Tagged: Canada

Let’s go to the beach and play in the radioactive water from Japan!

12/30/14 — Radioactivity from Japan’s crippled nuclear reactors has turned up off the British Columbia coast and the level will likely peak in waters off North America in the next year or two, according to a Canadian-led team that’s intercepted the nuclear plume…

The radioactivity “does not represent a threat to human health or the environment,” but is detectable off Canada’s west coast and the level is climbing…The team’s seawater measurements reveal Fukushima radioactivity first showed up 1,500 kilometres west of British Columbia in June 2012, more than a year after the Japanese nuclear accident.

By June 2013, the “Fukushima signal” had spread onto the Canadian continental shelf off the B.C. coast, and by February 2014, it was detectable “throughout the upper 150 metres of the water column,” says the report, showing how the Pacific currents are carrying the radioactive plume slowly across the ocean. It says the Fukushima’s radioactive signal off the B.C. coast is now double the “background” radiation in the ocean from atmospheric nuclear bomb testing…

The scientists predict the Fukushima radioactivity off North America will continue to increase before peaking in 2015-16 at levels comparable to those seen in the 1980s as a result of nuclear testing. Then levels are expected to decline and, by 2021, should return to levels seen before that Fukushima accident — considered one of the most serious nuclear reactor accidents…

A huge earthquake off the coast of Japan in March 2011 triggered a tsunami that flooded the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plants. Loss of backup power led to overheating, nuclear meltdowns and evacuation of the Fukushima site. Land and farms around the nuclear plants were severely contaminated and a large radioactive discharge washed into the Pacific…

While the Cesium-134 from the accident will disappear within a few years, Cesium-137 can linger for years.

Thus, the scientists predict the Cesium-137 levels off the North American coast will not return to the levels seen before the Fukushima accident until 2021.

The level of Cesium-137 in the water is far below levels seen in the 1960s and 1970s from nuclear weapons testing and “well below Canadian guidelines for drinking water quality,” they say.

I recall the response from many scientists in the 1960s and 1970s. They campaigned to stop the nuclear weapons testing exactly because it was contaminating Earth’s air and water. Now, we’re supposed to believe everyone passed through that era without harm so radioactive contamination at those levels are safe.

I worked with materials used in nuclear reactors in the 1950s and 1960s and recall many occasions when we were notified that the level of radiation previously declared safe – was no longer considered safe. Sorry, folks.

I have to ask the arch-typical question of the scientists and politicians who say we needn’t worry. Any of you live on the seashore – and let your kids play in that water?

Quiet heroes of the US-Cuba deal: Pope Francis and Canada

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The historic deal to begin normalizing relations between the US and Cuba, after 50-plus years of hostility, is being credited primarily to President Obama and Raul Castro, Cuba’s current de facto leader and the brother of Fidel. That is with good reason: Obama has been working on this issue throughout much of his presidency and Castro is taking a significant risk by allowing wider Internet access into Cuba as part of the deal.

But there are two actors that quietly played a major role in this: Canada and Pope Francis.

The negotiations that led to today’s announcement, in which the US and Cuba will take major steps toward normalization, took 18 long months, according to a report in the New York Times. And many of those negotiations were held in Canada, formally but secretly hosted by the Canadian government.

Canada was helping to solve two crucial problems. First, the talks needed to remain secret to have any hope of succeeding — had they leaked, the political backlash in the US would have almost certainly killed the deal.

Second, for diplomatic reasons, the talks could not be held on US or Cuban soil, but the negotiators needed a physical meeting place. The Canadian government, which unlike the US does have ties with Cuba but is also extremely close to the US government, was an obviously attractive broker for the US. While Canadian officials did not officially participate in the talks, their role in providing a secret and official channel was crucial, according to US officials.

If Canada was essential for providing the Americans with a safe and secure forum for talks, then Pope Francis played a similar role in helping to bring the Cuban leaders to the negotiating table. And, unlike Canadian officials, who did not sit at from the formal talks, Vatican officials participated actively in discussions.

