes of asbestos and 330 tonnes of Polychlorinated biphenyls.

ccs technology
King coal goes underground

The world's first prototype coal-fired power plant using the carbon capture and storage (ccs) technology was inaugurated in Germany in early September.

Built by the Swedish power company Vattenfall, the us $100-million project has started with a 30 mw plant. Company officials say the plant uses oxyfuel boiler, which burns lignite in nearly pure oxygen, instead of air. Its emissions is almost pure co2, which can be captured, compressed into liquid and sequestered. The plan is to carry liquefied co2 from the plant, located alongside the Schwarze Pumpe power plant in eastern Germany, in lorries and inject it in the depleted Altmark gas field in northern Germany, about 350 km away. Vattenfall plans to scale up the technology to prove its commercial viability by 2015-2020, and is building demonstration plants of 250-350 mw capacities.

Environmentalists, however, remain unimpressed. They doubt the technology's viability because there is practically no knowledge of the environmental impact of storing co2 underground.

Haiti battered thrice

Between August 25 and September 7, Haiti was hit by hurricane Gustav, tropical storm Hanna, and hurricane Ike. At least 30,000 houses have been destroyed, 500 people are dead and hundreds of thousands have been cut off from humanitarian aid, said authorities.

Down to Earth Gustav also caused serious damage and casualties in Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Western Cuba, the Cayman Islands, Cuba, and the us. Hanna, which formed on August 28 in the northern Leeward Islands, was the deadliest tropical cyclone in the Atlantic basin since 2005. Ike started as a tropical disturbance off the coast of Africa towards the end of August, but intensified before hitting Haiti and ravaging Cuba on September 4. By the time the magazine went to press, Ike had crossed Cuba and was heading into the Gulf of Mexico. Oil refineries in the gulf had evacuated workers.

While there are two months left for the Atlantic hurricane season to end, a new study says that global warming is causing powerful hurricanes to become even more intense.

Down to Earth
Down to Earth
Down to Earth
physical science
Simulating Big Bang

Scientists at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, Geneva, on September 10 started one of the most ambitious experiments ever conceived--to simulate conditions of the "Big Bang" that created the universe. The Large Hadron Collider (lhc), a us $9 billion particle accelerator, was switched on and the first proton was fired. lhc is designed to fire protons around the 27-km tunnel at nearly the speed of light and then smash them together. Scientists say this will re-create the conditions of less than a millionth of a second after the Big Bang to look at how the universe evolved. In the coming months, the collider is expected to begin smashing particles into each other.

Fears have emerged that the collider could produce black holes that will swallow the planet. But those involved in the project insist that the experiment poses no risk to the universe.

emissions trading
China's local initiative

Changsha city, the capital of Hunan province in China, is in the process of launching its own emissions trading scheme. Changsha's plan is the local version of a domestic emissions trading scheme drawn up by the central bank, which will cover everything, from ghg emissions to water pollutants.

Under the scheme, Changsha will assign quotas to its local districts for dust, co2 and chemical oxygen demand-a measure of water pollution. The districts would in turn allocate pollution targets to local enterprises. Districts that exceed their limit will be fined; those below their assigned level will be given incentives, said the city mayor Zhang Jianfei. The districts can trade their quotas once the trading system is in place early next year.

congo gorillas
Ceasefire at national park

The Democratic Republic of Congo's wildlife authority and army have come to an agreement for demilitarization of the Virunga National park, one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems and home to half of the world's 700 remaining mountain gorillas.

As part of the deal more than a 1000 soldiers were removed from their post in the park's central sector. The agreement comes at a time when a decade of war between the Congolese army and Tutsi rebels has left at least five million people dead in eastern Congo and has allowed tens of thousands of militia to pillage the dense forests. The decision, wildlife officials say, will ease human pressure on the park and allow rangers to do their job in controlling poaching and land invasions more effectively.

pcb contamination
'Polluted' bird

Down to Earth The tiny Arctic ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea) has set a new record as the bird most contaminated by two banned chemicals. Scientists from the Norweg-ian Polar Institute have found high levels of Polychlorinated biphenyls (pcbs) in ivory gulls than in any other Arctic seabird. pcbs were long used in products such as paints, plastics and the pesticide ddt. A un convention banned the use of these persistent organic chemicals in 2001. The scientists believe that chemicals swept north by strong currents from industrial centres, often end in the Arctic where they accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals, fish and birds. Since Ivory gulls are top predators, they have high levels of contaminants.

Leaky pipes bother Pak

The groundwater table has receded by over 21 metres in Islamabad, causing a drastic reduction in water supply of the tube wells from 1,900 litres per minute to 190 litres per minute.

Residents blame it on age-old leaky pipes and say 60 per cent of the daily water supply is lost due to leakage from old water supply lines. Authorities, however, link it to overdependence on groundwater and non-judicious use of water. They are advising people to stop sinking more tube wells and depend on surface water.

oil and gas reserves
Britain to annex underwater

In a scramble to control the world's unexplored oil and gas reserves under the sea, the uk recently appealed to the un for sovereignty over 199,947 sq km of submarine territory around Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. On August 28, it submitted requests to the un Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (un clcs). Under the Law of the Sea Treaty, nations have rights over resources--including oil and gas reserves up to 200 nautical miles from the shoreline. But the uk wants to extend those rights around Ascension on the grounds that the island's landmass actually reaches much further underwater. Ascension Island is part of its overseas territory of St Helena. The un clcs has asked to submit scientific evidence by May 2009.

The uk also plans to submit territorial claims for seabeds surrounding the Hatton-Rockall area, west of Scotland, as well as the Falkland Islands in the southern Atlantic. Claims over these territories have already been staked by Denmark, Iceland, Argentina and Chile.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.