EU4C. 2009–2014 Field Trip to a Power Plant
Staying current for Chapter 4
Articles from 2009–2014
Stay current index page for chapter 4
2014-06-02. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Announces Clean Power Plan. On June 2, 2014, the EPA proposed the Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants. Under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, EPA is proposing commonsense approaches to reduce carbon pollution from new and existing power plants. http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/regulatory-action
2014-05-17. The coal plant to end all coal plants? Excerpt: KEMPER COUNTY, Miss. — Last November, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz rode an elevator to the top of the 11-story scaffolding surrounding Southern Co.’s new coal-fired power plant here and gazed out over the Mississippi flatlands. …Sixty-five percent of the plant’s carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas released by all coal-fired power plants, would be captured, carried through a 62-mile-long pipeline and injected into old oil reservoirs to boost output of precious crude. The carbon dioxide would remain buried in the ground, where it would not contribute to climate change. That would make this the first U.S. power plant designed to include commercial carbon-capture technology. “The risks of global warming and climate change are very real, and we are experiencing the impacts already,” Moniz said later to a gathering of notables that included Mississippi’s governor and Norway’s petroleum minister. “I consider seeing this plant a look at the future.” Six months later, the future has been postponed. Southern’s advanced coal plant, already running over budget and behind schedule when Moniz visited, has suffered new setbacks. On April 30, Southern said the Kemper plant would not open until May 31, 2015 — a year behind the original target…. http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/intended-showcase-of-clean-coal-future-hits-snags/2014/05/16/fc03e326-cfd2-11e3-b812-0c92213941f4_story.html – By Steven Mufson, The Washington Post.
2014-04-27. Chernobyl: Capping a Catastrophe. Excerpt: Chernobyl, Ukraine. Against the decaying skyline here, a one-of-a-kind engineering project is rising near the remains of the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster. An army of workers, shielded from radiation by thick concrete slabs, is constructing a huge arch, …by 2017 the 32,000-ton arch will be delicately pushed on Teflon pads to cover the ramshackle shelter that was built to entomb the radioactive remains of the reactor that exploded and burned here in April 1986. …The arch will also allow the final stage of the Chernobyl cleanup to begin — an arduous task to remove the heavily contaminated reactor debris for permanent safe storage. …With nations debating the future of atomic power as one way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and fight climate change, the arch is also a stark reminder that nuclear energy, for all of its benefits, carries enormous risks. When things go wrong, huge challenges follow. Containment and cleanup push engineering capabilities to their limits, as Japan is also finding out since the meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant three years ago. The costs are enormous — the Chernobyl arch alone will end up costing about $1.5 billion, financed largely by the United States and about 30 other nations. And making the site of a radioactive disaster truly secure can take generations. …The Chernobyl accident can be likened to a huge dirty bomb, an explosion that spewed radioactive material in all directions … followed by a fire that sent even more contaminants into the atmosphere that were then carried by winds across the region and into Western Europe. …at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979 and Fukushima in 2011… reactor cores melted down, but the core material — the nuclear fuel — remained within protective containment structures. The four reactors at the Chernobyl plant had no such containment. …An exclusion zone of about 1,000 square miles still exists around the plant, with access controlled through checkpoints. …the zone remains virtually empty. Many of the villages were bulldozed; …equipment had become so radioactive during the initial cleanup that it had been simply buried in place. …Mr. Korneyev, 65, a radiation specialist and native of Kazakhstan, … understands more than most people the extent of the radioactive mess that remains in what was Unit 4. While the number of radioactive particles released during the explosion and subsequent fire was enormous, they came from only about five tons of the reactor fuel. Close to 200 tons of fuel — uranium and its highly radioactive fission byproducts — remain in the bowels of the destroyed building. …Mr. Korneyev, the radiation specialist who knows better than most the conditions in the sarcophagus, has enormous doubts about the long-term project. “There is not the technology available to access this fuel inside the unit,” he said…. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/27/science/chernobyl-capping-a-catastrophe.html. By Henry Fountain, The New York Times.
2014-03-24. Fish Embryos Exposed to Oil From BP Spill Develop Deformities, a Study Finds.Excerpt: …Embryos of tuna and amberjack that were exposed to crude oil collected from the Deepwater Horizon spill developed heart and other deformities that would probably kill some of the developing fish and shorten the lives of others, a new study by a team of marine scientists reported on Monday. Their findings, published in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will figure in the final assessment of damages for the disaster that will be borne by BP, which operated the oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico when the disaster occurred. An explosion and fire nearly four years ago spewed roughly 4.1 million barrels of oil into the gulf; another 800,000 barrels were contained before it could escape into the water. Remnants of the spill continue to wash up…. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/25/us/fish-embryos-exposed-to-oil-from-bp-spill-develop-deformities-a-study-finds.html. Michael Wines, The New York Times.
2014-02-09. Nuclear Waste Solution Seen in Desert Salt Beds. Excerpt: CARLSBAD, N.M. — Half a mile beneath the desert surface, in thick salt beds left behind by seas that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago, the Department of Energy is carving out rooms as long as football fields and cramming them floor to ceiling with barrels and boxes of nuclear waste. …At a rate of six inches a year, the salt closes in on the waste and encapsulates it for what engineers say will be millions of years. …The material buried at the plant, which began accepting waste in 1999, is limited by law to plutonium waste from making weapons, which is exceptionally long-lived but not highly radioactive. The waste from spent nuclear fuel, which is far more radioactive in its first few centuries, is not permitted. But experts say that proper testing and analysis might show that the salt beds at WIPP are a good home for the radioactive waste that was once meant for Yucca. …Allison M. Macfarlane, a geologist who is chairwoman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission…, said …“The main lesson from WIPP [Waste Isolation Pilot Plant] is that we have already developed a geologic repository for nuclear waste in this country, so we can in the future,” she said. The key, she said, is a site that is acceptable to both scientists and the local community. …In the nearby community, business and political leaders are agitating for expansion. …But at the state level, there is active opposition…. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/10/science/earth/nuclear-waste-solution-seen-in-desert-salt-beds.html. Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times.
2013-11-11. ISSUE 82: Something Inside of Us. Excerpt: How 4 million tons of Tennessee coal ash ended up in Alabama’s black belt…. From July 2009 to December 2010, four million tons of coal ash were trucked in and dumped just across a two-lane county road from the homes of residents, who wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency saying they were “trapped in a cloud of coal ash.” It covered their houses, cars, gardens, and yards. Today, residents in Perry County aren’t sure where the $4 million has gone, …. Coal ash contains mercury, selenium, lead, manganese, chromium, cobalt, magnesium, arsenic, and other toxic heavy metals. A report released in 2009 by environmental watchdog groups Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project revealed that the EPA’s own investigations have found that people living near coal ash ponds have an increased risk of damage to their lungs, livers, kidneys, and other organs because of exposure to toxic metals. But the EPA still considers coal ash a “nonhazardous” solid waste, and has no specific federal regulatory program for it, despite having promised to put forth a ruling by the end of 2010. Regulation is thus left up to individual states, and most often it’s the poor states, like Alabama, that have the fewest regulations and very few inspectors to enforce the rules that are on the books…. http://www.oxfordamerican.org/articles/2013/nov/11/something-inside-us/. Holly Hawarth, Oxford American.
2013-11-28. South Carolina Threatens Washington Over Cleanup. Excerpt: AIKEN, S.C. — The Energy Department began cleaning up an environmental nightmare at the old Savannah River Site nuclear weapons plant here in 1996 and promised a bright future: Within a quarter-century, officials said, they would turn liquid radioactive bomb waste into a solid that could not spill or dissolve. But 17 years later, the department has slowed the work to a pace that makes completion of the cleanup by the projected date of 2023 highly unlikely. Energy officials now say the work will not be done until well into the 2040s, when the aging underground tanks that hold the bomb waste in the South Carolina lowlands will be 90 years old. …The slowdown has set off a fierce battle between the Energy Department and South Carolina, where officials say they have been double-crossed in what they view as the state’s biggest environmental threat. In an unusual display of resistance from a state that was host to a major part of the Cold War effort to make nuclear weapons — and is now home to most of the resulting radioactive waste — South Carolina is threatening to impose $154 million in fines on the federal government for failing to meet its promised schedule…. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/29/us/slow-cleanup-of-bomb-waste-pits-south-carolina-against-washington.html. Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times.
