Archive for the ‘Chernobyl – Three Mile Island’ Category

April news-bite showers

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Unused Ferris wheel near the abandoned Chernboyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine

* It’s official! California must generate one third of its power from alternative sources by 2020. Notice, in this L.A. Times post, that our acceleration into green power may help California reclaim its lofty perch as environmental lodestar. Wait, there’s truth in them there words.

“… The new law, known as a renewable portfolio standard, is the most aggressive of any state. Several attempts to introduce a federal version have stalled in a divided and preoccupied Congress. California had previously required investor-owned utilities such as Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric to generate 20% of their electricity from clean sources by 2010, with a three-year grace period. The law signed Tuesday will also apply to municipal utilities such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which manage about a quarter of the state’s electricity load. Energy activists hope the mandate will lead to even more ambitious requirements. “California can power itself entirely on clean energy resources,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate with Environment California. “Mandating that the state generate a third of its electricity from renewable energy is a big down payment toward that ultimate goal …”

* And, yet, you want to qualify exuberance for wind energy retaking other alternatives before the Ice Cap re-freezes. Turbines are not having the best year, and you can wager whether it’s cost skepticism, declining subsidies or something to do with oil prices and/or NIMBYism.

Also from the L.A. Times:  “The 5,116 megawatts of wind power installed in the U.S. in 2010 was just half the amount put in during the record year before, but the industry still grew 15%, according to an annual report from the American Wind Energy Assn. To some, the trade group’s data illustrate a young industry’s resiliency amid hostile economics and inconsistent government regulations and incentives. But to others, it’s a worrisome harbinger that wind, which has boomed at an average of 35% each year for the last five, might be headed for a slowdown. The 35,600 wind turbines in the ground nationwide can now produce 40,181 megawatts – enough to supply electricity to 10 million homes, according to the report. That’s 2.3% of all the electricity generated around the country, compared to roughly 2% from solar, geothermal and biomass sources …”

* In what may be the most under-played local enviro news, California’s landmark greenhouse gas cap and trade is expanding into the Great North. Good grief, I say.

“California officials announced Tuesday that the state will expand its newly adopted carbon-trading program to three Canadian provinces, creating the largest regional cap-and-trade system in North America. California will be joined by British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario in a cap-and-trade program aimed at limiting planet-heating greenhouse gases from industrial plants and transportation fuel, and that allows companies to buy and sell emissions allowances among themselves to cut their costs. The Western Climate Initiative, launched by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was originally designed in 2008 to engage seven Western states and four Canadian provinces in a trading program. That program, it was hoped, would eventually fold into a broader federal cap-and-trade system to be enacted by Congress. But since then, support for curbing global-warming emissions has ebbed, and the economic downturn has cut into business profits. Federal cap-and-trade legislation was passed by the House in 2009 but stalled in the Senate. Arizona, New Mexico Washington, Oregon, Utah and Montana had signed on to join the initiative but have pulled out of the trading plan …”

Now, the things people do without considering their consequences.

* Does the word carcinogenic matter to energy engineers? It should, but it didn’t as much as it should. Link.

“Millions of gallons of potentially hazardous chemicals and known carcinogens were injected into wells by leading oil and gas service companies from 2005 to 2009, a report by three House Democrats said Saturday. The report said 29 of the chemicals injected were known or suspected human carcinogens. They either were regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act as risks to human health or listed as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act … The chemicals are injected during hydraulic fracturing, a process used in combination with horizontal drilling to allow access to natural gas reserves previously considered uneconomical. The growing use of hydraulic fracturing has allowed natural gas production in the United States to reach levels not achieved since the early 1970s. However, the process requires large quantities of water and fluids, injected underground at high volumes and pressure. The composition of these fluids ranges from a simple mixture of water and sand to more complex mixtures with chemical additives … The report said that from 2005 to 2009, the following states had at least 100,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluids containing a carcinogen injected underground: Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Wyoming, North Dakota, New Mexico, Montana and Utah. States with 100,000 gallons or more of fluids containing a regulated chemical under the Safe Drinking Water Act were: Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Mississippi and North Dakota …”

* Japanese nuclear situation got you down? Well, you can only sign up for a tour of Chernboyl if you’re headed toward the Ukraine and have an appetite for tragedy and history, and are confident about your health. Story.

