Sunday, March 25, 2012

In Seoul, Obama says US can reduce nuclear stockpile

Susan Walsh / AP
President Barack Obama speaks at Hankuk University in Seoul, South Korea, March 26, 2012. Obama discussed his Prague agenda to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek the peace and security of a world without them.

Updated 10:20 p.m. ET: President Barack Obama said on Monday the United States can further reduce its nuclear weapons stockpile while maintaining its strategic deterrent.

Obama, speaking at a university in Seoul ahead of global nuclear security summit, said he plans to raise the issue of arms control with Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin when they meet in May.

The president urged North Korean leaders to "have the courage to pursue peace" and warned the country that provocation will not lead to rewards, but to condemnation by the international community. "Those days are over. This is the choice before you," he told students in Seoul.

Obama also said that time was running out to resolve Iran's nuclear standoff with the west.

Tehran says its nuclear program is purely peaceful, but Israel and Western nations believe it is moving towards a nuclear bomb that could change the regional balance of power.

"Once again, there is the possibility of a diplomatic resolution that gives Iran access to peaceful nuclear energy while addressing the concerns of the international community," Obama told students in Seoul.

"Today, I'll meet with the leaders of Russia and China as we work to achieve a resolution in which Iran fulfills its obligations."

President Obama visited the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea and said China should rein in its communist neighbor. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

Obama will rely on China to work with North Korea, the Washington Post reported. The president has called nuclear terrorism the United States’ biggest threat, according to the Post, and North Korea could prove to be a grave issue.

Radioactive tritium leaks found at 48 US nuke sites

'You got pipes that have been buried underground for 30 or 40 years, and they've never been inspected,' whistleblower says

Aging Nuclear Plants: Undermining Public Safety     

Check out terrific Interactive, explains how plants work and maps with population stats
Ladies if you do not know how nuclear plants work check out the interactive also two videos.
 Image: Bob Scamen's pond in Braidwood, Ill., and the Braidwood Nuclear Power Station
Charles Rex Arbogast  /  AP
A decoy sits on Bob Scamen's pond in Braidwood, Ill., within view of the Braidwood Nuclear Power Station in Braceville, Ill. Braidwood has leaked more than six million gallons of tritium-laden water in repeated leaks dating back to the 1990s — but not publicly reported until 2005.
updated 6/21/2011 5:48:09 AM ET

Radioactive tritium has leaked from three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater from corroded, buried piping, an Associated Press investigation shows.
The number and severity of the leaks has been escalating, even as federal regulators extend the licenses of more and more reactors across the nation.

Tritium, which is a radioactive form of hydrogen, has leaked from at least 48 of 65 sites, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission records reviewed as part of the AP's yearlong examination of safety issues at aging nuclear power plants.

Leaks from at least 37 of those facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard — sometimes at hundreds of times the limit.

While most leaks have been found within plant boundaries, some have migrated offsite. But none is known to have reached public water supplies.

At three sites — two in Illinois and one in Minnesota — leaks have contaminated drinking wells of nearby homes, the records show, but not at levels violating the drinking water standard.
At a fourth site, in New Jersey, tritium has leaked into an aquifer and a discharge canal feeding picturesque Barnegat Bay off the Atlantic Ocean.

Story: GAO: leaks at aging nuke sites difficult to detect

Previously, the AP reported that regulators and industry have weakened safety standards for decades to keep the nation's commercial nuclear reactors operating within the rules.

While NRC officials and plant operators argue that safety margins can be eased without peril, critics say these accommodations are inching the reactors closer to an accident.

Any exposure to radioactivity, no matter how slight, boosts cancer risk, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Federal regulators set a limit for how much tritium is allowed in drinking water. So far, federal and industry officials say, the tritium leaks pose no health threat.

But it's hard to know how far some leaks have traveled into groundwater. Tritium moves through soil quickly, and when it is detected it often indicates the presence of more powerful radioactive isotopes that are often spilled at the same time.

For example, cesium-137 turned up with tritium at the Fort Calhoun nuclear unit near Omaha, Neb., in 2007. Strontium-90 was discovered with tritium two years earlier at the Indian Point nuclear power complex, where two reactors operate 25 miles north of New York City. The tritium leaks also have spurred doubts among independent engineers about the reliability of emergency safety systems at the 104 nuclear reactors situated on the 65 sites.

That's partly because some of the leaky underground pipes carry water meant to cool a reactor in an emergency shutdown and to prevent a meltdown. More than a mile of piping, much of it encased in concrete, can lie beneath a reactor.

Tritium is relatively short-lived and penetrates the body weakly through the air compared to other radioactive contaminants. Each of the known releases has been less radioactive than a single X-ray.

The main health risk from tritium, though, would be in drinking water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says tritium should measure no more than 20,000 picocuries per liter in drinking water. The agency estimates seven of 200,000 people who drink such water for decades would develop cancer.
Still, the NRC and industry consider the leaks a public relations problem, not a public health or accident threat, records and interviews show.

"The public health and safety impact of this is next to zero," said Tony Pietrangelo, chief nuclear officer of the industry's Nuclear Energy Institute. "This is a public confidence issue."

Leaks are prolific Like rust under a car, corrosion has propagated for decades along the hard-to-reach, wet underbellies of the reactors — generally built in a burst of construction during the 1960s and 1970s. As part of an investigation of aging problems at the country's nuclear reactors, the AP uncovered evidence that despite government and industry programs to bring the causes of such leaks under control, breaches have become more frequent and widespread.

