Radiation is Harmless; Heck, It’s Even Good For You! (cont’d)

There is no safe level of radiation.

Part Two of a two-part series from CSRwire.

By CSRwire Talkback Managing Editor Francesca Rheannon

Yesterday, I wrote about the difference between exposure to external radiation - radiation that is in the air, water or soil - and internal radiation, the stuff that gets inside you. I explained why the natural phenomenon of bioaccumulation means, when radioactive particles (radionucleides) settle into the bones, organs and muscles of prey that are eaten, they become more concentrated the higher up the food chain they go.

So, even though the radioactivity in the water becomes more dilute the farther it flows from the source, it becomes more concentrated in bodies of the animals that ingest it. It’s why the “solution to pollution” is not dilution, at least in the case of substances that bioaccumulate (and damage cells, as we’ll see below).

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05:50 pm by csrwiretalkback[2 notes]

Blue Sky Thinking for Sustainability

Physics might hold the solution to lightening human impacts on the planet.

By John Elkington

So why would you want to give away £20 million – over $30 million – even if you had it? In the case of hedge fund superstar David Harding, part of the answer on why he has just made the biggest gift ever to the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University was, he said, that it was a form of compensation for all the physicists his firm had “poached” from the world of science. He was only partly joking: his firm, Winton Capital Management, employs over 90 researchers with PhDs or other higher degrees in subjects ranging from extragalactic astrophysics to artificial intelligence.

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11:02 pm by csrwiretalkback[3 notes]

Safety and Sustainability Lacked a Voice at Fukushima

Why worker health and safety is good for sustainability and the environment.

Originally posted on the CSRwire website.

By CSRwire Talkback Managing Editor Francesca Rheannon

It happened on March 24, 2011. The radioactive water poured over the workers’ boots and burned their feet and ankles as they struggled to lay new power cables at reactor No. 3 at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant. The estimate is that they were exposed to 330 times the amount of radiation allowable in a year. And although they were released several days later, they face a lifetime of higher risk of cancer, cataracts and bone disease. They are in their 20s and 30s, so they have a long time to worry.

Two Japanese workers joined 15 others at the doomed plant who have been injured so far due to exposure to high radiation levels (not including those who will get cancers later, which could reach as many as 50%). They and their fellows at the plant are regarded as heroes – which they are – but few stop to question whether the risks they are taking are higher than they should have been.

They aren’t regular TEPCO employees; like many of the workers currently battling to get the reactor under control, they are poorly paid day workers, working for subcontractors. The question that leaped immediately to my mind when I read the report of the accident was, "how in God’s name did water get into their boots?"

I used to train workers on health and safety during hazardous operations (the OSHA-mandated Hazwoper trainings) at The New England Consortium (TNEC), including some basic information on nuclear safety. Workers in hazmat suits - the big white Tyvek suits that have become a common site on news reports about the Japan nuke disaster - are supposed to have their boots sealed to the suit so no contaminants can get in. It’s a no-brainer.

But those workers had neither the proper boots nor the waterproof hazmat suits, TEPCO admitted - and putting on boots wasn’t even required by the company’s safety manual. They weren’t given dosimeters. Neither is it likely they got the Japanese equivalent of Hazwoper training - indications are the training they received was perfunctory, at best. Nor were they warned the water was radioactive, even though the company knew about the problem several days before the workers were exposed. Evidently the TEPCO safety officers were lax as well. They failed to arrange for radiation levels to be monitored in the area where the workers were operating, “a very big and basic oversight.”

Neither they nor the regular workers at TEPCO were unionized, which might have something to do with the lax health and safety culture at the plant. “It’s important to involve workers themselves,” TNEC’s project director Paul Morse told me. “In a lot of places where we have nuclear facilities in the U.S., we have unionized workers who have had a lot of investment in emergency response training. The people who have been part of these training programs are much better prepared and fought for plant safety protections as part of collective bargaining. It’s crucial to have a workforce that’s had a voice.”

