EU4C. Stay Current—Field Trip to a Power Plant

2022-09-02. Hawaii Closes Its Last Coal-Fired Power Plant. [] By Elena Shao, The New York Times. Excerpt: Hawaii shuttered its last remaining coal-fired power station on Thursday, a major milestone in the state’s ambitious effort to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. The station, the AES Hawaii Power Plant near Kalaeloa, in southwest Oahu, provided more than 11 percent of the state’s electricity in 2021, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. “It really is about reducing greenhouse gases,” said Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, in an interview with The Associated Press. “And this coal facility is one of the largest emitters. Taking it offline means that we’ll stop the 1.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases that were emitted annually.” Throughout the United States, coal plants are powering down, squeezed out by cheaper natural gas, cleaner renewable energy and tougher emissions regulations. There are fewer than 270 coal-burning power plants remaining in the country; more than 600 have been retired over the past two decades.…

2022-08-22. Drought Hurts China’s Economy as Central Bank Cuts Rates. [] By Keith Bradsher, The New York Times. Excerpt: …Record-high temperatures and a severe drought in west-central China have crippled hydropower generation and prompted the shutdown of many factories there, in the latest blow to a Chinese economy that already has stagnant consumer spending and a deeply troubled real estate market. Sichuan Province in west-central China, one of China’s most populous and a fast-growing industrial base in recent years, normally generates more than three-quarters of its electricity from huge dams. The summer rainy season usually brings so much water that Sichuan sends much of its hydropower to cities and provinces as far away as Shanghai. But an almost complete failure of summer rains this year, coupled with daytime highs that have regularly approached or exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit, has left rivers and reservoirs with fractions of their former water. The large province’s many dams cannot generate enough electricity even for Sichuan’s own needs, forcing factories there to close for up to a week at a time.…

2022-08-05. Facing Energy Crisis, Germans, Warily, Give Nuclear a Second Look. [] By Erika Solomon, The New York Times. Excerpt: LANDSHUT, Germany — When Angela Merkel pulled the plug on nuclear power after the Fukushima meltdown, she set Germany on a course to become the only leading industrial nation to abandon atomic energy in the world. The economic engine of Europe planned instead to fuel itself through a transition to renewable energies with cheap Russian gas. Now, 11 years later, with Russia toying with Germany’s gas supply, her successor, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has modeled himself in Ms. Merkel’s image, is staring at the possibility of reversing that momentous decision. Europe’s geopolitical calculations have been turned upside down by the war in Ukraine. It has created an energy crisis that comes at a critical moment for Germany and Europe’s ambitions to become global leaders in the transition to climate neutrality. Instead, as Russia tightens the taps, coal plants are being refired across Europe, and nuclear energy is getting a second look as many on the continent wrangle over whether to sacrifice their sacred cows. The European Parliament recently took the much-contested step of classifying some gas and nuclear power as “green.” In the Netherlands, gas fracking is up for reconsideration. In Belgium, like Germany, the debate has turned to keeping nuclear plants running, something unthinkable just months ago.…

2022-08-04. How Coal Mining and Years of Neglect Left Kentucky Towns at the Mercy of Flooding. [] By Rick RojasChristopher Flavelle and Campbell Robertson, The New York Times. Excerpt: FLEMING-NEON, Ky. — …For much of the last century, the country was powered by the labor of coal miners underneath the hills and mountains of southeastern Kentucky. But the landscape that was built to serve this work was fragile, leaving the people here extraordinarily vulnerable, especially after the coal industry shuttered so many of the mines and moved on. What remained were modest, unprotected homes and decaying infrastructure, and a land that itself, in many places, had been shorn of its natural defenses. Last week, when a deluge of rain poured into the hollows, turning creeks into roaring rivers, overwhelming old flood records, killing at least 37 people and destroying countless homes, that vulnerability was made brutally manifest.…

