The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster left some Americans wondering: Could such a destructive failure happen to a nuclear plant in the US?
Two years later, US officials say the country's nuclear plants are safe, but a new report from an environmental organization challenges that assertion.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found safety equipment problems and security shortcomings in a dozen nuclear plants across the country, according to a report the group released last week. While none of the issues resulted in injury to plant workers or the public, UCS says the frequency of the incidents are the result of lapses by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the agency charged with overseeing the nuclear industry.
“It’s evident the NRC is capable of being an effective watchdog,” Dave Lochbaum, director of UCS’s Nuclear Safety Project and author of the report, said in a statement. “But too often the agency does not live up to its potential, and we are still finding significant problems at nuclear plants that could trigger a serious accident.”
The nuclear industry disagrees. Steven Kerekes, a spokesman for the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute, said the UCS uses a misleading metric to measure safety issues. The NRC, by contrast, counts two significant, "abnormal occurrences" at US nuclear plants over the past decade as its benchmark, he said. ( Continue… )
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives drafted a measure that would strip the president of his authority to approve the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline planned from Canada. Dubbed the Northern Route Approval Act, the legislators backing the measure said four years worth of delays is long enough for a pipeline that could bring another 830,000 barrels of oil to the U.S. market, already booming with oil of its own. Compared with other major pipeline projects in Europe, however, the time horizon suggests Keystone XL is anything but the project facing the roadblocks that its supporters contend.
Canada's National Energy Board, the independent energy regulator, scheduled its first oral hearings on the proposed pipeline in late 2009. Since then, pipeline company TransCanada has revised the route through Nebraska in order to allay state environmental concerns. Now, the U.S. State Department, a little more than three years later, submitted its own draft environmental assessment on the project. Final say, however, rests with U.S. President Barack Obama, who needs to sign off on the project because it would cross the U.S.-Canadian border. (Related article: Environmentalists Futile Battle Against Keystone XL)
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., however, says he's frustrated with what he says are undue delays for a project that would not only provide a stimulus to the regional economy, but protect the North American energy sector from foreign shock.
Is the EPA an impediment to economic recovery? (Sponsor content)
Further evidence that the EPA continues to ignore the damage that its new regulations are causing to the U.S. economy, and to states that depend on coal for jobs and affordable electricity, comes from a recent blog post by Hannah Fjeldsted at the Heritage Foundation.
In her post, The EPA: an Impediment to Economic Recovery, she states, “The rapid pace and severity of EPA regulations on the energy sector during the past four years illustrates an ongoing problem—the government’s impediment to an economic recovery.”
She goes on to say:
“The EPA’s mandates have unfairly discriminated against certain sectors of the energy industry, most notably coal, pointlessly killing desperately needed jobs. On top of the regulations that have questionable benefits at best, the EPA has withheld permits for coal mining that were already approved by other agencies, gratuitously delayed permits, and even rescinded previously issued permits. There are real consequences to actions like this.”
In fact, earlier this week U.S. Representative Ed Whitfield of Kentucky said, “The EPA, without question, has established an unfortunate trend line, methodically establishing a regulatory framework to eliminate coal, and taking away diversity choices from utilities throughout the country.”
As we’ve stated, we hope for a more constructive working relationship with the next EPA administrator. We will continue to emphasize that the best approach is a more balanced path that recognizes America’s continued need for coal, and the importance of clean coal technology.
The EPA needs to analyze and understand the full, cumulative economic impacts of its regulations, and not seemingly choose sides when it comes to energy production. American jobs are at stake, as well as access to affordable, reliable electricity that is essential to our economic recovery.
With early stage capital for cleantech innovation becoming increasingly scarce, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and a new crop of clean/green ones are beginning to emerge as significant sources of funding for selected next-gen clean technologies.
Hurdles remain, particularly for investors seeking returns, but I’m more optimistic about these sites’ usefulness to cleantech entrepreneurs than I used to be.
Asked a year ago by a publication about how significant crowdfunding was likely to become in fostering disruptive cleantech innovation, I wasn’t exactly effusive. As GE’s Ecomagination Magazine wrote, “’When it comes to the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars needed for new breakthrough science, that still best comes from institutional investors,’ says Kachan. Kachan says big investors like to get seats on a company’s board and hope to get a sizable chunk of profits. Clearly, someone who plunks down a small pledge on Kickstarter has different motivations.”
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Today, a year later, a lot has changed. Cleantech venture investment worldwide in 2012 was two thirds of what it was the year previous, with early stage funding particularly hard hit. And now with good, relevant success stories like Adapteva and BioLite, at least some startups are starting to find today’s crowdfunding options emerging as a source for the equivalent of friends & family seed capital. While it’s unlikely to ever produce the millions that institutional or corporate deep pockets will continue to provide, it may—just may—serve entrepreneurs seeking early stage money in a time when early stage money has become harder to come by than ever. ( Continue… )
On Monday, President Obama nominated Ernie Moniz to be the next Secretary of Energy. Like his predecessor, Stephen Chu, he is a scientist - Moniz is a nuclear physicist. Unlike Dr. Chu, Moniz would come to the job with plenty of experience dealing with Beltway politics, having been in the Clinton Administration from 1995 until 2001 and a member of the President's council of Advisors on Science and Technology for the past four years. Early indications suggest a fairly easy confirmation process. Here are a few things to listen for as the confirmation process plays out:
* Sequester has kicked in, and the path to a resolution is opaque at best. Whether sequester is replaced with a deal or not, it seems virtually certain that DOE will be working with a smaller budget than it has had for years. How will Moniz reconcile the demands of a dynamic energy marketplace, the need for continued support for new energy technologies, and the integration of a carbon policy with the energy sector against a budget that may be diminished significantly?
