Saturday, 20 December 2008

Plugging in to Uranium's Glowing Future

Coveting uranium can get you into all kinds of trouble. Unless you are a power producer, when it can make smart business sense.
The International Atomic Energy Agency forecasts that power generated from nuclear plants could double by 2030. Power producers fear they could face a shortage of uranium, so they are lining up supplies. Kansai Electric Power -- using nearly a third of Japan's uranium demand -- plans to buy mines.
Such demand could make uranium one commodity that will hold up relatively well in an economic slump. A nuclear power plant, after all, is the kind of infrastructure project a government might still fund as the economy slows, though the time lag involved means investors need to be prepared for the long haul.

On the supply side, tight credit has made it tough to dig new mines. Short-term problems like the flooding of a large Canadian mine called Cigar Lake tighten supplies further.
Uranium prices, and shares of the miners, haven't been immune to market turmoil. The metal's spot price has fallen about 40% this year. In part, though, that reflects retreating hedge funds. Contract prices, analysts say, have held up better.
Meanwhile, deals are being struck. Australia delivered its first uranium to China last month. This past week, Nuclear Power Corp. of India tapped France's Areva to meet its needs, the first foreign supply pact in India, where at least 14 nuclear plants are planned.
The planned rise in capacity and the fact that reactors keep running once turned on gives uranium a glowing future -- at least relative to more cyclical commodities.
Write to Mohammed Hadi at and Mari Iwata at

Nuclear firm passes to US control

Ian Johnston
The Guardian, Saturday 20 December 2008

British control of the plant where the UK's nuclear warheads are produced has been relinquished, with the sale of a third stake in the Aldermaston facility to an American company.
Opposition politicians voiced concern that the manufacture of warheads for the Trident weapons system and its planned replacement would now be out of British hands after California-based Jacobs Engineering bought British Nuclear Fuels' stake in AWE Management, which runs the Berkshire site, for an undisclosed fee. The other two shares in AWE are owned by US defence giant Lockheed Martin and the British firm Serco
Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: "The whole argument used for Britain having a ­separate weapons establishment is that this is required by the non-proliferation treaty, as technology sharing is not allowed. We must therefore query the rationale of a US company having a majority shareholding in AWE. How does this all square?"
Gerald Howarth, the Tory defence spokesman, called on ministers to explain the move, adding: "The Atomic ­Weapons Establishment is critical to Britain's nuclear deterrent capability."
But the Ministry of Defence said the "safe operation of AWE" would remain unaffected by the sale. "It is the UK government, not AWE, that sets the UK's nuclear policy," it said.

Government attempts to overturn pesticides ruling

A landmark High Court ruling, that found pesticides are harming rural communities, could be overturned by the Government on the grounds that proposals to control use of chemicals could cripple the farming industry.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 2:20PM GMT 19 Dec 2008

Last month environment campaigner Georgina Downs managed to prove that residents across the UK have suffered harm to their heath from crop spraying close to their homes.
The High Court ruled that the Government failed to comply with a European Directive to protect people from the possible harmful effects of exposure to toxic chemicals.
But the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs claim that the ruling could have an adverse effect on farming practices.
A spokesman said: "This decision would make it impossible to authorise pesticides governed by the [European] Directive for use in the UK, which would have a very serious impact on farming and food production and would put the UK out of line with the rest of Europe. Defra will be asking the Court of Appeal to overturn this ruling. The protection of the health of those who live, work or visit the countryside remains our highest priority. We will want to look again at the advantages and disadvantages of additional measures, irrespective of the outcome of the case."
Ms Downs, 35, who has been named as a British Erin Brockovich, said the decision was "completely irresponsible".
She said: "The Government's decision to appeal this ruling continues to demonstrate the Government's absolute contempt for rural residents and communities and is a disgrace. Heads should be rolling, following such a landmark High Court Judgment, but instead it's business as usual with the Government's relentless attempts to protect the industry as opposed to the health of its citizens abundantly clear."
Ms Downs, 35, who suffered from pesticide poisoning as a child and now runs the UK Pesticides Campaign, fought for seven years to prove pesticides can cause health problems from rashes and sore throats to "chronic" illnesses including cancers, asthma and neurological conditions.
"The Government's decision to appeal against the High Court ruling is just adding insult to injury to all those residents whose health and lives have been affected as a result of the Government's flawed and unlawful policy and the sheer arrogance of it all is beyond belief," she added.

