Sunday, 27 April 2014

Boris the Carpetbagger

I find the bandwagon  to find London Mayor Boris Johnson a so-called safe seat at the 2015 General election totally unedifying. 
It is also an insult to the prospective voters and all constituents of whichever Conservative constituency association bags its  man as their candidate, as, in my  view as someone who has worked for MPs for  over 25 years, it is impossible to properly represent constituents properly  part-time, which Boris necessarily would do if he remains London Mayor for the first year as a returned MP.
Do his  future constituents want an MP whose sole desire to return to Parliament seems to  be able to challenge David Cameron for the Conservative leadership, not to represent them in Parliament? The whole jamboree leaves a very bad taste, and is an insult to representative democracy.
This is carpet-bagging of the very worst sort.

Friday, 25 April 2014

US needs to be more even-handed in diplomatic excoriation

The Independent newspaper report on US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the Ukraine (“Russia is running of time to end crisis, warns Biden,” 23 April, omitted one important assertion made by Biden in Kiev in his joint press conference with  acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk:

“No nation has the right to simply grab land from another nation. We will never recognize Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea.”

Americans are oft said to lack a sense of irony, and this looks to be true in this case, if you compare Biden’s mild tempered statements on Israel’s land grabbing on Palestinian territories, during his vist to Jerusalem for former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s funeral in January this year, when Biden  merely indicated to current Israeli premier, Benyamin Netanyahu that the building  by Israel of  settlements on occupied land was "not constructive" to the peace process between Israel and PalestineIn another unreported revelation on US-Israeli  security relations last month, the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), the US’s highest classification authority, released a number of top level Governmental memos that shed  light on the so-called “NUMEC Affair”, the curious case of how Israel stole around 330 kilogrammes weapons-grade uranium (enough to make around a dozen Hiroshima-yield  bombs) from a US nuclear fuel processing plant, called Apollo, operated by the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC).

Writing in a co-authored piece in the respected monthly, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) commissioner Dr Victor Gilinsky, reveals that the newly released documents expose US government efforts, notably during the Carter Administration, to keep the NUMEC story under wraps, an ironic twist in view of President  Jimmy Carter’s identification with opposition to nuclear proliferation.(

Carter’s presidential predecessor, Gerald Ford, had himself taken an interest in the case, with his Attorney General, Edward Levi, discovering that the Federal agency, the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) - the NRC’s predecessor nuclear licensing agency -  had previously convinced the FBI not to open a criminal investigation into the material’s disappearance. The AEC was allegedly concerned that the public revelation of the NUMEC case would draw attention to its lack of control over nuclear bomb materials in the hands of private firms, and thus undermine the AEC’s efforts to promote commercial nuclear power programmes.  

Gilinsky writes that “NUMEC’s owners and executives had extremely close ties to Israel, including to high Israeli intelligence and nuclear officials. Israel had strong motives to obtain the highly enriched uranium before it was producing enough plutonium for weapons. High-level Israeli intelligence operatives visited the NUMEC plant.”

When the US takes to the high horse in telling other states how to behave, as it is doing again this week with Russia’s annexation of Crimea  and over Iran’s alleged attempts to join the elite atomic-armed club (“How to dismantle a nuclear programme: Iran and the West make progress on deal,”  23 April,, the Obama Administration should try to be  more even-handed.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Re-users are taking the ‘f’ out of refuse


