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August 29 2012


A Late Bet on Coal May Not Pay Off

A consortium of utilities decided to build a coal-fired power plant, probably one of the last that will be allowed under E.P.A. regulations, figuring it would be cheaper than buying electricity on the open market. The low cost of natural gas has foiled that calculation.

May 08 2012


When the Wind Whispers, Whose Name Does it Call?

Unlike coal-fired plants or hydroelectric dams, few wind farms are named after people.

March 27 2012


Breaking News: EPA Issues First Limits on Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Power Plants

The EPA proposes its first rule limiting GHG emissions from power plants. The rule could effectively end new construction of coal-fired plants in the USIn a move that could effectively end construction of any new conventional coal-fired power generation in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today has proposed the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.

“Today we’re taking a common sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy,” said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. “Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies–in the health and economic threats of a changing climate continued to grow.”

The average US coal plant today emits about 2249 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of power produced. The new EPA rules will limit those emissions to 1000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour or at about the level of a modern natural gas plant.

“This is an important common sense step towards tackling the ongoing threat of climate change,” said Jackson. “We build on where the industry is going and lock that trend in, which we believe is an important signal for investors.”

The initial impact of the emissions rule on utilities is expected to initially be negligible; with natural gas prices at 10 year lows most utilities are shutting down coal plants, not building new ones. By the end of 2011 the share of electrical power generation from coal-fired plants dropped below 40 percent, the lowest share since 1978 according to the Energy Information Administration.

Jackson said that the EPA has no plans to set rules on existing plants, and the new limit will apply only to the construction of new power plants. Fifteen plants with pending instruction permits are exempt from the proposed rule.

Joe Mendelson, climate policy director for the National Wildlife Federation characterized the new EPA rule as a “milestone in the fight to rein in climate change. The EPA is taking a big step toward protecting the world our children will inherit.”

Additional sources and reading:
Washington Post


March 26 2012


A Smaller Route to Solar Success

Rather than storing energy for use after the sun goes down, as some megaprojects do, a small solar plant will run on a fuel like methane or natural gas in the evening hours.

March 14 2012


Nuclear Power One Year after the Fukushima Disaster

After Fukushima is the sun setting on nuclear energy?The March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan sent shock waves that are still being felt around the world. The fallout from this tragic event is driving countries away from nuclear power and increasing GHG intensive coal-fired energy production.

This abandonment of nuclear energy could add a billion tonnes of additional GHG emissions by 2020. Japan and Germany, two of the world’s six largest CO2 emitters are already phasing out nuclear power and increasingly turning to fossil fuels for their energy. Other nations are also following their lead.

As reported in the Guardian, construction work began on 38 reactors around the world between 2008 and 2010, but in 2011 and 2012, there have been only two construction starts. Globally, 13 percent of the world’s electricity is supplied by nuclear power, down from 18 percent in 1996.


It is understandable that Japan is leery about nuclear’s savage power.  On August 6, 1945, the nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima killed 140,000 people. The nuclear bomb that hit Nagasaki killed more than 70,000 people. Nagasaki mayor Tomihisa Taue spoke for many when he said Japan must develop safer energies such as solar and wind.

Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan also called for a shift from nuclear power to renewable energy. While the switch to renewables is entirely laudable, replacing nuclear with fossil fuels is lamentable.

After the Fukushima incident, Japan closed almost all of their nuclear facilities to conduct safety checks. It is very unlikely that these nuclear reactors will be restarted. The cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe have already told utility companies that they no longer wanted nuclear power.

Japan’s nuclear power used to generate almost one third of the country’s power. Presently, only 2 of Japan’s 54 reactors are operational, and to make up for the energy shortfall, the country is increasingly turning to fossil fuels. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) used three times as much fuel oil and crude oil for electricity in February 2011 as it had the previous year.

Drawing additional power from burning fossil fuels will significantly increase GHG emissions. According to Japan’s Institute of Energy Economics, a permanent shutdown of the country’s nuclear facilities would increase annual CO2 emissions by 60 million tonnes, or more than 5 percent.


Fossil fuel-powered energy is increasing around the world as major industrial powers like Japan and Germany reduce their reliance on nuclear power. Germany has permanently shut down eight of its older nuclear reactors and has promised to close the remaining nine. All of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants will be shut down by 2022. Germany began increasing its use of coal after the nuclear shutdown began.

Although Germany is investing heavily in renewable sources of power, they will not be able to meet all of the lost production in the short-term. The corollary of this decision is that gas and coal-fired power plants will fill the void left by phasing out nuclear power. Over 20 coal-fired power plants are planned for Germany.

Germany is moving away from nuclear power even though there is very little similarity between the threats confronted by the German and Japanese reactors. The Fukushima reactors where not destroyed by the earthquake, they were destroyed by a tsunami that crippled the plants’ cooling system. That is why it does not make sense for Germany, a largely landlocked nation, to fear a Fukushima-style meltdown. Germany is also compounding the problem by encouraging other countries to follow their lead.

