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. 

other posts on Nuclear Issues on this blog

Advertisements

Holding Business to Account

times_of_malta196x701

published on April 11, 2009

by Carmel Cacopardo

_________________________________________________________________________________________ 

On September 13, 1970, in the New York Times magazine, economist Milton Friedman said that the sole purpose of business was to generate profits for shareholders. The business of business, he argued, is business.

Forty years on some still think on the same lines: that shouldering environmental and social impacts generated by business is not the business of business. They insist that, if pressed to address its impacts, business would consider relocating, seeking countries where legislation relative to environmental and social protection is minimal or inexistent.

By publishing its Corporate Social Responsibility report for 2006-08, Vodafone Malta is making a very powerful statement: modern business thinks otherwise. It considers that the business of business is much wider than business. In its second CSR report, Vodafone outlines its initiatives in managing its corporate risks and responsibilities in greater detail than it did two years ago.

CSR signifies a commitment that business is carried out in a responsible manner. Tree-planting and sponsorship of worthy causes, though laudable, are marginal to CSR!

Vodafone’s statements on the management of hazardous waste relating to mobile phones are welcome as are its declarations on its reduced carbon footprint.

The listing of ethical purchasing criteria make excellent reading although the manner in which these have been applied could have been substantially more informative. In particular, it would have been appropriate if stakeholders were informed whether there were any suppliers who fell foul of the said criteria during the reporting period. The adopted criteria use the available guidelines, standards and tools that have been drawn up globally to facilitate sustainability benchmarking and reporting. They are largely modelled on the social accountability standard SA8000, full compliance to which should lead to the ethical sourcing of goods and services. This standard has also been used by others, among which Avon Products Inc., The Body Shop, Reebok International, Toys ‘R’ Us and The Ethical Trading Initiative.

On a different note, reporting on the radiation emission levels of its base stations and the identification of the standards to which it conforms makes Vodafone’s second CSR report an adequate reporting tool. This is an issue, however, which requires more analysis and discussion.

In line with global CSR reporting standards, Vodafone discloses of being in breach of consumer legislation on one occasion during the reporting period relative to comparative advertising. Such disclosure, though not yet an everyday occurrence in these islands, is an essential element of CSR reporting.

Vodafone’s third CSR report should move a further step forward: Its statements should be subject to an audit and be independently verified as being correct. CSR reporting is as important as financial reporting and should be subject to the same level of assurance.

Vodafone has made an important contribution to CSR reporting in Malta.

Together with BOV, it has made the first strides locally in this previously unexplored domain. It is hoped that the competition in the communications industry in Malta would make equally valid contributions. While Go plc could substantially improve on its 61-word paragraph devoted to CSR in its 2007 annual report (the latest available), stakeholders await Melita’s first utterances on the matter.

Although some tend to equate CSR with corporate philanthropy, this is just one tiny element of CSR. To make sense, corporate philanthropy must be founded on and be the result of a sound CSR. A company can sponsor environmental initiatives but, if its own environmental policy is blurred, the sponsorships dished out could only be considered as an exercise in green-washing. When deciding on sponsorships, business should be consistent with the manner it carries out its day-to-day operations. Corporate philanthropy would thus be much more than another cheap marketing ploy.

Vodafone Malta, through its CSR report is laying its cards on the table. As a result, its corporate philanthropy can be viewed in context. It would be quite a feat if, for example, the banking sector in Malta could follow suit by determining and applying environmental criteria in the advancing of finance to the building industry and, subsequently, informing stakeholders of its achievements through CSR reporting! With just one stroke of a pen, the banking sector in Malta can prevent substantial damage to both the natural and the historical environmental.

The adoption of CSR by business signifies the acceptance of the fact that its shadow is much wider than its shareholders.

Business is responsible towards its shareholders but it is accountable towards its stakeholders: employees, customers, consumers, trade unions, environmental groups and also future generations. It is with this wider stakeholder group that business must develop a dialogue. Such a dialogue must be based on trust and, consequently, it must be both transparent and leading to genuine accountability. It is not just governments that need to be accountable! CSR reporting is a tool that can be of considerable assistance in achieving this purpose.