EU4C. 2002–2008 Field Trip to a Power Plant

cover for gss book Energy Use

Staying current for Chapter 4

Articles from 2002–2008

Stay current index page for chapter 4

{ Energy Use Contents }


2008 December 25. Solar Meets Polar as Winter Curbs Clean Energy. By Kate Galbraith. Excerpt: Old Man Winter, it turns out, is no friend of renewable energy.This time of year, wind turbine blades ice up, biodiesel congeals in tanks and solar panels produce less power because there is not as much sun. And perhaps most irritating to the people who own them, the panels become covered with snow, rendering them useless even in bright winter sunshine…As concern has grown about global warming, many utilities and homeowners have been trying to shrink their emissions of carbon dioxide — their carbon footprints — by installing solar panels, wind turbines and even generators powered by tides or rivers. But for the moment, at least, the planet is still cold enough to deal nasty winter blows to some of this green machinery…The wind industry admits that turbines can drop ice, like a lamppost or any tall structure. To ameliorate the hazard, some turbines are painted black to absorb sunlight and melt the ice faster. But Ron Stimmel, an expert on small wind turbines at the American Wind Energy Association, denies that the whirling blades tend to hurl icy javelins.Large turbines turn off automatically as ice builds up, and small turbines will slow and stop because the ice prevents them from spinning — “just like a plane’s wing needs to be de-iced to fly,” Mr. Stimmel said.Mr. Brokaw says that his turbines do turn off when they are too icy, but the danger sometimes comes right before the turbines shut down, after a wet, warm snow causes ice buildup.From the standpoint of generating power, winter is actually good for wind turbines, because it is generally windier than summer. In Vermont, for example, Green Mountain Power, which operates a small wind farm in the southeastern part of the state, gets more than twice the monthly production in winter as in August.The opposite is true, however, for solar power. Days are shorter and the sun is lower in the sky during the winter, ensuring less power production…

2008 October 6. A Gift From the ’70s: Energy Lessons. By John Tierny, The New York Times. Excerpt: The presidential candidates claim to see America’s energy future, but their competing visions have a certain vintage quality. They’ve revived that classic debate: the hard path versus the soft path.
The soft path, as Amory Lovins defined it in the 1970s, is energy conservation and power from the sun, wind and plants — the technologies that Senator Barack Obama emphasizes in his plan to reduce greenhouse emissions. Senator John McCain is more enthusiastic about building nuclear power plants, the quintessential hard path.
As a rule, it’s not a good idea to revive anything from the 1970s. But this debate is the exception, and not just because the threat of global warming has raised the stakes. The old lessons are as good a guide as any to the future, as William Tucker argues in “Terrestrial Energy,” his history of the hard-soft debate.
…Today about 20 percent of electricity in America is generated by nuclear power, which is about 20 times the contribution from solar and wind power. Nuclear power also costs less, according to Gilbert Metcalf, an economist at Tufts University. After estimating the costs and factoring out the hefty tax breaks for different forms of low-carbon energy, he estimates that new nuclear plants could produce electricity more cheaply than windmills, solar power or “clean coal” plants….
…”The nuclear debate is still stuck back in the 1980s,” says Mr. Tucker, the author of “Terrestrial Energy,” the new brand he’s trying to affix to nuclear power. If people started associating nuclear plants with natural radioactive processes in the Earth instead of atomic bombs, he says, they might be persuaded that it’s the most environmentally benign form of energy….

2008 Sep. Nuclear Redux – Climate Change Forces a Reexamination of Nuclear Power. By AMY KISER, Terrain Magazine. Excerpt: For the last several decades, “no nukes” has been the mantra of environmentalists and a no-brainer for many US citizens. The generation of nuclear power involved impossible-to-ignore environmental risks, horribly obvious after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl….plants could suffer meltdowns, and safe storage options for spent fuel were questionable. 
Plans to build new nuclear power plants ground to a halt in many countries, including the US, partially due to bad publicity and the enormous expense of plant construction.
But then … global warming took center stage…. The need to transition away from burning fossil fuels became paramount, and some environmentalists began to reconsider nuclear power as a necessary and even preferable part of the energy portfolio.
…The Energy Commission found that a complete life-cycle analysis of nuclear power reveals that its greenhouse gas emissions are comparable to wind, solar voltaics, and geothermal technologies.
…The radioactive spent fuel left over from generating nuclear power is one of its greatest liabilities, but some argue that radioactive waste-because it is contained-is better than the byproducts of burning coal. … In 1993, nuclear physicist Alex Gabbard of Oak Ridge National Laboratory wrote in a seminal article, “Overall, nuclear power produces far less waste material than fossil-fuel based power plants. Coal-burning plants are particularly noted for producing large amounts of toxic and mildly radioactive ash due to concentrating naturally occurring metals and radioactive material from the coal. Contrary to popular belief, coal power actually results in more radioactive waste being released into the environment than nuclear power. The population effective dose equivalent from radiation from coal plants is 100 times as much as nuclear plants.”
Admittedly, comparing anything to coal sets a pretty low bar. …The US nuclear power industry gets much of its fuel from Russia’s decommissioned nuclear weapons.
… a large quantity of intermediate-level waste is created, and deep repositories like Yucca Mountain are still necessary.
…Soon, the US will be in the business of recovering plutonium from our own surplus weapons.
…Nuclear power plants (and reprocessing plants) are costly to build, and they depend on government subsidies and loan guarantees to be competitive. Large reactors can cost $2.5 billion to $4 billion each; it takes decades to recoup the investment. As part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, Congress granted approximately $10 billion in new subsidies to the nuclear industry.
Many environmentalists fear that public investment in nuclear will gobble up dollars that could be invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The National Resources Defense Council warns that the cost of nuclear power is prohibitive and makes it uncompetitive on the free market.
…Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has argued that, “every dollar invested in nuclear expansion will worsen climate change by buying less solution per dollar.”
…Many environmentalists are content to let nuclear power fade into history because they believe that the current paradigm of the energy grid, featuring large, centralized power plants, is outdated. The evolving model involves decentralized generation, often called “the Internet for energy.” …Stewart Brand insists that a decentralized model does not preclude nuclear power generation. Indeed, a race is on worldwide to produce a new generation of small nuclear reactors that can live on a barge or sit in a hole in the ground for decades. ….

2008 August 31. Tajikistan Hopes Water Will Power Its Ambitions. By DAVID L. STERN, The New York Times. Excerpt: NUREK, Tajikistan — The inscription just above a tunnel at the foot of the colossal Nurek hydropower dam in south central Tajikistan is succinct: “Water Is Life.” The frigid, frothing Vakhsh River rushing under it adds a visual punctuation mark.
In Tajikistan, the source of more than 40 percent of Central Asia’s water, this is no mere platitude. The mountainous state lacks the industry and natural riches that bless other former Soviet Central Asian republics. Water is one of the few resources the country possesses in great abundance.
For this reason, President Emomali Rakhmon has pinned Tajikistan’s economic hopes — and perhaps even its continued political existence — on developing its hydropower potential.
Three projects are either under construction or being considered, including Rogun, a gargantuan structure farther up the Vakhsh River. Tajik officials say they have hopes of building more than 20 hydroelectric plants and dams.
But a number of sizable hurdles must be surmounted before the plans for a great hydropower future can be realized. Tajikistan is in an earthquake zone and the dams must be built to withstand major seismic shocks. Officials are expected to conduct environmental impact studies to determine whether any flora or fauna will be threatened.
The Tajik government is also heavily in debt and must find heavy foreign investment to build the dams. On Wednesday, China agreed to build a $300 million hydroelectric power plant, Nurobad-2, with a capacity of 160 to 220 megawatts. But Tajik officials say Rogun alone will cost up to $3.2 billion.
…Though for the moment it seems to be managing, Tajikistan threatens to become a failed state, say Western experts and diplomats…The country still has not fully recovered from a devastating civil war a decade ago. State coffers are virtually empty, while the government is viewed as unable to meet basic needs.
…All of Tajikistan’s power troubles will be remedied by the dam projects, the Rakhmon government hopes. They will not only provide for all of Tajikistan’s energy needs but also allow the country to export power to neighboring countries.
…Rogun, for example, will generate about 13 billion kilowatt hours per year, more than 80 percent of the country’s average consumption, officials at the construction site say….

2008 August 26. Air Storage Is Explored for Energy. By KEN BELSON, The New York Times. Excerpt: When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg dreamed out loud last week about a New York skyline filled with wind turbines, one of the most serious issues raised by the naysayers was that the wind does not always blow when you need it.
But a New Jersey company plans to announce on Tuesday that it is working on a solution to this perennial problem with wind power: using wind turbines to produce compressed air that can be stored underground or in tanks and released later to power generators during peak hours.
The company, Public Service Enterprise Group Global LLC, a subsidiary of P.S.E.G. Energy Holdings, is forming a joint venture with Michael Nakhamkin, a leader in the development of energy storage technology….
The venture has met with utilities that might buy the storage technology. Compressed air can be produced by a variety of fuels. But the new venture hopes to put wind power generated during off-peak hours to use during peak hours — typically 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — and especially on hot days.
…P.S.E.G. Global is trying to win a contract to build 95 windmills that would produce a maximum of 350 megawatts of electricity off the New Jersey coast. If the company is chosen, it would consider linking the windmills to a compressed air storage plant, Mr. Byrd said, and then feeding it into the power grid.
Roy Daniel, the chief executive of Energy Storage and Power, said that an underground reservoir the size of Giants Stadium could hold enough compressed air to power three 300-megawatt plants. (One megawatt hour can power a large hospital for an hour.) The reservoirs, which are typically more than 1,500 feet below ground, could take eight hours to fill at night. The compressed air would be released to run generators for eight hours during the day….

2008 July 25. Oil Spill on Nearly 100 Miles of Mississippi River. By ADAM NOSSITER, NY Times. Excerpt: NEW ORLEANS – A sheen of oil coated the Mississippi River for nearly 100 miles from the center of this city to the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday following the worst oil spill here in nearly a decade. The fuel-laden barge that collided with a heavy tanker on Wednesday was still leaking.
The thick industrial fuel pouring from the barge could be smelled for miles in city neighborhoods up and down the river, even as hundreds of cleanup workers struggled to contain the hundreds of thousands of gallons. Some environmentalists worried about reports of fish and bird kills in sensitive marsh areas downstream, though officials said they had so far heard of only a handful of oil-covered birds. Booms to protect areas richest in wildlife, at the river’s mouth, were being deployed, officials said.
…”We’ve had a number of large spills in the New Orleans area, but this is a heavy, nasty product, problematic in the cleanup,” said Lt. Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesau of the Coast Guard, adding that it is of the sort normally used to fire up boilers at power plants.
“It’s a significant spill, if for nothing else because of its impact on the water supply,” Commander Ben-Iesau said. “We’ve got a lot of commerce dependent on this water supply, so we’re scrambling to get it cleaned up.”
…Officials were generally guarded about the possible effects on fish, plants and wildlife in these rivers of grass and marshlands, but some in the state’s environmental community were not.
“When it goes down to the area where there are no longer levees, it gets into the swamp,” said Wilma Subra of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network. “It’s going to contaminate the marsh.”….

2008 June 13. The case for Yucca mountain revisited. NUCLEAR WASTE: Yucca Mountain Revisited. Isaac J. Winograd* and Eugene H. Roseboom Jr. – Science 13 June 2008: Vol. 320. no. 5882, pp. 1426 – 1427 – Excerpt: In papers published over a quarter of a century ago (1-3), we discussed the assets and liabilities of isolating high-level radioactive wastes (HLWs) (chiefly spent fuel from nuclear reactors) from the environment by burying them in areas with deep water tables, … This idea–endorsed for further study by our colleagues at the U.S. Geological Survey and by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (4) and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (5)–eventually led to identification of Yucca Mountain (YM) (see photograph) as a potential repository for HLWs. ….
The idea of storing radioactive waste at YM was born into political controversy. In 1987, Congress, via an amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, selected YM from a group of three previously identified potential repository sites. …the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1987 became known among Nevadans as the “screw Nevada bill.”
…The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was aware that some of the radionuclides in HLWs have half-lives of thousands to millions of years and followed a recommendation of the National Research Council (9) regarding time frames. … for permissible releases of radioactivity to the environment to encompass a time frame of hundreds of thousands to a million years. Before the court’s ruling, the USEPA considered a 10,000-year time frame as an achievable requirement. ….
…Last, and hardly least, is the decades-old public opposition to a geologic repository, not only in Nevada and across the United States, but in Europe as well…. This opposition stems from various concerns and/or agendas, including: fear of nuclear radiation; distrust of governmental and technical community assurances regarding safety; opposition to nuclear power; and various NIMBY…-related issues….
In view of the above matters, it has been argued that HLWs should be stored at the surface, perhaps even for a century or two during which time better solutions may develop. However, extended surface storage of the HLWs (presently about 60,000 metric tons) at 72 commercial reactor sites–many adjacent to metropolitan areas and all next to rivers, lakes, or the ocean–introduces its own set of uncertainties. For example, what is the likelihood that more pressing future national problems could cause final isolation of the HLWs to be postponed indefinitely? What is the probability that the funds for HLW disposal, now being generated by a surcharge on nuclear-generated electricity, will still be available a century in the future? In the event of accidents, sabotage, or a loss of institutional control, a variety of scenarios can be envisioned that would create environmental hazards greater than any that could result from emplacement of HLWs in an underground repository. ….
Given that both geologic isolation of HLWs and their storage at the surface are fraught with uncertainty, how might we proceed with the disposition of HLWs in a manner that restores public confidence?

