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Jun 142013

Germany’s plan to craft a new clean-air future involves big steps forward with wind and solar programs, and scrapping nuclear energy.

This video editorial compares Germany’s approach with that of the United States, where a comprehensive green energy plan has failed to take root.


Mar 302011

From Green Right Now Reports

Testifying before the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, Union of Concerned Scientists nuclear safety expert David Lochbaum, dissected how rippling power outages forced the Fukushima nuclear power plant into a situation where workers couldn’t contain overheating radioactive fuel and spent fuel.

Lochbaum, director of the the Nuclear Safety Project for the UCS, outlined how the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission could require better backup and fuel storage procedures at U.S. nuclear facilities to help prevent a breakdown similar to that still unfolding at Fukushima. He recommended that spent fuel be moved into dry cask storage containers more quickly to avoid crowded spent fuel pools prone to overheating because they are crowded with spent fuel rods.

Lochbaum also highlighted a weakness in battery back up power, which plants rely upon in the event of a blackout or loss of connection to the electrical grid. Many U.S. plants have only four hours of back-up battery power, less than what the Fukushima facility had.

Lochbaum’s full statement to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee:

The Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant in Japan experienced a station blackout. A station blackout occurs when a nuclear power plant loses electrical power from all sources except that provided by onsite banks
of batteries. The normal power supply comes from the plant’s own main generator or from the electrical grid when the reactor is shut down. All the equipment needed to operate the plant on a daily basis as well
as the emergency equipment needed during an accident can be energized by the normal power supply.

When the normal power supply is lost, backup power is supplied from onsite emergency diesel generators. These generators provide electricity only to the smaller set of equipment needed to cool the
reactor cores and maintain the containments’ integrity during an accident.

At Fukushima, the earthquake caused the normal power supply to be lost. Within an hour, the tsunami caused the backup power supply to be lost. This placed the plant into a station blackout where the only
source of power came from batteries. These batteries provided sufficient power for the valves and controls of the steam-driven system—called the reactor core isolation cooling system— that provided
cooling water for the reactor cores on Units 1, 2, and 3. When those batteries were exhausted, there were no cooling systems for the reactor cores or the spent fuel pools. There are clear indications that the fuel in
the reactor cores of units 1, 2, and 3 and some spent fuel pools has been damaged due to overheating. Had either normal or backup power been restored before the batteries were depleted, we would not be
here today discussing this matter. The prolonged station blackout resulted in the inability to cool the reactor cores in Units 1, 2, and 3, the spent fuel pools for all six units, and the consolidated spent fuel
pool. There are lessons, learned at high cost in Japan, that can and should be applied to lessen the vulnerabilities at US reactors. And I cannot emphasis enough that the lessons from Japan apply to all US
reactors, but just the boiling water reactors like those affected at Fukushima. None are immune to station blackout problems. All must be made less vulnerable to those problems.

As at Fukushima, US reactors are designed to cool the reactor core during a station blackout of only a fairly short duration. It is assumed that either the connection to an energized electrical grid or the repair of
an emergency diesel generator will occur before the batteries are depleted. Eleven US reactors are designed to cope with a station blackout lasting eight hours, as were the reactors in Japan. Ninety-three of
our reactors are designed to cope for only four hours. But unless the life of the on-site batteries is long enough to eliminate virtually any chance that the batteries would be depleted before power from another

source is restored, one lesson from Fukushima is the need to provide workers with options for dealing with a station blackout lasting longer than the life of the on-site batteries. In other words, the moment that any US reactor enters a station blackout, response efforts should proceed along three parallel paths: (1) restoration of the electrical grid as soon as possible, (2) recovery of one or more emergency diesel generators as soon as possible, and (3) acquisition of additional batteries and/or temporary generators as soon as possible. If either of the first two paths leads to success, the station blackout ends and the re-energized safety systems can cool the reactor core and spent fuel pool. If the first two paths lead to failure, success on the third path will hopefully provide enough time for the first two paths to achieve belated success.

