The Genetically Modified Organisms (Control of Release) Ordinance, Cap. 607

The Ordinance

The Genetically Modified Organisms (Control of Release) Ordinance, Cap. 607 (the Ordinance), gives effect to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity to control the release into the environment and the transboundary movement of living genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and provide for related matters.

Living organisms are defined as any biological entity capable of transferring or replicating genetic material, including sterile organisms, viruses and viroids. GMOs are living organisms that possess a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology which include the application of in vitro nucleic acid techniques (such as recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles), or techniques involving the fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers and are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection. GMOs cover a variety of food crops (such as BT corn, anti-frost tomatoes and herbicide-tolerance soya beans), GM seeds, GM fish, GM flowers, etc. However, GMOs do not include non-living food products produced from GM crops, such as corn oil, soymilk and polished rice. They also do not include living organisms with genetic material altered through traditional breeding and selection techniques (e.g. hybrid rice and golden sweet maize).

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GMOs are regulated according to their intended uses, including:

GMOs intended for direct consumption as food or feed, or for processing (GMOs-FFP), such as virus-resistant papaya fruit, herbicide-resistant soy bean and BT maize;
GMOs intended for contained use, such as GM micro-organisms cultured in laboratories, transgenic plants growing in greenhouses and knock-out transgenic mice kept in cages; and
GMOs intended for release into the environment, such as seeds of GM crops to be sown on farmlands, experimental GM plants to be planted on open fields, and cut flowers of GM variety to be displayed in open area.
The Ordinance does not apply to or in relation to a GMO that is a pharmaceutical product for use by human beings.

The Ordinance ordains the following controls on GMOs in Hong Kong:

Restrictions on Release into Environment and Maintenance of Lives of GMOs

No one is not allowed to release a GMO into the environment, import a GMO intended for release into the environment or maintain the life of a GMO that is in a state of being released into the environment, unless:

the GMO has been approved and any condition for the approval has been complied with; or
the GMO has been exempted by the Secretary for the Environment from the restriction and any condition for the exemption has been complied with.
These restrictions do not apply to or in relation to a GMO that is in transit or transhipment. For detailed approval application process, please refer to the Guidelines for GMO Approval Application.

The approval will apply to all subsequent releases, after the GMO is approved and entered in the GMOs Register (www.afcd.gov.hk/gmo). There may be conditions attached to the approval. You may search the GMOs Register for the list of approved GMOs and the conditions for the approvals, before making an application or releasing a GMO into the environment of Hong Kong.

Contravention to the above restrictions commits an offence and is liable to a fine of HK$100,000 and to imprisonment for one year.

Why the U.S. can't abandon the nuclear renaissance

Why the U.S. can't abandon the nuclear renaissance
By Cyrus Sanati, contributor
March 17, 2011

FORTUNE -- The devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami last week has claimed an untold number of Japanese victims, but there's one casualty in the U.S. that won't go down without a fight: the nuclear power industry

The resulting damage to one of Japan's nuclear power plants has resurrected old debates about the safety and soundness of nuclear technology and its ability to be used as a viable power source.

But even if nuclear power plant construction costs rise as a result of this incident, the economics of power generation still favor a mix of energy sources that include nuclear. 

Renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar, while recently becoming more cost-competitive to nuclear energy (thanks in part to generous government subsidies), are still unable to efficiently generate enough power to keep the lights on and fully replace nuclear power in the United States just yet.

The possibility of multiple reactor core meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant has captured the world's attention. We don't yet know if this will become another Chernobyl -- what we do know is that no matter happens, it is a public relations disaster for the nuclear industry.

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In Germany, plans to overturn a directive that would have kept the nation's 17 nuclear plants from being closed in the coming years were placed on hold for three months. 

Switzerland said that it was suspending efforts to keep three of its nuclear plants operating, while the European Union announced that it wants stress tests performed on all of its 143 nuclear reactors in response to what the EU's energy chief said was an "apocalypse" in Japan.

