Dalai Lama makes China warning

In an interview with the BBC’s South Asia correspondent Damian Grammaticas, the Dalai Lama expresses fears that China will never reach agreement over an independent Tibet.




Firm to run site at Yucca

Firm to run site at Yucca
Project goes to former SRS arm
By Rob Pavey| Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 2008

The U.S. Department of Energy awarded a $2.5 billion management and operating contract Thursday to USA Repository Services, a subsidiary of the URS Corp., whose Washington Division ran Savannah River Site from 1989 until this year. It continues to manage its liquid waste program.

The five-year contract, with a five-year renewal option, is to provide mission support to the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management for the nation’s first national repository for high-level radioactive waste at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.

The new partnership’s principal subcontractors are Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure Inc., and AREVA Federal Services Inc.

After two decades of debate, the Energy Department filed a formal application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in June to build the Yucca Mountain project, which would become a final resting place for radioactive material currently stored at 121 temporary sites in 39 states — including SRS near Augusta.

Yucca Mountain, a remote ridge on federal land in the Mojave Desert 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, has been under study for such a repository since the 1980s. SRS has two glass waste storage buildings, where radioactive waste encased in glass is stored in steel cylinders that could be shipped to Yucca Mountain.

According to an Energy Department press release, the contract would take effect April 1, 2009.


Recipient of rare award ‘tremendously honored’

Scott Fraker
Historian Bill Wilcox, left, is pictured with former Lockheed Martin Energy Systems President Clyde Hopkins, Jeannie Wilcox, and DOE Photographer Lynn Freeney.
OAK RIDGE, Tenn. —

A former Manhattan Project worker who now works to preserve historic Oak Ridge facilities and memories received a prestigious award from the head of the U.S. Department of Energy this week.

William “Bill” Jenkins Wilcox Jr. accepted the Secretary of Energy Appreciation Award in a surprise ceremony at the American Museum of Science and Energy. It’s only the second such award given in Oak Ridge, said Gerald Boyd, manager of the U.S. Department of Energy’s local office.

The other award was given earlier this year to James Edward “Ed” Westcott, the federal government’s official photographer in the city during the top-secret Manhattan Project — a program to develop atomic weapons during World War II.

The award is designed to recognize service to DOE, the federal government and its contractors for “service beyond the call of duty,” said Boyd, speaking on behalf of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.

“I feel tremendously honored,” said Wilcox, an 85-year-old who came to Oak Ridge in 1943 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.

Having grown up in Allentown, Pa., Wilcox moved up the chain of command in Oak Ridge, eventually working as technical director at the K-25 and Y-12 production plants and retiring as technical assistant to the president of Union Carbide Nuclear Division.

Along the way, Wilcox, a husband, father and grandfather, earned a master’s degree in industrial management from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

These days, Wilcox is the city’s honorary historian and a popular speaker, said Oak Ridge City Council member Jane Miller, who read a proclamation in Wilcox’s honor at Tuesday’s event.

Wilcox is known for his passionate talks on the history of Oak Ridge and the city’s accomplishments during World War II and since.

He’s also received praise for his leadership in establishing the Secret City Commemorative Walk in A.K. Bissell Park and his work to preserve part of the K-25 building in west Oak Ridge, one of the Manhattan Project’s signature facilities. Wilcox is co-chair of the Partnership for K-25 Preservation, or PKP.

“There has been no other personality in Oak Ridge who, for so many years, has championed the history of our Secret City,” Boyd said.

John Huotari can be contacted at (865) 220-5533.


It’s prohibited to wear political gear at the voting booth


Quick “public service” note from CafePress letting you know that come Election Day, in some states, it’s prohibited to wear political gear at the voting booth (seriously). In fact, donning political attire may result in your being turned away — and in some cases, your arrest.

By definition, displaying political messages on T-Shirts, buttons and such is considered “Electioneering” (defined as, To work actively for a political party). To prevent voter intimidation, electioneering is not allowed near some state’s voting booths. Be sure to look into restrictions in your neck of the woods. To get you started here are a few recent articles discussing electioneering:

Issue of what not to wear emerges as voters go to polls

County won’t allow “passive electioneering”

We’ve also posted a CafePress-style Public Service Announcement (wink wink) on our blog, outlining the issue. You can watch it here: http://blog.cafepress.com/?p=1643

So feel free to speak your mind with political gear from CafePress, but be careful what you wear to the polls on Election Day.