There were 38 leaks from underground piping between 2000 and 2009, according to an industry document presented at a tritium conference. Nearly two-thirds of the leaks were reported over the latest five years.
Here are some examples:
  • At the three-unit Browns Ferry complex in Alabama, a valve was mistakenly left open in a storage tank during modifications over the years. When the tank was filled in April 2010 about 1,000 gallons of tritium-laden water poured onto the ground at a concentration of 2 million picocuries per liter. In drinking water, that would be 100 times higher than the EPA health standard.
  • At the LaSalle site west of Chicago, tritium-laden water was accidentally released from a storage tank in July 2010 at a concentration of 715,000 picocuries per liter — 36 times the EPA standard.
  • The year before, 123,000 picocuries per liter were detected in a well near the turbine building at Peach Bottom west of Philadelphia — six times the drinking water standard.
  • And in 2008, 7.5 million picocuries per liter leaked from underground piping at Quad Cities in western Illinois — 375 times the EPA limit.
Subsurface water not only rusts underground pipes, it attacks other buried components, including electrical cables that carry signals to control operations. They too have been failing at high rates.

A 2008 NRC staff memo reported industry data showing 83 failed cables between 21 and 30 years of service — but only 40 within their first 10 years of service. Underground cabling set in concrete can be extraordinarily difficult to replace.
Under NRC rules, tiny concentrations of tritium and other contaminants are routinely released in monitored increments from nuclear plants; leaks from corroded pipes are not permitted.

The leaks sometimes go undiscovered for years, the AP found. Many of the pipes or tanks have been patched, and contaminated soil and water have been removed in some places. But leaks are often discovered later from other nearby piping, tanks or vaults.

Mistakes and defective material have contributed to some leaks. However, corrosion — from decades of use and deterioration — is the main cause. And, safety engineers say, the rash of leaks suggest nuclear operators are hard put to maintain the decades-old systems.

Story: Safety rules loosened for aging nuclear reactors 

Over the history of the U.S. industry, more than 400 known radioactive leaks of all kinds of substances have occurred, the activist Union of Concerned Scientists reported in September.

Several notable leaks above the EPA drinking-water limit for tritium happened five or more years ago, and from underground piping: 397,000 picocuries per liter at Tennessee's Watts Bar unit in 2005 — 20 times the EPA standard; four million at the two-reactor Hatch plant in Georgia in 2003 — 200 times the limit; 750,000 at Seabrook in New Hampshire in 1999 — nearly 38 times the standard; and 4.2 million at the three-unit Palo Verde facility in Arizona, in 1993 — 210 times the drinking-water limit.

Many safety experts worry about what the leaks suggest about the condition of miles of piping beneath the reactors. "Any leak is a problem because you have the leak itself — but it also says something about the piping," said Mario V. Bonaca, a former member of the NRC's Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards. "Evidently something has to be done."

Map: Population within 10 and 50 miles of nuclear power 

However, even with the best probes, it is hard to pinpoint partial cracks or damage in skinny pipes or bends. The industry tends to inspect piping when it must be dug up for some other reason. Even when leaks are detected, repairs may be postponed for up to two years with the NRC's blessing.

"You got pipes that have been buried underground for 30 or 40 years, and they've never been inspected, and the NRC is looking the other way," said engineer Paul Blanch, who has worked for the industry and later became a whistleblower. "They could have corrosion all over the place."

Nuclear engineer Bill Corcoran, an industry consultant who has taught NRC personnel how to analyze the cause of accidents, said that since much of the piping is inaccessible and carries cooling water, the worry is if the pipes leak, there could be a meltdown.
East Coast issues One of the highest known tritium readings was discovered in 2002 at the Salem nuclear plant in Lower Alloways Creek Township, N.J. Tritium leaks from the spent fuel pool contaminated groundwater under the facility — located on an island in Delaware Bay — at a concentration of 15 million picocuries per liter. That's 750 times the EPA drinking water limit. According to NRC records, the tritium readings last year still exceeded EPA drinking water standards.

And tritium found separately in an onsite storm drain system measured 1 million picocuries per liter in April 2010.

Also last year, the operator, PSEG Nuclear, discovered 680 feet of corroded, buried pipe that is supposed to carry cooling water to Salem Unit 1 in an accident, according to an NRC report. Some had worn down to a quarter of its minimum required thickness, though no leaks were found. The piping was dug up and replaced.

The operator had not visually inspected the piping — the surest way to find corrosion— since the reactor went on line in 1977, according to the NRC. PSEG Nuclear was found to be in violation of NRC rules because it hadn't even tested the piping since 1988.

Last year, the Vermont Senate was so troubled by tritium leaks as high as 2.5 million picocuries per liter at the Vermont Yankee reactor in southern Vermont (125 times the EPA drinking-water standard) that it voted to block relicensing — a power that the Legislature holds in that state.

Activists placed a bogus ad on the Web to sell Vermont Yankee, calling it a "quaint Vermont fixer-upper from the last millennium" with "tasty, pre-tritiated drinking water."

The gloating didn't last. In March, the NRC granted the plant a 20-year license extension, despite the state opposition. Weeks ago, operator Entergy sued Vermont in federal court, challenging its authority to force the plant to close.

Map: U.S. nuclear plants vary in ability to handle blackout

At 41-year-old Oyster Creek in southern New Jersey, the country's oldest operating reactor, the latest tritium troubles started in April 2009, a week after it was relicensed for 20 more years. That's when plant workers discovered tritium by chance in about 3,000 gallons of water that had leaked into a concrete vault housing electrical lines.

Since then, workers have found leaking tritium three more times at concentrations up to 10.8 million picocuries per liter — 540 times the EPA's drinking water limit — according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. None has been directly measured in drinking water, but it has been found in an aquifer and in a canal discharging into nearby Barnegat Bay, a popular spot for swimming, boating and fishing.

