Category Archives: global warming

Nuclear Puzzle

A guy named Gregory Jaczko is about to get more exposure to the media then he has ever wanted. He was appointed by President Obama in 2009 to be the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and will be testifying before Congress this coming week on a report that came out, from the NRC, that concluded “Mr. Jaczko failed to fully inform the other four members that he was issuing budget guidance that would essentially halt the commission’s work on the project, which was to decide whether the Energy Department should be allowed to build and operate the dump.”

The project they are talking about is Yucca Mountain, Nevada, which is about 90 miles away from Las Vegas. According to the article, Jaczko used to work for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has always been fighting to keep Yucca Mountain from becoming a permanent site for nuclear waste. During the 2008 election, Obama, while being in favor of nuclear energy, said many times Yucca Mountain will not become a place for nuclear storage. More information has come out since then making it clear Obama and Reid are close. It was Reid who convinced Obama to run for President, and when the Republican National Committee put millions into “Daschelzing” Reid last year, Obama held events and fundraisers in Nevada.

Policy wise though, it made no sense for Obama to be in favor of using nuclear energy but not store it at Yucca. Time and time again the NRC has said Yucca Mountain was the best place to store nuclear energy and was close to it in President (W’s) Bush’s first term. Bush signed the law to turn the area into a storage facility, only for it to be vetoed by the Governor, and then overturned by Congress.

As far as Jaczko is concerned, the report said he did not break any laws, but he obviously didn’t make any friends. Obama put him on the commission to look at other sites in the country that can be built for storage. It’s an example of a political appointment, and someone coming in with an agenda. It’s the nature of the game. But while other sites around the country are closer to residential areas, Yucca is closest to volcanic lava on federal land. Using nuclear energy is clean, creates jobs, is more efficient, and costs less than other forms of energy. According to World Nuclear the price of generating nuclear fuel is cheaper then coal and gas, making it cheaper for consumers in the long run. Readers know I want to visit Las Vegas again, but people don’t like to see wind turbines in their back yard, and solar power can’t be used everywhere or at any time.

I write a lot about how politics get in the way of good policies being put together, this is an example of that. At the same time, politics is also a necessary evil. If it wasn’t for Harry Reid, Obama may not have run for President, and of course the alternatives to a democracy/a republic don’t look to good. All the pundits were saying nuclear energy would take a step back after the earthquake in Japan, but eventually there’s going to be more nuclear plants in this country, it just makes too much sense. Designs for nuclear plants have improved since the one at Fukushima was built, and obviously we don’t have to build them on a fault line. There’s a smart way to do it, and eventually enough politicians will solve the puzzle to get it done.

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Filed under Clean Energy, Congress, Environment, global warming, Harry Reid, Nuclear, Politics, President Obama, Reid

Stop Fracking Around

When local news stations are only a half hour, and their’s maybe a five minute segment on government issues, it’s sometimes hard to remember that all politics are local. In New York, a big ruckus is taking place over whether a type of drilling called hydraulic fracturing (or better known as fracking) should be allowed to take place near the Catskill Mountains. The goal here is to use get the natural gas beneath the surface. Local residents, including actor Mark Ruffalo, visited areas of Pennsylvania where fracturing is occurring and became afraid that the same environmental damage will occur where they live.

At an event organized by Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century (DL21C), Ruffalo, Kate Sinding Senior Attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); and Susan Zimet, a Representative from Ulster County; expressed their fears about what might happen if fracturing is allowed in New York. Ruffalo visited Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania where the environmental damage has been enormous. Ruffalo said people living in the commonwealth had to arrange for over 200 gallons of water be delivered to people’s homes every day, because the water coming out of their sinks was black.

Experts consider fracking as a bumper option while the nation moves to other technologies, such as solar and wind, to curb our use of greenhouse gases. To reach the natural gas, drills are used to dig deep underground to where the natural gas is located. Once the gas is reached, a mixture of chemicals and water are used to push the gas up where it can be collected. The problem is that the chemicals used are carcinogens such as naphthalene and benzene. Those chemicals also get into the water supply making it unsafe to use. Only adding to the danger, the drills dig deep enough to areas where there are high concentrations of radiation that people living in the surrounding area can be exposed to.

While researching for this post, it took me less than two minutes to find this video of a Pennsylvania native lighting her water on fire because of all the chemicals that entered her water supply because of fracking.

