Category Archives: Energy

Earthships

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On the flat sweep of highway between Chaco Canyon and Taos, New Mexico, you may not expect to see much except desert and a few a scrub bushes under a pastel blue sky. You certainly don’t expect to see Hobbit like homes all bending toward the sun, like minarets awaiting their muezzins. They are spectacular against the endless sky, but the real surprise comes when you stop by to investigate. You realize something important: these singularly humble ‘Hobbit’ homes –also known as Earthships –may be a glimpse of our future.

Mike Reynolds, the founder of Earthships, first came up with the idea for these self-sufficient dwellings when Hurricane Marilyn roared through the Caribbean, destroying a quarter of the homes on St. Thomas, one of the U.S. Virgin islands. Full restoration of power took several months. Three thousand miles away, in Taos, New Mexico, Reynolds, read the news and saw a demand for a self-sustaining housing systems—what would later evolve into Earthships.

Traditionally, Mike Reynolds notes, most houses were built from whatever material was plentiful and fast at hand–trees, clay, grass (on the plains). In modern urban culture our most plentiful material is our non-biodegradable waste. Thus, he decided to use tires which will spend three times or more of a human life time making an eyesore of a valley or mountainside as the building blocks for his new-fangled Earthship.

The basic Earthship design is a U. The U design is based on three tire walls, built on the North, East and West sides while the South side is glazed and slightly angled to receive maximum sunlight. The concept is surprisingly simple and efficient: using the building walls and windows to collect solar energy during the day. The walls of an Earthship give back the energy later in the day when the outside air cools. Earthships are built from old car tires full of rammed earth, these are the load-bearing walls (that create the thermal mass). The walls that aren’t as structurally important get interesting aesthetic treatments; the most common of which is the use of “glass bricks”, which is a “brick” made out of two glass bottles, cut in half and duct taped together.
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On to this mud, cement or adobe plaster is added. In addition, Earthship roofs can catch water when it rains and store it for later use in a cistern. Recycled greywater (from showers, dirty dishes, etc…) and blackwater (septic waste) are carefully separated. The grey water is fed into toilets for flushing and gardens where the waste is welcomed as nutrients to plants, and acts as a filter. The black water is broken down in an external solar septic tank which accelerates the anaerobic process by heating the waste with solar energy. The solids break down and travels through filtering layers of gravel, pumice, soil and roots where it is absorbed by plants and cleaned. Energy is provided by solar panels and/or wind generators stored in batteries. Methane gas from the breakdown of black waste can be stored for emergency energy needs.

The interior is comfortable and spacious. The rounded walls indeed give it a Hobbit feel, but this is a plus not a minus. One senses a return to a natural order living in the Earth, as this Earthship does, rather than on top of it.
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Earthships also have extensive gardening beds to reduce the need to rely on grocery stores for food. There are raised beds, roof top plots and indoor greens. All this, and the most expensive of all Earth ships is a mere $70,000 (excluding labor costs). The average pricing works out to about $120 per square foot. If you provide your own labor, of course, it’s less.

In The Legacy of Conquest, Patricia Limerick writes of the western pilgrims leaving great heaps of tin cans outside their little shacks. “Living out of cans,” she notes, with a bit of irony, “the Montana Ranchers were typical Westerners, celebrating independence while relying on a vital connection to the outside world.” Not unlike the ‘independent westerners’ of today, who take to the Rockies in their SUVs, powered by a web of connections that reaches all the way across the oceans to cluster bombs in Iraq.

“The [modern housing] systems give us power on one hand and poison on the other,” Mike Reynolds notes, “Acid rain, radioactive waste, spider webs of power lines, polluted rivers and oceans, vanishing wildlife are all part of the ‘price’ for the life support systems necessary to make the current concept of housing functional. A person on life support in a hospital has to always be within reach and ‘plugged in’ to the various systems that keep him/her alive. So it is with our current concept of housing.”

Earthships incorporate systems that are external to most traditional house designs. Thus, they are self-sustaining.

There are Earthship colonies in climates ranging from the deserts of New Mexico to the high humidity of the United Kingdom, Brighton and Edinburgh. There are also Earthship enclaves near the tropics in Honduras, in Bolivia and Mexico.

For those who can’t feature themselves as over cautious environmentalists, and like, instead, to consider themselves ‘rugged individualists’, consider this: Earthships are the ultimate in an individual’s great goodbye to the systems that would otherwise keep them enslaved. Much more rugged and individualist than certain Montana Ranchers who ‘conquered’ the West while leaving behind their ‘externalities’: waste trails of empty tin cans.

