On September 3 the Japanese government announced a new strategy to contain spreading leaks of radioactive contaminants at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The government initially will spend 21 billion yen ($212 million) to fund two projects that ultimately will cost twice that amount. One project involves constructing an underground wall of ice to stop the spread of radioactive groundwater. The second project involves constructing a processing plant to filter radioactivity from the water. The Japanese government also is creating a special office to respond to the contamination that will bring together in one place the resources of various agencies who have been working on the problem. Mari Iwata & Toko Sekiguchi, Tokyo Sets Plans for Radioactive Water Leak, Wall St. J., Sept. 3, 2013, at A10. Citing potential radioactive contamination, South Korean authorities on September 6 banned imports of seafood from a long coastal strip of Japan in the vicinity of Fukushima. Chico Harlan, S. Korea Bans Import of Fish from Coast Near Japan;s Stricken Nuclear Plant, Washington Post, Sept. 7, 2013, at A7. On September 7 the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo after the Japanese government promised “drastic action” to ensure that contamination from the nuclear accident is contained.
A mass fish kill in the Fu River in China’s Hubei Province has been traced to very high levels of ammonia pollution discharged by a chemical company. The pollution came from the Hubei Shuanghuan Science and Technology Company, which makes ammonium chloride and sodium carbonate. The company reportedly has a long history of environmental violations. Thousands of dead fish appeared along a 19-mile stretch of the river and Chinese authorities reportedly have removed 110 tons of dead fish. Ammonia levels in the river reached as high as 196 milligrams per liter. Neil Gough, Pollutants from Plant Killed Fish in China, New York Times, Sept. 4, 2013, at A9.
At the G-20 Summit on September 6, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed that the two countries will work together to phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas, under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Ironically, the production of HFCs had increased as a substitute for CFCs and other ozone-depleting chemicals initially phased out under the Protocol. But because HFCs are such potent greenhouse gases, they now also are targeted for a phaseout. Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development who spearheaded the effort to phase out HFCs, estimates that the phaseout could reduce the equivalent of 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. The Montreal Protocol is now responsible for greater reductions in greenhouse gases than the Kyoto Protocol, which was supposed to be the main instrument for responding to climate change. In the past Brazil and India have opposed the HFC phaseout. Juliet Eilperin, U.S., China Agree on Cutting Potent Greenhouse Gases, Washington Post, Sept. 7, 2013, at A3.
Following the G-20 Summit near St. Petersburg, President Obama met with nine Russian civic activists, including LGBT leaders and environmentalist Yevgenia Chirikova. As discussed previously on this blog, Chirikova became prominent as a leader of protests to block the construction of a Moscow/St. Petersburg highway through the Khimki forest. Prior to the meeting Obama issued a statement calling their activism “critically important to Russia’s development” and stating that he was “very proud of their work.” Will Englund, After G-20 Summit, Obama Meets with Russian Activists, Washington Post, Sept. 7, 2013, at A6.
Last week the government of Iran agreed to release the MT Desh Shanti, an Indian oil tanker that had been detained for allegedly polluting Iranian waters. Iranian naval officials stopped the boat, owned by the Shipping Corporation of India Ltd., on August 13 when it was en route from Iraq to India. Indian authorities denied both that the boat was polluting and that it was in Iranian waters when it was stopped. Iranian officials stated that the ship had released wastes and water mixed with crude oil near Iran’s Lavan Island in the Persian Gulf. They claim that inspection of the vessel revealed a non-functioning oil and water separation device and other violations of environmental regulations. Biman Mukherji & Benoit Faucon, Iran Agrees to Release Detained Indian Tanker, Wall Street J., Sept. 5, 2013, at A11.
Island Press has just published Bruce Rich’s new book Foreclosing the Future: The World Bank and the Politics of Environmental Destruction. Bruce is the former director of international programs for the Environmental Defense Fund. A long-time critic of the World Bank for policies that he argues contribute to global environmental destruction, Bruce previously authored the book Mortgaging the Earth: The World Bank, Environmental Impoverishment, and the Crisis of Development, published by Beacon Press in 1994. Bruce gave me an advance copy of his book, which I am reading now. It offers a truly devastating critique of the Bank’s policies, including the depressing conclusion that Dr. Jim Yong Kim, who became president of the Bank 14 months ago, so far has failed to fulfill his pledges of reform, despite some progress toward greater transparency. While the book was in press Kim announced a significant shakeup of senior staff at the Bank in hopes of refocusing it more on the mission of reducing global poverty. I hope Bruce’s book will get wide circulation.