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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Was it Lots of Wind or Lots of Hot Air in Spain Last Sunday Night?

 Fast Fission Podcast #16 – mp3 file Renewable energy supporters were spreading the word today that this past Sunday wind energy in Spain produced 53% of the country’s electrical demand. The Spanish wind power industry broke a record on Sunday morning, when turbines nationwide met 53% of the nation’s demand for electricity with production of around 10,170 megawatts (MW), according to La Asociacion Empresarial Eolica (AEE), the Spanish wind industry alliance. This was certainly an achievement, but before we get too excited we need to read carefully and consider the situation. This was an intermittent peak in wind energy output that happened to achieve 53% of the electricity demand when the total demand was very low.   This occurred during a 5 ½ hour window in the early morning hours of a Sunday morning in November. Everyone was asleep, there virtually no lighting load, no cooking, few factories were running, no air conditioning, and probably very little heat.  As a result, total demand was relatively low. Before we declare renewables a resounding success, take a look at a more telling statistic:  the 11.5% overall contribution of wind to Spain’s grid during all of 2008. That means that day in and day out 88.5% of Spain’s electricity came from nuclear, gas, oil, and coal. Of that, the only carbon-free source was nuclear. John...

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The Un-Scientific American

Fast Fission Podcast #15 – MP3 File This story will come as no big surprise for my pro-nuclear blogger friends, but for those of you who are not quite as engaged with the online energy debate, you really need to know about this. Since I was a teenager I’ve enjoyed the magazine Scientific American. I’ve viewed them as informative and a good source of credible, accurate information about emerging trends in many fields of science and technology. The periodical began in 1845 and over the years its contributors have included, according to their website, more than 120 Nobel laureates and such amazing thinkers as Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk. This it way it pains me so much that this magazine has deteriorated to the level of utter trash and garbage. I will think long and hard before I ever again purchase a copy of the magazine. In this podcast I discuss why. When I first read the Scientific American article I was outraged and angry, but now I’m just sad.  Sad that a respected journal and a source of information for more than 100 years has deteriorated to the point that it is willfully being used as a platform to push a political agenda with total disregard to fundamentals of research and sound science. Links: A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables by Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi at the Scientific American Critique of ‘A path to sustainable energy by 2030′ by Barry Brooks at BraveNewClimate.com John...

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Nuclear Energy’s Tiny Environmental Footprint

Fast Fission Podcast #12 – MP3 File I recently came across a fascinating study that was done by five researchers from The Nature Conservancy.  If you have not heard of them before, the Nature Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people The study compares the impact to natural habitats in the United States of various types of new energy development.  They refer to this as the “land use intensity” of energy, and it is measured in energy produced for a given land area.  Specifically, they estimated the amount of land that will be needed for the USA to meet energy demands by the year 2030 for various energy sources.   The group is concerned that the build out of new energy sources to meet growing demand and combat climate change could cause what they refer to as “energy sprawl” with detrimental impact to natural habitats.  It turns out, there is a lot to worry about! The results?  It takes on average 72 square kilometers of land to provide one megawatt of energy for one year when wind turbines are used.  Solar energy is better at 15 to 37 square kilometers, depending on the technology used.  Nuclear energy has the lowest impact on land use of ANY energy source.  In fact, nuclear energy has about one sixth the impact of solar thermal generation, and one thirtieth the impact of wind generation.  It takes just 2.4 square KM, or about one square mile to provide one megawatt of electricity for one year when that energy is derived from nuclear energy.  This is a great example of how the incredible energy density of nuclear energy provides benefits to...

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Episode 74 – The Renewable Question and Germany’s Nuclear Reversal (audio podcast)

Download the Audio File Here In this podcast I discuss the question “Is Nuclear Energy Renewable?” that I first posed in a recent blog post. In addition, I added the following discussion of recent news and events: Indian Point License Extension Proceeds Despite Anti-Nuclear Hurdles Despite barriers erected by anti-nuclear groups to block the license renewal for the Indian Point nuclear reactors, the two unit nuclear plant in NY has passed two major hurdles in the life extension process. On August 12 NRC issued their final safety evaluation report and concluded there are no safety issues that would preclude running the plants for another 20 years. On Sept 23 the independent Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, and independent team of experts that advice the NRC, recommended that the license extension be granted. Unless renewed, the current licenses expire in 2013 and 2015. In 2007 the anti-nuclear group Riverkeeper filed five contentions opposing the 20 year license extensions.  The NRC granted Riverkeeper a hearing to review arguments on three of their five contentions.  In those hearings Riverkeeper was unable to provide sufficient evidence to support their claims and the NRC ruled the contentions had no merit. On the NRC’s web site they have a schedule showing a tentative final decision on Indian Point’s relicensing in February of 2010. Riverkeeper’s opposition of the plant is backed by several elected officials including Andrew Cuomo, the State Attorney General with a long family tradition of anti-nuclear politics.  Twenty years ago his father, then Governor Mario Cuomo successfully closed the brand new Shoreham nuclear plant.  In Super Mario’s deal the state purchased the plant for $1, and passed on $5 Billion in construction costs to taxpayers who received nothing in return except some of the highest electricity rates in the country.  That case was a perfect example of the flawed two-step licensing process in which utilities were first issued a permit to construct the plant, and then after the plant was built they applied for a license to operate the reactor.  The new reactor licensing process is a combined construction and operating license (called a COL) that should be more predictable for utilities and investors. The NRC has received 17 COL applications from utilities interested in building 26 new reactors, but has suspended the review of four applications at the request of the applicants. Pro-Nuclear Victory in Germany This week there was a huge win in Germany for supporters of nuclear energy.  Angela Merkel was reelected Chancellor and vowed to reverse that nation’s plans to prematurely shut down their 17 nuclear reactors.  Nuclear energy currently provides 31% of Germany’s electricity and closing the reactors...

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