Thursday, March 8, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
One year after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, the nuclear industry is still grappling with how to handle the risks that come with extreme natural disasters.
What if something similar happened in the United States? According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, there were five nuclear shutdowns in the U.S. last year, all due to natural disasters including two tornadoes, an earthquake, a hurricane and flooding. The group has released a map showing what it says could happen if a disaster like Fukushima occurred at one of the country’s 104 reactors.
The group attempted to model the airborne plumes of radiation that might occur if one of those reactors lost both primary and backup power for even a few hours. The
NRDC’s map, however, is based on the actual weather patterns in the U.S. on March 11 and 12, 2011—not taking into account the high winds that might take place during a severe weather event.
The Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns and radiation leakage came on the heels of the massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the resulting tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011.
(See pictures of the cleanup after Fukushima)
Although the NRDC’s model is not based on severe weather, which would change its forecast significantly, Dr. Gerhard Wotawa, a technical expert for the Austrian National Data Center for Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Verification in Vienna, said it could still be useful information.
With Fukushima, nuclear experts put out forecasts for the radiation plume as the international community began to worry about how it might spread. Wotawa said those models “worked fairly well.”
“Prediction is based on the winds forecast for the next few days,” Wotawa said. The models use data from satellites and ships, and the position of the particles. All of the data go into a powerful computer model. “We end up with a timed series of calculations.”
“This is the measurement system that was not available 10 or 15 years ago,” Wotawa said. “It was only a factor of three to four off, which is good based on only a few measurement points.”
Of course, every forecast has its challenges.
“The radiation plume going to Europe after all was more dense than the model thought,” Wotawa said. “More radioactivity came over to Europe than expected before. A few more particles were released into the atmosphere. Some of these are also gases, and gases survive much longer.”
Wotawa said it was actually easier to predict where the plume might go across the Pacific Ocean than to create a local model. “In Japan itself, for example, you have different topography,” he said. “It is more difficult to predict.”
Another challenge for this incident in particular was getting all of the information in a timely manner, due to the Japanese government’s policies.
“It was pretty much live televised, but then it took weeks before it got known publicly how bad it was,” Wotawa said of the Fukushima disaster. “This was the first nuclear accident in the modern age of media. It’s not possible anymore to say that nothing happened.”
While the Japanese government and the energy company that owns the plant took criticism at the time of the event, the NRDC is criticizing the U.S. government now for failing to implement the safety lessons that were learned from Fukushima.
“These important safety upgrades are still years away from being implemented, if ever,” the NRDC said of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Last month, the NRC approved the first new license for a nuclear reactor in 34 years for a plant in Georgia despite the objections of the commission’s own chairman, Gregory Jaczko. Jaczko said he voted against the approval because he wanted Southern Company to commit to changes based on the Fukushima findings.
(Related: Would a New Nuclear Plant Fare Better Than Fukushima?)
The NRDC also said that many reactors across the U.S. are operating at higher power levels than they were initially authorized to use, increasing the radiation hazard in the case of a nuclear accident.
The effort to keep U.S. reactors safe will become even more key in the next few years, as construction moves ahead for the new reactors in Georgia, which are expected to come online by 2016 or 2017.
Meanwhile, the U.S. nuclear industry has stressed that it is moving forward before required by the federal regulators to take steps to back up the safety measures at all plants in the wake of the Fukushima accident. Its new safety strategy, called FLEX, seeks to provide an additional layer of backup power at all 104 reactors by stationing emergency generators, battery packs, pumps, air compressors and battery chargers in multiple locations nearby. More than 300 pieces of safety equipment already have been installed or ordered, and all operators have committed to station the additional backup by the end of March, says the industry group, the Nuclear Energy Institute.
Tony Pietrangelo, NEI senior vice president, said there was debate soon after Fukushima on whether the industry should have enough power on hand for a four-hour, six-hour, eight-hour loss or more. But the industry decided a more preemptive approach was needed.
“Our goal is to have sufficient equipment so that there is no period of time during which we will experience loss of power,” he said.