The timeline associated with the third path should determine whether the life of the on-site batteries is adequate or whether additional batteries should be required.. For example, the existing battery life may be
sufficient when a reactor is located near a facility where temporary generators are readily available, such as the San Onofre nuclear plant in California, which is next to the US Marine base at Camp Pendleton.
When a reactor is more remotely located, it may be necessary to add on-site batteries to increase the chance that the third path leads to success if the first two paths do not.

The second lesson from Fukushima is the need to address the vulnerability of spent fuel pools. At many US reactors, there is far more irradiated fuel in the spent fuel pool than in the reactor core. At all US
reactors, the spent fuel pool is cooled by fewer and less reliable systems than are provided for the reactor core. At all US reactors, the spent fuel pool is housed in far less robust structures than surround the
reactor core. This means that any release of radiation from the pool will not be as well contained as radiation released from the reactor core. It also means that spent fuel pools are more vulnerable to terrorist
attack than is the reactor itself. More irradiated fuel that is less well protected and less well defended is an undue hazard. There are two measures to better manage this risk: (1) accelerate the transfer of spent fuel
from spent fuel pools to dry cask storage, and (2) upgrade the guidelines for how to address an emergency and the operator training for spent fuel pool problems.

Currently, the US spent fuel storage strategy is to nearly fill the spent fuel pools to capacity and then to transfer fuel into dry cask storage to provide space for the new fuel discharged from the reactor core. This
keeps the spent fuel pools nearly filled with irradiated fuel, thus maintaining the risk level about as high as possible. Added to that risk is the risk from dry casks stored onsite, which is less than that from the
spent fuel pools but not zero.

A better strategy would be to reduce the inventory of irradiated fuel in the pools to the minimum amount, which would be only the fuel discharged from the reactor core within the past five years. Reducing the
spent fuel stored in the pools would lower the risk in two ways. First, less irradiated fuel in the pools would generate a lower heat load. If cooling of the spent fuel pool was interrupted or water inventory was
lost from the pool, the lower heat load would give workers more time to recover cooling and/or water inventory before overheating caused fuel damage. And second, if irradiated fuel in a spent fuel pool did
become damaged, the amount of radioactivity released from the smaller amount of spent fuel would be significantly less than that released from a nearly full pool. Reducing the amount of irradiated fuel in
spent fuel pools would significantly reduce the safety and security risks from a nuclear power plant. Following the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, reactor owners significantly upgraded emergency
procedures and operator training.. Prior to that accident, procedures and training relied on the operators quickly and correctly diagnosing what had happened and taking steps to mitigate the consequences. If the
operators mis-diagnosed the accident they faced, the guidelines could lead them to take the wrong steps for the actual accident in progress. The revamped emergency procedures and training would guide the
operators’ response to an abnormally high pressure or an unusually low water level without undue regard for what caused the abnormalities. The revamped emergency procedures and training represent significant
improvements over the pre-TMI days. But they apply only to reactor core accidents. No comparable procedures and training would help the operators respond to a spent fuel pool accident. It is imperative
that comparable emergency procedures and training be provided for spent fuel pool accidents to supplement the significant gains in addressing reactor core accidents that were made following the TMI

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has announced a two-phase response plan to Fukushima; a 90-day quick look followed by a more in-depth review. If the past three decades have demonstrated anything, it’s
that the NRC will likely come up with a solid action plan to address problems revealed at Fukushima, but will be glacially slow in implementing those identified safety upgrades. A comprehensive action plan
does little to protect Americans until its goals are achieved. We urge the US Congress to force the NRC to not merely chart a course to a safer place, but actually reach that destination as soon as possible.

Mar 212011

Andrew Winston

(This post by Andrew Winston first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

It’s too soon to say anything definitive about what’s going on in Japan. Who really knows what the outcome might be from the frightening breakdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant (the radioactive releases could go on for months)? But the speculation about what this means for a much-touted nuclear “renaissance” in the U.S. began in earnest last week. As the New York Times reported, “U.S. Nuclear Industry Faces New Uncertainty.”

Some quick background: For years, no new nuclear plants were built in the U.S. But nuclear power is now being taken seriously again. Roughly 30 to 40 applications for new plants or expansions to existing facilities are moving through the process with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). One of the main reasons nuclear is “back” is that it satisfies two very distinct interest groups: (1) pro-energy lobbyists and companies that usually sit on the right (although President Obama has adopted the rallying cry of “all-of-the-above” as an energy independence strategy as well), and (2) those who want to aggressively fight climate change, who usually camp out on the left.

