ROCKVILLE, Maryland (Reuters) - U.S. regulators on Thursday approved plans to build the first new nuclear power plant in more than 30 years, despite objections of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman, despite objections of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) chairman, who cited safety concerns stemming from Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster.
The NRC voted 4-1 to allow Atlanta-based Southern Co to build and operate two new nuclear power reactors at its existing Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia. The units will cost Southern and partners about $14 billion and enter service as soon as 2016 and 2017.
No nuclear power plants have been licensed in the United States since the partial meltdown of the reactor core of the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979. After the accident, the NRC adopted more stringent safety standards, which caused construction costs for nuclear plants to skyrocket and stopped dozens of planned plants in their tracks.
Snow covers photovoltaic panels at a solar park in Meuro, northeastern Germany. In spite of the snow layer, the plant situated on an old lignite mine is producing energy. Picture: BERND SETTNIK/AFP/Getty Images (via Pictures of the day: 22 February 2013 - Telegraph)
Death rate per watts, Nuclear, Oil, Coal. Classic chart exposes cognitive dissonance, and persistent self-denial…
Do you have an opinion about nuclear power? About the relative safety of one form of power over another? How did you come to this opinion?
Here are the stats. For every person killed by nuclear power generation, 4,000 die due to coal, adjusted for the same amount of power produced.
Vivid is not the same as true. It’s far easier to amplify sudden and horrible outcomes than it is to talk about the slow, grinding reality of day to day strife. That’s just human nature. Not included in this chart are deaths due to global political instability involving oil fields, deaths from coastal flooding and deaths due to environmental impacts yet unmeasured, all of which skew it even more if you think about it.
This chart unsettles a lot of people, because there must be something wrong with it. Further proof of how easy it is to fear the unknown and accept what we’ve got.
Update II: The reblog comments are incredible. Not one acknowledged or seems to have read the post. Nor, it seems, has a single reader clicked through to read the original post. Only one commenter, that I could tell, attempted to discuss the underlying facts. Instead, there were mostly “But” type replies that repeat the very myths this chart aims to debunk. What an incredible experience from my point of view, and a major lesson learned…
“Controversial” environmentalist Michael Shellenberger was on Colbert the other day. Shellenberger argues that environmentalists need to embrace new technologies, such as nuclear power, rather than reject them routinely.
I like his thinking. He challenges environmentalists to reexamine their beliefs and positions without uprooting core philosophies. He makes this challenge in a way that is non-threatening and accessible. Reexamining environmentalism is, as many of my dear readers will note, a topic I’ve written about many times.
Journalists have to get with the program in this regard when they present a problem to the public. They should, in 2013 and going forward, equally invest exploring options and solutions to the same extent as they used to get the facts of the story. There are plenty of tools and techniques he could have discussed to respond to this problem. Why didn’t he present solutions? That article is 5,000 words long! 10x the length of regular reports!
I think you should demand that, going forward, half his words should be dedicated to exploring options. Not pushing them, but discussing them as a way of “informing the public of the facts.” You might be surprised by the response if you ask.
Did you know that you can shape how subsidies work? Did you know that you can submit your own draft legislation? Did you know that you can help change the permitting, building, and zoning laws in your town? Probably not. Yet those are the very solutions that this long-winded article leaves out.
Write to the author and demand he stop with the old school journalism and start empowering his readers with real tools to stop the harms he’s exposing. (He might respond with some lazy trope that he can’t dip into advocacy. He’s wrong. Exploring 5 or 10 solutions to a problem is providing factual information. Journalists know the difference. So, preempt this scaredy-cat reply by asking what’s the point of reporting any problem if it’s not subsuming a public action for change?).
NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s scathing letter to CEO’s of NY power companies demanding accountability for not being prepared for Hurricane Sandy. The letter was sent to the CEOs of six utilities that service New York City and surrounds: ConEd, O&R, Central Gas, Rochester Gas, National Grid, and LI Power. Have a quick read of the letter above if you can before continuing.
The second paragraph is pure shaming the utilities. Basically, “We all knew about the storm. Everyone else was prepared, why weren’t you?!” Pretty strong language. He concludes the letter by warning that NY State is going to take action against the utility companies.
But, to my mind Cuomo is playing power chess. He was NY’s Attorney General - the state’s top lawyer. You have to know your shit to be NY’s AG. It’s one of the most difficult jobs in the country. And I’m not exaggerating, NY’s AG is perhaps second in difficulty only Eric Holder’s job, the Federal Government’s AG.
However, Cuomo is no longer an attorney. He’s New York’s governor now, which means his powers are very limited in conducting a legal action. He can direct the new AG to investigate, or Cuomo can appoint a special panel to conduct a review for malfeasance, but he cannot directly oversee the legal action. But he didn’t ask his AG to act.
So, it seems to me, Cuomo is circumventing his AG in favor of working the system. He’s directed one of the state’s boards review the utility companies’ certificates. If the panel finds error, they have the power to pull their certificates, which is what the end of the letter eludes to. The key passage:
New Yorkers should not suffer because electric utilities did not reasonably prepare for this eventuality. In the context of the ongoing emergency, such a failure constitutes a breach of the public trust.