What’s the link between injured workers battling to contain the worsening nuclear disaster in Japan and the hundreds of thousands of Japanese residents as far away as Tokyo who are worrying about the radiation spreading invisibly into their air, water and soil? It’s not that the former are trying to protect the latter, although that is true. It’s that a company that takes worker health and safety as cavalierly as TEPCO does is one that takes the health and safety of the environment just as cavalierly.

In other words: worker health and safety is the first line of defense against environmental catastrophe, whether the catastrophe is sudden or insidiously ongoing. In the case of Fukushima-Daiichi, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster a year ago and upper Big Branch Mine disaster before that (just to mention the most famous accidents in recent history), all the companies involved had been cited for poor worker health and safety records before the disasters. But the same disregard for environmental and worker health can be seen in companies that make the list of the Toxic 100 index, like Bayer and ExxonMobil, for their ongoing contamination of the environment.

Safeguarding worker health and safety isn’t just good for workers and the environment. It’s also good for companies.

First, it improves productivity. A summary of research from New Zealand shows a safer and healthier work environment goes beyond fewer sick days taken or lower workers’ comp costs. It includes more innovation, improved quality of work, a better corporate reputation and improved employee recruitment and retention.

But even more so, a focus on worker health and safety should be something near and dear to the sustainability community. Back when I was training workers, one of the first principles we trainers covered was that reducing pollution at the source was the best practice for controlling contamination (instead of having to clean it up later). And the best way to reduce pollution at the source was substitution - using nontoxic materials in place of toxic ones.

The options for substitution were fewer then. But in the years since I taught my last training, “green chemistry" has been coming into its own, opening up a whole new promising field for innovation in clean technology.

Among its “Twelve Principles" are preventing hazardous waste from being created, maximizing the use of materials (so less are used), designing safer chemicals, using fewer additives, designing for energy efficiency, using renewable feedstocks and making products innocuously degradable. A moment’s reflection will show they not only protect worker and environmental health, but also cut production costs.

From smaller companies like Genomatica, profiled in a recent post by Marc Gunther (instead of hydrocarbons, it uses “carbohydrates”) to big ones like Dow Chemical and BASF, innovative scientists are finding solutions to pollution.

Government assistance is key. In the U.S., the increasingly beleaguered EPA has been instrumental in spurring green chemistry through its Green Chemistry Challenge. But the E.U. has been ahead of the U.S., passing several directives that mandate more easily recycled materials in electronics as well as less toxic substances in electronics production. And its REACH framework aims not only to track toxics, but also to encourage innovation in green chemistry.

Some industries are inherently dangerous to worker and environmental health - like nuclear power. The best way to control pollution at the source is to switch to 100% safe renewable energy as fast as possible - something we could do by 2030, according to a recent study.

That would ensure that no more miners would die, no more nuclear workers would become radioactive and no more workers would be blown up on oil rigs. And all of us will enjoy a safer and healthier environment.

About Francesca Rheannon

Francesca is CSRwire's Talkback Managing Editor. An award-winning journalist, Francesca is co-founder of Sea Change Media. She produces the Sea Change Radio’s series, Back to The Future, and co-produces the Interfaith Center of Corporate Responsibility’s podcast, The Arc of Change. Francesca’s work has appeared at SocialFunds.com, The CRO and E Magazine, and she is a contributing writer for CSRwire. Francesca hosts the nationally syndicated radio show, Writers Voice with Francesca Rheannon.

Talkback Readers: Where were opportunities missed to help safeguard workers? How can companies resolve these lapses to prevent future disasters? Share on Talkback!

10:18 pm by csrwiretalkback[1 note]

Towards a Healthy Renewable Energy Future

We can do 100% renewables by 2050.

By Leslie Danziger

The Green Transition Scoreboard® shows $787.6 billion has been invested in renewable energy from 2007–2010 with another $571 billion in firm commitments. Significant momentum in renewables includes growth in solar energy: US solar capacity doubled in 2010 (Bloomberg); US solar power market reached $6 billion in 2010 (Wall Street Journal); US solar grew sharply in 2010 compared to Europe (Reuters). The planet is awash with daily energy from the sun. Reports confirm there is enough solar energy in the southwest US alone to power the entire country (Rep. Giffords, D-Ariz.). Bridgette Meinhold, Desertec Foundation, adds: “If 0.3% of the Sahara Desert was a concentrated solar plant, it would power all of Europe.“

Solar and wind energy have reached maturity and are already cost competitive in many markets, even with the direct and indirect subsidies and other “externalities” – costs not factored into market prices – of fossil fuel and nuclear energy. These externalities often include negative impacts on public health.