  • This article was first published  in Sustainable Building, 14 April 2014
  •  []
Refurbishment, re-use and upcycling was the focus of a new sub-conference and exhibition at Ecobuild, called Resource.
Michael Pawlyn, founder of the ground-breaking sustainable architectural practice Exploration, revealed some innovative bio-mimicry projects in a special lecture on the ‘circular economy,’ pointing out that “nature works in closed loops with generally zero waste... and is regenerative rather than extractive.”
He called the most deplorable form of waste “under-utilised human waste,” and argued that we “need to use courage and imagination to scale up from bio-models in the environment to its mimicked version in eco-engineering.”
Examples given included the De Kas restaurant in Amsterdam, which was created in 2001 by Michelin-starred top chef Gert Jan Hageman. The restaurant uses a bio-digester to recycle waste into a fertiliser, which is then put back into the adjoining vegetable and fruit nursery garden that serves the restaurant. There are also shaded areas under solar collection farms that grow plants in the desert, and a greenhouse that recycles sea water to create high humidity, adopting the natural design of a beetle shell.
Mr Pawlyn lamented that, so far, research councils have not supported this bio-mimicry which relies on philanthropic support.
There were also splendid presentations on reusing building materials and household objects such as tables, cupboards and white goods. One presentation by Richard Featherstone (development manager of London Reuse Ltd) showed how his company is working with the Wandsworth borough and others across London in the capital’s Re-use Network (LRN) to reduce the waste going to landfill, refurbishing and repairing goods that otherwise would be thrown away. They are made available at affordable cost to London’s hard pressed, low-income families.
Mr Featherstone – who has been named one of the ‘Masters of Waste’ in Resource magazine’s ‘Hot 100’ list, and who is a life president of the Furniture Re-use Network – said he “hated waste.” He pleaded for a rebrand and makeover of recycling, saying we need to take the ‘f’ out of refuse!
He recognised that there is a stigma about buying re-use products, such as furniture, and promoted the slogan: donate-repair-reuse, driven by poverty reduction, community environmental enhancement and fund raising for charity.
He conceded there needed to be extra creativity to envisage second and third uses for products. Some examples he gave were re-using old benches as bookshelves.
Mr Featherstone observed: “we, at London Re-use, are working towards re-use becoming mainstream in waste management rather than an optional extra. In the next two years we are going to see the increasing importance of saving re-usable household products from the waste stream to supply the growing social need in the event of a shrinking Social Fund. I’m holding firm to LRN’s vision of London as a city where re-use is easy, popular and normal. A city which maximises the economic, environmental and community benefits of re-use with an unrivalled infrastructure which becomes an international model for re-use.” 
Mr Featherstone said that in Flanders, Belgium, there was a vibrant re-use sector led by the De Kringwinkel supermarket chain.
Jonathan Essex, an associate at Bioregional, added that because 10% of UK greenhouse gases arise from the construction sector, it was ripe for reusing materials. He asserted that: “to be zero carbon we need to be not just zero carbon in use but zero carbon in construction materials.”
Retrofitting old buildings is more carbon efficient than demolition and new build, Mr Essex said, arguing that deconstruction rather than demolition should be the primary approach. He gave the example of nine old warehouses on the Olympic Park site in London, which were deconstructed to flat packs and reconstructed elsewhere. Newer buildings that comprised part of the Olympic venues were similarly deconstructed and will be used at the Olympics in Brazil in 2016.

Friday, 18 April 2014

How Blair and Straw dissembled over claimed Iraq WMDs

Tony Blair claimed  in The Guardian he has not held up publication of the Chicot report into the last Government's invasion of Iraq ("Blair denies delaying Chilcot report on Iraq and rejects Clegg's Suez Jibe," 15 April).
But Blair dissembled so much to Parliament in his attempt to secure support from MPs for the invasion he desired with his political partner President George W.Bush, maybe even this latest assertion is untrue.
For over a year in 2002-3, Blair and his Foreign Secretary Jack Straw put at the centre of their argument for invading Iraq removal of what they said was proven - Saddam’s possession of WMD.
But Blair above all should have harboured doubts. In countering former Labour foreign Secretary Robin Cook's assertion, in his resignation speech on 17 March  2003, that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction (as Cook put it “in the commonly understood sense of the term—namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target.”), Tony Blair used in evidence the information provided by Saddam's son-in-law, General Hussein Kamel, on the extent of Iraq's attempts to develop WMD revealed in an interview with Western security services (the CIA & M16) in 1995.
But Blair was misleading by omission: Kamel also told the interviewers. Iraq had destroyed his WMD by 1995, as was revealed clearly by Newsweek on 3 March 2003, (and re-reported by your diplomatic editor), weeks before the invasion
Kamel had generally been considered the key witness for the prosecution against Iraq. Being at the centre of all Iraq's weapons programmes, he knew everything there was to know. He was instantly executed by Saddam on his ill-judged return to Iraq after defecting.  On page 13 of the transcript of his interview, posted on the BBC Today programme web site, Kamel is recorded as saying: “All weapons - biological, chemical, missile, nuclear - were destroyed.”
On 26 March Tony Blair was asked by the then Labour MP, Llew Smith, for whom I then did research, if he would place in the Library of the House of Commons the text of the interview information provided by Hussein Kamel on Iraq's WMDs. The Prime Minister replied “Following his defection, Hussein Kamel was interviewed by UNSCOM and by a number of other agencies. Details concerning the interviews were made available to us on a confidential basis. The UK was not provided with transcripts of the interviews.”
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who also made use of Kamel’s WMD revelations, but omitted to make mention he also asserted they had been destroyed,  added to the smokescreen, on the Radio 4 ‘Today Programme’ on 14 May 2003, claiming  that finding weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in  Iraq was not “crucially important” because the UN inspectors provided an overwhelming case for war.
Mr Straw buttressed his comment, adding “We did not go to war on a contingent basis. We went to war on the basis of the evidence [on WMDs]  which was fully available to the international community.”
“It will inevitably take some time to locate that equipment but I am confident that we will do so,” Straw added, but his confidence was clearly misplaced.
I sent the full transcript - which I obtained from the BBC - of the now infamous Kamel interview to Sir John Chilcot, asking him to put its contents to both Blair and Straw. He never did so in public sessions. I await eagerly  to find if he ever did in private.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Ramping up of nuclear power in the UK: implications for nuclear secrecy and insecurity

