June 23 News: Nuclear Plants Not Prepared for Terrorism; Google Invests Even More in Wind Project

A round-up of climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.

Nuclear terrorism can cause another Fukushima: expert

“Both al Qaeda and Chechen terrorist groups have repeatedly considered sabotaging nuclear reactors — and Fukushima provided a compelling example of the scale of terror such an attack might cause,” Matthew Bunn of Harvard University said.

Some countries had “extraordinarily weak security measures in place,” he said in an Internet blog posted this week, without naming them.

“The nuclear industry in many countries is much less prepared to cope with security incidents than with accidents,” wrote Bunn, an associate professor at Harvard Kennedy School who specializes in nuclear issues.

Steps to protect against both sabotage of nuclear facilities and theft of nuclear weapons or the materials to make them were “particularly urgent.”

Bunn was reacting to new proposals by the head of the U.N. nuclear agency aimed at improving international nuclear safety following Japan’s crisis which was caused by a massive earthquake and huge tsunami on March 11. Three reactors at the Fukushima complex went into meltdown when power and cooling functions failed, causing radiation to leak and forcing the evacuation of some 80,000 people.

“The chance that the next big radioactive release will happen because someone wanted to make it happen may well be bigger than the chance that it will happen purely by accident,” Bunn said.

Google, Citi invest another $204 million in wind project

Google Inc and Citigroup are investing another $204 million in the Alta Wind Energy Center in Southern California’s Tehachapi Mountains, bringing their total combined investment in the project to $314 million.

The additional funds will be split evenly between the two companies, according to Terra-Gen Power, which is building what is expected to be the nation’s largest wind energy project.

The new investments specifically finance the Alta V Project, which is projected to generate 168 megawatts of electricity. Google and Citi had previously jointly invested $55 million in the nearby Alta IV phase of the project.

Terra-Gen Power, the project developer, is an affiliate of ArcLight Capital Partners and Global Infrastructure Partners.

The AWEC site is currently generating 720 megawatts of power, according to Terra-Gen Power.

By year end, another 300 megawatts of power are projected to be online, Terra-Gen says, bringing the facility up to 1020 megawatts.

U.S. commits to rooftop solar plan

The U.S. Energy Department said it would provide a partial loan guarantee for a solar power project that could meet energy needs of more than 88,000 homes.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said his department was providing a partial guarantee for $1.4 billion to support Project Amp.

Project Amp envisions the installation of solar panels on industrial buildings across the United States. It calls for the installation of around 733 megawatts worth of solar panels, which is roughly the total amount installed in the country last year.

Chu’s loan is part of the so-called SunShot program, which would spur U.S. innovations to reduce the costs of solar energy.

“This unprecedented solar project will not only produce clean, renewable energy to power the grid in states across the country but it will help us meet the SunShot goal of achieving cost competitive solar power with other forms of energy by the end of the decade,” he said in a statement.

Canada green energy firms say cheap power days over

Canadian politicians and ratepayers alike must accept that the days of cheap electricity are over as aging infrastructure demands investment and the choice of power sources — renewables, fossil fuels or nuclear — becomes more limited, green energy CEOs said on Wednesday.

It is not only green energy, such as solar and wind power, that is lifting electricity prices but also investment in infrastructure, such as transmission lines, which has been neglected for decades, they said at a conference in Toronto.

“We’re all living off the legacy of 60 years ago because we did not invest a lot in the energy infrastructure in that time,” Brookfield Renewable Power Chief Executive Richard Legault said.

“We still believe, ‘I live in Quebec and get power delivered to my house for 6 cents a kilowatt’. It doesn’t cost that,” Legault said.

Buttressed by large hydroelectric stations, especially in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, Canada has some of the lowest electricity rates among industrialized nations.

An aversion to coal-fired power stations, because of pollution, and increased wariness about nuclear-generated electricity after Japan’s Fukushima disaster mean there are fewer options in the future for generation.