“For the visitor, Chernobyl makes heavy demands on the imagination — much of what’s important can be seen only in the mind’s eye. From the outside, the building where a reactor blew up April 26, 1986, in the world’s worst nuclear disaster mostly looks like an ordinary, dull industrial building. Only an odd addition supported by buttresses — the sarcophagus covering the reactor — hints that anything unusual happened here. The imagination struggles, too, to repopulate nearby Pripyat with the 50,000 people who lived there. Once a busy town built especially for the plant’s workers, it’s now a silent husk of abandoned apartment towers and scrubby brush slowly overtaking the main square. And inevitably, the visitor tries to picture the radioactive contamination that’s everywhere in the 19-mile area around the plant. The dosimeter clipped to a visitor’s clothes and occasional meters around the site are the only visual clues, flashing numbers that are mostly meaningless to the layman …”

Now, this is a big deal – California cementing its commitment to green energy

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

 

– From the L.A. Times story: “A mandate that California utilities increase their use of renewable energy sailed through the state Assembly on Tuesday and is headed for the governor’s desk. Environmental groups say the legislation is the most ambitious of its kind in the country. It would require the state’s electricity companies to provide 33% of power from renewable resources by the year 2020. State law now sets a 20% goal. Supporters made their case by invoking the nuclear plant problems in Japan and conflict in the oil-rich Middle East, as well as the struggling California economy: Environmentalists have said the mandate could create 100,000 jobs. The bill aims to lessen dependence on coal and natural gas in favor of wind, solar and geothermal energy. It would also protect ratepayers from large new costs, and “provides flexibility to utilities,” argued Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata).”

Very heartening news. Too bad it didn’t come a generation earlier.

– More on California and energy.

* It looks like California’s under-reported and provocative bid to run a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade will go forward after all once officials conduct further studies about alternative plans. Color us skeptical about market-based approaches after covering the Anne Sholtz case involving the AQMD, EPA, DOJ, and, yes, even the CIA, and hearing about Europe’s rampant cap-and-trade scandals. We’ll see.

* From the L.A. Times: “California’s effort to curb global warming, which was put on hold by a court decision, will be able to proceed on schedule once officials conduct a new environmental review, according to attorneys analyzing the case. A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the California Air Resources Board failed to properly evaluate alternatives to the so-called cap-and-trade program, which would allow industries to purchase pollution allowances rather than cut their own carbon emissions. The court said that measures such as a carbon tax or direct regulation of greenhouse gases were not given enough consideration. Air board officials said Tuesday that they would meet with environmentalists who filed the lawsuit in an effort to narrow the scope of the court injunction, which is expected to be issued in about a week …”

* Wave energy and the future: a truly untapped source to meet our insatiable needs or a quick path to disrupt the marine ecosystem we need to live? Read it here. :”The waves off San Onofre have for generations beckoned surfers and sport fishermen to a wild stretch of coastline in the shadow of domed nuclear reactors. Now, an Orange County entrepreneur wants to tap the power of that legendary surf in a novel but highly controversial plan to build one of the nation’s first hydrokinetic wave farms …”

– For those convinced it’s no big deal to shave provisions of the Clean Air Act to shore up the wobbly recovery, take a read through these EPA-generated public health statistics from the Environment News Service. “Last year, the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than 160,000 cases of premature death, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates released Tuesday … By 2020, the benefits of reducing fine particle and ground level ozone pollution under the amendments will reach approximately $2 trillion while saving 230,000 people from early death in that year alone, the report concludes.”

In the year 2010, the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than:

  • 160,000 cases of premature mortality
  • 130,000 heart attacks
  • 13 million lost work days
  • 1.7 million asthma attacks

For more about the landlmark Clean Air Act, click here.

– Will the prolonged and alarming Japanese nuclear-plant crisis mean fresh opportunities for more exotic alternative energy ideas? Geothermal: get ready for your close up. LA Times Greenspace Link. Here’s my L.A. Times’ story on this general subject. And here’s my New York Times online Op-Ed that underscores how few Californians in supposedly America’s greenest state have largely eschewed solar power and our governmental hypocrisy.

– More about those Robert F. Kennedy photographs that my older brother took not long before RFK was assassinated in the kitchen of the old Ambassador Hotel nearly 43 years ago. L.A. Times Daily Mirror blog (note to self: type slower when commenting) and L.A. Observed, which produced a hysterical headline.