An earlier leak came from a network of pipes where rust was first discovered in 1991. Multiple holes were found, "indicating the potential for extensive corrosion," according to an analysis released to an environmental group by the NRC. Yet only patchwork repairs were done.

Tom Fote, who has fished in the bay near Oyster Creek, is unsettled by the leaks. "This was a plant that was up for renewal. It was up to them to make sure it was safe and it was not leaking anything," he said.
Added Richard Webster, an environmental lawyer who challenged relicensing at Oyster Creek: "It's symptomatic of the plants not having a handle on aging."
Exelon's piping problems To Exelon — the country's biggest nuclear operator, with 17 units — piping problems are just a fact of life. At a meeting with regulators in 2009, representatives of Exelon acknowledged that "100 percent verification of piping integrity is not practical," according to a copy of its presentation.

Of course, the company could dig up the pipes and check them out. But that would be costly.

"Excavations have significant impact on plant operations," the company said.

Exelon has had some major leaks. At the company's two-reactor Dresden site west of Chicago, tritium has leaked into the ground at up to 9 million picocuries per liter — 450 times the federal limit for drinking water.
At least four separate problems have been discovered at the 40-year-old site since 2004, when its two reactors were awarded licenses for 20 more years of operation. A leaking section of piping was fixed that year, but another leak sprang nearby within two years, a government inspection report says.

The Dresden leaks developed in systems that help cool the reactor core in an emergency. Leaks also have contaminated offsite drinking water wells, but below the EPA drinking water limit.

There's also been contamination of offsite drinking water wells near the two-unit Prairie Island plant southeast of Minneapolis, then operated by Nuclear Management Co. and now by Xcel Energy, and at Exelon's two-unit Braidwood nuclear facility, 10 miles from Dresden. The offsite tritium concentrations from both facilities also were below the EPA level.

The Prairie Island leak was found in the well of a nearby home in 1989. It was traced to a canal where radioactive waste was discharged.

Braidwood has leaked more than six million gallons of tritium-laden water in repeated leaks dating back to the 1990s — but not publicly reported until 2005. The leaks were traced to pipes that carried limited, monitored discharges of tritium into the river.

"They weren't properly maintained, and some of them had corrosion," said Exelon spokeswoman Krista Lopykinski.

Map: Nuclear waste accumulates at U.S. plants 

Last year, Exelon, which has acknowledged violating Illinois state groundwater standards, agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle state and county complaints over the tritium leaks at Braidwood and nearby Dresden and Byron sites. The NRC also sanctioned Exelon.

Tritium measuring 1,500 picocuries per liter turned up in an offsite drinking well at a home near Braidwood.
Though company and industry officials did not view any of the Braidwood concentrations as dangerous, unnerved residents took to bottled water and sued over feared loss of property value. A consolidated lawsuit was dismissed, but Exelon ultimately bought some homes so residents could leave.

Exelon refused to say how much it paid, but a search of county real estate records shows it bought at least nine properties in the contaminated area near Braidwood since 2006 for a total of $6.1 million.

Exelon says it has almost finished cleaning up the contamination, but the cost persists for some neighbors.
Retirees Bob and Nancy Scamen live in a two-story house within a mile of the reactors on 18 bucolic acres they bought in 1988, when Braidwood opened. He had worked there, and in other nuclear plants, as a pipefitter and welder — even sometimes fixing corroded piping. For the longest time, he felt the plants were well-managed and safe.

His feelings have changed.

An outlet from Braidwood's leaky discharge pipe 300 feet from his property poured out three million gallons of water in 1998, according to an NRC inspection report. The couple didn't realize the discharge was radioactive.

The Scamens no longer intend to pass the property on to their grandchildren for fear of hurting their health. The couple just wants out. But the only offer so far is from a buyer who left a note on the front door saying he'd pay the fire-sale price of $10,000.

They say Exelon has refused to buy their home because it has found tritium directly behind, but not beneath, their property.

"They say our property is not contaminated, and if they buy property that is not contaminated, it will set a precedent, and they'll have to buy everybody's property," said Scamen.

Their neighbors, Tom and Judy Zimmer, are also hoping for an offer from Exelon for the land and home they built on it, spending $418,000 for both.

They had just moved into the house in November 2005, and were laying the tile in their new foyer when two Exelon representatives appeared at the door.

Image: Tom Zimmer
Charles Rex Arbogast  /  AP
Tom Zimmer had just moved into his house when Exelon officials informed him of a tritium leak at the nearby Braidwood Nuclear Power Station in 2005.

"They said, 'We're from Exelon, and we had a tritium spill. It's nothing to worry about,'" recalls Tom Zimmer. "I didn't know what tritium even meant."

But his wife says she understood right away that it was bad news — and they hadn't even emptied their moving boxes yet: "I thought, 'Oh, my God. We're not even in this place. What are we going to do?'"
They say they had an interested buyer who backed out when he learned of the tritium. No one has made an offer since.
Public relations effort The NRC is certainly paying attention. How can it not when local residents fret over every new groundwater incident? But the agency's reports and actions suggest a preoccupation with image and perception.

An NRC task force on tritium leaks last year dismissed the danger to public health. Instead, its report called the leaks "a challenging issue from the perspective of communications around environmental protection." The task force noted ruefully that the rampant leaking had "impacted public confidence."

For sure, the industry also is trying to stop the leaks. For several years now, plant owners around the country have been drilling more monitoring wells and taking a more aggressive approach in replacing old piping when leaks are suspected or discovered.

For example, Exelon has been performing $14 million worth of work at Oyster Creek to give easier access to 2,000 feet of tritium-carrying piping, said site spokesman David Benson.

But such measures have yet to stop widespread leaking.

Meantime, the reactors keep getting older — 66 have been approved for 20-year extensions to their original 40-year licenses, with 16 more extensions pending.