Thursday, March 8, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
After public pressure, Chicago will shut two aging coal-fired power plants, and the owner of one of the power plants, Midwest Generation, may shut its other four coal plants in Illinois. Since the start of 2010, more than 100 coal plants have been slated for early retirement.
A major reason for coal plants shutting has been public opposition to pollution from coal. Also, looming requirements by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for stringent pollution controls could take a toll on the coal industry, while boosting the market for pollution control devices. One huge coal plant in New Mexico lost a legal battle with the EPA to avoid having to install a more effective type of pollution-control equipment.
But what really has the coal industry “frightened” is cheap natural gas, the result of a boom in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of shale deposits. But demand for natural gas may soon grow, since more natural gas vehicles are already in the works, and an announcement by President Obama that he’ll expand tax credits for alternative vehicles to include those powered by hydrogen and natural gas.
How Clean is the Clean Energy Standard?
Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Bingaman introduced the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012, which would force the largest utilities to meet targets starting in 2015 that by 2035 would ramp up to require 84 percent clean energy—defined as sources that create less greenhouse gases than modern coal plants. If enacted, which analysts rated as unlikely, the law would benefit natural gas, at least initially, but several renewable energy groups endorsed the bill.
However, last month a study led by former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold found that switching from coal to gas would lead to only a slight drop in warming by the end of the century, so achieving “substantial reductions in temperatures” compared with use of coal would require “rapid and massive deployment” of very low-emissions energy such as solar and wind.
This fits with an analysis last year from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, whose lead researcher concluded switching to natural gas “would do little to help solve the climate problem.” Such findings led activist Bill McKibben to argue natural gas is not a “bridge fuel,” but rather “a rickety pier extending indefinitely out into a hotter future.”
Meanwhile, plans are under way to expand exports of U.S. coal with new shipping terminals in the Pacific Northwest and a “tremendous increase” in capacity at a Louisiana port. At CERAWeek, a major meeting for the oil and gas industry, the most popular discussion about U.S. natural gas is the “prospect of exporting it,” an issue Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said the administration is “looking at closely.”
China Puts on the Brakes
The growth of China’s coal production is expected to slow down—part of a general slowing for the country in 2012.
In the annual meeting of China’s parliament, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced a lower target for economic growth—7.5 percent, the lowest in seven years—and would shift from an export-focused economy to instead emphasize domestic consumption.
Wen also said the country will “put an end to blind expansion in industries such as solar energy and wind power”—possibly referring to oversupplies of wind turbines and solar panels. China’s wind industry has exploded from six turbine manufacturers in 2004 to more than 100 today, leading to manufacturing capacity that’s larger than the demand and a large number of projects awaiting connections.
China had “imbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable development,” Wen said. The country had missed half its major targets for energy conservation and environmental protection, largely because they “have not transformed the economic development model,” said Zhang Ping, minister of the National Development and Reform Commission.
The government also announced it will create stricter laws for air pollution, and an official said two-thirds of Chinese cities would likely fail to meet the new standard.
Hockey Stick in a Knife-Fight
Climate researcher Michael Mann has been under attack by Virginia’s Attorney General, Kenneth Cuccinelli, who has been trying to force Mann’s former employer, the University of Virginia, to release documents on Mann’s work so he could “determine whether or not fraud had been committed.” But the Virginia Supreme Court turned down Cuccinelli’s request, which the Union of Concerned Scientists called “a victory for science in Virginia.”
Mann has become a lightning rod for his research on ancient climates and for creating the famous “hockey stick” graph showing rising temperatures in recent decades—a tale recounted in his new book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.
He said scientists are in a tough position, because they’re in a “knife-fight” with climate change skeptics, but scientists “can’t play by the rules of knife-fighting ourselves.”
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday for National Geographic’s News Watch by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
Thursday, March 8, 2012 | By EarthShare | No Comments
EarthShare in Your State: Pennsylvania
Perry Bird, Director, Member Services
240.333.0300, ext 21
Employees in Pennsylvania can give to the local charities listed below as well as to our list of national and international member charities.