Under such circumstances, I would direct the Public Service Commission to commence a proceeding to revoke your Certificates. With respect to the Long Island Power Authority, I will make every change necessary to ensure it lives up to its public responsibility. It goes without saying that such failures would warrant the removal of the management responsible for such colossal misjudgments.
Strong stuff! But I’m not sure what would happen by revoking a power-company’s certificate. I suspect the utility would no longer be able to sell power and fuel to New Yorkers and other communities.
Assuming that is the case, we have to ask, ‘what happens when a utility leaves their market?’ Suppose one of the six power companies loses their right to sell electricity to New Yorkers due to the panel’s findings. That would leave a gap in the market leaving the other utilities to take over (or the creation of a new utility).
Essentially, it would be a transfer of millions of paying customers from one company to another. In other words, free money to the other utility companies! That’s the exact opposite of the letter’s intent!
To be sure, Cuomo’s letter is a real threat. And the CEOs will certainly take action. Perhaps they’ll take out full-page ads in the NYTimes, apologizing and reassuring New Yorkers et al that everything is A-OKAY-TRUST-US. In the background, the utility companies will have to fix and upgrade some infrastructure, and they’ll have to create better action-response plans for storms and other emergency outages.
But will the letter work? It seems to me that while everyone is applauding Cuomo’s very ballsy letter, it’s really just a stunt to get the utilities to step-up their game. He fires off a popular letter, the public falls in love with the idea, and now the ball is in the utility companies’ court. Let’s hope the gambit works.
Decent (not great) primer on geoengineering. Worth a skim since my next post is on that batshiat crazy guy who dumped 100 tons of rusty iron dust into the ocean last week - just to see what would happen.
I know, it’s a carbon story - not my style. What’s most interesting to me, though, is the legal questions behind geoengineering.
For example, let’s say that geoengineering is a good option, one that could counter global warming and cool the earth just enough to make things safer. There are dozens of ways to do this, as the article points out. Like, the dudes (and they are mostly dudes) from DARPA send a big mirror into orbit to reflect the sun’s rays. Or someone figures out a way to create more clouds in the sky, which would then reflect the sun’s energy back into spaceblivion. Aaannd a presto! No more climate change.
Great news, right?But, and this is the legal bit, which country should be in control of such projects? Who decides how much geoengineering is just right?
What happens if a rogue nation decides to mess with the earth’s atmosphere for geo-political-advantage-of-doomy-doom??! How (and whom) would legally enforce this system, especially if someone screwed up? Should China or, say, Afghanistan hold the keys to geoengineering technology? Conversely, one can easily imagine a coalition of states - China, USA, the EU, maybe Brazil etc. - getting together to run this system. Which court system would hold this coalition responsible for our doomed existence? And other rhetorical, legal mind-fucks.
What Is Geoengineering and Why Is It Considered a Climate Change Solution?
Geoengineering is a word that means many different things to many different people. Typically what people call geoengineering is divided into two major classes. There are approaches which attempt to reduce the amount of climate change produced by an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and there are approaches that try to remove greenhouse gases that have already been released to the atmosphere.
The Earth is warmed by sunlight and the heat that is absorbed by the Earth is later re-radiated back to space. Greenhouse gases make it more difficult for the Earth to radiate energy to space. So the two main ways you can cause Earth to cool are either to create conditions such that Earth absorbs less sunlight or make it easier for the Earth to radiate heat energy back to space.
The first category of approaches typically includes things like: putting giant satellites in space to deflect sunlight away from Earth, putting tiny particles in the stratosphere, whitening clouds over the ocean, or perhaps whitening roofs or planting lighter [colored] crops. They are all attempts to deflect sunlight away from Earth.
The second allows more heat energy to escape.
There is one more category that some people propose: that we might take heat that exists near the surface of the Earth and stuff it down deep into the ocean. This hasn’t been looked at very much. But it’s another way of altering Earth’s surface temperatures.
An un-redacted version of a recently released Nuclear Regulatory Commission report highlights the threat that flooding poses to nuclear power plants located near large dams — and suggests that the NRC has misled the public for years about the severity of the threat, according to engineers and nuclear safety advocates…
The NRC report identifies flood threats from upstream dams at nearly three dozen other nuclear facilities in the United States, including the Fort Calhoun Station in Nebraska, the Prairie Island facility in Minnesota and the Watts Bar plant in Tennessee, among others. More at HuffPo
Important discovery, but the reporting seems over the top. Comparing the threat, for example, of a fresh-water river flood to a salt-water tsunami from the ocean is plainly disingenuous and frankly journalistically lazy.
I get that nuclear power plants are vulnerable to environmental change and climate impacts. Indeed, I have written about the threats several times, but this story smells of fear-mongering.
It’s an interesting article, no doubt. It shows that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission published two different reports, one of which was published publicly.