Happy Voting,
The CafePress Team


Nuke missile silo fire went undetected

She said the flames never entered the launch tube where the missile stood and there was no danger of a radiation release.

Officials: Nuke missile silo fire went undetected

The Air Force didn’t find out about blaze until five days after it burned

DENVER – A fire caused $1 million worth of damage at an unmanned underground nuclear launch site last spring, but the Air Force didn’t find out about it until five days later, an Air Force official said Thursday.

The May 23 fire burned itself out after an hour or two, and multiple safety systems prevented any threat of an accidental launch of the Minuteman III missile, Maj. Laurie Arellano said. She said she was not allowed to say whether the missile was armed with a nuclear warhead at the time of the fire.

Arellano said the Air Force didn’t know a fire had occurred until May 28, when a repair crew went to the launch site — about 40 miles east of Cheyenne, Wyo., and 100 miles northeast of Denver — because a trouble signal indicated a wiring problem.

Faulty battery charger behind fire
The fire, blamed on a faulty battery charger, burned a box of shotgun shells, a shotgun and a shotgun case that were kept in the room, Arellano said. A shotgun is a standard security weapon at missile silos.

Arellano said the battery chargers at all U.S. missile launch site have been replaced.

She said the incident wasn’t reported sooner because of the complexity of the investigation.

The damage from the fire was estimated at $1 million, including the cost of replacing damaged equipment and cleanup.

An Air Force report of the incident released Thursday found flaws in the technical orders for assembling battery charger parts, inspection procedures and modifications of the launch complex ventilation system. It was also critical of the presence of flammable materials.

Mayor confident in missile safety
Cheyenne Mayor Jack Spiker, who said he learned of the incident when contacted by a reporter Thursday, said the fire doesn’t undermine his confidence in the safety of the missile operations.

“It’s rare that they have an accident, and the accidents have never really, that I know of, amounted to much because of the safety devices that are built into the system,” he said.

The revelation was the latest in a string of embarrassing missteps involving the nation’s nuclear arsenal. In 2006, four electrical fuses for ballistic missile warheads were mistakenly shipped to Taiwan, and in 2007, a B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear-tipped missiles when it flew between Air Force bases in North Dakota and Louisiana.

The Air Force announced last week it was setting up a new Global Strike Command to better manage its nuclear-capable bombers and missiles.


Election Protection

Election Protection

by Amy Goodman

Election Day approaches, and with it a test of our election system’s integrity. Who will be allowed to vote; who will be barred? Who will get paper ballots; who will use electronic voting machines? Will polls be open long enough to accommodate what is expected to be a historic turnout?

Veteran activist Harvey Wasserman has co-written four books on elections and voter rights. He says John Kerry won Ohio in 2004. Why look back? Wasserman is concerned about the attempt by the Ohio Republican Party, with help from the Bush White House, to challenge the registration of new Ohio voters:

“The GOP is trying to disenfranchise these 200,000 people by challenging their right to vote, asking the secretary of state here, Jennifer Brunner, to let the counties investigate and knock off the voter rolls, if they choose to, people who have minor discrepancies in their Social Security numbers or driver’s license numbers. And the secretary of state has rightfully showed that many of these mistakes come from typographical errors when the numbers are entered in at the agencies.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that only the U.S. Department of Justice can purge these new registrants from the voter rolls. Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner, of Ohio, and President Bush urged U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to take action, potentially purging these 200,000 people. Advocates feared the homeless in Ohio would be disenfranchised because they lack a traditional address or identification (Wasserman notes that many of them may be veterans). U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus ruled that Ohio counties must allow voters who list their addresses as park benches or other non-building locations.