Thursday, March 8, 2012 | By The Wilderness Society | No Comments
It seems as though all I have been thinking about these days is how much our wild places are under attack. Yet, while anti-wilderness members of Congress are bent on undermining conservation, there are still great efforts going on from wilderness heroes on the ground, and I wanted to share some of them with you.
• Colorado Senator Mark Udall recently announced a new process that he hopes will lead to the designation of new wilderness in the central Rocky Mountains and a national monument in the Arkansas River Valley.
• California Congressmen Mike Thompson and John Garamendi attended a community meeting in Clear Lake, California, to learn about the proposed Berryessa-Snow Mountain National Conservation Area. The meeting was a smashing success and over 170 people came out to show their support for the effort. We hope this will soon lead to permanent protection for this special place.
• The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is soliciting comments on its wilderness review for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Refuge Complex. The complex covers over twenty national wildlife refuges. The Wilderness Society sent comments to the FWS so that animals can forever call these spectacular places their homes.
• The Wilderness Society and the Back Country Horsemen of America visited Capitol Hill last week for “Hike the Hill” week. Together, we went to multiple offices to ask for trails funding. Every year, millions of Americans hike on one of our nation’s many trail systems, and experience our great outdoors.
While the threats to our wilderness remain, it is small victories like these that keep us going. Thanks for your support!
Thursday, March 8, 2012 | By The Wilderness Society | No Comments
The Senate is beginning to vote on their version of the Highways bill (which does not include the bad parts of the House’s “Drilling for Highways” bill) – starting with amendments to the bill.
While The Wilderness Society supports some of these amendments, some of them are clear giveaways to special interests like the oil industry. It is vital that supporters of wild places like you take a moment to call your Senators and weigh in on these conservation issues in order to protect our nation’s vanishing wild places.
Call your Senators at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to support our wild places, not special interests.
The amendments are (in order they will be voted on):
Vitter Offshore Drilling Amendment: This amendment would open up places like Bristol Bay, the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and the eastern Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil drilling. Less than 2 years after the worst oil spill in American history, this amendment would rush oil drilling without significant improvements to safety and cleanup ability, threatening another catastrophe. VOTE NO on AMENDMENT 1535(UPDATE: Amendment defeated!)
Baucus Secure Rural Schools Amendment: This amendment would extend the “Secure Rural Schools” program – which provides critical funding for schoolchildren in rural areas – for another year. More importantly, it does so without forcing unnecessary logging and timber sales on our National Forests. VOTE YES on BAUCUS SCHOOL AMENDMENT (UPDATE: Amendment passes!)
Nelson RESTORE Act and Land and Water Conservation Fund Amendment: Tying together two good ideas, this amendment would provide 2 years of dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (keeping it safe from potential budget cuts) and direct money to the Gulf Coast to restore the damage done by the BP oil spill. This amendment is a great way to protect disappearing wild lands with LWCF and restore damaged ones on the Gulf Coast – a win-win situation. VOTE YES on AMENDMENT 1822 (UPDATE: Amendment Passes!)
Hoeven Keystone XL Amendment: Like zombies crawling from the grave, the Keystone XL will not stay down. An amendment Sen. Hoeven, would take the decision away from the President and mandate that the pipeline be built. The Keystone XL pipeline would threaten clean water along the entire 2100 mile route from Canada to the Gulf Coast, and do nothing to help Americans lower the price at the pump. VOTE NO on AMENDMENT 1537 (Hoeven) (Update: Amendment Defeated!)
DeMint Anti-Clean Energy Amendment: This amendment would outlaw all government support for clean, renewable wind and solar energy, but leave in place much of the government support for the oil and gas industry. Rather than moving us toward clean, renewable energy sources, this amendment would keep us dependent on dirty fossil fuels. VOTE NO on AMENDMENT 1589
The special interests pushing for the bad amendments have legions of lobbyists working the halls of Capitol Hill to get their amendments passed. We need your voice to drown them out and remind Members of Congress that they work for the people, not the lobbyists.
When you call, remember to tell them your name and where you are from, and remember to be polite – kindness goes much farther than hostility.