2008 July 9. Ocean Wind Power Maps Reveal Possible Wind Energy Sources. NASA News Release. Excerpt: WASHINGTON — Efforts to harness the energy potential of Earth’s ocean winds could soon gain an important new tool: global satellite maps from NASA. Scientists have been creating maps using nearly a decade of data from NASA’s QuikSCAT satellite that reveal ocean areas where winds could produce wind energy.
The new maps have many potential uses including planning the location of offshore wind farms to convert wind energy into electric energy…
“Wind energy is environmentally friendly. After the initial energy investment to build and install wind turbines, you don’t burn fossil fuels that emit carbon,” said study lead author Tim Liu, a senior research scientist and QuikSCAT science team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Like solar power, wind energy is green energy.”
QuikSCAT, launched in 1999, tracks the speed, direction and power of winds near the ocean surface. Data from QuikSCAT, collected continuously by a specialized microwave radar instrument named SeaWinds, also are used to predict storms and enhance the accuracy of weather forecasts.
Wind energy has the potential to provide 10 to 15 percent of future world energy requirements, according to Paul Dimotakis, chief technologist at JPL. If ocean areas with high winds were tapped for wind energy, they could potentially generate 500 to 800 watts of energy per square meter, according to Liu’s research. Dimotakis notes that while this is slightly less than solar energy (which generates about one kilowatt of energy per square meter), wind power can be converted to electricity more efficiently than solar energy and at a lower cost per watt of electricity produced…

2008 July. DOE urged to proceed more deliberately with global plan to expand nuclear power. David Kramer, Physics Today page 19. Excerpt: Critics of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership [GNEP] say the Department of Energy is rushing to commercialize unproven technologies. …Many experts believe that a vast expansion of nuclear power is the only plausible option for meeting the anticipated explosion in electricity demand from the developing world while mitigating global warming.
…Unveiled in 2006 by President Bush, the GNEP envisions the US and other nuclear powers supplying aspiring nuclear nations with both advanced reactors and the nuclear fuel for them. For their part, recipient nations would agree to return their spent fuel to its nation of origin and pledge not to develop uranium-enrichment or spent-fuel reprocessing capabilities of their own.
…Two groups of outside reviewers also have urged DOE to apply the brakes to the GNEP. The Government Accountability Office warned in a May report that moving to construction too rapidly will “likely require using unproven evolutions of existing technologies” and ultimately limit their usefulness for nuclear waste reduction and proliferation prevention.
…No feature of the GNEP is more controversial than reprocessing, a technology that the US forswore for civilian use in the late 1970s out of concern that reprocessed plutonium could be stolen or diverted for weapons purposes.
… “We know exactly what it costs to reprocess, but nobody has even the slightest idea what it will cost to store spent fuel,” [Alan] Hanson [executive vice president of Areva, the French nuclear conglomerate] told the May roundtable.
Indeed, storage costs can’t be estimated as long as the already decades-long delay with building the Yucca Mountain site drags on. But even if the repository is completed-not before 2020, according to DOE-it will have only enough room for spent fuel that is generated through the year 2010 (see PHYSICS TODAY, June 2008, page 28). Without reprocessing, DOE warns, a second repository will need to be built to accommodate the growing quantities of spent fuel that will result from a revitalized US nuclear industry, let alone material that will be shipped back to the US under the GNEP.

2008 Summer. America’s Energy Future: Why Water Matters. David Holtz, Clean Water Action News. Excerpt: While enacting strong policies that encourage energy sources like wind and solar seem like obvious good global warming and employment solutions, it is also increasingly clear that water – protecting it, conserving it – matters a lot in considering other choices, particularly nuclear and coal, in the context of global warming.
… Proposed expansion of nuclear power and the introduction of new, untried technology of capturing carbon from coal plant emissions and sequestering it underground raise important and still unaddressed questions related to water. Both nuclear and coal power plants use huge amounts of water, mostly in cooling processes.
… In August, the Tennessee Valley Authority was forced to shut down one reactor at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama and scale back production at the plant’s two other reactors because of overheated water in the Tennessee River, which is used to cool the facility.
…”Water is the nuclear industry’s Achilles heel,” Jim Warren, executive director of N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, told the Associated Press in January. “You need a lot of water to operate nuclear plants.”
The vast amounts of water used by coal plants for cooling purposes also raise questions, said Roger Smith, Clean Water Action’s Global Warming and Energy Policy Associate. “All of our assumptions for power plant water use are based on current and historical levels of water,” Smith explained. “What happens if those assumptions are wrong?

2008 July 1. Georgia Judge Cites Carbon Dioxide in Denying Coal Plant Permit. By Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times. Excerpt: A judge in Georgia has thrown out an air pollution permit for a new coal-fired power plant because the permit did not set limits on carbon dioxide emissions.
Both opponents of coal use and the company that wants to build the plant said it was the first time a court decision had linked carbon dioxide to an air pollution permit.
The decision’s broader legal impact was not clear, either for the plant, proposed to be built near Blakely, in Early County, Ga., or for others outside Georgia, but it signaled that builders of coal plants would face continued difficulties in the court system as well as with elected officials in many states.
In the ruling released late Monday afternoon, a state judge relied on a decision by the Supreme Court last year that carbon dioxide could be regulated as a pollutant. Carbon dioxide, which is colorless, odorless and not directly harmful to animals or plants, is not now regulated, and the Bush administration has signaled that it would not issue such regulations before the president leaves office.
But the judge, Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore in Superior Court in Fulton County, Ga., said that federal air pollution control laws required pollution permits to cover all pollutants that could be regulated under the Clean Air Act, not just those for which there is “a separate, general numerical limitation.”
Robert Wyman, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Latham & Watkins, the law firm, who has represented power producers in previous cases, said of the decision: “I would be surprised if it had much of an impact. I’m not sure other jurisdictions will pick up that opinion.”
Vickie Patton, the deputy general counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund, however, argued that the judge’s reasoning might prove persuasive to other courts facing similar issues…

2008 May 30. Mounting Costs Slow the Push for Clean Coal.By MATTHEW L. WALD, NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON – For years, scientists have had a straightforward idea for taming global warming. They want to take the carbon dioxide that spews from coal-burning power plants and pump it back into the ground. President Bush … has spent years talking up the virtues of “clean coal.” All three candidates to succeed him favor the approach. So do many other members of Congress.
Coal companies are for it. Many environmentalists favor it. Utility executives are practically begging for the technology. But it has become clear in recent months that the nation’s effort to develop the technique is lagging badly. In January, the government canceled its support for what was supposed to be a showcase project, a plant at a carefully chosen site in Illinois where there was coal, access to the power grid, and soil underfoot that backers said could hold the carbon dioxide for eons.
Perhaps worse, in the last few months, utility projects in Florida, West Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota and Washington State that would have made it easier to capture carbon dioxide have all been canceled or thrown into regulatory limbo.
…In Wisconsin, engineers are testing a method that may allow them to bolt machinery for capturing carbon dioxide onto the back of old-style power plants; Sweden, Australia and Denmark are planning similar tests. And German engineers are exploring another approach, one that involves burning coal in pure oxygen, which would produce a clean stream of exhaust gases that could be injected into the ground. But no project is very far along, and it remains an open question whether techniques for capturing and storing carbon dioxide will be available by the time they are critically needed….

2008 May 23. Italy Plans to Resume Building Atomic Plants.By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, NY Times. Excerpt: ROME – Italy announced Thursday that within five years it planned to resume building nuclear energy plants, two decades after a public referendum resoundingly banned nuclear power and deactivated all its reactors. …The change is a striking sign of the times, reflecting growing concern in many European countries over the skyrocketing price of oil and energy security, and the warming effects of carbon emissions from fossil fuels. All have combined to make this once-scorned form of energy far more palatable.
“Italy has had the most dramatic, the most public turnaround, but the sentiments against nuclear are reversing very quickly all across Europe – Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany and more,” said Ian Hore-Lacey, spokesman for the World Nuclear Association, an industry group based in London.
…A number of European countries have banned or restricted nuclear power in the past 20 years, including Italy, which closed all its plants. Germany and Belgium have long prohibited the building of reactors, although existing ones were allowed to run their natural lifespan. France was one of the few countries that continued to rely heavily on nuclear power.
…conditions were very different in the 1980s, when European countries turned away from nuclear power. Oil cost less than $50 a barrel, global warming was a fringe science and climate change had not been linked to manmade emissions. Perhaps more important for the public psyche, almost all of Europe’s nuclear bans and restrictions were enacted after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union in which radioactivity was released into the environment.
The equation has changed. Today, with oil approaching $150 a barrel, most European countries, which generally have no oil and gas resources, have been forced by finances to consider new forms of energy – and fast. New nuclear plants take 20 years to build. Also, Europeans watched in horror in 2006 as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia cut off the natural gas supply to Ukraine in a price dispute, leaving it in darkness.
…To build nuclear plants, Italy would almost certainly have to improve its system of dealing with nuclear waste. The plants that were shut down years ago still store 235 tons of nuclear fuel. See also World Uranium Reserves, [] By James Hopf, Nuclear Engineer, November 2004

2008 April 23. Europe Turns Back to Coal, Raising Climate Fears. ELISABETH ROSENTHAL. The NY times. Excerpt: At a time when the world’s top climate experts agree that carbon emissions must be rapidly reduced to hold down global warming, Italy’s major electricity producer, Enel, is converting its massive power plant here from oil to coal, generally the dirtiest fuel on earth. Over the next five years, Italy will increase its reliance on coal to 33 percent from 14 percent. Power generated by Enel from coal will rise to 50 percent. And Italy is not alone in its return to coal. Driven by rising demand, record high oil and natural gas prices, concerns over energy security and an aversion to nuclear energy, European countries are expected to put into operation about 50 coal-fired plants over the next five years, plants that will be in use for the next five decades… 
Enel and many other electricity companies say they have little choice but to build coal plants to replace aging infrastructure, particularly in countries like Italy and Germany that have banned the building of nuclear power plants. Fuel costs have risen 151 percent since 1996, and Italians pay the highest electricity costs in Europe. In terms of cost and energy security, coal has all the advantages, its proponents argue. Coal reserves will last for 200 years, rather than 50 years for gas and oil. Coal is relatively cheap compared with oil and natural gas, although coal prices have tripled in the past few years. More important, hundreds of countries export coal — there is not a coal cartel — so there is more room to negotiate prices…
The task — in which carbon emissions are pumped into underground reservoirs rather than released — is challenging for any fuel source, but particularly so for coal, which produces more carbon dioxide than oil or natural gas. Under optimal current conditions, coal produces more than twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of electricity as natural gas, the second most common fuel used for electricity generation, according to the Electric Power Research Institute. In the developing world, where even new coal plants use lower grade coal and less efficient machinery, the equation is even worse…The European Union had pledged to develop 12 pilot carbon-capture projects for Europe, but says that is not enough.
On many other fronts, the new Enel plant is a model of efficiency and recycling. The nitrous oxide is chemically altered to generate ammonia, which is then sold. The resulting coal ash and gypsum are sold to the cement industry.
An on-site desalination plant means that the operation generates its own water for cooling. Even the heated water that comes out of the plant is not wasted: it heats a fish farm, one of Italy’s largest…
In the towns surrounding Civitavecchia, the impending arrival of a huge coal plant, with its three silvery domes, is being greeted with a hefty dose of dread….

2008 Apr 15. Technology Smooths the Way for Home Wind-Power Turbines. By JOHN CASEY, NY Times. Excerpt: Wind turbines, once used primarily for farms and rural houses far from electrical service, are becoming more common in heavily populated residential areas as homeowners are attracted to ease of use, financial incentives and low environmental effects.
No one tracks the number of small-scale residential wind turbines – windmills that run turbines to produce electricity – in the United States. … a convergence of factors, political, technical and ecological, has caused a surge in the use of residential wind turbines, especially in the Northeast and California. “Back in the early days, off-grid electrical generation was pursued mostly by hippies and rednecks, usually in isolated, rural areas,” said Joe Schwartz, editor of Home Power magazine. “Now, it’s a lot more mainstream.”
“The big shift happened in the last three years,” Mr. Schwartz said, because of technology that makes it possible to feed electricity back to the grid, the commercial power system fed by large utilities. “These new systems use the utility for back up power, removing the need for big, expensive battery backup systems.” …Ecological concerns, more than cost savings may drive many new residential turbine installations. “People want to reduce their carbon footprints,” Mr. Tonko said. “They’re concerned about climate change and they want to reduce our reliance of foreign sources of fuels.”
Mr. Schwartz, the editor, said that even with the economic benefits, it can take 20 years to pay back the installation cost. “This isn’t about people putting turbines in to lower their electric bills as much as it is about people voting with their dollars to help the environment in some small way,” he said.
…Even if the wind is strong, zoning and aesthetics can pose problems. “Turbines work in rural areas with strong wind,” Mr. Schwartz said. “But in urban and suburban areas, neighbors are never happy to see a 60- to 120-foot tower going up across the street.”

