Posts tagged with 'nuclear'

Weekly Mulch: Greening the Royal Wedding is the Least of Our Worries

Posted Apr 29, 2011 @ 10:52 am by
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by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The biggest news for the environment this week might just be that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took pains to add a couple of green touches to this morning’s Royal Wedding. The flowers were seasonal, the food locally grown, and the emissions offset.

At Care2, Laura Bailey has a few more ideas for couples inclined to green a wedding: Wear a vintage wedding dress. Exchange heirloom rings. Give guests environmentally friendly wedding gifts. Ask them to donate to a charity instead of stocking your household with kitchen appliances.

Anyway…

Those of us who don’t live in the fantasy land of British royalty do have bigger problems to worry about: tornadoes, jobs, climate change. At Grist, David Roberts argues that America’s inability to act on this last problem is tied to the general insecurity running rampant:

Americans are so battered and anxious right now. Median wages are flat, unemployment is high, politics is paralyzed. Middle-class families are one health problem away from ruin, and when they fall, there’s no net. That kind of insecurity, as much as anything, explains the American reticence to launch bold new social programs.

The first step to solving climate change, in this formulation, is to give average people two legs to stand on financially. Once Americans feel more confident about today, they’ll be more like to worry about the big problems of the future.

No nuclear

It’s vital that the country get to a place where real discussions about how to deal with the threats of climate change can happen, because the solutions the country’s relying on now won’t cut it in the long term. Take nuclear energy. It plays a key role in America’s energy strategy for the future, despite the compelling reasons for building fewer, not more, plants.

At AlterNet, Norman Solomon, a writer with a long history of arguing against nuclear energy, writes that California needs to shut down its two nuclear plants. He’s worried about the near-term consequences of creating nuclear power in an earthquake-prone zone but also about the long-term impacts of pro-nuclear policies:

The Diablo Canyon plant near San Luis Obispo and the San Onofre plant on the southern California coast are vulnerable to meltdowns from earthquakes and threaten both residents and the environment.

Reactor safety is just one of the concerns. Each nuclear power plant creates radioactive waste that will remain deadly for thousands of years. This is not the kind of legacy that we should leave for future generations.

This week also marked the 25th anniversary of the meltdown at Chernobyl. At The Nation, Peter Rothberg reminds us that nuclear accidents wreak havoc for years to come. The Chernobyl meltdown, he writes, “has caused tens of thousands of cancer deaths, and showed just how far-reaching the ramifications of a serious nuclear accident could be.” Rothberg and Kevin Gostolza also rounded up a list of ten great anti-nuclear songs.

No oil

Nuclear isn’t the only current energy source that poses intolerable risks. As the price of oil has rocketed upwards in the past few weeks, the country has started freaking out and, as Marah Hardt writes at Change.org, in Alaska, state officials are pressuring the federal government to open up oil drilling there. But as Hardt points out:

Spills can and will happen.  And in the freezing, extreme conditions of the Arctic—think extended periods of darkness, fog, sub-zero temperatures, hurricane-force storms, and lots of moving sea ice—clean-up efforts would be nearly impossible.  Just this past February, an oil spill off Norway’s only marine reserve proved how difficult clean-up operations can be, even in relatively calm conditions: oil leaked underneath sea ice, where it was impossible to reach, and surface skimming booms quickly clogged with ice, rendering them useless.

No energy?

No matter what we do, however, gathering the energy used to power our lives will take some toll on the environment. A large portion of clean energy in states like New York, for example, comes from hydroelectric power—dams. But dams are environmental villains of long-standing, as well.

In the West, dams along the Colorado River are negatively impacting the region’s national parks, Public News Service’s Kathleen Ryan reports:

David Nimkin, NPCA’s Southwest regional director, says all of the parks in the [Colorad River] basin, including the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and the Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado, are seeing the sometimes-unintended consequences of placing dams along the river, from unnatural water flow patterns, to the introduction of non-native fish species, or increased river sediment and temperatures.

“The dams also fragment the system as whole, creating small isolated little ecosystems and areas that are not consistent with overall river conditions.”

With these sorts of choices, sometimes it is easier to worry about the little changes we can make to assuage our environmental consciences: recycled wedding invitations might not save the world, but they might hurt it that much less.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Interior to Lease More Wyoming Coal; Michigan’s Unfinished Oil Spill Clean-Up

Posted Mar 25, 2011 @ 11:01 am by
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by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Oil Spill265

The renewable era is still far away. Despite the attention and rhetoric that has been given over to green energy projects, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced this week that coal companies would be able to take a whack at mining 2.35 billion tons of coal in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. A new oil slick appeared off the coast of Louisiana. And Japanese authorities warned Tokyo residents that the city’s water contained levels of radioactive material unsafe for infants to consume.