Call your Senators at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to support wild places, not special interests.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012 | By EarthShare | No Comments
The Next Generation of Green IT
Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK has one of the few Green Computing degree programs in the world. We asked the program’s founder, Colin Pattinson, to tell us about the future of sustainable IT as both a field of study and an industry mindset.
How did you become interested in green computing?
My PhD work was in measuring the performance of network protocols. It’s a small step from measuring and controlling data transfer rates and system behavior in a network to measuring and controlling energy use.
Many of the first initiatives in energy saving often landed on the network and system managers’ desk: things like virtualization of servers and desktop power management are network and system changes. As IT uses 10-20% of a typical organization’s electricity, changes in IT can make a difference. We are currently exploring what data center changes have the greatest effect.
More recently, there’s been a shift from saving energy in IT to saving energy by IT: using technology to manage and control other aspects of operations. This is best seen in areas like smart meters; smart transport systems; smart homes, etc. We are currently running a project in the university to connect the room timetabling system with the heating and lighting controls to make heat and light follow room use more closely.
Where did the idea for this program come from?
We recognized that demand for people with the skills and knowledge needed to take on the “green IT” role will grow. In large organizations there may well be a full job role; in smaller companies, the role might be combined with that of the network/system manager. We also expect there to be a growing consultancy demand. The program is aimed at people who have been in the industry for a few years, often in technical management roles who wish to develop their skills.
How is sustainability viewed within the IT industry in general?
It’s very mixed. To some it’s a central part of what they do and who they are; others see it as a marketing opportunity; others as a cost saving, yet others as an expense or a collection of red tape to be adhered to (or avoided).
What achievements has the IT industry made in sustainability? Where is there still much work to be done?
Most of the so-called quick wins are fairly well known by now: server virtualization, lower energy PCs and monitors, and power management at the desktop have made a difference in traditional workstation server environments; and alternative approaches to service provision like cloud and thin client are promoted for a combination of power and operational efficiency.
These achievements have all been based around changing the way the technology operates: the challenge now is to make changes to the behavior of the users: print management leading to reduced paper use; automation of environmental controls and reductions in travel are all likely to affect people’s life and work. This is very important, but much more difficult to achieve without creating user resistance and rejection.
What recommendations would you give to those trying to start similar programs in their own university?
Make sure that potential students and employers are aware of the program; involve students from other programs in related areas of study in project work; ensure there is a strong connection between what is taught and what is researched; try to get others in the university involved (e.g. computer services, estates department); realize that the program is likely to be a niche area rather than a major part of the provision.
What’s one of the easiest actions that organizations can take to reduce the footprint of their IT department?
Beyond the technology-based quick wins listed above, the best thing is to get staff engagement with the cause and its purpose. Making it clear that there are real money savings from more efficient use of resources is likely to be more widely supported if employees can see the benefits – some organizations do this by direct reward, others through awareness-raising.
For more information on Leeds Metropolitan Green Computing program, click here. See also this video debate: Green Skills for the Green Economy.
Also check out EarthShare's article on Greening the IT Industry.
Photo by Creativity103
Tuesday, March 6, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
With sales far lower than expected, General Motors says it will halt production of the Chevy Volt, its promising but high-priced plug-in car, for five weeks starting later this month. Still, just days after GM’s announcement, the Volt was named European Car of the Year.
Analysts blame the Volt’s low sales on the vehicle’s high sticker price, which starts at about $40,000. Even with gas prices on the rise and the government’s tax credit, the savings you might get from using electricity instead of gas would take years to realize.
The Volt is electric but has a small gas tank to extend its range. “By solving the problem of range anxiety, it is a remarkable step into the future of electrification,” said Hakan Matson, president of the EUCOTY panel, according to MSNBC.
(Related Story: Range Anxiety: Fact or Fiction?)
Still, luxury-car prices left the company with 7,600 Volts sold in 2011, missing GM’s goal of 10,000 for its first full year on the market. This year’s target was much higher — 45,000 — and the cars weren’t moving off the lots any faster, reports CNN Money. Car dealers are trying to use the five weeks without Volt production to sell the cars that are already on their lots.
“It shows that plug-ins do indeed have a long way to go, with one of the most critical factors being the high cost of batteries,” Kevin See, an analyst at Lux Research, a Boston-based renewable-energy market research firm, told the Christian Science Monitor.
