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On UN Day, Ban celebrates Organizationâs continuing commitment for a better world
As multiple crises â ranging from poverty and disease to terrorism and climate change â continue to afflict the world, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked the 69th anniversary of the United Nations today, declaring that the Organization is needed now âmore than ever.â
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Lockheed Martinâs compact nuclear reactor? Yet more fusion fantasy!
Clean, abundant, sustainable and commercially viable energy from nuclear fusion is the stuff of science fiction. Lockheed Martin’s announcement this week that it plans to produce a fusion reactor that will fit on the back of a truck in just ten years is yet more fantasy.
The joke about commercial nuclear fusion is that it’s 50 years away. Always 50 years away. The joke is very old because scientists have been trying, unsuccessfully, to get nuclear fusion to work for a very long time. It’s a clichÃ© because it’s true.
So weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin’s recent announcement sounds like little more than a wild boast that will embarrass them later down the line. It says it can build a compact fusion reactor (CFR) 90 percent smaller - small enough to fit on a truck - than other prototypes and in just ten years.
How will Lockheed Martin succeed where everybody else has failed? There’s a suspicious lack of detail in its press release.
“The smaller size will allow us to design, build and test the CFR in less than a year.”
The CFR concept isn’t even off the drawing board yet. They say it’s going to take five years to build the prototype and if Lockheed Martin succeeds where all others have failed, the CFR will be “deployed in as little as ten years.”
“As little as ten years”. One thing we’ve learned about the nuclear industry is that you never believe any deadlines or timetables. Everything nuclear is nearly always late. Nuclear fusion is permanently late.
Research into nuclear fusion has been ongoing for more than 60 years and history is littered with its failures. Take a look at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France. Construction began in 2008 and is expected to be finished in 2019.
The reactor won’t begin operation until 2027 at the earliest and only if some huge scientific barriers can be broken. By 2027 ITER will be 11 years late. At $50 billion, its cost is already ten times the initial budget.
As for Lockheed Martin, its own timetable is already slipping. It made the exact same announcement in February 2013 that its CFR is just ten years away. It’s now 18 months later and the CFR is still ten years away.
It’s nuclear fusion history repeating. In his book, Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking, Charles Seife calls fusion research “a tragic and comic pursuit that has left scores of scientists battered and disgraced.”
Not only that, but Lockheed Martin is bringing new problems to the party. The idea of a reactor on the back of a truck may look good in a press release but the reality would be a nuclear safety and security nightmare. Which means the CFR is not exactly the basis for a credible global energy solution.
Doesn’t Lockheed Martin know we’re in a race against time with climate change? It’s planning to waste years of research, resources and money that must instead be devoted to clean, affordable and sustainable energy sources like wind and solar whose large scale deployment already underway today needs to move to an even greater scale if rapid carbon reductions are to be achieved.
Justin McKeating is a nuclear blogger for Greenpeace International, based in the UK.
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Why is the UK being asked to pay in more to the EU budget and what can it do about it?
There are a number of headlines today around the EUâs request for a further â¬2.1bn from the UK in terms of its contribution to the EUâs budget.
Below we breakdown exactly how and why this has happened and what options the UK has now.
How has this happened?
- The European Commission has launched a review of EU budget shares (based of VAT receipts and Gross National Income [GNI]) going back to 1995.
- This is tied in with the introduction of the new European System of Accounts (ESA) 2010 which came into force in September. This is a new approach to assess the true value of a countryâs economy (its GDP) by counting some activities which are often missed. Many of you will have read the countless headlines about how GDP will now try to quantify the value of prostitution and the drug trade. However, the new calculations also give more weight to research & development and other softer types of investment. The Commission has estimated that these adjustments will push most member states GDP up, albeit by varying degrees.
- Essentially, since 1995 the UK has performed better than expected and better than many of the other EU member states. As such its economy is larger than originally thought. Under the review this means that its share of the EU budget â which is calculated off the back of GDP and population as a share of overall EU GDP and population â has increased.
- The EU is also in the process of producing an amendment to the annual budget which we discussed here. At some point, very recently, the EU has decided to almost combine the two issues possibly causing a speed up in the payment date for this â¬2.1bn lump sum.
Why has everyone been caught off guard?
- While the annual amendments to the budget are expected and usual (though often unnecessary and far too high as we have pointed out numerous times) this adjustment on GDP terms is unprecedented and seems to be largely a one off â as such it has caught most people off guard.
- It also seems that the release has been kept under wraps for some time. While the amending budget has been known and discussed for some time, with the final details circulated to member states a week ago in preparation for the current EU summit, the details of this were only released to member states a day ago. Essentially it was somewhat sprung on them ahead of the summit.
- This is exacerbated by the fact that this is clearly an extensive long term process and that the ESA 2010 adjustment has been running for years. To say the release and interaction with member states on this issue has been poorly handled would be a massive understatement.
What are the UKâs options now?
