Sunday, July 29, 2007

World's Third Largest Solar Plant Online

A utility-scale power plant based on concentrating solar power technology is up and running near Boulder City, Nevada. Generating 64 megawatts of power, the Nevada Solar One plant is the largest one built internationally in the last 14 years and the third largest on the planet. Environmental News Service has a good description here and the landmark has also earned an entry in Wikipedia.

Green TV Productions offers the following on-site coverage of Nevada Solar One:

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Changing How People Design Things

More on the Rocky Mountain Institute in this revealing (though slightly smarmy) video clip from a CNN piece...

On Micropower and Other Musings of Amory Lovins

Amory Lovins and the well-respected organization he founded decades ago, the Rocky Mountain Institute, bring clarity and scientific precision to discussions on the pros and cons of alternative energy paths. Lovins favors the soft path, as made clear in this interview with Grist.
Micropower, as pointed out in the following quote, is not a trivial pursuit, but a major part of the energy mix in many forward-looking industrial countries.

We see this now in the electricity business. A fifth of the world's electricity and a quarter of the world's new electricity comes from micropower -- that is, combined heat and power (also called cogeneration) and distributed renewables. Micropower provides anywhere from a sixth to over half of all electricity in most of the industrial countries. This is not a minor activity anymore; it's well over $100 billion a year in assets. And it's essentially all private risk capital.

So in 2005, micropower added 11 times as much capacity and four times as much output as nuclear worldwide, and not a single new nuclear project on the planet is funded by private risk capital. What does this tell you? I think it tells you that nuclear, and indeed other central power stations, have associated costs and financial risks that make them unattractive to private investors. Even when our government approved new subsidies on top of the old ones in August 2005 -- roughly equal to the entire capital costs of the next-gen nuclear plants -- Standard & Poor's reaction in two reports was that it wouldn't materially improve the builders' credit ratings, because the risks private capital markets are concerned about are still there.

So I think even such a massive intervention will give you about the same effect as defibrillating a corpse -- it will jump but it will not revive.

Lovins has the facts, figures, and statistics to back up his claims, and a substantial library of information on the Rocky Mountain Institute site guiding interested truth seekers to the soft energy path.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Democratic Candidates Debate Energy Options

If you were counting on the next U.S. President (who we suspect may come from the Democratic party, if current trends continue) to make the right moves to reverse global warming, the following video from the recent CNN debate may be discouraging. The strongest responses came from Dennis Kucinich, who talked of sweeping new policies throughout America, to emphasize energy efficiency and deploy solar, wind, and geothermal power installations as fast as we can build them. He also rightfully ascribed our current inclination to warmaking, proceeding unabated in Iraq as warships maneuver off the coast of Iran, as one more sign of the perpetuation of the oil economy. Would we be fighting in the region if the major exports were breadfruit and kumquats?

The Kucinich segment starts about one minute into the video (with the question from the snowman).

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Joys of Uranium Mining

If you start at the beginning of the nuclear power fuel cycle--uranium mining--the shining attributes of clean, safe nuclear power become abundantly clear, as starkly illustrated in this Mother Jones article, Crazy for Yellowcake in Paradox, Colorado.
Petra Bartosiewicz paints a vivid picture of the past and potential future damage of mining operations amidst the clouds of radioactive dust:
George Gore, 59, a retired uranium miner and mill worker, grew up in Uravan, where his father worked for 24 years in the Union Carbide mill; he now lives in Grand Junction, Colorado. Gore, whose big white beard makes him look like a weather-beaten Santa, spent 18 years in the mining industry, several of them digging for uranium in the Lazy L Mine outside Uravan. By age 30, he had developed severe lung problems. "In 1977, I was told by a doctor that I'd be dead in two years if I didn't get out of uranium mining," he says. (Government records show that radiation levels at the Lazy L in the 1970s were so high, a worker would hit the maximum exposure to radiation considered safe over a lifetime—or 30 years of work—in just 4 years.) I met Gore when he returned to Nucla with his sister, Gladys, last winter. The siblings visited the local cemetery, its rows of headstones adorned with pickaxes, mining jacks, shovels. They listed off the dead as they walked: their father, from cancer; three brothers, from cancer, one at the age of 24; their uncle, who drove uranium trucks, from emphysema ("Never smoked a day in his life," said Gore); their aunt, from lung cancer; several cousins, from cancer; dozens of schoolmates, from cancer. "Almost all the people I grew up with—all of 'em dead," said Gore. "It's one of the tragedies of the Cold War. And now we want to try it again."

As one of the commenters to this piece noted, the harrowing description doesn't even go into the damage wrought on the Navajo nation in Arizona and New Mexico, where sickness and death followed the frenzy to exploit the considerable volumes of uranium ore located on reservation lands.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

No Future for Nuclear Power

Love him or hate him, Ralph Nader doesn't mince words when it comes to derailing the train of corporate bullshit that dominates the mainstream media outlets. In a CommonDreams post, No Future for Nuclear Power, Nader examines the efforts of the nuclear power industry to foist the costs of building, operating, decommisioning, and cleaning up after accidents on the public. If there was ever an industry that was the antithesis of the so-called free market theory of enterprise, nuclear power is it. It only exists when vast subsidies prop it up and the public bears the burden of serious accidents.