2022-07-15. Catching fire. [] By Warren Cornwall, Science Magazine. Excerpt: The concept of using Earth’s internal heat to generate electricity is attractively simple. …By one recent estimate, more than 5000 gigawatts of electricity could be extracted from heat in rock beneath the United States alone. That’s nearly five times the total currently generated by all U.S. power plants. Geothermal energy is also attractive because it doesn’t burn fossil fuels, isn’t imported, and can run around the clock, unlike solar panels and wind turbines. Tapping that heat, however, has proved difficult. Some nations—notably volcanically active Iceland—siphon hot groundwater to heat buildings and generate electricity In most places, however, the rock lacks the water or the cracks needed to easily move heat to the surface. …geothermal energy provides just 0.33% of the world’s electricity, little changed from 1990, according to the International Energy Agency. In recent years, new hope for this renewable energy source has come from an unlikely source: new technologies developed by the oil and gas industry. The same methods that have boosted fossil fuel production in the United States, such as targeted drilling and fracking—artificially fracturing deep rock with high pressure fluids—can, it’s hoped, be put to work to efficiently and safely extract energy from hot, dry rock. Government agencies and private companies are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the approach, called enhanced geothermal systems.…

2022-05-17. Europe Rethinks Its Reliance on Burning Wood for Electricity. By Lois Parshley, The New York Times. Excerpt: In recent years, Europe’s power plants have slashed their use of coal by burning something else instead: Millions of tons of wood, much of it imported from the United States. A controversial European Union policy called the Renewable Energy Directive drove this transition by counting biomass — organic material like wood, burned as fuel — as renewable energy and subsidizing its use. A trans-Atlantic industry developed, logging American forests and processing the material into pellets, which are then shipped to Europe. But critics have long argued that the subsidies actually have few climate benefits and should be scrapped. Late Tuesday in Brussels, a committee of the European Parliament voted to make substantial changes to both how the union subsidizes biomass, and how it counts emissions from burning it — policies with major consequences if passed by the full Parliament. …“This vote is a historic breakthrough,” said Martin Pigeon, a forests and climate campaigner with Fern, a nonprofit group focused on European forests. “For the first time, a major E.U. regulatory body makes clear that one of the E.U.’s most climate-wrecking policies of the last decade, incentivizing the burning of forests in the name of renewable energy, has to stop.” .… []

2022-05-16. Cutting air pollution from fossil fuels would save 50,000 lives a year, study says. By Steven Mufson, The Washington Post. Excerpt: Eliminating air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels would prevent more than 50,000 premature deaths and provide more than $600 billion in health benefits in the United States every year, according to a new study by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers. Published in the journal GeoHealth, the study reports the considerable health benefits of removing from the air harmful fine particulates, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides produced by electricity generation, transportation, industrial activities, and building functions such as heating and cooking. Highway vehicles make up the largest single share.… []

2022-05-14. Poisoned legacy: why the future of power can’t be nuclear. By Serhii Plokhy, The Guardian. Excerpt: …On the surface, the switch to nuclear makes sense. It would not only enable European countries to meet their ambitious net zero targets, since it produces no CO2. It would also make them less vulnerable to Russian threats, and allow them to stop financing the Russian war machine. But the invasion also provided a chilling reminder of just why so many governments have treated nuclear power with great caution over the years. On the first day, Russian troops in unmarked uniforms took control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the worst ever nuclear disaster. On the following day, electronic monitors in the Chernobyl exclusion zone indicated sharp spikes in radiation levels as heavy equipment and trench-digging by Russian soldiers threw up contaminated dust. The world woke up to an even more nightmarish reality a week later, when news arrived from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. Reports suggested that Russian forces had shelled the plant and set one of its buildings on fire. Russian troops left Chernobyl once they lost the battle for Kyiv, but they remained in Zaporizhzhia, further endangering the operation of Europe’s largest nuclear power station. What the Russian takeover of these nuclear facilities exposed is a hazard inherent in all nuclear power. In order for this method of producing electricity to be safe, everything else in society has to be functioning perfectly. Warfare, economic collapse, climate change itself – all of these increasingly real risks make nuclear sites potentially perilous places. Even without them, the dangers of atomic fission remain, and we must ask ourselves: are they really worth the cost?.… []

2022-03-25. Dirty bomb ingredients go missing from Chornobyl monitoring lab. By Richard Stone, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Insecure radioactive materials are the latest worry as Russia continues occupation of infamous nuclear reservation. …When the lights went out at Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant on 9 March, the Russian soldiers holding Ukrainian workers at gunpoint became the least of Anatolii Nosovskyi’s worries. More urgent was the possibility of a radiation accident at the decommissioned plant. If the plant’s emergency generators ran out of fuel, the ventilators that keep explosive hydrogen gas from building up inside a spent nuclear fuel repository would quit working, says Nosovskyi, director of the Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants (ISPNPP) in Kyiv. So would sensors and automated systems to suppress radioactive dust inside a concrete “sarcophagus” that holds the unsettled remains of Chornobyl’s Unit Four reactor, which melted down in the infamous 1986 accident. …In the chaos of the Russian advance, he told Science, looters raided a radiation monitoring lab in Chornobyl village—apparently making off with radioactive isotopes used to calibrate instruments and pieces of radioactive waste that could be mixed with conventional explosives to form a “dirty bomb” that would spread contamination over a wide area.… []