The black rock

Grist’s Glenn Hurowitz calls Big Coal’s new opportunities in Wyoming “an enormous expansion in coal mining that threatens to increase U.S. climate pollution by an amount equivalent to more than half of what the United States currently emits in a year.” The Powder River Basin is the most productive coal region in the country, and as the Interior Department noted in its announcement of the coal lease sale, Wyoming as a whole accounts for 40% of all coal used in domestic electricity generation. (In John McPhee’s 2005 New Yorker piece on coal trains, he follows coal mined in the Powder River Basin to a power plant in Georgia, for instance.)

The DOI emphasized the role of coal in the country’s energy mix and its importance for creating jobs in Wyoming; Hurowitz read a different message in this announcement. His analysis is scathing:

Despite his administration’s rhetorical embrace of clean energy, Obama is effectively using modest wind and solar investments as cover for a broader embrace of dirty fuels. It’s the same strategy BP, Chevron, and other major polluters use: tout modest environmental investments in multi-million dollar PR campaigns, while putting the real money into fossil fuel development.

Exposure to radiation

At Truthout, H. Patricia Hynes has a similarly dour view of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the country’s nuclear power plants. “This regulatory agency has never seen a nuclear plant it didn’t like,” she writes.

Since the nuclear crisis in Japan, American leaders have been at pains to remind nervous citizens that nuclear energy is cleaner than coal and will continue to contribute to U.S. power. But as Hynes points out, even in the absence of crisis, nuclear plants come with consequences: they leave behind radioactive tailings, depleted uranium and spent nuclear fuel. And during their life cycle, Hynes writes:

Nuclear power plants routinely release small amounts of radioactive isotopes during operation and they can release large amounts during accidents. For this latter reason, a 2003 expert panel of the National Academy of Sciences recommended that potassium iodide pills be provided to everyone 40 and younger who lives near a nuclear power plant to protect against exposure to radioactive iodine.

Of course, the risks in a crisis are great, too. In Japan, people living near the Fukushima plant are being exposed to levels of radiation higher than they should be, Democracy Now! reports. Aileen Mioko Smith, director of Green Action, in Kyoto, told Amy Goodman, “The Japanese government admitted that 30 kilometers outside—this is not an evacuated zone—a person could have been exposed to as much as 100 millisieverts of radiation. That would be twice the amount of the evacuation threshold established by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organization. And yet, the Japanese government refuses to evacuate people from beyond a 20-kilometer—that’s a 12-mile—area.”

Snake oil

The full impact of the nuclear crisis in Japan may not be obvious for years; that’s one of the reasons radiation exposure plays on people’s fears so effectively. One of the scary things about nuclear meltdowns or oil spills or coal smog is that it takes a long time for the negative effects to be dealt with. Michigan, for instance, is still struggling with the aftermath of the oil spilled in the Kalamazoo River this summer.

This spill was smaller than the BP disaster, but as Change.org’s Jamie Friedland reports, activists are finding oil in supposedly cleaned sections of the river and a clean-up worker was fired after he witnessed and then talked about other workers hiding oil they were supposed to be dealing with. And, Friedland writes, the county-level task force that was supposed to be watching the process has accomplished little in its short existence.

These sorts of stories are playing out all of the time, on larger and smaller scales. As Care2’s Beth Buczynski writes, another well in the Gulf Coast is leaking. It has released only a small amount of oil, but it’s a reminder that our energy system is routinely polluting the environment.

These pollutants pose a danger to people, too, and for years after they have entered the system. At In These Times, R.M. Arrieta writes about the impacts of development by Lennar Corporation at Hunters Point Naval Ship yard, a Superfund site. Arrieta writes, “When Lennar started grading a hillside, heavy equipment breaking the serpentine rock in the hill released plumes of naturally occurring asbestos. Nearby residents complained of bloody noses, headaches, breathing problems and increased incidents of asthma attacks.”

That is just one of the problems the community has encountered so far. It’s convenient to believe we can regulate and control the dangerous materials we introduce into the environment, but all too often, it turns out, we can’t.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Monsanto’s Mutant Alfalfa and the Feral Pig Invasion

Posted Feb 11, 2011 @ 11:58 am by
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by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

American feral pig

Agribusiness giant Monsanto is strengthening its hold over the food system both in this country and abroad, with some help from the U.S. government.

Food safety advocates have been trying to derail the roll-out of the company’s newest product, Roundup Ready alfalfa, or at least limit its use, Mike Ludwig reports at Truthout. But Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced recently that use of the alfalfa seeds would be fully deregulated and available for use across the country.