In this hard-hitting article, Nader says:
Do you know any other industry producing electricity that has to have specific evacuation plans for miles around it, is inherently a national security risk, cannot be privately insured without Congress mandating severe limited liability in case of massive casualties and requires massive taxpayer subsidies?

A most concise, authoritative case against the electric atom was recently released titled “Why a Future for the Nuclear Industry is Risky” by a group of environmental health and social investment groups. (See

In the introduction to the report, the case against nuclear energy was summarized this way: “Wind power and other renewable technologies, combined with energy efficiency, conservation and cogeneration can be much more cost effective and can be deployed much sooner than new nuclear power plants.”

Yes indeed, efficiency or conservation, with a national mission, can cut in half the waste of energy, using currently available technology and know-how, before the first privately capitalized nuclear plant opens. One scientist once described the primary output of electric generating plants as “heating the heavens.”

In spite of the utter folly of nuclear power, the disinformation mills churn on, spewing out their own form of radioactive tritium, countless particles of blatant falsehoods.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Between the Fault Lines

As has been the case with virtually every nuclear power plant incident in the last 50 years, the operators at the Tokyo Electric Plant admitted after the fact that damage to the reactor was worse than initially reported last week and, in a small, barely reported side note stated that the earthquake force had exceeded the design limits of the reactors at the site. In a article, Harvey Wasserman surveyed some of the other catastrophes waiting to happen, plants located on or near fault lines, where a severe temblor could contaminate a region the size of a state. In the article summary, Harvey says:
To this list we must now add additional tangible evidence that reactors allegedly built to withstand “worst case” earthquakes in fact cannot. And when they go down, the investment is lost, and power shortages arise (as is now happening in Japan) that are filled by the burning of fossil fuels.

It costs up to ten times as much to produce energy from a nuke as to save it with efficiency. Advances in wind, solar and other green “Solartopian” technologies mean atomic energy simply cannot compete without massive subsidies, loan guarantees and government insurance to protect it from catastrophes to come.

This latest “impossible” earthquake has not merely shattered the alleged safeguards of Japan’s reactor fleet. It has blown apart—yet again—any possible argument for building more reactors anywhere on this beleaguered Earth.

Earthquakes and nuclear reactors are a volatile combination and one we definitely don't need if we want to balance safety and energy efficiency.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Japan Nuclear Plant Shutdown

Reliability has never been a strong suit of nuclear power plant operations, with safety problems, forced shutdowns, and similar difficulties plaguing the technology since its introduction. A recent quake in Japan, as reported by Reuters, put their largest plant out of commission.
And anyone who remembers the 2003 heat wave in Europe that took 35,000 lives might also remember that many of the nuclear power reactors in France went offline during much of that period because of cooling problems (sometimes produced by the rise in temperature of the water sourced for cooling intake). Similar problems occurred in Europe during July 2006.

Is it smart to invest in a technology that relies on absolute precision in controlling operational temperatures during a time when global warming is making that increasingly difficult? As the French reactor operators discovered, the approach doesn't work all that well.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Nuclear Reactor Outside Fresno?

Like those third-rate horror movie monsters that get killed three or four times and still keep coming back, the nuclear power promoters are working overtime in California to try to get a new reactor constructed just outside Fresno.

To do it, and open the pathway for a business cartel hoping to fund the enterprise, they will first have to overturn a law passed in 1976 that requires an appropriate solution to nuclear waste storage before any new plants are built. Republican state assemblyman Chuck DeVore wants to put the issue to a statewide vote.

In a article, California's New Nukes War, Harvey Wasserman says,
The irony is that we stand at the brink of the greatest technological revolution in human history. But we’re being dragged away from it by Big Money’s push for a technology with fifty years of proven ecological disaster and financial failure.

Green energy is poised to remake our world.

Wind power is the cheapest form of new generation now available. There are sufficient wind resources between the Mississippi and the Rockies to generate, with available technology, 300% of the electricity we use. There’s enough in North Dakota, Kansas and Texas alone to do 100%.

Solar technologies ranging from green architectural design to desert power towers to photovoltaic cells that go on every rooftop are booming toward a multi-billion-dollar mainstay of our electric supply. Bio-fuels based on sustainable, organic practices can transform our transportation sector. Tidal, wave, geothermal, ocean thermal and a wide range of other green production processes stand at the brink of epic profitability.

Meanwhile, increased efficiency and revived mass transit are the cheapest, cleanest ways to salvage the energy we waste. In concert, these revolutionary green technologies are poised to bring us to Solartopia, a post-pollution planet powered totally by energy harvested in harmony with our Mother Earth. They promise an abundance of efficient supply with the power to boom our economies and save our ability to survive on this planet.

But here’s the hitch: renewable energy has the “flaw” of tending toward community control. In the long run, a true Solartopian revolution must involve re-shaping our corporate culture into one based on sustainability, accountability and grassroots democracy. Though some astute corporations are cashing in, in the long run green technologies are the door to decentralization…and economic democracy. A green-powered Solartopia will own its energy supply at the grassroots. Wind, solar, bio-fuels—they hold the keys to community control.