In Washington, the Republicans, who have traditionally championed nuclear power, have been pretty much silent on the news. But some liberal Democrats, like Rep. Ed Markey from Massachusetts, have called for a moratorium on nuclear plants in earthquake prone areas of the country, while Senator John Kerry, the Democrat from Massachusetts, went a step further and called for all nuclear power plant construction to be halted immediately.

This has put the White House in an awkward position. The Obama administration has earmarked $36 billion in its 2012 budget to help finance the construction of several new nuclear plants across the country. 

That's in addition to the $18.5 billion in funds that were earmarked by Congress back in 2007, of which $10.2 billion remains unspent.

The nuclear commitment

In total, it looks like the US government has placed a $55 billion bet on an industry that could meltdown thanks to the Fukushima incident. President Obama has reiterated his support for nuclear power since the disaster struck, but that could change quickly, putting that $36 billion top-up to the industry in jeopardy. Republicans vow to slash line items in the budget, but the nuclear issue has not been their primary target, yet. As for the general public, it doesn't see the need for government support for the industry. An opinion poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News released on March 3, before the incident, found that financial support for the nuclear industry was the single most popular possible budget cut, with 57% agreeing.

It wouldn't take much to let the nuclear industry just die out in the US. Until last year, the government had not approved the construction of a new plant since the partial reactor meltdown at the Three-Mile Island nuclear facility in 1979. The last plant went online in 1996.

There are currently 20 projects being reviewed by the government but only three seem to be going anywhere. Atlanta-based Southern Company (SO, Fortune 500) is the farthest along and has been promised $8 billion by the government for the construction of a $14 billion plant Georgia.

But it is highly unlikely that any of the other projects will ever get built if the government takes away funding. While nuclear plants are cost effective in the long run, they have significant start-up costs. For example, the $14 billion price tag on the Southern Company's plant is around half of its entire market capitalization. Other companies far into the permitting process, like Dynegy (DYN), have market caps that are a fraction of the costs to get a plant constructed.

Those rallying against nuclear energy are pushing for the government to back other energy alternatives like solar and wind. Both have made great strides in becoming more cost competitive over the years, thanks in part to large government subsidies. While they remain highly uncompetitive to fossil fuels, they have overtaken nuclear on a cost per kilowatt basis.

That's because the cost to build a new next generation nuclear facility in the US has jumped 37% in the past year from an average build cost of $3,902 per kilowatt to $5,339/kW, according to a recent government study. New design specifications and a lack of competition in the nuclear construction industry were blamed from the increase in costs.

Solar power now looks on the surface to be potentially competitive. The cost to build a photovoltaic solar plant is down 25% in the past year from an average build cost of $6,303 per kilowatt to $4,755. The build cost for a solar thermal plant dropped 10% to $4,692 per kilowatt. Wind power remains the cheapest and the most expensive alternative to both nuclear and solar. Onshore wind power costs just $2,438 per kilowatt while offshore wind power costs $5,975/kW. For a comparison, natural gas blows all of them out of the water, costing just $978 per kilowatt.

Obstacles to solar and wind

But comparing alternatives on a cost per kilowatt basis is deceptive. Even with the government's careful controls of geography and markets, the cost factor doesn't seem to take into account the resources needed to generate the power on a scale that could serve the population. 

For example, it is not possible to install wind or solar plants on a commercial scale everywhere because some areas of the country are just not windy or sunny enough to yield enough power. 

That compares to a nuclear plant that could theoretically be built almost anywhere.

More importantly, alternatives don't generate enough power to do the job. Nuclear energy is a dense form of energy that requires very little in the form of land and transmission lines to carry it to a population center. 

Alternative energies are not dense at all and require gobs of space to generate a fraction of the energy generated by a small nuclear facility.

For example, the government assumed a certain output would be generated by a plant in their calculations. For a nuclear plant it was 2.2 million kilowatts, while it was just 150,000 kilowatts for a photovoltaic plant and 100,000 kilowatts for an onshore wind plant. 

That nuclear power plant is a large jolt of electricity neatly contained to an area of 8 to 10 square miles. Compare that to an onshore wind plant, the cheapest alternative according to the government. Each 2,000 kilowatt wind turbine takes up a quarter of a square mile worth of space, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. 