In the past, being an “environmentalist” of any stripe meant being anti-nuclear. More recently, however, some high-profile environmentally-minded people, such as Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand, have been promoting nuclear power, mainly because it might hold the promise of fighting climate change (since it produces virtually no carbon emissions). To me, the conversion of environmentalists to pro-nuclear advocates is a sign of just how terrifying they find the prospect of climate change specifically.

Ok, so jump back to today. For obvious reasons, nuclear is being questioned again. I’ll admit to being incredibly conflicted about this source of energy and I usually punt when asked the question. But we have to take the recent events into account. Pretending that it should have no impact on the debate – see Senator Mitch McConnell’s comments to this effect – is absurd.

The reality is that we’re debating energy strategy anyway, for reasons ranging from national security to national competitiveness to climate change. The kind of devastating accident unfolding in Japan only highlights the issues and brings to the fore the conversation we’re already having. But as a result I find myself asking two main questions about grid-based energy (as opposed to transportation fuels, which nuclear does not play a role in).

1) Does nuclear energy make sense?

We can debate this topic endlessly and there are seemingly good reasons that environmental groups and others have changed their views on nukes. Put most simply, it provides steady base power (20% of our electricity today) and is close to “zero carbon.” So as a longer interim solution, until the grid and economy are cleaner, it could be logical. But the most compelling argument I’ve heard against nuclear is not about safety (although, again, how can we not include that in the discussion given what’s going on?). No, it’s about cost.

For solid analyses on all things energy, I look to long-time expert Amory Lovins and his impressive assortment of in-depth studies. In a couple of reports, “Four Nuclear Myths,” and “Nuclear Power: Competitive Economics and Climate Protection Potential,” Lovins tackles the economics of building and insuring nukes, among other things. In short, compared to focusing on energy efficiency, nuclear is really expensive. [Since I first posted this, Lovins wrote a HuffPo piece with much more detail on these arguments.]

Without going into massive detail on economics, I’ve always liked the really simple logic around renewables — they have zero variable cost (wind, sunshine, and underground heat are free). Lovins and others put more data around how the economics of renewables will win out over time, but basically, free is hard to beat.

2) Does any centralized energy make sense?

This may be a more heretical question, but it may actually drive us to an answer faster than the question about nuclear power itself: why do we generate energy at large plants on a grid to begin with? There are efficiencies of course, and the need for baseload power, but there are also massive losses of energy as we step it down from the plant to the grid to our homes and buildings. Instead, why not build a far more distributed energy system (or at least invest only in distributed energy going forward)?

What I mean by this is solar on every roof, geothermal in every basement, local wind turbines in every neighborhood and on city buildings, and an electric car storing energy in every garage.

This vision of a clean energy grid is not a tree-hugger fantasy; in fact, it’s already on its way.

Renewable energy experts have told me that cost of producing solar panels is down 50 to 70 percent in the last few years, a direct result of massive investment in the clean economy by China, which has become a solar manufacturing powerhouse. As solar entrepreneur and CEO of the Carbon War Room Jigar Shah says, “China is doing to solar panels what it did to computers and iPhones — bringing the cost way down.”

The other major argument for a big distributed energy push is security. Former CIA director Jim Woolsey likes to point out that a tree branch in Ohio brought the entire Northeast grid down in the summer of 2003. As he says, terrorists “are smarter than those Cleveland tree branches and could easily cause a major catastrophe.”

On a more local level of “security,” we can also discuss safety, both personal and environmental. Traditional energy is getting harder and more dangerous to find. We don’t dig a mile under the ocean for fuel for the heck of it. That’s where we have to go now. Underwater drilling and nuclear energy are some of the most complicated technologies in the world, which means there are very large inherent risks. A spill of oil or nuclear radiation can affect millions of people. Local energy is local in its risks also. It’s not too cheeky to point out that if a natural disaster causes an offshore wind turbine to fall, or a solar panel to rip off a house, there’s no spill and limited danger.