2008 Apr 15. New Ways to Store Solar Energy for Nighttime and Cloudy Days. By MATTHEW L. WALD, NY Times. Excerpt: Solar power, the holy grail of renewable energy, has always faced the problem of how to store the energy captured from the sun’s rays so that demand for electricity can be met at night or whenever the sun is not shining. The difficulty is that electricity is hard to store. Batteries are not up to efficiently storing energy on a large scale. A different approach being tried by the solar power industry could eliminate the problem.
The idea is to capture the sun’s heat. … a “power tower,” a little bit like a water tank on stilts surrounded by hundreds of mirrors that tilt on two axes, one to follow the sun across the sky in the course of the day and the other in the course of the year. In the tower and in a tank below are tens of thousands of gallons of molten salt that can be heated to very high temperatures and not reach high pressure.
…Terry Murphy, president and chief executive of SolarReserve, … design is for a power tower that can supply 540 megawatts of heat. At the high temperatures it could achieve, that would produce 250 megawatts of electricity, enough to run a fair-size city. It might make more sense to produce a smaller quantity and run well into the evening or around the clock or for several days when it is cloudy, he said.
At Black & Veatch, a builder of power plants, Larry Stoddard, the manager of renewable energy consulting, said that with a molten salt design, “your turbine is totally buffered from the vagaries of the sun.” By contrast, “if I’ve got a 50 megawatt photovoltaic plant, covering 300 acres or so, and a large cloud comes over, I lose 50 megawatts in something like 100 to 120 seconds,” he said, adding, “That strikes fear into the hearts of utility dispatchers.”….

2008 Apr 7. Trees Block Solar Panels, and a Feud Ends in Court. By FELICITY BARRINGER, The New York Times. Excerpt: Under a California law, a criminal court ruled that these redwood trees cast too much shade on Mark Vargas’s solar panels. SUNNYVALE, Calif. – Call it an eco-parable: one Prius-driving couple takes pride in their eight redwoods,… Their electric-car-driving neighbors take pride in their rooftop solar panels, installed five years after the first trees were planted.
…The solar-redwoods dispute is unusual largely because it is a solar-panel owner who is mounting the challenge. Typically, solar-panel owners have to play defense. For example, despite a 1980 Arizona law to protect homeowners who install photovoltaic panels, Henry Speak, a retiree in Avondale, Ariz., had to battle his homeowners’ association through a series of state courts to keep his rooftop solar system without adding expensive screening – screening that, like the redwoods, would have reduced the panels’ efficiency.
…On both sides of the Sunnyvale backyard fence, there is evidence of environmental virtue – one Prius (Ms. Bissett and Mr. Treanor), one electric car (the Vargases), one water-free xeriscaped front yard with recycled-plastic borders (Ms. Bissett and Mr. Treanor), 128 solar panels providing almost all the power for one home (the Vargases), and eight carbon-dioxide-sipping, bird-friendly redwood trees in various stages of growth (Ms. Bissett and Mr. Treanor). …There was little communication between the neighbors – until Ms. Bissett introduced three redwood trees in 1996. In the next five years, she planted five more….
In 2001, Mr. Vargas installed solar panels … then informed his neighbors – brusquely, they say – about the solar shade law, saying they must cut down all of the redwoods. … and offered to pay for removal and replacement.
… in 2005, the deputy district attorney, John Fioretta, began the first prosecution under the Solar Shade Act. It ended in December with the conviction of Ms. Bissett and Mr. Treanor by Judge Kurt Kumli of Santa Clara County Superior Court. …found that Trees Nos. 4, 5 and 6, … were now collectively blocking more than 10 percent of the panels over the hot tub. Trees Nos. 1, 2 and 3 shaded the area when the panels were installed, so they were exempt, and Trees Nos. 7 and 8 did not violate the law, the judge ruled. …Mr. Treanor and Ms. Bissett still do not quite believe what happened. “It was like I’d been hit in the chest,” Ms. Bissett said ….
Mr. Vargas said it all could have been avoided. “My entire goal was to find a more appropriate tree to place between our two properties,” he said. “To have a 60-foot barrier is unreasonable.”….

2008 March 6. THE ENERGY CHALLENGE Turning Glare Into Watts. By MATTHEW L. WALD, NY Times. Excerpt: BOULDER CITY, Nev. – At first, as he adjusted pumps and checked temperatures, Aaron Boucher looked like any technician in the control room of an electrical plant. Then he rushed to the window and scanned the sky, to check his fuel supply. …Especially in areas of intense sun, an array of reflectors can concentrate sunlight, heating a fluid to create steam and power. Mr. Boucher was battling clouds, timing the operations of his power plant to get the most out of patchy sunshine. It is a skill that may soon be in greater demand, for the world appears to be on the verge of a boom in a little-known but promising type of solar power … covering acres of desert with mirrors that focus intense sunlight on a fluid, heating it enough to make steam. The steam turns a turbine and generates electricity. …After a decade of no activity, two prototype solar thermal plants were recently opened in the United States, with a capacity that could power several big hotels, neon included, on the Las Vegas Strip, about 20 miles north of here. Another 10 power plants are in advanced planning in California, Arizona and Nevada.
On sunny afternoons, those 10 plants would produce as much electricity as three nuclear reactors, but they can be built in as little as two years, compared with a decade or longer for a nuclear plant. Some of the new plants will feature systems that allow them to store heat and generate electricity for hours after sunset. Aside from the ones in the United States, eight plants are under construction in Spain, Algeria and Morocco. Another nine projects are in various stages of planning in those countries as well as Israel, Mexico, China, South Africa and Egypt, …Donald E. Brandt, the chief executive of Pinnacle West, said the decision to build the new solar plant was as important as his company’s decision in 1973 to build the Palo Verde nuclear plant, the largest and most modern in the United States.
“The key is, the solar technology has advanced,” Mr. Brandt said. At 280 megawatts, “it’s a critical size; it’s a real power plant; it’s meaningful; it’s beyond the demonstration stage.”
…If large numbers of plants are built, they will eventually pose some problems, even in the desert. They could take up immense amounts of land and damage the environment. Already, building a plant in California requires hiring a licensed tortoise wrangler to capture and relocate endangered desert tortoises. “The one thing that’s eventually going to raise its head is desert biodiversity, and the land area itself,” said Terrence J. Collins, an environmental expert and professor at Carnegie Mellon University….

2008 Feb 23. Move Over, Oil, There’s Money in Texas Wind. By CLIFFORD KRAUSS, The New York Times.Excerpt: SWEETWATER, Tex. – … wind turbines that recently went up on Louis Brooks’s ranch … paid $500 a month apiece to permit 78 of them on his land, with 76 more on the way. 
“That’s just money you’re hearing,” he said as they hummed in a brisk breeze recently.
Texas, once the oil capital of North America, is rapidly turning into the capital of wind power. …more than 3 percent of its electricity, enough to supply power to one million homes, comes from wind turbines. Texans are even turning tapped-out oil fields into wind farms, and no less an oilman than Boone Pickens is getting into alternative energy. “I have the same feelings about wind,” Mr. Pickens said in an interview, “as I had about the best oil field I ever found.” He is planning to build the biggest wind farm in the world, a $10 billion behemoth that could power a small city by itself. 
Wind turbines were once a marginal form of electrical generation. But amid rising concern about greenhouse gases from coal-burning power plants, wind power is booming. Installed wind capacity in the United States grew 45 percent last year, albeit from a small base, and a comparable increase is expected this year. 
…The United States recently overtook Spain as the world’s second-largest wind power market, after Germany, with $9 billion invested last year. 
…The turbines are getting bigger and their blades can kill birds and bats. Aesthetic and wildlife issues have led to opposition emerging around the country, particularly in coastal areas like Cape Cod. Some opposition in Texas has cropped up as well, …Some Texans see the sleek new turbines as a welcome change in the landscape. “Texas has been looking at oil and gas rigs for 100 years, and frankly, wind turbines look a little nicer,” said Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner…. 
…At the end of 2007, Texas ranked No. 1 in the nation with installed wind power of 4,356 megawatts (and 1,238 under construction), far outdistancing California’s 2,439 megawatts (and 165 under construction). Minnesota and Iowa came in third and fourth with almost 1,300 megawatts each (and 46 and 116 under construction, respectively). 
Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado and Oregon, states with smaller populations than Texas, all get 5 to 8 percent of their power from wind farms, according to estimates by the American Wind Energy Association….

2008 February 3. A ‘Bold’ Step to Capture an Elusive Gas Falters. By ANDREW C. REVKIN, NY Times. Excerpt: CAPTURING heat-trapping emissions from coal-fired power plants is on nearly every climate expert’s menu for a planet whose inhabitants all want a plugged-in lifestyle.
So there was much enthusiasm five years ago when the Bush administration said it would pursue “one of the boldest steps our nation has taken toward a pollution-free energy future” by building a commercial-scale coal-fire plant that would emit no carbon dioxide – the greenhouse gas that makes those plants major contributors to global warming.
That bold step forward stumbled last week. With the budget of the so-called FutureGen project having nearly doubled, to $1.8 billion, and the government responsible for more than 70 percent of the eventual bill, the administration completely revamped the project. …The idea is to capture carbon dioxide emitted by coal-fire power plants and then pump it deep into the earth to avoid further buildup of the gas in the atmosphere. But several experts said the plan still lacked the scope to test various gas-separation technologies, coal varieties, and – most important – whether varied geological conditions can permanently hold carbon dioxide.
Coal companies are desperate for this option to work, given how much coal remains to be mined. Many climate scientists and environmental campaigners see it as vital. Steady growth in coal use by developing and industrialized countries is expected to extend well beyond 2030. David G. Hawkins, an energy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the new approach would have been a good move four years ago. “But to tout FutureGen for five years and then in the president’s last year pull the plug is just bait and switch,” he said….


2007 November 29. Helium Isotopes Point to New Sources of Geothermal Energy.Research News, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Excerpt: BERKELEY, CA — … geochemists Mack Kennedy of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Matthijs van Soest of Arizona State University have discovered a new tool for identifying potential geothermal energy resources.
Currently, most developed geothermal energy comes from regions of volcanic activity, such as The Geysers in Northern California. The potential resources identified by Kennedy and van Soest arise not from volcanism but from the flow of surface fluids through deep fractures that penetrate the earth’s lower crust, in regions far from current or recent volcanic activity. The researchers report their findings in the November 30, 2007 issue of Science.
“A good geothermal energy source has three basic requirements: a high thermal gradient — which means accessible hot rock — plus a rechargeable reservoir fluid, usually water, and finally, deep permeable pathways for the fluid to circulate through the hot rock,” says Kennedy, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division. “We believe we have found a way to map and quantify zones of permeability deep in the lower crust that result not from volcanic activity but from tectonic activity, the movement of pieces of the Earth’s crust.”
Kennedy and van Soest made their discovery by comparing the ratios of helium isotopes in samples gathered from wells, surface springs, and vents across the northern Basin and Range. …a high ratio of helium-three to helium-four in a fluid sample indicates that much of the fluid came from the mantle.
…”We have never seen such a clear correlation of surface geochemical signals with tectonic activity, nor have we ever been able to quantify deep permeability from surface measurements of any kind,” says Kennedy. The samples they collected on the surface gave the researchers a window into the structure of the rocks far below, with no need to drill.
With the urgent need to find energy sources that are renewable and don’t emit greenhouse gases, geothermal energy is ideal — “the best renewable energy source besides the sun,” Kennedy says. Accessible geothermal energy in the United States, excluding Alaska and Hawaii, has been estimated at 9 x 1016 (90 quadrillion) kilowatt-hours, 3,000 times more than the country’s total annual energy consumption….

2007 November 23. Sweden Turns to a Promising Power Source, With Flaws. The New York Times. By MARK LANDLER. Excerpt:
MALMO, Sweden …A 30-mile-an-hour wind was twirling the fingerlike blades of a turbine 380 feet above his head. Around him, a field of turbines rotated in a synchronized ballet that, when fully connected to an electrical grid, would generate enough power to light 60,000 nearby houses.
“We’ve created a new landmark,” said Mr. [Arne] Floderus, the project manager of the $280 million wind park, one of the world’s largest, which was built by the Swedish power company Vattenfall.
…Yet Sweden’s gleaming wind park is entering service at a time when wind energy is coming under sharper scrutiny, not just from hostile neighbors, who complain that the towers are a blot on the landscape, but from energy experts who question its reliability as a source of power.
For starters, the wind does not blow all the time. When it does, it does not necessarily do so during periods of high demand for electricity. That makes wind a shaky replacement for more dependable, if polluting, energy sources like oil, coal and natural gas. Moreover, to capture the best breezes, wind farms are often built far from where the demand for electricity is highest. The power they generate must then be carried over long distances on high-voltage lines, which in Germany and other countries are strained and prone to breakdowns.
…In Denmark, which pioneered wind energy in Europe, construction of wind farms has stagnated in recent years. The Danes export much of their wind-generated electricity to Norway and Sweden because it comes in unpredictable surges that often outstrip demand.
…For a socially conscious society like Sweden, wind turbines exert a fashionable appeal.
Today, they account for less than 1 percent of Sweden’s electricity generation. But the government wants to increase annual wind power production to 10 terawatt hours, or 10 trillion watt hours, by 2015 from less than 1 terawatt hour now (the park off Malmo will produce a third of a terawatt hour).
Vattenfall hopes to develop an even larger off-shore park in the Baltic Sea, between Sweden and Germany.
…Sweden does not need to build wind parks to get wind power. It could simply buy more surplus wind power from Denmark, which it uses, as does Norway, to pump underground water into elevated reservoirs. The water is later released during periods of peak electric demand to drive hydroelectric stations. In this way, hydro acts as a form of storage for wind energy – addressing one of wind power’s biggest shortcomings….