Pope Francis’ role included sending a personal letter to both Obama and Raul Castro over the summer urging them to reach a deal (talks were already ongoing at that point). Francis also reportedly raised the issue repeatedly in his meeting with Obama in March. And Francis hosted the final negotiation session at the Vatican, where Vatican officials participated in the talks…

Nice to see a couple of competent, worldly participants take the lead in bringing the United States into reforming a diplomatic and political stance originated by thugs like the United Fruit Company in the era of Banana Imperialism. A half-century of embargo and blockade hadn’t dragged Cuba into subservience. Continuing the policy only reinforced the world’s perception of the United States as a bully.

Pope Francis continues to impress. I hope he has as much success bringing the Roman Catholic church into the modern era as he has – individually – as a representative of Christianity beginning to discover a bit of enlightenment.

Nice at least to see that Harper’s mean-spirited conservatism hasn’t yet affected Canada’s traditional leadership role in diplomacy among the Americas and beyond.

Green jobs employ more Canadians than oil sands jobs

Canada’s green energy sector has grown so quickly and has become such an important part of the economy that it now employs more people than the oil sands.

About $25-billion has been invested in Canada’s clean-energy sector in the past five years, and employment is up 37 per cent, according to a new report from climate think tank Clean Energy Canada to be released Tuesday. That means the 23,700 people who work in green energy organizations outnumber the 22,340 whose work relates to the oil sands, the report says.

“Clean energy has moved from being a small niche or boutique industry to really big business in Canada,” said Merran Smith, director of Clean Energy Canada. The investment it has gleaned since 2009 is roughly the same as has been pumped into agriculture, fishing and forestry combined, she said. The industry will continue to show huge growth potential, beyond most other business sectors, she added.

While investment has boomed, the energy-generating capacity of wind, solar, run-of-river hydro and biomass plants has expanded by 93 per cent since 2009, the report says…

Not a priority, however, for the Conservatives running the Federal government. Big Oil still rules.

Not only does the oil industry still get more substantial subsidies, she said, it also eats up a good deal of the country’s diplomatic relations efforts – through the lobbying for the Keystone XL pipeline, for example…

As for the provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan in particular should follow Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia in getting into the renewable-energy game, Ms. Smith said. Still, the necessity for this shift is beginning to gain some traction, she said, noting that Alberta Finance Minister Robin Campbell said last week that the province has to “get off the oil train…”

The Clean Energy Canada report notes that much of the investment for Canada’s clean-tech expansion currently comes outside the country. Of the five largest investors since 2009, just one, Manulife Financial Corp., is Canadian. Two Japanese companies are in that top-five list, along with two German banking groups.

“The fact that foreign investors are coming to Canada to invest in our clean energy, tells us that we have a fantastic resource,” Ms. Smith said. “We need Bay Street to wake up and recognize this is where the puck is going.”

Gotta love Canadian sports metaphors. In a nation where hockey rules, the puck stops here is a legit phrase.

DOT sued over oil train copout rules

Advocacy groups said they filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation for not responding to calls to pull crude oil rail cars out of service.

The Department of Transportation in July published a 200-page proposal calling for the eventual elimination of older rail cars designated DOT 111 used to ship flammable liquids, “including most Bakken crude oil…”

DOT-111 rail cars carrying crude oil have been involved in a series of disastrous derailments, including the deadly incident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in 2013.

Earthjustice, ForestEthics and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation for not responding to a petition filed in July calling for a ban on shipping Bakken crude using DOT-111 cars.

Matt Krogh, campaign director with ForestEthics, said DOT-111 cars are “tin cans on wheels.”

“We can’t run the risk of another disaster like Lac-Megantic,” Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman said in a statement Thursday.

U.S. regulators in January issued an advisory warning Bakken crude oil may be more prone to catch fire than other grades.

“Eventual” somehow doesn’t sound like “timely” or any other term that puts human life at a higher priority than profits from shipping oil.

Canada – with a committed Conservative government – has already banned these archaic tin cans for the carriage of Bakken crude. Obama, his DOT and obedient head, Anthony Foxx, seem to have a problem coming to the same conclusion.

Primrose oil sands spill generates renewed scrutiny of oil sand production


Click to enlargeEd Kaiser/Edmonton Journal

In the annals of oil well blowouts and pipeline disasters, the 7,400 barrels of oily slush that oozed out of the mossy bogs of the boreal forest in northeast Alberta last summer may seem like a trivial matter.

