Thursday, June 30, 2011

Robert M. Summers Named MDE Secretary

Robert M. Summers
Robert M. Summers, a veteran Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) offficial, has been appointed Maryland’s Secretary of the Environment.  Secretary Summers had been serving as Acting Secretary of the Department since December. His appointment to be Secretary was announced by Governor Martin O’Malley at an April 28 meeting of the state’s Executive Cabinet.

Throughout his 28-year career, Secretary Summers has been a key contributor to Maryland’s nationally prominent environmental programs, including the multi-jurisdictional Chesapeake Bay restoration effort, with an emphasis on scientific and technical issues related to water pollution control, drinking water protection, and federal, State and local government environmental laws and regulations.

He has worked at MDE since its creation in 1987 and has served as the Director of the Water Management Administration and Director of the Technical and Regulatory Services Administration. He served as Deputy Secretary for the Department of the Environment starting in 2007.

Secretary Summers serves as Maryland’s Commissioner on the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, and the Appalachian States’ Low Level Radioactive Waste Commission.

Secretary Summers received his B.A. (1976) and Ph.D. (1982) in Environmental Engineering from the Johns Hopkins University. (MDE)

Japan Nuclear Utilities Decide To Stick With Nuclear Power

A majority of Kansai Electric Power Company (Kepco) shareholders this week rejected proposals to exit or limit nuclear power. Kepco, Japan's largest nuclear operator, joined other industry leaders in defense of atomic power, vowing to stay the course.  Kepco President Makoto Yagi told shareholders:
Makoto Yagi
"We are quite aware there's a national debate over nuclear power, but we believe it's vital to our energy supply and will continue to pursue it. For energy security, efficiency and the environment, nuclear power remains an important component of our energy mix."
Kepco stressed that nuclear power is essential for Japan to improve its energy independence. The country relies on imported fuel sources for 96% of its energy needs. Nuclear reactors provide a low carbon supply of energy than fossil fuels. The industry's embrace of nuclear power was a response to a reinvigorated Japanese antinuclear movement.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant, at a shareholders meeting on Tuesday rejected motions to abandon nuclear power. Some 9,000 shareholders were in attendance. Chubu Electric Power Company and Kyushu Electric Power Company, which operate reactors that have drawn scrutiny, also conducted lengthy, heavily attended meetings on Tuesday.

In the wake of the March disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, only 19 of the country's 54 reactors are in operation. Dozens of reactors that were temporarily closed for maintenance, effectively have been barred from reopening as local governments seek safety assurances from operators and regulators before clearing the way for restarts.

Kepco, which operates 11 reactors at three plants on the Japan Sea coast, has taken center stage in the debate over nuclear energy. With the shutdown of both of Tokyo Electric's two plants in Fukushima, Osaka-based Kepco currently operates the most reactors in Japan. The company long has been more dependent than any other Japanese utility on nuclear power, which accounts for 28% of Kepco's total generating capacity. (WSJ, 6/30/201, Photo courtesy WSJ)

European Union Plans To Regulate GHG's From Airplanes

The European Union's plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes. The 27-country bloc's plan to regulate airline emissions at talks in Oslo under EU law, requires any airline operating to or from an EU airport after January 1 to participate in the bloc's cap-and-trade system.

The Obama administration opposes the plan on grounds of jurisdiction, imprecision in the program's rules and other issues.  The U.S. government and U.S. airlines contend the legislation shouldn't apply to U.S. carriers, arguing the EU lacks jurisdiction over foreign companies outside its borders. Other countries, including China and Russia, also oppose the EU program on sovereignty grounds.  The U.S. considers the plan to be "the wrong way to pursue the right objective" and argues Europe should pursue its goals through the United Nations' aviation agency. EU officials have said work in the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization is moving too slowly and is insufficiently ambitious.

A top EU court on Tuesday will hear a case brought by U.S. carriers through their trade group, arguing the EU regulation violates international law. Washington isn't a party to the suit at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, but opposes the EU law.
The EU plan allows foreign countries to adopt "equivalent measures" to control airline emissions. U.S. diplomats in Oslo presented EU officials with a list of detailed questions about the airline-emissions program, including how equivalent measures would be assessed. EU officials replied foreign countries should propose their own measures, and the EU will assess them, according to people who were at the talks. Washington and U.S. airlines worry this approach lacks objectivity and one country's airlines could face tougher measures than others.
The EU's plan offers the U.S. a way to meet a commitment made by the administration of President Barack Obama in 2009 to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17% in 2020 from 2005 levels and to help raise $100 billion annually by 2020 to fight global warming. Under the EU plan, 15% of pollution credits for airlines will be auctioned off, potentially raising several hundred million dollars that could go toward the funding target. The other 85% of credits are being given without charge.  (WSJ, 6/30/2011)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Homebuilders Association Sues EPA Over Chesapeake Bay Plan

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s strategy for restoring the Chesapeake Bay. The group claims in a lawsuit filed Friday in Scranton, Pennsylvania., that the EPA is circumventing the federal Clean Water Act by setting limits for how much pollution can come from farms, factories, lawns and other sources in each of the six bay watershed states. Pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer, auto and power plant emissions spawn oxygen-robbing algae blooms once they reach the bay, creating dead zones.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed
The strategy is forcing additional pollution cuts on virtually all activity in the six-state watershed from farms to housing developments and sewage treatment plants. The EPA implemented the strategy in response to a presidential order after decades of state-led efforts failed to achieve restoration goals and led to suits by environmental groups.

The suit by the homebuilders group also claims the public did not receive adequate time or access to information on the strategy to comment effectively. The group wants the court to rule that the pollutant allocations in the strategy are not legally enforceable and block its enforcement. The lawsuit also criticized EPA models used to develop the pollution limits, saying they are based on erroneous information fed into computer models that would have been unsuitable even if the information was accurate.

NAHB says the strategy will make permits for residential and light commercial development in the watershed harder to obtain. The association said it represents more than 160,000 members in home building, remodeling, multifamily housing construction, property management, subcontracting, design, finance, manufacturing and other aspects of residential and light commercial construction. About 16,000 are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which covers Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, New York and the District of Columbia.

The suit is the latest challenge to the restoration effort, which is also the subject of a lawsuit by the American Farm Bureau Federation. (The Daily Record, 6/28/2011)

Hydrofracking Under Scrutiny By Federal & State Officials

Federal lawmakers are calling on the federal Securities and Exchange Commission,  the Energy Information Administration and the Government Accounting Office, to investigate whether the natural gas industry has provided an accurate picture to investors of the long-term profitability of their wells and the amount of gas these wells can produce.

The calls for investigations came amid growing questions about the environmental and financial risks surrounding natural gas drilling and especially a technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, used to release gas trapped underground in shale formations.

Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, asking it to look into questions about the environmental impacts of hydrofracking, the accuracy of reserves estimates, and industry regulation.

State lawmakers also sought more information.

In Maryland, Delegate Heather R. Mizeur, Democrat of Montgomery County, sent a letter to the state comptroller and the attorney general calling for an investigation into disclosures related to the financial and environmental risks of drilling.

In New York, Assemblywoman Barbara S. Lifton, a Democrat and longtime critic of drilling, sent a letter to the New York State comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, calling for a similar investigation and citing roughly $1 billion in state pension funds invested in shale gas companies.

The New York attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, sent subpoenas to five oil and gas companies ordering them to provide documents relating to the disclosure the companies made to investors about the risks of hydrofracking. The five companies subpoenaed — Talisman, Chesapeake Energy, E. O. G. Resources, Baker Hughes and Anadarko. (NYT, 6/28/2011)

I Love My 2011 Summer Garden


By Norris McDonald

This is my best garden yet.  I have a little of everything in there, including: tomatoes, peppers, corn, broccoli, zucchini, squash, watermelon, canteloupe, arugula, cucumbers, beans, and Romaine lettuce.  All vegetables came from seeds.  The compost pile was very useful in providing support and nutrition for the plants.  We seem to be in a semi-draught condition and so I bought a great sprinkler with variable sprays at Home Depot.  I have seven rows with two or three different items planted per row.

The ants have been a problem for the sunflower plants.  But the squirrels have been worse.  The dug up seeds from about four plantings of sunflowers.  Sunflowers are awesome plants when they bloom and the squirrels bit off the crowns before they could fully mature last year.  I have some sunflowers growing but they had to be protected with chicken wire on all sides and on top of the cage.  I put too much fertilzer in the bases of three of the sunflower stands and it burned up the first round.  It has been a tough year for sunflowers but I have some good growths going and just planted more today.

The groundhogs have been a big problem this year.  They devastated my broccoli crop.  They just love broccoli.  I have a chicken wire fence up inside of the natural wood deer fence, but the groundhogs still sneak in.  We have been at war and I've stung them with the BB gun a few times.  They keep coming back.  It is a male and a female.  I know where their home hole is in the woods nearby.  But I don't bother them.  Sometimes when a broccoli spear is eaten, it makes me want to hurt them.  But I don't.

The squirrels are eating my corn.  They bite the stalk too to bring the higher corn down.  I have a lot of corn so it is not bothering me too much.  I know that squirrels will eat tomatoes too if they get hungry enough.  The squirrels have destroyed about five corn plants.

Well even with the ants, squirrels, groundhogs and semi-draught, this garden has been a great experience.  I have gotten great exercise.  My wheelbarrow and hoe have been great allies.  The pitchfork too. 

The tomatoes are starting to come in and the corn is maturing.  July and August will be great months for eating corn and tomatoes.  Good tomato sandwiches with mayo, homemade bread, and a pinch of salt and lots of pepper.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sarkozy Pledges €1bn of Investment In Nuclear Power

The French President Nicolas Sarkozy has pledged €1bn of investment in nuclear power.  Sarkozy said the moratorium on new nuclear reactors adopted by certain countries since the Japanese nuclear crisis in March "makes no sense. There is no alternative to nuclear energy today. We are going to devote €1bn to the nuclear programme of the future, particularly fourth-generation technology."

The Center agrees with President Sarkozy.

Sarkozy also promised "substantial resources" to strengthen research into nuclear safety and a further €1.3bn (£1.2bn) investment in renewable energy.

Norris McDonald at Civaux plant in 2007
The Sarkozy announcement came 24 hours after thousands of anti-nuclear protesters formed a human chain outside France's oldest nuclear power station to demand its closure.  The plant at Fessenheim in Alsace, on France's border with Germany, has become the focus of a fierce debate over nuclear safety.  At the weekend, demonstrators from France, Germany and Switzerland surrounded the plant calling for its number one reactor, in operation since 1977, to be taken out of service, claiming it was vulnerable to flooding and earthquakes. The plant is operated by French power group EDF.

France has 58 nuclear reactors, which supply 74% of its electricity, and is the world's largest net exporter of electricity from nuclear sources. (The Guardian, 6/27/2011)

EPA Finalizes E15 Pump Labeling Requirements

New labels will help consumers find the right fuel for their vehicles

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued fuel pump labeling and other requirements for gasoline blends containing more than 10 and up to 15 percent ethanol, known as E15. These requirements will help ensure that E15 is properly labeled and used once it enters the market.

The new orange and black label must appear on fuel pumps that dispense E15. This label will help inform consumers about which vehicles can use E15. This label will also warn consumers against using E15 in vehicles older than model year 2001, motorcycles, watercraft, and gasoline-powered equipment such as lawnmowers and chainsaws.

Over the past year, EPA issued two partial waivers under the Clean Air Act that in sum allow E15 to be sold for use in model year 2001 and newer cars and light trucks. EPA based its waiver decisions on testing and analysis showing that these vehicles could continue to meet emission standards if operated on E15. However, EPA does not mandate the use of E15, nor has the agency registered the fuel, which is required before E15 can be legally sold for use in conventional vehicles.

The E15 pump label requirements, developed in coordination with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), adopt elements of FTC’s existing labels for alternative fuels to promote consistent labeling. The rule also includes a prohibition against misfueling with E15; a requirement to track E15 and other fuels as they move through the fuel supply chain so that E15 can be properly blended and labeled; and a quarterly survey to help ensure that gas pumps dispensing E15 are properly labeled. In addition, it modifies the Reformulated Gasoline (RFG) Program to allow fuel producers to certify batches of E15 as complying with RFG standards.

This action will help to further reduce the risks of potential misfueling that could result in damage to the vehicle or equipment and in associated emission increases that pose threats to human health and the environment.

EPA is also issuing guidance on the compatibility of underground storage tanks (USTs) with gasoline containing greater than 10 percent ethanol or diesel containing greater than 20 percent biodiesel. The guidance is intended to assist UST owners and operators in meeting the existing federal UST compatibility requirements.  (EPA)

More information and to view the pump labels

The UST guidance

EPA to Tackle Emissions from Trucks Used at Ports

EPA, industry leaders, and environmental groups to join forces for cleaner, healthier air around harbors

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), joined by the Coalition for Responsible Transportation and the Environmental Defense Fund, is launching a new initiative to protect people’s health, the environment and promote sustainable economic growth by reducing pollution from thousands of short-haul trucks that service the nation’s ports. The new EPA SmartWay initiative will green the nation’s supply chain by reducing harmful diesel emissions from dray trucks – large diesel trucks that are widely used in port facilities to haul freight from cargo ships to nearby local distribution points.

