Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Canadian corporation to transport uranium through WA cities and towns

In Western Australia mining and resource companies can pretty much do whatever they like. They talk a lot about world's best practice safety standards and social license to operate, but ultimately what they want they generally get. Here is a perfect example of how it works.
Australian Greens Senator for Western Australia Scott Ludlam has slammed provocative plans by Canadian uranium mining company Cameco to truck uranium through several WA cities and towns.

The Cameco planned course will see up to 3,600 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate from the Kintyre project trucked past Port Headland and though Newman, Meekatharra, Mount Magnet, Leonora and a number of other towns en route to the proposed Parkeston travel hub outside Kalgoorlie each year. If the hub is not completed by 2013, the uranium will be transported though Kalgoorlie itself.

“There are a significant number of freight truck accidents in Western Australia each year, but that’s just part of the concern. This is a project that goes wrong at every turn, planned by a company with an appalling history,” said Senator Ludlam.

“The mine itself is proposed for a site right next to Rudall River, alongside the Karlamilyi National Park. The site of the uranium deposit was originally part of the park and was excised in 1994, so as you can imagine it is a pristine natural area and it has environmentally sensitive wetlands in the vicinity,” said Senator Ludlam.

“Especially given the sordid and sorry history of uranium mining in Australia contaminating ground water and wetlands, this is one of the worst possible sites for a uranium mine.”

It is estimated 2,500 to 3,600 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate will be trucked through the state each year by Cameco. The company says it will send between 55 and 70 truck convoys a year along the estimated 2000km route.

“The residents along this uranium trail will no doubt be very concerned,” said Senator Ludlam. “They have the right to say no to Cameco’s plan to transport radioactive material through their neighbourhoods.”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nuclear safety sacrificied for corporate profits

Rosa Moussaoui writes in Truth Out that the crises unfolding in Japan's nuclear reactors demonstrates the destructive power of corporate capitalism and the neoliberal logic. 
Moussaoui argues that nuclear security is far too important to be left in the hands of private corporations. She is right.
Since 2003, the big Japanese private group aimed at "reduction of costs of maintenance" in order to render profits "secure".
Profit at Any Price. This could be the motto of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the multinational that exploits the nuclear power plants at Fukushima. The largest producer of electricity in the world illustrates the excesses of an industrial sector in which neo-liberalism has unfurled to the last extremities of its destructive logic.

Poof. At the beginning of 2010, Tepco announced net earnings of 157.7 billion yen (1.19 billion euros) for the period from April to December 2009, as compared with a loss of 137.7 billion yen (1.04 billion euros) a year earlier. Miraculous recovery, for a multinational company whose annual turnover decreased, at the same time, by 14%. In order to restore profits, the officers of the company affirm, Tepco had to restrict its "current expenses", which dropped by 22%. Officially, this was due to a drop in the price of petroleum needed for the functioning of its thermal power plants. The explanation is a bit thin, for an industrial outfit that insisted, in a financial document in August 2003, on the necessity of "a rationalization of the totality of operations, including a reduction of the costs of maintenance" in order to render its profits "secure".

Has performance of maintenance, and thus the security of equipment, become a variable for adjustment? Tepco has not hesitated to do this in the past. Between September 2002 and April 2003, the multinational was constrained to shut down its 17 nuclear reactors. This was a consequence of revelations concerning the falsifications of some thirty inspection reports on three nuclear power plants in the group. It involved, among other aspects, the electro-nuclear giant’s act of disguising three incidents that had occurred in the nuclear facilities in Fukushima and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa.
This scandal implicating Tepco is not an isolated one. In March 2007, to cite but one example, the company Hokoriku Electric Power admitted having knowingly hidden a nuclear incident that occurred at the plant in Shikamachi eight years earlier, the 18 June 1999.

But who cares about security, when the race for profits takes command? With 28 million clients in Tokyo and in the region, Tepco announced triumphantly last 30 July that it wished to multiply by 5 its projections of profit for 2010-2011. Between April and December 2010, the multinational banked a net profit of 139.8 billion yen (1.27 billion euros). Surfing on the green wave, the group, already in the lead with its parks of wind turbines, planned to invest heavily in renewable energies. Ever so ready to threaten whole countries, the stock and bond rating company Standard and Poors granted Tepco an AA- on its long term debt, which is its fourth highest rating.