2007 October 22. Scientists see coal as key challenge. By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special Correspondent. Excerpt: The proliferation of coal-burning power plants around the world may pose “the single greatest challenge” to averting dangerous climate change, an international panel of scientists reported Monday.Governments and the private sector are spending too little on research into a partial solution – technology to capture and store the carbon dioxide emissions from such plants, the group said.
The study by 15 scientists from 13 nations, “Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future,” was commissioned by the governments of China and Brazil and is the product of two years of workshops organized by the InterAcademy Council, the Netherlands-based network of national academies of science.
The 174-page report details current and developing technologies, and government incentives and other policies that could lead both the developed and developing world to clean, affordable and sustainable energy supplies.
“The first thing it says, really, is that conservation and energy efficiency will remain for the next couple of decades the most important thing the world can do to get on a sustainable path,” said co-chairman Steven Chu, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and director of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
…China expects to open one new coal-fired plant per week over the next five years. In the United States, plans for more than 150 new coal plants have been announced since the late 1990s, although some recently have been scrapped or delayed because of climate and other concerns….

2007 July 23. A Warming World: No to Nukes. The Los Angeles Times | Editorial. Excerpt: … Japan sees nuclear power as a solution to global warming, but…. Last week, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake caused dozens of problems at the world’s biggest nuclear plant, leading to releases of radioactive elements into the air and ocean and an indefinite shutdown. …Japan has a sordid history of serious nuclear accidents or spills followed by cover-ups…. The U.S. government allows nuclear plants to operate under a level of secrecy usually reserved for the national security apparatus. Last year…about nine gallons of highly enriched uranium spilled at a processing plant in Tennessee, forming a puddle a few feet from an elevator shaft. Had it dripped into the shaft, it might have formed a critical mass sufficient for a chain reaction, releasing enough radiation to kill or burn workers nearby….
No U.S. utility has ordered a new nuclear plant since 1978….
Many respected academics and environmentalists argue that nuclear power must be part of any solution to climate change because nuclear power plants don’t release greenhouse gases. …nuclear power is extremely risky. …there are cleaner, cheaper, faster alternatives that come with none of the risks.
…The Union of Concerned Scientists cites 51 cases at 41 U.S. nuclear plants in which reactors have been shut down for more than a year…. Nuclear plants are also considered attractive terrorist targets…. Weapons proliferation is an even more serious concern…. It would be more than a little hypocritical for the U.S. to expand its own nuclear power capacity while forbidding countries it doesn’t like from doing the same. …No country in the world has yet built a permanent underground waste repository…. The existing 104 nuclear plants in the U.S., which supply roughly 20% of the nation’s electricity, are old and nearing the end of their useful lives. … to replace them would require building a new reactor every four or five months for the next 40 years. …The average nuclear plant is estimated to cost about $4 billion. Because of the risks involved, there is scarce interest among investors in putting up the needed capital. …The newest nuclear plant in the U.S. opened in 1996, after having been ordered in 1970 – a 26-year gap….

2007 July 1. Nuclear Energy Hot Topic Once Again. The New York Times. By The Associated Press. Excerpt: Thanks to global warming, nuclear energy is hot again. Its promise of abundant, carbon emissions-free power is being pushed by the president and newly considered by environmentalists. But any expansion won’t come cheap or easy. The enormous obstacles facing nuclear power are the same as they were in 1996, when the nation’s last new nuclear plant opened near the Watts Bar reservoir in Tennessee after 22 years of construction and $7 billion in costs. Waste disposal, safe operation and security remain major concerns, but economics may be the biggest deterrent. Huge capital costs combine into an enormous price tag for would-be investors. There is also fervent anti-nuke opposition waiting to be re-stoked. Recycling used fuel, which contains 90 percent of its original energy after one use, can reduce waste. ”Reprocessing” also produces a plutonium that’s nearer to weapons grade, raising fears that widespread reprocessing could increase the risks of nuclear proliferation. … ”You don’t ban the beneficial uses of a technology just because that same technology can be used for evil,” he said. ”Otherwise we would never have harnessed fire.” …

2007 June 6. From Turkey Waste, a New Fuel and a New Fight. By SUSAN SAULNY, The New York Times. Excerpt: BENSON, Minn. – …Thanks to the abundance of local droppings, Benson is home to a new $200 million power plant that burns turkey litter to produce electricity. For the last few weeks now, since before generating operations began in mid-May, turkey waste has poured in from nearby farms by the truckload, filling a fuel hall several stories high.
The power plant is a novelty on the prairie, the first in the country to burn animal litter (manure mixed with farm-animal bedding like wood chips). And it sits at the intersection of two national obsessions: an appetite for lean meat and a demand for alternative fuels.
…The critics say turkey litter, of all farm animals’ manure, is the most valuable just as it is, useful as a rich, organic fertilizer at a time when demand is growing for all things organic. …the unwanted attention shows, once again, how the landscape of renewable energy production is fraught with potential land mines, even in a case that seems small-scale and straightforward. What could be so offensive about burning turkey poop?
“This is the only advancement in manure utilization since the manure spreader – that’s 100-year-old technology,” said Greg Langmo, a third-generation turkey farmer who lobbied for the plant, where he now works as a field manager.
Minnesota produces more turkeys than any other state, some 44.5 million birds in 2005, the most recent year for which data are available. It follows that the turkeys leave behind a lot of waste in their pens, where most are confined to gobble and peck until they are robust enough for slaughter. The Benson plant, then, has been of considerable help for farmers with a disposal problem.
The plant was built by Fibrowatt, a Philadelphia-based company, with financial incentives from the State of Minnesota.
…biomass burning, as it is called, produces its own pollutants. According to information in one of its federal air permits, the plant is a major source of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrogen sulfide….

2007 June. Falling in Love with Wind. OnEarth, NRDC. by Joseph D’Agnese. Excerpt: How a small farm town traded its dairy cows for renewable energy. In the spring of 1999 a stranger named Bill Moore arrived in the small town of Lowville, … New York, and … had what he considered a good proposal for the 27,000 citizens of Lewis County: Milk wind, not cows. When he started telling the locals about his notion, Moore was met with indulgent smiles but little genuine enthusiasm. “…they looked at me like I was from Mars,” he says. “They were polite. They didn’t openly laugh.”
…Eight years later, though, it’s as if the cool reception Moore received never happened at all. Windmills stud the flat, stark landscape as far as the eye can see. Each turbine is taller than the Statue of Liberty, and nearly all of them are spinning inexorably toward the future of Lewis County — and perhaps our own. This is the Maple Ridge Wind Farm, the nation’s largest new alternative energy project east of the Mississippi River. In the last year or so, 195 turbines have become operational in the towns of Lowville, Harrisburg, and Martinsburg, capable of producing 320 megawatts of electricity, the amount generated by a medium-size power plant, or enough power to run 98,000 homes.
…The guaranteed income — a minimum annual payment of about $6,000 per turbine, adjusted annually for inflation — has transformed their lives. “It’s paying for me to retire,” says Bill Burke. “It’s given us a chance to stay in our house,” adds Patricia Burke. “We don’t have to sell after all. We sold off the herd one spring, and the heifers later, ….
… Today, 20 percent of Denmark’s electricity comes from the wind. In sharp contrast to Maple Ridge and other big U.S. wind farms, of the 5,600 turbines in Denmark, only about 20 percent are owned by utility companies. Twenty-three percent belong to cooperatives and almost 60 percent to small, local companies or to individuals, including farmers. This has been the key to public acceptance. As one Danish study concluded: “People who own shares in a turbine are significantly more positive about wind power than people having no economic interest in the subject. Members of wind cooperatives are more willing to accept that their neighbor erect [sic] a turbine.” Other experts say that local ownership makes wind power more economical, since expenses are lower and companies more competitive, with cheaper connection to the grid than big utilities would offer and faster, less bureaucratic decision-making. But now that grassroots-owned technology has turned into big business, not all is well in the state of Denmark….

2007 May 29. Uranium Windfall Opens Choices for the Energy Dept. By MATTHEW L. WALD Excerpt: WASHINGTON, May 28 – The government accumulated vast quantities of uranium when prices were very low and no one else wanted it. But now that uranium prices have increased tenfold, the government has a precious commodity – and some tough questions – on its hands. …the material’s market value has been estimated at $750 million to $3 billion, one of the companies most vocal in making its case says it deserves the uranium – without paying a cent for it. Up for grabs is 25 million kilograms of uranium hexafluoride that was incompletely processed at government enrichment plants when prices were very low. …
The lone operating enrichment plant in this country, built by the old Atomic Energy Commission, is in Paducah, Ky. It is run by a subsidiary of USEC, a company formed in the 1990s to privatize the enrichment monopoly that the government had run since the days of the Manhattan Project.
The technology at the plant is outdated, and USEC is struggling to commercialize a more efficient system, using centrifuges, at another plant, in southern Ohio. USEC will not say what it thinks that project will cost, but it has said it does not know how it will raise the money. …USEC officials say the Energy Department could transfer much of the uranium to it with the stroke of a pen.
…Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill say giving the uranium to USEC would reward a company that has not demonstrated fiscal responsibility. …Representative John D. Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, said in a statement. … Congress should consider “whether we should be allocating this $2 billion or $3 billion to children’s health insurance instead of subsidizing executives who have mismanaged their companies.” USEC, he said, had “squandered resources on multimillion-dollar golden parachutes, stock buybacks and dividend payments that frequently exceeded their earnings.”
…In addition to USEC, a consortium of British, Dutch and German companies has expressed interest in the partly processed uranium for a centrifuge plant that it is building in New Mexico, using the same type of machines that have operated for years in Europe….

2007 May 9. Clean Power That Reaps a Whirlwind. By KEITH BRADSHER, The New York Times. Excerpt: HOUXINQIU, China – The wind turbines rising 180 feet above this dusty village at the hilly edge of Inner Mongolia could be an environmentalist’s dream… are also part of a growing dispute over a United Nations program that is the centerpiece of international efforts to help developing countries combat global warming. …the Clean Development Mechanism, …raising billions of dollars from rich countries and transferring them to poor countries to curb the emission of global warming gases. …China is expected to pass the United States this year or next to become the world’s largest emitter of global warming gases. …the Clean Development Mechanism …has grown at an extraordinary pace, to $4.8 billion in transfer payments to developing countries last year from less than $100 million in 2002. The Clean Development Mechanism …helps advanced industrial nations stay within their Kyoto Protocol limits for emitting climate-changing gases like carbon dioxide. For each ton of global warming gases that a developing country can prove it has eliminated, the secretariat of the Clean Development Mechanism… awards it a credit. Developing countries sold credits last year… for an average price of $10.70 each. …China captured $3 billion of the $4.8 billion…. African countries… totaled less than $150 million last year…. Even when very poor countries are able to organize development projects, they may lack expertise and must sometimes pay out as much as half the credits in the form of fees for international consultants and credit brokers. …before manufacturers can obtain the subsidies, their national governments need to set up a legal framework for handling the money, which some of the poorest countries have not yet been able to do….The wind turbine project here in Houxinqiu …generates nearly 24 megawatts of electricity that would otherwise come from coal. China is already building enough coal-fired power plants each year to light all of Britain. …Li Guohai, a local peasant …explained how he had received free electricity since the wind turbines were erected four years ago. He has saved enough money that he bought an all-steel plow for his mules to pull; the new plow now frees his son to finish junior high school and perhaps go to high school, Mr. Li said. The project is narrowly profitable even without Clean Development Mechanism payments, Mr. Tao, the general manager, said. But the payments made the project more attractive and made it easier to raise money for it….the wind farm saves the equivalent of 35,119 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year. At $8 a credit, that is worth $281,000….

2007 May 2. Power station harnesses Sun’s rays. By David Shukman. Science correspondent, BBC News, Seville. …There is a scene in one of the Austin Powers films where Dr Evil unleashes a giant “tractor beam” of energy at Earth in order to extract a massive payment. …the new solar thermal power plant outside Seville in southern Spain … concrete tower – 40 storeys high – stood bathed in intense white light, a totally bizarre image in the depths of the Andalusian countryside. …the rays of sunlight reflected by a field of 600 huge mirrors are so intense they illuminate the water vapour and dust hanging in the air. …It is Europe’s first commercially operating power station using the Sun’s energy this way and at the moment its operator, Solucar, proudly claims that it generates 11 Megawatts (MW) of electricity without emitting a single puff of greenhouse gas. This current figure is enough to power up to 6,000 homes. But ultimately, the entire plant should generate as much power as is used by the 600,000 people of Seville. It works by focusing the reflected rays on one location, turning water into steam and then blasting it into turbines to generate power. …the solar power is most needed in the heat of summer when air conditioners are working flat out. …this power is three times more expensive than power from conventional sources…. …a more realistic comparison is with the cost of generating power from coal or gas only at times of peak demand – then this solar system seems more attractive….