Between basic economics, security, national competitiveness (the push to a clean economy creates jobs), the logic for a distributed, non-nuclear, non-fossil-fuel grid and transportation network seems very strong.

I’m sure many readers have passionate, and different, opinions on this issue, so let’s have the conversation. But please, let’s assume that we all have the best interests of the business community and country at heart. We all want a strong, healthy, sustainable economy — the question is whether nuclear should be a part of that future. That’s looking more and more unlikely each day.

Mar 142011

(The following is an excerpt of a report by Ed Lyman of the UCS posted Sunday evening EDT.)

The nuclear crisis in Japan took a turn for the worse as serious problems developed at a second reactor at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear facility. Earlier concerns were focused on reactor Unit 1, but now the situation at Unit 3 is becoming serious.

Officials from Tokyo Electric reported that after multiple cooling system failures, the water level in the Unit 3 reactor vessel dropped 3 meters (nearly 10 feet), uncovering approximately 90 percent of each of the fuel rods in the core. Authorities were able to inject cooling water with a fire pump after reducing the containment pressure by a controlled venting of radioactive gas. As with Unit 1, they began pumping seawater into Unit 3. Seawater is highly corrosive and probably precludes any future use of the reactor, even if a crisis is averted.

However, Tokyo Electric recently reported that the water level in the Unit 3 reactor still remains more than 2 meters (6 feet) below the top of the fuel and company officials believe that water may be leaking from the reactor vessel. When the fuel is uncovered by water, it overheats and suffers damage. It is likely that the fuel has experienced significant damage at this point, and Japanese authorities have said they are proceeding on this assumption.

One particular concern with Unit 3 is the presence of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in the core. MOX is a mixture of plutonium and uranium oxides. In September 2010, plant operators loaded 32 fuel assemblies containing MOX fuel into this reactor. That amounts to approximately 6 percent of the core. MOX fuel generally worsens the consequences of severe accidents in which a large amount of radioactive gas and aerosol is released compared with non-MOX uranium fuel because MOX fuel contains greater amounts of plutonium and other actinides, which are highly toxic.

See the full report, and other updates on the situation in Japan at the UCS blog: All Things Nuclear.

Feb 042011

From Green Right Now Reports

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and sustainable energy consultancy Ecofys released a report Thursday that should gladden green hearts across the globe. It shows that the world could be fueled by clean renewable power by 2050. It’s possible, according to the analysis by The Netherlands-based Ecofys, and while this goal confronts huge technological challenges, it also presents economic opportunities.

One striking thing about the Ecofys analysis, which was two years in the making, is that it puts the lie to the claim of fossil fuel companies that the world must, by necessity, depend upon oil and coal for the rest of this century because energy demand is growing. Even as fossil fuels are depleted they will still be much in demand to round out our ever-growing power needs, this argument goes.

But a graphic from the The Energy Report by Ecofys shows that fossil fuels don’t have to be part of the picture at the mid-century mark. Instead, with a full range of renewables in place, as well as energy efficiencies, that top line of energy use does not have to move ever upward. In the Ecofys model energy demand peaks around 2020, and then levels off and declines somewhat, despite the rising human population.

By adding a range of renewable energy sources, and keeping energy use in check, the world can achieve a clean energy future, according to the Ecofys report.

(In the graphic, the gray portions represent non renewable fuels, nuclear, coal, natural gas and oil. A range of renewables are represented by the green and blue lines, which rise up over the next four decades to fufill demand. The renewables include wind, solar, wave, geothermal, biofuels, hydropower and a few more.)

A statement by Ecofys notes that switching to renewable energy will help equalize living conditions across the planet and produce longterm benefits.

“That does not mean it will be easy,” says Ecofys CEO Manon Janssen. “Present policies and measures are definitely not sufficient. But we must realise that we need to act and that acting now will secure benefits later. We believe that businesses have a major role to play in making it happen.”

Read more: The Energy Report jointly produced by WWF and Ecofys.


Jan 262011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Climate action is so far off the agenda in Washington it may as well be floating on an island of melting sea ice. With dozens of lawmakers expressing doubts about whether climate change is real or is some zany idea cooked up by 10,000 scientists, matters like cap-and-trade are in the deep freeze. Even environmentalists now speak about amorphous “pollution” instead of those off-putting greenhouse gases.

