Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Copenhagen spill over

An old friend and colleague with whom I worked for several years at meetings and assemblies of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sent me a note with a link to a statement made in Shangai by Wei Jiafu, the boss of the COSCO Group, the world's largest shipping conglomerate, proposing to "us[e] nuclear power onboard merchant ships as a further green initiative."

Wei Fu is reported as saying that "as [nuclear reactors] are already onboard submarines, why not cargo ships?". I don't like nuclear navies, but with all due respect for Mr. Jaifu, I'd say that the existence of little more than a couple of hundreds of currently operating nuclear submarines and a handful of nuclear aircraft carriers manned by tightly controlled (we hope) military personnel does not compare with hundreds or thousands of large container vessels flying flags of convenience, manned by under-qualified/under-paid crew members and rushing as fast as possible from Asia to deliver goods to the large global consumer markets.

At the very least, if this shipping industry nuclear ambition was to be considered (even remotely) as a possible option, the shipping industry would need to be brought under control by government agencies, the recent and still on-going trend of deregulation of the shipping sector would have to be reversed, the flags of convenience system (floating fiscal paradises) and the practice of using and trading with under-qualified and under-paid crew members should be banned. And of course ways to effectively prevent operational discharges of wastes at sea (a routine practice in the shipping industry for a long time) should be found.

The thought of the world economy becoming dependent on floating Chernobyls racing from one side of the planet to another is the opposite of what the tycoon of COSCO calls "a green initiative". The photo I've used to illustrate this post shows the nuclear icebreaker Lenin the USSR used in the Arctic. Of course with climate change there is no role for nuclear icebreakers to cross the Arctic anymore. But the story of the Lenin reminds us that one of the problems with radioactive spills (as opposed to oil spills) is that you don't see them at first sight: when one of its nuclear reactors suffered a meltdown in the Kara Sea in the 1960s, the crew of the Lenin had no choice but to dump it overboard in haste, and it took 25 years before the incident became known publically.

I expect that some readers will say "Oh well this CEO of COSCO is just a weirdo; why does Rémi pay attention to his statement?". Well, it may be because I find it scary that the largest shipping conglomerate is run by a weirdo. If I was a large shareholder of COSCO, I'd push this guy out and instruct the new one to invest my money in wind powered alternatives and other truly green genuine techniques instead.

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