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

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The chihuahua that roared

During the Cancún Climate Summit Bolivian President Evo Morales emphasised that “nature has rights”. He insisted on a 1°C rise above the pre-industrial-age temperature as the maximum permissible.

Stripped of his trademark anti-US remarks the Morales input at Cancún would not have led to any radically different conclusions at the summit. Who can dispute his declaration in favour of families already deprived of water because of drought, or islanders facing the loss of their homes and possessions as a result of rising sea levels? His plea was one to buttress arguments in favour of mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Realistically, however, there was never a chance of this being accepted.

Participants at Cancún opted instead for declarations which though very important as a political statement served to postpone decisions to the Durban Climate Summit towards the end of this year. It is this postponement which led to the Morales outburst equating lack of definite action with “ecocide which is equivalent to genocide because this would be an affront to mankind as a whole”.

Cancún went one step further from the declarations of the past. Agreement in principle was reached on the need for inspections in order to account for commitments made. As to who will eventually carry out the monitoring, reporting and verification this is still to be determined. Maybe this will be concluded at Durban later this year on the basis of the agreement in principle sealed at Cancún.

Climate change diplomacy is moving although at a very slow pace.

In the words of BBC Cancún correspondent Richard Black one can compare the 2009 Copenhagen summit to a Great Dane which whimpered while the Cancún 2010 summit can be compared to a chihuahua which roared. Much was expected from Copenhagen but little tangible results were achieved. On the other hand while there were no great expectations from the Cancún summit, foundations for a comprehensive settlement in the future were laid. Whether this will be achieved at Durban or possibly later is still to be seen.

At Cancún pledges by countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions were formalised. Developing countries for the first time agreed to look into possible cuts in their own emissions. They made no formal pledges yet they moved one step forward towards a more reasonable application of the “common but differentiated responsibility” principle in climate change diplomacy.

Countries represented at Cancún gave formal backing to the UN’s deforestation scheme REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). As a result of REDD rich countries will pay poor countries not to chop down forests on their territory. This will compensate them for their lost income and further encourage the production and use of sustainable timber. The developed countries will thus be paying for protecting biodiversity as well as for the service which forests are rendering as carbon sinks. Details of the REDD scheme have still to be worked out. Maybe by the Durban Climate Summit these will be settled.

The Cancún agreement has acknowledged for the first time in a UN document that global warming must not exceed pre-industrial temperatures by more than 2°C. While being a big step forward, this is clearly not enough. In fact exceeding pre-industrial temperatures by more than 1.5°C endangers the very existence of a number of islands as well as low-lying coastal areas.

Small island states and coastal areas are already feeling the impacts of climate change: millions reside and earn their livelihood in such areas. If temperature rises are not contained within the said 1.5°C increase these millions risk becoming climate change refugees.

The first climate change refugees have already left their homeland. Those displaced by sea level changes have already left the Carteret Islands and Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean.

Drought has been playing havoc with the lives of various African nations resulting in escalating tribal conflicts which have displaced millions of human beings. In Malta we have direct experience of this through the boat refugees departing from Libyan shores, a number of whom end up in Malta.

Depending on the actual rise above pre-industrial temperatures, current projections indicate that in the long term more than one billion human beings could face losing their homes and possessions in islands and coastal areas as a result of sea level rise. Millions more will be displaced as a result of the impacts of changing weather patterns. Availability of water will change as a result of a varying frequency and intensity of rainfall. As a result this will impact agriculture, sanitation and the quality of life in the areas affected.

Mr Morales is right. Nature has rights. It will strike back in defence of these rights if current greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced substantially. Maybe the roaring chihuahua will alert policy makers around the globe that there is no alternative to substantial reductions across the board.

 

Published in The Times of Malta : January 1, 2011