Fatal combinations

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Author: Metta Spencer

Get up! Our house is on fire!” a thirteen-year-old girl calls out. Exactly. Get up! We adults have been acting as if there were no emergency, although we are confronting the hardest challenge in human history. So, get up! Hurry!

We must rouse all the other grown-ups too and do everything possible to save the world from six potential catastrophes: militarism (the foolish reliance on weapons and warfare for security); the climate crisis; and four other impending threats—famine; pandemics; massive radiation exposure; and cyberattacks.

These are all real risks and we caused them all, so it’s up to us to handle them. And we may fail. But after all, the most interesting problems are the hard ones. As John Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Saving the world will be even harder. But just as much fun!

Okay, What Shall We do?

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What a wealth of material!

An interesting article from Bellona regarding the impacts of COVID-19 on the nuclear energy industry. A number of sensitive sectors — such as nuclear power plant operators — are requesting staff member lodge on site to limit potential exposure routes to COVID-19. This further illustrates concerns over the aging and shrinking workforce of experts and technicians in the field of nuclear energy.

Title: Covid-19 Could Cause Staff Shortages in the Nuclear Power Industry
Author: Digges, Charles
Publication(s): Bellona (Nuclear Issues)
Date: 20 March 2020
Link: https://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/2020-03-covid-19-could-cause-staff-shortages-in-the-nuclear-power-industry

Article Excerpt(s):

“As the Covid-19 virus grinds world economies to a halt, several national nuclear operators are weighing how to keep sensitive and vulnerable infrastructure chugging along in the face of staff shortages due to the illness.

A number of national contingency plans, if enacted, could mark an unprecedented step by nuclear power providers to keep their highly-skilled workers healthy as governments scramble to minimize the impact of the global pandemic that has infected more than 240,000 people worldwide.

Officials in the United States, for instance, have suggested they might isolate critical technicians at the country’s nuclear power plants and ask them to live onsite to avoid exposure to the virus. Many operators say they have been stockpiling beds, blankets and food to support staff for that purpose.

Should that fail to stem the pandemic’s effect on the nuclear work force, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it would shut down any of America’s 60 nuclear plants if they can’t be appropriately staffed.

Other operators, however, are already seeing the spread of the infection slow things down. In Great Britain, authorities announced they are shutting down a nuclear fuel reprocessing site at Sellafield after 8 percent of its 11,500-strong staff were forced to self-isolate to avoid infection. The move came after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus last week, and will lead to a gradual shutdown of the site’s Magnox facility, which is slated to close permanently later this year.

Sellafield told employees that it would work to “make best use of available people”.

France, the world’s most nuclear dependent nation, announced staff reductions at its Flameville plant in the country’s north. The EDF, France’s national nuclear operator, said that, due to high regional infection rates, it was reducing the staff at the plant from 800 to 100. As early as March 10, EDF reported that three workers at nuclear power plants had tested positive for the virus.

A spokesman for the Flameville plant told Reuters that “we have decided to only keep those in charge of safety and security” working while the coronavirus crisis runs its course.

French grid operator RTE expects nuclear availability to stay 3.6GW below the 2015 to 2019 average and likewise predicts a national drop in nuclear demand.

Taken together, the emergency responses of national nuclear operators are symptoms of a big problem that Covid-19 posed to the nuclear sector, Mycle Schneider and independent energy and nuclear policy analyst told Power Technology Magazine.

“Covid-19 constitutes an unprecedented threat on sensitive strategic infrastructure, above all the power sector,” he said.

“The French case sheds light on a fundamental societal safety and security issue that got little attention in the current Covid-19 crisis. Operation and maintenance of nuclear power plants draw on a small group of highly specialized technicians and engineers.”

Because of that very level of specialization, some in the US nuclear industry are considering simply isolating nuclear plant technicians onsite in a sort of preventative quarantine.

Maria Korsnick, head of the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute told the New York Times that plants are “considering measures to isolate a core group to run the plant, stockpiling ready-to-eat meals and disposable tableware, laundry supplies and personal care items.”

The US Department of Homeland Security is responsible for working with nuclear power plant operators to maintain their operations during a national emergency. On Thursday, the department issued guidelines that echoed the ones suggested by Korsnick.

“When continuous remote work is not possible, businesses should enlist strategies to reduce the likelihood of spreading the disease,” the DHS said in a memo, according to Power Magazine. “This includes, but is not necessarily limited to, separating staff by off-setting shift hours or days and/or social distancing.”

Roy Palk, president and CEO of New Horizons Consulting, which advises energy companies in the US, told the magazine that, “There are a lot of unanswered questions because this is not a model everyone is used to working with.”

