After Wednesday’s earthquake: civil defence

 

 

On Wednesday an earthquake of 4.4 magnitude on the Richter scale was reported in the Maltese islands. As far as we are aware no damage was caused, yet it would be appropriate to consider a number of relevant issues.

Are we prepared for the consequences of a much stronger earthquake which would cause considerable damage including the potential death of a substantial number of persons?

Around two years ago, the Civil Protection Department (CPD) in conjunction with the Sicilian counterparts carried out an earthquake simulation exercise in Gozo which, undoubtedly, provided CPD personnel with valuable experience. It is not known if the department has been involved in any subsequent exercises, either locally or abroad, nor is it known if any specific operational changes were implemented by the CPD as a result of the lessons learned in the 2015 exercise.

It is, however, pertinent to point out that it is not only the CPD, the Police, the AFM and the Health Authorities that need adequate and continuous training to cope with the aftermath of a strong earthquake in the Maltese Islands. In addition to the operators of the different sectors of the infrastructure (energy, water, transport) the civilian population should also receive training for this unlikely eventuality.

Simulation exercises involving the civilian population are necessary as they would develop at local level an ability to manage a disaster. We need to start from scratch in building up a civil defence corps worthy of the name, coordinated and trained by the CPD but based in each locality in Malta and Gozo.

It is a responsibility which, together with adequate resources, should be assigned to local councils under the watchful eye of the CPD.

This would be the appropriate way to build up an adequate general level of preparedness for disaster management. The involvement of the local councils would also ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable members of our communities are addressed. Specific protocols need to be developed and tested in conjunction with local councils regarding the assistance required by children and those who are bedridden or disabled. Catering for all disabilities is an indispensible prerequisite and this requires trained personnel to which the CPD currently has little if any access. It is an easily identifiable deficiency that needs to be addressed forthwith.

Those in charge of disaster management in time of need require the ability to communicate with people having impaired hearing. Is anyone at the CPD, the Police, the AFM or the Health Authorities able to communicate in sign language? Addressing this communication deficiency on the part of the authorities is required not just to ensure that Malta is adequately prepared for disaster management, it is also an everyday deficiency that every authority in Malta that offers a direct service to the population at large needs to address. With around 500 known Maltese with impaired hearing and a number of others who could have remained below the radar, this is an issue that is manageable primarily at local level.

The CPD is one of the youngest departments and to date it has given sterling service in fire-fighting, managing pollution and providing assistance required as a result of flooding after heavy storms. We look forward to the next step in its development: ensuring that training in disaster management is an integral part of the services of local authorities.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 27 August 2017

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Next Thursday’s earthquake

earthquake

 

This will be a simulation exercise coordinated by Malta’s Civil Protection Department at 4pm next Thursday in Gozo and three hundred people will be involved.

It will be carried out with EU assistance and in conjunction with the Civil Protection Authorities in Sicily who are partners with the Maltese Civil Protection Department (CPD) in establishing a network within the region that is able to manage seismological disasters.

This exercise signals the coming of age of Malta’s CPD. It has to date delivered sterling service in the areas of fire-fighting, managing pollution and providing assistance required as a result of flooding after heavy storms. Training its staff, and subjecting them to a gruelling simulation exercise, is a gigantic step forward for the CPD. It is the first step of a long journey that is dependent on the dedication of the CPD staff  – which is unlimited – as well as the resources allocated by the state. Such resources, although limited over the years, seem to be slowly trickling down, for a change.

Developing the CPD’s ability to handle disasters will be a major challenge. For a start it will identify its capability to develop effective coordination with the Police Force, with the AFM (Armed Forces) and the health authorities as well as with local councils.

At the end of the day the CPD’s proficiency in disaster management will be measured in terms of its response time as well as the number of lives it saves in such situations. This will generally depend on the severity of the disaster with which it is faced.

This will not only translate into a general level of preparedness. It will also require focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities and in this respect the role of local councils is indispensable. Specific protocols need to be developed and tested in conjunction with local councils regarding the assistance required by children and those who are bedridded or disabled. Catering for all disabilities is an indispensible prerequisite and it requires trained personnel to which the CPD currently has no access. It is an easily identifiable deficiency which needs to be addressed forthwith.