Many of the dray trucks today are older and dirtier than trucks used on highways, and contribute to serious public health and environmental challenges at ports and surrounding areas. Model year 1994 and older dray trucks emit approximately 60 times more fine particle (PM 2.5) emissions than model year 2007 and newer trucks. PM 2.5 is linked to premature deaths, heart attacks, childhood asthma and increased emergency room and hospital visits.

Under the SmartWay dray truck initiative, carriers sign an agreement with EPA to track and reduce PM 2.5 emissions by 50 percent and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions by 25 percent below the industry average over a three year period. In addition, SmartWay dray shipper partners will commit to use the cleaner trucks to haul 75 percent or more of port freight. Charter shipper partners in the program include Best Buy, The Home Depot, Hewlett Packard, JC Penney, Lowe's, Nike, Target, and Walmart.

Under the agreement and through the incentives, EPA and its SmartWay partners expect to build on the SmartWay program’s success in cutting fuel costs, reducing harmful diesel emissions, preserving jobs, and protecting air quality. Since 2004, SmartWay partners including many of the country’s top retailers, trucking and rail companies and manufacturers have reduced fuel use, cut foreign oil imports by 50 million barrels and saved an estimated $6.1 billion in fuel costs.

SmartWay contributes to the agency’s goal for improving air quality goals by eliminating harmful air emissions including 16.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, 234,000 tons of NOx, and 9,000 tons of particulate matter.

In addition over the past decade, EPA has set emissions standards for new diesel engines, such as trucks, buses, locomotives and boats. The standards are projected to prevent tens of thousands of deaths every year when fully implemented. (EPA)

More information on the SmartWay dray initiative

EPA, Coast Guard Announce Agreement to Enforce Air Pollution Requirements for Vessels Operating in U.S. Waters

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) today announced an agreement to jointly enforce U.S. and international air pollution requirements for vessels operating in U.S. waters. The requirements establish limits on nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions and require the use of fuel with lower sulfur content, protecting people’s health and the environment by reducing ozone-producing pollution, which can cause smog and aggravate asthma. The most stringent requirements apply to ships operating within 200 nautical miles of the coast of North America.

The large marine diesel engines that provide propulsion and auxiliary power on many ocean-going vessels emit significant amounts of pollution. Without further action, EPA estimates that by 2030, NOx emissions from ships will more than double, growing to 2.1 million tons per year. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by EPA and the USCG outlines the agencies’ commitment to jointly enforce federal and international laws that EPA projects could prevent 12,000-31,000 premature deaths annually by 2030. Under the MOU, both the USCG and EPA will perform inspections and investigations, and will take appropriate enforcement actions if a violation is detected.

A letter to industry was also signed today by USCG and EPA to provide the regulated community with notice that USCG and EPA will be taking measures to promote compliance with federal and international air pollution requirements and will be actively pursuing violations.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a United Nations agency which deals with maritime safety, security and the prevention of marine pollution from ships across the globe. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), developed through the IMO, is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships. MARPOL Annex VI addresses air pollution from ships through the use of both engine-based and fuel-based standards. Additionally, MARPOL Annex VI requires ships operated in designated geographical areas, known as emission control areas or ECAs, to meet the most advanced standards for NOx emissions and fuel sulfur limits. The United States became a party to MARPOL Annex VI in 2008 and the treaty is implemented in the United States through the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS). (EPA)

Read the MOU

Learn about EPA’s Ocean Vessels and Large Ships Program

Monday, June 27, 2011

Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Needs & Costs

There will likely be three levels of charging methods:

1) traditional 110 V plugs in homes that will take 8 hours to charge an EV;

2) 220 V/40 A plugs in homes and businesses that will take 3.3 hours to charge an EV; and

3) new retail-based, fast-charging DC stations that take 10-30 minutes.

An international standard is still being developed and debated.

However, because a residential home typically draws 2.2 to 5 kW, and EVs consume 3.3-6.6 kW at 240 V/32 A, the U.S. will have to add massive amounts of capacity to its electrical grid.

Tesla Motors is marketing its all-electric Roadster model, 2-dr, 2-passenger, 53 kWh Lithium-ion battery, using a 208/240-V, 70 A (draw) outlet the charging time is about 3.5 hours by a 16.8 kW wall-mounted, in-house charger, range 244 miles, sticker price $109,000, or $101,500 after federal tax credit, or 96,500 after California tax credit.

Nissan is marketing its all-electric Leaf model, a 4-dr, 5-passenger hatchback, 24 kWh Lithium-ion battery, using a 220/240-V, 40 A outlet the charging time is about 8 hours by the 3.3 kW on-board charger, range 100 miles, sticker price $32,780, or $25,280 after federal tax credit, or $20,280 after California tax credit.

General Motors is marketing its plug-in hybrid Volt model, a 4-dr, 5-passenger sedan, 16 kWh Lithium-ion battery, using a 220/240-V, 40 A outlet the charging time is about 4 hours by the 3.3 kW on-board charger, range 40 miles after which a 1.4 Liter, 4 cylinder gasoline engine provides power for another 340 miles, sticker price $41,000, or $33,500 after federal tax credit, or $28,500 after California tax credit.

Ford will be marketing its all-electric Focus model, a 4-dr, 5-passenger hatchback, 23 kWh Lithium-ion battery, using a 220/240-V, 40 A outlet the charging time is about 4 hours by the 6.6 kW on-board charger, range 100 miles, sticker price $33,000, or $25,500 after federal tax credit, or 20,500 after California tax credit.

Nissan prices its Leaf battery at $375-$400/kWh which appears to be lower than of the Volt and Focus. Nissan offers an 8-yr/100,000 mile warrantee, the same as the Volt; Ford has not announced a warrantee yet.

The actual driving range usually is less than its rated value, because of the way the EV is driven, roads with hills and snow, high and low outdoor temperatures, heating, air-conditioning, battery aging, etc. At the expiration of the warrantee, the EV range is expected to have degraded by 10%-30%.

An in-house charger, if needed, costs about $2,200 installed, or $1,100 after California tax credit. A house must have suitable electrical wiring capacity.

The EPA rating for the Nissan Leaf and the General Motors Volt is about 35 kWh/100 miles. Larger light-duty EV vehicles, using more kWh/mile, will also be needed. Medium EVs may use 50 kWh/100 miles and larger ones 65 kWh/100 miles. (Sustainable Plant, 4/27/2011, The Energy Collective, 2/2/2011)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Federal Agencies Partner To Revitalize Urban Waters

A new federal partnership aims to stimulate regional and local economies, create local jobs, improve quality of life, and protect Americans’ health by revitalizing urban waterways in under-served communities across the country. The Urban Waters Federal Partnership (UWFP), an innovative federal union comprised of 11 agencies, will focus its initial efforts on seven pilot locations:

1) The Patapsco Watershed (Maryland), 2) the Anacostia Watershed (Washington DC/Maryland), 3) the Bronx & Harlem River Watersheds (New York), 4) the South Platte River in Denver (Colorado), 5) the Los Angeles River Watershed (California), 6) the Lake Pontchartrain Area (New Orleans, LA), and 7) the Northwest Indiana Area.