Harvard Medical School reports in Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal that “each stage of the life cycle of coal – extraction, transport, processing, and combustion – generates a waste stream and carries multiple hazards for health and the environment…costing the US public a third to over one-half a trillion dollars annually.”

The public is aware of national security threats posed by dependence on foreign oil but less aware “the taxpayers are underwriting the military costs of protecting its delivery from the most dangerous parts of the world and the transportation system that supports oil consumption” (NewEnergyNews.net). 

Japan’s nuclear crisis illustrates the “externalities” of nuclear power that Japanese taxpayers will bear economically and in radiation-related health risks. Heavily subsidized, costly nuclear reactors can cause health risks for thousands of years, yet nuclear is still touted as clean and cost effective. Even without factoring in the cost of these health risks, economist John Blackburn of Duke University shows solar energy is already cheaper than nuclear. Thus, renewable energy wins, even without a level playing field.

Extreme weather in all parts of the world – early indicators of climate change – exemplify “externalities” in burning fossil fuels. Institutional investors are taking these changes seriously (IIGCC). Mercer with 14 other institutional investors in “Climate Change Scenarios – Implications for Strategic Asset Allocation“ calls for shifting 40% of portfolios to hedge against risks and capitalize on low-carbon opportunities. 

Recent reports advocate an orderly transition to a renewable energy future that can provide safe, abundant energy and a healthy, sustainable global economy for generations to come. WWF/Ecofys has mapped out a course to achieve 100% Renewable Energy by 2050 “which is technically and economically possible with concrete steps starting now.” Stanford University’s “Providing All Global Energy With Wind, Water, And Solar Power" and UNEP’s “Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication" all agree with the findings of the Green Transition Scoreboard® that this transition is well under way. 

About Leslie Danziger

Leslie Danziger is Co-Founder and former Chairman of Solaria Corporation, a developer and manufacturer of advanced solar modules and systems solutions and CoFounder and former Chairman and CEO of LightPath Technologies, an optical technologies developer and manufacturer, which she took public. She has been featured in Business Week and the Wall Street Journal. She holds two patents and was named the New Mexico Inventor of the Year. She currently serves on the Advisory Boards of Equal Access, WorldBlu and Ethical Markets Media. She is a member of the Solar Circle and the American Solar Energy Society.

About the Green Transition

“Towards a Healthy Renewable Energy Future” is part four of five exploring the sectors driving the Green Transition. Stay tuned for the final Green Transition Talkback posts on Consumer Demand, contributed by members of the Green Transition Scoreboard® research team. For part one in the series, read Hazel Henderson’s “Good News on the Green Transition;” part two by Rosalinda Sanquiche, “Efficiency: Bedrock of the Green Transition;” and part three by Timothy Jack Nash, Corporate R&D: Global Investments in Green Innovation.” For more information, please view the associated press release.

Talkback Readers: Do you think we can reach 100% renewables by 2050? What will it take to get it done? Tell us on Talkback! 

09:16 pm by csrwiretalkback[67 notes]

Fukushima Dai-ichi: Ending the Faustian Bargain with Nuclear

The costs and perils of nuclear power are too high to risk.

By Mitchell Beer

Anyone who has watched the nuclear industry with even a slightly critical eye has known somewhere, sooner or later, a calamitous accident would come to define a technology that is too dangerous for humanity to control.

With the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster unfolding day by day, that accident has a name and its victims have hundreds, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of faces.

The full extent of the damage may not be known for some time. But in this crisis, we can already see the deeply fatal flaws that make nuclear energy an option that no country should accept.