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Thanks to Stefan Reed, APV’s Deputy Director of Environment and Clean Energy Task Force, and Jack Johnson who visited the Earthships in New Mexico and also took the photos.

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Advancing Virginia in the Age of Renewables ~by Stefan Reed

Red kites fly past wind turbines. Photograph: Alamy

Renewable Energy is making slow but concrete progress as an alternative to conventional fuels for our energy dependence. It comes from sources that are always present (wind, solar and water powered generators) or constantly renewing themselves (biomass). Biomass is a form of energy created from burning plant waste (grass clippings, leaves, wood). All of these alternative energies are being produced at higher capacities than ever before. We can buy alternative energy here in Virginia from Dominion Resources, Inc.. This helps to support the perpetuation of the renewable industry in the Commonwealth, but how much of that renewable energy is actually coming from Virginia?

As of 2010, we were producing 101.5 trillion Btu (British Thermal Units) and consuming 146.7 Btu (eia.gov). That means that from somewhere outside of Virginia, we are importing renewable energy to meet the demands here in our own state. Keep in mind, this renewable production and consumption is for all of Virginia and not just Dominion power. Interestingly enough, Dominion currently sells their renewable energy on Green-E Energy, an organization that helps to connect renewable energy producers and consumers anywhere in the United States. Purchase of this energy from Dominion is available to all, so both residential customers and business owners can choose this option. The energy is acquired from a long list of alternative options from producers all across the country. Dominion is not an actual member of this program though, as they only sell their electricity in VA.

So, we in the state of Virginia can actually purchase electricity from other states. Dominion just powers our house per usual, and the energy company you purchase the energy from sends Dominion electrical power, which Dominion runs through its network just like the power from any of its production locations. Dominion gets our money just like normal, and presumably a commission on top for allowing the power companies to use their infrastructure to “deliver” the renewable energy. Dominion doesn’t even need to create renewable energy sources to make a profit from it!

We shouldn’t let Dominion make us out-of-state renewable dependent! Virginia needs to not only create enough renewable energy to meet our own demands, but we need to expand our renewable energy portfolio to meet the demand in other states as well.

Our non-renewable resources will run out and our country and the world will need to satisfy our need for energy with another source; a source that can provide the same energy generated from the astronomical amounts of coal, petroleum, and natural gas used globally.

A new reservoir of energy must be created to provide the globe with energy. Nevada and Colorado battle with a handful of other states to hold the title of the largest renewable energy exporters in the United States. Virginia needs to catch up and become a player in this game. Dominion, based in Richmond, has an 83 MW Biomass plant here in Virginia. Biomass, although an alternative, is not a zero emission renewable source because the burning of plant material inevitably releases all the stored carbon in the form of climate change intensifying carbon emissions. In addition to Dominion’s unfortunately small biomass effort, they are evaluating wind power opportunities. Despite their menial efforts to create renewable energy here in Virginia, Dominion has a 50% interest in all of the following:

264 MW wind farm in West Virginia
300 MW wind farm in Indiana
220 MW hydro station in North Carolina

As you see, Dominion has significantly more renewable energy being produced in other states than it has in its home state of Virginia. This trend is unacceptable. We need for Dominion to invest in local renewable energy resources now! And they need to commit to future development that will position Virginia as a national leader in safe energy production alternatives.

Considering the options available to our state, which now include the federally designated wind-development area off our coast, Virginia can and should play an integral part in advancing America to the world’s largest producer of renewable energy.

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Stefan Reed is APV’s Deputy Director of Environment and Clean Energy Task Force.

False Summit -by George Monbiot

“We were wrong about peak oil: there’s enough in the ground to deep-fry the planet.”

From: False Summit, by George Monbiot, Mon 2 Jul 2012:

