Archive for May, 2009

Nuclear power – are we ready?

Posted on May 30, 2009. Filed under: Energy |

The Star- MOST of us will remember how nuclear power has always been associated with bandits in our favourite cartoon series. So powerful is that technology that they tend to use it as a threat to conquer the whole world.

In real life, the devastating effects of nuclear technology have been recorded in history when Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atom-bombed during World War II.

As dangerous as it is, however, this powerful technology has been the most sought-after solution for energy security in many countries, particularly those in Europe.

Thirty years after the accident at Three Mile Island shattered Americans’ trust in nuclear power, lawmakers were pushing for a nuclear energy rebirth as a safe, green way to wean the United States off foreign oil. No new reactors have been opened in the United States since the accident. – AFP

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Climate-change diasters kill 300,000 people a year, cause $125 billion in losses

Posted on May 29, 2009. Filed under: Climate Change, International Watch |

The Gaea news- LONDON – Rising temperatures due to climate change already account for some 300,000 deaths a year around the world and could rise to half a million casualties by the year 2030, estimates published Friday showed.

A report on the human impact of climate change, presented by the Global Humanitarian Forum in London Friday, put the current estimated costs of global warming at $125 billion a year.

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, President of the Global Humanitarian Forum, Friday described global warming as the “greatest emerging humanitarian challenge of our time”.

Research undertaken by the organisation showed that the “silent crisis” of climate change could claim up to half a million lives a year by 2030.

Most of the deaths would occur as a result of long-term environmental degradation due to climate change, with causes including malnutrition and disease, while others would be the result of weather-related disasters.

By 2030, the number of people seriously affected, either in the short term, for example through loss of their homes due to weather disasters such as flooding, or in the long term through water scarcity, hunger or disease, could rise to 660 million.

Costs could soar to around $300 billion a year, according to the research.

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Reconsider nuclear power plans, urges Dr M

Posted on May 27, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The Nut Graph- PETALING JAYA, 26 May 2009: Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad urged Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) to reconsider its plan to commission a nuclear power plant in Malaysia by 2025.

“I am not a nuclear scientist but I believe I know enough of the dangers of using nuclear (fissionable) material,” said Mahathir in a blog posting on 24 May.

“[R]adioactive material used as fuel for power generation remain radioactive and dangerous to health even after the fuel has been exhausted,” said Mahathir.

He added that radioactive waste could not be disposed anywhere. It must be transported in special lead containers and special ships to certain countries so that it could be reprocessed.

Mahathir also talked about the Chernobyl disaster in Russia and  the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US during World War II.

In 1986, a nuclear reactor in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded as a result of flawed reactor design that was operated with poorly trained personnel, causing 30 deaths and the relocation of more than 300,000 people.

“Despite thousands of tons of concrete being poured into the site (in Chernobyl), the power plant is still emitting dangerous radiation,” said Mahathir.

Mahathir said, similarly, the residual radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki remained harmful long after the bombings.

He then referred to the Bukit Merah case in the 1980s, where the mining of yttrium from a by-product of tin, resulted in radioactive waste being dumped at the site.

“We had poured tons of cement on the buried material. More than one square mile of the burial site is barred to humans. The site is still radioactive and dangerous,” said Mahathir.

“The fact is that we do not know enough about radioactive nuclear material…Until we do, it is far better if Malaysia avoids using nuclear power for electrical generation,” concluded Mahathir.

The government has not decided to include nuclear power as an acceptable energy option.

However, TNB nuclear energy unit head Dr Mohd Zamzam Jaafar said Korea Electric Power Corp would sign an agreement with TNB in June to help conduct a preliminary feasibility study on what may be Malaysia’s first nuclear plant.

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Dr M: Rethink risky nuclear energy plants

Posted on May 27, 2009. Filed under: Energy |

Business Times Singapore- Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has urged the authorities to rethink the idea of using nuclear plants to generate cheap energy by 2020.