And, as the AP has been reporting in its ongoing series, Aging Nukes, regulators and industry have worked in concert to loosen safety standards to keep the plants operating.

In an initiative started last year, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko asked his staff to examine regulations on buried piping to evaluate if stricter standards or more inspections were needed.

The staff report, issued in June, openly acknowledged that the NRC "has not placed an emphasis on preventing" the leaks.

The authors concluded there are no significant health threats or heightened risk of accidents.

And they predicted even more leaks in the future.

Discuss: Radioactive tritium leaks found at 48 US nuke sites

'You got pipes that have been buried underground for 30 or 40 years, and they've never been inspected,' whistleblower says

Jim, then you should READ the whole article too. The reason they are talking about the tritium is that it is an indicator of the safety of these aging nuclear plants. We are being told that they are safe from disaster and yet, they are already leaking in ways that violate their original safety standards. The article further points out that the regulators have continually weakened those standards to allow the plants to remain in operation. I don't live in an area that would be endangered by a failure at one of these plants, by my fellow Americans do. And I'm concerned. Do we need another Fukishima to see the dangers. Either the plants are brought back to operational standards or they need to be shut down.

differnet, with 18

Jim 1

Burning coal releases radiation, I wonder why the article fails to compare the two.  Or how much tritium is in sea water.  I'm not a nuclear power fan boy, but slanted journalism should be read with caution.

Jim 1, with 15


the NRC granted the plant a 20-year license extension, despite the state opposition. Weeks ago, operator Entergy sued Vermont in federal court, challenging its authority to force the plant to close.

'Hell no, we won't glow':

 Dozens of anti-nuclear activists arrested at Vermont Yankee protest

Jim Cole / AP
93-year-old anti-nuclear activist Francis Crowe, center, and her friend Anneke Corbett are escorted off the property of Entergy Corp. in Brattleboro, Vt. after being arrested for trespassing.

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. -- A 93-year-old anti-nuclear activist was among more than 130 protesters arrested at the corporate headquarters of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant Thursday, the first day of the plant's operation after the expiration of its 40-year license.

Frances Crowe, of Northampton, Mass., said she wants Vermont Yankee to cease operations because she feels it's a threat to the people who live nearby.

"As I was walking down, all I could think of was Fukushima and the suffering of all the people, and I don't want that to happen to New England," said Crowe in referring to the Japanese nuclear reactor damaged last year after an earthquake and tsunami.

Fukushima disaster response frighteningly similar to Chernobyl

When asked how many times she'd been arrested, she answered: "Not enough."

A heavy police presence and ropes blocked off access to the offices in Brattleboro. The arrests were made calmly and without any confrontation, with obvious signs that protesters and police had worked out the logistics beforehand.

Unlawful trespass

Brattleboro Police Chief Gene Wrinn said in a statement that more than 130 people had been arrested for unlawful trespass. He said after being processed, they were later released.

The Brattleboro Reformer reported that Thursday's protest was the largest in Vermont in 25 years.
A company spokesman said work continued as normal at the plant 10 miles south in Vernon.
"We greatly appreciate the backing of our supporters and respect the rights of opponents to peacefully protest," said a statement issued by company spokesman Larry Smith. "Inside the gates, our employees will not be distracted. As it is every day, their focus on safety will be laser sharp."

'Shut it down'

A crowd estimated at more than 1,000 gathered in a downtown Brattleboro park before they marched the 3 ½ miles to the headquarters. Some marched on stilts. Others with painted faces carried signs that read "hell no, we won't glow." Many chanted: "Shut it down."

Gov. Peter Shumlin was sympathetic to the protesters.

"I am very supportive of the peaceful protesters gathered today in Brattleboro to express their — and my — frustration that this aging plant remains open after its agreed-upon license has expired," he said.

Jim Cole / AP
Hundreds of anti-nuclear activists march to the local corporate offices of Vermont Yankee owner Entergy Corp. in Brattleboro, Vt., on Thursday.

In a coordinated action in New Orleans, the headquarters of Vermont Yankee's parent company, Entergy Nuclear, another group of seven activists was arrested after going into the building and refusing to leave, police said. The Journal News reported that five others also were arrested at Entergy offices in White Plains, N.Y.

Loyola University law professor Bill Quigley said the New Orleans protesters live near the Vermont plant and traveled to Louisiana to request a meeting with Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard. They didn't get that meeting before they were arrested.

"We're trying to tell Entergy that the whole world is watching, and you can't pollute in one area of the country without consequences for everybody," Quigley said.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued the plant a 20-year license extension, but the state of Vermont wants the plant to close and the two sides are fighting a legal battle. In January, a federal judge issued an order that allows the plant to continue operating while the legal case continues in court.


While the protesters gathered on the Brattleboro Commons, Vermont Yankee supporters sat across the street and watched. A half-dozen signs saying "VT4VY" were posted on the lawn.

"The thing is these people are not going to realize it until it's too late what a benefit it is down there. I feel bad for them. I don't think they're looking at the big picture," said Steve Shaclumis of Brattleboro.

Some protesters, including Crowe, were released immediately with citations to appear in court. Others were handcuffed and led onto a waiting school bus. It was expected they would be taken to a police station and then released.

According to The New York Times, the cost of decommissioning a single reactor is estimated at $400 million to $1 billion.

The newspaper reported on Tuesday that Entergy "is at least $90 million short of the projected $560 million cost of dismantling Vermont Yankee."

The Associated Press and staff contributed to this report.