“The facts have changed, now we must change too. For the past 10 years an unlikely coalition of geologists, oil drillers, bankers, military strategists and environmentalists has been warning that peak oil – the decline of global supplies – is just around the corner. We had some strong reasons for doing so: production had slowed, the price had risen sharply, depletion was widespread and appeared to be escalating. The first of the great resource crunches seemed about to strike.
Among environmentalists it was never clear, even to ourselves, whether or not we wanted it to happen. It had the potential both to shock the world into economic transformation, averting future catastrophes, and to generate catastrophes of its own, including a shift into even more damaging technologies, such as biofuels and petrol made from coal. Even so, peak oil was a powerful lever. Governments, businesses and voters who seemed impervious to the moral case for cutting the use of fossil fuels might, we hoped, respond to the economic case.
Some of us made vague predictions, others were more specific. In all cases we were wrong. In 1975 MK Hubbert, a geoscientist working for Shell who had correctly predicted the decline in US oil production, suggested that global supplies could peak in 1995. In 1997 the petroleum geologist Colin Campbell estimated that it would happen before 2010. In 2003 the geophysicist Kenneth Deffeyes said he was “99% confident” that peak oil would occur in 2004. In 2004, the Texas tycoon T Boone Pickens predicted that “never again will we pump more than 82m barrels” per day of liquid fuels. (Average daily supply in May 2012 was 91m.) In 2005 the investment banker Matthew Simmons maintained that “Saudi Arabia … cannot materially grow its oil production”. (Since then its output has risen from 9m barrels a day to 10m, and it has another 1.5m in spare capacity.)
Peak oil hasn’t happened, and it’s unlikely to happen for a very long time.
A report by the oil executive Leonardo Maugeri, published by Harvard University, provides compelling evidence that a new oil boom has begun. The constraints on oil supply over the past 10 years appear to have had more to do with money than geology. The low prices before 2003 had discouraged investors from developing difficult fields. The high prices of the past few years have changed that.
Maugeri’s analysis of projects in 23 countries suggests that global oil supplies are likely to rise by a net 17m barrels per day (to 110m) by 2020. This, he says, is “the largest potential addition to the world’s oil supply capacity since the 1980s”. The investments required to make this boom happen depend on a long-term price of $70 a barrel – the current cost of Brent crude is $95. Money is now flooding into new oil: a trillion dollars has been spent in the past two years; a record $600bn is lined up for 2012.
The country in which production is likely to rise most is Iraq, into which multinational companies are now sinking their money, and their claws. But the bigger surprise is that the other great boom is likely to happen in the US. Hubbert’s peak, the famous bell-shaped graph depicting the rise and fall of American oil, is set to become Hubbert’s Rollercoaster.
Investment there will concentrate on unconventional oil, especially shale oil (which, confusingly, is not the same as oil shale). Shale oil is high-quality crude trapped in rocks through which it doesn’t flow naturally.
There are, we now know, monstrous deposits in the United States: one estimate suggests that the Bakken shales in North Dakota contain almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia (though less of it is extractable). And this is one of 20 such formations in the US. Extracting shale oil requires horizontal drilling and fracking: a combination of high prices and technological refinements has made them economically viable. Already production in North Dakota has risen from 100,000 barrels a day in 2005 to 550,000 in January.
So this is where we are. The automatic correction – resource depletion destroying the machine that was driving it – that many environmentalists foresaw is not going to happen. The problem we face is not that there is too little oil, but that there is too much.
We have confused threats to the living planet with threats to industrial civilisation. They are not, in the first instance, the same thing. Industry and consumer capitalism, powered by abundant oil supplies, are more resilient than many of the natural systems they threaten. The great profusion of life in the past – fossilised in the form of flammable carbon – now jeopardises the great profusion of life in the present.
There is enough oil in the ground to deep-fry the lot of us, and no obvious means to prevail upon governments and industry to leave it in the ground. Twenty years of efforts to prevent climate breakdown through moral persuasion have failed, with the collapse of the multilateral process at Rio de Janeiro last month. The world’s most powerful nation is again becoming an oil state, and if the political transformation of its northern neighbour is anything to go by, the results will not be pretty.
Humanity seems to be like the girl in Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth: she knows that if she eats the exquisite feast laid out in front of her, she too will be consumed, but she cannot help herself. I don’t like raising problems when I cannot see a solution. But right now I’m not sure how I can look my children in the eyes.”
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“Here are some of the things I try to fight: undemocratic power, corruption, deception of the public, environmental destruction, injustice, inequality and the misallocation of resources, waste, denial, the libertarianism which grants freedom to the powerful at the expense of the powerless, undisclosed interests, complacency.”
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Uranium – The Virginia Battleground

(Click the map to see where future uranium mines could be in Virgina.)

Update –
Here’s an article about last night’s meeting: Science meets passion at uranium briefing

As you may know, Va. Beach is hosting a public briefing tonight on Uranium Mining in Virginia. A surprising number of people are getting seriously involved with this issue, and not just the people of Virginia.

Uranium mining can’t begin unless the moratorium is lifted, and due to a lack of support, the vote was postponed until 2013. The corporate money and power behind the mining project is becoming more clear all the time, though it’s been framed as a FFV’s love for their community and ultimate concern for its progress. The public isn’t buying it though, and they’re passionate about keeping the ban in place. As that firestorm continues to mount, I think we could have a real People v. Profit showdown next year, and that may be just what the doctor ordered.