2013-10-21. For Tepco and Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, toxic water stymies cleanup. Excerpt: TOKYO — Two and a half years after a series of nuclear meltdowns, Japan’s effort to clean up what remains of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant is turning into another kind of disaster. The site now stores 90 million gallons of radioactive water, more than enough to fill Yankee Stadium to the brim. An additional 400 tons of toxic water is flowing daily into the Pacific Ocean, and almost every week, the plant operator acknowledges a new leak. … The leaks into the ocean are far less toxic than the radioactive plumes that emanated from the plant after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, forcing 160,000 people to move out of the vicinity. Thanks to that quick evacuation, experts say, there are no expectations of a Chernobyl-style spike in cancer cases — although the government is conducting thyroid checks of thousands of children. But the flow of contaminated water amounts to a slow-burning environmental disaster with implications for Japan’s wildlife and its food chain. … The 40-year decommissioning is expected to cost 10 trillion yen, or about $100 billion — roughly two years’ worth of Tepco’s revenue…. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/for-tepco-and-japans-fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-plant-toxic-water-stymies-cleanup/2013/10/21/406f4d78-2cba-11e3-b141-298f46539716_story.html. Yuki Oda, for The Washington Post.
2013-09-03. Errors Cast Doubt on Japan’s Cleanup of Nuclear Accident Site. Excerpt: NARAHA, Japan — In this small farming town in the evacuation zone surrounding the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, small armies of workers in surgical masks and rubber gloves are busily scraping off radioactive topsoil in a desperate attempt to fulfill the central government’s vow one day to allow most of Japan’s 83,000 evacuees to return. Yet, every time it rains, more radioactive contamination cascades down the forested hillsides along the rugged coast. …The government announced Tuesday that it would spend $500 million on new steps to stabilize the plant, including an even bigger project: the construction of a frozen wall to block a flood of groundwater into the contaminated buildings. The government is taking control of the cleanup from the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company. The triple meltdown at Fukushima in 2011 is already considered the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. …Some critics have dismissed the “ice wall” as a costly technology that would be vulnerable at the blackout-prone plant because it relies on electricity the way a freezer does, …. Nuclear experts also questioned the government’s longer-term plan to extract the fuel cores from the reactors, which if successful would eliminate the major source of contamination. Some doubted whether it was even technically feasible to extricate the fuel because of the extent of the damage during the explosions and subsequent meltdowns. Even at Three Mile Island, where the reactor vessel remained intact, removing the fuel by remote-controlled machinery was a tricky engineering feat. While great strides have been made in robotics since then, damage to the containment vessels at Fukushima makes the problems there much more complex. Molten fuel not only piled up like wax from a candle on the vessel floor, as at Three Mile Island, but ran through cracks into the piping and machinery below…. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/04/world/asia/errors-cast-doubt-on-japans-cleanup-of-nuclear-accident-site.html. Martin Fackler, New York Times.
2013-08-15. Study: All 107 U.S. nuclear reactors vulnerable to terrorists. Excerpt: Every commercial nuclear reactor in the United States is insufficiently protected against “credible” terrorist threats, according to a new report (PDF) from the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas at Austin. …all 107 commercial nuclear power reactors were thought to be vulnerable…. …the Sept. 11 hijackers considered flying a passenger jet into a New York City-area nuclear reactor…. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57598723/study-all-107-u.s-nuclear-reactors-vulnerable-to-terrorists/. Brian Montopoli, CBS News.
2013-07-09. Pollution Leads to Drop in Life Span in Northern China, Research Finds. Excerpt: Southern Chinese on average have lived at least five years longer than their northern counterparts in recent decades because of the destructive health effects of pollution from the widespread use of coal in the north, according to a study released Monday by a prominent American science journal. …the higher mortality rates were found across all age groups. … Several recent scientific studies have revealed the toll that China’s outdoor air pollution is taking on humans. This spring, new data released from the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study revealed that such pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010, or nearly 40 percent of the global total…. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/09/world/asia/pollution-leads-to-drop-in-life-span-in-northern-china-study-finds.html. Edward Wong, New York Times.
2013-05-31. A Floating Wind Tower Is Launched in Maine. Excerpt: One reason that offshore wind has not caught on in the United States is the steep cost of erecting a tower in the water, but researchers at the University of Maine tried another approach on Friday by launching a floating wind machine. It is the first offshore wind installation in United States waters, according to the Energy Department, which helped pay for it. The tower, launched in Brewer, Me., sits on three hollow concrete tubes and will be anchored in the Gulf of Maine. It is a mere 20 kilowatts in capacity, an amount of power that could be soaked up by a handful of big suburban houses on a hot summer day. But it is one-eighth the dimensions of the one the researchers hope to deploy in the next few years, a gigantic 6-megawatt model, with each blade as long as the wingspan of a Boeing 747. …it will have two big advantages over machines on land, according to Habib J. Dagher, a professor of civil engineering at the university. Onshore wind machines produce most of their energy at night, when it is least valuable to utilities buying the power, but this one will catch the predictable, strong breezes that come up every sunny summer afternoon, he said, when the sun heats the land more than the sea, creating an onshore breeze….http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/01/business/energy-environment/a-floating-wind-tower-is-launched-in-maine.html. Matthew L. Wald, New York Times.
2013 January 19. Rift Widens Over Mining of Uranium in Virginia. By Trip Gabriel, The New York Times. Excerpt: …After years of government reports and hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations that included a trip to France for state lawmakers, the issue [of uranium mining in Coles Hill, VA] has reached the crucible of Virginia’s General Assembly. Bills introduced last week would lift a moratorium on uranium mining at the site here, known as Coles Hill. Political supporters say that the mining would bring economic benefits and that risks from radioactive wastes, or tailings, can be safely managed. Opponents fear the contamination of drinking water in case of an accident, and a stigma from uranium that would deter people and businesses from moving to the area….
2012 October 25. Fish Off Japan’s Coast Said to Contain Elevated Levels of Cesium. By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times. Excerpt: TOKYO — Elevated levels of cesium still detected in fish off the Fukushima coast of Japan suggest that radioactive particles from last year’s nuclear disaster have accumulated on the seafloor and could contaminate sea life for decades, according to new research. …More than 18 months after the nuclear disaster, Japan bans the sale of 36 species of fish caught off Fukushima, rendering the bulk of its fishing boats idle and denying the region one of its mainstay industries. Some local fishermen are trying to return to work. Since July, a handful of them have resumed small-scale commercial fishing for species, like octopus, that have cleared government radiation tests….
2012 July 04. Troubles at a 1960s-Era Nuclear Plant in California May Hint at the Future. By Ian Lovett, The NY Times. Excerpt: More than seven million people live within 50 miles of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which is about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. But for decades, residents here largely accepted, if not exactly embraced, the hulking nuclear plant perched on the cliffs above this popular surfing beach as a necessary part of keeping the lights on in a state that uses more electricity than all of Argentina. All that changed, however, after the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown in Japan last year, followed in January by a small leak of radioactive steam here caused by the deterioration of steam tubes that had been damaged by vibration and friction…The leak has galvanized opposition to the nuclear plant among local residents, who are calling for San Onofre to remain shuttered for good. Antinuclear activists from across the country have seized on problems at San Onofre as an opportunity to push California toward a future without nuclear power…Still, any efforts to permanently close the nuclear plant face the ever-growing appetite for electricity in Southern California. San Onofre, the largest power plant in the region, produced 2,200 megawatts, enough to power 1.4 million homes, and also helps import power to the region…Without any power from San Onofre, a severe heat wave could bring rolling blackouts, but state energy officials said they expected to get through the summer without problems….
2012 Jun 25. Seeking a Profitable Place to Put Captured Carbon. By Matthew L. Wald, The NY Times. Excerpt: Two major oil companies joined by a chemical company and an investment group have invested $9 million in a commercial carbon capture project in Texas that will treat the flue gases from a coal-fired cement kiln and turn them into marketable chemicals. Joe David Jones, the chief executive of Skyonic, emphasized that the plant would be different because it was “non-pump-it-in-the-ground carbon capture.” Most efforts so far have focused on carbon capture and sequestration, which turns the gas into a liquid that is pumped deep underground at a significant energy cost. This process will also cost energy, but he said it would be commercially viable. Commercial recovery of carbon dioxide is rare but not unheard of…But even if the market for sodium bicarbonate, the main product, is small, Mr. Lashof said it was encouraging to see a company try to make money from an activity that could help slow the buildup of climate-changing gases in the atmosphere. The biggest market for captured carbon dioxide is likely to be pumping it into old oil wells to stimulate greater production, which could be on the order of 40 million tons per year, he said….
2012 Jun 25. Fears Accompany Fishermen in Japanese Disaster Region. By Hiroko Tabuchi, The NY Times. Excerpt: The catch from six small fishing boats, the first to resume commercial fishing in the waters off Fukushima since last year’s nuclear catastrophe, went on sale at local supermarkets on Monday, raising hopes and concerns in a region struggling to return to something like normal. For now, the catch is limited to octopus and whelk, a type of sea snail, because those species are thought to trap fewer radioactive particles in their bodies. What that means for sea life is far from clear. But the fishermen’s hope to resume working the waters they fished for decades is causing unease all around. Experts say the effects of the disaster on the ocean are still not fully understood. Hours before the boats set out, the central government hastily banned Fukushima’s fishermen from selling 36 types of fish other than octopus and whelk. Until then, there had been no explicit ban on fishing near Fukushima, because the region’s fishermen had voluntarily suspended work after the tsunami and nuclear disaster. In return, they have received about $125 million from the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power…Away from the immediate area of the plant, the radiation is too diffuse to pose an immediate risk to human health, but experts worry that radioactive material will accumulate in the marine food chain. Radiation levels in some fish exceed the government’s safety limits of 100 becquerels a kilogram, including one bottom-dwelling poacher fish that registered 690 becquerels a kilogram in April. But other sea produce show negligible radiation readings, including octopus and sea snails caught by fishermen from Soma…Still, local residents said it was a milestone for a vital source of food and employment in the region….