  • More than 65 years after Japan’s first painful experience with nuclear technology, there is still no reliable way to deal with the waste civilian reactors produce. That may be why the spent fuel rods now beginning to melt at Fukushima Reactor No. 4 were stored on the site. Longer-term disposal is bound to be a headache when the radioactive substances in the inventory remain deadly for up to 240,000 years.
  • The high cost of nuclear generation should have been enough to kill this technology and kill it dead. The loan guarantees required to get U.S. utilities to consider nuclear development would make any self-respecting solar or wind developer blush. And in the last week, there’s been speculation cost containment, more than radiation containment, has driven the development of safety procedures at aging nuclear plants in the U.S., 24 of them based on the same design as the Fukushima plant. Could this be why California’s Diablo Canyon facility, located less than a mile from an offshore fault line, had no earthquake plan when it was licensed 25 years ago?
  • No amount of advance planning will ever be enough to prevent chains of events no one can reasonably predict. Even if we eventually learn nobody was negligent in designing emergency procedures for the Fukushima facility, that finding will be a small consolation to the victims or the survivors.

Beyond the immediate news from Japan, no international treaty is persuasive enough to prevent a country that is determined to divert spent reactor fuel to build a nuclear weapon. In May 1974, India exploded its first “peaceful” nuclear “device,” using plutonium it recovered from a research reactor Canada supplied in 1956. More recently, Sen. John McCain and others have urged the U.S. to “bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” to stop another civilian nuclear program from taking on a military dimension.

In the last several years, the nuclear industry has acquired friends in unexpected places, with some proponents of aggressive action on climate change accepting uranium as a low-carbon option. The trade-off is a Faustian bargain that won’t pay off. Nuclear fails virtually every other test of sustainability, and even as a response to climate change is much less effective and much more expensive than the alternatives. “Nuclear draws precious financial, managerial and technological resources away from the sustainable options,” says energy analyst Ralph Torrie, “but delivers relatively little greenhouse gas reduction in return.”

In May 1976, the Worldwatch Institute published Nuclear Power: The Fifth Horseman, a working paper in which Earth Day coordinator Denis Hayes observed nuclear fission:

…cannot brook natural disasters or serious mechanical failures, human mistakes or wilful malevolence. It demands an unprecedented vigilance of our social institutions and demands it for a quarter-million years. At the same time, the use of commercial nuclear power dramatically increases the fragility of human civilization…amounts to acceptance of the inevitable spread of nuclear weapons from nation to nation, and the near-certainty that some nuclear bombs will end up in terrorist hands.

If we knew that 35 years ago, how have we managed to forget it since?

On Ottawa’s local public radio station last week, a business commentator declared the occasional nuclear disaster an acceptable price for a society that wants to avoid the “self-sacrifice” of safer, cleaner technologies. People in Japan today might disagree. But it’s also hard to see the sacrifice in eco-efficiency measures that make industry more profitable, or the wider economy more energy-efficient. In a year that has seen massive disasters at nuclear, coal and offshore oil developments, what more reason could we possibly need to finally, fully embrace a more efficient energy economy based on renewable sources?

About Mitchell Beer

Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc. in Ottawa, Canada, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repackaging conference content. He tweets as @mitchellbeer. Beer worked as a reporter and editor at Canadian Renewable Energy News from 1977 to 1981.

Talkback Readers: Weigh in on nuclear! Do we need it? Can we risk it? Share your opinion on Talkback.

09:28 pm by csrwiretalkback[2 notes]

Health Hazards of Climate Change - Lessons From Japan

Business and government need to make sure alternatives to fossil fuels do not add to human and environmental health hazards.

Part Two of a three-part series from CSRwire.

By CSRwire Talkback Managing Editor Francesca Rheannon

My last post in these pages, written a week ago, tackled seven top health hazards of climate change. I promised readers my next post would explore remedies governments, businesses and individuals can use to protect human health from the “the biggest global health threat of the 21st Century.”

What a difference a week makes. A devastating earthquake in Japan set off a tsunami that has likely claimed tens of thousands of lives and is also threatening a full-scale nuclear catastrophe.