$1 billion cleanup tab in Nigeria oil mess, UN says

Image: Oil damage in Bodo, Nigeria

Courtesy Leigh Day & Co
A photograph taken by a representative of the law firm Leigh Day & Co. last July shows John Sunday Belbari, a resident of Bodo, Nigeria, standing on the spot that used to be his fishponds. staff and news service reports
updated 8/4/2011 2:26:57 PM ET
Shell and Nigeria's government contributed to 50 years of pollution in a region of the Niger Delta that could need the world's largest ever oil cleanup, the United Nations said in a report Thursday, adding that the work would take up to 30 years and require an initial tab estimated at $1 billion.
The report came after Shell agreed not to oppose a move by one delta community to have their pollution claims heard by a British court, potentially opening itself up to bigger financial damages.

Daniel Leader, a lawyer for the Bodo people, told that the case was the first of its kind because it would be heard in Britain, where payouts can be higher and cases tend to get wider media coverage.
"What is highly significant is that Shell have agreed to do this through the jurisdiction of English courts," he said.

The United Nations Environment Program analyzed the damage oil pollution has done in Ogoniland, a region in the oil-rich creeks, swamps and waterways of the Niger Delta, the heartland of Africa's largest oil and gas industry.

Shell and the Nigerian state-oil firm own most of the oil infrastructure in Ogoniland, although Shell in 1993 was forced out by communities that said it caused pollution that destroyed their fishing environment.
Shell stopped pumping oil from Ogoniland after a campaign, led by writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was later hanged by the Nigerian military government, provoking international outrage.
"The environmental restoration of Ogoniland could prove to be the world's most wide-ranging and long term oil cleanup exercise ever undertaken if contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangroves are to be brought back to full, productive health," the UNEP report stated.

"Control and maintenance of oilfield infrastructure in Ogoniland has been and remains inadequate: the Shell Petroleum Development Company's own procedures have not been applied, creating public health and safety issues."

The UNEP report said 10 out of the 15 investigated sites which SPDC said had been completely remediated still had pollution exceeding the SPDC and government remediation values.

Shell says most oil spills in the Niger Delta are caused by oil theft and sabotage attacks but says it cleans up whatever the cause.

"Oil spills in the Niger Delta are a tragedy, and SPDC takes them very seriously," SPDC Managing Director Mutiu Sunmonu said in a statement on its website. "Concerted effort is needed on the part of the Nigerian government, working with oil companies and others, to end the blight of illegal refining and oil theft in the Niger Delta. This is the major cause of the environmental damage."

UNEP said Ogoniland communities are exposed to hydrocarbons every day as thick black oil floats around the creeks, while the impact on vegetation and fishing areas has been "disastrous."

In one community, drinking water was contaminated with benzene, a substance known to cause cancer, at levels over 900 times above the World Health Organization guidelines. The site was close to a pipeline owned by Nigeria's state-oil firm NNPC, the report said.

"We will undertake any cleanup. It doesn't mean we are culpable. Pipeline vandalism, by the very communities who are affected, is the major issue," a NNPC spokesman said.

The U.N. also found one area where an oil spill 40 years ago hadn't been cleaned.

"The Ogoni people live with this pollution every minute of every day, 365 days a year," the report said. "Since average life expectancy in Nigeria is less than 50 years, it is a fair assumption that most members of the current Ogoniland community have lived with chronic oil pollution throughout their lives."

The report also said that children born in Ogoniland are affected by the oil pollution daily, "as the odor of hydrocarbons pervades the air day in, day out."

Some environmentalists say as much as 550 million gallons of oil have poured into the Niger River Delta during 50 years of production — at a rate roughly comparable to one Exxon Valdez disaster per year. Even today, oil laps up in brackish delta creeks in Ogoniland, creating a black ring around the coastlines.

Shell helped fund the U.N. investigation, leading to criticism by some environmentalists that the report wouldn't take on the oil giant many demonize in the region. The report said damage can be caused by failing oil pipelines, as well as by thieves who tap into the lines to steal crude oil — a worsening problem in Ogoniland. The report said U.N. officials saw such theft during the day and suggested there could be "collusion" with government officials.

"It was not within (the U.N.'s) scope to identify the cause of the individual spills, nor is it scientifically possible to detect the original cause of spills after an unknown time period," the report said.

It also remains difficult for companies to operate in the delta, as criminal gangs and militants still operate and take foreign workers hostage for ransom. The U.N. report noted that it had trouble accessing some areas of Ogoniland and found evidence that unknown parties had tampered with some of the U.N.'s equipment.
Asked about the proposed trust fund, a Shell spokeswoman declined to comment. The company issued a statement saying it "will study the contents carefully and will comment further once we have done so."
While Shell does not operate in Ogoniland anymore, its pipelines and other infrastructure remain and still suffer spillages and sabotage attacks.

UNEP's report is the most detailed scientific study on any area in the Niger Delta, UNEP and activist groups said. It was paid for partly by Shell after a request by the government.

The findings were undertaken over a 14-month period, surveyed 76 miles of pipeline rights of way, reviewing more than 5,000 medical records and engaging more than 23,000 people at local meetings.
"What the world did not have on the table is a peer-reviewed scientific assessment that lays out the magnitude of the issue … the depths in which oil has percolated," said UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall. "Basically in some areas the oil has gotten down 5 meters (15 feet) into the drinking supply of tens of thousands of people."

The report recommends that three new institutions be set up to support environmental restoration, which would include a $1 billion fund, contributed to by the oil companies and government for the first five years of the cleanup.

Amnesty International, which is actively involved in Niger Delta environmental issues, said the report proved that Shell was responsible for the pollution.

"This report proves Shell has had a terrible impact in Nigeria, but has got away with denying it for decades, falsely claiming they work to best international standards," said Amnesty International Global Issues Director Audrey Gaughran.

"Shell must put its hands up, and face the fact that it has to deal with the damage it has caused. Trying to hide behind the actions of others, when Shell is the most powerful actor on the scene, simply won't wash," Gaughran added.

