Thousands Of Cook Islands Solar Energy Batteries Criticized

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Local energy company director says lead batteries unsafe

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Jan. 2, 2014) – Officials in Cook Islands are being criticised for placing around 2,000 potentially hazardous lead batteries on half a dozen remote islands.

The batteries are being used to store solar energy to power up the islands at night.

But an expert in the field, prominent local businessman Steve Anderson, says it is unlikely the batteries will ever be removed once they expire in a few years.

Mr Anderson told Pacific Beat as the country is made up of many small islands, the logistics of getting heavy items to these islands is extraordinary.

"Very often they have to be hand carried or lifted off barges and so on. So the idea that they will come back to be recycled is a very remote possibility," he said.

"We sort of question whether we should be putting hundreds of tons of lead into these low lying atolls which are only one or two metres above sea level."

Mr Anderson, the owner and director of the Cook Islands based energy company Andersons, proposes the use of lithium ion batteries instead which he says are a safer option.

"One problem with lead acid batteries is that they have a limited life of say five to eight years and that's severely restricted as they operate in high temperatures," he said.

"Lead must be retrieved from the islands and taken to a proper recycling centre which would have to be in our case, New Zealand or Australia."

But Mr Anderson points out that the cost of bringing back lead from remote atolls is three to four times higher.

He fears these potentially dangerous materials will be discarded on the atolls unless "lead becomes an extraordinarily valuable commodity that it will ever be viable for anyone to bring it back".

"Right now, Pukapuka island for instance is littered with lead acid batteries just lying in the sand, lying in the lagoon, leftover from previous such projects," Mr Anderson said.

The solar energy project is currently being supported by New Zealand, Australia, China and Japan.

"We believe that somebody who is giving something to the country... needs to consider the long-term sustainability and whether or not we can afford to replace these things and we can afford the environmental situation," Mr Anderson said, adding that he hopes "sanity will prevail' and the country "will get a sustainable solution."

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