With three reactors in “partial meltdown,” another with its spent fuel rods on fire and radiation levels spiking as I write these words, the unfolding nuclear emergency at Fukushima will end up — in the best case scenario — having caused acute injury or death to some plant workers and almost certainly an eventual rise in cancer in those living near the plant (especially children), or — worst case scenario — spewing radioactive clouds that will circle the globe for months, potentially causing many cancers and birth defects for a long time to come.

So, rather than continue on my promised path, I decided to take a short detour into a now more pressing question. After Fukushima, do we face a Hobbesian choice between illness, death and environmental disaster from fossil fuels — or illness, death and environmental disaster from the technologies we hope to replace them?

Nuclear energy was supposed to help get us off our fossil fuel addiction — it was supposed to be “clean” and provide a bridge to less mature technologies like wind and solar. Proponents of nuclear, including one of my heroes, climatologist Jim Hansen, have said that without a renaissance in nuclear energy, the world will not be able to get off coal in time to avert catastrophic climate change. As of March 11, however, the nuclear renaissance is in doubt, both in the US and abroad.

In fact there have been doubts all along. Critics have charged nuclear is anything but “clean:” nuclear waste is (practically) forever, transporting it to far-flung permanent waste storage facilities (that have yet to exist and probably never will) puts communities at risk of contaminating accidents, nuclear plants are terrorist magnets, and they are prodigious water hogs in a world that climate change is making water-poor. (The hotter and drier the earth gets, the more water nuclear power plants will commandeer to supply the increased demand by people running more air conditioners more often.) Moreover, nuclear plants carry a heavy carbon footprint from construction; mining, processing and transporting uranium; storing waste and decommissioning.

Claims of the safety of present nukes are Panglossian at best and disingenuous at worse: the Japanese have the highest nuclear plant safety standards in the world, yet they built their reactors to withstand earthquakes, not tsunamis — despite the fact the two go together, as any Japanese kindergartner can tell you. And don’t believe claims that low levels of radiation pose no danger. They do: there is no safe exposure level to ionizing radiation (although the risk does go up with more exposure).

If you think nuclear operators on American soil are any better than the Japanese on safety, I’ve got a nuclear plant in Vermont I can sell you. Vermont Yankee is the same design as the failed reactors at Fukushima and it has been leaking for years. Thanks to a courageous governor — probably encouraged by a long-battling group of activists — that plant will be shut down, in spite of the NRC’s approval extending the plant’s license for another 12 years. But he is the exception among politicians, not the rule. Perhaps nuclear plants can be made safer, but we’d have to have a different political climate — one not beholden to corporate interests — to insure that.

How about other energy alternatives to fossil fuels? As we’ve learned from the case of biofuels, the cure may be no better than the disease. Consider this:

Even wind and solar — certainly our best bets for clean electric power — come with some environmental concerns, from rare earth mining to harm to migratory birds.

So, what’s a climate hawk to do? We need to consider a sobering truth: there is no “free” energy. We are going to have to put responsible innovation at the core of our search for clean, renewable energy; we are going to have to put efficiency first; and we are all — consumers, producers and investors alike — going to have to learn to live better with less.

How we can do that will be the subject of my third and final post in this series. Stay tuned.

About Francesca Rheannon

Francesca is CSRwire's Talkback Managing Editor. An award-winning journalist, Francesca is co-founder of Sea Change Media. She produces the Sea Change Radio’s series, Back to The Future, and co-produces the Interfaith Center of Corporate Responsibility’s podcast, The Arc of Change. Francesca’s work has appeared at SocialFunds.com, The CRO and E Magazine, and she is a contributing writer for CSRwire. Francesca hosts the nationally syndicated radio show, Writers Voice with Francesca Rheannon.

Talkback Readers: What is a climate hawk to do? Which alternative energies pose minimal health risks? Tell us on Talkback!

06:28 pm by csrwiretalkback[4 notes]

Needed: A Tidal Wave Of Innovation

Japan’s tragedy points the way to a safer future – if we learn its lesson.

By Carl Safina

Japan’s tsunami is a horrific tragedy of staggering human and economic proportions. It is also as natural a disaster as humanity can still suffer. Its cause is shifting plates in Earth’s crust. It has nothing to do with greenhouse gases or global warming, which now casts suspicion on whether weather-related disasters are entirely natural or partially human-caused (Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico, or the more recent droughts that have helped push up food prices, may reflect humanly influenced atmospheric change).