On Monday, it was reported that the head of Tenaga Nasional’s nuclear unit, Mohamad Zamzam Jaafar, said that the national utility intended to hire Korea Electric Power Corporation to help it prepare a preliminary feasibility study for what would become Malaysia’s first nuclear plant. He said an agreement was likely to be signed next month.

“Korea has about 20 plants,” Zamzam reportedly said. “They should be a good teacher for us.” Even so, the Cabinet has not officially agreed to allow nuclear energy but Tenaga believes it is not only feasible but desirable by 2025 because much of Malaysia’s gas reserves would have been exhausted by then.

Sixty per cent of Malaysia’s power needs is currently met by burning gas. Nuclear energy, according to the utility, is also the cheapest option. Tenaga wants the government to agree by 2013 as it would take that long to get a reactor up and running by 2020.

Dr Mahathir appeared to want to head the utility off by posing the question: why did his administration expressly exclude nuclear energy as an option and allow only a mix of fuel oil, gas, coal or hydro power instead?

The former premier listed Russia’s Chernobyl disaster as an example. “Despite thousands of tonnes of concrete being poured into the site, the power plant is still emitting dangerous radiation,” he noted.

And he posed the question of what to do with the radioactive waste. “The waste cannot be disposed of anywhere — not by burial in the ground nor dumping in the sea,” Dr Mahathir wrote in his blog yesterday. “It can be reprocessed by certain countries only. This requires the dangerous material to be transported in special lead containers and carried by special ships. Most ports do not allow such ships to be berthed at their facilities.”

“The fact is that we do not know enough about radioactive nuclear material,” said Dr Mahathir. “I think the authorities should rethink the idea of nuclear power plants. Scientists do not know enough about dealing with nuclear waste. They do not know enough about nuclear accidents and how to deal with them. Until we do, it is far better if Malaysia avoids using nuclear power.”

Dr Mahathir’s exhortations are likely to resonate among Malaysians, many of whom now display a keen sense of activism where the environment in their neighbourhoods is concerned.

Example: federal government plans for an industrial-sized incinerator slated for the village of Broga in Selangor were shelved after its residents protested and then threatened to sue, citing fears of environmental contamination.

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The impact of climate change on SMEs

Posted on May 27, 2009. Filed under: Climate Change |

The Edge–  Calling the issue of climate change “the defining challenge of our time,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today issued a challenge to business leaders to lead efforts to transform the global economy into one that is “cleaner, greener and more sustainable.”Mr. Ban told participants at the World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen that “you and your colleagues have the ingenuity and vision to lead by example where others – including governments – are lagging behind.”

Governments are expected to wrap up negotiations on a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period for reducing greenhouse gas emissions ends in 2012, in the Danish capital in December.

“As business leaders, you are crucially placed to ensure that government negotiators seal a deal,” the Secretary-General said, urging their support to harness the political will needed to reach an ambitious new agreement later this year.

Although he acknowledges the difficulties in concluding the pact, he warned that “if we get it wrong, we face catastrophic damage to people, to the planet – and to the global marketplace.”

The UN will be issuing a so-called “Copenhagen Call” at the end of the three-day meeting on 26 May, Mr. Ban said, appealing to the private sector to use its influence to raise awareness of climate change.

“As business leaders, you must make it clear to your leaders that doing the right thing for the climate is also the smart thing for global competitiveness and long-term prosperity,” he said.

“We may never get a better opportunity. And if the world’s scientists are right, we may not get a second chance.”

Mr. Ban also exhorted participants to mobilize their employees, partners and others to demand urgent action on the issue, as well as to continue finding private-sector methods to slash climate risks.

“Your customers and your shareholders will reward you,” the Secretary-General, who will be convening a high-level summit on climate change in September, said. “And your children will thank you one day.”

According to some estimates, rising greenhouse gas emissions could lead to a 5 per cent drop, or even more, in global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), compared to the prediction by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that it could cost as little as 0.1 per cent of global GDP annually until 2030 to reduce emissions. “And that does not factor in the multiple extra benefits to health and development,” he said.