2007 April 23. Climate Change Adds Twist to Debate Over Dams. By William Yardley. NY TIMES. KLAMATH FALLS, Ore., April 19 – Excerpt: The power company that  owns  four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River says the dams provide a crucial source of so-called clean energy at a time when carbon emissions have become one of the world’s foremost environmental concerns. The clean-energy argument has entered a debate over dams. But the American Indians, fishermen and environmentalists who want the dams removed point  to what has happened since the first one was built nearly 90 years ago: endangered salmon have been blocked from migrating, Indian livelihoods have been threatened, and, more recently, the commercial fishing industry off the Oregon and California coasts has been devastated.. …The Klamath dams provide enough power to serve about 70,000 homes, a small fraction of PacifiCorp’s 1.6 million customers, which span six Western states. But the company says only coal or natural gas are likely to be reliable enough to replace the river, which hits hydroelectric turbines four times on its way to the sea from east of the snow-capped Cascade Range. Those who support removing the dams largely dismiss the clean-energy argument, saying the benefits outweigh losing a relatively small source of hydropower. They note that PacifiCorp’s increased interest in the environment comes as recent rulings by judges and federal fisheries agencies have given new momentum for removal. The company’s federal license to run the dams expired last year, and the government has said PacifiCorp must build fish ladders over the four dams to get a new license, a proposition that could cost $300 million and reduce the power the dams generate, potentially making removal a less costly choice……The Klamath runs more than 250 miles from southwest Oregon to the California coast, connecting two states where power and water supply have long been contentious issues……The Northwest, where more than 80 percent of the power generated comes from hydroelectricity, has long had some of the lowest electricity rates in the nation. It has also been the setting for epic environmental fights that reflect the tension across the region’s topographic and demographic divides…… 

2007 March 13. White House Seeks to Cut Geothermal Research Funds. By Bernie Woodall. Reuters. Excerpt: The Bush administration wants to eliminate federal support for geothermal power just as many U.S. states are looking to cut greenhouse gas emissions and raise renewable power output. The move has angered scientists who say there is enough hot water underground to meet all U.S. electricity needs without greenhouse gas emissions. “The Department of Energy has not requested funds for geothermal research in our fiscal-year 2008 budget,” said Christina Kielich, a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy. “Geothermal is a mature technology. Our focus is on breakthrough energy research and development.” The administration of George W. Bush has made renewable energy a priority as it seeks to wean the United States off foreign oil, but it emphasizes use of biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel for vehicles and nuclear research for electricity. … DOE requested no funding for geothermal for the 2007 fiscal year, after funding averaged about $26 million over the previous six years, but Congress restored $5 million. This year, the DOE’s $24.3 billion budget request includes a 38 percent federal spending increase for nuclear power, but nothing for geothermal. …New geothermal power projects by 2050 could provide 100,000 megawatts of electricity – enough to power about 80 million U.S. homes, or as much as U.S. nuclear power plants make today, the MIT study said. But U.S. geothermal development will need $300 million to $400 million over 15 years to make this type of power competitive versus other forms of power generation, the study said….

2007 March. Thermonuclear Weapons. Catalyst magazine, Union of Concerned Scientists. by Robert Nelson is a senior scientist in the Global Security Program. Excerpt: U.S. thermonuclear weapons derive their explosive energy from the combined power of nuclear fission and fusion. An initial fission reaction generates the high temperatures needed to trigger a secondary-and much more powerful-fusion reaction (hence the term “thermonuclear”). …The first is the detonation of chemical explosives that surrounds a sphere (or “pit”) of plutonium metal. The force from this blast is directed inward, compressing the pit and bringing its atoms closer together…sometimes causing them to split, or fission….
…Every year since 1997, the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories have certified that all U.S. nuclear warheads are safe and reliable, and that renewed nuclear explosive testing is not currently needed to gauge reliability. However, the laboratories have recently voiced concern that warheads may not be reliable over the long term.
It must be noted that the definition of “unreliable” in this context is a weapon that falls short of its designed yield by more than 10 percent. In other words, an “unreliable” nuclear weapon can still produce a devastating explosion. A weapon with a 300-kiloton yield could be deemed unreliable if it exploded with a 270-kiloton yield-13 times more energy than that released by the Nagasaki bomb.
… the United States conducted its last nuclear explosive test in 1992. Every type of U.S. nuclear weapon currently deployed underwent explosive testing, but it is theoretically possible that the properties of the plutonium could change as it ages, resulting in a weaker primary.
…the oldest warheads in the U.S. weapons stockpile were assembled almost 30 years ago. Until very recently, the minimum lifetime of plutonium pits was conservatively estimated to be 45 years, which would mean that the pits in every U.S. warhead might have to be replaced within the next two decades. This is the rationale behind the Bush administration’s proposed Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, which would redesign and replace all 10,000 U.S. warheads.
Over the past several years, however, the U.S. weapons laboratories have effectively eliminated this rationale by conducting “accelerated aging” experiments to re-evaluate the age at which reliability would realistically decline. By simulating the behavior of aged plutonium, scientists concluded that all existing U.S. plutonium pits have minimum lifetimes of 85 years, and most will remain reliable for at least 100 years. (The lifetimes could be much longer, but further experiments are needed.)
As these results make clear U.S. thermonuclear weapons will remain highly reliable for many decades, undercutting the primary reason for the Bush administration’s RRW plans….

2007 February 13. In a Corner of Virginia’s ‘Switzerland,’ a Division Over a Planned Wind Farm. By PAMELA J. PODGER, for The New York Times. Excerpt: MONTEREY, Va. – …Mr. Wes Maupin, a 52-year-old former corrections worker… finds no joy in the prospect that these blustery Allegheny ridges could soon become home to the state’s first wind farm: 19 wind turbines, each taller than the Statue of Liberty, its pedestal included. “Any wind farm,” Mr. Maupin said, “would surely change the character of this county forever.” …Where some see unwelcome industrialization of the wilderness, others see green energy and an estimated $200,000 a year in tax revenue for the financially needy county. …at Grady’s Barber Shop here in Monterey, the county seat, 35 miles west of Staunton, Roy Waggoner said he supported the $60 million project. “One way to clean up the environment is with the wind turbines; it’s green energy,” said Mr. Waggoner, 57, a sheep rancher. “I don’t want to see them on every inch of land, but that ridge is very secluded.” …But Randy Richardson, president of Highlanders for Responsible Development, a group that opposes the project, said people worried about noise pollution from the turbines’ blades and light pollution from the red strobes that would alert aircraft to the 400-foot-tall structures. “We actually had some guy saying these will be similar to the windmills in Holland,” Mr. Richardson said. “Well, there is a little bit of difference between a quaint Dutch windmill and a 400-foot turbine.”….

2007 February. US-India nuclear pact gets mixed reaction.By Jim Dawson, Physics Today-ISSUES AND EVENTS – Volume 60, Issue 2. Excerpt: In the midst of the US government’s attempts to refocus its nuclear weapons program and stop the spread of nuclear weapons in hostile countries, President Bush signed legislation in December [2006] allowing the sale of civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India and thus reversed 30 years of nonproliferation policy. The legislation allows US companies to sell nuclear fuel to India and invest in and construct new civilian nuclear power plants in that country. In exchange, India will open up 14 of its civilian nuclear reactors to international inspections but keep 8 military reactors off-limits. …The law makes India an exception to the US Atomic Energy Act, which prohibits trade of nuclear material with countries that haven’t signed the NPT. Both the US House and Senate voted overwhelmingly in early December to pass the legislation, with Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA) saying it “ushers in a new era of cooperation between our two great democracies.” But Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) termed the deal a “historic mistake” that has “shredded the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.”….

2007 February. Future of US nuclear weapons a tangle of visions, science, and money. By Jim Dawson, Physics Today-ISSUES AND EVENTS – Volume 60, Issue 2. Excerpt: National Nuclear Security Administration officials push for a new nuclear bomb, some scientists and arms control experts are asking what’s wrong with the old ones. …The decision on whether to go forward with the new bomb, known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead [RRW], rests with the Bush administration and Congress, but weapons and arms control experts note that the decision is not straightforward. The RRW program, mandated by Congress in 2004 “to improve the reliability, longevity, and certifiability of existing weapons,” faces a host of questions based on need and on cost. …Weapons experts expect the total cost of the RRW could reach tens of billions of dollars over the next 25 years if the bomb is developed. …Underlying the entire discussion about the future of US nuclear weapons is the enormous expense. The US currently spends about $6.7 billion a year to maintain the existing stockpile and the weapons complex….

2007 January 25. Smuggler’s Plot Highlights Fear Over Uranium. By LAWRENCE SCOTT SHEETS and WILLIAM J. BROAD. NY Times. Excerpt: TBILISI, Georgia, Jan. 24 – Last January, a Russian man with sunken cheeks and a wispy mustache crossed into Georgia and traveled to Tbilisi by car along a high mountain road. In two plastic bags in his leather jacket, Georgian authorities say, he carried 100 grams of uranium so refined that it could help fuel an atom bomb. …Oleg Khinsagov,left, was arrested by Georgian authorities for smuggling almost four ounces of enriched uranium. Interior Minister Ivane Merabishvili, right, reported two cases of uranium smuggling in two and a half years. The Russian, Oleg Khinsagov, had come to meet a buyer who he believed would pay him $1 million and deliver the material to a Muslim man from “a serious organization,” the authorities say. The uranium was a sample, just under four ounces, and the deal a test: If all went smoothly, he boasted, he would sell a far larger cache stored in his apartment back in Vladikavkaz, two to three kilograms of the rare material, four and a half to six and a half pounds, which in expert hands is enough to make a small bomb. The buyer, it turned out, was a Georgian agent. Alerted to Mr. Khinsagov’s ambitions by spies in South Ossetia, Georgian officials arrested him and confiscated his merchandise. After a secret trial, the smuggler was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison. …The old Soviet empire had a vast network of nuclear facilities. After its breakup, as managers abandoned plants and security fell apart, the West grew alarmed as many cases of atomic smuggling came to light. …Since 2000, however, the amounts and purity of the seized material has declined as former Soviet republics set up new security precautions, often financed by the United States. …Georgians called for help from American diplomats, who sent in experts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Energy, American officials say. Mr. Merabishvili said the Americans shocked them by taking the uranium and simply putting it “in their pocket.” Uranium in that form emits little radiation and presents little or no danger to its handlers. When it was analyzed at the Energy Department’s laboratory in the Pacific Northwest, it was found to have a U-235 purity of 89.451 percent, “suitable for certain types of research reactors, as a source material for medical isotope production, and for military purposes including nuclear weapons.”

2007 January 23. Study Says Tapping of Granite Could Unleash Energy Source. By ANDREW C. REVKIN, NY Times. Excerpt: The United States could generate as much electricity by 2050 as that flowing today from all of the country’s nuclear power plants by developing technologies that tap heat locked in deep layers of granite, according to a new study commissioned by the Energy Department. …The new report, published online yesterday, focuses on a process that it said could affordably harvest heat locked in deep layers of granite that exist almost everywhere on earth. The technique, called enhanced geothermal, involves drilling several holes – some two to three miles deep – into granite that has been held at chicken-roasting temperatures, around 400 degrees or more, by insulating layers of rock above. In the right geological conditions, pressurized water can be used to widen natural mazelike arrays of cracks in the granite, creating a vast, porous subterranean reservoir. In a typical setup, water pumped down into the reservoir through one hole absorbs heat from the rock and flows up another hole to a power plant, giving up its heat to generate steam and electricity before it is recirculated in the rock below.There are successful plants harvesting heat from deep hot rock in Australia, Europe and Japan, the report noted, adding that studies of the technology largely stopped in the United States after a brief burst of research during the oil crises of the 1970s. …The generating capacity by 2050 could be 100 billion watts, about 10 percent of the country’s current generating capacity….

2007 January 22. The Future of Geothermal Energy – Impact of Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) on the United States in the 21st Century. A report prepared by an MIT-led interdisciplinary panel, was released to the public. The report suggests that 100,000 MWe of electrical generation capacity can be met through EGS within 50 years with a modest investment in R&D. (14.1MB PDF)


28 December 2006. It’s Free, Plentiful and Fickle. By MATTHEW L. WALD, NY Times. Excerpt: Wind, almost everybody’s best hope for big supplies of clean, affordable electricity, is turning out to have complications. Engineers have cut the price of electricity derived from wind by about 80 percent in the last 20 years, setting up this renewable technology for a major share of the electricity market. But …wind also …is unpredictable and often fails to blow when electricity is most needed, ….power plants that run on coal or gas must “be built along with every megawatt of wind capacity,” said William Bojorquez, director of system planning at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. … in Texas, and most of the United States, the hottest days are the least windy. …A wind machine is a bit like a bicycle that a commuter keeps in the garage for sunny days. It saves gasoline, but the commuter has to own a car anyway.
…Frank P. Prager, managing director of environmental policy at [Xcel Energy], said …that in one of the states the company serves, Colorado, if …wind machines reach 20 percent of total generating capacity, the cost of standby generators will reach $8 a megawatt-hour of wind. That is on top of a generating cost of $50 or $60 a megawatt-hour, after including a federal tax credit of $18 a megawatt-hour. By contrast, electricity from a new coal plant currently costs in the range of $33 to $41 a megawatt-hour, according to experts. That price, however, would rise if the carbon dioxide produced in burning coal were taxed, a distinct possibility over the life of a new coal plant. (A megawatt-hour is the amount of power that a large hospital or a Super Wal-Mart would use in an hour.) Without major advances in ways to store large quantities of electricity …, wind may run up against its practical limits sooner than expected. …In May, Xcel and the Energy Department announced a research program to use surplus, off-peak electricity from wind to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. …But storage imposes a high cost: about half the energy put into the system is lost. The Electric Power Research Institute said that existing hydroelectric dams could be used as storage; they can increase and decrease their generation quickly, and each watt generated in a wind machine means water need not be run through the dam’s turbines; it can be kept in storage, ready for use later, when it is most needed.
…the amount of energy that the average wind turbine produces over 12 months is equal to just 30 to 40 percent of the amount that would result from year-round operation at capacity. That number runs closer to 90 percent at a nuclear or coal plant. Thus a 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant will produce nearly three times as much electricity as 1,000 megawatts of wind turbines. But operating costs at the wind farm are lower, and the fuel is, of course, free.