One small example would suffice: how would the CPD personnel, the police, the AFM – or the health authorities for that matter – communicate with persons with  impaired hearing in the absence of staff able to communicate in sign language? Addressing this deficiency is required not just to ensure that Malta is adequately prepared for disaster management. It is also an everyday deficiency that every authority in Malta that offers a direct service to the population at large needs to address. With around five hundred known Maltese with impaired hearing and a number of others who may have remained below the radar, this is an issue which is manageable primarily at a local level. Yet to date it has not been adequately prioritised.

In this context, one would also need to query the level of preparedness of institutions such as Mount Carmel Hospital and id-Dar tal-Providenza. I am informed that even when it comes to fire drills in residential homes for the elderly, the results were not impressive, to put it mildly.

Prompt and effective coordination between the different authorities is crucial in ensuring disaster management. There is a need to test how the different types of equipment used by the CPD, the Police and the AFM interact. Are they compatible? The planned simulation exercise is an opportunity to identify whether, in an actual practice run, matters will work out as planned. Lessons learned in this area will have to be translated into better procurement procedures in the future to ensure smooth interaction between the CPD, the police and the Army.

This will translate into compatible communication equipment as well as adequately maintained vehicles, sea craft and aeroplanes/helicopters which can be used in difficult circumstances. Knowing that maintenance of equipment has never been our forte, this could be quite a challenge!

The simulation exercise on Gozo on 3 September will necessarily lead to a number of lessons learnt which will have to be acted upon in order that Malta’s capability in disaster management is enhanced. This is definitely a bold step in the right direction.

I look forward to the next steps which require the involvement of local authorities.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 30 August 2015

Terrimot għall-ġimgħa d-dieħla

cpd_logo

 

Id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili qed jippjana terrimot għall-ġimgħa d-dieħla nhar il-Ħamis 3 ta’ Settembru. Dan ser isir bħala eserċizzju ta’ taħriġ u ser jinvolvi madwar 300 ruħ. It-taħriġ ser isir ġo Għawdex.

Ser jipparteċipaw ukoll madwar sittin persuna teknika mid-Dpartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili ta’ Sqallija.

Din hi aħbar tajba ħafna. Tfisser li bħala pajjiż bdejna inħarsu l-quddiem bis-serjetà f’dan il-qasam. Sal-lum id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili kien assoċjat mat-tifi tan-nar, ma’ inċidenti gravi tat-traffiku u ma problem ta’ għargħar. Issa ser isir pass kbir il-quddiem.

Hu tajjeb li nibdew nippjanaw dwar kif id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili jaħdem f’każ ta’ diżastru nazzjonali bħal terrimot jew għargħar, per eżempju.

Il-kordinazzjoni hi meħtieġa biex l-awtoritajiet differenti jissinkorizzaw il-ħidma ta’ bejniethom. Hu importanti ħafna li d-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili, l-Armata, l-Pulizija u l-awtoritajiet tas-Saħħa f’każ ta’ emerġenza ma jkollhomx diffikultà biex jaħdmu. Għalhekk importanti t-taħriġ.

Imma hemm bżonn ukoll li jkunu involuti l-Kunsilli Lokali għax f’każ ta’ emerġenza huma l-Kunsilli Lokali l-ewwel u l-iktar kuntatt effettiv man-nies.

Ma nistax għalhekk ma ngħidx prosit mistħoqq lid-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili li wasal sa hawn.

Imma dan hu biss il-bidu. Għax hemm ħafna iktar x’isir.

Terrimoti, tsunami, u l-protezzjoni ċivili f’Malta

times.tsunami.010914

Il-bieraħ il-gazzetti online kellhom storja komuni. F’riċerka li saret bejn akkademiċi mill-Universita’ ta’ Portsmouth flimkien ma akkademiċi md-Dipartiment tal-Ġografija tal-Universita’ ta’ Malta ikkonkludew li fil-passat imbiegħed Malta kienet soġġetta għall-effett ta’ tsunami, riżultat ta’ terrimoti li seħħew madwarna.

