August 2 News: Highest Radiation Yet Is Detected at Fukushima; Vermonters Are Missing Out On Energy Savings

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

Tepco Says Highest Radiation Yet Is Detected at Fukushima Dai-Ichi

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, said it detected the highest radiation to date at the site.

Geiger counters, used to detect radioactivity, registered more than 10 sieverts an hour, the highest reading the devices are able to record, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at the utility, said today. The measurements were taken at the base of the main ventilation stack for reactors No. 1 and No. 2.

The Fukushima plant, about 220 kilometers (137 miles) north of Tokyo, had three reactor meltdowns after the March 11 magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and backup generators. Radiation leaks displaced 160,000 people and contaminated marine life and agricultural products.

The utility, known as Tepco, tried to vent steam and gas the day after the earthquake as pressure in reactor No. 1 exceeded designed limits. A buildup of hydrogen gas subsequently caused an explosion that blew out part of the reactor building.

For more, see “Exclusive Arnie Gundersen Interview: The Dangers of Fukushima Are Worse and Longer-lived Than We Think.”

Study: Many Vermonters pass up home energy savings

Ludy Biddle spent about $4,300 on insulation and air sealing to make her 18th-century Shrewsbury, Vt. home less drafty in winter, and she’s cut her heating bills by more than half.

As executive director of NeighborWorks of Western Vermont, she’s on a mission to get others to do the same. But she remembers her own initial misgivings on doing work that could save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions tied to climate change.

“I really didn’t believe that there could be much to improve our situation,” Biddle said. “I’ just assumed a house as old as mine couldn’t be improved.”

New research indicates Vermonters could save more than $800 million during the next 20 years and could generate jobs in the home improvement industry if residents would invest in insulation, new windows and other measures designed to keep homes warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, according to the Middlebury-based High Meadows Fund. The typical homeowner could cut costs by 30 to 50 percent.

Green groups decry looming environmental cuts from debt deal

Some green groups are blasting the deficit deal between the White House and congressional leaders, decrying cuts to environmental programs that they expect to flow from the plan to reduce the deficit by at least $2.1 trillion over a decade.

“The reductions in spending the deal causes will result in massive cuts that threaten to damage our water, our air and our lands beyond repair. This assault is part of a larger effort by some in Congress to give away our great outdoors to corporate polluters and developers, and it’s creating an environmental debt that we can’t repay,” said Wilderness Society President William Meadows.

The legislation that lawmakers are racing to approve in order to avoid default generally does not specify cuts, but groups are bracing for environmental and energy programs to be on the chopping block.

Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica, in a statement, urged lawmakers to reject the deal.

Worries Over Water As Natural Gas Fracking Expands

Drive through northern Pennsylvania and you’ll see barns, cows, silos and drilling rigs perched on big, concrete pads.

Pennsylvania is at the center of a natural gas boom. New technology is pushing gas out of huge shale deposits underground. That’s created jobs and wealth, but it may be damaging drinking water. That’s because when you “frack,” as hydraulic fracturing is called, you pump thousands of gallons of fluids underground. That cracks the shale a mile deep and drives natural gas up to the surface — gas that otherwise could never be tapped.

But some people, like Mike Bastion, say fracking also ruins their water.

“What gives the gas industry the right to take your clean water away?” a clearly angry Bastion says as he stands in the kitchen of his brother Steve’s house near Alba, in northern Pennsylvania. He says fracking ruined his water well.

Anxiety about fracking runs high here. Steve Bastion says some of his neighbors can’t drink their well water any more. Today, he’s invited a team of scientists from Duke University into his home to test the water. He strides over to the kitchen sink and flips on the faucet.

“You take for granted doing this,” he says. “Do this when it doesn’t work, and you can’t drink it — everything changes.”

Durban talks unlikely to strike climate deal: UN

Major climate talks in South Africa at year-end will be unlikely to strike agreement on a new pact, but will be important in determining the shape of long-term efforts to tackle climate change, a senior U.N. climate official said on Tuesday.The future of the Kyoto Protocol, the existing U.N. plan which obliges about 40 industrialised nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions until 2012, is widely seen as under threat. Japan, Canada and Russia have said they will not extend it, while the United States never signed up to it.

“It’s too early to call the Durban result, expectations are not high at the moment,” said Adrian Macey, chair of U.N. Kyoto Protocol negotiations, referring to the Nov 28 to Dec 9 talks in South Africa.

“But my own view is that whatever happens, I don’t see all 191 parties under the U.N. abandoning efforts to develop a comprehensive effort in the longer term for climate change action,” Macey told a climate conference in Wellington, New Zealand.

There would be a gap after the first Kyoto Protocol commitment period expires at the end of 2012, Macey said, with a number of issues remaining outstanding.

“It’s become clear that what we might be looking at in Durban is a transition to a more viable long-term architecture,” Macey said.

Technologies that will get automakers to 54.5 mpg

The stringent fuel economy standards announced today will make existing auto technologies, such as start-stop hybrids, commonplace and push the industry to cut the cost of electric vehicles.

President Obama today unveiled new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards which will require automakers to achieve an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The national agreement, which builds on a landmark compromise deal from 2009, will reduce oil imports, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and save consumers on average $8,000 per vehicle by 2025, the White House said in a statement.

The new standards are considered aggressive–the average fuel economy for cars and light trucks this year is 27.3 miles per gallon–but automakers said that they are achievable with a combination of design improvements and emerging technologies.

“While future fuel economy targets are ambitious, the proposed CAFE rule represents a national approach and provides regulatory certainty for our industry. The proposed rule includes flexibility that recognizes consumer needs and potential changes in technology and economic conditions,” General Motors said in a statement.

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