Stealing Africa

Stealing Africa – Why Poverty

BBC (2012)

Film Review

Stealing Africa is about the Swiss corporation Glencore and how they have been ripping off Zambia’s copper for the last 16 years.

Despite exporting $29 billion worth of copper annually, Zambia remains one of the twentieth poorest countries in the world. The reason? A Swiss company called Glencore that keeps the vast majority of these profits for themselves. Thanks to creative bookkeeping and major tax evasion, Glencore pays less to the Zambian government in taxes than they pay to provide electricity to their mines.

Glencore has an interesting connection to the Clintons. The company was started in the 1970s by Marc Rich, an American white collar criminal who fled to Switzerland in 1983 to avoid imprisonment on money laundering, tax fraud and trading with the enemy* charges.

In 1994, the company changed their name from Marc Rich and Company to Glencore.- in 2000, Bill Clinton pardoned Rich in return for millions in campaign contributions and donations to the Clinton Library.

The Zambian copper mines were a state owned industry until 2000, when the global price of copper plummeted, leaving Zambia unable to repay its foreign debt. Allegedly under pressure from the International Monetary Fund, President Frederick Chiluba sold all Zambia’s copper mines to Glencore and other foreign companies. In 2007, a case in the British high court found Chiluba (who died in 2011) guilty of conspiracy to defraud.

In 2011, a confidential tax audit of Glencore’s Mopani mine was leaked to Friends of the Earth. It revealed that Glencore (with the collusion of Switzerland) was reducing their tax bill in Zambia by rigging the price of copper and fraudulent profit reporting. Following public release of the audit, the EU investment bank suspended further loans to Glencore. Sadly the company persists in their refusal to pay the tax demands of a government lacking the legal resources to take on a gigantic multinational corporation.

The result is a country in which 64% of the population live below the poverty line and residents adjacent to Glencore copper mines suffer major health problems. These relate mainly to the company’s refusal to abide by World Health Organization standards for sulfur dioxide emissions.

America’s Fukushima?

 

 diablocanyon

Bye Bye California

Whistleblower Michael Peck, a senior member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), is calling for the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor to be shut down — pending an assessment of its ability to withstand a major earthquake. Peck, who was Diablo Canyon’s lead inspector for five years, asserts the NRC isn’t applying its own safety rules for the plant’s operation. Unlike other federal whistleblowers, who Obama and the FBI are busy locking up, Peck is participating in an NRC review process that permits employees to appeal a superior’s ruling.

Located on the Pacific Coast halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Diablo Canyon is California’s last nuclear power plant. It’s located adjacent to four seismic faults, the Shoreline, Hosgri, Los Oso and San Luis Bay. The Shoreline fault was only recently discovered; the Hosgri, located three miles from the plant, is the largest and most dangerous. It was discovered in the 1970s, after construction on Diablo Canyon was nearly complete. According to Peck, a 2011 Pacific Gas and Electric (PG& E) seismic study indicates all four faults are capable of producing significantly more “peak ground acceleration” (75% more in the case of San Luis Bay) than previously believed.

Citing these findings, Peck concludes that Diablo Canyon, based on the NRC’s own safety standards, lacks justification to continue operating. He’s asking the NRC to shut it down until PG&E can demonstrate that its piping, cooling and other systems can withstand higher stress levels than called for in its original design.

In 2012 when the NRC ruled Diablo Canyon could continue operating without reassessing its seismic safety, Peck filed a formal objection. In it he called for PG&E to be cited for violating safety standards. When his supervisors overruled him, he filed a second objection, triggering the current review.

Dave Lockbaum, from Union of Concerned Scientists, supports Peck’s position. He has researched four decades of records when the NRC, and its predecessor the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), faced similar situations. In all prior cases, the NRC/AEC disallowed nuclear facilities to operate with similar unresolved earthquake protection issues. For example, in March 1979—two weeks prior to the Three Mile Island accident—the NRC ordered a handful of nuclear power reactors to shut down and remain shut down until earthquake analysis and protection concerns were corrected.

Diablo Canyon Up for Re-licensing

Diablo Canyon is currently licensed to operate until 2025. In 2009, PG&E applied for a 20 year license extension. The re-licensing process was suspended immediately following the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Japan’s magnitude 8.9 earthquake, which was far larger than believed possible, knocked out Fukushima’s power and cooling systems, causing three core meltdowns. This led the NRC to require US nuclear power plants to re-evaluate seismic risks. These reports are due by March 2015.

Friends of the Earth has petitioned the NRC  to intervene in the Diablo Canyon’s re-licensing proceedings.

According to FOE senior adviser Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth: “It’s now clear that Diablo Canyon could never get a license to be built at its current Central Coast site. The NRC must consider this seismic data as part of public licensing hearings.”

A Question of Magnitude

Predictably PGE, via their spokesperson Blair Jones, disagrees. Jones maintains the NRC has “exhaustively analyzed” earthquake threats for Diablo Canyon and demonstrated it’s seismically safe. According to Jones, the core issue involving earthquake ground motions was resolved forty years ago with seismic retrofitting (Diablo Canyon was originally designed to withstand a 6.75 earthquake – with the upgrade it can supposedly withstand a 7.5 earthquake). The obvious assumption being that none of the four faults surround Diablo Canyon could cause a 7.6 magnitude or higher earthquake.

PG&E’s position is understandable, as nuclear power plants aren’t cost effective to begin with. They only become profitable with massive taxpayer subsidies. If the NRC requires quire them to retrofit Diablo Canyon to current earthquake standards, a permanent shutdown is highly likely. In 1976, the Humbolt Bay nuclear power plant in northern California, which was within 3,000 yards of three faults, was shut down to reinforce its ability to withstand possible earthquakes. Retrofitting it became more difficult and costly than projected and it never re-opened.

Our Non-regulating Regulatory Agencies

A Fukushima-style earthquake and meltdown at Diablo Canyon could wipe out agriculture in California and parts of the Midwest for centuries. Yet like many federal regulatory agencies, the NRC is more concerned about protecting PG&E’s bottom line than the health, safety and food security of the American public.

Michael Peck, who holds a doctorate in nuclear engineering is presently a senior instructor at NRC’s Technical Training Center in Tennessee.

photo credit: NRCgov via photopin cc