Concluding negotiations on a new climate pact in December will be a boon to businesses, Mr. Ban, who arrived in Copenhagen from a two-day visit to Sri Lanka, stressed.

“We know that the right kind of deal will provide the regulatory certainty and long-term price signals that businesses are demanding,” he said. “We know that a deal can unleash investment, stimulate innovation and facilitate the global spread of low-carbon technologies.”

If the Copenhagen conference in December ends in failure, countries could turn inward in a misguided attempt to solve the climate problem on their own, the Secretary-General cautioned, pointing out that protectionist barriers could result.

He countered the argument that action on climate change should be put on hold during a global recession, emphasizing that while a global bail-out may seem costly now, “it will pale next to the enormous human and economic costs of delaying action on climate change.”

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Malaysia: No plan to cut biodiesel mandate

Posted on May 27, 2009. Filed under: Climate Change |

Bernama- THERE is no plan to reduce the biodiesel mandate of five per cent despite the high feedstock cost, Deputy Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities, Datuk Hamzah Zainudin said today.

He said the government encouraged the use of biodiesel in the country, although it was not as yet mandatory.

“We would like to encourage its use because we are a party to the Kyoto Protocol. If the policy is to move in the direction of biodiesel usage, we need to follow.

“It is not mandatory yet because the price of raw materials is very high at present,” he added.

He was speaking at a media conference at the Palm International Nutra-Cosmeceutical Conference (PINC) 2009 in Kuala Lumpur today.

The Kyoto Protocol is a protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC), an international environmental treaty.

It is a treaty intended to achieve the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

Last October, Malaysia implemented the mandate of a five per cent palm-fuel blend with fossil diesel, gradually starting with government vehicles this year before extending it to the industrial and transportation sectors in 2010.

Asked as to the projection of crude palm oil prices this year, Hamzah said:”We hope that this year, the average price could be about RM2,500-RM2,800 per tonne.”

Meanwhile in his speech, Hamzah said the palm oil industry is now an important pillar of the country’s economy.

He said the sector had contributed significantly towards providing a continous flow of foreign earnings through the export of palm oil and value-added products to the global market.

“In 2008, palm oil contributed RM65.2 billion or US$18.1 billion in export earnings, which marks another significant year of contribution from the palm oil industry,” he said.

He said besides contributing to the nation’s economic development, the contribution of Malaysian palm oil to the world’s oils and fats market was also very significant.

He noted that the palm oil production of 17.73 million tonnes by Malaysia in 2008, accounted for a 11.1 share of the global production of 160 million tonnes of oils and fats.

According to Hamzah, Malaysian palm oil commanded a 26 percent share of the export trade in oils and fats as well as a 46 per cent share of global palm oil trade while being consumed in more than 150 countries worldwide.

“All these were carried out utilising only 4.5 million hectares of land or less than 1.9 per cent of the global area under oilseeds covering 233 million hectares,” he said.

He added Malaysia is now focusing on increasing productivity through among others, in the upstream sector, which includes increasing oil yields from the current average of four tonnes per hectare annually to eight tonnes per hectare by using genome sequencing.

“By this approach, we hope to continue to be a major supplier of global palm oil needs, without having to open new areas,” he said.

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Malaysian orangutans get bridge to help find mates

Posted on May 27, 2009. Filed under: Bio-diversity |

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Wildlife activists have built a treetop bridge in an orangutan sanctuary on Borneo island to help the endangered apes find new mates and prevent inbreeding, according to a report.

The 43-metre suspension bridge was completed last month at the Lower Kinabatangan Sanctuary in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah, the New Straits Times reported.

“But this is a temporary measure. In the long run, we must create forest corridors for orangutans and other animals to move about,” said Nobuo Nakanishi from the Borneo Conservation Trust Japan, which helped fund the project.

Orangutan habitats in Malaysia and Indonesia have been decimated as their jungle habitats are cleared by logging and to make way for plantations, putting them at risk of inbreeding as they are split into smaller populations.