Obama describes a green vision for America.

Thankfully, though, clean energy, electric cars and high-speed rail – the nuts-and-bolts improvements that could help America build muscle in manufacturing and technology sectors, salvage its remaining natural spaces and reduce “pollution” (wink, wink) — remain firmly on the table.

At least that’s where the president has placed them.

In what may have been his most pointedly green national speech, President Barak Obama called out ambitious, explicit green energy goals in last night’s State of the Union Address. Obama wants a transformed America to be:

  • The first nation to put 1 million electric cars on the ground
  • Home to a high-speed rail network that will be within reach of 80 percent of Americans within the next 25 years
  • A leader in clean energy, with 80 percent of our electricity coming from “clean  sources” by 2035.

That last one’s a whopper coming from a country whose previous clean energy targets have been vague or underwhelming. But there’s a squish factor here. Obama defined “clean energy” broadly, as coming from wind, solar, nuclear, natural gas and even controversial “clean coal” technology. The latter is in its infancy (a plant is under construction in Texas) and many believe it will prove to be too expensive and not-so-clean after all.

Still, the president gave a direct shout out to renewables — wind, solar, geothermal — with a promise to increase federal funding (research and investment) for these by 85 percent; without driving up the deficit because the money could be found by ending $4 billion in annual federal subsidies to mature fossil fuel industries.

The fight on that one should be positively flammable, given the oil industries’ mega-lobby in Washington.

But that will come later. Let’s return, for now, to President Obama’s comforting, Kennedy-esque vision for a nation that needs to get its groove back.

For environmentalists, and green-minded citizens, this was a giant lollipop, with natural coloring and no artificial additives.

Obama was cuing us to think big, and look ahead. That’s why he mentioned the space program, the national highway system, Google and Facebook. This was our president at his oratorical best, taking us by the shoulders, albeit gently, and trying to shake us out of our stupor; saying he’ll make breakfast and cut Big Oil subsidies if we’ll just get moving again.

It’s no surprise that all of these green energy goals are good potential candidates for bipartisan support (they’ll be opposed by cost-cutters and Obama detractors, of course, but they are part of global movements that are advancing with or without U.S. participation). And they are all capable of creating jobs … jobs … jobs.

It’s become clear that our jobless recovery could be the wave of the future, a long-term new normal instead of an economic lag effect, if we don’t retrain, retool and get or keep our foothold in fast-growing green industries, like electric car and solar and wind power production.

Electric cars give Detroit something to gnaw on and a chance to reclaim some former glory. The field is still new. GM and Ford are both putting forward respectable candidates. GM’s Volt is too expensive, but it’s sporty and may appeal to upper-income early adopters.  Ford is due out late this year with a more practical, likely less expensive electric Focus.

Foreign makers of electric vehicles also are putting Americans to work, making electric cars, such as Finland’s  Think, soon to be made in  Indiana, and the Nissan Leaf, rolling off the lines in Tennessee. Americans also are designing and building lithium batteries and charging equipment.

Naysayers will point out that Americans drive 250 million cars, making 1 million electrics look like a niche market. But all new technologies must start somewhere. At one time, there were a handful of DVD players, personal computers, phonographs.

Green energy is similarly positioned. It’s a sliver of the pie at the moment. But it is proving itself with large scale commercial solar projects underway in the desert Southwest that will power millions of homes in California, Arizona and New Mexico. Solar rooftop panels also got a lot more affordable in the last two years.

Wind power is primed to help many regions from the windswept plains of North Dakota to coastal Rhode Island and Delaware, where big new offshore projects could power some of our largest cities. China moved ahead of the U.S. in wind production for the first time this past year. But a redoubling of effort could help keep wind manufacturing and production robust in the U.S.

Wind, which uses no water and produces no carbon emissions, and solar power, which requires water in some mutations but draws power from the penultimate source, are the cleanest ways of producing energy. They’re renewable, completely local, and can work to complement each other on the grid, with wind being strongest at night (a good time to charge electric cars) and solar strongest at the top of the day into the peak demand hours.

Why wouldn’t we want to increase our energy security by pushing for more?