[Comment from Alan Gould: the article does not explore possibility “distributed storage” i.e. each home (or neighborhood) having enough battery storage to get through cloudy/rainy/non-windy days. Distributed storage is the perfect match for distributed photovoltaic systems. Also, the article’s figures about relative costs of wind and coal energy may have the classic flaw of not factoring in environmental costs for the coal energy.]

13 December 2006. Uranium Is a Hot Commodity, and Claims Have Soared. By FELICITY BARRINGER, NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON, A fourfold increase in the price of uranium in the past three years has led to a rush of new claims by uranium companies, according to a new survey by an environmental group that wants to inform the public of potentially harmful consequences. Mining claim data compiled by the Environmental Working Group, Washington-based environmental research specialists, shows that, in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, the total claims rose from just over 2,000 in 2001 to about 18,000 in 2005. …”There’s a renaissance of people’s attitudes toward nuclear energy as a viable green, clean, clean-air type of energy sources,” said Paul Matysek, president of the Vancouver-based firm Energy Metals Corporation. And, Mr. Matysek added, the increase in oil and natural-gas prices, even though they have eased in recent months, has spurred a mini-boom in the price of the metal.
“Three years ago it was $12 or $14” a pound, he said. “Today it’s $65.50.” …Environmental groups said that … the consequences could be severe. …In Nevada, for instance, the environmental group’s research found more than 166,000 new claims, covering more than 3.5 million acres of public land. …only a tiny fraction of all claims – usually less than a tenth of one percent – are ever mined. But the scars of open-pit mining are visible in many places on the Environmental Working Group’s Web site [], …. Still, said Mark Kuchta, an associate professor of mining engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, uranium mining in the future will have far less impact than the mines and the associated mills in the past. Increased cancer deaths have occurred near at least one old uranium mining sites. “The environmental laws have changed,” Mr. Kuchta said. “In order to build the mine, there’s a plethora of permits” needed. He added, “You can’t just leave them on the surface and walk away the way you used to do.”

12 December 2006. Buffalo: State Sues Over Nuclear Waste Site. By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS, NY Times. Excerpt: In a lawsuit filed yesterday against the federal government, the state is seeking payment for the cleanup of a former nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in western New York, state officials said. The lawsuit… asks the court to order the federal Department of Energy to pay for the disposal of what was originally 600,000 gallons of highly radioactive nuclear waste, said David Munro, an assistant attorney general. State officials estimate that the cost of disposing of the material at a planned federal waste depository will be $228 million….

7 November 2006. Committed to Coal, and in a Hurry, Too. By MATTHEW L. WALD. NY Times. Excerpt: FAIRFIELD, Tex. – 
The TXU Corporation is embarking on its next monumental task: the nation’s single largest coal-oriented construction campaign, with a plan to add more than 9,000 megawatts of new capacity, the equivalent of 3.5 percent of the nation’s current coal-fired capacity. That is enough to power millions of homes. For people who want to limit global warming gases, the moves by TXU, which is based in Dallas, are a reminder that outside the laboratories and hearing rooms where scientists and policy makers talk about limiting carbon emissions, some power companies are racing to build infrastructure that will put carbon into the atmosphere into the middle of this century or longer. Whatever the cost to the ecosystem, it could be an immensely profitable bet. Company executives say the plants will provide cheap electricity for Texas, make lots of money for shareholders, conserve more valuable natural gas and reduce the pollutants that make smog. Texas has no goals for cutting carbon emissions. Nationally, the [energy] industry expects 19 percent growth over the next decade; in Texas, it is 25 percent. The state’s peak electric demand grew 5 percent last summer, compared with the summer before.

15 September 2006 Clamping Down on Mercury Emissions BY DAN KROTZ, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab News.
Someday, those mercury warning labels posted near the fish section of supermarkets may join lead paint and asbestos as relics of a bygone era. Berkeley Lab scientists led by Shih-Ger (Ted) Chang have developed a potentially cheap and efficient way of removing mercury from coal-fired power plant emissions. …As envisioned, his technique involves injecting a specially formulated gas into the mercury-laden flue gas of a coal-fired power plant, where it can convert elemental mercury into oxidized mercury, a form more easily captured by existing pollution control devices.
…The problem is also global. China’s booming coal combustion industry emits more than 200 tons of mercury per year into the atmosphere, some of which drifts to the U.S.
Over time, some of the mercury released into the environment by power plants changes to methylmercury, which is a potent neurotoxin that is known to be detrimental to developing fetuses and young children. It is passed from prey to predator along the food chain, building up in certain types of fish and shellfish that people love to eat. In fact, methylmercury can accumulate in fish and marine mammals in concentrations hundreds of thousands times higher than the levels in surrounding waters, which is why state environmental regulatory agencies often issue fish consumption advisories….

9 September 2006. Interior Department Rejects Interim Plan for Nuclear Waste. By MARTIN STOLZ and MATTHEW L. WALD. NY Times. Excerpt: SKULL VALLEY, Utah, Sept. 8 – The Interior Department has moved to block a huge “interim” nuclear waste storage plant on an Indian reservation here, citing a lack of confidence that it would truly be temporary because there is so much doubt about completion of a permanent repository, at Yucca Mountain, Nev. …The decision was hailed by many elected officials in Utah, which has no reactors, and where many non-Indians oppose the plan. But John D. Parkyn, the chairman of the board of Private Fuel Storage, the consortium, said in a telephone interview on Friday that the opinion about Yucca Mountain was contrary to federal policy and that there were various errors in the decision. One, Mr. Parkyn said, is that the decision said development on the reservation would require a tribal police force. But in fact, he said, the plant would have only about 20 employees, and most of those would be guards. If tribal police were somehow required, he said, the project would pay for them. …The tribe is divided over the project. A proponent, Garth Jerry Bear, said Friday at his home on the reservation that the plant would provide hope for the desperately poor members, good-paying jobs and money for schools. …Sammy Blackbear, an opponent of the storage plan, said he was elated by the decision.
“It should have come a long time ago,” Mr. Blackbear said, “but this is better late than never.”

September 2006. Winds of Change. Catalyst Magazine, Union of Concerned Scientists. By Jeff Deyette. Excerpt: …The United States reached a wind energy milestone earlier this year: 10,000 megawatts (MW) of total generating capacity, or enough to power more than 2.5 million homes. …Though the U.S. wind industry continues to expand at a rapid pace, the cost of developing a wind power project has actually increased over the past 18 months, in some cases significantly. The uncertainty of federal production incentives has deterred manufacturers from building assembly plants in the United States, requiring most turbines to be imported, and foreign-made turbines have become more expensive as the value of the U.S. dollar has fallen. At the same time, high global demand has caused most turbine manufacturers to sell out through 2008, and the cost of steel and other materials has risen sharply due mostly to higher fossil fuel prices. Other factors include the difficulties associated with using more sophisticated electronic components and increased profit margins by manufacturers.
Fortunately, none of these obstacles are insurmountable. Higher fossil fuel prices have driven up the cost of conventional power generation, enabling wind power to remain cost-competitive.
…Two exciting new technologies hold out the promise of consistent growth for the wind industry in the coming decades: turbines that can be set in deep offshore waters, and land-based turbines that can operate cost-effectively at lower wind speeds….

6 August 2006. Physics Today – LETTERS – Tough questions about wind energyExcerpts: Kenneth Perry – Boulder, Wyoming: In suggesting that the US should turn to wind-generated electric power (see PHYSICS TODAY, July 2005, page 34), Cristina Archer and Mark Jacobson fail to discuss the visual impact of wind farms…. Terry Goldman, Los Alamos, New Mexico:
As a free-standing, reliable, and stable source of energy, wind power is totally inadequate; even as a secondary, supportive source, it has serious limitations. Due to the character of wind, power is not produced in a steady stream over a long period but in a succession of spikes between zero and full power. The fluctuation makes reliable management of the power grid very risky. Moreover, wind power generation delivers only a modest fraction (20% to 25%) of the installed power capacity….
Archer and Jacobson comment: Kenneth Perry suggests that wind turbines interfere with nature’s beauty. We believe, though, that the correct comparison is not with nature’s beauty but with the visual, health, and climate impacts of coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants (see, for example,, which is what wind turbines would be replacing. …Frits de Wette contends that the intermittency of wind makes power management of a wind-energy-dominated grid risky. This is true when wind farms are not linked together in an organized manner through the transmission grid, but not true if they are. We have shown in a new study that interconnecting up to 19 wind farms several hundred kilometers apart converts an intermittent wind resource to one that produces about one-third of its electric power at the same reliability as the average US coal-fired power plant-which has a 12.5% outage rate. Remaining electricity can be firmed with hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, or other power. The website for Red ElŽctrica, which operates Spain’s electric power system (, further shows, as an example, that linking most of Spain’s wind farms through a common grid would eliminate minute-by-minute fluctuations that occur at a single wind farm.
…Terry Goldman suggests that large-scale wind farming will cause significant bird loss. Statistics suggest otherwise. According to the Bird Conservancy, the 15 000 existing US wind turbines kill 10 000 to 40 000 birds per year, which compares with 50 million US bird deaths per year due to transmission towers and 200 million worldwide due to avian flu in 2005. Extrapolating to 5 million 5-MW turbines needed to satisfy all electric power and energy needs worldwide gives 3 million to 13 million bird deaths per year, much less than transmission towers in the US alone. -Cristina Archer
(lozej{at}, Mark Z. Jacobson (jacobson{at}, Stanford University

9 August 2006. Nevada Loses Decision on Atomic Waste 
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. Excerpt: Nevada was set back in its effort to avoid housing a radioactive waste dump as a federal appeals court rejected arguments against transportation plans. Nevada had said that the Energy Department overstepped its authority and violated environmental rules in deciding to rely mostly on trains to carry 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from around the country to Yucca Mountain. “We conclude that some of Nevada’s claims are unripe for review, and the remaining claims are without merit,” said a decision written by Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson for a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

1 August 2006. LEBANESE OIL SLICK – UN Warns of Environmental Disaster – Spiegel Online – Excerpt: While the war rages on, a huge environmental disaster is threatening Lebanon’s coast. Up to 35,000 tons of oil have spilled into the Mediterranean following Israeli air strikes — now it is a race against time to prevent long-term damage and the destruction of a fragile ecosystem. The Lebanese government is calling it the biggest ecological catastrophe in the country’s history. Between July 13 and 15, Israeli jets bombed the Jiyyeh power station, located 30 kilometers south of Beirut, and caused up to 35,000 tons of fuel oil to gush into the sea. The oil slick has now spread along 80 kilometers of Lebanon’s 225 kilometer coastline and has already reached Syria. A clean up operation is badly needed, but continuing hostilities between the Israeli army and Hezbollah have made this virtually impossible. Now, the catastrophe is threatening to damage the environment across many parts of the Mediterranean. …As bad as the Exxon Valdez?
In an interview with the BBC, the ministry’s director general, Berj Hatjian, compared the oil slick to that caused by the Exxon Valdez tanker, “with 20,000 to 30,000 tons reaching the shoreline.” When the tanker sank off the coast of Alaska in 1989, 40,000 tons of oil were released into the sea. The result was the worst ever maritime environmental disaster. Hundreds of thousands of animals died, and because the oil spill could not be completely cleaned up animals are still being poisoned today. The environmental impact of the current oil slick is not confined to Lebanon and risks spreading through the Mediterranean. The Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Center (Rempec), based in Malta, has already recorded the first traces of oil on the Syrian coast — confirming reports of contamination made by the port authority at Syria’s coastal town of Tartus….

16 July 2006. Atomic Balm? A Nuclear Renaissance? By JON GERTNER. NY Times. Excerpt: … the Alvin W. Vogtle nuclear-power generating station… (pronounced VOH-gull) was being built in the 1970’s and 80’s, it … was one of the largest construction projects in the history of Georgia. …its total cost, $8.87 billion, was so far overbudget that Vogtle became yet another notorious example of the evils of nuclear energy. In the public mind, the issue was safety. For the industry, the larger concern was economics. …Vogtle was intended to generate a total of around 4,500 megawatts of electricity, enough power to serve the needs of several million homes. The grand plan was to have four reactors. Instead, it was scaled back to two, …. Today these reactors together produce about 2,400 megawatts, satisfying about 15 percent of the state’s power needs. 