2012 Jun 08. Growing Distaste for Nuclear Power Dims Prospects for R&D. By Dennis Normile, Science. Excerpt: The Japanese government promised a sweeping review of the country’s nuclear-centric energy policy…Targets for nuclear power range from 35% of generating capacity down to zero—a total nuclear phase-out…While that scenario would not require Japan to go cold turkey on nuclear power, it would rule out building new reactors for the immediate future. It would also cloud prospects for R&D. Governmental support for nuclear research has already declined for more than a decade and is now shifting to decontamination and decommissioning studies. Utilities will have less incentive to invest in nuclear R&D. Already, universities are taking a hit: Enrollments in nuclear energy departments at seven universities dropped 16% for the school year starting on 1 April, according to Kyodo News. The cumulative effect will be “a gap in knowledge and expertise in the future,” says Hisashi Ninokata, a nuclear engineer who recently retired from the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Ninokata and others worry that this gap will leave Japan poorly equipped to develop and deploy advanced reactors and maintain a nuclear power option in the face of uncertainties surrounding global energy markets and the capabilities of renewables. “Japan should continue fundamental studies” in nuclear energy, says Satoru Tanaka, a nuclear engineer at the University of Tokyo and president of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan. But in putting their case to policy-makers and the public, nuclear scientists and engineers are clearly on the defensive….
2012 May 26. Spent Fuel Rods Drive Growing Fear Over Plant in Japan. By Hiroko Tabuchi and Matthew L. Wald, The NY Times. Excerpt: What passes for normal at the Fukushima Daiichi plant today would have caused shudders among even the most sanguine of experts before an earthquake and tsunami set off the world’s second most serious nuclear crisis after Chernobyl. Fourteen months after the accident, a pool brimming with used fuel rods and filled with vast quantities of radioactive cesium still sits on the top floor of a heavily damaged reactor building, covered only with plastic. The public’s fears about the pool have grown in recent months as some scientists have warned that it has the most potential for setting off a new catastrophe, now that the three nuclear reactors that suffered meltdowns are in a more stable state, and as frequent quakes continue to rattle the region….
2012 May 28. Japan’s Former Leader Condemns Nuclear Power. By Martin Fackler, The NY Times. Excerpt: Japan’s prime minister during last year’s nuclear crisis told a parliamentary inquiry on Monday that the country should discard nuclear power as too dangerous, saying the Fukushima accident had pushed Japan to the brink of “national collapse.” In testimony to a panel investigating the government’s handling of the nuclear disaster, the former prime minister, Naoto Kan, also warned that the politically powerful nuclear industry was trying to push Japan back toward nuclear power despite “showing no remorse” for the accident However, Mr. Noda apparently did not the heed the warning. Hours later, the prime minister indicated that he may soon make a decision on restarting the Oi nuclear plant in western Japan, which he hopes will be a first step toward turning on Japan’s other idled plants….
2012 May 4. How to generate power from a volcano by Paul Willis, TG Daily. Excerpt: A plan to tap the geothermal potential of one of the Cascade Range’s most impressive volcanoes has been thrown open for public consultation. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has begun the consultation to decide whether forest land near Mount Baker should be leased out to power companies for the purpose of producing geothermal energy. It is believed that power companies would use thermal vents in the vicinity of the peak to tap the energy of the volcano….
2012 Mar 8. Japan’s Nuclear Energy Industry Nears Shutdown, at Least for Now, by Martin Fackler. Excerpt: OHI, Japan — All but two of Japan’s 54 commercial reactors have gone offline since the nuclear disaster a year ago, after the earthquake and tsunami, and it is not clear when they can be restarted. With the last operating reactor scheduled to be idled as soon as next month, Japan — once one of the world’s leaders in atomic energy — will have at least temporarily shut down an industry that once generated a third of its electricity. …Japan has so far succeeded in avoiding shortages, thanks in part to a drastic conservation program that has involved turning off air-conditioning in the summer and office lights during the day. …“March 11 has shaken Japan to the root of its postwar identity,” said Takeo Kikkawa, an economist who specializes in energy issues at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. “We were the country that suffered Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but then we showed we had the superior technology and technocratic expertise to safely tame this awesome power for peaceful economic progress. Nuclear accidents were things that happened in other countries.”….
2012 Jan 9. As Fukushima Clean-Up Begins, Long-term Impacts are Weighed. By Winifred Bird, Yale Environment 360. …Lacking land for resettlement and facing public outrage over the accident, the Japanese government has chosen … a decontamination effort of unprecedented scale.
Beginning this month, at least 1,000 square kilometers of land — much of it forest and farms — will be cleaned up as workers power-spray buildings, scrape soil off fields, and remove fallen leaves and undergrowth from woods near houses. The goal is to make all of Fukushima livable again. But as scientists, engineers, and ordinary residents begin this massive task, they face the possibility that their efforts will create new environmental problems in direct proportion to their success in remediating the radioactive contamination….
…The radioactive particles the Japanese are trying to get rid of can be quite “sticky.” Removing them without removing large amounts of soil, leaves, and living plants is nearly impossible. The Ministry of Environment estimates that Fukushima will have to dispose of 15 to 31 million cubic meters of contaminated soil and debris by the time the decontamination projects end. Costs are predicted to exceed a trillion yen….
2012 Feb 9. Federal Regulators Approve Two Nuclear Reactors in Georgia. By Matthew L. Wald, New York Times. Excerpt: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 4 to 1 on Thursday to grant a license to build and operate two reactors at a nuclear plant in Georgia, a crucial threshold for an industry that has not had a new start since 1978.
2012 Jan 27. Japanese Experts Question Safety of—and Need for—Nuclear Power. Science(subscription needed). Excerpt: Japan is preparing for the possibility of a summer without nuclear power as utilities and safety experts squabble over the safety of the country’s remaining reactors. Of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors, only three are currently operating, and they must shut down for periodic inspection by the end f April. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, last summer the governing Democratic Party of Japan required “stress tests,” analyses of a facility’s ability to withstand natural disasters, to be part of periodic inspections. Based on that analysis, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has concluded that two reactors at a plant in Ohi on the Japanese sea coast have passed. …A new national energy policy is due by the end of the summer, and observers expect it could call for a phase-out of nuclear power. A sudden and permanent shut down of all reactors, however, would be a huge surprise.
2012 Jan 5. A Coal-Fired Plant That Is Eager for U.S. Rules. By Matthew L. Wald, The NY Times. Excerpt: BALTIMORE – As operators of coal-fired power plants around the country welcome a court-ordered delay on tighter pollution rules, the owner of a retrofitted plant here says that the rules cannot come too soon….
…Having invested the $885 million — nearly as much as it cost to build the two generating units in 1984 and 1991 — Constellation Energy argues that laggard plants should also have to comply with the emission limits or shut down. Otherwise, it argues, the utility will be operating at a big disadvantage: simply running the retrofitted plant requires 40 megawatts of electricity, enough to keep a small town humming….
…Constellation’s competitors see it differently, saying that they cannot build for rules that do not yet exist….
2011 December 19. Uranium Mining Debate in Virginia Takes a Step. By Theo Emery, The NY Times. Excerpt: The National Academy of Sciences delivered a long-awaited report on uranium mining to the Virginia legislature on Monday, warning that the state faced “steep hurdles” if it is to safely mine and process the nuclear reactor fuel….
The report’s release marks the start of what is certain to be impassioned debate over whether to lift a nearly three-decade moratorium and permit landowners in southern Virginia to extract ore from a vast underground deposit….
2011 November 24. Loan Request by Uranium-Enrichment Firm Upends Politics as Usual. By Matthew L. Wald, The NY Times. Excerpt: The only American-owned company capable of enriching uranium is asking for government help to modernize its plant and remain in business….
…For years, USEC has been seeking a $2 billion loan guarantee, but the Energy Department was reluctant to back it. And that was before the Solyndra bankruptcy cast a harsh light on the risks the government was taking to support private energy projects.
The Piketon project, though, has scrambled the usual balance of partisan politics. Even harsh critics of the Solyndra loan, including John Boehner, the Ohio Republican and speaker of the House, are demanding that the government come through with the loan. Piketon is about 100 miles from Mr. Boehner’s district….
…Those opposed to the loan guarantee say there is not enough of a market for the product to justify another enrichment technology at such a heavy cost….