In the president’s vision, high-speed rail works as an adhesive for the new clean economy, drawing cities closer together and connecting rural areas. High-speed rail can reduce auto congestion (saving oil) and air pollution. Airlines might fight it, but they cannot argue with its greener profile. Rail and air travel could co-exist.

Republicans in Congress have already proposed billions in federal cuts for Amtrak and high speed rail. A fight over this is a given. But at least there will be a debate.

Perhaps those who would cut U.S. investment in passenger rail, see it as unattainable, or a luxury. But they cannot deny it would create jobs and an affordable, green transit option for the masses.

In December, the newly elected governors of Wisconsin and Ohio, rejected federal money for high speed rail projects. They preferred to make a political point by turning down stimulus money, rather than keeping these job-creating projects on track.

But what these two men may not realize is that high speed rail is a proven technology in Spain, Germany, Japan and many other countries. Even Turkey is developing a high speed rail system.

High speed rail is expanding travel options for people of all means and improving business networks, all over the world. Without it, Americans could wind up stuck behind other modernized nations, not to mention stuck on congested roadways, as deeply indentured to foreign oil as ever.

If lawmakers really care about keeping America free and moving forward, they should carefully consider shifting federal dollars toward renewable energy and away from fossil fuels, and expanding  mass transit, including high speed rail.

This slate of action that Obama has outlined could  unshackle us from pollution, the destruction of land and water in pursuit of coal, and our credit debt to the Middle East.

What a sweet triple win it could be: Jobs, clean air and water, energy security.

Let’s hope those in Congress take the long view when it’s time to craft plans for a new green economy.

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Jul 132010

From Green Right Now Reports

Dealing with nuclear waste may be even more of a challenge than previously believed. According to a former Energy Department official, the amount of plutonium buried at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State is nearly three times what the federal government previously acknowledged.

Robert Alvarez reanalyzed studies conducted by the Energy Department over the last 15 years for Hanford, the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, and the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C., among others. Plutonium waste is much more prevalent around nuclear weapons sites nationwide than the Energy Department’s official accounting indicates, he concludes, but the problem is most severe at Hanford, a 560-square-mile tract in south-central Washington that was taken over by the federal government as part of the Manhattan Project.

Workers check spent fuel shipment for radiation before it leaves the K-East Basin annex at the Hanford nuclear facility

Alvarez says the plutonium does not pose a major radiation hazard now, largely because it is under “institutional controls” including guards, weapons and gates. Because plutonium takes 24,000 years to lose half its radioactivity, the danger is almost certain to outlast existing methods of control.

So far, the cleanup, which began in the 1990s, has involved moving some contaminated material near the banks of the Columbia River to drier locations. The effort has included building a factory that would take the most highly radioactive liquids and sludges from decaying storage tanks and solidify them in glass.

In 1996, the department released an official inventory of plutonium production and disposal. But Mr. Alvarez analyzed later Energy Department reports and concluded that there was substantially more plutonium in waste tanks and in the environment. The biggest issue is the amount of plutonium that has leaked from tanks, was intentionally dumped in the dirt, or was pumped into the ground.

Mr. Alvarez’s report has been accepted for publication later this year by Science and Global Security, a peer-reviewed journal published by Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

May 132010

From Green Right Now Reports

Public Citizen has had a few choice words to describe the Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act unveiled Wednesday.

Public Citizen argues that the American Power Act benefits corporations more than consumers

Public Citizen argues that the American Power Act benefits corporations more than consumers

Energy program coordinator Tyson Slocum called the draft legislation a  “nuclear energy-promoting, oil drilling-championing, coal mining-boosting gift to polluters bill.”