I hope you’ll find a way to attend the briefing tonight, but even if you can’t, read this great exposé by award-winning investigative journalist, Rose Ellen O’Connor. It’s a three-part series that started in November about lifting Virginia’s ban, but covers much more than the 30-year moratorium. She carefully includes both sides, but weaves in and out of the ‘truth or consequences’ of uranium mining, complete with horror stories, lies, politics, corruption and misinformation. Each one is a prize, so if you’re interested in the prospects of mining and milling uranium in Virginia, I recommend reading all three for the nitty-gritty.

Uranium Mining – The Virginia Battleground – Environmental Concerns vs. Corporate Interests Part One
Just a taste:

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Marline, the Canadian firm that failed to win approval for mining from the Virginia General Assembly before the market tanked in 1985, had workers crisscross the state with Geiger counters, hopping out of their cars when an area seemed promising. Marline bought up leases on 16,000 uranium-rich acres in Fauquier, Madison, Culpeper and Orange counties, which have since expired. Opponents of lifting the moratorium say they fear that Virginia Uranium will seek to mine the sites that Marline found and that the state will be overrun by uranium mines.

Virginia Uranium executives insist publicly that they have no interest in other mines.

“We’ve made it clear we’re only interested in Coles Hill,” Wales said at the Richmond forum.

But Coles Jr. seemed to suggest that the company is, indeed, interested in other mining possibilities at a meeting with potential investors in London in February. Coles said the geologist who discovered uranium at Coles Hill has long believed that more deposits will be found. Virginia could be another “Athabasca Basin” Coles said, referring to an area in Saskatchewan, Canada, where 41 companies mine one-third of the world’s uranium supply.

“Talking to the lead geologist,” Coles said, “he’s insistent to this day that Coles Hill is the first of more major discoveries in Virginia that might lead to another Athabasca-style resource play.”

Uranium Mining – The Virginia Battleground – Environmental Concerns vs. Corporate Interests Part Two

Uranium Mining – The Virginia Battleground – Environmental Concerns vs. Corporate Interests Part Three

The main study on Uranium Mining in Virginia came out in December. Most people have read the non-technical brief that has been linked in many articles. But the full report to view on the internet is linked below. From the link, scroll to the Table of Contents and from there you can either read the full report, select chapters, or skim. Under the skim feature you can also search by “suggested” keywords.
Full report: “Uranium Mining in Virginia: Scientific, Technical, Environmental, Human Health and Safety and Regulatory Aspects of Uranium Mining and Processing in Virginia.”

Who owns Virginia Uranium Inc.?
Here’s how the company is structured: VA Uranium Holdings Inc., a company incorporated in Yukon, Canada, for tax purposes, owns 100 percent of Virginia Uranium Inc.  A little less than 50 percent of VA Uranium Holdings is owned by Canadian firms. Virginia Energy Resources Inc., a uranium development company based in Vancouver, Canada, owns 29.44 percent of the holding company’s shares, while Sprott Resource Corp., a Toronto-based natural resource development firm, owns another 18.06 percent. Local investors own about 52.5 percent of the holding company, according to Virginia Uranium.

Video: “Uranium has never been mined east of the Mississippi River–for good reason. Kay Slaughter, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, explains why mining and milling uranium in southern Virginia poses serious threats to the environment and public health.”

Health effects of uranium exposure in charts, graphics and pictures (pdf)

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I think lifting the ban has less to do with Virginia’s economy and more to do with the mining industry’s profits. Plus, our military’s unsustainable need for uranium and other strategic elements and rare earth minerals is a thirst we should be concerned about. It certainly won’t be sated in Pittsylvania County. In that context alone, I think the ban will be lifted by our lawmakers regardless of every foreseeable negative impact, and we can expect that this sort of dangerous mining and toxic dumping will spread … unless we can stop it.

Ms. O’Connor did point out the large Canadian presence involved, and in fact they are present throughout U.S. mining operations – but she didn’t mention that their web of partnerships sells to global markets. In foreign-owned hands, how can we control, or even know where the uranium and its by-products are being sold?

After 35 years of continuous mining (which is unheard of because they quit working when the market is down), the damage would be done and the mine would be abandoned. A hand full of people – maybe even some Virginians – would have made a startling fortune. After that, many generations of our children would be charged with finding safe ways to escape something we did knowing that we couldn’t control the outcome and that it could cause them cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations – among other things.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding … Virginia has a long history of catastrophic weather events, and that’s not including the climate change that promises to deliver circumstances we can’t conceive of today. There’s not a corporation nor a government on earth that can ensure a thousand years of safety. Nor can they deny that in the next thousand years, no matter how “safe” the clean-up is, one healthy explosion in the reclamation area is all it would take to contaminate the water, air and land that sustain millions of Americans. That’s a bullseye.

