REPORT 26 March 2017

From this week comes news that a whole host of experts on eastern Europe have lined up to warn that the conflict in the eastern Ukraine could spark a widespread chemical disaster if industrial storage units of chlorine gas are damaged and the contents released into the environment.

The threat is not just hypothetical. On February 24 a stray artillery shell hit the Donetsk Filter Station’s chlorine gas depot, which stores around 7,000kg of the gas.

Fortunately, none of the storage units were damaged.

Robert Amsterdam, Russian political expert and lawyer at international law firm Amsterdam & Partners, said: “If one of those uncontrolled sites containing chemicals were to detonate, tens of thousands of people could be poisoned. It is a potential disaster on the scale of Chernobyl.”

Rudy Richardson, Professor of Toxicology at the University of Michigan backed up that view. He said: “In a situation like this, where a war zone is near a concentration of industrial facilities where toxic and explosive chemicals are manufactured and stored, it is possible that massive releases of toxic chemicals could occur.

“And that would result in high levels of civilian casualties.”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances Basket Tuncak indicated that damage to just one chlorine-filled, 2,000-pound container has the potential to kill anyone within a 600-foot (200 metre) distance and poses dire health risks to the tens of thousands of surrounding residents.

In case of extensive damage, people living up to 4.5 miles (10km) downwind of the facility would need to be moved away within 24 hours.

Mr Tuncak told the UN: “Large chemical and industrial facilities are in areas where fighting is ongoing.

“Battles are now being fought in cities, close to industrial centres with factories increasingly at risk of being hit: The consequences for anyone living close by would be severe.”

He added: “All parties to the conflict need to be aware of the risks that continuous insecurity brings, including for a chemical disaster. Ultimately, it is about ensuring that all precautions are being taken to prevent such catastrophe to occur, and mainly for the fighting to stop.”

Clever technology coming out of Toronto, Canada, involves “insulated concrete forms”, or ICFs, (which) consist of two panels of Expanded Polystyrene foam, which are called EPS, with a hollow core in between. The panels are held tightly together by a patented web system, and can be stacked on top of each other in a way similar to Lego blocks,” says Keven Rector, Technical Services Manager at the company NUDURA.

These high-tech industry-leading forms have proven technologies to make building easier and faster, and are available in all form types and sizes, to accommodate all types of building and design requirements in times of disaster rebuilding. Each form is stacked, steel reinforced and filled with concrete to complete the building envelope of a home in one building step.

With their steel reinforced solid concrete core, these structures can withstand some of Mother Nature’s worst. NUDURA ICFs can endure winds of up to 400 kph and the non-toxic fire-retardant expanded polystyrene foam provides a fire protection rating of up to 4 hours, ensuring that your family and home are safe and secure in almost any situation.

The empty shells of expanded polystyrene foam can be put in place by hand, and once the “wall” has been built, filling the shell with concrete quickly surrounds the reinforcing steel holding the two panels together, and creates a solid weather-proof protection. Clever indeed!

And while we’re talking of clever protection, I heard today of a company in South Africa that has found a way to insert more or less invisible wiring into the transparent polycarbonate burglar bars becoming popular these days. The wires can be connected up into a mesh alarm system, such that sawing through, or burning the polycarbonate to gain entry to the building sets off the alarm, and makes a successful burglary unlikely. This is an extremely clever idea, protecting the contents of the building more effectively than the polycarbonate burglar bar on its own.

ARRL News reports that a thorough and fully annotated discussion of Near Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) is available in the research paper, “Radio Communication via Near Vertical Incidence Skywave Propagation: An Overview,” by Ben A. Witvliet, PE5B/5R8DS, and Rosa Ma Alsina-Pagès.

First investigated in the 1920s, NVIS propagation was rediscovered during World War II as “an essential means to establish communications in large war zones such as the D-Day invasion in Normandy,” the paper notes, adding that the US Army subsequently sponsored a lot of NVIS field research, especially between 1966 and 1973. More recently, NVIS has become a popular means to enable close-in communication on Amateur Radio HF bands between 3 and 10 MHZ. NVIS can be used for radio communication in a large area (200-kilometer radius) without any intermediate manmade infrastructure, and it has been found to be especially suited for disaster relief communication, among other applications, according to the paper. Good reading for all amateurs expecting to erect an emergency station in the field.

Sadly, the dams in the Western Cape continued to drop their average content by another 2 percentage points, compared to last week, at 27%, and 6 percentage points lower than this time last year. The rest of the country’s dams are about the same as last week, or slightly higher, but none of them is in  a danger zone except the Western Cape. After some unusually hot weather this week, the Peninsula experienced 3 to 5mm of rain, which flattened the dust, but did nothing more. The evenings are cooler but any early frontal systems from the North-west continue to evade us!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.