Slocum’s blog, posted yesterday is based on a broad outline released just in advance of the final draft of American Power Act. He itemizes what Public Citizen, a champion of citizen’s rights and an advocate for sustainable energy, sees as the APA’s numerous flaws:

Excessive nuclear power incentives that burden taxpayers

  • Favoritism toward the nuclear power industry, that “prioritize(s) the needs of nuclear power corporations over the right of citizens to have full, public hearings about the risks and dangers of locating nuclear power plants in their communities.
  • “A jaw-dropping $54 billion” in loans guarantees for the nuclear power industry, despite the high risk of defaults.
  • A 10 percent investment tax credit for new reactors.
  • Tax and bond benefits for municipal power agencies that invest in nuclear power

The expansion of offshore oil drilling

  • It strongly incentivizes states to endorse offshore oil drilling by allowing them to keep 37.5 percent of oil and gas royalty money. “That’s like saying because more rich people live in California and New York compared to Mississippi and New Mexico, those higher-income states should be able to keep more federal dollars raised from income taxes. Royalty revenue sharing is patently unfair – especially because the disaster in Gulf shows that an oil spill does not respect state boundaries.

It leaves clean energy development to the free market, while retaining supports for coal and nuclear power

  • Section 1604 states that “voluntary” renewable energy markets are “efficient and effective programs”
  • Section 1431 will provide valuable emissions allowances for free to coal utilities pursuing “carbon capture and storage” or CCS – an untested, risky strategy that benefits the coal industry and is gobbling up a lion’s share of subsidies that otherwise could go to renewable energy development.
  • Section 1412 establishes a carbon tax paid by ratepayers and collected by utilities to fund CCS  with no money allocated to rooftop solar or energy efficiency investments.

Failure to build in consumer protections

  • Rather than follow President Barack Obama’s cap-and-dividend plan, which would require polluters to pay and then distribute 80 percent of the money directly to families through a tax credit, or the Cantwell-Collins CLEAR Act, which calls for distributing monthly checks to households from carbon fee money, the Kerry-Lieberman approach leaves industry in charge of any public payback. Their plan involves distributing valuable free (carbon pollution) allowances to utilities from 2013-2029, then requiring that utilities use the money “exclusively for the benefit of the ratepayers.” Without Congress won’t be defining “benefit”,  50 different state utility commissions will have to — and most would allow utilities to structure energy efficiency programs that benefit shareholders more than consumers.

The Kerry-Lieberman bill, concluded Slocum, “represents a missed opportunity”.

“By meeting behind closed doors, the lawmakers empowered corporate polluters to play an oversized role in influencing the legislation to the detriment of the climate and consumers. President Obama had it right when he successfully campaigned on a theme of making polluters pay and delivering benefits directly to households.”

Feb 252010

By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now

As passionate as his father was about civil rights, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is equally so about the environment.

Robert Kennedy Jr.

Robert Kennedy Jr.

In a lecture in Fort Worth on Wednesday, the 56-year-old son of the late Senator, advocated for moving the nation to green energy, which he doesn’t see as encompassing nuclear power.

Coal is not the only power-producing industry that needs scrubbing, said the longtime environmentalist, nuclear energy is simply not safe. “Nuclear energy is the most catastrophic form of energy. No bank will finance it…[and] no insurance company will insure it,” he said.

“It’s not just a bunch of hippies saying it’s unsafe. There are spills all the time into the Hudson,” says Kennedy, who serves as chief prosecuting attorney for Riverkeeper, whose mission is the restoration of the Hudson River. Three Mile Island was not the last accident despite what nuclear advocates say.

He made it clear that lobbyists for fossil fuel and polluting energy industries are powerful and dangerous. The nuclear industry, for example, managed to find a way to get a Congressional exemption that leaves them free from damage. “All homeowners’ policies in the U.S. exclude radiation from the nuclear industry,” he said.

Kennedy believes greed has taken over the utility companies as well. “Utility companies make money by selling more energy – even if the energy is green. We need to change the rules,” he says. “Don’t reward bad behavior.”

He believes it’s a question of loyalty. “Instead of being loyal to their shareholders, company leaders need to be loyal to our nation,” he says.

Along with serving on the boards of green energy companies, Kennedy, a resident of Mount Kisco, N.Y., has led the efforts to protect New York City’s water supply, both through Riverkeeper and as a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He is the president of Waterkeeper Alliance and a professor and supervising attorney at Pace University School of Law’s Environmental Litigation clinic. (After getting his undergraduate degree from Harvard and law degree from the University of Virginia, he picked up a masters in environmental law from Pace.)

As a partner with Silicon Valley’s VantagePoint Ventures, he is involved firsthand with green energy. VantagePoint funds an array of emerging clean tech and green energy companies., including solar, algae fuel and energy conservation businesses.