Some analysts say the shutdown of German nuclear reactors will push up German CO2 emissions by between 40 million and 60 million tonnes a year, about 6 per cent.

The additional German emissions could add up to more than 300 million tonnes by 2020, which, according to the World Nuclear Association, would “virtually cancel out the 335-million-tonne savings intended to be achieved in the entire European Union by the 2011 Energy Efficiency Directive”.

Ironically, importing nuclear power from neighbors like France may be the only way for Germany to keep its promise to cut CO2 emissions by more than 20 per cent by 2020.


In the U.S., nuclear power provides between 10 and 20 percent of the country’s electricity. President Obama’s 2013 budget proposal includes $770 million for nuclear energy.  However, it has been years since a new nuclear plant has been constructed in the U.S. Since the Fukushima incident, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that U.S. nuclear energy production has not increased.

EIA data indicates that renewables have surpassed nuclear energy production in the U.S. While this is a promising trend, it is premature to say that renewable energy can replace nuclear energy any time in the near future. Renewable energy is undeniably the best energy option, but it will take years before it can provide the majority of America’s energy requirements.

Nuclear may be a part of America’s energy mix for the foreseeable future, but risks will have to be managed better than they are being managed today. Overall, there are 104 nuclear reactors at 65 sites across the U.S., nine of them located within 2 miles of the coast.

It makes sense to impose a moratorium on building nuclear reactors in seismically active areas or near the coasts until a sweeping safety review is completed. It also makes sense to build nuclear reactors that can withstand storm surges, floods and extreme weather. It does not make sense to phase out nuclear power altogether.

“U.S. nuclear power plants are already designed and built to keep the public safe in the face of the most extreme weather conditions possible at a given site, including flooding scenarios that far outweigh any impact from projected tidal level changes,” Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Scott Burnell told The Huffington Post in an email. “For example, Turkey Point in Florida safely withstood a direct hit from Hurricane Andrew, and several U.S. plants have safely withstood tornado damage to their sites and transmission lines, including during last year’s severe outbreak.” Burnell also cited the incidents in Nebraska, adding, “Two plants in the Great Plains also safely withstood last year’s historic flooding on the Missouri River.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has vowed to implement recommendations from the agency’s Japan Lessons-Learned Task Force, which will evaluate U.S. plants for their resistance to seismic and flooding events.

However, a report released March 6, 2012, by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), titled U.S. Nuclear Power Safety One Year After Fukushima, criticizes the NRC saying that it is jeopardizing reform by failing to heed its post-Fukushima task force’s top recommendation.

A new mapping tool, which calculates the route and impact of radioactive plumes in the event of a Fukushima style incident in the U.S., was released March 5 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

“There are clear lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster, yet our government allows the risks to remain,” said NRDC Scientist Jordan Weaver, PhD. “It doesn’t have to take an earthquake and a tsunami to trigger a severe nuclear meltdown. In addition to human error and hostile acts, more common occurrences like hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding—all of which took place around the country last year—could cause the same type of power failure in U.S. plants.”

The NRDC has communicated concerns related to seismic activity, floods, hydrogen explosions, adequate venting, and transparency.

“We cannot afford to stand by idly and simply hope the worst won’t happen here,” said NRDC Senior Scientist Matthew McKinzie. “It is time for the NRC to do its job and safeguard the American people from a repeat of what we saw in Japan.”

Other Nations

Italy has abandoned nuclear power, which was voted down in a referendum after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Post Fukushima Switzerland has decided to abandon plans for future plants.

China initially delayed construction of new nuclear plants, although they now appear to be moving forward with nine reactors under construction. France intends to continue with nuclear as it operates more than 50 reactors that generate 39 percent of the nation’s total power output. The UK and India still intend to resume building nuclear power plants. France is joined by countries like Finland in undertaking third generation nuclear power projects.

Russia has four nuclear power plants under construction and India has five. As reported by Reuters, South Korea currently operates 21 reactors, which meet one-third of the country’s energy needs, and 13 additional reactors are planned by 2024.

Canada’s nuclear energy program avoids about 90 million tonnes of GHG emissions (equivalent to the exhaust of 18 million cars) per year. Since 1972, this has helped Canada avoid more than 2.4 billion tonnes of GHG emissions. In these and other countries, nuclear is a better option than more coal-powered energy.

Countries that opt to abstain from using nuclear power commonly turn to coal to meet more of their energy requirements. We hear a lot about nations like India and China building coal power plants, but even traditionally green nations are guilty of similar crimes against the environment. For example, the Dutch are known for being environmentally conscious, but due to the controversy surrounding nuclear power, the Netherlands is planning to build three new coal-fired power stations. This supports the hypothesis that misinformation about nuclear power trumps concerns about the environment.

