QUICK NEWS, 3-22: JAPAN MELTDOWN HEATS NUKE WASTE DEBATE; CATS KILL WAY MORE BIRDS THAN WIND; HOW ALGAE REPLACES OIL; STATE WRKRS CAN LEAD EFFICIENCY
JAPAN MELTDOWN HEATS NUKE WASTE DEBATE
Tsunami’s ripples could reach Nevada on renewable energy, Yucca Mountain fronts
Karoun Demirjian, March 16, 2011 (Las Vegas Sun)
"As Japan reels from explosions and meltdowns at nuclear reactors damaged by last week’s tsunami, there’s talk in Washington about reining in the United States’ nuclear ambitions [or for a moratorium on nuclear plant construction]— discussions that will have an effect [on the energy debate and be felt] in Nevada…[E]nding or significantly scaling back nuclear development could either bring about the demise of or facilitate renewable energy development [in Nevada]. It could also do the same for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.
"Nuclear energy has been enjoying a renaissance in Washington, especially since Republicans scored major gains in the 2010 elections…[N]uclear energy was the one place where Republicans and the Obama administration agreed that investment and development was essential…[and has seemed] the best means to balance competing interests on energy investment. Although too divided to hope for a comprehensive bill, lawmakers hoped that nuclear energy could facilitate compromises on federal loan guarantees — such as those for a planned solar plant in Tonopah — and establishing a national clean energy standard…"
Where U.S. spent fuel is: Yucca Mountain would solve this problem - and create a new problem. (from Wikipedia - click to enlarge)
"The trade-off between nuclear energy and renewable energy — both considered “clean” — is financial as well as political…Nuclear power plants aren’t cheap: It costs about $10 billion to build one, meaning government-backed loans are essential to their construction. That’s a far steeper price than most renewable energy projects, but nuclear plants produce far more energy than your average solar or wind farm…[but stopping] funding for nuclear development doesn’t translate into a windfall for renewable energy projects…[L]awmakers are looking to reduce federal spending…[and] nuclear’s backers aren’t going to pull the plug…
"…The United States all but abandoned nuclear energy more than 30 years ago after the meltdown of a reactor at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. The events in Japan have exceeded the severity of that catastrophe, and public safety officials are bracing for potentially more fires and explosions that could release more radioactivity into the air…The nuclear reactors in Japan had multiple backup systems, all of which failed…That’s raising the question for many about how safe U.S. reactors are, and in Nevada, about just how safe the Yucca Mountain site is…Nevada ranks fourth in the nation for seismic activity…[and] as the Japanese reactors illustrate, even the best designs can’t withstand every force majeure…"
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"Yucca Mountain hasn’t been officially funded since President Barack Obama took control of federal budget requests, but the site is progressing through a certification process with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In the past few weeks, House Republicans have also taken steps toward reviving, or at least preserving, the site as a dump…Most of Nevada’s lawmakers, in both parties, have opposed efforts to develop the site…
"Without nuclear, potential energy deals of all kinds seem less probable. But there’s far less incentive to stop the energy discussion at a time when the country is struggling with rising oil and gas prices, the result of turmoil in the Middle East…A group of Republican senators…[proposed developing] the country’s carbon-fuel resources — including opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling — and [using] profits to support fledgling renewable energy projects…[It] could win support…[It] increases U.S. energy independence and national security…[but] at the expense of the clean-and-green ethos behind the renewable energy movement…It’s potentially another setback for a fledgling renewables sector that Nevada’s depending on for an economic boom, but that’s in desperate need of government support…"
CATS KILL WAY MORE BIRDS THAN WIND
Tweety Was Right: Cats Are a Bird’s No. 1 Enemy
Elisabeth Rosenthal, March 20, 2011 (NY Times)
"While public attention has focused on wind turbines as a menace to birds…[Population demography of Gray Catbirds in the suburban matrix:
sources, sinks and domestic cats] in The Journal of Ornithology on the mortality of baby gray catbirds in the Washington suburbs found that cats were the No. 1 killer in the area, by a large margin.
"Nearly 80 percent of the birds were killed by predators, and cats were responsible for 47 percent of those deaths…Death rates were particularly high in neighborhoods with large cat populations…Predation was so serious in some areas that the catbirds could not replace their numbers for the next generation, according to the researchers, who affixed tiny radio transmitters to the birds to follow them. It is the first scientific study to calculate what fraction of bird deaths during the vulnerable fledgling stage can be attributed to cats…"
Data assimilated from various sources (click to enlarge)
"The American Bird Conservancy estimates that up to 500 million birds are killed each year by cats — about half by pets and half by feral felines…By contrast, 440,000 birds are killed by wind turbines each year, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, although that number is expected to exceed one million by 2030 as the number of wind farms grows to meet increased demand."