Each of the pilot locations already has a strong restoration effort underway, spearheaded by local governments and community organizations. Lessons learned from these pilot locations will be transferred to other cities in the country.

Led by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and coordinated by the White House Domestic Policy Council, the Urban Waters Federal Partnership closely aligns with and advances the work of the other White House place-based efforts such as the Partnership for Sustainable Communities by revitalizing communities, creating jobs and improving the qualities of life in cities and towns across the nation. The partnership also supports President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative aimed at making the Federal Government a better partner with communities that are working to provide safe, healthy and accessible outdoor spaces. Like these other efforts, the UWFP represents another example of how the Obama Administration is promoting more efficient and effective use of federal resources through better coordination and targeting of federal investments.

11 Agencies of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership

Environmental Protection Agency

Use statutory authority to protect and preserve water quality and provide assistance in assessing and addressing legacy contamination.

Department of Interior

Assist in building trails; increase public access to river resources; help restore and protect habitat and wildlife; educate and employ urban youth; and assess and help safeguard water quality.

United States Department of Agriculture
Help communities to plan, manage, and sustain farm and forest landscapes on public and private ownership along a complex rural to urban gradient to promote watershed health and protect water resources, from the source to the faucet.

Corporation for National and Community Service

         Recruiting, organizing and maximizing the impact of community volunteers.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

        CDC/ATSDR will serve to offer guidance and technical assistance to local health officials and community members in conducting community-based environmental health assessments and creating an accurate and verifiable profile of communities’ environmental health status.

Department of Commerce/Economic Development Administration

        Foster the creation of high-skill jobs and the generation of private capital investment in distressed communities.

Department of Commerce/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Provide unique scientific products and services designed to boost economic vitality, restore habitat, and mitigate hazards and contamination in coastal, Great Lakes, and other locations.

Army Corps of Engineers

       Offer engineering services, research and technical support to stakeholders during the planning, design, construction and operation of water resources and associated environmental infrastructure.

Department of Transportation

Help the community in designing improved transportation corridors, bikeways, walkways

Housing and Urban Development

Help the community improve access to affordable housing.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

     Assist with health studies related to community environmental conditions. (EPA)

We Must Avoid The Nuclear Power 'Point Of No Return'

We suspect that Japan will never build another nuclear power plant.  And this is tragic because it is the best source of baseload electrical power in existence.  Unfortunately, an Act of God exposed a weakness in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant complex that has probably taken Japan's nuclear future to the point of no return.  We cannot allow that to happen in the United States.

We cannot allow ourselves to come to the conclusion that one mayor of Japan stated succinctly:
"We have lost our sense of faith in government promises about the safety of nuclear power after Fukushima," said Toshiyuki Sakai, the mayor of Karatsu City. (WSJ, 6/24/2011)
Although the backup cooling systems at American nuclear plants are robust with multiple layers, we absolutely cannot allow a hydrogen explosion to spew radioactivity into the environment.  The Center is proposing a 'Fukushima Protocol' to serve as a worst-case, last line of defense to prevent such an explosion:
The Fukushima Protocol is a predetermined response to a complete loss of coolant at a nuclear power plant, failure of nitrogen injection and failure of hydrogen venting to bring the reactor under control. The Center believes this emergency procedure will prevent the sort of hydrogen explosions that exacerbated the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant facility. It is being reported that the venting system at Fukushima failed due to loss of electricity and inability of workers to initiate manual venting due to high radiation levels.

The Fukushima Protocol calls for flooding a containment dome or containment building with sand, cadmium, boron, cement and concrete immediately upon the complete loss of cooling at a reactor. Of course, this means the loss of the reactor and does not necessarily prevent a meltdown. It should be effective in displacing any hydrogen buildup, thus preventing a hydrogen explosion. Cadmium and boron are neutron absorbers and should help in reducing fissioning. The sand can quickly fill the containment structure and the cement/concrete mix will serve to seal the facility.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has staff on site at nuclear power plants in America, would make the call and order the company to immediately implement the Fukushima Protocol.
The Center believes that this drastic measure must be in place as the absolute final fail safe method for dealing with a catastrophic loss of coolant, regardless of the circumstances.  Another component of the Fukushima disaster was the delay in decision-making by the nuclear utility and the government.  A predetermined response will prevent such a delay.  We believe such a measure would reassure the public that a hydrogen explosion like the one that occurred in Japan simply cannot happen here.  Maybe Japan can renew public confidence in nuclear power by implementing a Fukushima Protocol too.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Center Opposes Tapping Strategic Petroleum Reserve

President Obama Making Big Mistake

President Obama has decided to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) in an effort to control gasoline prices.  The United States and its industrial allies in the International Energy Agency are releasing 60 million barrels of crude oil from reserves over the next 30 days.  Half of the will come from the American SPR. 

The 700+ million barrels of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve are for “a severe disruption in supply."  There is no such situation right now.  This sets a terrible precedent.  Using SPR to influence prices simply skews the oil marketplace and is not a long term solution to the rising price of gasoline.  (Wash Post, 6/23/2011)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ken Kopocis Nominated As Assist Admin For EPA Office of Water

The White House recently announced that President Obama has nominated Ken Kopocis to serve as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator for the Office of Water. Mr. Kopocis has more than 25 years experience on environmental issues, particularly the Clean Water Act.

Currently, Ken serves as the senior counsel on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He previously worked in leadership roles for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment and as an attorney in the Government Accountability Office and at the General Services Administration.

From 1993-2006, Mr. Kopocis was the Staff Director and Senior Counsel for the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment for the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. From 1985-1993, he served as Assistant Counsel on the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment for the Committee on Public Works and Transportation. Mr. Kopocis holds a B.S. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and a J.D. from the College of William and Mary. (The White House)

Gore's Criticism of Obama On Climate Change Unjustified

The Clinton/Gore administration DID NOT LEAD on climate change when they had the opportunity to do so.  Maybe Al Gore, right, was aggressive behind closed doors with Clinton on climate change when they were in office, but it sure did not translate into any sort of public policy push.  In fact, Clinton never sent the Kyoto Protocol treaty to the Senate for a vote and environmentalists had to push like hell just to get Gore to agree to finally attend the Kyoto meeting. 