Fracking technology is new, and it turns out (surprise, surprise) Halliburton is the company that invented the equipment. The powerful energy company has been lobbying state and federal officials to allow them to drill. And for two years, the EPA has been trying to get Halliburton to come out with the formula they use to push the gas up from the pipes. So far, Halliburton has only released the chemicals they use, but not the amount that has been pumped into the ground, or the exact concentration of each chemical being used in the overall solution. Two important facts needed to understand the safety concerns that are plaguing local residents.

Before he left office, Governor Patterson signed a moratorium on fracking, which Governor Cuomo extended until June. But it is unlikely that the report will be ready by then. The Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for writing the report, and Cuomo tapped Joe Martens to lead the agency. Kate Sinding told me that NRDC likes the new Commissioner “and believe the new analysis will be completed fairly.” But between the budget cuts and the senior staff that needs to be appointed, it will be a while before the report is released.

The facts are clear. But with the lack of current media attention, keeping the pressure on Albany is a must. When the report is released, there is a time period required by law which allows public comments on the report to take place. If there is an overwhelming amount of people against the fracking, Governor Cuomo won’t have a choice but to stop any plans to drill in the future. There are so many other ways to get cheaper and cleaner energy that can be applied now. There is no point of using a bumper inbetween. The technology is there, wind turbines and solar panels are already being built. Not to forget Indian Point Nuclear Facility in Buchanan. So whenever the report finally does come out, tell Albany to stop fracking around.

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Filed under Clean Energy, Energy, Fracking, global warming, Governor Cuomo, hydraulic fracturing, New York, New York City, NY

Obama Should Go Nuclear

This whole talk of compromise is bogus. President Obama was able to pass the tax cuts, don’t ask don’t tell, and START, because the public was on his side. Polling consistently showed the American people were in favor of these two issues, and Republicans didn’t want to look like they were not representing the people before they official gained power. But it will be a lot tougher the next two years and it will be important for Obama to pick specific issues that he can claim victory on.

Controlling the White House gives Democrats the ability to set the agenda and control the conversation. That means it is even more important to pick issues that they know they can win political points with since there will be so few of them coming up. By Obama saying he received a shellacking in this election cycle, he down played any new victories that may occur in the future, that way when he does get his initiatives passed through Congress, it is a bigger victory.

If the Republicans goal is to make Obama a one term president, there is no reason to give them an inch of breathing space. The energy legislation that passed the House this past term isn’t going anywhere. While the bill received bipartisan support, it was still a close vote and very contentious. But there are a lot of elements in it that both sides can vote for. One of them is the expansion of nuclear energy.

Obama has consistently said he is in favor of creating more nuclear sites in the United States, and many Republicans have had this on their agenda. The list includes John McCain, Mitch McConnell, and soon to be the Chairwomen of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Lisa Murkowski. There will be plenty of quotes that can be used to contradict what these Senators will be saying if Obama decides to push this issue. But it is one that he needs to use the bully pulpit in order to get what he wants.

The microphone is going to be set on high for this one too. There are a lot of Not In My Back Yard issues when it comes to nuclear power. People either think of Chernobyl or Three Mile Island and do not want an instance such as that to effect their communities. Both of these accidents were caused by human error, unlike the BP oil spill which was caused by human error. That’s why the Department of Justice is suing BP believing the disaster could have been avoided. More regulation will be needed for the new nuclear plants, but it is hard to make an argument that current plants and refineries don’t need it either.

One of the factors involved with using nuclear technology is where to store the waste that comes from using the material. But while there are currently 104 nuclear power plants operating in the United States, the amount of material that would have to be stored would cover seven yards on a football field. The technology for storing this material has been improved insurmountable since the last two nuclear accidents.

While building new nuclear plants are expensive, there is still plenty of money to be made from building them, particularly with the right incentives that the federal government can provide. In the meantime, the money that is being spent will create jobs. That’s why other countries like England are planning to build more of them. And I haven’t gotten into the environmental benefits of using more nuclear power.

One of the reasons Obama had such a hard time with the media is because he was not specific enough in what he wanted. The public option was the prime example. The official position was “I’m in favor of a public option, but it does not have to be in the final bill for the bill to be effective.” While policy junkies or people who work in the health sector may have understood what he was saying, it was confusing. And it didn’t allow him to own the issue and take credit for the pieces of legislation that will benefit people.

The White House needs to keep it short and understandable. Not everyone is a physicist and kept up on the news coming out of the nuclear sector. Next year Obama is going to have to stop trying to teach, and needs to preach instead.

 

 

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Filed under Carbon dioxide, Energy, Environment, global warming, Jobs, Nuclear, Obama, Poitics