The 26,000-hectare (64,250 acre) Lower Kinabatangan sanctuary is divided into 10 lots among oil palm plantations and villages.

Experts say there are about 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, 80 percent of them in Indonesia and the rest in Malaysian’s eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo island.

A 2007 assessment by the United Nations Environment Program warned that orangutans will be virtually eliminated in the wild within two decades if current deforestation trends continue.

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Malaysia’s first nuclear power plant an option

Posted on May 26, 2009. Filed under: Energy |

New Sabah Times- Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) targets to commission the first nuclear power plant in Malaysia by 2025 if the government decides to include nuclear as an acceptable energy option.

Head of nuclear energy unit TNB, Dr Mohd Zamzam Jaafar said TNB cannot ignore nuclear energy amid the uncertain future supply and volatile fossil fuel prices as well as gas resources.

“In order to ensure reliable and reasonably priced electricity, the proven base-load nuclear option must not be precluded,” he said during a media briefing on TNB’s future energy plans at Pulau Perhentian Besar, a resort island in Terengganu state.

Dr Mohd Zamzam said by 2019, an alternative energy supply resource will become critical as current gas resources will be on decline by that time.

Coal price, he said, has also been very volatile.

TNB power generation mix consists of gas (about 50%), coal (35%), hydro (14%) and oil (more than one%).

With the establishment of the first nuclear power plant in Malaysia, Dr Mohd Zamzam said TNB will be joining the list of countries that have already established nuclear power plants like Canada, France, Germany, South Korea, US, Japan and China.

In terms of cost of electricity, he said, nuclear power was also more competitive than other energy resources.

“Based on the selling price at the Korea Power Exchange, the selling price of nuclear is only 3.9 USsen/kWh compared to 71.1 USsen/kWh for solar (most expensive), oil 11.7 USsen/kWh, wind 10.7 USsen/kWh, LNG 10.4 USsen/kWh, hydro 9.4 USsen/kWh, soft coal 4.1 USsen/kWh and hard coal 6.5 USsen/kWh,” he said.

Nuclear power, according to Dr Mohd Zamzam also addressed issues on land and resource requirements as it required comparatively less land and much increased capacity factor compared with other sources of energy such as wind, photovoltaic, biomass, biooil and bioalcohol.

“We will be working with the Korea Electric Power Corporation on nuclear pre-feasibility study,” he said.

He said with nuclear power, there will be more stable power resource, resulting in more stable electricity tariff.

Dr Mohd Zamzam stressed that successful nuclear power plant projects required extensive and well-structured government involvement.

Several initiatives will need to be taken for the successful implementation of nuclear power in Malaysia including a legal framework policy and licensing fee.

“In procurement, Malaysia should pay particular attention to emerging standard reactor designs. Reference will also be made to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines,” he said.

IAEA is the world’s centre of cooperation in the nuclear field. The agency works with partners worldwide to provide safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies.

Senior vice President (Corporate Affairs) TNB, Datuk Abdul Razak Abdul Majid said the government has not made any policy statement on nuclear.

“We have few options and constraints with other energy. In coal for instance, it is subject to world market prices and geopolitical decisions,” Abdul Razak said during a press conference after the briefing by Dr Mohd Zamzam.

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Kepco to help TNB with nuclear plant plans

Posted on May 26, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Business Times- Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB)(5347) plans to hire Korea Electric Power Corp (Kepco) to help it do a preliminary feasibility study on what would be Malaysia’s first nuclear plant.

An agreement is due to be signed in June, said Mohd Zamzam Jaafar (picture), head of TNB’s nuclear unit.

“Korea has 20 nuclear power plants. They should be a good teacher for us,” he told reporters at a briefing in Terengganu last week.

Malaysia’s government has not decided whether the country will have a nuclear power plant, but the state-owned utility is making preparations as it believes nuclear-powered electricity would be the most viable long-term option.
Under TNB’s initial plans, the nuclear plant needs to start operating in 2025 to help address growing demand for power at the time. However, a government decision must be made in 2013 for the power company to comfortably meet its schedule.

