Only the Energy Impoverished Run Towards a Gasoline Spill

There was a horrible accident in Kenya this week.  More than 100 people were burned to death, and hundreds more were injured when a gasoline pipeline began leaking and then exploded.  My heart goes out to the victims, and their families, and to all the people of Kenya who are dealing with the worst industrial disaster in their history.  Eyewitnesses reported seeing burning people leaping into a nearby river trying to extinguish the flames that engulfed them.  Rescue workers had to place a net across the river to catch the charred bodies of the dead so they would not wash down stream. The death toll continues to grow, and most of the 100+ injured including many children are not expected to survive. The pipeline runs through Sinai, a Nairobi ghetto of corrugated tin and cardboard huts.  When the pipe began leaking hundreds of people gathered around to scoop up the spilled gasoline.  As the crowd grew a spark from a cigarette butt or some other heat source ignited the fuel.  The blast incinerated scores of people nearby.  Flames cascaded down on nearby huts then raced through the crowded slum. Trying to image the chaotic and horrific scene, I realized there was something so far outside my own paradigm that I had to stop for moment to collect my thoughts…who runs TOWARDS a leaking gasoline pipeline?  Maybe that’s a silly question; but if anyone reading this came upon a leaking gasoline pipeline they would stop, back away, and call for help.  You would keep your distance while warning others not to go near for fear of igniting the leak and causing a fire or explosion.  If you were forced to approach the leak you would fear for your life and rightfully so! So what is different between you and the hundreds of people in Kenya that did the exact opposite?  As word spread through Sinai about the leaking pipeline hundreds of people grabbed every container they could find and rushed towards the explosive spill! You might settle on a simple socioeconomic answer: because they are poor they’ll risk their lives for a few dollars worth of anything of value.  The real answer is a lot more complicated.  These people are not only poor, they are super poor, and one of the factors that separates the poor from truly impoverished is the lack of access to even basic energy sources that human beings need to survive.  They are energy destitute. Another way of saying this is availability of plentiful, accessible energy is the greatest single factor that allows people to rise out of poverty.  All of the world’s developed economies got...

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Government Experts Say There Are No Environmental Impacts That Would Prevent Indian Point Nuclear Plant From Operating for 20 More Years.

Download the MP3 File Here The environment would remain safe if Indian Point nuclear plant operates for another 20 years. That’s the opinion of a team of scientists and engineers on the staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Operating licenses for the two reactors at Indian Point nuclear plant in New York will expire in 2013 and 2015. Entergy, the plant’s owner has applied for a license renewal to allow the plants to operate for an additional 20 years.  A major portion of the application is this detailed study of the environmental impact of allowing the plant to continue operation. This analysis has been underway for almost two years, and included analyzing public comments and issues raised by New York State and groups opposed to the plant. On December 3, 2010 the staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission released the results of their assessment which concluded there are “no environmental impacts that would preclude license renewal for an additional 20 years of operation.” License renewals are routine.  In fact, last week the NRC issued the 60th such license renewal for a US commercial nuclear plant.  That one went to the Cooper Nuclear Station in Nebraska.  Indian Point’s environmental impact analysis is probably the most thorough ever done by the NRC.  It usually takes between 6 and 12 months for the NRC to collect public comments and conduct their environmental review.  In contract, Indian Point’s review took two years to complete.    It is a monstrous document; the report is more than 2,200 pages long compared to an average of 480 pages at other plants.  It’s worth noting that the plant’s owner pays the Federal Government more than $200 for every hour the NRC staff spent on the environmental analysis. So what’s unique about Indian Point that might require such an extensive review of the environmental impact? In short, it has nothing to do with the natural environment, and everything to do with the political environment in which the plant operates.  There is a very high profile and well funded anti-nuclear campaign being waged against Indian Point by organizations like Riverkeeper, the Radiation and Public Health Project, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. These organizations and others like them have taken advantage of the transparency of the license renewal process to intervene at every opportunity in an effort to slow or block the process. On one hand they claim nuclear plants are too expensive, yet they work hard to further raise the costs. For example, they claimed the plant is in violation of the US Endangered Species Act because the endangered shortnose sturgeon eggs and hatchlings are entrained in...

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NY State Gives Fossil Fuels Favored Treatment