* For the record, my brother a couple of years ago emailed me these photographs and told me I could do with them what I pleased, as long as nobody stole the images. They sat idly on my hard-drive until I did a little file organizing recently and decided to post them. Both of us had completely forgotten about them, and so the idea we were seeking our 15 minutes — or 15 seconds in the blogosphere — of fame out of such a gruesome tragedy makes me want to laugh for about 15 hours. These were just a couple of poignant and significant photos taken by a then-21-year-old USC undergrad who stumbled upon one of his heroes. In broken record cadence, I believe the timing of the images pales next to the fact that Paul could get so close to a presidential candidate whose brother was assassinated in Dallas less than five years earlier!

The smog-nuclear connection: thicker than you might think

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

As the world waits eagerly for Japan’s quake-ravaged, tsunami-swamped nuclear-power plant to come back under control, it’s worthwhile to take a step back in time to an age when Cold War apprehensions about radioactive fallout intertwined with everyday aggravations about Southern California’s air pollution epidemic.

We detail and highlight some of the many facets about the intersection of cell-mutating isotopes and lung-scarring aerosols in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

Among other interesting morsels from the chronicle:

* In the paranoid 1950s, the Eisenhower Administration buffaloed officials at the forerunner of today’s South Coast Air Quality Management District, Los Angeles County’s Air Pollution Control District (APCD), to perform airborne monitoring not just of tailpipe emissions but of radioactive particles drifting from above-ground nuclear weapon tests in the Nevada desert. Ike’s White House was so serious about this new role for West Coast smog police that APCD staffers were required to undergo mandatory training at the U.S. Navy’s “Radiological Defense School” in San Fransisco. Few enjoyed it.

* The sampling ignited a provocative question: how more dangerous would the air be in the event of an ICBM attack on Los Angeles during a particularly smoggy day? Some Navy scientists hypothesized that our hydrocarbon-drenched air might, counterintuitively, be a blessing in atomic war, suggesting that the smog-component ozone might block up to 86 percent of the radiat heat that would otherwise blast the area.

* APCD suits were dragged again into America’s fledgling nuclear debate when Los Angeles City Hall, eying power demand spikes as the city population bulged, proposed construction of a 500,000-kilowatt nuclear power plant near Los Angeles County’s northern boundary. Asked for an analysis of possible dangers, air quality officials said the site was too dangerous. A substantial release of radioactive materials, they concluded, would, as we paraphrase in Smogtown, “burp a stagnant atomic thunderhead lashing Saugus, Newhall and surrounding population centers as far as forty-five miles away from ground zero. No matter the elaborate safety precautions against a runaway reactor or coolant leak, it was just too much of a chance.” Los Angeles, in the end, opted to search for other power sources.

There’s much more in the book about how the Cold War/national security culture and the dawning of ”peaceful” nuclear power coexisted, separated and then reconnected with ever-changing smog in our understanding of aerborne toxics.

Japan’s nuclear crisis: get educated, not hysterical.

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

* L.A. Times: Within days, nuclear radiation released from Japan’s damaged Fukushima reactors could reach California, but experts say the amount that makes its way across the ocean should pose no danger.

* Are the nuke plant workers on a suicide mission to cool the reactors before they all melt down? Chilling reading from the New York Times. ” … They crawl through labyrinths of equipment in utter darkness pierced only by their flashlights, listening for periodic explosions as hydrogen gas escaping from crippled reactors ignites on contact with air. They breathe through uncomfortable respirators or carry heavy oxygen tanks on their backs. They wear white, full-body jumpsuits with snug-fitting hoods that provide scant protection from the invisible radiation sleeting through their bodies …”

* America’s most vulnerable nuclear-energy plants are in places NOT named California. From MSNBC: ”What are the odds that a nuclear emergency like the one at Fukushima Dai-ichi could happen in the central or eastern United States? They’d have to be astronomical, right? As a pro-nuclear commenter on msnbc.com put it this weekend, “There’s a power plant just like these in Omaha. If it gets hit by a tsunami….” It turns out that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has calculated the odds of an earthquake causing catastrophic failure to a nuclear plant here. Each year, at the typical nuclear reactor in the U.S., there’s a 1 in 74,176 chance that the core could be damaged by an earthquake, exposing the public to radiation. No tsunami required. That’s 10 times more likely than you winning $10,000 by buying a ticket in the Powerball multistate lottery, where the chance is 1 in 723,145 …”

* Youtube clip on the after-effects of Chernobyl. So far, the situation in Japan is nowhere near as severe. Still, we must never forget what faulty design, human error and totalitarian rule conspired to ignite: the world’s worst atomic-energy disater. Caution: graphic images in this video.