Wasserman’s two main concerns about the integrity of the election are mass disenfranchisement through computerized purging and the failures of electronic voting machines, which can skew vote tallies and cause impossibly long lines at polling places (as can the provision of too few voting machines, whether they work well or not). These issues are both coming to a head in Colorado. There, Secretary of State Mike Coffman, a Republican who is also running for Congress, has been sued by Common Cause, Mi Familia Vota and the Service Employees International Union for purging 30,000 voters within a 90-day window before an election. Six thousand seven hundred new registrants were purged for failing to check a box on the voter-registration form. Colorado has seen enthusiastic participation in early voting (some estimates nationally put the number of early voters at an astounding 10 million, with days to go), and also has seen many voters opt for mail-in ballots. However, more than 11,000 voters in Denver did not receive their mail-in ballots because of a mistake made by Sequoia Voting Systems, the company that was supposed to have delivered 21,000 ballots to a Denver mail-processing facility on Oct. 16. Election officials promise the ballots will be delivered.

Brad Friedman of BradBlog.com told me: “Sequoia is one of the big-four voting-machine companies. Of course, they have failed in state after state.” Friedman also reports on “vote flipping,” a problem with electronic, touch-screen voting machines. “It’s West Virginia, it’s Tennessee, it’s Texas, Missouri, Nevada … people go in and vote for a Democratic straight-party ticket or for Barack Obama, and the vote flips to a Republican or some other candidate.” The companies claim the machines can be calibrated to work properly. Friedman disagrees: “These machines need to be pulled out, because even when they work, the problem is that there is absolutely no way to ever verify that any vote ever cast on a touch-screen machine like this has been recorded as per the voter’s intent.”

In response to video of Georgia early voters waiting eight hours, Friedman blogged: “Thank you to those voters who were willing to hang in there! Shame on you to those officials who set up this system that can’t even accommodate the limited numbers of early voters! God save us all next Tuesday. Stay strong and brave people!”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has sued Virginia’s Democratic governor, Tim Kaine, on the grounds that he is unprepared to deal with a massive onslaught of voters there Nov. 4. Virginia is not among the 31 states with early voting.

Thousands of lawyers and citizen-activists will be monitoring the polling places on Election Day. People are posting videos of election problems at videothevote.org. When you go to cast your vote, take a friend or neighbor, take your ID and take a camera as well. Election protection is everyone’s job.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Indigenous Knowledge in Modern Polar Science

Indigenous Knowledge in Modern Polar Science

MOSS LANDING, CALIFORNIA– In conjunction with the surge of social science projects in this year’s IPY, SCAR hosted a novel session on “The role of Indigenous Knowledge in Modern Polar Science.” The presenters stressed giving traditional knowledge and indigenous people a voice in managing their own land, resources and fate in the future of climate change.

One IPY-sponsored project that is especially exciting for bringing indigenous knowledge into polar science is Sea Ice Knowledge and Use (SIKU) project: The ice we want our children to know.

A hunter leading the way onto uiguaq (newly formed ice lip extending out from the floe-edge) and testing the ice.

The SIKU project is one of several IPY projects aimed at documenting indigenous observations of environmental changes in the polar areas. This initiative brings together anthropologists, human geographers, sea ice and climate scientists, marine and ecosystem biologists from the U.S., Canada, Russia, Greenland, and France in partnership with almost two dozen indigenous communities in Alaska, Arctic Canada, the Russian Chukchi Peninsula, and Greenland in a concentrated effort to document use and knowledge of sea ice in the Arctic.

Qanngut (crystallized frost formations that form on thin ice) up close.

Claudio Aporta, Assistant Professor at Carlton University and a researcher on the project, described how Arctic people depend on sea-ice for their persistence. “People are born on the sea ice, they build summer camps to live on the sea ice, they hunt on the sea ice, even kids play on the sea ice,” he said. People regularly cross the sea-ice and recreate trails year after year. It is these pathways, and people’s knowledge of their ice environment, that Aporta and his team are working on documenting. They use this knowledge in creating an atlas and database that Aporta described as “a new conception of map showing all dynamic features.”

Hunters wait at the edge of a polynya (an area of open water surrounded by sea ice) near Cape Dorset, Nunavut, discussing a seal hunt. Current strength and direction is an important consideration, since seal retrieval is made with small boat launched off the ice edge.