2011 November 10. Coal Project Hits Snag as a Partner Backs Off. Matthew L. Wald, The NY Times. Excerpt: The leading American effort to capture carbon dioxide from coal plants has hit a stumbling block that could imperil the project and set back a promising technology for addressing global warming, people involved in the venture said….
…It is the latest setback for the program, which was long seen as the nation’s best hope for taking a worldwide lead in developing ways to capture and bury carbon dioxide from coal burning. Globally, coal burning now accounts for roughly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and rising energy demand is only expected to drive up coal consumption, especially in nations with large reserves like China and India….
…Word that this effort, too, could be set back frustrated experts in the field, given a general industry consensus that the federal government should be underwriting demonstrations of technologies to limit carbon dioxide emissions so the market can judge which are most practical….
2011 October 14. Citizens’ Testing Finds 20 Hot Spots Around Tokyo. By Hiroko Tabuchi, The NY Times. Excerpt: …It has been clear since the early days of the nuclear accident, the world’s second worst after Chernobyl, that that the vagaries of wind and rain had scattered worrisome amounts of radioactive materials in unexpected patterns far outside the evacuation zone 12 miles around the stricken [Fukushima Daiichi] plant. But reports that substantial amounts of cesium had accumulated as far away as Tokyo have raised new concerns about how far the contamination had spread, possibly settling in areas where the government has not even considered looking….
…The government’s failure to act quickly, a growing chorus of scientists say, may be exposing many more people than originally believed to potentially harmful radiation. It is also part of a pattern: Japan’s leaders have continually insisted that the fallout from Fukushima will not spread far, or pose a health threat to residents, or contaminate the food chain. And officials have repeatedly been proved wrong by independent experts and citizens’ groups that conduct testing on their own….
2011 August 9. Researching Safer Nuclear Energy. By Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times. Excerpt: The nuclear power industry faces hard times, with tough competition from natural gas for meeting new electricity needs and a prevailing nervousness about nuclear safety after the Fukushima Daiichi accident in March. On Tuesday, the Energy Department, handing out research grants in all kinds of energy fields that are low in carbon dioxide emissions, is announcing that it will give $39 million to university programs around the country to try to solve various nuclear problems…
Two researchers at Clemson University, for example, will get $1 million to study the behavior of particles of nuclear waste when buried in clay in metal canisters that have rusted. One open question, according to the researchers, is how a high temperature, which would be generated by the waste itself, affects the interactions. These are important to understanding how the waste would spread over time…
…In a statement, Steven Chu, the energy secretary, said that nuclear energy had an important role to play in a low-carbon energy future and that the grants would help the country “maintain global leadership in the field.”
2011 August 1. Fatal Radiation Level Found at Japanese Plant. By Martin Fackler, The New York Times. Excerpt: The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant said Monday that it measured the highest radiation levels within the plant since it was crippled by a devastating earthquake. However, it said the discovery would not slow continuing efforts to bring the plant’s damaged reactors under control. The operator, Tokyo Electric Power, said that workers on Monday afternoon had found an area near Reactors No. 1 and 2, where radiation levels exceeded their measuring device’s maximum reading of 10 sieverts per hour — a fatal dose for humans.
… Tokyo Electric said it has closed off an area of several yards around where the lethal radiation level was found…
2011 July 11. Hydrofracking fluid has toxic impact on forest life, study shows. By David O. Williams, The Colorado Independent. Excerpt: Hydraulic fracturing itself may not directly contaminate groundwater supplies, as the oil and gas industry has steadfastly maintained for years, but the wastewater associated with the controversial process can be very hazardous to forest life, at least according to a new study produced by a U.S. Forest Service researcher.
Mary Beth Adams applied more than 75,000 gallons of fracking fluid to a quarter-acre plot of land in the Fernow Experimental Forest in West Virginia. All of the groundcover on the plot died almost right away, and within two years 56 percent of the approximately 150 trees in the area had died….
2011 Summer. Can it Happen Here? Union of Concerned Scientists. Excerpt: On March 11, when a massive earthquake and tsunami damaged Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, our team of nuclear power experts began examining information coming from Japan to help American journalists, policy makers, and the general public understand that a potentially catastrophic situation was unfolding.
In the weeks that followed, UCS fielded thousands of calls from reporters, held daily press briefings, and continuously updated our website with new information on what was happening in Japan and its implications for nuclear power in this country. One question we have been asked with regularity is, Could it happen here? Based on our nearly 40 years of experience in evaluating nuclear power plant safety, the short answer is yes… [A relevant folk song: The Arkansas Traveler]
2011 April 26. Report Urges Storing Spent Nuclear Fuel, Not Reprocessing It. By Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times. Excerpt: Experts on nuclear power predict that Japan’s Fukushima crisis will lead to a major rethinking of how spent nuclear fuel is handled in the United States but have cast doubt on a proposed solution: reprocessing the fuel to recover plutonium and other materials for reuse…
Rather than processing the fuel to retrieve plutonium, the report suggests, the fuel should be “managed” so that the option of doing so is preserved — perhaps by storing the fuel in above-ground silos for a century. It recommends moving it to a centralized repository, starting with fuel from nuclear reactors that have been retired and torn down.
2011 April 11. Japan Nuclear Disaster Put on Par With Chernobyl. By Hiroko Tabuchi and Keith Bradsher, The New York Times. Excerpt:Japan has decided to raise its assessment of the accident at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to the worst rating on an international scale…
The decision to raise the alert level to 7 from 5 on the scale amounts to an admission that the accident at the nuclear facility, brought on by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, is likely to have substantial and long-lasting consequences for health and for the environment. Some in the nuclear industry have been saying for weeks that the accident released large amounts of radiation…
On the International Nuclear Event Scale, a Level 7 nuclear accident involves “widespread health and environmental effects” and the “external release of a significant fraction of the reactor core inventory.”
2011 April 5. U.S. Sees Array of New Threats at Japan’s Nuclear Plant. By James Glanz and William J. Broad, The New York Times. Excerpt: …United States government engineers sent to help with the crisis in Japan are warning that the troubled nuclear plant there is facing a wide array of fresh threats that could persist indefinitely, and that in some cases are expected to increase as a result of the very measures being taken to keep the plant stable, according to a confidential assessment prepared by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Among the new threats that were cited in the assessment, dated March 26, are the mounting stresses placed on the containment structures as they fill with radioactive cooling water, making them more vulnerable to rupture in one of the aftershocks rattling the site after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11. The document also cites the possibility of explosions inside the containment structures due to the release of hydrogen and oxygen from seawater pumped into the reactors, and offers new details on how semimolten fuel rods and salt buildup are impeding the flow of fresh water meant to cool the nuclear cores….
2011 April 5. Crisis Saddles Village With Unwanted Notoriety. By Martin Fackler, The NY Times. Excerpt: …Iitate (pronounced EE-tah-tay) has felt itself under siege since the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station showered the village with far higher levels of radiation than neighboring communities. Although Iitate’s inland location helped it escape the earthquake and tsunami with little damage, villagers blame an unfortunate combination of winds and the shapes of the mountains for channeling radioactive fallout from the plant, 25 miles to the southeast….
…Since the nuclear crisis began, about half of Iitate’s 6,200 residents have fled of their own accord, though a few have returned to their homes as the plant has appeared to avoid a full-scale meltdown. Those who remained say a lack of clear guidance from the national government, and the sometimes contradictory assessments of the danger levels by outside experts like the atomic energy agency have left them confused and scared about the fate of their village….
2011 March 23. Japan Nuclear Crisis Revives Long U.S. Fight on Spent Fuel. By Matthe L. Wald, The NY Times. Excerpt: The threat of the release of highly radioactive spent fuel at a Japanese nuclear plant has revived a debate in the United States about how to manage such waste and has led to new recriminations over a derailed plan for a national repository in Nevada….
…Pools holding spent fuel at nuclear plants in the United States are even more heavily loaded than those at the Japanese reactors, experts say, and are more vulnerable to some threats than the ones in Japan….
…Adding to those concerns, no plan to move the waste has emerged to replace a proposed repository at Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert. President Obama promised to cancel the project during his 2008 campaign, and last year he told the Department of Energy to withdraw an application that it had submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a construction license….
2011 March 17. The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety in 2010: A Brighter Spotlight Needed. Union of Concerned Scientists. Excerpt: …The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency responsible for ensuring that U.S. nuclear plants are operated as safely as possible, gets mixed reviews in a March 2011 UCS report, The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety in 2010: A Brighter Spotlight Needed. The report—the first of an annual series—was prepared and scheduled for release before the crisis in Japan began to unfold, but the disaster makes the report’s conclusions more timely than ever.
Authored by UCS nuclear engineer David Lochbaum, the report examines 14 “near-misses” at U.S. nuclear plants during 2010 and evaluates the NRC response in each case. The events exposed a variety of shortcomings, such as inadequate training, faulty maintenance, poor design, and failure to investigate problems thoroughly….