To keep the lights on, he said, utilities and power plant operators might have to consider keeping staff onsite for the long term.

“These operators have a license to operate, they’re highly skilled, highly trained. They have to be certified.” he told the magazine. “These individuals need to be on the job, they need to be healthy. They have a big obligation to the public.”

Reuters contacted a dozen other power providers, all of whom said they were implementing plans to moderate risks to their employees and to ensure continuity of service, but who declined to comment on whether sequestering staff was a possibility.

In New York, Consolidated Edison Inc, which provides power to around 3.3 million customers and gas to about 1.1 million customers in New York City and Westchester County – both of which are under virus lockdowns – said it was taking steps to keep critical employees healthy, including separating some control center personnel to other locations where they can perform their work.

Duke Energy Corp, which provides power to 7.7 million customers in six states and gas to 1.6 million customers in five states, said it instituted additional worker screening measures, such as temperature checks, at generating and other critical facilities.

Puget Sound Energy, which serves more than 1.5 million customers in the Seattle, Washington area – a region hard hit by coronavirus – said all non-essential workers are working remotely, and the utility has limited access to facilities that provide critical operations.”

An interesting article from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in regards to the impacts of COVID-19 on nuclear inspections in Iran.

Title: One potential victim of coronavirus? Nuclear inspections in Iran
Author: Moore, George M.
Publication(s): Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Date: 17 March 2020
Link: https://thebulletin.org/2020/03/one-potential-victim-of-coronavirus-nuclear-inspections-in-iran/
Notes: See article excerpts.

Article Excerpt(s):

” Should the new IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi decide to suspend inspection visits to protect the health of his inspectors, it could metastasize concerns about Iranian nuclear proliferation. The same result would occur if Iran acted unilaterally to bar inspectors based on real or manufactured concerns about further spread of Covid-19.

To date, there is no public information about whether the IAEA will continue to send inspectors to Iran under the terms of the nuclear deal. Suspending inspections, even temporarily, could potentially leave a multi-month gap that Iran could exploit if it chose to fully break out of the nuclear agreement. In early March, the IAEA reported that Iran had amassed over 1,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, nearly triple the amount allowed under the deal. Following this announcement, updated estimates of Iran’s breakout time—the amount of time needed to amass enough fissile material to produce one nuclear weapon—ranged from approximately four to six months. These estimates depend on assumptions about the type of design Iran might be capable of initially using. Implosion systems require less fissile material than gun-type designs. Whatever the exact breakout time might be, most estimates fall within a timespan that health officials seem to indicate might be the duration of the Covid-19 threat.

Whether Iran would attempt to use the cover of Covid-19 to begin a dash for a nuclear weapon is uncertain. However, the loss of “eyes on the ground” in the form of IAEA inspections would probably heighten the worst fears about Iranian proliferation and possibly worsen already dim prospects for cooperation. Even before the coronavirus breakout, Iran had expanded its production of enriched uranium, probably in an attempt to exert pressure and improve its negotiating leverage following the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal and its reimposition of sanctions in 2018.

A second and related danger is that, absent the IAEA inspections, there is a greater possibility of miscalculation regarding Iran and its nuclear potential and intentions. Without hard data, US policy makers could begin to fear the worst and assume that Iran was dashing toward a bomb, and it would be difficult to prove otherwise. Other nations, both Iran’s neighbors in the Middle East and other global powers, might also react in unexpected ways, based on insufficient information and fear that Iran was breaking out to produce a nuclear weapon. In any event, lack of information generally leads to instability and whenever nuclear weapons, or the threat of nuclear weapons, is involved, instability could be exceedingly dangerous.

What could, or should, Director General Grossi and the IAEA member states do about this situation to mitigate any potential risks? First, it is essential that any hazards to the health of IAEA inspectors be minimized. The agency must pre-screen its inspectors before they travel to identify those at heightened risk. In addition, inspectors should be equipped to deal with potential contact with the virus by using proper disposable clothing and disinfecting procedures. Inspectors should also be accompanied by medical personnel and should strive to be self-sufficient with food and housing. It is also possible that enhanced technical oversight systems could be installed to temporarily decrease or eliminate the need for inspectors. Although the IAEA has apparently used remote surveillance systems in Iran, the effectiveness of those systems in a situation where inspectors cannot enter Iran will need to be evaluated, and new or upgraded systems may be needed. Such installations would need to be installed by the IAEA in order to be considered reliable, and that would involve the same risks to those personnel as to inspectors in dealing with the virus.

IAEA member states should fully support such efforts so that inspections can continue. Though it might require extraordinary efforts by the IAEA and its board of governors, it is in the world’s interest to have the nuclear watchdog continue its verification programs in Iran despite whatever level of hazard the Covid-19 outbreak presents. Failure to do so could have dire consequences.”