Earlier Thursday, it emerged that Shell had accepted that a British court had jurisdiction in villager claims for compensation for damages caused by two oil spills from pipelines controlled by SPDC, in which Shell is the lead but minority partner.

One source close to the case said the cost of cleaning up the spill and compensating those affected has been estimated by some experts as being in the region of 250 million pounds.

Shell has been reducing its focus on onshore Nigeria, selling fields, following difficulties in the delta.

In the court case filed in Britain, Shell conceded liability and agreed to proceed under the jurisdiction of the English courts last month, Leader told

The two spills in 2008 and 2009 at Bodo, Ogoniland, devastated the 69,000-person community, Leader said.

"The mood music is changing — oil companies are going to have to start no longer employing a double standard for the developing world and apply the same standards for America and Europe," he told

Protest groups have increasingly tried to seek compensation against western oil companies in the firms' home jurisdictions.

Ben Amunwa of the British group PLATFORM, which monitors international energy companies, said that depending on the compensation that is decided in this case, the agreement could usher in a flood of claims from communities in the region.

"The potential in this decision is that Shell could face a mountain of claims," Amunwa explained.

The British agreement follows decades of damage to the environment in Nigeria, according to rights groups.
The lawyers and rights groups have said the amount of oil in these two spillages alone was approximately 20 percent of the amount that leaked into the Gulf of Mexico following the BP  disaster.

"BP did more in 6-months for the U.S. communities than Shell has done in 50 years for the Ogoniland," said Amnesty International's Gaughran.

A spokesman for Shell's Nigerian arm, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, said in a statement sent to that the firm had "always acknowledged that the two spills which affected the Bodo community, and which are the subject of this legal action, were operational."

"SPDC is committed to cleaning up all spills when they occur, no matter what the cause," he said.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Extremes of wealth and poverty revealed in photographs of Nigerian oil industry

Christian Lutz / Agence VU via HOST Gallery
Nigeria, Abuja, 04 February 2010.
NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) complex.

Christian Lutz / Agence VU via HOST Gallery
Nigeria. May 2010.
Water polluted by oil, Niger Delta.

Christian Lutz / Agence VU via HOST Gallery
Nigeria, Lagos, 22 November 2009.
Swimming pool at a private beach club on the Lagos lagoon.

Christian Lutz / Agence VU via HOST Gallery
Nigeria, Okerenkoko, 26 May 2010
Gbaramatu Kingdom, Niger Delta State.

Christian Lutz / Agence VU via HOST Gallery
Nigeria. Lagos. December 31, 2009.
Lagos Yacht Club, New Year's Eve party.
According to a report in today's New York Times, billions of dollars in oil revenues raised by the Nigerian government are unaccounted for. The newspaper reports that the country's Excess Crude Account contained about $30 billion in late 2008, almost all of which is now gone. A maximum of $8 billion of spending has been accounted for in the intervening period.

"Where the hell did the remaining $22 billion-plus go?", asked a government adviser interviewed by the Times.

Tropical Gift, a photo exhibition running now at HOST Gallery in London, examines the closed world of those dealing with oil and gas in the Niger Delta.

During three trips to Nigeria in 2009 and 2010, photographer Christian Lutz gained extraordinary access into the dark halls of power of the corporations that govern Nigeria's oil. His pictures contrast the opulent lifestyle of the oil executives with the crushing poverty of local residents.

"I thought it would be more expressive if I underscored that side of the story," Lutz told the British Journal of Photography. "I was a wealthy white in Nigeria, and I used this to get mixed up with the community. I ate fresh sushi that cost $150, and swam in their pools and drank some great South African wine, but I could hardly stand it. It made me sick. I never want to go back. How can we eat sushi in West Africa when the fish for the local population have been annihilated by the oil spillage? The population split in Nigeria is so extreme, it becomes surreal."

The exhibition runs at HOST Gallery until March 1.

More images from the story are available at Agence Vu and an accompanying book has been published by Lars Müller.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales charged with 17 counts of murder in Afghanistan massacre

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, left, 1st platoon sergeant, Blackhorse Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division participates in an August 2011 exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was charged Friday with 17 counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder, along with other charges, in connection with a shooting rampage in two southern Afghanistan villages that shocked Americans back home and further roiled U.S.-Afghan relations.

The charges come almost two weeks after the massacre in which Bales allegedly left his base in the early morning hours and shot Afghan civilians, including women and nine children, while they slept in their beds, then burned some of the bodies.

It was the worst allegation of civilian killings by an American and has severely strained U.S.-Afghan ties at a critical time in the decade-old war.
 Bales was read the charges on Friday at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he has been held since being flown from Afghanistan last week, a U.S. official said.

For alleged Afghan shooter, death penalty unlikely

Bales' civilian attorney, John Henry Browne, said Friday without commenting on the specific charges that he believes the government will have a hard time proving its case and that at some stage in the prosecution his client's mental state will be an important issue.

Death toll in Afghanistan massacre climbs to 17

Col. Gary Kolb, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, says Bales was also charged Friday with six counts of attempted murder and six counts of assault.

The decision to charge him with premeditated murder suggests that prosecutors plan to argue that he consciously conceived the killings. A military legal official for U.S. forces in Afghanistan who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case, noted that premeditated murder is not something that has to have been contemplated for a long time.

                                              Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Criminal charges including 17 counts of murder and six counts of assault have been brought against Sgt. Robert Bales for alleged actions in Afghanistan. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports this is the first step toward the eventual filing of charges.