A while back, I read a comment that a physicist made about nuclear energy production, but I think it applies to uranium mining as well. He said, “We can send a spaceship to Alpha Centauri today but it would take a hundred years or more to arrive. In 80 years, we might send a spaceship that would pass the original en route. Are we advancing our progress by sending one today? Unlikely – we already know what the current technology can and cannot do. If we used the money on basic research instead of giving it to companies to try to make inferior technology competitive, we would be better off in the long run.”
DCKennedy

The Tea Partys war on mass transit – Dream City – Salon.com

We’re seeing the same thing at the state level here in Virginia where another factor is at play, the Tea Party’s war against unionized labor so often associated with mass transit.

“Defunding transit is how you smack down urbanites, environmentalists, and people of color, all in one fell swoop. It’s how you telegraph a disdain for all things European. It’s how you show solidarity with swing-state suburbanites who don’t understand why their taxes are going toward subways they don’t even use. And it’s how you subtly reassure your base that you’re not concerned about the very poor.”

via The Tea Partys war on mass transit – Dream City – Salon.com.

The Safety Target

Fukushima

APV’s official position on nuclear energy is focused on safety, a critical intermediate step toward clean renewable standards for energy production in America.

We have fodder enough in the continuing reports on the meltdown of Fukushima’s reactors and the devastation it’s causing the people of Japan and their environment to consider improved safety regulations at nuclear reactor sites an issue worth APV’s attention.

So, what safety precautions are reasonable, and should that be determined as weighed in the balance of profits to be made by industry stakeholders? Both questions have simple answers: Whatever it takes to protect the people and environment is reasonable. And to the second question: No.

Unfortunately, neither answer is in play for nuclear energy production or any other energy production. Glaring examples of that are spilled in the Gulf, contaminating water at fracking sites and consuming precious resources at mountaintop removal coal mining sites, among others. This is typical of deregulation and overreach where ethics and safety are overlooked to increase corporate profits.

A dumbfounding example of this happened yesterday. For the first time in 34 years, a utility was granted a license to build two nuclear reactors in Georgia. In the wake of the Fukushima event, the license was granted without even requiring the same commitment to safety planned by the NRC for existing sites across the country. Sure, they’ll be new and improved. They’ll be modern and different. So why isn’t it a given that something they’re planning to build in the future would be at least as safe as what we have planned for existing reactors?

US licenses first nuclear reactors since 1978
Gregory Jaczko, pushes for more safety requirements. He’s the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chairman and reportedly considered a trouble maker for industry owners’ groups. He was also the only ‘no’ vote: “There is still more work. I cannot support this licensing as if Fukushima never happened. I believe it requires some type of binding commitment that the Fukushima enhancements that are currently projected and currently planned to be made would be made before the operation of the facility.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that says it wants to improve nuclear safety not end nuclear power, sided with Jaczko. “The chairman has done the right thing. It makes no sense to rush into constructing any new reactor before the implications of Fukushima are fully understood and incorporated into NRC regulations.” ~UCS senior scientist Edwin Lyman

Thomas Fanning, the utility’s CEO, “declined to say why Southern would not agree to include language in the new license to complete potential Fukushima modifications before the reactors come online, as Jaczko suggested.”

When I read that part of the comment, “Southern would not agree to….”, I had to wonder where they get off refusing to agree to something the NRC puts forth, and how they get away with it. The answer, I believe, is in the article’s money quote:

Fanning: “The project is on track, and our targets related to cost and schedule are achievable.”

So … it appears the “safety target” didn’t make the cut and was tossed out. So much for the people’s safety. On the other hand, Southern is seeking an $8.3 billion loan guarantee from the federal government to cover its losses in the event that things don’t go “as planned”.

My conclusion is that Jaczko’s hands are being tied, and that as usual, powerful conservatives corrupt, break or get rid of any obstacle in their pursuit of maximum profit.

North Anna Nuclear Plant Damaged and Shut Down – Earthquake, August 23, 2011

In better news, APV recently petitioned the Commission. Our representative Erica Gray commented as follows:

US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, February 2, 2012
North Anna Nuclear Safety:

(Conclusion)
In just six months, 80 or more aftershocks have followed the 5.8 earthquake that admittedly exceeded the North Anna plant’s design. APV reiterates our concern for the restart “commitments” which exclude adequate evacuation planning.

The State Capitol, Richmond, home to more than 1.25 million Virginians, is 40 miles down-wind from the North Anna plant. We have been informed by Richmond’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Mr. McLean, that no evacuation plan is in place because Richmond is outside the nuclear site’s official 10 mile radius.

While more than enough evidence demonstrates that a 10 mile radius is not sufficient, and that the absence of a plan poses additional hazard to the affected population facing a nuclear event, we find this to be an important and correctable issue among failures in safety oversight.