2011 Mar 15. Nuclear meltdowns and some thoughts for science center responses [PDF]. By Alan J. Friedman, Ph.D., Consultant for Museum Development and Science Communication. Excerpt: …I’ve seen several commentators and reporters use the words “nuclear” and “explosion” in close proximity while failing to distinguish between nuclear detonations (like a nuclear bomb, which can’t happen) and non-nuclear ones (like a steam or hydrogen gas explosion inside the plant, which can and perhaps already have happened). Both kinds of explosions are extremely dangerous, but for very different reasons. The measures to prevent them, the kind of damage they cause, and the steps to mitigate that damage are also different. It may keep viewers glued to their sets, waiting for video of a mushroom cloud, but this kind of sloppy journalism can also cause panic, accelerate false rumors, and hinder appropriate responses….
2011 March 15. UC Berkeley engineers concerned about reactor leak [Article and video]. By Tomas Roman, KGO-TV San Francisco. Excerpt: States of emergency are in effect at five nuclear power plants in Japan. Evacuations are underway as the concern grows about the possibility of a nuclear meltdown.
Berkeley nuclear engineers say the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which is now shut down, is about 40 years old. The 8.9 earthquake caused the reactor to leak radiation in a way that they say they could not have anticipated and caused evacuations of 50,000 people, within six miles of the plant. Japanese engineers are now concerned about cooling the reactor and avoiding more leaks.
“This increase of radioactivity in the control room makes me very nervous,” said UC Berkeley Professor Joonhong Ahn….
2011 March 14. Emerging Economies Move Ahead With Nuclear Plans. By Heather Timmons and Vikas Bajaj, The NY Times. Excerpt: …The Japanese disaster has led some energy officials in the United States and in industrialized European nations to think twice about nuclear expansion. And if a huge release of radiation worsens the crisis, even big developing nations might reconsider their ambitious plans. But for now, while acknowledging the need for safety, they say their unmet energy needs give them little choice but to continue investing in nuclear power….
2011 March 14. In Stricken Fuel-Cooling Pools, a Danger for the Longer Term. By William J. Broad and Hiroko Tabuchi, The NY Times. Excerpt: Even as workers race to prevent the radioactive cores of the damaged nuclear reactors in Japan from melting down, concerns are growing that nearby pools holding spent fuel rods could pose an even greater danger….
…The pools are a worry at the stricken reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant because at least two of the three have lost their roofs in explosions, exposing the spent fuel pools to the atmosphere. By contrast, reactors have strong containment vessels that stand a better chance of bottling up radiation from a meltdown of the fuel in the reactor core….
March 14, 2011. Japan Faces Potential Nuclear Disaster as Radiation Levels Rise. By Hiroko Tabuchi, David E. Sanger, and Keith Bradsher, The NY Times. Excerpt: Japan’s nuclear crisis verged toward catastrophe on Tuesday after an explosion damaged the vessel containing the nuclear core at one reactor and a fire at another spewed large amounts of radioactive material into the air, according to the statements of Japanese government and industry officials….
…The two critical questions over the next day or so are how much radioactive material is spewed into the atmosphere, and where the winds carry it. Readings reported on Tuesday showed a spike of radioactivity around the plant that made the leakage categorically worse than in had been, with radiation levels measured at one point as high as 400 millisieverts an hour…
…The extent of the public health risk depends on how long such elevated levels persist — they may have declined after the fire at No. 4 reactor was extinguished — as well as how far and fast the radioactive materials spread, and whether the limited evacuation plan announced by the government proves sufficient….
2011 March 13. A Look at the Mechanics of a Partial Meltdown. By Henry Fountain, The NY Times. Excerpt: …A partial meltdown, like those suspected at two reactors in northeastern Japan over the weekend, may not necessarily mean that any of the uranium fuel in the core has melted, experts said. The fuel rods may be only damaged, a portion of them having been left uncovered by cooling water long enough to crack, allowing the release of some radioactive elements in the fuel….
…With loss of power and pumps after the earthquake, the fission reactions at the plants were successfully halted. But there is much residual heat in the reactors, both because they operated at about 550 degrees Fahrenheit and because the radioactive elements in the fuel continue to produce heat as they decay. Without pumps to circulate the water, it will boil off quickly….
2010 December 26. A Battle Over Uranium Bodes Ill for U.S. Debate. By Kirk Johnson, NYTimes. Excerpt: …A proposal for a new mill to process uranium ore, which would lead to the opening of long-shuttered mines in Colorado and Utah, has brought global and local concerns into collision — jobs, health, class-consciousness and historical memory among them — in ways that suggest, if the pattern here holds, a bitter national debate to come….
2010 September 18. Ancient Italian Town Now Has Wind at Its Back. By Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times. Excerpt: Faced with sky-high electricity rates, small communities across a country known more for garbage than environmental citizenship are finding economic salvation in making renewable energy.
…A quintessential Italian town of 2,700 people in Italy’s poor mountainous center, with its well-maintained church and ruined castle, Tocco is in most ways stuck in yesteryear… Yet, from an energy perspective, Tocco is very much tomorrow. In addition to the town’s wind turbines, solar panels generate electricity at its ancient cemetery and sports complex, as well as at a growing number of private residences.
…Italy is an unlikely backdrop for a renewable revolution…It is not on track to meet either its European Union-mandated emissions-reduction target or its commitment to get 17 percent of its total power from renewable sources by 2020, experts say. Currently, only 7 percent of Italy’s power comes from renewable sources.
But the growth of small renewable projects in towns like Tocco — not only in Italy, but also in other countries — highlights the way that shifting energy economics are often more important than national planning in promoting alternative energy.
…In countries where energy from fossil fuels is naturally expensive — or rendered so because of a carbon tax — and there is money to be made, renewable energy quickly starts to flow, even in unlikely places like Tocco.
… Tocco is now essentially energy independent from a financial standpoint, generating 30 percent more electricity than it uses. Production of green electricity earned the town 170,000 euros, or more than $200,000, last year. The town is renovating the school for earthquake protection and has tripled the budget for street cleaners.
2010 October 1. In California, a Grid Storage Mandate. By Felicity Barringer, The New York Times. Excerpt: It’s no news to most people that renewable energy sources like wind and solar power have their off-moments, or off-days… A potential remedy was just signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, whose governorship has long had a greenish tinge. The state will now require utilities (first, investor-owned utilities, and later, publicly owned ones) to have storage capacity on hand that can quickly be put into use when the wind dies down… Like California’s renewable energy mandates, the requirement is meant to jump-start new battery and storage technologies by guaranteeing them a broader market.
…The law will also serve another purpose… determining how energy storage should be defined for regulatory purposes.
… As a result of the law and the definitions to be developed by regulators, “there will be more market certainty about what storage is and what you use it for.”
… Lawmakers backed away from the idea of setting timetables for the new program or determining how much storage the utilities must have on hand. So it will be up to the California Public Utilities Commission and the board of publicly owned utilities to work out those details over the next two years.
2010 August. Small nuclear reactors raise big hopes. By Paul Guinnessy, Physics Today. Excerpt: …The nuclear industry has begun to think smaller than the 1700 MW of power a typical nuclear reactor produces. Modular reactors that generate between 30 MW and 300 MW per module and work in sync with other modules to produce up to 600 MW, the equivalent of an average gas-fired power plant, are on the rise.
…Small reactors aren’t new—nuclear submarines use them—but they still face regulatory, technical, and licensing hurdles. The main attraction for both electrical utilities and reactor builders is the potential cost savings: Producing electricity could be 10–20% cheaper per kilowatt-hour than with a standard reactor.
…One of the biggest selling points is that as the power output is the same as fossil-fuel plants, SMRs can easily hook into existing electrical grids; expensive grid upgrades required by typical nuclear reactors can be bypassed. That makes nuclear power an option for smaller utility companies. And smaller reactors are easier to cool, a benefit for water-scarce regions.
…Although SMRs do not burn fuel as efficiently as larger reactors, some, like the mPower, can operate for 4.5 years without refueling, twice as long as the average for large reactors. The US designs are also easily refueled… A plant can be refueled one module at a time without interrupting overall power generation. Most SMR plants are designed to keep spent fuel on-site in air- or water-cooled underground storage for 60 years, the expected lifetime of the plant, or send it back to the SMR builder. Those procedures, claim the reactor builders, will keep spent fuel safe and thus not pose a proliferation risk.
…Competing against fossil fuels is still tough. Nearly all SMR cost studies, including an upcoming report from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), assume that a carbon tax will eventually be introduced in the US. Such a tax would, as a side effect, help make running SMRs cost competitive.