An interesting article on nine major climate change tipping points.

Title: Explainer: Nine ‘tipping points’ that could be triggered by climate change
Author: Robert McSweeney
Date: 10 February 2020
Publication: Carbon Brief
Link: https://www.carbonbrief.org/explainer-nine-tipping-points-that-could-be-triggered-by-climate-change

Half the pregnancies in the US are unintended. Across the globe hundreds of millions of women do not have access to modern contraception and safe abortion. In the Sahel (mainly Francophone Africa) the population will triple by mid-century, just as climate change diminishes the food supply (already in Niger 4 out 10 children are stunted due to lack of food). Meeting the unmet need for family planning in a human rights framework is a win/win situation for everyone. As measured by the OECD, only one per cent of foreign aid goes to family planning. Based on half a century of experience in many different cultures I believe that doubling the amount of foreign aid going to family planning from 1% to 2% of the total would work miracles. Please write in supporting this policy. If you disagree, please begin a much needed debate.

Malcolm Potts MD, PhD, FRCOG UC Berkeley (potts@berkeley.edu)

Canadian children face serious risks as a result of climate change and health-care providers must adopt new practices to mitigate the effects, says a guidance document from a national group of pediatricians.

Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to heat sickness, reduced air quality due to pollution and wildfires, infection from insects, ticks and rodents, and other hazards that are expected to pose greater risks as a result of climate change, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society’s document,published Wednesday.

“There is a change in children’s health issues within Canada and pediatricians are going to be dealing with conditions that they didn’t expect in their region or their area,” said Irena Buka, lead author of the guidance and clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

The CPS is urging health-care professionals who care for children to be aware of the changing risks and be prepared to provide advice to caregivers about the reality of rising temperatures, extreme weather events and infection prevention.
“Health professionals, they really need to focus on broadening their training and broadening their education,” Dr. Buka said. “It is a call to action on that.”

The CPS document is also calling on health professionals to push governments to do more to mitigate the effects of climate change and to ensure children’s unique health needs are taken into consideration during any disaster planning.
“It is a plea for doctors to get involved,” Dr. Buka said.

Susan Elliott, a medical geographer at the University of Waterloo who studies global environmental health, said many Canadians still don’t realize the health risks of climate change are already being felt across the country. And there are many unanswered questions about how to deal with the risks. For instance, the rates of obesity and asthma are on the rise among Canadian youth, but on days when it is very hot and humid, parents can’t safely send those kids outside to play, Dr. Elliott said.

She added that many physicians may not be able to recognize certain conditions that are becoming more common as a result of climate change, such as Lyme disease. Medical schools need to incorporate more of this information to help prepare the next generation of doctors and the health-care system also needs to do more to address these issues, she said.

“Can a physician recognize West Nile virus? Can a physician recognize symptoms of malaria?” Dr. Elli Courtney Howard, an emergency room doctor based in Yellowknife who wrote about the health effects of climate change in the Lancet journal last year, said the CPS statement sends an important message to the health community about the new health risks we face.

“We know that climate change is the biggest health risk of the 21st century,” she said. “From a really practical position, [health professionals] need to know what to do.”

Did I miss the section where racism and poverty are specifically addressed?

Taken together, racial and economic “minority” groups actually comprise the greater part of the world’s population. Because “otherization” (dehumanization based on group affiliation) makes these groups most expendable, marginalized populations are especially vulnerable in each of the issues in the Platform for Survival.

Depending on circumstances, any group can be subject to otherization, so addressing the way these problems impact people at the bottom of the social and economic strata will be comprehensive and globally beneficial. It is also a way to engage groups who have been historically silent or silenced.

Following these subjects is probably the most important thing we can do at this moment in history. Following these subjects is also very difficult and can be disheartening. I am a single senior who has been paying attention for decades. (I put question marks and exclamation marks beside my note when an official from the Clinton administration spoke about the possibility of war with China.)

Over the years I have found that these are not subjects people have wanted to engage with. The times, of course, are a-changing, and we will deal with them, like it or not. I appreciate this invitation to engagement and encourage you to publish it more widely, and in a more accessible format.

“Okay, what shall we do?” is exactly the right question. It is off-putting, though, and overwhelming when followed by a list of 30 publications. Instead of showing the long list of notes at this point, I think it would be more empowering for readers to be met with the opening lines that they will only see if they click on “read more””

First, let’s find out what we need to know.

Second, let’s talk about it. (All the time! Bring up the subject out of the blue four or five times every day! That’s how to wake the others up.)

Third, let’s act—but act according to the smartest plans we can devise.