Natural or not, the tsunami will, however, force reevaluation of energy options that have implications for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Atomic energy is probably the most scaled-up, ready-to-go alternative to conventional combustion-based technologies requiring petroleum or coal.

That’s old news, of course. And that’s the problem.

Decades after we saw the need for alternative fuels – we have scant options. More than anywhere else, Japan’s engineers build with earthquakes in mind. In the case of the earthquake-induced problems at its nuclear reactors, no one is really at fault. Sometimes someone is at fault, as with last year’s Gulf of Mexico BP oil well blowout. In the latter case, fault lies with the bad judgment of the people involved. In Japan’s case, the fault is a geological one.

What these two very different circumstances – faultiness and faultlessness – have in common is: accidents happen.

So for me the way I’ve been thinking of it is that among the many reasons we need to transition to a clean-energy economy is the magnitude of inherent risks. Not the frequency of accidents, which are rather rare, but the severity of inevitable accidents.

The nuclear-energy risks are quite dangerous. As are the increasing risks from oil as we go to deeper waters where controlling blowouts is extremely difficult and takes months. Fracking for natural gas has been called safe, but its safety is increasingly being challenged by indications that it can pollute drinking water supplies, including New York City’s. Coal is putting mercury in fish, largely changing the heat balance of the planet and acidifying the ocean.

Clean energies like sunlight, tides, heat from the Earth, wind and algae actually power the whole planet. But also, they can’t explode, can’t be spilled and can’t be used by terrorists. They cannot be “unleashed” by earthquakes.

Those are some of the reasons we need to transition to a clean-energy economy. What are the other reasons? You don’t have to ask; you already know. Here are a few:

  • Petro-dictators. Imagine how sweet it would be if we no longer threw cash to corporate giants and terrorists each time we filled our car or our home’s burner went on.
  • Price, reliability and self-sustainability. Right now we’re subject to oil shocks caused by political events and foreign price-fixing. When we build the smart grid of the future, it can distribute electricity generated by any means, whether it’s coal or free, clean energy from wind and sunlight and geo-thermal sources.
  • Price competition between biomass fuel and food made from the same crops. We can go back to eating food, rather than burning it. The hungry and poor will thankful.
  • Peak oil. It won’t last forever. Can we finally start planning for the inevitable?
  • Despoliation. Coal companies are still blowing up mountains in a country where children are taught to sing “America The Beautiful.”
  • Other pollution. Fossil fuels, wood and other biomass create smog, lung and breathing problems. Nuclear energy creates dangerous waste.
  • Jobs. American jobs. Sure other people benefit from getting jobs formerly held by Americans. But why are we doing everything we can to build the economy of the biggest, most anti-democratic, most oppressive government in the world? Why do we tolerate it?
  • Leadership. Who builds the energy future will own the future and will sell it to the world. Will it be the United States or China? China knows its answer. We don’t. While China dreams big, America sleepwalks.

So as the horrors in Japan prompt a global reevaluation of the risks of nuclear energy, let’s really work toward a safer energy future.

About Carl Safina

Carl Safina is a MacArthur fellow, Pew fellow, and Guggenheim fellow, he is adjunct professor at Stony Brook University and president of Blue Ocean Institute. His books include Song for the Blue Ocean, The View From Lazy Point and A Sea in Flames, his book abut the 2010 Gulf blowout, among others. He is host of Saving the Ocean on PBS television. www.blueocean.org | www.carlsafina.org 

Talkback Readers: What are your thoughts on the do’s and don’ts of promoting truly clean energy? Share your thoughts on innovation with Talkback!

03:21 pm by csrwiretalkback[16 notes]



CSRwire is the leading source of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability news, reports, events and information.

CSRwire Talkback is hosted by Francesca Rheannon, Managing Editor, and Sarah Peyok, Director of Editorial.


Talkback brings thought leaders and readers together to discuss many topics in these two areas:

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