Local residents, elders, and community experts work together in the SIKU research. Collectively, they record daily sea ice and weather observations, collect local terms for sea ice and weather phenomena, document traditional ecological knowledge related to sea ice and sea ice use from local elders and experienced hunters, and search for historical records of sea ice conditions. Documenting these factors allows the researchers to interpret shifts in ice use patterns that may be caused by social and climate change. Most importantly, “Local people are taking a very active role in documenting their own use of the sea ice,” Aporta said, “ and securing knowledge for future generations.”

Hunters in a retrieval boat launched from the ice edge.


Tribe concerned about license renewal

Tribe concerned about license renewal

10/30/2008 9:50:39 AM

By Laura Gossman

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

RED WING — An attorney for the Prairie Island Indian Community voiced the community’s concerns regarding the renewal license for the nearby Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant during a hearing on Wednesday in Hastings, Minn., in front of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s atomic safety and licensing board.

Northern States Power Co. manages Xcel Energy Services, which owns the nuclear plant and hopes to extend operations at the Prairie Island plant for another 20 years and increase the number of on-site storage containers for nuclear waste.

Tribal attorney Philip Mahowald cited environmental and health-related concerns about the plant’s application. He also said the report doesn’t address historic or archeological properties that could be affected.

“When two cooling towers were erected, it destroyed six burial mounds,” Mahowald said.

The power company’s attorney, David Lewis, said the company hired an archeologist to investigate before construction started. The same archeologist has returned before more construction was done, and more sites were found in the 1980s.

“Three of the six mounds had already been leveled from decades of farming and plowing,” Lewis said. Two mounds were excavated to see if they were resources that need to be protected, and no remains were found. He said the two mounds were designated as earthworks, not burial mounds.

Mahowald said the community wants a study to determine whether the nuclear plant has increased tribe members’ chances of getting cancer. The community is about 600 yards from the storage containers at the nuclear plant.

In the past, tribal leaders have said they favor removal of the plant’s nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Members of the tribal council said in a statement they appreciated the opportunity to express their concerns.

“We know this is a step in the larger process, and we look forward to working with the NRC and Xcel Energy to come to a solution that addresses our community’s many concerns,” the statement said.

Nonetheless, the community remains opposed to the re-licensing.

“We will continue to participate at every possible venue to ensure our voice is heard,” the statement said. “The entire history of the plant demonstrates a complete disregard of our community and the rights and interests of our members, and we are committed to finding resolution to our concerns.”


Indigenous People Still Largely Invisible

Indigenous People Still Largely Invisible

In Costa Rica, the most advanced country in Central America in terms of human development, indigenous people tend to be neglected and forgotten.

The country’s native peoples have the highest poverty rates and lowest levels of human development, and their views and interests receive little attention from the government.

The single-chamber parliament modified a clause in the Biodiversity Law and approved the amended legislation in the first reading on Oct. 16, without having consulted the country’s indigenous people, despite a constitutional court ruling that they had to be consulted about the change.

Under International Labour Convention (ILO) 169, the “Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries”, to which Costa Rica is a signatory, governments must consult indigenous communities prior to undertaking any activity or passing any law that directly affects them or their land.

On Oct. 20, lawmakers from the Citizen Action Party (PAC), the Broad Front, and the Accessibility without Exclusion Party (PASE) questioned the constitutionality of the amended law, an aspect on which the courts must now rule.

“The state has made indigenous people invisible,” Eliécer Velas, a representative of the Maloku people, one of Costa Rica’s eight distinct native groups, told IPS.

The country’s 24 indigenous reservations cover a total of 400,000 hectares, approximately seven percent of the national territory, and the nearly 64,000 members of the different groups make up just under 1.5 percent of the population of 4.3 million. (The vast majority of the population is of mixed blood — generally Spanish and Native American — or European heritage).

The eight indigenous groups are the Bribri (who account for 35 percent of the country’s indigenous people), Cabecare (25 percent), Brunca (15 percent), Ngöbe Bugle (13 percent), Chorotega (four percent), Huetares (three percent), Maloku (three percent) and Teribe (two percent).