2010 July 22. China: Oil Spill Prompts Warning. AP, The New York Times. Excerpt: China’s largest reported oil spill emptied beaches along the Yellow Sea as its size doubled Wednesday… An official warned that the spill posed a “severe threat” to sea life and water quality… In the five days since a pipeline exploded at the northeastern port of Dalian, the oil spread over 165 square miles of water. State media have said no more oil is leaking into the sea, but the total amount of oil that was spilled is not yet clear.
2010 July. Working toward a world without nuclear weapons. By Sidney D. Drell, Physics Today. Excerpt: …Today, 65 years after the end of World War II and two decades since the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union into the dustbin of history, we are still living in a world armed with approximately 20 000 nuclear bombs. And a growing number of nations are seeking to join the nuclear weapons club.
…Relying on nuclear weapons for deterrence is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective in a world in which nuclear know-how, materials, and weapons are spreading ever farther and faster. With the spread of advanced technology, we face a growing danger that nuclear weapons may fall into the hands of rogue states or terrorist organizations that do not shrink from mass murder on an unprecedented scale.
…The good news is that no law of nature stands in the way of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. The political problems can, in principle, be overcome. The bad news is that as Einstein once said, “Politics is much harder than physics.”
…The only way to contain and control the danger of proliferation is with a mechanism for international control of the entire fuel cycle at all stages. Such a cooperative regime will also need to guarantee the availability of fuel to all nations that agree to comply with the NPT. That will be difficult because of concerns about placing valuable proprietary information under international control. Several nations are exploring the development of such a nuclear power infrastructure.
…During the coming year, I hope the US Senate, after careful preparation, will again consider the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty]. There are good reasons why legitimate skeptics back in 1999 could now support ratification.
…Getting to zero and monitoring the end state will require comprehensive cooperation and improvements in all types of verification tools: national technical means, data exchanges, on-site inspections, continuous perimeter and portal monitoring, tags and seals, sensors and detection devices, and remote viewing as conducted already by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
2010 June 22. Will the world be a safer place without nuclear weapons? By David Kramer, physicstoday.org. Excerpt: A wealth of technical challenges must be overcome before President Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons can ever become a reality, in the view of weapons expert Stephen Younger.
…Younger told a Washington conference on 9 June that below some threshold—certainly at a level of 100 or fewer weapons—the US could become vulnerable to a preemptive nuclear attack. With a US stockpile that small, an enemy might calculate that it can “ride out” a retaliatory response comprising whatever is left of the US strategic force in the aftermath of the aggressive act. Younger also dismissed the commonly held assertion that a terrorist or other subnational group could design and build a nuclear weapon using information available on the Internet. “Uranium is tough stuff; try machining it,” he said. “Plutonium is the most complex material on the planet. It changes phases if you look at it.”
Apart from the unlikelihood that Russia, France, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea would give up their nuclear arsenals, he said, there are multiple political and technical obstacles standing in the way of achieving the global disarmament that President Obama has pledged to work toward. What constitutes the dismantlement of a warhead, for example, will need to be resolved, since disassembling the weapons into their components provides no assurance of enduring nuclear abolition… No one knows exactly how much weapons-usable material exists and where it is located. Preventing the clandestine movement of those materials or weapons may require a global network of sensors, perhaps numbering in the millions, to be installed in roads, railroads, and seaports.
…Adding further complexity to the design of a verification regime is the fact that much of the supporting technology underlying nuclear weapons…also has legitimate non-weapons uses. No better illustration of that dual-use quandary is the ongoing dispute with Iran over the nature of its uranium enrichment enterprise.
2010 June 5. Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Prof. Cutler Cleveland, Encyclopedia of Earth. This is a comprehensive article on the oil spill, regularly updated.
2010 June 1. A Bullish View of Wind Power Out West. By John Collins Rudolf, NY Times blog. Excerpt: …The study, released in late May, found that the power grid for five western states – Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming – could operate on as much as 30 percent wind and 5 percent solar without the construction of extensive new infrastructure.
…Wind power proponents have long faced skepticism that renewables could ever displace conventional power sources in a meaningful way, with critics asserting that large coal or nuclear plants would always need to stand ready to provide backup power whenever the wind ceased to blow or clouds blocked the sun.
…Still, the outlook for wind power is far from grim. The industry installed 9.8 gigawatts of capacity in 2009, a record, and is on pace to install at least 6 gigawatts in 2010. And a recent industry study has projected $330 billion in new wind investment between 2010 and 2025.
2010 May 15. Giant Plumes of Oil Forming Under the Gulf. By Justin Gillis, NY Times. Excerpt: Scientists are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in spots. The discovery is fresh evidence that the leak from the broken undersea well could be substantially worse than estimates that the government and BP have given.
… Dr. Joye said the oxygen had already dropped 30 percent near some of the plumes in the month that the broken oil well had been flowing. “If you keep those kinds of rates up, you could draw the oxygen down to very low levels that are dangerous to animals in a couple of months,” she said Saturday. “That is alarming.”
…“This is a new type of event, and it’s critically important that we really understand it, because of the incredible number of oil platforms not only in the Gulf of Mexico but all over the world now,” Dr. Highsmith said. “We need to know what these events are like, and what their outcomes can be, and what can be done to deal with the next one.”
2010 May 13. Size of Oil Spill Underestimated, Scientists Say. By Justin Gillis, NY Times. Excerpt: Two weeks ago, the government put out a round estimate of the size of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico: 5,000 barrels a day. Repeated endlessly in news reports, it has become conventional wisdom.
…Ian R. MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University who is an expert in the analysis of oil slicks, said he had made his own rough calculations using satellite imagery. They suggested that the leak could “easily be four or five times” the government estimate, he said.
…“If we are systematically underestimating the rate that’s being spilled, and we design a response capability based on that underestimate, then the next time we have an event of this magnitude, we are doomed to fail again,” said John Amos, the president of SkyTruth. “So it’s really important to get this number right.”
2010 April 28. Big Wind Farm Off Cape Cod Gets Approval. By Katharine Q. Seelye, NY Times. Excerpt: BOSTON — After nine years of regulatory review, the federal government gave the green light on Wednesday to the nation’s first offshore wind farm, a fiercely contested project off the coast of Cape Cod.
Opponents said they would continue to fight construction of the farm, known as Cape Wind, which would sprawl across 25 square miles of Nantucket Sound.
But the decision is expected to give a significant boost to the nascent offshore wind industry in the United States, which has lagged far behind Europe and China in harnessing the strong and steady power of ocean breezes to electrify homes and businesses.
…Friends and foes have squared off over the impact it would have on nature, local traditions, property values and electricity bills; on the profits to be pocketed by a private developer; and even the urgency of easing the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, a priority of the Obama administration.
…Developers say that Cape Wind will provide 75 percent of the power for Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard — the equivalent of that produced by a medium-size coal-fired plant. It would also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of taking 175,000 cars off the road, officials said, and provide 1,000 construction jobs….
2010 April 27. ‘Controlled Burn’ Considered for Gulf Oil Spill. By Leslie Kaufman, NY Times. Excerpt: With a vast oil slick now within only 20 miles of the ecologically fragile Louisiana coastline, Coast Guard officials said they were considering a “controlled burn” of the petroleum on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, the federal on-scene coordinator for the spill, said such a burn might be conducted as soon as Wednesday.
A joint government and industry task force has been unable to stop crude oil from streaming out of a broken pipe attached to a well 5,000 feet below sea level. The leaks were found Saturday, days after an oil rig to which the pipe was attached exploded and sank in the gulf about 50 miles southeast of Venice, La. An estimated 42,000 gallons a day are now spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.
…Controlled burns have been done and tested before, Admiral Landry said, and had been shown to be “effective in burning 50 to 95 percent of oil collected in a fire boom.” The downside, she said, was a “black plume” of smoke that would put soot and other particulates into the air….
2010 April 26. Robots Work to Stop Leak of Oil in Gulf. By Campbell Robertson and Clifford Krauss, NY Times. Excerpt: NEW ORLEANS — Oil continued to pour into the Gulf of Mexico on Monday as the authorities waited to see if the quickest possible method of stopping the leaks would bring an end to what was threatening to become an environmental disaster.
Remote-controlled robots operating 5,000 feet under the ocean’s surface were more than a full day into efforts to seal off the oil well, which has been belching crude through leaks in a pipe at the rate of 42,000 gallons a day. The leaks were found on Saturday, days after an oil rig to which the pipe was attached exploded, caught on fire and sank in the gulf about 50 miles from the Louisiana coast….
…Wind has kept the spill from moving toward the coast. Officials said the spill had a 600-mile circumference Monday, but most of that was a thin sheen of oil-water mix. Only 3 percent of the area was crude oil with a “pudding-like” consistency, they said.
The wind was expected to change direction by Thursday, however, and the spill’s distance from the coast has not prevented a threat to marine life.
On Sunday a crew from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service spotted three sperm whales in the vicinity of the spill. Planes that were dropping chemicals to break down the oil were told to steer clear of the whales.