Some background:
On July 25, 1997, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, along with 93 other senators (with five senators not voting and none voting in opposition) adopted a resolution stating that ‘the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol to, or other agreement regarding, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992, at negotiations in Kyoto.’ The Kyoto Resolution vote was 95 to 0 against sign such a treaty.
President Obama pushed Congress as hard as he could to pass a climate change bill.  He even threatened to regulation CO2 at EPA if they failed.  They failed and President Obama is regulating CO2 at EPA.  Even President Bush addressed global warming in his Clear Skies Iniatiative proposal.

Al Gore has been second to none in promoting climate change mitigation since he left office.  But his criticism of President Obama's climate change work is inaccurate and unjustified. (Image courtesy WSJ)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

EPA Proposes 2012 Renewable Fuel Standards

And 2013 Biomass-Based Diesel Volume

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today proposed the 2012 percentage standards for four fuel categories that are part of the agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard program (RFS2). EPA continues to support greater use of renewable fuels within the transportation sector every year.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) established the annual renewable fuel volume targets, which steadily increase to an overall level of 36 billion gallons in 2022. To achieve these volumes, EPA calculates a percentage-based standard for the following year. Based on the standard, each refiner, importer, and non-oxygenate blender of gasoline or diesel determines the minimum volume of renewable fuel that it must ensure is used in its transportation fuel.

The proposed 2012 overall volumes and standards are:

Biomass-based diesel (1.0 billion gallons; 0.91 percent)

Advanced biofuels (2.0 billion gallons; 1.21 percent)

Cellulosic biofuels (3.45 - 12.9 million gallons; 0.002 – 0.010 percent)

Total renewable fuels (15.2 billion gallons; 9.21 percent)

Based on analysis of market availability, EPA is proposing a 2012 cellulosic volume that is lower than the EISA target for 2012 of 500 million gallons. EPA will continue to evaluate the market as it works to finalize the cellulosic standard in the coming months. The agency remains optimistic that the commercial availability of cellulosic biofuel will continue to grow in the years ahead.

In addition, EPA is proposing a volume requirement of 1.28 billion gallons for biomass-based diesel for 2013. EISA specifies a one billion gallon minimum volume requirement for that category for 2013 and beyond, but enables EPA to increase the volume requirement after consideration of a variety of environmental, market, and energy-related factors.

Overall, EPA’s RFS2 program encourages greater use of renewable fuels, including advanced biofuels. For 2012, the program is proposing to implement EISA’s requirement to blend more than 1.25 billion gallons of
renewable fuels over the amount mandated for 2011.

The RFS2 program encourages innovation, strengthens American energy security, and decreases carbon pollution. (EPA)

Comments are due on or before August 11, 2011.

Information on the standards and regulations

Information on renewable fuels

Bill Clinton's 14-Point Job Creation Program Highlights Energy

And Relaxation of Environmental Regulations


1. SPEED THE APPROVALS -- "We should try to change this: keep the full review process when there are real environmental concerns, but when there aren’t, the federal government should be able to give a waiver to the states to speed up start times on construction projects."


Monday, June 20, 2011

Feds Launch Plan to Protect People and Families from Radon

Radon is one of the leading causes of lung cancer

Today, U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the General Services Administration, and the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Veterans Affairs have joined forces to help save lives and create healthier home and school environments for America’s families.  The plan brings together commitments that help to reduce exposure to radon and protect the health of Americans through leveraging and advancing existing state, local, and national programs. Radon exposure is the leading cause of non-smoking lung cancer and leads to an estimated 21,000 deaths each year.

Nearly one in 15 homes is affected by elevated levels of radon and thousands dying each year from radon-induced cancer.

The Federal Radon Action Plan brings together government agencies to demonstrate the importance of radon risk reduction, address finance and incentive issues to drive testing and mitigation, and build demand for services from industry professionals. The plan will help spur greater action in the marketplace, create jobs in the private sector, and significantly reduce exposure to radon. The plan includes strategies to reach low-income families, many of whom do not have the resources to make the simple fixes necessary to protect their homes and loved ones.

With the help of all agency networks, approximately 7.5 million buildings and homes in the United States will be able to receive information and build awareness around this serious public health risk. The plan includes federal government actions to reduce radon risks:

· Launching a cross-government outreach initiative to educate families about the health risks associated with radon exposure and the solutions to address the risks.

· Incorporating radon testing and mitigation into federal programs.

· Investing in new standards and updating codes for measurement and mitigation in schools, daycare facilities, and multi-family housing.

· Establishing incentives that drive testing and mitigation in the private and public sectors.

Radon is a naturally occurring, invisible and odorless radioactive gas.  Approximately one in 15 American homes contain high levels of radon. Millions of Americans are unknowingly exposed to this dangerous gas. EPA and the Surgeon General urge people to test their homes for radon at least every two years. Contact your state radon office for information on locating qualified test kits or qualified radon testers. (EPA)

Information on the Federal Radon Action Plan

Information on radon and testing your home

U.S. Supreme Court Leaves Climate Regulation To EPA

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) unveiled it decision in the AEP v Connecticut case rejected the nuisance lawsuit by states and conservation groups trying to force cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants saying the authority to seek reductions in emissions rests with EPA, not the courts.

The ruling was 8-0.

Stormwater Management Battle in Prince George's County

In Prince George’s County, Maryland, builders say a bill designed to reduce water pollution is cost-prohibitive and could lead to less development, while environmentalal groups argue that the legislation needs to be stronger to prevent flooding and protect streams and rivers. The Transportation, Housing and Environment committee is expected to vote on the nearly 180-page measure Monday, and the County Council hopes to pass the bill before it recesses in August.

Rushern Baker
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III proposed the legislation. Under the measure, anyone who wants to build redevelopment projects would have to prevent stormwater runoff from escaping the property at a rate of a half-inch each hour. Under the current regulation, builders are required to prevent less than a quarter-inch, or 20 percent, from escaping in that time frame. After five years, the requirement would increase to three-quarters of an inch or 75 percent. New developments would have to manage one inch of stormwater or 100 percent.

County officials believe the legislation addresses both the quantity of stormwater runoff that flows into rivers, streams and stormwater facilities, and the quality of the runoff. It requires developers to create filters and include natural landscaping in their plans.  Ineffective stormwater management can lead to flooded homes, polluted rivers and eroded sewer pipes.

Environmentalists want the regulations to be on par with Montgomery County’s. Developers there have to catch 2.7 inches of rainfall per hour when building on undeveloped land and one inch when building redeveloped projects. The Prince George’s proposal begins with the minimums set by the state for both new development and redevelopment.