Oil sands pipeline bill poised to advance

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is slated to vote on a bill aimed at accelerating federal approval of a controversial pipeline that would expand U.S. imports from Canada’s oil sands projects.

The oil industry-backed bill – which House GOP leadership hopes to bring before the full chamber this summer – would require an Obama administration decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline by Nov. 1.

Republicans and some Democrats call the pipeline a major step toward creating jobs and boosting supplies from a friendly neighbor.

But opponents say the pipeline carries major environmental risks, citing potential leaks and the ecological impact of greenhouse gases emitted form Alberta’s oil sands project.

Check out our posts here, here, here and here for more on the battle over the Keystone XL project.

The committee will also mark up a bill Thursday that would block EPA from regulating a byproduct of coal-burning power plants as hazardous waste under the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act.

Green curtains’ block heat, save energy

A growing number of people are turning to nature to help them save electricity this summer, creating so-called green curtains of climbing plants.

According to the Energy Conservation Center, Japan, a key element in power conservation is reducing the use of air conditioners, which consume the most electricity in homes. A green curtain helps block the sun and keep room temperatures from rising through transpiration of the plant’s leaves.

Green curtains can be easily set up at home, and Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward Office has been promoting them as an effective way to battle global warming.

With power shortages expected this summer as a result of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the ward office has received an increasing number of inquiries from local residents about growing green curtains.

It also received more than two applications for every spot available in a class organized by the ward office on how to grow a green curtain.

Likewise, Katsushika Ward of Tokyo distributed free goya bitter gourd seeds to residents in late April. All 500 packets were taken by the second day.

A Katsushika Ward official in charge of distributing the seeds said, “Interest is higher (in growing goya) than usual. Many people are trying to grow it for the first time.”

High-Speed Rail Poised to Alter China

Even as China prepares to open bullet train service from Beijing to Shanghai by July 1, this nation’s steadily expanding high-speed rail network is being pilloried on a scale rare among Chinese citizens and news media.

Complaints include the system’s high costs and pricey fares, the quality of construction and the allegation of self-dealing by a rail minister who was fired earlier this year on corruption grounds.

But often overlooked, amid all the controversy, are the very real economic benefits that the world’s most advanced fast rail system is bringing to China — and the competitive challenges it poses for the United States and Europe.

Just as building the interstate highway system a half-century ago made modern, national commerce more feasible in the United States, China’s ambitious rail rollout is helping integrate the economy of this sprawling, populous nation — though on a much faster construction timetable and at significantly higher travel speeds than anything envisioned by the Eisenhower administration.

Work crews of as many as 100,000 people per line have built about half of the 10,000-mile network in just six years, in many cases ahead of schedule — including the Beijing-to-Shanghai line that was not originally expected to open until next year. The entire system is on course to be completed by 2020.

Green icons urge White House protest as GOP presses Keystone XL bill

As the Republicans today turned up the volume on their call for the Obama administration to OK a politically divisive U.S.-Canada oil pipeline, a group of boldface-named environmentalists plotted to push back by protesting against the project on the president’s doorstep.

House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders are poised to win votes from some panel Democrats today for a bill aimed at forcing a ruling by Nov. 1 on Keystone XL, a $7 billion pipeline that would nearly double U.S. imports of crude from the Canadian oil sands. But even as liberal Democrats maneuvered against that measure, some fellow foes of Keystone XL were mounting resistance of their own.

In an open letter released today, 11 widely known green and liberal activists call on opponents of the pipeline to join them at the White House starting in mid-August for “civil disobedience that will quite possibly get you arrested.”

The environmentalists, including film actor Danny Glover, former federal climate scientist James Hansen and authors Wendell Berry, Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben, described themselves as “pretty sure that without serious pressure,” the administration would deem Keystone XL in the national interest and approve its construction.

That point was not disputed today by the senior Democrat on Energy and Commerce, Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), who urged colleagues to oppose the bill and let the administration’s internal review process go forward as currently set — with a decision anticipated before 2012.

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