APV is asking the NRC to promptly issue rules requiring the appropriate local, state and federal agencies to develop comprehensive emergency evacuation plans for areas in a 50 mile radius of all 104 existing commercial nuclear power sites, including the North Anna facility, and that these plans be made available to the public.

Ultimately, the North Anna nuclear power plant poses a serious threat to Virginia residents and the environment. We ask that the NRC recognize the danger it presents, and take action accordingly. Thank you.

The Board’s reaction:
[The Board has accepted for further review the petitioner’s requested action that VEPCO submit a formal license amendment request for earthquake related modifications and licensing changes rather than how the plant was allowed to restart with only regulatory “commitments” which the petitioners assert have not and do not represent an adequate and enforceable regulatory tool.]

DCKennedy

Unveiling nuclear safety

Energy news can be really exciting these days, or frustrating and scary. But as the ole’ mother of invention kicks in, people around the world are creating solutions and designing power options to help us shake rattle and roll off our addiction to dangerous, destructive sources and practices we’ve been stuck with for too long. Some ideas are better than others, but as we brainstorm through this process it gets clearer all the time that we’re making good headway. We’re doing it! Maybe the trick is to stay focused on the beauty and benefits of a green future. Check this out!

On the other hand, we’re still facing critical safety and environmental issues that surround fossil fuel, including the acquisition of oil, the obvious dangers associated with fracking, and destructive coal mining practices. With all the information available on the down side, I can’t even imagine voting to reelect a representative who isn’t working to help end our national obsession with filthy dangerous energy sources. Obviously, the Keystone pipeline project and ending bans on uranium mining would lead us in the wrong direction.

One of our most imminent threats, as the people of Japan know well, is the safety and regulation needed to continue nuclear power production until it can be effectively phased out.

In that vein, this should be an interesting meeting this morning. The operators of our nuclear power plants have a deal for us: They’ll do what they want to improve safety, and that’s the end of it.

The industry is seeking assurances from the NRC that it won’t face additional requirements on the same safety issues later if it moves forward voluntarily now.

“This is just something that we believe we should be doing,” said Adrian Heymer, who is in charge of the Institute’s Fukushima regulatory response team. “But we want to get some credit for it.”

Credit? They’ve known all along what could happen to us if the power goes out like it did in Japan, and they’ve done nothing to solve that problem for decades. They’ve been playing the odds, gambling with our safety – and now they want credit for being proactive?

“Heymer said the new backup systems could keep nuclear fuel cool for three days or more.”

A key feature, yes. But understanding that without this feature “the plants can only cope for 4 to 8 hours” means that they have been ignoring a key feature – a feature standing between life and death to the people and environments surrounding 104 U.S. reactors.

“The proposal is likely to face scrutiny from nuclear watchdogs, in part because it involves portable equipment that wouldn’t be subject to the strictest NRC standards and wouldn’t be installed as part of a mandatory NRC rule.”

That’s true for now, but the NRC is getting ready to impose new regulations on nuclear facilities because the industry operators have failed to do it. If these operators are seeking to show us how proactively they improve safety – they’re too late. They’ve already shown us that until the NRC is on the verge of regulating, they don’t invest in the people’s safety.

The equipment used for severe accident mitigation after 9/11, – guidelines “which had been adopted voluntarily by the nuclear industry and thus not subject to commission rules”, were found to be problematic in nearly a third of our nations reactors.

So, here we go again with a new safety plan being unveiled today, voluntarily, just before they get hit with regulations they have to abide by, subject to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“Heymer said the industry’s proposal would be implemented by 2015, but predicted a formal rule would take longer to finalize.

So what’s the deal? We’ll know more after the meeting, but so far it looks like we’re supposed to let these operators dawdle around for three more years developing their own safety requirements and quality controls, only allowing us to set standards and inspect equipment. In exchange for this magnanimous offer, they want us to agree that we won’t require anything else of them regarding these safety issues – that’s what they’re calling “credit”.

That’s not a deal; it’s another attempt to avoid NRC regulations that have teeth, cost more money, make the people safer and operators accountable.

We will continue to pay for their liability insurance until 2025 via the Price-Anderson Act. It’s high-dollar insurance paid for by taxpayers but given “free” to for-profit nuclear plant operators. Of course, it’s not adequate enough to cover victims of accidents, but it indemnifies the operators for accidents even if they cause one by willful misconduct or gross negligence. It’s socialism for the rich. So, I say we should crack down on the NRC, get the regulations finalized tout suite, and let these operators know who’s boss.