- First, itâs clear the UK is not alone in its outrage. The Netherlands has been asked to pay in a further â¬640m, while Italy has been asked for â¬340m. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has called thisâan unpleasant surprise which raises a lot of questionsâ, adding, âwhen I say go to the bottom of this, it means to look at all aspects, including legal ones. It is still too early to run ahead on this.â
- The first option is to get an agreement to deduct any payments from future budget contributions. This would avoid having to pay in a lump sum now and also mean that it on net the UK does not pay any extra.
- The second option would be to secure a political or legal agree to ignore these uprated GDP shares and stick with the originals. This should be doable through a vote in the European Council. That said, because some members are getting a rebate â France and Germany in particular â this could prove a very tricky agreement to strike.
- As Rutte has already pointed out, countries may have legal recourse. Exactly what form this could take is unknown but the retroactive nature of the cost and its lack of discussion and warning could provide some grounds.
- Lastly, the UK (and the Netherlands) could simply refuse to pay. As large net contributors to the EU budget, there is little that others can do to force them to pay. Obviously the EU could launch its own legal action in terms of infraction proceedings; however, the maximum fine for the UK is around â¬225m on an annual basis â much less than it is being asked to stump up here. This could also be combined with the point above, with the UK refusing to pay until the legal proceedings have run their course.
Open Europeâs take
While this does not necessarily seem to be a political stitch up from the EU there is no doubt that it is unreasonable and politically irresponsible. Retroactively taxing someone over 20 years is fundamentally unfair. The fact that the UK and Netherlands are being punished for doing better than expected and better than others almost encapsulates everything that is wrong with the EUâs approach â particularly when the Eurozone economy is struggling to find any growth.
Once again the EU has failed to learn any lessons from the previous budget negotiations and has helped to feed those who want to leave the EU, possibly ultimately shooting itself in the foot. Still, what’s interesting is that in a debate marred by splits, the UK political class is almost entirely united in its outrage against this move. It is ironic that in the week when one poll found British support for EU membership at its highest since 1991, the Commission has managed to unite everyone from Lib Dem MEPs to UKIP in outrage. If Cameron manages to resist the demand somehow, he would be able to score a massive victory.
7 solar wonders of the world
Solar energy is clean, reliable, abundant and an affordable alternative to fossil fuels - but not only that, solar is also cool. Check out our selection of the most amazing solar plants from all around the globe.
1. The sunflower solar panel
This new piece of solar technology from IBM, set to launch in 2017, would not only provide electricity â it can also desalinate water for sanitation and drinking. A group of several solar generators could provide enough fresh water for an entire town. The sunflower operates by tracking the sun, so that it always points in the best direction for collecting the rays - just like a real sunflower!
Â© IBM Research / flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0
2. The loveliest solar plant, ever
This heart-shaped solar power plant is to be built on the Pacific Island of New Caledonia at the beginning of next year, and will generate enough electricity to supply 750 homes. The unique design was inspired by the “Heart of Voh”; an area of nearby wild mangrove vegetation that has naturally taken the shape of a heart. It gained worldwide recognition thanks to the Yann Arthus-Bertrand best-selling book “The Earth from Above”. Pacific Islands are among the most vulnerable to climate change, and would derive the most benefit from a global switch to renewable energy sources.
3. The most scenic solar farm
The Kagoshima mega solar island is the largest solar power plant in Japan. Not only does it generate enough power to supply roughly 22,000 average Japanese households, it also doubles as a tourist destination. Boasting grand views of the Sakurajima volcano, the plant’s own learning centre highlights environmental issues and the science behind photovoltaic energy generation. Japan’s’ recent solar growth is truly massive. In 2013 Japan came in second worldwide for installing solar PV (only China installed more). A rapid expansion indeed!
4. The plant that can generate power at night
This Gemasolar tower plant located in Sevilla, Spain, can deliver power around the clock - even at night. All thanks to the pioneering molten salt technology, which allows it to receive and store energy for up to 15 hours. In 2013, renewable energy provided 42% of Spain’s power demand. The future is here!
5. The largest solar plant
The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is the world’s largest solar thermal plant. Located in a sunny Californian desert, and owned by Google, among others, the plant began producing electricity earlier this year. The plant comprises 173,000 heliostats (solar-speak for mirrors), and produces enough electricity to supply 140,000 Californian households with clean and reliable solar energy.
Â© Don Barrett / flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
6. Britain’s first floating solar plant
Britain’s first ever floating solar panel project was built in Berkshire last month. The 800-panel plant, situated on a farm water reservoir, avoids covering valuable farm land with a solar array, providing additional cost benefit over solar farms on fields. Because of climate change, in the future we can expect to see more extreme weather events such as last year’s flooding in Britain. Innovative renewable energy solutions could be Britain’s answer to climate change.
7. The solar plant covering a network of canals
This solar pilot project in India provides both energy and water security. A network of 15-metre-wide irrigation canals covered with a total of 3,600 solar panels produces power for hard to reach villages. Shading from panels also prevents around 9m litres of water from evaporating each year, and water, in turn, provides cooling effect for the panels, improving electricity output. It’s a win-win!
Â© Hitesh vip / wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0
Paula TejÃ³n Carbajal is a Corporate Adviser and Climate & Energy Campaigner and Helena Meresman is Digital Mobilisation Advisor for the Climate and Energy campaign at Greenpeace International.
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