Podcast – Download Audio File Here This is a follow up to the podcast titled “Water Wars in New York” on May 27, 2010 in which I discussed how NY State is using their authority to issue Water Quality Certificates to wage war against the Indian Point Nuclear Plant.  In case you missed that show, New York is holding the plant’s 20 year  license renewal hostage by refusing to issue a Certificate of Water Quality unless the plant agrees to install expensive cooling towers.  The plant has argued that the cost of cooling towers, approximately $2 Billion, is excessive and disproportionate to the environmental benefit that would be derived.  In fact, the plant has identified an alternate technology that would provide greater environmental benefits at about one-tenth of the cost of installing cooling towers. Thus far those arguments have fallen on deaf ears. In my further research on this topic I discovered a damning piece of evidence that proves NY State is giving preferential treatment to fossil fuels while at the same time imposing unfair regulations on neighboring nuclear energy facilities, the largest competitors to fossil fuels. There are several other large power plants on the Hudson River that generate electricity by burning coal, oil, and natural gas.  All of those plants, like Indian Point, use the Hudson River for cooling.  One of the plants, the Bowline plant, is in Haverstraw, NY only about five miles across the river and downstream from Indian Point.  Bowline is a two unit gas and oil fired power plant with a combined output of 1,182 MW (slightly larger than each Indian Point nuclear unit). There are many similarities between Bowline and Indian Point: Bowline, like Indian Point, is required to maintain a NY State water permit.  Bowline, also like Indian Point, evaluated several alternative technologies to reduce fish and fish larva mortality. The Bowline analysis reached similar conclusions to the one performed by Indian Point; they concluded that converting to a closed cooling water system using cooling towers would provide the greatest reduction in fish mortality, but at a very high cost.  Instead, the Bowline plant offered to use a combination of technologies that would provide 80% to 95% percent of the benefit that would be derived from the vastly more expensive cooling towers, but at 1/30th of the cost. That’s where the similarities end.  In the case of the Bowline oil and gas plant, the New York State Department of Environmental Conversation accepted the lower cost alternatives to installing cooling towers.  On the topic of cooling towers, in a letter from Denise Sheehan, the DEC Commissioner they stated; The estimated cost of retrofitting...

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Huge Untapped Uranium Reserves in Virginia

Podcast – Download the MP3 Here  This has been a deadly year for fossil fuels in the United States.  In February five workers lost their lives in an explosion at the Kleen Energy natural gas power plant in CT.  Then in April 29 coal miners perished in a mining accident at the Massey Energy coal mine in West Virginia.  Of course that was followed by the disaster on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform that killed 11 workers and caused a massive oil spill that is contaminating hundreds of miles of coastline. With events like these (and others similar events around the world), and our growing reliance on huge quantities of imported oil and natural gas, it is time for America to expand its domestic supply of uranium.  On this show I was joined by a panel of experts who discussed efforts underway in Virginia to unlock the vast potential of uranium resources that have been discovered there.  My guests were: Aaron Ruby from the Virginia Energy Independence Alliance Patrick Wales, the project manager and geologist for Virginia Uranium, Inc, and Lisa Stiles, a nuclear engineer with many years experience in the nuclear industry, and a former president of NA-YGN and the International Youth Nuclear Congress. Topics we discussed included why allowing safe uranium mining in Virginia is so important,  the huge untapped Coles Hill uranium deposit, uranium mining safety, and the many benefits that developing the Coles Hill mine would bring to an economically depressed region. Enjoy! John Wheeler “This Week in...

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New Jersey Anti-Nuclear Groups Fight On

Fast Fission Podcast #20 – MP3 File In April of 2009, after a long fight with well-funded anti-nuclear groups, the Oyster Creek Nuclear Plant in New Jersey was granted a 20 year license extension.  At the time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission called Oyster Creek’s application “the most extensive license renewal to date.”  It’s worth noting that the NRC commissioners voted 3 to 1 in favor of the license extension, the only dissenting vote was from Gregory Jaczko who was subsequently appointed NRC Chairman by President Obama and continues to serve in that position. Anti-nuclear groups viewed the plant’s license extension as a temporary setback, and they are again trying to shut down the plant.  They have been unable to show any safety or environmental basis for their cause, so they are taking another approach – trying to force the owners to make enormous plant modifications they hope will make the plant too expensive to operate.  They have succeeded in getting a bill in front of the New Jersey state government that would force the plant to install cooling towers, something that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.  They argue that the plant’s cooling water intake from Barnagat Bay kills fish and a forcing the plant to use cooling towers would reduce the number of fish killed by the plant’s cooling water system.  The anti-nukes are trying to get the State to require cooling towers as a condition of renewing the plant’s water discharge permit. A similar tactic was attempted by the anti-nuclear group Riverkeeper in New York against the Indian Point nuclear plant.  That case went all the way to the US Supreme Court.  In the end Riverkeeper’s claim was denied. Local newspapers are predicting large crowds will be on hand Monday, December 14 at the State House Annex in Trenton where the hearings will take place.  This will be an interesting case because similar bills are before both houses of the NJ legislature, and lame duck Governor, Jon Corzine opposed the plant’s license renewal. These attempts to portray nuclear plants as evil fish killers are laughable.  All central station power plants use large quantities of cooling water.  They pull the water in and discharge it back a few degrees warmer.  Environmental permits already specify how much the plants are allowed to heat the water, and I’ve known of times when power plants have reduced power because they were approaching the water discharge thermal limits, particularly in the heat of the summer.  Also, many plants like Indian Point were forced years ago to install multi-million dollar fish catching systems on the water intakes to gently redirect the fish...

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