“The decision squashed a proposed compromise between the biotech industry and its opponents that would have placed geographic restrictions on Roundup Ready alfalfa to prevent organic and traditional alfalfa from being contaminated by herbicide sprays and transgenes spread by cross-pollination and other factors,” Ludwig reports.

Home and away

President Barack Obama’s food safety and agriculture team includes quite a few Monsanto supporters. Michael Taylor, the deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration, worked on public policy for the company for three years, for instance. And the agriculture department’s chief scientist, Roger Beachy, came to administration from a research organization co-founded by Monsanto.

Obama administration officials are also working with Monsanto on a plan called “New Visions for Agriculture,” which promotes global food security, Kristen Ridley reports at Change.org.

“This particular plan uses taxpayer dollars through Obama’s Feed the Future initiative to ‘advance market-based solutions’ to increase yield in the developing world,” she writes. “In other words, these companies will be exporting the Big Ag system to developing nations in the name of ‘feeding the world,’ but the only thing they’ll really be feeding is their profits.”

International impacts

For the developing countries involved, the pitch for food security might sound good now. But the United States doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to international interventions on behalf of corporate interests. In Colombia, for instance, local activists are pushing back against a new Canadian goal mining project in part because their communities have already experienced environmental destruction at the hands of U.S.-based mining interests, Inter Press Service’s Helda Martinez reports.

While GreyStar, the Canadian company pushing the project, has promised it will not harm the environment, leaders like former environment minister Manuel Rodríguez are pointing to similar claims made by U.S. coal companies in the past.

“The U.S. firm ‘Drummond told me the same thing 20 years ago,’ Rodríguez said,” according to Martinez.

“The former minister was referring to the proven environmental damages caused in the northern province of Cesar by Drummond’s coal mining — a disaster compounded by serious allegations of violations of the human rights of local residents and mineworkers,” she writes.

Unwelcome visitors

As Eartha Jane Melzer reports for The Michigan Messenger, here in the United States, some lawmakers are pushing back against Canadian interests, as well. Bruce Power, a Canadian nuclear energy company, wants to to ship “16-school bus sized steam generators from the Bruce Nuclear Station on Lake Huron to Sweden for reprocessing and reintroduction to the commercial metals market,” Melzer writes.

The generators would pass through U.S.-controlled portions of the Great Lakes. A cadre of senators from states touching the Great Lakes (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and New York) have asked the agency responsible for approving the trip, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, to take a close look at Bruce Power’s application.

Pest control

Here’s a different strategy for dealing with unwelcome visitors: Kiera Butler is chronicling her encounters with invasive species at Mother Jones. When the problem is feral pigs, however, the strategy is not diplomacy: it’s hunting them. As Butler explains,

Jackson Landers, a.k.a the Locavore Hunter, aims to whet American appetites for invasive species like lionfish, geese, deer, boar, and even spiny iguanas by working with wholesalers, chefs, and restaurateurs to promote these aliens as menu items. As Landers recently told the New York Times‘ James Gorman, “When human beings decide that something tastes good, we can take them down pretty quickly.”

Check out Butler’s account of her hunt in Georgia. She also learns that the attitude towards the pigs—and invasive species in general—goes beyond a desire to simply be rid of them. “In Florida, the spiny iguanas are pests, but they’re also kind of pretty, so some people kind of like having a few of them around and object when people try to get rid of them,” she writes.

Home turf

Of course, not all negative environmental impacts happen abroad, or on account of invaders. Henry Taksier has a sad piece in Campus Progress showing the long-term problems that a wood-treatment factory has created in Gainesville, Florida:

For 93 years, Koppers, Inc. operated a wood-treatment facility at 200 NW 23rd Ave, releasing industrial toxins—including arsenic, hexavalent chromium, creosote, and dioxins—into Gainesville’s air, water, and soil. The area is now ranked as one of the nation’s top-100 polluted sites. It has been designated a Superfund site—a place so heavily polluted with toxic waste that it poses a threat to human health and the environment—for 27 years.

Even so, the area has yet to be fully cleaned up, and families live in close proximity to the site, worrying about their health and warning kids to stay away from the area.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Green products, green energy

Posted Feb 22, 2010 @ 2:30 pm by
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By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Image courtesy of Flickr user net_efekt, under Creative Common LicenseEd. note: This week’s Mulch is pint-sized and will run on Monday rather than Friday. We’ll be back to our regular schedule next week.

