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Data Visualisation & Writing Samples

A collection of data visualisations and short explainer articles. Visualisations were made with R studio and illustrator.

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20 April 2022

Russia’s energy dominance isn’t just in oil and gas – it is also a giant in nuclear energy

Turning to nuclear energy to spite Russian oil and gas comes with its own set of complications

THIS MONTH UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his government’s new energy independence plan, committing to ramping up nuclear investments in an apparent bid to reduce the UK’s dependence on Russian oil and gas. The new proposals would see 8 nuclear reactors either under construction or given the go-ahead within the next eight years. The government claims that the move would deliver “secure energy made in Britain, for Britain”. There is just one problem – Russia’s dominance in the energy sector also extends to nuclear energy.

The narrative of embracing nuclear power as a solution to gaining energy independence from Russia ignores the significant presence Russia has in the global nuclear industry. Most of the 32 countries that use nuclear power rely on Russia for some part of their nuclear fuel supply chain. Russia’s state-owned nuclear company, Rosatom, manages over 300 entities involved in all stages of the nuclear weapon and power production chain. In 2020, Rosatom held 36% of the global market in enrichment services and 17% of the global nuclear fuel market. On top of that, Russia is also the world’s leading exporter of nuclear reactors with numerous foreign projects in Rosatom’s pipeline.

It’s worth pointing out that the revenue generated from nuclear goods and services, while significant, would be just a drop in the ocean compared to the massive annual windfall from Russian oil and gas exports. However, the international outrage at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused states to rethink their ties to Russian businesses. In response to the war in Ukraine, Finland’s Minister for Economic Affairs, Mika Lintila, said that as things stand, he would not be granting building permits for the Hanhikivi nuclear plant, of which one third is owned by Rosatom. Similarly, Sweden’s state-owned energy giant Vattenfall announced that it was "deeply concerned by the serious security situation in Europe and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine", stating that it would not place any new orders from Russia for its nuclear power plants until further notice.

While some countries have made decisions to further distance themselves from Russia, others have found it more difficult to disentangle themselves from Russian involvement in their nuclear energy sector. Earlier this month Hungary received their first shipment of Russian nuclear fuel for its Paks nuclear plant. The Rosatom-built plant relies on Russian technology and fuel to operate. And while Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban reassured his Western allies that Hungary’s future was firmly in the EU and NATO, Hungary has drawn clear red lines not only against sanctioning Russian oil and gas, but also against sanctioning activities related to nuclear energy.

Rosatom’s aggressive expansion into the foreign export of nuclear reactors has thus made some Western observers nervous about the possible geopolitical influence these power plants may lend Russia. Attractive low-interest loans backed by the Kremlin are the only way some developing countries can even afford a nuclear power plant. These projects create financial and material dependencies on Russia that could require beneficiary countries to maintain good diplomatic relationships with the Kremlin. Nuclear power plants are long-term investments and the relationship between supplier and buyer could last for decades.

As of now, the question still stands – can the world embrace nuclear energy without Russia? It is still unclear how Western sanctions will affect Russia’s place in the global nuclear sector, but Western countries deeply committed to achieving energy independence may be able to find ways to diversify their nuclear fuel imports in order to completely eliminate Russia from their supply chain. But this, of course, will take time. Meanwhile, developing countries that are keen to start generating nuclear energy will continue to take the technology anywhere they can get it, turning to Russian reactors and Russian loans, unless someone else can present a better offering.

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17 November 2021

Vaccine inequity stark as higher-income countries launch booster programs

Amidst the struggle of getting lower income countries vaccinated, debate swirls around the ethical implications of getting a third shot.

THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (WHO) in recent months has voiced its concern over some countries’ plans to start offering a COVID-19 booster shot to all adults. The introduction of a third shot flies in the face of those in poorer countries that can barely get their first. According to Our World in Data, more than 72% of people in high income countries have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. In contrast, just over 4% of people in lower-income countries have had their first shot.

 

The WHO currently recommends an extra vaccine dose for those who are immunocompromised. However, it strongly opposes the broad use of booster shots until more of the world can get access to their first doses. And even as some countries ignore WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus’ call for a moratorium on the widespread use of booster jabs, scientists are still trying to figure out if booster programs are truly the way out of this pandemic.

 

The number one fear for governments right now is that vaccine protection is waning. Various immunological studies have documented a gradual decrease of antibody levels amongst the vaccinated which threatens to put policy makers in a tricky position this winter. But if countries with huge surpluses of vaccines think that booster shots will be their saving grace, well, the proof is not in the pudding just yet.

 

Scientists are still debating the effectiveness of booster shots, the outcome of which can be dictated by various factors. Despite all the talk of the most effective mix of vaccines, and the optimal time frame for getting the booster, a majority of those dying are still the unvaccinated. Boosters may be unable to ease serious coronavirus illness and deaths in countries like the US, Poland, and Russia that still have significant portions of unvaccinated people.

 

US officials dubbed the country’s COVID-19 summer resurgence as the “pandemic of the unvaccinated”. The irony is that the same collective thinking required to save individual countries is also required to help the world heal from this pandemic. Unnecessary vaccine stockpiling by rich countries have prevented poorer countries from trying to purchase their own supply.

 

While high-income countries have promised to donate vaccines and manufacturers have pledged to prioritise COVAX and lower-income countries, the longer it takes to fulfil these promises, the longer the pandemic will drag on. Other than the threat of possible new variants, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit, failure to quickly vaccinate the world's population could cost the global economy $2.3 trillion by 2025. It’s an expensive tab, and one that might also have to be disproportionately paid by the poorest countries in the world.

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25 October 2021

Migrant detentions reach record levels at US Southern Border

Immigration continues to pose problems for the Biden administration

1.7 MILLION MIGRANTS were detained at the US-Mexico border this past financial year, a number that has not been reached since records began in the 1960s. As the Trump administration left the White House, those looking to start a new life in America hoped Joe Biden would be less tough on immigration and leave harsh Trump Era policies behind. The surge, however, has created a crisis at the border causing Biden’s approval rating on immigration to slip to just 35% according to a poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. With criticism mounting from both sides of the aisle, the Biden administration faces the gargantuan challenge of achieving its goal to establish a “fair, orderly and humane immigration system.”

 

While Biden has promised a more humane immigration policy, the first 9 months of his administration has seen conflicting policy and messages that suggest the President may not be as lenient on immigration as he initially let on. Biden broke with previous Trump policy of expelling unaccompanied children that crossed the border. A record number of 146,925 unaccompanied children were detained in the last 12 months. Under Biden’s executive order, this demographic of people will be allowed entry into the US while they go through the asylum process.

 

However, in stark contrast, the Biden administration has also held onto some of Trump’s most hard-line policies. The Biden administration has been fighting in the courts to keep Title 42 – an expulsion policy aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 – alive. Critics say that the policy, first used by the Trump administration, allows the US to expel almost all undocumented migrants, bypassing normal immigration laws and protections. Dubious policies, coupled with the recent images of US border patrol agents corralling migrant crowds on horseback, is not a good look for the administration.

 

As the Department of Homeland Security continues to work on fixing an asylum system in dire straits, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas has tried to deter migrants from crossing the border. “If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned”, he said in September. These deterrents, however, are but a band-aid on a gaping wound. The increasing instability and turmoil in Central American countries will be a long-term push factor for people wanting to relocate. As long as these underlying issues go unaddressed, many will continue to make the journey across the border to chase the American dream.