From 10-13 April I attended the European Environment Foundation Convention of Environmental Laureates, in Freiburg, Germany.

I presented this paper at a session on sustainable and unsustainable energy.

Let me start with the Global Nuclear Security Conference, The Hague Netherlands, in March 2014

The final communiqué of the Global Nuclear Security Conference that was held last month in The Hague insisted that “measures to strengthen nuclear security will not hamper the rights of States to develop and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes”.

Dr Victor Gilinsky, a former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, noted in 2009 that “even so-called arms controllers fall over themselves trying to establish their bona fides by supporting nuclear energy development and devising painless proposals...” (A call to resist the nuclear revival’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 27 January 2009;


That mentality was in evidence at the NSS, just as it was at the IAEA nuclear security conference in Austria last July.


But sensibly Gilinsky advocates a reversal of priorities: “Security should come first − not as an afterthought. We should support as much nuclear power as is consistent

with international security; not as much security as the spread of nuclear power will allow.”


And in my view that means zero nuclear power.


Hiroshima Report


At the start of this week, Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (CPDNP) at the Japan Institute for International Affairs  in Hiroshima, Japan issued a 165 page report on Evaluation of Achievement in Nuclear Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Security: 2014.


The section on nuclear security says the following:


“Firstly there is no legally binding, universal instrument as regards nuclear security. In this regard, United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 is expected to serve as a legally binding, universal instrument; however, as the report obligation of the resolution has not been fulfilled, it does not function as it is supposed to.


Secondly, due to the sensitivity of nuclear security-related information, it is very difficult to obtain

comprehensive information for the evaluation of the actual nuclear security status on a per

country basis. Nuclear security-related information, particularly regarding threat assessment, a

Design Basis Threat (DBT)… physical protection systems for facilities and transport of nuclear

and other radiological material, as well as the nuclear security plan of each state, is confidential

information for counter-terrorism reasons and is shared only among a very limited group of

people with “need-to-know” status.


Thirdly, the responsibility of the nuclear security of a state entirely rests with the individual state. In other words, nuclear security requirements need to be established based on national decisions and sovereignty. Each state decides what level of nuclear security requirements to impose in accordance with its own national threat assessment.”




I agree with this summary of the problem.


Let me be more concrete.


In Britain, the biggest nuclear security problem is the huge nuclear facility at Sellafield, originally built in the early 1950on England’s north  west coast, in Cumbria, which is also home of the wonderful Lake District National Park.


Sellafield, however, is also the home of hundreds of decaying and decrepit building, many stores of liquid and solid radioactive waste, and, from a security perspective, most importantly, 111 tonnes of weapons–useable plutonium.


Let me give you that figure in another way. 111 tonnes is 111,000 kilogrammes.


A nuclear bomb can be made with as little as 5 Kilogrammes, about the size of a  large orange.


As a result of a recent security review, the Sellafield management decided to strengthen the perimeter fence around the site. Unfortunately in doing so they unintentionally captured a small herd of wild deer. But rather than releasing the corralled deer, they shot them, as the local newspaper, the Whitehaven News revealed last week. Their headline ran:


Three deer shot dead as Sellafield carries out cull



In an increasing uncertain world, using nuclear explosive materials such as plutonium as a fuel to generate electricity or to create plutonium as a by-product of running a nuclear power plant has to be justified if there is no  alternative.


A huge remaining and unsolved problem is the insecurity of the storage  buildings for  the waste products arising from  operating a nuclear power reactor.


We are often told these stores are robust against terrorist attack.