Mewġ ta’ mhux inqas minn 4 metri għoli jidher li ħalla effett f’żoni sa 20 metru il-fuq mil-livell tal-baħar. Mewġ b’veloċita’ ikbar minn 30 kilometru fis-siegħa ikaxkar kull ma jsib quddiemu.

Jidher li r-riċerka indikat il-kosta li tħares lejn il-grigal (North-East) bħala li l-iktar li kienet effettwata: mill-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa sa Marsakala u possibilment Marsaxlokk u Birżebbuga ukoll. Għawdex hemm Marsalforn,

Issa l-kosta ta’ Malta b’faċċata tħares lejn il-grigal hi l-iktar populata, bil-bini jasal kważi sal-baħar. Hi ukoll iż-żona li fiħa l-parti l-kbira tal-infrastruttura turistika kif ukoll il-power station ta’ Delimara.

Li Malta hi esposta għal dan il-periklu naturali mhux xi ħaġa li nafuha illum. Imma li illum hemm dan l-istudju konkluż forsi jkun hemm ftit min jiftaħ għajnejh dwar il-ħtieġa li nifhmu illi d-Dipartiment għall-Protezzjoni Ċivili jeħtieġ iktar riżorsi u nies imħarrġa biex il-pajjiż ikunu ippreparat għal dan il-periklu naturali. Periklu li jista’ jkun fuqna fil-qrib, u jista’ jkun fuqna fil-bogħod. M’hu magħruf minn ħadd il-meta. Imma jiġi meta jiġi, bħala pajjiż s’issa m’aħniex ippreparati.

 

Ara ukoll fuq dan il-blog

29 t’April 2013: Malta u l-iżbroff tal-vulkan Marsilii.

Malta u l-iżbroff tal-vulkan Marsili

Marsili Area of impact

M’hiex xi storja ġdida li l-vulkan Marsili jista’ jiżbroffa minn ħin għall-ieħor. Hi storja li kien hawn ħafna diskussjoni dwarha madwar tlett snin ilu.

Il-vulkan Marsili hu vulkan rieqed li qiegħed sitwat taħt il-baħar Tirren. Minn studji li saru ma jidhirx li qatt żbroffa fl-istorja riċenti. Fil-gazzetti ta’ tlett snin ilu jingħad li qatt ma kien hemm żbroff ta’ dan il-vulkan “since the start of recorded history”.

Qiegħed iżda jingħad li billi l-ħitan tiegħu huma dgħajfa, jista’ jiżbroffa minn ħin għall-ieħor. Iżda meta dan ser iseħħ, jekk iseħħ,  ħadd ma jaf. Il-konsegwenzi iżda jafu jkunu diżastrużi. Kif jidher fil-mappa ta’ hawn fuq l-impatt ewlieni jkun fuq in-naħa t’isfel ta’ l-Italja u fuq it-tramuntana ta’ Sqallija. Minħabba li Sqallija isservi ta’ tarka jidher li ftit li xejn ikun hemm impatt fuq il-gżejjer Maltin.

Fl-inħawi li jistgħu jkunu milquta kemm fi Sqallija kif ukoll fl-Italja, ser isiru eżerċizzji ta’ taħriġ mill-awtoritajiet fil-pajjiż inkarigati mill-protezzjoni ċivili dwar kif l-awtoritajiet għandhom jilqgħu għall-emerġenza li tista’ tinħoloq.

L-impatt ikun bħala riżultat tal-maremot (tal-qawwa ta’ 7.5 fuq l-iskala Richter) li l-iżbroff tal-vulkan jiġġenera. Hu ikkalkulat li dan l-iżbroff jista’ jiġġenera tsunami b’mewg għoli għaxar metri li jista’ jagħmel ħerba fiż-żoni indikati fil-mappa ta’ hawn fuq.

U f’Malta?  Jidher li ftit li xejn ser ikun hemm impatt kif anke’ qalet is-seżmologa Maltija Dr Pauline Galea f’kummenti li kienet tat lit-Times f’Malta tlett snin ilu.