* Former National Security Advisor and now president of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, General James Jones, has been championing the idea of a cross cabinet and bipartisan board to direct national energy policy. Given the pace of the changing energy landscape and the generally accepted view that the U.S. has been in need of a national energy policy for decades will Moniz get behind the creation of a national energy council?
* The meltdown at Fukushima, and ongoing challenges managing huge capital demands have brought the development of new nuclear plants to a halt here with the promised renaissance producing just two plants in construction and some license extensions for plants coming to the end of their original 40 year life. Moniz is an obvious proponent of nuclear power, who wrote a report in 2003 calling nuclear power an import option for a lower carbon energy sector. Will his leadership usher in the beginning of a real nuclear renaissance? ( Continue… )
On Tuesday, the government of Venezuela announced that President Hugo Chavez had died from cancer. Recently re-elected, Chavez had long used the country's vast reserves of oil for his "Bolivarian Socialist Revolution." His successor will face many challenges in continuing Venezuela's status as a major oil producer, largely due to the legacy of Chavez over the last decade.
Venezuela ranks as the country with the number one, two, or three oil reserves in the world, depending on who's doing the counting, along with Saudi Arabia and Canada. These reserves led the country to be a founding member of OPEC, and one of the petro monopoly's most ardent supporters. However, its oil has more in common with the heavy tar sands oil of Canada than the light, sweet crude of the Persian Gulf. Future production in the country will require new investment capital and expertise in the heavy oil of the Orinoco belt.
When Chavez came to power, PdVSA, the national monopoly oil producer, was widely admired as one of the most professional in the world. Over the last decade, however, Chavez has wrung the golden goose to pay for the social spending that has underwritten his social programs. The company is showing the stress resulting from poor management and underinvestment.
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The Amuay refinery fire in August of 2012, killing 48, was symptomatic of the problems faced by the company. And, in a country in which about 95% of export revenue and 50% of the budget is due to profits from oil, the importance of PdVSA can not be overstated. Perhaps an even stronger symptom of the problems faced by PdVSA was that in September, it was forced to pay contracts with IOUs, not cash. It was widely speculated that the company's coffers were emptied in the lead-up to the October 7 election, in which Chavez was reelected. ( Continue… )
Friday's jobs report bore good news. The US economy added 236,000 jobs in February and employment dropped to 7.7 percent.
While no one sector can take credit for the promising jobs report, America can thank the energy sector for part of the boost.
The contribution comes from many areas: oil and gas extraction employment is up 10,000 jobs over the past year; utilities, up 6,000 jobs; coal employment, by contrast, down 5,000. Renewables are also growing slowly. But the jobs impact from the energy sector, especially the boom in unconventional oil and natural gas extraction, is much greater than that, driving a need for construction workers, engineers, truck drivers, and a host of related occupations.
The biggest spurt has come in the past five years. As of 2012, unconventional energy employed 360,000 people directly, 537,000 workers indirectly as suppliers, and another 850,000 people providing services and goods to the first two groups – more than 1.7 million jobs in all, according to IHS Inc., a Colorado-based energy consulting firm. The next fastest phase of growth should come in the next few years. By 2015, the number of overall jobs supported by unconventional energy should expand by nearly 50 percent to 2.5 million; and, by 2020, another 20 percent to 3 million jobs. ( Continue… )
At 2 a.m. this Sunday, most people in the United States will move their clocks an hour ahead to 3 a.m. In theory, that slight nudge conserves energy. In practice, it seems daylight saving time hardly saves energy at all.
In some cases, it actually increases energy consumption.
In Indiana, daylight saving time caused a 1 percent jump in electricity, according to a 2010 study. The energy saved from reduced lighting was canceled out by an increase in the use of heating and air conditioning, the researchers from Yale University and University of California Santa Barbara said.
The shift in time means people wake up long before the warming sun appears in the colder months, and get home nearer to the hottest hour of the day during the warmer months. ( Continue… )
TransCanada have always maintained that the Keystone XL pipeline, for which they are battling to gain permission to build, will provide a huge boost to the US economy through the generation of over half a million permanent jobs.
A study which they commissioned in 2010 stated that the construction of the pipeline would create 118,935 non-permanent jobs, mostly in construction and manufacturing whilst the pipeline was being built; an additional 553,235 permanent jobs due to the increased US oil supply.
The State Department has just this week released a report which actually estimates a far lower number of jobs will be created by the Keystone XL pipeline. The one to two year construction phase of the pipeline will likely only create around 42,100 jobs, and this number would fall to just 35 permanent jobs in order to perform maintenance and inspections along the entire length. (Related article: Environmentalists Futile Battle Against Keystone XL)
The report also mentioned that the threat to the environment that the pipeline offers is far less than many have feared.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may be colorful, but he isn’t crazy.
There is logic behind the intensified war rhetoric, and while it may be convenient for the American public to believe that they are about to be attacked unprovoked by the unhinged dictator of an eerily isolated country, the truth of the matter is that the US and its allies have been doing some offensive posturing that has Pyongyang very much on edge.
North Korea on Tuesday threatened to attack the US and South Korea with “lighter and smaller nukes”. This threat has prompted South Korea to threaten to strike North Korea’s military command if “provoked” and the UN to move closer to slapping new sanctions on Pyongyang’s banking sector and diplomats.
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The sanctions resolution was introduced by the US and China and specifically targets North Korean bankers and overseas cash mules. It also targets diplomats and seeks to lend added strength to air and sea cargo inspections going in and out of North Korea. ( Continue… )