June 2006. (from the ASEE International Engineering Education Digest). Nuclear power revival – Political interest in nuclear power is reviving across the world, thanks in part to concerns about global warming and energy security. Currently some 441 commercial reactors operate in 31 countries and provide 17% of the planet’s electricity, according to a US Department of Energy report cited in the June 3rd The Economist. Until recently the talk was of how to retire these reactors gracefully, but now it is of how to extend their lives. And in addition another 32 reactors are being built, mostly in India, China and their neighbors. The new ‘third generation’ reactors are considered by their creators to be safer than their predecessors. Further into the future, engineers are developing designs for so-called ‘fourth generation’ plants that could be built between 2030 and 2040. Work on these designs is being undertaken by a ten-nation research program whose members include the US, Britain, China, France, Japan, South Africa and South Korea. (See

20 June 2006. THE ENERGY CHALLENGE. Europe’s Image Clashes With Reliance on Coal. By MARK LANDLER – NY Times. Excerpt: SCHWARZE PUMPE, Germany – In the shadow of two hulking boilers, which spew 10 million tons of carbon dioxide a year into the air, the Swedish owners of this coal-fired power station recently broke ground on what is to be the world’s first carbon-free plant fueled by coal. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, presided over the ceremony. …”We accept the problem of climate change,” said Reinhardt Hassa, a senior executive at Vattenfall, which operates the plant. “If we want a future for coal, we have to adopt new technologies. It is not enough just to make incremental improvements.” But the new plant, which will be just a demonstration model, pales next to the eight coal-fired power stations Germany plans to build for commercial use between from now to 2011 – none of them carbon-free. “That is really a disappointing track record,” said Stephan Singer, the director of climate and energy policy at the World Wide Fund for Nature in Brussels. “Just replacing old coal plants with new coal plants won’t enable Germany to meet stricter carbon emission targets.” …The recent spike in the price of oil has thrown the spotlight back on coal, even in places like Britain, where the industry had been in a death spiral for decades. Richard Budge, a longtime British coal executive, …noted […coal] is not a hostage to politics. When Russia abruptly switched off its natural gas pipeline to Ukraine in January over a pricing dispute, gas supplies dwindled all over Western Europe. …”Fifty-eight percent of the world’s gas is owned by Russia, Iran and Qatar,” Mr. Budge said. “Coal is on every continent.” … in eastern Germany, …So great is the demand that the government allows companies to forcibly resettle villages that lie in the path of their excavators. The process is costly and litigious and can take more than a decade….

14 June 2006. Ontario Revives Nuclear Power Plan By IAN AUSTEN. NY Times. Excerpt: OTTAWA, June 13 – In an effort to revive a nuclear energy program that has been marred by billions of dollars in debt, cost overruns and disappointing performance, the province of Ontario on Tuesday announced a plan to spend about 20 billion Canadian dollars ($18 billion [US]) to build reactors and refurbish some current units.
The plan also includes about 20 billion Canadian dollars for renewable energy projects and 6 billion Canadian dollars ($5.3 billion) for power conservation. …Vaughan Gilbert, a spokesman for Westinghouse Nuclear, which is based in Monroeville, Pa., and owned by BNFL of Britain, said, “We’ve been gearing up for this even though the market for new plants in North America had dried up.” If completed as envisioned, the plan will maintain the current level of nuclear-generated power, which provides about half of Ontario’s electricity. The other half is provided mainly by hydro-electric dams and coal. …3 of Ontario’s 19 reactors are not in use.
A Conservative government that preceded Mr. Duncan and the Liberals restructured the province’s government-owned electrical system as a prelude to privatization. But a variety of problems, including a political scandal tied to utility executives’ salaries, meant that the province never saw a major influx of privately owned power-generating companies.
Those issues recently forced Mr. Duncan to back away from a campaign pledge to close by 2009 the coal-fired generating stations. …The project will initially involve at least two units at a cost of about 2 billion Canadian dollars each. …Mark Winfield, the director of environmental governance at the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, predicted that the province would only experience further financial grief by recommitting to nuclear generation. “It’s a very strange approach and a very high-risk one as well,” he said. Mr. Winfield said he was skeptical that nuclear power generation would succeed financially this time around, and said the government was underestimating the full potential of energy conservation.

11 June 2006. THE ENERGY CHALLENGE. Pollution From Chinese Coal Casts a Global Shadow. By KEITH BRADSHER and DAVID BARBOZA. NY Times.Excerpt: HANJING, China – One of China’s lesser-known exports is a dangerous brew of soot, toxic chemicals and climate-changing gases from the smokestacks of coal-burning power plants. In early April, a dense cloud of pollutants over Northern China sailed to nearby Seoul, sweeping along dust and desert sand before wafting across the Pacific. An American satellite spotted the cloud as it crossed the West Coast. Researchers in California, Oregon and Washington noticed specks of sulfur compounds, carbon and other byproducts of coal combustion coating the silvery surfaces of their mountaintop detectors. These microscopic particles can work their way deep into the lungs, contributing to respiratory damage, heart disease and cancer. Filters near Lake Tahoe in the mountains of eastern California “are the darkest that we’ve seen” outside smoggy urban areas, said Steven S. Cliff, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California at Davis.
Unless China finds a way to clean up its coal plants and the thousands of factories that burn coal, pollution will soar both at home and abroad. The increase in global-warming gases from China’s coal use will probably exceed that for all industrialized countries combined over the next 25 years, surpassing by five times the reduction in such emissions that the Kyoto Protocol seeks…. Coal is indeed China’s double-edged sword – the new economy’s black gold and the fragile environment’s dark cloud. Already, China uses more coal than the United States, the European Union and Japan combined. …Every week to 10 days, another coal-fired power plant opens somewhere in China that is big enough to serve all the households in Dallas or San Diego. To make matters worse, India is right behind China in stepping up its construction of coal-fired power plants – and has a population expected to outstrip China’s by 2030. …Two years ago, Datong, long the nation’s coal capital, was branded one of the world’s most-polluted cities. Since then, the air quality has only grown worse. Datong is so bad that last winter the city’s air quality monitors went on red alert. Desert dust and particulate matter in the city had been known to force the pollution index into warning territory, above 300, which means people should stay indoors.
On Dec. 28, the index hit 350. …The Chinese are still far from achieving what has become the basic standard in the West. Urban elites who can afford condominiums are still a tiny fraction of China’s population. But these urban elites are role models with a lifestyle sought by hundreds of millions of Chinese. Plush condos on sale in Shanghai are just a step toward an Americanized lifestyle that is becoming possible in the nation’s showcase city….

2006 June 6. Debate Over Wind Power Creates Environmental Rift. By FELICITY BARRINGER. NY Times. Excerpt: OAKLAND, Md. – Dan Boone …wants to slow the growth of wind-power projects. For four years or more, Mr. Boone has traveled across the mid-Atlantic to make every argument he can muster against local wind-power projects: they kill birds and bats; they are too noisy; they are inefficient, making no more than a symbolic contribution to energy needs.
… in the mountainous terrain of southwestern Pennsylvania, western Maryland or West Virginia, areas where 15 new projects have been proposed. If all were built, 750 to 1,000 giant turbines would line the hilltops, most producing, on average, enough electricity to power 600 homes.
…”The broader environmental movement knows we have this urgent need for renewable energy to avert global warming,” said John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace U.S.A. “But we’re still dealing with groups that can’t get their heads around global warming yet.”
…Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s very public opposition to the 130-turbine Cape Wind energy facility proposed off Nantucket Sound has driven a wedge between activists.
…Mr. Boone’s quiver of anti-wind arguments includes economic analyses, but his first line of attack is biological: he contends that they are a threat to bats and potentially to migratory birds and that they break up forest habitat. Scores of raptors and other birds were killed by the first generation of wind turbines set up at Altamont Pass in Northern California. Since the Altamont Pass turbines were erected in the early 1980’s, turbine design has been altered, and most subsequent studies have shown that birds tend to fly above the height of most turbines though some experts say more studies are needed. But the turbines south of here in Thomas, W.Va., have been lethal to bats. More than 2,000 were killed in 2003 at the Mountaineer project, whose 44 turbines are owned by FPL Energy, a big power company that is the wind industry’s dominant player. Industry officials agree that the bat mortality measured at the Mountaineer site is unacceptable, and they are studying the benefits of deterrent devices and the best ways to modify turbine operations in bat-rich areas….

28 May 2006. Industry Leaders Bet on Coal but Split on Cleaner Approach. By SIMON ROMERO. NY Times. Excerpt: WRIGHT, Wyo. – More than a century ago a blustery Wyoming politician named Fenimore Chatterton boasted that his state alone had enough coal to “weld every tie that binds, drive every wheel, change the North Pole into a tropical region, or smelt all hell!”…His words seem prophetic. The future for American energy users is playing out in coal-rich areas like northeastern Wyoming, where dump trucks and bulldozers swarm around 80-foot-thick seams at a Peabody Energy strip mine here, one of the largest in the world. Coal, the nation’s favorite fuel in much of the 19th century and early 20th century, could become so again in the 21st. The United States has enough to last at least two centuries at current use rates – reserves far greater than those of oil or natural gas. … The decisions being made right now in industry and government on how quickly to adopt any new but more costly technologies will be monumental. “Coal isn’t going away, so you have to think ahead,” said Gavin A. Schmidt, a climate modeler at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, part of NASA. “Many of these power stations are built to last 50 years.” …Gregory Boyce… was chairman of an advisory panel for the Energy Department, organized by the National Coal Council, that produced a controversial report in March calling for exemptions to the Clean Air Act to encourage greater consumption of coal through 2025. The thrust of the report, which Mr. Boyce outlined in an interview, is that improvements in technology to limit carbon dioxide emissions should be left to the market instead of government regulation. …Led by Peabody, dozens of energy companies have embarked on the most ambitious construction of coal-fired electricity plants since the 1950’s. …While Peabody supports some coal gasification projects, it remains skeptical about departing from traditional coal-burning methods to produce electricity. The pulverized coal plants it wants to build, which grind coal into a dust before burning it to make electricity, currently cost about $2 billion each, or 15 percent to 20 percent less to build than the cleaner “integrated gasification combined cycle,” or I.G.C.C., plants, which convert coal into a gas. …Engineers have known how to make gas from coal for more than a century, using this method in the gaslights that first illuminated many American cities. A handful of coal gasification plants are already in operation in the United States, Spain and the Netherlands, …As they proceed with plans to build pulverized coal plants, Peabody and other companies often point to their support of the alternative technology through their participation in Futuregen, a $1 billion project started three years ago by the Bush administration to build a showcase 275-megawatt power station that could sequester carbon dioxide and reduce other pollutants…. 

13 May 2006. U.N. Finds New Uranium Traces in Iran. By WILLIAM J. BROAD. NYTimes. Exceprt: Atomic inspectors have found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment linked to an Iranian military base, raising new questions about whether Iran harbors a clandestine program to make nuclear bombs, diplomats said yesterday. It is the second such discovery in three years of United Nations inspections in Iran. As the Security Council debates how to handle the atomic impasse with Tehran, the finding is likely to deepen skepticism about Iran’s claims that its program is entirely peaceful….”There are still lots of questions,” a senior European diplomat said. “So it’s not a smoking gun.” …Highly enriched uranium contains 20 percent or more of a rare form of uranium, known as its 235 isotope. Bomb-grade uranium is usually defined as 80 percent or more, and can be fashioned into the core of a nuclear weapon. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima contained 140 pounds of highly enriched uranium. The senior European diplomat said the samples from Iran indicated the presence of highly enriched, but not necessarily bomb-grade, uranium. Iran says its atomic program is meant to enrich uranium to the relatively low grades needed for the production of electrical power in nuclear reactors, about 3 or 4 percent, a level that the inspectors recently confirmed. … 

May 2006. Energy Secretary Sends Yucca Legislation to Congress. Physics Today, page 25. Jim Dawson. Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Excerpt: Some 20 years and $8.6 billion after Yucca Mountain in Nevada was first rated by the US Department of Energy as the best site in the country to permanently store tens of thousands of tons of high-level nuclear waste, the Bush administration is beginning a new push to get the languishing project moving. But the new initiative, a legislative proposal DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman sent to Congress in early April, faces a difficult time on Capitol Hill. …In a letter to the Senate and House that accompanied the legislative proposal, Bodman said the “existence of a repository at Yucca Mountain is critical to the expanded use of nuclear power.” Even with the administration’s new proposal for a global nuclear energy partnership, which focuses on recycling nuclear waste instead of storing it, Bodman said the Yucca repository “will continue to be necessary to deal with the spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste that will be generated by those [recycling] technologies.” Currently about 55 000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste are stored at more than 100 sites in 39 states, according to DOE officials. An additional 2000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste is being generated each year. The proposed legislation calls for several specific actions by Congress to make the development of the Yucca site possible. DOE asks that 147 000 acres of land surrounding Yucca Mountain, which is located about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, be withdrawn from public use. Possession of the land by DOE is one of the NRC requirements for granting a license to build the facility. The legislation would also repeal the 70 000-metric-ton capacity limitation for waste storage at the facility and allow the limit to “be determined by the actual physical capacity of the mountain.” … the US Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce in the next several months a new standard for limiting radiation exposure at the Yucca repository for a one-million-year period. The revised standard is needed since the previous standard, based on the repository’s being safe for 10 000 years, was thrown out in 2004 by the US Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia because it was not “based on and consistent with” an earlier National Academy of Sciences radiation peak-dose safety recommendation…. 

27 April 2006. G.E., Betting on the Future, Finances a Solar Farm in Portugal. By CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH , NY Times. Excerpt: Next month the PowerLight Corporation, using $75 million of the General Electric Company’s money, will begin installing the first of what will be 52,000 solar panels, capable of generating 11 megawatts of electricity – enough to light and heat 8,000 homes. …”It takes a huge amount of work to develop these projects, to get the permits, to find the modules, and solar energy still costs more than fossil fuels or wind,” Mr. Marsden said. “So we are only going to invest in countries with supportive regimes.” That list does not yet include the United States. Richard King, a team leader in the Energy Department’s photovoltaic research group, said that many homeowners, particularly in California, had installed rooftop panels, as had some Wal-Mart stores and other businesses. But Mr. King conceded that American economics did not yet favor solar energy. He said that people in Portugal and many other parts of Europe were already accustomed to paying 25 cents to 30 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity. In the United States, the cost still averages 10 cents to 14 cents, “and utilities are just not going to buy 25-cent solar electricity,” he said. 