They should spend all the money it takes to implement reasonable, preventative safety features and to have supplies and procedures in place to protect and evacuate the public affected by a nuclear event, and not just within a pat 50 mile radius, but also downwind as far as the scientists estimate the affected public resides. And they shouldn’t be allowed to pass the cost on to us. This is one industry that won’t shut down and go elsewhere for cheap labor. They’re completely dependent on the American consumer, and they should show some appreciation for us while they’re still around.

We’ll see what happens. The meeting is from 9 -12, and I hope the NRC, not at all known for their vicious bite, can find the gumption to work in the interest of safety instead of placating the corporations.
DCKennedy

The Alliance for Progressive Values’ statement on the August 23rd 2011 East Coast Earthquake and its significance in the debate over Nuclear Power.

The Alliance for Progressive Values’ statement on the August 23rd 2011 East Coast Earthquake and its significance in the debate over Nuclear Power.

Just before 2 p.m. on the afternoon of August 23rd an earthquake, centered near Mineral, Virginia, but felt as far away as New York City and Boston struck the East Coast of the United States. The quake has been measured at between a 5.8 and 5.9 on the Richter scale, making it a strong seismic event. While initial reports indicated that the quake occurred comparatively near the earth’s surface and caused little immediately visible damage and no loss of life, it raises serious questions nonetheless about the ability of the many nuclear power facilities in the affected area to withstand a severely disruptive seismic event.

The power industry has been quick to down play the chances of any particular event happening in any particular year. They have lauded their safety measures in the “remote” event such a disaster did occur and a reactor was damaged, and they have consistently minimized the impact of such damage on the communities near the facilities. Until very recently the threat of earthquakes to plants in the Eastern region of the country has been ignored. Yet a study commission by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2005 (and still not completed), on seismic hazards to the domestic commercial nuclear power industry identified serious concerns with two dozen plants, mostly in the Midwest and East. The study expresses specific concerns over a magnitude 6 earthquake occurring and quote “surprising us” in the East. In August of 2010 the NRC released estimates of the risks associated with the nation’s 104 existing commercial facilities: of the top ten reactors in the most danger of damage from earthquake, nine (9) were in the East including the North Anna site in Virginia whose risk factor increased by 38%. In light of these factors and the ongoing catastrophic events in Japan stemming from the earthquake/tsunami/meltdown less than six months ago, and with the repeated questions about security, design and fail-safe issues that continue to dog the industry, APV believes it is time to step back and seriously reconsider the future of nuclear power in Virginia and in the United States.

In Virginia, the two reactors at the aging North Anna nuclear power plant in Louisa County (7 out of 10 on the NRC risk list) shut down during the quake. The North Anna facility lost outside power and was forced to use its diesel generators (one of which failed), to power the pumps that keep the fuel rods from overheating and the reactor from melting down. Dominion Power, which operates the plant at North Anna, claims that the generators can provide enough electricity to supply power to emergency safety systems indefinitely, but of course this presupposes that the generators themselves have not been damaged and have enough fuel to operate, and that the Lake Anna Dam which supplies water to the plant has not been damaged as well, neither of which is assured during an ongoing disaster. Had the quake’s damage to local roads and rail lines been more severe, as is often the case in major seismic events, we might now be counting down the hours until the generators ceased to work and a crisis ensued. North Anna sits a mere forty (40) miles northwest of the state capitol in Richmond (metropolitan area population 1.2 million). Moving such a large group of people in the short time frame generated by a possible core meltdown would be nearly impossible under the best of circumstances, and in the event of a serious emergency (earthquake, hurricane, tornadoes) with transportation, communications and other logistical apparatus compromised, the idea of mass evacuations is simply laughable. And Richmond is not alone. There’s a nuclear plant fifty (50) miles outside of the nation’s capitol in Maryland, and the Indian Point facility (Ramapo Fault Line), is within twenty five (25) miles of the New York City skyline (8.3 million people). Twelve (12) facilities from North Carolina to Michigan reported unusual events on the 23rd. We can be glad that no serious damage appears to have been done this time, but we cannot remain complacent in the face of real threats.

As the catastrophe in Fukushima prefecture illustrates, large scale, devastating events do occur. These are not hypothetical worst case scenarios. The Surry plant in southeastern Virginia shut down in April of 2011 due to damage from tornadoes. While earthquakes are not common on the East Coast, they are clearly not unheard of as recent events prove and the North Anna plant (which Dominion Power is planning to expand), was built directly on the Spotsylvania Fault Line that runs through central Virginia. The Mid-Atlantic is prone to hurricanes the severity and frequency of which are predicted to rise in the future due to global climate change. Again, in the event of possible widespread damage to infrastructure in affected areas, there are legitimate questions about how well the emergency measures for the facilities will perform.