One of the Volt’s biggest competitors is within its own family — the Chevy Cruze, which is not a plug-in but still gets impressive gas mileage and only costs half as much.
But there may be hope. “The first generation of the Prius didn’t do all that well, either,” Bill Visnic, an Edmunds.com analyst, told CNN Money. The Prius, a hybrid, is now one of Toyota’s best-selling models.
Only about 5,500 Prius models were sold in its first year on the market in 2000, reported the Wall Street Journal, and only 15,500 the following year. But by last year, Toyota sold 136,000 of them.
And, even as it faces trouble, the Volt has had no shortage of accolades.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
A look at things a year after one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents.
On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake erupted some 50 miles off Japan’s Tohoku coast. The ensuing tsunamis set off by the quake devastated communities up and down the Japanese coast, killing some 20,000 people. The one-two natural-disaster punch also triggered the shutdown and subsequent meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station run by the Tokyo Electric Power Company.
While Fukushima is not the world’s worst nuclear accident (Chernobyl holds that dubious distinction having leaked about 10 times more radioactive material into the environment than Fukushima), there is plenty of fallout from the Japanese disaster still playing out.
Japan Still Reeling
Perhaps the greatest enduring tragedy is what’s been transpiring in the 12 miles surrounding the Fukushima plants. Some 80,000 people have had to abandon their homes because of radiation contamination, and it’s estimated that it will be more than 20 years before the land will be habitable for humans. That’s a lot of real estate for a small nation of islands to give up.
Another set of problems stems from the nuclear plants themselves. Completely dismantling them is projected to take 30–40 years. And while authorities seemed to have passed a major milestone last December, their announced cold shutdown (a technical term normally describing the safe and stable conditions in an intact nuclear reactor fuel core deemed necessary to prevent a chain reaction) was anything but normal. Although temperatures in the reactors had fallen below the 100-degree Celsius cutoff necessary for a cold shutdown, more than a hundred thousand gallons of water have had to be injected into the reactors daily to keep things copacetic. Even so, as recently as last month, radiation was discovered leaking from the plant.
Since the disaster, the Japanese nuclear industry has been in free fall. In the aftermath of the natural disasters and subsequent meltdown, all but two of the country’s 51 nuclear plants* were shut down; the two still operating are scheduled to cease operation in late April. Following the accident, then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan pledged a nuclear-energy-free Japan. However, Yoshihiko Noda, Japan’s current prime minister, acknowledging in one breath “that the government shared the blame for the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant,” in another indicated a desire to get the country back on the nuclear-energy track.
Debris Field: Heading for North American Shores
Meanwhile, ocean currents are carrying eastward the debris knocked from Japanese coastal towns by the tsunamis. In September, a Russian training ship spotted debris from Japan, including a television set and a refrigerator, adrift some 1,800 miles from Japan. The find occurred just north of the Midway Islands, the northernmost atoll of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, the largest marine reserve in the United States.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that bits of debris will begin washing up on small islands northwest of Hawaii soon and on the coasts of Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Canada between March 2013 and 2014. Fortunately, whatever floats ashore will not arrive as a flotilla; the stuff will have spread out over such a wide swath of ocean that just bits and pieces will make the full voyage and even then only a tiny proportion of the estimated 20-25 million tons of debris will make it.
The good news is that this debris field is a legacy of the tsunami and unrelated to the nuclear accident. No need to worry about the stuff being radioactive, but it will be hazardous to marine life.
(For an interesting simulation of the debris field check out this site.)
In Fukushima’s wake came a wholesale reassessment of nuclear energy. Germany and Switzerland elected to end their nuclear power programs. Belgium also announced plans to exit the nuclear power game, but it has become torn by, among other things, the short deadline of 2015 and Europe’s mandated carbon targets. Recent U.S. moves show the United States is similarly of two minds.