Malaysia now has a total generation capacity of about 21,000 megawatts (MW). However, the most that factories, offices and houses consumed was about 14,000MW, peak demand registered in May 2008.

TNB forecasts peak demand to at least double in 2030, in line with economic growth.

About 60 per cent of Malaysia’s power now is generated from natural gas. But TNB thinks that the gas, from offshore Terengganu, will run out in 2020. Without gas, coal imports must be doubled but the price of coal, all of which are imported, is volatile and the fuel can harm the environment. This is where nuclear power comes in.

A nuclear plant is a viable option because it can provide stable, always on, electricity at cheap prices. In fact, it is the cheapest per unit, compared with other sources like coal and gas. It is also friendly to the environment with no carbon dioxide emissions.

TNB is looking for suitable sites for the nuclear plant now, Mohd Zamzam said. However, he declined to say where the company is scouting.

The power company is also preparing itself to address safety concerns that Malaysians may have over a nuclear power plant.

“Taiwan’s land mass is about a quarter of Peninsular Malaysia but they have about the same population as Malaysia. Taiwan has six nuclear power plants and some of them are just 12km away from Taipei,” Zamzam said.

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Forest in Terengganu give way to hydroelectric scheme

Posted on May 26, 2009. Filed under: Energy |

The Star- Yet another tract of forest will be sacrificed for dams and timber.

AN expanse of green in the upper reaches of Terengganu, home to countless species of wildlife, including the highly endangered Sumatran rhinoceros, will soon be no more. It is being logged and will eventually be flooded for a new hydroelectric scheme. What is alarming is that the area being cleared is three times larger than that needed for the project.

Under the 212MW hydroelectric project in Kuala Berang, 65km west of Kuala Terengganu, Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) will dam up Sungai Terengganu Mati and Sungai Tembat to create two reservoirs north of Kenyir Lake. In so doing it will flood 6,000ha and 130ha of Tembat and Petuang forest reserves.

As if it is not bad enough that over 6,130ha of wilderness will have to make way for the two reservoirs, the Terengganu state government intends to log another 12,620ha around the inundated area.

Much is at stake: forests and riverine habitats, together with the flora and fauna within. What worries conservationists is that the forest here is among the last few refuges of the highly endangered Sumatran rhinoceros, Malayan tiger and Malayan gaur (seladang). It also harbours the Asian elephant, tapir, primates, wild cats and plants, of which 94 species are Red Listed as threatened by extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

When it rains, Sungai Tembat, north of Kenyir Lake, is silted up due to erosion from logged sites upstream.

The Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) on the project predicts that logging will have a high impact on wildlife as an area three times larger than that required for the reservoirs will be clear-felled – not selectively logged, which would still leave behind vegetation cover.

WWF-Malaysia has questioned the need to log the additional 12,620ha as not only is the area an important wild habitat, it is also the catchment for Kenyir Lake. Destroying the catchment will hamper water flows, says WWF chief technical officer Surin Suksuwan.

“Erosion resulting from logging can silt up the river and this could reduce the lifespan of the dam and affect electricity generation. It would be a disadvantage for TNB if the catchment is chopped down,” he says.

There are valid reasons for preserving Petuang and Tembat. The presence of a highly endangered species, the Sumatran rhinoceros, makes them high-value forests. Tembat has also been identified as an important site for tiger conservation.

And not only are Petuang and Tembat part of the Central Forest Spine, the tract of forest running the length of the peninsular that is crucial for biodiversity and environmental protection, they sit within the ecological corridor that links Taman Negara with the Main Range.

With this corridor, essentially a stretch of forested lands, a larger wild sanctuary will be created for wildlife dispersion and breeding.

But Terengganu is adamant on exploiting the timber housed within Tembat and Petuang. In June 2003, then Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang had said that in view of the TNB project, the state had awarded timber concessions for some 16,000ha. Last August, the state gazette showed 6,168ha of Tembat forest reserve to have been excised, but the degazettement was backdated to November 2006.