The chemicals, known as dispersants, can be as toxic to mammals as the oil itself, said Jackie Savitz, a marine biologist with a background in toxicity with Oceana, a Washington nonprofit group that focuses on ocean conservation.
Ms. Savitz said environmental concerns were not alleviated by assurances that the spill was not yet a threat to the coast. “There is a misconception that if water doesn’t hit the beach it isn’t dangerous,” she said….
2010 April 22. 2 Mines Show How Safety Practices Vary Widely. By Dan Barry, Ian Urbina and Clifford Krauss, NY Times. Excerpt: Earlier this year, in the subterranean workplace of a southern West Virginia coal mine, methane kept building up because of a lack of fresh air. Odorless, explosive, this natural gas must be dispersed from where miners work, and yet it became such a familiar presence at the mine called Upper Big Branch that entire sections had to be evacuated four times this year alone.
Many of the miners suspected they knew a major source of the gas buildup: a coal shaft, unused for years, that passed down through several old mines before reaching theirs. According to a longtime foreman at the mine, who provided previously undisclosed details of its operation, the shaft was never properly sealed to prevent the methane above from being sucked into Upper Big Branch.
Instead, the foreman said, rags and garbage were used to create a poor man’s sealant, which he said allowed methane to permeate the mine, displacing much-needed oxygen.
“Every single day, the levels were double or triple what they were supposed to be,” said the foreman, whose account of the shaft was corroborated in part by records collected by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration….
It is not clear whether the coal shaft played a role in the explosion of the Upper Big Branch mine two weeks ago, a disaster that killed 29 miners, rattled West Virginia and, once again, raised questions about Massey’s safety practices. But with federal investigators saying they suspect that a buildup of methane and coal dust led to the explosion, the handling of the shaft seems a particularly egregious example of the mining practices that have set Massey apart from the rest of the coal industry….
2010 April 2. A Race to Reap Energy From the Ocean Breezes. By Sindya N. Bhanoo, NY Times. Excerpt: As New Englanders await a decision in Massachusetts on a bitterly contested proposal to build the nation’s first offshore wind farm, the State of Rhode Island is forging ahead with its own project in the hope of outpacing — and upstaging — its neighbor.
…Instead of having a private developer dominate the research on potential sites, as Massachusetts has, Rhode Island embarked on a three-year scientific study, to be completed in August, of all waters within 30 miles of its coast. It has spent more than $8 million on research into bird migration patterns, wildlife habitats, fish distribution, fishermen’s needs and areas that might be of cultural importance to Indian tribes.
Its goal has been to head off the hurdles that have been in the way of the Massachusetts project, which has pitted coastal Indian tribes, business interest and homeowners against the developer, Cape Wind, and proponents of alternative energy. Frustrated by the failure of the two sides to broker an agreement, the Obama administration’s interior secretary, Ken Salazar, has promised to determine the fate of the project on his own this month….
2010 March 4. The Newest Hybrid Model. By Jad Mouawad, NY Times. Excerpt: INDIANTOWN, Fla. — In former swamplands teeming with otters and wild hogs, one of the nation’s biggest utilities is running an experiment in the future of renewable power.
Across 500 acres north of West Palm Beach, the FPL Group utility is assembling a life-size Erector Set of 190,000 shimmering mirrors and thousands of steel pylons that stretch as far as the eye can see. When it is completed by the end of the year, this vast project will be the world’s second-largest solar plant.
But that is not its real novelty. The solar array is being grafted onto the back of the nation’s largest fossil-fuel power plant, fired by natural gas. It is an experiment in whether conventional power generation can be married with renewable power in a way that lowers costs and spares the environment.
This project is among a handful of innovative hybrid designs meant to use the sun’s power as an adjunct to coal or gas in producing electricity. While other solar projects already use small gas-fired turbines to provide backup power for cloudy days or at night, this is the first time that a conventional plant is being retrofitted with the latest solar technology on such an industrial scale….
2010 February 2. More Than 25 pct of US Nuclear Reactors Leaking Carcinogen into Groundwater. EIN Press Wire. The Associated Press reports that at least 27 of the 104 nuclear reactors in the US have been leaking a cancer-causing by-product of nuclear fission, with the leaks mostly occurring through deteriorating underground pipes.
The carcinogen tritium has been discovered in potentially dangerous levels (more than three times the federal safety standard) in the groundwater around the nuclear plants, most recently at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear plant.
Tritium has been linked to cancer if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin in large amounts, and the concentration of tritium found in groundwater has caught the attention of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission….
2009 December 11. Geothermal Project in California Is Shut Down. By James Glanz, The NY Times. Excerpt: The company in charge of a California project to extract vast amounts of renewable energy from deep, hot bedrock has removed its drill rig and informed federal officials that the government project will be abandoned.
The project by the company, AltaRock Energy, was the Obama administration’s first major test of geothermal energy as a significant alternative to fossil fuels and the project was being financed with federal Department of Energy money at a site about 100 miles north of San Francisco called the Geysers.
…The project’s apparent collapse comes a day after Swiss government officials permanently shut down a similar project in Basel, because of the damaging earthquakes it produced in 2006 and 2007. Taken together, the two setbacks could change the direction of the Obama administration’s geothermal program, which had raised hopes that the earth’s bedrock could be quickly tapped as a clean and almost limitless energy source….
2009 October 13. Catching the Wind in Rural Malawi. By Maywa Montenegro, SEED. Excerpt: From the blustery plains of Texas to the Danish island of Samsø, wind power—and the giant, bladed towers that generate it—is all the rage in a warming world searching for cleaner sources of energy. Fourteen-year-old William Kamkwamba had never heard of windmills, or climate change, for that matter, when he stumbled across a photograph one day and it changed his life forever.
Now 22, Kamkwamba has become something of an international DIY celebrity: He’s spoken at the World Economic Forum, at the Aspen Ideas Festival, and at TED Global—twice. He’s chatted with Al Gore, Bono, and Larry Page. A documentary about his life is currently in the works. But Kamkwamba’s story isn’t really about stardom: It’s about the grit, resourcefulness, and audacity of a young engineer who built a windmill from scrap in his native Malawi and brought power to his home—and eventually lit up every house in the village….
2009 September 14. Hawaii Tries Green Tools in Remaking Power Grids. By Felicity Barringer, The NY Times. Excerpt: NAALEHU, Hawaii — Two miles or so from this tiny town in the southernmost corner of the United States, across ranches where cattle herds graze beneath the distant Mauna Loa volcano, the giant turbines of a new wind farm cut through the air.
Sixty miles to the northeast, near a spot where golden-red lava streams meet the sea in clouds of steam, a small power plant extracts heat from the volcanic rock beneath it to generate electricity.
These projects are just a slice of the energy experiment unfolding across Hawaii’s six main islands. With the most diverse array of alternative energy potential of any state in the nation, Hawaii has set out to become a living laboratory for the rest of the country, hoping it can slash its dependence on fossil fuels while keeping the lights on….
2009 August 19. Drilling Ordeals Said to Delay Geothermal Project. By James Glanz, The NY Times. Excerpt: The Obama administration’s first major test of geothermal energy as a significant alternative to fossil fuels has fallen seriously behind schedule, several federal scientists said this week, even as the project is under review because of the earthquakes it could generate in Northern California.
Intended to extract heat from hot bedrock, the project has been delayed because the bit on a giant rig, meant to drill more than two miles underground, has struggled to pierce surface rock formations, the scientists said.
…The scientists who told of delays in the project…said that after nearly two months of the highly expensive drilling, the rig had reached depths of less than 4,000 feet. The original schedule called for it to reach a final depth of 12,000 feet, or 2.3 miles, after no more than 50 days of drilling, according to company officials.
The problems are particularly surprising given that the drilling essentially started at 3,200 feet, at the bottom of an older hole at the site, north of San Francisco at a place called the Geysers.
…Advocates for the technique, known as an “enhanced geothermal system,” say it could eventually generate vast amounts of energy and reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels. But the latest delays come as AltaRock awaits word on whether the federal government will allow the fracturing of rock at all….
2009 July 2. Should We Depend on Coal or Nuclear? Five Experts Discuss how Clean Coal Works, how Dangerous Nuclear Waste Really Is, and Whether the Root of the Problem is Money. BY Veronique Greenwood, Seed Magazine. Excerpt: “If I compare the downsides of coal versus nuclear, I have to say I’d rather see renewed investment in nuclear power plant generation of electricity in this century than to build more coal plants,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a NOVA special released recently. “There’s no question in my mind, that’s the lesser of the two evils.”
Wave, wind, sun—the buffet of renewable energy options is attractive. But the sheer amount of power generated by coal and fission cannot be rivaled by any current system of renewable energy. Between them, nuclear and coal provide more than 70 percent of US electricity. Renewable sources provided 9 percent as of 2007. While research is advancing by leaps and bounds, for the foreseeable future some dependence on these super-producers will be necessary. But when deciding between a new coal plant or a nuclear plant, a knot of difficult decisions, many of them decades old, rear their heads.