The State of U.S. Nuclear Power
The U.S. nuclear energy program has been at a standstill since our own little nuclear mishap at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979. (Note 3/12/2012: A colleague of mine pointed out after this was published that this sentence might give the wrong impression that Three Mile Island was the cause of America’s nuclear plant stoppage. In fact, as noted in a recent piece in the Economist, ”America’s nuclear bubble burst not after the accident at Three Mile Island but five years before it.” The reason: “building nuclear power plants is no longer a commercially feasible option: they are simply too expensive.”) A steady number of about 100 nuclear power plants has been active for decades; today’s 104 reactors supply about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. In contrast, U.S. renewable energy generation (including hydroelectric) has been growing, so much so that it surpassed that of nuclear for the first three months of 2011.
But, Fukushima or no Fukushima, nuclear energy is not down for the count. In February the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the construction of two new reactors at the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia near the South Carolina border. And while the latest assessment by the U.S. Energy Information Administration sees the race between nuclear and renewable as essentially neck and neck, nuclear power seems to get a slight edge: projections for 2035 have nuclear supplying about 18 percent of the nation’s electricity and renewables only 16 percent.
But building a nuclear power plant requires lots and lots of bucks for capital costs — costs that translate into lots and lots of risk for investors. And that capital outlay can scare investors away, and then bye-bye, new nuclear plant. But the nuclear industry has found other ways to raise the necessary funds. (See here and here.) The latest is called Construction Work in Progress — a financing scheme that allows utilities to charge financing costs to their ratepayers in advance.
Whether incurred upfront or after the fact, the costs and overruns that nuclear plant construction inevitably leads to can hurt — just look at the inflated electricity costs folks living in eastern North Carolina are paying (hundreds of millions of dollars in 2009 more than average state rates) thanks in part to the bulging debt from a nuclear deal sealed in 1982.
Safe or Safety Myth
Though it’s just a year since Fukushima, and it will be another twenty or so before the damage recedes and can be fully assessed, folks are getting bullish about nuclear power, including the world’s top three electricity users.
The U.S. NRC characterized its decision about the Vogtle plant as a “clarion call to the world that the United States recognizes the importance of expanding nuclear energy.”
Mere weeks after the green light for the new Vogtle reactors was announced, and after not approving any new nuclear power projects in 2011, the Chinese government announced plans for a new plant in Fujian province.
Chen Bingde, chief engineer of the Nuclear Power Institute of China and a member of a prominent government advisory body, is so confident about the safety of nuclear power plants he proclaimed that “in the near future, nuclear plants can be built right next to cities.” (Maybe, but those future urbanites might well want to know that Japan had considered evacuating Tokyo even as it played a PR game of playing down risks to the public. And, if Italians are any indication, the general public is not keen on nearby nukes. And as for current city-dwellers in close proximity to nuclear plants, even as I write, the fate of the Indian Point nuclear power plant some 35 miles from the island of Manhattan is being hotly debated.)
Japan’s Prime Minister Noda, reflecting on the causes of the Fukushima accident, provided a somewhat more somber assessment than Bingde: “The government, operator and the academic world were all too steeped in a safety myth.”
Here’s my take: There’s a world of difference between safety, acceptable risk, and too much risk. Nuclear power plants lie somewhere between the second and the third. Anyone who tells you they’re unqualifyingly safe is blowing smoke. Hopefully it won’t be radioactive.
Frontline‘s “Inside Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown”
Nuclear Crisis in Japan
The Nuclear Option: Waste Plan or a Wasteland?
* Depending on the source, the number of nuclear reactors reported to be in Japan varies from 50 to 55. I suspect this variation arises from how reactor units are distinguished from a reactor. The number 51 reported here comes from the World Nuclear Association.
(Author’s note added 3/12/2012)
Monday, March 5, 2012 | By The Wilderness Society | No Comments
Legislation would open 109 million acres of Wilderness to development and motorized recreation
The Wilderness Society today is closely monitoring the House Committee on Natural Resources mark-up of over a dozen bills. Of those bills, The Wilderness Society has taken a position on five, ranging from protecting critical wildlife habitat in the Cibola National Forest to opening up America’s Wilderness Areas to motorized use.