At the Heart of the Catastrophe, Tepco Remained Obsessed by Financial Considerations
Even at the heart of the current catastrophe in Fukushima, TEPCO remained obsessed by financial considerations. "It seems the the company waited until the last possible moment to drown the heart of the reactor by pumping sea water. In fact, if you drown the heart of the reactor, it becomes no longer usable," observes the Energy branch of the CGT [1]. Clearly, public ownership is not an all-risk insurance policy in these matters. But to what horrifying excesses can we be lead by the shameful acts of profit-taking. In 2005, in his essay From Tchernobyl to Tchernobyls [2], the winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, Georges Charpak put us on our guard: "The problem of security in the nuclear power plants is too crucial to be left only in the hands of financiers, those champions of stock market optimization". Cruelly premonitory.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Corporate ownership of UK blood supply

What is that saying about putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank?. 
Well it's becoming a reality. Soon the UK blood supply will be privatized. Market madness!
From the UK Independent;
The proposed privatisation of NHS Blood and Transplant service, or parts of it, will instinctively make people shudder and we are right to be concerned about how commercial motives will change the service.
From Unite
Staff representatives from the National Blood Service (NBS) have written to chief executive, Linda Hamlyn, and to NBS board members warning that the privatisation of the NBS could have serious effects on the fragile relationship between the service and its donors.
Around three million UK citizens give their blood every year.  Unite says it is the ultimate "big society" service but the essence of the service would be fundamentally altered if a profit-motive was introduced to any part of the service.

Unite is demanding a full written report from the NBS board setting out what discussions have taken place with potential bidders, what decisions have been made and what time scales there might be regarding possible privatisation.

The union also wants MPs currently scrutinising the Health and Social Care bill to look seriously at ways to preserve the NBS so that profit-making companies are not handed parts of the service to operate, arguing that the only motive for the service ought to be the collection and distribution of blood for the common good.

On 16 February, the Health Service Journal learned that the Department of Health's commercial directorate held talks with private providers about running parts of the NHS Blood and Transplant service. Capita and DHL are understood to be interested in taking over parts of the service (see notes to editors).

Unite, Britain's biggest union which represents staff working for the NBS, resolutely opposes any privatisation of the service arguing that it goes against the very ethos of giving blood.

Unite's regional officer, Owen Granfield said: "On behalf of the staff working for the blood service who are very proud and dedicated, we have written to the chief executive of the NBS demanding to know just how far discussions with the private sector have progressed. Unite is not prepared to allow the private sector to profit from a voluntary service which was in existence even before the NHS was founded.

"People who give blood for free because they believe it is in the common good will be shocked to learn the Department of Health is considering allowing the private sector to profit from their blood. This is blood money and it is totally wrong.

"The very essence of the blood service is about people giving their blood for free to help and save lives. The blood service is always short of donors and privatisation could have serious effects on the fragile relationship between the service and voluntary donations."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Privatization: when corporations and government profit from human suffereing

So this is how privatization and contracting out of public services works.

Serco the operator of Australia's immigration detention centres, is paid nearly $400 million by the Federal Government to run immigration detention. But Serco breaches its contract so much that it has been fined $4.5 million for contract breaches over a 2 month period (November and December). Information suggests that Serco were fined $2 million dollars in November and $2.5 million in December for breaches that include poor practice, incompetence, inappropriate treatment of detainees, incidents in centres, and escapes.

But the Government refuses to release any detail of the breaches, citing commercial confidentiality.

As Antony Lowenstein points out  rather than demand that Serco improve the treatment of detainees, or even rescind Serco's contract for constant breaches, the Federal Government simply pockets the money Serco pays in fines.
The immigration department has fined the company that runs its detention centres for contract breaches, including a series of breakouts.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship contracts the UK-based Serco to run its detention centres. The latest contract – worth about $370 million – was signed in 2009.
“Under the contract between Serco and DIAC there are provisions for the imposition of fines and sanctions against Serco for lax practices or incompetence,” a DIAC spokesman said.
The fines reportedly exceeded $4 million, but the department has refused to reveal the figure.
“The details are commercial in confidence,” the spokesman said.
 Here is yet another example of Serco's incompetence. Just what is Serco's risk management strategy for managing a disturbance in detention centres? Call the Police.
This extract is from the Sydney Morning Herald:
Concerns whether NT Police would have the capacity to deal with a large-scale disturbance emerged on Friday, after it was announced late on Thursday that a new 1,500-bed detention facility would be developed at Wickham Point, on Darwin Harbour - opposite the CBD - to house single men.

The move, along with plans to almost double the bed capacity at the Darwin Airport Lodge Detention Centre, will take Darwin's immigration detention capacity to 2,900, eclipsing Christmas Island's 2,600 capacity.
NT Police Association president Vince Kelly told AAP he understood that Serco, the private security company that manages Australia's immigration detention centres, had no real plans to handle a major disturbance other than to telephone the police.

"It would seem that there has been no contemplation of the impacts this might have on the NT police, or about the capacity of NT Police to deal with a large-scale disturbance involving 1,500 people who are held in these facilities," he said.
"The safety of NT police officers is something that should be considered."