No one was hurt in the accident, which spread across at least 17 acres in the Primrose oil sands field, and the most damage to wildlife came from the killing of about 70 frogs in a lake contaminated by the leak. It has since been drained.

But while the accident has so far been overshadowed by the controversy over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline south of the border, it has nevertheless stirred nervous misgivings throughout the oil sands industry and drawn an unusually intense response from Alberta regulators, who have traditionally had a cozy relationship with the oil companies.

In a move that has raised eyebrows in the industry, officials of the Alberta Energy Regulator have refused to accept the explanations for the cause of the accident by Canadian Natural Resources, the field’s operator and one of the country’s largest oil companies. In March, the agency also rejected the company’s bid to restart its operation until a complete investigation had been completed.

“The circumstances surrounding Primrose are a test case for both the industry and the regulator,” said Andrew Leach, a business professor at the University of Alberta. “The public needs to have confidence in the regulator that it can prevent these kinds of incidents.”

The full implications of the Primrose accident are still unclear, as are the causes of the accident. But the regulators’ new interest in what caused it has raised questions, more broadly, about the way oil companies are planning to tap Alberta’s richest deposits.

The Primrose well uses high-pressure steam to free the oil from the sands deep underground, allowing it to rise to the top. The technique — known as “huff and puff” — is vaguely similar to fracking, which instead of steam uses a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals to unlock the trapped oil and has led to a surge in oil production in the United States.

At issue is whether the thick rock that traps the raw oil sands, keeping them from escaping to the surface, was fractured by high steam pressure applied during the production process — as environmentalists say was probable — or whether Canadian Natural Resources is correct in saying that the leak was simply a malfunction…

RTFA for the contradictory explanations of what caused the spill – and raises the potential for more of the same – or resolves questions in favor of the oil companies and their technology.

Most of the growth in Canadian oil output…is driven by projects that rely on steam pressure. Are spills the result of equipment failure – and therefore preventable with higher standards? Or are the spills a natural and inevitable result of huff-and-puffing steam pressure?

US elections are rigged — Canada knows how to fix that

When Americans voted for the House of Representatives in 2012, Democratic candidates won 1.4 million more votes than Republicans. Yet after the dust settled, the GOP ended up with a 234-201 majority in the chamber. And several recently-gerrymandered states had particularly odd results — for instance, in Pennsylvania, Republicans won 49 percent of the votes, but 69 percent of the seats.

Gerrymandering isn’t the only reason that election results only occasionally match vote totals…Several analyses find that simple geography matters more — many Democratic voters are packed closer together in urban areas…But gerrymandering infuriates voters because it feels so unfair. Letting partisan politicians — or their appointees — draw congressional districts reverses the normal order of politics. Voters are supposed to choose their politicians. Gerrymandering lets politicians choose their voters.

So is it possible to end gerrymandering? Well, the country just north of us managed to pull it off. “Canadian reapportionment was highly partisan from the beginning until the 1960s,” writes Charles Paul Hoffman in the Manitoba Law Journal. This “led to frequent denunciations by the media and opposition parties. Every ten years, editorial writers would condemn the crass gerrymanders that had resulted.” Sound familiar?

Eventually, in 1955, one province — Manitoba — decided to experiment, and handed over the redistricting process to an independent commission. Its members were the province’s chief justice, its chief electoral officer, and the University of Manitoba president. The new policy became popular, and within a decade, it was backed by both major national parties, and signed into law.

Independent commissions now handle the redistricting in every province. “Today, most Canadian ridings [districts] are simple and uncontroversial, chunky and geometric, and usually conform to the vague borders of some existing geographic / civic region knowable to the average citizen who lives there,” writes JJ McCullough. “Of the many matters Canadians have cause to grieve their government for, corrupt redistricting is not one of them.” Hoffman concurs, writing, “The commissions have been largely successful since their implementation.”

Canada changed this 50 years ago. Actually the majority of countries that accept democratic representation as their standard use independent commissions – taking control of districting for elections out of the hands of those running for office.

Might be worthwhile to pass this suggestion along to your Congress-critter. I’ll hold back my cynicism – for a moment.