The Wilderness Society opposes:
• Most troubling, is the “Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012 (H.R. 4089, Miller-FL). The bill’s stated intention is to provide for recreational hunting and fishing opportunities on our federal public lands. Yet, the legislation should be called the “Motorize our Wilderness Areas Bill,” as Section 104(e)(1) could lead to motorized access into 109 million acres of federally protected Wilderness Areas that are off-limits to off-road vehicles. Today, and several times prior, The Wilderness Society raised these concerns, requesting that the problematic language be stricken from the bill.
“This legislation has ‘Trojan Horse’ language in it that would undermine protection for over a hundred million acres of protected Wilderness,” said Paul Spitler, director of wilderness policy at The Wilderness Society. “Opening Wilderness to motorized vehicles would have devastating consequences on our environment—it would be bad for hunting, and is just bad policy. We urge the committee to remove this poison pill provision from the legislation.”
• The “Recreational Shooting Protection Act” (H.R. 3440, Flake) will put iconic natural and cultural resources of the Southwest in the crosshairs. The bill limits the BLM’s discretion to prohibit or restrict recreational shooting in BLM National Monuments. The legislation is a direct response to the BLM’s recent proposed closures to target shooting in the management plans for Ironwood Forest and Sonoran Desert National Monuments in Arizona. The BLM’s proposal to ban target shooting in these unique places is based on direct evidence of harm to the iconic objects of interest in these southwestern landscapes, including the mighty saguaro cactus and centuries-old petroglyphs.
• The Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act (H.R. 3452, Bishop, UT) will convey sensitive public lands to facilitate a considerable new development that will have significant environmental impacts, and has not received substantial local support. The bill would facilitate an expansion of two ski areas through the development of a connecting gondola. The lands are vitally important because they are part of an inventoried roadless area that provides important backcountry skiing opportunities for Utah residents and visitors. They are also an important part of the Salt Lake City municipal watershed, which provides water for over a million Utahns. A massive development within this watershed further threatens the water quality that downstream Utahns have come to rely upon.
The Wilderness Society supports:
• H.R. 491 (Heinrich) will modify the boundaries of Cibola National Forest in the State of New Mexico, to transfer certain Bureau of Land Management land for inclusion in the national forest, and for other purposes.
• H.R. 2050 (Simpson) will authorize the continued use of certain water diversions located on National Forest System land in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in the State of Idaho, and for other purposes.
America’s Wilderness is Under Siege from a select few members of Congress, and this mark-up includes legislation that would open our lands and waters to corporate polluters at the expense of the American people. To see The Wilderness Society’s report of the destructive bills pending in Congress, please visit: http://wilderness.org/content/wilderness-under-siege-act-now-stop-attacks
Monday, March 5, 2012 | By The Wilderness Society | No Comments
More than two weeks after an exploratory oil well in Alaska’s Arctic experienced a blowout, spilling spewing gas and drilling mud onto the tundra and forcing workers to flee a potential explosion, the well still hasn’t been brought under control. This is how the oil industry proves it can handle drilling in Arctic conditions?
Crews can’t kill the Qugruk 2 well, on Alaska’s North Slope, because it’s frozen, and they can’t thaw it easily because the temperature has been about -70F with wind chill. Even without the wind, the temperature has been -45 degrees and colder for weeks. Workers can’t operate outdoor equipment in that kind of weather.
Meanwhile, the Dutch oil giant Shell is preparing a fleet of vessels in preparation for drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer. Company officials tell us they’re confident they can control a blowout at the bottom of a cold, stormy sea, and recover most of the oil they spill — things they have failed to do in much more temperate regions.
Repsol, the Spanish company that lost control of Qugruk 2, obviously believed it could handle winter conditions in the Arctic. But now the weather is in charge. In the Arctic, the weather is always in charge, and weather has no sympathy for those who are greedy and overconfident.
So, we’re left to watch an oil company struggle with brutal conditions it thought it could handle. And we’ll probably be watching for quite a while.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation says an estimate of when the well will be controlled “cannot be determined.”
Repsol’s blowout is a stark reminder that Arctic conditions can overwhelm the oil industry’s technology. And it’s a reminder that Shell is making promises it can’t keep.