“These are unsurprising charges, predictable charges. I would have thought there would have been a few more lesser charges because no prosecutor likes to lose his principal charge and see the individual walk so usually some lesser offenses are charged as well,” Gary Solis, former head of the Marine Corps’ Military Law Branch and current adjunct professor of law at Georgetown Law School, told
“But what will really be significant is when the charges are referred to trial by the convening authority … because when they are referred, they will either be referred as capital or not. … If referred capital, that will change the complexion of the case.”

A senior U.S. official tells NBC News that Bales is likely to face lesser charges such as dereliction of duty and disobeying a lawful order.

The 38-year-old soldier and father of two, whose home is in Bonney Lake, Wash., faces trial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but it could be months before any public hearing.

Legal jurisdiction in the Bales case is expected to be switched Friday from U.S. Forces-Afghanistan in Kabul to Bales' home base of Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash., U.S. officials said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said Bales could face the death penalty if he is convicted of murder, but it is unlikely. The U.S. military has not executed a service member since 1961. Legal experts say Bales could face a lengthy prison sentence if convicted.

The maximum punishment for a premeditated murder conviction is death, dishonorable discharge from the armed forces, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade and total forfeiture of pay and allowances, Kolb said. The mandatory minimum sentence is life imprisonment with the chance of parole.

                                             Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Retired Army Colonel and NBC military analyst Jack Jacobs examines the concerns set forth by the attorney for Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the soldier who was charged Friday with 17 counts of murder.
How Staff Sgt. Bales' lawyers are fighting for his life

Legal experts have said the death penalty would be unlikely in the case. The military hasn't executed a service member since 1961 when an Army ammunition handler was hanged for raping an 11-year-old girl in Austria. None of the six men currently on death row at Fort Leavenworth was convicted for atrocities against foreign civilians.

“This is just the first step in what’s going to be a very long process and it still remains to be seen whether this is actually going to be a death penalty case or not,” Daniel Conway, a lawyer and former Marine staff sergeant who has been involved in battlefield investigations in Iraq and Afghanistan of alleged crimes by U.S. soldiers, told “The basic idea here is that you can’t hold somebody in jail forever without charging them, so they’ve had to take this first step here.”

The charging document did not provide details about the killings, leaving the timeline unclear. The dead bodies were found in Balandi and Alkozai villages — one north and one south of the base.

Members of the Afghan delegation investigating the killings said one Afghan guard working from midnight to 2 a.m. saw a U.S. soldier return to the base around 1:30 a.m. Another Afghan soldier who replaced the first and worked until 4 a.m. said he saw a U.S. soldier leaving the base at 2:30 a.m. It's unknown whether the Afghan guards saw the same U.S. soldier. If the gunman acted alone, information from the Afghan guards would suggest that he returned to base in between the shooting sprees.

It also is not known whether the suspect used grenades, Kolb said. The grenade launcher attachment is added to the standard issue M-4 rifle for some soldiers but not all, he said. Bales was assigned to provide force protection at the base.'s Miranda Leitsinger and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

        Morning Joe w/ Joe Klein Troops should come home TEN IS ENOUGH                                                            Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Military wives rally around Karilyn Bales

                                                Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Women are going online to show their compassion for the wife of the Army staff sergeant who has been charged with 17 counts of murder. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.
By Miguel Almaguer and Vivian Kim
NBC News

 RIDGEFIELD -- After her children fell asleep, Lori Volkman crept into her basement office, turned on her computer, and wept as she began to write.
“Dear Kari,” she typed from her home in Ridgefield, Wash.  “I can’t imagine the thud you felt in your heart and the ice that coursed in your veins when you heard a knock and saw a uniform standing at your front door. I can't fully imagine the fear and shock ..."
Volkman's message began as an open letter to Karilyn Bales, the wife of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales who has been charged with murdering 17 civilians in Afghanistan. Volkman wrote, "I don't condemn you for being married to a man who has been accused."
After all, the two women shared a lot in common. Both had husbands who served multiple deployments, and two young children they raised for months at a time alone. Both women had also written blogs about their time at home during their husband's deployments.

"The one thing I really learned when my husband came home from his last mobilization was coming to grips with the fact that unless I had experienced it, I might never understand. And I think there are a lot of people filling in blanks and assuming things and I wanted her to know that we didn't associate her with all of these events and what happened that we were gonna stand by her as military spouses and let her know that we knew she was going through a difficult time right now," Volkman told NBC News.  "And I think that's what military spouses do, they rally around each other especially in difficult times."
Volkman, the deputy prosecuting attorney in Washington State, started writing in September 2010 when her husband was deployed to the Middle East. Her web audience is typically pretty small -- normally she gets just a few hundred hits -- but a few hours after her emotional letter, Volkman’s blog,, was flooded with comments and received more than 10,000 hits in three days. Many of the comments were from military wives, and nearly all of them were overwhelmingly positive.

                                              Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Wife:  Accused killer 'Loves children'

"The spouses are here for you," one read.  "We have your back," said another. A third wrote, "There are many of us out here ... praying for her and her family."
When Volkman first heard about Robert Bales' story, she and her mother, who is also a military wife, talked about Bales' wife Karilyn.
"We cried," Volkman said. "I didn't know that that would be the common experience until I wrote it and saw the comments."
Volkman was surprised by the sheer volume of web traffic, but she was also shocked when women who said they were friends of Karilyn Bales commented that the staff sergeant’s wife had read the letter and comments too.
"I received emails from a couple of different friends [of Karilyn Bales]" said Volkman. "And [Karilyn] asked them to relay to me that she felt the outpouring of support and she was grateful for it, and that she cried."
NBC News attempted to contact Karilyn Bales, but she was not available for comment.
Earlier this week Volkman posted the messages from the women who claimed to be Karilyn Bales' friends. One of them read, “She’s just so grateful to you all … She really doesn’t know what will happen next; she is safe on base, but she doesn’t know when and if she’ll see Bob, or what will happen with regard to anything.  To that end she’s just going to keep her nose to the grindstone and concentrate on the kids.”
Volkman's words seemed to have struck a chord with military wives all across the country. And of the hundreds of responses Volkman received, only a few were negative.
“The overwhelmingly positive response has blown me away,” Volkman wrote on her blog. “And yes, I’ve been posting every single comment.”
Military spouses often become surrogate families for one another, she said, driven by the uncertainty of war.
"I can't imagine what it must have been like for [Karilyn]," she said.  "Her life will have changed forever at that moment, and that, as a military spouse, you can relate to. There are things that happen in our lives that change us forever. And that was that moment for her."