Cod quota branded a 'farce' in EU fisheries deal

David Adam, environment correspondent, Friday 19 December 2008 17.45 GMT

Environmental campaigners were divided this evening over plans announced by the European Commission to increase the amount of cod taken from the over-fished North Sea.
Greenpeace said the 30% increase in the North Sea cod quota for next year was a "farce" and could see the fishery face total collapse. But WWF welcomed new efforts to reduce the amount of fish caught and then dumped, and said the plans were a "step in the right direction".
The cod quota for the North Sea was announced today in Brussels, as part of a package of deals for fisheries across European waters.
As well as a 30% increase in North Sea cod quotas, the agreement allows UK fishermen to land 32% more mackerel, 13% more North Sea plaice and 8% more monkfish off the Scottish west coast.
Huw Irranca-Davies, fisheries minister, said: "This is a fair deal overall for the UK, balancing the needs of our fishermen to make a living with the need to protect fish stocks for the future and prevent huge amounts of what they catch having to be thrown back dead into the sea."
Giles Bartlett, fisheries policy officer at WWF-UK, said the deal made the first serious attempt to focus on the number of fish taken out of the sea, rather than the amount landed - what the quotas refer to. He said 2008 quotas allowed some 22,000 tonnes of North Sea cod to be landed, while closer to 38,000 tonnes of the fish were actually caught. Fish caught but not landed were dumped, dead, back into the sea.
Under the new deal, the total amount of North Sea cod killed is supposed to fall by a quarter. "There has never been any incentive to catch less fish," he said. "The onus will be on the fishing industry and governments to deliver this crucial reduction target."
More fish could be landed from fewer caught, he said, with more efficient methods such as nets that allow other species to escape, as well as a ban on discarding fish large enough to land. He said more observers could sail on fishing vessels to ensure crews comply with the new rules. In a pilot study next month five Scottish fishing boats will sail under CCTV surveillance to verify catch data.
Willie Mackenzie, fisheries campaigner with Greenpeace, said the cod quota increase was "disastrous for the fishing industry" and went against scientific advice to ban all fishing until stocks recover.
He said: "Much more needs to be done to allow Europe's decimated fisheries to recover, and that includes setting aside large areas, off-limits to commercial fishing, as marine reserves." He added: "If there is an increase in the amount of fish landed and the [discard limiting] steps aren't taken, then you're making the situation worse."
Elsewhere, yesterday's agreement sees cod quotas in other European waters mostly cut by 25%. Scotland avoided the closure of its prawn and white fish fishery on the west coast by agreeing strict rules on fishing tackle, and cuts in cod, herring, haddock and whiting.
A ban on anchovy fishing in the Bay of Biscay will remain until at least spring 2009 because there are few signs of a recovery in stock numbers.

Hydrogen plan will fill in when wind turbines stop

Published Date: 20 December 2008
By Jenny Haworth

A MAJOR criticism of wind farms is that they are intermittent. Wind does not blow consistently and, as a result they do not provide a continuous supply of power, but must be backed up by conventional fossil fuel plants.
However, a renewables firm believes it has hit on a solution, and is hoping to use it in Scotland.A hydrogen plant would store energy from the wind farm, creating a reserve that could be dipped into on demand, so that even when the wind was not blowing, an electricity supply would be available.WHL Energy hopes to use the technology for the first time in the UK in North Ayrshire.The Australian company has lodged planning applications for a wind farm and hydrogen plant, known jointly as the Ladymoor Renewable Energy Project.The 48 megawatt, 24-turbine Wings Law wind farm near Kilbirnie would supply electricity, through the national grid, to the 10-metre high hydrogen plant a few miles away in Glengarnock, called a "hydrogen balancing facility".This electricity would be used to electrolyse water into hydrogen and oxygen.The hydrogen would then be liquefied, or stored under pressure. When needed it would be regenerated as electricity to be supplied to the national grid on demand.Steven Radford, UK managing director of WHL Energy, which has a patent for the technology in the UK, said: "The system is very simple."It involves taking the electricity to the hydrogen plant in order to create a 24-hour supply from the wind farm. This addresses the intermittency problem of wind farms."With a traditional system you always need fossil fuel back-up but this will create 24-hour supply from the wind farm." It takes away the need for the fossil fuel base load."He said that as a side benefit, any excess electricity from the hydrogen plant could be used locally, for instance to power public transport.Similar schemes have been built in Norway and Canada, but if the applications get the go-ahead, it will be the first time it has been tried in the UK.As well as helping Scotland meet its targets of generating 50 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, the company believes the project will bring numerous advantages to the local area.It predicts 25 jobs would be created and argues it could establish Kilbirnie as a world-leading centre of excellence in the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel source. The company is investing £60 million in the project and hopes a decision on the planning applications will be made in the next few months.This week, the site of the planned project was visited by David O'Neill, leader of North Ayrshire Council and Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy, who was positive about the scheme.He said: "Our future prosperity will be based on a low-carbon, high-growth economy. "It's essential that we innovate more and that's why I was interested to hear about the plans for the combined wind farm and hydrogen storage plant. "Britain needs a mixed energy policy including clean coal, oil and gas, nuclear and renewables, and projects like this can make a real contribution in helping Scotland and the UK stay in the forefront of renewables innovation."The plans have met with opposition from campaign group Save Your Regional Park (SYRP), which thinks the proposed sites in the Clyde Muirsheil Regional Park should be left free of development.Sybil Simpson, vice-chairwoman of SYRP said: "The Save Your Regional Park campaign, organised by the Ladymoor Wind Factory Action Group, is not against wind farms, but we and our members, many of whom come from the area, passionately believe that regional parks and national parks must be protected from inappropriate industrial development including wind farms." The campaign group criticised the company's suggestion that the wind farm and the hydrogen plant would be linked, with one supplying electricity to the other.A spokeswoman said: "This hydrogen plant will use electricity directly from the grid and there is absolutely no way it can be linked to the wind farm."Mr Radford responded by saying the "equivalent electricity" to that created by the wind farm was being supplied to the hydrogen plant, using the national grid.SYRP also highlighted that the Advertising Standards Authority in June criticised a leaflet about the proposed Wings Law wind farm, distributed to households in the area by WHL Energy in 2007. It ruled that the leaflet breached the Committee of Advertising Practice code on issues including truthfulness and environmental claims, and the firm was instructed not to repeat certain claims in the leaflet.A spokesman for WHL Energy said: "We accepted that some of the wording hadn't been very clear, and we have updated it."