As required by a bill the Maryland General Assembly passed in 2007, 17 counties have adopted new stormwater management regulations. Six counties, including Prince George’s, have pending legislation. (Wash Post, 6/20/2011)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jon Huntsman on Environment and Energy


Jon Huntsman
On science, religion and global warming:

“To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming." (Huntsman on Twitter, The Hill, 8/18/2011))

On past Cap-and-Trade Support (On Fox News via The Hill)
“Every governor was talking about dealing with emissions back many, many years ago only to find that with the economic implosion, we can't afford anything that is going to put any kind of hamper on economic growth. So cap-and-trade is not something that is viable today,”
2012 Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman campaigned in Windham, New Hampshire over the weekend. The former Governor of Utah and U.S. Ambassador to China called for a new industrial revolution powered by natural gas. Huntsman also noted:
Can I just say something about gas prices real fast? We talked about the price of gasoline, and you know I think all ought to be aware of the realities of gas prices, oil prices and when we’re 60% reliant on the importation of oil it is not only an economic issue, it is a national security issue. When people yell and scream about $4, $4.50, $5 gas prices at the pump let us remember that fully loaded for all taxpayers it’s a lot higher than that. Based on some estimates, it’s $13 or $14 a gallon if you want to take into account what we’re paying for foreign deployments, you want to keep into account the costs of the keeping the sea lanes open for the free flow of product, and the cost of transportation importing the product all gets passed on and on and on…

When I made that comment earlier about an energy policy that draws from some of our domestic needs, we’ve talked about this for 8 presidents now, and it’s a low hanging fruit and increasingly we’re finding more and more in way of raw materials available here on the natural gas side.

With each passing year, we have the ability, thanks to innovations within businesses, to get it in a less invasive way and to clean it up ways that protect the environment as well.

So let’s be realistic when we talk about gas prices. We might think they are high, but think about how really high they are.
Huntsman, at a 2008 debate, referring to Huntsman's signing Utah onto the "Western Climate Initiative" (including a regional cap-and-trade program):
We have to make sure that we recognize a couple of important facts as we go forward. One of the facts of life for Utah will be that a very important engine of growth for us over the years will be the new innovations and technologies and capital equipment surrounding a new energy economy, a green energy economy, things like carbon capture and sequestration...But in order to get to the heart and soul of carbon emission, which is a problem, because it leads to polluted skies and air quality problems and climate change, we must put a value on carbon. Until we put a value on carbon, we've never going to be able to get serious with dealing with climate change longer term. Now, putting a value on carbon either suggests that you go to a carbon tax or you get a cap-and-trade system under way...As the head of the Western Governors' Association, I'm doing my best as the leader of this group to develop a comprehensive energy program that we're going to turn over to the next president of the United States, which will include issues of affordability, issues of energy independence, and issues of sustainability. And when I speak of sustainability, I talk about ultimately a cap-and-trade system...
On Nuclear Power
Jon Huntsman, Jr.

U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China
Clean Energy Forum
January 18, 2011
A few months ago I met the legendary innovator and philanthropist Bill Gates in Beijing. Now generally when Bill Gates mentions he has an idea for a new product, I listen. This time the product is a new kind of nuclear reactor, something that could operate for 40 to 60 years without refueling. Compare that to what we have today where reactors need to be opened up and refueled every 18 months or so.

So if this technology works, we would need a lot less uranium to create a whole lot more energy with far less nuclear waste. And keeping the uranium inside the reactors means we don’t have to worry about terrorists buying it on the black market. You can see why this would be of such great interest to so many people.

But why China? This is an American company, but the simple reality is right now the regulatory environment here in the United States means it would take decades just to certify the design. So by partnering with the Chinese they can move ahead and then commercialize the technology around the globe when it is proven. The end results -- countries around the world would get cleaner, safer energy, and a joint U.S.-Chinese company could lead the world in nuclear reactor construction. That is a very big deal for so many involved.
Utah Governor Jon Huntsman signed key renewable energy legislation at Raser’s Geothermal Plant during Earth Week in April 2009: House Bill 430 and Senate Bill 76.  Senate Bill 76 establishes a Renewable Energy Transmission Authority, or UGREEN Authority (Utah Generated Renewable Energy Electricity Network Authority), which will provide financial incentives and State support to upgrade the electrical grid, making it possible for Utah’s abundant supply of geothermal, wind, solar and other renewable energy resources to be developed to help meet the nation’s energy needs. UGREEN is designed to help renewable energy projects gain appropriate transmission access to the markets where power is needed. The second bill, House Bill 430 provides major tax incentives to renewable projects, including a refundable certificate up to the amount of the economic benefit realized by the State from new state revenues.

From Mother Jones

...He [Huntsman] now rejects cap and trade, he doesn't dispute the underlying science:

You also believe in climate change, right?

This is an issue that ought to be answered by the scientific community; I’m not a meteorologist. All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer we’d listen to them. I respect science and the professionals behind the science so I tend to think it’s better left to the science community -- though we can debate what that means for the energy and transportation sectors.
The American Independent

During a weekend stop in New Hampshire, according to the Associated Press, Huntsman, 51, noted that he’s “not competing in Iowa for a reason.” That reason, he said is because “I don’t believe in subsidies that prop up corn, soybeans and ethanol.”

(Blue Virginia, 5/7/2011, New Hampshire Primary 2012: Green, Embassy of the United States, Beijing, China, Raser Technologies, 4/23/2009, Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard5/19/2011, The American Independent, 6/6/2011)

Virginia Uranium

Two uranium deposits were found in Virginia three decades ago in Coles Hill, near Chatham, a small town in Pittsylvania County. They begin at the ground’s surface, under land used to raise cattle, hay and timber, and run about 1,500 feet deep.

Virginia Uranium tests indicate that about 119 million pounds of uranium — worth as much as $10 billion — are below the surface. That would be enough to supply all the country’s nuclear power plants for about two years or all of Virginia’s demands for 75 years.

Virginia Uranium hopes to persuade the Virginia General Assembly to repeal a nearly three-decade ban on uranium mining at its regular session in January by convincing lawmakers that mining can be done safely. (Wash Post, 6/16/2011)

French Government Replaces Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon

Anne Lauvergeon
France has decided to replace Anne Lauvergeon, the longstanding chief executive of state-controlled nuclear engineering giant Areva SA. The decision to reshuffle the management of Areva comes at a time when both the company and the broader nuclear-power industry face growing public resistance in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. Ms. Lauvergeon's contract is set to expire at the end of June. Ms. Lauvergeon, 51 years old, is known internationally as one of the most prominent defenders of nuclear power.

Ms. Lauvergeon's position has long been seen as tenuous because she had lost the support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Acrimony between the two traces back to 2004, when Ms. Lauvergeon resisted a request from Mr. Sarkozy, then finance minister, to help bail out French transport and energy company Alstom SA.