Landmark case: Nigerian villagers sue Shell over oil spills

Pius Utomi Ekpei / AFP - Getty Images, file
A man walks near spilled crude oil in the Niger Delta swamps of Bodo, a village in the Nigerian oil-producing region of Ogoniland, in June 2010.
LONDON -- Around 11,000 Nigerian villagers who say their livelihoods were ruined in oil spills launched a legal battle Friday to seek compensation from Shell.

The case marks the first time any oil firm has faced claims in the U.K. from a community in the developing world for environmental damage caused by oil extraction operations, the villagers' lawyers said.

Shell, the largest international firm operating in Nigeria, admitted liability for two oil spills in August 2011. However, the two sides dispute the amount of oil spilled and the extent of the damage caused, one of the villagers' London-based lawyers told

At the crux of the disagreement is whether the spills that devastated the area were due to so-called operational failures on the part of Shell, or if they were the result of sabotage, illegal refining and theft.

Farmers, fishermen

Shell Petroleum Development Company (Nigeria) has admitted responsibility for two spills amounting to around 4,000 barrels.

However, experts representing people in the Bodo community, a network of 35 villages whose inhabitants were mainly subsistence fishermen and farmers, maintain that amount is closer to 600,000 barrels, one of the villagers' lawyers told

World's thirst for the Black gold (pictures)

"We have urged them to have their expert work with our expert," said Martyn Day of law firm Leigh Day & Co. "But (Shell has) totally refused."

Day said that negotiations broke down last week.

'No need for the legal activity'

Shell spokesman Jonathan French told that the firm cannot discuss details of the legal process, but said the company was dismayed that the case was going to court.

"There really has been no need for the legal activity which has delayed the the payout and cleanup," he said. "We accepted responsibility at the earliest point we could ... there was no need for this firm of London solicitors to take action."

"Nobody is saying is that there isn’t a problem with oil spills in the Niger Delta," French added. "The point is that there is this formula enshrined in Nigerian law that spells out level of compensation."

Instead of resorting to court, the villagers should have followed the process already in place in Nigeria, French said, adding that the involvement of law firms such as Leigh Day "can serve to delay compensation."

Shell paid out $4 million in compensation to victims of operational oil spills in 2009, and $1.7 million in 2010, French said.

Shell has been criticized for its behavior in Nigeria before.

In Aug. 2011, the United Nations released a report saying the company and the Nigerian government had contributed to 50 years of pollution in the Niger Delta that could need the world's largest ever oil cleanup. The work would take up to 30 years and require an initial tab estimated at $1 billion, the report said.

On February 17, Amnesty International issued a report saying that:
"Shell's failures persist despite significant evidence based calls on the company to make meaningful changes in the way it operates in the Niger Delta. In 2011 the evidence confronting Shell was confirmed in a ground-breaking study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that looked at the impact of oil pollution in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta. The UNEP report confirmed that serious environmental damage had occurred in Ogoniland, one area of the Niger Delta, over many years. It found systemic failures in Shell’s approach to cleaning up pollution and rehabilitating land, which have exposed tens of thousands of people to a sustained assault on their economic, social and cultural rights."

100 miles of oil: Spill likely Nigeria's worst in decade

Deep-water oil field shut down following leak

Image; A picture provided by Shell shows an oil slick following spill at the company's Bonga offshore facility, which is located 75 miles off the Nigerian coast

A picture provided by Shell that was taken on Tuesday shows an oil slick following a spill at the company's Bonga offshore facility, which is located 75 miles off the Nigerian coast. staff and news service reports
updated 12/22/2011 5:42:31 AM ET
Oil from an offshore spill has spread roughly 100 nautical miles after a leak occurred while loading a tanker, a Nigerian official said Thursday. 

Royal Dutch Shell shut down a deep-water oil field off Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta on Tuesday.
Peter Idabor, the head of the country's oil spill management agency, said the offshore oil spill is likely the worst in a decade.

He expects oil to begin washing ashore on Nigeria's southern coast later Thursday.

Shell announced Wednesday it had closed its Bonga field after a leak of less than 40,000 barrels of oil that occurred while transferring crude oil to a tanker. The firm said it is cleaning up the spill.

'Natural dispersion and evaporation'

In a statement, Shell said that "up to 50 per cent of the leaked oil has already dissipated due to natural dispersion and evaporation."

It characterized the area covered by sheen as "large," but added that the sheen was "very thin in most areas."

Mutiu Sunmonu, Shell's country chairman in Nigeria, apologized for the incident.

"We are currently working with the Nigerian government to inform local communities and fishermen about the situation," he added.

Nigeria is a top supplier of crude to the U.S.

The company's website says Bonga, located 75 miles off the region's coast, has the capacity to produce more than 200,000 barrels a day of crude oil and 150 million cubic feet of gas a day. 

Shell's pipelines in Nigeria's onshore Niger delta have spilled several times, which the company blames on sabotage attacks and oil theft.

A U.N. report released in August said it will take as much as 30 years to clean parts of Nigeria's oil-stained Niger Delta.