Well have a look at this test demonstration:


January 2008 Test of a Raytheon Shaped Charge, Intended as the Penetration

(Precursor) Stage of a Tandem Warhead System



Before Test


After Test (viewed from the attacked face)



(a) These photographs are from: Raytheon, 2008. For additional, supporting information,

see: Warwick, 2008.

(b) The shaped-charge jet penetrated about 5.9 m into a steel-reinforced concrete block

with a thickness of 6.1 m. Although penetration was incomplete, the block was largely

destroyed, as shown. Compressive strength of the concrete was 870 bar.

(c) The shaped charge had a diameter of 61 cm and contained 230 kg of high explosive.

It was sized to fit inside the US Air Force’s AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile.

(Dr Gordon Thompson, Director, Institute for Resource and Security Studies, Cambridge, Mass, USA- Comments on the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s

Waste Confidence Generic Environmental Impact Statement,

Draft Report for Comment (September 2013)


In a paper I presented in February this year to a meeting of concerned NGO stakeholders hosted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change  in London, I argued that I wanted to :


demonstrate how ministers in the Coalition Government  prozelytize one message of  nonproliferation and increased counter terrorism measures to enhance nuclear security, while simultaneously taking forward a nuclear energy policy that utterly undermines this aim, through both promotion of an expansion of new nuclear power plants in the UK, re-use of  plutonium in MOX fuel through normalising the use of  plutonium -  the prime nuclear explosive material, in commercial nuclear fuel - and seeking to re-establish a global nuclear technology sales, nuclear services provision and nuclear material sales programme.


I titled my paper: The UK, the unintended proliferator.

In some detail I argued:

“In my view, ministers are suffering from acute cognitive dissonance when pursuing their twin-track policies of nuclear promotion and nuclear controls. What do I mean by this?

“Social psychologists refer to cognitive dissonance as the presence of incongruent relations among cognitions (thought and understanding) that frequently results in excessive mental stress and discomfort. Ultimately, individuals who hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas and/or values frequently experience cognitive dissonance.”

This is a very dangerous condition for senior decision-makers when dealing with a technology that carries the twin dread-threat of a major accident and malevolent misuse by determined terrorists.”

In early January, the respected Washington DC-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) published its latest annual report. The NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a mission to strengthen global security by reducing the risk of use and preventing the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and to work to build the trust, transparency, and security that are preconditions to the ultimate fulfillment of the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s goals and ambitions.

Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former IAEA secretary-general, said of NTI:

 “The Nuclear Threat Initiative is a role model for me of a private-public partnership in issues of security and of survival... NTI has been a trailblazer."

NTI publishes a table in its new report that ought to set the alarm bells ringing in DECC and across Whitehall, in its placing the UK bottom in terms of its nuclear materials  security provisions of the 25 countries NTI identified as having the nuclear materials and technologies capable of  making nuclear nuclear WMDs.


Rank / 25 Score / 100 Δ

=1 Argentina 100 +5

=1 Australia 100 +5

3 Uzbekistan 95 +5

4 Iran 89 –

=5 Belarus 84 –

=5 Poland 84 +6

7 Norway 83 -5

8 South Africa 79 +6

9 Italy 73 –

10 Switzerland 72 –

11 Canada 67 –

=12 Belgium 62 +6

=12 Germany 62 –

=12 Netherlands 62 -5

15 North Korea 60 –

16 Kazakhstan 57 -6

17 Israel 44 –

=18 China 34 –

=18 France 34 –

=20 Russia 23 –

=20 United States 23 –

=22 India 22 –

=22 Japan 22 –

=22 Pakistan 22 –

25 United Kingdom 11

*Full UK scores across all security categories may be seen at p.134.

“There is no question that securing nuclear materials is a grave, sovereign responsibility. At the same time, the threat is global, and all countries must work to reduce that threat.


That was the conclusion of the authoritative Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2014 Report, published in Washington DC, 8 January 2014.


Unfortunately far too many nuclear authorities and Governments like the UK’s, who mix up nuclear security with nuclear cheer-leading, are acting  more like Homer from the Simpsons!


Friday, 4 April 2014

A Farage of follies over fracking and nuclear power

In this week’s big political debate over Europe between deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg MP, and the leader of the UK independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage MEP, commentators have treated it like a political beauty context, exploring the runes and feeling the mood music.

But what about the content?

Asked about one of the big political issues of the week, energy prices and security, Farage said he favoured getting on with fracking like   the United States and building new nuclear power plants, and opposed what he called useless wind power.

The fault in this argument is the shale gas revolution in America has peaked, and costs are rising rapidly to extract remaining reserves.

