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Nuclear Waste, KFC, and Girl Scout Cookies

first_imgDear EarthTalk: Why don’t we reprocess and re-use our nuclear waste like France does? Would it be possible for us to start doing so?                                                            — Albert Jukowsky, Silver Spring, MDReprocessing nuclear waste to extract more energy from it, while expensive and controversial, is indeed to this day still practiced in France, the UK, Russia, India and Japan—but not in the United States, where it was invented. The process involves breaking down spent nuclear fuel chemically and recovering fissionable material for use in new fuels. Proponents tout the benefit of reducing the amount of nuclear waste, resulting in less highly radioactive material that needs to be stored safely.Nuclear reprocessing was first developed in the U.S. as part of the World War II-era Manhattan Project to create the first atomic bomb. After the war, the embryonic nuclear power industry began work to reprocess its waste on a large scale to extend the useful life of uranium, a scarce resource at the time. But commercial reprocessing attempts faltered due to technical, economic and regulatory problems. Anti-nuclear sentiment and the fear of nuclear proliferation in the 1970s led President Jimmy Carter to terminate federal support for further development of commercial reprocessing. The military did continue to reprocess nuclear waste for defense purposes, though, until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War made continuous ramping up of our nuclear arsenal unnecessary.More recently, George W. Bush pushed a plan, the Global Nuclear Energy Project (GNEP), to promote the use of nuclear power and subsidize the development of a new generation of “proliferation-resistant” nuclear reprocessing technologies that could be rolled out to the commercial nuclear energy sector. Federal scientists came up with promising spins on reprocessing nuclear fuel while minimizing the resulting waste. But in June of 2009 the Obama administration cancelled GNEP, citing cost concerns.Proponents of nuclear power—and of reprocessing in particular—were far from pleased with GNEP’s axing, especially in light of Obama’s earlier decision to close Yucca Mountain as the U.S.’s future nuclear waste repository. “GNEP may have gone away, but the need to recycle spent fuel in this country is more important than ever because of the government’s stupid decision to close Yucca Mountain,” said Danny Black of the Southern Carolina Alliance, a regional economic development group, on the Ecopolitology blog. “Without Yucca Mountain, the pressure is on the industry to do more with recycling.”But a 2007 report by the nonprofit Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) would seem to justify Obama’s decision. IEER found that nuclear reprocessing would actually increase our volume of nuclear waste six fold. IEER also reported that France, which runs the world’s most efficient reprocessing operation, spends about two cents per kilowatt hour more for electricity generated from reprocessed nuclear fuel compared to that generated from fresh fuel. IEEE further reports that the costs to build the breeder plants needed to convert spent nukes into usable fuel would “create intolerable costs and risks.”For now, U.S. nuclear plants will continue to store waste on site, with spent rods cooled in pools of water for upwards of a year and then moved into thick steel and concrete caskets. While proliferation and terrorism have long been risks associated with hosting nuclear plants on American soil, recent events in Japan underscores that even Mother Nature poses a threat. As such, advocates of reprocessing probably stand little chance of reviving plans in a political climate now so hostile to nuclear development.CONTACTS: Ecopolitology, www.ecopolitology.org; IEER, www.ieer.org. Dear EarthTalk: I understand that fast-food giant YUM! Brands, owner of KFC, is under fire by Greenpeace and others for rainforest destruction. What’s the story?  — Betsy Barnard, Wellesley, MAYUM! Brands, which operates 38,000 fast food restaurants in 110 countries (including not only KFC but also Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, WingStreet, A&W and Long John Silver’s), has come under fire of late from Greenpeace and other rainforest advocacy groups for sourcing palm oil, paper and other goods from suppliers notorious for destroying tropical rainforests in Indonesia and elsewhere. While McDonald’s and Burger King have worked in recent years to cut their ties with palm oil and logging companies linked to rainforest destruction, YUM! continues to ignore calls to source their resources more responsibly.Indonesia’s tropical rainforests are home to orangutans, tigers, elephants, clouded leopards and dozens of other endangered plants and animals. Environmentalists report that 40 percent of Indonesia’s rainforests have been logged over in the last half-century, mostly to clear the way for palm oil plantations. The cleared timber is sold at huge profits for paper and pulp, while the palm oil brings in continuous revenue for multinational corporations despite denuding lands once rich in biodiversity.Tropical rainforests also sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) in their growing woody biomass; chopping them down only accelerates the rate of global warming by allowing more CO2 to escape into the atmosphere where it contributes to the greenhouse effect. Despite a partial moratorium on rainforest destruction announced by the Indonesian government in May 2011, analysts believe that nearly half of the country’s remaining tropical rainforests will be cleared within two decades.Over-exploitation of natural resources—and deforestation in particular—is a huge obstacle to Indonesia’s growth. According to the Rajawali Institute for Asia at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, by eliminating its natural capital for negligible gains, Indonesia lost $150 billion in future revenues between 1990 and 2007, wiping out one-third of the country’s national savings in the process.There are “major economic risks for Southeast Asia’s agriculture and timber sectors if they don’t take prompt action to conserve their forests,” reports Glenn Hurowitz, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. “Global consumers are increasingly demanding deforestation-free products,” he says, adding that Nestle, McDonald’s, Unilever and others have pledged to obtain their palm oil from sources certified “sustainable” by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.YUM! Brands is not the only offender. Greenpeace has also targeted Mattel toys for supporting suppliers that contribute to Indonesian deforestation. And two Michigan girl scouts were shocked to find out the cookies they were selling contained palm oil obtained from deforested land in Indonesia. They spread the word to fellow girl scouts across the country, thousands of whom have stopped selling cookies as a result.Concerned consumers should write the company a letter asking them to stop using products derived from deforested rainforest lands. Greenpeace makes it easy by hosting an online form letter that sympathizers can sign onto and the group will take care of delivering your message directly to YUM! executives.CONTACTS: YUM! Brands, www.yum.com; Center for International Policy, www.ciponline.org; Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, www.rspo.org; Greenpeace Form Letter to YUM!, https://secure3.convio.net/gpeace/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=689.last_img read more

