Yucca mountain revival and Fukushima design specs

It seems that science may prove more enduring than politics in the case of Yucca Mountain, which was given up for dead by many two years ago when Harry Reid apparently made it his price to support Obama's legislative efforts. A recent review calls into question the decision, in particular the conduct of NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko (former science advisor to, coincidentally, Harry Reid). My views on this are pretty clear and it's encouraging to see the disappointing decision receive this scrutiny.

In related news, I found it interesting (from this CSIS report on nuclear power after Fukushima) that the Fukushima reactors did not fail their design specifications:
First, the nuclear facility itself seems to have withstood a record 9.0 earthquake without critical damage because all of the reactors struck by the earthquake shut down as intended. The March 11 earthquake exceeded the design criteria and reinforces a lesson learned from an earthquake that damaged the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors several years earlier—these facilities are very robust. A second lesson is that the facility was vulnerable to compromise from damage to external elements of the plant brought about by a tsunami that was 150 percent larger than the design criteria.
Little comfort after a full meltdown of three different cores, but at least interesting in diagnosing the root cause of the problem and planning for the future.

P.S. The fact that that was what jumped out at me makes me wonder if I should be driving more consistently for higher-level messages, rather than interesting factoids.


As you may have heard, apparel company PUMA has recently published the world's first EP&L (environmental profit and loss) statement. It is a modest first step in a very neat direction. For example, it's not surprising that
The analyses have shown that the biggest environmental impacts in the value chain occur, not through PUMA’s core operations but at the level of its Tier 4 suppliers, where raw materials are derived from natural resources, such as the cultivation and harvesting of cotton, cattle ranching for leather, and natural rubber production. [36% of GHG emissions and 52% of water]
... but nevertheless a meaningful step to have it quantified, agreed upon and audited. The report notes that there are real risk management benefits in terms of understanding exposures, quite aside from any sustainability benefits. Worth perusing, and hopefully we will see more of this from PUMA (stage 2 plans to include social impact, and stage 3 to include broader economic impact) and from other companies as well.

NYTimes weekend round-up

I don't often read the full NYTimes, but I happened to this Sunday, and since I haven't posted in over a month, and it's almost the end of June, and my blogging progress seems eerily paused at 666 posts and 7,777 hits, I figured I'd throw out a few links with brief commentary:

  • Insiders Sound Alarm Amid Natural Gas Rush: an interesting article seriously examining the claim that shale gas isn't profitable and is a big bubble. There's certainly some truth to that idea that many shale gas investments aren't making very good returns at $4.30/mmbtu gas; that said, the article would have really benefitted from some actual numbers (even ranges) comparing production costs to current and potential future gas prices. Without those, it's a qualitative discussion of a problem with a largely knowable quantitative answer.

    The one thing I did find intriguing (and again, would love to see real numbers on) is the steep decline in productivity of shale gas wells over the first few years. I would assume that since the technology is not new, this performance has been built into business cases for individual wells, but you never know...

    There's also a fundamental difference between a gas "bubble" (if there is one) and the typical bubble (e.g. internet) in media parlance, which is that North American gas prices have already crashed. This article would be analogous to calling the internet a bubble in 2003, not 1999, and that limits the usefulness of the analogy.

  • Chevy Volt and Future of Electric Cars: A feel-good article from Joe Nocera after he test-drives a Chevy Volt; made me want to try one too. The “it’s like playing a video game that is constantly giving you back your score” comment particularly resonated with me. The lack of that type of feedback is a common motif across consumer energy usage (think about the current opacity of household electric power) and a thematic area for substantial change and impact.

  • Power Drain From Cable Boxes: Striking; I had no idea that "some typical home entertainment configurations eating more power than a new refrigerator and even some central air-conditioning systems." Once again, greater feedback in home energy consumption could help move the needle on consumer behavior here.

  • Ethanol Production Wastes Corn: Steve Rattner is right, but has nothing new to say

6/30 addendum: A colleague told me that Chevy loses $18,000 per Volt it sells. So we are still a ways away from the economic tipping point.