Nuclear technology is inherently unsafe. Even under the best of circumstances the reactors are incredibly complex systems designed to use some of the most dangerous substances in the world to essentially boil water. Even with multiple safe guards, things can go wrong, the unexpected can happen, a series of small events can cascade out of control in a short time and very bad things can occur, affecting large populations and national and international economies.

To the existing and very real dangers posed by tornadoes, hurricanes, forest fires, flooding, terrorist attacks, design flaws and human error we must now reconsider the threat of damage from earthquakes. The North Anna plant was rated to withstand an earthquake of 5.9 to 6.2, the East Coast quake was variously reported at 5.8, 5.9 and 6.0. We can’t know exactly what the seismic readings at the plant were during the quake since the equipment used to measure and collect the data was removed over a decade ago because of budget cuts.

Nuclear energy is not clean (uranium mining is dangerous to the environment, local populations and the miners doing the digging, and there is still no widely accepted long term plan for storing the deadly radioactive waste the reactors produce).

Nuclear energy is not safe (reactors are tempting targets for terrorist sabotage or theft of nuclear material).

Nuclear energy is not cheap (nuclear energy costs a fortune to develop and still requires subsidies to keep rates competitive, and when one factors in the price of clean-up following an accident the cost skyrockets).

The events of August 23rd 2011 should be a wake up call for the people of Virginia and the nation as a whole to rethink in what direction we should go with our energy future. We will be told that because nothing very bad happened this time, that we can ignore the looming threat posed by an energy system predicated on the perpetual control of highly unstable radioactive materials by fallible humans. The Alliance for Progressive Values suggests a moratorium on further plant construction until more study can be done into minimizing the dangers posed by already existing plants and with an eye to their eventual decommission. We call for a renewed emphasis on clean, renewable, non-centralized sources of energy like wind, solar and tidal to power our state and nation in the 21st century.

In our relief at the relative lack of harm done by the east coast quake, let us not lose sight of the lesson we have been taught.

Sincerely,
Stephanie Rodriguez, President, Alliance for Progressive Values.

BREAD – A Warning Ignored

Detail of George Segal's "Depression Bread Line" at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ

Tomgram: Christian Parenti, Staff of Life, Bread of Death

And this, the experts tell us, is only the beginning.  The price of our loaf of bread is forecast to increase by up to 90% over the next 20 years. That will mean yet more upheavals, more protest, greater desperation, heightened conflicts over water, increased migration, roiling ethnic and religious violence, banditry, civil war, and (if past history is any judge) possibly a raft of new interventions by imperial and possibly regional powers.

And how are we responding to this gathering crisis?

Well, there’s room for improvement. In fact, our contribution of military aggression seems to be counter-productive. Realizing the nature and causes of regional hunger is critical to predicting violent conflict and government failure at home and elsewhere. Our humanitarian fabric is weakened by state policy. Fleeing hunger, a move to survive, is an unraveling condition forced on our neighbors in the world today, and unheeded, unattended will certainly be part of our undoing.

“Already the poorest on this planet spend 80% of what incomes they have on food staples and those prices are expected to double in the next two decades.”

This is a good article that includes Breaking Bread – a TOMCAST EPISODE with Christian Parenti discussing critical issues that cause hunger, and his well received new book. Climate change, crop shortages, drug cash, state policy and violent conflict are merged into a recipe for disaster – a warning that should not be ignored.

A recent case in point, the mass exodus of starving Somalis is here.
DCKennedy

Against the Grain

The epitome of governmental injustice is to actively or passively prevent the protection of our human rights – and safeguarding The Future of Food is surely one of those protections. This documentary by Deborah Koons Garcia, is a great watch covering the short history of food patenting, its original intentions and diabolic potential.

The force of mutation, when it’s natural, is the ultimate source of genetic variation, the process by which we gain strength and adaptability, but it comes to us with a very definite albeit complex set of built-in restrictions. Salmon does not cross with tomatoes.

Cell invasion – crossing the boundaries of nature, destroying what’s natural to create something ‘unnatural’, is usually framed for the public in terms of curing a disease. But the world’s natural food supply is rapidly being modified through cell invasion – not to cure an ill, not to feed the masses, not to help farmers – but to privatize and control base sustenance.

The consolidation of our food supply by behemoth corporations like Monsanto, is not just a disturbing trend … it’s an effort to harmonize patent laws around the world to prohibit our ability to grow our own food and eat what we know is healthy.

APV joins progressive groups worldwide in an effort to gain control over the genetic modification of our food supply and avert its grave potential. Please join us and share this information to help educate and influence the public, the media and our elected officials.
DCKennedy