Auto financing flex

first_imgConsumers are increasingly looking for greater flexibility in financing their vehicles. As an example, some like residual financing, such as the balloon lending program credit unions can offer as an alternative to traditional leasing or loan programs through Auto Financial Group. This program reduces consumers’ monthly payments by letting them pay off just a part of the principal during the term of the financing. When all the payments are made, the borrower pays the lender a lump sum or “balloon payment” for the difference.According to Experian Automotive, all types of leasing, including residual-based financing, have grown from 24 percent to 31 percent over the last five years.This is not surprising when you consider that Experian Automotive also finds the average auto loan amount has increased 16 percent since 2011. In 2011 the average was $25,873, while today the average loan amount has increased to $30,032. Some consumers are unable or unwilling to purchase a new vehicle and are looking to financial institutions for financing options.In all of this, used cars, including certified pre-owned vehicles, have become an attractive option for consumers looking to lower their monthly payments and shorten their terms. According to a recent survey by Swapalease.com, an online car lease marketplace, 78 percent of drivers said they would consider using lease options, including residual-based financing, for their purchase of a used car or truck. continue reading » 12SHARESShareShareSharePrintMailGooglePinterestDiggRedditStumbleuponDeliciousBufferTumblrlast_img read more

US imposes fresh Iran-related sanctions despite coronavirus

first_imgUS officials say they plan to keep sanctioning Iran to try to force it to curb its nuclear, missile and regional activities despite the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 2,234 people in Iran.Treasury accused those designated of “malign activities” including selling Iranian oil to Syria, smuggling arms to Iraq and Yemen and backing Iraqi militias that attack US forces.The sanctions freeze any of their US-held assets and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.The five targeted companies are Mada’in Novin Traders and Reconstruction Organization of the Holy Shrines in Iraq, both of which are based in Iran and Iraq; Bahjat al Kawthar Company for Construction and Trading Ltd, also known as Kosar Company, and Al Khamael Maritime Services, which are both based in Iraq; and Middle East Saman Chemical Company, which is based in Iran. The action also blacklists 15 individuals who are associated with the companies or officials of the Quds Force and Kataib Hezbollah.Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the boycott of US sanctions, though it was unclear if he was responding to the latest actions. “Does the US want a ‘forever pandemic’? Moral imperative to stop observing the bully’s sanctions,” he tweeted.Humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions Washington reimposed on Tehran after President Donald Trump abandoned Iran’s 2015 multilateral deal to limit its nuclear program.However, broader US sanctions deter many firms from humanitarian trade with Iran.The United States and Switzerland this year finalized a Swiss channel to get humanitarian goods to Iran. As of March 19, one transaction had been processed.Separately, Washington renewed a sanctions waiver letting Iraq import electricity from Iran but vowed to blacklist anyone who used it to help terrorist groups. The United States blacklisted five Iran- and Iraq-based companies and 15 individuals on Thursday for supporting terrorist groups, its third round of sanctions on Iranian targets in the last two weeks even as Tehran battles the coronavirus outbreak.In a statement, the US Treasury Department accused those targeted of supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force elite foreign paramilitary and espionage arm and of transferring lethal aid to Iran-backed militias in Iraq such as Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, all of which Washington deems foreign terrorist organizations.The Pentagon blamed Kataib Hezbollah for a March 11 rocket attack that killed one British and two US personnel in Iraq.center_img Topics :last_img read more

Low interest rates pushing Nordics towards credit, alternatives

first_img“Loans in general and private credit in particular, will play a more significant role and become a key component of Nordic institutional portfolios, in various shapes and forms,” he said.“Infrastructure and real estate, with its key income-generating attributes, is set to grow, as a natural substitute for fixed income.”The study found notable differences between the four Nordic countries in the ways that institutional investors allocated assets.Whereas Danish and Finnish investors are already heavily invested in credit, that has not generally been the case in Norway and Sweden.“For those investors in the traditional fixed income countries, who have been invested in various parts of the credit market for many years, the interest in alternatives and real assets appears to be growing,” Kirstein said in the report.But on the whole, there is very little interest among investors in extending the duration of nominal bond portfolios as a way of solving the problem of the low interest rate environment, it said.In Denmark and Finland, experienced fixed income investors are now moving towards private credit, the survey found.Interest is strongest in senior bank loans and real estate debt, it found, with nearly half of these investors saying they expected to increase allocations to private credit.Interest in real assets and alternatives as a way of increasing income is relatively high among the region’s institutional investors, according to the survey.They showed the greatest preference for real estate and private equity, while interest in infrastructure is more fragmented, Kirstein said.“Danish investors indicate the strongest preference for real estate and infrastructure, with more than half of Danish respondents expecting to increase their allocation to these asset classes,” the firm said in the report.Almost half of Swedish investors questioned expect to increase their allocation to real estate, it said.Although shifting allocations to equities as a way of improving yields is a less interesting strategy for survey participants, Kirstein said that, overall, the survey did suggest a high level of interest in equities.Investors are particularly keen to capture equity risk premia, while lowering volatility by using value and quality strategies, according to the study. Nordic institutional investors are more interested in making up for low interest rates by shifting to credit from high-grade bonds, and to alternatives and real assets from bonds than in turning to equities, according to a new study.Changing allocations to equities from bonds is only the third most interesting option for addressing the low interest rate environment, the survey among Nordic institutional investors on higher-yielding alternatives to high-grade fixed income found.The research was conducted by Kirstein Financial Market Research for JP Morgan Asset Management (JPMAM).François Xavier Douin, head of Nordic institutional business at JPMAM, said in the report that equities would continue to play a role in contributing to returns for Nordic institutional investors, with heavier emphasis on capturing risk premia defined in a more granular way.last_img read more