Coal-fired plants, of course, spew out CO2 and toxins like nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide. The cumulative greenhouse effects promise catastrophic weather phenomena, widespread flooding, food shortage, displacement, and extinction….
Nuclear plants produce radioisotopes with half-lives ranging from a few days to a few million years. Their pollution tends to occur in bursts—either in catastrophic accidents or waste leaks—but, as with CO2, the effects can propagate for decades or centuries. Storage and disposal of nuclear waste are longstanding problems, complicated by President Obama’s plan to abandon the long-term nuclear storage project at Yucca Mountain….
…The questions when it comes to coal and nuclear are: Which process’s byproducts—CO2 or radioisotopes—are the least frightening? Which are we most likely to figure out a solution for in the near future, and which has the most pressing effects?…
2009 June 8. New Tech Could Make Nuclear the Best Weapon Against Climate Change. By Elizabeth Svoboda, Discover Magazine. Excerpt: …Buoyed by an allocation of $1.25 billion in funding for reactor research from the 2005 Energy Policy Act, Idaho National Laboratory scientists are working to improve safety, boost efficiency, minimize waste, and decrease cost in a new generation of nuclear reactors. Even if renewable energy goes mainstream, INL researchers still believe nuclear will be essential for supporting the electrical grid’s base load—that portion of the nation’s electricity that must be supplied at a constant rate, in contrast to the variable supplies from the sun and wind….
Unlike burning coal or other fossil fuels, fission—the breaking apart of atomic nuclei, the process underlying nuclear energy—emits no carbon dioxide….
…Nuclear’s day-in, day-out reliability makes it an essential companion to renewable energy, argues Burton Richter, winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize in Physics. “The sun doesn’t shine at night, and wind power is highly variable,” he says. “To meet our emissions goals, we’re going to have to grasp every arrow in the quiver, and nuclear is one of those arrows.”
Before that can happen, though, nuclear power will have to overcome the unresolved issue of how to dispose of radioactive fuel waste….
That is exactly what the INL scientists are aiming to do, however, confident that their work is essential to the planet’s well-being. Their efforts focus on two new designs: the very-high-temperature reactor (VHTR) and the sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR). Both incorporate inherent safety features to prevent core overheating and the release of radioactive material. The hope is that these new approaches will finally erase the memory of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and eliminate some of the political opposition that has stymied the American nuclear power industry for three decades….
2009 May 10. Students, faculty design green way to absorb power plant waste. By Dana Bartholomew, LA Daily News. Excerpt: As drought dries the Southland, Cal State Northridge has sprouted a new home for the jungle yodeler – a subtropical rain forest.
The campus … has already won national awards for its fuel-cell power plant, the largest operated by any university in the world.
Now it has created a “rain forest” of 115 tropical species that inhale its greenhouse gas and ingest its wastewater stream, the first such design on the planet.
…The university built its award-winning 1-megawatt fuel-cell plant two years ago after its main plant hit capacity during hyper campus growth.
The $3 million fuel-cell plant, which converts natural gas into electricity via an electrochemical process, now supplies 18 percent of the campus’ electricity and air conditioning needs.
But while the combustion-free plant produces zero particulate emissions, it cranks out planet-warming carbon dioxide, in addition to wastewater high in potassium chloride.
So faculty members joined students to design a “green” means to absorb the waste.
…rather than spew 3,600 cubic-feet per minute of carbon dioxide into the sky, as traditional condensers do, the gas is aimed into a bed of flowering tulip trees, hibiscus, cana lilies and more.
…And up to 6 gallons a minute of wastewater rich in plant nutrients leaches into the soil….
…”What we’re going for here is a marriage between nature and technology, because this equipment is usually hidden on rooftops,” said Ben Elisondo, manager of Physical Plant Management….
2009 March 10. E.P.A. Proposes Tracking Industry Emissions. By Kate Galbraith, The NY Times. Excerpt: The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule on Tuesday that would require a broad range of industries to tally and report their greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposal…would require about 13,000 factories, power plants and other facilities to report their emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other gases that climate scientists link to global warming.
…The E.P.A. says that the rule, promulgated under the Clean Air Act, would account for 85 percent to 90 percent of the country’s emissions of heat-trapping gases….
…“This is the foundation of any serious program to cap and reduce global warming pollution,” said David Doniger, the policy director for the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “You have to have source-by-source data on how much of global warming pollution is emitted and from where.”…
2009 March 10. Energy Dept. Said to Err on Coal Project. By Matthew L. Wald, The NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON — The Energy Department made a $500 million math error a year ago when it withdrew its support from a “near-zero emissions” coal plant in Illinois, Congressional auditors…say….
The error led the department to say mistakenly that the project, known as FutureGen, had nearly doubled in cost — an increase the Bush administration deemed too expensive.
At the time, FutureGen was the leading effort to capture and sequester carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas linked to global warming. If the project were resumed and proved successful, it could provide a model for curbing the carbon dioxide that coal adds to the atmosphere.
The new energy secretary, Steven Chu, has said that he will consider renewing support for FutureGen but that changes will be needed….
2009 March 9. Turn, Turn, Turn. By C. Claiborne Ray, The NY Times. Excerpt: Q. Why is it that nearly every time I see a wind farm, like the one at Altamont Pass, so few of the turbines are spinning, even in a stiff breeze?
A. The wind farm at Altamont Pass in California is one of the oldest in the country, and technology has marched on.
“The performance and reliability of older wind turbines from the 1970s and 1980s era, of which there are quite a few in California, is analogous to an older computer,” said Mark Rodgers, communications director of Cape Wind, the developer of an offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts. “It would be like offices still using Apple II’s or Commodores from 1978.”
“With modern wind farms,” he said, “it is possible that an individual turbine could be down for maintenance. Or if the winds were light, it could be right on the edge where some turbines are getting just enough wind to operate, others slightly less.”…
2009 March 2. Can Geothermal Power Compete with Coal on Price? By Christopher Mims, Scientific American. Excerpt: Although the environmental benefits of burning less fossil fuel by using renewable sources of energy—such as geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind—are clear, there’s been a serious roadblock in their adoption: cost per kilowatt-hour.
That barrier may be opening, however—at least for one of these sources. Two recent reports, among others, suggest that geothermal may actually be cheaper than every other source, including coal. Geothermal power plants work by pumping hot water from deep beneath Earth’s surface, which can either be used to turn steam turbines directly or to heat a second, more volatile liquid such as isobutane (which then turns a steam turbine).
Combine a new U.S. president pushing a stimulus package that includes $28 billion in direct subsidies for renewable energy with another $13 billion for research and development, and the picture for renewable energy—geothermal power among the options—is brightening. The newest report, from international investment bank Credit Suisse, says geothermal power costs 3.6 cents per kilowatt-hour, versus 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for coal.
That does not mean companies are rushing to build geothermal plants: There are a number of assumptions in the geothermal figure. First, there are the tax incentives, which save about 1.9 cents per kilowatt-hour….
Second, the Credit Suisse analysis relied on…the total cost to produce a given unit of energy. Embedded within this figure is an assumption that the money to build a new geothermal plant is available at reasonable interest rates—on the order of 8 percent.
In today’s economic climate, that just isn’t the case….
…There’s another significant issue: finding geothermal resources. In that way, the geothermal industry has the same challenges as the oil and gas industry. The Credit Suisse analysis doesn’t factor in exploration costs, which can run hundreds of thousands of dollars for per well….
2009 February 17. Alaska Is a Frontier for Green Power. By Stephan Milkowski, The NY Times. Excerpt: TOKSOOK BAY, Alaska — Beyond the fishing boats, the snug homes and the tanks of diesel fuel marking this Eskimo village on the Bering Sea, three huge wind turbines tower over the tundra. Their blades spin slowly in a breeze cold enough to freeze skin.
One of the nation’s harshest landscapes, it turns out, is becoming fertile ground for green power.
…Alaska is fast becoming a testing ground for new technologies and an unlikely experiment in oil-state support for renewable energy….
In remote villages like this one, where diesel to power generators is shipped by barge and can cost more than $5 a gallon in bulk, electricity from renewable sources like wind is already competitive with power made from fossil fuels. In urban areas along the state’s limited road system, large wind and hydroelectric projects are also becoming attractive.
Alaska produces more oil than any state except Texas, but most of it leaves the state. Small markets and high transportation costs have kept local fuel prices high. As oil prices spiked last year, the state’s coffers overflowed with oil tax revenue, but the rising cost of diesel and other fuels became a local crisis.
…Advocates of renewable energy here say Alaska, with its windy coasts, untapped rivers and huge tidal and wave resources, could quickly become a national leader. The state already generates 24 percent of its electricity from renewable sources — almost exclusively hydroelectric — and Ms. Palin last month announced a goal of 50 percent by 2025….