Sorry, but as long as wind's enemies use this issue against it, the brutal truth has to be told. (click to enlarge)
"The American Bird Conservancy generally supports the development of wind energy, but it argues that wind farms should be ‘bird smart’ — for example, positioned so that they do not interfere with major migration paths or disturb breeding grounds, with their power lines buried to prevent collisions…[T]he leading cause of bird deaths over all, as opposed to the catbird fledglings in the study, remain[s] collisions with buildings, windows and towers, followed by predators.
"Yet wind turbines often provoke greater outrage than cats do…Household cats were introduced in North America by European colonists; they are regarded as an invasive species and have few natural enemies to check their numbers…"
HOW ALGAE TO REPLACES OIL
Biofuel From Algae Could Compete With Oil, Report Says
John Platt, March 16, 2011 (Mother Nature Network via Forbes)
"Biofuels made from algae can be produced in a way that make this energy source cost-competitive with crude oil by increasing the amount of energy algae stores as fat, according to [new] research…
"Algae typically store energy as carbohydrates or fat. But…[The potential impact of VG Energy’s lipid oxidation inhibitors on the economics of algal biofuels] by biofuels expert John Sheehan suggests that techniques developed by the company to target tumors in humans could change that process — and in the process could increase algae oil output during [production]…"
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"The resulting biodiesel and algae-based jet fuels could be produced at a cost of $94 per barrel, well below the current crude oil price of above $100 a barrel, according to the report by Viral Genetics, of which VG Energy is a subsidiary. Sheehan, a researcher with the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, is an advisor to Viral Genetics.
"It’s all based on a technique developed by Viral Genetics researcher Dr. Karen Newell-Rogers…Newell-Rogers has [working on the ‘lipid trigger’]…to disrupt tumor metabolism…prevent them from burning fat…[and make] them more susceptible to chemotherapy and radiation…The same switch could force the algae to store energy as fat, which could then be extracted as algal oil…"
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"…Algae typically do not produce oil under normal conditions, but they do when they are stressed…[They] are highly valued in biofuels research because of their high growth rate…[The new] technique increased production of extractable lipid, or fat, by at least 300 percent when applied in the lab. The fat was stored outside the cell walls, making it easier to extract without first killing the algae…
"…The technique also makes as much as 75 percent of the rest of the algae recyclable, further reducing costs…[It could] allow greater extraction of Omega-3 fats, also at much lower price than currently marketed processes…Sheehan’s report details several ways that algal oil can be produced…"
STATE WRKRS CAN LEAD EFFICIENCY
Report says green economy producing jobs, but urges work quality improvement
Kathleen Maclay, March 17, 2011 (UC Berkeley News Center)
"To achieve the state’s energy efficiency goals and provide better career opportunities for Californians, the state should modify its clean energy programs and its extensive but fragmented training and education programs, according to a report led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley…[It is] the first comprehensive analysis of the job impacts and workforce preparation issues from state and federal policies and programs set up to improve energy efficiency in homes and businesses, reduce peak energy demand, and develop localized renewable energy generation in California…
"…[California Workforce Education and Training Needs Assessment for Energy Efficiency, Demand Response and Distributed Generation]…forecasts about $11.2 billion worth of public and private investments in energy efficiency in California by the year 2020, up from $6.6 billion in 2010. This investment will create about 211,000 jobs in 2020. The jobs — which represent one year of full-time work — will result not just from the direct investment but also from the indirect demand generated by this increase in economic activity. The jobs will be distributed throughout the economy, not just in ‘green’ businesses or occupations…"
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"The future jobs that are directly related to energy efficiency work — and thus in need of ‘green’ training — are primarily in traditional construction trades, such electricians, carpenters and sheet metal workers…[V]ery few are in new specialized ‘green’ occupations such as energy auditors or solar installers…
"…[F]ears about shortages of new workers for energy-efficiency and related jobs [are] unwarranted, through at least 2020, because of the long queue of unemployed workers already in the main occupations…[But] there are serious concerns about work quality…[P]oor quality installation and maintenance of energy efficient equipment and materials is common in some sectors, such as residential retrofitting and air conditioning, and the UC Berkeley team found that this low quality is correlated with low wages and high worker turnover."
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"…[The] researchers warned that unless building codes and other regulations are enforced, quality standards are placed on contractors, skill certifications are required, and workers are rewarded for acquiring skills with higher wages, these quality problems will undermine efforts to achieve energy efficiency goals and to create good jobs for Californians. Job training is necessary, but not sufficient to improve quality…
"…[There are] more than 1,000 training programs throughout the state already offering basic to advanced training for the most in-demand occupations. These are located in four-year colleges, community colleges, state-certified apprenticeship programs, utility training centers, private training organizations, community-based organizations and high school career technical programs…[S]hortages of jobs for graduates from education and training programs are…likely to persist through 2020, particularly for those with less than four years of college, so emphasis should be placed on revamping and leveraging existing training programs…"