Against all that, new nukes are the ultimate weapon of mass distraction. There have been numerous rationales put forth for building more reactors. Except to an entrenched corporate power elite, none of them make any sense.

The struggle goes on and at times it seems as though the voices for sanity and common sense are winning. But, as soon as the lights go out, that made-up movie beast is at the window, scratching and clawing, looking for some innocent flesh to devour.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

George Monbiot's View of the World

"What will the world look like in 2050?" the interviewer from The Real News asks George Monbiot, author of Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, and the interview gains steam from there. Part 1 of this 4-part series is a pithy, insightful view of the perils of global warming and a glimpse of the kind of information that our mainstream media should be providing to us.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Skewed Logic: Nuclear Power is the Solution

In an excellent piece in Orion Magazine, Reasons Not to Glow, Rebecca Solnit skewers the nuclear power cheerleaders who defy logic, reason, and common sense with their claims their nuclear power is the way to reverse climate change.
Nuclear power is clean, if you ignore uranium tailings and fuel processing and depleted uranium distributed with abandon in weaponry. Nuclear power is cheap, if you ignore the costs of decommisioning reactors after their 30- to 40-year lifespan and guarding the ruins for the next few centuries, as well as the accrued costs of the inevitable accidents. Nuclear power is the only way out of our situation, if you pretend that we can build them fast enough and that the remaining supplies of high-grade uranium ore won't run out in a couple of decades.
With a pen as sharp as a laser-tooled sword, Rebecca says:

If you’re not, at this point, chasing your poor formerly pronuclear companion down the hallway, mention that every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle is murderously filthy, imparting long-lasting contamination on an epic scale; that a certain degree of radioactive pollution is standard at each of these stages, but the accidents are now so many in number that they have to be factored in as part of the environmental cost; that the plants themselves generate lots of radioactive waste, which we still don’t know what to do with—because the stuff is deadly . . . anywhere . . . and almost forever. And no, tell them, this nuclear colonialism is not an acceptable sacrifice, since it is not one the power consumers themselves are making. It’s a sacrifice they’re imposing on people far away and others not yet born, a debt they’re racking up at the expense of people they will never meet.

Sure, you can say nuclear power is somewhat less carbon-intensive than burning fossil fuels for energy; beating your children to death with a club will prevent them from getting hit by a car. Ravaging the Earth by one irreparable means is not a sensible way to prevent it from being destroyed by another. There are alternatives. We should choose them and use them.

Enjoy the full article here.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Ethanol and Debt Slavery

With every move that inches toward escape from the petroleum-based economy that has gained a death grip on modern society, the dark side in man, like a character in a Cormac McCarthy novel, rises up to squelch optimism. Debt slavery, enjoying a resurgence in Brazil as the the growing popularity of ethanol blurs the focus on labor conditions, reveals the ugly underbelly of a potentially promising offshoot of the energy industry.
In this article in The Independent, Daniel Howden states:
More than 1,000 "enslaved" workers have been released from a sugar cane plantation in the Amazon following a raid that has highlighted the dark side of the current ethanol boom.

Brazilian authorities said that the workers in the northern state of Para were being forced to work 14-hour days in horrendous conditions cutting cane for ethanol production.

Police said the raid was Brazil's biggest to date against debt slavery, a practice reminiscent of indentured labour where poor workers are lured to remote rural areas, then pushed into debt to plantation owners who charge exorbitant prices for everything from food to transportation.

Not that much different than John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath in another time and place.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Up with Pedal Power

As personal income levels rise in Asian countries, so does the increasing reliance on automobiles to move about. The World Health Organization sees bicycle riding and other lifestyle changes as vital to dealing with global climate issues, as well as pollution that is endangering Asia's overall health. Climate change is already having a devastating impact in Asian countries.

Climate change contributes directly or indirectly to about 77,000 deaths per year in the region, according to WHO estimates.

"So far the impact is on the health of the people. If the trend continues, it may have an impact on the economy," said Shigeru Omi, WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific.

"Of course the threat is there. We should not wait for that to happen," he told reporters at the start of a four-day conference on the impact of climate change and health in Southeast and East Asian countries.

Omi said urgent action was needed because Asia's share of the world's greenhouse gas emissions are expected to grow larger with the rapid economic expansion of China and India.

For more details, read the full article, UN calls for pedal power to reduce environmental damage.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Dark Side of Nuclear Power

As a growing army of nuclear power shills keep popping up in the media, like demented marionettes escaped from a dark carnival, it's worth taking a close look at downsides of this dead-end technology. Note that whenever these boosters talk about the technology, they typically preface the term: it's "clean, safe" nuclear power, as if just repeating those magic words over and over will somehow overcome the dirty, unsafe connotations earned over the last half century.

The following short video interview with David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists takes a hard look at the dark side of nuclear power: the dangers of terrorist attacks, the cost of cleanup, the close calls near major population centers, the incredible problems of transporting hundreds of tons of contaminating materials when decommissioning plants, and on and on...