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Doubts over ‘clean’ nuke power


NUCLEAR power generates more damaging greenhouse gas emissions than gas-fired power, an Australian scientist says. …

University of NSW Institute of Environmental Studies senior lecturer Dr Mark Diesendorf says nuclear power stations do not emit carbon dioxide (CO2) themselves, but the processes involved in creating nuclear energy do.

Mining, milling, uranium enrichment, nuclear fuel production, power station construction and operation, storage and reprocessing of spent fuel, long-term management of radioactive waste and closing down old power stations all require the burning of fossil fuels, he says.

“Most of the energy inputs to the full life cycle of nuclear fuel come from fossil fuels and are therefore responsible for CO2 emissions,” Dr Diesendorf writes in this month’s edition of the Australasian Science magazine.

Nuclear power stations using high-grade uranium ores would have to run for seven to 10 years before they created enough power to cancel out the energy required to establish them. Wind power takes just three to six months to do the same.

For lower grade uranium ores, greenhouse gas emissions outweighed those produced by an equivalent gas-fired power station, Dr Diesendorf said.
(12 January 2006)

Corn Farmers Smile as Ethanol Prices Rise, but Experts on Food Supplies Worry

Matthew L. Wald, New York Times
SIOUX CENTER, Iowa – Early every winter here, farmers make their best guesses about how much food the world will demand in the coming year, and then decide how many acres of corn to plant, and how many of soybeans.

But this year is different. Now it is not just the demand for food that is driving the decision, it is also the demand for ethanol, the fuel that is made from corn.

Some states are requiring that ethanol be blended in small amounts with gasoline to comply with anti-pollution laws. High oil prices are dragging corn prices up with them, as the value of ethanol is pushed up by the value of the fuel it replaces. …

But Robert C. Brown, a professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State University and a specialist in agricultural engineering, said the use of corn for nonfood purposes sounded harsher than it was. “The impression is that we’re taking food out of the mouths of babes,” Professor Brown said. In fact, corn grown in Iowa is used mostly to feed farm animals or make corn syrup for processed foods.
(11 January 2006)

Plugged in: Startup hopes to tap electricity from trees

Christopher Calnan, Mass High Tech (Journal of New England Technology)
Don’t tell MagCap Engineering’s president he’s barking up the wrong business model.

His Canton company claims to be developing a process of generating electricity from living trees and is working with an unidentified business in The Netherlands as a possible investor.

But local energy experts have questions about the concept behind the proposal.
MagCap Engineering LLC wants to patent a process that converts the natural energy of a tree to usable direct-current electricity, company President Chris Lagadinos said.

He expects to find investors to help pay for the research needed to figure a way to increase the tree power from less than 2 volts to 12 volts sometime this year, creating an alternative to fossil fuels.

Jim Manwell, director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Renewable Energy Resource Laboratory, questioned the potential of MagCap’s plans. “I’m wildly skeptical,” he said. “I would need to see proof before I believed it. It strikes me as pretty questionable for a number of reasons.”

…Manwell said his skepticism is science-based. “There’s a fundamental law of physics,” he said. “The energy has to come from somewhere.”
(9 January 2006)

Natural gas: the next energy crisis?

Daren Fonda, TIME magazine
How the natural-gas shortage is hurting the economy–and what it will do to your heating bills
Bob Horton has survived the arrival of Home Depot and more economic downturns than he can remember. Yet this winter may be the last for his 40-year-old plumbing and heating supply shop in Osceola, Iowa, just south of Des Moines. The heating bill at his business soared to $602 last month, up from $250 a year earlier. He can’t raise prices without losing customers, and he has tried everything to save energy, from installing insulation to heating with a high-efficiency furnace. “It’s going to break us,” he says of his fuel bills. “We can’t pay the overhead.”

This winter has been no colder than most, but it’s leaving businessmen like Horton and homeowners across the country with a severe chill when they open their heating bills. The 62 million households that burn natural gas will spend 35% more this winter, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, with Northeasterners expected to pick up a record $1,276 average tab for the season. In the past five years, gas-burning homes have seen prices more than double. Those who rely on propane or oil for heat haven’t fared a lot better. But the big crunch is in gas. Here’s a guide to how that’s hitting consumers and businesses, who’s profiting and what you can do:
(15 January 2006)

Canada, the US, and the Tar Sands

MacDonald Stainsby, Znet
…Today, in Fort MacMurray, Alberta the tar-sands extraction process is just starting to gain the needed technologies to operate at a level that allows an output with a profit. In a cruel opposite of the results for the Venezuelan population, the rising prices of gas, petrol and other energies are seeing the acceleration of drilling, fusions and over-all output. Also in contrast to the Bolivarian Republic, the advance of prices is seeing higher and higher levels of production targets, with more and more schemes implemented to remove “with facts on the ground” the land from the traditional inhabitants.

While the tar-sands are touted globally by Canada (accurately) as the largest non-Saudi oil fields left in the world, they come at a price that everyone can understand: massive greenhouse gas emissions. The cruellest distinction between what happens in Canada’s north as opposed to what happens to Venezuelans is that the people of nations colonized by Canada will see their own lands decimated, the environment polluted and the profits going to giant oil and energy companies and not to infrastructure development– such as schools, hospitals and social housing. In other words, when oil is pumped and refined in Venezuela, it raises standards of living, whereas in Canada, it does the precise opposite for the original inhabitants.
(28 December 2005)

Power companies predict return of coal

Peter Marsh, Financial Times
The world is on the brink of a big switch from gas to coal as the preferred fuel for power stations, according to projections from Alstom, Siemens and General Electric, the world’s three biggest power equipment makers.

Independent forecasts from France’s Alstom and Germany’s Siemens, made available to the Financial Times, show that about 40 per cent of the orders for electricity turbines in the next decade will be for coal-powered units, with the share of gas-fired plants falling to between 25 and 30 per cent.

Philippe Joubert, president of Alstom’s power division, said: “The structure of the power market is seeing a radical shift away from gas and towards coal.”
(16 January 2006)

The future of energy: coal

Jerome a Paris, Daily Kos
(Commenting on the previous article, and going into more detail.)

…The issue with coal is, of course, that it emits more greenhouse gase and more pollutants than natural gas, so all the recent progress that countries like the UK, Germany or Greece have made in reducing carbon emissions (by switching power generation from coal to gas or wind) is being threatened by this new twist.

…between gas, nuclear and coal (the only baseload options available), coal is now seen as the safest, and the likeliest to remain cheap of the 3.

Wind is certainly being developed, but it is not yet seen as a “core” power source and is not taken seriously enough as an alternative.

So we’re back to square one: coal. Do you really expect our political leadership to insist that coal power be clean when prices go up?
(16 January 2006)