Imma jkun għaqli li fil-waqt li nosservaw li l-iżbroff ta’ dan il-vulkan, jekk iseħħ, ftit li xejn jista’ jkollu impatt fuq Malta, nagħmlu sewwa jekk neżaminaw ftit fil-fond il-ħidma tad-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili u naraw ftit jekk aħniex ippreparati f’kaz li nintlaqtu minn xi diżastru simili.

Wisq naħseb li m’aħniex ippreparati.

Tajjeb li nistaqsu ftit mistoqsijiet.  Għal-lum waħda tkun biżżejjed.

Fl-1 ta’ Diċembru 1999 il-Parlament Malti approva liġi li permezz tagħha waqqaf id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili. Skond din il-liġi il-Prim Ministru kellu jaħtar Kunsill dwar il-Protezzjoni Ċivili li fost ir-responsabbiltajiet tiegħu għandu l-obbligu li jara li l-pajjiż ikun imħejji għall-“emergenzi u diżastri pubbliċi”.

Fejn wasalna?

The risk of being ill-prepared

Hurricane Sandy swept through the states of New York and New Jersey making it clear to all that the forces of nature, amplified and stronger as a result of climate change, will spare no one.

The impacts of climate change are here for all to see. The destructive power of nature is being made incrementally worse by a warming climate. In 2012, it was Hurricane Sandy that wreaked havoc on New York and New Jersey. In 2005, it was Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans.

The havoc left behind in New York and New Jersey has been documented by the visual media. Less evident was the damage and misery in Haiti and neighbouring Caribbean countries.

Nature does not discriminate; it does not distinguish between rich and poor. Nor does it distinguish between developed and undeveloped countries. It sweeps away all that lies in its path.

Large areas of New York were without electricity. Over 40,000 New Yorkers were homeless as a result of Hurricane Sandy. This made the news.

However, disaster-stricken Haiti has been hit much harder. More than 200,000 Haitians already in makeshift homes as a result of the 2010 earthquake are now homeless.

A cholera outbreak in Haiti could be made worse by floods. Haiti, which is an agricultural economy, has also suffered a large loss of crops. This will lead to food shortages compounding the misery of an already impoverished nation.

Meteorologists have commented that more hurricanes are occurring late in the season, even after their “normal” season has ended. A 2008 study had pointed out that the Atlantic hurricane season seems to be starting earlier and lasting longer.

Normally, there are 11 named Atlantic storms. The past two years have seen 19 and 18 named storms. This year, with one month to go, there are already 19 named storms.

It is not only in the Atlantic that the climate is changing. Earlier this month, the Meteorological Office informed us that, in Malta, October 2012 was the sixth hottest month on record since 1922. With an increased frequency we too are witnessing more intense storms, which are playing havoc with an ill-prepared infrastructure.

The civil protection issues resulting from flooding will be hopefully addressed through storm-water relief projects substantially funded by the EU. While this will go a long way towards reducing damage to life and limb, it addresses the effects while leaving the causes of flooding largely unaddressed.

Malta’s climate change adaptation strategy, adopted some time ago, had pointed towards the issue of rainwater harvesting, which has not and still is not given due importance in new developments both those on a large scale as well as those on a much smaller scale.

The lack of application of rainwater harvesting measures through the construction of appropriately-sized water cisterns is an important contributor to the flooding of Malta’s roads and the overflowing public sewers whenever a storm comes our way. This occurs irrespective of the severity of the storm. Addressing this cause would go a long way towards reducing the volume of storm water that has to be contained to prevent it from causing damage.

By now it should be clear that there is no political will to address the issue as such a measure would entail taking action against developers (large and small) who did not provide rainwater harvesting facilities in their quest to increase profits (or reduce costs) in their land development projects. This has been the unfortunate practice for the past 50 years. Old habits die hard.

The expenses required to tackle a principal cause of the problem has been shifted from the developers onto the public purse, this including the EU funds being utilised. This expense has to make good for the accumulated (and accumulating) incompetence in rainwater management by focusing on the effects but simultaneously ignoring the causes.

Therefore, when one speaks on the devastating impacts of nature and climate change it should be realised that some of these impacts are being amplified as a result of the way in which successive governments have mismanaged this country’s resources.