But discovering that there are two (or more) versions of a report is certainly not proof of a “cover-up.” Writing different versions of the same report is standard operating procedure to my mind.
The NRC has historically been blunt about environmental threats to nuclear power plants - indeed, that’s a primary objective of the commission. One would need crystal clear evidence to successfully accuse such a high-level, highly-scrutinized organization.
Besides, the very flood vulnerabilities discussed in both versions of the report are in fact being mitigated. So, what exactly is the problem here?
Finally, as is common with environmental reporting, the piece does not provide a plan of action to resolve the issue. It doesn’t say that the commission should be disbanded and replaced, nor show that the work being done to mitigate floods are flawed. The article subsumes the public will act, which is plainly disproportionate to the accusation at hand.
Each major wind farm in America creates 1,000+ jobs and adds millions of dollars to local communities. Today, wind farms generate about 50,000 megawatts of clean, renewable energy — the equivalent of the energy produced by 12 Hoover Dams.
Long excluded from traditional power structures, women lead differently than men. Restricted access to resources has made ingenuity a matter of survival for many; frustration with impenetrable oligarchies and inherited bureaucracies has instilled the value of transparency and creative, practical thinking in others. Women have been forced to operate from outside closed networks, which means they’ve had to adapt by creating their own worlds; they’ve learned to unite peripheral, disenfranchised communities into collectively organized and governed microcosms.
Now reading. Just in time as India recovers from a electricity blackout that left 670 million people with out power. The cause was first blamed on a shortage of coal, but now it is clear that incompetence, and perhaps corruption, caused the blackout.
Power is restored in India after a massive blackout left 670 million people in the dark.
Want to know how something like that could have happened? Our current issue features this essay on India and its “centralized, secretive, and arbitrary political culture” that is holding the country back.
New Delhi has gone out of its way to make life better for big businesses, granting them access to easy credit, dedicated power plants, and protection against currency fluctuations. That is a problem because India’s big-business sectors, such as mining, land development, and infrastructure, are its most corrupt.
In this must read piece (one that defines my career and the core theme of this tumblr), the New York Times contextualizes the issue of climate impacts on America’s aging infrastructure in this solid piece, “Rise in Weather Extremes Threatens Infrastructure.”
I’ve written about about weather-related nuclear power plant shut downs before (see here). When a power plant shuts down in the middle of a summer heat wave and drought, people’s lives are threatened, especially the elderly and children if they lose air-conditioning or power to essential products.
Nuke plants suck water from either a river or a lake. And the water is used to cool the reactors (those big, wide towers you see with “smoke” billowing out is actually steam). After the water circulates through the plant, it’s dumped back into the river or lake (this impacts fish and wildlife, because the water is very hot, killing or making ecosystem uninhabitable).
The water has to be below a certain temperature range in order for it to effectively cool the towers. But, what happens if the river water is too hot? The plant has to shut down.
Up until 2007, this has never happened in the United States before. But now it’s a regular occurrence. Rivers and lakes are heating up. Nuclear power plants in France shut down during a dangerous heat wave that killed 10s of thousands(!) of people in the early 2000s. Now, the US is experiencing a similar situation. Browns Ferry nuclear power plant shut down several times since 2007 because the lake it uses for cooling became too shallow and too hot. The result? No power (and therefore no air-conditioning) for nearly millions of people during the hottest and most dangerous summers in the south.
The Times does a way better job than I ever could covering the many issues of climate impacts on America’s aging and weakening infrastructure. As an climate adaptation professional, the list of problems is what I specialize in. Have a look:
Weather Extremes Leave Parts of U.S. Grid Buckling
“From highways in Texas to nuclear power plants in Illinois, the concrete, steel and sophisticated engineering that undergird the nation’s infrastructure are being taxed to worrisome degrees by heat, drought and vicious storms.
…a US Airways regional jet became stuck in asphalt that had softened in 100-degree temperatures, and a subway train derailed after the heat stretched the track so far that it kinked — inserting a sharp angle into a stretch that was supposed to be straight. In East Texas, heat and drought have had a startling effect on the clay-rich soils under highways, which “just shrink like crazy,” leading to “horrendous cracking,” said Tom Scullion, senior research engineer with the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. In Northeastern and Midwestern states, he said, unusually high heat is causing highway sections to expand beyond their design limits, press against each other and “pop up,” creating jarring and even hazardous speed bumps.
Excessive warmth and dryness are threatening other parts of the grid as well. In the Chicago area, a twin-unit nuclear plant had to get special permission to keep operating this month because the pond it uses for cooling water rose to 102 degrees; its license to operate allows it to go only to 100. According to the Midwest Independent System Operator, the grid operator for the region, a different power plant had had to shut because the body of water from which it draws its cooling water had dropped so low that the intake pipe became high and dry; another had to cut back generation because cooling water was too warm.”
A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature.
I'm a climate change consultant specializing in climate adaptation, environmental law, and urban planning based in the U.S. In addition to traveling and hiking, I research, publish, and lecture on how cities can adapt to climate change.
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