So to replace that nuclear power plant with wind would mean dedicating nearly 280 square miles of land to a gigantic wind farm, which would be about the size of New York City.

The energy concentration in nuclear power plants is just one reason why nuclear remains so attractive, despite the high start up costs. The nuclear industry has spent millions of dollars over the years touting its safety record and lobbying for government support, but just one incident by a massive earthquake has wiped most of that effort away. 

It remains to be seen if the industry spent enough money to ensure that the government keeps its coffers open to them. 

Why earthquake-prone Japan relies on nuclear power

The Christian Science Monitor
Global News Blog

Why earthquake-prone Japan relies on nuclear power
Nuclear power is increasingly seen as a way for Japan, and other nations including the United States, to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Fukushima Daiichi power plant's Unit 1 is seen in Okumamachi, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, on Friday, March 11. The nuclear power plant affected by a massive earthquake is facing a possible meltdown, an official with Japan's nuclear safety commission said Saturday. 


(Yasushi Kann/The Yomiuri Shimbun/AP)
By Stephen Kurczy, Staff writer
posted March 14, 2011 

Nuclear energy provides an estimated 30 percent of electricity in Japan, despite it being one of the world's most seismically volatile nations.

Why? Nuclear power is increasingly seen as a way for Japan to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. That's the same reason why President Obama has also been pushing the US to build its first nuclear power plant in almost three decades. In his 2010 State of the Union address, he called for "a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants."

But as shown by the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan, with two reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station suffering explosions since Friday's massive earthquake knocked out cooling systems at the plant, there is simply no easy solution to humanity's need for energy. While fossil fuel raises concerns of climate change, nuclear energy raises the specter of radioactive contamination.

"Japan's debate closely mirrors those worldwide, as governments highlight nuclear power as an easier way to cut carbon emissions than boosting wind and solar power," the Monitor wrote a year ago in the article "Earthquake prone Japan sees green in new nuclear power plants."

Nuclear role in cutting carbon

Japan has touted nuclear power as key to reducing carbon emissions to 75 percent of 1990 levels by 2020. The public remains wary about the push, with one poll showing that 54 percent of the population feels anxious or uneasy about nuclear power. Shunsuke Kondo, chairman of Japan's Atomic Energy Commission, told the Monitor then that his nation's nuclear power plants were built to withstand all but a "once in 10,000 year" earthquake.

Tragically, that's exactly what hit Friday when an 8.9-magnitude temblor rocked the nation's northeast coast and sent a 30-foot high tsunami crashing inland, knocking out electricity at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and causing cooling systems to fail in at least three reactors.

Nuclear plants also provide an estimated 20 percent of US power, with Obama recently pledging $8 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of the first nuclear power plant in the US since 1979, the year of the Three Mile Island meltdown. Proposals are currently being heard for 20 new reactors to be built over the next 15 to 20 years.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there are currently 104 licensed nuclear power plants, with eight sitting in the earthquake-prone West Coast states of Washington, California, and Arizona. (Here's a map of reactors across the US.) Two of those plants in California sit especially close to fault lines.

The New York Times today reports that "most of the nuclear plants in the United States share some or all of the risk factors that played a role at Fukushima Daiichi: locations on tsunami-prone coastlines or near earthquake faults, aging plants and backup electrical systems that rely on diesel generators and batteries that could fail in extreme circumstances."

Overreacting to the nuclear crisis?

Even a year ago, as the Monitor reported, Japan's earthquake-prone geology caused concern among activists and raised the specter of a quake-induced Chernobyl. Comparisons to Ukraine's 1986 disaster have been stated repeatedly in recent days, despite officials downplaying such a scenario.

The Wall Street Journal's Op-Ed page has criticized American media for "overreacting" to the nuclear crisis in Japan. "Unlike the Soviets at Chernobyl, the Japanese have been taking sensible precautions like evacuating people near the plants and handing out iodine pills even if they may never be needed. These precautions increase public worry, but better to take them even if they prove to be unnecessary," the WSJ said.

"We should learn from the Japanese nuclear crisis, not let it feed a political panic over nuclear power in general," the Journal said.