August 19, 2010 : News in Brief: Watching

– We’re nuked, after all

– Endangered species still at risk from BP oil spill

– GM crops found surviving in the wild

– PT SMART guilty of destroying peatland



We’re nuked, after all

Lib Dem Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has admitted the coalition government was “fully behind” nuclear power, with the first new nuclear power station expected to be opened in eight years’ time. Responding to calls from the CBI, the UK’s top business lobbying organisation, to reassure investors that ministers were prepared to make “a big push” for nuclear power, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 9th August he was “in favour” of a mix of more nuclear, oil and gas and renewable energy. Using a familiar scaremongering argument, the formerly anti-nuclear MP said, “I have no intention of the lights going out on my watch.”

The Lib Dem manifesto, on which the party campaigned three months ago, promised the party would “reject a new generation of nuclear power stations” based on evidence that “nuclear is a far more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions than promoting energy conservation and renewable energy.” Nuclear was also high on the agenda when the Tories and Lib Dems were forming their coalition government. Under the terms of the coalition deal, Lib Dem MPs can abstain in any Commons votes on nuclear power but will not be able to bring down the government over it in a confidence vote.

The news was, of course, welcomed by energy companies that have been lobbying for a new generation of nuclear plants for years. Reassuring them, Huhne said, “It has always been clear that our next generation of electricity power stations are going to be built by private investors with a framework put in place.” The framework also includes a “very clear commitment” for a carbon price floor as part of an incentives system to “encourage investment.”
Endangered species still at risk from BP oil spill

As BP was claiming that its spill oil was “rapidly disappearing” from the Gulf of Mexico, US officials recorded “a big jump” in the numbers of dolphins and endangered brown pelicans and sea turtles killed or injured by the spill over the last couple of weeks.

Wildlife officials collected 177 sea turtles in the first week of August, more than in the first two months of the spill and a sizeable share of the 1,020 captured since the spill began more than three months ago. Some 517 of that total number were dead and 440 were covered in oil, according to figures released by the Deepwater Horizon response team.

GM crops found surviving in the wild

A US study has found that genetically modified crops are not only spreading into the wild but also managing to survive and reproduce for at least two generations, despite claims by GM seed manufacturers that this is “not likely.”

Presenting their findings to the Ecological Society of America earlier this month, researchers from the University of Arkansas said 46 percent of the locations they visited in North Dakota, USA, contained canola growing in the wild, of which 83 percent contained genes from genetically modified strains of the crop. Most of the canola grown in the region by the biotech giants Monsanto and Bayer, which is similar to oil seed rape grown in the UK, is genetically-modified to be resistant to herbicides.

The findings raised concerns that GM genes escaping into the wild could speed the evolution of super-weeds, or herbicide-resistant weeds. Of course, the biotech industry has been quick to downplay the concerns, saying “man-made crops… when it comes to competing with their wild counterparts… are lousy and do not do very well at all.”

PT SMART guilty of destroying peatland

An environmental audit of Indonesian palm oil giant PT SMART has found that the company had destroyed carbon-rich peatlands but not cut primary rainforest. The audit, however, only analyzed 40 percent of PT SMART’s holdings and investigated none of its plantations in New Guinea.

A subsidiary of agricultural giant Sinar Mas, PT SMART had been accused in a series of reports by Greenpeace of both destroying high conservation value forests and draining peatlands. Two big buyers of palm oil, Unilever and Nestle, had already dropped SMART as a supplier, while Cargill said it would study the findings of the audit.