During his lecture at Texas Christian University, Kennedy also addressed the coal industry’s claims that coal is clean and cheap. It is neither, he says.

The problem is that once a coal plant is built, there are many hidden costs such as pollution and healthcare.

“More than 60,000 Americans are killed each year due to ozone particulate pollution,” he says. In addition, every fish in the United States is affected by dangerous levels of mercury, thanks to the coal industry. That mercury level also has grown in humans. Babies being born to women with high mercury levels have a higher percentage of illness ranging from autism to mental retardation.

On the other hand, “Once a solar plant is built, the energy is free forever.” There are no pollution and health costs, and no strings attached, he said.

Using coal to produce electricity is a destructive business from the beginning of the process, says Kennedy, who opposes the mountain-top removal mining in Appalachia in which ancient mountains are sheared off to get to the coal. The practice destroys forests and the resulting debris pollutes area rivers. (Coal companies say they ameliorate the damage by planting new trees, but environmentalists say these saplings cannot replace the mature forests; that erosion, runoff and river pollution are not abated.)

Kennedy recalled his father being against what was then known as strip-mining. “He told me, [the coal industry] is not just destroying the environment, but permanently impoverishing the surrounding communities. They’re doing this so they can break the unions.”

It’s particularly a shame because Appalachia, Kennedy points out, “is the oldest ecosystem on the continent.”

“Today,” he says, “ninety-nine percent of coal in West Virginia is owned by Wall Street bankers such as JP Morgan and Chase.” The reason? Many of the homeowners were tricked into selling their mineral rights because they didn’t know any better. “The coal industry has liquidated the people of West Virginia of their cash,” he says.

Kennedy says he’s not just fighting for ecosystems and halting the destruction of the environment. “It’s about the subversion of American democracy, the public process and transparency in government.

“Government is supposed to protect us,” but because of the influence polluting companies and lobbyists wield in Washington, that’s not happening.

Interestingly enough, he says, “every nation that has attempted ‘de-carbonization’, has prospered afterward. In Iceland, they became scared of global warming and within 15 years, went from being the poorest nation in Europe to the fourth richest. Sweden is another example. After Sweden de-carbonized and closed their nuclear facilities, they prospered. Tons of entrepreneurs came in as clean energy was introduced.”

He named Brazil and Costa Rica as having robust economies after they de-carbonized as well.

Robert Kennedy Jr. speaks at TCU.

Robert Kennedy Jr. speaks at TCU.

Kennedy would like to see an increase in geothermal power, which he uses at his home in New York. “Geothermal,” he says, “is an underutilized resource. It’s been unexploited until now, but it could be a boon, especially in Texas where you already have holes in the ground from gas/oil drilling.” His home also has solar panels and between the two forms of energy, his home generates more power than he can use, which he then sells back to the utility company. “But you can’t do this in all states. This needs to be fixed. We need to reward efficiency; and punish inefficiency. We should be able to turn every home into a power plant.”

Another resource he’d like to see used more is wind. “There’s enough wind in the states of North Dakota, Minnesota and Texas to power the entire country,” he says.

The Obama Administration faces some major obstacles, Kennedy says. “We need to get rid of the subsidies that give breaks to dirty energy. And we have to build an electric grid that can accommodate the entire country.”

Kennedy compares the effort to the interstate highway system that was built during the Eisenhower years. The United States has the technology, Kennedy says. “And we have the resources – wind that blows at night; and sun that shines by day…We can put PVCs on every south-facing roof in the country.” Taking advantage of these green energies should be a no-brainer.

The TCU lecture was part of the Frost Foundation Lectureship for Global Issues, sponsored by the TCU Center for International Studies.

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Aug 302008

By Harriet Blake

Nuclear power may be a viable solution to our energy needs, but many questions surround its safety.
In New York, especially after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in nearby Pennsylvania, future plans for the nuclear power plant in Indian Point have come under fire. Until recently the debate has been a financial one between the plant’s owner and the state of New York. But last week, a new report in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America brought up the danger of potential earthquakes beneath the plant, that could have grave consequences. Continue reading »