January 2006. Rush to Bury High-Level Nuclear Waste Ignores Flaws of Yucca Mountain Site. PSR Reports – Physicians for Social Responsibility In its annual budget for fiscal year (FY) 2007, the Department of Energy (DOE) requested $544.5 million in new spending for the proposed high-level nuclear waste storage facility in the Yucca Mountain range near Las Vegas, Nevada. This request reflects an almost $100 million increase in spending on Yucca mountain from the $450 million that Congress appropriated for FY 2006. …U.S. nuclear power plants have already generated more than 40,000 tons of high-level waste (a small portion of this is a byproduct of U.S. nuclear weapons production activities). This highly lethal stockpile is currently stored around the country at commercial and government facilities, and it continues to grow rapidly, as current nuclear power production adds 2,000 tons of waste to the existing pile every year. Industry pressure for a solution is mounting; the federal government was scheduled to assume responsibility for this waste nearly a decade ago. If DOE fails to move the waste to a federal repository, power plants that run out of on-site storage space will be forced to shut down. …in April 2005, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman publicly acknowledged that water flow and quality assurance data for the Yucca Mountain site could have been falsified. DOE’s own investigation and Congressional inquiries into United States Geological Service computer modeling of climate and water infiltration at the site uncovered numerous e-mail exchanges, dating back to 1998 and 2000, in which government scientists discussed fabricating documentation for a key scientific study about ground water penetration into the repository and admitted they made up data. 

January 2006. Last year, the state of Colorado implemented incentives for promoting alternative, sustainable sources for electrical power to Colorado customers. The Xcel Energy company is electricity provider that makes the Windsource program (accredited by the Green-e Renewable Energy Program) available to customers who chose to pay slightly more for electricity in order to encourage wind powered electricity. The following text appeared on a web page for Xcel Energy:
“Based on the electric rates effective January 1, 2006, and monthly average usage of 625 kilowatt-hours (kWh), the following table shows what typical Xcel Energy Colorado residential customers would pay for monthly electricity service to purchase 500 kWh per month of Windsource…. The Windsource Adjustment may be slightly higher for commercial & industrial customers. 

 Residential rates effective January 1, 2006
 Monthly electricity cost $59.35
 Windsource Adjustment (five 100 kWh blocks @ $0.072 credit/block) ($0.36)
 Total $58.99

Note that the “Adjustment” is in parentheses, indicating negative quantity, meaning that the cost of wind energy is now LESS than the cost of other energy sources, in particular, fossil fuel sources. There is now a waiting list for the Windsource program in Colorado. We could view this as a watershed moment in the history of electrical energy production: as fossil fuel costs continue to increase in ever accelerating fashion, costs of alternative electrical energy production does not increase nearly fast. We knew that inevitably, alternative sustainable energy sources would be cheaper than fossil fuel sources. We just did not know how soon that would happen. But as the Colorado situation shows, it’s happening sooner than some people expected. Next milestone to look for: when cost of photovoltaic (solar) electricity undercuts cost of fossil fuel electricity cost… —Alan Gould 

February 18, 2005. 2 Big Appetites Take Seats at the Oil Table. By KEITH BRADSHER , NY Times. MUMBAI – India, sharing a ravenous thirst for oil, has joined China in an increasingly naked grab at oil and natural gas fields that has the world’s two most populous nations bidding up energy prices and racing against each other and global energy companies. Energy economists in the West cannot help admiring the success of both China and India in kindling their industrialization furnaces. But they also cannot help worrying about what the effect will be on energy supplies as the 37 percent of the world’s population that lives in these two countries rushes to catch up with Europe, the United States and Japan. And environmentalists worry about the effects on global warming from the two nations’ plans to burn more fossil fuels. 

December 30, 2004. Alaska Oil Spill Takes Toll on Animals and Fisheries. By ELI SANDERS. NY Times. A local crab-fishing season has been canceled and the estimated number of animals killed or injured by oil has sharply increased as a rare break in rough Bering Sea weather allows officials to gain a better sense of the damage from a large spill in the Aleutian Islands. More than 355,000 gallons of fuel oil are now thought to have spilled from the freighter Selendang Ayu, which ran aground and split in two just off Unalaska Island on Dec. 8. 

Dec 2004. Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Containment Standard a Hot Topic. Letters to the Editor–Physics Today. 

October 27, 2004, Investigators on the Trail of Suspects in an Oil Spill
By ELI SANDERS. NY Times. VASHON ISLAND, Wash. – The crime occurred in the middle of the night, and by the time investigators began searching for clues after a thick morning fog had lifted, the damage was done and the culprit had escaped. The offense – an oil spill that fouled 20 miles of beaches in Puget Sound – is being pursued like so many other criminal investigations, with checks of fingerprints, interviews with potential witnesses, a long list of possible suspects and assurances from the authorities that the case will be solved. 

Sep 14, 2004. Petroleum From Decay? Maybe Not, Study Says. By NICHOLAS WADE, NY Times. Long-dead plant matter may not be the world’s only source of hydrocarbons. Twelve miles or more beneath its surface, in hellish temperatures and under pressures 50,000 times that at sea level, the earth itself may be generating methane, say researchers who have squeezed common rock and water together to reproduce these conditions. 

Sep 2004. Court Rules Against 10 000-Year Radiation Safety Standard at Yucca Mountain. Physics Today. Saying the Environmental Protection Agency “unabashedly” ignored a National Academy of Sciences report on future radiation levels at the facility, a US appeals court sends the radioactive waste problem back to Congress. In the hours after the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rendered its 9 July decision on the future of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility, all sides in the case were declaring victory. At the Department of Energy, Secretary Spencer Abraham said he was “pleased” with the decision and noted that the court “dismissed all challenges to the site selection of Yucca Mountain. Our scientific basis for the . . . project is sound.” Out in Nevada, where Yucca Mountain is located, State Attorney General Brian Sandoval all but pronounced the project dead, saying, “Simply put, Yucca is stopped in its tracks because the court recognizes that the project isn’t rooted in sound science. We wouldn’t trade places with the opposition.” Sandoval was referring to the court’s ruling that the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) 10 000-year safety standard for the facility doesn’t follow the 1992 Energy Policy Act. … One of Yucca Mountain’s chief advocates, Senator Pete Domenici, said that if the decision stands, “the ramifications are enormous. It may go well beyond Yucca. It may be the end of the nuclear industry.” 

August 12, 2004. When the Power Goes Out, the Sun Still Rises By MATTHEW L. WALD. The New York Times. WHEATON, Md. WHEN the Rev. George Buchanan and his wife, Harlene, put $19,000 worth of solar electric panels on their roof here two years ago, they did it as a matter of principle, not to save money. Someday the earth will run out of fuel to burn, or ruin the atmosphere trying, the Buchanans said, and someone has to take the plunge and try something better. Thousands of people have been drawn by the same logic, and by the idea that the sun works every day, even if the electric system fails as it did during the big Northeast blackout one year ago this week. “It’s the right thing to do,” said Mr. Buchanan, 82, a retired professor of New Testament theology at the Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. 

August 11, 2004. Rust and Neglect Cited at Japan Atom Plant By JAMES BROOKE. New York Times 
TOKYO, Wednesday, Aug. 11 – A section of steam pipe that blew out Monday, killing four workers at a Japanese nuclear power plant, had not been inspected in 28 years and had corroded from nearly half an inch to a thickness little greater than metal foil, authorities said Tuesday…. Although the carbon steel pipe carried 300-degree steam at high pressure, it had not been inspected since the power plant opened in 1976. In April 2003, Nihon Arm, a maintenance subcontractor, informed the Kansai Electric Power Company, the plant owner, that there could be a problem. Last November, the power company scheduled an ultrasound inspection for Saturday. “We thought we could postpone the checks until this month,” Akira Kokado, the deputy plant manager, told reporters at Mihama. “We had never expected such rapid corrosion.” But on Monday, four days before the scheduled shutdown for the inspection, superheated steam blew a two-foot-wide hole in the pipe, scalding four workmen to death and injuring five others seriously. The steam that escaped was not in contact with the nuclear reactor, and no nuclear contamination has been reported. Initial measurements showed that the steam had corroded the affected section of pipe from its original thickness of 0.4 inches to 0.06 inches, less than one-third the minimum safety standard. Kansai Electric said in a statement that the pipe “showed large-scale corrosion.” 

July 9, 2004 Yucca Mountain Lawsuit — Court Overrules Government’s Lax Radiation Standards for Nuclear Waste 
Also: Environmentalists, Nevada Prevail on Key Issue of Yucca Court Case — Court Orders EPA to Strengthen Radiation Requirements to Safeguard the Environment and Public Health — Today, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of environmental groups and the state of Nevada, finding that the Environmental Protection Agency illegally issued inadequate environmental and public health standards for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear repository site. 

July 10, 2004, NY Times. Court Sets Back Federal Project on Atom Waste Site’s Safety, By MATTHEW L. WALD. The government’s 17-year effort to bury nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada suffered a major setback on Friday. 

July 5, 2004 Ohio Wants U.S. to Freeze Nuclear Waste Removal By MATTHEW L. WALD Ohio is demanding that the waste at a nuclear weapons plant be left where it is, because the dump it was supposed to go to is not available.

April 4, 2004. Changing All the Rules, by Bruce Barcott, NY Times. President Bush …, in remarks he delivered on Sept. 15, 2003, to a cheering crowd of power-plant workers and executives in Monroe, Mich., about 35 miles south of Detroit. …The Monroe plant, which is operated by Detroit Edison, is one of the nation’s top polluters. Its coal-fired generators emit more mercury, a toxic chemical, than any other power plant in the state. Until recently, power plants like the one in Monroe were governed by N.S.R. regulations, which required the plant’s owners to install new pollution-control devices if they made any significant improvements to the plant. Those regulations now exist in name only; they were effectively eliminated by a series of rule changes that the Bush administration made out of the public eye in 2002 and 2003. What the president was celebrating in Monroe was the effective end of new-source review. …”The old regulations,” he said, speaking in front of a huge American flag, ”undermined our goals for protecting the environment and growing the economy.” New-source review just didn’t work, he said. It dissuaded power companies from updating old equipment. It kept power plants from operating at full efficiency. ”Now we’ve issued new rules that will allow utility companies, like this one right here, to make routine repairs and upgrades without enormous costs and endless disputes,” the president said. ”We simplified the rules. We made them easy to understand. We trust the people in this plant to make the right decisions.” 

April 7, 2004 . NYTimes: White House Minimized the Risks of Mercury in Proposed Rules, Scientists Say By JENNIFER 8. LEE. While working with Environmental Protection Agency officials to write regulations for coal-fired power plants over several recent months, White House staff members played down the toxic effects of mercury, hundreds of pages of documents and e-mail messages show. The staff members deleted or modified information on mercury that employees of the environmental agency say was drawn largely from a 2000 report by the National Academy of Sciences that Congress had commissioned to settle the scientific debate about the risks of mercury. Also here

Feb 20, 2004. NY Times. Lack of Safety Is Charged in Nuclear Site Cleanup By SARAH KERSHAW and MATTHEW L. WALD The accelerated cleanup of a complex in Richland, Wash., is endangering the safety of the site’s workers, experts say.

January 6, 2004, 3 Top Enforcement Officials Say They Will Leave E.P.ABy JENNIFER 8. LEE. WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 – Three top enforcement officials at the Environmental Protection Agency have resigned or retired in the last two weeks, including two lawyers who were architects of the agency’s litigation strategy against coal-burning power plants. The timing of the departures and comments by at least one of the officials who is leaving suggest that some have left out of frustration with the Bush administration’s policy toward enforcement of the Clean Air Act.

December 13, 2003 – Heat, Pollution Changing Precipitationby ANDREW BRIDGES, AP Science Writer – The massive amounts of heat and pollution that rise from the world’s cities both delay and stimulate the fall of precipitation, cheating some areas of much-needed rain and snow while dousing others, scientists said. The findings support growing evidence that urbanization has a sharp and alarming effect on the climate, and those changes can wreak havoc with precipitation patterns that supply life’s most precious resource: water.

November 2003 Greentips – Union of Concerned Scientists Plug In to Renewable Energy. Many electricity providers now offer “green” power packages, allowing customers to get all or part of their home’s electricity from renewable resources such as wind, solar, bioenergy, or hydropower. Generally speaking, renewable electricity has less impact on the environment and public health than electricity generated from fossil fuels or nuclear power.

September 30, 2003 RELEASE: 03-308 NASA Technology Reduces Some Smokestack Emissions — Thanks to NASA, a new method for reducing smokestack emissions of toxic formaldehyde and carbon monoxide may soon be in use throughout industry. Created for satellite lasers to measure the chemical makeup of the Earth’s atmosphere, the smokestack application of Low-Temperature Oxidation Catalysts (LTOC) comes from a collection of technologies that enables the destruction of pollutant gasses, such as carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, as well as some nitrogen oxides. Developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., LTOC technology is expected to reduce formaldehyde and carbon monoxide concentrations in smokestack emissions by approximately 85 to 95 percent.

May 6, 2002: Environmentalists and State of Nevada Say Yucca Mountain Radiation Standards Violate Drinking Water Protection Law

January 15, 2002–Ireland to Build World’s Largest Wind Farm, Bijal P. Trivedi, National Geographic Today–Ireland has approved plans to build the world’s largest wind farm on a sandbank just six miles (ten kilometers) offshore from Arklow, a town about 40 miles (70 kilometers) south of Dublin.