Some people live off the grid, eat local food, and have an energy footprint so minuscule that even the canniest hunter couldn’t track them down. But the rest of us buy from supermarkets, get our energy from at least in part from traditional sources like coal, and occasionally forget to turn off the lights when we leave the house. For those of us who are still living with one foot in the old energy world, here are a few helpful hints about what you should buy and what the consequences of shifting to “clean energy” sources like natural gas and nuclear energy are. (more…)

Weekly Mulch: Nuclear Plants will go up in Georgia

Posted Feb 19, 2010 @ 11:39 am by
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By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Image courtesty of Flickr user flokru via Creative Commons LicenseIf you were to look out to the horizon of the clean energy field right now, you would see the hazy outlines of nuclear reactors.  President Barack Obama announced this week that two new nuclear plants will go up in Georgia, built on the promise that the federal government will guarantee $8.3 billion in loans—nearly the entire estimated cost of the project.

“It is a slap in the face to environmentalists,” says Matthew Rothschild at The Progressive. “Though these will be the first nuclear reactors constructed in more than three decades, Obama still labeled them, somehow, as part of the “technologies of tomorrow.””

The president’s announcement wasn’t the only environmental downer this week. Expectations for the next international climate negotiations, to be held in Mexico at the end of 2010, are already low, and yesterday Yvo de Boer, the United Nations’ top climate negotiator, said he would step down this summer and join the private sector. To top it all off, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now faces sixteen lawsuits that would block its ability to decrease carbon emissions, including one backed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

A nuclear error

Although the Georgia reactors would be the first new nuclear construction in the country in decades, they mark the beginning of what the Obama administration hopes will be a shift towards nuclear energy. In the 2011 budget, President Obama proposed an expansion of the loan guarantee program that funds projects like these from $18.5 billion to $54.5 billion.

These nuclear projects deserve close scrutiny. At AlterNet, Harvey Wasserman details the problems with the Georgia reactors. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) already rejected the initial designs for the plant. That means the estimated cost could well exceed the projected $8.5 billion, which Wasserman says, was low at the start.

“Over the past several years the estimated price tag for proposed new reactors has jumped from $2-3 billion each, in some cases to more than $12 billion today,” he explains.

Risky business

In the past, energy firms like The Southern Company, the Atlanta-based group that is building the plants, could only imagine securing funding for new nuclear projects. These projects have a high risk of failure, and private investors do not dream of touching them.

Inter Press Service’s Julio Godoy reviewed several European studies on the feasibility of financing nuclear plants. One study from Citibank concluded that “the risks faced by developers … are so large and variable that individually they could each bring even the largest utility company to its knees financially,” Godoy reports. These risks include uncontrollable construction costs, long delays, and the possibility of low power prices that would not support that plants’ operation.

That’s one reason that green advocates disapprove of nuclear energy: The money could be better spent elsewhere. “People tend to think that environmentalists have some sort of allergic reaction to nuclear because they’re scared of radioactive waste and unsecured nuclear materials,” writes Aaron Wiener at The Washington Independent. “But when it comes down to it…It’s simply a bad investment to pour billions of taxpayer dollars into a nuclear sinkhole when proven technologies such as wind and solar would provide guaranteed benefits.”

Wind to fly on

While the administration lavishes attention on nuclear, other clean energy industries are trying to move forward. In Wisconsin, a Spanish company is opening up a plant to build wind turbine components, which will bring much-needed jobs to the Milwaukee area, as Kari Lydersen reports for Working In These Times.

There’s always the threat, however, that gains like this will be rolled back by competition from China. Clean energy jobs can still be sent overseas, Lydersen points out. She argues that the United State could be providing a boost to the solar and wind industry in order to keep jobs here.

“Manufacturing in the United States could be driven both with incentives to the actual producers – like the tax break to Ingeteam [the Spanish company building the Wisconsin plant] and support for renewable energy through renewable energy portfolio (RPS) standards and other incentives,” she writes.

China as competition

From a purely environmental perspective, China’s headway into green technology is not a problem. Mother JonesKevin Drum reminds us that the whole world can benefit from advances in clean energy, wherever they happen. Climate change is, after all, a global crisis. But Drum concedes that fear of Chinese competition does serve some purpose:

“I’ve lately become more receptive to the idea that, for better or worse, the only way to get Americans to take this stuff seriously is to kick it old school and start hauling out that old time Cold War evangelism,” he says. “Frame green tech as a matter of vital economic and national security superiority over the Reds and quit worrying overmuch about whether that’s really technically accurate. Just figure that it’s close enough, it’s language everyone understands, and it’ll do a better job of motivating development than a couple hundred more PowerPoints about receding glaciers.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.