Last November, Mentri Besar Datuk Ahmad Said told The Star that the logging was to prevent loss of timber revenue when the area is submerged – but he failed to explain why the state is allowing logging of an extra 12,620ha outside of the 6,130ha that would be flooded.

Tourist attraction: The damming of Sungai Tembat will mean that the popular Tembat waterfalls will be no more.

The hydroelectric project was mooted in the 1990s. TNB had submitted an EIA in 2000 but the review panel deemed it incomplete and asked for more studies. No fresh EIA was submitted, however, until the latest DEIA dated September 2008.

But in blatant disregard for the law, portions of the forest have been laid bare even as experts were vetting the DEIA. Satellite images in the report reveals logging in the area dates back to 2003. From an image taken in January, it is estimated that 5,500ha have been denuded.

The effects of forest destruction are being felt. “When it rains, Sungai Tembat will be the colour of tea,” says one tour operator who declined to be named. “It takes a few days for the water to clear up. This has been happening for the past two years.”

He foresees that the proposed dams will lead to reduced flows – so boat trips upriver for either fishing or the riverine scenery will be a thing of the past.

The DEIA report states as much. It says silt that is washed into the rivers from barren lands will smother fish spawning grounds and kill aquatic insects which fish feed on. As the river water quality declines, so will ecotourism activities.

Another loss is the Tembat waterfalls, said to be the second biggest in Kenyir. The five cascades along the river will turn into mere trickles with the damming. The stemmed flows downstream of the dams will doom some species, and eventually transform the composition of species. The DEIA foresees a drop in populations of kelah, daun and tengas, which are what draw anglers to Kenyir.

Equally imperilled are endangered plants such as numerous dipterocarp species, orchids, begonias, rafflesia and the ginger kantan hutan (Etlingera terengganuensis) that is endemic to Terengganu.

With the forest destruction comes other problems. The DEIA anticipates more road kills along highways in the area, and poaching too as logging roads will make the remote forest accessible. As it is, the DEIA consultants had come across old and new Thai poachers’ camps while surveying the catchment.

To counter these problems, it is suggested that signboards be erected along the highways to warn of wildlife crossings and there be more enforcement and patrols by wildlife and forest rangers.

The logging and dam construction will drive elephants into nearby settlements and plantations, particularly those at the north near Setiu. The DEIA says to safeguard crops, the elephants might have to be trapped and moved to other forests.

But the jumbos of Tembat and Petuang seem destined for a life in captivity. The Mentri Besar in November said the animals will be relocated to an elephant sanctuary.

WWF executive director Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma does not think this a viable solution. “This would be too costly and the sanctuary would not be able to accommodate all the elephants in the state in the long term. The increase in reports of human-wildlife conflict within the area strongly infers that wildlife habitats are being encroached or are diminishing. More land clearing will result in more elephants and other wildlife being displaced.”

With so much at risk, the DEIA has rightly cautioned the state government against logging what remains of Tembat and Petuang forest reserves, urging it to instead gazette them into catchment areas to protect the remaining wildlife and vegetation.

It says the 12,620ha outside the reservoir site should be selectively logged instead of clear-felled to reduce environmental destruction. Also, the sliver of forest west of Kenyir Lake needs to stay to enable movements of wildlife, otherwise Taman Negara and the catchment will be cut off from each other.

Sharma, however, says the suggestion in the DEIA on selective logging will not be effective. “The forest will take many years to regenerate and resume its ecosystem function as water catchment and to prevent soil erosion.”

He says it is crucial that both Petuang and Tembat be gazetted as catchment forests immediately, and not after they are logged. This will conform to a National Forestry Council directive for states to protect their catchments.

“Logging or clear-felling should not be allowed in these protected forests, in line with the National Physical Plan which classifies all catchment forests as Environmentally Sensitive Area Rank 1. Logging, development and agricultural activities are not permitted in these areas.”

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