2022-02-24. Final Resting Place. By Sedeer El-Showk, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Finland is set to open the world’s first permanent repository for high-level nuclear waste. …Although nuclear power is declining in many nations, Finland has embraced the carbon-free energy source, lobbying the European Union to label it as sustainable. …nuclear power will account for more than 40% of Finland’s electricity. The emissions-free electricity comes with a downside: hot and highly radioactive spent uranium fuel rods. …surface storage is vulnerable to accidents, leaks, or neglect during the thousands of years the waste remains dangerous, …groundwater contaminated by leaky waste tanks at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Hanford Site in Washington state, where reactors produced plutonium for the first nuclear weapons. Without a long-term solution, the waste is piling up. Finland had about 2300 tons of waste in 2019, and about 263,000 tons of spent fuel sit in interim storage facilities worldwide, a report this year from the International Atomic Energy Agency estimates. … Street protests have slowed down plans for a disposal site in France, and in 2009, after years of debate, then-President Barack Obama’s administration gave up on plans to develop Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as the U.S. national repository. “The U.S. approach didn’t pay sufficient attention to community acceptance or engagement,” says Isaacs, who was the lead adviser on a 2012 blue-ribbon report commissioned by DOE to chart a way forward. “The original approach led to conflict rather than cooperation.” Finland, however, has run into remarkably few problems with Onkalo, which the government approved as a site in 2000. It helped that the residents of Eurajoki, the town closest to Onkalo and the nearby reactors, were comfortable with nuclear power..… []

2022-02-10. France Announces Major Nuclear Power Buildup. By Liz Alderman, The New York Times. Excerpt: President Emmanuel Macron announced a major buildup of France’s huge nuclear power program on Thursday, pledging to construct up to 14 new-generation reactors and a fleet of smaller nuclear plants as the country seeks to slash planet-warming emissions and cut its reliance on foreign energy. The announcement represented an about-face for Mr. Macron, who had previously pledged to reduce France’s reliance on nuclear power but has pivoted to burnishing an image as a pronuclear president battling climate change as he faces a tough re-election bid in April.… []

2022-02-09. European fusion reactor sets record for sustained energy. Daniel Clery, Science Magazine. Excerpt: In experiments culminating the 40-year run of the Joint European Torus (JET), the world’s largest fusion reactor, researchers announced today they have smashed the record for producing controlled fusion energy. On 21 December 2021, the U.K.-based JET heated a gas of hydrogen isotopes to 150 million degrees Celsius and held it steady for 5 seconds while nuclei fused together, releasing 59 megajoules (MJ) of energy—roughly twice the kinetic energy of a fully laden semitrailer truck traveling at 160 kilometers per hour. The energy in the pulse is more than 2.5 times the previous record of 22 MJ, set by JET 25 years earlier. “To see shots in which it sustains high power for a full 5 seconds is amazing,” says Steven Cowley, director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). JET’s achievement doesn’t mean fusion-generated electricity will flow into the grid anytime soon, however. Researchers had to put roughly three times as much energy into the gas as the reaction produced. But the result gives them confidence in the design of ITER, a giant fusion reactor under construction in France, which is supposed to pump out at least 10 times as much energy as is fed in. “This is very good news for ITER,” says Alberto Loarte, head of ITER’s science division. “It strongly confirms our strategy.”.… []

cover for gss book Energy Use

Non-chronological resources

European Deep Thermal Energy Programme 

Acid Rain – Effects of Acid Rain: Lakes & Streams (EPA web page) 

California Energy Commission   

Geothermal Education Office (GEO) –
Nuclear Energy 

  • Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board —
  • Shundahai Network, non-profit organization advocating abolishing all nuclear weapons, ending nuclear testing, phasing out nuclear energy, and ending the transportation and dumping of nuclear waste.
  • Yucca Mountain Project —

Australian Renewable Energy Website
Canadian Renewable Energy Network 
Tidal Energy  – Blue Energy Canada — commercializing the Davis Hydro Turbine, to generate high-density renewable and emission-free electricity from ocean currents and tides. 
Wind Energy