Climate Change

The safe operation of nuclear power plants will be aggravated by climate change. In the age of global warming, additional safeguards are required to make nuclear power safer. Nuclear reactors are located adjacent to sources of water for cooling. With many of the world’s 442 nuclear power reactors located by the sea, these power plants must integrate additional safeguards against flooding and tsunamis. This is a legitimate concern as ocean levels are rising due to global warming.

Even nuclear reactors located near inland waterways pose problems because they remain vulnerable to heat waves, which are another corollary of climate change. A 2003 heat wave in Europe forced Electricite de France to close or lower output at about half its 19 nuclear plants because of temperature limits on the water it returns to rivers.

There are still other issues for nuclear reactors related to climate change that are not typically subject to heat waves or water-born risks. Tornadoes, also a corollary of climate change, are increasingly a concern. Last year tornadoes crippled three nuclear reactors in Browns Ferry in Athens, Ala., and knocked out power at two nuclear reactors at Surry Power Station in Surry, Va.

When it comes to building new reactors, the NRC said that “redesigning nuclear plants to address newer threats from climate change may also be too expensive at many locations.”


Nuclear power is expensive and fraught with concerns, but the fact that it generates energy without emissions makes it indispensable in the short term.

The Fukushima disaster, like the meltdowns in Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, illustrate the dangers. Common sense dictates that we must assess and address the design weaknesses of nuclear reactors to reduce the risks.

Despite difficult economic times we should not fall prey to gas and coal just because they are “cheap” and abundant. We need more investments in renewable energy, but we also need nuclear power to minimize the emissions that come from energy derived from fossil fuels.

Even if we ignore the short-term health impacts from gas and coal-fired energy generation, the costs of failing to reduce emissions override the economics of energy generated from fossil fuels.

We are faced with some difficult choices, but if we are serious about bringing atmospheric GHGs down to acceptable levels, nuclear power must be part of the world’s energy mix. Although no one died in the Fukushima explosion, if the global nuclear industry dies, it will take the climate with it.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

February 17 2012


For Mexico City, a Repurposed Landfill

Methane from a landfill will flow to a power plant, helping to keep the lights on in the city.

January 24 2012


Sounding an Alarm on Birds and Mercury

Mercury, which drifts into the Northeast largely from coal-burning power plants in the Midwest, is being deposited on dry land, and songbirds that survive solely on insects are taking in dangerous amounts of it.

December 20 2011


November 28 2011


Will the Lights Stay On in Texas and New England?

The advent of new pollution rules affecting coal-fired power plants and some gas-fired plants could threaten the reliability of the grid in those regions, a new report says.

November 16 2011


2 Views of Aerosols and Climate Change

A new study suggests that aerosols can make dry regions even drier and worsen rain and snow in wetter regions. A different study says aerosols' cloud-thickening effects, however, help block sunlight that might otherwise warm the planet.

November 11 2011


November 08 2011


September 15 2011


Greenhouse Gas Rule Delayed

The E.P.A. attributes the delay to the complexity of drawing up the rule, not to pressure from a White House besieged by congressional opposition.

July 31 2011


Congress V. The Environment: The 2012 Appropriations Rider Tracker

 EARTHJUSTICE.org House Expands and Votes on Extreme Anti-Environment Spending Bill; Riders tally soars, 192 amendments filed as of this morning, more expected July 30, 2011 Washington, D.C. — The voting on environmentally destructive amendments to the House of Representatives 2012 Interior and EPA spending bill (H.R. 2584) is now underway, as one of the most extreme [...]

July 08 2011


EPA Finalizes Interstate Air Pollution Limits for Eastern States

July 7, 2011 Washington, D.C.  — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized new limits on interstate air pollution from power plants in the eastern half of the United States. The limits on soot and smog-forming pollutants are intended to make the air safer to breathe by curbing emissions that move across state boundaries. Earthjustice [...]

July 07 2011


E.P.A. Limits Coal-Plant Emissions

The agency says the rule will help avoid tens of thousands of premature deaths and illnesses.

June 21 2011


Supreme Court Affirms EPA’s Power To Reduce Climate Change Pollution

EarthJustice.org Justices deny lawsuit against power plants by holding that EPA has authority to set limits June 20, 2011 Washington, D.C. — Today, in rejecting a climate change pollution lawsuit, the Supreme Court of the United States reaffirmed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to curb climate change pollution under the Clean Air Act, as first [...]

June 13 2011


E.P.A. Delays Rule on Power Plant Emissions

The delay is a tacit admission that the rules pose difficult political, economic and technical challenges that cannot be addressed speedily, especially in view of aggressive criticism from Congressional Republicans.

May 03 2011


50 States United for Healthy Air – A Broad Perspective on Protecting Health

EarthJustice.org Doctors, nurses, clergy and affected citizens travel from across the country to Washington D.C. demanding clean air May 3, 2011 Washington, D.C. — Doctors, nurses, faith and tribal leaders, social justice advocates and affected citizens from all 50 states are convening in Washington, D.C. this week to meet with Obama administration officials and their [...]
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