The French government will promote Deputy Chief Executive Luc Oursel to succeed her. Mr. Oursel, 52, joined Areva in 2007 at the request of Ms. Lauvergeon. A mining engineer, like Ms. Lauvergeon, he worked for electrical-equipment group Schneider Electric SA and Geodis SA, after having worked as a government adviser for several years. Mr. Oursel was in charge of Areva's nuclear activities until January, when he was appointed head of the group's marketing and international business. (WSJ, 6/17/2011, photo courtesy WSJ)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Senate Votes To Kill Ethanol Subsidies

The Senate voted 73-27 today to kill a major tax break for the ethanol industry.

 The 72-27 vote on Senator Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.), right,  amendment – which mirrors a bill she offered with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) – was approved despite opposition from Corn Belt lawmakers who are seeing political support for ethanol wane.

Feinstein's amendment to an economic development bill would quickly end the credit of 45 cents for each gallon of ethanol that fuel blenders mix into gasoline.
The credit led to $5.4 billion in foregone revenue last year, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The amendment also ends the 54 cent-per-gallon import tariff that protects the domestic ethanol industry.

Thursday’s vote was a turnaround from Tuesday, when just 40 senators voted for Coburn’s identical amendment, well shy of the 60 needed to advance it. (The Hill, 6/16/2011)

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a press release today opposing the Feinstein amendment.
“President Obama has outlined a plan to reduce our oil imports by one-third by 2025. Biofuels play a central role in this plan, which is why this administration continues to support and invest in the development of these important, domestically produced fuels. The Administration supports efforts currently underway in the Senate to reform and modernize tax incentives and other programs that support biofuels. However, today’s amendments are not reforms and are ill advised. They could lead to job loss and pull the rug out from under industry, which will lead to less choice for consumers and greater dependence on foreign oil.

“We need reforms and a smarter biofuels program, but simply cutting off support for the industry isn’t the right approach. Therefore, we oppose a straight repeal of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) and efforts to block biofuels infrastructure programs.”
USDA Press Release

China Declares Its Nuclear Reactors 'Safe'

China has declared all its active nuclear reactors safe in inspections triggered by Japan's March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. 

China's Vice Environment Minister Li Ganjie noted  that officials had determined that all 13 of China's operating nuclear reactors were safe, and that inspections of the 27 still under construction are expected to be finished by October. This is a clear signal that China will increasingly rely on nuclear power to fuel its economy.

In the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, the State Council suspended approvals for new nuclear projects, but it has pushed forward with reactors already under construction. (WSJ, 6/16/2011)

Failure Of Vents Caused Japan Nuclear Plant Explosions

The New York Times, "In Japan Reactor Failings, Danger Signs for the U.S.," May 17, 2011

The failure of the vents at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant calls into question the safety of similar nuclear power plants in the United States and Japan. After the venting failed at the Fukushima plant, the hydrogen gas fueled explosions emitted radioactive materials into the atmosphere, reaching levels about 10 percent of estimated emissions at Chernobyl, according to Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency. American officials had said early on that reactors in the United States would be safe from such disasters because they were equipped with new, stronger venting systems. But Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the plant, now says that Fukushima Daiichi had installed the same vents years ago.


Emergency vents that American officials have said would prevent devastating hydrogen explosions at nuclear plants in the United States were put to the test in Japan — and failed to work, according to experts and officials with the Tokyo Electric Power Company.

Venting was critical to relieving pressure that was building up inside several reactors after the March 11 tsunami knocked out the plant’s crucial cooling systems. Without flowing water to cool the reactors’ cores, they had begun to dangerously overheat.

Government officials have also suggested that one of the primary causes of the explosions was a several-hour delay in a decision to use the vents, as Tokyo Electric managers agonized over whether to resort to emergency measures that would allow a substantial amount of radioactive materials to escape into the air.

But the release this week of company documents and interviews with experts provides the most comprehensive evidence yet that mechanical failures and design flaws in the venting system also contributed to delays. The documents paint a picture of increasing desperation at the plant in the early hours of the disaster, as workers who had finally gotten the go-ahead to vent realized that the system would not respond to their commands.

While venting would have allowed some radioactive materials to escape, analysts say that those releases would have been far smaller than those that followed the explosions at three of the plant’s reactors, which blew open containment buildings meant to serve as a first line of defense against catastrophe. The blasts may also have been responsible for breaches in containment vessels that have complicated efforts to cool the fuel rods and contain radioactive leaks from the site.

One reason the venting system at the plant, which was built by General Electric, did not work is that it relied on the same sources of electricity as the rest of the plant: backup generators that were in basements at the plant and vulnerable to tsunamis. But the earthquake may also have damaged the valves that are part of the venting system, preventing them from working even when operators tried to manually open them, Tokyo Electric officials said.

In either case, regulators in the United States and Japan will now need to determine if such systems at similar plants designed by G.E. need to undergo expensive and time-consuming retrofitting or redesign to allow them to function even in severe accidents.

Just 12 hours after the quake, the pressure inside Reactor No. 1 had reached roughly twice the maximum pressure the unit had been designed to withstand, raising fears that the vessels that house fuel rods would rupture, setting a possible meltdown in motion. With the pressure high, pumping in additional cooling water also was not possible.

The government became rattled enough that it ordered Tokyo Electric to begin venting. But even then, Tokyo Electric’s executives continued to deliberate, according to a person close to government efforts to bring the reactors under control. The exchanges became so heated, the person said, that the company’s nuclear chief, Vice President Sakae Muto, and the stricken plant’s director, Masao Yoshida, engaged in a “shouting match” — a rarity in reserved Japan.
Mr. Yoshida wanted to vent as soon as possible, but Mr. Muto was skeptical whether venting would work, the person said, requesting anonymity because he is still an adviser to the government and is not permitted to comment publicly. “There was hesitation, arguments and sheer confusion over what to do,” he said.

The executives did not give the order to begin venting until Saturday — more than 17 hours after the tsunami struck and 6 hours after the government order to vent.

As workers scrambled to comply with their new directive, they faced a cascading series of complications.

The venting system is designed to be operated from the control room, but operators’ attempts to turn it on failed, most likely because the power to open critical valves was out. The valves are designed so they can also be opened manually, but by that time, workers found radiation levels near the venting system at Reactor No. 1 were already too high to approach, according to Tokyo Electric’s records.

At Reactor No. 2, workers tried to manually open the safety valves, but pressure did not fall inside the reactor, making it unclear whether venting was successful, the records show. At Reactor No. 3, workers tried seven times to manually open the valve, but it kept closing, the records say.

The results of the failed venting were disastrous.

Reactor No. 1 exploded first, on Saturday, the day after the earthquake. Reactor No. 3 came next, on Monday. And No. 2 exploded early Tuesday morning.