The impacts of flooding are the ones which leave a lasting impression due to their detailed documentation by the media. There are, however, other impacts that are as important and in respect of which a public debate is conspicuously absent. I refer in particular to the impact of rising temperatures on agriculture and health.

Higher temperatures will slowly change our agriculture as the type of crops that can withstand higher temperatures are generally different from those which are currently prevalent. In addition, higher temperatures means that we will have some alien insects flying around, some of which are disease carriers.

Not discussing these issues does not mean that they will disappear. It only means that we are ill-prepared for the inevitable impacts and the necessary changes.

There is much to be done. So far, we have barely scratched the surface.

Published in The Times of Malta Saturday November 10, 2012

Danger …………….. on our doorstep

published in Environment Supplement

Sunday April 17, 2011

 

Less than 100 kilometres to Malta’s North West Silvio Berlusconi’s Government wants to construct a nuclear reactor. It is to be constructed on Sicily’s southern coast in the vicinity of the locality of Palma di Montechiaro. This nuclear reactor is one of  a number of reactors which Berlusconi’s government plans to be constructed on Italian territory: one in Sicily, one in Sardegna, five in the North, three in the Central area and two in Southern Italy.

This is a political decision that the Italian Government took in summer of 2008 as a result of which it reversed the decision taken at a 1987 referendum when on the morrow of the Chernobyl disaster Italians overwhelmingly rejected nuclear energy.

On the 11 and12 June 2011 Italians will be called to the polls once more in a second attempt to reject nuclear energy, this time on the morrow of another nuclear disaster : that at Fukushima. It is a referendum which seeks to reverse Berlusconi’s nuclear policy.

The Chernobyl disaster which affected 40% of European territory was way back in 1986 shrugged off as being the result of human error as well as outdated Soviet technology. The same cannot be said of the Japanese.

EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger is on record stating that Fukushima has caused him to start doubting nuclear energy. Oettinger, former Prim Minister of the German State of Baden-Württemberg, in an interview with Der Spiegel International which was published on April 4, 2011 stated “I have nothing but respect for Japan’s abilities when it comes to industry and technology. That’s why Fukushima has been such a turning point for me. It has made me start to doubt. If the Japanese cannot master this technology, then nuclear energy conceals risks that I didn’t see before.”

All over the world countries are having second thoughts on whether to keep making use of nuclear energy. German voters in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland Palatinate took the lead by flocking in their thousands in support of the Greens earlier this month, as a result delivering a clear message to Angela Merkel’s CDU. The CDU lost control of the state of Baden-Württemberg for the first time. Moreover the Greens being the leading party in the state coalition will now provide the first ever Green Prime Minister of the state of Baden-Württemberg. The Green-Red coalition in Rhineland Palatinate has been reinforced by the Green gains at the polls.

The nuclear power station which Berlusconi’s government is projecting in Palma di Montechiaro is to be sited in an area which has a seismic history. The earthquake of 1693 not only completely destroyed South Eastern Sicily but also caused considerable damage in the Maltese islands. One could say that this was a long time ago but then can anyone guarantee that there would not be a repeat ?  The opposite seems to be quite probable.

On Monday Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore carried a report on Japanese geologist Dr Masanobu Shishikura who way back in August 2010 had concluded that the Fukushima area had already experienced a number of earthquakes and tsunamis in the past. He identified a possible cycle and concluded  last August that it was not to be excluded that in the near future a repetition was due.    

A nuclear accident just 100 km North of the Maltese islands is certainly not something anyone would wish for. Hopefully it would never happen. But if a nuclear power station were to be sited at Palma di Montechiaro it would be a possibility depending on the movement of the geological plates. No one will give us the date when this will happen. Hence it stands to reason that constructing a nuclear power station on such a site is a very risky business. Italian planners consider that it is a reasonable risk as providing electricity is in their view more important than the risk which the whole of the central Mediterranean would be subjected to.  

In view of what happened at Fukushima no one can say that he is not aware of the consequences. A consideration which, I do not doubt will weigh heavily on the minds of Italian voters when they cast their ballot next June rejecting nuclear energy one more time.