Most of them live in the southern part of the country. A 1977 law established the country’s Indian reservations.

Maloku leaders met last week with representatives of government institutions in the presidential palace to discuss issues of concern to their community, like the acquisition of land, construction of a water pipeline, a local health clinic and a four-km road, and a housing programme.

Velas criticised the government because, after turning a blind eye to the fact that the legislature modified the Biodiversity Law without consulting indigenous groups, it has called on them, one by one, to ask them about their needs and negotiate necessary infrastructure projects.

“In Costa Rica, electricity is available in 95 percent of the territory. And the indigenous communities are included in the remaining five percent,” said Velas.

The outlook is the same in terms of health and educational coverage, to which most of the country’s native people have little to no access.

Rubén Chacón, a lawyer who specialises in indigenous rights, said the authorities talk about building schools and medical centres, and about helping native communities gain formal title to their ancestral territories. “But what kind of education and what kind of medicine?” he asked.

“The government is interested in opening schools and health centres even if they don’t have desks or medicines, and they don’t guarantee indigenous cultural content either. That is a serious problem,” he argued.

But a parliamentary debate that has begun on a draft law on autonomous development for indigenous people is good news for the country’s native communities, said Chacón, who added that the new law may be passed in the first quarter of 2009.

The question, though, is whether the draft law’s strong indigenous perspective will become reality, or will remain just empty words. “Costa Rica has the most advanced legislation on indigenous rights in Latin America, but the laws are not enforced,” said Velas.

“This country has signed many international conventions on human rights, but there are still problems when it comes to their application, whether due to economic or ideological reasons,” said Chacón.

Indigenous activists are hopeful that if the draft law that respects the world view of native communities is approved, compliance will improve.

“It took a lengthy participation process to get to this point,” said Chacón.

“The new law will grant autonomy to indigenous communities,” each of which will have a direct relationship with the state, said Velas. Under the law, the Finance Ministry will assign funds, “and each community will decide how to use that money,” he explained.

Costa Rica’s indigenous people are demanding respect for basic rights: cultural integrity; non-discrimination; property rights to, use of, control over and access to their land and natural resources; ethnodevelopment; social assistance and educational coverage in line with their world view; and political participation.


Bushmen and Survival force De Beers withdrawal from Kalahari reserve

Bushman children, CKGR, Botswana 2004 © 2004 Stephen Corry/Survival

Bushman children, CKGR, Botswana 2004 © 2004 Stephen Corry/Survival

Following pressure from Survival International, De Beers says it has stopped operations on the land of the Kalahari Bushmen in Botswana because those it consulted, including Bushmen living inside the reserve, did not agree with its plan to explore for diamonds near a Bushman community.

De Beers began its latest operations in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve only last month. The company says it has no intention of carrying out any further activity there, and will not do so unless and until a sustainable, long-term management plan is agreed.

This is a huge victory for the Bushmen – but diamond mining still threatens their survival. De Beers retains a number of prospecting licences in the reserve.

Another diamond company, Gem Diamonds, is also prospecting inside the reserve. Although it claims to have some local support, it is operating while Bushmen are still being bullied and harassed and are unable to get any proper legal advice. This puts the Bushmen in no position to agree fairly to anything. Despite the Botswana High Court’s 2006 ruling affirming the Bushmen’s rights, the government is still preventing them from accessing their water borehole and forbids hunting.

Bushmen have told Survival that until all those unlawfully evicted are allowed back on their land with access to water and hunting permits, they consider diamonds mined by Gem to be tainted. One said, ‘It is a lie that Gem is doing anything for the Bushmen. They do not care about us – they only work with the government.’

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today, ‘Any talks between diamond companies and the Bushmen under current conditions make a mockery of the concept of free, prior and informed consent, which is the cornerstone of both the UN declaration on indigenous peoples and the international law.’

The president of Botswana, General Ian Khama, whose government continues to oppress the Bushmen and allow mineral prospecting on their land, is a board member of the environmental NGO, Conservation International – adding further insult to the Bushmen’s predicament.

For more information please contact Miriam Ross at Survival International (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or (+44) (0)7504 543 367 or email mr@survival-international.org



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