With each explosion, radioactive materials surged into the air, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of earthquake survivors living near the plant, contaminating crops and sending a faint plume of radioactive isotopes as far as the United States within days. Aerial photos of the reactor buildings showed No. 1 and 3 had been blown apart and another was seriously damaged.

As the troubles mounted, Tokyo Electric and government officials conducted a series of news conferences that began to suggest the scope of the damage. The blasts, they said, probably caused breaches in containment vessels that are among the final layers of protection against meltdowns and even larger releases of radioactive materials.

Tokyo Electric in recent days has acknowledged that damage at the plant was worse than previously thought, with fuel rods most likely melting completely at Reactors 1, 2 and 3 in the early hours of the crisis, raising the danger of more catastrophic releases of radioactive materials. The company also said new evidence seemed to confirm that at Reactor No. 1, the pressure vessel, the last layer of protection, was broken and leaking radioactive water.

The improved venting system at the Fukushima plant was first mandated for use in the United States in the late 1980s as part of a “safety enhancement program” for boiling-water reactors that used the Mark I containment system, which had been designed by General Electric in the 1960s. Between 1998 and 2001, Tokyo Electric followed suit at Fukushima Daiichi, where five of six reactors use the Mark I design.

The company said that was the case this week, after a review of Japanese regulatory filings made in 2002 showed that the vents had been installed.

The fortified venting system addressed concerns that the existing systems were not strong enough to channel pent-up pressure inside the reactors in an emergency. Pressure would be expected to rise along with temperature, damaging the zirconium cladding on the fuel rods at the reactor core and allowing them to react chemically with water to produce zirconium oxide and hydrogen gas.

The new vents were designed to send steam and gas directly from the reactor’s primary containment, which houses the reactor vessel, racing past the usual filters and gas treatment systems that would normally slow releases of gas and eliminate most radioactive materials.

But the emergency vents were fitted with numerous safeguards, some of which require electricity to work, rendering them useless when all power is lost at a nuclear plant, experts say.

The most important of those safeguards are the valves, operated from a switch under lock and key in the control room, that must be opened for the vents to work. When a key is inserted into the keyboard in the nuclear reactor’s control room and turned, the valves are supposed to open, letting gases rush out of the reactor building.

Tokyo Electric has said the valves did not work at Fukushima Daiichi after the power failed.

That would suggest that operators of similar plants in the United States and Japan could protect reactors by moving generators to higher floors if the equipment is currently in places that could be affected by tsunamis or flooding from rivers.

But a redesign of the venting system itself might also be necessary.

The design is the result of conflicting schools of thought among United States nuclear officials, said Michael Friedlander, a former senior operator at several American nuclear power plants.

Mr. Friedlander said, referring to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: “You have the N.R.C. containment isolation guys who want containment closed, always, under every conceivable accident scenario, and then you’ve got the reactor safety guys who need containment to be vented under severe accident scenarios. It is a very controversial system.”

See Nuclear Power Plants

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and Senator Blunt Announce Establishment of Biomass Production Areas in Missouri

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, left, joined Senator Roy Blunt, right, of Missouri in announcing the establishment of two Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project areas in Missouri. These project areas will set aside acres to grow crops that will be processed into renewable energy to be used for heat, power, liquid biofuels, and bio-based products.

In addition to Missouri, project areas will also be established in Ohio, Arkansas and Pennsylvania. In these project areas, producers can reap financial benefits by growing giant miscanthus, a sterile hybrid warm-season grass that is cultivated through the planting of rhizomes in open fields. Industry estimates show that these project areas and conversion facilities would earn about $50 million per year and create nearly 4,000 jobs by 2014. (USDA)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Obama Smart Grid Initiative

Administration Announces Grid Modernization Initiatives

To Foster a Clean Energy Economy and Spur Innovation

The Obama Administration today (6/13) announced a number of new initiatives designed to accelerate the modernization of the Nation’s electric infrastructure, bolster electric-grid innovation, and advance a clean energy economy.  Aimed at building the necessary transmission infrastructure and developing and deploying digital information or “smart grid” technologies, these initiatives will facilitate the integration of renewable sources of electricity into the grid; accommodate a growing number of electric vehicles on America’s roads; help avoid blackouts and restore power quicker when outages occur; and reduce the need for new power plants.

The White House also released a new report by the Cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) that delineates four overarching goals the Administration will pursue in order to ensure that all Americans benefit from investments in the Nation’s electric infrastructure: better alignment of economic incentives to boost development and deployment of smart-grid technologies; a greater focus on standards and interoperability to enable greater innovation; empowerment of consumers with enhanced information to save energy, ensure privacy, and shrink bills; and improved grid security and resilience.

Smart grid technologies provide a foundation for innovation by entrepreneurs and others who can develop tools to empower consumers and help them make informed decisions. A first generation of innovative consumer products and services—such as thermostats that can be controlled from a smart phone, or websites that show how much energy a house is using—are already helping Americans save money on their electricity bills, and there is great potential to do even more. Similarly, the adoption of distributed energy generation sources (such as solar panels on rooftops), emerging energy storage technologies, and electric vehicles are all spurring changes in how and when energy is being used by businesses and consumers.

Among the public- and private-sector initiatives announced today:

• $250 million in loans for smart-grid technology deployment as part of the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service, which is focused on upgrading the electric grid in rural America.

• The launch of Grid 21, a private sector initiative to promote consumer-friendly innovations while ensuring proper privacy safeguards and consumer protections. Grid 21 will help consumers get better access to their own energy usage information so that they can take advantage of new tools and services to manage their energy use and save on their utility bills.

• New commitments by the Department of Energy to focus on improving consumer access to their own energy information, including the development of a crowd-sourced map to track progress, a data-driven competition designed to harness the imagination and enthusiasm of America’s students to encourage home energy efficiency, and new EIA efforts to measure progress.

o Consumers deserve access to their own energy usage information in consumer-friendly and computer-friendly formats. The Administration is committed to working with States and stakeholders to ensure all Americans can take advantage of new tools and services to manage their energy use and save on their utility bills. With proper privacy safeguards and consumer protections, a smarter electricity system can benefit all consumers.

• Expanded partnerships to continue working with States and stakeholders, including an initiative to share lessons learned from Recovery Act smart grid investments, a series of regional peer-to-peer stakeholder meetings, and updated online resources available at: .

• The formation of a Renewable Energy Rapid Response Team, co-led by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Energy, to improve Federal coordination and ensure timely review of proposed renewable energy projects and transmission lines, to ensure that renewable energy can power cities and towns across America, and to increase reliability and save consumers money by modernizing the grid.

These efforts build upon the historic $4.5 billion in grid modernization investments provided for in the Recovery Act—matched by contributions of more than $5.5 billion from the private sector—to modernize America’s aging energy infrastructure and provide cleaner and more reliable power. (The White House)