Risk and use of nuclear energy

 

published Saturday April 16, 2011

 

The Fukushima nuc­lear disaster occur­red as a result of the tsunami. The earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale did not cause any direct damage to the nuclear installation.

The Fukushima nuclear reactor was (according to various reports) designed after taking into consideration the frequency and strength of earthquakes and tsunamis in the region. The strength of the earthquake and the impacts of the tsunami were substantially more than what was taken into consideration at the drawing board. The point at issue is whether, in view of the possible (and eventual) impacts resulting from a failure of the reactor’s cooling systems, the risk taken as a result of the design assumptions was justified.

After the Fukushima happenings, German Chancellor Angela Merkel changed her opinion on nuclear energy turning around 180 degrees in the space of a few months.

The European Commissioner for Energy, Günther Oettinger, former CDU Minister President of the German land of Baden-Württemberg, stated in an interview with Der Spiegel International that “Fukushima has made me start to doubt”.  He added: “when Chernobyl happened, we in the west were comforted by the fact that it was the result of outdated Soviet technology and human error. But I have nothing but respect for Japan’s abilities when it comes to industry and technology. That’s why Fukushima has been such a turning point for me. It has made me start to doubt. If the Japanese cannot master this technology, then nuclear energy conceals risks I didn’t see before.”

That says it all. The Fukushima nuclear incident is the direct result of the “risk society”, which acts on the basis of the probability of a particular event happening.

Notwithstanding advances in technology and human knowledge, there will always be an unresolved element of risk when adopting technological solutions to cater for human needs. The risk can be reduced but it will never be eliminated. As Dr Oettinger himself states, at the end of the day, in the case of a nuclear power plant, faced with the residual risk, “either you accept this residual risk or you shut down”.

To date, various governments took the risk. After Fukushima, a number are coming to their senses and are adopting the option to shut down. After the recent thrashing at the polls, Chancellor Merkel’s CDU too has changed course and has reluctantly started moving towards adopting a “green” nuclear policy!

There have been four major nuclear disasters since the late 1950s. The first took place in Windscale UK in 1957; the second at Harrisburg US (Three Mile Island) in 1979; the third occurred at Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986 and Fukushima was the fourth.

In addition to the above, there have been a countless number of other “small” incidents and a number of near misses. In France alone there are about 700 minor incidents every year, most of which go unreported.

Kenzaburo Oe is a Japanese Nobel Laureate having received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. In an essay published in the New Yorker on March 28, entitled Tokyo Postcard. History Repeats, he states that the use of nuclear energy in Japan is a betrayal of the Hiroshima victims.

He says: “Like earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural calamities, the experience of Hiroshima should be etched into human memory: it was even more dramatic a catastrophe than those natural disasters precisely because it was man-made. To repeat the error by exhibiting, through the construction of nuclear reactors, the same disrespect for human life is the worst possible betrayal of the memory of Hiroshima’s victims.”

Nuclear technology disrespects life as it has been shown time and again not only to be unsafe to use but also that it places whole regions and eco-systems at risk.

While, later this month, the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster will be commemorated it is pertinent to ask whether any lessons have been learnt. Chernobyl was considered as being an exception easily explained by the then Soviet Union’s state of technological development. Fuku­shima is a different kettle of fish: Japanese precision and technological knowledge is second to none.

The question, however, remains that, at the end of the day, some event that has not been given sufficient weight in design considerations happens. Be it the earthquake’s strength, a tsunami’s force or the frequency of adverse weather conditions. Engineering ethics permit this as it is accepted practice that one cannot design for all eventualities.

This is the risk society that plays games with our lives. The risk society does not consider life as being sufficiently worthy of protection. It only weighs probabilities and projects these into costs.

In this scheme of things life is worthless, hence, the validity of the observation of Kenzaburo Oe that the use of nuclear energy disrespects human life and is possibly its worst betrayal.

Nuclear energy? No thanks!

Nuclear myth and Malta’s neighbours

 

 

 

published on Saturday March 26, 2011

 

April 26 marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuc­lear disaster, which affected 40 per cent of European territory.