On 27 February the authoritative Bloomberg business news service reported independent shale gas producers “will spend $1.50 drilling this year for every dollar they get back.”

The article explains that shale output drops faster than production from conventional methods. It will take 2,500 new wells a year just to sustain output of 1 million barrels a day in North Dakota’s Bakken shale, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency. 
Bloomberg also cites the Houston-based Sanchez Energy Corporation company, which plans to spend as much as $600 million this year - almost double its estimated 2013 revenue - on the Eagle Ford shale formation in south Texas, which is the main drilling centre, along with North Dakota, for shale gas exploitation
By contrast, the net debt of the world’s biggest oil and gas exploration company by market value, Exxon Mobil, is less than half of the cash earned from operations last year. Bloomberg stresses that it plans to spend 68 cents for every dollar it gets back this year.

In February ExxonMobil’s CEO Rex Tillerson even joined lawsuit against a fracking well water tower being built near his $5 million Texas home, the Wall Street Journal reported.
On 5 March at its annual investors meeting in New York, Exxon Mobil said it expects capital expenditures (capex) of $39.8 billion in 2014, 6.4% lower than last year’s spending of $42.5 billion. The company indicated it will reduce upstream spending and remain selective in terms of investments in downstream operations, as it loses faith in shale. 
Exxon announced in June 2012 it was quitting shale gas drilling in Poland, on eof the European Union’s great hopes for shale reserves. Talisman Energy of Canada have scaled back their Polish shale investments after “disappointing” early attempts at extraction, the New York Times reported on April 24 last year.

 Nuclear fissioned
Farage claimed to want to support jobs in Britain, but in supporting new nuclear, he is actually supporting jobs in Socialist France! And the export of billions in profits to French State-owned EDF: an odd way to support British jobs by freeing up the private markets for energy.

Speaking in the Commons debate on an Energy Price Freeze on 2 April, Labour back bencher Paul Flynn MP- a  long time opponent of nuclear power- pertinently  asked:  but what is British about Hinkley Point?  
He wenton to argue to fellow MPs: “Did Members read the French newspapers when the deal was announced? They regarded it as the deal of the century. It will create 10,000 jobs—not at Hinkley Point, but in France. It is an extraordinary deal. For Britain, it is the rip-off of the century. We have agreed to buy energy—this is hard to believe—at £92 per megawatt-hour, which is twice the going rate at present, and that is the minimum rate. We have indexed linked that price and guaranteed it for 35 years. We do not know what energy prices will be in 35 months…….”

Flynn concluded “ We are buying a European pressurised water reactor. They have been around for a little while, but they have not yet produced enough electricity to power a bicycle lamp. The first one was in Finland. According to the deal, it was going to start generating electricity in 2009. The original cost was €3 billion—it is now reckoned to be €8.5 billion—and it is not expected to be generating until 2019, 10 years late. The other one is Flamanville. It had a very similar original cost and is now also expected to cost nearly three times that—€8.5 billion. It is not expected to be completed for four years after the year when it was supposed to be generating electricity, which was last year.”
“When Liberal democrat MP Simon Hughes  used to start his speeches by announcing that no nuclear power station in the world has ever been built on time or on budget. Of course, the Liberal Democrats are now singing from a different hymn sheet because they have a Lib Dem Secretary of State for Energy
We are waltzing into a future that is not well informed by science …Sadly, however, we go on thinking along tram lines. I believe we will find that the EU decides that the £17.5 billion subsidy we intend to pay for Hinkley Point—for one power station—is against European rules because such subsidies are not allowed.”

After Flynn had spoken, yet more news of the failures of the Finnish nuclear programme emerged. Leading Finnish newspaper, Helsingen Sanomat, reported that at € 8.5 billion The failed reactor at Olkiluoto 3 is now more expensive than any skyscraper. The most expensive single commercial building is known to have a casino hotel in Singapore Marina Bay Sands , which cost in today's money of € 5.2 billion . The price of the Olkiluoto3 would have been able to three new One World Trade Center skyscrapers build in New York City.

Nils Bøhmer, director general of Norwegian-based Scandinavian environment group, Bellona – who is a trained nuclear physicist  - called the new round of cost overruns “absolutely insane’”

Yet these are the pro-nuclear and pro-fracking energy policies both Farage and Clegg’s parties are backing. What does it say about their judgment?


Dr David Lowry is an independent environmental policy and research consultant and a member of energy secretary Ed Davey's Geological Disposal Implementation Board.