Sicilians (but not the Maltese) were then advised on precautions to be observed in order to avoid the effects of airborne radioactive contamination on agricultural produce. In the UK, until very recently, a number of farms were still under observation after having been contaminated through airborne radioactive caesium in 1986. Wild boar hunted in Germany’s forests cannot be consumed. Its food-chain is still contaminated with radioactive caesium, which was dispersed all over Europe as a result of the Chernobyl disaster.

The Fukushima disaster has occurred in efficient and safety-conscious Japan.

Nature has taken over, confirming its supremacy over the risk society; confirming that even the smallest risk is unacceptable in nuclear projects as this exposes nations, ecosystems, economies and whole regions to large-scale disasters.

The myth that nuclear technology is safe has been shattered once more at Fukushima.

In addition to the disasters at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986), there were also a number of near misses such as that on June 4, 2008 in Krško on the Slovenia/Croatia border. In Krško, leaking coolant water was minutes away from causing a meltdown of the nuclear installation. The leakages of coolant water from nuclear plants in the Tricastin region in France in July 2008 are also of particular significance.

Malta is faced with plans by Italy, Libya, Tunisia and others to generate nuclear energy.

Libya has agreed with France to be provided with a nuclear plant along its coast to carry out seawater desalination. Fortunately, this agreement has so far not materialised. One shudders just thinking on the possibilities which access to nuclear technology in the civil war on Libyan soil could lead to.

The Berlusconi government, ignoring the result of a 1987 Italian referendum, has embarked on a nuclear programme that could lead to the construction and operation of a number of nuclear installations on Italian soil. One of these will be sited in Sicily.

The locality of Palma di Montechiaro has been mentioned as the preferred site although an area near Ragusa is also under consideration. Both Palma di Montechiaro and Ragusa are situated along Sicily’s southern coast and are too close to Malta for comfort. A serious accident there could have an immediate effect on Malta. Moreover, this is the area which was most affected by a 1693 earthquake that caused considerable damage in both Ragusa and Malta.

This contrasts with the declaration last week by Abdelkater Zitouni, leader of Tunisie Verte, the Tunisian Green party, who has called on Tunisia’s transitional government to abandon the 2020 project of a nuclear plant in Tunisia.

What is the Maltese government doing on the matter?

There is no information in the public domain except an article published in Il Sole 24 Ore on July 26, 2008 authored by Federico Rendina and entitled Il Governo Rilancia Sull’Atomo. In a kite-flying exercise during an official visit to Rome by a Maltese delegation, Mr Rendina speculated on the possibilities of placing nuclear reactors for Italy’s use on territories just outside Italian jurisdiction. Malta, Montenegro and Albania were mentioned in this respect. It was unfortunate that the Maltese government only spoke up after being prodded by the Greens in Malta. It had then stated that no discussions on the matter had taken place with the Italian government.

On behalf of the Greens in Malta, since 2008 I have repeatedly insisted on the need to make use of the provisions of the Espoo Convention, which deals with consultation procedures to be followed between countries in Europe whenever issues of transboundary impacts arise. On March 3, 2010 Parliament in Malta approved a resolution to ratify this convention.

The Espoo Convention, the EU Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment and the EU Strategic Environment Assessment Directive establish the right of the Maltese public to be consulted by Italy in the procedures leading to the construction of a nuclear power station, both on the Italian mainland as well as in Sicily. This is definitely not enough.

Various countries are reconsidering their position on nuclear energy as a result of the Fukushima disaster. Italy’s government has started to feel the pressure ahead of a June anti-nuclear referendum championed by Antonio di Pietro and earlier this week temporarily suspended its nuclear programme.

Italy is a region which is seismically active. The devastation caused by the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila is still imprinted in our memories. The 1908 earthquake at Messina/Reggio Calabria was much worse, the worst ever in Europe. It produced an estimated 13-metre tsunami wave in the central Mediterranean. In Messina alone, over 120,000 lost their lives.

Faced with government silence, I think the matter should be taken up by Maltese environmental NGOs in partnership with their Italian counterparts. Public opinion needs to be sensitised on the dangers that lie ahead as Fukushima is a warning we cannot afford to ignore. 

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